Saturday, February 26, 2011

So Close, Yet So Far Away

Been there, done that. People talk about the Moon like it was a thing of the past. As if it were some very accessible island we once visited but choose not to return because some felt there was nothing there of value. It's been 39 years since we last visited the moon. We've spent less than 15 days on the surface exploring very small areas. The cost got in the way of any further missions and even if we did have the money, we don't have the rocket to get there. Many of the blue prints that made up the Saturn V rocket have been lost. Who knows how that happened.

Celestial bodies are not so far away for some of us. I got a nice 6 inch reflector telescope for my birthday two years ago. I'm not the best astrophotographer in the world and I don't have the best equipment for the job, but I have managed to capture some pretty cool photos of the lonely surface of our closest neighbor. Check it out. Click on the images for full size photos.

Speed of Light and Nocturnal Doubling

*I have not read all the way over this for corrections so if you have suggestions or grammar corrections please mention them. 

The idea in regards to nocturnal doubling is as follows: If everything in the universe were to double overnight would an individual be able to tell the difference? By everything I am talking about every atom, every electron, every molecule, every string in quantum foam – everything. The immediate results of this would be indistinguishable. Distances would double, however we would be unable to tell because our yard-sticks have doubled as well. Size has doubled but, compared with everything else – from atoms to trees – we are the same. There is no noticeable difference.

Monday, February 21, 2011

During CES Gigabyte first gave us a glimpse of their new upcoming G1 series of X58 motherboards. One of which was their "OC Orange". All the info that we got was that this board was geared towards overclockers, and those who like to spend a good about of time tweaking BIOS settings. Gigabyte has just released pictures and a few details about this amazing board. One of the boards will be the X58A-OC which will support Intel's flagship 1366 processors. There is array of buttons next to the memory slots which are cleverly named "OC Touch" and will be used to give the users quicker access to much easier overclocking capabilities of the X58A-OC.

In the pictures below you can also see two 8-pin CPU power connectors. Also on the bottom and middle, right of the motherboard, there are two SATA power connectors. These can be used as additional power inputs and can be fed power by secondary power supplies. No telling as of yet what kind of stability or benefits this provides as of yet.

Cooling is provided by an array of some nice looking orange heatsinks which seem to have fans concealed inside the NB and SB coolers; as there is a fan wire leading into the center of each of them.

This motherboard is strictly for overclockers, and apparently does it quite well. Gigabyte has already posted results with a 990X running at over 7Ghz.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Weight and Mass

Chris suggested I do a physics blog, so here you are. prepare for ultimate nerdiness.

As many of you probably already know, there is a fundamental difference between something's (or someone's) weight and there mass. Mass, or the amount of matter that exists in the object being measured, is the same everywhere in the universe. Whereas the weight of an object is the force of gravity acting on on the object, that is dependent on mass. Weight will shift depending on the pull of gravity. You would way much different on the moon or on Jupiter than you would here, but you mass would always be the same. Weight is the acceleration of gravity multiplied by mass.

So, if you wanted to find out how massive you are (no, I'm not calling any of you fat), you would first have to find the force of gravity acting on you in Newtons (another measurement of force or weight (N)). There are approximately 4.45 Newtons in a pound. So first, multiply your weight in pounds by 4.45 to get your weight in Newtons. Then, since the acceleration of gravity is about 9.81 meters per second squared, that's 9.81N for every kilogram, you divide you weight in Newtons by 9.81. The answer you get will be your mass in kilograms (kg).

Now to find how much you would weigh on Jupiter, just multiply your mass by the acceleration of gravity found on Jupiter. The gravitational force of Jupiter is about 25.9 meters per second squared. Or 25.9N for every one kilogram. Multiply your mass by 25.9 and again, you'll get your weight in Newtons. You would then just divide what you get by 4.45 and you would have you weight in pounds.

I would weight about 370 lbs on Jupiter. How much would you weigh?

The Importance of Science Fiction as Literature, Part III

Science Fiction and Philosophy

“Let us open the door to age-old questions about our very nature, the nature of the universe, and whether there are limits to what we, as humans, can understand. But as old as these issues are, let us do something relatively new – let us borrow from the world of science fiction thought experiments to fire the philosophical imagination. Good science fiction rarely disappoints; good philosophy more rarely still.” –Susan Schneider

Recently I went through a phase where I read many of the greats in SF. Books like Kurt Vonneguts Slaughterhouse-Five, Philip K. Dick's Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep? and Walter Millers A Canticle For Leibowitz; as well as other's: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein, 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke and Gateway by Frederik Pohl, (and many others). There is something in these books that many more recent books lack. Philosophical Value. Their underlying themes in life and death, morality and ethics, race and the meaning of life, (to name a few themes) are bold and widely insightful. Fewer and fewer SF books are focused on such great meaning and in my searches I have found only a handful of modern SF writers who incorporate highly sophisticated philosophical themes or ideas. Some of these authors include Dan Simmons, Neal Stephenson, Philip Pullman, Connie Willis and Suzanne Collins. (This is only a few or relatively many, however, more and more writers are coming onto the SF scene writing only for entertainment value and not intellectual merit).

Here, it is not my place to judge those writers that lack in incorporating philosophical themes as their early predecessor have, but to muse on, and expound on the philosophical value found in many science fiction books.

One important theme in many books is that of consciousness. This is found often in stories involving artificial intelligence (AI) or that of alien life. What constitutes consciousness? In Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Empathy, or what is required for a creature to have empathy is a major theme in the book: Empathy being a way of understanding and detecting consciousness. His story underlines the issues in detecting if an individual is an android or human, empathy being the key emotion to look for. "...ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated."2 As it grew harder to determine if an individual was conscious or not (showed empathy or not) questions cropped up subtly and yet powerfully about what constitutes consciousness. In the above quote, Rick Deckard (the protagonist, of sorts), ponders the vague lines drawn between those creatures that are empathetic and those things which do not have that ability. One of the novel's major themes revolves around the question of what traits make something human and what trait ensures survival or defeat.

An interesting aspect of the book shows that humans, (who are empathetic) now have drugs the can take to make them feel any number of ways or emotions. These very from general feeling of happiness or contentedness, to depression or even compliance to ones husband. They are artificial and Philip K. Dick seems to outline even further the obscure outline and requirements of consciousness.

Another book dealing a lot with consciousness and even empathy is Dan Simmons Hyperion Cantos. Even more so, the last two books, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion. The books underline the human experience and focus on what the power of empathy gives – a type of godhood, a relationship with other individuals that makes one aware of ones self in relation to others and a comparatively expansive view of consciousness. The book as well describes human emotion, experience and understanding.

The essence of human experience lay not primarily in the peak experiences, the wedding days and triumphs which stood out in the memory like dates circled in red on old calendars, but, rather, in the unself-conscious flow of little things--the weekend afternoon with each member of the family engaged in his or her own pursuit, their crossings and connections casual, dialogues imminently forgettable, but the sum of such hours creating a synergy which was important and eternal.

The human experience is another major theme in science fiction. One of the greatest science fiction books, written by Kurt Vonnegut, is Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut, with his witty dark humor gives the reader an outline of what it is not only to be human but to be alive in time. He, in the first chapter of his book shows the weakness and faultiness in the human experience when he says, after outlining the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, focusing on Lots wife,

“And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.”

Through Slaughterhouse-five, Vonnegut shows the effects of war and love and hate on humans. He outlines human emotions in an almost flippant way. One major theme in this anti-war SF novel seems to be that in general terms men (humans) do not like each other. This is an important theme in the book, as it depicts multiple people who simply allow bad things to happen.

Near the end, after the bombing of Dresden, (a focus point in the story) when Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist, is scolded by a German woman for the condition of the horse that had been pulling a wagon for him and the others with him. The horse was bloodied and the hooves were in a poor and painful condition. It was at this point Billy wept – not for his fallen comrades or for the devastation of the bombing, but for this horse. That was the trigger that set him off into a sobbing mess, and in certain ways more humane than most. Showing not only the frailty and complexity of the human experience but a certain type of empathy. And empathy for living, anything living and breathing and feeling. There is an empathy there. It is similar to that of a dog that needed to be put down or any pet that his hit by a car.

When I was young, a teenager, I remember my own dog coming home mangled, having obviously gotten in a fight with another dog, more than likely losing. My heart bled for her. The same feeling came when my wife and I had to give our own dog away when moving into an apartment complex that did not allow pets. These feelings were strong for me, and Vonnegut underlines the complexities of humanity in his book, showing that emotions are complicated things.

Human experience can span any number of similar themes, including empathy. I have found that this is one of the largest themes in many SF books. I feel that I am obligated to explain how SF views of the human experience differ from classics such as Oliver Twist, or Pride and Prejudice.
Technology, science, industry are growing at an exponential rate and continuing to do so. These things affect our daily lives in profound ways. We have internet access in most places in the world, we have technology that can do anything from telling us where to eat to firing neutrons towards each other at 0.99c (.99% the speed of light), and colliding them. We are advancing in space travel. Companies such as Space X are readily surpassing even NASA in space flight technology. We are able to speak to someone on the opposite side of the globe in an instance as well as mimic the power of the sun in nuclear fusion.

Paul Brians, Emeritus Professor of English at Washington State University said, “Science fiction [is] fiction based on rational speculation regarding the human experience of science and its resultant technologies.” Through technology humanity is growing and in that the human experience is gaining a broader spectrum of experience. Science fiction uses this knowledge and expounds on it. It underlines what technology can do for us in not only a technical aspect but in a philosophical aspect as well. Part of life, now, is technology and these advancements effect us in many ways. We can understand not only where humanity may go, what views and issues we many need to face in the future, such as AI, real consciousness, rebellions on massive scales or even the hardship of leaving this planet, but can relate to our lives now. SF can show us where were really are, where humanity is now and how we can potentially be changed in the future. The philosophy of consciousness is a large and growing field, for instance, and science fiction expounds on the possible futures of this study in a way that no other fiction genre could approach easily and profoundly.

In closing up this section of the importance of SF I would like to quote Kingsley Amis, an English novelist,

“Is it any wonder that a new generation has rediscovered science fiction, rediscovered a form of literature that argues through its intuitive force that the individual can shape and change and influence and triumph; that man can eliminate both war and poverty; that miracles are possible; that love, if given a chance, can become the main driving force of human relationship?”

SF enriches human life in its approachable views of a philosophical life. It is relevant and important and inspirational. Through science fiction we are able to gain a greater understanding into philosophies, empathy, human condition, etc. are only a few of the many and broad landscapes that SF has to offer in the area of philosophy.

*Next, Part IV: Science Fiction and Religion

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Importance of Science Fiction as Literature, Part II

Science Fiction and Science

Science fiction. You're right, it's crazy. In fact, it's even worse than that, it's nuts. You wanna hear something really nutty? I heard of a couple guys who wanna build something called an airplane, you know you get people to go in, and fly around like birds, it's ridiculous, right? And what about breaking the sound barrier, or rockets to the moon? Atomic energy, or a mission to Mars? Science fiction, right?Look, all I'm asking is for you to just have the tiniest bit of vision. You know, to just sit back for one minute and look at the big picture. To take a chance on something that just might end up being the most profoundly impactful moment for humanity, for the history… of history. –Carl Sagan, Contact

Several years ago I fell in love with Hard Science Fiction. That is to say, science fiction that is accurate with scientific laws, physics, technology, etc. Many authors have used their knowledge of science to write accurate and entertaining novels about the possible future of humanity. This method of viewing science fiction, I feel is an important one to have: that there are many SF novels out there that are the authors vision of what the future could be. A great example of this is Arthur C. Clarke's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Now, unlike his vision of where we would be in the year 2001, we do not have rotating space stations, simulating artificial gravity. We do not have people venturing out into the outer gaseous planets of our solar system, however, I believe that if we had kept up the same initiative and vigor in the space program that we had in the late 60's and early 70's,1 we could have easily achieved what Clarke had (around the same time as the missions to the Moon) envisioned for the future of space exploration.

While we have missed the mark he had set for us, the ideas that he proposed in his 2001 are valid and likely destinations for the human race.

One of the biggest roles of science fiction is to prepare people to accept the future without pain and to encourage a flexibility of mind. Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories. Two-thirds of 2001 is realistic — hardware and technology — to establish background for the metaphysical, philosophical, and religious meanings later.”

Dr. Ronald L. Mallett, Ph D, a professor at the University of Connecticut grew up reading SF. More precisely, he grew up reading books on time travel. In his book, Time Traveler Mallett discusses how when he was a boy his father – due to poor health – passed away. He, after reading an graphic novel adaption of The Time Machine became obsessed with the idea of time travel. So much so that he eventually majored in theoretical physics, all with the hidden desire to find a way to travel back in time. Because of The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells the notion of time travel became a reality to him.

Mallett, after become a full professor at Uconn, speculated that a circulating beam of laser light would twist time into a loop, distorting spacetime and allowing one to travel to any point of light in the circulating spiral or light. He first theorized the affects of bending light while observing inertial frame dragging, which was caused by rapidly rotating black holes. The frame dragging created closed time loops making time travel into the past possible. Light, having the same affect on spacetime as a massive rotating black hole should be able to, Mallett theorized, create closed time loops. Enabling time travel.

However, this method of time travel only lasts during the period of time the machine is left on. So, if he was to turn his time travel machine on in the year 2015 and it was left on until the year 2100 an object, (or individual) would be able to travel to any time period between the two dates.

Even today, with ground breaking physics being done, if you ask someone about time travel their first (and typically only) notion is that is it something only within the bounds of SF. And it is. That is the beauty of the thing. Dr. Mallett has brought science fiction to life. Through the ideas brought to us by men like H.G. Wells, and even Mark Twain in his book A Connecticut Yankee in King Aurthur's Court we get this vision of a world in which people can travel through time, and with this idea scientist can find a multitude of theories to make time travel happen. Anything from Mallett's frame dragging/closed time loop theories, to quantum foam, relativity, branch theory and Frank Tipler's theories in a rotating cylinder, time travel is quickly become a part of our reality.

Through science fiction there are many other examples in which science has pulled ideas from what was first thought of by SF writers. Dan Simmons Hyperion Cantos, speculated in human evolution, Issac Asimov's I Robot stories give us a possible (and becoming even more likely) view of where technology and robotics can take us. Snow Crash, by Neal Stevenson gives us a near future view of a world link to what he calls the metasphere. A cyber world in which viruses can be uploaded to the human brain. Philip K. Dick's book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is another example of the evolution of robotics, especially in consciousness studies.

And there are many many other examples in SF of scientific achievements that can be met, or even some that have been met and thought first in sci-fi.

It is through the imaginations of these writers that we are able to gain ideas into the progression of science, what it will or can become, and through those visions scientists now can speculate and theorize about the universe. Without H.G. Wells, Dr. Ronald Mallett may not have ever learned about the notion of time travel and never become a physicist and discover a valid a likely way to make time travel possible, without Clarke we may no be able to see where space travel could take us. These individuals are more than authors, but are inventors, futurists and visionaries and through science fiction we can gain a greater understanding of science and where science can possible go in future years.

*Next, Part III: Science Fiction and Philosophy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Importance of Science Fiction as Literature, Part I

"There's no real objection to escapism, in the right places... We all want to escape occasionally. But science fiction is often very far from escapism, in fact you might say that science fiction is escape into reality... It's a fiction which does concern itself with real issues: the origin of man; our future. In fact I can't think of any form of literature which is more concerned with real issues, reality." –Arthur C. Clarke

My original interest in Science Fiction came from a love of the stars. From as far back as I can remember I loved the stars. I would watch them at night in North Carolina wishing I knew more about them. My father would wake my brothers and me at three in the morning to watch a meteor shower. I would watch in amazement as the meteorites would penetrate the Earths atmosphere and burn up in a blazing streak across the sky. When I was thirteen, living then in Hawaii, during a camping trip we laid on our backs staring up at the sky. I had never seen anything like it. There was no light pollution. Nothing to block out the stars light. I remember seeing the galaxy Andromeda. A faint “fuzz” against a black back drop. I knew then that I wanted to study space. I wanted to be an astronomer.

Through this love of astronomy came my desire to read and write science fiction. But soon became extremely picky as to what I would read. “Only the best,” I had resolved.

Admittedly, when asked what it is I write (or read) I am always a little bashful to answer back that I write science fiction, or speculative fiction stories. In fact, for some time I tried to buy some classics of literature such as Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, or Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain hoping to read them and feel as though my writing abilities, reading abilities and critical thinking would increase. I took a class during my freshman year at school on American Literature after 1865 in attempts to become—for lack of a better term—scholarly. And there were good and important stories or books that I read, but none could bring the satisfaction that science fiction was able to provide.

The purpose of this paper is to show the importance of science fiction literature in todays society and the relationship it can have with individuals. Science fiction touches on many aspects of reality and life, such as humanity, religion, politics, science, class, good and evil, as well as many other topics, however I will focus my arguments mainly on science fictions role in todays sciences, it's religious incites as well as the philosophy behind science fiction. I hope to show that despite clich├ęs, doubt and criticism, science fiction has value in the world on a level akin to what we have so hastily decided to be the important works of literature.

*Next, Part II: Science Fiction and Science.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yes, I'm a Feminist...

There, I said it.

No I don't go around burning bras and my friends don't call me butch, bitch or sex fiend. What I mean by this is that I believe that women continue to be treated unfairly. At my own university female teachers make about 20% less than male teachers. I hate it when people say,"But males are the bread winners of the family, they have to make more." Yeah, tell that to the English teacher who is divorced and has 4 kids to take care of. Why is it that men are so afraid of having a female in power? No really, I would like to see the reaction on peoples faces if a woman was appointed as the president's military adviser. Could you imagine the sexist remarks that would come if a woman was actually elected as president? We've seen it with Sara Palin running. I mean, come on, it's easy enough to poke fun at her for saying stupid things, she's a politician. There is no reason for sexist remarks.

We Americans take pride for being ahead of regions like the Middle East and Asia but we are far behind most of Europe which means that we should be open to progression with this issue. Too many people here say that we have achieved equality but most of those people have yet to experience the effects from the past that linger.

When a couple gets married they must look towards the feelings of their mate and find out how they want to live their life. Some women are fine with staying at home, taking care of the kids and making dinner for their husband so he can relax from a hard days work. When I got married I asked Mandi what role she would like to have in the relationship. It just goes to show how much power society has given me as a man in a relationship, I had to ask. Eventually we found a way to divide things out evenly but it still took a few years to find out what we both wanted. She still hasn't made a decision on whether or not she wants to have kids biologically or adopt but I will leave that up to her since it is her body. I can respect that. After all, I've never heard a man say, "I want to go through labor," but I'm sure there are a few crazies out there.

It just sucks when society says, "A boy is this," and "A girl does that." I would suggest to everyone to really look at their relationship and see who does what and how much work goes into what they are doing. It's always difficult to keep things even but everyone should always be working on it and avoid being stuck in routine to where they don't notice it. Yes, this is my blog and this is how I feel today because of the love I have for my lovely wife, Mandi :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Spacetime Cloak

Researchers at Imperial College London have come up with a way to cloak an individual from being viewed by a specific viewer. Those in charge of the project indicate that the process by which this is achieved is by slowing light that is approaching the individual while speeding light that is behind the individual up, creating a gap in the lights wave leaving a gap for the person to be in.

This gap will make it look, (to the viewer) as though no one is there, because of the slowly approaching light, and the fast departing light. The Gap has no light and because our own image is reflected light it disappears.

Another interesting feature is that only the direct observer of the cloak gap will not see you. Someone standing behind you, however, will be able to see you. The cloak, (if one were to activate it) wouldn't hid them from anyone but the direct person the cloak was indicated for.

Unlike traditional ideas and projects involving cloaking (bending light around an object) this idea rather separates the light, (similar to two curtains opening, leaving a gap), leaving a void in spacetime. Researchers, however, have only been able to cloak small particles for only microseconds at a time. Because of the nature of light it may be some time before they are able to cloak an individual.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Time, Motion and Consciousness

In Zeno's paradox where he argues that there is no such thing as motion, I have found to be quite fascinating. The concept of motion, first of all, is hard to define, in fact, in regards to Zeno's argument, saying what is wrong can be difficult because by theory we can disprove the idea of motion. That is to say, by theories in quantum mechanics we are able to see that objects move like pictures moving in a 64 bit game—there is no motion, only changing of pixels to give the illusion of motion. However, by direct experiment it seems as though we can prove motion does exist. I find this troubling as Quantum Mechanics is quickly overtaking classical physics and in this it is evident that what we discover in quantum mechanics must be right, (or very near the truth).

However, I would like to make the argument for motion, in a sense, relating it to spacetime. Movement can be defined as an objects motion through time. Time passes; therefore, any change can be categorized as movement. We experience time or we are conscious of the passing of time, therefore we must assume that it exists. In this we can assume the premise that movement can be categorized as an objects experience through time.

This argument, although not disputing on a strictly scientific level, can be a valid argument for motions existence. Consciousness plays a vital role in this view of motion. If we adhere to the thought that reality is what we perceive and that there is nothing other than what we perceive to be real, then motion is only those instances that lead from point A to point B. Motion does not necessarily need to be fluid movement through space, but the directional change through time. Our consciousness tells us that we are experiencing a change in time by the way we see (long or short term) those changes unfold.

Therefore, through our own consciousness, as well as through our experiencing of time we can assume that there is in fact motion, or the movement of a solid state object through time. Consciousness brings time, time brings experience, and experience indicates movement or motion.