Physicists get ever closer to a Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak with a new, less-bulky metascreen that scatters nano-particles. “Moving forward, one of the key challenges for the researchers will be to use ‘mantle cloaking’ to hide an object from visible light.”
Well, at least one branch of our government is well-funded enough to take on these sorts of projects, I guess. Too bad the research is classified and likely highly iffy. Consider, similarly, the two “other” Hubbles found lying around in a Pentagon warehouse last year. “[S]top and think about this for a moment. The Department of Defense has the kind of funding needed — hundred of millions to billions of dollars, presumably — to build not one, but two, Hubble-like optical telescopes and then never use them.”
You know what the world really needs? A system of dormant underwater drones, which apparently DARPA is hard at work on. If you want to use this type of tech to explore the oceans of Europa or Titan, fine. For the Taiwan Strait? Sounds like a terrible idea. SKYNET aside, glitches happen.
It can only be attributable to human error: Also in the “This will end badly someday” department, programmers at Georgia Tech teach robots how to lie. No way this will cause problems. Wait, just a moment…just a moment…I’ve just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It’s going to go a hundred percent failure within seventy-two hours.
In Slate, old friend Seth Stevenson surveys the practice and methodology of supercuts. At the very least it’s both funny and instructive to see how many times, to take the example of ST:TNG, Worf gets denied and bad things happen to Geordi.
In the wake of Neil Armstrong’s passing, The New Statesman‘s Alex Hern makes the case for moving in the direction of a space elevator. The political argument aside, serious forays into space are clearly hindered by the prohibitive costs of leaving orbit more than anything else. If we are going to get serious about this, a space elevator is a technology that’s worth looking into. Right now, only Japan is on the case.
From the folks who brought you the Internet, DARPA announces the 100-Year Starship Study, offering $500,000 in seed money to whomever comes up with the best plan for developing the technology needed for interstellar travel. “To stimulate discussion on the research possibilities, DARPA officials will hold a symposium that brings together astrophysicists, engineers and even sci-fi writers so they can brainstorm what it would take to make this starship enterprise a success.“
With the Space Shuttle nearing its end, NASA unveils the prototype for their new deep space exploration vehicle, Lockheed’s Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), and, well, it’s a throwback alright. “As currently envisioned, the MPCV would support four astronauts on short-duration flights of less than 21 days. For longer missions to asteroids or even Mars, the capsules would dock with a larger spacecraft of some sort that would provide more room for the crew while in transit.” “Of some sort”? So far at least, I am underwhelmed.
“‘This is the power of tsunamis,’ head researcher Richard Freund told Reuters. ‘It is just so hard to understand that it can wipe out 60 miles inland, and that’s pretty much what we’re talking about.‘”
As a modern-day tsunami wreaks catastrophe in Japan, researchers think they may have found the original Atlantis in the mud flats of Spain. “To solve the age-old mystery, the team used a satellite photo of a suspected submerged city to find the site just north of Cadiz, Spain…The team of archeologists and geologists in 2009 and 2010 used a combination of deep-ground radar, digital mapping, and underwater technology to survey the site.”
Strange powers have our enemies, and strange weaknesses! In Wired, Nate Anderson of Ars Technica fdelves into the story behind the highly troubling HBGary leaks. Among other things, these leaks have already revealed that:
In other words, they do not fear the law because it has forsaken these lands. And, hey, when you consider that nobody has yet gone to jail for lying the American people into a trillion-dollar war, setting up an illegal, unconstitutional, and inhumane torture regime, or fraudulently abetting or even precipitating a multi-trillion-dollar economic meltdown, their brazen calculation seems like a pretty safe bet.
“The message: the FCC Chairman caved to the most powerful interests and is adopting a rule that may end the Internet’s historic openness to all software and content as a level playing field. This will undermine the Internet’s role in as an engine of economic innovation and democratic participation. The rule was written by and for the giants like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, who are cheering the rule. And the FCC Chairman is trying to fool the public into believing they should thank him.“
After earlier explaining why the FCC’s compromise(d) stance was “garbage”, Marvin Ammori laments Julius Genachowski’s sad sell-out on net neutrality. While the president is claiming victory here — it does, after all, follow the “solomonic or moronic” splitting-the-baby approach he likes to bring to every issue — everything you need to know about it is summed up in one sentence in Wired: “There was one group, however, which seemed content with the new rules: the nation’s cable and telecommunications companies, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.“
Congratulations to Space X on their successful Falcon-9 launch last Friday. “After Friday’s successful test launch — unusual for a maiden voyage — SpaceX plans to send a fully operational rocket and capsule into orbit this summer, and one to the ISS next year.”
“I’ve been using a pre-release version of the service for a couple of weeks now, and I’m a huge fan. The new Hotmail is fast, well-designed, and adds a host of features that bring it up to par with other e-mail services, including Gmail. Indeed, it has several features that I wish Gmail included.” Slate‘s Farhad Manjoo previews the coming Hotmail overhaul. As someone who’s stuck around the old home even as all the cool kids flocked to gmail (which I use for listserv e-mails), I’m definitely looking forward to it.
With a word of warning from The Prospect‘s Paul Waldman, Popular Science takes a gander at Boston Dynamics’ LittleDog. “LittleDog doesn’t just traverse the terrain; it learns as it goes, noting what works and what doesn’t and incorporating that knowledge into its foothold scoring system.“
In Britain’s New Statesman, John Naish looks at the national security and job implications of our falling behind on green tech. “The more the military thinks about green technology, the more it sees how it goes hand in hand with improving operational effectiveness…Afghanistan is the principal driver for Nato nations. Resupply convoys can be eight miles long and they in effect say: ‘Please hit me with a roadside bomb.’ Up to 60 per cent of the convoys carry fuel and water. If you reduce that need for supply, you save lives.”
See also the “clean energy is a national security issue” argument made by Operation FREE (mainly in terms of Iran and its $100 million a day in oil profits): “‘There’s no greater threat to our national security than our dependence on oil.’ Marine veteran and Operation Free member Matt Victoriano told Kerry.‘” To be honest, I could really do without the implicit saber-rattling involved with some of this argument. But let’s face it, that’s how we got a space program.
While the Big ISPs begin to mount their counter-offensive, the usual blatherers on the Right are, naturally, decrying the decision as Phase 2 in the administration’s socialist-cryptofascist takeover to take over all things good and wonderful. Suffice to say, they don’t seem to understand the issue or the Internet very well. (Also, this is really a side matter, but, regarding the highly goofy “Big Guvmint is taking over the Internet!” meme: This is completely and utterly not true in any way. But, just so we all have the history straight: Big Guvmint created the Internet. If you haven’t heard of DARPA or J.C. Licklider, think Al Gore.)
“To create melanin particles tiny enough to squeeze through the liver, lungs, and spleen, Dr. Dadachova and her team layered several coats of synthesized melanin on silica particles. The particles, once injected into mice, clung onto bone marrow, as the researchers intended.“
It’s in the air, for you and me…By way of the always illuminating Dangerous Meta, scientists find a possible way to make people radiation resistant via melanin nanoparticles. “Clinical trials testing the melanized particles on cancer patients may begin two or three years. Dr. Dadachova also surmises that the technique has potential for protecting astronauts against radiation exposure.“
(Maybe Black Mesa? That was a joke, ha ha, fat chance.) Y’know, to be honest, I blame the time travelers from the future who should’ve come back and prevented these catastrophic rips in the fabric of space-time. Bang up job, you effing slackers.
“The jetpack is made from carbon fiber, with a touch of kevlar in the rotors, and generates 600 pounds of thrust. Because the center of gravity is below the ‘center of thrust’ (a notional point between the engines), it is self-righting: If the pilot lets go of the controls, he hovers steadily in one spot.” Where is my jetpack? Ah, it’s right here, for the paltry sum of $75,000-$90,000. [You can see it in action here.]
Also in the Brave New World dept. and by way of a friend, The Economist takes a gander at new “bioprinter” technology. “As for bigger body parts, Dr Forgacs thinks they may take many different forms, at least initially. A man-made biological substitute for a kidney, for instance, need not look like a real one or contain all its features in order to clean waste products from the bloodstream.“
As it turns out, I’ve recently made plans to join a gaggle of good friends on a week-long BVI sailing expedition this coming Spring. So I would start begging for donations here at GitM for the $400,000 required to stay on Necker Island for a week and enjoy this submersive Nymph. But, in all honesty, I’d probably just take that money and put it towards a jaunt on SpaceShipTwo. Priorities, people.
Ok, first off, the administration official who uttered the last sentence should be filed away next to Mr. Left of the Left and Ms. Pajamas as people who should no longer speak for the White House in any capacity whatsoever. Full stop, end of story. Putting my speechwriter cap on for a second: In most any political situation, ridiculing the dreams of an entire generation does not make for particularly good messaging.
Anyway, anonymous WH official aside, NASA administrator Charles Bolden sounded a better note about all this: “We’re not abandoning anything. We’re probably on a new course but human space flight is in our DNA. We are not abandoning human space flight by any stretch of the imagination. We have companies telling us they’re excited to get humans off this planet and into orbit. I think we’re going to get there and perhaps quicker than we would have done before.“
And, to be clear, the administration’s NASA budget increases the agency’s funding by $6 billion over the next five years. The new budget ups research and development spending into cheaper heavy launch mechanisms, emphasizes more robotic exploration missions and observational experiments into climate change, extends the life of the ISS (although, with only five more shuttle missions remaining, other nations will have to help service it), and works to promote the various commercial space enterprises moving along right now.
All of this is well and good, but it would be nice to see some recognition of the civic importance of manned space flight by this administration. In their words, NASA is scrapping Constellation on account of it being “over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation due to a failure to invest in critical new technologies.” And, given that we still had a lot of the expenditures before us, I suppose now was as good a time as any to kill the program if it’s not the right direction to go in.
That being said, how many more times are we going to do this? We keep stopping and starting and stopping and starting our post-Shuttle plans for space, so that now, after five final shuttle missions this coming year, we will longer have the capability anymore as a nation to send men and women into orbit. “If implemented, the NASA a few years from now would be fundamentally different from NASA today. The space agency would no longer operate its own spacecraft, but essentially buy tickets for its astronauts.” Forty-one years after we first reached the moon, that’s just plain sad.
Ultimately, the central finding of the Augustine commission’s final report, released this past October after extensive study of NASA’s current situation, is a sound one: “The U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.” In other words, we’ve been trying to talk the talk without walking the walk. If we’re going to get serious about manned space flight, we need to stop piecemealing NASA and start making manned exploration a funding priority.
In total, the agency is slated to get $100 billion over the next five years. To put that number in perspective, that’s less than a fifth of our defense budget for 2011 alone, and that’s going by the most conservative numbers around — NASA’s five-year budget could be closer to a tenth of next year’s defense spending. (For its part, the Augustine commission set a price tag of $3 billion a year to get serious about manned exploration.)
If we had put anywhere near that kind of money into exploration and R&D over the years, would we now be in this position, where we face the Hobson’s choice of replicating expensive 50-year-old launch tech or being completely grounded as a nation? The lack of thinking about our long-term priorities sometimes is staggering to me. I’ve said this before, but I still believe it holds true: Short of possibly genomic research and advances in AI, nothing we do right now will matter more centuries or millennia hence than establishing a presence off-world…if we even have that long. Not to get all Jor-El up in here, but we really have to start getting serious about this.
“If I did Titanic today, I’d do it very differently. There wouldn’t be a 750-foot-long set. There would be small set pieces integrated into a large CGI set. I wouldn’t have to wait seven days to get the perfect sunset for the kiss scene. We’d shoot it in front of a green screen, and we’d choose our sunset.” In Newsweek and Slate, James Cameron and Peter Jackson talk about the future of cinema. “Actors will never be replaced. The thought that somehow a computer version of a character is going to be something people prefer to look at is a ludicrous idea. It’s just paranoia.“
“If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you spend a fair amount of time online. However, considering how much of an influence the Internet has in our daily lives, how many of us actually know the story of how it got its start?” From Al Gore to the Series of Tubes: By way of Webgoddess, a very concise timeline of the history of the Internet.
“‘This film integrates my life’s achievements,’ he told me. ‘It’s the most complicated stuff anyone’s ever done.” Another time, he said, “If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.’” On the eve of Avatar, the New Yorker‘s Dana Goodyear delivers a long and interesting profile of take-no-guff, autocratic auteur James Cameron. (“A small, loyal band of cast and crew works with him repeatedly; they call the dark side of his personality Mij–Jim backward.“)
The whole thing is definitely worth a read, but this caught me eye further down the piece: “‘We should ultimately have colonies on Mars, for purposes of expanding the footprint of the human race,’ Cameron says. He shares with the Mars Society the opinion that NASA — on whose advisory council he sat for three years — has become too risk-averse. ‘We’ve become cowards, basically,’ he says. ‘As a society, we’re just fat and happy and comfortable and we’ve lost the edge.’” Listen to the King of the World — he’s dead on.
“‘The space program began the day humans chose to walk out of their caves,’ says Chang Diaz. ‘By exploring space we are doing nothing less than insuring our own survival.’ Chang Diaz believes that humans will either become extinct on Earth or expand into space. If we pull off the latter, he says, our notion of Earth will change forever.“
With that red meat for the space cadets among us, the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine surveys current theoretical endeavors in propulsion mechanics, including nuclear-based rocketry and fusion. “I grew up watching Apollo, and the systematic and well-thought-out march to that. And they did it. When you look into pioneering topics, there are those people who don’t want to touch it because it’s too far out there. But if it’s mature enough for you to at least start asking the right questions, and you do an honest job, then you can be a pioneer.“
“‘Houston, Hubble has been released,’ Atlantis commander Scott Altman radioed Mission Control. ‘It’s safely back on its journey of exploration as we begin the steps to conclude ours.” The crew of STS-125 re-release the Hubble into high orbit, their epic repair-and-upgrade mission accomplished. “‘We have literally thousands of astronomers out there around the world waiting to use these new capabilities,’ Morse said. ‘And they are chomping at the bit to get their data.‘” Great work, Atlantis.
“It all started with a band of rebels who wanted to help a farmboy follow his dream. Three decades later, the Star Wars empire has grown into one the most fertile incubators of talent in the worlds of movies (Lucasfilm), visual effects (Industrial Light & Magic), sound (Skywalker Sound), and videogames (Lucasarts).” By way of my sis-in-law Lotta, How Star Wars Changed the World. Some of the links are tenuous (Barry Levinson?), others aren’t all that flattering (Chris Columbus)…still, worth a look-see.
“It is the most challenging film I’ve ever made.” The Hollywood Reporter checks in with James Cameron on the status of Avatar, and the future of 3D. “‘The real question is ‘where does all this go?’ Cameron said. ‘Are we looking at a situation maybe 10-15 years out where most laptops are sold with 3-D stereoscopic screens, most montors are stereo compatible, most DVD players can run stereo content?…I can see this becoming much more pervasive that we are thinking now.’“
“‘It was very emotional for me,’ he said. ‘I thought, “Oh my God, we’re getting closer.”‘” I’ll say…Richard Branson and Burt Rutan unveil their space tourism mothership, the White Knight Two. “Virgin Galactic envisions a future where space voyages will become as common as airplane travel. It wants to fly 500 people into space in the first year for $200,000 a head…So far, more than 250 wannabe astronauts have paid the full amount.” Hmm…maybe it’s time to start putting ads on this site.
“Sympathetic owners sometimes just retire their new purchases. In other cases, the pets take matters into their own paws. Peter Haney, a university administrator in Lethbridge, Alberta, twice found his Roomba in pieces after letting it clean while his flat-coated retrievers, Macleod and Tima, had the run of the house. ‘No one is talking,’ he says.” They’re only trying to save us from our future cybernetic overlords…From the bookmarks and by way of a friend, the WSJ broaches the thorny issue of the canine-robot divide. As I noted earlier, the Battle for 122nd St., 5D went to Berkeley, whose fearsome arsenal of dog hair apparently convinced my Roomba to give up hope.