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Ad Astra

[My story on Alpha Centauri.]

The nearest Earth out there in space? It might be right next door, galactically speaking.

Two teams of astronomers, one from the United States and one from Europe, are in a race to find a planet orbiting our near neighbors Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, twin stars that appear from Earth as a single point of light.

"I'm betting that there are planets like Earth or Mars or Venus around either or both of those stars, and the only question is whether we'll be able to detect them," said Debra Fischer, an astronomer at San Francisco State University. Backed with U.S. government funding, she is using a telescope in Chile to assemble 100,000 observations of the Centauri system.

If the astronomers succeed in detecting a planet there, it will be a scientific bombshell -- and it will raise the question of how we might someday send a probe to get a closer look. Alpha Centauri A and B may be our nearest sunlike neighbors (a third, smaller star in the Centauri system, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, is a hair closer to the Earth), but it's still a long haul from here.

The problem with interstellar spaceflight is the "interstellar" part. We happen to live in a universe that is strikingly vacuous. The Centauri system is nearly 26 trillion miles away.

That's roughly 280,000 times the distance of the Earth from the sun. It's so distant that a beam of light traveling at 186,000 miles per second needs more than four years to cross the interstellar void. If you looked at Alpha Centauri tonight (it's overhead in the Southern Hemisphere), you'd be seeing light emitted right around the time of the second inauguration of George W. Bush.

Click here to keep reading.

By Joel Achenbach  |  June 1, 2009; 8:02 AM ET
 
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Comments

'Strikingly vacuous' could apply to a lot of things in addition to our universe.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 1, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

This is a classic. A real keeper. It clearly shows the promise and startling challenges of interstellar travel. It is sobering in that it highlights the need for “undiscovered physics” to make satisfying manned travel to the stars realistic. I find this a major downer because I do not see NASA doing much to promote such revolutionary advances.

On the other hand, this piece gets me pretty excited about the huge potential of probes and artificial intelligence. Further, since most of this is more evolutionary technology, it is something NASA could realistically begin developing now. I can see how aggressive exploration of the solar system with artificial probes, outside of being valuable in and of itself, really could lead to the launch of a Starship Cellphone.

And while I know the results of such a probe would be unknown to me, I think this would be a very worthy legacy for us to leave to our descendants.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | June 1, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

rd,

Zephram Cochrane doesn't even get born for another 21 years, so we have a ways to wait for that 'undiscovered physics'.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 1, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

AstraZeneca faces lawsuit over Seroquel

http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/may2009/gb20090522_630084.htm?chan=globalbiz_europe+index+page_companies

AstraZeneca, Merck collaborate on cancer compounds

http://www.foxbusiness.com/story/markets/industries/health-care/astrazeneca-merck-collaborate-cancer-compounds/

This is about about all the Astra I'm up for this morning...

Posted by: laloomis | June 1, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Weighing in late on the last Kit...

I was much surprised that Marc Fisher, in his last column that was online this weekend, wrote about place. So does Mark Arax in his book, "West of the West," in his first essay. Arax defines how society relates to place, each "a different way of living."

First, place is moveable and disposable, thanks to homogenization.

Seond, place is your subject and is separate from your soul. But it's never you, but it may be your home and your laboratory. You never take changes personally, you live above the fray.

Third, place is one of deep roots and intimacy. You have a spiritual relationship to the geography, a relationship that may get lost as place is transformed.

I have no doubt that newspapers will one day, probably sooner than later, will charge for online content. Business managers in journalism ought to keep that in mind when they devise a pricing structure.

For readers who live beyond the Beltway (or, as another example, beyond New York City), I doubt few of us would be interested in a distant paper's Metro stories. Heck, as far as that goes, I feel like San Antonio is more prison than home (I'm not here because of *my* choice--and the consent I gave back in the early 90s is one of regret), and I can't get much enthusiasm worked up these days for Metro stories in my own shrinking, tall-and-narrow dead-tree paper. Unless I'm choking and gasping for air because of neighborhood mulch fire smoke or sitting in a horrendous line of cars on the highway, I pretty much live above the fray.

But I'll gladly pay for great national reporting from either NYC or D.C. Add to the mix (or pricing structure) the issue of quality. Do I have to pay for reporting that fails to meet my expectations?


Posted by: laloomis | June 1, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Fisher, from his farewell column:

"Newspapers are in a fight to survive, desperately searching for new ways to reflect the world to an audience that is less trusting, more distracted and diffuse. For many people now, digital connections seem to trump geography as the central definition of home. But those electronic ties don't fulfill all our needs. Where we live still matters."

LL: I don't think digital connections will ever trump geography as the central definition of home (as defined by Arax's #3). It appears that Fisher is seeing home, perhaps, as Arax's #1.

One can have a major daily as an Internet homepage, as author Connelly does with the Los Angeles Times, but it is never home, rather, as is the case with Connelly, a former home or a sometimes-home--when Connelly returns for a stretch to LALand to get juiced up to write either there or back in Florida.

Posted by: laloomis | June 1, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Vacuous... I've heard that somewhere before...

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 1, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Just a mention, as I was typing the above, author David Ebershoff zapped an e-mail to to me, mentioning his cross-country travel to promote "The 19th Wife," which has just now come out in paperback. Closest to youse guys will be his appearance in Raleigh on June 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books.

Me? I'd much rather hear him on June 17 in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the Great Plains Art Musuem, where he'll sit on a panel with other writers to discuss the topic "The Delights and Frustrations of Research." Heck, wish I could be a panel member myself--having worked some really late hours last night to nail something down!

Posted by: laloomis | June 1, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Oh yes...

"You vacuous, malodorous, toffee-nosed pervert!!"

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 1, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Oh look, this isn't an argument!
(pause)
It's just contradiction!

Posted by: yellojkt | June 1, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

But if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 1, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Yes but it isn't just saying 'no it isn't'.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 1, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Is this the Argument Clinic?

Posted by: -jack- | June 1, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I've told you once...

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 1, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

"Per aspera ad astra"

(Through difficulties to the stars)

State motto of Kansas.

Maybe we need the undiscovered physics of an interstellar tornado, RD. And a handsome black dog, of course.


Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | June 1, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 1, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Oh, the frustrations of research! Going deep into fundamentalist Mormon territory to do research about Mormons! And, are there limits to American rights?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAF0psYR82k

Posted by: laloomis | June 1, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

The official state motto of the Curmudgeon household is "Per asperin ad ass-dolor." Colloquially translated as "When your butt hurts, take an Anacin."

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 1, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Astra-Zeneca ads? What???

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 1, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

ad astra? Are we talking about celebrity endorsements by the Jetsons' dog?

Posted by: yellojkt | June 1, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Sure enough. Here it is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tb5a9KvlZII

George and Jane and Rosie and Astro pitching for Tums. The synchronicity is a little spooky.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 1, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Snuke -- you took da woids right outta my mouth (Astra-Zeneca ads).

Even though I've been up for hours, I am just now able to keep my peepers open for extended periods of time. Just completely whacked out from yesterday. I even (and pleeeeze don't tell the team) fell asleep during the third period of the hockey game and missed the third goal. I did wake up in time, however to see the fight between Malkin and Zetterberg with 18 seconds left. Ah, hockey -- dontcha love it???

And there we have it until further notice, which will emanate from a future post. Or sumpin' like that.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | June 1, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Good morning, friends. I came by yesterday, but, alas, was not allowed to speak. Perhaps because I used the word "Darfur" in my comment or because I spoke to the situation that is taking place there, I don't know. Just couldn't get clear of the filter. The hour that I arrived could have played into the rejection. It was about four or five o'clock in the morning.

Slyness, Mudge, Yoki, Martooni, Scotty, and all, hopes for a great Monday, and the rest of the week. I need a whole bunch of dictionaries and other tools to understand the kit, which is probably terrific if I understood it.

Posted by: cmyth4u | June 1, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, all.

I have some on-Kit commentary to make, but I suppose I ought to read it fully first.

One quick Observation I would make is that I don't think there was any light emitted around the second inauguration of GW Bush.

A Universally dark moment, I'd say.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 1, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Hi all... totally off subject, but is it every really necessary to apologize for suggesting a BPH this week?

How 'bout a BPH Wed night? Son of G is coming to town and would probably love to see y'all too!

Posted by: TBG- | June 1, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

I'm provisionally in, TBG! :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 1, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Crap. Fire alarm (fire drill, most likely) in the building.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 1, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Crap? On this gorgeous day? Go outside and enjoy it, Mudge.

Posted by: TBG- | June 1, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Yanno, we could always talk about astral projections or astral travel--in other words, out-of-body experiences. Can't say I've had any, but others here? Ya never know...

Posted by: laloomis | June 1, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of bc's 11:27 post about light rays emitted about the time of the second inauguration of George W. Bush, did anyone notice the funny rays of light being projected behind Susan Boyles' head when she sang "Memories" during her second appearance on Britain's Got Talent? The only thing the talent show has is weird backdrops...

Posted by: laloomis | June 1, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I must need sleep. The story isn't in the least bit funny, but the headline is:

Suspect Held in Tiller Slaying

Someone actually knocked off a piece of farm equipment?

Posted by: laloomis | June 1, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

The thing about interstellar travel is that, absent the sudden appearance of "new physics," it's so far in the future that other trends in bioscience, neuroscience (sometimes inelegantly called brain science), molecular genetics and computation will have vastly changed the context.

Posted by: TexLex | June 1, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Interesting and somewhat ironic that Joel would talk about, in this article, the propulsion system(s)--not yet plausible--for such distant space flight...on a day that the headline news is that the 101-year-old GM is now in bankruptcy and Chrysler is in talks with Fiat.

GM workers on midday cable news talking about losing their jobs now that a number of GM plants are idled. My husband had a small shock this morning during his call to N.C. The man he spoke to, a contractor, had been given his two-week termination notice not too many minutes before.

Posted by: laloomis | June 1, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Add Astra to what?

I was told there would be no algebra...

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 1, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I myself am not sciencey, nor a physicist - that's why I read the Kits and Boodles. However, from this Kit I have the distinct impression that interstellar spaceflight will eventually be accomplished by innovative and very small technology. In fact, it is clear to me that this is the next step for the iPhone. Make sure you back up your contacts and calendars, iPhone denizens, because one day those puppies will take to the skies.

Posted by: Ivansmom | June 1, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

http://www.acsm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home_Page&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=12931


"The physical challenges and demands of participating in competitive high school marching band are similar to those experienced by athletes who compete in sports, according to a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 56th Annual Meeting in Seattle."

I did neither. So I wasn't accepted by colleges where that sort of thing was requisite for admission.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | June 1, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Well, it wasn't a drill and it wasn't a fire-- yet another bomb scare/suspicious package. They just now let us back in. So we basically just had an enforced 2-hour 45-minute lunch. (Our group went over to the Courtyard Mariott a block away and had club sandwiches and ice tea. So, bladders full to bursting, your feral gummint is now back in operation.)

Of course, my brown-bag lunch of yesterday;s chicken, pasta sald, and grilled romaine with key lime salad dressing has been sitting on my desk for three hours...and we forgot to turn off the coffee pot before we left the building. *sigh*

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 1, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

The fascination many people have with interstellar travel seems to mirror the fascination that some have with extraterrestrial life. (For more on our obsession with Space Aliens please consult the definitive work on this topic linked to below.)

http://www.amazon.com/Captured-Aliens-Search-Truth-Universe/dp/0806524960/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243882942&sr=1-3

Anyway, both fascinations sometimes seem to instill an almost religious devotion. That the fans of Star Trek and Star Wars have an intensity bordering on the cult-like is well known. But I think that even sober reasonably-sensible people yearn strongly for a future in which humanity isn’t constrained to the solar system. And I am not immune to this either.

For a secularist the notion that our civilization might well flame-out without creating any greater impact on the cosmos as a whole is a little depressing. Sure, one can adopt the vaguely narcissist philosophy that human existence on this planet is an end in itself, but come on. I have slightly higher expectations. I want an epic legacy that spans the eons and fills the galaxy.

Yet, the harsh realities that Joel discusses are difficult to overcome. I have a hard time accepting that magical new physics is going to overcome the distances involved. If we have learned anything in the last few thousand years, it is that the universe really doesn’t do a very good job of catering to our expectations.

For me the way out of this conundrum, besides self-delusion and a finite lifespan, is the promise of artificial intelligence. I know I have boodled about this before, but I really do think that the ultimate creation of humanity will be intelligent, loving, self replicating, and essentially immortal machines that will head out into the universe from this small planet. We humans will just be here to wave them goodbye and wish them Godspeed.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | June 1, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

For a minute there, Padouk, I thought you were talking about my two failure-to-launch children. However, if the criteria are "intelligent, loving, self replicating, and essentially immortal," I guess they can scrape up one out of four.

Correction: my son might go 2 for 4.

I've done my best to keep them from self-replicating. So far so good.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 1, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

But RD, will they send postcards that say 'weather is here wish you were wonderful'? Will they take silly pictures of a gnome in front of well-known landmarks? How long until one of them does this?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlfKdbWwruY

Or will we only hear from them when they need bail money?

Posted by: LostInThought | June 1, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Well, LiT, it would be nice if they wrote. But you know how it goes.

But hey kids! The new Atlantic Hurricane names are out!

2009 hurricane and tropical storm names - Atlantic

Ana
Bill
Claudette
Danny
Erika
Fred
Grace
Henri
Ida
Joaquin
Kate
Larry
Mindy
Nicholas
Odette
Peter
Rose
Sam
Teresa
Victor
Wanda


Personally, I think Hurricane Claudette sounds kinda cool

Posted by: RD_Padouk | June 1, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Afternoon, Boodle. Hi, Al!

RD_Padouk, your 3:29 was wonderful. As usual.

The only way I can afford to travel, I'm glad to be restricted to earth. I wouldn't want to be in economy all the way to Alpha Centauri. Probably the guy ahead of me would recline his seat, and the woman in the window seat be a compulsive chatter.

Posted by: Yoki | June 1, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

And you would have to be at the launchpad like, 5 years in advance.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | June 1, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Not to mention having to survive on those weird deformed little snacks that taste of nothing except chemicals.

Posted by: Yoki | June 1, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Any trailer park flatten by a hurricane named "Henri" will have to live with the snickers of all other trailer parks of the South for 2 generations.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | June 1, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Bill? Bill? What a dumb name for a hurricane. Jeezey-peezy.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 1, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Actually,I just learned that you can find the hurricane names though 2013. But where's the fun in that?

Posted by: RD_Padouk | June 1, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

I just had flashbacks to Romper Room anxiously waiting for one of my names to be called - never happened - much like the names for hurricanes - such sorrow.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 1, 2009 5:01 PM | Report abuse

SCC: Through 2013

And here's the ones for North Pacific Hurricanes for 2009

1. Andres
2. Blanca
3. Carlos
4. Dolores
5. Enrique
6. Felicia
7. Guillermo
8. Hilda
9. Ignacio
10. Jimena
11. Kevin
12. Linda
13. Marty
14. Nora
15. Olaf
16. Patricia
17. Rick
18. Sandra
19. Terry
20. Vivian
21. Waldo
22. Xina
23. York
24. Zelda

Hehehe

Posted by: RD_Padouk | June 1, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Now you are just rubbing it in RD, Waldo?

Posted by: dmd2 | June 1, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Waldo! That's fabulous.

Posted by: Yoki | June 1, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Having one of my given names retired before I was born is probably not helping the situation.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 1, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Mudge is a WAY better name than Bill!

Posted by: nellie4 | June 1, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I remember Tropical Storm Bill from 2003. I have a great picture of my kids on the beach at Panama City Beach, Florida, with the huge clouds approaching (the storm did not hit Panama City).

Are they already recycling the name Bill? My... how time flies!

Posted by: -TBG- | June 1, 2009 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Waldo might not get used; it's at the bottom of the list.
Why do they do that?
You know, Bill right off the top and Zelda at the bottom. Now wait a minute...

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | June 1, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

And be sure to check out the nifty graphic that goes with Joel's story.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2009/06/01/GR2009060100553.html?sid=ST2009060100556

The linear graphic reminds me a little of those timelines that show how recently we've arrived on the scene.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | June 1, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Hey... didn't Ad Astra play Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore Show?

Posted by: TBG- | June 1, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Lou: You know what? You’ve got spunk.
Mary: Well, yes…
Lou: I hate spunk.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | June 1, 2009 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Just getting back from two doctor appointments. I'm being upgraded on the medications. Stronger. The good news, I lost weight, although that's medically induced too. I'll take it any way I can get it.

Jack, I hope your news is good.

Posted by: cmyth4u | June 1, 2009 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Good evening, all.

I'm Boodling from my deck in the evening sun with a my laptop, a glass of wine, a smile, a pair of cutoff jean shorts and a thin coat of olive oil.

Wed nite. BPH sounds good to me, TBG.

To the Kit:

"Ad Astra," er, isn't that a paraphrase of what Ralph Kramden used to say to his wife?
"Ad Luna, Alice! Ad Luna!"

I don't think interstellar space is entirely vacuous - dust, rocks free hyrogen, etc. Tying a few threads together here, I remember reading a book by Poul Anderson called - not coincidentally, I think (see Kit para 9) - "Tau Zero" (IIRC Tau is used as a mathematical representaton of time dialation/slowing experienced by people/objects accelerating towards the speed of light relative to where/when you started (e.g. Earth), according to Einstein's theory of Special Relativity. A person accelerating to the speed of light (somehow) would experience no time passing in their frame of reference, while all of time passed by back on Earth. Or what's left of it when the Sun goes through it's death throes a few billion years from now. But I digress.). Anyway, in Anderson's book, a starship uses a Bussard ramjet for interstellar flight. This theoretical powerplant uses a big magnetic ramscoop to funnel all that interstellarstuff into a nuclear reactor/reaction in the tail which provides thrust. Fanciful, but the book is pretty good and as scientifically accurate as anyone knew at the time. Plus, it has long-form Scandanavian poetry, IIRC (it's been about 30 years since I read it, so forgive me if my memory is not accurate).

I'm glad Joel mentioned Laughlin's work on planets and mutiple star systems like the Alpha Centauri A/B/etc. At least he's given astronomers places to look for planets around star systems that were once thought unlikely to have them. I'm skeptical that planets in such a system would have stable conditions long enough to produce or harbor life, but I've been wrong before.

OK, taking a break to address the Boodleage.

Yes, RD, this means you.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 1, 2009 8:08 PM | Report abuse

OK, to the Boodling:

Mudge, when you're experiencing the burning and itching of severe time dialation, take that Anacin, sir.

RD, I agree that we should be sending our thoughts and our handiwork into the blue, to tell us stories of What is Out There. And perhaps those cellphones sending back postcards LiT mentioned -- can't wait for the one that says, "Hi. Please send money," or, "Help. Please come bail me out. I'm in Betelgeuse Colony Detention Center for Public Replication. Apparently it's illegal in these parts, considered littering. And also obscene."

But are we destined to be toymakers or clever monkeys who figure out how to not only trash our planet but figure out how spread our junk across the galaxy? [After all, what will all those self-replicating iStarships be after they're used up?]

I'd like to believe my children - my *real* children - have souls. And that's what I'd want to send, and to carry on my lineage - if *they* decided they wanted to go and weren't just manufactured for the purpose - into the Big, Beautiful Ocean of Night: the human experience, the human soul, the human spirit.

We cannot yet manufacture practical interstellar drive systems just as we cannot yet manufacture a machine that is self-aware, much less one that can laugh or cry or sacrifice itself for love.

Perhaps you're right and we *will* be Gepettos, sending our Pinocchios into the World of a Trillion Suns, but I don't know that I see a Blue Fairy in any of those stars.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 1, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Oh, bc, you are so poetical!

Posted by: slyness | June 1, 2009 9:12 PM | Report abuse

bc – in my view there is a difference between what should be and what can be. In a fair universe creatures such as ours, who are capable of loving and dreaming, would be able to fully express our nature by getting in magical spaceships and flowing freely through the cosmos.

And maybe that magical physics is still out there. But I don’t think so. At least not in any future my wee little brain can foresee. The universe is too big and far too cruel. So I stretch my mind to what I think might be possible. Not what should be possible.

And I view AI as something that is not only possible, but also unavoidable. Is this less than ideal? Sure. Soulless surrogates? Well, that's too metaphysical for me. But this is a future that I see as possible. Something that can be realistically worked towards now. Something that builds on what is, not what should be. It might not fulfill the dreams of poets, but it might be all the universe will let us have.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | June 1, 2009 9:58 PM | Report abuse

bc and RD_P are making me cry.

Posted by: nellie4 | June 1, 2009 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Oh you guys... get a room.

Posted by: TBG- | June 1, 2009 10:06 PM | Report abuse

Soulless AI surrogates? What about AI simulations of ourselves? Better yet -- what about AI continuations of ourselves? Degenerative brain disorders (Alzheimer's comes to mind) could conceivably be countered by integrating appropriate hardware into the brain to take up the slack. Eventually, the organic part fails, and all functions are transferred to the AI. At that point, the only thing holding us to any particular body would be sentimentality. One could imagine plugging that brain into an artificial support unit ("body") capable of self-repair and interstellar travel. The velocity doesn't really matter, so long as the power system and self-repair can keep up with radiation damage. Just turn the clock speed way down and the length of the trip becomes whatever is convenient. Travel to another star. Land on a planet. Build machines -- little ones at first, then progressively bigger. You're a machine, you have all the time in the world. Start tweaking the climate and the chemistry. Create some life. Turn the clock speed down low again, and wait to see what happens... Don't like what you see? Send some remote units out into space to tweak some asteroid orbits, wipe the screen and restart. Because a bored AI is a vengeful AI!

Perhaps this is the solution to the Fermi paradox...

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 1, 2009 10:26 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, I read your 4:41, and laughed. And then I thought about all the knitting I could do.

So if we should ever find ourselves the same flight to Alpha Centauri, and if you have room in your carry on, could I get you to carry along some yarn for me?

Posted by: --dr-- | June 1, 2009 11:02 PM | Report abuse

I'll even bring a bigger suitcase, just suited to the purpose. If you promise to look up from time to time (not too often!) and we'll talk about Eliot and Austen, just to break the monotony.

Posted by: Yoki | June 1, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

This is not quite space travel, but quite impressive - Emirates airlines knows how to take First Class to a whole new level.

Anyone know why they would hose the plane down after landing (or just for show?)

http://www.thestar.com/videozone

Posted by: dmd2 | June 1, 2009 11:06 PM | Report abuse

IIRC, The Jupiter 2 was on its way to Alpha Centauri before Dr. Smith knocked it off course.

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

Posted by: yellojkt | June 1, 2009 11:16 PM | Report abuse

dmd,
As much as I would love that first class cabin, the 380 still looks like a pregnant guppy.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 1, 2009 11:33 PM | Report abuse

And, yes, I am well aware of the 377PG and 377SG. Planes that Airbus seems to have taken significant stylistic clues from. Except without as much panache.

Private message to bc and rd: Quit bogarting the magical metaphysical mushrooms.

And the floor is now free for doily talk.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 1, 2009 11:44 PM | Report abuse

Ug, wrote a really long, poetic post about how I am raising children because of love and hope that they will achieve more than I ever dreamed possible.

And that includes having the whole Universe if they want it.

Imprudently, I didn't copy my post anywhere, and now it's gone into the AchenAether. If Joel or someone at WaPo sees fit to retrieve it, good. If not, so be it.

Bah.

*Tim, I'd mentioned bioengineering people for spaceflight in previous Boodling, and am willing to accept that as an option.

But the important thing is that our children go together -- because the cold cruel universe won't be so if there are friends and family to share it.

That, RD, my friend, is the *real* magic.

[Didn't Clarke say that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?]

bc

Posted by: -bc- | June 1, 2009 11:51 PM | Report abuse

dmd -- I thought the fountains of water were replicating the way fireboats spray arriving ships in some ports -- NYC? --- just damp confetti.

Posted by: nellie4 | June 1, 2009 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Bc, have a drink and a good cry.

Love. It's what makes life worth livin', innit?

Just knowin' something still glows under all the dreariness and mistakes we all do...

Aw, now I'm ready to have a drink and cry too.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | June 2, 2009 12:33 AM | Report abuse

I know a thing or two about the Deep Magic. It is to be found here on earth. With, just, a bit of luck and an eye for the great chance. And a willingness to live courageously.

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 12:46 AM | Report abuse

I was so amused to see the name of my dear friend and fellow Boodler, Sandra, on the North Pacific Hurricane list!

It takes so little to amuse me at this time in the morning.

Posted by: -dbG- | June 2, 2009 1:04 AM | Report abuse

Good evening all
Here at work tonight.I got out in the woods today and took a hike on this lovely day.I had forgotten what a mature forrest the Patapsco state park has. Well I found a trail I haven't seen before and checked it out.Honeysuckles were bloomimg,I came across 2 small snakes and the usual critters running around the woods.It was a nice hike,but maybe a bit too far.My left leg went numb and actually started hurting at one point,till I was able to sit down and take the pressure off. I did get to walk over a few logs crossing streams.It was a good day.

Posted by: greenwithenvy | June 2, 2009 1:07 AM | Report abuse

Yo, green man! Don't do that.

Posted by: Yoki | June 2, 2009 1:21 AM | Report abuse

Hey Yoki
Curiosity got the better of me,I mean a new trail in a park where I have hiked all the other trails 25+ times.A beautiful day,it was all good,except I forgot my smokes too......but that probably was a good thing.

Posted by: greenwithenvy | June 2, 2009 1:33 AM | Report abuse

Disney's Epcot space ride uses deep sleep to make the journey to Mars seem faster. The ride is a marvel. Incredible sensation of motion. Left me a bit disoriented as far as the Test Track entrance.

Um, after an important lunch, today's rainless forecast provided an excuse to do some kind-of-necessary shopping in Orlando, then run over to Disney to take advantage of a chance to spend a few hours at the big theme park, cheap.

Quick review:
-loads of cycads, including whole beds of coonties (notably at the entry to the Living Sea With Nemo), Dioons, sagos, and Encephartos from Africa. All easy to grow.

-they are the only people in North America who know how to prune crape myrtles. These small trees are perfectly happy if you leave them alone, but Disney's done wonders with cutting them back just enough for good looks. A Japanese pruning expert would like the results. Crapes are the "street trees" of the formal walkway from the geodesic dome area to the start of the big lagoon.

-the IllumiNations show at closing time in the big lagoon is big. Very big. Lots of fireworks, flames, etc.

-the Japan pavilion made me feel at home. The big department store/restaurant building is sort of odd, but the castle gate, pagoda, garden, and the light food place in the garden all seemed right.

-the ancient ride in the geodesic dome is still cute. The smoldering ruins of the Great Library of Alexandria still smell smoky and wet.

-the giant fish tank is no longer quite so dazzling, but it pioneered a whole bunch of ambitious aquariums. It won a civil engineering award. Nice bronze plaque.

-Test Track is charming. It was spooky to be there on the very day that its sponsor, GM, went bankrupt. At the exit, you could even clamber into an H3.
_________

Honeysuckles in a forest don't sound encouraging. The Japanese honeysuckle is a severe pest. I recall getting a bit apoplectic many years ago upon running into someone's research project to determine whether the stuff should be planted as food for white-tailed deer.

In the snake department, western Oregon astounded me. Garter snakes everywhere, even on coastal headlands where you'd think it never got warm enough. Of course they tended to sun themselves on the trails.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | June 2, 2009 1:54 AM | Report abuse

"Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice."
(I hope that joke isn't too old. I just heard it.)

Posted by: Jumper1 | June 2, 2009 1:56 AM | Report abuse

DotC, that's probably why I have stayed away from the Oregon coast all these years. No, not really, but it would sure creep me out. We have garter snakes here, but I've only seen a few in 20-odd (!) years.

Good Kit. I like the Cellphone Enterprise. And the fusion drive, which hasn't been invented yet. Great stuff to ponder.

Posted by: seasea1 | June 2, 2009 2:12 AM | Report abuse

DotC,
You are actually making me nostalgic for the old mousehole. EPCOT opened the year I graduated from high school. A bunch of us went on our winter break. Half of us loved it, the other half were 'meh'.

The Illuminations show is the best of the Disney night time spectacles.

They'll just rename the GM test track the Renault-Puegot-Saab-Suburu-Chery Test Track once the global consolidations are over.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 2, 2009 5:17 AM | Report abuse

Morning, all.

Cassandra, I hope you're feeling better this morning. We've missed you!

Just to be different, there are yoghurt/fresh fruit/granola parfaits on the ready room table this morning. We all need something healthy once in a while. Eat more than one if you want, there are plenty and I can make more.

Busy day ahead, I'd better get started.

Posted by: slyness | June 2, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

My favorite breakfast Slyness thank you.

Posted by: dmd2 | June 2, 2009 7:20 AM | Report abuse

*adding-a-couple-of-Bacon-Explosion-parfaits-to-the-table Grover waves*

:-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

*adding a Tums parfait for good measure* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Good morning boodle! Yogurt parfaits sound wonderful this AM. The Bacon Explosion is tempting, but it just doesn't seem like a summer breakfast. Not that it seems like summer around here, 45 this morning with a high of 65 in the forecast.

DotC-your annual membership duties in the SCMS (Stop the Crape Murder Society) were accomplished with this part of your EPCOT comment- "they are the only people in North America who know how to prune crape myrtles.

I was happy to see that Atlanta is using them to good effect as a street tree near the Fox Theatre. Still a tad aggressive on the pruning, but the model of restraint for a municipality.

For anyone still interested in MN getting a second senator here's some analysis of yesterday's oral arguments
http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2009/06/01/9204/supreme_court_oral_arguments_did_coleman_prove_enough_to_overturn_three-judge_panels_decision

I listened to most of it in the car and wondered almost immediately if Coleman made a mistake in choosing his representation. Maybe Friedberg should have stayed at a Holiday Inn.
You can see for yourself here-
http://www.theuptake.org/
scroll down past theuptake commentary

Posted by: frostbitten1 | June 2, 2009 9:03 AM | Report abuse

I had some journalism delight late last night.

By that I mean innovative journalism. A visually rich subject matter and a story well-told through several mediums.

I found, at the New York Times, a feature story about one of the world's leading paleo artists, Viktor Deak of Connecticut. Much of this unusual artist's impressive work is on display at the new Hall of Human Origins at the American Natural History Museum in New York City.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/science/02prof.html?8dpc

The reporting mentions what a strange kid Deak was and how his particular hominid artistic talent was discovered, and how many people might think of his apartment just slightly creepy.

Add to the excellent writing and photos, additional visual treats. There's the 360-degree interactive panorama of his studio--his shelves crammed with stuff, and do note what looks like a fresh bouquet of flowers near what may be his wife's computer screen. Plus, there's a five-minute video interview with Deak, which also showcases much of his completed work, as well as his work in progress. In the panorama, I was somewhat taken aback to see the amazing number of Transformer figures or toys that Deak has collected.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/science/02prof.html?8dpc

The last thing I did before leaving the late night treat of outstanding journalism was to check the byline. The writer is Don McNeil, the reporter whose story about swine flu and supercomputing I so admired for its originality.

Posted by: laloomis | June 2, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I am a complete ignoramus about all things that have to do with deep space.

But after reading more about William Smith last night and about how, when he was lowered into a colliery in Somerset in 1792, he began to see repetition of deposits--before the ages of stones and sediments had been given names, before the word stratigraphic had ever been used, before any geological maps had been compiled, long before tectonic plates and the lithosphere and asthensophere were known--I have questions.

So I ask, does the universe have an age or is the answer infinite? Are all elements of the universe the same age? Or, for example, are certain portions of the universe, such as the Earth and solar system--and I stress I have chosen our part of the universe purely for the sake of example since they are commonly known--older or younger than other parts? I know the answer is probably covered in Universe 101, but I don't know the answer, so thought I'd ask.

Posted by: laloomis | June 2, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

frostbitten,
I think Plant Amnesty, based in Seattle, is still trying to help prevent the murder-by-dismemberment of crapes.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | June 2, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, that is really good news! Don't sell yourself short, though. You did this.

Hoping to get almost all the remaining flowers in today. The bed out front is ready, the new mailbox is in (after 4 weeks of trying to find the time). Did anyone notice the orange big box store now sells the staking pivots needed to create raised bed gardens? Much as I like the ones I have, I need to price some lumber for uniquely-sized raised beds. I'm thinking about some 3" x ? to hold long rows of raspberries.

Posted by: -dbG- | June 2, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

From Wikipedia, "Age of the Universe" entry:

"The age of the universe is the time elapsed between the Big Bang and the present day. Current theory and observations suggest that this is between 13.5 and 14 billion years.[1] The uncertainty range has been obtained by the agreement of a number of scientific research projects. Scientific instruments and methods have improved the ability to measure the age of the universe with a great accuracy. These projects included background radiation measurements and more ways to measure the expansion of the universe. Background radiation measurements give the cooling time of the universe since the big bang. Expansion of the universe measurements give accurate data to calculate the age of the universe."

Age of the Milky Way:

"It is extremely difficult to define the age at which the Milky Way formed, but the age of the oldest star in the Galaxy yet discovered, HE 1523-0901, is estimated to be about 13.2 billion years, nearly as old as the Universe itself.[1]

This estimate is based on research by a team of astronomers in 2004 using the UV-Visual Echelle Spectrograph of the Very Large Telescope to measure, for the first time, the beryllium content of two stars in globular cluster NGC 6397.[14][citation needed] From this research, the elapsed time between the rise of the first generation of stars in the entire Galaxy and the first generation of stars in the cluster was deduced to be 200 million to 300 million years. By including the estimated age of the stars in the globular cluster (13.4 ± 0.8 billion years), they estimated the age of the oldest stars in the Milky Way at 13.6 ± 0.8 billion years. Based upon this emerging science, the Galactic thin disk is estimated to have been formed between 6.5 and 10.1 billion years ago."

Age of the Solar System:

"The Solar System[a] consists of the Sun and those celestial objects bound to it by gravity, all of which formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud approximately 4.6 billion years ago."

Age of the Earth:

"Modern geologists and geophysicists consider the age of the Earth to be around 4.54 billion years (4.54 × 109 years ± 1%).[1][2] This age has been determined by radiometric age dating of meteorite material and is consistent with the ages of the oldest-known terrestrial and lunar samples."

Age of the Moon:

"Almost the entire Solar System formed 4.6 billion years ago, when the solar nebula collapsed. But astronomers think that the Moon formed later than that, when a Mars-sized protoplanet smashed into the Earth. The debris from the collision splashed into orbit around the Earth and then reformed into the Moon, which still orbits us today.

"So when did this happen?

"Astronomers think this collision happened about 4.53 billion years ago, about 30-50 million years after the rest of the Solar System formed."



Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

DotC, about honeysuckle, I grew up where it was a dangerous pest, though I do have fond memories of plucking flowers and sucking out the honey while waiting for the school bus.

When I was quite young, my family spent a year in England, and my mother was shocked to observe that our neighbor had honeysuckle growing in her nicely organized garden. What are you doing?! You need to dig that up right away, or it'll strangle your whole garden!

The neighbor was confused at my mother's reaction. It's got pretty flowers and smells so sweet, what's the problem? Sure enough, that summer, the honeysuckle sat politely in its assigned spot and flowered prettily.

Climates and plants are funny.

Posted by: -bia- | June 2, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

So, Mudge, you are referencing a post that puts the birth of the Earth at roughly the same point in time as that of Artur Rubinstein?

Posted by: russianthistle | June 2, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

New kit coming soon...

Posted by: joelache | June 2, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

God help us, Dick Cheney seems to have come out in favor of gay marriage.

Bwahahahahahahahahahaha.

OK, now let's see if Rush eviscerates him, or he eviscerates Rush, or they both just implode.

With any luck, this could actually get interesting.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Rubentstein may be a tad older, Weed. It isn't clear from the carbon-dating.

(For a minute there I thought you were gonna say as old as me.)

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, is this new? I think he's a very frightening man, and I am oh so relieved that he is no longer in office, but he's been supportive of gay rights for a while, based on his love for his daughter. It's a shame that many people seem only able to support rights for people they know personally, but we'll take what we can get.

Posted by: -bia- | June 2, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Sci Tim motivated me to find out where uranium comes from:
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf78.html

(a few days ago)

Posted by: Jumper1 | June 2, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

He came out for it yesterday, according to the Post article, bia. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/01/AR2009060103266.html?hpid=moreheadlines

But yes, I know he's been supportive because of his daughter. But even so this is a major step, and as far as I'm aware the ONLY one anywhere on the Right. What I think will be interesting is whether or not the rest of the Rightwing Nut Machine stays hypocritically silent, or whether the finally decide to tear him to shreds, as they would anyone else. However, since bullies tend to be cowards, they just might let him alone, I dunno.

But I'm generally in favor of any kind of circular firing squads on the Conserv side of the aisle. Let 'em continue ripping each other up, the more the merrier.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Oh, Jumper, Jumper.

Please don't set us up like that.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Well, it certainly doesn't come from Uranus...

Posted by: Scottynuke | June 2, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

There. Now see what you did, Jumper?

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

New kit's up.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | June 2, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

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