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steuard: (physics)
Saturday, May 24th, 2014 04:19 am
We live in a remarkable era. If you brought an ancient Greek astronomer to the present day and dropped him off in a field somewhere, he would be awestruck, and maybe terrified. (Heck, it probably wouldn't even need to be an astronomer: I think that most people were quite familiar with the night sky until recent times.)

The meteor shower was pretty much a bust: I was outside for a decent stretch and only saw two for sure, plus a couple more "maybes" that were too brief and dim for me to judge whether they came from the expected radiant point. (To be fair, from where I was in our backyard I was seeing far less than the full sky.)

But in the same time, I saw at least half a dozen satellites, ranging from "almost too dim to see" to "easily the brightest object in the sky". It's obviously been too long since I just lay back to watch the stars: those things are now a near-constant presence. So I really do wonder how that Greek time traveler would react to the modern sky: what would those swift-moving, variable brightness points of light mean to him? What would Plato make of it? What stories would Homer tell?

For that matter, I'm sure that there are still plenty of societies and communities today that have little knowledge of high technology, from isolated tribes to rural villages. What do *they* make of the satellites that now pass constantly over their heads? This is a recent phenomenon: its origin is easily within living memory, and it has only gradually become as frequent as it is today. What stories do those people tell? Do they know or guess that these are the work of human beings? Do they fear that the newly mobile stars are an omen of some approaching doom?

And what stories might we tell about ourselves, as we alter the face of the heavens so deeply without ever pausing to think what an astounding achievement that is?
steuard: (Default)
Friday, July 1st, 2011 11:15 am
I finally got a memory card for my Samsung Alias 2 phone, but when I copy MP3s onto it and say "scan card for new music" the phone always randomly *reboots* after it's processed 20-100 of them. The songs already processed work just fine, but further attempts immediately fail. (The 4GB microSDHC card is the same brand that Samsung sells on their site under "accessories" for this phone.) What the heck is going on?

[I've already tried: 1. Repartitioning the card into two 2GB partitions, just in case there was a size limit that I didn't know about (and that Samsung was ignoring in their own store). I went back to a single 4GB partition after that didn't help. 2. Deleting all the irritating auxiliary file cruft that my Mac saves onto the card alongside the actual music. 3. Loading files in smaller chunks. (The first 35 song chunk worked fine, but it rebooted during the next 33 song chunk.) But I've had it crash as early as song #24 or so, too: I've yet to identify a pattern.]
steuard: (Default)
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 10:04 pm

This could easily be the cover of a science fiction novel. When I saw this picture as the Astronomy Picture of the Day yesterday, I was struck with a sense of awe: we're living in the future. It's taking a lot longer than everyone once hoped, but we're getting there. This picture is beautiful, and I'm delighted that it's real.

(I hoped to post this yesterday, but I didn't have the time. Then today, I saw [livejournal.com profile] springbok1's post with this title and it brought the picture to mind again, and later I saw [livejournal.com profile] pmb link to a blog with much the same reaction, so I figure it's post now or never.)
steuard: (Default)
Friday, September 21st, 2007 02:15 pm
Sam Tanenbaum, a former engineering professor and dean at Harvey Mudd who since retirement has been teaching an "Energy and the Environment" class in the Joint Science Department, passed along a fascinating link recently. It's to a company named "XP Vehicles", which last week produced a press release entitled "Low cost Inflatable electric car is announced as world’s first crash-proof, long range, flat-pack vehicle." The "Whisper" (pictured here, I think) is not yet available, but this does seem like a serious company. They plan to charge less than $5000, it's fully electric, and they claim that it's remarkably safe:
The engineers for the Whisper are confident you can drive it off a 25-foot cliff without serious injury to its passengers. ...

...the car will float in an emergency such as a flood or tsunami...
(The FAQ page does comment that such situations are "not part of the intended use".) They claim that two average adults with high school education can inflate and assemble the car in under two hours; that's relevant because home delivery is also feasible: "The whole vehicle packs into two cardboard boxes for shipping by common carrier anywhere in the world."

I don't know what to think of the idea, except that I won't be the first person in line. At least it's comforting that the company's FAQ page does address two of the first questions that occurred to me: "What if somebody stabs my inflatable car?" and "Can the inflatable version blow away?"