Recently, I've been twitching for a more rigorous intellectual challenge for the science and engineering side of me, which has led to me researching the millennium problems, designing scientific experiments, and adding books like Eight Amazing Engineering Stories to my reading list. In other words, I was rather looking forward to this as an interesting and in-depth look at a selection of technologies and the stories of how they came to be. Unfortunately, it turns out that what I consider in-depth is a little different from what people writing a companion book for a series of YouTube videos considers in-depth; so yes, I have to admit that I found this book a little disappointing, and am glad that it only took me a couple of days to read, but that does not mean you should stop reading this review, or even that you shouldn't read the book. Let me explain.
Rather than lamenting the decline of science fiction, we should probably spend time talking about how wonderful Rocheworld is, and why you should absolutely go find a copy as soon as possible. Granted, that may be a little difficult, because it's no longer in print. However, I was able to find a lightly used copy without much difficulty, so I imagine you can, too. Just be sure you look for the complete Rocheworld, and not one of the earlier versions, sometimes titled Flight of the Dragonfly. The book is from back in the days when many science fiction novels were published in short, serialized form in magazines, so Flight of the Dragonfly is about a hundred thousand words shorter than the complete Rocheworld.
As a bit of a side project at work recently, I did some modeling work on TESS, which is a NASA spacecraft that was launched to help search for exoplanets using the transit method (I know, you could never have guessed that from the name's acronym breakdown). Working with satellites as much as I do, this was a really interesting project, because it was quite distinctive in its orbit and mission architecture from most spacecraft that I get to study on a regular basis. For one thing, it is a remarkably low-cost, robust, straightforward system, quite different from what you often see with NASA programs, which because of their scientific goals are often pushing the very edge of our capabilities and therefore become very complex and very expensive. For another, it utilizes a simply fascinating orbit. Since I've been trying to post occasional in-depth articles on various academic topics, it seemed appropriate to share some of what I learned from that project here.
Curiosity is a peculiar mixed blessing. It can lead to great discoveries and improvements, but it can also be decidedly dangerous and lead to situations for which we are not in any way prepared. Although not unique to humans, humans take it further than any other species on Earth has. Yet from an evolutionary perspective, the urge to explore does not always make sense.
A while back now we posted about 5G technology as part of our efforts to develop educational content here on the site. This post about quantum computing technology and some of the ways in which we can anticipate it being implemented is in the same vein; quantum computing has been increasingly touted as another sort of “miracle” technology about which we hear a great deal of hype, but without a lot of insight into the details. This post will hopefully rectify that a little.
In theory, a sufficient understanding of genetics, and the technology to implement that understanding, could lead to the ability to create custom people. CRISPR-Cas9 has delivered significant successes in genetic engineering, including human experiments in China in which a scientist used the technology to alter human embryos to remove a disease-causing gene sequence.
These arguments look at the published statistics, showing that the virus is apparently under control in Eastern nations, and isn't in Western nations, and suggest that perhaps the supposedly example-setting Western democracies need to take a lesson from these Eastern countries. I have even seen some essays suggesting that the progress of the pandemic in the East and the West demonstrates that the time for Western-style democracy has passed. What is left unspoken in all of these arguments is that these discussions are assuming the primacy of utilitarian morality.
If you follow the news, you've probably heard something about 5G. It's been billed as the foundation of a new technology revolution, as the next thing that is going to change the way people do everything. I'm always cautious of people trying to make predictions like that, since it's notoriously challenging, and we have a tendency to only remember the people who were right about what happened in the past, but even if half of what is being hyped about 5G comes to be, it would change a lot...on the backend. Users might not even notice much of a different in daily life. Yet for all that this is supposedly a world-changing technology, it seems that most people have no idea what it actually means.
We've been hearing a lot recently about how we need to "trust the science," and "follow the science." Anyone who does not agree with the science or the above statements tends to be labeled as unintelligent, ignorant, or otherwise mentally backward, perhaps irresponsible. It is one thing for politicians to use such phrases for political leverage and advantage: science has been invoked for political purposes for about as long as science has existed. To me, it is far more dismaying to see people who claim to be scientists themselves undermining the very essence of what science is supposed to be.
I didn't put any really complex thought into deciding what the first educational post was going to be about; I just came across an article that I found interesting, and went from there. In this case, it was an article from NASA about purchasing lunar regolith (yes, NASA.gov is my browser's homepage). There were two, primary dimensions to this article, and they're worth analyzing independently: in-situ resource utilization, and international space law.