Late Sunday night (or early Monday for anyone on EST), we accomplished something amazing. We landed a rover the size of a classic VW Beetle on the surface of Mars. Despite only having 7 minutes to slow down from 13,000 mph to a complete stop, despite the numerous maneuvers that had to be executed in a precise symphony of motion, and despite a shrinking NASA budget, the rover “Curiosity” successfully landed on the surface of Mars and shared the view with its human counterparts on Earth.
We’ve landed rovers on Mars before. We’ve already remotely wandered the surface of Mars, taken photos, and analysed the composition of the soil. So why should we care? Why did we spend 2.6 Billion dollars of tax money to carry out the mission? Shouldn’t we be focusing on x, y, or z issues here on Earth?
Poppycock! This mission was an important win for humanity, from the geekiest scientist to your technology impaired 85 year old grandmother.
There seems to be a lot of uncertainty about the future. Science fiction is filled with fictionalized visions of the past, apocalyptic wastelands, and overcrowded cities overcome with squalor. Largely gone are the bright, shiny, optimistic visions of the future brimming with promise and hope. Many visions of even the near future are just those of our own world with flatter screens and more capable phones. Still more alarming are visions of potentially transformative technologies run amok as seen in any movie depicting a plague arising from gene therapy or unthinkable monsters being made of chimeras. The weird and wonderful world of science fiction says quite a bit about our visions of the future as a culture. It’s time we addressed that.
We’ve talked about the impact mega projects can have on humanity. NASA seems to agree, and has been pushing the hype machine on it’s current perilous mission to Mars. If you like the thought of humans landing on Mars in your lifetime, do NOT miss this one.
And it’s happening this weekend. Tune in live on UStream, with lead-up and landing coverage between 11:30 pm – 1:45 am EST, and a success/failure press conference at 2:15 am or later. For anyone like myself on Eastern Standard Time, that’s late on a Sunday night, but it promises to be an exciting and compelling experience. A history in the making experience. Read on for more info and 5 reasons why you don’t want to miss it.
While the everyman (or woman) has likely tried to take some time to enjoy the sun here in the northern hemisphere, engineers, scientists, and others dedicated to human advancement have been hard at work. July 2012 has made its mark, and left disease on the defensive against diligent medical research and breakthroughs. A promising new process for processing waste and generating biofuel has been published, along with a method for translating energy into fuel…and just in time. Studies are starting to definitively show that climate change is real, and indeed largely attributed to human influences. Conductive gel circuits, wearable phone recharging, 3D printing, and so much more awesomeness has made it’s mark on July 2012. Also, modern pop music sucks. At least according to math.
Finally – physicists have made a monumental discovery, and are probably at this moment crying into their lab coats because the world didn’t throw them a parade.
Online, your every move is tracked. What sites you frequent, how long you stay there, how you got there in the first place, how many pages you visited. Even your screen resolution or browser. In fact installing google analytics on a website is incredibly easy, and provides these and other points of data. And it does it without the end user’s knowledge. Your purchasing habits are tracked fastidiously by Amazon and countless other e-commerce sites, and can be aligned against browsing habits, demographics data, and even geographical information. I guarantee that if a company has any significant web presence, they are either collecting and analyzing the hell out of your data. It applies to offline activity as well. Why do you think Best Buy and other stores ask you for your zip code? They want data showing who buys what from where so they can better align certain products and services with the habits of those residents.
It becomes very easy to feel like Big Brother is watching your every move, and potentially plotting your demise (or at least your obedience).
But is tracking data Evil? At what point does gathering information cross the line? When does enough become too much?
Let’s forget about the flying car. The concept started popping up in the early 1900’s, and the moment it was proposed it captured public interest. So much so, that it’s become one of the standard examples for technology failing to live up to expectations. Along with jetpacks. If we stop and think practically, can’t we just agree that without some beyond realistic advance in energy, logistics, and fuel efficiency, the idea just won’t fly. Not to mention the fact that we can’t seem to handle driving in two dimensions, let alone three. Once and for all, let’s put the concept of a flying car on the shelf next to the other cool inventions that ultimately don’t make sense.
Because we should be paying attention to another advance in automobiles that is just as cool (if not cooler), and happens to be idling right around the corner. Enter: the self-driving car.
July 4th 2012 was a historic day. A day that could be referenced in science history for hundreds or even thousands of years. For most americans, the day was spent celebrating over 200 years as a country. For most of the rest of the world, it was just another day. So what did we all miss?
You may have seen a lot of hub-bub online over the past few years about the Higgs Boson, and the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) in the UK that was tasked with finding it. You may have also seen an explosion of articles about the announced discovery of the Higgs Boson particle. I did my time in the sciences, primarily in chemistry. I love and respect rocket scientists and brain surgeons, but realistically the term should be “Well I’m no particle physicist”. It’s a damn complex field, and requires a level of abstract thought that makes it challenging to explain why any “normal” person should care about discoveries like the Higgs Boson earlier this month.
With this article, I submit my humble attempt at giving a plain english explanation for both what scientists worldwide are talking about, and why it actually matters to the normal joe. And I’ll try and do it without breaking science in my simplification and speculation. Here we go…
The Google Glass project has gotten a lot of attention in the past few months since the initial announcement. The thought of glasses that bring the mobile computing convenience of smartphones to a relatively unobtrusive device right in front of our face seems crazy, and if it takes off it will have far-reaching consequences…both good and bad. It feels like a product that should be further away from present day than the expected release date sometime in 2014.
There have been some mixed and charged responses to the concept of augmented reality built into glasses within the next 5 years.So how will people react to the same technology implanted directly into our eyes? We better start thinking about the consequences now.
And the blind shall see. In case you missed it (I had until recently), we appear to be at the tipping point for curing several prevalent forms of blindness. With a pair of glasses, a chip implanted inside the blind eye(s), and a little bit of wiring, several blind patients are now seeing shapes and outlines in black and white…even if they saw only blackness the day before.
In 1969, 125 Million people tuned in to watch mankind walk on the moon for the first time. It was an event that empowered humanity. It made us reconsider the impossible. In the video below, pay attention to the faces caught on camera observing the moon landing. Their mouths are fixed in an elated smile, their eyes glassy and emotional. This is what a successful megaproject can accomplish, before you look at ROI or impacts on technology or any other hard number analysis. It raises the human spirit, and it brings us together as a species.