Fantastic News!


Those clever science-types have done something wonderful: they’ve found a planet that orbits Proxima Centauri.

This is a very important bit of news. Proxima Centauri is the start closest to us other than our own. It’s a mere 4.3 light years away, which means that anyone there who is watching Earth TV is experiencing the glory of the 2012 presidential election.

800px-Mitt_Romney_by_Gage_Skidmore_7

Sorry, guys.

Further good news is that this planet is within the habitable zone; the zone within a star’s area that might potentially have the right levels of everything for life as we understand it to exist. It’s also a reasonably small, rocky planet.

So we have a planet that’s basically within our backyard, that’s within the habitable zone, that’s fairly close to the size of Earth, and is made of rock, instead of, say, gas.

I’m ready. Let’s go!

Ok, so it’s a 40,000 year trip using current technology. The key here is to build new technology. Let’s see if we can get this down to 40 or 50 years. I’m sure we can manage it if we throw enough money, and Elon Musk, at it!

Fun With Sound


Well, then.

Some Fun Stuff


So as I type this, Boston PD have apparently captured the second (rather attractive, I must say), suspect in the bombing the other day. Good. I hope that he gets treated well, and goes before the courts soon. If he’s found guilty, I hope that he’s punished.

Given all the grim stuff lately, I thought I’d post up a couple fun videos. So here they are. The first is, essentially, me playing SimCity. Yes, crazy Mayor Swanson and his “urban renewal” plan in full video glory.

Second, here’s science.

Enjoy!

Fun With Nukes!


Standing at ground zero…for science!

Prometheus and the Lettuce Problem


Lettuce Problem FAIL

I wasn’t hugely impressed with Prometheus, though I suspect the director’s cut will be a thing to behold. I had several problems with the movie, and one of them is something I shall discuss right now: the Lettuce Problem. Yes, the Lettuce Problem. Since I’ve made up the term, I suppose I need to define it:

When anyone tries to explain that human life evolved directly from alien life or was influenced by alien life, they must explain why we share a common ancestor with lettuce.

You can see how this might be an issue if someone tries to tell you, as this movie does, that we have the exact same DNA as an alien species from untold light years away.

SPOILERS AHOY! IF YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH THIS MOVIE, DON’T READ THIS FIRST!

So one of the big plots here is that humanity was created by the Engineers. This is an alien race with very pale blue skin, no visible hair, very black eyes, and that stands about ten feet tall. Think Kratos. “There were giants in those days,” apparently. Anyhow, there’s two very silly things here. First off, they look like I described and yet have DNA that exactly matches human DNA. Because there’s so many 10 foot tall, bald, pale blue humans out there. Second off, they apparently created human life.

There are 2 possibilities for how to resolve this within the context of the Lettuce Problem:

1. The Engineers came to Earth for the first time about three billion years ago and seeded our planet with life.
2. The Engineers came to Earth for the first time around 35,000 years ago (which is the oldest time mentioned in the movie), and somehow did something to give us DNA that’s the same as theirs.

Let’s look over both of these.

1. The Engineers came to Earth for the first time about three billion years ago and seeded our planet with life.

This is somewhat implied in the opening to the film, which takes place on a planet with what appears to be no animal life and features an Engineer suiciding and spreading DNA into the water. We even see the DNA form.

There’s some problems here, though. First, we do see plant life on the surface of the world, so clearly there is, in fact, life of some sort. It’s possible that the new life replaced it, so this isn’t a huge problem, but it is there. There’s also some question of whether or not the planet shown is meant to be Earth, but if it isn’t, why show it?

Second, if this is indeed Earth three billion years ago, then why haven’t the Engineers or their tech evolved at all in that time period? Consider how far we’ve come since the end of the last Ice Age about 12,000 years ago. We have, in that time, invented…well, just about everything beyond the most basic tools, and even those we’ve improved upon. As a species, we’ve gotten somewhat taller and discovered medical tech that enables us to live longer, healthier lives. Surely over the course of three billion years the Engineers would have done the same?

Third, this theory implies that somehow the Engineers were watching over life on Earth and carefully tweaking things here and there so that a species that is genetically identical to them came along after three billion years of patient waiting. I suppose that isn’t impossible, but it does see supremely pointless, and, again, neither they nor their tech evolved during this time period.

Now in favor of this theory, I will say that it at least answers the Lettuce Problem, which theory two does not.

2. The Engineers came to Earth for the first time around 35,000 years ago (which is the oldest time mentioned in the movie), and somehow did something to give us DNA that’s the same as theirs.

We share something like 99% of our genetic structure with chimpanzees. I suppose it’s possible that these guys showed up at some point and tweaked some chimps (or at least the common ancestor we had with them), that last little bit so that they ended up evolving into us, but that seems kind of unlikely, to put it mildly, and it just creates more problems. Plus there’s the fact that 35,000 years ago, humans already existed. Hell, our cousins, the Neanderthals, were still around, and had about 5,000 years left on the clock before they died out.

But perhaps I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, and the Engineers actually showed up a couple million years ago, before humans evolved, and then messed with the existing DNA to bring us up to code. But that doesn’t really make any sense, either, because how would you then end up with DNA that is not similar to, but exactly the same as Engineer DNA?

This also creates the question of why anyone would bother to do this. I suppose the, “Let’s see if we can make genetic copies of ourselves!” concept could come into play. Like maybe some Engineer guys were sitting around one night saying, “Hey, let’s try this!” and did. But, again, that seems very pointless to me.

Of course the real problem here is that I’m putting more thought into this concept than the screenwriters did. What they should have done was made it clear through other means that the Engineers somehow guided our development over a couple million years, giving us our current genetic structure, but ditching any concept that it is the same as theirs. This would still ignore the problem of the Engineers and their tech not changing over the course of that time period, but that could be safely explained away. As the movie currently exists, the Lettuce Problem is a big problem indeed.

The Republican Party: Making the Amish Look Pro-Science!


It’s very sad that it’s major news when a candidate for the GOP nomination for President in 2012 says that he believes in evolution and global warming. But that’s just what happened recently when Jon Huntsman said this to ABC:

The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party – the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012. When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science – Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position…I can’t remember a time in our history where we actually were willing to shun science and become a – a party that – that was antithetical to science. I’m not sure that’s good for our future and it’s not a winning formula.

Right on, man. It’s incredibly sad that this party, which has in the past been based in rationality, has gone so far around the bend that, if you want nomination, you can’t be pro-science. It brings to mind something Jon Stewart had on The Daily Show this week where he showed Rush Limbaugh bitching about the heat index and how it’s part of some agenda to push global warming theory on the masses. The sad part about him saying that is that I’m sure a number of people were nodding along. And those people will, sadly, be voting and helping to select the Republican nominee.

On the one hand, I think it’s good that Huntsman said what he said, because it nearly guarantees that he won’t get the Republican nomination (not that he was likely to anyhow. He’s far too sane and unwilling to pander to the extremists), and he’s clearly the one major candidate in the field that could represent a real threat to Obama.

On the other hand, if things continue to go father south with the economy and we end up with the Republican candidate winning, I’d much rather that candidate be Huntsman as opposed to Perry or Bachmann, but since he’s not likely to get the nomination, I don’t see that happening.

3D Printers


So, these exist.

These are nifty and fascinating tools, but so far they aren’t terribly practical and I question the real-world usefulness on any kind of a large scale. But give it time and perhaps these might become something truly indispensable.