Archive for April, 2012

UK Government Might Put a Missile Launcher on Your Roof this Summer

Monday, April 30th, 2012


In many apartment buildings throughout big cities around the world, roof access is off limits. But only in London this summer, will it be because they might be firing a missile off of it to destroy an airborne terrorist attack.

The British Ministry of Defense is considering building surface to air missile launchers on residential buildings during the Olympic Games.

An east London estate, where 700 people live, has received leaflets saying a “Higher Velocity Missile system” could be placed on a water tower.

A spokesman said the MoD had not yet decided whether to deploy ground based air defence systems during the event.

But estate resident Brian Whelan said firing the missiles “would shower debris across the east end of London”.

How else are you going to shoot down a wayward Nazi pilot who became caught in a time vortex during a bombing raid on London during World War II only be spit out in 2012?


We Aren’t Allowed to Dream About the Future Until NASA Gives Us Permission

Saturday, April 28th, 2012
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The future seems closer today than it did yesterday.

People are talking about mining asteroids that contain more platinum than we’ve ever dug up on Earth and finding water that could be the key to permanent space habitation and long distance voyages. In a few weeks, a private company is about to launch a vehicle that will dock with the International Space Station. If successful, it will be a huge step toward a cheaper, safer and more efficient passage to low Earth orbit.

To me, this is amazing.

I’ve had more conversations about the future of the human race as a multi-planet species in the last three years than ever before. It seems like we are living in an age of exploration. Of true horizon shattering adventure.

I have no formal education in engineering. I will likely never have my name on a research paper. The wonders of space are a mystery to me beyond the most elementary of facts. Among them: once you are there, no one can hear you scream.

But according to Neil deGrasse Tyson, no one is thinking about the future. I’m not. You aren’t. Planetary Resources isn’t. Nor is Elon Musk and SpaceX. America has stopped reaching for the stars.

Why? Because we stopped giving money to NASA. Because no one can create the future until a group of politicians do it for us. After all, they decided they were responsible 60 years ago.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 makes NASA responsible for advancing the space frontier. And since low Earth orbit is no longer a space frontier, NASA must move to the next step.

America fell in love with space because NASA shattered boundaries. They did previously unimaginable things. Impossible became possible.

Other companies are now doing what NASA did decades ago. Spurring imaginations by minting a new reality. Creating new data sets for the smartest minds on the planet to process. And again, they are doing it from American soil.

The United States is on it’s way to claiming our destiny as the gateway to the stars. Unlocking the Earth’s ultimate achievement: leaving Earth.

Maybe we have stopped dreaming about the future because we decided tomorrow is today.

Or at least that’s what I would say if I were dreaming of the future.

Wired interview with Elon Musk About SpaceX’s ISS Mission

Friday, April 27th, 2012

SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk talks to WIRED magazine’s Jason Paur about the upcoming mission to the International Space Station.

(Thanks to Daniel Connors for the link)

Read the Short Story Hunger Games AND Battle Royale Ripped Off

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

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Okay, that’s a deliberately provocative headline, I apologize.

But after all I’ve read pushing back on the popularity of the Hunger Games film and book series while citing the 1999 novel and 2000 film Battle Royale as the originator of the reality television kill show concept, it’s worth mentioning that either invented the idea.

Even The Running Man, penned by a scrappy author named Richard Bachman (Stephen King’s pseudonym), published in 1985 comes decades after the grand daddy of them all… Richard Sheckley’s The Prize of Peril, originally written in 1958.

It follows Jim Reader, a poor young truck driver’s assistant who takes on a career as a professional reality show contestant. The shows that pay the most are ones where you risk your life and where you could be forced to take the lives of other contestants.

He finds himself on the biggest of them all, The Prize of Peril.

A quick read, Peril deals with a lot of similar themes to Hunger Games (contestant as public inspiration, help from viewers, game manipulation) and just goes to show that as long as television game shows have existed, we’ve dreamed of killing each other on them.

Link to story at Arthur’s Classic Novels

Who’s Next: Is the Volcano that Buried Atlantis Reawakening?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

The volcano that, by legend, damned the civilization of Atlantis to a watery grave could be reawakening.

Investigators had installed a GPS monitoring system in the area in 2006. These sensors keep track of their location in space, and can thus shed light on when the Earth is moving.

The scientists found that by June 2011, the 22 GPS stations had been pushed 0.2 to 1.3 inches (5 to 32 millimeters) farther from the caldera than they had been just six months earlier. The researchers then improved the existing GPS stations and installed two more GPS stations, and data from September 2011 to January 2012 showed the land near the volcano was swelling at an accelerating rate, reaching 7 inches (180 mm) of growth per year.

Which Mediterranean nation should watch their back? Will they get an animated feature featuring the voice of a Michael J. Fox equivalent several hundred years from now? We will have to wait and see…

[Fox News]

A 3 Minute Explanation of Planetary Resources in Their Own Words

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Still confused about all that asteroid mining talk yesterday? Here is a really simple explanation on the whole announcement from the folks making it happen.

[Planetary Resources]

Have You Seen This Führer? Hitler’s Possible Disguises Revealed

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012
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You are the United States military. Your intelligence unit is preparing to capture the most notorious war criminal in the history of modern civilization. But Adolf Hitler’s infamous, iconic, look could also lead to tremendous confusion should he hope to go into hiding by altering it.

How do you prepare?

One way is to have a New York make-up artist create various portraits of Hitler with drastically different “looks”. This way, soldiers would be prepared for any disguised ol’ AH threw at them.

Above, we have the “Jesse Ventura”. Below, the “John Waters”.

The photos have been released in the larger resolution formats by the U.S. National Archives. A few more can be found at The Blaze link.

[The Blaze] via Ken Cowen

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Podcast: Jet-Lagged Were-Hookers

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

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Andrew is fresh off a plane from Italy and still loopy, what better time to discuss the future of mining asteroids?! The boys chat about the team of modern superheroes uniting to bring trillions of dollars to the global economy while redefining the concept of natural resources in the most awesome way possible. A nefarious plot once used by the Ewoks is sniffed out on a woodland trail in Utah. Mayne tells a harrowing tale of the legendary Italian Were-Hookers.

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Seven Awesome Facts Learned in the Planetary Resources Press Conference

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012
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One average asteroid, half the size of the conference room they made their announcement in, can contain enough resources to power every space flight in the history of the NASA space program

When asked during Q and A how many resources can be mined out of one astroid, that was the response from Peter Diamandis. They key is identifying the right ones and developing the right kind of tech to mine them.

Private industry can iterate faster and take bigger risks that are inappropriate for government

One investor made the point that if his neighbor was mortgaging his house to invest in Planetary Resources, it would be inappropriate. Which is why a private company and not a government underwater in trillions of dollars in debt is the right agent to make this kind of progress.

Much was said about the assembly line mentality, where no model or build of a Planetary Resources spacecraft will be revered beyond a necessary step to the right solution, better than the last but inferior to the next.

As we saw with the nostalgia and reverence we have for our public spaceflight tech, that is very rarely the case with NASA projects.

Finding resources like water are key to life support in space and refueling for longer journeys

Water is a tremendously expensive resources to get into space. But if one were to find the elements to create it amongst the stars and create it in orbit, it fundamentally changes the game.

The cost and complication of life support and long distance travel is changed forever, the closer this comes to reality.

The immediate future is identifying asteroids with prospecting spacecraft

The first Arkyd 100 spacecraft should launch sometime within 12 to 24 months. The goal will be to provide intelligent data on Earth bound asteroids and what they might contain.

Mining spacecraft is a priority in the next 10 years

Arkyd 200 and 300 units will focus on making contact with and the mining of the asteroids. Although the panel was loathe to give hard timetables, 10 years was mentioned as point by which they hope to mine and return resources.

Their team will be kept very small and move very fast

One of the few reasons Planetary Resources went public today was because they are currently trying to add engineering talent to their small Bellevue, WA based staff but couldn’t hope to do it quietly. They are very conscious of staff bloat.

Robots, not humans, are the future of asteroid mining for now

Humans are too expensive and not particularly necessary for the kind of prospecting they are looking to do. So any fear that we are getting into an Outland situation can be put on ice for a decade or so.

BONUS: Bad Astronomer Phil Plait spoke with Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki and has a great breakdown of the technical deets.

Also, just because this is the most excited anyone has been about prospecting since the gold rush, here is Will Ferrell’s legendary unaired Gus Chiggins sketch.

Silicon Valley Billionaire Starts Fund for Development of 6 Insane Projects

Friday, April 20th, 2012
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Peter Thiel has long been a heavy hitter in Silicon Valley. He was a co-founder and CEO of PayPal and made an early stage development in Facebook, even earning himself the “honor” of being portrayed in The Social Network film about the site’s founding.

But Thiel has bigger fish to fry. Fish like the creation of antimatter-based fuel. Or minting of artificial protein therapeutics. Of even the advancement of human cell reengineering.

All projects that are far too radical (as in improbable) to garner much money for serious research. Except for Thiel, who finds them much too radical (as in awesome) to not toss cash at.

His fund will be called Breakout Labs and it awarded six grants of $350,000 to the following companies.

3Scan: development of 3-D digital reconstruction of brain issue.
Arigos Biomedical: advanced organ cooling for long term storage
Immusoft: re-programming of immune cells
Inspirotec: identification and collection of any airborne toxin
Longevity Biotec: creation of therapeutic artificial protein technology
Positron Dynamics: production and collection of positron, could be used as fuel for space travel

The best part, the application process is open at Breakout. They will continue to award good money to insane causes until the future gets here.

[Kurzweil AI]

Is Asteroid Mining Ready to Take Off?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012
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Space blog superstar Phil “Bad Astronomer” Plait has a prediction about a news conference set to take place next Tuesday. It will feature Peter Diamandis, leading commercial space entrepreneur Eric Anderson, former NASA Mars mission manager Chris Lewicki and planetary scientist & veteran NASA astronaut Tom Jones.

It promises an announcement nothing short of “a mission to help ensure humanity’s prosperity.”

Plait says that means the mining of asteroids.

The big clue comes from the press release.

the company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.

Plait breaks it down…

If I were being optimistic, I might say something like this could get off the ground in 20 years or so, depending on several variables, and maybe sooner. Let me be frank: I don’t think this is a crazy idea.

This’ll take a lot of money… but he seems to have some fairly wealthy people — billionaires, and more than one — affiliated with this. So whatever idea he’s got, he’s being backed very seriously for it.

Will it be “Drill baby drill!” on Tuesday? We will have to wait and see but the concept is something truly mind blowing. For all the nostalgic handwringing surrounding the Discovery’s assisted flight around Washington D.C. this week, the dawn of a bold new space age is upon us.

Except this time, we aren’t visiting. We are annexing. We are occupying. We are moving in.

[Bad Astronomy]

Podcast: Raising Arizona Demon Killers

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

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Three lovely young ladies are patrolling Arizona with murder on their minds. Who are they trying to kill and how do they plan on doing it? Andrew blows Brian’s mind with the concept of a blimp to space. But does the new hotness spell doom for Brushwood’s beloved space elevator? The boys bicker about which celebrity they would most (or least) like to see resurrected in hologram form, Tupac style.

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Brazilian Cannibals Sell Human Meat Empanada to Neighbors

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Say, can I borrow that recipe?

File that under things you don’t want to say if you ever find yourself living next to a Brazilian cannibal couple accused of cooking human flesh empanada and selling the savory treats to their neighbors.

A man, his wife and their mistress were part of a sect which followed a “voice” that gave them orders to murder “evil women” and eat them in a purification ritual. Their deeds were discovered after the husband wrote and published a memoir about his activities.

All three are now detained.

As for the neighbors that got sold the tricksy munchies? According to authorities they burned down the suspect’s house.

[Fox News] via Tony Ley

Is the Turing Test Ready to Tumble?

Monday, April 16th, 2012
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Long the unmatched standard for artificial intelligence, it looks like the Turing Test might be ready to crack.

According to a new essay in the April 12th edition of Science, a cognitive scientist at the French National Center for Scientific Research says that two major breakthroughs could finally push an AI over the top.

“The first is the ready availability of vast amounts of raw data — from video feeds to complete sound environments, and from casual conversations to technical documents on every conceivable subject. The second is the advent of sophisticated techniques for collecting, organizing, and processing this rich collection of data.

Is it possible to recreate something similar to the subcognitive low-level association network that we have? That’s experiencing largely what we’re experiencing? Would that be so impossible?”

In detailing the long history of the Turing Test, Wired asks the ultimate question: why?

Just because we can beat the Turing Test, what does it serve humanity?

In the meantime, check out this quick video of two AIs bickering amongst each other.


Is this the Reason We Believed in Dragons?

Monday, April 16th, 2012


His name is Dracorex and he looks like a dragon.

Seriously, compare the skull you see above to the massive dragon skulls found in the subterranean pathways of King’s Landing in HBO’s Game of Thrones.


While it is inconclusive that Dracorex ever consorted with the House Targaryen or reduced cities and armies alike to smoldering ash, what is clear is how much the shape this herbivore bares a resemblance to our common understanding of a fictional dragon. The skull was first donated for study in 2004 and was formally described first in 2006.

Meanwhile, the beast has a more permanent connection to yet another popular fantasy franchise. The official name for Dracorex is Dracorex hogwartsia. This was inspired by young visitors to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, where it was official donated, who kept referring to it as the dragon from the book and subsequent 2005 film adaptation Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

This thrilled author J.K. Rowling…

“I am absolutely thrilled to think that Hogwarts has made a small (claw?) mark upon the fascinating world of dinosaurs. I happen to know more on the subject of paleontology than many might credit, because my eldest daughter was Utahraptor-obsessed and I am now living with a passionate Tyrannosaurus rex-lover, aged three. My credibility has soared within my science-loving family, and I am very much looking forward to reading Dr. Bakker’s paper describing ‘my’ dinosaur, which I can’t help visualising as a slightly less pyromaniac Hungarian Horntail.”


But the question remains, is Dracorex really even its own species?

All around dinosaur badass authority and HPIC (Head Paleontologist In Charge) of our hearts Jack Horner says the beast is probably just a juvenile version of the well documented dino Pachycephalosaurus which looks decidedly less dragon-esqe.

In fact, he has an awesome TEDx talk going into the phenomenon of misclassification and our misunderstanding of “shape shifting” dinosaurs.

So what came first? Our modern dragon myth that looks like Dracorex? Or did Dracorex shape the myth? Is Dracorex even really Dracorex?

No matter what, we now know something that Daenerys Targaryen, Jack Horner and Harry Potter have in common. Which is pretty awesome.

The Monolith of Mars

Friday, April 13th, 2012

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Is this a 2001: A Space Odyssey style monolith plopped on the surface of Mars? Kind of. Maybe. Not really. But it still looks awesome.