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Aliens are Watching Doctor Who and They Like It!

Monday, August 6th, 2012

aliens doctor who.png

About 50 years ago about 90 stations around the world had the capacity to transmit TV signals with enough power to reach Interstellar Space.  In many ways the only evidence of our presence as a civilization in this galaxy is all the television broadcasts these stations put out.  One of these stations was the BBC which transmitted with a signal of about 100,000 watts right in the middle of  the 41-68 MHz band.  So merrily, unwittingly, the human civilization on Earth broadcast its presence and culture to the larger Galaxy for more than 67 years.

To put this in perspective, and only counting with the TV signals, a 67 light-year radius  sphere of galactic space has knowledge of us and of our capacity for technology.  Within this 67 light-year sphere are contained at least 3000 stars and stellar systems.  Of these 3000 , at least 160 of them are G class stars very similar to our own sun.   So why does this matter?

Because, according to reports,  like a scene out of Carl Sagan’s Contact we are getting signals from space and they are our own!   Somewhere in deep interstellar space about 25 light-years away there is source of radio waves right smack in the 41-68 MHz band.   And this unknown object tentatively called the “Reflective Anomaly”  is beaming our own TV from 1963 right back at us.  This is great for us nerds because it means we can get back some of our lost classics like early William Hartnell Doctor Who episodes which the BBC in its wisdom erased to make way for masterpiece theatre or something like it on the very expensive early magnetic tapes.

Radio Astronomers are collecting and digitally enhancing these signals into usable recordings of  all the lost shows from that era.  The main article says that the “anomaly” is some sort of unexplained reflective material 25 ly away but to this observer that just sounds like they have no clue how this is possible.  They are refusing to consider the obvious.

Aliens!  The civilization who is doing this is situated just far enough away that they are about to experience the summer of love and eventually Men’s first landing on a non terrestrial object, the 1969, Apollo 11 Moonlanding.  They are beaming back our own signals because they have seen Doctor Who and they like it!  They are telling us that we might be friends,   that is until the catch a whiff of seventies and TV Gems like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and they decide we are all crazy.

I for one hope that our friends from across the void are just that. I mean an entity who likes the first Doctor can’t be all bad.  Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself :

Who knows , it might just be a bit of iron ore left over from an ancient supernova which is aligned just right to bounce some of the stuff we earthlings put out into space.  But it’s kinda cool to picture some strange being witnessing our history and our collective culture in a planet far, far, away.

Update:  Alas, this particular story is a hoax, which I believe is appropriated for these heady days, but the idea is intriguing.    How long till we  see a signal from some civilization and will we enjoy their crappy TV. Perhaps we will never know.


Flying Cars, Death Rays & Killer Robots: Fact Checking The Future Promised By The 1950s

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

In the post World War II era the future seemed like a wonderful place full of atomic-powered wonders. A Future World unspoiled by pollution, radiation or flower children.  Lets examine the promises and realities of that vision of the Past’s Future.

1) Flying Cars

It seems that every vision of the future had  one of these ,a trend that even trancended the fifties all the way to modern sci-fi Films.  An there was reason to hope.  Even Ford got into the flying car designing bussiness.  

The Promise:

The Reality:

Although we still have no flying cars in every garage, many pioneers and design firms are hard at work trying to make
this particular conceit of Science Fiction a reality. One of the most advanced endeavour comes from Moller International and it is called the Volantor.  It is about to undergo extensive flight testing.  Who knows in a few years, were we are going, we wont need “Roads.”

2) Death Rays

No futuristic vista would be complete without early vision of the Death Ray. Diorama, movies or science fiction literature the terrifying device was ubiquitous.  Wielded by the good guy, or more likely, the evil alien invader.   The future was going to be dominated burly men in tights toting these around.

The Promise:

The Reality:

Today lasers are in every conceivable human device. There are lasers in Blu Ray players and CD players. They are used to heal skin and even in communications.  Chances are that you are watching this though an internet connection that relies on lasers as the main driver for fiber optics.  And although you can take an industrial cutting laser and aim it at a person, it is far better to use it to precision cut glass or steel.

3) Killer Robots

The 40s and 50s image of The Future would not be complete without the helpful robot about to turn evil. The future would be a place where machines in the shape of men would run amok throught the coming centuries.  From the epic RUR by Capek : “The product of the human brain has escaped the control of  human hands.”

The Promise:

The Reality:

Robotics are one of modern societies greatest assets.  Again, like the death ray (AKA laser) we have found ways to shape and use robots in all kinds of capacities from the lowly inkjet printer to the giant A380  passenger plane. They are all around us. Computer controlled mechanical devices perform all kinds of tasks mostly for the benefit of mankind.  The build our cars and do our laundry and yes they even aid in the exploration of Space.  Although one could argue that smartbombs and cruise missiles are indeed killer Robots,  most perform quietly and wait for the right moment to strike.  We’re on to you Roomba!

4) Space Travel

Perhaps the Personification of the future in the Atomic Age,  space travel was everywhere. It was a promise that almost delivered.  Take a look at my hero, Walt Disney, telling us what the future held back in 1952.

The Promise:

The Reality:

Although we now face an uncertain future in Space travel the past 50 years have been amazing and in many ways up to the standards of earlier generation’s expectations. Here is a reminder:

And there we have it. It seems that the world of tomorrow is indeed here. The problem is that it happened gradually. There are, of course, all manner of wonders that were never thought of by the visionaries of the Atomic Age. I only hope that we manage to escape the fears and we accomplish the aspirations of those who believed in The World of Tomorrow.  Oh well,  let me take my vacuum tube elevator to my garage on the roof. I have a Pan Am flight to catch to The Moon. Mustn’t Keep the Clavius Monolith waiting.

3 Theories On How To Build A Real Life Lightsaber

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Jedi Masters pass down the secret knowledge of constructing “an elegant weapon for a more civilized age” to their young Padawan learners.  We are not fortunate enough or have the midiclorean count (ech,  think I gagged a little there) to deserve this important honor.  So let us try to figure out how this magnificent and terrifyingly dangerous weapon works on our own.  There are several characteristics that  that should give us clues.   For example,   they  have a round blade made of a luminous substance.  The blade would have to be able to cut through a human’s arm as if it was made of cake.  It grows gradually when turned on and it can deflect blaster shots and other lightsabers.    This should be enough.

Smoke and Mirrors

The most obvious and easy explanation is that a light saber is exactly what the name implies,  a laser sword.  A laser of  sufficient power would  cut, or rather burn, through flesh as easily as displayed.  But how is it that  it is of a limited size and how come the power does not run out.  Well this could be explained by a mirror at the end of the light “blade”  the mirror could be suspended in space by electric or magnetic (or both) fields and slowly adjusted out from the hilt.  This would make the whole blade a Laser cavity and would allow for a reasonable consumption of power as the laser light is not lost except when cutting.    Of course this explanation would not explain how you can fence with other lightsaber toting  bad guys.  The laser blades would just go through each other as easily as the blaster shot.  It would make for really short  fights .  Also the mirror could   be easy to remove or destroy.

Fan Favorite

In a recent TV show Dr. Michiu Kaku proposed that a light saber was actually a plasma torch with a titanium fan in the hilt and telescoping ceramic blade with teeny holes on it for the scorching plasma to come out.  Although this explanation covers all the basics it left me with a bad feeling about that.  With much respect to the closest thing to a Yoda around, allow me to disagree.   Plasma is OK, we like plasma; it burns like a mother.  The part that I do not like is the ceramic perforated blade.    It is clunky   it would mean that a guy with a better “space ceramic” would break your saber in two, to say nothing of a good vibroblade.  It would also make a horrible glass breaking sound as it does.  Also the fan,   dude,  fans are noisy and not in the good starwarsy  way.

Finally the blades would leave a trail of  burning plasma and although really cool looking in a very trippy way, it would not match what we see on the screen. Sorry Kaku, these are not the sabers we are looking for, move along.

It’s All About Magnets, Baby!

So Star Wars is not set in the future but the long ago past in a galaxy far far away.  However, the galactic Republic civilization was very darned  advanced as galactic civilizations go.  Without getting into all the crystal and focusing ring lore of the BioWare games, we can imagine that civilization can build things that we can  but make them very light and portable.  With that in mind, I propose that the light sabers are really portable electromagnetic containment fusion plasma devices.

In many present day thermonuclear Fusion experiments large magnetic and electric fields  are used to make Magnetic Bottles.  Within these invisible vessels  hot plasma is contained and heated.  I can imagine that the hilt of Luke Skywalker’s weapon is just that: a magnetic field generator that extends out of the hilt creating a containment field where a very hot fusionable gas plasma can reside.   When the saber is turned on the field extends slowly as stored  power is used to erect it.  You can imagine superconducting coils within the hilt emitter that give the correct shape to the magnetic bottle.  This would explain why the blade shape is cylindrical and symmetric. Once the field is ready, radio frequency exited gas can be introduced within the growing space in the force field.  As futuristic as this sounds, we do this in labs every day with very large machines. The whole thing would be very efficient too, and once the field is erected  little power is needed to maintain it. Besides, a very small amount of  gas could be allowed to undergo fusion, powering the device in accordance to E=mc2. Different gas at different temperatures would account for the varying colors just like Stellar Spectra.  Luke’s original blade, if you were wandering, was a nice 8,600K Atomic Hydrogen with just a pinch of gaseous Iron, just right for baby blue.

The coolest part about this is that you could fence easily because your opponent would also have a plasma filled electromagnetic field as a blade and so it would be like trying to get magnets of similar polarity to touch.  Also the hot plasma could be tuned to absorb or reflect the incoming laser light or particle weapon discharge.

In the end, however, it all comes to personal preference.  If you would like to go around the galaxy with a flashlight on steroids or with a flaming tube of space porcelain china as a weapon, be my guest.  I’m sure that some of the denisens of the galaxy might be impressed. Jawas, they like junk.  

I for one, would really like to stick with the portable thermonuclear powered fusion plasma device while gallivanting through the cosmos. Maybe its just me, but hey, who doesn’t need a bit more power in their “more elegant weapon”  anyway?

Want to find out more about thermonuclear fusion?  Check this out.

Why We Will Be Able To Build A Synthetic Dragon In Our Lifetime, Why It Is Okay

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

A few months ago the world was shocked to discover that a US company had designed and manufactured the world’s first synthetic living cell. The researchers had written the genetic code on a computer and then, through the aid of some very helpful yeast, assembled a fully man made strand of DNA that was later injected into a living cell. A few moments later, the cell reproduced creating the first fully artificial life form.

What happened was that, for the first time in human history, genes were written in a computer program and a living synthetic organism was manufactured by a corporation.   Let’s speculate what a few years might do to this basic technology.

Its the morning after Festivus and little Charlie Darwin has received, under the Aluminium Pole,  what he wanted most:  Dr Moreau’s  do-it-yourself Creature Lab. The small box contains a tiny thumb drive and an  authentication code.    He runs upstairs to install the  software and logs in to the Creative Creatures’ website. Within the kid friendly interface, Charlie designs and previews his creation. Using a GUI full of bubbly shapes and pastel colors  he hacks away at designing his own creature.  He adds teeth and enlarges the fangs.   The texture palette includes scales which he selects  and colors them  dark green with purple flakes. When Charlie is happy with the wings  and tail, he can’t contain his excitement as he clicks CREATE!

Slowly a three dimensional creature gets rendered and displayed.  It is a  evil looking  dragon that writhes  and slither’s on the screen . Charlie can spin it and look at it doing several preprogrammed activities like growling and pouncing. Once he is satisfied he clicks  ORDER only to find that he needs a parents receipt code to do so. “Aww Man! Daaaaaaad!,” he yells as he races downstairs to fetch his father. Little Judy pops in and gives a little yelp of joy and starts playing with the mouse. She smiles at the screen and gets distracted by a passing ladybug which she chases out of the room.

The father, Erasmus, sits down, looks at the rendering and frowns  but goes on with the ordering procedure. “Order Confirmed! Delivery estimated: 45 Days. An email has been sent to your account,” is displayed on the  screen. A month and a half  goes by and finally on a glorious Saturday morning Charlie runs downstairs to receive the delivery from Created Creatures Inc.

The doorbell wakes up Erasmus and he struggles to sign the deliveryman’s pad and hand over a tip. As he does so he thinks for a second of the potential horror within the crate.  Was it right messing with nature like this? Was this creature supposed to live at all? What does life mean when a thing like this can be created by a 10 year old?  Was he playing God?  He dismisses these thoughts quickly and says to himself “all the kids have them, they are perfectly safe; It will be alright”.

Erasmus has not completed his thought when he heard his son cry out in pain. Liquid fear shoots into his bloodstream.

Get the rest AFTER THE JUMP…

Jules Verne Invented Podcasting & 3 Other Eerie References To Modern Tech In Victorian Sci Fi

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Back in the Victorian era, steam engines were on the bleeding edge and electricity seemed magical and revolutionary.  In those times it seemed that all could be solved by technology and in many ways this was true. Inventors like Edison, Tesla, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace inspired authors like Jules Verne and H.G Wells.  These thinkers were setting down what the future would be like in ways that we are only now, in the second decade of the 21st Century are beginning to understand .

In many ways this is literary archaeology.  By revisiting the classics with our 2011 minds we recognize gems that others might have passed up in the past century. The following are several inventions from the texts of the greatest Victorian Scientific Fantasy authors.

1899 iPod Touch:  HG Wells, in his 1899 short story “When The Sleeper Wakes”, good ol’ George foresaw a device that could be carried on the palm that had the sole purpose of  storing and displaying movies and music.  As his protagonist  fumbles with the device he discovers that:

He pressed this and a rapid clicking began and ceased. He became aware of voices and music, and noticed a play of colour on the smooth front face. He suddenly realised what this might be, and stepped back to regard it.On the flat surface was now a little picture, very vividly coloured, and in this picture were figures that moved. Not only did they move, but they were conversing in clear small voices.

1889  Skype: In his prophetic “In The Year 2889”  Verne prognosticates a future with fiber optic communications and video calling ala Skype or Google Hangouts. The  motivation is very similar to an Apple’s Facetime app:

Incredible though it seems, in the 10 years since their marriage, this is the first time Mrs. Edith Smith, the professional model, has been so long absent from home; two or three days usually suffice for her frequent trips to Europe. The first thing Mr. Smith does is activate his phonotelephote, the wires of which communicate with his Paris mansion. The telephote! Here is another great triumph of modern science. The transmission of speech is an old story; the transmission of images by means of sensitive mirrors connected by wires is a thing but of yesterday. A valuable invention indeed; Mr. Smith this morning is full of blessings for the inventor, when by its aid he is able distinctly to see [and speak with ] his wife despite her great distance.”

1899 Multi Touch iPad: Wells also delved into portable computers complete with multi touch interphases.  Again from “When the Sleeper Wakes” in which the main character sleeps for 250 years and goes to the tailor in the future, the tool the tailor uses to show the sleeper different styles should sound very familiar to us.

“You lived, Sire, in a period essentially cylindrical — the Victorian. With a tendency to the hemisphere in hats. Circular curves always. Now –” He flicked out a little appliance the size and appearance of a keyless watch, whirled the knob, and behold — a little figure in white appeared kinetoscope fashion on the dial, walking and turning. “Trust me,” said the tailor. “My machine follows. What do you think of this?”

“What is that?” asked the man from the nineteenth century. “In your days they showed you a fashion-plate,” said the tailor, “but this is our modern development. See here.” The little figure repeated its evolutions, but in a different costume. “Or this,” and with a click another small figure in a more voluminous type of robe marched on to the dial. The tailor was very quick in his movements, and glanced twice towards the lift as he did these things.”

1889 Podcasting: Yes, we all know he also came up with the submarine, moonshot, airplane et. al.  But this jewel was long forgten until recently.  In between eating crepes zussette and buying baguettes, Jules proposed that in the future news would be consumed via telephone like contraptions conected to recording devices in his 1889 story, “In the Year 2889” . Even the concept of subscribing to podcasts is mentioned.  You can imagine a Steampunk version of Scott Johnson or Tom Merritt speaking to the masses through their wired conections to the brass and wood Apple portable phonographs. Here is an excerpt:

“Instead of being printed, the Earth Chronicle is every morning spoken to subscribers, who, from interesting conversations with reporters, statesmen and scientists, learn the news of the day. Furthermore, each subscriber owns a phonograph, and to this instrument he leaves the task of gathering the news whenever he happens not to be in a mood to listen directly himself.”

Recently there have been great deal of discussions over who invented what technology and who came up with this idea or that one.  The fact is that the far thinking Victorians foresaw even the information age back in the 19th.  So you see, there is prior art in everything and we are indeed living in the Victorian equivalent of technological paradise.  So who knows what else is posible from cavorite to the flugurator all manner of wonders prognosticated by the visionaries from the Steam Age might be coming soon.  I guess there is something to donning hats with goggles after all.

Don’t Kill Hitler! & 4 Other Helpful Tips To Avoid Time Travel Paradoxes

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Time travel has been a staple of science fiction since its inception.  As early as 1895 HG Wells, arguably the father of modern SciFi, wrote about time travel and its implications in “The Time Machine” .   Now a days we get at least one time travel movie every year, mostly centered around paradoxes.  Paradox is the term physicists use for the illogical effects of a careless time travelers. The most famous is one in which a time traveler kills his ancestor in the past. If this happens there is no logical way for the time traveler to be alive to kill the ancestor.  This is called the Grandfather Paradox.

In modern times, experimenters have observed time reversal in  particles and theorized how to use moving wormholes to build time loops.  Physicists have recently even shown how a time machine can be constructed.  Of course, if such a device is possible, even in the far future, care should be taken to prevent possible universe destroying paradoxes.  The following is a simple guide on how to keep yourself,  and the universe, safe, should you decide to take that vacation to the Precambrian Era.

First of all, the basics.  We don’t really know what kind of time traveling the universe allows.  There has been many scientific papers on the mechanics of possible universes.   Both Science and Fiction have narrowed down the possibilities for us:

Type I: The Back to The Future Universe, in which there is a single timeline that can be altered and produces paradox opportunities galore.

Type II: The Time Cop universe, in which every trip produces a myriad of splinter universes with different colored Statues of Liberty, etc.  JanClaude Van Damme lives in all of them.

Type III: The Doctor Who Universe in which time travel is possible but the universe itself prevents and corrects inconsistencies.  This is the currently  accepted scientific standard but things change often in this field .

Regardless of which universe we inhabit we have a few simple rules that will keep you from fading away and keep  the time space continuum running like a Canton Hegemony built  chronometer:

Get your tips AFTER THE JUMP…

Why Is The Tardis Bigger On The Inside?

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

To the uninitiated the Tardis is just a blue box with the warm, friendly, and official looking sign “Police Call Box”  emblazoned, in lights, on all sides.  To the fan, The Tardis is short for “Time and Relative Dimension in Space” and its way,way more than just a Blue Box.  Today we will explore the most obvious and endearing quality of this most peculiar object.

The very first words uttered,  muttered or mouthed by stupefied first time visitors to Dr Who’s box are, invariably, “Its bigger on the inside”  to which the Doctor or a random Companion (assistant is no longer PC enough for the BBC) responds, invariably,  “it’s dimensionally transcendental.”

Dimensionally Transcendental indeed.  But what does that mean and is it possible?  Do the laws of physics allow for that particular conceit.  Well, Yes. The ridiculously Weird Science of Modern Physics allows even this far fetched premise. There are many ways to achieve this.  We will explore but a few.

First, and  easiest for our trusty Time Lord to achieve would be a simple, Space-Time projection.  The Tardis’ interior might just be in a distant part of the universe and the doorway that connects the police box exterior might just be a straight forward, yet impossibly difficult to achieve, Einstein-Rosen Bridge, better known as a wormhole.  This means that when the Tardis Materializes and dematerializes, in fact the only thing changing location, not necesarily moving, is the access point.   This acces point in Space (and time) is  the wormhole’s entrance in disguise as a Blue, circa 1954, Police Box.  The interior of the Tardis is safely stowed away at that “undisclosed location” far, far away.  The Physics of wormholes is well known and all that the Galifreyans need wrestle up  is  just a bit of exotic matter to keep the portal from collapsing.  That should not be difficult even for the most daft of Rassilon’s brood.

Even more Tardis speculation AFTER THE JUMP!