Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

1967 – The Year of Sacrifices for Space   Leave a comment

 

1280px-Apollo1-Crew_01

Apollo 1 Crew – Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee – via NASA

Space is an unforgiving place. It shows no mercy to those who venture to its infinite realm. It is a vacuum, cold and dark, punctuated by points of lights from stars and planets. Exposure to radiation from the sun and galactic cosmic sources causes significant risk of contracting cancer. Your body reacts differently to an environment without gravity. Fluids move towards the head. Mineral loss to the bones occurs. Medicines work differently. And you’d better get along with your crewmates, because you’re going to be together in a cramped space with little privacy. And the further one travels from the Earth, the longer it takes for a signal to reach the spacecraft. Connecting with loved ones becomes more challenging.

There’s also a very real chance of becoming marooned or worse, die.

Yet the prospect of traveling to worlds unknown seems a risk worth taking. The ultimate dare. It’s how discoveries are made. For all of humankind’s history, people have ventured beyond their horizons to discover new ones. If there’s money to be made, so the better. Since most of the Earth’s been explored, it’s natural to want to see what else is out there.

Sometimes, though, the whole point is to do what no one else has done. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we chose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

Anyone who ventures outside of our Earth’s atmosphere subjects themselves to violent forces to escape the Earth’s gravity. Take, for example, the Saturn V rocket. To get there, one has to sit atop a rocket with 7.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

The Saturn V was the rocket used to send Apollo 1 on its mission to test the capabilities the Apollo command and service module, necessary to send man to the moon.

On January 27, 1967, during a launch rehearsal test, its crew – Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee – experienced difficulties communicating with the Operations and Checkout Building and the Complex 34 Blockhouse control room. Grissom’s microphone was stuck open, causing him to say, “How are we going to get to the moon if we can’t talk between two or three buildings?”

Shortly thereafter, as the astronauts were going through their checklist, one of the astronauts, thought to be Grissom, discovered a fire in the cabin. Within moments, it consumed the cabin. The men had been unable to unlatch its door, although it seems they attempted to. Five minutes passed before pad workers were able to open the hatch. Grissom and White were found out of their seats, while Chaffee remained strapped to his seat, as procedure dictated. Nylon had melted from their spacesuits. It took ninety minutes to free them from the capsule.

Apollo_1_fire

The Charred Remains of the Apollo 1 Capsule – NASA image, Public Domain, 1967

Because of this disaster, changes were made to the entry hatch, enabling those inside to easily exit the vehicle, instead of relying on those outside to free the crew.

Over in the Soviet Union, Colonel Vladimir Komorov prepared for Soyuz 1. He, along with Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space and Alexei Leonov, the first man who accomplished extravehicular activity (EVA), made up the Soyuz team. On this particular mission, Gagarin was Komorov’s backup.

Komarov-Soyuz 1

Colonel Vladimir Komorov and Soyuz 1 (Image – NASA)

It has been said that there were issues with the construction of the spacecraft Komorov was to fly, and that a memo had been sent by Gagarin to Leonid Brezhnev detailing numerous engineering and technical deficiencies. But given the secrecy of the time, reliable information is difficult to come by, and it’s not certain such a memo was either sent or exists. It has also been said that on the day Komorov prepared to command the inaugural flight of the Soyuz program, Gagarin showed up at the launch site, insisting on taking Komorov’s place. The two were very close friends, and he worried about Komorov’s flight into space. But Gagarin was a national treasure. He would’ve never been given permission to substitute for his friend.

So on April 23, 1967, Komorov launched into space from Baikonor Cosmodrome to orbit the Earth. Once in orbit, one of the solar panels failed to fully open, thereby compromising the ability to generate the electricity needed in the cabin. The automatic stabilization system failed as well as the orientation detectors. By orbit 13, it was decided to abort the mission.

It wasn’t until the 19th orbit that Komorov gained the ability to properly orient his space vehicle towards the sun and managed to fire the retrorockets. He entered the Earth’s atmosphere safely and deployed the drogue parachute (a smaller parachute designed to slow the rapid pace of reentry), followed by the main chute. For some reason, the main chute failed to deploy. Komorov then manually activated the reserve main chute, only for it to become tangled with the drogue chute. He plummeted towards the Earth at 40 miles/second, until he crashed in Orenburg Oblast, in southeastern Russia.

His descent module immediately burst into flames and so hot was the fire, its metal shell melted. Rescuers threw dirt on it to extinguish the flames. Afterwards, there was little left of the entry vehicle. After the rescuers extinguished the fire, Komorov was discovered strapped inside, his burned body reduced to a horrible mass of blackened remains. It was determined he died of blunt force injuries.

NASA released the following statement:

“We are very saddened by the loss of Col. Komarov. We feel comradeship for this test pilot because we have met several of his fellow cosmonauts and we know that we are all involved in a pioneering flight effort that is not without hazard. We particularly want to express our deep sense of sympathy to Mrs. Komarov, their children and his fellow cosmonauts.”

Colonel Vladimir Komarov died on April 24, 1967. He was mourned as a national hero. And because of his death, critical technical changes were made to future Soyuz missions to ensure the safety of their crews.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Our Future Really Dystopian?   Leave a comment

Japanese Robot

One can argue that this is a great time for things dystopian. There’s a lot of discord in this world and in our country in particular. School shootings seem to happen so frequently they hardly get a notice in the news. Climate change is a reality more than a concept. Now measles is roaring back…is smallpox next? And superviruses and superbacteria threaten us all, with no cures or countermeasures in sight. Racial tensions are again on the rise, while the gig economy undermines workers’ abilities to save for the future or just be secure.

And so on…

It’s easy to picture a future without hope or purpose. I’m even going through a rough patch myself and wonder if there’s any sparkle left to dream about. Any one of those scenarios above could make great fodder for a novel. And have.

But just image if one day we all took stock of what we have and set about to make it right. Make changes that benefit all, not a precious few. Pollyanna as that sounds, one rather famous series used an evolved humankind as its background. Yes, that’d be Star Trek. In it, those who inhabit the Earth (and not necessarily humans) have eschewed wealth for equality and humanity. Sure, each episode mirrored what’s happened here on the home planet, but the outcomes often were positive, if not hopeful.

Would it even, I daresay, be an odd sort of dystopia if everything went right and nothing went wrong? Can you imagine? Sure, it’d be boring but the movie Pleasantville is based on a premise of a perfect TV world turned upside-down with the introduction of color.

I suppose it’s somehow easier to believe things’ll blow up than to bloom. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that you or me don’t have it so bad as they will in the future. Or in the past. Or on planet Zorthon. Think about it. Isn’t it cathartic to complain? A downhill slide from justice into injustice, because somehow society needs to be punished. Bombs will blow, diseases will conquer, war will end all.

Again, does it have to?

There are a few simple things we, as humans, can do to change things. They are (in no particular order):

  • Don’t like who’s in office? Vote! Or better yet, run yourself. Take an interest in your town, your county, your state, your nation. Because, believe it or not, your vote matters. Ditto for…
  • You don’t like it that school kids are being shot? Or our environment’s being polluted at a crazy rate? Or something else? Contact your congressman, senator, mayor, governor or even president. You might get the runaround. Attend town halls or village meetings. Speak up. Make your voice heard. And if that doesn’t work, see the above point.
  • Stop wasting everything. Buy enough food that you’ll actually eat so it doesn’t turn into a dystopian event in the fridge. Use one sheet of a paper towel roll instead of two. Or better yet, use a rag and wash it out. Buy household paper that’s been sourced from recycled paper.
  • Don’t litter.
  • Walk instead of drive…if you can. It’s better for you in a myriad of ways. And don’t run the car. Turn it off.
  • Here’s something to ponder: Toothbrushes. Count up the number of toothbrushes you use in a year. Six? Eight? More? Then count the number your family uses. Add that up. Now apply that number to everyone on your street. Or multiply that by the population of your town. Or the population of the United States (or whatever country you happen to live in. You throw all of that away and it lands in a landfill. It lasts longer than humankind. All for clean teeth. What’s the solution? While there are bamboo toothbrushes, which is a step in the right direction, we need to come up with something better.
  • Ditto with needles – the injecting kind – but that’s human waste…and dangerous. But it’s not recyclable either.
  • Or baby diapers. An infant goes through thousands. Add that number up by the number of births in one year. All going to the landfill…

Before you get totally depressed, all of the above can be changed. This is a nation of innovation, or was, anyway. We still can be. Let’s hand it to the upcoming generation of engineers and scientists (and anyone else who’s inspired to join in) and create/invent materials that will biodegrade and/or can be developed from renewable sources.

And maybe, our future will be that much cleaner, clearer and less dystopian.

Immigrant American Superheroes   Leave a comment

Here’s a thought I had for today, since it seems there’s an element of American society terrified of the very portion of the Earth’s population that made the United States a successful nation. That, my folks, would be immigrants. It’s what made this nation great, and will continue to do so. It’s very important to remind ourselves of this, especially if one witnesses the horrific events taking shape in the United States today.

I’ll start off with one very important immigrant: Albert Einstein.

albert-einstein-portrait

This immigrant was born in Ulm, Germany and came to the United States in 1933, a direct result of the atrocities unfolding in Europe. Nazis were conducting nuclear research with the intent of creating military weaponry. Einstein realized the potential of the catastrophic forces a nuclear bomb would unleash, and wrote President Roosevelt about it. Though it didn’t stop the eventual creation and bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he remained a pacifist and spent the rest of his life active in humanitarian causes. Seeing the parallels between Jewish atrocities and the Holocaust and the battle for civil rights unfolding in America, he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

No…he didn’t invent that car, but it’s named after him: Nikola Tesla.

Nikola Tesla American Inventor

Born in Croatia in 1856, he came to the United States in 1884. He’s responsible for inventing alternating current electrical system, or AC – the way electricity is delivered to your house. An early partnership with Thomas Edison didn’t work out, but a later one with George Westinghouse did. Westinghouse purchased Tesla’s patent and eventually AC triumphed over Edison’s direct current electrical system, or DC. AC enabled electricity to be delivered over long distances, while Edison’s DC did not. Tesla also set the groundwork for long-distance wireless communication, but Guglielmo Marconi ultimately beat him to the punch with his radio communication technology. Tesla’s also known for his famous coil, still used in radio technology today.

Here’s an esteemed Nobel Prize winning physicist who also came from Germany: Maria Goeppert-Meyer.

mariagoeppertmayer

Born in Kattowicz (now Katowice, Poland) in 1906. In 1930, she married American chemist and professor Joseph Mayer. Although it was difficult for a female scientist at that time to gain a foothold in the scientific community, she nevertheless published an important paper on double beta decay in 1935 while holding an assistant position at Johns Hopkins, where her husband worked. She also conducted early work in quantum sciences, and eventually came to Columbia University for an unpaid position, but during that time, she collaborated with Enrico Fermi, who tasked her to investigate the valence shell of the undiscovered transuranic elements. In 1942, she joined the Manhattan Project at Columbia  to investigate separating the fissile uranium-235 isotope in natural uranium. Goeppert-Meyer developed a mathematical model for the structure of nuclear shells. For this, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 (sharing it with J. Hans D. Jensen and Eugene Wigner) and became the second female Nobel Prize winner after Marie Curie.

There are many, many others, of course, who have contributed in science, art, literature, politics, education, commerce and more. Since this country came to be as the result of immigration, each and every person who arrives upon our shores has much to contribute in making this country an example of what can be achieved…if we allow it.

Snap Sci-Fi: Camera   1 comment

All-seeing camera

“Watch me,” said the violator, “as I slip past that thing. No one’d suspect I’d get away with anything, and yet here I am, alone, off to do what I do best.”

“Watch out,” said the partner. “No one gets by the camera. It’s going to capture you in ways you’ll never imagine.”

“How?” said the violator. “What harm can it do? It’s a piece of machinery, nothing more. It only has power if someone actually uses it. And who’ll see me if I do?”

“Someone may,” said the partner. “It might as well be on you. Nothing else to watch ‘cept you.”

“No machine has power over me. None. Let it snap and shoot away. It might as well be blind,” said the violator, and off he went to do the job he did best.

* * *

People still talk about that afternoon as if it were yesterday. Or might be tomorrow.

It started innocently enough. Pick up the girlfriend and the girl, maybe grab a bite to eat and get home before too late. Kid needed sleep and the couple needed each other. Man’s hands held the wheel with a casual grasp, the way one does heading down familiar paths.

Out of the corner of his eye, the quick dance of red and blue flashes bounced off of his rearview. They seemed to be closing in on Man’s car. Next he heard the wail and the growl of a V8 turbo. He shrugged. Wasn’t speeding. Wasn’t texting. Wasn’t doing much of anything except heading in a straight line and stopping for the occasional traffic light. Still, he pulled over just in case he was expected to. Nothing to worry about, right?

Not that day. Not that afternoon.

Nothing Man ever could say ever could matter. Asked what was the matter. Yes, sir, I’ll hand you the ID and yes, I have permission.

Then he became blind, absorbed into the ages, barely fathoming the shattering explosion, the screaming, the surrealistic senselessness of it all.

* * *

Violator begged his innocence. He swore Man’s mere presence posed a threat. That no mistake was made. All his actions were for the safety of his position and his survival of the afternoon shift. Besides, he had no business being here, did he now? Worse, he was carrying. Didn’t matter if he was allowed. How many deaths occurred with permission to use those things, eh?

He didn’t count on the camera actually working. Against him.

That woman clutched it and kept it going. She’d make sure he’d never get past. He’d never get away with it. With the world as her witness, she brandished it as her weapon, more powerful than any instrument on Earth. While the violator kept on doing the job he did best, Woman allowed her camera to do the job it did best.

It captured the Violator in ways he never imagined.

It was anything but blind.

Its power released the outrage of everyone throughout the world.

When Reality Mirrors Science Fiction, or Vice Versa   Leave a comment

Why make things up when reality is just as entertaining? Here’s a few inspiring snippets for your sci-fi/reality consideration. Become inspired and write your own story based on what you see below!

 

New Horizons Spacecraft

Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

New Horizons has left Pluto and gracefully exited out into extended space, lurking around the Kuiper Belt in search of, well, new horizons.

Chinese Riot Robot

Credit: People’s Daily, China

This egg-ish thing is actually a Chinese riot control robot, capable of mowing down people on flat surfaces while ambling along at 11-ish miles per hour and work without complaint (I’m assuming anyway) for 8 hours.

SpaceX Mars Ship

Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX to launch unmanned mission to Mars in 2018. The above ship is no relation to the above Chinese riot control robot.

Hall Thruster

Credit: NASA

Aerojet Rocketdyne will develop an advanced solar electric propulsion system, or SEP, for deep space exploration. Mars, and other exotic extraterrestrial locations.

Hope you found a few good ideas!

Snake Oil and Quackery   Leave a comment

Sight Restored

Miracle Man, Dr. Oren Oneil

Since it’s been a while since I did anything remotely steampunkish, I thought I might revisit the genre. I have some old magazines from 1902 – Pearson’s and The Smart Set. As I leafed through the pages, inspiration beat on my brain with the force of a brass Thor’s hammer.

Classifieds and advertisements from bygone eras area always fascinating to read, but none more so, it seems, than from late Victorian/early Georgian era. As technology grew, so did claims about its abilities. While it’s true significant gains in medical research grew during this time, so did quacks who claimed to have the answer for particular ailments.

Take, for example, Dr. Oren Oneil, inventor of the Oneil Dissolvent Method. This convincing ad practically screams credibility, claiming this gifted oculist restored sight to thousands – even cross eyed people! – yet a child could consume his potent tonic and live to talk about it. And if you didn’t take his word for it, just write to the people he cured. But of course, it really was too good to be true, and the truth was exposed in this Collier’s Weekly article from 1906.

Body BraceNatural Body Brace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m sorry, but there’s nothing natural about these body braces. I can’t help but love the claim, “Cures ailments peculiar to women” and “Female weakness.” How can a gizmo such as the above help with liver trouble, lady’s headache, constipation AND make you more attractive? I do think this body brace would make an excellent addition to any modern-day steampunk costume and peculiarities collection.

 

Bunions

 

Adding to the brace field is “Pond’s Toe Spring.” This medical marvel has been endorsed by medical men here and abroad, although it doesn’t specify what kind of practice or nation so hot on using said toe spring. I imagine those with foot fetishes go for this sort of bondage thing.

Blindness

While Dr. Oneil used a tonic to cure blindness and other eye ailments, the marvels of electricity proved a more effective cure. All you needed to use was a pocket battery to remove stubborn cataracts, pteryglums, granulated lids to restore vision. I’m not quite sure why the New York & London Electric Association chose to do business from Kansas City, Missouri, but perhaps it provided a friendlier environment for stealing people’s money.

 

Break the Bonds

At first glance, one can hardly guess this is an ad for fake coffee, but a cry for help for addicts of caffeine. Dyspepsia, weak heart, kidney trouble, sour stomach, inactive brain and nervous prostration. While there might be an argument for a few of the ailments, I’m addled to consider blaming coffee on an inactive brain. Who hasn’t gotten juiced up on coffee studying for finals to wake that brain up? Postum, the “food coffee,” is the miraculous cure for those who are hopelessly addicted to the pre-Starbucks set. My own mother used to drink Postum, and I can tell you the last thing it tasted like was coffee.

Liquor Habit

But then again, coffee might not be so bad when you can secretly slip in an odorless, tasteless cure, quietly and permanently without the patient’s knowledge or consent, to cure that evil liquor habit. Sure, because they’ll be dead. At least it’s good for both sexes.

 

Fits

Sure, I’d love to cure my St. Vitus’s Dance, even for free, especially since thousands have been helped where everything else has failed. So now that you have my AGE and full address, what else are you going to rip me off for?

MorpheneOpium

Painless and permanent home cures seem to be the thing. These promise Vital Principle heretofore unknown and lacking in all others, and better still, can be taken without interruption to convenience or detention from business. Again, I’m thinking this is possible because the distressed addict will die, leading to the permanent cure.

Hypnotism

The general rule is: if it has buzz marks, then it’s effective. The ad says, ” Life is full of alluring possibilities for those who master the secrets of hypnotic influence; for those who develop their magnetic powers. You can learn at home, cure diseases and bad habits without drugs, win the friendship and love of others, increase your income, gratify your ambitions, drive worry and trouble from your mind, improve your memory, overcame domestic difficulties, give the most thrilling entertainment ever witnessed and develop a wonderfully magnetic will power that will enable you to overcome all obstacles to your success.” What hooked me was: “It is enthusiastically endorsed by ministers of the gospel, lawyers, doctors, business men and society women.” Think about this combination. Doctors trying to get over on people need lawyers so they don’t get sued for using newfound powers on society women who presumably will become fallen women who need to be saved by ministers of the gospel. That’s just my take on it.

French Lick

Of course, all of the above can be had for the price of admission at French Lick Springs. It’s the capital of pleasure!

Bon voyage!

 

 

‘Bots, Books and Literary Competitions   Leave a comment

Robot Typing On Keyboard

Photo credit: ft.com

They say if you stick a bunch of typewriters in front of a roomful of monkeys, they’ll eventually churn out Shakespeare. Now, I’ve never seen that proven but here’s a fact: artificial intelligence is now composing prose.

I like to read Engadget . It keeps me updated on technology of all sorts, no matter who or what developed it. So a story caught my eye the other day: AI-written novel passes first round of a literary competition. This competition, taking place in Japan, marked the first time an AI-human collaboration garnered serious consideration.

The Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award opened up its competition to artificial intelligence for the first time this year. Out of 1450 submission, 11 were human/AI collaborations.

Now, it’s not like the AI came up a great storyline all on its own. It had help, of course. Humans gave the AI the necessary components to create a story: vocabulary, a basic plot outline, sentences and phrases. With these ingredients, AI worked its muse and put forth a pretty darn good entry. Of course, it was science fiction – what else?

Competition judges read through the AI/human and deemed it good enough to pass onto the next round. I’m willing to be that made the authors quite proud. All the while, the judges never knew The Day a Computer Writes a Novel was anything but a human invention. Alas, while the story turned out to be well-structured, imaginative and inventive, it failed the character development test, leaving someone else (human, I’m assuming) to win the coveted prize.

So while this particular entry to the Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award competition didn’t garner first place, it did come out a winner of sorts. Imagine if you were one of the writers who got left behind and this robot beat you out. Part of me would feel kind of pissed off, insulted maybe, and yet, I’d be scratching my head. Has the sci-fi market gotten to the point where the objects of its plots are now the ones creating the new stories? If left to its own (plot) devices, what sort of plot will an AI write? Steampunk? Electrifying thrillers? A Cyborg in shining armor saving the day?

Kind of gives a whole new meaning to Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, eh? I mean, if a robot write a really bad story, who’s being harmed – the art, the robot or humans subjected to reading it?

Furthermore, will us humans be cast aside in favor of those who can churn out story after story, without food, water or air? No, wait…that’s pretty much every writer I know.

It’d be pretty interesting to watch how this plot develops.

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