Art Rosenfeld passed away two weeks ago. Most people would not remember him, but they have been affected by his simple observation in 1976 that a “proposed nuclear power plant would not be needed if refrigerators were required to be more efficient.”
Here you can see the effects on the energy efficiency in the state of California:
Note how the energy expenditure per capita flatlines from the time he made the observation above. It was never one thing, but a lot of little things Turning off lights at night, higher efficiency furnaces and fridges and stoves. Higher efficiency lighting. Better windows.
These are the kinds of things which make a huge difference in aggregate (and he was a master at expressing how much of a difference each of them would make singularly, such as spending 20mins with light switches saves 100 gallons of gas over the weekend). These are the kinds of incremental changes which are slowly reducing the scourge of cancer. These are the kinds of things which can reduce changes to the climate.
Thanks, Art. Let’s keep working and doing things a little more intelligently every day.
20 years ago, I watched Contact in the theater with my family. Tonight, I watched it again, with S.
To me, it held up well as a movie. All the characters were believable, and the science and the effects were well within the normal parameters of suspension of disbelief.
What struck me was how hopeful a movie it was, that our better natures would win out, that our endless curiosity would take us places we’ve never imagined.
[Note that spoilers follow]
It’s always interesting the things you remember 20 years later. “Why not make two, at twice the price?” The destruction scene. The prime numbers sounding so ominously alien from the aether. The speaking through her father. The 18 hours of static.
Interestingly, I had remembered that 18 hours of static as being the vindication at the end of the movie, that she was not crazy, that something had indeed happened, but I had forgotten how much it was covered up.
The one (gaping) plot hole I had missed the first time around was the absence of study and testing before a human was sent through the machine. If you look at the history of the Apollo program, you see that it was preceded by Mercury and Gemini, with dozens of sequential missions, each testing new parts, to make sure that each part of the system and plan were well-enough understood to ensure successful missions. The idea that they would build a half-trillion-dollar system in Contact and not fully study it (especially if it’s generating strange EM radiation) before sending a human through it ‘strains credulity’. Even the EM it’s radiating would be a fantastic discovery for humans.
But I can understand how they would cut out things to make a move that was watchable, and which was able to spend its time focusing on the humans in the story.
The alternative view of events that the NSA directory was trying to convince people of at the end of the movie was reminiscent (for me) of the big con at the end of ‘Watchmen’, albeit at the opposite end of the hope-fear axis.
Apparently, like Bladerunner, the ending was supposed to keep your doubt alive as to whether the events she experienced had actually happened. To me, it didn’t, as 18 hours of static (and whatever metallurgical data they could get from the sphere) would be enough to prove the story.
I laughed, I cried, I am full of hope. A new year dawns. Time to use that hope to build something meaningful, starting with some words.
We immediately followed it with Men In Black. I’ll leave it to you to enjoy this juxtaposition.
If you’d read or watched any Carl Sagan, this would probably not be surprising. “The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.”
I had remembered it as 18 minutes.
In ‘Contact’, it was posited that a billionaire had faked first contact to inspire humans to push themselves outwards. In ‘Watchmen’ (the graphic novel), Adrian Veidt fakes an alien invasion to scare humans into working together against a common foe.
’Watchmen’ the movie simplified the plot to have Doctor Manhattan be the scapegoat. this lead to a much tighter movie, but slightly less appropriate for my analogy, however much he played with space and time.
So, a good friend of mine recently posted the following meme:
“According to astronomy, when you wish upon a star….
You’re actually a few million years late.
That star is dead.
Just like your dreams.”
It’s a really depressing thought, perhaps even more depressing than the Nietzsche/Kubrick mashup: “God is dead, and you are alone in an uncaring universe.”
At least with an uncaring universe, something with persist after you are gone. If all the stars are dead before you can even see them, would there even be anything left after we are gone?
But extraordinarily depressing statements require extraordinary evidence. So let’s take this sentence apart and define some things.
First: “According to astronomy” means that we get to (and have to) use astronomy in our proof or disproof. It also likely refers to modern astronomy, as it did not specify a time/technology period. (It may be interesting to see if any answers would be different under astronomy from a different time period, but that will be a secondary investigation.)
So, this restricts us to the realm of non-moving (or slowly-moving) celestial objects. From the film, the star also seems significantly brighter than the surrounding stars, but the exact extent to which this is true could be dramatic license.
The rhyme mentions ‘first star I see tonight’, which also suggests that the celestial object seen is unusually bright.
So, non-moving (or slowly moving) celestial objects which are bright. This leaves us with comets, planets, and bright stars.
Comets are objects orbiting through the solar system, and unless they fall into the sun, impact another body, or otherwise breakup, they tend to go on ‘living’ after we see them. (Halley’s comet has been known since at least 240BC.)
Planets could easily look like stars, often like unusually bright stars. Venus was called the ‘evening star‘ since antiquity, and it would be bright enough (up to apparent magnitude -4.9) to be significantly brighter than anything else in the sky. Venus could be considered ‘dead’ because it may have once supported life before a runaway greenhouse effect millions of years ago, but this seems an unlikely metaphorical interpretation. Mercury (up to apparent magnitude -2.45) would also be significantly brighter than anything but Venus (and the moon and sun), but has never been ‘alive’, being too close to the Sun. Mars (up to apparent magnitude -2.91) could have been alive at some point, in the same vein as Venus. One or more of the moons of Jupiter (up to apparent magnitude -1.61) or Saturn (up to apparent magnitude 1.47) could have been home to life, under this same metaphorical definition. (The other planets and other bodies in the solar system are too dim to ever be a ‘bright star’.)
So, a planet could be a metaphorical source for this quote, but this seems unlikely, as the quote seems to be referring to the fact that the celestial object is no longer emitting the light itself.
This leaves us with bright stars. Looking at the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius (up to apparent magnitude -1.46), it is only about 8.6 light years away, so we would know in less than a decade if something were to happen there.
You will note that even the furthest among these, Deneb is still only 2600 light years away, much closer than the ‘few million years’ mentioned above.
Based on all this evidence, it would seem that the original meme:
“According to astronomy, when you wish upon a star….
You’re actually a few million years late.
That star is dead.
Just like your dreams.”
is false, which is good, because it would be super-depressing otherwise.
If you enjoyed this sojurn through astronomy, you may like the rest of my blog. Comment below with things you want me to talk about or investigate!
If you have a better source for this, please let me know.
If you want to be pedantic (and I know you do), you could say that meteors are the dead husks of possible (or tidally destroyed) planets, and their burning up in the atmosphere is hundreds of millions of years after they ‘died’.
Much less than a second, even if you assume they impact the Earth’s atmosphere thousands of kilometers away.
A close supernova might also qualify, as it could easily be brighter than anything else in the night sky, would last just long enough to be a ‘wishing star’, and would have been ‘dead’ for some time before it was seen by a human observer. This might indeed be source of this rhyme, where a ‘guest star‘ could inspire wishing and omens. However, looking at this list of supernovae, any supernova which would have been visible as a ‘bright star’ with the naked eye would be at most tens or hundreds of thousands of light years away, not qualifying for the ‘few million years’ mentioned above. I also personally see supernovae more as a seeding of the galaxy with heavier elements, and thus wishing upon one of these would be wishing that the spreading of heavier elements would inspire life to form elsewhere in the universe.
I see no way that any reasonable person could confuse the Sun or Moon with a ‘wishing star’.
In our last installment, our heroes had gone a little playa-crazy from their adventures in the land of test pattern.
Now, it was time for them to rest and reflect on what they had experienced.
But first, the nose car:
Our intrepid heroes encounter a strange tent, titled ‘True Reflections Palace’. An arched entranceway beckons them in…:
A welcoming sign:
It turns out that ‘True Reflections’ are what happens when you reflect a person’s image in such a way that it looks to them like they look to other people:
Of course, there were tinker toys, distracting to builders such as our heroes:
THE WHOLE TENT IS TINKER TOYS:
Some research on this topic:
This is they type of coverage that you may have seen of this before, how the two halves of of the face are seen very differently, and how swapping them can have huge effects, most often done to celebrities so that people will click the link:
Some interesting commentary on the psychology of changing how someone sees themselves, possibly similar to people hearing themselves speak:
The ‘standard’ wildcard character, specifically referring to a character is the question mark, ‘?’. Generally standing in for any one of some set of things (or in Perl, 0 or 1 of a thing).
The ‘larger’ wildcard character, ‘*’, which stands for any number of something (including 0), sometimes expressed as ‘%’, if you’re speaking SQL.
The ‘even larger’ wildcard character, ‘…’, which is like a recursive ‘*’.
But could there be something larger still? Something which climbs the directory hierarchy in the oppsosite direction, perhaps? Something which can make it past all of the automatic filters, but is clearly wrong? Something like typing ‘NaN‘ into a number field box? Something which steps outside the usual boundaries, like Thiotimoline?
Today, we’ll check in on our intrepid heroes as they count down to the 7pm ‘soft open’ of Charnival!
Here’s what Mirror Blaze looked like Sunday morning:
And a quick peek at FaIRE Hockey, and our common fuel depot:
Note in the pictures above, you can see the snow fencing used as a safety perimeter around Mirror Blaze and the fuel depot (those are 100lb propane tanks, for scale). We aimed for a 10′ minimum safety perimeter around the fuel depot, but this was never an issue, as we had lots of space.
So, next, we had to add all of the bunting around Mirror Blaze! This went kind of like this:
S: “Could you pass me the drill?” (the bunting was cloth S had cut into pieces slightly larger than 4’x8′ (the size of the mirrors), and then attached gromets around the edge, which would then be drill-screwed into the wooden frame.)
Me: “Here you go.”
Cloth: “Wheeeeeee! You can’t see me!”
Thankfully, we had help other than the wind:
While all this was happening, we were going through the process of being flame effect certified. After trenching and covering, and covering the flame effect wiring with aluminum foil so that the backdraft ‘FOOMF’ wouldn’t melt the wire insulation, we were ready to install the tube:
The tube was the single point of failure for the project. We had spare mirrors, could wrangle spare posts, spare screws, bolts, wind bracing, propane hose, propane tanks, bunting, gromets, screwdrivers, etc, etc, etc, but if the tube broke, all was lost. It didn’t help that we really didn’t know exactly how strong it was. It was (and still is) a 7′ long 1′ wide quartz tube, so chosen because it’s basically impervious to propane flame (which is why it’s used for fireplace windows/lamps/etc… It was obtained at great expense from China, including some quite involved negotiations by S.
The intrepid build crew who helped mount the tube (Francisco came up with the nifty design for the ‘metal tape’ to hold the tube. It really takes a village.):
S took a moment to bask in her satisfaction (and the intense midday sun):
We also took a moment to bask in the fact that our local Cheshire CatNekoBus had received approval from the DMV!:
While Sara was explaining something:
We were immediately caught off guard by a full strength ‘Last Flamethrower’ test:
‘Flamethrower Shooting Gallery’ had been coming to the Burn for a number of years (we convinced them to join us at the Charcade in 2013), but the logistics were getting to them, so they decided to go for one last burn, but wanted to do something a little different. Instead of four flamethrowers, they decided to go for one HUUUGE flamethrower. Honestly, this pic does not do it justice.
Next time, we finish the Mirror Blaze bunting, and we’ll see if we also get approved!
My understanding of the agreement with Burning Man for the honorarium project was that Charnival had to run for a number of days, a number of hours each. My understanding was that this played out as six days at four hours per day. (The six days being Monday-Saturday, with a late start on Saturday because of the Man Burn.) We opened an extra day on the opening Sunday, partly as a ‘shakedown cruise’, partly because we wanted to be open on opening evening, partly because we wanted to open and show off our cool projects.
This included a frantic message in the middle of the night (Toronto time, probably daytime in China) probably in Mandarin that we didn’t understand, but the tube arrived, so I guess it was all okay?
In flame effect circles, there is a distinction between ‘flame effects’ and ‘flame throwers’. ‘Flame effects’ are made using gaseous fuel like propane (safe(r) and legal), and ‘flame throwers’ are made using liquid fuel like gasoline (very unsafe and illegal). The Flamethrower Shooting Gallery got special dispensation to use actual flamethrowers by being the most meticulously safety conscious group of people I have ever seen (think a meticulous checklist combined with a range safety officer plus perimeter plus one safety officer per flamethrower plus I’m sure many other things).
The ‘Magic Number’ which precipitated this post was the fact that one tonne of water is one cubic meter in volume. Interestingly, this is actually a number of interlocking ‘Magic Numbers’, including: One tonne is one thousand kilograms, water has a density of 1 gram per cubic centimetre (‘density of 1’), one thousand is 10x10x10, one tonne is one thousand liters of water, one liter is one kilogram, etc, etc…
I mostly enjoy using this to respond to ‘I could eat a tonne of this’, or to estimate whether you could fit a tankerfull of oil in an office.
It is commonly known that ice will float on water, because the hydrogen bonds give the water molecules a structure which is more spaced out and less dense than close packed. Also, water has its greatest density of about one at about 4 degrees C.
Incidentally, hydrocarbons have a density of about 0.7, so the tankerful of oil mentioned above would rather difficult to swim in. This 0.7 is close enough to 1.0 so as to make no difference for most back of the envelope questions. Strong acids are known to have densities greater than one, but that’s not really that useful most of the time.
Avogadro’s number is 6e23, Coulomb’s constant is 9e9, the ideal gas constant is 8.314 (I remember that one because it includes pi), G is 6.67e-11, the Planck constant is 6.63e-34. Most of these are useless without things like the mass or charge of an electron or proton. The only one I use is Avogadro’s number, and that’s largely to calculate how much of your body is made up of atoms which were once part of a particular famous person.
For atoms, what I’ve found useful is the fact that a proton is about 2000 times heavier than an electron, and that chemical bond distances are measured in Angstroms (1e-10m).
c is 3e8m/s, which is useful for Star Trek and Star Wars-type arguments. One atmosphere is 101.325kPa, or about 30 feet of water (which is important for divers).
Pi is 3.14159, or 22/7 to its friends. Pi comes up a lot.
With these three, you can calculate all of the logarithms from one to ten, and much of everything else. In high school, we memorized all of the perfect squares up to 100^2, but most of those have fled from memory.
The (x+y)(x-y) = x^2 – y^2 trick still comes in handy, though.
The CN Tower is 553m tall, really only useful in Toronto.
The Earth has a radius of about 6380m, has an orbit of 93e6 miles (150e6km), useful for things like Dyson Sphere and Red Giant arguments.
The Earth is about 6e24kg, has a diameter of about 40,000km (at the equator), axial tilt of about 23.5 degrees (Uranus is the only planet with an axial tilt significantly greater, almost sideways!).
The sun is about 400x larger than the moon, and is about 400x further away, and this is why solar eclipses work.
SGD, AUD, CAD, USD, EUR, GBP are pretty close in value, and are in that approximate order with only a factor of about 2 separating them. HKD has maybe 6-8 times per unit, CNY is in that general ballpark, and JPY has about 100 times per unit.
My handspan is about 10″, which is very useful for measuring things.
Stories are about 2m tall.
3600s/hour, 86400 seconds per day, the Unix epoch started 1970-01-01, useful if you spend any time coding, or want to know how long something will take at ‘x per second’. (100k seconds per day is a useful gross approximation for many applications.)
And I would be remiss if I left out my favourite physics approximation (from the same class where I learned about Stirling’s approximation):
Continuing our adversaries series, we’re starting today looking at DS9. I’m curious to know how it will diverge from TNG, and when. Or maybe it won’t. Which will mean there’s something about the Star Trek formula, or perhaps the general television formula.
So, this presents a significant departure from TNG. Even though DS9 is supposed to be grittier and have opportunities amongst the main cast, this is never the main adversary or obstacle in an episode. Also interestingly, the episodes almost exclusively separate into ‘very powerful outside force’ and ‘morality play where we try to solve problems without anyone getting hurt’.
You can also see this very clearly in the ‘Federation Maps‘ (direct link here). Just look at the size of the Federation compared to all of the other powers. Even if they’re not especially warlike, as any good Civilization player knows, if you have an economy four times the size of your opponent, they’re not really much of a threat. Add in the Federation-Klingon alliance, and they should be unstoppable. Gives you an idea of how powerful the Dominion and the Jem’Hadar must have been.
Perhaps it’s because the adversaries which are ‘just the right amount of challenge’ for the Federation haven’t really discovered the station yet, perhaps because the seasons-spanning plots haven’t started yet.
But I think a lot of it is the nature of the beast. A ship exploring will encounter all kinds of different adversaries and challenges. They can travel to see the Klingons or Romulans whenever they want. A space station will be visited by small numbers of beings at any time. Some will be spatial anomalies which threaten to destroy the station. Many will be travelers on their own missions, but not significantly powerful in their own right. Rarely, representatives from other governments will visit, even more rarely will they have warlike intentions.
(I’ve copied my rationale below, as the results were o surprising. Please check out Jammer’s Reviews and/or Memory Alpha and tell me how I’m wrong in the comments below!)
2 (celestial temple, convincing by Sisko)
0 (Bajoran person)
0 (3 aliens)
“Were we interfering with these people, their philosophy, their society? At the same time, what has happening there wasn’t fair. It was a classic Star Trek story” – Colm Meaney
1 (contamination from destroying ship)
2 (alien game)