Screwdrivers, really? Yes, really. This is one of most interesting short videos I’ve seen in a long time. The History Guy takes on “Robertson, Phillips, and the History of the Screwdriver,” and if that sounds like a snoozer, trust me, it’s a fascinating take on invention, powerful personalities, world history, and why the heck most of us have Phillips-head screwdrivers (and screws) instead of the easier-to-use square-socket (Robertson) screwdriver that apparently is common in Canada. Those darn Canadians have beaten us again!
Okay, it didn’t ruin my life, exactly, but it sure ruined my day. Microsoft laid the “Windows 10 anniversary update” on me—and I was still waiting to discover how the first Windows 10 upgrade was any improvement over 7—and that was the last time my office computer worked right. I’m typing on it right now, but I know it’s only a matter of time before the blue screen of death strikes again. I’m dancing at the edge of a crumbling cliff here. I’ve already fallen a couple dozen times, and I’m feeling bruised.
First place, this machine is only five and a half years old, for Heaven’s sake! Yeah, I know that’s, like, 35 in dog years, and a century in computer years, but I still don’t like how fast these things turn to rust. I also don’t like when “upgrades” break things that worked just fine!* And get the hell off my lawn!
Having spent the better part of a day running updates and diagnostics and doing everything but turn it upside down and shake it, I’m now thinking: Keep spending time trying to make an old computer run right? Or is it time to start checking prices at Costco…?
*Comcast/Xfinity was the subject of my wrath last week, when they summarily removed their very useful online DVR manager from their website, and replaced it with crippleware that I can only run on my Android tablet. I’m still fuming about that. And what’d I just say about the lawn?
What better way to crown the Fourth of July, a celebration of the birth of the U.S.A., than to plunk a billion-dollar spacecraft—Juno, the fastest-moving probe ever launched by humanity—into a perfect orbit around Jupiter? This isn’t just any orbit. NASA had to thread Juno into a precise path taking the craft between the planet’s upper atmosphere and its hellish radiation belt. Too close to that belt, and the instruments would have been instant toast. Fortunately, NASA eats challenges like that for lunch. Juno will be flying a highly elliptical path over the huge planet’s poles, zooming repeatedly to within a few thousand miles of the atmosphere and then whipping way out for a long-distance view.
Like so many space stories, there’s a lot in this that echoes my current work in progress. Readers of The Chaos Chronicles might remember that Li-Jared comes from Karellia, a planet with a fiery radiation belt surrounding it. In The Reefs of Time, Li-Jared (and we) get a chance to visit that world, which features things even weirder than the “beautiful, perilous sky” that its inhabitants know so well.
Take a moment to enjoy this view of Jupiter’s moons circling the great planet, shot by Juno on its flight inbound.
Yesterday I had a tooth crowned, and it was like stepping into the future. I have a bunch of gold crowns already, because in years past, gold crowns were cheaper and more durable than porcelain. Well, those days are gone. So is the month-long wait for the crown to be made, while you hope the temporary doesn’t come off—or if it does, that you don’t swallow it or choke on it.
Also gone are the rubbery molds used to take an impression for casting. This time, the good folks at Belmont Dental took a digital scan of my teeth, before and after grinding away the old tooth. Then, using a graphics program on the computer, they generated a 3D representation of the new crown over what was left of the old tooth. This picture shows the final image; the white “tooth” is the proposed crown.
And this is where things get cool. Once the image is finalized, we take a walk down the hall to where the milling machine sits on a counter. It’s about the size of a big printer. The technician inserts a small, oblong block of ceramic material. And then the milling machine goes to town. It takes twelve minutes and thirty seconds for the little grinders to carve a perfect new crown from the computer image. Here it is at work:
And here is the result, before trying it on for size. The material is purple before it’s fired.
Test, bake, and glue. And that’s pretty much it. I didn’t even have time to do much reading in the waiting room. Two and half hours after walking into the dentist’s office, I walked out with the finished crown in my mouth. I like the future!
Straight down, on a tail of fire, that’s how. Anyone who’s read science fiction of the 1950s (Tom Corbett: Space Cadet being a particularly fine example), or seen Destination Moon—or, come to think of it, watched any Apollo landing on the Moon, knows that.
After several attempts, and several failures, SpaceX succeeded with a nighttime launch on December 21, hurling a satellite into orbit, and sending the first stage back to make a soft landing at Starbase Canaveral. It’s not just for show, though the sight was a beautiful one. The purpose is to bring down the cost of space travel by making it possible to reuse these rockets, instead of letting them burn up in the atmosphere or slam down in the ocean.
This is a remarkable achievement for SpaceX, and another step toward more affordable space travel.
and a comparison of this achievement with the recent landing of the New Shepherd rocket from Blue Origin. (Hint: New Shepherd was an outstanding achievement, but this one went higher, faster, harder—and launched an actual satellite in the bargain.)
Not really Schrödinger’s cat, but she is in a box.
I’ve just come back from an incredible weekend at the Schrödinger Sessions: Science for Science Fiction, at the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland, near Washington, D.C. The JQI staff hosted just over a dozen SF writers, and for several days stuffed our heads full of information about quantum physics. It was head-exploding. But in a good way!
Yes, today is Asteroid Day, intended to heighten our awareness of our planet’s vulnerability to assault by Nature, in the form of asteroids that could smack us and reduce cities—or even civilization itself—to rubble. The threat is not imminent, perhaps, but it’s certainly real. And some of our agencies are starting to get serious about planning ways to protect ourselves.
Proposed methods of diverting asteroids range from painting one side of a threatening asteroid white (to change the balance of sunlight pressure and outgassing), to using ion traction motors, to repurposing something else that threatens our world: nuclear weapons.
I like to think of this day as also celebrating the opportunity to do cool and constructive things with asteroids, like mining them for water and metals, and hollowing them out to live in them. We’re working on that, too.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a picture of the biggest asteroid in the inner solar system, Ceres, currently being orbited by the Dawn spacecraft—and its mysterious white spots. Alien winter Olympics? Alien ice cream stands? I guess we’ll find out together.
This has been a wrenching week for space enthusiasts, and especially space entrepreneurs. I just read the heartbreaking news that Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two exploded during a powered test flight today, killing one of the two pilots and seriously injuring the other. (This follows the explosion, a few days ago, of Orbital Science’s Antares cargo rocket, on liftoff for the International Space Station.) Both were privately funded space ventures.
Spaceship Two, of course, was slated to carry paying passengers on brief excursions into space (suborbital, not orbital). It is the offspring of Spaceship One, which a few years ago won the Ansari X-Prize for being the first privately funded craft to reach space, and to turn around and do it again a short time later. Spaceship One was funded largely by Microsoft’s Paul Allen, while Spaceship Two is funded by Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic.
What this means for the future of Spaceship Two is not yet clear. It was flying with a new fuel today from that used in previous test flights. Perhaps that caused the rocket engine to explode, or perhaps not; it’s too soon to know.
As we’ve heard more than once from those who know a lot more than I do, “Space is hard.” There will be accidents. My heart goes out to those hurt by this one, the pilots and their families and friends, and all of those associated with this venture. But I’m going to echo here a quote that my colleague Geoff Landis echoed from someone else on Facebook:
“It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.
The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
This is how I will remember Spaceship Two:
Spaceship Two during an earlier, successful test flight. LA Times photo