Big Questions

The Beginning    Credit: Universe Today
Yesterday I heard of an upcoming series of public lectures by three scientists including Prof. Brian Schmidt, recent Nobel Prize winner. Thanks Geoff.
It’s customary to call for questions at these lectures, and that tallies with some things I’ve been thinking a lot about for years:
  • is there not a fundamental limit, the speed of light, on what we can know and do? That little c sets an absolute limit on our range of communication. No matter what we do, sending a message further than say, 50 light years will be a waste of time, because we will not be alive to get an answer.
    Unless something changes, we will never be able to travel to another star or planet. Isn’t this part of some grand plan? We are not meant to know, we are too frail as we are, unless and until we can overcome this barrier. Isn’t this a kind of protection for humans?
  • as an engineering person, I laugh at the idea that we should try to build a spacecraft with a 100 year mission. The pace of technology means it would be obsolete only 20 years out. The rate of decay and failure means it would not last more than 30 years. How would it be repaired? How would you carry enough spares and technology? How would they cope, 50 years out, with, “Er, gentlemen, the high gain antenna and your guidance computer have been completely superseded and are no longer functional – we have a new method of communication now.” Or even  more devastating, “Earth has changed. We no longer need you. We can no longer support you. Good luck and goodbye.”
    It’s ludicrous to think of long term space travel unless technology reaches some limit. So what do we do?
  • we think entirely in anthropomorphic terms. An ant can never imagine the universe. Why do we confine ourselves to human concepts? We talk all the time of light-years, but a year to us is a long time. A year to another intelligence could be a mere instant.
    We think in terms of astronomical units. But to some other beings, an a.u. could be a mere puddle hop.
    We must re-orient our thinking. Advancement can render all our thinking obsolete in short order. People in the 19th century had never heard of electronics. Now it rules our lives. The next breakthrough could occur next year. What will it be? How can we stop limiting our thinking?
  • the development of computing, networking and the web mean that the web is growing and developing just as human child’s brain does. Neural connections are being made, thousands of times daily all over the world. Our web brain is growing just as a human brain does. Our web intelligence is increasing by leaps and bounds. Do you see this analogy and do you see the web becoming more intelligent than we realise it can be? How will we deal with it?
  • the development of electronics and its offshoot, computing, has been a true revolution, yet it was not even imagined just over 100 years ago. Do you foresee any other truly revolutionary developments? I don’t mean nano-tech or DNA synthesis or e-books. These have already been thought of and are under development now. Someone, (Arthur Clarke?) said, “anything man can imagine, he can achieve.” What is it that we have not yet even imagined? I mean something as epoch making as the realisation that electrons in wires can be controlled and made to convey information.
  • on what kind of time scale will the fruits of the SKA become available? I’m 65. I have the impression that I won’t live long enough to see any results. Am I too pessimistic?
  • do you foresee the SKA being able to discover SETI messages? And are we ready to receive a real message? Could we handle it, politically and socially? Or would it tear us apart?

This is an ongoing list. I’m not finished.

He died with perfect teeth

Kuta, dental paradise.
I’ve been to the dentist in the past two weeks and I’m pleased to say they found no decay or anything needing urgent treatment.
But today, they presented me with a treatment plan.
$8,698 please.
I’ll give ’em this, they’re optimists! I do not believe I will proceed with this. Surprise, surprise.
My teeth are worn down, one front tooth needs capping and the front pair need straightening. But do I care? I’d like to have good, white teeth and a million dollar smile, yes, but not at $8,700.
If I do anything, the first thing would be a trip to Bali to get a check and quote in Kuta. I’ve been recommended to a dentist there and told the surgery is as modern and clean as anything here. The other choice is Thailand, of course. People swear by the safety and high standards. I would check it out, of course.
So dream on, Duncraig Dental care.
Plus, as far as I was concerned my next appointment was 13 August and I have an appointment card to prove it. But this morning the phone rings and, “Uh, Mr Croft, have you forgotten?” What? “You were due here 15 mins ago.”
No I wasn’t. I had the card to prove it is next week. They don’t have an appointment for me for the 13th, though.
Anyway, I went, but if they can’t get that right … ?

Abuse? You wouldn’t read about it.

WA’s ABC News bulletin on Saturday evening at 7pm showed an item of some of the worst, most shocking cruelty to animals it has ever been my misfortune to see. It was YouTube vision, I believe, of a piggery in NSW and their unbelievable methods of penning and killing the pigs.
Yes, they included a warning beforehand, but I was unprepared for the vision itself.
I’ve lost my fear of operations, dissections and war victims – doesn’t bother me, but I draw the line at animal cruelty. I have never been able to watch the Indonesian abattoir video, for example, after seeing just a few seconds of that terrified cow slithering all over the blood soaked floor.
However, I was unprepared for the horrific vision they showed of a terrified pig being swung at with  a sledge hammer. That will live with me for too long. I admit, I broke down in tears. I had to turn away. I saw enough of the tightly penned sows to last me a lifetime.
I have complained to Media Watch. They seem interested but can’t seem to grasp that it was on ABC News and came from their own Sydney news room!! I’ve had to explain where I saw it, twice.
I realised I might still have Saturday night’s news on my HDD recorder and I might have been able to dump it off.  But when I thought about doing that, I realised I will never be able to bring myself to watch it again!

I said to the researcher, I warn you, it will shock you, turn your stomach if you have any feeling for animals. I will not willingly watch it again. If you wanted to torture me, extract secrets from me, all you would need to do would be force me to watch that.

In addition, I don’t have kids but I am almost having nightmares about it. I have to force myself away from thinking about it. The effect on kids caught unawares …

Someone told me it came from YouTube originally, from a disgruntled (hah! how ironic) employee. They certainly removed the grunts from these pigs.