Friday, November 12, 2010

Lost Sorcery: Medieval Math = Post Apocaplyptic Tech

An interesting article by Robert Lamb over at "How Stuff Works" talks about how mathematics during Medieval times was really a technology out-of-sync with the times. Interesting food for thought. We talk a lot about these concepts in fiction, but its interesting to hear more real-world examples from throughout human history.
In “The Geometry of Paradise” Mark A. Peterson points out that Dante could easily have excelled as a mathematician had he been born into a time when geometry was more fashionable. Instead Dante lived in an age of languishing mathematics between the Hellenistic period and the 17th century.

“Medieval cultures were in the peculiar condition of being un-mathematical cultures in possession of sophisticated mathematics. They possessed it in the sense of having the books, studying them and translating them, and even doing some mathematics, but they had no clear indication where this rich subject had come from or what it would be good for. They did not know, in our terms at least, what it was.” — Peterson
 Oh, and Lamb earns a +1 for including a Jack Vance/Dying Earth reference in the full story!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Shapeshifting Animals: The Mimic Octopus

This is pretty mindblowing--an octopus that can changed it's shape, texture, and shading to mimic up to 15 other aquatic creatures. Truly fascinating! It gets REALLY wicked around 1:20, but you'll want to watch the whole video anyway.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NASA, DARPA: Colonization is a 1-Way Trip, Sign Up Now!

NASA and DARPA (it's not just a made-up shadow org from Lost!) want you to know that they're ready to colonize space. They're collaborating on a joint venture to develop a 100-year spaceship that would take humanity into the firmament and establish permanent, extra terrestrial human colonies.

From Pop Sci:
"The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds,” Worden [a guy at NASA] said, according to a Singularity University blog that covered the event. “Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.” (Worden added that he was fired by President George W. Bush.)

 Rock collecting would be a big hobby on Mars! Image: NASA.
Love that last part. So the real question here is: would the settlers ever get a chance to come home? No.
Next question. Seriously, this means they're shipping your ass off to MARS, some moon to be terraformed, or some inhabitable exoplanet, packing a lunch, and leaving you at the door of the school house. Forever.

They'll totally send you care packages of raw materials, equipment, and Soylent Green though. Hopefully, FedEx has a Red Planet
They would get periodic supply missions, but they would be expected to fend for themselves for water, shelter, nutrients and mineral/chemical processing. They would be expected to develop some kind of homegrown Martian industry, which could ultimately serve as a hub for an expanded colonization program. Plus, leaving some people on another planet would probably ensure that we’d want to go back, to visit them and see what they created.

Such a mission would save money, the authors say, because the prohibitive costs (in dollars and payload) of a manned Mars mission are mostly associated with bringing the astronauts home.
Oh, and that last point is the main reason it's a one-way gig--cost. See, coming back is expensive, and it's easier to cut costs if you just stay put. But you'll be a totally cool SPACE PIONEER. And a HERO to all humanity.

So....not you've got that going for you!