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theengineer

The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons


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theengineer

Science!!

So we've gone from 12 planets (or more) to 8 in less than two weeks. It will now be officially a "dwarf planet". While I'm fine with this designation, the way this has been handled makes astronomers look pretty much like a bunch of jamooks.

The new clause that boots Pluto (and Ceres) out is that the "dwarf planet" meets all of the qualifications for regular planet but "has not cleared the neighbourhood about its orbit". As indefatigable42 has pointed out, a better way of saying this is that the object isn't unique in the neighbourhood. Ceres isn't, because there are several more  quite large asteroids around, and umpteen smaller ones. And Pluto isn't because we know know of several more large objects in the outer solar system, one which is larger than it is. All the eight "classical" planets clearly are.

Also, as has been noted elsewhere Gustav Holst's The Planets has the correct number of movements again!

At the monthly Canadian Space Society meeting Tuesday, we had filmmaker Michael Lennick as our speaker, probably best known for his wonderful Discovery Channel series Rocket Science.  His talk morphed away from the stated topic (how acceptance of risk has changed at NASA from the early days of spaceflight)  and became more about the forgotten pioneers of the Space Age, like  Joe Kittinger, who bailed out from a balloon at 100,000 feet, and how their efforts helped shaped  NASA programmes.  He has a new show coming up on PBS in the fall on Edward Teller, one of the father's of the H-Bomb (Dr. Teller's Very Large Bomb).

The post-talk talk went all over the place, but he said two things I found particularly interesting. The first was about how he had once considered doing a show about the idiots who don't think we went to the Moon (to be called The Moon Hoax Hoax) and in talking to college students who should have known better, he came away with three reasons they had doubts.

  1. It was technically possible to have faked it.
  2. It was "done" by the government, and the government lies to us.
  3. If we could go to Moon, why can't we now? How could we have forgotten how to do it?
The other item of real interest was regarding another show he's working on, When Good Robots go Bad, about creating a real artificial intelligence. He thinks that the first AIs will be sociopaths (much like HAL). They can think, but they won't think like us, and they won't "get" humans. He also says that the US government has been pouring money into AI research at NASA/JPL and other government labs, and that researchers have told him that they were about 18 months away from a real breakthrough. In that event it would probably be a good idea to not hook them up to anything more than a chessboard until we're sure they do like us.

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Most conspiracy theories I've encountered seem to be due to Occam's razor having got lost at the back of the medicine cabinet - people get so caught up in working out elaborate ways that something *could* have been faked, that they don't notice that the theoretical fake method is usually at least as complicated/expensive as doing it for real, and riskier because of all the people who'd have to be in on it. I'm willing to believe at least a few people in the upper echelons of power got there by being amoral sociopaths, but they must be amoral sociopaths with realistic cost/benefit and risk assessment skills; the other kind wind up in jail pretty early in their careers.

Every now and again I dip a toe into the wonderful world of 9/11 conspiracy theory. Currently, the big thing is that cruise missiles were used in the attacks, not airplanes, and either 1) holograms were used to make the cruise missiles look like airplanes, or 2) every video feed in Manhatten was hacked in real time to replace the images of missiles with airplanes.

Because hijacking four airplanes on the same day is just impossible you know. Despite that fact that in 1970 a Palestinian terror group succeeded in hijacking three airliners simultaneously (they tried for four). The hostages were eventually all released in exchange for a few prisoners (the planes were burnt).

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