Today I walked into a toilet block and the light turned on as I walked in. Despite being such a little thing (that was probably automated by a switch/timer system on the door) it made me happy. A few decades ago an automated system like that would have been incredibly cool but today we just take for granted. This then made me realize that I was standing in a climate controlled building with hundreds of desktop computers within a few hundred meters and thousands of chips in general.
To somebody of the early twentieth century it would appear that we live in a completely different world. 100 years ago flight had only just been invented and yet today we can look up at the sky and see the trails of scores of airplanes. Not only that but we’ve sent man to the moon and robots to everywhere within a billion kilometers. Its certainly not bad.
Little elements of old school science fiction do exist in the modern world. We have complex displays capable of display all sorts (and they’re flat) of information and images – we can even touch them and view them in 3D. We have a complex network that connects billions of people around the planet. Billions of people carry devices that allow them to communicate with something in their hand.
Despite everything that we can do and do do every day mankind is always capable of imaging the future. We still haven’t conquered the other planets (largely due to the recession and cosmic limits) but we’ve managed quite a lot. Not bad for a civilization that’s only been intelligent for a few hundred thousand years.
A couple of American scholars (Steve Hanke and Richard Henry) have proposed an idea to change the calendar system over completely so that the September, March, June and December would have 31 days and all the other months would have 30 days. This would then mean that a date would fall on the same day of the week every year. The only problem is that they are never going to be able to get everyone to change over.
The world uses the Gregorian calendar and has done for hundreds of years for the simple reason that it works. Despite the proposed advantages of the Hanke-Henry calendar it would be pretty much impossible to change over because there are millions of devices that are all based off of the Gregorian calendar. One hundred years ago before the age of computers it may have been reasonable to change over but now it is definitely too late.
The problem lies in that most computers count the number of seconds/microseconds since January 1 1970 UTC at midnight and 32-bit computers will continue to do this for another few decades (64-bit can handle large numbers, so are able to go for a considerably longer amount of time). By changing the date systems millions of devices would have to be reconfigured so that they could handle the new dates.
Frankly I find the suggestion to change over the date system almost as mad as the campaigns to change over to the duodecimal system (base 12 – which does have mathematical advantages but almost everything is either based off of binary, octal, decimal or hexadecimal).
Graphene is probably the most fascinating material of the twenty-first century and will probably become a vital part of our lives in the future. It is basically a one atom thick sheet of Carbon atoms that are loosely bonded, but it has some incredibly useful properties that scientists are beginning to understand.
The history of Graphene is relatively short as it was first theorized in 1947 (which led to some people believing it may have been found at the Roswell crash site) however at the time it was not thought that it could exist in the real world. Despite this in 2004 a team which was later awarded the Noble Prize for Physics was able to demonstrate that it could exist in a single sheet. The sheets developed are also incredibly thin and it would take three million sheets to make the material 1mm thick.
Not only is it incredibly thin it is also incredibly strong. A one meter square sheet would weigh the same amount as a cat’s whisker however it would be able to quite easily support the weight of an average cat. It will also happily keeps its state so it is actually possible to pick up a single sheet.
As well as being incredibly strong it also conducts electricity better than copper which could lead to be it being a replacement for silicon in the future (which we will probably need as silicon supplies are running out) and IBM are already using it to produce a 140 GHz transistor – although some scientists believe that it may have an unlimited speed. The only issue is that it is also the best conductor of heat known to man so cooling may be an issue.
Despite the fact some scientists think that the technology is over hyped its potential is clearly great and many governments have noticed this with vast sums of money being put into research. The two scientists at Manchester University that developed Graphene and won the Noble prize are being knighted by the Queen.
LG plans to have Graphene based products available within five years and I would suggest that it is a smart move.
This is probably going to be a bit of a peculiar post, but I thought I would go over all the geeky things that are going to be happening in the new year. Aside from the end of the world next year is set up to be a pretty average year, so here is some of the stuff that is happening:
- Alan Turing year: Next year Alan Turing would have been 100 so next year there will be special commemorations
- China will launch the Kuafa spacecraft
- IBM will finish Pleiades: Pleiades is a planned supercomputer that will run at 10 petaflops which is, incidentally, faster than your computer
- Quad-core smart phones: This isn’t really a surprise considering in 2010 we didn’t really have much dual core, but quad core does seem ludicrously fast
- Microsoft will release Windows 8: Windows 8 should theoretically come out next year, with rumours currently suggesting late summer/early fall
- Eros on January 31st: NASA have announced that Eros will pass Earth within 16 million miles (not to close, thankfully)
- Curiosity will land on Mars in mid-August: Having set off a few weeks back it is expected NASA’s new rover will land next August
- The world will end on December 21st: Obviously.
Basically next year looks like it will be pretty average. Sad that 2011 will be the last full year though…
We are going to Mars! NASA have launched their Atlas 5 rocket which contains the rover Curiosity to Mars. The probe is on a mission to explore the Martian environment and try and discover microbes. It is by far the most advanced rover that has been sent to Mars or even into space. The mission has been going on for just over an hour, NASA’s website kindly tells us.
The press release also gives useful information on what is on the rover, which includes various cameras, a robotic arm and a computer that uses artificial intelligence. NASA are aiming for the rover to be on Mars and exploring by August 2012.
NASA are pretty excited about the launch because the main is to explore and identify habitable environments on Mars. It is also a lot bigger than previous rovers and larger. NASA have provided a table comparing Curiosity with Spirit/Opportunity (Explorer rovers):
- Heat shield diameter
- Curiosity: 4.5 meters
- Explorer: 2.65 meters
- Designed to work for
- Curiosity: 98 Earth weeks
- Explorer: 13 Earth weeks
- Number of instruments:
- Curiosity: 10
- Explorer: 5
- Robotic arm length:
- Curiosity: 2.1 meters
- Explorer: 0.8 meters
- Curiosity: Guided entry, sky crane
- Explorer: Ballistic entry, air bags
- Power supply:
- Curiosity: Multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator
- Explorer: Photo voltaic cells
- Curiosity: Pair, 200Mhz, 250MB of RAM, 2GB flash memory, VxWorks
- Explorer: Single, 20Mhz, 128MB of RAM, 256MB flash memory, VxWorks
The last stat about the computer worries me. We are sending a revolutionary rover to Mars that has less computing power than an average computer made in 1995. Ironically the Raspberry Pi – which costs $25 – is four times faster. For the first time in a while I am truly worried about the US government if they can only afford to send a $10-ish computer to Mars.
I was looking up at the night sky earlier and I looked across at the hundreds of lights I could see in the sky. I realized that half of them at the most were stars and half of them were airplanes and helicopters and satellites. Mankind have put man on the moon, sent probes to all the planets within billions of miles and looked back on our solar system from outside it. We have designed telescopes to look out on the vast sea of space, microscopes to look at the tiny worlds inside cells and split the atom. Even a hundred years ago we had put men in the sky, visited the Antarctic and spoken thousands of languages with millions of words.
And yet despite being so clever – so ingenious – we have a broken economy, millions of people die every year of diseases we could cure and we’re are destroying our planet. We seem to have an incredible talent at being so good and brilliant and yet so stupid.
The odds are that we are not alone in the universe. Perhaps our galaxy doesn’t contain intelligent life. Perhaps intelligent life is millions of light years away. Assume that there is other intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. How significant does that make us – seven billion people – in a universe of millions of galaxies with billions of stars with trillions of planets? How significant are you individually in all that.
Looking out at the night sky you do wonder how significant you are. Our lives are so small in the history of the universe and yet so much seems to happen. We seem to have so many worries and life may not seem that it is fair but that is the way that universe works. Humanity may die out in another million years. We may plunge back into a stone age. Today may be the most technologically advanced day in the history of the human race. Eventually Earth will be engulfed by the dying sun and that will be the end of it all.
Long prosper humanity.
Oh dear. Neutrinos have gone faster than the speed of light again. The same team at CERN carried out the same experiment but a slightly improved version of it so that they could get more accurate results but they got the same results again. Einstein’s laws of physics are literally falling apart.
Clearly it is now not as likely that it was just human error. Other scientists haven’t reviewed the data yet however it still seems possible that the Neutrinos have gone faster than the speed of light. You could argue that the speed of light has actually been calculated incorrectly but that seems incredibly unlikely considering that it has probably been considered by millions of scientists and proved to be 299,792,458 m/s (a meter is defined as the distance that light travels in a vacuum in one 299,792,458th of a second) time and time again.
We may not get an answer soon. It may be in a few years, it may be in a century. Still interesting though.
Predicting the future is difficult. Nobody can do it and get it right and I know that I’m certainly not great at it and if you go through this blog you are bound to find loads of bad predictions. I am sure I said that the iPad 2 was bad once (if you could find that it would be great – I can’t be bothered).
Today I would like to look over two technologies that could completely change the world in the next 100 years. We don’t know if either of these technologies will come to anything because both are an incredibly far way off but I am sure that they might appear in a basic form in our lifetimes. Just a shame they couldn’t happen sooner. The first technology is nuclear fusion which should allow for cheap and infinite supplies of energy and the second is quantum computing that would allow for incredibly fast computers.
Nuclear fusion is similar to nuclear fission (that’s how atomic bombs work) but two or more particles fuse together to form a new heavier element. In simple terms it is like two Hydrogen (atom 1) atoms adding together to produce one Helium atom (atom 2). This process happens all the time inside the sun and releases an incredibly large amount of energy. Scientists are trying to recreate these conditions on Earth using lasers because in the future we should theoretically be able to put a very small amount of energy in to get a huge amount of energy out of a few regular atoms. This will hopefully solve the energy crisis, if it ever gets invented.
Quantum computing is incredibly complicated and if I’m honest I only really understand the basics but I know that if it does get developed it will change the face of computers forever. The basic principle is similar to normal computers except rather than working with binary where everything is either 0 or 1 you use qubits which can be 0 and 1 at the same time. This model would all computers to act a lot more efficiently because everything could be processed at once (or at least that is what I understand from Wikipedia). Quantum computers are a lot more complex that regular computers and they could also be a lot smaller. An example I have heard (from someone at Microsoft possibly) is that if a normal computer wanted to find a single blade of grass on the entire planet it would have to go through each one individually until it found the correct one whereas a quantum computer could look at all of them at once to find the correct one.
Regardless of their complexity both of these ideas are incredible and could completely change our world.
I have done some work converting the 128 standard ASCII character set into a layout similar to the periodic table. I’ve grouped it in the table above. If you would like to download the Excel file I created it on, click here. I have included the decimal values, character values and hexadecimal values as well.