That time we almost blew up the Moon

Every once in a while we have the craziest ideas…

That time we almost blew up the Moon

President John F. Kennedy’s speech at Rice Stadium is the stuff of legends. In an impassioned address lasting only about seventeen minutes, the young president laid out a powerful emotional argument to the American public on exactly why so much money was being spent to send humans to the Moon:

But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

But that goal of landing on the Moon wasn’t the first mission chosen to “measure the best of our energies and skills.” When the USSR launched Sputnik in 1957, the beeping satellite carried a clear message from the Soviet Union to the rest of the world, especially to America: “We, not you, control the high ground.”

As the USA invested money, time, and effort into its own rocketry programs in response and kicked off the Space Race, all kinds of ideas on how to regain that high ground were considered. One plan, codified in a report with the innocuous title “A Study of Lunar Research Flights,” examined the potential effects of the United States detonating a nuclear warhead on the Moon’s surface as a show of military superiority.

The project had a high number of unknowns, not the least of which was whether or not the warhead could be lobbed accurately at the Moon without missing and returning to Earth. Also not known was whether or not the warhead’s detonation would incidentally create enough radioactive fallout to deter future human landing on the Moon. The project was fortunately abandoned in 1959, and the Moon remains nuke-free.

In a humorous postscript, it’s worth mentioning that Kennedy’s Rice speech actually works just as well if one replaces each instance of “go to the Moon” with “blow up the Moon.” Seriously, try it.

via Apollo 11 turns 45: A lunar landing anniversary retrospective | Ars Technica.



Linking to a specific spot on a long webpage

It seems like long form articles and webpages are becoming more popular. I frequently want to send someone a link to one of these long pages but I don’t want to make them scroll all the way down to find the specific part of the page I want them to see.

The following video contains simple instructions on how to send a link to a specific part of a longer webpage.


Interpreting soldered RAM

Other World Computing: Teardown of Lower-Cost 2014 iMac Reveals Soldered Memory

Now that we’ve had time to teardown the new iMac, unlike the $1,299 iMac, we found this iMac has the memory is soldered to the motherboard removing any possibility of adding additional memory. Users will be permanently locked in to the 8GB of memory, as there is no Apple factory upgrade option.

Much has been made about Apple’s steady march toward making their devices more difficult to upgrade. The people that do tear downs are usually companies that have some sort of interest in selling upgrades, parts, or kits for do-it-yourself or do-it-for-me consumers. So, they are dependent upon Apple devices being upgradable, but on what does Apple depend?

Apple depends on a very well-know cycle. Consumers buy Apple hardware. Consumers enjoy Apple software, hardware, and (now) services. Consumers buy more Apple hardware. It is crucial that Apple make their hardware powerful enough to create a high quality user experience. If consumers do not like the experience they will not return for more Apple hardware. How do we interpret Apple’s decision to make it ever more difficult to upgrade their hardware?

I think you don’t need to look any further than the direction Apple software is taking. Look at the features that were introduced in OSX 10.9 Mavericks. Compressed memory was a much welcomed addition.1 This feature allows the operating system to compress the contents of RAM that are not in active use thus providing needed headroom for applications that need more RAM. I haven’t made it all the way through OSX 10.10 Yosemite documentation yet, but it seems to me like Swift fills in some of that role.

Apple is soldering the RAM in place because they believe eight gigabytes will be sufficient for most users over the life of the machine. They can forecast this because they control the software and they know the future product roadmap. Look for Apple to continue to find ways to squeeze out more performance, even from less than stellar hardware.


  1. It occurs to me that this link is likely to be broken once OSX 10.10 Yosemite is released. Maybe we should be complaining to Apple about having better permalinks?


I was promised flying cars

New York Times: I Was Promised Flying Cars

The first is gravity, the force that keeps your feet on the ground. The second is electromagnetism, which is responsible for anything involving light or the arrangement of atoms. The third is the strong nuclear force, which binds protons and neutrons together inside every atom. And the fourth is the weak nuclear force, which (among other things) helps guide the fusion reactions that power stars.

And that’s it. Just four forces, just four ways to make things happen.

For all the power of modern science, we are masters of only one of these forces: electromagnetism. Laptops, smartphones, wirelessly connected thermostats, Google Glass — all our high-tech miracles exist because we’ve learned to control the electromagnetic force at the subtlest of levels.

We do indeed have many things that even a short time ago would have been considered impossible. I wonder how many inventions lie in wait for the understanding of one of these other forces of nature. Maybe everything isn’t as impossible as it seems.

It seems to me that the trouble we have with harnessing the other three forces of nature is most related to our inability to measure them. We are wizards with electromagnetism because we can very acutely measure what is happening. We don’t have so much skill with the other forces.

ArsTechnica: Gravity’s strength still an open question after latest measurement

You might expect that, all these years after Newton, we might have a good measure of his gravitational constant, G. As the authors of a new paper on the topic note, there are plenty of reasons to want a good measure of G “given the relevance of the gravitational constant in several fields ranging from cosmology to particle physics, and in the absence of a complete theory linking gravity to other forces.”



Yet most of our measurements of G come from an updated version of a device designed by Henry Cavendish back in the 1700s. And rather annoyingly, these measurements don’t agree with each other—they’re all close to a single value, but their error bars don’t consistently overlap. Now, researchers have made a new measurement of G using a method that certainly wasn’t available in the 1700s: interference between clouds of ultracold atoms. And the value that they have come up with doesn’t agree with many of the other measurements, either.

Better measurements will be the key to unlocking the potential of the other forces.1 That’s why we should be excited about advances in measurement technology even if they do not have immediate practical applications, like recent improvements to atomic clocks. The new NIST-F2 atomic clock is three times as accurate as the clock it replaces; the new clock is accurate within 1 second over 300 million years. Obviously we don’t need that kind of accuracy for most daily activities. But the thing about new technology is that it isn’t always clear ahead of time how it might be used.

Nist.gov: A New Era for Atomic Clocks

Improved atomic clocks obviously will benefit widely used technologies that have long relied on precision timekeeping, such as communications and GPS positioning. But the new atomic clocks are becoming so extraordinarily precise that they are likely also to be used as extremely sensitive detectors for many things besides time.

For example, the frequency (“ticking rate”) of atomic clocks is altered slightly by gravity, magnetic fields, electrical fields, force, motion, temperature and other phenomena. In today’s conventional atomic clocks, those frequency changes are errors to be tightly controlled. In next-generation atomic clocks, the frequency changes are measured to such a fine degree that the clocks could become world-class instruments for measuring gravity, magnetic and electrical fields, force, motion, temperature and many other quantities.

via ParisLemon.com.


  1. Just like being able to measure a goal or performance on a project is the key to improving it.


“All Our Patent Are Belong To You”

Tesla is opening up the use of their technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

This decision is huge for opponents of the current patent system. Frequently we hear, even from some of the biggest corporations, that the patent system is broken and it needs to be reformed.1 It is usually hard to believe someone until they, as the cliché goes, put their money where their mouth is. That is exactly what Tesla is doing. They are showing yes they think the patent system doesn’t work and they can still survive without stifling or attacking their competitors.

In fact, Tesla’s problem is lack of competition.

At best, the large automakers are producing electric cars with limited range in limited volume. Some produce no zero emission cars at all.

Remember that Tesla is trying to build more than a car. They are trying to build a ecosystem or a “platform”.

We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.

Besides, Tesla’s biggest problem isn’t its technology or its competitors. Tesla’s biggest problem is gaining mindshare. Tesla needs other people to bang the electric vehicle drum.


  1. For example, Apple and Google have agreed to play nice and seek reform. The question still remains if we believe them.


Another win for sanity: FIFA to use goal-line tech at the World Cup

ArsTechnica:

Thursday’s opening match between Croatia and Brazil will be the first-ever World Cup game to be equipped with goal-line technology, designed to quickly and definitively determine whether a ball crossed over the line. Since the last World Cup, organizers have been testing the technology at lower-level tournaments and events.

It’s about time. As the article points out, England’s non-goal versus Germany in the last world cup was ridiculous. Hockey, tennis, cricket, and other sports use similar technology. This should be a real positive for the tournament and remove some of the controversy so fans can focus on the games.


Master the basics of soccer before the World Cup

Grantland:

The fact is, Nerdy American Sports Fan, you know way more about soccer than you realize. All those sports you already follow — your football, your basketball, your baseball, all those things you already debate, and fight over, and spend hours reading about when you’re technically supposed to be working — apply to soccer as well. You can already speak the language of soccer nerd-dom, you just need to learn the dialect: the lineup formations, field spacing, shot selection, tactical chess moves, one-on-one battles, even analytics. They’re all there. You just need to know where to look.

And so, with this summer’s World Cup just around the corner, it’s time for you to find out just how much you already know about how soccer is played.



Honeywell’s Lyric is a twist on connected devices

Honeywell Lyric Thermostat

From TechHive:

The Lyric thermostat assumes that if your smartphone is at your house, so are you. You can register your family’s phones with the app, and it’ll use the geofencing features in iOS and Android to tell when everybody’s left for the day. Once you get within a few miles of your house, the thermostat springs back to life, heating or cooling your house so it’s at your preferred temperature (or at least getting there) as you stroll through the door.

Is anyone else looking for an alternative to the Nest thermostat?