Reason; as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct

Category: Technology

Speech to be given on moon-mission failure

Had there been a terminal problem during the moon landing in 1969, this speech had been prepared by Richard Nixon’s government:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.



Future technology becoming less distinct?

It seems that every technological discipline you care to look at promises to close the gap on science fiction in the coming years. I try to remind myself that the rate of advancement will, it seems, stun as much as the creativity and brilliance of the technologies we see. A ‘perfect lens’ that can image a protein, or an invisibility cloak? We may soon see both.


TED talk: Kirk Sorensen: Thorium, an alternative nuclear fuel

TED talk: Kirk Sorensen: Thorium, an alternative nuclear fuel

The energy problem that humans face, how we can meet our energy needs in a sustainable way, can only be considered a political, or human issue, being that the solutions we need are even today ready and waiting. The way we currently produce the vast majority of our energy is harming the planet in ways hugely alarming to those who have taken the time to educate themselves on the delicate planetary systems that are being so emphatically abused or over-strained.

To the extent that I am familiar with the convictions of those considered the most informed on this topic (the planetary boundary scientists amongst others), it seems that the best solution for our energy production system would comprise a base-load provided by nuclear power, augmented with renewable solutions to cover varying demands above that.

Many of the myths surrounding nuclear power are put to rest in Mark Lynas’ excellent book The God Species that I reviewed in an earlier post ( One statistic that stands out is that all the so-feared nuclear waste that France has produced in the last quarter of a century, lies under the floor in a single room, emitting no radiation to the outside world. When considering that the alternative, fossil fuel derived energy, may be driving  us to extinction, the ‘dangers’ of nuclear power are shown to be the surreptitious influences of powerful people, or simply uninformed hysteria. Those who have stood to lose out from the acceptance of nuclear energy, fossil fuel tycoons with political influence as hard to believe as their solipsism, have lobbied against it since its arrival. This has extended beyond the influence of media conjecture alone, to the falsification of scientific reports (hardly an extraordinary thing when you cast a discerning eye to the practices of the pharmaceutical industry, just to start).

In this very interesting TED talk Kirk Sorenson shines light on some of the recent advancements in nuclear power technology that further its attractiveness still. He also gives yet more tantalising insight into the innovative brilliance that seems to have littered every project NASA has devoted a department to.



The cost of travel

Traveling by train requires a similar amount of energy per distance as that required of a bicycle, per person. The typical measure of transport efficiency is energy per unit distance; per passenger. This is usually expressed as Mega Joules per passenger kilometre (MJ/passenger-km). As a very rough guide walking might take around 0.78 MJ/passenger-km. Cycling slowly, at around 16 km/h, say, would require 0.11 MJ/passenger-km – let’s assume the determined commuter will be demanding double that. Working to those assumptions; locomotion by train, in fact for freight as well as for people, has remarkably high efficiency. The average train might require somewhere below 0.6 MJ/passenger-km, and newer trains are quite exceptionally efficient: When full, the trains in Basel require 0.085 MJ/passenger-km. The East Japanese Railway manages 0.35.

Simply for a little perspective the average car might demand two or three MJ/passenger-km; passenger aircraft around 1.4 MJ/passenger-km. No satisfaction can be taken, however, from the lower values of any of the modes of transport mentioned here because, whether fossil fuel or largely non-nuclear derived electricity, the source of energy is just as harmful for each… except arguably the humble bicycle, of course. Just to mention in passing, as if you couldn’t guess yourself, helicopters are among the least efficient.


Strong, reliable magnets play a hugely important role in much of the technology we benefit from today as well as in the production of the energy that animates such technology. With the premise that small size is often favourable, the magnet industry saw its most significant revolution during the 20th century with the development of rare earth element magnets (1970s). These afforded significant advancements from their inception and the development and subsequent refinement of magnets based on the element neodymium led to a new era of possibilities.

These Neo magnets, in their continually refined forms, are still the most powerful magnets we have developed. They have allowed the development of power steering; intense magnetic fields in MRI; head actuators in hard discs (that accurately position their arms to particular data tracks); magnetic components of headphones and loudspeakers; and a myriad of size-conscious electrical motors and generators.

These magnets, because of their strength, even carry unique hazards. A few cubic centimetres of Neo magnets is enough to cause serious injury to human tissue caught between them. This has even included cases of broken bones under their force. Magnets allowed to attract each other in free space can accelerate to such energetic velocities that they can shatter on impact, causing shrapnel-like injuries from resulting fragments. There is a current pressure in the scientific community to resolve the future of this area given that soaring demand, created in large by the requirement for high performance generators and motors that need far more magnetic material than most current applications, looks as though it will soon exceed the supply of neodymium we can achieve.

TED talk: Danny Hillis: Back to the future of 1994

TED talk: Danny Hillis: Back to the future of 1994

Danny Hillis, obviously a hugely intelligent individual, showing excellent foresight right at the beginning of the computer revolution. He delivers with unrelenting coherence and engaging and accomplished powers of communication.