Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Getting physical

I haven't posted recently on matters of physics and space travel. In hindsight ... I surprise myself. Because these are (related) topics of great personal interest.

In view of recent do-they-or-don't-they reports of neutrinos slightly outpacing photons -- i.e., a possible chink in the century-old edifice that is Einsteinian relativity -- here's another reminder that Einstein tended to get things right. To wit: It's been shown (again) that the rotation of a massive object produces frame dragging of space-time, as predicted by general relativity.

After the very elaborate Gravity Probe B (GP-B) experiment, decades in the making, this subtle effect has been independently remeasured. (Decades: That puts my few months delay in commenting into perspective.) From the American Physical Society, see "Viewpoint: Finally, results from Gravity Probe B." Fascinating stuff.

But wait! There's more!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Of the Ringworld (and much smaller things)

Lots of Known Space aficionados frequent this blog.

Especially if you're one of them, here's a stunning short video I happened upon, inspired by early portions of -- by my colleague, Larry Niven -- the novel Ringworld Seriously cool. (And if you haven't read Ringworld ... you should. It's won about every SF award there is.)

I hope there will be a Part 2.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Viruses: not just for PCs anymore

As microprocessors become ever more ubiquitous, so, too, do opportunities for malware. Be afraid: some gadgets are far more personal than your personal computer ...

Let's start with malware that's been crafted to seize control of your smart phone. From Reuters, "GSM phones vulnerable to hijack scams": 
"Flaws in a widely used wireless technology could allow hackers to gain remote control of phones and instruct them to send text messages or make calls, according to an expert on mobile phone security."
Why would anyone target smart phones?
"... hackers are paying unprecedented attention to the devices as smartphone sales have outpaced sales of PCs."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Much idiocy, the occasional triumph of common sense, and a look ahead

So: a virologist decided to investigate how to make the avian flu (aka, H5N1) more contagious.

It apparently wasn't enough to know that the disease -- transmitted through contact with the feces of infected birds -- has killed 600 people and has a 60% human fatality rate. Now there's an airborne strain. Pleased at punch with his accomplishments, said virologist wanted to get the details published. Because, you know, no one could possibly abuse this research.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tell, don't show?

A standard bit of advice to aspiring authors is to show action, not talk about it. It's often good advice: showing a world explode (for example) is more dramatic than saying that it did.

Like all rules, "show, don't tell" has its exceptions. Telling can be an effective technique, too.

Following my recent trip to England I felt the urge to reread the various cases of Sherlock Holmes. My hotel in London was in walking distance of 221b Baker Street (and indeed, my wife and I did visit the Holmes Museum at that address.) But keener is having seen many of the locales in which the beloved stories take place, on land and on the Thames.

The connection with today's topic? Holmes called himself a consulting detective -- clients come to his flat and describe their cases. We don't hear the recitations from the point of view of the client (generally the one with first-hand experience), nor even of Holmes. We aren't privy to the client's thoughts at having witnessed the invariably odd events, nor to Holmes's thoughts on having heard the recitation.

What readers know of the cases generally comes from the notes of of his faithful (and often clueless) biographer, Watson. Or from the reports of the Baker Street Irregulars: street urchins dispatched by Holmes to watch things for him. Or from newspaper excerpts.