Thursday, March 22, 2018

So, is Uber at fault for the self driving car accident?

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Somebody walked out in front of a self-driving car and was hit and killed.

It's the first death that occurred due to an accident involving a self-driving car in fully autonomous mode.

I wasn't able to directly link to the video, but the BBC has it here.

The Tempe police have already said that Uber is unlikely to be found at fault in the incident - and their grounds are that a human driver would have been unable to avoid the accident.

Obviously, we want self-driving cars to do better, and one thing Uber does need to address is that the car was going 40 in a 35 zone. On the other hand, the victim was jaywalking, and came out of nowhere.

So, is this a major setback for autonomous cars?

Yes and no. The fact is that self-driving cars are already far safer than human drivers - but the fact also is that Uber should be looking into why the car simply did not see the pedestrian.

A setback, yes, but a small one. Uber needs to see if something went wrong or if this was the best the technology could do at present - and how it can be improved.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

So, Is the World Going to End in 2135?

...probably not. The actual odds of Bennu hitting the Earth are 1 in 2,700 - although if it did hit it could be a global catastrophe.

And the actual time when it might hit is "somewhere between 2175 and 2199.

So, even if life extension means we're all still alive, it's probably not going to hit.

The reason this is all coming up is because NASA is using this asteroid to do the math on space defense - they're designing a hypothetical mission to divert Bennu if it does decide to put us in the crosshairs.

Which is making everyone think it's going to hit us.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018


It appears that the Trappist-1 system - the one with all those exoplanets - has a problem.

Too much water.

It seems likely that the planets are all covered with global oceans - which, unfortunately, isn't good for thermoregulation and thus for life. It tends to stagnate the atmosphere. World oceans are a science fiction trope that doesn't work well in the real world.

We won't know for sure without going there...and that's not likely to happen any time soon, unfortunately.

(Still holding out for that warp drive).

Monday, March 19, 2018


...I need to say this.

If you contributed to a book, you should not be reviewing it. I see it mostly on Goodreads - where it's technically allowed, but please.

Look, here's the thing.

If you give a good review, then you look like a pimp, and nobody will believe you.

If you give a bad review, then the editor isn't going to be happy with you and neither are your fellow authors.

Shout outs are, of course, another matter. Reviews should be honest and unbiased, and no matter how unbiased you think you are? You aren't. You can't be. You're only human, ya know.

(It's also worth noting that you shouldn't review competitors on Amazon. They don't always crack down on this, but technically any other author in the same genre(s) is a competitor).

Friday, March 16, 2018

No, Scott Kelly's DNA didn't change

I was waiting to see if this one would be debunked - and it was.

NASA's twin study, designed to test the effects of long term space travel by hiring two identical twins, putting one of them in space and the other on Earth did show results...but it wasn't a "7% change in Scott Kelly's DNA."

What they were able to pinpoint were changes in gene expression, a reaction to the environment of space. Similar changes are seen in people who do a lot of scuba diving.

But something very significant was buried in the bottom.

Scott's telomeres became longer than his brother's. They shortened back up after his return, but this could give us insights into, well. Aging.

(And there's probably a story in there. Somewhere).

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Kepler on the way out

NASA now predicts that the Kepler space telescope - yeah, the one that's been finding all of those exoplanets - will run out of maneuvering fuel in "the next few months". At that point scientists will no longer be able to target the scope.

Thankfully, its replacement, TESS should, if all goes well, be launched next month.

Kepler has actually done better service than initially planned, even after its software crashed in a rather scary way. NASA plans on making full use of the telescope until its inevitable death. (Unfortunately, we can't just recharge it).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

R.I.P. Stephen Hawking

We have lost one of the greats of our time.

It's not so much that Stephen Hawking was a great theoretical theorist - with no less than 9 theorems, formulae, effects, etc, named for him either alone or with a collaborator. Because he was. He advanced our understanding of black holes, of gravity, of the origins of the universe. He was also wrong a number of times (including about the Higgs boson). He enjoyed betting on scientific discoveries, and understood that a scientist needs to be wrong.

But his arguably greater contribution was his ability to explain his ideas, the frontiers of his great mind, in terms that ordinary people could understand. With his daughter, Lucy, he wrote a series of books on theoretical physics for children, but his greatest literary achievement was A Brief History of Time. One ongoing result of this is the Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication - which is given to individuals or organizations who help build awareness of science. (It hasn't been given to a science fiction writer yet, but as it started in 2016 there is plenty of time).

And...he did much of this work while seriously, profoundly disabled. He was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in 1963, at the age of 21 - and given a life expectancy of two years. He slowly lost the ability to walk, to move, to speak - and had to give up teaching as a result, but he still managed to give lectures using his now famous speech synthesiser (which gave him an American accent). He became a reluctant disability advocate - reluctant because he always tried to be a "person with a disability" - but yet he became a symbol of just what a disabled person could achieve.

He was an icon of science and although his physical decline meant he had not done major work in some time, his passing diminishes all of us.