Tag Archives: technology

Hope for Lost Works of Greek and Roman Times

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79, The scrolls of Herculaneum were blasted by volcanic gas hotter than 300C. The scrolls still exist today, but are essentially ashes that haven’t fallen apart. How Many? The best count that I have found is 1,785. However, there are still 2,800 m² left to be excavated, so there could be more scrolls, many more.

Since their discovery this scrolls have been a source temptation and a source of anguish. What do they contain? We don’t know. To unroll the scroll is to destroy it. The riches trapped in the scrolls have been locked in their condition until most recently.

Using a 3D X-ray imaging technique Scientists this they may be able to read the scrolls without rolling them. Dr Vito Mocella from the National Research Council’s Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems (CNR-IMM) in Naples, Italy, has identified a handful of Greek letters within a rolled-up scroll for the very first time.

The technique doesn’t actually read the scroll it reads the difference in thickness caused by the dried ink on the papyrus. It reads the thickness of the ink, not the ink itself. It’s difficult because the Papyrus isn’t perfectly flat. Imperfections can disguise vertical and horizontal strokes, so letter with curved lines are easiest to detect.

With over seventeen hundred scrolls it is possible that some lost works of literature may be recovered. There is some speculation that the villa that housed the scrolls was owned by Father-in-law of Julies Caesar. It is believed that the library might have been collected and selected by Piso’s family friend and client, the Epicurean Philodemus of Gadara.

I can speculate. Actually, anyone can. If this was Julius Caesar’s Father-in-law, we can hope to find the following works by the famous Roman:

  • Anticatonis Libri II (only fragments survived)
  • Carmina et prolusiones (only fragments survived)
  • De analogia libri II ad M. Tullium Ciceronem
  • De astris liber
  • Dicta collectanea (“collected sayings”, also known by the Greek title άποφθέγματα)
  • Letters (only fragments survived)
  • Iter (only one fragment survived)
  • Laudes Herculis
  • Libri auspiciorum (“books of auspices”, also known as Auguralia)
  • Oedipus
  • possibly some early love poems

By Cicero:

  • Four tragedies in the Greek style: Tiroas, Erigones, Electra, and one other.
  • Hortensius, a dialogue also known as “On Philosophy”.
  • Consolatio, written to soothe his own sadness at the death of his daughter Tullia Ciceronis

By Homer:

  • The Odyssey mentions the blind singer Demodocus performing a poem recounting the otherwise unknown “Quarrel of Odysseus and Achilles”, which might have been an actual work that did not survive.
  • The sequel to the Odyssey?

By Livy:

  • 107 of the 142 books of Ab Urbe Condita, a history of Rome

By Ovid:

  • Medea, of which only two fragments survive.

Then there are the lost works that might, just might show up, but really don’t fit with a Roman library. The lost books of the bible for example, or the lost epistle of Paul.

We just don’t know what the library contains. However, today we have more hope of its recovery than before.

Yes, works can be lost and recovered. The most famous case is the Epic of Gilgamesh, dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur (circa 2100 BC).

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

What Star Trek TNG got right and got wrong – 3

If mankind has a hobby (or an obsession) it is the war. Thomas Hobbes called the natural state of man as ‘bellum omnium contra omnes’ (war of all against all). Yet in TNG, the world is at peace. Perhaps that’s why the weapons on TNG are so primitive.

What do I mean? Watch any TNG episode. In most you’ll see the phasers (set to stun) drawn. Then there are a couple of minutes of shooting back and forth with visible beams fired by hand or rifle phaser that miss most of the time.

Today, prison guards in American prison have rifles with laser pointers that show where the shot will go. It cools the jail yard rioter when he sees the little red dot on his chest. Police, when they storm a position, use a stun grenade, also known at a flashbang or flash grenade. These disorient, stun, deafen, and blind the opponent. By the way they were first developed by the British Army’s SAS in the 1960’s.

The closest we have to a phaser is the Taser, which at close ranges does the job, but Riot police also have rubber bullets for standard pistols and rifles, plastic batons (plastic bullets) from specialized guns, and the Bean Bag round from shotguns to strike at a great distance without killing.

For more deadly results, consider the fire and forget facilities in development. US military research agency DARPA says it is homing in on its long-term ambition of producing self-guided bullets, after staging a test in which a sniper was able to shoot at a target at a radically wrong angle, and yet still hit it perfectly. The bullet has fin-stabilized projectiles, spin-stabilized projectiles, and comes in a .50 round. That means a kill from a mile away, or farther.

Want something as an American civilian. TrackingPoint, an Austin-based company, builds smart-rifles with a computer to increase accuracy out to 1,000 yards. After the shooter tags the target the gun adjusts the scope’s crosshairs for a perfect shot when the trigger is pulled. Those Star Trek Phaser rifles haven’t changed since 1966, still with iron sites if any.

Want more fire power. As part of the military, you could add an under the barrel grenade launcher to your rifle today. Then go with a grenade that explodes after it has penetrated the wall and infra-red detection to spot the other guys through the wall.

Did I mention body armor?

Today’s Special Forces have the equipment and training to turn a TNG fire fight into ten seconds of slaughter.

In part, you have to remember that Rodenberry’s view of the 24th century for TNG. It was a utopia where the world is at peace. People are able to receive all of their basic needs. Money no longer exists. Small wonder small arms didn’t advance between the first generation and the second generation almost a century later. We’re not even with hailing distance of the part of the imagined future.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

What Star Trek TNG got right and wrong – 2

We have created some of the Star Trek technology in the last twenty-five-years. In other places we still have to a ways to go. Now TNG showed us the dream. What has been done to make the vision real?

 

What’s happened with the hypospray? That was a medical device to inject liquids into the body. It used compressed air to deposit the injectant into the subdermal layer below the skin of the body, or artery, without the use of a needle. It turns out that this wasn’t 24th century technology, even when TNG was in production. High pressure air injectors have been used by the military as a common initial entry vaccination method since at least the mid 1980’s. There are several models on the market today, principally used by the U.S. military. These devices used compressed air or co2 gas.

 

The latest entrant into the field is a device from MIT. This device uses a Lorentz-force actuator – a small, powerful magnet surrounded by a coil of wire that’s attached to a piston inside the drug ampule. No compressed air required.

 

However these devices do not inject into an artery and are not as safe as first thought. The jet injector breaks the barrier of the skin, so potential biological material can be transferred from one user to the next. One study tested the fluid remaining in the injector for blood after an injection, and found enough to pass on a virus. Blowback from the injection is still a problem. The World Health Organization no longer recommends jet injectors for vaccination due to risks of disease transmission. That’s why you haven’t seen a hypospray in your doctor’s office.

 

What happened to the medical tricorder? There’s actually an X-prize for creating one. The ten finalists have been chosen, and they must demonstrate their devices on humans in 2015 with three winners to be announced in 2016. Top prize is seven million dollars (U.S.). Part of the problem is definition. The medical tricorder of TNG acted could X-ray bones, scan organs like an MRI, test blood and analyze pathogens. That’s a lot in a hand-held device.

 

Specialized devices such as blood sugar monitors have made great strides in the last twenty years. Ask any diabetic. Another specialized testing device uses an app, a smart phone and the smartphone’s camera to deliver screening without the need for laboratories and highly trained staff.

 

For much of the world even this technology is out of reach. Cost is a consideration. Recently, in an attempt to do a mass test for cervical cancer, India resorted to less expensive solution. The test involves swabbing the cervix with vinegar, which turns the precancerous tumors white. The results can be seen in minutes. Using this test and some liquid nitrogen reduced cancer deaths by 31 percent in the testing area. This could save over 72,000 lives if used worldwide. It’s not sexy technology but it gets the job done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

What Star Trek TNG Got Right and Wrong

Star Trek, the Next Generation, ran from 1987 to 1994.  That’s about over twenty-five-years ago. A generation. It’s set in 2364AD, or almost three hundred years from the broadcast of the first Star Trek series. I watched the first episode and cringed. It was so bad it set a new low for SF on television. Still, I did watch more. Why? A few years earlier I worked as an extra on a show with Gates McFadden who played Dr. Beverly Crusher on TNG.

I didn’t know Gates. I was on the same show and saw her on the set. If you were to ask me about her, all I could tell you is that she knew her lines, and hit her mark. I guess that is quite a lot when you come to think of it,

I have no need to tell you that the show went on to become a great success, spawned spin off shows and movies as well. I thought it would be interesting to look at technology and see the hits and misses as time moves forward.

In communication, Star Trek was ahead of its time, but we’ve caught up quickly. In the first show they had flip phones, and in the second they had the comm badges. Well flip phones have come and gone. I sort of miss them.  They were small, simple, and could hold a charge for a week, unlike my newer smart phone.

Wearable technology is making the comm badge a possibility. However, it will probably look more like Dick Tracy’s radio. The practical problem with the comm badge is that everyone in the room hears both sides of the conversation. No privacy. With current phones, I have had to remind commuters that their ‘cone of silence’ isn’t working and the entire train car can hear some of the conversation. (Remember this when you call your drug dealer.)

And remember how Captain Picard would go to his ready room to receive a video call from Star Fleet? Today you can do the same with your computer, its camera and Skype. Have you noticed that every laptop has a video camera built into it?

Remember, those pads that people would pass to the captain and he would read, while rubbing his chin? The replacement for paper? Then he would take out the attached stylus and make some marks. Well between ereaders and tablets, we can see the technology here today. However, our tablets are touch-screen, in color and have audio. We don’t need the stupid stylus anymore. Still, it will take a while before paper disappears.

How did TNG do with computers? Frankly I’m surprised they still had computers in the 24th century. Voice recognition and control software comes with your Window 8 machine today. Text to speech has been around even longer.  However, the computer voices on TNG sound much more wooden that the computer text of today. Even Lieutenant Reginald Barclay didn’t obsess over the computer’s voice. Contrast that to the character in the 2013 movie ‘Her’ who fell in love with the voice on his telephone.

Remember the iso linear optical chips on TNG. Current technology is getting there. You can go into any computer store in the world to pick up a MicroSD chip for 64Gig. That could hold about a thousand movies.  Solid State ram drives are available for your laptop. (I put one into a server five years ago.) Optical chips are a current topic in U.S. defense contracts. This would be one to visit in another ten years. That would improve capacity and speed. (Why do we need a one Terabyte microSD device?)

I always wanted a Universal Translator. I’m terrible at languages. Today you can buy a device, or down an app to your smart phone that will translate from one language to another. Furthermore, you can speak into it in one language and it will repeat it back in the other language, out loud.  I don’t think they have one that a third party can speak into in a foreign language and it will echo back in your language yet. Why? I once remember listening to a Pole and a Chinese person argue about the news in English. Accents are still a stumbling block for voice-to-text recorders. Who knows what can be done in twenty years on this?

The Last Footsteps on the Moon

On December 14, at 5:55 P.M. EST 1972, the ascent stage of the Lunar Module for the Apollo 17 mission lifted off. Aboard it, were the last two men to walk on the moon, Eugene Andrew “Gene” Cernan and Harrison Hagan “Jack” Schmitt. Neither man would ever return to space.

Schmitt was the first scientist to fly into space, a geologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard. The decision to send a scientist instead of a pilot met with some resistance.  Cernan was publicly critical of it. However, in Cernan’s words, Schmitt proved a capable LM pilot.

Cernan had served as a fighter pilot, pilot of the Gemini 9A and lunar module pilot of Apollo 10.  Before re-entering the LM for the final time, Gene Cernan said, “I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come.”

The men knew that this was a last mission in the Apollo program, and the last planned flight to the moon.  They did what they could with this last mission. They collected 244 pounds (111 kilograms) of lunar material. This included the strange orange soil that proved to be microscopic glass beads from volcanic activity.

Strange and interesting lunar facts
Cernan’s distinction as the last person to walk on the moon means that Purdue University holds the distinction of being the alma mater of both the first person to walk on the Moon and the last.

The Apollo 17 Lunar Rover had the last fender bender on the moon. Cernan caught his hammer under the right-rear fender, breaking it off. They repaired the fender with duct tape, but not before getting covered with moon dust.

Moon dust smells like spent gunpowder.

The Apollo 17 plaque has the inscription: “Here Man completed his first explorations of the Moon. December 1972 AD. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind.”

President Richard M. Nixon’s signature is on this plaque.

While the American flag from the first landing was knocked over, when they took off, the one from the Apollo 17 mission remains standing as of April 21, 2012. There is a picture showing its shadow on the surface.

After forty years, the color has been bleached out of the flag by unfiltered sunlight.

Apollo 17 was the first night launch of a U.S. human spaceflight. It was also final crewed launch of a Saturn V rocket.

Man left the moon for the last time:
·    Before Microsoft was founded,
·    Before the U.S. pulled out of South Vietnam,
·    Before Elvis Presley died,
·    Before Roe versus Wade legalized abortions in the U.S.,
·    Before Star Wars,
·    Before microwave ovens, cell phones, internet,
·    Before personal computers and YouTube.
On YouTube, you can watch the following:

·    Liftoff  – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjWiMYr6XDA
·    Lunar Landing – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okgwvmobs_Y
·    Lunar launch – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXs4tncQcAE
·    Splash down – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_c2mDEdCJIc

Apollo 17 spacecraft landed safely in the Pacific Ocean  at 2:25 P.M., 6.4 kilometers (4.0 mi) from the recovery ship, the USS Ticonderoga. Cernan, Evans and Schmitt were then retrieved by a recovery helicopter and were safely aboard the recovery ship 52 minutes after landing.

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

The Battle of Kitty Hawk, NC

In Dare County, one part of the Carolina Outer Banks, lies a village with population of 3,272 people in 2010. Yet this speck of land in all the United States may prove to be at the central focus for the greatest issue of the 21st century.

The Outer Banks are a series of islands, sandbanks that stick above the waves, that stretch along the Atlantic coast of North Carolina. Hurricanes reshape them on a regular basis creating new inlets and closing old ones. However man has settled there, and he wants things more permanent, and North Carolina’s highway 12 is one of his efforts to make things permanent.

What is the name of this village and why is it important? The place is named Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright, walked into town and sent a telegram to their father to tell him of their first controlled airplane flight. Those flights actually took place four miles away, at the Kill Devil Hills. If you journey from Kitty Hawk, south on US 158, you eventually end up on NC-12.

In American History, Kitty Hawk ranks with Lexington, Manassas, and Gettysburg. These were all places where Americans hammered out their history. Its place in history has been cemented as the name has been used  on an aircraft carrier, and the Apollo fourteen command module.

Why could Kitty Hawk become central in a new issue? The town lies at an elevation of seven feet above sea level. Since the ocean is rising faster here than anywhere else on the Eastern seaboard, you have a flash point for the controversy over Global Warming.

This is where the story takes a decidedly political turn, and involves the American political system. In 2011 the state authorities accepted a prediction that sea levels would rise by 39 inches in the next 85 years. That spells death for the highway and the communities along the Outer Banks.

In 2012, the Republicans took control of the state. They selected a new forecast, one that only looks 30 years ahead, and predicts a rise of eight inches in ocean level.

The story fascinates me because it combines history, science and politics. If you look at a map, you can see that Kitty Hawk cannot be defended from the rising ocean by dykes. The ocean surrounds it. What will happen?

I don’t know. I have my own prediction, as do both the Democrats and the Republicans. Perhaps in 30 years the issue will be settled, one way or the other.

Just keep Kitty Hawk in mind. There are barrier islands from south of Virginia Beach to Key West and towns like Kitty Hawk along the way. What happens there, affects citizens from North Carolina to Florida.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

The future and the self driving car

Recently Google has been testing a self-driving car. The planned production model will not have a steering wheel. Everyone that I know wants one, including myself. Why? Imagine the convenience. I commute and with such a car, I would no longer have to worry about the traffic. I could sit back and read a book, sip my coffee, get a head start of the workday. I want one with a coffee maker and a microwave.

Do you remember a book/movie called ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’? In the book, the lawyer didn’t have an office. He did all his work in his car, chauffeured from appointment to appointment. With the introduction of the self-driving car, you can expect more such professionals in real life.

That got me to thinking about the implications of such a vehicle. ‘What if’ thinking if you prefer to call it that.

What would car insurance for such a vehicle be? On one hand, the vehicle would obey the speed limits, stop completely at stop signs, and obey the rules of the road. It would have better reaction time than a human being, never lose its temper or fall asleep at the wheel. On the other hand, do you trust a self-directing vehicle on city streets?

Today there are monitoring devices you have installed on your car. They evaluate the driver’s style in exchange to a break of up to 25% on insurance. Dash cams are becoming common for recording video of driving in case the driver needs a record of events. A self-directed car would contain both.

Think of the impact of self-directed vehicles on business. Taxicab companies could eliminate the expensive driver. For courier companies, and pizza delivery the car would also require an autonomous robot that could move from the car to the door. Those are almost with us now.

You see the impact. IF taxicab drivers are out of a job, then so would bus drivers, truck drivers, pizza delivery drivers and couriers.

Now some of the drivers might be for transit buses. However, if the self-driving car takes the sting out of commuting, why would anyone ride the bus?

Ahh. The dreaded DUI. If cars drive themselves, then we become passengers. Would a person need a driver’s license to command such a car? What about the drunk? If they could take an automated cab, why not their own self-directed car?

Ouch. Imagine the congestion as everyone returns to private vehicles to commute to work. I see more parking lots in the core of the city once more.

That is where my imagination breaks down. I can the self-directed car following a GPS map to go from my home to my office. However, I can’t image how the car would handle the parking lot. And there’s no steering wheel.

So in the near future, you will no longer need a driver’s license.

Then there is the horror writer in me. Imagine all those self-directed cars on the highway. What if they become sentient? Or more mundane, what if their software update creates a problem?

When did man learn the speed of light?

The history of science has all sorts of interesting stories. When did scientists determine that the speed of light was finite?

What brought this to my attention was talking to a person, an apparently well educated American teacher, who didn’t know whether the speed of light was infinite or finite.

In ancient times, some famous  people argued that light was emitted from the eyes. (Actually it’s more complicated than that.) Euclid, the father of Geometry, and Ptolemy, the famous astronomer,  both accepted this viewpoint. Consequently they argued that the speed of light was infinite, for when we open our eyes we can see the most-distant star instantly.

This viewpoint dominated for more than sixteen hundred years. Remember Galileo? He dropped the two cannon balls from the top of the leaning tower of pizza to prove all objects fell at the same speed?  Well he tried to determine the speed of light and concluded, “If it is not infinite it must be extraordinarily rapid.”

Think about this.  Gutenberg had created the printing press. Luther had started the reformation. Columbus had discovered the New World.  This is the period the American colonies were created.

Then along came a Danish astronomer working at the Royal Observatory in Paris in 1676. Ole Rømer was observing one of the moons of Jupiter, Io.  This moon orbits Jupiter in 42.5 hours and it winks on/off as it passes into Jupiter’s shadow.

Ole Rømer noticed a variation in the time of this winking on/off throughout the year. The periods of Io appeared to be shorter when the Earth was approaching Jupiter than when receding from it.

See this BBC youtube on this

He estimated the speed of light at 220,000 kilometers per second. (Actually he didn’t us kilometers  because they hadn’t been invented yet.)  Think of that speed.  Something moving at that speed would go around the earth five and a half times in a second.  No wonder some people didn’t accept his figure. In reality he was about 25% under the actual speed.

So, to prove that the speed of light was finite,  a scientist needed a reliable clock, a telescope, and  Jupiter’s moon Io.

How important is the speed of light? The Special Theory of Relativity rests on it. All physics and astronomy rests on it.

 

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net