Today is a good day to code

Our Parents Built Voyager 1 What Are We Building?

Posted: September 14th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »
Voyager 1

Voyager 1

While I am incredibly excited that Voyager has left the solar system; a glorious accomplishment for humankind and an incredible testament to human ingenuity and will, we have built the first great ambassador to the stars, I wish that ‘we’ included myself and my generation.  Voyager is travelling at a velocity which is mind-boggling, it is moving at 11 miles per second, greater than the gravity of the sun holding our planets locked in their orbits around itself.  This is an incredible feat, man has created a device which can travel faster than anything captured within the gravity well of our solar system.  We have created something so rare, an object with a hyperbolic trajectory moving away from the solar system, the very fact that it is indicates the sophistication and potential of mankind.

Voyager Chief Scientist Ed Stone, Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi

Voyager Chief Scientist Ed Stone, Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi

Voyager, Apollo, Mariner, Hubble  and the great space exploration missions of the past century were all made possible by the genius of our parents.  As far as I can tell, we have done nothing even remotely approximating the magnitude of scientific discovery generated by these missions.  My generation has made it possible to cut deep into NASA’s budget, taking the money and wasting it on everything and nothing at once.  We take our greatest scientific minds and put them to work on wall street, creating exotic mathematical tools to extract ever declining slices of abstract value from the real value being created by people working.  We put mathematical geniuses to work creating codes and breaking codes so that we can perpetuate our advantage over everyone else.  What are we doing?  We have the wealth, ability and the technology available, not only to our government, but also our private citizens, to solve so many crippling issues around the world, while at the same time furthering human understanding of both biological and extra-terrestrial systems.  There is no reason we can not do both.  Any rationale given is just an excuse, and one I will not accept after watching the way we the people find money for other inane pet projects.

The derivatives that are created in the financial markets are true genius, the cryptographic systems and computer technologies that have been created over the past 26 or so years are astounding, and I truly appreciate that.  What I am frustrated and embarrassed about is what we choose to do with these technologies.  PRISM and Xkeyscore?  Really? Is that where we are putting all of our efforts, on spying on each other?  We talk about creating jobs; what part of building up infrastructure on the moon is not about creating new jobs?  The effort to build a permanent settlement on the moon would put tens of thousands of people around the world at work in a new race to inhabit our moon.

I am thrilled to see companies like Space X, Blue Origin, and Planetary Resources taking up the mantle of exploration.  We should be able to create another ambassador to the stars, like Voyager 1 & 2.  This should not be a hard sell.  We need to build another probe, one that is faster and has more storage capacity than the original Voyager missions.  We should create dozens of them some of them, some with highly solar-elliptical orbits such that they can deliver information about what is around us.

Only government currently has the resources to fund this type of purely scientific endeavor.  Profit seeking entities will eventually get there, but only where there is money to be made or with the will of a great individual with massive personal resources.   If the governments around the world lack enough vision to see that we need to do this, I’d settle for a league of extraordinary individuals who will put their fortunes and minds to this work.  Once these people come forward, all that needs to happen is for the governments of the world to get out of their way.

I understand that some say that the space exploration missions were really covert ( or not so covert ) tests for ICBM technology, and this is likely true, however the actual science missions got funded.  People used to be genuinely interested in exploring the unknown.  Naturally a few remain, but they are finding it more impossible by the day to convince any one else that exploration and research are still valuable.  People frequently discuss practical and pragmatic solutions to problems here on Earth, but they fail to find the vision that many of the problems here on Earth can be solved by trying to get off of it.

The next time you are thinking about trying to build the next facebook, or that next hot dating startup, of the next pinterest, take a minute and think about building a quantum entangled energy transmission network, or a new kind of rocket, perhaps a new form of energy efficient CO2 scrubbing system instead.  We need to seriously consider our legacy.  Do we, as a generation, only want to be remembered for our memes ( not that there is anything wrong with a good meme)?  Or do we want to do something big?  It is critical that we elect people who have vision, a true vision that will set us heading in the right direction.  We must support entrepreneurs who want to take us to the stars.  We do not have that with any of our elected officials, at least none that is willing to put their reputation and career on the line to forward space research that I am aware of anyway, and I am afraid that it is this which is the first and  largest problem.  The second is that we need to stop selling ourselves short.

We can do what seems like science fiction, it is possible.  Entrepreneurs should have the vision and the guts to take the risks that will advance all of mankind.  Venture capitalists need to ensure that they are taking long bets like the funding team behind Planetary Resources.  It is like this that we get there, if these companies do what they are doing and then work together to move us further forward, even beyond their initial business plans, eventually the governments will follow.

Is PRISM Wrong? It’s Complicated

Posted: June 10th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Lifestyle, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

I have been thinking about the surveillance issue a lot over the past few days, and have read a large number of opinions on whether what the NSA is doing is right or justifiable or constitutional.

I think that many people are missing something of the point. The documents we are reading about were never supposed to be released. It is akin to hearing one side of an argument. It is always easy to agree with a single side, you are missing all of the counterpoints which support the opposition’s position.

In the case of surveillance, in the absence of documents that support the need for this level of surveillance we can only speculate about how we got to the Verizon request and PRISM from the Patriot Act. To have a valid public debate, we would need to have access to the FISA court’s proceedings and the analysis of the original signals which led to PRISM.

I don’t feel as though anyone can really say whether or not we should have a program like PRISM, or if we need the massive data mining operations that the NSA has purportedly been undertaking, because all of the documents which would educate us about what is actually happening in the world around us are classified.

What I can say is that I would guess that the justification for this level of intrusion is quite strong. That being said, in the future, we may be glad that what started with carnivore, and has progressed to PRISM has been in place. We just can’t know.

It is unacceptable for our government to just say “trust us, it’s for your own good.” That is not the principal upon which our country was founded. The federal government’s contract with the public is a partnership, not a patriarchy. It would be best for everyone if the federal government’s bias were set back to “what can we have have declassified” from “how can we classify this?”

There is no reason that I can see as to why much of the intelligence leading up to this which is ancient now has to still be completely classified. Some representatives and members of the intelligence community have said that if they redacted the documents to support PRISM, what would be left would be meaningless. Even just the volume of documents could indicate to the public how much support there is for surveillance.

Classifying everything is a cop out. Yes, obviously if we applied the full process of public scrutiny to the realm of homeland security things would take longer, the NSA and DHS would have to respond to legal challenges from all comers. That would be a good thing, we’d probably all end up back where we are today, but we would all be agreed that this is the right thing for the our country given the current environment. Instead, where we are now, is like a mother dragging a kid by the collar to eat their broccoli.

Also, what some have proposed, ceasing use of Facebook, Google, what-have-you, is ridiculous. It is equally ridiculous to call them complicit to something evil or other childish ideas of how companies work. No one at these companies wants to violate the trust of their users in so blatant a way as to immediately destroy their business. To do such a thing would be in breach of their responsibilities to their shareholders. It wouldn’t even make financial sense.

The opposite is actually what is more likely, they will make much more money by doing nothing to exploit your data as far as the government is concerned, rather by using it for marketing intrusions. The only explanation for why they would allow this is that they have no choice. This database is precious to them, if it found its way to a rival company or government it would do real material harm. Even having this double access system is a giant risk, secret or no. They would never do this voluntarily.