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Comment Re:butterfly effect my a55 (Score 1) 212

As for the Apollo flight computer, a very limited orbit-tracking version might have been possible but integrating error would have made it deeply suspect over such a long time period I think. In terms of all the other things the Apollo computer did in terms of attitude control and timing the firing of thrusters correctly, I doubt you could make a one cubic foot mechanical or electromechanical computer do that.

I'm not suggesting that a mechanical computer could have replaced the Apollo flight computer. But if improvements in pre-calculated tables allowed ballistics and even rocketry to develop a little faster, mechanical computers might have come in handy for pre-Apollo rocket launches. What's the minimum computer functionality required to put a man into space? On the moon? And maybe some of the computing work could have been shifted away from the vehicle to a dedicated Flight Computations building on the ground.

Comment Re:butterfly effect my a55 (Score 2) 212

But the Industrial Revolution was in full swing by the 1830s. In many ways, Babbage's ideas were a product of that era. I don't think the world would be too terribly different a place than it is today. Perhaps, with proper error-free reference tables, science and engineering would have made a few more advances, but the complexity of all those moving parts in Babbage's Analytical Engine would have prevented something like Victorian PCs. I think the big change would have happened around the second World War, where ENIAC and similar computers would have been hybrid machines combining established mechanical computational constructs with vacuum-tube electronics to speed up calculations. Might the Germans have used aluminum calculating machines for more accurate V1 and V2 missiles? Could that have made a difference in the Space Race, or would that still have to wait for the weight-saving economy of the transistor and integrated circuits?

The thing to remember about technological progress is that invention is an interdependent process that involves more than just science and engineering, but politics, religion, and other social customs. Maybe the Analytical Engine would have gone nowhere until the invention of modern electronics. Or maybe minds like Tesla and industrialists like JP Morgan would have seized on the potential and changed everything. The most optimistic estimate would be that it would trigger a Victorian or at least Edwardian Internet era, with speech, information, and ideas flying around the planet at the speed of an automated telegraph. But computing with gears and the odd solenoid is a clumsy, tricky thing, and I can't help but think such ideas would have only tiny influences on our modern world.

Comment I Love the Smell of Astroturf in the Morning! (Score 2) 214

This looks suspiciously like an effort to make the use of Predator drones in conjunction with police investigations seem acceptable to the general public. The fact is the Department of Homeland Security was behind the use of drones in this affair, and this is yet another camel's nose under the tent. A few more stories like this and then stories about the use of drones in police surveillance will no longer be "newsworthy". That's when their use will become truly ubiquitous ... when no one's paying attention any longer.

Comment Re:PR (Score 1) 236

Well, to be fair, those aren't more aircraft carriers, they're being built to replace the Enterprise and Nimitz class carriers which are due for retirement.

But ... I agree with your point. Just one aircraft carrier less and you can afford to more than double your space program's funding. Our short-sighted leaders are selling out our future national security and scientific eminence in favor of having some shiny new sabers to rattle.

Comment Food for thought, but with a bias. (Score 1) 1

I agree that this needs to be approached with caution, but I wonder why the article speaks only of two failures. I get the impression the program is larger than just two patients, so what happened to the others? Did they also meet with tragic consequences? Without full disclosure of all failures and successes, it's impossible to accurately assess the results. We're left with a horror story told with cherry-picked data.

Comment Re:Looks like they took down most of them.... (Score 1) 247

Actually, it isn't the name "tricorder" that's at issue here. According to the original text, Roddenberry himself said anyone who could produce a functional equivalent was allowed to use the name "Tricorder" ... the problem is the use of an interface that mimics the LCARS user interface from later Star Trek shows. Tweak the look and I bet he'd still be able to get away with calling it a tricorder.

Comment Re:money (Score 1) 190

Outstanding! You're absolutely right about this and the obvious corruption inherent in centralized authority. I've had this same argument with many others -- it would seem to be obvious that it's easier for massive corporations to get their way if there's one-stop-shopping in Washington, but most people seem to want a super-powerful, central government that can give them anything they want.

And as Jefferson pointed out, can also take it all away.

There's also the point that distributing government across fifty states gives us all fifty more times to find good solutions to any problem. Rather than pick one solution and apply it to every state along with the hope that it's the right choice, fifty states all seeking their own, best solution increases the chance of actually finding a solution that works. It's a political form of biological diversity.

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