Tuesday, December 24, 2019

It's Christmas Eve, babe

... and this year, as always, I hope you've avoided the drunk tank. (Here in Singapore that would be an expensive proposition in many ways.)

Here's hoping that the new year brings us all dreams we can build around.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Airplanes! Tom Cruise! Footage!

So this is the best trivial thing that's happened in a year of non-trivial bad things: Top Gun 2 is upon us. And it has airplanes (plus, somehow, shirtless volleyball again).

A few observations:

-I was surprised at first that the Department of Defense didn't insist that the movie use the F-35 instead of the F-18. If there's any aircraft in need of good P.R., it's the F-35.

Image result for f-35
The poor, misunderstood, Lightning II.

But then it hit me: there's no two-seat version of the F-35, which means they can't create any footage of Tom Cruise in an actual jet. So the Super Hornet won by default, the most glorious way of winning.

-Why is Maverick wearing a pressure suit?

Image result for maverick pressure suit
Under pressure.

This is different from a regular flight suit in that, as you might expect, it's pressurized. That allows pilots to work at extremely high altitudes where the air pressure is essentially meaningless in terms of breathability. But the only aircraft the U.S. flies right now that requires that type of gear is the U-2, which flies (without Bono) at altitudes up to 85,000 feet. So what's the deal, is Mav flying a Cold War-era spy plane at some point?

-Maverick is a terminal captain. In the exchange with Ed Harris (Tom Skerritt is 85, which is even by Hollywood standards I guess too old to play an active duty Navy officer), we learn that Mav will never get promoted--the rank of captain is where he will end his career. I guess they had to build that in somehow, otherwise how exciting would a movie about "Admiral Pete Mitchell" be?

Anyway, I'm sure it will be a bad movie but I'm equally sure I will see it and react exactly like this as I walk out of the theater:

I feel the need....

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Turn up the radio

In recent years, astronomers have discovered new faraway planets, gotten close looks at distant objects like asteroids and comets, and driven lots of robots around Mars.

All of this is in service of exploring the physical universe and learning more about why things are the way they are, basically. That's exciting! But there is also this sort of deeper human need to find out whether we're all there is in terms of intelligent life. Scientists and philosophers argue about the odds--on the one hand, they're infinitesimal because shouldn't we have seen something by now given how old the universe is? On the other hand, they're quite good because the universe is as vast as it is old... that's a lot of planets.

Anyhoo, there's not much evidence to go on in that regard. There's the WOW! signal, which no one ever really figured out. And lately there have been "fast radio bursts," which are also mostly unexplained. This week, more of those bursts were announced, including an unprecedented repeating burst.

“When these bursts happen once only, it’s really hard to figure out what created them,” Cherry Ng, a radio astronomer at the University of Toronto and lead author on the paper about the repeating FRB, tells The Verge. “Now we’re showing, no, at least one other repeats.”

I've always felt like this is the way we'd get evidence of "other life out there"--something pretty inscrutable and outwardly mundane, as opposed to in the movies where detailed messages or even space ships arrive.

what will the aliens' morning drive zoo crews sound like?

To be clear, these bursts are almost certainly caused by natural (if distant) phenomena. That doesn't make them any less fascinating... it's a new physical mystery to unravel.

But it's sure fun to think about the tiny chance they're more than that.

It's been a rough few years for this planet, and finding life on another one would somehow make that feel more bearable.