Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Future ... Now !

It struck me again recently. The occurrence was my chancing across a reference in The Atlantic to a laser welder. And the thought--this is a true fact, and one that keeps cropping up to me as time wears on--is that we are living in the future. (Oh. And I'm Alex Adrian--as always--and this is the Diary of an Atomic Man, again as always.)

Now, don't hold your breath waiting for it, folks--'cause it's already here. One'd be hard-pressed to ignore the facts; yes indeedy, one would. (Wouldn't one? Anyway...) Technology is charging forward at a rapid pace and has built itself into the fabric of modern society. Everyone and their grandma is online (and on Facebook!); phones the size--well, height and width, not thickness-- of a cigarette packet (playing card may be a better analogy, given the relative thickness; incidentally, I want to go down in history as the first man to compare an iPhone to a supermodel: both are beautifully designed, thinner than air, everywhere, and seem created only to flaunt their beauty and slimness to the world. I'd like to see a supermodel play Angry Birds though, or an iPhone model Versace's latest collection...or a supermodel incorporate 4G wireless connectivity. At the piano, we have Hugh Farman. Anyway...), e-readers that can--hypothetically--store all of written history on something the size of a slim paperback, laptops--forgive me, "netbooks"--that can fit under a doorjamb and outperform a supercomputer, MMOCGs (anyone know what to call Minecraft? I'm having trouble coming up with a term) that allow the player to do anything, social networks of thousands, perhaps millions of people, talking, sharing, linking, playing, doing...the list goes on.
And that's just consumer electronics! (Okay, video games aren't really "consumer electronics", especially not browser-based or downloadable ones, but bear with me here.) The military is developing weapons that seemed science-fictional mere decades ago: the idea of the Future Force Warrior is to create the ultimate giving 'em a suit of powered armor. That's right, powered armor. Meanwhile, the Navy has turned to the crazy awesome side of the Force : besides the plan to develop a carrier-based UAV (more succinctly, a carrier plane that, rather than being controlled by a human being from afar or in the cockpit, the idea behind the X-47B is that it'd work virtually completely autonomously--or at least that's how Popular Mechanics describes it. [Joe Pappalardo,"X-Plane Rising", Popular Mechanics, December 2011, pp. 66-74.]), the new Zumwalt-class destroyers would be 3000--three thousand--tonnes heavier than the Ticonderoga-class cruisers, and indeed the heaviest destroyer ever built, outweighing even World War II heavy cruisers.  According to the Wikipedia article, the Zumwalts may eventually mount free-electron lasers and railguns, the latter of which the Navy's been researching for several years, now. The project's been cancelled, it seems, but still...

The motto, for those of you who don't speak Latin: "Speed destroys".

This is why Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space! (Or to sail the seven seas...)

Actually, you know what'd be awesome? Pirate Newton. Anyway...
Even the traditional marker of tech-that-ain't-never-gonna-happen, the jetpack,  is slowly, slowly, coming to fruition. If you've about two hundred grand, you can buy a (pretty cool-looking) "wing pack".

Dah dahdahdah dahdah dahdah...dah dah dah d-dahdah dahdah dahdahDUN!

The Diary of an Atomic Man would like to salute Yves Rossy, for advancing human achievement some fifty years with his invention. Meanwhile, space...

"Space? SPACE?! SPAAAACE!!!!"
Well, space exploration is progressing rather well, in fact! The Obama administration may've been the one to scrap the Space Shuttle, but the thing had it in the cards for a few years, now, and according to Wikipedia the current plan's to send humans to the asteroids in 2025, followed by a 2030 Mars-shot. There will be an increased reliance on private contractors--SpaceX, Scaled Composites, and the like--for getting people and cargo to NEO and LEO, while Uncle Sam, Ivan, Raj, and Liu look outwards. Within a few years, private spaceflight will be available for (relatively) cheap. And as for the old idea of a space elevator? Who knows! Maybe...just maybe...I'll keep an eye out, just in case. I can't think of any better way to end this, so I'll send you out with these words from Randall Munroe, the creator of xkcd:
"People aren't going to get better or worse. Technology will be pretty cool. All in all, the future's going to be awesome! Except climate; we fucked that one up."
Damned right

--Alex Adrian, 1/21/12

Monday, January 16, 2012

Viva Las Vegas... ?

Hey, everybody. I'm Alex Adrian and this is the Diary of an Atomic Man. And this week...Las Vegas. Not just anything about Vegas (Baby) but specifically the sheer absurdity of it. I've always regarded Las Vegas as a strange experiment: less the logical, natural output of people wanting or needing to live somewhere than a massive experiment--the first in human history--in terraforming. In that prior statement lies the thrust of (this part of) tonight's post. Who in blue thunder thought that putting a city in Middle of Nowhere, Nevada, was a good idea? There's no mining, or a river, or an ocean/lake/large water feature, or a forest, or...ANYTHING THAT COULD BE CONSTRUED AS USEFUL IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER! Most cities spring up around something useful, such as the aforementioned features: Denver, Colorado, for instance, has mining. Copenhagen, capital of Denmark, is located on a bay. (Nice place.) London--River Thames right through th' middle. New York, of course, is more or less a freakin' island, or at least spread across two or three; I'm not counting in the Bronx for argument's sake.  Tokyo was once a fishing village (and called Edo), before becoming the Japanese capital. BUT...nothing at all like that can be found in Vegas (Baby). (I suppose that you could count the A-bomb tests that ranged throughout the Mountain West in the Fifties, but...) Same goes for Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix has it worse, as (so my sources tell me) it is a trap for smog from Los Angeles due to the mountains and dippy geographical thingy. In both cases they're "service-industry meccas" distinguished and built around one thing: in the case of Vegas (Baby) gambling, in the case of Phoenix having the climate of a Middle Eastern city. On that note, let's move on to the next topic of tonight's post: those little towns whose economies revolve around one single tourist activity. Leavenworth, Washington, where my family spent a weekend around last Christmas, is a good example. In that specific case,  the town was intentionally...retrofitted...into a Bavarian Christmas village so as to promote tourism to that part of Central Washington. Another example--examples, plural--would be the various towns that spring up near mountain ski resorts, existing solely to serve them. Or, for that matter, Atlantic City, New Jersey, until a few years ago. Or Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, birthplace of Dolly Parton and location of her theme park, Dollywood.

Yes, Dollywood. According to the official website :"The Great Smokey Mountains' family fun vacation adventure with great shows, thrilling roller coasters [my italics], festivals [what in...], and kiddie rides.[Kiddie rides. KIIIDDIE RIDES!!!!]"

Or (I could do this all night) Branson, Missouri. This' probably a better example than Atlantic City or Pigeon Forge, as various musicians and performers have set up shop along the "Strip", Highway 76. (Oh, and according to Wikipedia, Dolly Parton also has a theme park there, Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. What in hell...?)  In all these cases (Well, maybe not A.C's...or that of the ski villages) their success isn't so much the result of some logical, natural, phenomenon, but rather a calculated attempt on the part of someone (probably the Chamber of Commerce or a related entity) to boost tourism to the town/area. All of this is nice; however, it's nothing like our next topic: college towns! (Cuz there's not a law against having three topics...or sexual partners, for that matter. Anyway...) Okay...slight generalization time, here. College towns are typically small to medium-sized, population wise. They contain colleges (duh), and most of the adult population are in some way connected with the college, as professors or other capacities. The schools are good--after all, parents who work as professors want only the best for their kids--the politics liberal, everyone--just about, so long as you ignore the bulk of the science (hard and soft) and liberal-arts students and faculty--is devoted to the sports teams, and the culture and overall vibe...well, let's just say that reality and college towns can be of out of sync at times. This is pronounced in major, multi-discipline universities (when you bring physicists, engineers, biologists, sociologists, and liberal-arts majors together in one place, weird things are bound to happen )and for some reason small liberal-arts colleges. As noted above, size matters; although Seattle, Washington, and New York have several universities and colleges, they're not college towns, since they're fairly large cities. In general--I say in general--they're more liberal and relaxed in attitudes towards "alternative lifestyles" compared to their neighbors, especially in more "red-state-y" regions of the country. Not sure why this is. I'll look into it in a future post, perhaps.

Hey, first post of the year!

--Alex Adrian, 1/16/12