Bits & Pieces 2012-09-20

Links and things that I’ve run across recently.

Warp 21—35—17, Hut!

This is too cool.

The other day I was gushing to my kids that by the 24th century, life will probably be just like it is in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Well, maybe not the warp drive, because that’s just a plot device they have to include to make a space opera work. But a lot of the other stuff, like ordering dinner from a talking computer and just having it zap! appear there before your eyes.

As it turns out, though, I was wrong. Warp drive may actually be possible.

As Discovery news reports:

Eighteen years ago, physicist Miguel Alcubierre theorized a faster-than-light propulsion system. The actual spaceship looks like a football, and the drive system compresses space in front of the football (and expands it behind), thereby allowing the football to achieve longer distances and greater hang-times (just like helium was once said to).

The only problem was, calculations showed, in order to get enough energy to make the propulsion system work, you’d need to vaporize the planet Jupiter. And no, that’s not an exaggeration. You’d actually need to turn the mass of Jupiter into pure energy in order to get enough power for this warp drive. Oh well. Nice in theory, I guess.

Enter Harold “Sonny” White, of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, who recently tweaked the design and re-ran the numbers. He found that you could run the modified warp drive on a mass no larger than the size of the 1977 Voyager 1 space probe. (Again, not exaggerating.) He called this “plausible and worth further investigation.”

And he’s probably right. Researchers might be able to reduce the energy requirements even further, and they might learn how to vaporize space junk and turn it into pure energy, which would not only solve the fossil fuel problem but also be friendly to the interplanetary environment.

Now White and his colleagues are experimenting with something they call “the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer,” at the Johnson Space Center. A working reproduction miniature of this device will someday be on permanent display at the Utopia Planitia Shipyards, in drafting room 5.

The Surface of Mars in 360°

And since I spent so many words on that story—words well spent, though—I’ll just briefly note that you should check out (if you haven’t yet) Curiosity’s first panorama of Mars. This is also really cool.

The Purina Diet

Seen on a friend’s Facebook profile. Made me laugh so hard, I just had to share.

At Wal-Mart buying a bag of Purina dog chow for my dog, while in the check-out line a woman behind me asked if I had a dog. Why else would I be buying dog chow, right?

So on impulse I told her that no, I didn’t have a dog, I was starting the Purina Diet again, and that I probably shouldn’t because I ended up in the hospital last time, but that I’d lost 50 pounds before I awakened in intensive care with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms. I told her that it was essentially a Perfect Diet and all you do is load your pockets with Purina Nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete so it works well and I was going to try it again.

(I have to mention here that practically everyone in line was now enthralled with my story.)

Horrified, she asked if I ended up in intensive care because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no, I stepped off a curb to sniff a poodle’s butt and a car hit me.

I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard.

Now that you’ve read this I have to confess, I copied it from someone else. Share and make someone else smile today.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

I acutely realized the value of relaxing when it comes to politics, when a Democrat volunteer activist chatted me up in the supermarket parking lot last week.

They say knowledge is power, and the best way to collect knowledge is to listen. Unfortunately, most activists seem pre-programmed to talk instead of listen. Which can make for some amusing encounters, if you let it.

So this activist in the supermarket parking lot, she went on and on trying to get me to hate Romney and love Obama, and by extension to love (Democrat) Elizabeth Warren, who is running against (Republican) Scott Brown for Senate here in Massachusetts.

I told her I was undecided in the Senate race, which is the truth. And if she had asked me what my political views were, I would have been more than willing to describe them to her. Then she could have tailored her presentation in order to actually have a chance of convincing me. But she never asked— She rarely stopped talking long enough for me to get a word in edgewise.

And with one of these few edgewise words, I even gave her a edge up: I mentioned how Romney has proposed to grow the military to extreme proportions, which I think is rather silly… But she didn’t take the bait.

Instead, she spent, like, a half hour—believe it or not—listing reason after reason, all the great things Republican Scott Brown has done, and all the stupid things Elizabeth Warren has screwed up. Oops.

Then today, I received an 8×11″ full-color flyer, which begins, “Democrats Agree… Scott Brown is the independent voice we need.” It includes a list of the entire “Democrats for Brown leadership team.”

Hmm… Maybe she was clandestinely working for one of them.

(Unfortunately, the flyer itself didn’t cite any reasons why I should vote for Elizabeth Warren. Oh well.)

Today’s Quote

As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.

(Buddy Hackett)