Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wrapping Up Eclipse 2017

I went down to Lebanon, Tennessee knowing exactly what to expect. I've seen the photos and videos on TV for many, many years. I've listened to astronomers describe eclipses in full detail. So there was nothing to be surprised by, right?


I can see why ancient people would have been freaked out by the eclipse. While the way the surroundings are lit appears to change some during the partial stages, it's subtle to the eye and happens gradually, over a period of an hour and a half. It's only in the span of four minutes or so that everything changes drastically. It goes from daylight to twilight in a matter of a minute. Streetlights come on, bugs and birds freak out, and it appears to be sunrise or sunset all around you. To witness it in person is definitely a treat.

I have heard people say, "Science takes the awe and wonder out of things by explaining them."

Flowers are still beautiful even though we know the processes that make them grow. When it comes to eclipses, I'm glad to know that they are not signs from gods in order to register their disappointment. If they were, I might have hid my face and cowered in a corner instead of taking photos, or I wouldn't have even known about it and certainly wouldn't have traveled 500 miles to see it. That's the beauty of science. I know that I don't have to leave town for the next one, since it will be in my backyard (it's up to weather if I actually see it). I know the place, the date, the time, and the duration of totality thanks to physics.
Duration: 2 hours, 29 minutes, 34 seconds
Duration of totality: 3 minutes, 51 seconds
Partial begins: Apr 8, 2024 at 1:59:17 pm
Full begins: Apr 8, 2024 at 3:13:38 pm
Maximum: Apr 8, 2024 at 3:15:35 pm
Full ends: Apr 8, 2024 at 3:17:29 pm
Partial ends: Apr 8, 2024 at 4:28:51 pm
This is the solar eclipse information for Cleveland, OH. All times EDT. The times are NOT subject to change unless there is some catastrophic event that affect the sun, moon, or earth. So write these in stone because they are not changing.

If you have a chance to see a solar eclipse in person, go see it. It is worth it. It was worth a 1000 mile round trip by car, and two vacation days from work.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Self-Driving Cars

"I'm a damn good driver and I'll be damned if I'm putting my life in the hands of a computer!" This rant has probably been texted from the driver's seat of a vehicle doing 65 MPH down the highway. Or it was uttered an hour after the person uttering it rear-ended a police car while watching a cat video on YouTube.

This is not a self-driving car.
Human beings, for all of our successes, are still clumsy, slow-to-react, and easily distractible monkeys who have no business being on the roads behind the wheel of a two thousand pound rolling battering ram. Cars have served us well for the most part, but with the growing number of them on the road and adding the complication of "go anywhere computing" known as the cell phone, this is a dangerous combination. Sadly, asking people to put down the latter is a lot harder than giving up the former. So, we need self-driving cars.

No, not for some of the people who want them, for EVERYONE. That's the way it has to work. People are dangerous in cars and if there's an accident between a human-driven car and a self-drving car, my money is on the human being at fault. Computers can react a lot more quickly and they don't care about checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social network to see how many people liked that picture of their cat eating a peanut butter sandwich. Cars are better drivers than humans because all they do is drive.

Humans don't just drive. This post was conceived in my mind as I drove to work this morning which isn't necessarily a good thing. We look around, we think about what we have to do when we get to where we're going, we adjust the radio, check our speed, check our phones, talk to our passenger, complain about that guy trying to cut us off. WE ARE DISTRACTED! and we suck at dealing with distraction.

Self-driving cars operating on a mesh network would eliminate the need for traffic lights and stop signs. There is an excellent video by CGP Grey that looks at the fundamental problem of traffic and the possible solution. SPOILER: We're the problem. Self-driving cars are the solution.

I'm not calling humans dumb by any means. Humans have come up with some amazing inventions, and are currently working on self-driving cars. Here's the thing, humans as a collective do everything marginally well, but a computer can do one thing exceptionally well. That's what we want. We want a car that can monitor traffic around it, it's speed, and alter its course on the fly to get its destination in the shortest time possible. That's what all of the cars on the road are doing too. For a self-driving car, that's the extent of its ability. It won't make small talk, change the radio station, or yell at other drivers on the road.

There are plenty of concerns to go along with this idea. There's security and safety, and there's a matter of morality built into the AI. I will get into these in a future post.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Blog and Podcast Separation

I've started a new blog for blogging and kept the original blog for podcasting. This is because if I decide to write a blog post on the same day I post a podcast, some people may not get the podcast and miss out on my dulcet tones in their earholes. So, here is AlienCG's SGMR Blog. I really wish there was a way to separate them on the same site, but that doesn't appear possible. Luckily, Blogger is free and I can start as many blogs as I want. So I now have three (Podcast, Blog, and ISC). I have moved the main blog posts off of the podcast site and moved them here, along with all comments that have been made so far. Hopefully this will not be an inconvenience to anyone. Thanks for your understanding.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Eclipse and Prophecy

The eclipse of 2017 is nearly upon us, and like all eclipses prior, there are the usual “End of the World” crackpots to go along with it. There are some who point to the “fact” that the eclipse will only be visible in the United States, which is true, but it’s arbitrary. The eclipse would be visible from this continent whether or not the US had been founded or not. This eclipse didn’t just pop up in the past few months, either. I’e known about it since the early 90’s personally, and astronomers have known about it for far longer. Eclipses are not omens, they are calculable occurrences and we know when they will occur for the next thousand or so years.

A couple years ago ended a period of the “four blood moons” or, less ominously, four total lunar eclipses in succession (no partial eclipses between). This was known about and has happened a few times times in the fairly recent past (1967/68, 1985/86, 2003/04, 2014/15) and it will happen again in most of our lifetimes. Eclipses are quite common, with solar eclipses occurring more frequently (although they last a much shorter period of time). The end times nuts were around this last time, at least, and I’m going to bet they were around for all of the previous ones, too. They seem to pop up for every time a celestial event happens.

Eclipses, alignments, retrogrades, and other celestial occurrences have zero effect on people’s personalities, their love lives, career, or anything else, especially not our planet. These things happen and we know when they’re gonna happen down to the minute and second (although, the further into the future we go, the timing will have to be revised). How could these be seen as omens or portents if they can be predicted well into the future? If a solar eclipse occurs on the full moon, then I might take it to be a bad sign if some other explanation cannot. The eclipse coming up on August 21 is taking place on the new moon, which is exactly what should happen.

Nothing earth-shattering is going to happen because of this or any other eclipse. Maybe something will happen on earth that could be considered earth-shattering, but it will not be because of the moon passing in front of the sun from the point of view of the earth. Nothing would happen if all of the planets lined up in a perfectly straight line because the combined gravitational effects of all of the planets and their moons as well as our own moon are totally dwarfed by the gravity of the sun. Rest assured, nothing will happen because of the eclipse.

Also, eclipses are not a sign of things to come either. They are not omens or portents because they don’t just “pop up” unexpectedly. I have been looking forward to this upcoming eclipse since I was in grade school and thinking about how old I would be when it happens. 2017 seemed an eternity away. Here I am now, and I find myself thinking about how much has changed since 1985 when I was 11 years old. That will be another post. My advice is simple, enjoy the eclipse wherever you are. If you can’t make it to the path of totality, you will still see an amazing show.