SpaceX building fewer rockets

Most of the news today seems to be particular bad. But not this:

SpaceX has gotten good enough at reuse that it’s building fewer rockets.

Space travel is finally getting back to being as fun to follow as it was when they did moon landings. The big difference this time round is that then, money was no object. Now, money very much is an object. Huge improvement.

Robot dog progress

Researchers publish open-source, lower cost design for 3D printed robot dog.

What are the future applications of of such a “dog”? Some rather unconvincing tasks are mentioned in the above report, like hanging about in a forest “monitoring” animals. But that sounds like green-friendly make-work to me.

Warfare in complicated terrain does seem like an obvious application. Exploring Mars, in other words, and then fighting other robots for the control of Mars. And meanwhile filming it all, for entertainment purposes?

Airplanes flew for quite a long time before they found a major use for them, which was to spy on opposing armies and to make big guns cleverer, and then to fight and kill other airplanes. Then came high tech sport, in the form of air races, which was really just research and development for better and faster war planes.

Around then, also, very tentatively, airplanes began to deliver letters. And then, airplanes began to deliver people, which was to say very rich people. Eventually, half a century after they first flew, airplanes became part of the good life for regular humans.

Robot dogs look like they might follow a similar path. As of now, robot dogs are the robot equivalent of the useless and clumsy contraptions that airplanes were in the nineteen-noughts, good only for lunatics in goggles to play with.

Comments of how these weird creatures might actually make themselves useful, more quickly and less destructively than my grumpy pessimism just said, would be most welcome.

For starters, if these things are ever going to be liked by humans, they’re going to need heads, heads that are more than merely decorative which gather and transmit information. Then, maybe (and I seem to recall speculating along these lines at my long-lost Education Blog): child minding? A combination of such robot-human interaction and transport? Like a sort of super-intelligent horse?

With all dew respect to 6k

I see that 6k is now calling quota photos QPs.

And here is his latest QP:

Go here for a bigger and thus even better version. And once there, click on the right, to get an equally amazing photo of the moon.

I kept on clicking, because I’ve not perused the 6k photo-feed recently, and, of course, I especially liked this photo of a cricket boundary rope.

More respect dew, although that’s probably just rain.

So, I guess leaves do have their uses, photographically speaking. Nevertheless

Scott Adams asks …

His question, and his answer:

If invading space aliens shut down the economy of Earth and forced us to become breeding slaves for our conquerors, how many deaths would humanity be willing to risk to regain its freedom? If your guess is fewer than a billion, it sounds low to me.

Cheer up mate, it may never happen.

Tardigrades on the moon?

Definitely the best “other creature” in the news during the last few days:

It looks like a space monster in a movie, from the far off time before special effects became perfect and boring, and everything had to be made by hand.

But this is actually a real creature, much smaller than it looks, and now, maybe, getting a whole new start as a miniature moon monster:

Thousands of tardigrades – also known as “water bears” or “moss piglets” – were on board the Beresheet spacecraft when it crash landed on the moon in April.

The tiny creatures are incredibly hardy and can survive extremely low temperatures and harsh conditions– and The Arch Mission Foundation, which sent them into space, believes some may have survived.

Tardigrades are pudgy little animals no longer than one millimeter. They live in water or in the film of water on plants like lichen or moss, and can be found all over the world in some of the most extreme environments, from icy mountains and polar regions to the balmy equator and the depths of the sea.

The Arch Mission Foundation sounds scary, doesn’t it? Like something a Bond villain would preside over. An arch villain.

Nuclear Rabbits From Outta Space?

On June 13th 2008 I was wandering about in Quimper, photoing photos. Mostly the photos were of such things as Quimper Cathedral with its twin spires, photoers photoing Quimper Cathedral with its twin spires, that kind of thing.

But in among all those, and with no accompanying explanation (like a context photo with less zoom (memo to self: always photo a context photo if it might help)), this:

KanaBeach seems to be some sort of Brittany based clothing brand (“Kanabeach est une entreprise de vêtements bretonne”), which a few years later seems to have crashed and burned, after which catastrophe it may or may not have made a recovery. (A recovery attempt which involved a giraffe, for some reason.)

But, I have no idea who Jean-Francois Kanabeach is. And I am similarly baffled by the Nuclear Rabbits From Outta Space. Google’s basic reaction to that was, first off, to ask if I meant “Nuclear Rabbits From Outer Space”.

A rabbit was, so it says here, launched into space in 1959. And the Chinese did some stuff on the Moon in 2013, with something called the Jade Rabbit (aka Yutu). But Nuclear Rabbits, from Outta Space? Quesque c’est? Usually the Internet has something to say in answer to questions like this. But in this matter, rien.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Dolphin on Jupiter

Indeed:

NASA took the photos, but it was Sean Doran and Brian Swift who spotted the dolphin and “visual artist and citizen scientist” Doran then Tweeted it.

I’m guessing that this dolphin is not a permanent fixture, but an accident of cloud formation. I’m guessing it will soon be gone. But what do I know? About dolphins. On Jupiter. Or anywhere.

See also, these two galaxies, which resemble a penguin looking after its egg.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The performing horses of Warwick Castle (2): After the show

Remember those performing horses of Warwick Castle, galloping up and down on a thin rectangular arena, telling the story of the Wars of the Roses. Course you do. I showed you a spread of photos of them, but wasn’t that impressed with how those photos came out.

Well, after the show, all of us friends and family of one of the performers went backstage, so to speak, to shake hands with the guys in their armour and to say hello also to the horses.

And the photos I took of the horses seemed to me rather better:

It helped that the horses were standing still. It also helped that the background was much easier to choose and mostly looked quite different from the horses heads.

I also prefer the way horses look when they aren’t wearing complicated costumes. There’s nothing like quite like a horse, unclothed, in sunshine.

That hoods that a couple of the horses are wearing are not cruel. They’re to keep the flies off their eyes.

The actual war horses that fought the Wars of the Roses would have been a lot stockier and heavier than these horses. These ones are retired race horses. Which is okay, because they are actors.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Googling for new planets

Incoming from Rob Fisher: link to a piece in the Independent, about machine learning applied to old telescope data is finding new planets.

Quote:

A computer was trained to look through the data from the Kepler space telescope, and look for signals that might belong to planets. And it found new planets within existing systems, by spotting signals that seemed to indicate something of interest but were too weak to have been spotted by humans.

That suggests that there might be whole worlds and solar systems hiding within the data we’ve already collected, but which we had not noticed because there are simply so many signals to pick through. Kepler has collected four-years of data from looking at the sky and 150,000 stars – far more than humans could ever look through.

So, exactly what were these weak signals?

The new planets – just like all of the thousands found by Kepler – were spotted by watching the sky for light coming from the stars. When planets pass in front of their stars, scientists can register the dimming as they go, and use the speed and characteristics of that dimming to work out what the solar system might actually look like.

Much of that work relies on pattern recognition, which until now has been done by scientists looking through the data. But the new findings are the result of work between Nasa and Google, which trained machine learning algorithms to learn to spot those patterns itself and so pick through the data much more quickly.

This is good. Keep Skynet busy with harmless hobbies.

Maybe not. Getting Skynet to compile a huge and exhaustive list of all the places in the universe where biology-based life might be, after biology-based life on this planet has been taken care of.

This is maybe how the robot holocaust will happen. We will have been telling them to “take care of” us and our fellow creatures. But they’ll have been watching too many gangster movies, and …

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog