Thursday, January 10, 2013

Born at the right time ?

I've been watching the Stargazing show tonight (after getting back in from a work run down south ...)

It makes you think, watching shows about science fact and astronomical exploration. There's a lot out there just begging to be looked at. Trouble is, that's all we can do right now for what's outside our Solar System. We can send probes to our local neighbourhood but for everything further out from that, we're dependent upon what we can see.

And ... because that light takes a finite and deterministic time to arrive, we're seeing the objects out there as they used to be. The Andromeda galaxy at 2.5 million light years away will be different now to what it was when the light started its travel toward us. The Stargazing programme tells us that the star Betelgeuse is expected to go supernova "tomorrow" in astronomical terms.

(tomorrow translates to sometime in the next million years)

Betelgeuse is about 640 light years away, which means it could have gone Boom already, we just haven't seen it yet.

One curious idea is that if we ever invent Faster Than Light travel, we could Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (spot the Pink Floyd reference) and effectively watch that Boom happen as we travel towards the star. Or, you find a star that's recently gone supernova and travel away from it to catch the older light.

I.e. - if you can travel faster than light,
Going towards - winds the clock forward
Going away - winds the clock back

That's beside the point though. You watch stuff like the astronomical programmes and it's like seeing all these marvels that you can look at but never, ever touch. We don't have the technology yet (almost certainly not in the next 100 years either) to get to other stars. Interplanetary travel sure, interstellar is a whole new ball game.

I read books like Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars, or Ben Bova's Mars or countless other space scifi books and I think - I'd fit right in there. My brain coupled with engineering skills and technical instinct would fit right in with a permanent colonisation or just research colony expedition. And I'd have the interest to be along for the ride.

I play the games now but given the choice between gaming and reading all the nitty gritty technical bits to do with a spaceship ? Hold me back before I burn my eyes out on the manuals. But we're not there yet, which makes me think like I've been born a generation or two too early.

What are the choices though ? Let's have a look :

Present is easiest. I've lived through the dawn of the Technological Age and got in there really early. The tech we have available has exploded in terms of advancement over the last 100 years. We had no manned flight 150 years ago, yet this world would not work without it now. That technology fits and drives my natural aptitude.

Past is curious. I'd have been drawn to crafting and would have ended up as a blacksmith or leatherworker. Something that lets me work with tools. I don't think I'd have lasted long though. Leaving aside the issue of my eyes (I need strong glasses to correct astygmatism), I think I'd have been tagged as one of those smart people who are too dangerous to leave alive. And my natural naive state wouldn't have seen the axe falling.

So yeah - either burned at the stake for being a heretic or eliminated for being too smart. I don't think much to what my prospects may have been in Medieval times.

The future is where you start looking into that crystal ball. There's two possibilities as I see it :

Bad future - we don't escape this planet and therefore come to an unavoidable certainty of exhausting the resources available. That's a very dark future which will begin with wars over resources (we've seen that already with Iraq) with those wars descending into a stalemate. One of very few good Tom Clancy books is Red Storm Rising, which has an unwinnable East vs West war initiated by Russia needing to secure new fossil fuel reserves.

If we can't spread past the Earth, then I can't see the future being anything but dark. Getting out to our local solar system will buy us time, there's huge amounts of resources out there waiting to be tapped. It's just to difficult to get to them at the moment.

Good future - interplanetary and interstellar travel become a routine reality. This planet is too crowded already. The UK is definitely overcrowded. Interplanetary and interstellar travel will provide an escape valve to give a bit of breathing space. Trouble is, it wouldn't be an even distribution of people leaving, it would be the best and brightest. Which leaves behind the dregs to inhabit the Earth. Heinlein used that as a minor theme in his Lazarus Long books, where the situation on Earth got worse and worse as more people left.

So that good future could actually be a dystopia. Looks good on the surface, would be good for a few but for the many it would be a nightmare.

There's a lot of good books out there about near future Earth societies and they ask a lot of questions about the nature of humanity. What are we prepared to do to ourselves. How we behave as a group and how we like to be treated as individuals. Many of those books have small groups of powerful people behaving very poorly and large groups of individuals breaking their society through the sense of entitlement that we see coming into today's society.

I'll leave it there. I'm hopeful of that Good Future coming about, I just feel a little sad that I've been born a generation or two too early to experience it. The present has lots of technological toys but that's what they are, just toys.

PS Living now does have its compensations, I have the pleasure to know and work with some wonderful people. Today's work trip had the unexpected pleasure to involve the Pretty Contractor Lady. The meeting was discussing a bit of kit we're having fitted, with the meeting discussing what will be needed to fully satisfy what we're aiming for. Pretty Contractor Lady's part was to establish what she'd need to present in terms of accepting that it's done right. I'll get something thoroughly done when the time comes :-)
PS2 Wild Thing (someone from a few years ago!) made an appearance too the other day and said I hadn't changed a bit. Wasn't quite sure what to make of that :-)


  1. The best time is always now........ Or the future, if you have a choice.... Unless it gets *really* bad then its back to now..... [grin]

  2. I don't think I'd change much if I could wind the clock back, apart from maybe getting more attention to that shoulder before it froze up too much.


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