I haven't had a good rant on this blog for a long while. At least, not one that isn't part of tearing apart a terrible game in a review. But I have something that's been really grinding my gears throughout all of 2016, and I need to say something about it: I really dislike advertising. I have an especially intense dislike of internet advertising practices. It's not the ads themselves that get on my nerves; it's the ways in which websites and advertisers chose to deliver them. So many websites are crammed full of ugly, intrusive, and obnoxious ads that really hurt the experience of the user trying to actually view and navigate the website.
Streaming services like Comedy Central insist on crashing the video in the event that there's even the remotest hiccup in loading one of the five advertisements that it must play during the four advertising breaks that it includes in its half-hour episodes. I routinely run into issues in which the pre-episode ads fail to load, and so the whole episode refuses to load, and I have to ctrl-F5 to reload the page until it selects a set of five advertisements that actually work. But then it gets to one of the mid-episode commercial breaks, and even if the advertisements do load and play, the actual episode refuses to continue. Sometimes, I can hit the "rewind 10 seconds" button to fix the problem. Other times, I once again have to ctrl-F5 to reload the page, sit through the pre-episode ads again (hoping they don't cause yet another failure), then skip past the ad break in the timeline, watch the mid-episode ads (and hope that they don't also fail), and then maybe I can continue watching the content. This is why I haven't seen an episode of The Daily Show in a couple months and have no idea if new host Trevor Noah has finally hit a stride yet. I have similar issues with CBS steaming, which is why I also haven't been able to watch much of Stephen Colbert's new late night talk show. Sorry Stephen, I love you, but CBS apparently doesn't want me to watch you.
Issues with Comedy Central's ad-delivery abound: ads play over the actual content, their failure to load
prevents the content from playing, they have multiple ad breaks and not enough unique ads to fill them, etc.
To make matters worse, Comedy Central and CBS often doesn't even have enough distinct ads to fill up all these advertising breaks. I often see the same three or four ads in every ad break. Sometimes, the same exact ad will play back-to-back during the same advertising break!
Is this supposed to be punishment for not watching the show on cable TV? I actually do (at the time of this writing) have an active cable subscription, and that subscription does include Comedy Central and CBS. I could easily just DVR episodes of The Daily Show or Late Show with Stephen Colbert and watch them at home, but I prefer to watch them during my sit-in lunch breaks at work because it's just a more efficient use of time. Or at least, it would be, if it ever actually worked. Heck, on the DVR, I can just skip past the damned ads. I can't do that when streaming on the internet.
Comedy Central is far from unique in this regard. I've already pointed a finger at CBS as well, and this is one of the reasons that I'm not happy about Star Trek: Discovery being exclusive to CBS All-Access. I really don't want to pay for a streaming service to watch one show! Especially if it's still going to contain content-breaking advertisements that prevent me from even watching the show that I'm paying to watch... [More]
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft set a major milestone for human space exploration earlier this week. Its approach of Pluto means that every solar body that is now - or ever has been - considered a "planet" has been visited by at least one NASA space probe. The probe was launched in January of 2006 (back when Pluto was still a "planet"), and it will continue out beyond Pluto and into the mysterious Kuiper Belt to continue its exploration of the solar system.
In the meantime, the probe has sent back months-worth of high-resolution images and scans for NASA scientists to study. The early results are already full of surprises.
New Horizon's first, high-res photograph of Pluto (July 14, 2015).
Pluto - it turns out - is not the old, craggy, cratered world that many scientists expected it to be. In fact, it appears quite young, with tall, rocky mountains and nary a single impact crater. This is surprising considering the body's proximity to the Kuiper Belt, which contains numerous asteroids, and other small, rocky bodies left over from the formation of the solar system.
Large mountains were found on Pluto.
The probe also found possible evidence of frozen water. Frozen nitrogen and methane were expected, but early photographs suggest that frozen water may also make up a large portion of Pluto's crust. This is exciting for scientists because the presence of water (even in frozen ice form) is a possible indicator of life. There doesn't appear to be any liquid water (at least not yet), so the prospects for life are much better on Jupiter's moon Europa (which may have underground liquid oceans warmed by subterranean vents), or Saturn's moon Titan (which has a dense atmosphere and possible liquid surface water). But it at least adds Pluto to the list of possible targets of further study.
New Horizons was actually making discoveries long before it reached Pluto. In 2007, it captured video of a massive volcanic eruption on Jupiter's moon Io. It was a pretty spectacular sight to behold.
A five frame video of a massive volcanic plume on Jupiter's moon Io (taken in 2007).
As an interesting piece of trivia: the New Horizons craft also contains the cremated remains of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who first discovered Pluto in 1930. He had requested that his ashes be sent to space. Not only did NASA oblige, but they send his ashes to the very body that he became famous for discovering. He had died in 1997, and you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more fitting interment for an astronomer.
More information about Pluto and the New Horizons mission can be found on NASA's official webpage at https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html.
A history of the images of Pluto.
"Back to the Future Day" is rapidly approaching.
This fall, expect to see an onslaught of social media posts about how scientists and engineers have failed us because they haven't invented hover boards, self-drying clothes, holographic sharks, or flying cars. These sorts of Back to the Future memes have been showing up on social media every October for the past few years, often with the dates misquoted. These posts also tend to lament the lack of the nifty technologies showcased in Back to the Future.
And it isn't just Back to the Future that makes people get all nostalgic for the science fiction technology of yesteryear. At the turn of the century, people also bemoaned the huge gap between the manned spaceflight program depicted in Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of Arthur Clark's classic novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. We also don't have food in the form of pills, or robot butlers, or lightsabers, or holodecks, or wrist phones either. Oh wait, we do have wrist phones, so we can check that one off the list.
But maybe the tech that we do have is actually better than what is depicted in contemporary science fiction movies.
Here's what bothers me: the same people who use their smart phones to post these "Back to the Future Day" memes to Facebook, and demand that scientists get off their lazy butts and build a working hoverboard, often take the technology that we do have for granted... [More]
This morning, the first step on the road to a manned mission to Mars was taken. NASA's Orion space capsule successfully completed its first dual-orbital test flight and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.
The space craft finally launched this morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force base a little after 7 am Eastern time, after having been delayed for a day due to technical problems and poor weather. After a four-and-a-half-hour flight in which the spacecraft orbited the Earth twice at an altitude of 3600 miles, the capsule re-entered the atmosphere, deployed its parachutes, and landed gently in the Pacific Ocean.
This flight is the first step in a planned manned mission to Mars that is expected to take place within the next 25 years, assuming that it doesn't get derailed by political or monetary issues.
This is exactly the kind of mission that advocates argued would be encouraged by the termination of the space shuttle program. Critics argued that the space shuttle made access to earth's orbit too easy and reliable, and "tethered" NASA to low-earth orbit, instead of finding innovative new ways to reach further into space... [More]
Concept of the IXS Enterprise
Recently, a NASA physicist Harold G. White made headlines in the science and technology media by showcasing a 3-D artist's render of a "real life" warp drive starship (affectionately named the "I.X.S. Enterprise" - not sure what the "I.X.S." stands for). The starship model poposed is based on mathametical calculations that suggest that the Alcubierre warp drive could actually work!
In the 1990's, theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre, mathematically demonstrated that a warp field could be created which could contract the space ahead of an object and expand the space behind said object, allowing the warping of space to effectively propel the object faster than the speed of light. The theory does not violate the "cosmic speed limit" imposed by relativity, since the object isn't being accelerated past the speed of light. Instead, the space around it is being manipulated to reduce the distance between the source and the destination by taking advantage of the fact that space itself is permeable and its motion is not constrained to the cosmic speed limit. Best of all: astronauts inside such a ship would not be subject to relativistic time dilation effects. A one-year trip for the astronauts would also be only one year for the people of earth!
One of Matt Jefferies' original concepts for Star Trek's starship Enterprise.
Alcubierre freely admitted that his ideas were inspired by concepts from Star Trek, and considering that no similar theory of warp propulsion existed at the time of Star Trek, the concept and designs of the show are surprisingly prophetic. Alcubierre's models were met with early excitement when they were first proposed, but examinations by other physicists exposed certain flaws that made the effect impractical for human space exploration and travel:
- The drive would require a tremendous amount of energy ranging from the equivalent of the total mass of Jupiter to the more mass than is contained in the observable universe! This, by itself, made the theory a non-starter.
- The drive also may not be steerable or controllable from within the ship.
- Also, there were concerns that a build-up of particles along the front of the bubble during travel would be shot forward when the drive slows down or stops, potentially destroying anything in its path (including the destination, whether it be a planet, another ship, or a space station).
- There were also concerns about whether Hawking radiation inside the bubble would destabilize the bubble and/or kill the crew.
But that hasn't stopped physicists from thinking about the possibility... [More]
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