Thursday, 13 November 2014

Relativity Bitches!

Recently to my horror there has been many science fiction novels, and in popular culture, that have absolutely no respect or understanding of the laws of physics.

One egregious example was in the novel that shall not be named (Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and someone else). In an early part of the book a person can’t go on a spacewalk because they are “travelling too fast”. I stopped reading at this point and went into a Nerdrage! Which involves a lot of exotic, sometimes invented, swear words.

Anyway, there is no air in space so it is not like going out onto the wing of an aircraft when it’s in supersonic flight. In fact the spacecraft will feel like it is going zero because in relation to the spacecraft you are anchored to you are in fact going zero relative to said spacecraft.

Yes there are micro meteorites throughout the solar system, but they are all in different orbits flying around all over the place. If a micro meteorite hits you and it is in an orbit very different to yours yes it could kill you, but whatever orbit you are in you are still going to have a similar chance of being hit by a micro meteorite.

So in the book they slow down to “zero” and make the repairs. But zero relative to what? According to the Monty Python Galaxy song:

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving and revolving at nine hundred miles an hour, that's orbiting at ninety miles a second, so it's reckoned, a sun that is the source of all our power. The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see are moving at a million miles a day in an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour, of the galaxy we call the 'Milky Way'. …
Do you feel like you are moving right now? Of course, the answer is no you are sitting in a beanbag curled up reading your favourite blog with no sense of movement at all, unless of course said beanbag is on the back seat of a car and / or bus and / or you suffer from vertigo. The fact is you are travelling at a tremendous velocity with the Earth’s rotation and all the other things mentioned in the Monty Python song. You don’t feel like you are moving because everything around you is also travelling along with you. The exact same thing happens when you are on a spacecraft.

So back to this misunderstanding of physics in the book that shall not be named. That is one hell of a star drive that can slow to zero and then speed back up in a couple of hours. In fact this process is repeated pointlessly again and again all the way through the book. Can you imagine the amount of propellant mass they would have wasted - for absolutely no reason.

In one part of the book they do a “dangerous” rendezvous and docking between two ships at “great speed.” But again the ships were not going very fast relative to each other. It would be exactly, and I do mean exactly, the same as docking in Earth orbit - which is a slow relaxing and leisurely affair, most of the time.

What really set me off this morning was, ironically, the landing of the Rosetta Lander Philae on a comet. This is a fantastic achievement, but all these ridiculous reports, “it was like hitting a bullet with a bullet”, or it must have been “so hard” to land on an object going over 90 miles a second. It’s boneheaded stupidity. If you have an understanding of orbital mechanics and have a team of people behind you with software to help it is relatively easy to fly a spacecraft through the solar system.

The big worry is that one of those micro meteorites could damage the spacecraft, or maybe a software glitch could kill it. Its on-board computer could crash. Robotic spacecraft often have to be in space for a very long time as they build up speed and momentum using multiple gravity assists. Space is a harsh environment that could destroy a spacecraft before it has a chance to complete its mission.

Orbital mechanics is not hard. The speed you are going really doesn’t matter (unless of course you are going really really fast - a percentage of the speed of light). Docking or undocking a spacecraft is not like docking or undocking two aircraft at supersonic speeds in an atmosphere, that truly would be stupid and suicidal.

Another gripe is a small one about the game Wolfenstein: The New Order all round a very good game. But, in the moon level I thought it was a little strange how the gravity appeared to be Earth normal instead of 1/6 of the Earth’s gravity. I thought, whatever, but then I made a prediction to myself. I bet myself that’s the instant I walk out the airlock onto the moon’s surface the gravity will somehow revert to 1/6 of a G. Sure enough I was proved correct.

Maybe the Nazis had discovered how to control gravity, if that was the case, why was I launched to the moon on a chemical rocket? Or why didn't they make the whole area around the base Earth gravity as well? So obviously, in this fictional universe the Nazis haven't discovered how to control gravity. But how did the moon know to change the gravity the instant I stepped out of the base? Maybe the developers of the game believed that gravity is the result is of having air to breathe?

All these examples are incredibly stupid and increase the level of ignorance of the greater community - a great evil in my book. And it is a problem that never needs to happen. There are plenty of physicists and other scientists out there who would gladly advise the creators of these sorts of works. Many would probably do it for free. I myself have been asked to be a consultant for a science-fiction novel and I did for free.

Scientific principles and theories can be difficult for some people to comprehend simply because it is not their field. I studied science throughout high school and studied science at university, subscribed to New Scientist and tried to understand Einstein’s General theory of relativity. Alas, I am shit at maths so got into computer programming instead (the computers work out all the sums). And now I write.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Things That Drive Me Nuts - Bigots

When I see an example of bigotry I get psychotically angry - it ruins my day. It makes me truly ashamed to be a member of the human race (yes I know I said this at the end of my previous post). What’s set me off this morning was a ticker on ABC 24 that I sometimes watch in the morning. It said, “Company to remove halal certification due to pressure from social media.” (Halal is basically the Muslim version of the Jewish kosher.) This made me a bit angry so I immediately visited Professor Google and typed those words in.

Apparently a small business in South Australia, the Fleurieu Milk & Yoghurt Company, had many posts on their Facebook page and received a torrent of hateful emails accusing them of supporting terrorism because they paid $1000 to have their yoghurt products Halal certified. The bigots believe the racist spam-emails that get sent around saying that the money paid for Halal certification goes to support terrorists.

According to Halal Australia the organisation responsible for halal certification in Australia, “A one-off application processing fee of $110.00 (inclusive of GST) for the first site and $55.00 (inclusive of GST) for each additional site is payable regardless of the outcome, and that processing will not commence until such payment is received.” Also “The application processing fee stated above is separate to the costs for halal accreditation and certification, which will be estimated (with a quote provided)…” This separate fee according to various sources can be as high as $27,000 per month.

I have asked Halal Australia what exactly the fees are and is it true that they are up to the exorbitant fee of $27,000? And they got back to me immediately:

In regards to the fees and charges you have mentioned, we have heard about it but have no idea who does charge such as amount and why it is so. Without any first-hand knowledge we don't prefer to make any comment about it. Certainly we normally charge what is fair and reasonable and the companies are mostly happy about our fees structure. Which is basically similar to what the Kosher certification body would charge for the certification for the Jewish community.
The other oft quoted propaganda by anti-Muslim bigots is that the funds generated by Halal Australia go to fund terrorism. As you know funding terrorism is highly illegal in Australia with very long prison terms attached. Such a prominent group would not be able to get away with funding terrorism (if the AFP are on the ball). It would also greatly damage their reputation. Halal Australia has come out fighting strongly defending themselves and their own religion distancing themselves strongly with radical elements who call themselves Muslims. They even go so far as to say “Islamic” terrorists are actually against Islam.

Bigotry can be very dangerous and can result in hideous atrocities. What the Nazi regime did to Europe during the Second World War was purely evil. Many German people were made to believe that bigotry against Jews, foreigners, the disabled - it’s a very long list - was perfectly justified. Thousands of disabled people were “euthanized,” 6 million Jews along with Gypsies and homosexuals were sent to the gas chambers. This is what happens when bigots are not held to account.

Today bigotry has found a new outlet on social media. It allows us normal people to connect instantly with a global group of friends, but it can also be used by the tiny minority of people with extreme views to find each other, offer support and make their views very public, without the danger being verbally assaulted or run over by an angry cripple.

There are bigots who are in denial, frequently starting sentences with, “I’m not a racist but…” If you are one of these people - you are indeed a fucking bigot.

Now unfortunately there is an extremely scary “country” that has popped up calling itself the Islamic State. The fighters of this state have committed terrible atrocities mostly against other Muslims. They use indiscriminate tactics such as suicide bombing, mass public executions, televised executions, summary executions, crucifixion and the prominent display of severed heads. From my understanding of the Koran this sort of barbaric behaviour is downright un-Islamic and I have taken to calling the Islamic State, the Not So Islamic State. Just like the Nazis these people are the worst kind of scum, criminals who often kill for no apparent reason - this is profoundly against the Koran.

Real Muslims need our support in this very difficult time. Back home some of their relatives are suffering greatly. Bigoted and racist behaviour just makes the issue so much worse. Muslims are being physically and verbally assaulted on a daily basis. Shock jocks and tabloid newspapers try to inflame the situation to get more listeners and readership. Anti-halal campaigns, and the other stuff, make it more dangerous for all of us as disaffected young men of Muslim heritage, some of whom have probably never read the Koran, get their heads filled with bullshit from supporters of the Islamic State. They see the hate directed towards their communities, they get angry and want to do something.

By being a bigot you are not a patriotic Australian, in fact you are doing damage to our society and helping the Islamic State find recruits. We are lucky in Australia to have never suffered a large terrorist attack on our soil. Anti-Islamic bigots make it a whole lot more likely to happen.

In my book a bigot is basically a terrorist.