Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Busy Day

So today I was very busy as far as sitting my ass down and just forcing myself to write.  Of course it started with me watching Prophets of Science Fiction on Netflix and playing solitaire, but at least I was sitting in front of the computer with Netflix on one side of the monitor and Cycle of the Hunter on the other.  Then I started getting inspiration from what I was watching.  I wrote an article on the scientific merits of invisibility.  But that wasn't enough.  Then I wrote one on time travel, and finally cybernetics.  I was very pleased with myself.  I sent all three to so that later they will end up on the site but I decided that I wanted to post them here first.  So here they are!  Tell me what you think!

INVISIBILITY – The Scientific Reality
Patrick Rahall
Invisibility is one of the most desirable of super powers.  Think of what you could do when no one else could see you.  The only limit of what you could accomplish is limited by your own sense of morality and ethics.  You could solve your financial worries or sneak into the Super Bowl undetected if you so desired.  But not all applications have negative implications, like I said it is all dependent on your morality and ethical code.  If you wanted to help people, imagine the law enforcement applications.  You could go deep, deep undercover and record or prevent crimes in progress.  You could apply it to the military and use it to infiltrate and spy on the enemy, or even assassinate enemy leaders.  Imagine the possibilities.
            But invisibility is just a pipe dream, isn’t it?  How ridiculous an idea is it that you could, Harry Potter style, throw on an Invisibility Cloak and move about unnoticed?  Not as ridiculous as you might think, actually.  There are currently many groups working on a technology that can actually reflect visible light and render the object below the ‘cloak’ truly invisible to the naked eye.  The technology is made up of ‘meta materials’ which acts as though it isn’t even there.  When light strikes a surface, it reflects in a single beam – picture a laser beam on a mirror or polished metal.  Put something in the path of the beam with an uneven surface and the light will break off in several beams instead of one singular beam and that is what makes that particular thing ‘visible’.  What the meta materials do is act as a shroud, covering the uneven surface and refocusing the light back into a single beam again.  This makes the object under the cloak invisible since the light cannot reflect off of it.
            As of right now, the cloak of meta materials is only capable of making invisible an object 1/100th the width of a human hair.  Not quite enough to bring to life H.G. Wells’ ‘Invisible Man’ but it is a start.  We do have other kinds of invisibility in technology and nature.  There are actual life forms that are so small that they cannot be seen by the naked eye, but they are indeed complex life forms.  And what about nearly invisible fish?  There are jellyfish that can easily be missed unless looking very closely for and at them, in addition to the fish that are nearly ethereal in their makeup.  And what about, say chameleons?  They can blend into their environment and there are animals that have evolved to blend in to their environments.  But none of these are true invisibility.  As of right now, we do not have the capabilities to become truly invisible ourselves, but advances in camouflage and stealth technology are indications that we have always been striving for a way to achieve it.
            With the advancement of social media and the total immersion in technology of today’s world, who wouldn’t want to become invisible?  Who wouldn’t just want to have some privacy, to not have their every move documented and put online for anyone and everyone to peruse at their own leisure?  The appeal of invisibility is not just limited to those who want to rob banks or watch their neighbors undress without being detected.  Will we be able to become truly invisible?  Will meta materials actually become useful and implemented in our lifetime?  It’s a strong possibility.  The real question is will it be helpful, or will it be destructive?
You decide.

Patrick Rahall
Back to the Future.  Terminator.  The Philadelphia Experiment.  The Final Countdown.  The Time Machine, of course.  All of these fantastic tales are centered around the possibility of moving through time, both forward and backward.  Now there are many other tales, published and unpublished that involve time travel.  And why not?  It is one of the most intriguing concepts man has ever come up with.  But is it a possibility? 
            First, let’s discuss the possible paradoxes.  The first is my favorite – the Grandfather Paradox.  It was first posited in the 1943 Rene Barjavel novel Le Voyageur Imprudent (Future Times Three).  In essence, it says that one cannot travel back in time to kill their own grandfather before he has children.  Because if you kill your grandfather before he has children, then he did not give life to his son- your father- and then you.  So if you were never born, how could you have gone back in time to kill your grandfather?  There is also the philosophical concept of autoinfanticide- killing the baby version of you.  Again, if you kill yourself as a baby you can’t ever grow up to become the adult that travels back in time to kill the baby you. 
            The next paradox is the Temporal Causality Loop.  A great example of this is the Black Sabbath song Iron Man.  In the story of the song the protagonist travels back in time via a magnetic field –which turns him into the mute Iron Man- to warn humanity of impending doom.  But because he was unable to communicate, he was ignored and mocked.  This led him to become enraged and destroy the world as we know it- causing the very cataclysm he traveled time to prevent.
            Another problem with time travel is that while you might be going back to do something noble – killing Hitler or preventing Martin Luther King’s assassination – could have far reaching ramifications, the consequences of such are incomprehensible.  It’s basically the Butterfly Effect – if a butterfly flaps its wings in San Diego it causes a tidal wave in Tokyo.  In essence it says that even the smallest actions could affect life in ways that could be cataclysmic.  You cannot possibly imagine what your actions could lead to; by changing the past you are setting into motion an alternate reality that may in fact be far worse than the reality before you changed things.
            As far as time travel as a scientific possibility – it has already happened.  When an astronaut goes into space and travels as fast as spacecraft actually travel when he or she comes back, they are actually a fraction of a second younger than they would have had they stayed on Earth.  Not very impressive, I understand.  But based on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, time slows as speed increases.  So if you could travel at the speed of light in a spacecraft, you would age slower than you would on Earth.
            Another way of manipulating time would be with the creation of a worm hole.  A worm hole is like a shortcut in space.  It’s like a tunnel through a mountain; instead of traveling around the base of the mountain you can travel directly through it drastically reducing travel time.  Imagine two points on a piece of paper.  Now fold the paper so that the two points are touching.  This is the concept of a worm hole as demonstrated by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.
            Is time travel possible?  In Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos he describes a craft called Orion which would be capable, at the time of the writing in 1980, of attaining a speed of 18,600 miles per second, or one tenth the speed of light.  If there was a way to make this a reality and also a manned craft this would provide a way to cheat time.  Because of the vast distances in space from planet to planet and the incomprehensible distance (and time it would take to travel) the only way to get from one place to another in the galaxy is to travel at speeds that would retard the aging process.  Scientists theorize that traveling through black holes is one way of circumventing space and time.  Of course, there is no way of knowing where or when you will come out on the other side of the black hole or a worm hole, should we find one or develop a way of artificially creating one.  Then of course, we would need to then construct a craft capable of traveling through the crushing gravitational forces of a black hole.  Is this something that is achievable in our lifetime?  Is it something that could even be accomplished at all or is it just science fiction?
            You decide.

Patrick Rahall
Cyborg.  Cybernetic Organism.  It is a term that has been used to describe many different creations; James Cameron’s Terminator, Robocop, The Six Million Dollar Man and even Darth Vader.  It means a mechanical part interwoven into organic, living tissue.  In a way, there have been cyborgs amongst us for decades.  Anyone with a prosthetic limb, pacemaker, or even surgical implant could technically be considered a cyborg.  But when we think of the word, we do not think of surgical implants or pacemakers.  We think of mechanized limbs, shoulder-mounted laser cannons controlled by thought and the like.
But what is the real reality of the cyborg possibility?  For years we have had the ability to manufacture prosthetic limbs.  If you like, you could technically consider the first ‘cyborg’ as someone with a peg leg, or a hook hand.  Granted, there is no mechanical aspect of a wooden leg or steel hook but it was really the first attempt at enhancing the human body by replacing it with a sturdier substance.  We have for a while had the ability to make a prosthetic limb that can move in ways that human limbs cannot.  For example, there are prosthetic hands that can rotate a full 360 degrees.  In fact, we have even been able to advance science and technology to include prosthetic limb replacements for dogs, cats, horses, elephants and even a prosthetic tail for a dolphin or flippers for a sea turtle!  It seems as though no limit exists for prosthetic technology.


            Then along came Modular Prosthetic Limbs.  These leaps in technology are truly modern marvels.  They are actually surgically implanted into a person’s neural cortex and allow the person to control the limb via thought – making the limb truly a part of them.  These prosthetics also have complex computer systems in them that aid the limb in interacting with its environment by taking readings and measurements and interpreting them and allowing the person with the prosthetic to ‘feel’ by sending the computer signals into the person’s brain.  Using the complex system of wires and circuitry to duplicate the human nervous systems is one of the most spectacular uses of technology that humanity has achieved. 
            One thing that science is still struggling with is the completion of a prosthetic eye.  Scientists have been able to unlock the code in the retina of blind mice to allow them to see.  They have claimed to be able to do the same with monkeys as well.  Humans have not yet been able to be ‘cured’ of their blindness, but medical science is hopeful.  The issue they face is replicating the output cells of the human retina known as ganglion cells.  So far all that has been achieved is restoring rough sight that is blurry, like vision through tears that allows the seer only to distinguish rough shapes.  It can be likened to not being able to distinguish shapes of people – not being able to tell a man from a woman but being able to tell the difference between a person and say, a car.
            The other advancements in prosthetic technology are those of exoskeletons.  They are sometimes no more than pneumatic braces to help people walk but they do extend to fully wearable suits that augment strength and stamina.  Not quite to the level of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit (no flight ability or hidden missiles) but a huge leap forward.  There have been a couple of advances in the technology of returning ambulation to quadriplegics.  
            Will cybernetics advance to the level of Isaac Asimov’s The Bicentennial Man?  In this tale, humans and robots become virtually indistinguishable as robots can get human parts, humans can get robot parts and extend their own lives.  Granted the story is more a morality tale about what the concept of inalienable rights really means, but the question remains.  Given the abilities we currently have to create these incredible feats of technology, is it out of the realm of possibility to consider that we can achieve Iron Man or Robocop levels?  Or even to extend life beyond natural limits?  Or if we do achieve it, should we take advantage of that?
            You decide. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


So I just had a weird, weird dream.  I was trying to take a nap on the couch (which for some reason always makes me wake up with a nasty headache) and I wasn't really sleeping...more dozing than anything else.  So I'm dozing and here's the dream.  I'm walking around near some large body of water, probably an ocean.  Abe Lincoln walked by with those really high wading overall things that fly fisherman wear.  He was singing 'Black Hole Sun' by Soundgarden, which is my favorite song so I started singing with him.  I was sitting in the water, which was nice and warm, and the waves were coming up to about my shoulder.  It was very relaxing.
Then suddenly I was walking around with a cat carrier with my cat who recently passed, Butterscotch.  He was a great cat, he died the other day after battling a thyroid issue for about a year.  He was literally skin and bones- even the pin that was in his hip from when he was hit by a car about ten years ago came out and when he tried walking around his legs splayed out but he was a fighter.  Add that to the fact that he was 18 and well, it was really his time to go.  Doesn't make me less sad, don't get me wrong.  But at least he had a good long life.  Everyone loved this cat, despite his trademark which was stealing food off your plate if you turned your back for a second.  Sandwiches, steak, fish he didn't care.  He used to eat Cheez-Its, Goldfish crackers, Cheetos, etc.  Well anyway, I'm carrying him in the carrier (sorry, didn't know how else to word that- transporting sounded wrong because I was walking) and finally I come across a vet, who tells me I can't bury him and offers to do an autopsy to see if they can figure out how they can learn about thyroid diseases and try and find a cure.  I say yes. Then we opened the carrier (my mother somehow materialized, unless she was waiting for me there) and he looked at me.  He was alive!  I was so happy, but I really wasn't because even though it was a dream I still knew in my heart that he was dead.  After all I buried him the other day.  So that was it.  I woke up all depressed.
I think I understand part of it, not the Abe Lincoln part though.  I am thinking that the reason I said yes to the autopsy thing is because of what happened with my brother's dog last year.  He was an old man too, Barney the Beagle was.  He died from an unfortunately common cancer in dogs called Hemangiosarcoma, you can read about it HERE on Wikipedia.  Basically it's something that by the time you notice symptoms, it's already too late.  He refused to donate his body to science to help learn about the disease.  I remember him saying "No, I want him to cross over whole."  That really struck me.  He never talks like that, but in my family we love our pets.  I understand it completely.
Butterscotch last year, staking claim to a bone we left downstairs for the dog!
Butterscotch's grave I dug.