Roberto Selbach

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Category: Links

SciTech links (November 4 2017)

China wants to be the first country to build a practical space-based solar power station. Space-based solar power would presumably be much more sustainable and clean than fossil fuels and more efficient than the current sustainable energy sources we have on Earth. There are many problems still to be solved before these power plants can exist so China’s expectations are more wishful thinking than based on reality.

Astronomers have found a massive gas-giant that is astonishingly 23.9% as massive as the star it orbits. For comparison, Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system but its mass is only 0.09% of that of the Sun.

An interesting article about an accident involving a Minuteman I nuclear missile 53 years ago. A short-circuit caused one of the retrorockets to fire and as a result the cone containing the nuclear warhead detached and fell into the silo. Ultimately the warhead casing was intact and nothing more serious happened, but the story reminded me of the Damascus Incident in which a fuel leak on the Titan caused a major accident. Eric Schlosser’s book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, is a fantastic tale of this and other “broken arrow” incidents.

Science and tech links (October 21, 2017)

Rodney Brooks writes about the 7 Deadly Sins of AI Predictions. The text articulates a lot of my personal doubts about much of what I see on the news regarding AI. Some people seemed to read this article as a rebutal of AI itself, which I find puzzling as I did not read that at all. If anything, Brooks seems to believe AI will be much bigger than we can possible imagine. He does talk about predictions being flawed. I can’t argue with that.

The Canadian Space Agency is worried about Canada’s vulnerability to solar flares and the like. As a first step, it has published a request for proposals to run studies on the effects of space weather events on the Canadian infrastructure (PDF). The study won’t focus only on cataclysmic scenarios but also at more-routine effects of space weather, like solar wind, flares that affect radio frequencies, radiation storms that send particles towards us and geomagnetic storms that can disrupt satellite systems and other technologies. If you know me, you’ll know a solar flare frying the electrical grid is my nightmare scenario.

After six years in service, the first Chinese space station, Tiangong 1,
is set to fall back to earth sometime in the next few months. Still not clear exactly when, it should happen late this year or early 2018. I’d love to get my hand at a piece of that. As a space exploration geek, I find it incredibly sad that the Chinese space program is relatively secret. I’d love to know more.

Linux Kernel Linked List Explained

I appreciate beautiful, readable code. And if someone were to ask me for an example of beautiful code, I’ve always had the answer ready: the linked list implementation in the Linux kernel.

The code is gorgeous in its simplicity, clarity, and amazing flexibility. If there’s ever a museum for code, this belongs there. It is a masterpiece of the craft.

I was just telling a friend about it while we talked about beautiful code and he found this piece that I share here: Linux Kernel Linked List Explained.