Artist's impression of space junk

Careful with That Orbit Now

Scientists and aerospace engineers alike have long been worried about the consequences of junking Earth’s orbit. On this site the topic was first mentioned shortly after North Korea put an (apparently) useless satellite up there. This is a serious issue, as highlighted by this year’s conference on space debris, which was understandably worried about recent initiatives that consist of launching entire constellations of micro-satellites.

Should we expect the worst to happen? With SpaceX alone planning to plant about 3000 (yes, that’s three thousand) satellites in orbit during the next decade, I think it is a valid concern. Especially as this is done with little (if any) preparation to mitigate orbital pollution.

Tesla Motors

Tesla Motors May Be in Trouble, but Remember These Facts

A respected investigative journalist has recently penned a rather worrying piece about Tesla Motors’ progress with its high-stakes Model 3 vehicle. Things are far from going according to plan. What is even more disturbing for me are some of the recent shock & awe declarations of CEO Elon Musk. For example his unrealistic plans for colonizing Mars or sending people around the world aboard modified ballistic rockets, both of which would be a complete waste of critical resources and a mockery of the critical situation in other parts of the planet. The following Seeking Alpha article pours some cold water on all the Musk hype.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Musk. He’s done great with Tesla Motors. In fact, he’s done so great that now Big Motor is out to get him. It’s amazing how much competition he managed to ignite and thus has done the world a great favor. He’s done even better with Space X given how much the enterprise has helped our extra-terrestrial research and development. But some of his statements are scientifically unsound and that devalues him in the eyes of those that matter a lot for his ventures’ future. I have no problem with idealism, but I do have a problem with cheap PR tactics.

Shenzen

Behind China’s Success

Like pretty much everybody that is up to date with current events, I’ve been following China’s rise as a high-tech superpower with great interest. The article touches on some very important points concerning innovation while showing some interesting statistics about one of China’s innovation hubs, Shenzhen.

But there’s more than patent applications that will power China’s success. The country’s social system is more competitive than many of its Western adversaries. Many Westerners (including me) would have ethical qualms in toying with genetically engineered human embryos. I’m quite sure that China is willing to go further and faster with such experiments. It is quite possible that this is an even greater game-changer than our so-called efforts into artificial “intelligence”.

Smartphones & Tablets

Smartphones, Tablets and How Social Media Hijacks Our Minds

It’s no news that the use of smartphones and tablets has been found to be detrimental for the usual brain development of children. Recent studies, however, have shown that the exaggerated use of smartphones is causing damage in adults too. One of the most serious effects of smartphone abuse is social retardation, which has grave repercussions across a wide spectrum of behaviors.

But wait, there’s more. The “hardware” side of the problem is further compounded by the software that we use. According to Tristan Harris, a former Google product manager, our minds are being hijacked by social media (and other similar online products).

The smartphone is not only made to capture our attention, but also to encourage changes in how our brain works (neuroplasticity plays a huge role in this). As a result of these changes, our attention is easier to capture and once baited, it can be manipulated so that it doesn’t escape the trap. It wouldn’t be so bad if our attention and time would be invested in something useful, but many times this is not the case.

A Dark Side Of Software

A Dark Side of Software

Lying and cheating to get a competitive edge is nothing new and certainly not limited to human beings. But Earth has plenty of resources and there’s no serious threat to our existence in sight (other than ourselves, of course). Because companies affect so many beings, cheating has serious effects.

Thanks to software, never before has cheating had so many ways of staying hidden through complexity and obscurity. Thankfully, some people still have a conscience and this is how we found out about the way Uber, Volkswagen and probably many other companies have stayed above the law and ruined the lives of countless people.

Junking Earth's Orbit

Junking Earth’s Orbit

First of all, congratulations to India for launching 104 satellites in one shot. Congratulations also to the various organizations that will advance science through the various experiments on board them satellites. However…

I have said it in the past as well. We’re being careless with our orbital activities. It’s not only our forests and seas that we’re spoiling, but also our lovely planet’s orbital space. And like the environment down here, there’s only one up there and once we’ve ruined it, it’ll take a long time to fix.

Robotized Amazon

Amazon Is Well on Track to Become a Fully Robotized Retailer

Amazon’s latest forays into robotics have left me thoroughly impressed. Take a look at this awesome presentation of one of the company’s most modern order fulfillment centers.

Now combine this with the company’s obvious direction of turning into a delivery behemoth. Amazon is rather coy about this aspect, but why else would it be buying up planes and making airport investments? This is only the beginning I believe. I see the company making use of robotic planes and a massive fleet of self-driving trucks in the near future.

Quantum Supersampling

Quantum Supersampling

It’s been quite some time since the last major breakthrough in computer graphics. For the past few decades, graphics quality has been steadily improving, but this has been mainly due advances in semiconductor technology and secondly due to software evolution. Little has changed when it comes to the way images can be efficiently rendered. Ray-tracing has been around for a while but it is too computationally-intensive to match rasterisation.

At long last, an evolutionary leap might soon be upon us thanks to quantum computing. There are myriad applications for this emerging branch of technology, but one of the most interesting I’ve learned about lately is this fascinating proposal called quantum super-sampling. It’s a process combining ray-tracing with quantum computation. Here’s a (long) video presentation describing the process, by the author himself.

Project Ara

Why Google Did Away with Project Ara

Project Ara was an ambitious venture to create a modular smartphone, featuring upgradeable components. And when I say ambitious, boy was it a moon shot.

It’s one thing to upgrade components in a desktop computer or a car, but the smaller the device, the trickier it is to engineer efficient connections between components whose bandwidth requirements and standards of communication vary wildly. Even notebook manufacturers struggle with this limitation as they attempt to engineer ever-thinner devices.