| Andrew Cooke | Contents | Latest | RSS | Twitter | Previous | Next


Welcome to my blog, which was once a mailing list of the same name and is still generated by mail. Please reply via the "comment" links.

Always interested in offers/projects/new ideas. Eclectic experience in fields like: numerical computing; Python web; Java enterprise; functional languages; GPGPU; SQL databases; etc. Based in Santiago, Chile; telecommute worldwide. CV; email.

Personal Projects

Lepl parser for Python.

Colorless Green.

Photography around Santiago.

SVG experiment.

Professional Portfolio

Calibration of seismometers.

Data access via web services.

Cache rewrite.

Extending OpenSSH.

Last 100 entries

Real-life Financial Co Without ACID Database...; Flexible Muscle-Based Locomotion for Bipedal Creatures; SQL Performance Explained; The Little Manual of API Design; Multiple Word Sizes; CRC - Next Steps; FizzBuzz; Update on CRCs; Decent Links / Discussion Community; Automated Reasoning About LLVM Optimizations and Undefined Behavior; A Painless Guide To CRC Error Detection Algorithms; Tests in Julia; Dave Eggers: what's so funny about peace, love and Starship?; Cello - High Level C Programming; autoreconf needs tar; Will Self Goes To Heathrow; Top 5 BioInformatics Papers; Vasovagal Response; Good Food in Vina; Chilean Drug Criminals Use Subsitution Cipher; Adrenaline; Stiglitz on the Impact of Technology; Why Not; How I Am 5; Lenovo X240 OpenSuse 13.1; NSA and GCHQ - Psychological Trolls; Finite Fields in Julia (Defining Your Own Number Type); Julian Assange; Starting Qemu on OpenSuse; Noisy GAs/TMs; Venezuela; Reinstalling GRUB with EFI; Instructions For Disabling KDE Indexing; Evolving Speakers; Changing Salt Size in Simple Crypt 3.0.0; Logarithmic Map (Moved); More Info; Words Found in Voynich Manuscript; An Inventory Of 3D Space-Filling Curves; Foxes Using Magnetic Fields To Hunt; 5 Rounds RC5 No Rotation; JP Morgan and Madoff; Ori - Secure, Distributed File System; Physical Unclonable Functions (PUFs); Prejudice on Reddit; Recursion OK; Optimizing Julia Code; Cash Handouts in Brazil; Couple Nice Music Videos; It Also Works!; Adaptive Plaintext; It Works!; RC5 Without Rotation (2); 8 Years...; Attack Against Encrypted Linux Disks; Pushing Back On NSA At IETF; Summary of Experimental Ethics; Very Good Talk On Security, Snowden; Locusts are Grasshoppers!; Vagrant (OpenSuse and IDEs); Interesting Take On Mandela's Context; Haskell Cabal O(n^2) / O(n) Fix; How I Am 4; Chilean Charity Supporting Women; Doing SSH right; Festival of Urban Intervention; Neat Idea - Wormholes Provide Entanglement; And a Link....; Simple Encryption for Python 2.7; OpenSuse 13.1 Is Better!; Little Gain...; More Details on Technofull Damage; Palmrest Cracked Too....; Tecnofull (Lenovo Support) Is Fucking Useless; The Neuroscientist Who Discovered He Was a Psychopath; Interpolating Polynomials; Bottlehead Crack as Pre-amp; Ooops K702!; Bottlehead Crack, AKG K701; Breaking RC5 Without Rotation; Great post thank you; Big Balls of Mud; Phabricator - Tools for working together; Amazing Julia RC5 Code Parameterized By Word Size; Chi-Square Can Be Two-Sided; Why Do Brits Accept Surveillance?; Statistics Done Wrong; Mesas Trape from Bravo; European Report on Crypto Primitives and Protocols; Interesting Omissions; Oryx And Crake (Margaret Atwood); Music and Theory; My Arduino Programs; Elliptic Curve Crypto; Re: Licensing Interpreted Code; Licensing Interpreted Code; ASUS 1015E-DS03 OpenSuse 12.3 SSD; translating lettuce feature files into stub steps files; Re: translating lettuce feature files into stub steps files; A Tale of Two Psychiatrists; The Real Reason the Poor Go Without Bank Accounts

© 2006-2013 Andrew Cooke (site) / post authors (content).

Space Travel and Astronomy

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sat, 11 Aug 2007 09:09:32 -0400 (CLT)


physics has grown, over the last three centuries, from practically
nothing, to a beautiful, self-consistent, and almost-complete system. you
can think of it like a web of inter-tangled ideas. at the centre of that
web, which corresponds to our every-day experience, the interconnections
are amazingly thick, delicately interwoven, and pretty much
indestructible. whatever new comes along will not change that, just as it
remained constant through special and general relativity and quantum

out at the edges of the web, things are less constrained. there are tears,
errors, spaces for improvement. but these edges are far from our every-day
experience (the centre). they correspond to, for example, the
fantastically high temperatures and pressures that occur when stars
collapse. in conditions like that we believe that physics becomes simpler
- and that will lead to a unified model of physics.

but such a unified model will not change the practical, every-day use of
physics, because the only differences will, by necessity, be obvious at
those extreme conditions. in normal conditions, the new physics will give
the same answer as the old physics. it has to - the old physics works
perfectly in normal conditions. and this is exactly what we see with
special relativity (same results as newtonian physics at speeds much less
than the speed of light), general relativity (same results as newtonian
physics at energy densities much less that, say, a black hole), and
quantum mechanics (same results as newtonian physics at scales much larger
than an atom).

now "Connections" is largely a story of how the centre was built. it's a
cool program. but the centre is now built. it's done. finished.

if you watched a really cool program that explained how we came to
understand mathematics, would you argue that, because we finally came to
understand that 2+2=4, in the future we will continue making new
discoveries to show that 2+2=5? of course not. maths will continue to grow
in sophistication, but for everyday use, it's already complete. same with


that's history. i also mentioned the difference between physics and other

physics describes the basic facts about the world we live in. it's the
broad sweep, not the fiddly details. when you get down to practicalities,
things can be horribly complex. other sciences are, largely, the
application of physics to complex systems.

it's not easy dealing with complex systems. you need to make
approximations - decide what is important and what can safely be ignored.
you need to find rules that apply "in general" and then see how far those
rules can go. this kind of work - on complex systems - gives us chemistry,
(modern) medicine, engineering, etc. all important fields that will
continue to grow and develop.

BUT. these are all based on physics. physics sets the ground rules.

so we are in a situation, now, where there are many things we don't know
how to do, in practice, with complex systems. but, at the same time, the
ground rules, the "laws of nature" are pretty much fixed.

it's as if physics defines the edges of the map, and then the other
sciences fill in the details.

so we already know that with "human scale" resources, travelling to
another galaxy will require a voyage that must last millions of years. no
amount of advances in chemistry, engineering or medicine can change that.
we don't yet know how it will happen (maybe medicine will find a way to
indefinitely suspend life, say), but we know the basic requirements.

enough about people's foolish ideas of space travel.

what i wanted to argue, finally, is that the sciences of the complex
(chemistry, medicine, engineering, etc) don't need any particular special
conditions to grow. you just need problems and money. and they tend to
give general results. that's why putting a man on the moon really wasn't
that hard - i don't mean to diminish the effort, but it simply applied the
then-current technology to the problem at hand. and current space
exploration (shuttle, space station) uses old technology.

so there's no need to push spaceflight to improve engineering -
engineering will improve anyway, because it's hugely important in so many
areas of our lives, and it has space to grow.


in case it's not obvious, i want to hammer home the conclusion: we gain
little of practical use from astronomy or space exploration. astronomy is
driven by a need to explore extreme conditions because that is where our
knowledge of physics is weak. as i have explained several times above, the
flip side of that is that the new physics will not be different from the
old physics for "every-day" practicalities. but at least astronomy has a
logical justification - those extreme conditions are only found "out

space exploration, in contrast, doesn't even have a decent reason for
existing. there's nothing particularly special about most of the
engineering required (or the medicine, or chemistry). and even if there
were, today's space exploration isn't really pushing the boundaries

ps. i forgot to say: i still have no argument with the approach that
astronomy deserves funding just as much as poetry. we should never forget
to invest in out souls.

Comment on this post