The Wheel of Time

Recently, I finished reading the last book in the Wheel of Time series. While walking home, I saw a copy of the book in a Free Library on my street and picked it up. I was reminded that I hadn’t yet finished the last book, and felt an immediate compulsion to do so.

I read the first book over 18 years ago, while on a student exchange in Japan. The book was a gift, and I brought it with me across the ocean tucked in my luggage. Doing so was costly, as I had to give up precious clothing space.  Being 16 and on my own in Japan had a profound effect on me, and so did the first book of the series, The Eye of The World.

The story is an epic high fantasy with hundreds of characters, different cultures, unique creatures, and a world incredibly rich in details. The books have over 10,000 pages in total, containing more that 4 million words. The first book was published in 1990 but sadly the author didn’t live to finish the series. Robert Jordan died in 2007, but left an extensive set of notes so the books could be finished.

Knowing the themes as well as I do, his death fits oddly well with his writings. Below is the first paragraph of the first book:

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, and Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of time.

But it was a beginning.

The Wheel of Time deals with cycles. Death and rebirth, the balance of light and dark, the internal struggle we all deal with day to day. The theme of a beginning rather than the beginning is pervasive and repeated over and over.

I’m still trying to parse the final words of the series:

There are no endings, and never will be endings, to the tuning of the Wheel of Time.

But it was an ending.

In 4 million words, this was the first time an ending was explicitly mentioned. On the last sentence, on the last page, of the last book with the author long dead.

When I think about that, I’m filled with loss and hope at the same time. It seems to me this is exactly what the author was trying to convey the entire time.

Cassini’s last flight

If you’ve ever looked at pictures of Saturn in awe, you have the Cassini space craft to thank for that.

The Cassini probe reached Saturn in 2004 and ever since then has been providing us with stunning images and fantastic science.

Cassini is how we know Titan has rivers  and lakes of methane.

Cassini is how we know Enceladous has an ocean core and ejects water into space.

The enormous wealth of information that this probe has provided is now taken for granted. But good things can’t last forever, and the ageing spacecraft is running out of fuel. NASA has planed and programmed is final mission that will result in the destruction of the probe. even during it’s last moments, it will be transmission information that will unravel the mysteries of our solar system.

 

It’s an end of an era. There will be no new pictures coming from the Saturn system for quite some time. Cassini has done amazing work for us and has been invaluable in planning future missions. I have no doubt it’s final transmission will be just as valuable as it’s first.

God speed little guy; god speed.

Tucker Carlson vs. Bill Nye (Feb. 27, 2017)

On Feb 27, 2017 Bill Nye was a guess on Fox News with host Tucker Carlson. Depending on what political leaning you get your news from, you will believe very different outcomes from the interview. Before you read anything, watch the video and draw your own conclusions:

What I see is the host asking a very difficult question, believing it to be simple. “What would the status currently be if X had not happened” is very hard to answer in any situation. It also may not be relevant. If you are driving off a cliff, the precise location you would be had you not swerved off the cliff isn’t important information, but Mr Nye does his best to answer. Mr Tucker doesn’t like the answer, and begins to attack his guest’s personal character, not the facts.

If you get your news from the right, your news says “It didn’t end well for the ‘Science Guy.” They even go as far to say that “Bill Nye refuse to answer basic science questions about global warming” There are also articles that paint Tuckers comment “So much of this you don’t know” as having validity.

On the left, the articles say “Tucker Carlson bit off more than he could chew” and “Watch Tucker Carlson lose it after Bill Bye takes him to school on climate change

Neither side talked about the facts, or where they disagreed. They took a few sounds bites and started cheering for their guy. This is absolutely not constructive and is set up to engage their base and increase add revenue. Meanwhile, the problem is still here and we are doing nothing about it. We need to learn how to listen to each other, understand the other persons argument and focus on the argument, not the person.

We have very important issues to deal with, and we are engaged in ad hominem tactics for profit. We need to do better.

To the MOOOON!

SpaceX, the ever innovating rocket company, is planing on sending two people on an Apollo 8 style flyby mission to our moon. Apollo 8 is where the iconic Earth Rise picture is from, and is the inspiration for many environmental movements. The images Apollo 8 brought back let us see ourselves as a blue marble floating in the black sea of space, something no other human in history had experienced. That’s no small feat.

 

Two people have placed a significant deposit to be flown around the moon.  Only a short 70 years ago, this was something only National super powers could do. The revelation that private citizens are paying their way to a moon trip in 2019 is amazing.  With the social media connectivity that we have now, this event will no doubt be just as culturally moving as the Apollo missions. Their Instagram account is going to have so many followers…

My guess is that Dennis Tito is behind this. He had plans to do a Mars flyby in 2018 but that never materialized. The mission will use the Dragon 2, a crew capsule that will be used to send astronauts to the ISS. The Dragon 2 is also testing systems for the larger Red Dragon that is being developed for crewed Mars missions. A flyby of the moon is a great way to test the life support systems of the Red Dragon and gain valuable data.

Better still if someone is paying for a part of it.

TRAPPIST-1 and its planets

In 1992 scientists confirmed for the first time that there were planets around other stars.

Think about that for a second. During all human history, it wasn’t until 25 years ago that we knew that there were other plants then our own. 25 years ago, we got confirmation that the galaxy contains billions of possible worlds. The idea that there are extra solar worlds to visit moved from science fiction to fact just 25 years ago.

Since then, with the launch of new instruments, we’ve been finding thousands of new plants. Some of them are in the Goldilocks zone, (Not too hot, not too cold) where water could exist on the surface. That mean that life as we know it could exits on these plants.  It also means that if the atmosphere is correct, humans could walk around without a space suit. The implications of that alone, is amazing. There could be millions of Earth like planets out there, all with the possibility of life.

PT_KeplerThat brings us to this week’s announcement about Trappist-1. It’s a a tiny dwarf star with 7 rocky planets. Three of those planets are inside the habitable zone. Our solar system only has 4 rocky plants, so right away this system has more surface, more minerals and resources than we do. It also has three plants that could potentially harbor life, or be habitable for humans.

Trappist-1

This sort of stuff blows my mind. Look at Earth compared to these planets, and imagine all the war that goes on over land and resources on its surface. I think getting to Mars would be amazing, but just imagine what it would be like to travel to and live in this solar system. It has magnitudes more than we have, just waiting for us.

Alberta’s Natural Gas – 100 years left

When talking about renewable energy, it’s often said that natural gas, especially in Alberta, is a fantastic transition fuel from coal. Being that Alberta uses a lot of both, it’s an inviting proposition. Natural gas is cleaner, and Alberta has a lot of it. Or so we think.

There are varying estimates on how much methane we have in our province, but it’s in the trillions of cubic feet. That’s a lot.  We extract a billions of cubic feet a day. That’s also a lot. I did the math to try and find out how long our reserves will last. I converted everything to metric, and gave the extraction rate an increase of 1% year over year to account for GDP growth.

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Alberta runs dry in 2104. That’s less than 100 years of reserves. If we assume that infrastructure has a 50 year lifespan, we only have two more generations of Natural Gas infrastructure until we have to import all that energy. With this in mind, doesn’t it make more sense to transition as soon as possible and try to extend our natural resources?
So far, we seem content to race towards a cliff.

 

You can buy a self-driving car – today

On October 19th, Tesla announced that every car it makes will now have the hardware to be able to drive it’s self. If you order a car today, that car has all the hardware needed to pick you up, drop you off, and drive it’s self home, with you in the back seat.  If you watch the video below, the proof of this is around the 2:30 mark, where the car parks all on it’s own.

This is really amazing tech, but it will have a profound impact on our society. An impact that grows in scope the more you think about it.

Parking Lots

They become obsolete.

Why do you need a large parking garage next to every office if every car is driving it’s self home after it drops you off at work? You get up in the morning, shower and get dressed. You take your morning coffee with you and get in your car. On the ride you start answering emails, because you aren’t driving. The car drops you off at work, then goes back home to pick up the kids and drops them off at school. Then it comes back because you have a 10am appointment you need to get to.

The idea that your car will stay where you left it no longer applies. Sure, there will be parking garages, but they won’t have to be close, they could be 5 mins away. No need to drive around looking for a spot at the mall, just get out and your car will drive down the road to an open space, then come back and get you when you are done. All that space can be re-used.

Car Dealers

The car dealership is dead.

Why do you need to keep a stock of cars on a lot, if the cars can drive from the factory to your door? What purpose do the serve? The whole idea is absurd when you think about it. The dealerships know it to, and they’ve been fighting to make it illegal to direct sell a Tesla. Walk by a Tesla store and ask yourself why all manufactures aren’t doing it that way.

Taxi

The Taxi industry will be destroyed in the next 25 years.

If you can summon a car from a ride share company like Uber or Car to Go, and have that car drive it’s self around, costs fall to the floor. Being that the major cost of any taxi service is paying the person, without a person driving, the cost is much less. That alone will change the entire experience of calling a cab, as there will be flocks of autonomous vehicles lining up near busy locations, all taking to each other in an orderly fashion.

Long Haul Truckers

No longer a human profession.

Speaking of industries that are on their way out, if you don’t have to pay someone to sit in a truck, why would you? Autonomous trucks never fall asleep, don’t need food, they can drive at any hour, and don’t need to be paid. Manufactures are already thinking about this and developing trucks with these capabilities.

The list goes on and on. The world is about to change rapidly, and these cars are on the road now. We just need the laws to catch up so the software can be turned on.

SpaceX is going to Mars

This last Tuesday at the 67th IAC conference being held this year in Guadalajara, Elon Musk announced his plans to send people to Mars. Musk’s intent on going to Mars is no surprise, he created SpaceX to do just that. But the “how” wasn’t disclosed until this week. Below is the computer rendition of the trip to Mars he is currently designing.

This is very exciting for a number of reasons.

  1. It’s a plan owned by SpaceX. There are many plans our there, and have been for 60 years. They all have their pros and cons, but the most important thing you could do is choose one, and run with it. This is the plan they have chosen.
  2. There were signs of engineering being done. There wasn’t too much new presented for those who know the field. But, Musk did say the rendering were build from CAD drawings and the engineering issues are being worked on. There is an effort being made to build the hardware.
  3. The size. This was the most amazing part by far. The rocket he is planing to build is HUGE! It will be the most powerful vehicle ever built. It will have 100 people per launch, with 42 main engines on it’s first stage.

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Here is a side by side comparison to the Saturn 5 rocket. It is over three times heavier with three times the power. Amazing is the only word for it. It’s so powerful that SpaceX changed it’s name from Mars Colonial Transporter to the Interplanetary Transport System, because they plan to fly it to Jupiter’s moons, asteroids and other planets in addition to Mars. This is the rail road for our solar system.

When this craft takes of for the first time, it will be like nothing humans have ever seen before.

I can’t wait.

Pokemon Go – What games are all about

Pokemon Go was recently released in Canada to much fan fare. The game takes place in augmented reality and is everything a game should be.

The hook of the game is that you have to move to play it. You can’t sit at home and play, you have to walk around. Thousands of people are getting off their ass and going outside to play a game, and they are having fun doing it.

On my train ride home I saw professionals of all stripes chasing virtual monsters instead of starting off into space as they usually do. On my running route, the same one that I’ve been running for years, I saw hundreds of people out in the park, walking around with their cellphones, catching pokemon. Not only that, but they are learning about their city. The locations in the game are tied to real locations in the world. Public art, important buildings, transit locations are all locations in the game. Today I found a fountain in a downtown park I didn’t know was there.

Health Canada can only dream of activity numbers like that. Imagine if Parks Canada had an app that had kids searching our national parks and playing games outside.

People having fun and sharing a common experience is why I play games. Augmented reality has a bright future ahead of it.

 

My Very Own Tesla

I’ve been a Tesla fan since the Roadster was unveiled in 2006. I’ve been an electric car fan since before that, but no one made a good electric car, or one that was easily accessible. I think with Tesla’s current success, the bit automakers are seeing that was a mistake on their part.

Electric is sexy. I should know, I’m an electrical engineer.

Many people push electric because it doesn’t produce exhaust, it’s quieter, it’s better for the environment… But not me. Those are all nice, but I want an electric car because they are better. An AC motor beats a gasoline engine hands down, every time. You know when you press the gas, and your car has to “rev up”? Electric doesn’t do that. You get 100% of the torque as soon as you need it.

No waiting until you are at 3,000 RPM, no turbos, no transmission to shift the torque… Electric gives you the full power of the car when you need it. And Tesla isn’t shy about showing this capability off. Their fastest Model S can go from 0-100km/h in 3 seconds, putting it in super-car territory. It’s that sort of engineering that tickles me where I love to be ticketed. Damn good engineering.

To that end, I got up early on March 31st and headed to the mall at 4:30 AM to line up to buy a car. I was 9th in line as some people had camped overnight to secure their spot. I estimate about 80 people were lined up behind me when the doors opened at 9:30 AM. As it turns out, a few hundred thousand people around the world also lined up to buy a car they had never seen and will have to wait 1.5 years to get.

Doors are open and pre sales for the #model3 are being sold. 80 in line #yyc #model3yyc

A photo posted by Zac Trolley (@zactrolley) on

So, now I play the waiting game. It’s been 8 years waiting for a Tesla model that I could afford, I think I can wait a little more. This time when I play with the online configurations, I won’t be dreaming, I’ll be choosing colors on my dream car.