Screen-capture from YouTube: Google Tech TalksI am frequently guilty of ranting, panic, and gross hyperbole on this blog. I get carried away with some ideas, especially political ones, and make a bigger noise than is in any way warranted. I’m not sorry: This is my blog and I’ll rant if I want to, because it’s fun.

In my opinion, this post is not hyperbole and not a rant:

In my considered opinion, I honestly believe that I have just watched the dawn of a new age.

WARNING: This video is blurry footage of a wizened old physicist with lots of charts and diagrams and high-energy-physics jargon. If you’re not into the physics (which are seriously funky if you are into that kind of thing) then the ramifications of this system are beautifully summed up in the ten minutes from 59:30 to 1:10:00, and the practical considerations and somewhat embarrassing politics of the matter are well discussed in the questions after 1:10:00.

For those disinclined or unable to do the streaming-video thing for ten minutes, I would sum it up thus:

Dr Robert Bussard’s research group have been looking at a lateral approach to the magnetically confined fusion problem for the past eleven years. They have been doing this in a DARPA-funded laborotory in relative secrecy because their approach is practical, feasible and relatively cheap, making it anathema to the dual vested interests of conventional Tokamak-based fusion research and fossil-fuel economics.

Their system uses a spherical magnetic containment field to produce a clean (radiation free) fusion reaction, without molten lithium or multi-billion dollar building-sized toroids.

The important point of the video is that they’ve already done it. They made it work in a machine the size of a domestic oven, on a shoestring budget, with a team of five people.

Some weeks ago, when I started reading Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla I was struck by the attitude of the great minds of the time, one which saw physical science as malleable and controllable, a field in which one brilliant idea in one ordinary human mind in one brief human lifetime could reshape the world.
This attitude, I recall saying to PFH at the time, is something which seems to be missing in modern science: That kind of glory is seen as being firmly beyond the reach of individuals, or even individual research groups. Everything is to be refined and tested in infinitesimal steps, and there will never be another great revolution like Tesla’s AC power system, or so our scientific community is expected to believe.

Seeing this talk has convinced me that I was wrong, or at least partly wrong. A lot of Dr. Bussard’s concluding comments say exactly the same thing: he’s been closeted with his research group behind closed doors for eleven years, and now it’s very rare to find anyone experienced in this kind of science.

I was wrong though, because Bussard and his team exist. As he says during the questions, somewhere, somehow, the concluding research is being done. A viable fusion power source is being perfected, and I will probably live to see it come to fruition.

It’s hard to be calm in the face of such things.

Train Tactics

Like anything else that one is compelled to do repeatedly, while simultaneously being starved of cognitive sustenance (i.e. bored), riding public transport breeds odd little eccentricities and optimizations.

Many are about fares, tickets, routes, schedules, and other boring / commute-specific things, and as such constitute some of the most inherently boring-to-others thoughts it is physically possible to entertain.

Others are just Odd.

For instance:

  • The ten-kilo-backpack-head-check-and-swing, usually performed immediately upon alighting from one’s train/bus/tram, in order to minimise the knocking-off of one’s fellow passengers’ blocks.
  • The dubious-looking-seat-fondle, performed ever after that first time one sits in something unsavory on a train-seat, to assess if those black bits will potentially adhere to one’s pants, or if that long brown streak is dry and entrenched.
  • The lanky-kneecap-morris-dance, practised by any two people sitting opposite one another whose cumulative height is greater than 10’8″. I have observed variations on this dance where claustrophobia, religion, laptop computers, narcolepsy, large briefcases, toddlers, malice and alcohol have in their own ways enhanced this awkward ritual.
  • The ‘towers of Hanoi’ full-train-logistics-tango: when a train is standing-room-only, it is profoundly unlikely at any given time that all the people who are getting off at the next stop are nearest the doors. The only way around this is for everyone nearest the doors to get off, then for the people whose stop this isn’t to get back on. The awkwardness of this dance is enhanced greatly by passengers who both refuse to move to let others off and abuse those who are trying to get back on. Thank you folks. You know who you are.

But the best of all is probably:

  • The peak-hour-pole-dance, brought on by the knowledge of all those left standing that the train will soon be negotiating a set of points, and those not clutching a suitable upright or hand-grip will soon be performing an involuntary lap-dance for a stranger. Only so many total strangers can hang onto the one upright door-post, even if armpit odour isn’t taken into account.

With passtimes like these, I really can’t understand why more people don’t take the cheap, environmentally sound option that is our public transport system! Three cheers for Connex!

Long time no blog!

Those holidays went on forever didn’t they?

Uh, yeah, I’ve been lazy. As long as I don’t post, I figured, that last comment about being on holidays will still stand, right? Maybe not… 🙂

So far, 2008 has gone well for me, with very little exciting stuff to report. Christmas lunch for the whole Hatherell clan this year went spectacularly well, despite my persistent mental block about how long one needs to thaw a three kilo roast. E has escaped from the hospital system (just this last week) and is infinitely happier for it.

Apart from that there’s been plenty of fascinating news, but all I can think of is news about other people, all of it thoroughly public. I don’t even have anything interesting to add.

I will seize the opportunity to say (belatedly) Yay Mr Rudd! or at least, Yay not Mr Howard… just so that I can tick the ‘politics’ category box.

This post is really just a matching bookend to match the ‘On Holidays’ one . I will try to follow with some more interesting goop in separate, specific posts.