Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Video on the History of and Evidence for the Aurora Steal Plane

January 24, 2023

Here’s a very short video on the American SR-92 Aurora stealth plane from the Future Machine Tech channel on YouTube. This suggests that Aurora was developed as a black project by the American air force in the 1980s as a replacement for the SR-91 Blackbird spy plane. During the ’90s there were sightings of mysterious UFOs dubbed ‘black triangles’ because of their shape and colour. The Aurora fits this description exactly, and many of the sightings of such UAPs may be of this mysterious, but definitely not extraterrestrial, aircraft. The video mentions a tracking image of it flying across the Pacific on its way to America, probably to touch down at the very top secret research base at Groom Lake, Area 51. The aircraft leaves a very distinctive contrail, which has ben described as ‘doughnuts on a rope’ and may have been tracked flying over Belgium according to an article back in the 90s in the defunct UFO Magazine. I’m putting this video up because I and some of the great commenters on this blog have an interest in UFOs, although we differ in our views of the phenomenon. Some UFO sightings are almost certainly of top secret military aircraft. Others are hoaxes, some of which may be perpetrated by the intelligence agencies for their own purposes, one of which may be the deliberate destabilisation and discrediting of UFO research groups and investigators. Some, as suggested by French-American astronomer and computer scientist Jacques Vallee and the late journalist of the paranormal, John Keel, may be paranormal in origin, beings from other dimensions. Others may be real alien spacecraft. People over here have also had sightings of the Black Triangles, and so it’s quite possible that they’ve quite a glimpse of this classified plane.

The Riout 103T Alerion: The Ornithopter that Almost Took Off

January 9, 2023

I was talking on another comments thread about ornithopters with Brian Burden, one of the many great commenters on this blog. Ornithopters are flying machines that work by flapping their wings like a bird or an insect, unlike helicopters or fixed wing aircraft, which use either propeller or jet engines. Some of the very first attempts at powered, heavier than air flight were ornithopters, whose inventors obviously sought inspiration from nature. As human-carrying aircraft, they haven’t been successful. They work as small models, and the early scale models the pioneering aviation inventors and engineers created did actually work, as have more recent model ornithopters and robots modelled on birds and insects. However there were severe problems scaling them up to work with humans. This did not prevent a series of pioneering inventors and aviators trying. One of those was E.P. Frost, who created a series of ornithopters over a decade from the late 19th to the early 20th century. The piccie below shows his 1903 ornithopter, powered by a three horsepower petrol engine and with wings covered in feathers. Another inventor was the French aviator, Passat, who constructed an ornithopter with four flapping wings, covered with fabric rather than feathers, and powered by a 4.5 horsepower motorcycle engine. When it was being tried out in 1912 on Wimbledon Common, it flew for about four hundred feet at a speed of under 15 mph before crashing into a tree. This did not deter Passat, who carried on his experiments into this form of aircraft despite ridicule and the success of fixed wing aircraft.

One of the other aviation pioneers interested in developing this type of aircraft was another Frenchman, Louis Riel, who went on to design the Riout 102T plane, which at one point seemed to be a successful aircraft if further improvements had been made. I found this video about it on Ed Nash’s Military Matters channel on YouTube. This notes the similarity between the four-winged design of the Riout plane and the multi-winged ornithopters of the recent Dune film. This suggests that Frank Herbert, Dune’s author, might have been inspired by Riel’s aircraft. Riel had experimented with a two-winged ornithopter before the First World War before moving on to other projects. He retained his interest in ornithopters, however, and 1937 created the Riout 102T Alerion, which had four, fabric covered planes. Wind tunnel tests were originally promising, until an increase in engine power in one test destroyed the plane’s four wings. Riel had plans to improve and strengthen the wings, but by this time it was 1938. Hitler had annexed Austria and was moving into the Sudetenland, and France needed all its available aircraft to protect itself against German invasion. The project was therefore cancelled.

Brian wondered if computer design and control could result in a practical, human level ornithopter. I think it’s possible, especially as today’s aviation engineers are exploring the instabilities in flight that allow birds to fly so well in creating high performance aircraft, that would need a degree of computer control in flight. One of the issues looks to my like the stresses on the wings caused by flapping, but it may be that this could be solved using the more resilient and durable materials available to modern engineers, which the early pioneers didn’t have. Riel’s plane is not entirely forgotten. Its remains, minus the wings and covering, are in one of the French aviation museums. Perhaps one day they’ll inspire a new generation of engineers to experiment with similar aircraft.

Diane Abbott Slams Rishi Sunak’s Bogus Promise about Continuing Maths Education Until 18

January 5, 2023

Yesterday, our latest prime minister, Rishi Sunak, announced that as well as tackling the state of the NHS and channel migrants, he would make it compulsory for school students to continue to study maths until 18. This was, he announced, necessary to combat poor maths literacy. His speech has impressed precisely no-one, and has been extensively torn to shreds by commenters like Owen Jones and Novara Media. After all, it’s the Tory policies of underfunding, cuts and stealth privatisation that have created the mess the NHS is in, in the first place. As for the channel migrants, they’ve been unable to tackle that either, except with Patel’s plan to send them all to Rwanda, a country suffering serious human rights abuses. That plan was condemned by the public and also, I believe, various judicial authorities.

Abbott in a tweet stated that Sunak’s plan for continuing maths education until the school leaving age was bogus because the Tories had cut teacher’s pay, as well as underfunding education generally. She’s absolutely right, as I can remember from my schooldays when schools were increasingly decaying thanks to cuts to funds. Except for the academies, of course, which were given more far more than state schools. Critics have also wondered whether Sunak will even have time to implement this reform before the possibility that he and his wretched party are voted out at the next election.

There’s also been an interesting opinion piece in the Groaniad by a lecturer in mathematical biology. He argues that it’s unnecessary, as maths is already the most popular A Level subject, far outstripping its nearest rival, psychology. He also states that making it compulsory would further decrease the numbers of people taking arts and humanities subjects, as they’d have to give up them as well as choose another STEM subject to harmonise with the maths. He also makes the excellent point that making it compulsory might put people off it even more by forcing them to study a subject they hate.

To me, it just looks like Sunak trying desperately to look like he’s actually doing and standing for something, whereas in fact he stands for nothing except the worn out Tory policies that have driven the public services into the ground and working people to desperation. The fact that he has nothing to say was shown very clearly just before Christmas, when he, or one of the Tories, announced they wanted to meet the railway unions, but wouldn’t talk about wages. As wages are part of the issue, this negated the whole point of any meeting. Again, it was just an exercise in public relations. He wanted it to appear that he was doing something and prepared to negotiate while the reality was the complete opposite.

Sunak is flailing about with nothing to offer, and it’s obvious.

Modified Version of Einstein’s Relativity Would Allow Faster Than Light Travel

January 3, 2023

I came across a really interesting piece of science news yesterday. Scientists at the universities of Warsaw and Singapore have proposed a modification of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which would permit objects to travel faster than the speed of light. They propose that this would be possible in a universe that was pretty much the opposite of ours with the number of space and time dimensions. Our universe has three dimensions of space and one of time, although it has been suggested that we may also have extra dimensions of space as well, but which are currently rolled up smaller than atoms. The universe the scientists modelled had only one dimension of space and three of time. Objects in this universe could travel faster than the speed of light, but these objects would still experience the speed of light as an unbreakable barrier from their point of view. The reports say that it’s unknown at the moment how this theory could be tested and observed, but they’re working on it.

This is very interesting, but I don’t know what help it is for the scientists and engineers who are seriously interested in FTL travel and warp drives, because as far as I and everybody else is aware at the moment, we don’t live in such a universe. This would only become relevant to us if somehow it was proved that we did, or a way could be found of entering and exiting such a universe similar to the hyperspace theory of FTL travel. Hyperspace is a dimension in which spacecraft can exceed the speed of light. The idea is that a spaceship enters hyperspace at the beginning of its journey to the stars, and comes out of it at the end. Unfortunately, no-one knows how to enter such a dimension. Furthermore, work a few years ago said that in hyperspace, although it would allow FTL travel from the point of view of our universe, for reasons that unfortunately I’ve forgotten the speed of light would remain as a barrier there, so in effect it would still forbid exceeding the speed of light. This new theory suggests that there are universes in which the speed of light would not be a barrier, but there’s still the problem of getting to them and utilising them.

As for extra dimensions of time, I did wonder what our world would be like if there were extra, hidden time dimensions. Would this explain the folktales in which a person travels to fairyland only to find years or centuries have passed since they left when they return?

A 19th Century Proto-Feminist SF Novel

December 30, 2022

Brian Aldiss argues in his history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree, that Mary Shelley is the founder of modern SF, because she based Frankenstein on real science as it was then known in the early 19th century. Nevertheless, there were other women writing works of Science Fiction both before and after Shelley. One 18th century story has four men visiting the Moon, which is a female society ruled by a queen. The queen of the Moon gets fed up with the four and sends them back to Earth, because she’s repulsed by their drinking, swearing and smell. Later in the 19th century there was the feminist utopia of Gilman’s Herland, which imagined a women-only society in the Amazon which enjoyed high technology such as electric cars. One of the early SF stories mentioned in Mike Ashley’s Yesterday’s Tomorrows is The Mummy, published anonymously in 1827 but written by Jane Webb, who was then 19. The book intrigued the horticulturalist John Loudon that he sought out its author, marrying her three years later in 1830.

The book is set in 2126, and forecasts such inventions as weather control, steam-driven robot lawyers and surgeons, and a postal service that sends letters via steam cannon. Many of these new inventions are by the queen, who, along with the ladies at her court, wears trousers. This sounds like the kind of roughly Victorian era SF that would provide much inspiration and material for a steam punk novel. Over in America a steam man featured in one of the magazine stories published slightly later, The Steam Man of the Prairie, while Harry Harrison includes a steam driven robot in one of his Stainless Steel Rat tales. I like the idea of steam-driven robot. It appeals to me as both an artistic and technological project, but as the world cuts down on fossil fuels to combat climate change, I very much doubt if one will ever be built.

Many of the SF stories discussed in Ashley’s book seem fun and thought-provoking, even if they are dated to a greater or lesser extent. It would be great to know if some of them are archived on the internet somewhere so they can still be read and enjoyed without scouring the country for original, published editions sold at exorbitant prices.

India Planning Crewed Space Mission for 2024

December 29, 2022

I found this fascinating snippet on the community page of the Interesting Engineering channel on YouTube. Apparently India is planning to launch is first crewed space mission, Gaganyaan, in 2024.

The piece states

‘India’s Minister for Science and Technology told the Parliament last week that India’s first human space flight mission has been scheduled for the last quarter of 2024. Dubbed Gaganyaan, the project aims to demonstrate human spaceflight capacity by launching a three-member crew to an orbit of nearly 250 miles for three days. India’s space program is still in its early stages but has been making global headlines in recent years after ISRO’s launch vehicle launched a record-breaking 104 satellites in one go a few years ago. More recently, a private space tech company test-fired the world’s first 3D-printed rocket engine, which has a turnaround of just four days.’


This is obvious great news for India and human spaceflight, and shows just how far India has progressed as a modern, industrial and technological power.

Friar Roger Bacon’s Technological Prediction

December 29, 2022

Roger Bacon was a 13th century English friar and early scientist. He was an Aristotelian, but believed in experiment rather than just relying on observation and the acceptance of received opinion. He also predicted some of the inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as self-driving ships, cars and flying machines. He made these startling predictions in a letter to a William of Paris in a letter, the Epistola de Secretis Operibus of 1260. This stated

‘Now an instrument for sailing without oarsmen can be produced such that the larger ships, both riverboats and seagoing vessels, can be moved under the direction of a single man at a greater velocity than if they were filled with men. A chariot can be made that moves at unimaginable speed without horses; such we think to have been the scythe-bearing chariots with which men fought in antiquity. And an instrument for flying can be made, such that a man sits in the middle of it, turning some sort of device by which artificially constructed wings beat the air in the way a flying bird does’.

(Trans. Michael S. Mahoney, quoted in Mike Ashley, Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Story of Classic British Science Fiction in 100 Books (London: British Library 2020) 56.

As you can see, he doesn’t know how such devices could be constructed, and his description of how an aircraft would work is wrong, although people have constructed such ornithopters. But nevertheless he was right in that science and technological has led to the invention of these kinds of machines. It also struck me that there’s material in there for SF and Fantasy writers to imagine the kind of Middle Ages that would have arisen had Bacon or his contemporaries invented such devices, or what the ancient world would have been like had Bacon been right about the technology he believed they possessed.

Hatey Katie Goes Tinfoil Hat over Lockdown and NHS Totalitarianism

December 28, 2022

Katie Hopkins has raised her head again. There was a video posted on YouTube last night of her talking to an ‘entrepreneur’ of some sort, which promised its viewers that she would reveal who was really controlling the world. Yes! We’re back to raving conspiracy theory paranoia of the time John Ronson explored a decade or so ago in his Channel 4 series, Secret Rulers of the World and accompanying book, Them! Adventures with Extremists. So, who did Katie think was secretly pulling the strings to establish the One World Satanic Communist superstate? Was it Klaus Schwab and the World Economic Forum at Davos? The Bilderberg group? The Trilateral Commission? International finance capital, in other words, the Jewish banking conspiracy? Reptoid aliens? I’m afraid I can’t tell you, because I didn’t get that far into the video before I’d had enough.

Hopkins started off by attacking the Covid lockdown, claiming that it was an opportunistic exercise in totalitarian social control using the Wuhan virus as a pretext. It was a test to see if they really could isolate people in their own homes. The NHS and socialised medicine was part of this conspiracy, because everyone’s concerned with their health. And this is why Joe Biden is so keen on introducing it in America. Really? I had no idea. It always struck me that Biden was a bog-standard American corporatist. The only trace of radicalism I’ve seen in the old boy is his support for the trans ideology through the appointment of Rachel Levine, a transwoman, as Surgeon General and a non-binary chap as head of the programme to dispose of nuclear waste. That’s it. I’ve seen no evidence he wants socialised medicine in the US. I’d have more respect for him if he did.

As for the NHS as an instrument of totalitarianism, this is pure Reaganite, libertarian twaddle. Way back in the 1970s Reagan gave a stirring speech about the need to defend freedom against state totalitarianism. This sounds all very well, but it was an attack on Medicaid, the state programme that provides medical care to elderly citizens that can’t afford it. I’ve also had American commenters state that the NHS must be against human freedom, because doctors are employed by the state, therefore they must have the same power as other state officials like the police or the government, and so you have to do exactly as they say. Um, no, you don’t. They don’t have that power. You don’t have to take their advice, and for serious treatment, like long term cancer care, you have to sign consent forms. Of course, you’d be daft if you ignored their advice, especially when it comes to serious illnesses like cancer. But you’re still a free individual.

This is, of course, the kind of crass stupidity Alex Jones peddles with his rants against the globalists, when he isn’t maligning bereaved parents of the victims of school shootings as crisis actors, screaming that the government is about to take away Americans’ guns, and that the government is about to call an environmental emergency and force everyone into refugee camps in order to establish a totalitarian state. Despite having been dumped by various media companies for her toxic views, particularly about race, Hopkins is still going the rounds. She was doing shows with Alex Belfield, the ‘Voice of Reason’, now doing time for internet stalking.

Despite her poisonous views, I don’t want to see her banned. There’s too much internet censorship, particularly of those on the left. I just want people to realise for themselves how nasty and toxic she is. I think she’s still making a nice living for herself, because she reflects some peoples’ fears of immigration and, like Belfield, attacks the bonkers part of the woke ideology. But beyond that there’s a general contempt for working people, regardless of colour. And it doesn’t matter how much they might agree with her about the threat of illegal immigrants, gay policemen and the transgender ideology, if she had her way the people, who go to see would be deprived of proper medical care. It would all be privatised and they’d be unable to afford it. Just as they wouldn’t have any employment rights or unemployment benefits, because she’d remove all the welfare legislation that they think is being exploited by chavs and benefit scroungers. If enough people realised that, hopefully stop supporting her and she might have to do a real job for once.

Did Irish Scientist J.D. Bernal Invent Star Trek’s Borg Back in the ’30s

December 27, 2022

Here’s another question about writers inventing or predicting later scientific concepts. In my last such post, I wondered whether Poul Anderson had predicted James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis back in 1952 in a story about alien plants growing on an asteroid, which had become symbiotically linked so they acted as a superorganism. This time the writer. who predicted later SF trends, is J.D. Bernal, a scientist from Ireland, who was also a Communist. In the 1930s Bernal wrote a pamphlet, The World, The Flesh and The Devil, discussing future trends in technology, the colonisation of space and human evolution. Although it’s something like 90 years, it’s still immensely influential and many of its predictions are scientifically plausible. It’s one of only two scientific works included in Mike Ashley history of British SF in 100 stories. This notes that, among other inventions, it suggested that people would live on the inside of spherical space colonies containing up to 10,000 people. These have been named Bernal spheres after Bernal. He also proposed space elevators carrying spacecraft to orbit, which have since become associated with Arthur C. Clarke through his book The Fountains of Paradise. Clarke said on reading Bernal’s book that he was amazed how many of the ideas he thought were his were actually Bernal’s, though the idea of space elevators was actually first invented by a Russian.

Bernal also suggested that humanity would merge with machines, and so predicted cyborgs, although he doesn’t use that term for them. This was invented by NASA scientists in the ’60s. He also suggests that robots could be networked together and linked to a human operator to form a kind of hive mind, although he doesn’t call it that either. Hm. Cyborgs linked together so that they form a collective intelligence? That sounds very much like the Borg, one of the villains from Star Trek. These are a race of cyborgs, who have done exactly that, crushing all individuality in the process. They consider themselves superior to all other races, whom they forcibly assimilate, uttering the chilling words: ‘We are Borg. Resistance is futile. Your biological and technological distinctiveness is at end. You will service us.’ It struck me that the Borg is partly a metaphor for Communism, its extreme levelling and the reduction of the individual under its mass society to drones, apart from the more obvious fear of an alien threat coming to destroy and enslave us. I don’t know whether the writers of Star Trek ever read Bernal’s book. I doubt it, and it seems to me that they created them independently. But Bernal does seem to have got there first with the concept of a group of robots or cyborgs with a single, collective mind.

The Borg, Star Trek’s cyborg villains. From Michael Westmore and Joe Nazzaro, Starlog Presents The Official Magazine Star Trek The Next Generation Makeup FX Journal (New York: Starlog 1992).

Did SF Writer Poul Anderson Invent the Gaia Concept Before James Lovelock?

December 26, 2022

Here’s another instance where you wonder if an SF writer got there first in creating a scientific or philosophical concept before the people who are usually associated or credited with it. One of the stories collected in the SF anthology Born of the Sun is ‘Garden in the Asteroids’, published by Poul Anderson in 1952. In this story, a team of husband and wife prospectors land on an asteroid that, amazingly, has plant life growing on its surface, exposed to space. Landing on the tiny worldlet, they examine the plants and meet their gardener, another prospector, who has been marooned there for 20 years. Although they’re of different individual types and varieties, the plants have established a symbiotic relationship with each other and so act as a single organism. Gronauer, the castaway, has himself become part of this ecology through caring for the plants. In exchange for his help, they supply him with food and oxygen. Vines not only trail up and across his spacesuit, but they also wrap themselves around his body, feeding on his blood and providing him with vitamins in return.

This sounds more than a little similar to the Gaia hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock. This holds that the Earth as a planet is alive as it and the creatures that inhabit it are a huge, self-regulating system and so form a kind of superorganism. It has been particularly influential in the New Age milieu in the 1980s and ’90s, quite apart from being discussed in the science literature. It did contribute to the wave of interest in earth mother, ecofeminist spirituality. I also remember that it also inspired one of the earliest New X-Men stories, in which the mutant superheroes had to fight against an island that achieved such group consciousness due to the radiation from a nuclear blast.

Obviously there are differences between Anderson’s story and Lovelock’s theory. In Anderson’s story, the asteroid is exceptional and its plants may even have come from outside the solar system. It is definitely not Earth. I don’t know when Lovelock proposed the Gaia hypothesis, but I think it might have been later than Anderson’s story by a few decades. And so this might be another instance where an SF author through up an idea independently of later writers, or it could be that Lovelock took an idea that was already around and simply applied it to Earth.