Vol. 1 / No. 7 — Moon Bunnies, Google’s Skynet, and Rocketry Smack-Talk


Moon Bunny

“Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there’s one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.”

“Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.”

The top news story of the week has to go to the Chang’e 3 ( 嫦娥三号 Cháng’é Sānhào) and its now functioning cargo the Jade Rabbit (玉兔 Yùtù), China’s first successful moon landing. Launching on December 2nd (1:30am local time — December 1st 17:30GMT) on the back of a Long March 3B from China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center (Base 27) in Sichuan, the Change’e 3 spent nearly two weeks in space before depositing the rover safe and sound on the surface of the moon at Sinus Iridum (the “Bay of Rainbows”) an ancient lava plain which may be a target because of its titanium and iron deposits (and also because of the lunar surface’s relative abundance of helium-3). Chang’e 3 follows two orbital mapping missions, Chang’e 1 and 2, and is part of an overall plan to develop China’s space capabilities to the point where a sample return mission (Chang’e 5) is scheduled for 2020.

All These Worlds Are Yours Except Europa

There are two theories for the origin of life on Earth: abiogenesis and panspermia. The former (often confused with evolution by creationists) tries to explain the methods by which inorganic compounds could via various processes find themselves assembled into something like life. The other theory is that life “down here” began “up there” — that Earth was, in a sense, “seeded” with life early in its history. Now a new study suggests that we may well be doing the same thing every time a big enough asteroid crashes into us.

The new study, out of Pennsylvania State University, measured the quantity of debris cast into space by large impacts, selected for samples that would be large enough to protect microscopic life for tens of thousands of years (chunks over 3m in size) and then did the (extremely complicated) math to see if they could find their way to Mars, or even Europa. Now climbing “up” out of the Sun’s gravity well is a challenge, but they found that something on the order of 360,000 rocks big enough to support life could have found their way to Mars from the Chicxulub impact alone. And six even made it to Europa. So while life down here may have begun out there, there’s definitely a chance that we’re returning the favour.

In related news, a paper in the journal Science this week reports that the Hubble Space Telescope has spotted jets of water firing from the surface of the Saturnian moon, suggesting that the water may be closer to the surface than previously thought, and that if Earthly life did make it out there, it might have a (relatively) hospitable place to live.

And while we’re on the topic of Saturn’s moons, it has been revealed this week that the Cassini space probe has measured the size and depth of the hydrocarbon lakes on the surface of Titan, with 97% of the moon’s liquid falls within a series of lakes in an area 900km by 1800km. The liquid is mostly methane, and there’s roughly 40 times more on Titan than on or in the entirety of the Earth. Now you know.

Why, Robots?

This week Google made waves by purchasing robotics manufacturer slash horror sideshow Boston Dynamics, leading to the general assumption that one day Google will become Skynet. Well, I for one welcome our Google overlords. It’d be better than the Amazon Swarm in my opinion.

If you’re really worried about drones, don’t worry, Kratos Defense and Security Solutions has your back. Their new anti-drone energy weapons are just what you need.

And if you thought Big Dog was creepy, how do robotized bull sperm swimming through your bloodtream sound? Maybe if they’ll keep me from dying of cancer someday, I’ll consider it.

Plus, NASA wants you to know that they have robots too.

Launchpad Smack-Talk

“If [Blue Origin] do somehow show up in the next 5 years with a vehicle qualified to NASA’s human rating standards that can dock with the Space Station, which is what Pad 39A is meant to do, we will gladly accommodate their needs,” Musk wrote. “Frankly, I think we are more likely to discover unicorns dancing in the flame duct.”

In the private rocketry sector this week, Elon Musk’s SpaceX went up against Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and, long story short, SpaceX won.

Launchpad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has gone under-utilized since the end of the shuttle program, and so to recoup some costs in an era of belt-tightening, NASA has been seeking a tenant. There was some earlier confusion when, seemingly as an attempt to side things in his company’s favour, Bezos’s Blue Origin filed a complaint with the General Accounting Office that NASA wasn’t following a competitive process. This week the GAO sided with NASA, an event followed only days later by the announcement that the lease would go to SpaceX.

Given that Bezos’s plan seems to have been to sublet it out to other companies (given that his own hasn’t sent anything to space yet) it’s pretty clear that NASA wants to keep the actually functioning space rocket company happy.

Bitcoin Misconceptions

Recently there’s been a lot of bad information put out about Bitcoin. FINCEN (or the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) has told physical Bitcoin retailer Casascius to stop selling coins — even though it’s still to be proven in court that what he’s doing is “money transmitting”. What Casascius has been doing is accepting Bitcoins to make coins with a Bitcoin address embedded in them with a single Bitcoin assigned to it, thereby making a “1 BTC coin”. The jury’s still out, but just to be on the safe side, the man behind Casascius, Mike Caldwell, is calling it quits.

In other ludicrous news, Quartz has erroneously reported that BTC miners are spending $17 million a day to mine $4.4 million in BTC, failing to take into account that the majority of mining is done not with CPUs or GPUs, but with ASIC ware (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) that makes mining orders of magnitude more efficient. It also fails to take into account that miners get the transaction fees for doing the vital work of adding new transactions to the blockchain, and thereby have another source of income.

Lastly, on the logic that people will never spend a deflationary currency, The Atlantic decides that Bitcoin will never be a currency. Sure, on the one hand it sounds a little crazy that your money will, year over year, have more buying power. The question is “why would anyone spend money that will be worth more later?” What nobody seems to be asking about our current monetary systems is the reverse: “Why would anyone accept payment in money that’s consistently worth less year over year?” The debate will continue to rage, but I’m not ready to give up on Bitcoin just yet, thanks.

And if you didn’t get anything I just wrote, here’s a link to a great infographic on the recent history of Bitcoin that might clear some of it up.

Valve and Linux

This week we heard that Valve, the makers of video gamers’ “third option” (Fourth? Does Nintendo still count?) Steam, has officially joined the Linux Foundation. The PC gaming company has already made inroads into the Linux user crowd, following its founder Gabe Newell’s public disappointment with Microsoft’s latest OS, and is debuting a living-room computer-slash-gaming system called (for now) the “Steam Box,” running a Linux-based OS called SteamOS.

This adds to the growing list of companies using the open source operating system designed by Linus Torvalds in 1991. Some sources have placed the usage rate of Canonical’s Ubuntu at 8.5%, and Google’s Linux-based Android OS is holding its own in the battle with Apple’s iOS.

Holographs and Rainbows

This week researchers produced some compelling evidence that our universe is “holographic” — though nothing like Star Trek’s famed “holodeck” to be sure. It’s more like the idea that all of the information of the universe can be found on it’s “skin,” if that makes more sense. If not, here’s a link that could help. The research is meant to help explain the areas where quantum physics and general relativity produce different results.

And in other news, physicists also announced this week that the universe may have no beginning thanks to something called “Rainbow Gravity.” The idea is that light travels differently depending on its wavelength. If true, it could mean that the singularity at the beginning of the universe — that is, the “big bang” — may not have happened as our current theories predict. If anyone needs me, I’ll be over in the corner trying to figure out what any of this means.


Finally, the trailer for Christopher Nolan’s next big project has hit the internet. Interstellar is the story of, well, we don’t really know. But it’s called “Interstellar” and we’re all going to see it.

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