Daily Archives: July 20, 2015

The Long, Strange Trip to Pluto, and How NASA Nearly Missed It

By Kenneth Chang – The flyby of Pluto last week by NASA‘s New Horizons spacecraft is rightly celebrated as a triumph of human ingenuity, the capstone of a mission that unfolded nearly flawlessly.

Yet it almost did not happen, which would have left Pluto as just a hazy dot of light.

New Horizons overcame skeptical NASA officials, repeated threats to its funding, laboratory troubles that constricted the amount of plutonium available to power the spacecraft and an unforgiving deadline set by the clockwork of the planets.

Though none of the obstacles packed the drama of space-exploration crises like the Apollo 13 mission, their number and magnitude seemed unbelievable. more> http://tinyurl.com/pnwyfje

Life without design

By Chiara Marletto – Constructor theory is a mode of explanation proposed by David Deutsch, visiting professor of physics at the University of Oxford, who pioneered the theory of the universal quantum computer. With constructor theory, Deutsch generalises some of the insights that led to that earlier idea, applying them now to the whole of physics.

Constructor theory gives the ‘recipe’ an exact characterisation in fundamental physics. It is digitally coded information that can act as a constructor and has resiliency – the capacity, once it is instantiated in physical systems, to remain so instantiated.

In constructor theory, that is called knowledge – a term used here without the usual connotation that it is known by someone: it merely denotes this particular kind of information with causal power and resiliency. And an essential part of the explanation of all distinctive properties of living things (and of accurate constructors in general) is that they contain knowledge in that sense. more> http://tinyurl.com/nbul4z

How Singer Won the Sewing Machine War

By Alex Palmer – “Most Americans think that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” says the museum’s Peter Liebhold.

“In fact, that’s not true. If you build a better mousetrap, it could sit and rot in the corner of your garage.”

For one thing, Isaac Merritt Singer could hardly claim to have invented the sewing machine. It was Elias Howe who created the original sewing-machine concept and patented it in 1846, charging exorbitant licensing fees to anyone trying to build and sell anything similar.

Singer patented his version of the machine in 1851 and formed I.M. Singer & Co., but by then a handful of other inventors had made their own patented improvements to Howe’s original concept, including the addition of a barbed needle and a continuous feeding device among other enhancements.

Together all these innovations created what lawyers call a “patent thicket,” in which a number of parties can lay claim to key parts of an invention. It sparked the Sewing Machine War. more? http://tinyurl.com/o84wepm

Greece’s Surrender: A Return to 1919, or to 1905?

By John Cassidy – For all of their U-turns and failures, Alexis Tspiras, Yanis Varoufakis, and their colleagues did succeed in highlighting the illogic of endless austerity policies, and they also succeeded in putting debt restructuring on the table.

On Thursday (Jul 16), Mario Draghi, the chairman of the European Central Bank, became the latest expert to say that debt relief is necessary.

For those who viewed the last five months as not just a dispute about the finances of a small country but as part of a much larger battle about the future of Europe, these are important developments. And they will affect not only Greece but other other heavily indebted countries, such as Ireland, Portugal, Italy, and France.

From this perspective, this week’s agreement with the creditors isn’t the end: it is the beginning of a movement to wrench Europe away from technocracy, debt deflation, and Teutonic fiscal orthodoxy. more> http://tinyurl.com/nvywawx

Related>