08 February 2008

NASA's New Rocket

According to the web site NASA Watch, a "severe problem" exists in the NASA Ares I rocket: it vibrates dangerously. This vibration, according to a statement made by NASA, could exceed the number of g-forces that astronauts can safely be exposed to (Houston Chronicle). They're working on the problem with their current level of resources, but with the budget cuts dicing America's space program, it's no wonder that they are facing some difficulties. When certain politicians say that they want manned space flight, one wonders why they keep slashing that budget instead of pumping money into the program.

Altering Genetic Material: Noble or Perverse?

In Ian R. MacLeod's Breathmoss and Other Exhalations, the title story, "Breathmoss," introduces the reader to a strange world set sometime in the distant future. In this world, there are very few men and humanity reproduces by using DNA from three mothers. Such a future may seem alien, but the blog io9 tipped me off to some current research: some scientists are working to create embryos that take genetic material from three parents. Unlike the scenario with three mothers, this method requires two eggs and one sperm.

One much-overlooked aspect of technology like this is whether or not it will find eventual acceptance outside of the laboratory. Genetic modification, cloning, and stem cell research are already controversial issues. Opponents usually argue from a religious standpoint, stating that humans cannot "play God," whereas supporters of these new technologies frequently say that research would help find cures for diseases.

Is working to alter humanity for the better a noble pursuit? How should one react to progress? Is an embrace of technology necessarily evil? Are those who react to societal and technological change merely rabid traditionalists, or do they have a point to make? Does advocating sweeping change make one less human? How do we define "human," and how do these discoveries change our definitions?

I don't have an objective answer to these questions. No one does. The best we can do is work to support the research, see what happens, and use the results to decide on our course as a species.

01 February 2008

Microsoft and Yahoo!

Microsoft has just bid $44.6 billion dollars for the moderately successful company Yahoo!, according to an article today on CNN. Now, having great press-reading skills (thanks to a class on the French press), something about this article makes me snicker:
Today, the market is increasingly dominated by one player who is consolidating its dominance through acquisition," Microsoft said in its statement. "Together, Microsoft and Yahoo can offer a credible alternative for consumers, advertisers, and publishers."
This, to me, seems profoundly ironic because Microsoft specializes in unfairly dominating market spheres. Google, one of their primary Internet competitors, has given web users quality E-mail programs and software. They run many of their computers on Linux and their section called Google Code is invaluable. I have very few problems with Google because they make sure that they develop their software for everyone.

Microsoft's claim comes shortly after the release of computers at Wal-Mart running an Ubuntu-based system called gOS, which relies so heavily on Google's software that some have labeled it an unofficial Google operating system.

Does Microsoft feel threatened? Probably. Sucks to be them.