One thing certain people seem to love to do in Vs. Debates is to drive the debate into the realm of trivial minutiae and personal attacks, in the hopes that they might be able to declare you wrong and evil with the main bone of contention if they can declare you wrong and evil with a sliver.

But, this does contribute to the educational aspect of the Vs. Debates, and not just in reference to the analysis of deviant psychologies that one gets by interacting with those on the other side of the Vs. Debate aisle. From particle physics to corporate law, the Vs. Debate has touched on many subjects over the years.

That sort of thing is why I was the one to reveal the existence of Hawking radiation to the ASVS folks way back in the day, why I had the pleasure of informing some SD.Netter named P_____k D___n that atoms don't whack each other like billiard balls, why I had to educate ASVS on Earth-standard timekeeping regarding midnights, why I had to explain that the sky isn't pitch-black under a full moon to some rabid 'tard at TrekBBS, and why I got to educate M____r of O___s on the finer points of geology and materials science a couple of years back.

Those are but a few of the examples that come to mind, and there are many more.

The point of this, though, is not to gloat. Well, actually, that's not completely true . . . there is about to be some gloating, but that's only secondary. I'm not always right, by any means, but I am right quite frequently.

That's why it never ceases to amuse me to see some random reference that confirms my position from some argument years beforehand. This happens all the time, of course, for some of them . . . such as the case of the guy from ASVS who claimed that no one ever picks a random contextually-large number (say, 1.2 million, or 1,374) to represent the idea of a large number, especially in semi-humorous situations. Just today, in fact, I was reading the novella from which The Shawshank Redemption was crafted, and the narrator character . . . well, I'll just quote it:

I had it in my cell for one night, and it was just as he described it. It was no tool for escape (it would have taken a man just about six hundred years to tunnel under the wall using that rock-hammer, I figured), but I still felt some misgivings.

This narrator was no mathematician, and neither is Stephen King. He wasn't performing integrations and using complex formulae to determine a precise rate at which one could pick and scratch his way through a wall that was ten feet thick. He just planted his tongue in his cheek and picked an arbitrary number that was quite large in the context required (that of average prisoner lifespans).

(Of course, it really kills the joke if you have to explain it, but obviously my opponents from the original ASVS encounter wouldn't have gotten the joke anyway.)

But I digress. The original point wasn't regarding Shawshank, but instead relates to the news of an object larger than Pluto being found well beyond Pluto's orbit, in the area of what we call the Kuiper Belt.

Of course, other objects have been found out there that were nearly Pluto-sized, and this has led to some debate on the question of how to quantifiably call something a planet, as there never has been a formal definition. On the low end of the scale we have little Pluto at 2300km, which already has seven moons in the solar system that are larger than it is. (Small as it is, though, Pluto has a moon even smaller.) And way out on the other end of the scale we have some of these mega-Jupiters orbiting other stars, some so large that they intrude into the scales we would normally associate with brown dwarf stars.

On the smaller-scale side of the debate, then, you have people who want Pluto downgraded from ninth-planet status into a Kuiper Belt Object. On the opposite side, you have people who want to see Pluto kept as a planet, and many many other objects(*) re-listed as planets, which would bring us rapidly to over a dozen planets. Then you get the middle-of-the-road and/or status-quo people, some of whom want to keep Pluto but leave out these funny-named other things, others of whom want to have Pluto as poster child for a pack of "minor planets".

(* That list would mean that our solar system would be composed of the following planets, at the very least:

But I digress . . . )

In any case, one of the involved astronomers talked with Space.com, and noted the following:

"It's something of an embarrassment that we currently have no definition of what a planet is," Basri said. "People like to classify things. We live on a planet; it would be nice to know what that was."

Basri would like to accommodate Pluto and those who can't fathom its demotion. He proposes that the murky lower limit for planet-hood get set at a diameter of about 435 miles (700 kilometers). That's roughly the bulk needed to allow gravity to shape an object into a sphere, depending on density. Smaller objects -- both asteroids and comets -- tend to look like potatoes or bell peppers.

The reason this amused me came back to an old argument I had with H_____r and M____r of O___s at Spacebattles. They tried to claim that a spherical body that looked very much like the Moon and/or Titan (at least before it cracked up and exploded) was actually a tiny object of just a couple of thousand meters, despite statements that things could be found 60km below the surface. I noted that it was spherical and per the episode had geological differentiation, and in regards to the shape said:

"It'll depend on density, of course, but this places a lower limit on the size of the planetoid of at least a few hundred kilometers in size."

Naturally, H_____r rejected that argument, giving the eloquent rebuttal of "I have no idea what the fuck you're babbling about here", slowly withdrawing (but never conceding) on the issue of size and eventually trying to redirect the argument toward a debate on the nature of fire, still desperately trying to prove his point. M____r of O___s, meanwhile, ran from the thread altogether, leaving S____e and other friends of M____r of O___s to jump in and fling ad hominems to try to distract people from the issues.

(You see now why I hardly trouble myself with group debates anymore, despite the possible benefits. It's like handing pearls to swine in most cases.)

In any event, you can imagine my pleasure at seeing a scientist give a more precise figure for low-end spherical planetoid development. Of course, I had no question in my mind that I was right on the matter, but it was nice to see yet another one of my old arguments confirmed in print.


The things you find Googling

So I'm looking up Vulcan starship lengths earlier, and came across a very odd picture of a large 1701-A sort of ship.

Soon I learned that this was a giant model of the Enterprise, looking a bit different to avoid copyright issues, and built for the town of Vulcan, Alberta in Canada. It seems that they've taken their town's name and run with it, Trek-ifying the place. There's the giant model sitting in town, the "starbase" visitor's center, and, inevitably, the LCARS-themed website.


Slightly disturbing, but fascinating.


Orbital Mechanics

Earlier, I was watching NASA TV's coverage of tonight's press conference on the shuttle. I discovered later that I'd left the connection active, meaning that my media player was still playing NASA TV.

There, on the screen, was a lovely sight . . . a video feed from the shuttle, looking down on Earth from her orbital distance of 310km (195mi) or so as of this writing. The image showed the horizon at the very bottom, with wispy clouds visible and, soon enough, the terminator appearing. It's really quite remarkable how fast the shuttle is going . . . I guess it's been too long since I saw that view . . . but the planet spins below in a rather top-like manner.

(Well, okay, the lady just said it was a replay of video recorded earlier as Discovery passed over the United States (not that I could tell). So, it wasn't live video, but it was only a few minutes prior. In any case, I digress . . . )

And that's when it occurred to me . . . and I could've slapped myself for not thinking of it sooner . . . but here we had evidence that the RoTS space battle was not a moving fight.

The battlefield was in Coruscant orbit, and the orbital height was not that great. Assuming an Earth-size Coruscant, then the orbital height ought to have been significantly less than that of ISS (which averages 356km (220mi) . . . currently 353km), judging from eyeball estimation.

However, the vessels were not moving at an expected orbital speed, one which would show motion relative to the planet. If anything, they were in a very low stationary orbit, presumably over the area of the Senate and Chancellor's location.

This has some intriguing implications. For instance, I've noted previously that:

A ballistic re-entry from standard orbital velocities (i.e. somewhere in the 25,000km/hr range or less) usually produces temperatures in the 3000ÂșC range.

However, if this wasn't a ballistic re-entry from orbital speed, then the temperature ought to have been significantly less. I mean, sure, the ship was de-orbiting, but it's not like she was hitting the atmosphere at 25,000km/hr (15,500mph) as she would've had she de-orbited while at orbital velocity.

I'm curious to know just what an object dropping like a brick from the sky would end up at, speed-wise. If the battle occurred at 100 - 200km above the surface, then the force of gravity at that height would be about 95% of standard surface gravity, so the ship could definitely have accelerated. I'll get around to doing the math later.

(Incidentally, while many have complained about the shifting angle of gravity in the film, it actually made a fair bit of sense. However, the ship would've had to have been at some sort of reverse thrust status when her nose pitched down to cause everything to fall forward . . . had she been in freefall, the apparent gravity on board the ship would've been zero, and Invisible Hand would've been Vomit Comet.)

(Also, some orbit video from the space station is visible here.)


The Shuttle Returns to Space

Congratulations to NASA and Cdr. Collins of the Discovery OV-103 . . . a ship that hardly shows her almost-22 years of age.

"These shuttles . . . they are formidable vessels?"
"Oh yeah."

There's also a bittersweet irony . . . after Challenger, the first ship to launch was Discovery. Now, once again after Columbia, she's the first ship to go up after the loss of one of her sisters.

Though I hope Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis the very best, one wonders . . . if anything happens to Discovery between now and her retirement circa age 27, what ship would they send up first?

The truth is, probably none at all.

Godspeed Discovery, and get home safe.


RIP Jimmy Doohan


I Sense Much Wank in You

According to a Hasbro collectibles page on StarWars.com, the "ARC-170" fighter (the proto-X-wing from RoTS) has shields capable of withstanding 5E16W. Or, in other words, 50,000,000,000,000,000 (fifty quadrillion) joules per second.

That's 12 megatons each second.

Rumor/speculation on the other side of the aisle suggests that this was intended to appear in Saxton's Episode III Incredible Cross-Sections book. This, of course, would makes sense in the context of his work on that children's book series, where comic-book logic is used ahead of what is seen in the film.

(For instance, Saxton's Episode II ICS had left us with the terrible contradiction of pea-shooter fighter weapons that were supposed to be able to threaten ships that shot weapons 200,000,000 times more powerful, 600 GJ weapons that could produce questionable footing and little else, and so on.)

But this "correction" simply doesn't work. How are we possibly supposed to believe that an X-Wing-esque fighter would have shielding this strong? Naboo fighters from 13 years prior could be knocked down by very-much-sub-kiloton tank rounds, with droid fighters having even weaker apparent effect . . . TIE fighters from 20+ years later could barely scuff asteroids with their missed shots. And even Slave I, a vessel much larger than most fighters, could . . . three years prior to our first view of the ARC-170 . . . barely make low-gigajoule yields. Hell, even starship-attacking Republic gunships weren't even scratching the kiloton range.

Indeed, the highest movie-based fighter firepower claim I can recall prior to the ICS books was 60 GJ per shot, or about 14 tons of TNT. And yet, here we've got EU materials basically claiming that 850,000 shots from highest-movie-calc weapons might just barely start to wither these fighter shields?

It's quite absurd, though of course the StarDestroyer.Net crowd is eating it right up, ignoring any inconsistencies.

(No doubt the trick is their magic neutrino systems they've been talking about lately, which can magically transfer EM and heat energy into neutrinos instantaneously. This is their pet theory to explain why we can't see multi-megaton blast/thermal effects in atmosphere during the AoTC battle even when ship hulls are being blasted wide open. This theory is quite nifty, until you realize that it's also absurd to think that this magic system will continue to operate even as the ship is being blown to giblets. But, hey, maybe it's the natural order of the SW universe in their view, since the TIE-shot asteroids must evidently have it, too. It's no more absurd than their other theories, like natural metal implants in Vader's neck.)

Of course, this throws any claim of EU technological consistency right out the window . . . just check the Obsidian Order pages for details on kilojoule fighter weapons, and then check out the Saxtonian modern EU. It's quite an entertaining dichotomy, and would make for an amusing article on the evolution of EU wankage.

It's good to follow the Lucas/LFL canon policy so that absurdities like this aren't our problem.


"Photonic Disruptor"?

The photonic disruptor is currently deployed in Iraq. Meanwhile, President Bush has stated that we are hot on the heels of the Xindi weapons of planetary destruction.

(And I must say, I rather like that in addition to the money they've spent to make the thing, they also threw in some cash to make it look cooler. Same with their StunStrike lightning gun.)

Meanwhile, the military is also working on directed energy weapons that excite water molecules at the very surface of the skin, producing a sensation of extreme heat. More on these weapons, somewhat inevitably referred to as "Star Trek phaser technology", can be found here.

(As for me, I still wanna know what happened to that guy with the tetanizer beam that everyone was calling a phaser a few years ago. I still think the idea of ionizing the air with lasers so you can thereby create an electrical circuit is hellaciously cool.)


Deep Impact, By the Numbers

Impactor mass: 370-372kg (reports vary)
Impactor size: ~1m x 1m
Relative velocity @ impact: ~10.2km/s
Impact KE: 19.25-19.35 Gigajoules (4.60-4.63 tons TNT)
Estimated crater size: "stadium-sized" . . . 100m+
Impact temperature: "thousands of degrees Kelvin"
Tempel 1 size: ~14.4 x 4.4 x 4.4 kilometers
Volume equivalent: 6.8km sphere
Tempel 1 density: ~500 kg/m^3 (plus or minus ~400kg/m^3)
Tempel 1 gravity: ~0.0000275 to 0.000041g
Gas/Dust Ejecta Velocity: ~1800 kilometers per hour

(For comparison, the Oklahoma City bombing involved a 2-ton truck bomb. Also note that the effect isn't quite like a 4.6 ton explosive device being set off on the surface.)


A Long-Shot Thought

I was watching "Q Who?"[TNG2] earlier for an article on warp ramming and had a thought. But first, a preface:

In "Way of the Warrior"[DSN4], the Defiant is being pursued at close range by a Klingon attack cruiser which is pummelling the crap out of them. Nonetheless, the ship needs to drop her shields in order to beam aboard the Cardassian Detapa Council.

Worf, on his first mission aboard the Defiant, says he has a suggestion. We see a tractor beam lock on to the forward section of the cruiser and deflect its beam weapons. Dax reports that the "modulated tractor beam" is deflecting some of the Klingon cruiser's fire.

Now, let's zip back to "Q Who". In it, the Enterprise-D is locked in place by a Borg tractor beam. After discovering that despite the shields the Borg tractor beam is holding the ship in place and preventing escape, Picard orders Worf to locate the exact source of the tractor beam, lock phasers, and fire.

We then cut to an external view. The phaser beam quite clearly does not come even remotely close to hitting the tractor beam emitter. While it's possible that the emitter and some important tractor beam system component would be a little ways apart on the Borg ship, it seems rather unlikely that the exact source of the tractor beam would be hundreds of meters away from the emission point.

One wonders if Borg tractor beams are modulated in the same way as the Defiant's beam was in WotW. In other words, might there have been some (presumably un-)intentional continuity, showing Worf making use of a trick he picked up from the Borg?

(EDIT: Alas, the answer is probably no. The Borg ship's tractor emitter was clearly positioned above the plane of the Enterprise saucer section, meaning that dorsal phasers would've been the most likely choice for firing on it. However, the phaser array which was used was on the saucer's ventral. While it's possible that the ventral phasers were going to be fired in such a way as to skim the saucer rim, I find that unlikely. And, indeed, when they finally do hit the tractor beam emitter, they do so with the dorsal phasers after firing ventral phasers for two other shots.

So, so much for that idea. Damn shame, too . . . I was rather proud of that connection.)


To Burst Our Bubble a Bit

(Subtitle: Also, what if the rest of the world acted like SD.Net?)

(AP) Online -- The Pentaquark Debate has reached the courts. Charges were filed today against a poster to an internet "bulletin board" accused of stalking an Illinois resident whose mistake had been to participate in the bulletin board's discussion.

It all began innocently enough. Thirty years ago particle physicists determined that there ought to be an exotic baryon composed of two up quarks, two down quarks, and an anti-strange quark. Some agreed and some disagreed, but the squabble only really began during the USEnet days, when crosspostings between alt.particle.subatomic.5quark and alt.particle.subatomic.4quark became too annoying for either side to swallow. Thus was formed alt.science.subatomic.highenergy.accelerator.theory, or ASSHAT. Members of the ASSHAT group thus had their own haven in which to debate the matter. Soon enough the pro-Four contingent took to calling the other side "Penties", soon augmenting this with other choice phrases as they took up a majority position. Penties returned fire with the term "Foursies", and the battle was on.

All-around smart guy Stephen Hawking has commented on the debate, noting:

"As both a PentaQuark fan and as someone far smarter than you, I must say that I don't understand these Four-Quarks people. Any substandard genius (that is to say, any genius who is not me) who has seen anything about quarks can produce the calculations showing that Four-Quarks never had a chance. They don't even use the anti-quark, for My sakes! But, they insist that their books about other universes prove it really is Four-Quarks by a long shot. As if that matters! If I weren't so busy on the next MC Hawking album I'd do a drive-by."

Pro-Four ASSHATters responded with a wide variety of creatively unprintable but ultimately irrelevant statements of disbelief.

Penties and Foursies didn't confine themselves to USEnet, of course. Regular ASSHAT contributor and 4-Quark supporter Edgar Allen created a website designed to poke fun at Penties, www.lookatmyfeces.com/u5v4d.html. This inspired Harry Wang to create an even more extreme site, QuadraQuarker.Net, now featuring a BBS largely composed of ASSHAT members.

These served as negative examples to a person called "Neo2000" who created 5-v-4.Net, reviled by QQ.Net BBS denizens as a haven of Pentie filth whose existence must be suppressed. Links from 5-v-4.Net to QQ.Net are redirected to pornographic sites, and Harry Wang . . . who claims to have been harrassed by Penties . . . nonetheless supports BBS member harassment of Neo2000.

In 2003, the debate heated up with the presentation of possible proof of the pentaquark by SPring-8 researchers. This addition to the pentaquark canon provided fodder for continued debate and, perhaps more importantly to some, continued spewing of childish vitriol. Then, in 2005, 5-v-4.Net had posted proof that a former Foursie debater and Other Universe (OU) author was carefully constructing his OU statements to support Four-Quarks in the debate instead of analyzing the OU on its own merit, leading to even more recriminations and vitriol.

Though one can skim over the messages of the various ASSHAT groups and see a progression of hostility, it isn't clear how all these ASSHATters let things get so bad. Nonetheless, even after pro-Penta supporter Shatner Johnnies was banned from the QQ.Net BBS the Foursies continued to stalk him all over the internet. When Mr. Johnnies returned fire by contacting QQ.Net's advertisers, something long-snapped in the minds of QQ.Net posters was pulled once again. With their collective searchings, they dug up all sorts of personal information on Mr. Johnnies, including satellite photos of his home. It was decided by the group that someone would visit, and visit they did.

Though no one was seriously injured in the altercation which followed, police were called when gunshots were heard and the QQ.Net BBS member was charged with trespassing. The court date is set for Natunda, 35:3:5.