Links for 05-06-2006

Moon missions, straw houses, Thunderdome, 5-dimensional Rubik’s cube…

4 thoughts on “Links for 05-06-2006”

  1. I see the open comment experiment didn’t last very long.

    Going to the moon is a big project. There are two approaches for getting big projects done. The first is to set up a central plan, hire lots of skilled workers, and organize their labor according to a central authority. Nowadays, that’s the paradigm of big software companies and defense contractors, and it’s famous for resulting in delays, cost overruns, and crappy product. (This is probably not an inherent flaw in the approach, but it sure seems to end up that way. This might be due to market forces, or the lack of competent authority.) The other is to break the project up into little pieces, farm the pieces out to as many people as possible, and recombine the pieces into a whole. This works really well on some things, especially given the organizing power of large networks like the internet. Genome annotation, open source software, distributed proofreading, distributed computing like SETI@home or Folding@home; all these depend on lots of participants and the ability to aggregate their contributions.

    The distributed, bottom-up paradigm is plenty powerful, but it breaks down pretty quickly when taken out of the virtual realm. You’re not going to build a Saturn V with 2000 hobbyists handmaking each piece. You need lots of skilled workers to follow complex plans. That’s top-down design of an advanced nature. I remember reading (in Chaikin’s _A Man on the Moon_, I think) that several of the head engineers on the Apollo program thought that the program had been dismantled or allowed to decay so badly that to get back to the moon would essentially require starting from scratch. A lot of the technology that the Apollo program required was a way of organizing very large projects (systems analysis, for lack of a better term), and most large projects aren’t run in this top-down fashion any more.

    We’ve advanced a lot in a number of areas in the last thirty years (materials design, computers, minaturization, communications, medicine, etc.), but we’ve regressed in a lot of ways as well. If we want a mature and useful space program, we’re going to have to start from scratch. Maybe it’ll be easier this time — maybe we’ll do a better job knowing what we know — but there’s no guarantee.

    (None of this addresses the social or political angle in any way at all.)

  2. I like the way the BoingBoing authors made sure that everyone knew that not only did they not care about sports, they were utterly superior to anyone else who did happen to enjoy them, even a little bit.

  3. Jesse;

    This is as open as WordPress seems to allow commenting to be; I don’t have to moderate them before they go live, but I think there’s no way round the registration thing, unless I’m missing something. Will do some Googling tomorrow.

    As regards the BB/sports fan issue, I see your point; they do that superiority thing rather well, don’t they? But I have a certain sympathy with their feelings at the moment, living as I do in a country where being a male who has no interest in football elicits comments ranging from (at the nicer end) ‘Oh, rugby man, then?’ to (from the neaderthal lobby) ‘What, are you some kind of poof?’. I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy. Except during World Cup years, when I’d frankly be happy to see every British football fan locked in a very small room. With no television.

    Fine, be into sports, be a fan, be enthusiastic. Just please acknowledge that not being interested in no way affects your status as a member of the human race. And try talking about something else for at least one minute in every sixty.

    Hmm, mini-rant. And not aimed at you, either; more of a general broadside against unconquerable opposition. Sigh. Sooner England get trounced, the more relaxed my summer will be.

  4. No big thing. If it helps, I don’t care about the World Cup either. But then, I’m an American, and it just distracts from baseball 🙂

    (It really doesn’t distract from baseball. Americans seem to think that since we didn’t invent soccer/football, there’s not much point in following it. It gets less coverage than the hockey finals, and that’s not much coverage.)

    The BoingBoing thing just rubbed me the wrong way. Ignore that, and pretend that all I left was the comment on the Apollo program.

Leave a Reply