Tuesday, September 11

The British, and indeed the entire world, love a good joke at the American's expense. Among space enthusiasts probably the best known joke is that America spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing a special pen that could be used in space, whereas the Russians decided to save their cash and just use pencils.

Unfortunately, it's just too good a joke to be true. The truth is that the Russians did take up pencils on their first few flights, and then quickly learned that having graphite dust floating around in your living area (roughly the size of a telephone booth) isn't that conducive to healthy living or the working of delicate instrumentation. They then went over to America to buy a few cases of the Fischer Space Pen (made by a private company, not 'America') and finally a few years later copied the design and produced clones of their own.

Mind you, it's not as if I don't feel that the American's deserve this sort of ribbing once in a while, considering all the stuff they throw at us. On this discussion about football, one American wag made this post:

"I do believe the NFL has a European contingent, perhaps you could watch a few NFL-Europe games to develope an appreciation for the game, understanding that with all things that exist in Europe and America, the European version will be smaller, cheaper, older and less interesting."

Curse those pesky Americans!

/ forum / 10:29 am GMT

Monday, September 10

(10 points to the person who spots the quote in this post)

I don't like keeping secrets. The whole idea generally worries me and more often than not, Bad Things come out of it. And no, before you start cursing that traitorous Adrian, I'm not talking about you. The only reason I bring this up is because lately I've been the recipient (sometimes unwanted) of information from all sorts of people all over the world which, well, is a bit sensitive and of course is not to be discussed elsewhere.

The problem with most secrets is that by their very definition, it's not a black and white matter. You have to worry about whether you're doing the right thing by not telling the person(s) who are not to be told. Another problem is that secrets require a fair bit of brainpower to keep since if you're not careful then you end up tripping over your own words, making internal inconsistencies in what you say and basically making a mess of things. Even moreso for lies.

There's an interesting hypothesis that states that one of the reasons for gossiping and social intercourse is so that we can keep track of the trustworthiness and reliability of members of our tribe/community. For example, back when we were monkeys you can imagine it would be useful if you talked to your neighbours and found out if that brown monkey over there kept on stealing food from people. In a way, keeping secrets that concerns other members of your community gives you an advantage over the rest in that you have valuable information which allows you to make superior judgements in the future.

Keeping this information to yourself, it's all very selfish, of course. Just like our genes.

But for those readers who've been made nervous after reading this - you know when people say that they can keep a secret, and they never do?

Well, I can keep a secret.

/ forum / 09:37 am GMT

Sunday, September 9

I'm really pleased with the stuff that people are writing on the New Mars magazine that I edit these days. Along with the forum system, there's a feature which allows readers to add comments to the magazine articles. On an article written by the former NASA Mars Exploration Programme Manager about convincing the public to pay for a mission to Mars, a reader wrote the following:

"Maybe what's needed is simplicity. Next to the donation box for the cancer victim there is a box for supporting a mission to Mars. Who knows, the first person who contributes might be a cancer victim. I think for one lacking a dream or searching for one, it is those who dream them up they depend on."
I love the symmetry in this. Some people might find it incredibly offensive to put a donation box supporting a mission to Mars alongside one for cancer research. I wouldn't agree.

/ forum / 01:27 pm GMT

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