My latest toy.

Brute sound but very enjoyable ride.

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Why Mankind should conquer space

The last days with all these disasters in Japan made me think about an article I wrote nearly 30 years ago. I think it must have been about 2 years before the Chernobyl. I was studying physics and wrote an article in which I collected arguments why mankind should conquer space and how to achieve this goal.

The perhaps funny thing today is that at this time, despite the discussion and my personal engagement against nuclear power, this was not the original impulse for my desire to write this article. Actually I started thinking about our global situation after I read the book ‘Worlds in Collision’ from Immanuel Velikovsky. Not that I think our cosmos is as chaotic and dangerous as he writes in his book but there is a considerable chance that a huge meteorite might hit the earth changing everything here.

Once the first thoughts in this direction are done more and more pieces get visible painting an unsettling picture.

The scenario splits up into two groups of dangers.
First there are global catastrophes:

  • Nuclear war
  • Reactor explosions polluting the environment with highly poisonous Plutonium
  • A big meteroid hitting the earth
  • uncontrollable outbreak of a fatal disease
  • uncontrollable mutation as result of genetic experiments

and many more perhaps individually not fatal catastrophes which might boost each other when coming together (as we can just see in Japan).

Second there are the man made dangers:

  • Overpopulation
  • Waste of limited resources
  • Environmental pollution
  • loss of diversity of species on earth

only to name some of them.

Now we can start to argue about how to prevent these catastrophes from coming.

In my original article I started to develop a quite futuristic approach which was probably the reason why the article has never been published.

To leave Earth and go into space is not a technical problem, it is an economic problem. It needs a lot of money to build the first stations in orbit so that considerable amounts of people can start living in space. Money nobody wants to spend at the moment because there are always more urgent, political motivated projects which have to be funded. No politician and no economic leader is interested in plans which will take perhaps hundreds of years, will be a long struggle without immediate return on invest and low actual visibility to support their position.

So probably we will stay bound to earth until all needed resources are spent for other, more urgent, projects and we finally have to realize that we succeeded in making our earth inhabitable but have no means any more to go somewhere else.

What is to do? If our main problem lies in the economy perhaps we should start there. Rethinking how our society is built and which our common goals should be would be a good start. But after all the problem will come back to us personally. We have to change ourselves. Our attitude about fighting against each other to become the leader of the pack, our focus in economic success. We have to overcome our animalistic heritage. And it is exactly this point where mankind will be standing at a crossroads.

Recommended reading: Elena Filatova’s report about Chernobyl

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Politician denies global warming!

According to Senator Michin the global warming will not happen, it will become cooler. ABC news

It seems that signs like the flood and cyclone in Queensland cannot be result of the global warming. The sea level rising will only be a temporary phenomenon and the glaciers will start to grow again soon and the polar ice will become thicker.

I understand the problems of the science community to bring all facts into a model which finally can tell us what the future might bring.

But when I hear some of our politicians I really feel safe that nothing bad can happen to us or our children. They seem to know exactly what the future holds for us. I only wonder how they can be so far ahead of our scientists.

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House Spider

Our house is surrounded by trees and bushes which is normally a nice thing considering the temperatures during a normal summer. Unfortunately this summer is not really what it is supposed to be. Its cold and rainy. This has the unfortunate side effect the all that nice spiders which are normally populating the trees around the house are trying to share our shelter.

Here you can see our guest from last night, just digesting a big moth which it caught on the outside of our kitchen window.

Sometimes even I am impressed. This one had at least 12cm length even after embracing its pray. Luckily it was gone this morning or I would have had to convince it to search for shelter somewhere else. I don’t like spiders which are so big that they might be able to carry our little daughter away.

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JRuby on its way up?

I am programming Ruby since a friend of mine pointed me to this language and I think that this language is even better then Smalltalk which has been my all time favorite since I learned it back in the late 80’s. The concepts are sound, minimal and powerful and don’t take too long to learn. All else you need comes either with the standard library or nicely packaged as ruby-gems.

Especially JRuby, designed to run on the JVM, gives you portability together with access to the huge fund of java libraries. An enormous powerful concept! I love it!

Last night I have been searching in Google a little bit about the usage of the different programming languages to see if the usage of Ruby is increasing. The good news is that Ruby seems to be constantly in the top 10 of the most used languages. But to be frank, I would have expected it before Python and fighting with PHP about its rank but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

There are plenty of sites which analyse the language popularity and the results differ depending of where they gather their information. Some of the major sites are: SourceForge, Tiobe and Langpop. Unfortunately I could not find any comparison about the usage of the different ruby implementations.

I asked myself: what does it need for a programming language to become successful?

  • an elegant, minimal, easy to learn and complete set of language elements.
  • the ability to add missing language features as natural extension of the language or in additional libraries.
  • a powerful infrastructure including IDE, build system, deployment, …
  • good frameworks for maximum momentum when starting a new project
  • killer applications

When I think about Smalltalk-80 and ask myself why did this language never get one of the top places in ranking even though it had undeniable a huge impact on all subsequent languages? I think it is because there are simply several factors missing which denied this language its broader success. Even though the language was elegant, powerful and extendable it had to fight with it’s, for that time, heavy weight virtual machine and the need to deploy the whole image. And I have never seen a so called killer application developed in Smalltalk.

When I come back to PHP, Python and Ruby I was wondering why PHP was clearly in front of Python and Ruby even though I think that the language concepts of Python and Ruby are sounder then the one of PHP.

They all have IDE support, good frameworks and powerful supporting infrastructure but PHP still has one big advantage. It nearly dominates the market of opensource CMS and Blogging products.

If we want to push Ruby into the first places I think there are only two ways to do this:

  1. development of killer applications
  2. bringing Ruby into the browser

For the first way we have the ideal starting point with JRuby. True Multi-threading and access to a vast fund of professional Java libraries together with the expressiveness of Ruby! I think that would qualify for a pole position.

The second way … OK, I don’t know how much would be needed to integrate ruby into a browser. But I think that Javascript is used everywhere on the client side in web applications in a lack of a better alternative.

While I was still writing I got some good news. It seems that there will be enough supporters to reconsider the Netbeans decision to discontinue the JRuby support. A good possibility to do something for the visibility of JRuby!

Let’s go for it!

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