forecasting the future

the hindsight this man had was nothing short of brilliant. 100 years ago, a newspaper published thomas edison’s musings on the far-off future of 2011. according to the famed inventor, we would have super compressed books that would contain entire libraries in a single volume and would weigh less than a pound. he also foresees the demise of gold as a currency, the rise of steel along with the death of the steam engine. the entire article is below.

What will the world be a hundred years hence?

None but a wizard dare raise the curtain and disclose the secrets of the future; and what wizard can do it with so sure a hand as Mr. Thomas Alva Edison, who has wrested so many secrets from jealous Nature? He alone of all men who live has the necessary courage and gift of foresight, and he has not shrunk from the venture.

Already, Mr. Edison tells us, the steam engine is emitting its last gasps. A century hence it will be as remote as antiquity as the lumbering coach of Tudor days, which took a week to travel from Yorkshire to London. In the year 2011 such railway trains as survive will be driven at incredible speed by electricity (which will also be the motive force of all the world’s machinery), generated by “hydraulic” wheels.

But the traveler of the future, says a writer in Answers, will largely scorn such earth crawling. He will fly through the air, swifter than any swallow, at a speed of two hundred miles an hour, in colossal machines, which will enable him to breakfast in London, transact business in Paris and eat his luncheon in Cheapside.

The house of the next century will be furnished from basement to attic with steel, at a sixth of the present cost — of steel so light that it will be as easy to move a sideboard as it is today to lift a drawing room chair. The baby of the twenty-first century will be rocked in a steel cradle; his father will sit in a steel chair at a steel dining table, and his mother’s boudoir will be sumptuously equipped with steel furnishings, converted by cunning varnishes to the semblance of rosewood, or mahogany, or any other wood her ladyship fancies.

Books of the coming century will all be printed leaves of nickel, so light to hold that the reader can enjoy a small library in a single volume. A book two inches thick will contain forty thousand pages, the equivalent of a hundred volumes; six inches in aggregate thickness, it would suffice for all the contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And each volume would weigh less than a pound.

Already Mr. Edison can produce a pound weight of these nickel leaves, more flexible than paper and ten times as durable, at a cost of five shillings. In a hundred years’ time the cost will probably be reduced to a tenth.

More amazing still, this American wizard sounds the death knell of gold as a precious metal. “Gold,” he says, “has even now but a few years to live. The day is near when bars of it will be as common and as cheap as bars of iron or blocks of steel.

“We are already on the verge of discovering the secret of transmuting metals, which are all substantially the same in matter, though combined in different proportions.”

Before long it will be an easy matter to convert a truck load of iron bars into as many bars of virgin gold.

In the magical days to come there is no reason why our great liners should not be of solid gold from stem to stern; why we should not ride in golden taxicabs, or substituted gold for steel in our drawing room suites. Only steel will be the more durable, and thus the cheaper in the long run.

land of the free, home of the brave

— July 2008: A gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how “liberals” are “destroying America,” walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.
— October 2008: Two neo-Nazis are arrested in Tennessee in a plot to murder dozens of African-Americans, culminating in the assassination of President Obama.
— December 2008: A pair of “Patriot” movement radicals — the father-son team of Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who wanted “to attack the political infrastructure” — threaten a bank in Woodburn, Oregon, with a bomb in the hopes of extorting money that would end their financial difficulties, for which they blamed the government. Instead, the bomb goes off and kills two police officers. The men eventually are convicted and sentenced to death for the crime.
— December 2008: In Belfast, Maine, police discover the makings of a nuclear “dirty bomb” in the basement of a white supremacist shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, reportedly was agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb.
— January 2009: A white supremacist named Keith Luke embarks on a killing rampage in Brockton, Mass., raping and wounding a black woman and killing her sister, then killing a homeless man before being captured by police as he is en route to a Jewish community center.
— February 2009: A Marine named Kody Brittingham is arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama. Brittingham also collected white-supremacist material.
— April 2009: A white supremacist named Richard Poplawski opens fire on three Pittsburgh police officers who come to his house on a domestic-violence call and kills all three, because he believed President Obama intended to take away the guns of white citizens like himself. Poplawski is currently awaiting trial.
— April 2009: Another gunman in Okaloosa County, Florida, similarly fearful of Obama’s purported gun-grabbing plans, kills two deputies when they come to arrest him in a domestic-violence matter, then is killed himself in a shootout with police.
— May 2009: A “sovereign citizen” named Scott Roeder walks into a church in Wichita, Kansas, and assassinates abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.
— June 2009: A Holocaust denier and right-wing tax protester named James Von Brunn opens fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.
— February 2010: An angry tax protester named Joseph Ray Stack flies an airplane into the building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas. (Media are reluctant to label this one “domestic terrorism” too.)
— March 2010: Seven militiamen from the Hutaree Militia in Michigan and Ohio are arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate local police officers with the intent of sparking a new civil war.
— March 2010: An anti-government extremist named John Patrick Bedell walks into the Pentagon and opens fire, wounding two officers before he is himself shot dead.
— May 2010: A “sovereign citizen” from Georgia is arrested in Tennessee and charged with plotting the violent takeover of a local county courthouse.
— May 2010: A still-unidentified white man walks into a Jacksonville, Fla., mosque and sets it afire, simultaneously setting off a pipe bomb.
— May 2010: Two “sovereign citizens” named Jerry and Joe Kane gun down two police officers who pull them over for a traffic violation, and then wound two more officers in a shootout in which both of them are eventually killed.
— July 2010: An agitated right-winger and convict named Byron Williams loads up on weapons and drives to the Bay Area intent on attacking the offices of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, but is intercepted by state patrolmen and engages them in a shootout and armed standoff in which two officers and Williams are wounded.
— September 2010: A Concord, N.C., man is arrested and charged with plotting to blow up a North Carolina abortion clinic. The man, 26-year—old Justin Carl Moose, referred to himself as the “Christian counterpart to (Osama) bin Laden” in a taped undercover meeting with a federal informant.

sittin’ on the dock of the bay

This stunning video of a Martian sunset was captured by the Mars Rover Opportunity. Although most movies code the Martian color scheme as red, the sunset shines blue. Find out why.

Mars is, famously, The Red Planet. The rust in the dust on its surface gives the surface a reddish-brown appearance. It vast dry, dusty expanses call to mind Earthlike deserts, in which a red-orange sun beats down on yellow sand. As a result, when we think of a Mars sunset, most think of it as blazing red.

The recent footage released by NASA shows us the exact opposite. The sun glows a cool blue as it sets in the Martian sky. It’s quite an upset of perception, and it’s all due to that famous red dust.

On Earth, the particles in the atmosphere scatter blue light. When a ray of light hits them, the blue wavelengths are diverted from their course and shot randomly outwards. As it moves out, it hits other air particles, and some of it scatters down to the surface of the Earth. Those standing on the surface look up into the sky, see the light that’s scattered down, and say the sky is blue. Meanwhile, direct light from the sun has had all the blue wavelengths filtered out; they’ve been scattered all over the sky. This leaves only the wavelengths at the reddish end of the spectrum – so when people look at the sun, they see it as yellow. Towards sunset, they’re looking at the sun through more filtering atmosphere, and so it grows more intensely red-yellow.

On Mars, exactly the opposite happens. The red dust in the atmosphere scatters red light, so when anyone looking around would see a reddish sky. Meanwhile, the red wavelengths are filtered out of the direct path of light from the sun, leaving light towards the bluish end of the color spectrum. Those looking at the sun will see it as blue. And very seasonal.

More details at Science Daily.

Google ka Pakistan

Earlier this month, a team from Google and YouTube went to Pakistan to explore business and content opportunities, following up on Google’s Clinton Global Initiative commitment to Pakistan and to sponsor and participate in Pakistan’s first International Youth Conference and Festival. It’s hard to imagine a country more at the nexus of geo-politics today than Pakistan, and our team learned a lot about the state of the Pakistani technology, media and non-profit sectors.

Internet connectivity in Pakistan is quite low—estimates put penetration at around 10%—but opportunities for growth are evident. For one thing, broadband costs are quite cheap compared to other parts of the world—around $13/month. Smartphone usage is also on the rise, and there are a growing number of Pakistani developers who are creating mobile applications for sale both in Pakistan and abroad. Around 60% of Pakistanis have a mobile phone, and their average bill is around $3/month. Not surprisingly, SMS is one of the primary means of communication in Pakistan.

One of the keys to bringing more Pakistanis online is the amount of local Pakistani content available on the Internet. There are some great examples so far: for instance, Coke Studio, a “fusion” music project sponsored by Coke that features popular Pakistani musicians, grew so popular on YouTube last summer that it was the 11th-most viewed channel on the site. Dozens of news organizations have begun to use YouTube as a global distribution platform as well, reaching not only Pakistanis online but the diaspora abroad. The Pakistani media is young and voracious—it was just eight years ago that the government opened up the airwaves to allow non-state media channels to exist, and in that short time the media has grown to become an important player in the public discourse in Pakistan, despite occasional crackdowns from authorities. Citizen media has also played an increasingly big role in Pakistan: for example many Pakistanis used cellphone cameras to document the devastation wrought by the floods in Pakistan last summer.

Keep reading on the Google Blog.  (Bonus Video Interviews with Salman Taseer and Aitzaz Ahsan)