Category Archives: science news

AI: a frightening prospect

None of the technical advances that have come along over the years has given me the willies the way “artificial intelligence” has done.

Yep. This whole AI commotion has sent me into the weirdest feeling of insecurity I have ever experienced.

AI — which is now the term of art for this technology — is about to call into question virtually every spoken word uttered in public. Is it the real person or is it some artificially produced of the voice we are hearing?

Those of us who toiled in the craft of journalism have reason to be concerned about this so-called technological “advance.” We have relied on the sources we develop during our years telling the stories of the communities where we live. What might happen to those sources now with artificially produced voices being able to sound like the real thing?

Look, I don’t believe I am pushing any panic buttons here.

I am sure you have heard about the pending release of the final song The Beatles have finished, right? It started with a demo tape recorded by the late John Lennon. I have heard it was a rough tape. Sir Paul McCartney got hold of the tape and with aid of artificial intelligence has been able to blend in the voices of the late George Harrison, along with his own voice, to produce a song that will carry the name of The Beatles.

Except that John and George have been dead for 43 and 22 years, respectively.

What we have will be an AI version of The Beatles. Not the actual musicians.

I don’t know. This AI technology simply gives me the creeps. I know I sound like a fogey resistant to change. I am not that kind of person. I have learned — and am learning — to adapt to changes every single day.

However, I fear the day will arrive when I will doubt whether I am hearing the real thing or some manufactured version of it.

It’s frightening.

Strange boast of ‘success’

Elon Musk has a peculiar way of defining “success.” Let’s review the video, shall we?

The world’s largest-ever rocket blasted off from its launch pad in South Texas on Thursday. About four minutes into the flight and far from achieving Earth orbit, the rocket exploded. It burst into a zillion pieces.

What did the world’s richest individual call it? A success!

Which makes me wonder how Elon Musk defines the term. He said the ship cleared the launch pad, which was good enough for him to declare that the failed mission was, um, a successful one. And in the most euphemistic phrase possible, the Musk team described the explosion as an “unexpected disassembly.”

Go … figure.

The only thing that saved this even from being an unmitigated disaster was that there were no human beings aboard the rocket.

Musk’s rocket, the SpaceX, aims to ferry humans to the moon and he, and the rest of us hope, far beyond into the solar system.

The South Texas launch was not a success, no matter how much money SpaceX’s owner has at his disposal.

Scientists have plenty of work to do to make this ship suitable to carry priceless human cargo. Get to work … and fix the problem!

Ready for launch?

Americans of a certain age — which is a sort of code for “old folks” like me — recall a time when we waited with bated breath for space ships to launch from Florida en route to outer space.

It’s going to happen again, I believe. NASA has revealed the names of the crew to fly aboard the Artemis space ship in 2024. Its destination? The moon!

The Artemis II team will be made up of three Americans — Victor Glover, Christina Hammock Koch and Reid Wiseman — and one Canadian, Jeremy Hansen.

OK, it’s going to be a fly-by. A practice run preparing the space agency to land astronauts later on the moon’s surface as part of its preparation for eventually sending men and women to Mars.

I intend to await the launch when it occurs. I likely will awaken early that morning and watch on TV as NASA counts down prior to the ship firing and sailing away on its mission to the moon. For me, it’s going to be like the old days during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Mom and I would wait endlessly for the launches. It was the highest drama possible.

The last Apollo mission flew in 1975. It was an Earth-orbit flight that hooked up with a Soviet space ship. The most recent moon landing occurred in 1972. Then NASA canceled the moon-landing program, citing lack of money and a reported lack of interest among Americans.

I do hope the interest returns to the public that needs an event such as this to cheer. I intend to be one of the cheerleaders.

Life imitates art?

Life is imitating art at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which could be a very good thing for Planet Earth if the need ever arises to do this again … for real.

I mean, they’ve made movies about this stuff!

NASA crashed a DART rocket into a 500-foot-diameter asteroid millions of miles from Earth last night. As NASA administrator Bill Nelson noted, for a small spacecraft to hit such a small target so far away, well, that’s “pretty good shootin’.”

NASA crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid – photos show the last moments of the successful DART mission (

Indeed, NASA wanted to hit the rock to test its ability to fend off a potentially cataclysmic collision if they ever detect a large asteroid heading straight for Earth. The mission was successful. It might have been the first time in space agency history when folks cheered the instant they lost telemetry from a spacecraft.

The spacecraft hit the asteroid traveling at a speed of 14,000 mph.

Now comes the question: Will NASA be able to develop a large enough space vehicle to knock an asteroid off a collision course with Earth in time to avoid Doomsday? 

Get busy, NASA.

Feels like the first time

It’s kind of like the way we used to react to news about space launches and, frankly, it feels good to this old goat.

NASA today postponed the launch of the Artemis I rocket planned for a moon mission. We have to wait now until Friday around noon before the space agency can send the world’s largest rocket into space and toward the moon.

Yes, I am filled with anticipation that is beginning to feel as I did when my dear Mom and I waited for hours on end for the Mercury astronauts and then the Gemini astronauts to launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The Artemis I mission signals NASA’s return to a new space race. NASA wants to return to the moon before China sets foot on the surface. NASA administrator Bill Nelson has said he fears China could claim the entire lunar surface as Chinese territory. No can do, China.

Artemis I is meant as a test run for future manned landings on the moon, using it as a base from which NASA plans to launch manned flights to Mars. All of that news makes this one-time spaceflight junkie more anxious than I have felt in a long while.

I have supreme confidence that NASA will get Artemis I off the launch pad in due course. If not Friday, then the space agency will have to resolve the myriad issues that caused the postponement.

Americans last departed the moon 50 years ago. Every one of those Apollo launches caused my gut to tighten when the rocket engines ignited and the Saturn V missile roared off the pad.

To be sure, I am filled with anticipation of watching astronauts launching once again toward deep space travel.

I also am filled with a bit if wistfulness over Mom’s absence from this latest thrilling space adventure.

Why not respond in kind?

My perch in the cheap seats as I watch the Ukraine War play out way over there gives me a chance to wonder about something: If we are so fearful of Russian cyberattacks, why don’t we threaten to unleash our own cyber weapons against them?

The U.S.-Russia cold war might be taking a new form to replace the one that formerly featured nuclear weapons pointed at each other back in the days of the Evil Empire, when Russia was called The Soviet Union.

I don’t want my retirement account to be sucked dry by some cyber spook hunkered in some Moscow bunker. However, we live in the world’s most technically sophisticated nation. We have uber-geeks prepared to do all kinds of harm if given the lawful order from on high to do so.

It seems we are capable of crafting a cyber policy that we could make public — without revealing, of course, the tactical aspects of what we intend to do. Tell the Russians what kind of damage we can do to their cyber system and then — as we did during the other Cold War — dare them to launch an attack on us.

It would be a form of Mutually Assured Destruction 2.0.

It therefore would be equally MAD for the Russians to perform any funny stuff if we are ready to respond in kind.

‘One American legend …’

I am going to divulge a little secret, which isn’t really a secret, even though I have heard no mention of this date in the media, which is not to say that it has been ignored completely. I just haven’t heard anything said about it

On this day 60 years ago, a young Marine Corps pilot took off aboard an Atlas rocket and became the first American to orbit Earth. John Glenn was a 40-year-old member of the first team of astronauts chosen by the space agency to lead this country into space. Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom flew the first two sub-orbital flights. This one was different. It fell to Glenn to become the first American to take three 90-minute spins around the globe and, thus, become part of American lore.

My mother and I were addicted to the space program in those days. I was not quite 13 years old. We had awakened several previous mornings waiting for Glenn to blast off aboard Friendship 7, the tiny Mercury space capsule into which he squeezed his body.

Mission Control gave him the go-ahead — finally! — on Feb. 20, 1962. Off he flew. Three orbits. That’s all, man. Then he came home and rode into instant fame and glory. The young pilot from Ohio, who flew combat missions during the Korean War, was hailed as a hero with ticker-tape parades and audiences with the president and royalty around a planet he had seen from a couple hundred miles in space.

Ah, but his public service didn’t end there. He resigned from NASA. Glenn entered politics and became a U.S. senator from Ohio. Glenn ran for president in1984, but unlike his Friendship 7 ship, his effort never left the ground.

Then came another thrill for Sen. Glenn and for those of us who followed the space program. NASA had gone through the Mercury, Gemini, Skylab and Apollo space programs. It had a fleet of space shuttles, those reusable ships that flew into orbit many times. One of them was named Discovery. In 1998, Sen. Glenn got the call to suit up once more. He trained along with his shuttle crewmates for a lengthy mission. NASA wanted to test the effects of zero gravity on old folks; Glenn qualified, as he was 77 years of age, making him the oldest individual to fly into space.

Ahh, but the Discovery launch a moment I never will forget. The controllers counted down the time, the booster rockets ignited, and the ship lifted off the Florida launch pad. The public address announcer told the world that Discovery had launched, carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

And so … I recall the day 60 years ago that a young man — and please pardon the reference — with the right stuff flew into the sky and carved into stone his prominent place in our nation’s glorious history.

Docs are invaluable

These social media messages can be so instructive. This one caught me eye and I want to share it.

The nimrods who bitch about the doctors, scientists, researchers and drug company executives are all too willing to throw themselves at their feet when they get sick.

The COVID-19 virus continues to ravage us. It is infecting us at an alarming rate … still! Yet we hear from the red-state rubes that they don’t trust the vaccines being offered; they mistrust the advice of learned medical and scientific professionals, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the world’s pre-eminent infectious disease expert; they rely on livestock medication that the docs say is bad for you.

Then they get sick. They are hospitalized. Then they depend on the very same docs who warned them to get vaccinated, to mask up, to practice social distancing; they want those folks to make ’em better.

Hypocrisy? You bet!

Are they astronauts? No!

By John Kanelis /

Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have flown to the edge of space.

I have heard a bit of chatter in recent days over whether these two zillionaire business moguls are astronauts now that they have “slipped the surly bonds of Earth,” if only for a few minutes.

I’ll go with “no.” They are not astronauts. They are rich guys who hired space professionals to do the heavy lifting. They were merely passengers aboard their respective ships.

The others? I’ll give Wally Funk — the 82-year-old female test pilot — a pass on the astronaut claim. She flew on Bezos’s mission alongside Bezos and two others. She had trained to fly as an astronaut in the early 1960s; then NASA killed the woman in space program, denying Funk the chance to actually fly into space.

I once got into a snit (one of many) with a critic of this blog, the late Andrew Ryan, over my dismissal of U.S. Sens. Jake Garn and Bill Nelson, who flew aboard two shuttle missions. I declined to consider them astronauts, even though they trained alongside the space pros with whom they flew. I’ll concede that Andy Ryan was right and I was wrong about Garn, a Utah Republican and Nelson, a Florida Democrat.

Oh, and what about the third U.S. senator to fly on a shuttle mission? You’ve heard of this guy: John Glenn, an Ohio Democrat. He flew as a Mercury astronaut in February 1962, the first American to orbit Earth. Thirty-six years later, he took part in a Discovery shuttle mission.

Two very cool things about Glenn’s shuttle flight need mentioning. One is that NASA’s other astronauts did not need to translate the language they spoke while training with Glenn; the great man was fluent in astronaut-speak. The second aspect of the launch was when the shuttle’s engines ignited and the ship lifted off, the public address announcer declared the launch of Discovery carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

Bezos and Branson may be legends in their own minds. Neither of them is an astronaut.

Biden’s not to ‘blame’

John Kanelis /

I am among the last people on Earth to criticize the media, given that I am among those who are still pursuing the craft (more or less) and that I believe the media are doing a good job of reporting the news.

That all said, I want to chide the media for suggesting/implying/inferring that President Biden is somehow to “blame” for the administration falling short of its goal of achieving “herd immunity” against the COVID pandemic by the Fourth of July.

Let us ponder this briefly …

Joe Biden promised to make the vaccines available to anyone who wants it. He delivered the goods there. The shortfall in getting 70 % percent of the nation inoculated is because of those who have bought into the right-wing claptrap about the vaccines.

President Biden has done what he can do. He has sought to persuade Americans that the vaccines are effective and will not cause undue harm to anyone who receives any of them.

Biden inherited a mess when he took office. The previous administration botched many aspects of its handling of the pandemic from the get-go. Yes, it enacted Operation Warp Speed in its effort to get vaccines developed and for that I am grateful. But the previous POTUS managed to contradict and undermine the medical experts he brought on board at every turn.

We continue to make progress against the pandemic, although it has slowed dramatically with the delta variant surge that has kicked the Biden administration in the teeth.

As for putting “blame” on President Biden for falling short of its herd immunity goal, well, the media should look instead at those who are outshouting the rest of us with their baseless condemnation of the vaccines.