Do people realize that they are legends?

We look at the past and think of great Men and Women of legend and subconsciously we believe that they must have known that they are exceptional in some way. In many cases it may actually be true but in most cases they would not have realized it. Some great people of the current era, are they future legends? Would Elon Musk be equated with the likes of Columbus and Vasco Da Gama? Does he realize that may be in five centuries from now, our descendants on different star systems look at him as the guy who started it all? How it would be to look at today’s age as history? How will the Syrian Civil War be looked 50 years from now? Will the Syrian people look at it as the great war of liberation or as the crushing of a rebellion? How will Obamacare be judged? Will it be looked as the Great Deal of the 21st century? Will the current Korean crisis be looked as one of the catalyst for the next World War, the way various Balkan crises during the beginning of the 20th century plunged us towards the First World War?

How will History judge us?

A Trillion Dollar Industry

What is the next big thing? What will be the next revolution now that computer revolution is the old thing? What will be the branch of engineering for the future generation which will be equivalent to the computer engineering of our generation? What is the next big idea?

I believe that The Idea is already here. It is space. Governments trying to send men into space is old news. It is up to entrepreneurs now to explore the final frontier. And the next generation of robber barons are already trying to carve out their empire. SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, Bigelow Aerospace, Virgin Galactic, Moon Express are all vying to cut a piece of the pie.

But one company stands tall in this group, just by its vision. Planetary Resources. This company plans to mine an asteroid for its resources. Rare metals like Platinum and the most desired substance in space, water. They believe that a single asteroid could be worth a trillion dollar. And the company is backed by Larry Page and the Avatar fame James Cameroon, fresh from his dive to the deepest depth of the Pacific.

I believe that sometime in this century, companies like Apple, Microsoft and Exxon Mobil will not be at the top of market capitalization, but Planetary Resources or its ideological descendants would lead this table not only on earth but may be on other planets as well. And their market cap will not be constrained in billions but will be in multi trillions.

The dream of Delos D Harriman may finally come true.

Kardashev Scale, Dyson Sphere and the Stellar Engines

How developed are we? How do we compare the technological capability of two civilizations?

One answer to this question is in terms of energy consumption. Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed the Kardashev scale as a mean to measure the advancement of an advanced civilization. He initially proposed three levels.

Type I: A civilization that is able to harness all the energy of a planet. Thus if we are able to use all this energy we can come under the category of a Type I civilization.

Type II: A civilization that is able to use all the energy from a single star will be a Type II civilization.

Type III: A civilization that is able to harness the power of an entire galaxy will be a Type III civilization.

Type IV: There are multiple definitions of a Type IV civilization. A civilization that can harness the energy of the entire known universe or the energy of a Local Supercluster of galaxy. Workings of such a civilization would be pretty much indistinguishable from that of nature.

Carl Sagan proposed a simple mathematical formula to calculate the Kardashev scale.

K = (Log W – 6)/10

Where W is the total energy usage of the civilization. According to this, humanity is at 0.72 on the scale.

What would these different civilizations look like?

Type I: The largest nuclear bomb, Tsar Bomba had an energy output of 420 PJ. Which is much more than what humans consume (174 PW). The power output was 1.4% of Sun. (Joule is a unit of energy while Watt of Power. 1 Watt = 1 Joule/Sec.)

Type II: A Dyson sphere could be the kind of device used by a Type II civilization. Dyson sphere consists of orbital satellites orbiting the star. These constructs would then trap and use the energy output of the star. There are variants of this construct with one being a shell around the star that totally covers the star. Dyson sphere is a Class B Stellar Engine. More on them later. Construction of a Dyson sphere is an enormous, giganormous undertaking. The engineering and the amount of material required for the construction would be immense. The civilization may have to strip material  from the entire planetary system to construct such a device. Self replicating, smart machines in a post singularity world could build such a construct.

A Dyson Swarm

Type III: A galaxy spanning civilization similar to one in the Empire, Robot and Foundation series of Isaac Asimov perhaps falls under it though their energy use may not be as high as that of the entire galaxy.

Type IV: The civilizations in “The Gods Themselves” and the sentient intelligence at the end of “The Last Question” may be considered as Type IV civilization. Time Lords from the Doctor Who universe are also a Type IV civilization.

There are certain flaws in this classification. As a civilization develops technologically, it becomes more efficient and thus reduce its power usage. So a Type II civilization may in the course of time becomes so efficient that it becomes a sub Type II civilization.

Stellar Engines:

Stellar Engines are the technological constructs that uses a stars energy on a massive scale. There are three types of stellar engines:

Class A: Shkadhov Thruster. They are huge sails that uses the stars energy to nudge the star and with it its planetary system and accelerate it. These work at the time scale of millions if not billions of years.

Class B: Dyson spheres. Matryoshka brain (Matryoshka are the Russian doll inside a doll inside another doll toy). Matryoshka brains are Dyson spheres made for data processing. Thus you have a super massive computer utilizing the energy from an entire star to carry out its computations.

Matryoshka Dolls

Class C: A combination of a Shkadhov thruster and Matryoshka brain. Travelling Brainiac (Brainiac is the super intelligent artificial intelligence from the Superman universe).

Towers of Midnight

So the thirteenth book of the Wheel of Time series is out and as expected it is AWESOME! Spoilers ahead, so read at your own peril. Those not familiar with the WoT can safely ignore the post.

Moraine is back finally but much weakened. Perrin is no longer boring and Galad and Gawyn are no longer irritating. All the pieces are finally getting into place for the Last Battle. The Generals Ituralde and Gareth Bryne are inspiring. Bryne had a very beautiful quote:

“A man is more than one drive, one goal. No woman wants that in a man. It seems to me that men who spend time making something of themselves – rather than professing their devotion – are the ones who get somewhere. Both with women, and with life itself.”

The book has many situations that makes you think. Many characters of the book realize the enormity of the situation facing them. Rand, Mat, Moraine, Lan, Cadsuane, Nynaeve all realize that there are some things in life that is more important than even your life. They know that Tarmon Gai’don is what matters and nothing else. Somehow I feel that Elayne and Egwene do not realize that. Lan is leading a lost charge of twelve thousand against an army of one hundred fifty thousand. Mat sacrificed his eye and Rand is sacrificing everything for it.

In our lives we lack this goal. There is nothing that we can look as something that is worth sacrificing everything for. Our forefathers had that objective during the freedom struggle and the world had that objective during the Great Wars.

I can see our situation similar to what Cadsuane faced. She lived for more than three hundred years waiting and preparing for the Last Battle, knowing that what she did and what she learned will have a great impact on how the things turn out in the end. We need to also look at things which are far down the lane of time and realize that even if we do not have an immediate choice to make, we still can work at things which matters. The important thing is to know what that is and how you can make a difference. The important thing is not to lose sight of the goal and keep forging ahead. The important thing is not to let yourself be distracted by everylife’s triviality and realize that you are part of the greater pattern of things. The important thing is to work for it. We need to believe in the Chaos Theory. Even a small contribution that you make now can make happen the thing that you are working for in the distant future.

As Yama rightly said to Sam in another great novel (Lord of Light),

An army, great in space, may offer opposition in a brief span of time. One man, brief in space, must spread his opposition across a period of many years if he is to have a chance of succeeding.
~ Lord of Light (Roger Zelazny)

Pale Blue Dot

Voyager 1 is currently the most distant man made object. Launched in 1977, it has long passed the orbit of Pluto and is on its way to the stars. In 1990, it took multiple photos of the solar system to create what is known as The Family Portrait.

The Family Portrait

As part of the Family Portrait, Voyager 1 took photos of Earth as well. Known as The Pale Blue Dot photos, a term coined by Carl Sagan, they give us a peek into the immensity of the universe and how insignificant and temporal our existence is.

Pale Blue Dot

<Earth is circled>

Pale Blue Dot

<Earth can be seen as a dot in the rightmost ray>

This is what Carl Sagan had to say about the photos


From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.


The Pioneers and The Voyagers

<All images courtesy Wikipedia and NASA>

Voyager 1 is at a distance of 0.002 light years from Sun. At that distance it takes 17.5 hours for the Sun’s light to reach the craft. By comparison, we are about 8 light minutes from Sun while Mars is just 4-5 light minutes away. With the current technology, it would take almost 6 months to reach the red planet. Just imagine how far Voyager 1 is! Mars is just 4 mins down the road, while Voyager is 17.5 hours away! It just blows your mind that even if we travel with the speed of light, most of the universe is beyond our reach of exploration. What wonders might there be which we would never come to know of. One episode of “Dr. Who” showed  a time billions of years in the future whence aliens and what remains of humanity come to watch the dying throbs of The Sol (The sun). Makes you wonder what lies in the future.

The thought that in the insignificant span of my life, I would not be able to see and explore more than a minuscule part of this almost infinite universe fills me with a sadness that cannot be put into words. I have always believed that

“Somewhere, Something incredible is waiting to be discovered.” ~ Carl Sagan

I think I will spend and end my life looking for that incredible.