Showing posts from March, 2009
Wolfram Research is planning to introduce a web tool/service that is apparently supposed to be "google with math" - searching for information and calculating answers to quantitative questions such as "How much did it rain in Boston last year?". I'm a bit skeptical that it'll be able to do much more than point to numerical sources. E.g. how would it handle a query like "Based on US federal government budgets, how much was spent on wages in 2005?" Could it really pull together all the sources needed to asnwer such a question?

Even if Wolfram Alpha works, I'm not enthusiastic about the creation of a "mathematical oracle" that people just have to trust knows what it's doing. Oh, I'm sure it'll provide references to where it got its data, and perhaps even allow you to peek at the equations it applied, if it does more than extract data it finds.

It'd be much more useful to define "web-math" - i.e. the HTML eq…

Making Laser Launch Take Off

Laser launch technology could replace conventional chemical rockets with a more efficient, higher specific impulse (ISP) form of rocketry. The basic idea is to shine a powerful laser - or a bunch of less powerful lasers - onto a rocket to deliver energy to heat reaction mass to a high enough temperature to make it expand rapidly and drive the rocket in reaction as it is expelled. Jordin Kare has suggested a form of rocket that is quite simple - a heat exchanger and a big tank of liquid hydrogen.

The problem is that this technology requires a substantial amount of investment in fundamental technologies - improved lasers, the heat exchanger, development of tracking systems, etc. And even once it's working, it requires a very substantial investment in infrastructure before you could make a rocket that could fly into orbit - fields of lasers being the biggest investment.

It seems to me that laser launch could be dramatically accelerated, by finding short term goals worth investing in…