Ten years since the death of Carl Sagan

Ten years ago today, Carl Sagan, one of the greatest humans of the 20th century died. What he did for humanity is too vast to cover in this post, he was awarded the Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Medal of the Soviet Cosmonauts Federation, the Public Welfare Medal and NASA's Exceptional Scientific Achievement award among many many others. What he gave back to human society is incalculable.

Carl Sagan

Although he was less well known in Britain then other countries, Patrick Moore has always been our "astronomer-guy" in the public mind. What I admire the most about Carl was his ability to show the awe and wonder of the cosmos, something very few people have been able to do, this was really his one single greatest attribute in my mind.

He was also not afraid to tackle social and political issues, especially when it came to nuclear weapons which under Reagan were being expanded along with the proposed development of SDI. When the Soviet Union announced that it would freeze all development of nuclear weapons, Carl was arrested twice as protests against the US government were called when they refused to follow the Soviet Union's lead.

Some of my favourite quotes:

And our small planet, at this moment here, we face a critical branch-point in history. What we do with our world right now will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants. It is well within our power to destroy our civilization, and perhaps our species as well. If we capitulate to superstition, or greed, or stupidity, we can plunge our world into a darkness deeper than the time between the collapse of classical civilization and the Italian Renaissance. But we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth, to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet, to enhance enormously our understanding of the universe and to carry us to the stars.

But up there in the cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatic ethnic or religious or national identifications are a little difficult to support when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.

Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.

Carl Sagan also worked on the famous Pioneer plaque.

Pioneer plaque

Not many people can say they've produced something that will outlive all life on Earth, the Earth itself, the Sun and the rest of the Solar System.

As sickening as this sounds in some ways I'm glad Carl Sagan isn't alive today to see how backward things have gone in recent years, how disappointed would he be? Religious extremism on the rise in both the West and the Middle East. The United States is developing even more nuclear weapons, and just yesterday announced it would consider enlarging its armed forces even more.

Carl Sagan often used the collapse of classical civilisation to underline the dangers we face in this one, only amplified many times over, the same technology we can use to feed and provide a meaningful existence for everyone on Earth can also be used to destroy us.

Rosa Luxembourg used the term "socialism or barbarism" to describe the choice humanity faces, we can either throw away all the old crap, nationalism, religious extremism, chauvinism, greed and stupidity or civilisation will collapse once again.

Carl Sagan, half a century later, said it was more a choice between life and death.

I choose life.

HD DVD pulls away with huge lead

Over at Digital Trends Rob Enderle writes an excellent article covering recent developments in the format war.

Nearly a year and a half ago I wrote a column saying that Blu-Ray wins or nothing does. This showcases the reality of doing predictions because while the analysis held up, events did not pan out as anticipated and by any current measure HD DVD will end this year with a decisive win.

All that being said, the killing blow may have been done by Microsoft who decided to bring to market a $200 HD DVD option for their Xbox 360 which has been in market a year longer than Sony and is projected to have a near 20x installed base advantage by year end (10M Xbox 360 to 600K PS3). Note that both projections are aggressive but Sony was supposed to originally ship 2M PS3s into the market during the 4th quarter and actual numbers (given they had under 200K at launch) may be closer to 400K. And with a recall possible there is a chance they might not even make that. Add to this that the Xbox 360 HD DVD drive is for movies only, so each one counts for movie viewing while PS3s may not be used to watch movies and you have a situation where the active movie player advantage by year-end should be between 4x and 6x better for HD DVD over Blu-Ray.

Finally, HP who had been a big Blu-Ray supporter and dominates the Media Center PC market, introduced a $100 HD DVD upgrade for their PCs (Sony’s Blu-Ray VIAO solution was just dropped to $749). The impact of this last move is still too early to measure but there is no comparably priced (not even close) solution using Blu-Ray.

If you go to Amazon and look you can see HD DVDs are solidly ahead and this is before the impact of either the Microsoft or the HP moves, many of which won’t be opened until Christmas or haven’t yet been shipped (HP).

I think he nails this on the head quite well. HD DVD has been pulling away from Blu-ray since launch, the PlayStation 3 has frankly failed and Sony has managed to ship just a tiny fraction of what they had originally hoped to.

He also highlights the danger that Blu-ray has a prolonged death, which will damage consumer acceptance of the now-generation formats and as a result needlessly delay update of HD DVD. But the winner of the format war is now clear, HD DVD has won, its just a question of how quickly it will replace DVD now.

Privatisation of space - disaster in waiting

This is something I bring up a lot. Private companies sending people into space, it's all the hype nowadays, and obviously people are unable to see the dangers, after all what's the track record of private companies on the ground?

I was reading Another World is Possible, the blog of John McDonnell MP, who is standing in the Labour leadership contest when Blair steps down, he wrote the following entry:

For all those attentive to this website who may have been hoping to go to the meeting in Birmingham tonight, unfortunately I've been trapped at Euston station thanks to privatisation of our railway service. Branson's Virgin trains have had another incident and all trains have been cancelled to Birmingham. All passengers have been advised to travel the next day. Branson is clearly trying to sabotage one of the central planks of my campaign, which is to bring rail back into public ownership.

Coincidentally, I bumped into an angry passenger at the station, fuming at the abysmal service by Branson's Virgin trains. This was noone other than Conservative MP William Cash, ardent advocate of rail privatisation and who under Thatcher voted consistently to undermine our rail service. Poetic justice or what?

Richard Branson, capitalist billionaire who wants to send people into space, a guy who can't even keep his trains running. Do you honestly want this guy to be putting people into space?

I sure as hell don't. Space should be strictly under public control. The exploitation of space should be avoided at all costs. Just a couple of weeks back we saw the Russian Space Agency hit a golf ball off the International Space Station, not only is this dangerous, that ball could strike another satellite, or worse the ISS. They do it for money in a shameless promotion of some golf company.

Of course not that Virgin Galactic actually does put people into space (when it flies that is); it's just a high altitude aircraft with a rocket attached to it. This does not reach orbit by a long long way and so is false advertising. Until a private company manages to develop a rocket comparable to Vostok they're no where near space, they're still a long way off, so far even private rockets capable of lifting only a few kilograms into orbit have had problems with exploding, again and again.

But the point still stands, do you want a company that can't keep the trains running involved in blasting people high up into the atmosphere, and eventually beyond? Am I the only one who sees a health and safety nightmare here?

Victory for the revolution in Venezuela

The masses of Venezuela have given total support to the continuation of the revolution. The Chavez government with its progressive program easily won the election with a large majority of the vote.

The opposition marches over the last week or so were dwarfed by the revolutionary masses which turned the captial into an ocean of red.

Chavez rally

Celebrations after the victory:

Celebrations after the victory

This election gives the government another six years to continue its program, in this time the government and more importantly the people themselves must increase the rate at which factories and shops are coming under workers control and break the power of capital before it is too late. The longer the capitalists have thier economic base intact the more dangerous the situation will become.

The forces of capital and imperialism have no objections to a violent blood bath if it will restore their full power, that can only be avoided by the masses themselves taking action to break the power of capital.

New super paranormal alien rods discovered

Some of you may remember my entry a few months back, dealing with the ridiculous claims of some individuals that we're being visited by alien rods. Yes the article was satire, I am not disturbed like one of the comments seems to suggest.

A bit of background, back in the summer I went out and took some images of rods; in reality I knew they were just flies or other insects. A camera doesn't take an image in a single instant of time, typical day time exposures are 1/125th of a second, so very short, however flies fly very fast, so just like any moving object they'll appear to blur over the image, which is why they appear as a line, usually with a regular pattern due to the position of the wings.

The Sun was at a fairly low angle and I could see insects at the bottom of my garden go shooting past, well illuminated by the Sun, perfect conditions for catching rods insects on camera.

If they're at the right distance to be in focus you'll get the classical rod object in your photo, some of my images show the orb which ghost hunters tell people is actually a ghost; this is because the insect (or dust, seeds or dozens of other things that can float around in the air) isn't at the right focus and just appears as a fuzzy blob.

Anyway back in September I was out photographing Jupiter and the Moon and I noticed there were a couple of moths flying around in the garden, so I decided to create an image of a super-rod. I turned on our light and sure enough a moth came over to it, I pointed the camera and left the shutter open for 4 seconds, to give the moth plenty of time to fly all over the image.

This is the result:

New super paranormal alien rod

I proudly present my new discovery of a super paranormal alien hyper ghost rod moth.

50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution

Today (well I'm 30 minutes late) was the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, or to be more exact the anniversary of when Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos returned from exile from Mexico onboard the Granma, to start the revolutionary war to overthrow the tyrannical regime of Fulgencio Batista.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara remembered by the people:

Ernesto "Che" Guevara

Veterans of the revolution out in force:

Cuban revolution veterans

Full text of Raul Castro's speech:

Comrades past, present and future combatants,

We welcome good friends of the Cuban Revolution who have offered their essential support and solidarity over these last 50 years of prolonged battle for sovereignty and freedom.

Among them I would like to mention the Guayasamin Foundation and the relatives of this great Ecuadorian friend and painter, who conceived this noble gesture of paying homage to comrade Fidel on his 80th birthday, an occasion which has brought to Havana heads of state or government, as well as other dignitaries and senior personalities from the political and cultural scenes of various countries.

On behalf of our people we thank them for honouring us with their presence at this forum.

Another reason why we are gathered here today is to celebrate the anniversary of a momentous event in our history. We are here to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landing of the Granma yacht on 2 December 1956, a date which marks the birth of the rebel army and of its true successors: the revolutionary armed forces.

It is to the combatant people, heroic protagonist and legitimate pillar of the armed forces, and to their founder and commander-in-chief that this military parade is dedicated.

This is divided into sections representing the beautiful history of 138 years of struggle by the Cuban people for their final independence.

Firstly, the liberation army that fought the colonial yoke, then the rebel army against neo-colonial tyranny followed by the revolutionary armed forces that defend the homeland, the revolution and socialism - one army of the people in three different stages of history.

This is a perfect time to reaffirm the full validity of the words spoken by comrade Fidel in his central report to the first congress of the Communist party, 31 years ago, as he said:

"The rebel army was the soul of the revolution. Its victorious arms opened the way for a new free, beautiful, striving and invincible new homeland. Its soldiers vindicated the blood generously shed in all the struggles for independence and with their own blood laid the foundations of Cuba's socialist present. They gave to the people the weapons wrested from the oppressor in an epic struggle, and merged with the people to become forever onward the armed people."

When "there was not yet the party which would emerge later on, the army was the factor of cohesion and unity of the entire people and the same that guaranteed power for the working people and the existence of the revolution".

And "upon the foundation of our party, the vanguard of our working class, the symbol and synthesis of the ideals, aspirations and history of the Cuban revolution from the glorious days of La Demajagua until now, and follower of the work of Marti's Revolutionary party and of the courageous founders of the first Marxist-Leninist party of Cuba, our army, heir to the heroism and patriotic honour of the liberation army, that has victoriously carried on its struggles, placed in the hands of the party the banners of the revolution and has ever since and forever been its most loyal, disciplined, humble and staunch follower". This is what Fidel said.

Also, in the context of the 50th anniversary of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (the Far), it is fitting to ratify the monolithic unity between the people, the army and the party. This unity has been deeply rooted over the years following the triumph of the revolution on 1 January 1959. This unity is our main strategic weapon, which has made it possible for this small island to resist and overcome so many aggressions from imperialism and its allies. This unity provides a basis for the internationalist work of the Cuban people and is the reason for the heroic deeds of its children in other countries around the world, following Marti's maxim that "Homeland is Humanity".

We are experiencing an exceptional moment in history.

Many thought that the demise of the socialist block and the collapse of the Soviet Union would spell the end for the international revolutionary movement.

Some even suggested that we abandon the ideals to which entire generations of Cubans had dedicated their lives, while over the last few years the US government, in the opportunistic manner characteristic of them, have stepped up their hostility and aggressiveness against Cuba to an unprecedented high, in the hope of economically suffocating the country and overthrowing the revolution by intensifying their subversive acts.

In this regard, the surprise and frustration of our enemies was great, and the admiration of the oppressed masses even greater, when they witnessed the perseverance, equanimity, maturity and self-confidence that our people have shown over these last four months.

Despite the manoeuvres and pressure of the United States and its allies, the prestige enjoyed by Cuba around the world has strengthened.

An example of this was the 14th Non-Aligned Summit successfully held in our capital last September, and more recently the unprecedented support given in the United Nations General Assembly to the resolution condemning the US blockade on our country.

In Latin America, the application the neo-liberal formula imposed by the United States and their European buddies has led the continent into the sad situation of being the region in the planet where the opulence of the oligarchy with close links to foreign capital is the most insulting and obnoxious when compared to the poverty, insalubrities and ignorance in which the majority of the population lives.

Over recent years, the peoples of Latin America have been progressively expressing their feelings of indignation and repudiation towards the treacherous and submissive policies adopted by traditional governments and parties.

Popular and revolutionary movements are getting stronger and despite Washington's multimillion-dollar campaigns of disinformation, the blackmail and brazen interference, new and experienced leaders are assuming the leadership of their nations.

The attempt by the United States to economically annex Latin America by way of the FTAA was thwarted while a project of integration known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, Alba, is taking its place following a proposal by president and brother, Hugo Chavez, to benefit the dispossessed masses.

Recent events in the international arena bear witness to the failure of the adventurous policies of the current US administration. On 7 November, the people of that country showed by the ballot box their rejection of the strategic concept of pre-emptive war, the use of lies to justify military interventions, kidnappings and secret prisons, and the despicable legalisation of torture in the so-called war on terrorism.

Three years and seven months after President Bush euphorically and precipitately declared on board an aircraft carrier "mission accomplished" with regards to the war in Iraq, the bodies of young American soldiers killed in a war spurred by the desire to control the region's energy resources continue to be sent back to the United States.

Nobody dares anymore to predict when it will end.

The US government is at a dead-end: on the one hand, it realises that it cannot prolong occupation in Iraq, while on the other it admits that it doesn't have the minimum conditions needed to pull out without damaging their interests.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths and mutilations continues to mount among civilians subjected to an internecine war, the result of the anarchy and chaos created by the US invasion.

Some in the United States are now suggesting that they simply withdraw from the chaos that they themselves created.

We don't know what they will do in this case, with the Nato left high and dry by its American buddies in the conflict in Afghanistan, which is also becoming increasingly unmanageable and dangerous.

In the eyes of the world, the so-called "crusade on terrorism" is unavoidably heading down the path to a humiliating defeat.

The American people, just as in the case of Vietnam, will put an end to these unjust and criminal wars.

We hope that the US authorities will learn that war is not the solution to the growing problems afflicting the planet; that proclaiming their right to irresponsibly attack "60 or more dark corners" of the world, even when they are already stuck in two of them, makes their differences with other countries more complex and profound; that power based on intimidation and terror will never be anything more than a passing illusion and that the terrible consequences of this on the peoples of the world, including the American, are clear to see.

We feel certain that the way to resolve the pressing conflicts afflicting mankind is not through war, but rather political solutions.

We take this opportunity to once again state that we are willing to resolve at the negotiating table the longstanding dispute between the United States and Cuba, of course, provided they accept, as we have previously said, our condition as a country that will not tolerate any blemishes on its independence, and as long as said resolution is based on the principles of equality, reciprocity, non-interference and mutual respect.

In the meantime, after almost half a century, we are willing to wait patiently until the moment when common sense prevails in the Washington power circles.

Regardless of this, we shall continue to consolidate our nation's military invulnerability based on the strategic concept of the War of All the People which we planned and began introducing 25 years ago.

This type of popular war, as repeatedly proven throughout modern history, is simply invincible.

We will continue to improve the preparation and combative cohesion of the regular troops and their reserves, the territorial militia, the production and defence brigades and other elements of the territorial defence corps, including all levels of the party, state and government structures.

We will continue to prepare the theatre of military operations while developing communications and the modernisation of combat resources in order to improve combative skills and adapt them to their envisaged use in the event of an attack.

We will also continue to strengthen the important work carried out on all fronts by the dedicated combatants of the ministry of the interior.

We will preserve the freedom of the Cuban people and the independence and sovereignty of the homeland at all costs.

With the strength derived from hundreds of years of struggle and the patriotic energy characteristic of our people, so noble and heroic, let us raise our voices in harmony to proclaim:

Long Live Fidel!

Long Live Free Cuba!

And today the people of Venezuela decide if they want to continue their revolution.

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