Discovering the Final Frontier

A few days ago, the European Southern Observatory discovered the first possible Earth-like planet orbiting another star, Gliese 581 (also known as “HO Librae”). Gliese 581 is a red dwarf star — about 1/3 the size of our own sun, and about 100 times dimmer. HO Librae shines red in the sky above the the newly-discovered planet, “Gliese 581 c.” The planet has a year of only 13 days. Because it is so close, its sun would appear to be more than 4 times bigger than our sun, even though it is a smaller star. There is also known to be a neptune-like planet in the Gliese 581 system, “Gliese 581 b,” and scientists suspect there is at least one more planet as well (“Gliese 581 d”).

Gliese 581 c is five times as massive as the Earth and lies in it’s sun’s habitable zone, meaning that it is just the right distance for there to be liquid water on the surface. Further details on the planet are educated guesses, but the staff at the European Southern Observatory have put forth a few.

Gliese 581 c is probably a rocky world, and not a gas-giant. It’s diameter is probably 1.5x the Earth’s, which means that you would weigh roughly 2.2 times more on the surface than you do on Earth. The atmospheric temperature on the surface of Gliese 581 c could very well be between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, quite conductive to life.

There are still many unknowns, however. For example, Gliese 581 c might have a harsh, Venus-like atmosphere of greenhouse gasses which might cook the planet’s surface to hundreds of degrees. Possibly, it even has no atmosphere at all. Because we don’t have any clear pictures of the planet, no one knows exactly what the planet is made out of, although you can bet that many observatories will be focusing on the Gliese 581 system in order to try and catch a glimpse of the planet.

Also, while we are currently struggling to launch missions to the moon, and Mars, most of those issues are political rather than technical. Look at China, Japan, and India. While the US private sector is making some progress, much more needs to be done, and with a serious budget commitment. Gliese 581 is only 20 light-years away. By galactic standards, it’s a close neighbor. In fact, we have the technology today to send a probe which would arrive in only a few hundred years. Before long, we’ll be able to get there much quicker.

One of the reasons the space race faltered after reaching the Moon in the 60’s was because we found out there was no place interesting to go. Now that we’ve found a planet that may support Human life, we will be more motivated to check it out.

My End of World of Warcraft (oh no!)

So, I had been playing lots of World of Warcraft over the past few months. So much, in fact, that very little else was getting done. The game is quite addicting, and it is definitely loads of fun to put together a group of 4 or 5 people and go tromping through a dungeon together (especially when you win).

One thing that surprised me was the enormous number of people whom I already knew who played WoW already. Most of these people were work associates of myself, or my wife. Once they found out that we had started playing, they all wanted to see if we could play together. At first, I thought this was a really wonderful thing — defiantly a better way to make contacts than playing golf, and it could be a lot of genuine fun! Alas, this was not to be. Blizzard has dozens of WoW servers, and its pretty much random which one you use for your character, unless you know beforehand which servers your friends are on (note: your friends will all have different servers, unless they know each other). Since you can’t play with people on different servers, this pretty much means that you can’t play with any people you meet, even though they play WoW also. Blizzard will allow you to transfer characters to another server, but it takes several days, and costs around $30 — completely unacceptable. I really don’t understand why they have this restriction. If I could have easily played with people I met after choosing my server, I would play the game much longer.

Another problem of playing with friends is that you have to all put in the same amount of time. If your friend plays longer than you, for example, or more often, they will level up faster. Once there is a discrepancy of more than a handful of levels, you really can’t play with each other in the same party, since neither of you will get much experience for killing any monsters.

The biggest downside to the game, however, is the sheer amount of time it takes to get anything done. For example, the process of putting together a group of players and completing a dungeon can easily take 4 or 5 hours, if not more. Of course, Blizzard Entertainment did this on purpose, because the longer you play the game, the more you pay them for a subscription. However, the slightly good feeling you get when you and your chums complete a dungeon doesn’t really justify spending half of your daylight hours (or sleeping time) logged on to your computer. Also, you can’t break this time up into multiple sessions — if you log out halfway through a dungeon you’ll have to start it over again from scratch when you next log in.

Certainly, there are terrorists running around in Rainbow 6: Vegas which will make me much more satisfied to eliminate than yet another Savannah Huntress. For reference, I played several different characters up to level 27 or so, for both the Alliance and the Horde. Now we’ll see if canceling a WoW account with Blizzard is any more challenging than collecting spider ichor.

Fighting Spyware for the Average Man (part 3)

A few months ago I installed a dual-boot machine with both Linux and Windows for some friends of mine who were having perpetual spyware issues. I spoke with them recently, and it appears that the Windows install has started to s.l.o.w. down, which is pretty much what happened last time. Unfortunately, they seem to be a little more intimidated that I had thought, and I don’t think they’ve even tried using Linux yet.

The next time I visit at their house, I’ll take a look and see what the problem is with Windows, and if they’re actually using Linux or not.