Star Trek and Its Influence on Space Exploration and the World!

Star Ship Enterprise from the original Star Trek series with stars in the background
Image by p2722754 from Pixabay

The original Star Trek franchise, which ran from 1966-1969 was not just a great sci-fi series. It was a catalyst of innovation, inspiration, and collaboration for people across the world. Concepts such as warp drive, transporter technology, and deflector shields have sparked discussion, and terms such as dilithium crystals initiated conversations. Let’s take a closer look at how Star Trek has influenced fans and scientists alike in space exploration and society as a whole.

Inspiring Future Generations

The franchise ran from 1966-1969 and became a milestone in ingenuity. The series influenced people to look to the skies, wondering what was out there. Star Trek was and still is an inspiration to countless individuals seeking careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and of course, space exploration. Many astronauts, scientists, engineers, and space enthusiasts have cited Star Trek as a formative influence on their interest in space and their decision to pursue careers in related fields.

Woman scientist lookiing up
iStock

Viewers were fascinated as they watched the Enterprise crew encounter new civilizations. Some were more advanced and some whose evolution was considered primitive by 23rd century Earth standards. That is where the Prime Directive came into play. A central tenet of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets’ principle prohibits interference with the internal development of alien civilizations, particularly pre-warp ones, meaning they have not yet developed the capability for faster-than-light travel.

The stories captivated audiences as to how the crew would struggle to maintain the directive when encountering obstacles they had to overcome. One of the most enduring encounters was in “The City on the Edge of Forever” where Dr. McCoy accidentally went back in time and somehow changed Earth’s history. It was up to Kirk and Spock to find McCoy and reverse what he did. Shatner mentioned this as his favorite episode during a YouTube interview with renowned astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson.

A Galaxy of Predators and Peacemakers

It wasn’t just the prime directive the Enterprise crew had to deal with. There were civilizations within the galaxy that found Starfleet to be a threat to them, namely the Klingons, as well as other aliens such as the Gorns – a reptilian humanoid species who Kirk was forced to fight on an alien planet in the episode “Arena“.

Arena was one episode and no more Gorns appeared throughout the series, but the Klingons were another story, as the crew had numerous encounters with them. In “Day of the Dove,” they become entangled in a conflict with them, controlled by a mysterious entity that thrives on hatred and conflict. Fortunately, it ended well, at least for that time, but we won’t spoil the ending by explaining how it happened.

Needless to say, the Klingons were always a thorn in the side of Star Fleet; however, that changed in the Next Generation when a peace treaty was consummated with them. Lt. Commander Worf, a Klingon was the security officer on the bridge. We’ll venture into Captain Picard’s universe in a separate article, focusing only on the original series here.

The show’s optimistic vision of humanity’s future in the 23rd century depicted people from diverse backgrounds working together. This resonated with audiences worldwide and represented a peaceful coexistence between all parties back on Earth. 

Overall, “Star Trek” is a cultural phenomenon that has inspired generations of fans by exploring bold ideas, emphasizing inclusivity, and envisioning a future where humanity’s potential knows no bounds.

The Characters

Lieutenant Uhura

In the 10th episode of the third season titled “Plato’s Stepchildren,” Captain Kirk (William Shatner) kissing Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) broke barriers that echoed across the country as the first interracial kiss on TV, and still today, it is looked upon as a milestone that has advanced racial relations in TV and across all media platforms.

Nichols was the first African-American woman to play a lead role on television as Communication Officer Lieutenant Uhura. She met Dr. Martin Luther King, who was inspired by her character on Star Trek and said to her, “Do you not understand what God has given you? … You have the first important non-traditional role, a non-stereotypical role. … You cannot abdicate your position. You are changing the minds of people across the world, because for the first time, through you, we see ourselves and what can be.

Chekov

Star Trek was aired during the Cold War and the Russian national officer Chekov, played by Walter Koenig, sent a clear message that there was mutual peace between the US and the Soviet Union in the 23rd century. Interestingly enough, this did become a reality after the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1991. 

Unfortunately, recent current events are proving otherwise, as Valdimar Putin’s attack on Ukraine is reminiscent of past Soviet colonization. Despite this, the International Space Station (ISS) is still strong. It is a collaborative project involving multiple space agencies, including NASA (United States), ESA (European Space Agency), JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), CSA (Canadian Space Agency) and yes, Roscosmos (Russia).

What happens after the Ukraine war remains to be seen, but let’s hope that when the 23rd century arrives, Gene Roddenberry’s view of future world peace still holds.

Lieutenant Sulu

George Takei portrayed Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek series and the first six Star Trek films. He served as the helm officer aboard the USS Enterprise under Captain Kirk. He’s known for his calm demeanor and exceptional piloting skills, expertly navigating the Enterprise through dangerous situations.



Although “Hikaru” is a typical Japanese first name, “Sulu”
isn’t a Japanese surname. It refers to the Sulu Sea, near the Philippines. This is reportedly what Gene Roddenberry wanted – some ambiguity to his origin. Since Sulu was never referred to as specifically Japanese, it allowed Roddenberry to represent him with a broader Asian background, allowing him to represent all Asians within the entire Star Trek universe.

It is no coincidence that in real life, George Takei is full Japanese and felt the wrath of the American internment camps after the Pearl Harbor attacks. He has since become a vocal advocate for racial and social justice and has talked about his experience at previous Star Trek conventions. 

George Takei was born on April 20, 1937, and is 86 years old.

Scotty

Lieutenant Scott, or “Scotty” (James Doohan), as Captain Kirk called him, was the chief engineer of the Enterprise. He is known for his technical expertise and his ability to keep the enterprise running smoothly, even under the most challenging circumstances. Scotty’s catchphrase, “I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain!” has become iconic in popular culture.

His character is depicted as fiercely loyal to the captain and the crew of the Enterprise. He is often portrayed as having a gruff exterior but also demonstrates compassion and camaraderie with his fellow crew members.

Scotty’s loyalty takes control with support from Dr. McCoy

Scott’s background was from Scotland. His strong Scottish accent and colorful expressions are instantly recognizable. In addition to his engineering skills, Scotty is known for his fondness for Scotch whisky, which adds depth to his character and provides moments of levity in the series. The term “Beam me up Scotty” is a common idiom known worldwide.

Dr. McCoy

Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelly) is a prominent character in the Star Trek franchise, known for his role as the ship’s chief medical officer. He is a highly skilled physician with expertise in various fields of medicine and surgery, but, at times, he finds himself faced with challenging situations, especially when confronted with alien physiology,

Star Trek Enterprise sick bay
Sick Bay Star Trek Museum Ticonderoga, NY

Despite his occasional verbal battles with fellow crewmembers, mainly when addressed by Mr Spock’s lack of human emotion, McCoy can get very poignant and is not afraid to speak his mind, particularly when he feels that ethical principles are at stake. He often serves as a voice of reason, questioning authority and advocating for what he believes is right, even if it means challenging orders from superiors. Overall, however, he shows compassion for the well-being of his fellow crew members.

McCoy shares a close friendship with Captain Kirk, and this dynamic is characterized by playful banter, mutual respect, and unwavering loyalty to one another. His personality is often remembered for his remarks when confronted with events that force him to step outside his expertise, which prompts him to yell out his memorable catchphrase, “I’m a doctor, not a … “.

McCoy’s background is not directly mentioned; however, there are subtle implications that he comes from the southern United States.

Spock
Leonard Nimoy’s most iconic role as Spock, the half-Vulcan, half-human science officer, has become a pop culture phenomenon, admired for his logic, loyalty, and the Vulcan salute he originated. “Live Long and Prosper” were the words that accompanied Spock’s salute. He used two fingers to donate it. Although not explicitly addressed in the series, the Vulcan salute represents the Hebrew letter Shin (ש) and refers to the Jewish Priestly Blessing. A blessing from the Old Testament that Nimoy witnessed as a child.

This author was privileged to meet Nimoy while visiting the Jewish Museum in NYC. I asked him what he thought of the other Star Trek series. He responded, “I think of them as my grandchildren. They come, and then they go away”. 

Leonard Nimoy passed away in 2015 from COPD, but his influence on science fiction and popular culture remains immense, especially among NASA engineers. His mindset and discipline helped bridge the gap between human emotions and logic, enlightening children and adults to think clearly and logically when encountering problems.

Kirk

Captain James Tiberius Kirk, portrayed by William Shatner, is one of the most iconic characters in science fiction history.  As the captain of the USS Enterprise, his persona became synonymous with strength, leadership, and exploration of the unknown, along with the phrase “Boldly go where no man has gone before“, and boldly they did travel through the galaxy, encountering new life and civilizations. 

Black and white portrait of William Shatner
Wikipedia Public Domain

You Can Call Me Bill

William Shatner always had a passion for space travel. In 1978, he recorded his version of Rocket Man at the Sci-fi Awards. But his passion did not end there. On October 13, 2021, at age 90, he went from fictional to real spaceman aboard billionaire Jeff Besos’s Blue Origin spacecraft and became the oldest human to ever set foot into space.

I saw a cold, dark, black emptiness. It was unlike any blackness you can see or feel on Earth. It was deep, enveloping, all-encompassing. I turned back toward the light of home. I could see the curvature of Earth, the beige of the desert, the white of the clouds, and the blue of the sky. It was life. Nurturing, sustaining, life. Mother Earth. Gaia. And I was leaving her,” reads an excerpt from “Boldly Go” that was first published in Variety Magazine.”

I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. It’s extraordinary, extraordinary. It’s so much larger than me and life. It hasn’t got anything to do with the little green men and the blue orb. It has to do with the enormity, quickness, and suddenness of life and death.

Shatner, at age 93, is still going strong. On March 17, 2024, he was the guest at the Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, NYC, hosted by  Neil Degrasse Tyson for a Q&A session after screening his new movie “You Can Call Me Bill.” 

William Shatner speaking with Neil Degrasse Tyson at Lincoln Center
William Shatner and Neil Degrasse Tyson discuss Shatner’s life and philosophy of the universe

Mission Names and Concepts

NASA and other space agencies have drawn inspiration from the show when naming missions or developing mission concepts. The Space Shuttle Enterprise was named after the show. It’s a nod to the franchise, reflecting its enduring influence on the community and its role in shaping the language and imagery of space exploration.

Fueling Public Interest

The series’ portrayal of space travel, alien worlds, and encounters with extraterrestrial life has captured the imagination of millions of people, inspiring them to learn more about the universe. The famous Star Trek conventions and related events have provided forums for enthusiasts to unite, share their passion for space exploration, and engage with real-world space missions. 

Engineering room on the Star Trek Enterprise spacecraft
Engineering room on the Enterprise Museum Ticonderoga, NY

Shaping Spacecraft Design

The original spacecraft, the USS Enterprise, designated by NCC-1701 (Navel Construction Contract, 17 for Starfleet’s 17th starship design, and 01 – the first of this design series), has influenced real-world spacecraft planning. While the functionality of these fictional vessels may differ from actual spacecraft, their sleek and futuristic designs have inspired engineers to think creatively about spacecraft aesthetics and functionality. 

Four views of the Star Ship Enterprise
Image by Gerhard Janson from Pixabay

Promoting Scientific Inquiry

Star Trek’s emphasis on exploration has promoted a culture of curiosity and exploration in society. The series’ portrayal of futuristic technologies and scientific concepts has sparked interest in science and encouraged viewers to learn more about the universe and the possibilities of space exploration. Concepts introduced in Star Trek, such as the Prime Directive and the exploration of strange new worlds, have inspired discussions about ethics, philosophy, and humanity’s role in the cosmos.

Inspiring Technological Innovation

Star Trek has inspired the development of numerous technologies that were once considered futuristic but have since become reality or influenced real-world technology development. Examples include cell phones (inspired by the communicators used by Starfleet officers), tablet computers (similar to the PADD devices seen on the show), voice-activated computers (reminiscent of the ship’s computer), medical imaging devices (such as MRI and CT scanners), and more. The franchise’s imaginative depictions of technology have inspired scientists, engineers, and inventors to push the boundaries of what is possible and strive to turn science fiction into reality.

Exploring Moral and Ethical Dilemmas

Star Trek often explores complex moral and ethical dilemmas through its storytelling. Episodes frequently address issues such as the ethics of scientific experimentation, the consequences of war and violence, and the challenges of diplomacy and cooperation between different cultures and species. By tackling these issues thoughtfully and thoughtfully, Star Trek encourages viewers to reflect on their values and beliefs.

Conclusion

Star Trek’s influence on space exploration is profound and far-reaching, extending from its role as a source of inspiration and imagination to its impact on technology, collaboration, and public engagement.

By envisioning a future where humanity explores the cosmos with curiosity, courage, and cooperation, Star Trek has helped shape the collective aspirations and ambitions of the space exploration community. It continues to inspire generations of space enthusiasts worldwide.

Raising Cranes in Skyscrapers

Tower crane on top of building under constructon in Manhatan, NY
iStock

Look up! It’s a bird. No, it’s a plane. No, it’s a tower crane! That’s the official term for a crane (sometimes called a ‘derrick’) placed onto under-construction skyscrapers. But how do they get there, and how do the workers raise the crane after each floor is completed? Here, we will delve into the intricate steps involved in accomplishing this amazing engineering feat.

The Jump

Raising cranes, technically called “crane jump” or what construction workers call “jump the crane,” is a fascinating engineering feat that involves meticulous planning, specialized equipment, and skilled labor. 

Although this sounds sophisticated, it is a process that is done on a routine basis, especially in cities like New York, where skyscraper construction is a daily routine.

Jumping the crane is a crucial step for facilitating the construction of tall buildings efficiently and safely. 

Dual collage of Vandebilt Building in NYC under construction
Vanderbilt Building. 42nd St. NYC showing tower cranes during its construction. Photo: SMS

Where’s My Crane?

The first step is selecting the appropriate type of crane for the job. Below is a list of the major types of cranes used in construction.

Mobile Cranes

Mobile cranes, as the name suggests, are mounted on tracked vehicles, allowing them to be easily transported to different locations. 

Crawler Cranes

These cranes use tracks instead of wheels, providing mobility on uneven or soft ground surfaces. They are often used in heavy-duty lifting operations such as bridge building and equipment installation.

Tower Cranes

Most famous for the construction of tall buildings, especially supertalls. 

Overhead Cranes

Also known as bridge or gantry cranes, they are installed on elevated runways or gantries within a building or industrial facility and are commonly used in manufacturing and warehouses.

Jib Cranes

These compact lifting devices with a vertical mast or pillar are commonly used for lifting materials in workshops, loading docks, and assembly lines. Not to be confused with the jib erected to a tower crane on skyscrapers.

Telescopic Cranes

These machines contain telescoping sections that can extend or retract to adjust the reach and lifting capacity.

Floating Cranes

These are specialized cranes usually mounted on barges, allowing them to operate on rivers, lakes, or ports. They are used for lifting heavy loads onto ships, offshore construction projects, and marine salvage operations.

Loader Cranes

Also known as knuckle boom cranes, loader cranes are equipped with hinged booms that resemble knuckle joints. This design allows the crane to fold and unfold, enhancing maneuverability and reach. Loader cranes are commonly used for loading and unloading cargo.

Skyscrapers Choice

From the choices above, the Tower Crane is used for skyscraper construction. It is characterized by its tall vertical mast and horizontal boom, which can rotate to lift and move heavy loads across the construction site. This makes it the perfect choice for the construction of tall buildings.

Assembling the Crane

Once the crane type is chosen, the construction team begins assembling the structure on the ground. This typically involves erecting the tower mast section by section, securing it with bolts or pins, and attaching the horizontal jib or boom. Each crane section is carefully hoisted into position using smaller cranes or hydraulic systems.

Photo of a jib crane
Jib/Boom Section fo a Tower Crane. iStock

As the crane assembly progresses, special attention is paid to ensure the stability and structural integrity of the crane. Counterweights are strategically placed to balance the crane’s load capacity and prevent tipping. Additionally, anchoring systems, such as tie-downs or concrete footings, are installed to secure the crane to the ground and provide stability during operation.

Safety measures are paramount throughout the crane-raising process. Construction workers receive thorough training on its assembly, and strict safety protocols are enforced to prevent accidents and injuries. Quality control inspections verify that each crane component meets safety standards before being put into service.

Lifting the Crane into Position

Photo of tower cranes on top of building under construction in lower Manhattan
4 World Trade Center. 150 Greenwich Street, NYC, under construction. SMS

Once the crane is fully assembled and tested, it can be hoisted into position. This is typically accomplished using hydraulic jacks or a climbing system that incrementally lifts the crane to the desired height. As the crane ascends, additional mast sections may be added to extend its reach as the building grows taller.

Installing the crane at the correct location maximizes its efficiency and effectiveness. Engineers carefully analyze factors such as building layout, wind patterns, and logistical considerations to determine the optimal placement for the derrick. This ensures the crane can reach all construction site areas while minimizing interference with other construction activities.

All Set

Once in position, the crane becomes an essential tool for the construction process, lifting materials, equipment, and personnel to various building levels. Skilled operators control their movement with precision, coordinating with ground crews and construction workers to safely transport loads to their designated locations.

As the skyscraper’s construction progresses, the crane may need to be modified or repositioned to accommodate changing project requirements. This could involve adding or removing mast sections, adjusting the boom length, or relocating the crane to a different part of the site. These adjustments require careful planning and coordination to minimize downtime and ensure continued productivity.

On Top of the World

Collage of WTC Freedom Tower under construction
One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) is under construction. (L-R) March 2010 and November 2011. Photo SMS

Once assembled and set into place, the lifting begins, which can be steel beams, concrete sections, or other large, heavy items. 

The Take Down

Eventually, as the skyscraper nears completion, the crane will be disassembled in a reverse process, as it was erected. Each component is carefully lowered to the ground using hydraulic systems or smaller cranes and dismantled for transport to the next construction site or storage facility.

Conclusion

If you live in a big city like Chicago or New York, you no doubt have seen these tower cranes in action. Now, you can appreciate the complexity and intricate process needed, along with the skilled labor and specialized equipment.

From selecting the right crane for the job to safely assembling and operating it on the construction site, every step is essential for ensuring the successful completion of tall building projects. So, the next time you look up at a skyscraper, you can credit the tower cranes and the construction workers who put it all together.

How Does Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) work?

Photo of LCD screen showing the James Web Telescope
Photo: SMS

In 1994, a man walked into a Manhattan audio-visual store and saw something astonishing, A flat screen was hanging on the wall with a TV picture displayed. The width of this display was about 2”, and the cost was $18,000. That’s over $40,000 in today’s market.

Fast forward to 2024 and flat screens are the norm. Nowhere, or perhaps in a museum, would one find those bulky cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs that the world used 50 years ago. When we buy a TV, we look at all kinds of flat screens, technically called Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs). There are also more advanced technologies, but we will focus on LCDs in this article as they are still trendy in the commercial market.

We will explore the inner workings of these types of TVs, from the liquid crystals, filters, and electricity to how these elements collaborate to produce the stunning images we see on our TV and computer monitors.

Illuminating the Screen

Incandescnt vs. Fluorescent

The  LCD’s source of illumination is known as a ‘backlight.’ Initially, the backlight comprised fluorescent lamps. This is a step above the well-known incandescent light bulbs we use in our homes. In other words, incandescent light provides light through the continual heating of a metallic filament, which constantly uses electricity to heat the filament and produce light. Fluorescent bulbs consume much less electricity than incandescent bulbs because they don’t require continuous electricity output to heat them.

Enter Light Emitting Diodes

In more recent years, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have become the standard due to their improved energy efficiency and better control over brightness levels. This energy savings is due to the LEDs not being needed to generate the amount of heat that fluorescent lighting does.

With LCDs, the backlight uniformly illuminates the entire display panel, providing brightness for image formation.

Liquid Crystal Layer 

Directly in front of the backlight lies the liquid crystal layer. Liquid crystals are unusual in that they can possess the properties of both liquids and solids. They have the ability to flow like a liquid. This flow is random by nature, but temperature changes can cause these crystals to bypass their natural random state of flux and move in a certain direction. Additionally, adding an electric current through the crystals will also cause them to ‘straighten out’, and in so doing, one can harness the crystal flow allowing a certain degree of light to materialize. 

How the Crystals are Harnessed to Produce Light

When electricity is transmitted through the crystals, they become polarized, which causes the molecules to straighten and move in one direction. Similar to when an electric field is sent through a wire, the electrons become polarized and move in one direction from one pole to the other. In the case of crystals, it is the molecules that are affected. They will align and move in a specific direction.

Polarizing the liquid crystals is a crucial component in controlling the amount of light being emitted; in other words, it controls the orientation of the molecules to produce the appropriate amount of luminescence on the TV display, which forms images on the screen.

This amount of luminescence is controlled by a polarizing filter. By adding a polarizing filter to the electrically charged molecules, the crystals will align either horizontally or vertically. One direction will block the light and the other direction will allow the light to pass through.

But this is just a black-and-white situation (pun intended). 🙂 What happens between the pure black or pure white luminance that passes through the crystals is significant. In other words, the shades of black and white produce what we see on the screen. Let’s discuss this in more detail.

Enter the Pixel

Copilot AI Generated image of a woman's face
Each square in this image is a pixel. Copilot AI-Generated Image

There is a polarizing filter for each of the LCD molecules. This combination of a crystal and filter is called a pixel – a liquid crystal cell. (The actual components and how the components react within these cells are beyond the scope of this article).

Rotating the filter regulates the amount of light that will be released. Another way of putting it is that the rotation of the filter controls the intensity of the light; thus, the filter can make the pixels very bright, not too bright, or have no brightness at all (blackness), depending upon how much the filter is rotated either way.

Close up view of pixels in an image of an eye.
Close up view of how each pixel contains a different shade of black and white due to the amount of light that is emitted through the pixel from the polarizing filter

For LCDs, this specific control of light transmission forms the basis of how images are displayed on the screen since some pixels will be brighter or darker than their neighbors.

An analogy would be If you look at any black and white photograph, the images are little dots of pure white or pure black and everything in between which forms the figures we see. 

Next, we will discuss adding color, but understanding how light is released through pixels is a prerequisite. 

Color Filters 

Ai generated color image of a woman's face
Notice how each pixel has a different shade of color and light intensity. On a live screen, the pixels will not be visible

In addition to the polarization filters attached to each cell, there are the color filters. These filters, typically red, green, and blue (RGB), determine the color of the light transmitted through them. 

Just as the rotation of the polarization filters determines the shades of black and white for the image, the color filters go one step further and choose the correct combination of colors to obtain for each pixel. 

Forming the Image

Whether the initial signal comes from a cable box, streaming device, or computer screen, a set of algorithms in the TV determines the appropriate amount of electrical current for each pixel. The desired image is then formed on the screen by selectively activating or deactivating the brightness levels of the pixels

Conclusion

LCD screens produce images using liquid crystals, which have the unique ability to react to electrical current in a way that permits just the right amount of light to be emitted from each pixel.

The pixels are cells that contain polarization filters and color filters. By fine-tuning the intensity of the electrical current applied to each pixel and carefully manipulating the polarization of light, the TV can reproduce a vast array of colors and shades.

What are the Major Components of Building a House?

Wood frame house under construction

Suppose you want to build a house for yourself and your family. What is involved? It is not just about getting the wood or metal components and assembling them. A lot more is involved, starting with planning. Let’s take a look.

The Design

First, before you hire anyone, you need to decide the architectural style you want. Will it be a colonial, Tudor, Georgian, or contemporary? Or perhaps you are looking for a more traditional or old-fashioned look, such as Victorian or Art Deco? 

When you decide, the next step is to visit an architect. This professional will propose the design and layout based on your specs, such as the number of bedrooms and baths, and any specific requests, such as a library, movie room, gym, or maybe vaulted ceilings with a skylight over the dining room.

The architect will also oversee all the structural components to ensure the building’s stability and safety and begin the procedure for obtaining the necessary permits and approvals from local authorities. You will probably review several designs and floor plans before deciding.

The Builders

Once the design is complete, you will need to find the building developers. This company will build your house based on the architect’s plans and specifications.

The Foundation

The building developers prepare the foundation before the first brick is laid. They construct the foundation walls, which support the structure. Usually, this consists of applying a combination of wood and concrete to line the walls, but it may include other elements as well.

Additionally, a rebar is used to reinforce the concrete to withstand the everyday stresses of tension (pulling apart). If the concrete is not mixed correctly, or the rebar/concrete assembly is flawed, cracks can result in the concrete, compromising the integrity of the structure and resulting in significant costs to fix, as well as posing a danger to those who are in the building.

Utilities

The developers will connect the water, sewer, electricity, and other utilities required for the house structure.

Framing

House under construction showing frame structure

So far, if you look at how your home is taking shape, all you will see is concrete and wood along a hole in the ground. It’s not very pretty, so you will need to come back when the framing begins, which refers to the house’s skeleton that resides above the foundation. 

You will see the structural frame, which is the 2x4s that support the walls, and then the siding will be installed. Wood or concrete are the most common, and finally, the sheet rock will cover the framework. 

Windows and doors and any finishing details, such as a specified interior trim, come next. 

Plumbing and Electrical Work

Photo of electrical wiring in an offic

Interior Finishing

    • Flooring: Putting in the chosen flooring material (e.g., hardwood, carpet, tile).
    • Cabinetry and Countertops: Installing kitchen and bathroom cabinets and countertops.
    • Painting and Wall Coverings: Applying paint or wallpaper.
    • Trim and Molding: Adding decorative elements.

      Fixtures and Appliances

    • Plumbing Fixtures: Installing sinks, faucets, toilets, and showers.
    • Lighting Fixtures: Adding light fixtures throughout the house.
    • Kitchen Appliances: Installing ovens, refrigerators, and other appliances.

      Landscaping and Exterior Elements

      Landscaping: Designing and planting the garden or yard.

    • Driveway and Walkways: Creating paths and driveways
    • Outdoor Features: Building decks, patios, and other outdoor spaces.
  • Final Inspections and Tests:
  • Building Inspections: Authorities check the house for compliance with building codes.
  • Quality Assurance: Ensure all systems and components are functioning correctly.
  • Occupancy and Move-In:
  • Obtain a Certificate of Occupancy: This allows you to occupy the house legally.
  • Move-In: Finally, you can move into your new home.

Building a house is a significant undertaking, and it involves various professionals, including architects, engineers, contractors, electricians, plumbers, and more, to ensure the project’s success. The specific steps and components can vary based on the type of house, location, and individual preferences.

 

 

Neuralink – The Brain’s Sixth Sense

AI generated illustration of neurons connecting to a cell phone

Lucy Has Arrived!

In 2014, the sci-fi thriller Lucy was released in theaters across the country. It starred Scarlett Johanson, whose brain became so powerful that she could move objects with nothing but a thought.

This may sound far out, but it is much closer than you think. Enter the ‘Link’. A computer chip that is implanted inside the human brain. It can read and convert our thoughts into digital signals that a computer will understand and respond to.

Although the Link is in its fetal stages, the results are so promising that we can confidently say that Lucy is here to stay. No more is it a thought of the future (pun intended 🙂)

One example would be a person who wants to browse the web on their iPhone, and he/she would control the device by simply thinking about it. This can be particularly useful for those who have paralysis, neurological disorders, or prosthetic limbs, as well as assisting with a range of other disorders where a person is medically incapacitated. 

The Makers of the Link 

Elon Musk discussing the NeuralinkElon Musk discussing the Neuralink

Neuralink is an advanced neurotechnology company founded by Elon Musk. It specializes in developing brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). These interfaces allow communication between the human brain and external devices by translating neural activity (movement of brain cells) into digital signals (the electrical impulses (1s and 0s) that computer systems use, called “bits)

The Neuralink Device

The Link is a tiny, flexible device about the size of a small coin surgically embedded into the human skull. It contains thousands of hair-thin electrodes that interface directly with the brain cells. These electrodes read the neural activity and translate them into digital data (the 1s and 0s mentioned above). 

This is quite fascinating because there are roughly 86 billion cells in the brain, each measuring about 680 microns, which is extremely small. One micron equals 0.000039 inches or 1/100 the size of a human hair.

Groundbreaking Medical Features

Illustration of thoughts coming out of the brain

Wireless Charging

From cell phones to earbuds to EV cars, we all have some device that needs routine charging, maybe twice a day, depending upon its use. With the Link, it gets its charge from the skin.   

A Robotic Miracle

If you think AI is cool, imagine a robot that surgically implants the device in the brain! That might sound scary, but it has been proven to work more efficiently than any human can do, no matter how skilled the surgeon might be.

How Does It Work?

The process involves several steps.

  1. Recording Neural Activity: The Link has thousands of thin, flexible electrodes embedded in the brain tissue. These terminals capture the electrical pulses of nearby neurons and their voltage fluctuations. The fluctuations are in analog format, meaning that they act like a sine wave. Digital data is in the form of whether a signal is on (represented by a computer bit of 1) or off (represented by a computer bit of 0). The size of the voltage fluctuations determines which instance it is and is subsequently converted to the appropriate computer bit format.

    Ilustration of two neurons communicating with each other
    Neuron cells send electrical chemical signals. 3d illustration
  2. Analog-to-Digital Conversion: This is a common practice for many devices we use every day, and the Neuralink device is no different, except that the translation process occurs within the tiny Link chip. The captured analog signals are changed into digital data via the chip’s electronics, which amplifies the weak signals, filters out the noise, and then converts the voltage changes into a series of digital bits.
  3. Feature Extraction: Not all neural activity is converted. The Link’s processing unit analyzes the digital data stream and extracts specific features that are known to be associated with the desired output, such as movement, speech, or sensory perception. This could involve identifying patterns in the timing and frequency of the electrical spikes or the activity of specific groups of neurons.
  4. Machine Learning Algorithms: Now, the AI part. The extracted data is fed into machine learning algorithms trained on a large dataset of brain activity. These algorithms map the neural patterns to specific commands, thoughts, or sensations; in other words, they decode the brain’s messages. 
  5. Output Generation: Based on the decoded information, the Link can trigger specific actions (e.g., controlling a computer cursor or prosthetic limb) or generate external signals (e.g., synthetic speech or electrical stimulation for sensory restoration).

How the Link Will Be Applied 

Neuralink’s technology has the potential to transform medical technology into the 24th century and beyond.

AI generated image showing a man's brainwaves connecting to his body

  • Human-Computer Interaction: The ability to control devices directly through thought is closer now than ever before.
  • Medical Applications: Restoring lost sensory and motor functions in individuals with paralysis or neurological disorders.
  • Cognitive Enhancement: Humans may be able to retain information at an exceptional level, called Augmenting Memory. The possibility of one having extremely long-term memory can have significant advantages for everyone, from students to the elderly who would gain the most benefits.

The Future of Neuralink

The Neuralink technology holds immense potential to reshape our understanding of the brain and its interaction with technology.  While challenges remain, ongoing research and development efforts are bringing us closer to a future where brain-computer interfaces will become a reality and the potential for advanced human abilities and our interaction with the world around us will be within our reach!

 

 

 

One More Step to Mars!

The Next Step!

The world watched in awe as Neil Armstrong put his foot on the moon’s surface on July 21, 1969, and his famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” resonated across the globe.

Now, 50 years later, we begin our lunar quest again. This time with advanced technology only dreamed of in the mid-20th century. A sci-fi fantasy then, but not anymore. Let’s look at what’s in store for this new, exciting journey!

Artemis

The Orion rocket. Part of the Artemis System
The Orion rocket. Part of the Artemis System

Unlike Neil Armstrong’s day, the Artemis project is led by NASA but includes a collaboration of international partners and is designed for greater ventures beyond the moon. A stepping stone if you will, with the final destination – Mars.

Named after Apollo’s twin sister, Artemis is a fitting name for this venture, as one of its plans is to put the first woman on the moon. The moon will act as a testing ground for the new technologies, and if successful, it will pave the way for these systems for deep space exploration.

Another difference from the 1969 moon landing is that the new spaceship will land on the lunar south pole. This is of particular interest to scientists since this region has water and ice. Water is a critical resource for sustaining life and can also be converted into oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for rocket fuel.

This research will lead to establishing a sustainable infrastructure that can support a long-term human presence.

The Programs Supported by the Artemis Project

The development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft are two of the major developments currently being developed. Let’s take a closer look.

The Space Launch System

Artemis 1 Moon Rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Florida photograph taken March 2022
Artemis 1 Moon Rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Florida March 2022. iStock

The SLS is the super heavy rocket that will propel the Orion spacecraft and its crew into deep space. This is the first of the two main components of the Artemis project. The SLS consists of a rocket and its boosters that will blast the astronauts to the moon and later to deep space.

It will lift off with 8.8 million pounds of thrust and is equipped with four RS-25 core engines in two boosters and an upper-stage booster. They will be using liquid hydrogen and oxygen as their fuel.

No other rocket in history will have the advancements of the SLS. With its ambitious design for deep space, it will contain life support technology for long journeys, advancements in navigation and communications, and a powerful radiation shield for re-entry.

The Orion Spacecraft

The Orion Spacecraft
Orion spacecraft. Elements of this image furnished by NASA. iStock

The Orion Spacecraft is the reusable capsule located at the upper component of the SLS where the astronauts will reside and will contain the modules that will land on the moon. Similar to the lunar module that landed on the lunar surface in 1969.

It can provide life support for up to six crew members for up to 21 days. Orion is a critical part of NASA’s Artemis program and will be the rocket used to land on the lunar surface and to prepare for the mission to move on to Mars.

 

What are White Dwarf Stars?

White Dwarf Star
White Dwarf Stars. Remnant of a dead star in space. The core of a sun after his death. iStock

Stars Can Die in Many Forms

At the end of a star’s life cycle, a star may morph into a white dwarf, a red giant, a neutron star, or a black hole. It all depends upon the amount of mass that is contained in the star’s central core, along with the mass’s gravity.

The more mass that a body contains, the more gravity that is produced, so the more mass an object has, the more gravity that is sustained, and consequently, the more pressure on the object because of its gravitational pull.

llustration of the CNO Cycle of the fusion process.
Illustration of the fusion process. Wikipedia CC

It is this pressure that provides the extreme heat that is generated and subsequently, the fusion of atoms. The types of elements and the density that are fused determine if the dying star will be a dwarf, giant, neutron, or black hole. These rules of physics are universal.

Death Begins

Stars die when the fusion process ceases. Then, depending on its size, it will change into one of the types mentioned above.

Photo of the Sun by NASA
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Our sun, which is in the category called the main sequence, is not an extraordinary star by any means, although we may feel that is not the case here on Earth, as we mortals cannot even set our eyes on it for very long.

The fact remains that in comparison to other stars in our Milky Way Galaxy and other galaxies, our sun is a mere pea when equated to some of the giants in the universe.

With that said, when our sun dies, it will expand to become a red giant.

How AI is Changing Traffic

Artists conception of AI traffic control along a highwat
iStock

We have all been inundated with newscasts about artificial intelligence and how it is changing our lifestyles, and traffic control is no exception. From the Belt Parkway to the Long Island Expressway and from Brooklyn to Montauk, AI is coming to a town near you.

Here are some ways in which AI is contributing to traffic reduction:

  • Traffic Prediction and Management:
    AI algorithms analyze historical traffic patterns, real-time data, and other sources to predict traffic congestion. This information allows authorities to proactively manage traffic flow and implement measures to avoid potential congestion problems.
  • Smart Traffic Lights: How many times have you been stuck at a light and yelled “Why is this light taking so long? It’s 3:00 am and no one is on the road”? AI-powered traffic light control systems can adjust signal timings based on real-time traffic conditions. These systems are designed to keep traffic moving as optimum as possible.
  • Route Optimization:
    Navigation systems use AI algorithms to provide drivers with real-time route recommendations that consider current traffic conditions. This helps distribute traffic across different routes, reducing congestion on commonly used paths.
  • Autonomous Vehicles:
    The development and integration of autonomous vehicles can potentially reduce traffic by improving overall traffic efficiency. AI-driven self-driving cars can communicate with each other to optimize spacing and speed, reducing stop-and-go traffic patterns.
  • Parking Solutions:
    AI can assist in finding parking spaces efficiently. Smart parking systems use sensors and AI algorithms to guide drivers to available parking spaces, reducing the time spent circling for parking, which contributes to traffic congestion.
  • Public Transportation Optimization:
    AI is used to optimize public transportation routes and schedules based on demand and real-time data. This helps ensure that public transportation systems are efficient and can serve more people, potentially reducing the number of individual vehicles on the road.
  • Traffic Incident Detection:
    AI systems can analyze data from various sources, such as surveillance cameras and social media, to quickly detect and respond to traffic incidents. Timely management of accidents or road closures can prevent the buildup of congestion.
  • Dynamic Toll Pricing:
    AI is utilized to implement dynamic toll pricing based on traffic conditions. Higher tolls during peak hours can encourage the use of alternative transportation or off-peak travel, helping to smooth out traffic flow.

Summary

Artist conception of an AI traffic monitoring system
iStock

By combining these AI-driven solutions, cities and transportation authorities can work towards creating more efficient and sustainable transportation systems, ultimately contributing to the reduction of traffic congestion. However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of these measures depends on their implementation, infrastructure, and public acceptance.

 

What is a Nebula?

The Nurseries of Life

Photo of a nebula
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Take a telescope, any telescope, or even binoculars and on a clear day you can see some of the most colorful and beautiful objects in space. These objects are nebulas. The birthplace of stars. It is where it all begins.

Planting the Seeds

When we say seeds, what do we mean exactly? Well, these seeds are actually vast clouds of gas and dust that are floating in space. They come from stars that have previously exploded and left their remnants to roam the universe around like lost soles.

Think of dropping seeds into a pond and watching them float around in the water. Some will collide and some will be pulled away from the other seeds but if that is all there is, we would have these particles floating around arbitrarily for infinity.

Fortunately, there is more than just this particle chaos.  A force is involved that will put all these disorganized fragments to converge into something meaningful.

Helix Nebula
Helix Nebula. Photo: NASA Via Wikipedia CC

What is This Force that Pulls the Particals Together?

The easy answer – gravity. Yes, gravity pulls these particles together. So let’s imagine the nebula as a giant, fluffy cloud in space. Deep inside this cloud, there are regions where the gas and dust are getting squished together. The pressure and temperature rise in these squeezed spots, and eventually, a new star is born from the material in that region.

So, in a way, a nebula is like the starting point for a star’s life. It’s where the ingredients for making a star come together, and as they collapse under their gravity, a bright new star is born, lighting up the cosmic neighborhood.

The Helix Nebula above, which some call “The Eye of God” or “Eye in the Sky” because it resembles a cosmic eye, is located  700 light-years away from Earth. A mere speck of a distance when speaking about the vastness of the universe and is 2.5 light-years in diameter.

The nebula was formed because of the death of a star similar to our Sun. As the star depleted its nuclear fuel, it expanded into a red giant, shedding its outer layers into space.

To learn more about the different types of nebulas there are in space,  Wikipedia gives a complete list of these fascinating and beautiful clouds of life-forming stars.

The Birth of a Star

This phenomenon is the result of gravity pulling gas and dust together. It is a process that is multiplied millions of times within the nebula and the beautiful objects that are forming are the fetal stages of stars being created.

Specifically, the gas is a combination of hydrogen and helium which clump together to form larger masses and since gravity gets stronger as the mass of the object gets bigger, additional matter is attracted to the object, which eventually becomes massive enough to form a star. In other words, it is the gravitational force of an object that is directly proportional to the object’s mass.

Nebula’s Molecular Breakdown

Illustration of an atom's valence electrons
Photo: Pixaby

Unbeknownst to many, most of the universe is not a complete void. There is much (loose) matter floating around between the stars. And this matter is not visible to the naked eye, as it is in its atomic form; such as the atoms of hydrogen and helium, as well as plasma and other materials. This sub-atomic matter is called the interstellar medium (ISM). More specifically, the interstellar medium is composed primarily of hydrogen, followed by helium with trace amounts of carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen.

In areas of the ISM where the atomic particles are densely populated, the formation of molecules begins most commonly hydrogen (H2). The more the molecular masses clump together, the greater their gravitational attraction will be to other bodies and particles in their vicinity. As the particles clump further to form larger and more massive structures, they attract more dust and gas.

The Nuclear Element

Enter nuclear fusion, since the gravitational pressure becomes so high that the fusion of hydrogen atoms occurs. This results in the emission of high-energy electromagnetic radiation, which in turn ionizes the outer layers of gas. Ionization is the process by which an atom or a molecule acquires a negative or positive charge by gaining or losing electrons to form ions.

Ionized gas is known as plasma, and plasma along with electromagnetic radiation is now added to this mixture. This then materializes into the early stages of star formation.

Hence, the formation of stars occurs exclusively within these molecular clouds. This is a natural result of their low temperatures and high densities because the gravitational force acting to collapse the cloud must surpass the forces that are working to push the particles outward and the molecular cloud is now a nebula.

Gem Hunting – The Details

Rose Quartz Healing Gemstone
Rose Quartz Healing Gemstone. Photo: Maxpixel

We have previously talked about gem hunting, but we have not discussed the steps as to how to approach the prospecting for gemstones, so let’s get right into how you start your gem-hunting adventure:

Research Your Locations

Different types of gemstones are found in a variety of regions, so it’s important to identify areas where the stones you’re interested in are found.

Start with the Ineternal Gem Society. They can provide you with some of the top locations around the country where you can dig for gemstones.

Make Sure You Have the Right Equipment for Your Gem Search

Depending upon the location you select, they should be able to provide you with the necessary tools for your hunt, most probably for a fee, but you could bring your own equipment as well. That would consist of a pair of gloves, a shovel, a bucket, a screen or sifter, and a magnifying glass. Additionally, when you are there, ask for a gemstone identification guide.

Where to Look for Gems?

Bunch of gemstones
Image by Emilian Robert Vicol from Pixabay

Ever gone bird watching?

If yes, then you know that you have to travel to a certain spot of a particular destination to view a specific species of bird. To find the right destination for bird watching, one has to find out the species’ habitat, migration patterns, food choices, etc.

Knowing these things will help you figure out the location where a particular species of bird is likely to be found. You cannot simply wander around the forest in the hope of finding the types you are looking for; it would be nothing more than wasting time.

Experts say that gem hunting is much like bird watching. You most likely will not find minerals dug in the soil outside your home; however, the practical approach is to first research the areas where the gems are naturally found and then use the right technique to access the deposits.

For example, since diamonds are formed as a result of extreme pressure, they are either found deep inside the earth, in areas where various geological processes have pushed the mantle rocks from the depths of the earth to the surface, or alongside the rivers that flow from such areas.

Similarly, if you are looking for malachite, you have to look for it near copper and limestone deposits.

The occurrence of gemstones may also vary across countries, depending upon their geological processes, volcanoes, storms, and earthquakes, as they cause shifts in the tectonic plates and bring the buried bedrock to the surface of the earth.

Methods for Gemstones Mining

From basic to advanced, there are various mining methods. They include:

  • Underground Mining

When hunting for your stones is done within the pipe and alluvial deposits, it is called underground mining. The methods used for underground mining are:

  • Block caving
  • Tunneling
  • Chambering
  • Open Cast Mining

Open-cast mining uses different techniques. Here removal of the upper layer of rocks is required in order to reach the bedrock, which is buried deep inside the earth that contains the gems. Any of the following methods are used to excavate gems from the deepest layers of the earth:

  • Terrace Mining
  • Pit Mining

Open-cast mining methods are widely used in various parts of the world including the United States, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Myanmar. etc.

  • Sea Mining

Sea mining, marine or undersea mining, as they are alternatively called, is used in areas where marine deposits are present.

  • River Digging

As evident from the name, river digging is performed in and around rivers and lakes to excavate the gems that have been buried in the river soil and rocks naturally, by the water current or geological processes over time. It can further be classified into two types:

  • Wet Digging
  • Dry Digging

Gem Hunting Tools

Sorting and picking of valuable stones from the excavations debris of swat emerald mine in swat valley, Pakistan.
Photo: iStock

As with any other specialized task, you cannot expect to have a successful gem-hunting experience if you don’t have the right tools and equipment.

For example, there is no point in going fishing without a fishing tackle and/or bait. It is highly unlikely to catch a fish with your hands. Similarly, searching for gemstones without the proper gem-hunting tools is nothing more than wasting your time. Tools for gem hunting are easily available at affordable prices, which means that even occasional hunters can easily buy them without exceeding their budgets.

Hammer used for gem hunting
Image by arodsje from Pixabay

For gem hunting, you would need the following basic tools:

  • Shovel
  • Rock Hammer
  • Magnifying lens
  • Bucket and collection bags
  • You may need some specialized equipment to excavate some particular types of gems, such as a metal grid frame for screening, a pan for gold, etc
  • Permanent markers for labeling

For your safety and comfort:

  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes
  • Apply insect repellent and sunblock
  • Wear goggles
  • A GPS device or map to find your way
  • Water
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Walkie-Talkies for communication

There is More Than One Method for Gem Hunting

You should research the different methods employed when looking for your precious stones. Some of the most popular are: 

  • Hydraulic Mining, where jets of water are used to loose the rocks from the dirt, 
  • River Panning is where you essentially wash away the gravel to find the minerals, 
  • Open Pit Mining, where you physically remove rocks, possibly in a quarry to search for the gems.

But this just scratches the surface (pun intended). Do some research to find the best method you prefer.

Learn Gemstone Identification

Familiarize yourself with the characteristics and properties of the gemstones you’re hunting for. Look for distinguishing features like color, luster, hardness, and crystal structure. Using a mineral identification guide or app can help determine the gemstones you find.

 

Howard Fensterman Minerals