The time needed for interstellar travel

How fast can we go? Realistically and theoretically, we cannot exceed the speed of light. Not yet at least. The interwebs have been all abuzz about new theories of how we can achieve a real Star Trek style warp drive. Call me maybe, but I’m not so confident that it will work. Mass is what bends space-time, so you would still need to push a huge mass in front of your spacecraft in order to effectively shrink the space in front of your ship if you wanted to make a jump. (I’m not a theoretical physicist, though, so that may be completely wrong)

So theoretically, without warp speed, how long would it take to get to one of the planets we have discovered that may have liquid water?

Let’s assume we want to go to Gliese 581 g. It’s 22 light years away, and using a speed limit of c, you would expect the trip to take 22 years. Unfortunately, if you started with a velocity of 0, and instantly accelerated to c, you would not survive the journey. “Bug on a windshield” doesn’t even begin to describe the effects that would have on your brain, or your organs, or the molecular structure of all of your cells.

We need to accelerate and then decelerate at a reasonable rate if we want to make it. But what is reasonable for acceleration? The space shuttle launches used to launch at 3 g. X2, an extremely fun roller coaster, hits 4 g. The human body should be able to reasonably handle being subjected to 10 g for a while, but is probably a bit much for the length of a trip to the store, and would probably not work for a trip to another solar system. We need to compromise somewhere.

Gliese 581 g is estimated to have a mass of 3.1 to 4.3 times that of Earth. If we want to have a colony there, we better be prepared to walk around in its gravity. We can pretty safely assume that the local gravitational pull of Gliese 581 g to be around 4 g or less. In order to prepare ourselves to live there, we will accelerate and decelerate at 4 g for the duration of our flight.

So how long does it take to accelerate to the speed of light at 4 g?

The speed of light is 2.99×108 m/s. Local acceleration at or near the surface of Earth is 9.81 m/s2.  Applying kinematics, it would take 2.99×108 / (4 x 9.81) = 7,640,000 s = 88.4 days.

Over that time, we will have traveled 1/2 (4 x 9.81) (7.64×1062 = 1.145×1015 m, which would have taken 1.145×1015 / 2.99×108 = 3.82×106 s = 44.2 days at the speed of light. 

Of course, this completely ignores the fact that running into minute particles of space dust at the speed of light would cause the ship to explode into a nuclear fireball, so cruising along at 1 c still isn’t really very practical.

The point is, when planning your big trip to Gliese 581 g, pack an extra three months worth of sandwiches for the road.

Fridays are LOUD

At work, all the outside sales people come in to the office on Fridays to complain about our website, demand that our merchandisers source obscure products, reset the passwords on their laptops, and clog up our conference rooms with sales meetings. Granted, our website still relies heavily on frames (blergh, web 1.0), we specialize in niche product lines, our passwords (for three separate systems) expire frequently, and they don’t get offices of their own.

I just don’t understand why they have to be so loud about it.

It’s easy to mistake friendly face-to-face conversations in the hallways for shouting matches. I’m thinking about making Friday “Listen to Google Play on Your Headphones day” if I can get away with it.

Sales people are loud

The perfect school homepage

As a college student, I am acutely, painfully aware of the failings of landing pages for schools. They are often designed by CS undergrads who can’t tell an image slider from an anus, and they have a nasty habit of making the former look like the latter, while also covering up the one fucking link you actually want to click on the homepage.

This is compounded by the fact that a school’s tech budget is devoted to keeping students from printing out their textbooks, or deleting system32. They can only employ one guy, whose job it is to run around like Lucy in the candy factory turning on projectors for professors that were tenured in when computers were made of vacuum tubes. That guy just doesn’t have time to fix broken links.

But the real problem is that no part in the design process considers why anyone would go to the site in the first place. They just assume that you will end up there and want to look at pictures of students hard at work, or smiling awkwardly around campus. People really only go to a school’s website for a handful of things, so, if you are a CS major working hard on a redesign of your school’s website, I have a new template that you should really consider.

Perfect School Homepage

You are allowed to change the color of the hyperlinks and the horizontal rules, but that’s it. Go nuts with stuff in the “More” section. Make it as convoluted as you want. Just don’t fuck with my trying to get to the Academic Calendar.

Consequently, this kicks off a category on the blog that I am calling “Inspired by XKCD“. I am a big fan, and occasionally get the urge to draw funny stuff on my Tablet PC or put together a quick graphic that illustrates a concept in an effective way