Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, Starchild

So Arthur C. Clarke passed away today in Colombo, Sri Lanka at age 90.

I don't know about any of you but Clarke was enormously influential on me throughout my life, from childhood (before its End) to now.  My dad took me to see a revival of "2001" when I was 6 years old, and I probably spent the rest of my life
 fascinated by its themes (which I sort of picked up, if only by osmosis): the origin of intelligence and consciousness, the possibility of life "out there", space exploration, the possibility of artificial intelligence, and ultimately the overriding sense of mystery the whole experience conveyed.  So it's difficult to overstate just how much it probably contributed to my general sense that I wanted to do science, to understand those things "out there".  And I know I'm not alone in that -- he will certainly be missed.

And awesomely: Clarke wrote 2001 while staying at the Hotel Chelsea, just around the corner where I live now.  A nice reminder just how important the Hotel is to the neighborhood!
And speaking of not following Dave's orders, one of my colleagues used that conversation between Dave and Hal to torture me on a particularly ugly shift on my old thesis experiment in 1994, when the data acquisition system ("MONA") wasn't working and just wouldn't eject the malfunctioning tape from the Exabyte drive.  He transcribed the whole conversation ("Open the pod bay doors, Hal...") into one between me and MONA ("Open the tape drive door, Mona") and tacked it on the wall under a copy of the Mona Lisa while I was running around the CERN experimental area, resetting various electronics crates.  Needless to say, we didn't get much data that year.  

The fight between man and his creations, indeed.

By the way, check out his 90th birthday video on YouTube (which only has 16,384 views at this point -- let's see what happens by tomorrow). Nice to see him still so lucid, and inspiring, after his 90 orbits around the Sun.  Although more impressive was how spritely he seemed just 7 years ago in this video from 2001.

And more fun from ACC: this timeline of the future, including a whole column for Physics, where gravity waves are discovered before we figure out subnuclear structure.  Did someone tell the LIGO folks that?

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