Gravity, on the other hand, is complete hogwash

Democracy is not perfect. Our governments can only be as wise as the politicians who run for office. And there are a lot of ways of corrupting the system. Large campaign donors buy votes and influence. Redistricting guarantees that incumbents will stay in power. And well-organized special interest groups can wield power far beyond their size. To the extent that a minority can decide who is worthy of seeking office.

And so it seems that the current Republican presidential candidates, like their predecessor, George Bush, are doing everything they can to court conservative evangelical Christians. In last month’s Republican candidates debate, three of the nine candidates said they do not believe in evolution. (Senator Sam Brownback, Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Rep. Tom Tancredo).

Senator John McCain tried to play both sides, saying while he believes in evolution, “I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also”.

The theory of natural selection is the basis of all our modern understanding of biology, medicine and the environment. It has passed every test for the past 150 years and is accepted as fact by virtually all scientists in the world today. And yet neither the current President, nor these Republican candidates choose to believe it.

The cynic in me would say that a third of the Republican candidates are just playing to the religious right wing. But more likely is that these intelligent men really do not believe in evolution. The Republican party is dominated by religious conservatives, who promote these like-minded candidates.

Of course, evolution is real, no matter how many polititians deny it. But when they refuse to accept an idea that runs counter to their religious beliefs, regardless of overwhelming evidence, how can we expect them to make good policy decisions? How will they make rational choices about major issues in science, medicine or the environment?

To his credit, Gov. Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon, also accepts evolution. He apparently has been able to reconcile his religious beliefs with scientific evidence.

“I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe,” Mr. Romney said in an interview this week. “And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.”

He was asked: Is that intelligent design?

“I’m not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design,” he said. “But I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body.”

While governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney opposed the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.

“In my opinion, the science class is where to teach evolution, or if there are other scientific thoughts that need to be discussed,” he said. “If we’re going to talk about more philosophical matters, like why it was created, and was there an intelligent designer behind it, that’s for the religion class or philosophy class or social studies class.”

Old chips on the space station

Over the weekend, Russian cosmonauts were able to restart two flight control computers on the International Space Station that had been crashing for the past few days. They tracked the problem down to a faulty surge protector which they were able to bypass. Props to those resourceful Russians, but it doesn’t give you much confidence in the ISS electronics. Especially since if they had not been able to fix the computer glitch, they would have had to evacuate the station.

Turns out that those computers (made in Germany) are a vintage design, made from 12-year old computer chips.

The computers use radiation-hardened ERC32 three-chip processors that came from the factory in 1995 or so. The chips had to go through a grueling round of tests, during which some serious floating-point glitches were identified and fixed. Then they were incorporated into the DMS-R computers that went up with the Russian-built Zvezda module in 2000.

Go another level deeper, and you’ll find that the ERC32 chips are based on the SPARC V7 chip architecture, which was pioneered by Sun Microsystems and came out in 1986.

The software running on those chips has a California connection as well: It’s written on top of the VxWorks operating system, produced by Wind River Systems in Alameda, Calif. VxWorks, a Unix-like real-time programming platform, is a popular choice for spacecraft software: It was used on the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission as well as NASA’s Stardust probe and the still-operating Mars Exploration Rovers.