Buying a custom gaming PC from Overclockers UK

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My current workstation and gaming PC is slowly disintegrating. I built it myself from components some 6 years ago and it’s simply wearing out.  Several USB ports don’t work and Windows sometimes bluescreens with errors that suggests bits of the motherboard are getting tired.  I don’t really have the spare time needed to build a high-end PC and make a great job of it, so I decided to treat myself to a pre-built custom system.   After hunting round, I settled on Overclockers as the company to buy from.

Their system configurator didn’t quite give me what I wanted, so I contacted them and asked if they could customise further which they could.   I put together my list of requirements, they send back a price.  I paid, cash wired to their bank account, upfront and sat back and waited for my new shiny liquid-cooled PC to arrive.

The system shipped.  It shipped to the wrong address.  I had provided Overclockers with a billing address and a shipping address.  They shipped to the billing address which is almost guaranteed to be unoccupied during regular working hours.

A simple mistake.  It happens.  I contacted the courier who were unable to redeliver again that day, but promised they would deliver it to the shipping address the next day.

Next day, my new shiny PC arrives.  I opened the smaller of the two boxes, one for spare components and so on, and immediately see a problem.  The spares and cables and whatnots are not branded with anything I specified, wrong motherboard and wrong graphics card.  I call Overclockers who suggest that the component boxes may have been mixed up and can I please open the main box and check. I do.  It’s someone else’s computer.  I later learn that my system has been shipped to somewhere else.  Overclockers’ mistake?  Courier’s mistake?  It doesn’t really matter. Overclockers have a courier come and pick up this system.

Meanwhile, my system makes its merry way back to Overclockers’ HQ and I, confusingly, get an email asking what I’d like done with it.   I suggest shipping it to the shipping address and could I please have an AM delivery so I don’t potentially waste a whole day.  I offered to pay for whatever that was going to cost.  Overclockers said it was no problem.  Super.

My PC finally showed up at Friday 8pm.   The more astute amongst you will spot that 8pm is not exactly an AM delivery.  Overclockers’ mistake?  Courier’s mistake?  I have no idea, the question has not yet been answered.

I unpack my new PC.  The first thing I notice is that there is a bolt rolling around in the bottom of it.  Stuff can come loose in shipping, so what.  I find that the bolt belongs to a radiator housing in the bottom of the case, there’s a hole, a loose radiator and tool marks around the hole.  Not ideal, but the system’s not going to be moved around much so no big problem.  Despite being an SLI system, there was no SLI cable installed linking the graphics cards.  Simple to fix, but a silly thing for an expert system builder to miss.

One of the customised things I asked for was the pre-cabling of some SATA drives bays: one for a blu-ray writer and two for a pair of big SATA disks I use for bulk local storage.   None of these were done.   I call Overclockers about this, and the loose bolt, and they say there’s not much that can be done without returning the system to them.  As I’ve no interest in another game of couriers, I grumble a bit but then do the cabling myself.

Over the next day or so I had almost no chance to really push the new system.  It ticked over happily, was lovely and quiet and lovely to look at too.  On Sunday night, though, the headphones went on, the office door was closed and I got on with a bit of GRID 2, with all the visual effects turned up to maximum.  I settled down for a couple of hours of hard racing.   After about an hour, the screen froze, went black, and all the system fans kicked into life.

I powered off, reached for my mini-torch and opened the case.  What I saw sickened me: liquid coolant leaking from the CPU block, down onto a graphics card and spilling on to the motherboard.  It was impossible to tell whether the CPU had simply thermally shut down or if the coolant had shorted something expensive.  It kind of didn’t matter.

The next morning I called Overclockers who arranged to pick the system up.  I asked if they could sort of the cabling and the loose bolts while they were at it.  They agreed.

A couple of days later, I got an email saying the system had been repaired and was on its way back to me.  The next evening I get a call from the owner of the billing address saying that a courier had tried to deliver something with my name on it.   They had shipped to the wrong address. Again.

I had now run out of patience and I asked for a full refund.   To their credit, Overclockers didn’t argue on this and they said one would be arranged.  As it was convenient for me, I asked to keep the Windows 8.1 licence and the SSD.   As it was convenient for them, I agreed to pay for these again separately, they would then issue a refund for the full amount of the original transaction.  I didn’t ask, but I kind of expected they would simply wire the cash back to my bank account.

After 3 days or so, nothing had showed up, so I called and they said that processing a refund might take up to 7 working days.

Today, 10 days on, nothing had showed up, so I called them and they said a cheque had been issued on the 4th and had been sent to……. you guessed it, the wrong address.  The owner of the address had not had a cheque arrive.

They offered to send a new cheque to the right address.  I suggested they simply wire the money to my account, I was told this was impossible due to the people who would have to do that being in Germany.  No, makes no sense to me either.  I asked if the cheque could be sent by special delivery, for which I was happy to cover the costs.   This was, of course, not possible.

So, 5 weeks after placing a cash order for a high-spec custom PC from Overclockers UK, I have no PC and they have a large amount of my money.

Please consider this post next time you’re thinking of ordering from them.

 

(Update: 15/4/2014:  A handwritten cheque arrived from Overclockers this morning. )

Please use this shortlink: http://bit.ly/1gx2hIM

Communicado update: A change of tactic

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The work to make Communicado’s life as difficult as possible continues and it does seem like we’re having some success.

When I started this project, Communicado registered all their domains through DAILY mostly using faked registrant data and hiding behind the privileges granted to individual private registrants.  I established a dialog with Nominet about this and it seems Nominet did take action to the point of suspending some of these domains.   Communicado then suddenly switched to using ENOM for registering their domains, I don’t know and have no way of knowing if they were booted off by DAILY or just decided to switch.  Either way, it made no difference, I could easily find the domains they were registering via Nominet’s PRSS tool.

As of Monday 16th, they have changed tactics again.  They have apparently abandoned the .co.uk namespace (I’m sure they’ll be missed) and have gone back to using a variety of .com, .net and .org domains.  Some seen in use today are:

actionallegiance.com
andronol.com
baotao.org
bigrockconsultants.com
coolpress.net
europacastno.com
greenroses.org
hourlycreative.com
pidchas.com

They’re easy enough to spot in the logs, but I don’t currently have a good way of searching the whois for these TLDs. Suggestions for such a tool (non-free is fine) are welcome.

Maintaining this list and the RBL service is taking time and money.  I will absolutely never be charging anyone for the list and the RBL will be free and open access for as long as it is sustainable to do so.  In addition to the ways you can help mentioned in previous posts, a more direct way you can help is to donate a little money, preferably in the form of Bitcoin to 1F9Y1Gd3Pmmchxa7uGFd3zBQY9zVuX78Jd.

More news when I have it, you can follow @Excommunicado for more frequent updates.

Please use this shortlink: http://bit.ly/1fjDWGV

An update on Communicado

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It has been a busy few weeks since I first blogged about Communicado, here are some of the highlights of what has been going on.

  • Communicado are still registering somewhere between 40 and 60 new domains a week.  The blacklist is being regularly updated and currently has 5364 domains listed.
  • Communicado appear to have switched registrars from DAILY to ENOM as of yesterday.  Makes no difference to picking up their domains.
  • Nominet has been investigating and tell me that some of Communicado’s domains have been suspended and they are in the process of suspending more.
  • Please follow @Excommunicado for news and announcements on Twitter.  Low volume, only on topic.
  • The existing text file download will continue to be updated but, by popular demand, I have set up a DNS RBL containing their domains.  As of the time of writing it is open access, that may change if it becomes too busy.  Using it is easy:
martin@olga:~$ host malimanosa.co.uk.excommunicado.co.uk
malimanosa.co.uk.excommunicado.co.uk has address 127.0.0.2
martin@olga:~$ host flobbletob.co.uk.excommunicado.co.uk 
Host flobbletob.excommunicado.co.uk not found: 3(NXDOMAIN)

If anyone wants to provide working configuration examples for SpamAssassin (or other similar tools), I will cheerfully link to them or post them here.

More news when I have it, have a Communicado-free afternoon!

Please use this shortlink: http://bit.ly/17uEO9Y

Cooperative Energy and password security

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As a protest vote against the Big 6 energy companies, I recently switched supplier to Cooperative Energy.   Switching is painless, fill your details in online, click the button and off you go.   They do of course want a password from you and I used LastPass to generate a unique one for me and memorise it.

Some time later, I went to login in to the customer portal just to see what I could do and was quite surprised to find my password didn’t work.  I mentally shrugged and clicked on the Forgotten Password link and waited for the usual password reset email to arrive.  I got this instead:

Dear Customer

The information you requested is...
eg!3fpp*hvfs
If you have any questions please contact our customer service team

(This is, of course, not my actual password, this is just an example that I’ll treat the same way as the Coop did.)

Here we have two immediate problems.  The first is, of course, they have sent me my password in plain text in an email.  We all know that’s a bad idea.  Secondly, what they have sent is not actually my password.  My password looks like this:

eg!3fP^P*hVFs

See what they did?  For whatever reason the caret has been removed and all the letters have be converted to lower case thus making my password less secure.    I sighed and went to change my password online and found I couldn’t.   If I want to change my password then I have to go talk to a human to do so.   This leads to problem three, which is that people generally pick stupid passwords and reuse them.   I’m sure Coop Energy only employ wonderful honest people, but giving them an email address and a stupid password is only ever going to end badly for someone eventually.

I’ve spoken to Coop Energy’s customer service team and they acknowledge the problems I’ve found.   Let’s hope, for the sake of a safer and more secure internet, they sort them out.

Please use this shortlink: http://bit.ly/1iRQkhE

Unwanted email from Communicado Ltd

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As my regular readers will know, I run an antispam and antivirus email filtering service called antibodyMX.  About two weeks ago, I started seeing some deeply weird junk traffic coming through.  A lot of it.  It was odder because it was going to an awful lot of different domains we filter.   Statistically we filter a very very tiny set of domains and to see junk mail arriving for many of them all at the same time was very strange indeed.

The domain names the mails were being sent from were also strange.  They were all .co.uk domains and all not-quite-words.   Here are a few:

bagumbayansa.co.uk
balabagansa.co.uk
balambanred.co.uk
balangasere.co.uk
balangigada.co.uk
balangkayansa.co.uk

All the domains are registered to an individual called Chris Hepworth, a company called Communicado, or “World trading Partners BVI 1611097″, or “Phil Neck”, or some combination thereof.  I called them up and asked them what was going on.  I was asked to send an email explaining the problem, I did, no reply.

More mail from yet more domains kept arriving, the domain count got up to over 300.

Using the resources of a somewhat underground entity known to some as The Fish Tank, I spoke to someone who suggested I sign up to Nominet’s PRSS tool which would let me search for domains more easily.  I did so and started domain hunting.

I fed the list of domains I had through a trigram analyser and used the results of that to tease more domains out of the search tool; “qua” was especially useful, finding more than 80 domains.

More mail from yet more domains kept arriving, the domain count got up to over 800.

Searching the web and talking to people, I found that an awful lot of people I knew were getting unwanted email from these people.  I also found one lady who is taking them to court.  I tried calling them again, my voicemail has not been returned.

Today I have spoken to the Information Commissioner’s Office who say they are very interested in the data I have collected.  It will be interesting to see what, if anything, they choose to pursue here.  On the face of it, Communicado do appear to be breaching the DPA.

I have been told there is no immediate reason why I cannot publish the list of domains I have collected, you can find it here and it currently contains 1255 3971 4500 4539 5145 5249 domains.  An example use might be an ACL on your mail server.  If you run exim, you would add an ACL along the lines of:

deny message = http://blog.hinterlands.org/2013/10/unwanted-email-from-communicado-ltd/
sender_domains = ${if exists{/etc/exim4/hepworth.txt}{/etc/exim4/hepworth.txt}}

The file will be updated as and when I have time.  If you want to capture it via a cronjob, you’re welcome to  but please:

  • DO email me to tell me you’re doing so, and from which host(s). You have permission when you click send.
  • DO tell relevant colleagues and friends about it.
  • DO consider donating a little money to charity.  Because of my nephew, I suggest here.
  • DON’T cron it for an obvious time like “12am and 12pm”. Spread the load, please.

You do, of course, use this list entirely at your own risk.

Please use this shortlink: http://bit.ly/1anwTZv

Some notes on laser eye surgery

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I have worn glasses for over 30 years, more than three quarters of my life.  My prescription corrected both short sightedness (left: -6.0, right: -5.75) and astigmatism (left: 24°, right: 92°).  A good pair of glasses consisting of titanium frames and wavefront-cut Zeiss glass could easily cost over £700 and then you, of course, need a spare pair of glasses and then a pair of driving glasses. Without my glasses I am essentially helpless in the middle of a big, blurry world.  When my last very expensive pair of glasses finally broke in an unrepairable way, I reached for my spare pair and started looking at an alternative, laser eye surgery.

When I’d last researched this, prices were very high.  Someone with my prescription could pay £8000 or more for treatment on both eyes.  I was very surprised at how much prices had come down and, at the time, I even found one clinic that was offering a two-for-one deal.  Both eyes treated at the same time for £2200, lifetime after-care included and you could spread the payment out over a couple of years interest free.  I reached for the phone.

My initial appointment with Optimax took place in a small office just near Liverpool Street.  You arrive, fill in a questionnaire and then are taken through a fairly extensive eye test.  Anyone who wears glasses will be familiar with most of machinery used, the one that may be new to you is a device used to measure the thickness and curvature of your cornea.  After an hour or so, I was told my eyes were suitable for the procedure and was asked if I would like to go ahead.  No pressure was put on me to make a decision then and I didn’t.  After a chat later that day with Lynda, I picked up the phone again and booked myself in for July 19th at Optimax’s north Finchley clinic.

The nineteenth  started early as I had to be at the clinic for 8am.  You turn up, the tests are all repeated, you fill in an electronic questionnaire and you have a short consultation with the surgeon, a consent formed is read, extensively initialled by you, and then you wait.  I was in a group of 8 or 9 people being treated that morning and we talked about our hopes and worries, the general air was one of nervous excitement.

I was last. I’d watched everyone go in through a door and come out again about 30 minutes later, mostly looking somewhat dazed but peering around at the world around them.  A couple of hours ticked by and the very hard aircon began to sap my body heat.  Take a warm top with you, no matter what the weather. At long long last a nurse appeared and called my name.  Off I went.

I was taken through a door into an ante-chamber next to the operating room.  I was sat on a chair, a hairnet put on my head and asked to confirm who I was and what procedure I was here for, Intralase Wavefront LASIK. I got the answers right and some anaesthetic drops were applied to my eyes.  I sat with my eyes closed for about 5 minutes and then we headed in to the operating theatre.

In the centre of the room was a large green bed with a headrest.  To the left and right of the head end were two instruments lined up vertically above the head area.  I lay down in the middle, got as comfortable as one can be and waited.  More drops were applied to my eyes, people talked around me, occasionally checking I was okay and then they were ready to begin.

The first part of the procedure is to cut a flap in the cornea.  This is done with a laser and your eye needs to be immobilised as much as possible.  My head was moved under one of the instruments which looked, from my perspective, like the inside of a bowl covered in very bright LEDs. I was asked to look at the centre of these and a kind of suction cup was placed on my eye.  What followed next was a sensation of pressure on my eyeball.  What I could see was rather like the lights you see if you press on your eyes, bursts of light and colour, but this was more intense that you can imagine it might be.  It was very uncomfortable but totally painless.  This was repeated for my right eye.

The second part of the operation is to lift the flap that has been cut and reshape the cornea.  I was moved under the second instrument, my eye taped open and asked to look at a green light above me.  After a few moments a red light was switched on and I could see swirling patterns of dots. This lasts perhaps 30 seconds and then the flap was replaced and a bandage contact lens was put in.   Again, this was repeated for my right eye.  Again, this was all certainly uncomfortable but completely painless.

I was given a couple of minutes to recover and then I got up and walked back into the waiting area.  The world was a blurry haze, lights had enormous penumbras around them, bright lights were painful to look at.  I was given some time in a recovery room and was issued with my drops.

The Drops Regime is the most tiresome part of the whole experience.  You put in Voltarol drops every 30 minutes for 2 hours.  Then you put in an antibiotic 4 times a day for 7 days.  You also need to put in steroid drops every 4 hours for 7 days and then gradually reduce the dosage.  You must wait at least 15 minutes between the different medicated drops and on top of that you need to put in refresh drops about once an hour.

I left the clinic about an hour after treatment, the world seeming very foggy and bright.   The advice was to go home and rest as much as possible. The anaesthetic started to wear off about half-way home and trying to keep my eyes open was rather like the sensation you get when chopping strong onions.  Not nice, but manageable.  I spent the rest of the day in a dark room.  I was unable to read, unable to go outside, unable to use a computer.  The only real problem I had was boredom.

You might imagine you get a wonderful “I can see!” moment the next morning when you wake up.  I’m sorry, you don’t.  This is partly because you have been wearing bandage lenses for 24 hours (even seasoned contact lens wearers know how horrible accidentally sleeping in lenses can be), but mostly because you have to wear eye shields for the first 7 days.  Once I got the shields off and got refresh drops into my eyes then I began to look around the world and I knew my glasses would be going in the bin in very short order.  The world was painfully bright and a fine vaseliney haze was smeared over everything but through the murk, especially for distance, I could see.

You mustn’t get water in your eyes for the first 7 days or so, buy a pair of swimming goggles.

That was 3 weeks ago.  The distance blur and haze reduced over the first 5 days, I felt safe to drive after 2.  The near-vision blur is still with me but is improving as each day passes.  It can take 6 weeks to 3 months for this to sort itself out so I’m well with in the target window.  My eyes tire much more easily than they used to, but this is because I spend so much time in front of a monitor and this is not ideal for newly lasered eyes.  Every so often my near-vision clears completely and the whole world is beautiful and clear and pin-sharp.  One day it’s going to stay like that.

I’m very happy with the result so far and I can’t recommend Optimax highly enough.  They have been incredibly helpful, helped me make an informed choice and I felt safe putting my eyes in their hands.  If you’re thinking of getting this done, I have some £500 discount vouchers, get in touch.

 

Please use this shortlink: http://bit.ly/15A0aD8

An open letter to National Car Parks

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Dear National Car Parks,

As it seems the existence of your call centre is to goad people into a state of rage and you insist that everything has to be put in writing, I shall put my complaint to you in writing via my blog, before sending it to you in writing.

I am a season ticket holder for the station car park at Harold Wood.  My car is parked there on a daily basis.  On return to my vehicle on February 28th, I was surprised to find I had been ticketed.  Here’s the ticket:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note the contravention: “Parked on double yellow lines”.  This was a surprise to me because there were and are no double yellow lines present.  For the non-drivers reading this, and confused NCP parking attendants, double yellow lines tend to look like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is quite clear, right?  Two parallel yellow lines at specific distances from the side of the road with a crossing bar at each end.  Now, here’s a picture of where I was parked:

 

See the bay to the left of the red car? That’s where my car was, wholly within the confines of the white border.  You might want to check out the full size version of the photo but, looking at the example double yellow lines above, can you see where the double yellow lines I was ticketed for parking on are? I’ll sit here quietly while you check.

Done? Good.  You didn’t spot the double yellow lines, did you? Correct, that’s because there aren’t any to spot. I can read your mind.  “Ahhh, Martin, you silly boy.  You’ve parked on a restricted area, there are yellow hatchings. Tsk.”

That’s almost true, there are indeed yellow hatchings but that’s irrelevant.  Why so?  Just this:  When NCP took over the car park many years ago, they repainted all of the bays with fresh white markings.  Here’s a closeup of part of that bay:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note that the white line is painted over the yellow one.  Had NCP not intended for people to use this as a parking bay, why on earth would they specifically paint bay markings there?  The answer is, they wouldn’t.  Those markings used to denoted an area where you weren’t supposed to park because it’s where a fast food place used to have its bins.  Rather than scraping the old lines up, they just painted new ones over the top.

Add to this the fact that I have been parked in that exact same spot dozens of times over the past couple of years, and this is the first time my car has been ticketed, I think what we’re dealing with here is an overzealous or brainless parking attendant.I currently can’t even talk to you about this over the phone because even after 4 days, the ticket hasn’t appeared on your system. I now have to waste some of my life sorting this out.

No love whatsoever, merely tired rage,

Martin A. Brooks

 

Please use this shortlink: http://bit.ly/XOvRTR

Kubuntu 12.10 and VMware Workstation 9.0 kernel panic

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Yesterday I upgraded my laptop from Kubuntu 12.04LTS to 12.10 “Quantal Quetzal”.  One important change here is the move from Linux kernel 3.2 to 3.5.  The upgrade went smoothly enough but, upon reboot, I got a kernel panic from one of the vmware workstation modules when it loaded.

To fix, do the following:

After the upgrade, reboot to your 3.2 kernel (hold left shift down during boot to get the GRUB prompt), open a console session and then:

sudo chmod -x /etc/init.d/vmware*
sudo reboot

Let your system boot normally this time and you shouldn’t see the kernel panic.  Open another console session and then:

cd /tmp
wget http://communities.vmware.com/servlet/JiveServlet/download/2103172-94260/vmware9_kernel35_patch.tar.bz2
tar xfj  vmware9_kernel35_patch.tar.bz2
cd vmware9_kernel3.5_patch/
sudo ./patch-modules_3.5.0.sh 
sudo chmod +x /etc/init.d/vmware*
sudo vmware-modconfig --console --install-all
reboot

All done.

 

Please use this shortlink: http://bit.ly/T8Nc33

No writing nasty things about the 2012 London Olympics, okay?

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As mentioned on Twitter, in the Terms of Use of the London 2012 Olympics Web site is this:

Links to the Site. You may create your own link to the Site, provided that your link is in a text-only format. You may not use any link to the Site as a method of creating an unauthorized association between an organization, business, goods, or services and London 2012, and agree that no such link shall portray us or any other official London 2012 organizations (or our or their activities, products, or services) in a false, misleading, derogatory, or otherwise objectionable manner.

So, just to be completely clear, the 2012 London Olympics is a disgraceful waste of taxpayer’s money at a time of austerity in public spending.  The corporate sponsorship and outrageous curtailment of freedoms inflicted on visitors is un-British and a national disgrace.  I can think of no other occasions where so much public money has been splurged with so little accountability. Public scrutiny will be curtailed too, behind the sham of a private company.

Oh, and how can you call it the London games when chunks of it are happening in other countries?

 

Please use this shortlink: http://bit.ly/PWAJmQ

On the size of the solar system and manned space travel

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Today a few news outlets picked up the confirmation of the discovery of an Earth-like planet in the habital zone of a star 600 light years away, but the closest such planet discovered so far.  This has created an excited buzz as indeed it should.  Life certainly exists elsewhere in the universe, and we know a planet like ours can sustain life quite well, albeit grudgingly at times, so finding a planet like our own “just” 600 light years away is indeed exciting.

Well, is it? Alas I am a bit meh about the whole thing.

Let’s assume that there’s a civilisation as advanced as ours there.  The bads news is that we’re never going to visit them, and we’re never going to establish meaningful communications with them.  Let’s look at the best possible timeline.

A “Hello Kepler 22-b” signal sent today will reach them no earlier them December 5th 2611 so we’ve got some finger tapping to do between now and then.  And we’re assuming they’re looking for a signal, and spot it, and can decode it. If they do all that, and send us back engineering plans for their FTL communications device right away, then we’ll be getting those no sooner than December 3211, twelve centuries from now.  And then we merely have to build a device designed by an alien species who almost certainly won’t be using the same engineering principles we are.

Remember what happened to the Mars Climate Orbiter?

Okay, so while we’re waiting, let’s send a ship up there.  Twelve centuries is plenty of time to develop space exploration technology.  At some point during this maybe we will figure how to build a useful FTL communications device, in which case we can beam the specifications over to Kepler 22-b.  It’ll be at least a 600 year wait for them to get back to us, but no harm in trying.

If we’re sending a ship, and we don’t have FTL yet, manning it isn’t really an option. At light speed, it’s a 600 year trip, at half light speed it’s 1200 years, and so on.  People just don’t live that long so we’d be looking at building a generation ship, currently way beyond our current technology, and beyond anything we’re likely to achieve in the next century at least.

Unmanned is easier, and we’re good at that.  We’ve had probes in space for decades that are still working just fine.  None of the complexities of life-support, all that’s needed is a nice big nuclear plant for electricity and a nice big antenna for talking back to Mother Earth. Cunning use of orbital slingshots, especially using the gas giants, means we could get this baby really moving through space.  With the nations of the world behind the project, we could launch this inside a couple of years carrying all the knowledge we dare share with the Keplians. And then, again, we sit back and wait, and work on that FTL communications device.

The fastest speed attained by a probe launched from Earth is about 157,000 mph.   This was achieved by Helios probes using the Sun’s gravity well.  We have a pretty good grasp of orbital mechanics, so I don’t expect it’d be too difficult to design a slingshot approach to the Sun that would take our probe, accelerate it to this sort of speed and then send it in exactly the right direction to meet up with Kepler 22-b in a few years time.  That was sarcasm.  We have zero experience of sending probes into interstellar space, the existence of a planet tells us nothing about how to navigate a probe through distant gravity fields to get there.  Despite the moon’s gravitational interaction with the Earth being quite well understood, Apollo spacecraft on trips to and from the moon routinely had to use course-correction burns to make sure they attained successful moon orbit and earth re-entry.

So we do build our probe, and we do manage to find a course to send it on its way at 260,000 (we got better) km/h.  What next?  Well what happens is we wait.  A long time.

The Solar system is big, much bigger than most people realise.  At the center is our Sun and one of the furthest significant objects from it we know about is Pluto.  Worst case, Pluto is 48.871AU from the Sun, that’s roughly 7.38 billion kilometers. Time to get there at our probe’s speed is 28,120 hours, or 3 years.  Not too shabby.  Alas Pluto is not the edge of the solar system.

Voyager 1 will beat our probe to interstellar space.  It’s currently about 2.5 times further away fom the sun than Pluto is. Being generous, launched today, our probe will get there around 2020. Voyager 1 was launched in 1977. So off into the inky black and on to Kepler 22-b.

Alas this is still not the edge of the solar system.

It it theorised that there is a sphere of leftover junk from the formation of the solar system called the Oort Cloud.  It’s thought to be where some of our long-period comets come from.  Recall that Pluto, at worst was about 49AU from the Sun?  Well the Oort Cloud is thought to be 50,000AU from the Sun, and marks the edge of the Sun’s gravitational influence.  Conveniently, this is quite close to the distance of 1 light year. Less conveniently, this means our probe is going to take the thick end of ten millenia to make it this far at best speed. Keppler 22-b is 600 light years away, so a mere 5 and a bit million years in space for our probe.

I would like to think that mankind will travel between the stars.  But it’s not going to happen in my lifetime, nor is it likely to in the next several centuries.  Looking out into the universe to see what we can learn is great science but, really, we need to focus on making sure we survive as a species, something we seem determined not to do.

We should have had a permanent manned presence on the moon by now.  We have taken all the hard work done to get us to the moon and allowed it to be washed away.  With the end of the space shuttle programme, the country that worked hardest to put a man on the moon now has no way of putting a man in orbit. And we watched and allowed that to happen.

I consider myself to be an orphan of the Apollo project.

 

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