What makes any given technology cool? That was the question posed by astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson at the closing luncheon of the recent ASIS/ISC2 security conference in Philadelphia, and he came up with an interesting take on the issue.HT: MarginalRevolution
For example, consider these two very fast airplanes. The SR-71 “Blackbird” is still the fastest airplane ever made, with a clocked top speed of Mach 3.5 (over 2,600 mph). But the only place you’ll see it flying these days is in X-Men comics, since it was retired from service in 1999. The other airplane is the Bell X-1, the first plane to exceed Mach 1, the speed of sound (and yes, the Bell X-1 was technically a rocket). Tyson thinks that the Blackbird is still very cool, while the Bell X-1 is dated and quaint. (Personally, I’d say the X-1 is still pretty cool, but partially because of its decidedly retro flavor.)
On the other hand, compare both of these planes to the largest commercial aircraft you can currently board, the Airbus A380. Tyson quotes an industry observer as saying that this plane looks like “an anaconda swallowed a pig”, and says that flying in it is like checking into your hotel in Philadelphia and checking out in Europe. Which might be a plus, depending upon how often you’ve flown coach recently. However, no matter how much you might enjoy the extra space, the only people who might call an A-380 “cool” are the conspiracy theorists who believe that all aircraft carry secret antigravity generators. The A-380 does not look streamlined, especially next to the faster Concorde — which both Tyson and I think is the most beautiful airplane ever made.
Finally, consider the Saturn V rocket, which Tyson cites as mega-cool to the space enthusiast, although it may have faded from the general perception of anyone born after the 1970s. The Saturn V remains the biggest cylinder that goes boom that humankind has ever made, holding records for tallest, heaviest, most powerful, and heaviest launch payload....MORE