Sir Arthur Charles Clarke


Clarke's first law:

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he/she is almost certainly right. When he/she states that something is impossible, he/she is very probably wrong.

I am proud to be a named victim of Clarke's first law.

Clarke's last novel, The Last Theorem (2008), was actually written by Frederik Pohl, based on a twelve(?) page extended outline written by Sir Arthur. On page 55:

Fred completed the draft of "The Last Theorem" barely in time for Sir Arthur to read it before died in 2008. Fred knew that "Vorhulst" described a ground level launcher, not a launch loop. A necessary plot element; in a future with launch loops, why bother with space elevators?

Fred was well aware of this. We first met in 1981, and Fred featured his version of a launch loop in his 1984 novel Heechee Rendezvous (except no, you do not land space vehicles on a launch loop; too risky. It is like sharing one runway for takeoffs and landings; fast and slow don't mix. Better to heat some upper atmosphere air with a normal reentry).

There is a significant amount of ram air drag at 80 kilometer launch loop altitude, and it will subtract about 3 meters per second from an exiting vehicle, but it is barely enough to warm the vehicle, much less burn it up.

Fred sent an apologetic letter (typed on the same manual typewriter he used for decades). I wrote back that I was THRILLED to be a Clarke's first law victim, and that the miscreant was Sir Arthur himself. What brag rights! Fred wrote a best seller, and earned far more than his sole-authorship novels (like Heechee) earned.

One of pre-Sir Arthur C. Clarke's first published First Law violations was an article in the March 1948 Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, "Electronics and Space-Flight" ( a paper read before the British Interplanetary Society in London on 8th November 1947 ). Clarke computed CW (continuous wave) power levels for 10 cm (30 GHz) microwaves, using archaic signalling methods and faulty math to "prove" that interplanetary communication was impractical with vacuum tubes.

While he was presenting that paper in 1947, Bell Labs scientists Walter Brattain and John Bardeen were experimenting with point contacts on germanium, and would produce the first bipolar transistor with gain on 23 December 1947 (their boss William Shockley wanted them to work on a silicon field effect transistor instead.

By the time Clarke's article was published in JBIS, Bell Labs and Western Electric were making transistors and sampling them to other companies under nondisclosure. Those transistors led to integrated circuits, and my professional engineering career.

ACClarke (last edited 2022-10-22 04:58:47 by KeithLofstrom)