My chum John’s 30-day build (at 19 instructions a day) of the LEGO Ultimate A-Wing Starfighter model from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is proceeding apace. In fact, I find it hard to believe that today has us reaching the 40% mark.

The pilot now has a console (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: John Alflat)

In addition to today’s photo, John sent the following message: “The pilot now has a console with his instrumentation on.”

What? “his instrumentation”? I fear John has forgotten that the Alliance boasts fighter pilots of multiple genders and species (see also the gender-related discussions in Inappropriate Electronic Engineering Terminology).

John continued to say, “The trim all around the cockpit is in place and the rear of the fighter is completed. This was a very satisfying set of 19 instructions. I’m hoping that, later in the build, the sloped front of the fighter is pulled closer to the cockpit area as there is a noticeable gap at the moment.”

That’s interesting. I wouldn’t have noticed that noticeable gap had not John brought it to my notice. Referring back to our earlier “alien encounter” discussions (see Day 11, Day 10, and Day 9), John went on to say: “If we did meet an alien race, the first question would be how that would be achieved with the distance that would have to be covered. Also, if a language were to be spoken, it would be different to ours, but I’d be confident we could translate and understand it, just as we do with the French.”

It’s funny that John should mention the language aspect of things because I’ve been pondering this myself. Two of my favorite “First Contact” tales — co-authored by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle — are The Mote in Gods Eye and Footfall. In both cases, they involve aliens who employ a spoken language in what we regard as being the audible range (20 Hz to 20 kHz). But how realistic is this really?

Dolphins communicate through a series of clicking sounds and whistles, each with their own unique vocal pitch. Spiders can communicate using patterns of vibrations on their webs. Creatures like chameleons and cephalopods (octopi, squids, and cuttlefishes) have the ability to change the color of their skin. And French people talk with a silly accent. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that aliens could use similar mechanisms to “talk” to each other. In reality, they might use methods that we didn’t even recognize as modes of communication.

The same might work the other way, of course. I can easily envisage a human and an alien attempting to communicate, with the human (who can’t see in the ultraviolet) using sound to say, “Welcome to our planet” and the alien (who can’t hear audio frequencies) using an ultraviolet transmitting organ to say, “I hate to ask, but is there a restroom nearby?” And then both turning to their companions and saying the equivalent of, “Well, this one certainly isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.”

I will continue to mull on this and report further in future blogs. In the meantime, as always, I welcome your thoughts on anything you read in these columns.