Tags: light



The voice of MOL

The latest issue of Spaceflight—the magazine of the British Interplanetary Society—dropped through my door, adding to my weekend reading list. This issue contains a “whatever happened to” article about the military personnel who were supposed to crew the never-realised MOL project.

Before Salyut, Skylab, Mir, or the ISS, the Manned Orbital Laboratory was the first proposed space station. It would use a Gemini capsule and a Titan propellant tank.

Manned Orbital Laboratory

But this wasn’t to be a scientific endeavour. The plan was to use the MOL as a crewed spy satellite—human eyes in the sky watching the enemy below.

The MOL was cancelled (because uncrewed satellites were getting better at that sort of thing), so that particular orbital panopticon never came to pass.

I remember when I first heard of the MOL and I was looking it up on Wikipedia, that this little nugget of information stood out to me:

The MOL was planned to use a helium-oxygen atmosphere.

That’s right: instead of air (21% oxygen, 79% nitrogen), the spies in the sky would be breathing heliox (21% oxygen, 79% helium). Considering the effect that helium has on the human voice, I can only imagine that the grave nature of the mission would have been somewhat compromised.

100 words 075

Today was a Salter Cane practice day. It was a good one. We tried throwing some old songs at our new drummer, Emily. They stuck surprisingly well. Anomie, Long Gone, John Hope …they all sounded pretty damn good. To be honest, Emily was probably playing them better than the rest of us.

It was an energetic band practice so by the time I got home, I was really tired. I kicked back and relaxed with the latest copy of Spaceflight magazine from the British Interplanetary Society.

Then I went outside and watched the International Space Station fly over my house.

100 words 003

I measure transatlantic flights in movies watched. Yesterday’s journey from London to Seattle was four movies long.

  1. The Imitation Game: a necessarily fictionalised account of Turing’s life (one of the gotchas about top-secret work is that it’s, well, secret). But couldn’t Tommy Flowers have been given at least a walk-on part?
  2. Fury: Brad Pitt plays Lee Marvin in a war story told through the eyes of the naive rookie as seen in The Big Red One and Saving Private Ryan.
  3. Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part One: The Hungering.
  4. Paddington: just right for the end of a flight.

Brighton Arton

If you’re already in Brighton for dConstruct this week, there are two art shows you might want to check out:

Timo Arnall and friends are presenting their Immaterials exhibit at Lighthouse, 28 Kensington Street. Timo has written a few words about the exhibit. The exhibition is open from tomorrow, September 5th until October 13th, and the opening is tonight, Wednesday, at 6pm.

Just around the corner at the Ink-d gallery on North Road, the opening of Jon Burgerman’s exhibit is happening at exactly the same time: 6pm this evening. His Failure of Judgement exhibition runs from tomorrow, September 5th to October 6th.

Jon’s opening will also include the debut of the world’s first “Jon Burgerman Veggie Burger” courtesy of Burger Brothers next door.

And if you haven’t gorged yourself too much on art after this evening, don’t forget that there’s a whole programme of different art shows running this month at 68 Middle Street.

Jets dream

I’m back home after a bit of a whirlwind visit to the US for An Event Apart in Atlanta (which was, as always, superb). I’m currently battling east-west jet lag. My usual technique is exactly what Charles Stross describes:

Simply put: go to bed immediately but set an alarm to wake you after no more than 3 hours. Then get up, and stay up, until 11pm. That’s around 3-5 hours. During this time, do nothing more intellectually challenging than running a hot bath. You haven’t caught up with your sleep deficit, you’ve just pushed it back a bit: you are as cognitively impaired as if you are medium-drunk. Now is a good time — if you have the energy — to load your dirty clothes into the washing machine, have a bath, watch something mindless on TV, and catch up on web comics. Don’t worry: you won’t remember anything tomorrow. Just refrain from answering urgent business email, driving, assembling delicate instruments, or discussing important matters — if you do any of these things, odds are high that you’ll get them horribly wrong due to the impairment caused by cumulative sleep deprivation.

He goes on to wish for the invention of teleportation (and to describe a jet-lag inspired RPG).

There’s another situation where we have to deal with sitting in one place through a long uncomfortable experience: dental surgery. In that situation, we rely on medication to get us through. A little bit of nitrous oxide and the whole thing is literally over before you know it.

Why don’t we do the same thing for transatlantic air travel? The equipment is already in place—those oxygen masks above every chair could easily be repurposed to pump out laughing gas.

If this is a stupid idea, you’ll have to forgive me: I blame the jet lag.


The travelling time is underway. I’m in Denmark right now, leading an HTML5 workshop at NoMA, the Nordic Multimedia Academy, and thanks to some excellent questions from the students, it’s all going smoothly.

Last week I was in Belgium for the Phare conference, which also went smoothly. I enjoyed giving my presentation and I really enjoyed the excellent hospitality of the Ghentians.

While I was in Belgium, the occasion of my fortieth birthday arrived with a sense of long-foreseen inevitability. I spent it in Bruges.

Four zero. The big four oh. Two squared times ten. The answer to life, the universe and everything minus two.

The photons that were reflected from Earth at the time of my birth are arriving at GJ 1214 b. Or, to put in another way, the light that left GJ 1214 at the moment of my birth is entering our solar system, perhaps even reaching the retinas of human beings somewhere on this planet who happen to be looking into just the right part of the sky at just the right time.

Demo hell

The Future of Web Design just took a nose-dive. I’m having flashbacks to MIX08 as we are subjected to an interminable Silverlight demo.

Any conference that allows sponsors to buy speaking slots isn’t putting together a user-centred schedule. At best, these shill spots are tolerated. For most people, they engender downright hostility.

On the plus side, these pathetic little sales pitches are shorter than the real speaking slots. I can see Paul edging up on the side of the stage, ready to drag this guy off—he has definitely outstayed his welcome.