Monday, September 18th, 2017
Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017
60 seconds over Idaho
I lived in Germany for the latter half of the nineties. On August 11th, 1999, parts of Germany were in the path of a total eclipse of the sun. Freiburg—the town where I was living—wasn’t in the path, so Jessica and I travelled north with some friends to Karlsruhe.
The weather wasn’t great. There was quite a bit of cloud coverage, but at the moment of totality, the clouds had thinned out enough for us to experience the incredible sight of a black sun.
(The experience was only slightly marred by the nearby idiot who took a picture with the flash on right before totality. Had my eyesight not adjusted in time, he would still be carrying that camera around with him in an anatomically uncomfortable place.)
Eighteen years and eleven days later, Jessica and I climbed up a hill to see our second total eclipse of the sun. The hill is in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Travelling thousands of miles just to witness something that lasts for a minute might seem disproportionate, but if you’ve ever been in the path of totality, you’ll know what an awe-inspiring sight it is (if you’ve only seen a partial eclipse, trust me—there’s no comparison). There’s a primitive part of your brain screaming at you that something is horribly, horribly wrong with the world, while another part of your brain is simply stunned and amazed. Then there’s the logical part of your brain which is trying to grasp the incredible good fortune of this cosmic coincidence—that the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and also happens to be 400 times the distance away.
This time viewing conditions were ideal. Not a cloud in the sky. It was beautiful. We even got a diamond ring.
I like to think I can be fairly articulate, but at the moment of totality all I could say was “Oh! Wow! Oh! Holy shit! Woah!”
Our two eclipses were separated by eighteen years, but they’re connected. The Saros 145 cycle has been repeating since 1639 and will continue until 3009, although the number of total eclipses only runs from 1927 to 2648.
Eighteen years and twelve days ago, we saw the eclipse in Germany. Yesterday we saw the eclipse in Idaho. In eighteen years and ten days time, we plan to be in Japan or China.
Monday, July 3rd, 2017
Steven Johnson dives deep into the METI project, starting with the Arecibo message and covering Lincos, the Drake equation, and the Fermi paradox.
He also wrote about what he left out of the article and mentions that he’s writing a book on long-term decision making.
In a sense, the METI debate runs parallel to other existential decisions that we will be confronting in the coming decades, as our technological and scientific powers increase. Should we create superintelligent machines that exceed our own intellectual capabilities by such a wide margin that we cease to understand how their intelligence works? Should we ‘‘cure’’ death, as many technologists are proposing? Like METI, these are potentially among the most momentous decisions human beings will ever make, and yet the number of people actively participating in those decisions — or even aware such decisions are being made — is minuscule.
Sunday, June 4th, 2017
When I was in Düsseldorf for this year’s excellent Beyond Tellerrand conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Nadieh Bremer, data visualisation designer extraordinaire. I asked her a question which is probably the equivalent of asking a chef what their favourite food is: “what’s your favourite piece of data visualisation?”
There are plenty of popular answers to this question—the Minard map, Jon Snow’s cholera map—but we had just been chatting about Nadieh’s previous life in astronomy, so one answer popped immediately to mind: the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.
Saturday, March 5th, 2016
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.
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.
Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
Friday, August 16th, 2013
Paris Review – “One Murder Is Statistically Utterly Unimportant”: A Conversation with Warren Ellis, Molly Crabapple
Molly Crabapple interviews Warren Ellis. Fun and interesting …much like Molly Crabapple and Warren Ellis.
Friday, January 18th, 2013
Brilliant little magnetic cuddly nucleobases from Jun. You get all four bases to combine to your heart’s content: cytosine, guanine, adenine, thymine — take that, Pokémon.
Thursday, April 5th, 2012
A blow-by-blow account of last weekend’s MolyJam in Brighton.
Friday, January 27th, 2012
A cute little internet-enabled sweet dispenser, powered by your retweets.
Tuesday, March 8th, 2011
If I had the right biological equipment, I think I too might offer to bear Stephen Fry’s children …in a song.
Friday, July 2nd, 2010
Beautiful chemistry visualisations using canvas.
Saturday, February 6th, 2010
This makes my brain giddy. Dizzying stuff, clearly explained.
Saturday, January 17th, 2009
Follow the adventure of this group of artists from around the world, in a Japanese fold Moleskine sketchbook exchange.
Thursday, April 3rd, 2008
Cameron has put all the materials from his four-part series together in one handy spot.
Monday, October 29th, 2007
John Logie Baird: the home of the inventor of the medium has been reduced to rubble - Independent Online Edition > Media
With a disgusting disregard for history, the Bexhill home of John Logie Baird has been demolished. Here's a potted biography of the proto-geek who steampunked his way into our living rooms.
Thursday, September 20th, 2007
Dan is claiming that these notebooks could be moleskin killers. I am intrigued and I do like the nice use of Futura.
Saturday, October 21st, 2006
Cameron is writing a book. You know it's going to be good.
Tuesday, April 4th, 2006
Cameron has put together a lovely looking portfolio page.