Wednesday, November 8th, 2017
Sunday, October 29th, 2017
A lovely interactive photo essay charting the results of what happens when evolution produces a life form that allows a planet to take selfies.
Wednesday, October 4th, 2017
18F: Digital service delivery | Building a large-scale design system: How we created a design system for the U.S. government
Maya Benari provides an in-depth walkthrough of 18F’s mission to create a consistent design system for many, many different government sites.
When building out a large-scale design system, it can be hard to know where to start. By focusing on the basics, from core styles to coding conventions to design principles, you can create a strong foundation that spreads to different parts of your team.
There’s an interface inventory, then mood boards, then the work starts on typography and colour, then white space, and finally the grid system.
The lessons learned make for good design principles:
- Talk to the people
- Look for duplication of efforts
- Know your values
- Empower your team
- Start small and iterate
- Don’t work in a vacuum
- Reuse and specialize
- Promote your system
- Be flexible
Monday, September 25th, 2017
Friday, September 22nd, 2017
You can use
navigator.storage.estimate() to get a (vague) idea of how much space is available on a device for your service worker caches.
Monday, September 11th, 2017
This blog post saved my ass—the Huffduffer server was b0rked and after much Duck-Duck-Going I found the answer here.
I’m filing this away for my future self because, as per Murphy’s Law, I’m pretty sure I’ll be needing this again at some point
Tuesday, July 18th, 2017
Luke just demoed this at Codebar. It’s a lovely audio/visualisation of the solar system—a sonic orrery that you can tweak and adjust.
In July we started receiving audio signals from outside the solar system, and we’ve been studying them since.
Tweets contain sound samples on Soundcloud, data visualisations, and notes about life at the observatory …all generated by code.
ARP is a fictional radio telescope observatory, it’s a Twitter & SoundCloud bot which procedurally generates audio, data-visualisations, and the tweets (and occasionally long-exposure photography) of an astronomer/research scientist who works at ARP, who is obsessive over the audio messages, and who runs the observatory’s Twitter account.
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.
Monday, June 12th, 2017
The following film describes an unusual motion picture now being produced in London for release all over the world, starting in early 1967.
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.
I remember when I was first recommended to read Kim Stanley Robinson. I was chatting with Jon Tan about science fiction, and I was bemoaning the fact that dystopias seem to be the default setting. Asking "what’s the worst that could happen?" is the over-riding pre-occupation of most sci-fi. Black Mirror is the perfect example of this. Mind you, that’s probably why the ambiguous San Junipero is one of my favourites—utopia? dystopia? dystutopia? You decide.
Anyway, Jon told me I should check out Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias; one book describes a dystopia, one book describes a utopia, and the other—his debut, The Wild Shore—is more ambiguous. I liked the sound of that, but I decided that if I were going to read Kim Stanley Robinson, I should start with his most famous work, the Mars trilogy.
So I read Red Mars. I liked it, but I found it tough going. It’s not exactly a light read. I still haven’t read Green Mars or Blue Mars, though I plan to. I can see why Red Mars is regarded as a classic of hard sci-fi, but it left me somewhat cold. Jessica read The Years of Rice and Salt and had a similar reaction—good premise, thoroughly researched, but tough going.
When I heard about 2312, I couldn’t resist its promise of a jaunt around the solar system. Again, I enjoyed it, but the plot—such as it was—didn’t grab me. I loved the ideas presented in the book. Heck, it inspired one of my Science Hack Day projects. Still, I found that its literary conceit wasn’t enough to carry the book—a character from Saturn who’s saturnian in nature meets a character from Mercury who’s mercurial in nature.
So I was kind of bracing myself for Aurora. Again, the subject matter really appealed to me. I’m a sucker for generation starships. Brian Aldiss’s Non-Stop was a fun read, although in typical Aldiss style, it was weird to the point of psychedelia (even if it looks positively tame next to the batshit crazy world of Hothouse). I was looking forward to reading Robinson’s hard science take on the space ark idea, but I was worried about how much of a slog the writing might be. I read some reviews and listened to some podcasts, and my heart sank when I heard about how the story is partly told by the ship’s AI, who is simultaneously trying to work out how to tell a story. It sounded just like one of those ideas that would be fine for a brief period, but which I could imagine Kim Stanley Robinson dragging out for hundreds of page.
Imagine my surprise when Aurora turned out to be an absolute pleasure. Not only does it have the thoroughly-researched hard science angle of Robinson’s other books, it’s also a rip-roaring tale, in my opinion. I had read of misgivings with the structure of the book—complaints that the story climaxes before the book is halfway done—but I think that misses the point of the story. This is not your typical tale of colonisation. Far from it. Kim Stanley Robinson is quite open about the underlying idea here, that there are certain endeavours that are simply beyond our capacity.
I know that sounds like a very pessimistic view, but I found the book to be a real testament to human ingenuity. But it certainly ruffled quite a few feathers. Like I said, the default setting for most sci-fi is to go negative, but for a sci-fi writer to claim outright that something cannot be done is audacious, and flies in the face of sci-fi tradition.
Gregory Benford wrote a review over on one of my favourite blogs, Centauri Dreams. He takes Robinson to task for stacking the deck against the crew of the ship in Aurora—an inversion of the usual deus ex machina plot devices. I find that criticism puzzling when another review, also on Centauri Dreams, by Stephen Baxter, James Benford and Joseph Miller, takes the book to task for being scientifically naïve.
For me, Aurora was perfectly balanced. It simultaneously captured the wonder of scientific exploration and our own insignificance in the universe. Best of all, it featured central characters that I was utterly invested in—one human, and one artificial. Given my previous experiences with Kim Stanley Robinson books, that was perhaps its greatest achievement. Whereas I might have previously recommended something like 2312, I would have certainly caveated the recommendation. But I wholeheartedly recommend Aurora. It’s easily the best Kim Stanley Robinson book I’ve read so far, and one of the finest science fiction books of recent years. It makes a great companion piece to Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves—not only are they both dealing with space arks, they’ve also got some in-depth descriptions of angular momentum in action, and they’re both thoroughly enjoyable stories that stretch beyond a single human lifespan.
I’m looking forward to digging back through Kim Stanley Robinson’s back catalogue, and I’m very intrigued by his newest book, New York 2140. From listening to his Long Now talk at The Interval, it sounds like the book has as much to say about near-future economics as it does about climate change.
It’s ironic though. Kim Stanley Robinson was first recommended to me because he was one of the few sci-fi writers unafraid to depict a utopia. But his writing never clicked with me until I read Aurora, whose central message sounds like the ultimate downer …that some scientific achievements will forever remain out of reach for humanity.
Sunday, April 16th, 2017
A thoroughly impractical—but fun to imagine—alternative to a space elevator:
Analemma inverts the traditional diagram of an earth-based foundation, instead depending on a space-based supporting foundation from which the tower is suspended. This system is referred to as the Universal Orbital Support System (UOSS). By placing a large asteroid into orbit over earth, a high strength cable can be lowered towards the surface of earth from which a super tall tower can be suspended. Since this new tower typology is suspended in the air, it can be constructed anywhere in the world and transported to its final location.
The construction might sound like Clarke’s The Fountains Of Paradise, but I imagine life in the tower would be more like Ballard’s High Rise.
Saturday, March 11th, 2017
We examine the possibility that Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) originate from the activity of extragalactic civilizations. Our analysis shows that beams used for powering large light sails could yield parameters that are consistent with FRBs.
I’m guessing Paul Gilster may have thoughts on this.
Sunday, February 26th, 2017
Edge of darkness: looking into the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way | Science | The Guardian
Building a planet-sized telescope suggests all sorts of practical difficulties.
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017
Images, videos, sounds, and 3D models are now available from the European Space Agency under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license.
Wednesday, February 1st, 2017
A gorgeous visualisation of satellites in Earth orbit. Click around to grasp the scale of the network.
Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
The ‘Credit Card Number’ Field Must Allow and Auto-Format Spaces (80% Don’t) - Articles - Baymard Institute
A deep dive into formatting credit card numbers with spaces in online forms.
Tuesday, January 10th, 2017
There’s going to be an evening of astro events out at Sussex University next Wednesday, January 18th. Stargazing, an inflatable planetarium, and the Ensonglopedia of science—fun for all the family!
Monday, December 26th, 2016
One might think sending messages to other stars would be a massive, expensive job. No. It isn’t. The Cosmic Call was essentially a crowdfunded hobby project.