Tags: space

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Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

Inside the Globus INK: a mechanical navigation computer for Soviet spaceflight

The positively steampunk piece of hardware used for tracking Alexei Leonov’s Apollo-Soyuz mission.

Monday, January 16th, 2023

Mars distracts

A few years ago, I wrote about how much I enjoyed the book Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Not everyone liked that book. A lot of people were put off by its structure, in which the dream of interstellar colonisation meets the harsh truth of reality and the book follows where that leads. It pours cold water over the very idea of humanity becoming interplanetary.

But our own solar system is doable, right? I mean, Kim Stanley Robinson is the guy who wrote the Mars trilogy and 2312, both of which depict solar system colonisation in just a few centuries.

I wonder if the author might regret the way that some have taken his Mars trilogy as a sort of manual, Torment Nexus style. Kim Stanley Robinson is very much concerned with this planet in this time period, but others use his work to do the opposite.

But the backlash to Mars has begun.

Maciej wrote Why Not Mars:

The goal of this essay is to persuade you that we shouldn’t send human beings to Mars, at least not anytime soon. Landing on Mars with existing technology would be a destructive, wasteful stunt whose only legacy would be to ruin the greatest natural history experiment in the Solar System. It would no more open a new era of spaceflight than a Phoenician sailor crossing the Atlantic in 500 B.C. would have opened up the New World. And it wouldn’t even be that much fun.

Manu Saadia is writing a book about humanity in space, and he has a corresponding newsletter called Against Mars: Space Colonization and its Discontents:

What if space colonization was merely science-fiction, a narrative, or rather a meta-narrative, a myth, an ideology like any other? And therefore, how and why did it catch on? What is so special and so urgent about space colonization that countless scientists, engineers, government officials, billionaire oligarchs and indeed, entire nations, have committed work, ingenuity and treasure to make it a reality.

What if, and hear me out, space colonization was all bullshit?

I mean that quite literally. No hyperbole. Once you peer under the hood, or the nose, of the rocket ship, you encounter a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ghoulish garbage.

Two years ago, Shannon Stirone went into the details of why Mars Is a Hellhole

The central thing about Mars is that it is not Earth, not even close. In fact, the only things our planet and Mars really have in common is that both are rocky planets with some water ice and both have robots (and Mars doesn’t even have that many).

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the case for Mars colonisation is that its most ardent advocate turns out to be an idiotic small-minded eugenicist who can’t even run a social media company, much less a crewed expedition to another planet.

But let’s be clear: we’re talking here about the proposition of sending humans to Mars—ugly bags of mostly water that probably wouldn’t survive. Robots and other uncrewed missions in our solar system …more of that, please!

Monday, January 2nd, 2023

Why Not Mars (Idle Words)

I’ve come to believe the best way to look at our Mars program is as a faith-based initiative. There is a small cohort of people who really believe in going to Mars, the way some people believe in ghosts or cryptocurrency, and this group has an outsize effect on our space program.

Maciej lays out the case against a crewed mission to Mars.

Like George Lucas preparing to release another awful prequel, NASA is hoping that cool spaceships and nostalgia will be enough to keep everyone from noticing that their story makes no sense. But you can’t lie your way to Mars, no matter how sincerely you believe in what you’re doing.

And don’t skip the footnotes:

Fourth graders writing to Santa make a stronger case for an X-Box than NASA has been able to put together for a Mars landing.

Sunday, December 11th, 2022

Artemis I | Flickr

NASA is posting some lovely pictures on Flickr from the first Artemis mission.

Flight Day 20: Orion and Our Moon

Monday, November 28th, 2022

Designing a Utopian layout grid: Working with fluid responsive values in a static design tool. | Utopia

James describes his process for designing fluid grid layouts, which very much involves working with the grain of the web but against the grain of our design tools:

In 2022 our design tools are still based around fixed-size artboards, while we’re trying to design products which scale gracefully to suit any screen.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2022

Artemis rising

Two weeks ago I was on stage for two days hosting Leading Design in London.

Last week I was on stage for two days hosting Clarity in New Orleans.

It was an honour and a pleasure to MC at both events. Hard work, but very, very rewarding. And people seemed to like the cut of my jib, so that’s good.

With my obligations fulfilled, I’m now taking some time off before diving back into some exciting events-related work (he said, teasingly).

Jessica and I left New Orleans for Florida on the weekend. We’re spending a week at the beach house in Saint Augustine, doing all the usual Floridian activities: getting in the ocean, eating shrimp, sitting around doing nothing, that kind of thing.

But last night we got to experience something very unusual indeed.

We stayed up late, fighting off tiredness until strolling down to the beach sometime after 1am.

It was a mild night. I was in shorts and short sleeves, standing on the sand with the waves crashing, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness.

We were looking to the south. That’s where Cape Canaveral is, about a hundred miles away.

A hundred miles is quite a distance, and it was a cloudy night, so I wasn’t sure whether we’d be able to see anything. But when the time came, shortly before 2am, there was no mistaking it.

An orange glow appeared on the ocean, just over the horizon. Then an intense bright orange-red flame burst upwards. Even at this considerable distance, it was remarkably piercing.

It quickly travelled upwards, in an almost shaky trajectory, until entering the clouds.

And that was it. Brief, but unforgettable. We had seen the launch of Artemis 1 on the Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket ever launched.

BBC World TV News interview of Ariel Waldman for the NASA Artemis I launch! - YouTube

This is so cool—Ariel was on BBC World TV News live during the Artemis launch!

BBC World TV News interview of Ariel Waldman for the NASA Artemis I launch!

Monday, November 7th, 2022

Aegir.org | Five Moons

In a way, I find these pictures—taken by someone from the ground with regular equipment—just as awe-inspiring as the images from the James Webb Space Telescope.

Tuesday, August 16th, 2022

No code

When I wrote about democratising dev, I made brief mention of the growing “no code” movement:

Personally, I would love it if the process of making websites could be democratised more. I’ve often said that my nightmare scenario for the World Wide Web would be for its fate to lie in the hands of an elite priesthood of programmers with computer science degrees. So I’m all in favour of no-code tools …in theory.

But I didn’t describe what no-code is, as I understand it.

I’m taking the term at face value to mean a mechanism for creating a website—preferably on a domain you control—without having to write anything in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, or any back-end programming language.

By that definition, something like WordPress.com (as opposed to WordPress itself) is a no-code tool:

Create any kind of website. No code, no manuals, no limits.

I’d also put Squarespace in the same category:

Start with a flexible template, then customize to fit your style and professional needs with our website builder.

And its competitor, Wix:

Discover the platform that gives you the freedom to create, design, manage and develop your web presence exactly the way you want.

Webflow provides the same kind of service, but with a heavy emphasis on marketing websites:

Your website should be a marketing asset, not an engineering challenge.

Bubble is trying to cover a broader base:

Bubble lets you create interactive, multi-user apps for desktop and mobile web browsers, including all the features you need to build a site like Facebook or Airbnb.

Wheras Carrd opts for a minimalist one-page approach:

Simple, free, fully responsive one-page sites for pretty much anything.

All of those tools emphasise that don’t need to need to know how to code in order to have a professional-looking website. But there’s a parallel universe of more niche no-code tools where the emphasis is on creativity and self-expression instead of slickness and professionalism.

neocities.org:

Create your own free website. Unlimited creativity, zero ads.

mmm.page:

Make a website in 5 minutes. Messy encouraged.

hotglue.me:

unique tool for web publishing & internet samizdat

I’m kind of fascinated by these two different approaches: professional vs. expressionist.

I’ve seen people grapple with this question when they decide to have their own website. Should it be a showcase of your achievements, almost like a portfolio? Or should it be a glorious mess of imagery and poetry to reflect your creativity? Could it be both? (Is that even doable? Or desirable?)

Robin Sloan recently published his ideas—and specs—for a new internet protocol called Spring ’83:

Spring ‘83 is a protocol for the transmission and display of something I am calling a “board”, which is an HTML fragment, limited to 2217 bytes, unable to execute JavaScript or load external resources, but otherwise unrestricted. Boards invite publishers to use all the richness of modern HTML and CSS. Plain text and blue links are also enthusiastically supported.

It’s not a no-code tool (you need to publish in HTML), although someone could easily provide a no-code tool to sit on top of the protocol. Conceptually though, it feels like it’s an a similar space to the chaotic good of neocities.org, mmm.page, and hotglue.me with maybe a bit of tilde.town thrown in.

It feels like something might be in the air. With Spring ’83, the Block protocol, and other experiments, people are creating some interesting small pieces that could potentially be loosely joined. No code required.

Tuesday, July 19th, 2022

An Archeology for the Future in Space

I really enjoyed this deep dive into some design fiction work done by Fabien Girardin, Simone Rebaudengo, and Fred Scharmen.

(Remember when Simone spoke at dConstruct about toasters? That was great!)

Sunday, May 15th, 2022

6, 97: Why scorpions?

A fascinating and inspiring meditation on aerodynamics.

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022

Flexibly Centering an Element with Side-Aligned Content – Eric’s Archived Thoughts

This is a great little tip from Eric for those situations when you want an element to be centred but you want the content inside that element to remain uncentred:

max-inline-size: max-content;
margin-inline: auto;

And I completely concur with his closing thoughts on CSS today:

It’s a nice little example of the quiet revolution that’s been happening in CSS of late. Hard things are becoming easy, and more than easy, simple. Simple in the sense of “direct and not complex”, not in the sense of “obvious and basic”. There’s a sense of growing maturity in the language, and I’m really happy to see it.

The lost thread

Twit­ter’s only con­clu­sion can be abandonment: an over­due MySpace-ification. I am totally con­fi­dent about this prediction, but that’s an easy confidence, because in the long run, we’re all MySpace-ified.

What Robin said.

Saturday, March 5th, 2022

Utopia - an introduction - YouTube

James and Trys have made this terrific explanatory video about Utopia. They pack a lot into less than twenty minutes but it’s all very clearly and methodically explained.

Utopia - an introduction

Friday, February 11th, 2022

Awesome astrophotography from the South Downs | Science | The Guardian

To mark the start of the Dark Skies Festival today, here are some fantastic photographics taken not that far from Brighton.

Monday, January 31st, 2022

Science Fiction-Media in Transition

Chip Delaney and Octavia Butler on a panel together in 1998 when hypertext and “cyberspace” are in the air. Here’s Octavia Butler on her process (which reminds me of when I’m preparing a conference talk):

I generally have four or five books open around the house—I live alone; I can do this—and they are not books on the same subject. They don’t relate to each other in any particular way, and the ideas they present bounce off one another. And I like this effect. I also listen to audio-books, and I’ll go out for my morning walk with tapes from two very different audio-books, and let those ideas bounce off each other, simmer, reproduce in some odd way, so that I come up with ideas that I might not have come up with if I had simply stuck to one book until I was done with it and then gone and picked up another.

So, I guess, in that way, I’m using a kind of primitive hypertext.

Monday, November 15th, 2021

The internet that disappears - Embedded

The internet, it turns out, is not forever. It’s on more of like a 10-year cycle. It’s constantly upgrading and migrating in ways that are incompatible with past content, leaving broken links and error pages in its wake. In other instances, the sites simply shutter, or become so layered over that finding your own footprint is impossible—I have searched “Kate Lindsay Myspace” every which way and have concluded that my content from that platform must simply be lost to time, ingested by the Shai-Hulud of the internet.

Saturday, August 7th, 2021

Space Elevators: How a sci-fi dream could be built today

Surveying the current practical and theoretical factors for and against space elevators (including partial elevators—skyhooks!).

Wednesday, May 12th, 2021

The Linear Oppression of Note-taking Apps

I think this explains why Kinopio resonates with me.

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

Earth Restored — Toby Ord

Beautifully restored high-resolution photographs of the Earth taken by Apollo astronauts.