March 20th, 2015
On the one hand it’s just a shadow, the shadow of the moon, so there’s nothing magical about it at all (although some would beg to differ). But on the other hand it is, weather permitting, a momentary breakdown of the illusion that we live on a flat Earth with the heavens simply ‘above’ it. You can get a sense of being in space and of the vastness of things.
It’s a shame astronomy doesn’t get directly in our faces more often, but then I suppose if solar eclipses were common most people would ignore them the same way they ignore the Milky Way at night.
I’m hoping (obviously) for a break in the clouds. Sadly the world sold out of eclipse glasses before I even thought about it, and I’m not resourceful enough to source some dense lighting gels at short notice. Might have to try the pinhole method (meh) or, yeah, the Intertubes.
June 26th, 2013
Interesting lecture and Q&A from ‘21st century Brunel’ Elon Musk. Predictably he covers SolarCity, Tesla and SpaceX, though the Q&A is more interesting, covering energy storage, rocket airframe construction, reusability and manned flights to Mars. He also briefly mentions his tantalising Hyperloop concept.
February 22nd, 2013
This is pretty spectacular. Actual video footage of a solar flare erupting on the surface of the sun. Turn the res up to 720p or higher on full screen.
November 5th, 2012
A Slower Speed of Light is a first-person game prototype in which players navigate a 3D space while picking up orbs that reduce the speed of light in increments. Custom-built, open-source relativistic graphics code allows the speed of light in the game to approach the player’s own maximum walking speed. Visual effects of special relativity gradually become apparent to the player, increasing the challenge of gameplay.
June 21st, 2012
The sensation of ‘being me’ at precisely 03:34 this morning felt a bit like being hit square in the face by an InterCity train made of condensed hay fever; ten carriages of pollen, dust and microscopic spores bonded with a potent histamine syrup. I awoke with the classic symptoms: an insanely dry and itchy throat, gunky red eyes and the commencement of thirty minutes or so of staccato sneezing. I trudged downstairs to wash my face, took a Loratadine tablet, drank a couple of pints of water and finally got back to sleep at about six o’clock.
Maybe it serves me right: Six months ago I moved out of London, having lived there for just shy of ten years. I never suffered from hay fever as a child nor in my teens, but it caught up with me two years after moving to the city (though the lay scientist in me must point out here that this is not proof of a causal link). To plagiarise Moonraker, my hay fever symptoms normally appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season at around the end of March, and then hang around being quite annoying till the end of July, presumably in rhythm with the annual cycles of the particular grasses and flowers to which I am allergic. But so far this year I have had hardly any symptoms at all, and I was privately feeling smug that moving out of London had helped to alleviate the problem, as I had predicted. (Again, of course it could just be that there are different pollens on the wind where I now live.) And as a result I’ve been neglecting to take my antihistamines.
One positive thing about hay fever is that its very existence is compelling evidence that God does not exist. Believers often state that the truly bad things in life, like wars or cancer, are “sent to try us”, or that God in allowing (or causing?) these things to happen is testing our faith or indeed punishing us. This is arguably fair enough, but why then would this omnipotent supernatural creator also set out to design such a moderately irksome and inconvenient thing as hay fever? As a source of personal amusement?
Perhaps, as well as moving in mysterious ways, God moves in ridiculous ways too. An all-seeing Practical Joker Upon high. If he does exist then quite frankly he’s a bit of a dick.
October 27th, 2011
The BBC News website has today posted a great little tool for contextualising the world’s population growth. Based on UN Population figures, being born in 1977 I was the 4,251,107,985th (4.2 billionth) person alive at the time. As you’ll have seen in the news this week, the population has very recently reached seven billion. This is troubling.
It’s a controversial and complicated subject but I’m firmly of the opinion that we’re in big trouble unless we quickly stem this level of growth (through education and healthcare initiatives, for example). Nine billion is already an inevitability. This is surely the biggest single factor in the battle for environmental sustainability, yet few seem willing to discuss it.
If you’ve not seen it, Hans Rosling’s TED talk on the subject is well worth watching.
July 31st, 2010
In this inward-looking media-obsessed world – where it’s possible to become a celebrity simply by stumbling out of the right West London nightclubs, and where the prerequisites for fame no longer include having contributed some great act, painting, literature, architectural design, scientific discovery or such – it is perhaps unsurprising that few would list among their heroes the likes of Copernicus, Gallileo, Newton and Einstein.
Something I find both understandable in the context of modern society and its practicalities — but simultaneously most bizarre when considered from an objective point of view, is the widespread disinterest in the 99.99 recurring percent of everything that exists out in space. Frankly I can think of very few subjects quite as acutely intriguing.
Fortunately, whilst being in the minority, I’m by no means alone in my ‘Nostalgia for Infinity’, and recently a colleague pointed me in the direction of two entire astronomy courses that were recorded and put on the web for free by Richard Pogge at Ohio State University. They’re both available as podcast feeds you can subscribe to, and there are accompanying web pages — which compensate to a degree for not being able to see the projections from original lectures:
I’m almost at the end of Astronomy 161 which has been accompanying me on my (not quite long enough) daily commute for the past three months. It’s a little bit basic in places, aimed at the complete beginner, but Richard imparts a fascinating amount of detail both about the solar system and the history of astronomy, neither of which I was taught at school.
Highly recommended for those who like to escape the babble of human affairs from time to time.