May 6th, 2013
Another time-lapse sequence, this time of the US National Science Foundation's icebreaker the Nathaniel B. Palmer, traveling through the Ross Sea in Antarctica. Pink ice. Blue ice. Penguins. What more could you ask for?
May 6th, 2013
One day I'll get tired of sequences of time lapse images taken from the International Space Station. Not today.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
May 4th, 2013
It looks as if when NASA's New Horizons probe arrives at Pluto in 2015 it's going to find weather that is both relatively simple and yet quite difficult to predict:
To establish context: Pluto, like Earth and Titan, has a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. It's a very thin atmosphere, its pressure measured in microbars. Earth's atmospheric pressure is, of course, about one bar. Titan's is 1.6 bars. Mars' is a hundred times more tenuous, less than 10 millibars. Pluto's is about a hundred times more tenuous again, less than 100 microbars. Which is really thin; but it's way thicker than the essentially airless exospheres at Mercury and the Moon. Pluto has plenty enough atmosphere for the world to have wind and weather and clouds, just like Venus and Earth and Mars and Titan.
Nitrogen in Pluto's air is in equilibrium with nitrogen frost or ice on the ground. Broadly speaking, when Pluto warms up, ice sublimates to gas, and the atmospheric pressure goes up. When Pluto cools, you get frost and a lower atmospheric pressure. Changing seasons remove ice from the summer pole, and may re-deposit it at the winter pole.
Emily Lakdawalla's post goes into much more detail about why it's so hard to predict what New Horizons will find, even taking into account what we know from probes to destinations elsewhere in the solar system. Which, as she notes, is exactly why it's necessary to send a spaceship out to Pluto – to tell us which theories are right and which are wrong (and in turn to fuel a couple of decades-worth of scientific papers figuring out whether the theories that gave the right answers did so for the right reasons.)
In the meantime, New Horizons will be heading on out to the Kuiper Belt, which promises to be interesting in an entirely different way.
May 3rd, 2013
I never had much time for the TRON universe: to my mind the original was an impressive technical feat but the story didn't grab me, and I wasn't even slightly tempted by the sequel from a couple of years ago. The animated spin-off from TRON: Legacy was barely on my radar, but I have to admit that this compilation of visually impressive moments from the show, compiled by art director Alberto Mielgo, makes me think that the visual style of the show was a bit special.
I have no idea whether the plot and performances were as strikingly good as the show's look – and judging by some of the comments I see it looks as if the show might not get past a first season so soon it could be a moot question – but it surely was pretty.
April 30th, 2013
James Fallows caught the Times being very naughty in captioning a news photo earlier today.
April 29th, 2013
Nitsu Abebe has written a thoughtful piece on The Amanda Palmer Problem. By which he means not so much the various issues some people have with Palmer's own actions but the wider problem of how artists seeking support from fans can bring down such vitriol upon themselves online:
I think there's a lesson to be learned from Palmer, and it's not the falling-into-the-crowd lesson she offers. Yes, she's correct: The web offers an opportunity to fall into the open arms of fans, in ways that weren't available before. Here's the catch: The web also makes it near-impossible to fall into the arms of just one's fans. Each time you dive into the crowd, some portion of the audience before you consists of observers with no interest in catching you. And you are still asking them to, because another thing the web has done is erode the ability to put something into the world that is directed only at interested parties.
This sort of furore is only going to get bigger and noisier as the example of the The Veronica Mars Movie Project is followed by the likes of Zach Braff and more and more recognisable names show up on the front page of Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
[Via Waxy.org links]
April 29th, 2013
The Official Wondercon Trailer for Pacific Rim looks sensational:
It's going to be quite a summer for big, brash science fiction action movies. Oblivion looked good and worked hard but fell short in the originality department, and After Earth really doesn't look promising, but there's still much to look forward to. Elysium will have no shortage of social commentary amidst the gunfire. Star Trek Into Darkness will give us another romp with the modern incarnations of Kirk, Spock and Bones and the crew, with the bonus feature of weeks of fun arguments about how Benedict Cumberbatch's character fits into/breaks Trek continuity. The Wolverine will have ninjas galore lining up to take on a mutant who's the best there is at what he does. With a less than completely happy ending for Logan. Man of Steel will have us kneeling before Zod before Superman punches him all the way back into the Phantom Zone.
However nothing – nothing! – promises more pure, goofy fun that Guillermo del Toro spending a couple of hours having giant human-piloted robots engage in punch-ups with giant alien monsters from the deep.
April 27th, 2013
Stephen Wolfram has been playing round with data about his users' Facebook networks:
More than a million people have now used our Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook. And as part of our latest update, in addition to collecting some anonymized statistics, we launched a Data Donor program that allows people to contribute detailed data to us for research purposes.
A few weeks ago we decided to start analyzing all this data. [...]
We'd always planned to use the data we collect to enhance our Personal Analytics system. But I couldn't resist also trying to do some basic science with it. I've always been interested in people and the trajectories of their lives. But I've never been able to combine that with my interest in science. Until now. And it's been quite a thrill over the past few weeks to see the results we've been able to get. Sometimes confirming impressions I've had; sometimes showing things I never would have guessed.
Wolfram's post is long and yet is clearly just scratching the surface of what can be done with the heaps of data Facebook's customers create as they use the network. It'll be interesting to see what changes in these patterns another five or ten years of Facebook being a mainstream product will bring.
Of course, it's worth remembering that there's almost certainly not a word of Wolfram's findings that would come as any surprise to Facebook themselves. Or their
[Via Flowing Data]
April 26th, 2013
Is there any science fictional vessel on TV that can possibly match the TARDIS?
[Via The Great Escapism]
April 24th, 2013
I'll confess to never having played Warhammer 40K or read any of the tie-ins, but even so I'm quite prepared to believe that this truly is the Best Warhammer 40K Costume Ever:
* Post title courtesy of MeFi user Halloween Jack.
April 22nd, 2013
A telling vignette from Businessweek's article about Eve Online:
[A number of prominent Eve Online players...] were in Iceland's capital to meet with executives from CCP Games, the company that created Eve. The seven make up the Council of Stellar Management (CSM), a group elected by other Eve players and flown by CCP to Iceland every six months or so to discuss how the game should evolve. It's a kind of super-user focus group, but also a channel for players' complaints. In 2011, when CCP rolled out some controversial changes, the company summoned the CSM members to Reykjavík for an emergency meeting in an effort to stem a user backlash. "At the time, I had been dating a girl for only three weeks and was terrified," says Joshua Goldshlag (Eve name: Two Step), a 35-year-old CSM member and computer programmer from Massachusetts. "I certainly did not want to mention that I had been elected as an Internet space politician."
April 20th, 2013
April 19th, 2013
The Most Deranged Sorority Girl Email You Will Ever Read:
If you just opened this like I told you to, tie yourself down to whatever chair you're sitting in, because this email is going to be a rough fucking ride.
For those of you that have your heads stuck under rocks, which apparently is the majority of this chapter, we have been FUCKING UP in terms of night time events and general social interactions with Sigma Nu. I've been getting texts on texts about people LITERALLY being so fucking AWKWARD and so fucking BORING. If you're reading this right now and saying to yourself "But oh em gee Julia, I've been having so much fun with my sisters this week!", then punch yourself in the face right now so that I don't have to fucking find you on campus to do it myself. [...]
That was just her getting warmed up. It gets so much better once she gets into her stride.
(I'm moderately sure that the whole thing was written tongue in cheek, but it's so entertainingly batty that I don't particularly care.)
[Via The Morning News]
April 19th, 2013
April 18th, 2013
If the folks behind Leviathan: Warships are as good at writing turn-based strategy games as they are at making trailers for said games then I may have to seriously consider buying Leviathan: Warships when it comes out:
[Via Pop Loser]
April 17th, 2013
The latest trailer for Man of Steel looks pretty damned good.
Trouble is, Zack Snyder's films often have impressive-looking trailers; it's only when you get into cinema that you find out how badly the plot falls short of the visuals. Then again, David S Goyer is pretty good at writing comic book movies, and goodness knows they've had enough examples of what not to do. Eventually they have to get Superman right on the big screen again. Why not in 2013?
[Via Mightygodking dot com]
April 17th, 2013
Mr. Dalliard: Time travel in movies. Nice work.
I can't help but notice that the chart's title says "… in movies" but a couple of TV series are included. And yet no Doctor Who. Odd, that.
[Via The Great Escapism]
April 14th, 2013
Jan Chipchase's You Lookin' At Me? Reflections on Google Glass. urges us to take advantage of the opportunity we have now that Google Glass is on the verge of escaping into the wild to think about how Glass (or something like it) is going to transform privacy expectations over the next decade or two:
One could argue that the form taken by Glass offers up a lazy futurist's vision of what might be – take the trajectory of one product (displays becoming smaller/cheaper/more efficient over time) and integrate it with another (eyeglasses), sprinkle in connectivity and real-time access to content and big-data-analytics. Our expectations of what it could be are raised in part because this join-the-dots vision of the future fits neatly into Western un/popular young-male culture, from "The Terminator" through to Halo. Glass has a certain inevitability about it, like the weight of expectation on of child born to a great composer or, if you will, to a middle-aged suicide. As any visitor to Yodobashi camera over the past decade will tell you, the hardware technologies that make Glass hardly feel novel (and for recent competitors, see Sony, Golden-i, or this Telepathy device prototype) but neither do they need to be, because this is all about how they are brought together into a holistic experience.
I have a feeling that the prospect of walking round wearing a device that requires an eyeglass-mounted interface is going to be a lot less popular among the ordinary, smartphone-carrying public than Google hope. I can't help but think that if Google/Apple/whoever just pushes speech-driven interfaces a bit further along then a fair number of ordinary people will find that the ability to tell their phone to show them maps and directions, pull up details of the person they're speaking to and so on will suffice for now.
Still, even in that scenario we'll have people walking round our towns and cities and homes and workplaces carrying permanently-on devices that default to capturing and storing sound and video, so almost all the issues Chipchase raises will still apply.
[Via The Browser]
April 13th, 2013
Emily Lakdawalla has posted a fascinating account, translated from the Russian original, of how a group of space enthusiasts combed images of the surface of Mars. Their aim: to find the Mars 3 lander that managed to transmit radio signals for 14 seconds back on 2 December 1971 before falling silent.