Exploding-whale day: the 45th anniversary

Today, reportedly, is the 45th anniversary of the famous exploding whale. The event was documented in this KATU television report, in 1970: The announcer summarized, firsthand, the fallout: "However, everyone on the scene was covered with small particle of dead whale." Now, people have built an entire business, or at least a web site, on…

Source: Exploding-whale day: the 45th anniversary

The Exploding whale video was the first video I ever watched on the internet, some 20 years ago. It perfectly captures many elements of what the internet is. A thing that's educational, bizarre, a bit gross, and a cultural flash point all at once.

The Story of Hōkūleʻa

Embedded in the story of Hōkūle’a and the culture that created her is the story of a 2000-year-old relationship with special islands and the sea. It is a story that was almost lost, and was close to extinction. But ultimately it is a story of survival, rediscovery, and the restoration of pri…

Source: The Story of Hōkūleʻa

This I learned from an episode of the Commonwealth Club: there is a boat, sailing around the world, without instruments (no sextants / clocks). They are using traditional Polynesian navigation which is about wave patterns, cloud patterns, and animals at sea.



I just finished Continuum, and it had one of the more satisfying series endings that I've seen in a while. Spoilers will be saved for a bit later. Seasons 1 - 3 are up on Netflix now, and Season 4 (which recently ended) will probably make it's way there later this year.

Continuum is about a set of time travelers that come back from 2077 to change the future. From the beginning it sets up an interesting set of axes. Our protagonist is part of a militant protection services body, chasing a set of terrorists called Liber8. Except those terrorists are what you'd recognize as people standing up for civil liberties and basic freedoms.

The first season is brilliant, and while it dips and weaves a little in season 2, season 3 and 4 pulled it back together for a solid ride.

Minor spoilers beyond this point, you've been warned.

In thinking back through the series, ever season folds over a new timeline on the ones before it. We end with a time travel event that causes a new twist in an interesting way. Apparently the creators originally had between 7 to 10 seasons worth of layers they were thinking about. The rather abrupt introduction of the time traveler at the end of season 3 and early in 4 definitely feels a little rushed, and something they would have held onto for another year or so if the end was not in sight.

But, at least they got season 4 to wrap it up. And while it felt like we were marching a bit faster, it didn't feel forced. Pacing was one of the things that Continuum was always quite good at. Time wasn't just the plot, it was also a key part of the art of this show.

If you are looking for good new Sci Fi, definitely give this one a shot. It stays quite true to itself to the end, and stays firmly on it's rails the whole time.


The Martian

"I'm stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I'm dead. I'm in a Hab designed to last 31 days. If the Oxygenator breaks down, I'll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I'll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I'll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I'll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I'm fucked." - Mark Watney

The Martian is one of my favorite books that I've read in a while. I've always felt that the "man vs. environment" theme was far under explored in scifi. Space is deadly. Most of the universe is completely hostile to life. And yet when major motion pictures do Mars movies they invent killer robots to trigger the suspense.

The Martian is a straight up hard scifi book about being stranded and surviving on Mars. It's got a great mix of problem solving, the unexpected, and a wise cracking protagonist. Every challenge he has to overcome is completely realistic. No crazy deus ex machina to inject suspense where this is none. If you like hard sci fi, you'll love this book.

And it's being turned into a major motion picture this October, hopefully landing before our drive in closes for the year. So if books aren't your thing, you could wait for the movie. But, you should really read the book. It's a lot of fun.

Neil Gaiman: How Stories Last - The Long Now

“Stories,” Gaiman said, “teach us how the world is put together and the rules of living in the world, and they come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and want to help them propagate.” Northwest coast native Americans have a tale about a beautiful woman and young man whose forbidden love was punished by the earth shaking, and black ash on snow, and finally fire coming from a mountain, killing many people. It stopped only when the beautiful woman was thrown into the burning mountain.

That is important information-- solid-seeming mountains can suddenly erupt, and early warnings of that are earthquakes and ash. As pure information it won’t last beyond three generations. But add in beauty and forbidden love and tragic death, and the story will be told as long as people live in the mountains.

Source: Neil Gaiman: How Stories Last - The Long Now

Neil Gaiman did the latest Seminar About Longterm Thinking, audio available to all, video available to Long Now members. 2 years in the making, this is a story about stories, and how we have stories that date back 5000 years.

I think my favorite moment was his explanation that stories are lies. When you say "Once upon a time", it's code for "I'm going to lie to you now". And when you say "this happened to a friend of mine", it's code for "I'm going to lie to you now, but I think there is a chance this might be true". But in those lies we layer elements of truth that endure, even as the stories adapt to the modern age.

As with all Long Now talks, this comes in over an hour and a half of content, but well worth your time.

Pluto is Red

Pluto is a completely different colour from the one we thought it was, according to new images that also show the huge heart that seems to be carved into its side.

Source: Pluto is red: New Horizons images throw out previous understanding of dwarf planet - News - Gadgets and Tech - The Independent

It's going to take me a long time to mentally adjust my model. Pluto is blue in my head, probably from some bit of pop fiction some time in the past.

It's going to be 18 months of trickling back all the data about Pluto, so even though the flyby is in just under 3 days, we're going to be getting new information about our favorite dwarf planet all through the next year.

Drones Stymie Rhino Poachers

Poaching is a threat to the survival of rhinos worldwide, and anti-poaching efforts have always been one step behind. Now, park rangers in South Africa have a leg up. John Petersen from the Air Shepherd program tells host Steve Curwood how the power of predictive analytics combined with drone technology could help to rescue the rhinos.

Source: Living on Earth: Drones Stymie Rhino Poachers

Very cool effort to re-purpose predictive analytics systems that were designed to find roadside bombs, to figure out where poachers are likely to be, then fly drones to find them. Initial results are really promising. No Rhinos were taken in the protected area during their 6 month trial, down from 12 - 14 a month previously.

To build a better Keyboard

I can't tell you how excited I am that Jesse and Kaia's kickstarter launched yesterday, and met their funding goal in the first 12 hours. A couple of years ago I caught up with Jesse at reunion and heard about the beginnings of this project. He was experimenting with building his own keyboard, and wasn't really sure where the project was headed. He commented that it was interesting that every other part of Doug Engelbart's Mother of all Demos has come to be a normal part of our technology lanscape, except his chorded keyboard. Maybe we were missing something. Maybe there were good ideas about keyboards that we just left on the drawing table.

Over the last couple of years he and Kaia went down this journey to build a better keyboard. Moving out to the west coast, doing a 4 month stint at a hardware incubator, many trips to Shenzen. All the interim steps have been amazing to watch. And the thing they created at the end of the day just looks outstanding.

They are now running a Kickstarter to fund the production of their first consumer unit, the Model 01. It just looks amazing. If you spend 8 hours a day at a computer, you owe it to yourself to take a look.

Python Design Patterns

A friend pointed me to this talk by Brandon Rhodes on python design patterns from PyOhio a couple of years ago.

The talk asks an interesting question: why aren't design patterns seen and talked about in the Python community. He walks through the patterns in Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software one by one, and points out some that are features of the language, some that are used in the standard library, and some that are really applicable. All with some nice small code examples.

The thing that got me thinking though was a comment he makes both at the beginning and end of the talk. The reason you don't see these patterns in Python is because Python developers tend not to write the kind of software where they are needed. They focus on small tools that connect other components, or live within a framework.

I'm a newcomer to the community, been doing Python full time for only a few years on OpenStack. So I can't be sure whether or not it's true. However, I know there are times when I'm surprised by things that I would have expected to be solved already in the language, or incompatibilities that didn't need to be there in the python 2 to 3 transition, and wonder if these come from this community not having a ton of experience with software at large code base size, as well as long duration code bases, and the kinds of deprecation and upgrade guarantees needed there.

Various rambling thoughts from my personal corner of the internet