Tag Archives: science

The miracle of a billion cameras

Meteor Fall

It sounds like a remarkable story, almost unbelievable: Anders Helstrup went skydiving nearly two years ago in Hedmark, Norway and while he didn’t realize it at the time, when he reviewed the footage taken by two cameras fixed to his helmet during the dive, he saw a rock plummet past him. He took it to experts and they realized he had captured a meteorite falling during its “dark flight” — when it has been slowed by atmospheric braking, and has cooled and is no longer luminous.

via Norwegian Skydiver Almost Gets Hit by Falling Meteor — and Captures it on Film.

Part of what’s amazing about so many people recording things all the time on camera is we get to see things that we know must be, but no one has directly observed before. Like rocks falling from the sky.

I think XKCD sums it up best:

XKCD Settled

A new Cosmos

Even though I was only 4 at the time, Cosmos left a distinct impression on my when I was a kid. My path into science and engineering probably can be traced back to being filled with things like Cosmos and NOVA during my formative years by my parents, something made easier by the fact that PBS was one of only 3 channels we got over the air on our 13″ TV.

A few years ago I watched through all of Cosmos again. There were things I remembered, things that I didn’t. And, while certain things look dated, the material surprisingly holds up quite well. More importantly, it was still inspiring, and still held really interesting ideas to ponder.

So I am incredibly excited that we’re going to get a new Cosmos this spring. The teaser for this was released at Comic Con this year and is amazing

I seriously can’t wait. I love the fact that they kept the starship of the mind as part of this, and the cosmic calendar. And I love that this is going to be network TV, not hidden off in a specialty cable channel.

Cicadas roundup

We’re now about 2 weeks into the Brood 2 Cicada hatch, which has been covering the Hudson Valley. It’s spottier than I imagined it would be, but our neighborhood is clearly good ground for Brood 2, as the Cicada chorus is now loud enough to be heard inside with the windows closed during the day now, though I’ve only seen a few of the beasts in the yard. I’ve gotten a little used to that other worldly sound, and will have to say I’ll miss it a little when this is over.

Radio Lab had great episode recently on the Cicada emergence, including a nice dissection of the sounds in the swarm. It turns out the chorus is really made of 3 different species with 3 different stages in their song. As this sun goes down this evening, and the cicadas start to quiet up, I can start to hear those pieces individually coming out. Like the tuning up phase in the orchestra, except in reverse.

And lastly, I learned today that modern noise cancelling in cell phones makes it basically impossible to record these sounds with a smart phone. Which is a shame. Otherwise I’d have uploaded our chorus to sound cloud.

The Long View

It’s good to step back some times and look at the really long view. Charlie Stross just did this with his new blog post on 2512, which provides a plausible look at what that world might be. I especially like the framing, about thinking what the world was like 500 years ago:

Five hundred years is a nearly unimaginable gulf from today’s perspective. Five centuries ago, the Portuguese conquistadores were beginning their rampage through South America; Martin Luther was finishing his doctorate in theology and thinking about sin: the huge sequence of civil wars that racked Japan for over a century were raging: the Great Powers were still the Chinese empire and the Caliphate (although the latter was undergoing a shift in center of gravity towards Istanbul and the Ottoman empire). The great powers in Europe were Spain and Venice; the English speaking world was a few million barbarians occupying a handful of damp islands on the outer fringes of Europe. It’s more than twice the historical existence of the USA to this date. Of our social institutions, very few survive from that long ago: the Catholic Church (and various orders and sub-groups within it), the Japanese Monarchy, and so on. A handful of universities, banks, and other institutions. The half-life of a public corporation today is about 30 years: ten half-lives out — 300 years hence — we may expect only one in a million to survive.

The whole post is definitely worth your time, but I do keep coming back to that half life statement. We take it for granted some time that organizations that exist today will be there tomorrow. But the reality is there is nothing magical about organizations, it’s about the people. Things only get done because some decides to do them.

Contemplating the long view seems like an appropriate Sunday morning activities.

This is what we can do…

This is what we can do when we work together, on science, on the future.

http://io9.com/5932042/what-is-the-first-thing-curiosity-will-do-when-it-lands

We can land a rover, by sky hook, on a planet so far away that it takes 14 minutes for light and radio signals to get back to earth.

This is what we can do when we work together, on science, on the future.

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/vwmang/7723995586/

We can bring people together, for a shared moment of humanity.

This is what we can do when we work together, on science, on the future.

We can inspire a generation.

Maybe we should do more of that.

 

Is the Sky Blue?

It’s a really interesting question, that isn’t as obvious as you might think. It’s wrapped up in the social construct of colors, and how color words emerge in languages.

Radio Lab covered this recently in one of their best podcasts I’ve ever listened to. And there is another great look at color evolution here. I especially like that we’re actually watching a color split emerge in modern Japanese language.