August 24, 2020No Comments

Taking a Covid-19 Test

[Edit: It came back negative. Not surprising but worth knowing, and hopefully useful information. I’d be more interested in an antibody test but that wasn’t on offer].

Did anyone else get one of these testing kits? I received a letter last week inviting me to take a home test. I suppose they want to figure out what proportion of the population has asymptomatic Covid. I am happy to help.

Lateness in the year aside, it all seems very well organised – so far. I am taking the samples tomorrow morning and a courier will pick it up during the day. Apparently they need to have it in the lab within 36 hours.

March 20, 20151 Comment

Solar Eclipse

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 26, 20131 Comment

Elon Musk on the Future of Energy and Transport

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 22, 2013No Comments

Solar flare HD video footage

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.

via @jedrichards

November 5, 2012No Comments

Relativistic game engine from MIT Game Lab

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 21, 2012No Comments

Bless You

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 27, 20111 Comment

Seven Billion

BBC News - World Population Reaches 7 Billion

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 31, 2010No Comments

Full of stars

Io and Europa Meet Again (NASA/Johns Hopkins University)

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.

May 27, 20102 Comments

Go for launch

Impressive time-lapse footage of Space Shuttle Discovery being prepared for launch (after pre-roll advert)

December 18, 20091 Comment

The Known Universe

This is a great animation / visualisation based on the Digital Universe Atlas, by the American Museum of Natural History. Full screen HD recommended.


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