Look up Moon phases for the next eight thousand years

Thursday, 16 April, 2015

Moon Phases installation

Here’s an interactive installation that allows you look up the phases of the Moon, as seen in the northern hemisphere, for any date from the beginning of the first millennium, right on through almost to the end of the tenth millennium. Cool, or what?

Talking of the tenth millennium, here are a few astronomical events, perhaps the only things we can be sure may happen, that are scheduled to take place. Regulus, a star in what is still the constellation of Leo, will feature prominently, assuming it is still around in eight thousand years:

  • 5 November 9106, Venus occults Regulus
  • 16 November 9682, Mercury occults Regulus
  • 21 November 9847, Mars occults Regulus

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Might ants one day be helping us fight off spam?

Monday, 13 April, 2015

Is there anything ants cannot do? They make great street cleaners, have shown us how to quickly exit buildings during an emergency, know a thing or two about easing traffic congestion, and have even created sculptures based on their colonies. Now the way they go about defending these colonies may even help us to deal with spam email messages:

Deborah M. Gordon, a biology professor at Stanford, has worked with a computer scientist, Fernando Esponda, and produced a model that suggests that ant colony defense behavior follows the same distributed network rules as the human immune system. The work suggests that evolution has twice produced a simple security protocol for social insects that, installed in email servers, could make them far more difficult for spammers to hack.

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Imagine if you could leap to work, rather than catch a bus

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015

Spacious, clean, wifi enabled buses, with, in addition to the driver, an attendant serving refreshments and answering any questions commuters may have, just might lure more people onto public transport. Too bad then the Leap buses only service a small area of San Francisco at the moment.

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Go time travelling by way of your old email messages

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015

I have emails, sent and received, going back almost thirteen years. That figure would be closer to eighteen, had I have not lost messages from the first computers I owned, lumbering desktop affairs, due to the backup discs they’d been stored on corrupting.

So if I wished to time travel as it were, by revisiting my earliest emails, to glean insights into the way my thought processes, and the way I communicated, may have changed over time, I may not draw quite the same conclusions, as Brooklyn based programmer Paul Ford, who did have access to eighteen years worth of correspondence.

It’s strange to see the conversations because we’re all still obsessed over the same things we were ten or fifteen years ago. We’ve gotten older, gotten married and divorced. Some of us are rich, some are poor, some like comic books, some are writing poems, some are writing novels, some are still wearing the same T-shirts. Children change us, and keep changing us. Divorce changes us, often for a while. We cling to life and resolve to do better and then just drift back to ourselves and the regular flow of life. Like a pile of rocks in a stream, time running around us. Occasionally it rains and a stone is knocked around. Change comes from without.

The thing is, it was the messages from those lost years, the late 1990s, that would make such a comparison meaningful, all the more pertinent.

I was making my first forays into web design, had become involved with the Australian Infront, a local web design community, and was contemplating the meaning of a certain chance meeting at a bar, of all things. Followed up by an equally (maybe) contingent… encounter, mere metres from said locale, just weeks ago, it should be added.

I expect I would cringe, a lot, if I could see those messages again, so I guess the test will come, if I’m able to review the emails I’m sending now, in eighteen years time. I may recoil a little, but maybe not so much.

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Double spacing in punctuation belongs to the typewriter age

Monday, 6 April, 2015

This is interesting, I don’t know of anyone who uses double spacing at the end of a written sentence, although I’ve seen the practice occur on some websites I occasionally stumble upon.

As far as I understood, it’s something that harks back to days of typewriters, when writers would add the extra gap to their manuscripts for whatever reason.

That some people today still choose to use typewriters – and each to their own, I say – is beside the point. It was my impression that the convention had long since been deprecated, along with, say, any use whatsoever of the word “whom”.

What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone – everyone! – said it was proper to use two spaces.

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Might the “shut in” lifestyle give new lift to the economy?

Thursday, 2 April, 2015

As if working online from home/base as a writer wasn’t enough, the proliferation of web based services that delivers just about anything I care to think of to my door, now means I never have to leave the house at all. If I don’t want to, that is.

But there you have it, the rise of what is becoming known as the shut-in economy, or barista economy, a whole new services industry that just might power economic growth for decades.

Katherine van Ekert isn’t a shut-in, exactly, but there are only two things she ever has to run errands for any more: trash bags and saline solution. For those, she must leave her San Francisco apartment and walk two blocks to the drug store, “so woe is my life,” she tells me. (She realizes her dry humor about #firstworldproblems may not translate, and clarifies later: “Honestly, this is all tongue in cheek. We’re not spoiled brats.”) Everything else is done by app. Her husband’s office contracts with Washio. Groceries come from Instacart. “I live on Amazon,” she says, buying everything from curry leaves to a jogging suit for her dog, complete with hoodie.

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Pop it in the oven for a few minutes, one way to repair laptops

Tuesday, 31 March, 2015

I’d say your mileage would vary to say the least, but in certain circumstances, placing the motherboard of your laptop computer in a heated oven, may be one way to effect certain repairs, in this case a graphics chip that would run so hot, it’d detach from the motherboard when the solder holding it in place melted.

Believe it or not, baking the laptop was actually the easy part. Successful reports from internet forums all said pretty much the same thing: set your oven to 320-350 degrees, prop the mobo up on a casserole dish (or a few carefully placed balls of aluminum foil) and cook each side for 2-4 minutes each. Allow it to cool and serve in its original chassis for best results.

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Computers do many things well, cooking may not be one of them

Friday, 27 March, 2015

An IBM supercomputer, who I discovered one addresses as “Watson”, has been learning all about the foods that people enjoy, and is now crafting cooking recipes as a result. I guess you could describe Watson’s… style as experimental?

Watson does, however, produce some genuinely interesting combinations. I’m taken with the idea of adding marjoram to a blackberry and cherry cobbler, porcini powder to a spiced pumpkin tart and tamarind to a cabbage slaw. Sometimes, he reaffirms classic matches. No doubt the whole of Italy will breathe a sigh of relief when it sees his tomato and mozzarella tart. Phew. There’s no such endorsement for tomato, basil and mozzarella, though I spy a dish that has me wondering whether it could replace everyone’s fallback summer salad.

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A rose by any other name will still be Internet Explorer?

Thursday, 26 March, 2015

I’m not sure about anyone else, but news that Microsoft is doing away with web browser Internet Explorer, or IE, would surely have caught the attention of web developers and designers, passed and present.

For a time there, and we’re talking awhile back now, IE was about the only dependable browser around, though I think its bane days far outnumber the boon times. IE6 anyone?

Microsoft has tried, unsuccessfully, to shake off the negative image of Internet Explorer over the past several years with a series of amusing campaigns mocking Internet Explorer 6. The ads didn’t improve the situation, and Microsoft’s former Internet Explorer chief left the company in December, signalling a new era for the browser.

Mind you the web browser isn’t really going though, it’s just being renamed. I’ll probably be sticking with FireFox and Chrome for the time being however.

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Designing Google’s new office

Monday, 9 March, 2015

US tech company Google are drawing up plans for a new office building at their Mountain View, California, headquarters. In short, they’re hoping to build a workplace that both melds with the environment and is one with nature.

They’re certainly taking a holistic approach here, and are probably fortunate in that they have the appropriate resources to do so. I wonder if this will be the way of things to come, in terms of workplace architecture?

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