Gathering moondust

NASA went to extraordinary lengths to show that what was brought back from the moon that time was safe.

NASA fed some of its precious Apollo 11 lunar samples to cockroaches
“We had to prove that we weren’t going to contaminate not only human beings, but we weren’t going to contaminate fish and birds and animals and plants and you name it,” said Charles Berry, head of medical operations during Apollo, in an oral history. “Any of the Earth’s biosphere, we had to prove we weren’t going to affect it. So we had to develop an amazing program that was carried off really for three flights’ worth. A lot of trouble.”

50 years later, those samples are still studied.

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How NASA has preserved Apollo moon rocks for 50 years
“May I hold it?” I ask Krysher. No dice. I had to ask, even though Zeigler had warned me in an e-mail before I arrived: “We have pretty strict rules about people putting their (gloved) hands in the cabinets to touch samples. Basically, it’s an only-if-you-walked-on-the-moon rule.”

Keeping pristine samples away from curious fingers allowed scientists to make one of the most surprising lunar discoveries of the last 50 years: The moon is wet. Over the last decade, scientists have found hundreds of times more water in lunar samples than researchers in the Apollo era realized existed.

A visit to NASA’s moon rock central
Science News astronomy writer Lisa Grossman went behind the scenes at NASA’s pristine sample lab at Johnson Space Center in Houston this spring and saw moon rocks up close — or as close as non-astronauts can get.

Happy metal

Did you know that music has the power to affect us physiologically, as well as just emotionally?

Here’s what happens in your brain when you listen to music, according to science
Music can also have a strong effect on your emotions by, in a sense, manipulating your body. For example, a 2009 study published in the scientific journal Circulation found that autonomic responses, such as your heart rate, can synchronize with the music you’re listening to, especially if it includes a number of crescendos.

But how about something more two-way?

Our brain-computer interfacing technology uses music to make people happy
For instance, imagine a device that can detect when you are falling into a state of depression (as evidenced by, for example, an unusual spiking activity in the EEG), and use this information to trigger an algorithm that generates bespoke music to make you feel happier. This approach is likely to be effective. Indeed, recent research has shown, in a large meta-analysis of 1,810 music therapy patients, that music can reduce depression levels.

You wouldn’t think something as aggressive-sounding as metal could help here, but you’d be surprised.

Heavy metal
When fans of metal listen to the music, they don’t feel rage, anger, or despair, but “power, joy, peace, and wonder,” according to research published last year. In fact, a huge survey in 2010 sought to categorize people by their musical tastes, and found a significant overlap between metal and opera fans, who shared “similarly creative and gentle personalities.”

Heavy metal music can have health benefits for fans
Despite the often violent lyrical content in some heavy metal songs, recently published research has shown that fans do not become sensitized to violence, which casts doubt on the previously assumed negative effects of long-term exposure to such music. Indeed, studies have shown long-terms fans were happier in their youth and better adjusted in middle age compared to their non-fan counterparts. Another finding that fans who were made angry and then listened to heavy metal music did not increase their anger but increased their positive emotions suggests that listening to extreme music represents a healthy and functional way of processing anger.

I used to listen to a lot of metal when I was younger. This quick summary of the genre brought all the good vibes back.

20 iconic metal riffs

Want to learn more? You can get a PhD in it now (kind of).

University offers PhD scholarship in heavy metal
The University of Newcastle in Australia is offering a scholarship of $27,596 per annum (assumedly that’s AUS dollars, meaning $19,232 USD or £15,139) to two domestic students and one International student, to study social geographies across a series of cultures. The subjects being studied are Homelessness and Mutual Aid, Vegan Geographies, Unschooling and The Possibilities of Childhood, and of course, Heavy Metal Geographies.

Any study of heavy metal geography is bound to look at Finland…

Finland’s Heavy Metal knitting championship is the real purl jam
While combining heavy metal music with knitting might not seem an obvious match, the organizers say it’s similar to other unusual events in Finland, such as world championships in air guitar, swamp soccer, and wife carrying — Finnish ways of goofing around and making the most of the long summer nights in these northern latitudes.

“We have such dark and long winters,” said Mari Karjalainen, one of the founders of the event. “This really gives us lots of time to plan for our short summers and come up with silly ideas.”

Purl jam: Finland hosts heavy metal knitting championship

Well that’s not something I remember seeing Lemmy do!

“Liftoff, we have a liftoff!”

It’s the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 today, blasting off on July 16, 1969 to start its three-day trip to the moon.

That landing, though.

Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary: NASA legends remember the nerve-wracking moments
“It was a very large crater,” Armstrong told Ed Bradley and “60 Minutes” in 2005. “Steep slopes on the crater, covered with very large rocks about the size of automobiles. That was not the kind of place I wanted to try to make the first landing.”

Armstrong, flying manually, had to improvise. He had roughly one minute of fuel to find a safe place to land. […]  “The tension was through the roof,” said Charlie Duke, also in Mission Control, who was the man telling Armstrong he was flying on fumes. Duke said the tension was so great at Mission Control there was dead silence. “I’d never heard Mission Control so quiet. So that tension, it was palpable. You could feel it.”

Armstrong finally spotted smooth terrain: “And we finally landed with nobody knows exactly how much fuel. Some estimates have it at 20 seconds’ [worth].”

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
“Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

An absolutely incredible journey. The risks were staggering. It could have all gone very differently.

50 facts about the Apollo 11 moon landing for its 50th anniversary
5. Richard Nixon had a speech prepared in case the Apollo 11 astronauts never came home.
As with many historic undertakings, President Nixon had to prepare for the possibility that a tragedy might occur during the Apollo 11 mission. So his speechwriter, William Safire, wrote two different speeches: one to celebrate the mission’s victory, another titled “In the Event of Moon Disaster.” It stated:

“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the Moon to explore in peace will stay on the Moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.”

Thankfully, the mission was a success, though some thought the soundtrack could be improved.

Brian Eno’s soundtrack for the Apollo 11 moon landing
In the months that followed, the same few seconds of Neil Armstrong’s small steps played on an endless loop on TV as anchors and journalists offered their analysis and patriotic platitudes as a soundtrack. The experts, he later wrote, “[obscured] the grandeur and strangeness of the event with a patina of down-to-earth chatter.”

In 01983, Eno decided to add his own soundtrack to the momentous event.

Brian Eno – An Ending (Ascent) (Remastered 2019)

It’s not the only moon out there, of course.

The Atlas of Moons
Our solar system collectively hosts nearly 200 known moons, some of which are vibrant worlds in their own right. Take a tour of the major moons in our celestial menagerie, including those that are among the most mystifying—or scientifically intriguing—places in our local neighborhood.

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Update 17/07/19

Can’t resist just adding another article here, though I’ve mentioned some of these before.

The greatest photos ever? Why the moon landing shots are artistic masterpieces
The legacy of Earthrise has never stopped growing – and the Earth, as seen by unmanned spacecraft, has never stopped shrinking. When Nasa’s Voyager probe reached the edge of the solar system it turned to take a picture of a tiny Earth alongside its neighbouring planets. The Hubble telescope and its like have shown us a sublime, colourful universe whose light-filled dust clouds are light years across.

Yet the photographs taken by the Apollo 11 astronauts and the handful of humans who followed them remain unique. They are still the only portraits of our species on another world.

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I didn’t realise you could see Buzz Aldrin’s face in that photo.

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And here’s one more, on the exhilaration of the event.

The sublime Romanticism of the moon landing
Virtually alone among contemporary observers in seeing the true significance of the lunar landing was Vladimir Nabokov, who rented a television set for the occasion. Asked by The New York Times for his reaction, the author of Pale Fire wrote of:

…[T]hat gentle little minuet that despite their awkward suits the two men danced with such grace to the tune of lunar gravity was a lovely sight. It was also a moment when a flag means to one more than a flag usually does. I am puzzled and pained by the fact that the English weeklies ignored the absolutely overwhelming excitement of the adventure, the strange sensual exhilaration of palpating those precious pebbles, of seeing our marbled globe in the black sky, of feeling along one’s spine the shiver and wonder of it. After all, Englishmen should understand that thrill, they who have been the greatest, the purest explorers. Why then drag in such irrelevant matters as wasted dollars and power politics?

Tackling Wikipedia’s diversity problem, one page at a time

Anyone can edit Wikipedia, and you can start articles about anything you like. And yet, as physicist Jess Wade notes, “somewhere between 84% and 91% of Wikipedia editors are male” and “only 17.7% of Wikipedia biographies written in English are about women.”

Why we’re editing women scientists onto Wikipedia
What we choose to edit is informed by what we know — not only in terms of our scientific expertise, but also from our own lived experiences. For women and people in other under-represented groups in science, that knowledge includes an intimate understanding of how our contributions are downplayed or outright erased from the history of science. The Wikipedia community should reflect the populations it serves — in race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. The US National Science Foundation has invested money to understand and bridge the gender gap on Wikipedia, and we are hopeful that more efforts to better recognize the contributions of all other under-represented groups will follow.

It sounds like a huge, thankless task, though some appreciation and recognition seems to be coming her way.

Jess Wade one of Nature’s 10
Nature notes that when Jess started writing a Wikipedia page every day, she didn’t expect her efforts to earn her global attention. She was simply trying to correct the online encyclopaedia’s under-representation of women and people of colour in science. But in July, when she tweeted about a trollish comment she’d received about the work, it prompted an outpouring of support and a big boost for her quest. “That wouldn’t have happened without that one mean comment,” she says.

Meet the physicist on a mission to change perceptions of women in science
Dr Jess Wade has a much higher profile than most scientists conducting research into chiral organic light emitting diodes. When I mention to a friend that I’m interviewing the 29-year-old physicist, that friend – who has not been in a science lab since her GCSEs – brightens with recognition. “Oh, the Wikipedia scientist?” she says. “I’ve heard about her! She’s so cool!”

A physicist is writing one Wikipedia entry a day to recognize women in science
Wade, who works in printed electronics and creates light-emitting diodes, said she doesn’t find herself notable enough as a scholar. Yet Ben Britton, an engineer in the Department of Materials at her college, created a Wikipedia page about her. And Wikipedia hasn’t deleted it.

“I know I’m not notable enough yet as an academic, and it has become a space for trolls to nominate me for deletion and basically discuss how rubbish I am!” Wade said. “I’m much happier talking about how great other people are other than anything I’ve achieved.”

This isn’t just an issue with Wikipedia, though, as she explains in this interview with Wired.

We’re all to blame for Wikipedia’s huge sexism problem
The lack of diversity in science is not only an issue of equality, but impacts the science that we study, the real-world applications we create as well and the environments that researchers exist in. The questions scientists ask, the problems science seeks to solve, and the assumptions scientists bring to their research are all informed by researchers’ lived experiences.

Ensuring a diversity of experiences and backgrounds are included in the research endeavour is essential for correcting biases and pursuing a diverse set of questions. Representation of currently underrepresented groups is therefore not a mere matter of justice, but a requisite for doing good science.

Seeing sounds

It was the one on how quartz watches work that first caught my eye, but I’ve been enjoying working my way through the rest of Steve Mould’s science videos.

These two are my favourites so far, though I’ve yet to see them all.

Laser + mirror + sound
A laser shining on a mirror driven by a speaker creates cool patterns.

Interaural time difference and how to find your phone instantly
The science of sound localization is really interesting. This video is specifically about interaural time difference and how mobile phone ringtones are badly designed for the way our brains detect sound direction. You can make you phone easier to find by changing the ringtone to white noise. Also, emergency vehicle sirens like ambulances are badly designed for the same reason.

A timely refresher

Following on from that post about watchmakers, here are a couple of videos explaining how mechanical and quartz watches work. In this opaque and bewildering hi-tech world of ours, it’s refreshing to find something complex yet still understandable.

First, this 1940s explainer from Hamilton. (I love the narrator’s accent!) Ironically, the pacing for this short documentary is a little slow by today’s standards, but I found that quite helpful.

How a watch works (1949)
A simple demonstration of the basic design and operation of a watch, including stop-motion animation showing a watch being assembled from many parts.

Science YouTuber Steve Mould brings us up-to-date with this look at quartz watches. I didn’t realise how similar they are to mechanical watches, in a way. 

How a quartz watch works – its heart beats 32,768 times a second
Quartz watches have a tiny crystal tuning fork inside that vibrates at 2^15 Hz and there’s a really clever reason for that. This video also talks a bit about how mechanical watches work.

Who’s a good dog (owner)?

Yes, our little cocker spaniel puppy brings us lots of joy. But plenty of stress, too, it has to be said. “She’s just a puppy, she’ll grow out of that”, I’m forever being told… Some people seem to take to dog ownership easier than others. But why? Here’s something to add to the on-going nature/nurture debate.

Our love for dogs may be coded in our DNA
While this kind of twin study can’t tell us exactly which genes are involved, they do demonstrate for the first time that genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining dog ownership. The lead author Tove Fall commented, “We were surprised to see that a person’s genetic makeup appears to be a significant influence in whether they own a dog.” She then went on to suggest that some genetically determined personality factors might underlie this when she speculated, “Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others.”

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What a load of crap

The world is full of it.

The curious history of crap — from space junk to actual poop
That’s the thing about our garbage: We have become experts at acting like it doesn’t exist. Space trash, in fact, barely registers as a blip compared to the enormity of the waste our species generates. In disused home appliances, computers, mobile phones, and other electronic equipment, or e-waste, we generate close to 45 million metric tons of waste every single year. That’s the equivalent of over 4,500 Eiffel Towers. Trash that could obstruct a city skyline. But not only do we not see it, most of us don’t even know where it goes. […]

But even then, what we toss out is just the tip of the proverbial trashberg. Most garbage comes from the manufacturing process. What we throw in the bin—the final product—represents a mere 5 percent of the raw materials from the manufacturing, packaging, and transportation process. Put another way, for every 150 kilograms of product we see on the shelves, behind the scenes there’s another 3,000 kilograms of waste that we don’t see. In total, the world produces approximately 3 million metric tons of garbage every 24 hours. That number is expected to double by 2025. And if business continues as usual, by the end of the century it will be an unfathomable 10 million metric tons of solid waste a day.

Some people produce more crap than others, though.

‘Staggeringly silly’: critics tear apart Jacob Rees-Mogg’s new book
“Absolutely abysmal”, “anathema to anyone with an ounce of historical, or simply common, sense”, “a dozen clumsily written pompous schoolboy compositions”, “yet another bit of self-promotion by a highly motivated modern politician”. […]

“No doubt every sanctimonious academic in the country has already decided that Rees-Mogg’s book has to be dreadful, so it would have been fun to disappoint them. But there is just no denying it: the book is terrible, so bad, so boring, so mind-bogglingly banal that if it had been written by anybody else it would never have been published.” […]

“The book really belongs in the celebrity autobiography section of the bookstore. At best, it can be seen as a curious artefact of the kind of sentimental jingoism and empire-nostalgia currently afflicting our country.” […]

“Before I started, the prospect of Rees-Mogg in Downing Street struck me as a ridiculous idea. But if this is what it takes to stop him writing another book, then I think we should seriously consider paying the price.”

Less of us in Leeds

Some good local news for a change.

Leeds becomes first UK city to lower its childhood obesity rate
Almost a third (28%) of all children aged two to 15 in England are overweight or obese. … The obesity rates there and across the country have not shifted. “For England it’s absolutely flat,” said Jebb, who added that the dropping rate in Leeds appeared to be a trend. “This is four years, not one rogue data point,” she said at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow where she presented the research, also published in the journal Paediatric Obesity. “Everybody is going around saying Amsterdam is doing something amazing. Well, actually, Leeds is too.”

Jebb, a former government adviser, says they cannot be sure what has turned the tide in Leeds – but it could involve a programme called Henry that the city introduced as the core of its obesity strategy in 2009, focusing particularly on the youngest children and poorest families. Henry (Health, Exercise, Nutrition for the Really Young) supports parents in setting boundaries for their children and taking a firm stance on issues from healthy eating to bedtimes.

Here’s some more about that, from GOV.UK.

Health, exercise, nutrition for the really young (HENRY)
In Leeds, where HENRY is part of the city-wide obesity strategy and delivered in children’s centres across the city, obesity rates at reception stage have fallen from 10.3% to 8.7% over a 7-year period. The national trends have remained almost static. The gap between obesity rates at age 5 in the least deprived and most deprived areas of Leeds is narrowing, with obesity rates dropping from 13.8% to 9.7% in the most deprived areas over the last 5 years.

Singing appliances

Living with perfect pitch and synesthesia sounds like being in a Disney musical.

Living with perfect pitch and Synaesthesia – what it’s really like
That car horn beeps an F major chord, this kettle’s in A flat, some bedside lights get thrown out because they are out of tune with other appliances. I can play along to every song on the radio whether or not I’ve heard it before, the chord progressions as open to me as if I had the sheet music in front of me. I can play other songs with the same chords and fit them with the song being played. Those bath taps squeak in E, this person sneezes in E flat. That printer’s in D mostly. The microwave is in the same key as the washing machine.

(Via Laura Olin’s newsletter)

Pics in space

So black holes are really real, then?

The first photo of a black hole
We have the first photo of a supermassive black hole, from imagery taken two years ago of the elliptical galaxy M87 (in the constellation Virgo) by the Event Horizon Telescope project. The EHT team is a group of 200 scientist that has been working on this project for two decades. The image was created using data captured from radio telescopes from Hawaii to the South Pole and beyond using very long baseline interferometry.

This animation, via the Event Horizon Telescope project website, explains what we’re looking at.

Zooming into a simulated black hole accretion system in M87

As always with space stuff, I have a problem with scale. This helps enormously, though.

xkcd: M87 Black Hole Size Comparison

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That’s pretty big. But how about these images of Jupiter.

NASA has released new images of Jupiter, taken by the Juno Spacecraft
Favourite comment: “God I wish Vincent van Gogh was alive to see this”

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Yes, I can just imagine Van Gogh looking at these with a ‘told you so’ smile on his face. NASA has some more images from their Juno mission.

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Spoilers

Here’s how it all ends.

Timelapse of the future
A regular time lapse of that voyage would take forever, so Boswell cleverly doubles the pace every 5 seconds, so that just after 4 minutes into the video, a trillion years passes in just a second or two.1 You’d think that after the Earth is devoured by the Sun about 3 minutes in, things would get a bit boring and you could stop watching, but then you’d miss zombie white dwarfs roaming the universe in the degenerate era, the black hole mergers era 1000 trillion trillion trillion trillion years from now, the possible creation of baby “life boat” universes, and the point at which “nothing happens and it keeps not happening forever”.

Better off without it?

It seems every day there’s a new delete-your-Facebook-account article doing the rounds, but what happens if you did? Would the effects on your wellbeing really be as positive as people suggest? New research would suggest the answer is yes.

What would happen if Facebook were turned off?
Those booted off enjoyed an additional hour of free time on average. They tended not to redistribute their liberated minutes to other websites and social networks, but chose instead to watch more television and spend time with friends and family. They consumed much less news, and were thus less aware of events but also less polarised in their views about them than those still on the network. Leaving Facebook boosted self-reported happiness and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety.

So, farewell then, Opportunity

15 years. That’s not bad at all.

NASA’s record-setting Opportunity Rover mission on Mars comes to end
Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – Perseverance Valley.

Nasa confirms Mars rover Opportunity is dead
“We had expected that dust falling out of the air would accumulate on the solar rays and eventually choke off power,” Callas said. “What we didn’t expect was that wind would come along periodically and blow the dust off the arrays. It allowed us to survive not just the first winter, but all the winters we experienced on Mars.”

A dust storm has killed NASA’s longest-lived Mars rover
In 2005, Opportunity overcame a sand trap and the loss of one wheel to arrive at the Victoria crater, a 2,400-foot hole that it explored for two years, finding features at its bottom again shaped by ancient water. It next explored the Endeavor crater, 13 miles away, starting in 2011. Most recently it had traversed a narrow valley leading down into the larger Endurance crater.

As this video from NASA shows, the Rover had been on an incredible trek these last 15 years.

Opportunity: NASA Rover completes Mars mission

Here’s xkcd’s surprisingly moving take on it.

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xkcd: Opportunity Rover
Thanks for bringing us along.

Absolutely.

Five minutes?

Via Laughing Squid, a video from the BBC on the correct-according-to-science way of making a cup of tea. Yes, getting rid of the styrofoam cup makes sense, as does filtering the water first, but waiting five minutes? Really?

How to prepare a proper cuppa using a tea bag
“It is a long time but it’s gonna be too hot to drink anyway, so you’ve got to leave it. There’s more (of) the flavor coming out and also the more caffeine comes out, the stronger the tea will be. There’s also more (of) the antioxidants coming out. Tea is a great source of antioxidants and these are natural substances that our body uses to help fight disease. So it is important that you leave it to brew.”

How you’ve been making tea wrong your entire life – BBC

Let me just check with the proper authorities…

How to make a proper brew
Wait patiently. Tea needs time to unlock all its flavour, so give it 4-5 minutes to do its thing. This is a perfect time to munch a sneaky biscuit or daydream about holidays.

Hmm. OK then, you win. Now get that kettle on.

Don’t just sit there

I blogged ages ago about Colin McSwiggen’s loathing of chairs: “Not only are chairs a health hazard, they also have a problematic history that has inextricably tied them to our culture of status-obsessed individualism.”

According to Guardian, they’re going to be the death of us.

Sit less and move more to reduce risk of early death, study says
Previous research from the same team found people should move at least every 30 minutes to reduce the chance of premature death, but now the researchers say simply breaking up sedentary periods is not enough – overall time spent seated must be cut to lower the risk.

Here’s the Independent’s write-up of that previous research from 2017.

Desk jobs double the risk of premature death, finds new study
Whether you sit down all day long or prefer to put you feet up periodically, racking up prolonged inactive time increases your risk of early death, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

I like to go for a walk during my lunch break, but what about those of us tied to our desks all day? Not a problem!

I’m old, sedentary and slouch a lot – will standing up at my desk help me live longer?
The posture and physical ergonomics need fine-tuning. I have got my screen balancing on one pile of books, keyboard on another, mouse on a third. I’m going to find out who’s in charge of desks, and then I’m going to actually physically go and see them about getting one of those proper standy-uppy ones. Don’t forget that movement, remember?

But this is just about what it’s like to not sit down all day. And, you know what? It’s really not so hard. A touch of the museum/art gallery squirms creep in after two hours. But I’m finding I can shake them off by thinking of all the extra time I’ll be getting at the end.

Or you could try some of these exercises from the oddly-named Art of Manliness website.

7 simple exercises that undo the damage of sitting
These dynamic stretches and exercises are designed for loosening tight hips that come from sitting too much. I try to incorporate a few of them in my daily workout warm-ups or even sneak some in when I’m hanging out with the kids (who think their dad is pretty odd). Every now and then I also dedicate an hour on Saturdays to just hip and glute work, along with some intense foam rolling.

I don’t know what that means.

If you’re really tight, take it nice and easy. As physical therapist Kelly Starrett says, “Don’t go into the pain cave. Your animal totem won’t be there to help you.”

I don’t know what that means, either. But I like the illustrations, so why not give it a go?

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Aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate

I can honestly say I’ve never really considered what glitter is and where it comes from, but this article from the New York Times is fascinating.

What is glitter?
What is glitter? The simplest answer is one that will leave you slightly unsatisfied, but at least with your confidence in comprehending basic physical properties intact. Glitter is made from glitter. Big glitter begets smaller glitter; smaller glitter gets everywhere, all glitter is impossible to remove; now never ask this question again.

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There are a couple ways to achieve a rainbow effect on individual glitter particles, so useful for politics. Holographic glitter is made by embossing a fine pattern onto film, so that the surface reflects different colors of light in different directions — there is nothing intrinsically rainbow-colored about the glitter itself. Contrast this with more subtle iridescent glitter, which reveals various luminous colors depending on the angle at which it is viewed, and is made from a multilayered clear film, composed of polymers with different refractive indexes.

How many layers is multi?

“Two hundred and thirty three,” said Mr. Shetty, and grinned as he waved an almost invisible sheet of plastic. “It gets very technical,” he warned. “You know, the visible spectrum, and all.”

I nodded, indicating I followed.

“Each layer is half the wavelength of light,” he said.

“WHAT?” I wailed.

The best data visualisation work of 2018

Another end of year roundup, this time looking at data visualisation design.

Information is Beautiful Awards 2018: The Winners
Let’s raise a glass to dataviz that pushes boundaries, illuminates truth, and celebrates beauty. Thank you to everyone who joined us on the Information is Beautiful Awards journey this year – now see which entries took home trophies at tonight’s spectacular ceremony.

There is so much to pour over, here. Two that stood out particularly for me was this visual representation of a Beethoven string quartet and this unusual view of our lively planet.

Dynamic Planet Interactive Scientific Poster
The Interactive Scientific Poster „Dynamic Planet” was designed and developed for the exhibition „Focus Earth” of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam. One of the main advantages of a digital poster is that it can display dynamic content. This is at the same time the essential statement of the scientific poster “Dynamic Planet”: our earth never stands still, is permanently shaken by earthquakes. These tensions are measured by three measuring points of the GFZ and their data is visualized in real-time in an interactive poster in the exhibition context. The viewer is given a direct impression, he can be a “witness” to current measurement and research.

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This video demonstrates how people can interact with the poster, to navigate the large amount of data presented in an intuitive, visual manner.

Dynamic Planet – Scientific Poster
The challenge for the interface design was to ensure a clear overview, despite of the massively many events. The solution consists in an interactive graphical representation of the events by filtering the earthquakes by eg. magnitude and depth. A special visual feature of the scientific poster “Dynamic Planet” is the representation of the earthquakes depth in a transparent, rotating globe.

Coffee to the rescue

It’s Monday, so put the kettle on.

How coffee protects the brain
Scientists have now proved that drinking certain types of coffee can be beneficial to brain health, but how does this popular brew support cognitive function? A new study identifies some of the mechanisms that allow coffee to keep mental decline at bay.

Yes, I know this is one of those health pendulum stories — coffee/bacon/red wine is good for you one week, bad for you the next — but I’m happy to think of all this coffee I’m drinking as an investment for my future.

NASA’s impossible images

You know those Golden Records NASA sent into space in the 70s, on the Voyager spacecrafts? They contained images, music and sounds from Earth, as well as greetings in 55 languages. If any alien were to come across these disks, accessing their contents is far from straightforward.

Decoding images from the Golden Record
You might think that the images were included in some printed or digital form, such as a .jpeg or .tiff. But back in 1977, there was no technology available to put images on analog disks. Voyager’s computer systems could only hold 69 kilobytes of information, barely enough for one image, let alone 115. So NASA invented a way to include image data on the LPs.

By projecting images onto a screen, recording them with a television camera, and then turning those video signals into audio waveforms, the images could be properly pressed onto the records. The reversal process — turning that image data back into images — is what any extraterrestrial (or curious human) would have to figure out how to do.

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Nevermind the contents of these records, the instructions alone will have the aliens scratching their heads. If they have heads, of course.

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