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July 18, 2015
[space] Pluto at Last … On the discoverery of Pluto… ‘Late one February afternoon, 24-year-old Clyde Tombaugh was parked in his spot at Lowell Observatory. A transplant from the farm fields of Kansas, Tombaugh had been assigned the task of searching for Lowell’s elusive planet. He had no formal training in astronomy but had developed a skill for building telescopes, sometimes from old car parts and other improbable items. He was also something of a perfectionist. “When I planted the kafir corn and milo maize,” he wrote in his 1980 memoir, “the rows across the field had to be straight as an arrow or I was unhappy. Later, every planet-suspect, no matter how faint, had to be checked out … It was the most tedious work I’d ever done.” Tombaugh spent about a year searching for the missing world, using an instrument called a blink comparator…’
July 17, 2015
[space] Well-Aimed and Powerful … more thoughts on the meaning of the Apollo space programme …

Buzz Aldrin once told me that he envies writers their ability to put things into words. Yet one of his first utterances after stepping out of the lunar module, in an attempt to describe the landscape to Mission Control, was the phrase “magnificent desolation.” This is surprisingly poetic for an astronaut, and it has stayed with me ever since I noticed it in a NASA transcript years ago. Every minute of the astronauts’ time on the moon was planned, and they wore printed copies of their schedules on their wrists to keep them on track. But I have to imagine that, once in a while, Neil and Buzz looked up at the far-off mountains at the edge of the Sea of Tranquility and thought to themselves, I am on the moon. This is all happening, right now, on the surface of the moon. Buzz Aldrin said many years later, “Every step on the moon was a virginal experience. Exploring this place that had never before been seen by human eyes, upon which no foot had stepped, or hand touched—was awe-inspiring.”

Neil, Buzz, and Mike traveled farther than anyone ever had and were gone only eight days. The images they brought back are among the most beautiful ever produced—all the more so, perhaps, because none of it was particularly intended to be beautiful. The jettisoned interstage adapter of the Saturn V tumbling, on fire, in a slow-motion ballet toward the gorgeous blue of faraway Earth. Buzz Aldrin smirking in a shaft of pure sunlight streaking through the command module window. Neil Armstrong overbundled in his space suit like a child dressed for cold, standing on the ladder and cautiously dangling one boot above the dusty surface of the Sea of Tranquility. The three astronauts confined to an Airstream trailer for quarantine after their return, smiling out at the president through a picture window. The perfect blue earth, thumb-sized, hanging in a deep black sky.

July 16, 2015
[apple] The Anxious Ease of Apple Music… a look at Apple and the unease around new technology and music … ‘We never cease to be mesmerized by the vessel in which music is contained, whether it’s the piano, the phonograph, the MP3, or the Cloud. We think that machines are saving music or destroying it. Their impact is undoubtedly profound, but we seldom see the complexity of the transformation amid the hysteria of surface change. At the same time, the anxiety around music and technology is deep-seated, however excessive it may seem a century or two down the road. It is rooted in the elemental fear of life slipping away in half-experienced moments.’
July 15, 2015
[politics] Frustrated Iranian Scientist Forced To Shut Down Project He Spent 12 Goddamn Years Of His Life On‘”Perfect! Let’s just flush a decade of my life down the drain, then, shall we?” Khatami said as he angrily typed a code into a nearby computer to power down over 8,000 P-2 centrifuges he reportedly squandered countless nights diligently overseeing. “Do those assholes even know how hard it is to enrich uranium? How much I sacrificed? I never married, I’m prematurely gray, and now guess what? The prime of my life is gone forever. Unbelievable. This country’s going to fucking hell, man.”’
July 14, 2015
[comics] Bizarro Back Issues: ‘RoboCop vs. The Terminator’ … Chris Sims wonders if RoboCop vs. The Terminator was Frank Miller’s last great comic … ‘All of which is to say that this comic end up blowing up into a scene where an army of RoboCops fights an army of Terminators, and not only is it so awesome, it’s also completely justified by the story being told. Assuming, of course, that you’re the kind of person who requires justification to see Walt Simonson drawing an army of Terminators fighting an army of RoboCops.’
July 13, 2015
[funny] Fuck These Six Fish In Particular…

fuck-these-6-fish-in-particular

July 12, 2015
[space] Did You Know There are 9 Secret Items Hidden on Pluto Mission New Horizons?‘A portion of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes were put in a container and attached to the underside of the spacecraft. Here’s the inscription on the container: “Interned herein are remains of American Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and the solar system’s ‘third zone’ Adelle and Muron’s boy, Patricia’s husband, Annette and Alden’s father, astronomer, teacher, punster, and friend: Clyde W. Tombaugh (1906-1997).”’
July 11, 2015
[politics] Osborne and his incredibly powerful rabbit bring ecstasy to Tory benches … amusing political sketch of George Osborne by John Grace … ‘As Osborne graciously accepted the standing ovations of gushing Conservatives, the cleaners came in to wipe down the benches. Two people in the gallery remained unmoved; his wife and mother, who took care to sit as far apart from each other as possible and looked on, stony-faced, throughout. Perhaps they know something everyone else doesn’t. The Labour benches just looked stunned. Osborne had got away with nicking some of their best lines while still managing to give some of the most vulnerable members of society a kicking.’
July 10, 2015
[catfish] This Is What It’s Like To Fall In Love With A Woman Who Doesn’t Exist … a fascinating UK Catfishing story … ‘The obvious conclusion is that the culprit is a friend of Ruth’s, or least in her circle of acquaintances. Her social media accounts are private and almost always have been, apart from when she first joined Facebook aged 18. But Ruth is adamant that she can’t imagine any of her friends doing that to her. “People say it must be someone you know,” she says. “But I don’t know anyone who has that amount of time.”’
July 9, 2015
[tv] Deirdre Barlow: Coronation Street says goodbye to a legend‘As the Barlows excitedly squabble over plans for a surprise 60th birthday party to mark the return of the iconically put-upon Deirdre, they are greeted by Susie Blake’s Bev, a tragic, tear-stained character at the best of times. Deirdre’s sudden death by aneurysm, sat in a deckchair, comes cruelly and inevitably, after the premature passing of Anne Kirkbride in January. She was last seen hurling a trifle at the wall of No 1, melting down under the pressure of stepson Peter’s murder trial, shouting “jelly shouldn’t run, it should wobble”. An abrupt end to 42 years on the cobbles. If circumstances dictated that Deirdre would be denied an epic exit storyline, there’s something unintentionally perfect about that final sequence.’
July 8, 2015
[crime] The Zero-Armed Bandit … the forgotten story from 1980 of an attempt to blackmail a casino using a large sophisticated bomb …

Contrary to the claims in his extortion letter, John Birges’s machine did not contain any TNT at all. The ambiguous cylinders that the bomb squad saw in their foggy X-ray photographs turned out to be a material of entirely different chemical composition. They were tubes containing a combination of gelatin and nitroglycerin, a product known as dynamite. Just shy of one half of one ton of the stuff.

The sides of Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Casino’s eleven-story tower erupted in billowing geysers of atomized concrete. Distant rubberneckers, some of them already wearing T-shirts with sentiments such as “I got bombed at Tahoe,” whooped and cheered in schadenfreude celebration as meteors of glass, pulverized wood, and miscellaneous building shrapnel arced into the sky. Neighboring buildings shuddered and windows shattered. Pebbles of concrete fell like a light hail, and within minutes bits of papery detritus were flittering from the sky like filthy confetti. Harvey Gross declined to speak with anyone in the press regarding the incident, but his colleagues would later say there were tears in his eyes as he looked upon the bedraggled building.’

July 7, 2015

Evening Standard Billboard Flashback: The Olympic 2012 Bid Win and 7/7 as Breaking News

Over ten years ago, in 2004, I started taking photographs of Evening Standard headline billboards as I left work or at lunchtime. If the headlines were interesting I would post them to Flickr. I carried on taking the pictures regularly till late in 2010.

Early in July 2005 two big breaking news events happened to London on consecutive days. Firstly, on July 6th the UK won its bid to host the 2012 Olympics in London. You can see the news story develop during that day in the sequence of photos below…

Evening Standard Olympic Decision

The next day, on July 7th a gang of terrorists detonated three suicide bombs on London Underground trains and later a further bomb on a bus. 52 people were killed and 700 were injured. It was the UK’s first suicide bombing.

I didn’t manage to get into Central London that day because the travel system shut down but the next day I snapped a photo of an empty billboard – no papers or posters had been delivered in Shepherd’s Bush where I worked. Underneath the posters the boards themselves said: “London’s Paper”. It seemed appropriate somehow.

Unsurprisingly, during the next few weeks the Evening Standard’s billboards focussed on the bombings, the victims, the terrorists themselves and the causes of terrorism.

Evening Standard - 7/7 Bombing Headlines

By August, things had calmed down in London and the headlines had to returned to normal. Although, the Evening Standard logo had gained a “London Stands United” tag line. (We need reminding?)

Evening Standard Headlines August 2005

What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was recording the last years of the posters. In 2010, the Evening Standard went free and the development of smart-phones and social media killed the posters as a breaking news source. The boards these days (if you see them at all) seem to lack a certain something. You can find the whole set of billboard photos here on Flickr if you’re interested in more.
July 6, 2015
[comics] An 8-year-old fan wrote Steve Ditko a letter, and here’s how Ditko responded‘Carl wanted to know whether any of Ditko’s teachers made him want to get into comics, and also what he had the most fun drawing. He capped it off by thanking the artist for inventing Spider-Man. It was a fan letter anyone might’ve have written at one point or another in their lives, but Carl’s actually received a response…’ [via Neilalien]
July 5, 2015
[life] Family Watching Movie White-Knuckles It Through Unexpected Sex Scene‘Sources said the awkward experience was made even more unbearable by the fact that the family had been exchanging casual remarks throughout the film, but then fell completely quiet once it became clear the two characters on their television were about to have sex. Though the silence was reportedly grueling, the Schaeffers nonetheless hunkered down, gripped their seats tightly, and showed no outward acknowledgement of the onscreen intimacy. The scene, which lasted 19 seconds, is reported to have felt much, much longer.’
July 4, 2015
[ceres] Ceres: Dawn images reveal a 5 km tall mountain. … some analysis on an odd mountain recently found on Ceres by the orbiting Dawn spacecraft‘Mountains on airless bodies like asteroids (or our Moon) can be made in several ways as well. Giant impacts have mountain ranges around their rim, created by rocks lifted up at the edge of the crater. But this mountain on Ceres is alone. Smaller craters can get central peaks, where the rock rebounds upward after the initial impact (similar to the drop that splashes up in the center of a glass when you pour milk). But there’s no obvious crater around this mountain. Maybe other forces filled it in, or subsequent impacts eroded it away. There’s evidence of landslides on the surface as well, which could eventually erase the features of a crater. This seems most likely to me. We’ve seen other craters on Ceres with central peaks, but I don’t think any yet this size.’
July 3, 2015
[web] The Dark Web as You Know It Is a Myth … a look at what The Dark Web actually is … ‘Of course, there is a technological space called the dark web, where the servers of websites are hidden behind a veil of cryptography, and users also enjoy strong anonymity protections. But that space is nothing like the fairy tale that has been concocted around it; that of a colossal ocean of digital stores selling exclusive products, where criminals are free from prosecution. That characterization is not true. Instead, the dark web is a small collection of sites that reflect the limited number of good, bad, and downright weird humans that use it. Doctors can give impartial advice to drug users, who come out of the woodwork because of the anonymity awarded to them by Tor; Chinese citizens can discuss whatever they like and circumvent The Great Firewall, and, yes, the dark web is also used to host some seriously depraved sites, such as extreme pornography. At the moment, the space is probably used mostly for criminal purposes, but its relevance to the world of cybercrime and other domains has been grossly exaggerated.’
July 2, 2015
[tv] The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote … the very specific formula to creating an episode of the long-running crime series …

JESSICA: Oh, it was quite simple, really. The moss. When I saw you at the funeral earlier, the camera focused weirdly on a piece of moss on your shoe. I happened to remember that this moss only grows in one place in the world, the crime scene, and it only sticks to murderers.

But I had to wait for someone to mention the word ‘moss’ in a different context before I made this trivial extra step as if it was a moment of serendipitous inspiration, which for some reason is how we want crimes to be solved.

SOMEONE’S WIFE, YOU FORGET WHOSE: I regret stepping in the murder moss.

July 1, 2015
[wisdom] Alain de Bottom … Alain, Rik and Ade – Together at Last!…

Paranoia

June 30, 2015
[web] How Minions Destroyed the Internet … On the rise and rise of Minions … ‘Wait, no, wait I just got it. I figured out their appeal. Minions are basically emoji. They’re yellow, they run the emotional spectrum, they function as a malleable shorthand for almost indescribable feelings. Like, do you know what the nail art emoji means? It means a million different things. So does the prayer hands emoji. (This is an emerging area of academic study.) Okay, so… Minions are emoji with arms, legs, and goggles.’
June 29, 2015
[lego] On Sorting Lego … a look at the various stages of sorting a Lego collector goes through. ’23. You now have what, to a stranger, would be a bizarre sorting system. You have some parts thrown together in bins by type. You have some parts split out with a separate bin for each part. You have some parts split out with a separate bin for each color. You even have some parts split out by how old they are: red 1x2s from the 60s, red 1x2s from the 70s, new red 1x2s that hold really well, and all the other red 1x2s. And you have an alphabetized pile of large buckets for the overflow pieces and another one for the 1st stage of sorting. 23.5. That stranger would also think you were certifiably insane. Or at least retentive. 24. You start looking for a new house. One with a large basement.’
June 28, 2015
[kubrick] Rejected ‘The Shining’ Poster Designs From Saul Bass, With Stanley Kubrick’s Notes … fascintaing look at Kubrick’s process … ‘While the final result is the iconic, yellow one-sheet, there were a number of iterations, and we can now see the rejected ones. Drawing from different aspects of the film, including the maze, the hotel, and the family unit, there’s some striking imagery, but we can see why Kubrick went with the one he did.’
June 27, 2015
[obit] Patrick Macnee, Avengers star and symbol of ‘Swinging Sixties’ dies … RIP Patrick Macnee. His obituary is well worth reading…

He was born Daniel Patrick Macnee in London in 1922 and raised at first in Berkshire, where his father Daniel, known as Shrimp, was renowned in racing circles, but also in pubs and bookies – “a genius with a horse but not so good with human beings”, in his son’s words. Macnee would go on to base much of the Steed persona on his father, who at dinner parties disconcerted fellow guests whom he suspected of being a pacifist by pulling an unloaded gun on them, and was deported from India – where he later settled – for urinating from a balcony on to the heads of high-ranking Raj officials.

His mother, Dorothea, who had aristocratic connections, was 22 years younger than her husband and left him when Patrick was eight for her lesbian lover, Evelyn Spottswood, an heir to the Dewar’s whisky family. Men were banned from the house and Patrick’s mother and her partner did their best to expunge any whiff of masculinity by trying to coax him into wearing dresses. The horrified young boy mollified them by wearing only kilts until the age of 11. Uncle Evelyn, as he was instructed to call her, helped pay his fees for Eton. He expended most of his energy setting himself up as a pornography salesman and bookmaker, using tips from his father. “I had pounds 200 in the kitty when they caught me.” He was expelled.

June 26, 2015
[war] The man who sleeps in Hitler’s bed … a visit to the world’s biggest collection of Nazi memorabilia and a profile of the man who built it … ‘Later, among engine parts and ironwork, I came across a massive bust of Hitler, sitting on the floor next to a condom vending machine (“I collect pub memorabilia, too,” Wheatcroft explained). “I have the largest collection of Hitler heads in the world,” he said, a refrain that returned again and again. “This one came from a ruined castle in Austria. I bought it from the town council.” “Things have the longest memories of all,” says the introduction to a recent essay by Teju Cole, “beneath their stillness, they are alive with the terrors they have witnessed.” This is what you feel in the presence of the Wheatcroft Collection – a sense of great proximity to history, to horror, an uncanny feeling that the objects know more than they are letting on.’
June 25, 2015
[web] 20 years of space photos: an oral history of Astronomy Picture of the Day … the inside story of APOD – the remarkably long running daily website … ‘Before we posted our first image we debated this, Jerry and I, as to whether we were going to run out of images in a few days and then say, “Well that was stupid.” But actually there were many images around even back then. And NASA’s Ranger series took tens of thousands of images of the lunar surface, so if we had to we could just start putting up other pictures of the lunar surface. “Here’s another crater that’s a little bit different than yesterday’s crater.” But we never ran out of images. We always had interesting images, and as time went on we were sent more and more images. And now we reject 10 to 1, so for every image you see we’ve rejected 10.’
June 24, 2015
[web] The Internet Doesn’t Exist … an attempt to describe just what the term “The Internet” actually means … ‘What we call the Internet—and what web writers so lazily draw on for their work—is less a hive mind or a throng or a gathering place and more a personalized set of online manoeuvres guided by algorithmic recommendations. When we look at our browser windows, we see our own particular interests, social networks, and purchasing histories scrambled up to stare back at us. But because we haven’t found a shared discourse to talk about this complex arrangement of competing influences and relationships, we reach for a term to contain it all. Enter “the Internet.” The Internet is a linguistic trope but also an ideology and even a business plan. If your job is to create content out of (mostly) nothing, then you can always turn to something/someone that “the Internet” is mad or excited about. And you don’t have to worry about alienating readers because “the Internet” is so general, so vast and all-encompassing, that it always has room. This form of writing is widely adaptable. Now it’s common to see stories where “Facebook” or “Twitter” stands in for the Internet, offering approval or judgement on the latest viral schlock. Choose your (anec)data carefully, and Twitter can tell any story you want.’
June 23, 2015
[books] Grey by EL James … a digested read from John Grace‘I instruct her in the basic rules of our relationship. I will buy her a laptop, a BlackBerry and a new car and in return she will sign a contract promising to allow me to abuse her in whatever way I want. She has two days to consider my proposal. The two days pass in agony as my enormous cock waits for its answer. Even when I am donating billions of dollars to charitable causes in Darfur, I can barely concentrate. I have to have her. She is the ONE. My enormous cock concurs.’
June 22, 2015
[cats] A Letter from Ayn Rand to the editor of Cat Fancy magazine in 1966‘You ask whether I own cats or simply enjoy them, or both. The answer is: both. I love cats in general and own two in particular. You ask: “We are assuming that you have an interest in cats, or was your subscription strictly objective?” My subscription was strictly objective because I have an interest in cats. I can demonstrate objectively that cats are of a great value, and the charter issue of Cat Fancy magazine can serve as part of the evidence. ‘

Text of a Letter from Ayn Rand in 1966 to Cat Fancy magazine.

June 21, 2015
[tv] Watching the detectives: why the police procedural is more popular than ever … a look at the current line-up of Police dramas on TV … ‘The Wire was the anti-procedural; as Simon put it in his pitch for the show, it was “not so much [about] the dogged police pursuit of the bad guys but rather a Greek tragedy”. The Wire, however, did not kill the procedural. The procedural simply borrowed The Wire’s aesthetic. The detectives may trudge sombrely from one improbable homicide scene to another, week in, week out, as the blue lights circle bleakly, but we, the viewers, sink gleefully into our sofas ready to drink it in like cocoa. It’s a parlour game, a ritual. Our cosy lives are thankfully not this unremittingly tragic and grim, but it’s strangely cathartic to pretend that they are. Granted, this or that series will pill the sugar with a dose of realism here and there but with noble exceptions, the detective procedural is the very definition of fiction.’
June 20, 2015
[tv] Nic Pizzolatto, the Man Behind True Detective … amusingly over-cooked profile of the True Detective creator … ‘Dennis Potter was the true progenitor, Nic told me. “He did The Singing Detective and Pennies from Heaven and Lipstick on Your Collar and Karaoke and Cold Lazarus and Blackeyes, all this great stuff. That was your TV auteur right there, and there’s still never been any TV like it. The Singing Detective is not for everybody, but it’s still the best thing ever done on television. Before we had a notion of a show-runner, that’s the guy who wrote a different mini-series every couple years. That was somebody making art as ambitious as any art being done but using this popular fallen medium of TV.”’
June 19, 2015
[property] This is the most incredible property deal in London right now — there’s just one small problem … a bargain flat in desirable location with a remarkable history! … ‘It even has an awesome private balcony, which is rare in London flats at this price. One prospective buyer remarked to John that the property had “killer views”.’

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