July 30, 2015
[space] Space missions to look out for … a list of upcoming space exploration missions … ‘Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM): The world was gripped when the Rosetta mission carried out the incredible feat of landing a spacecraft on a comet. Nasa has hatched an, arguably, even bolder plan to send a robotic spacecraft to grab a four-metre chunk of asteroid, tow it along and place it in orbit about the moon.’
July 29, 2015
[life] Stanley Kubrick: ‘The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.’ [via Letters of Note]
July 28, 2015
[movies] 2001 A Space Odyssey: Unwrapping the Slit Scan sequences‘While watching Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey”, I thought it would be fun to write some software to unravel the slit scan artwork in the psychedelic sequences of 2001, to see what they were.The technique used to unravel the sequences involved using an SGI’s real time video hardware, with a hacked version of ‘videoin.c’ (from the SGI example programs) to accumulate scanlines from the DVD and concatenate them back into the original artwork. So as the film played, the program ran, unrolling the scanlines in realtime…’

Artwork for 2001's Slit-Screen Sequences

July 27, 2015
[comics] The Secret History of Ultimate Marvel, the Experiment That Changed Superheroes Forever … a look back at the reboot that saved Marvel comics … ‘The history of Ultimate Marvel is, in a way, a story about warring approaches to a reboot: Bendis’s and Millar’s. Bendis wanted to polish the old archetypes; Millar wanted to aggressively critique them. Bendis sought timeless stories; Millar craved biting contemporary political critique. Bendis was looking to inspire; Millar aimed to disquiet. As Bendis put it: “I’m writing about hope and he’s writing about nihilism, and I know he doesn’t always think he is, but he is. Constantly.”’
July 26, 2015
[odd] An Abandoned Indonesian Church Shaped Like a Massive Clucking Chicken‘Towering above the trees in a densely forested area of Indonesia lies a giant chicken. The gigantic structure has the body, tail, and head of the bird, even holding open its beak in what appears to be mid-squawk. Although the very old bird is quickly decaying, Gereja Ayam (as the locals call it) attracts hundreds of photographers and travelers to its location in Magelang, Central Java each year who are looking to explore the bird’s bizarre interior.’
July 25, 2015
[web] Google Photos and the unguessable URL … a look at how the “Open URLs” in Google Photos work … ‘Why is that public URL more secure than it looks? The short answer is that the URL is working as a password. Photos URLs are typically around 40 characters long, so if you wanted to scan all the possible combinations, you’d have to work through 10^70 different combinations to get the right one, a problem on an astronomical scale. “There are enough combinations that it’s considered unguessable,” says Aravind Krishnaswamy, an engineering lead on Google Photos. “It’s much harder to guess than your password.” Because web traffic for Photos is encrypted with SSL, it’s also kept secret from anyone on the network who might be listening in.’
July 24, 2015
[google] A Fortnight With Google Photos. … Paul Mison reviews Google Photos‘It took a while, because I have something like a terabyte of photos going back over twelve years, but now I’ve uploaded them all, I can access them on every device. I know there are other services that promise to do that, but Google’s was free even for such a large library (at the cost of resizing some of the images down and converting RAW to JPG). Unlike Apple Photos, the library is available via native apps on Android devices as well as iOS ones, and perhaps unsurprisingly the web version works well too.’
July 23, 2015
[comics] 6 Reasons Why Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye Is One of Marvel’s Greatest Comics‘Marvel loves itself an everyman hero—just look at the enduring success of Spider-Man to see reader falling in love with relatable, ordinary people. Fraction and Aja channelled that everyman persona into Clint Barton for Hawkeye, and it highlighted what made the character so important at a time when, thanks to The Avengers movie, many were just mocking him for being “the guy with the bow.” Hawkeye uncovered the man behind the bow, and showed us how interesting he could be.’
July 22, 2015
[comics] Farewell, Bro: How Matt Fraction’s ‘Hawkeye’ changed Marvel Comics … a look back at Matt Fraction’s run on Hawkeye … ‘The character never quite made a splash in the same way that other, more popular superheroes did. That all changed in the wake of 2012’s The Avengers, when Fraction—then best known for his work on The Invincible Iron Man—pitched to Marvel an idea that seemed insane and brilliant all at once: Let’s show the world what Hawkeye does when he’s not being an Avenger. Let’s show the world what happens when he saves a stray dog and spills his coffee and oversleeps and misses his divorce anniversary. It was, pun intended, a shot in the dark…and to everyone’s surprise, it worked.’
July 21, 2015
[movies] League of Gentlemen Vs. 2001‘Hello Dave!’

July 20, 2015
[pluto] The Long, Strange Trip to Pluto, and How NASA Nearly Missed It … the story of how New Horizons got to Pluto … ‘Just after the Jupiter flyby, New Horizons suffered its first computer glitch. For spacecraft outside Earth’s protective atmosphere, high-energy cosmic rays occasionally zip through computer memory, causing a crash and restart. Calculations indicated that there would be one such crash during the nine-and-a-half-year trip to Pluto. Instead, they occurred almost once a year. But none caused lasting damage, and they proved good learning experiences.’
July 19, 2015
[space] The inside story of New Horizons’ ‘Apollo 13’ moment on its way to Pluto … the story of the shutdown and restart of the New Horizons spacecraft ten days before it’s Pluto flyby … ‘They ran through the most likely causes of the anomaly. They had two fairly simple scenarios. The first was that, for some reason, the main computer had rebooted itself. That had happened a few times in the past. The second scenario was that the spacecraft sensed something amiss and, as it is programmed to do, powered down the main computer and switched operations to the backup computer. That had never happened before. If the backup computer had, in fact, taken over communications with Earth, it would use a slightly different radio frequency and transmission rate…’
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…


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!…


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