A shot in the dark

The team huddled around the instrument and communication benches in the control centre. consoles flickered and camera crews focused. The focus was on the faces of the mission command staff as they gazed up with rapture at the main screen. The culmination of years of planning and decades of operation was about to be revealed. This would be more than a full day after the event had actually occurred some twenty billion miles away.

In the corner the now reclusive billionaire bank-roller sat pensively. No emotion crossed her face but she still managed to emit an air of quiet self-satisfaction.

The main screen showed the carrier signal positive diagnostic symbol. The giant, automated spacecraft was emitting a directed signal back to Earth from the near complete darkness beyond the Kuiper belt. in the corner of the screen were two clocks. one showing mission time and one counting down to the expected image receipt time. The craft had sent periodic ETA’s every few hours. The timer currently read 2 minutes.

Only ten years ago the  craft had left Earth lunar orbit in a dramatic blaze, riding a series of thermonuclear pulses and carrying more than 2000 100 megaton charges to be taken to it’s final destination. The craft was immense.  The initial sourcing and construction costs alone were unprecedented, and that was before the incredible feat of transporting the components to orbit for assembly.

The timer ticked along. One minute to go.

The craft had used more sensory and computing power than any previous automated probe in history. The machine’s  gravimeters had  detected, analysed and responded to it’s path in the dark in real time. The machine had interpreted, from the raw data it’s sensors collected, whether the body it found in the dark had rings, moons, a diameter more or less than expected and by how much. The extrapolation involved was extreme. and the machine had to do it alone.

Thirty seconds to go. There were so many unknowns in how the mission would unfold. There were so many possible outcomes based on what the machine would find and how it would decide to proceed. Would it have the necessary resources? would it’s imagination be enough to engineer a plan and execute it to success? Would it be lonely?

Such a machine had never been deployed in such a way. There was a serious hope among the original planners that the craft’s gravimeters would find enough moons of sufficient size to gain a suitable image. However this couldn’t be left to chance. contingencies were made to the craft itself but no-one could be sure they would work. As it was, there were over 200 moons, 30 of them large enough to be used and 12 expected to be in position at the right time. that allowed for effective use of the medium distance unfolding visors carried on board the craft.

10 seconds. Everyone held their breaths. This was the defining moment for many lives  both in the control room and out of it.

The timer ticked over to zero and the data stream began. The influx was a fax machine squeal accompanied by holding of hands and reassured smiles. It would take just 2 minutes again now.

The first information began to register on the monitor. the text stream stated that the detonations had succeeded perfectly as planned. The synchronised atomic clocks had not failed. The signal continued to screech it’s way in.

Then it stopped. A moment’s buffering later and there it was. A beautiful purple orb, Glittering with deep mauve lines and white poles. The first image of our solar system’s planet X.

-W

How to sund (sic.) smarter [than other people]

I’ve noticed something that crops up in most online ABC news articles for the past few years. I feel like it wasn’t there before and its getting on my nerves. I’m talking about how ABC reporters feel it necessary to finish sentences, or right out tell you what their subjects are trying to say under the guise of grammar and punctuation.

Whenever there’s a criminal testimony or one of the common-folk are quoted in an article, then these muggle versions of Reeter Skeeter seem obliged to valiantly do their civic duty to make sure we know that that a misspelled “Teh” in some Bikie’s tweet should actually be “the” by throwing in “(sic.)” afterwards.

At first it seems like they are deathly afraid that we might for a moment think the journo can’t see this crime against spelling, apparently more serious than the mass shooting the article is about. However I got to thinking that whenever I notice it it’s in an article about someone the reader is not supposed to like. At least that’s what my conspiracy theory seeking mind picks up. Be they a crook or a polly with a contentious view. These are the people who get the treatment [of having their sentences finished or corrected].

The worst part is that they seem to use totally legitimate journalistic tools like the square brackets to insert the subject of a quoted phrase, or the aforementioned “(Sic.)”. It’s like its become organisation policy to be insufferable.

It makes it hard to critique properly too, being that nothing is objectively wrong about the way they’re writing this stuff. It’s just unnecessary and points stuff out that really doesn’t matter. I don’t know if it’s really an elitist tick affecting the public journos or just me being defensive about my shitty spelling. Or even if its just that I read too much ABC news instead of anything else behind a paywall.

What I do know is that I find it pretentious and annoying, so I thought I’d make a real difference in the world by writing about it in a blog. That’ll teach the columnists.

-W

Flood basalt BOIZE!

There never seems to be a lack of amazing things to learn on Wikipedia. The other day I heard something about something called flood basalt so I looked it up. And would you believe it, there was a massive wiki-article on this incredible phenomenon.

The Wiki article explained that there are huge portions or the earths landmasses which are covered in the remnants of ancient, and seemingly unstoppable lava flows. Lava flows which occurred at the same time, coincidentally, as all the worlds largest mass extinctions. I think its amazing that we can just be walking across the evidence left by unimaginable cataclysms that ended the world for so many creatures.

Places like the deccan traps in India. This is a volcanic flow that covers one million five hundred thousand square kilometres and is two kilometres thick. like how I wrote out the numbers for dramatic effect? But seriously, it’s huge. And that’s just one of them.

And there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of predictions for future events like this. The science isn’t sure what triggered them in the first place. It could have been in response to an enormous meteor impact, or maybe space pirates mining the earth’s core. I think the latter argument isn’t in strong contention.

Perhaps there’s evidence of a wonderful cataclysm in a park nearby I can gawk at morbidly.

-W

The perfect game in the perfect place at the perfect time for the perfect price.

When I move house there’s a little few weeks of time elapsing before I get off my arse and figure out how to set up an internet connection. This usually doesn’t matter much as I’ll be busy with other stuff, but once I’ve sat on a cardboard box to watch the 2003 Australian Idol final for the 8th time I start to want the internet and open up a browser. Of course, without a connection, chrome gives me a cute pixelated dinosaur and a cactus, telling me that my internet is all dried up like a desert or extinct reptile respectively.

I had seen this image for years before a friend mentioned it being a game. “WHAAAAAT” I whispered incredulously. This was amazing news. All I had to do was press space bar and suddenly my cute little friends came to life. The mechanic is simple. Dinosaur runs through desert toward cactus, press space to jump over cactus, repeat for high score and rejoice. There’s just enough variety and challenge as you play to keep you interested too. The little dino speeds up and some pterodactyls pop up as day turns to night. It’s all quite charming.

And before you know it you’ve probably got you’re sketchy free wifi access back and the internet returns without a hitch. Lovely. Without even having to ask or pay this little game pops up right where and when its meant too. This happens from time to time with computers and it got me thinking about other examples. Snake on old uranium-green-back-lit brick phones is a good example. You had your phone with you and you couldn’t afford a pay as you go text thread with your one friend during an awkward train ride so you looked like you were still texting while actually just playing snake. So sneaky. The little pixels moving around and eating while getting a little harder each time was just enough to keep you going at the right time.

Then there’s minesweeper. Windows was an expensive and fancy acquisition in the late nineties/early naughties so you would fire up your new computer, wait patiently for the OS to boot and then explore how many amazing things your new “ELECTRONIC COMPUTATOR” was capable of. The Windows system still tried to sell itself back then. You had all the inbuilt things like paint, wordpad, explorer and GaMeS!!. Like it still does, except for the games. The games, as far as I could tell, were just there because they’re great, why not include them. They were an essential part of office procrastination capability. Minesweeper and solitaire were clever little things you could leave in a minimised window at any time, come back to and puzzle over. Visually unobtrusive while still prettier than Sudoku. They showed that this machine can support games as well I guess, advertising. But really they were just this fantastic given.

Maybe with the internet and browsers as a given people just relied on flash games more and more until good old minesweeper seemed obsolete. Though something was lost with it’s departure, that sense of complementary service and feeling of buying into an exciting new world with the tech you were using. Cue the rise of the chrome dino.

-W

I’m on a bus!

I’ve only recently started catching the bus to work everyday. This is because I live on a good bus route and now think buses are great. How can people who live far away on bad bus routes with no other transport options possibly have issues with riding the bus. No, it’s these people who must be stuck up, surely.

One thing I’ve noticed while busing it is that there’s a ton of cars on the road. So many cars. I guess there would be in a sprawling high income city. None of them can fly though. At least not in a controlled way. Hmm.

As a kid I remember seeing ads for Mars exploring LEGO sets. They had little bug-eyed aliens riding pneumatic tubes like in Futurama. This is the way to go I think. Like money packets at Woolies.

The bus will have to do for now.

-W

Automated Cars – Hmm….

So, on the back of Elon Musk’s announcement that he didn’t care about stock traders, it’s occurred to me that he might not have fully thought through the idea of an automated car either. See, it’s been well established that if all cars were automated, they would need constant communication with one another a-la 14 year old texters, and that the easiest way of doing so would be to run them off a network. It obviously follows then that this system could be abused.

Now, I’m as restrained as they come. Just the other day, when a colleague I dislike tried to interact with me, I refrained from saying that they’re a judgemental naive entitled dim-witted self-centred waste of eukaryote cells. And as for morality, the other day, I bought an entire roll of recycled toilet paper. If I were to rate my restraint and morality on a scale of one to ten, I’d … probably dodge the question by expressing my dismay at rating people against each other or some other moralistic bullshit like that, but you get my drift.

But even a figure of such upstanding moral principles as I would be corrupted by the potential for cars to be operated remotely. That guy that cut me off in traffic a couple of days ago? If I had my way, they would be promptly parked on the shoulder for five minutes using their headlights to blink in Morse Code the words “I’m a cock”, and have their airbag deployed to punch them in the face for good measure. That person who took five entire minutes to overtake one car? I would set their speed to 200 but give manual control of their steering. That guy who pointed out my misspelling of the word “fuckwit” on a YouTube comment? I’d set the nearest car to run them down.

Then there’s the opportunities for entertainment. Imagine if a trucker’s rally were to be hijacked and their trucks were aligned to say “invest in rail”, or even just a penis, from the sky. I’m not saying it should be done or would be funny, but I will say that if it were done I would find it funny and approve.

And imagine if I was driving. I would have cars in front of me part to let me through just for the power-trip. And then, if I were hosting some powerful foreign power’s president or something, I’d probably get all the cars to do donuts to impress them. And if any of the occupants protested I would disconnect their air conditioning and play Call Me Maybe in their cars on max volume until they changed their minds.

I’ve actually decided that automated cars are a great idea. Never mind.

-Z

Sea urchins around the coast of Australia actually drill into rocks to make their homes.

A paper published in the open access journal PLoS one in February 2018 has revealed the secretive mining habits of some of California’s familiar coastal neighbours. Purple sea urchins are often found by divers and snorkelers. They can be seen nestled in little pits and crevasses which seem just the right size, hiding themselves away from the outside world like blog readers in a bed or office cubicle.

These animals hug the coastline, similar to other species around world which seem to fit in similarly neat little holes in the rock. The east coast of Australia harbours one such species, also called the purple urchin, Heliocidaris erythrogramma . 

The scientists in California looked at whether the urchins were actually digging the holes in the rock that they kept seeing them nestled in so neatly – too neatly – and surprise surprise, yes, they did! The scientists then went further, and looked at how fast they could dig these holes in different types of rocks, and found they dug holes faster in softer mud-stone than in sandstone.

It’s interesting that this fact manages to be new to science in 2018. A ubiquitous beach side neighbour to millions of people is busily conducting council unapproved earthworks, and likely have for as long as they lived here. Like a series end twist reveal on Home and Away or the climax of a prison escape film.

“Good god! They’re digging through the rocks!!”

There is something very exciting, though, about how this kind of large scale behaviour of such a ubiquitous animal can still be an untested mystery,  just waiting for someone with enough curiosity to look deeper. Indeed, the scientists who have discovered the rock pitting behaviour of the purple sea urchin have posed many more unanswered questions.

The world’s oceans are changing rapidly, especially in the areas of high human expansion and activity around the coast and inter-tidal zones. The paper’s authors also wondered whether the rates of these urchins pit drilling was also changing. How much could it be affecting coastal erosion of temperate reefs?

There are many examples of big impacts the activities of these slow little creatures can have on the environment. Increased urchin numbers have contributed to the destruction of the giant kelp forests in southern Tasmanian waters. Decreasing numbers of lobsters, which prey on the urchins, allows them to flourish and eat the base of kelp undeterred. They might move slowly and not seem like much, but when conditions change they can have huge effects en-masse and their potential is not always a reflection of what it first appears.

The discovery that sea urchins might be trying to get a foot in the mining industry just goes to show that there is great potential in the lives of even the meekest creatures around us. Even weird little spiky balls under the sea. It’s also an encouraging reminder that there are always valuable questions to ask about the world around us. There’s always an adventure to be had nearby. Next time you go to the beach and have a snorkel keep an eye out for your sleepy rock drilling urchin neighbours and have a think about what else they might be up to.

-W

The research paper can be viewed in the following link: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0191278

 

The ‘right’ way to pronounce it

Have you ever wondered if you were pronouncing your foreign friend’s name correctly? Well, I’m guessing not – you probably have better things to do with your time, but I’m going to give you my opinions on this anyway because I foolishly slept on a Sunday afternoon and am thus in an annoyingly alert haze of ‘why did I do that’, ‘what am I going to do tomorrow’, ‘oh god I forgot to make lunch for work’, ‘what the heck is an “alert haze”‘ and, interestingly, a slight craving for some roti. Bear with me.

See, for those of you that don’t know, I am one of those foreigners with a non-English name. The romanised translation is, frankly, inaccurate, and I can assure you that no one in Australia (where I live) actually pronounces it correctly unless they speak fluent Mandarin. Now, to be fair, I care about the proper pronunciation of my name about as much as I cared when a coworker told me about the rigours they endured to obtain the missing part for their blender , or something (I wasn’t paying attention because I didn’t care). And, if I’m honest, I’m probably more likely to respond to the English pronunciation of my name than the correct Chinese way these days. But on the other hand, I was quite bemused when an exchange student with an American accent tried pronouncing my name and was laughed at by someone else for ‘saying it funny’. When I pointed out that, technically, no one in the room was actually pronouncing it ‘correctly’, all of my friends were shocked and resolved to pronounce my name correctly for all of fifteen minutes before, I dunno, we got drunk or something. Memories from the beginnings of semesters at uni are a bit hazy for me.

It did, however, get me thinking about this. What is the correct way of translating a name? Unlike other words, many names cannot be translated across languages directly. Of course, most people try to make a carbon copy of a name in their own language, but practically, the pronunciation is probably going to be a bit off, like Hank Yoo trying to fit in with the white supremacists – I mean, you’re close, but you’re not really there. Listening to anyone who uses English as a second language would tell you that there are fundamental differences in pronunciation between languages that take years to overcome, so it really isn’t that surprising. Of course, so long as you try, you’ve, well, tried (I’m on a roll tonight), so no one can hold it against you if you end up getting it wrong. I certainly wouldn’t, and this isn’t really the thing I have an issue with.

What I do have an issue with, though, is instances like the one I described earlier, where an English speaker (or any language really) has such little awareness to the point they actually try to lecture other people on the pronunciation of a name from a language they don’t speak. Their pronunciation being ‘closer’ to the real one isn’t a good enough reason. A copy of the Mona Lisa with a frown is ‘closer’ to the original than a copy with two heads but that doesn’t make it accurate, and Mr Frown sure as heck doesn’t have any right to tell anyone else what they’re doing wrong. And this happens quite a lot. I’ve had people literally try to tell me how to pronounce Szechuan and feng shui, the absurdity of which I’m sure you’d immediately understand, but there are also less obvious examples, like correcting others on the pronunciation of French names such as Gare du Nord. Now, I’m sorry, do you speak French to the level that Parisians can’t tell the difference between you and a local? And if not, how are you managing to feel smug about French pronunciation?

To be honest, I just find a coworker annoying because they do this all the time. You just read four paragraphs of me venting about them. On the plus side though, I’m pretty sleepy now. Ergh, what am I going to do for lunch tomorrow?

-Z

On the Origin of Faeces

or how I learned to stop worrying and learned to love the shitpost

Unfortunately this article doesn’t contain any fascinating tidbits on the history of memes. I just wanted an excuse to use that title, and show offpractice coding HTML.

We all love a good shitpost every now and then, and at other times too. Even when its inappropriate. Is it natural that society has come full circle to embrace all that mocks, only for the sake of mocking? Is it a devolution of the internet and society, or a coming of age? What is the true meaning of doge?

alright, that’s my job done. Have a good week.

-W

Laserwash automatic car wash review.

As we live in the future it is important to try as many automated things as possible. to misquote Ken Brockman; “I for one welcome our new robot overlords.” one of these is the automatic car wash. Today’s article is purely an attempt for me to justify having paid to go through a car wash.

It is common knowledge that the model tee mini morris car came in any colour so long as it’s black. But why this was so is less well known. It is because the advent of the tire was replacing the shoe as the main mode of human transport. This got shoe shine unions in a right fit and the little orphans demanded something to shine. Hence cars early colour scheme.

“shine your car black guvna!”

Anyway, skip to the future and we have robots to do that for us. I tried one the other week. it was a laserwash 3000 or something, built by skynet purely for my convenience. I don’t know why I like automatic car washes. There is something about those silly big machines that I find appealing. Probably because they’re somewhat futuristic.

That’s probably why I was dissapointed a little with the laserwash. It gave a pretty good flashing lights robo-wash, however there weren’t actual lasers. Pity.

_W