Archive May 2011

Broken bones aimee whitcroft May 13


My blogging levels have dropped off somewhat as I’ve spent much of the last week drugged, and with only one functional hand*.

xray - wrist

My wrist (clixck to enlarge)

This is because last weekend, I got into a fistfight with the forces of evil**. I won (obviously), but broke my wrist in the process.

Which kinda sucks.

To be more precise, I have a buckle fracture of the distal radius of my left wrist, plus what looks like another crack. All of which adds up to some small amount of  ‘eina’, and the huge encumbrance of a cast.

Turns out, having only one working hand, and another which can’t get wet, must be kept at heart height etc etc makes life a little tiresome, and renders one surprisingly useless.

On the flipside, however, it means that x-rays can be performed. Which is awesome. Have a look: you see that buckling out on the right hand side, just by the joint? Yeah…


* Which means my typing speed is less than half normal, and it’s a mission :)

** That’s the official story. The unofficial one involves a bicycle.

The new wizard of the west aimee whitcroft May 06


I have discovered, to my enormous sadness, that many people are unaware of the existence or work of Nikola Tesla, the ‘electric Jesus’ who pioneered the modern system of AC (alternating current) we now use*.

the man himself

the man himself

And, in an effort to help rectify this situation, I’d like to present the following article, taken from an 1899 edition of Pearson’s Magazine.  It was passed to me by a friend, who in turn got it from another friend’s collection of beautiful old bound collections of such things**.

.It starts:

An Interview with Tesla, the Modern Miracle-worker, who is Harnessing the Rays of the Sun ; has Discovered Ways of Transmitting Power without Wires and of Seeing by Telephone ; has Invented a Means of Employing Electricity as a Fertiliser ; and, Finally, is Able to Manufacture Artificial Daylight.

Enjoy :)

Pearsons magazine_Tesla_01
Pearsons magazine_Tesla_02Pearsons magazine_Tesla_03Pearsons magazine_Tesla_04Pearsons magazine_Tesla_05Pearsons magazine_Tesla_06Pearsons magazine_Tesla_07

(click on the pages to enlarge them)

I am a little saddened, however, by how little progress we’ve in made in the use of things such as solar power, given that he was thinking about this over a century ago…

* Amongst many, many other things.  The man was extraordinary

** Hooray for those who collect and pass down to their children/grandchildren such goodness.  Thank you…

On the subject of phytoplankton aimee whitcroft May 05

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Discovered this morning in a beautiful old book :)


Diatoms have lacy cases
Of material silicaceous,
Perforated lids and bases
Made to fit like Petri dishes.
Nursed on Nature’s hydroponic
They’re prolific and nutritious
Making bouillabase planktonic
For the sustenance of fishes.

- Ralph Lewin

Taken from ‘The Fertile Sea’, by A.P. Orr and S.M. Marshall (1969)

Stunning video of STS-131 launch aimee whitcroft May 04


There’s nothing better than a spot of spacepr0n (well more accurately, shuttlepr0n) on a Wednesday morning.

YouTube Preview Image

And so, let me present an absolutely fantastic video showing the 2010launch of STS-131, the 33rd mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  It delivered science racks to be used in the labs onboard the Station.

The space shuttle featured so beautifully here is, of course, Discovery.  Discovery flew 39 successful missions over 27 years of service, and was retired on March 9th 2011, to the sound of a great deal of sniffing sadly worldwide.

Quite an ode to a remarkable piece of engineering, and the people, structures and philosophy behind it.


For those who like music with their pictures, I might suggest a song such as ‘Solace‘ – although anything of similar vein works well :)  And, of course, blow the video up as big as possible.

My favourite bit is when the shuttle flips vertically, and then _keeps going up_.

The cost of SETI aimee whitcroft May 02

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As many of you are no doubt aware, last week the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) was mothballed.

The Allen Telescope Array.  Credit; Adam Hart-Davis

The Allen Telescope Array. Credit; Adam Hart-Davis

In other words, cost cutting measures by US government meant it was taken offline.   A lack of some $2.5 million means those running it* have to stop taking data, and shut down the array.

This has engendered screams of horror from people around the world.  And, I might add, not just those of us who believe that there’s life out there.

The ATA is a ‘Large Number of Small Dishes’ (LNSD) Array.  Its first phase went online in 2007, with 42 dishes.  The idea was that it would eventually be made up of 350.

The dishes are small – only 6m in diameter – with smaller dishes being cheaper for the same collecting area that larger dishes.  There are technical issues, however: to get the same sensitivity as larger dishes, the signals from all the telescopes need to be combined.  This, happily, is now possible with the increasingly low cost of the necessary electronics.

All these beautiful dishes meant that the ATA was going to be able to conduct large, deep radio surveys of our skies which were previously not possible.  Simultaneously, it was also going to scan the sky for SETI (the Search for Terrestrial Intelligence).

It was going to one of the world’s largest and most powerful telescopes.**

And projects like SETI (as well as rather a lot of other science initiatives) are under increasing amounts of funding pressure.

Today, a friend pinged me a link to the infographic below, demonstrating beautifully how misaligned people’s pecuniary priorities can be.  It compares the cost of running SETI for a year to, well, cruise missiles and bailing out banks.  Franky, it’s embarassing.

The cost of SETI.  Credit: John, μcosmologist*

The cost of SETI. Credit: John, μcosmologist*** (click to enlarge)

Happily, it appears that initiatives such as Berkeley’s project are still going.  Whew :)

Outraged?  Saddened?  Want moar antennae/data/knowledge about the universe IN WHICH WE LIVE?  Then donate.


There’s a great interview on Wired about the shutdown, the search etc with the SETI Institute’s research director Jill Tarter.


* It’s a joint project between SETI and the Radio Astronomy Laboratory at UC Berkeley

** Oh, and it’s also a ‘pathfinder‘ for the Square Kilometre Array, over which South Africa and Australia/NZ are now…competing.

*** See here for the microcosmologist website

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