Friday tabs

By Grant Jacobs 29/10/2010

Not the bar kind.

As has become customary for me, on Friday I try clean up browser tabs I’ve left open holding an interesting article. It’s my end-of-the-week clean-up and blog links for readers.

Gott pocket map of universe (small) 300px

The scale of the universe (Those not interested in astronomy or the scale of things may wish to skip to the next section.)

Chris McDowall posted this morning several videos showing the scale of things. I toyed with posting one of those videos a while back myself, and did post a link to an infographic showing the scale of intracellular life.

They’re great to view, but I personally find that presentations that zoom to show scale, impressive as they are, don’t really convey to me good impression of the scale of anything that’s more than a couple of ‘zoom steps’ apart.

I prefer a series of static pictures with explanation, like those in Ethan Siegel’s excellent recent presentation on the scale of the unobservable universe.

A comparison uses Voyager 2. A twitter feed currently reports that Voyager 2 is a smidgen over 13 hours of light-travel time from earth. Our observable universe is ~93 billion light years across, roughly 93 * 365 * 24 = 814680 billion hours of light-time travel. That’s 62667.7 billions times further than it’s travelled so far.

Voyager 2 is travelling at ~150,000 km/h and been at it 33 years. At it’s current rate, it’d take over 2 million billion years to travel the width of observable universe.

Read Siegel’s article for more on the unobservable universe. It’s lot bigger.

My favourite presentations of the scale of universe, which leave out all the small things that the videos Chris presents show, are variations on Gott et al’s pocket map of the universe (big PDF file) from their research paper. I’ve shown a smaller copy to the left.

You need to have a handle on log-scale graphs, though. Each major step on the graph is covers ten times the distance the previous one did. Start at the bottom and mentally inflate each segment ten times the height (= distance) of the one before it.

Bring Back Babbage The name Babbage will be familiar to those with a computing background. Jennifer Ouellette at Cocktail Party Physics alerts us to that there are fresh plans to raise funds to finally build Babbage’s Analytical Engine, giving a brief history of the machine’s design. There’s more at the computer history website. (I’ve a copy of Doron Swade’s excellent book on the Difference Engine on my shelves, describing his work to build the Difference Engine. This proposed Analytical Engine project has obvious parallels.)

China guns for large-scale genome sequencing Steve Hsu posted a short article reporting a claim that the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) will soon have the capacity to sequence 1000 human genomes a day. Given their labour costs are likely to be lower than in other centres, they could be a major force in this area. Even if you debate the numbers, they’re clearly putting a big effort in.

What did you do for geek cred? I’m going to steal a line from Alice Bell’s exploration of geekery and geek cred. (Some of the comments there are worth reading, too.) So… what did you do for geek cred? Go on, tell us!

Other recent articles on Code for life:

Paul Nurse on ‘anti-science doubters’ and the blogosphere

Another one bits the dust: Goodbye Walkman

Vaccine promotion – the medium matters too

0 Responses to “Friday tabs”

  • Oh, rats. Forgot to add Emily Anthes’s review of Blind Descent, for any caving buffs out there. (Or adventure geeks who like to read about others’ thrills.)

  • I used to have a similar Friday tabs but may I suggest Instapaper ( I have no involvement with Instapaper, I am just a busy postgrad always looking for ways to simplify. It is a bookmark on Firefox and I have it integrated with my Google Reader. There is also an Iphone app. It is really useful to avoid having 30 tabs open at the end of the week. Instead they just end up in my RSS feed and I can read them in line at the post office. Especially useful for all the Twitter links that look interesting but I don’t have time to read in the middle of the day.

  • I agree with your assessment of the Power of Ten video. The film is compelling and thought-provoking but there is little to “hold on to”. Static images provide an opportunity for the viewer to examine and contemplate the visual representation of the data at their own pace. The figure you presented is wonderful. A colleague had a very similar diagram posted on their cork board when I was a university student.

    Have you seen these two XKCD strips? They deal with similar material in a light-hearted way.


  • Julie,

    I know half a dozen ways not to end up with lots of tabs, but I’m too lazy! 🙂

    More seriously… it’s a time & priorities thing.

    I hope to revert to a bookmarked approach using one of the apps that tracks bookmarks across the different browsers, which I think would be a better solution for me. It’s not that big a deal, as the browsers seem quite capable – once in a while I’ve had ~150-200 tabs open at times across several windows and they seem to cope with that. (I worry more about stability of the browser and recall of the earlier pages than the number of tabs itself.) What I have pretty much works & other things are more important to get onto, so it’s on the back-burner. Looks an interesting solution though.

    Nice blog by the way:-) Love the banner photo. Mine features where I used to live before I moved into town. Been trying to get back into cycling myself. My car has just packed in, so I’m back on the bike! (Anyone with a cheap station wagon to sell?? Or at a pinch a 4×4.) I used to ride in the Bottle Lake Plantation a bit & have some done trips in the Canterbury region when I was based up there. (Chch is my hometown.)

    (For those trying Julie’s link to Instapaper, delete the right bracket from the end of URL or use this link.)

  • Hi Chris,

    I’ve seen several renditions of similar maps. One I recall was in (I think) National Geographic as map in one issue. Would liked to have bought it for the office, but end the end decided I should spent the little “spare” money I had on more sensible things!

    The xkcd take on it is pretty good. Love the little bits of humour scattered throughout it.