Tag Archives: space

Things August 2017: Archive Adventures – part 2

Last time I shared the first half of the exciting archive of historic unused Things. In this second half, I’ll cover music, games, writing, and some data visualisation. Enjoy!

Video/Audio

I was collecting examples of music where I felt the production process was the main contributor to the quality of the song (rather than the songwriting or performance), examples being Britney Spears – Toxic, Mark Ronson – God Put a Smile on Your Face, and the Space Channel 5 theme tune. Then I wondered if actually I just like crisp brass and distorted orchestral sounds, and have no ear for production at all, so wasn’t sure whether I could meaningfully comment. But listen to those songs as a set and see what you think!

Putting a record of important sounds from earth in a spacecraft and shooting it out of the solar system is pretty speculative (although I’d argue we don’t know enough about the parameters in the Drake equation or the full potential of technology in this universe to know just how speculative) – but is also a profoundly optimistic and beautiful act, so I’m really glad we did it.

Some trivia that hilariously undermines the beauty of the gesture: EMI refused permission for The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” to be included; and the engravings showing what humans look like (naked) were actually censored and therefore inaccurate.

Copyright issues have always made it challenging to listen to the full Voyager track listing on earth, but the copyright-subverting hydra that is YouTube solves this problem, and I highly recommend making time to appreciate the playlist.

And this just in, with a title that sets expectations perfectly, another candidate for music-to-share-with-the-galaxy: Duel of the Fates on Trombones

Games

I previously wrote about game-maker Jason Rohrer in Things 121 (specifically on Chain World, a game intended to become a religion). In 2014 he released The Castle Doctrine, a game about gun-ownership through the medium of PvP house-security design and burglary. Players design a secure ‘house’, with the restriction that it must be possible to break into without tools; they then try to break into other player’s houses to steal loot, and then store that loot in their own house and hope their design keeps other thieves out. Total loot owned is public, so a nice feedback loop emerges where a more successful player will attract more burglary attempts.

The challenge for such a game design is you need to come up with creative opportunities and restrictions that will emergently lead to players creating a huge range of fascinating house-designs. I particularly enjoyed the systems-design reasoning at work in Rohrer’s post on some of the design changes he had to make in response to players converging on clever (but boring) solutions.

In mobile games, the mind-bogglingly successful Clash of Clans (and its many clones) operates on a similar basis with (very) light real-time-strategy gameplay, but the strategic variety seems ultimately quite weak. I’m more impressed by King of Thieves, also operating on the same idea but with single-screen platformer gameplay. It’s free, so if that sounds at all interesting you should check it out (on iOS and Android). Unfortunately the late-game becomes about pixel-perfect jump timing which is a bit less fun.

Self-improvement

I can’t remember what I was thinking when I added this link, but perhaps that in itself is telling: Kottke’s extract from an Adam Phillips interview, “The need not to know yourself“.

I suspect that procrastination is a challenge for a large number of people, and found that Quora has a collection of highly upvoted answers. I personally found the best approach is a mixed strategy: trying lots of things in sequence. So this is a good place to go to find lots of ideas.

Writing, Data Visualisation, Everything Else

A good long read is, these days, the closest I get to the escapism of a good novel: a chance to inhabit and explore another world-view. If you’re the same, you’ll probably enjoy this long article on novels, tragedy, comedy, and religion on two levels. Sample quotes:

“the invention of the novel privatised myth, because the novel, invented after Aristotle, did not have a holy book. The novelist was on his own. Sometimes he’s even a she. There were no rules.”

“As they became professional, writers began to write about writers. As they became academicised, writers began to write about writing.”

“You may think that to praise The Simpsons at the expense of Henry James makes me a barbarian. Well, it does, but I’m a very cultured barbarian. The literary novel has gone late Roman. It needs the barbarians.”

There was an article about a trend online to use “?” where formal writing used a hyphen, for example:

“The greatest pleasure of all – the categorisation of minutiae.”
“The greatest pleasure of all? The categorisation of minutiae.”

I felt that captured something I’d seen and been annoyed by, and figured I would collect some examples. I guess shortly after that I just started to accept it and didn’t collect anything, and then couldn’t find the original link, leaving this a bit of a non-thing. Although I think the fact I abandoned it is at least somewhat interesting.

Unremembered by present me, and unexplained by past me, the Things archive includes a link to the Tableau product support page.

Here are some fascinating maps on the distribution of blood types.

And finally, a superb example of giving insight into long-term trends using well-designed data visualisation: The Great Prosperity (1947-79) and The Great Regression (1980-2009)


(Click for full version)

- Transmission finally ends

Things 56: Robot Hand, Earth and Moon, Magical Ground Squirrel Puzzle

(Originally sent August 2009)

Quote

“Most problems are side effects of solutions to other problems.” – Eskil Steenberg

Video
Once you have built a machine or robot that can do something, the really cool part is you can then see how fast it can do that thing. In the case of this astoundingly dextrous robot hand, the answer is: alarmingly fast.

Picture
A simple idea – a picture representing the earth, the moon, and the distance between them, in the correct proportion.

(Click for description and links to bigger versions):

Last Week’s puzzle
Why are ~10% of people left-handed?

Implicitly, the question is really why 10% instead of 50% or 100%, either of which would be intuitively more obvious (although you’d still wonder why it was one out of those two).

A frequently given answer is that in combat there is an advantage to having a handedness that most others don’t have, since you will be practiced at fighting opposite-handers whereas most of the competition will be practiced against fighting same-handers. An increased number of left-handed players succeeding in adversarial sports such as tennis is cited as evidence.

What’s fascinating about this argument is that it manages to sound convincing but it cannot possibly be the whole answer. If there was an advantage to being in the minority, and if that trait is genetic, then we would expect that over evolutionary time-scales a 50/50 split would emerge. (If fewer are left-handed and have a survival advantage by this argument, then more of the next generation will be left-handed, and so on until no advantage remains).

For the theory to work, there would need to be an evolutionary pressure that goes the opposite way, making left-handedness disadvantageous in some way, with the net effect of the two pressures to be a 10% incidence rate.

As it turns out, it seems we don’t have a definitive answer, but surveying the various theories and research presented in this wikipedia article below it seems to be connected to asymmetry in brain development (a deeper question in itself), with cultural effects (such as fighting) giving an additional skew in the short term.

This Week’s puzzle
There’s a very nice puzzle in quantum information theory. This is my attempt to set the same puzzle in less specialist terminology, and although it ends up being quite long, it does involve a magical ground squirrel.

There is an island in the centre of a large lake.

On the island is the entrance to a tunnel that goes deep underground to the imp underground city.

To the North and South of the lake are two evil imp warrior training centres.

To the East and West of the lake are two good imp warrior training centres.

There has recently been an imp general election, and they will either have elected a good leader or an evil one. 1,000 imp warriors will now be allocated a training centre, with exactly 500 allocated to each one. So, if an evil leader has been elected, 500 imp warriors will be assigned to the North training centre, and 500 the South training centre. If a good leader has been elected, 500 imp warriors will be assigned to the West training centre, and 500 to the East training centre.

You are a magical ground squirrel that lives on the island.

A pair of bridges connect the island to the lake shore in opposite directions.

Your magical power is exactly this: you can rotate the pair of bridges so they lie in any direction from the island, so long as they remain directly opposite one another. So you could choose to have one bridge head directly North and one directly South, or one directly North-West and the other directly South-East, and so on. However, you must never use your magic when an imp is on the island or a bridge, as they will notice and put you in their magical animal zoo.

The 1,000 imp warriors are about to be sent out, one each hour, to go to their respective training centres. Imps are highly random creatures, and they also have a pretty amazing sense of direction. They will be coming out in a random order, and they will head along the bridge that most closely matches the direction of their training centre. If the bridges seem to be perpendicular to the direction they want to go (for example, if the bridges lie East and West and the imp wants to go North) then the imp will pick a bridge at random.

Using only your magical ground squirrel powers, what is the best way to work out whether the imps have elected a good or evil leader?

(Note: this is not intended as a lateral thinking puzzle! You just have to decide how to rotate the bridges and interpret the resulting imp behaviour. But I suppose you could try solving it laterally as well. P.S. Imps can cross a bridge in under half an hour).

Things 49: Galaxy Rising, Tube Time Visualisation, Back Flip Variation

(Originally sent May 2009)

Video
Time lapse of the stars at night – be sure to watch to the end to see the Milky Way rising:

Galactic Center of Milky Way Rises over Texas Star Party from William Castleman on Vimeo.

Link
A simplistic but interesting data visualisation showing travel times from and to different parts of the tube network – this explains why everything in London seems to be about 30 minutes away:

Quote
In a self-consciously long and disappointingly poorly argued article titled “In Defence of Distraction“, the following quote made reading it all worthwhile:

“Priorities are like arms: If you have more than two of them, they’re probably make-believe” – Merlin Mann

Picture
An animated gif (2MB) showing a fantastic variation on a back flip.

Puzzle: Newspaper eyeball value
We often hear that newspapers are in terminal decline and it’s all the internet’s fault. But much of a newspaper’s revenue comes from advertising, and many have created their own ad-supported websites, and many of these websites reach very large numbers of people. So they are losing eyeballs looking at print and gaining eyeballs looking at a screen, both of which will also see adverts. Why isn’t this helping?

(Perhaps more than other puzzles I have set in the past, there are many possible answers. Don’t hedge your bets – if you have multiple solutions, put them in order of importance! I’ll summarise the results and stick my own oar in next week.)

Things 47: Flying Robot Penguins, Hamster Wheel Projection, Space Stick

(Originally sent May 2009)

Film
I saw Wolverine. I found it to be acceptable. I was particularly impressed that they held almost all shots of the enjoyably over-the-top climactic battle back from the trailer.

Video
In this video there are giant flying robot penguins, after the small swimming robot penguins, after the pre-roll ad, after the video loads. But worth the wait.

Link
Since the media make it very difficult to tell if a manageable disease outbreak has grown into a rampant society-threatening pandemic of doom, here’s a map that collects data on the progress of Swine Flue cases.

Semiotically speaking, the size of the circles when zoomed out subconsciously suggests a more severe situation than is actually the case, but zooming in quickly brings things into perspective.

Quotes
Going through my old archive of things-I-heard-people-say-and-wrote-down recently, I found a cluster of baffling utterances all made by the same individual, who shall remain nickless. Er, I mean nameless.

“I’ll take your word for it – but I’m still not convinced.”

“Is it one of those things you can only see when you look at it?”

“I don’t like shopping, it’s really boring. Except when you’re buying something for yourself… or someone else.”

Picture
I’ve come across this three times this week, but feel compelled to add to its viral propagation. Here and There is a “horizonless projection” map of Manhattan, which some have more intuitively described as a “hamster wheel projection”.

Previous Puzzle – The Inconvenient Hobby

Last time I asked for a time-based goal that can easily become part of a routine but sits somewhere between once-a-day and once-a-week. Given some of the answers, it became clear I hadn’t emphasised the ‘easy’ part sufficiently!

One answer was to tie different aspects of the same goal to different days of the week For example, if the goal is to exercise 3 times a week then one could do three activities once a week each, assigning each one to a particular day of the week.

My own answer has been to create a spreadsheet which automatically pops up when I boot up my PC and tells me how many days have elapsed since I last did the six things I’m trying to do with non-trivial frequencies, and whether that exceeds my target number of days to elapse for each one. Or at least, that will be my solution, but I haven’t got around to implementing it yet, which perhaps speaks to a greater problem.

Puzzle – the Space Stick
Information cannot travel faster than the speed of light. If it did, you just need to apply a bit of special relativity (not even general relativity) and you quickly get paradoxes. There’s a deeper argument to be made there, but trust me, if information could travel faster than the speed of light, It Would Be Bad, in the Ghostbustersian sense.

(Side note: that link was an example of something Kevin Kelly has spoken about – bringing the tools we have for literacy (cut and paste, footnoting, referencing) to moving pictures. Unfortunately the audio is very quiet on the YouTube video I linked to so it probably doesn’t quite work, but it’s close. See http://kk.org/ct2/2008/06/tools-for-vizuality.php )

[We now see further problems interfering as the video has been taken down. It linked to the utterance of the phrase “that would be bad” in Ghostbusters. – T.M. 30/4/11]

Unfortunately this important speed limit on information transfer seems to break if you have an extremely long stick.

It’s difficult to state the problem both precisely and concisely, but here we go:

Imagine you are at one point in space and your friend is one light-year away. You are about to have a baby and your friend will want to know if it is a boy or a girl as soon as possible. If you were to send this message at the speed of light, which is incredibly fast, it would still take one year for the message to reach them, since you are one light-year apart.

Anticipating this issue, you have got hold of a Space Stick, which is one light-year long and as rigid and low-mass as a substance can possibly be. With the Space Stick spanning the distance between you and your friend, you arrange for it to sit above a button that activates a buzzer at their end, the idea being that you simply press on your end of the Space Stick and the button is pressed pretty much instantaneously.

With a pre-arranged code (tap for a boy, long press for a girl) it seems as if this could be used to transmit information faster than light. Why could it never work?

Things 47

Film

I saw Wolverine. I found it to be acceptable. I was particularly impressed that they held almost all shots of the enjoyably over-the-top climactic battle back from the trailer.

Video

In this video there are giant flying robot penguins, after the small swimming robot penguins, after the pre-roll ad, after the video loads. But worth the wait.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16996-bionic-penguins-take-to-the-water–and-the-skies.html

Link

Since the media make it very difficult to tell if a manageable disease outbreak has grown into a rampant society-threatening pandemic of doom, here’s a map that collects data on the progress of Swine Flue cases:

http://flutracker.rhizalabs.com/

Semiotically speaking, the size of the circles when zoomed out subconsciously suggests a more severe situation than is actually the case, but zooming in quickly brings things into perspective.

Quotes

Going through my old archive of things-I-heard-people-say-and-wrote-down recently, I found a cluster of baffling utterances all made by the same individual, who shall remain nickless. Er, I mean nameless.
“I’ll take your word for it – but I’m still not convinced.”

“Is it one of those things you can only see when you look at it?”

“I don’t like shopping, it’s really boring. Except when you’re buying something for yourself… or someone else.”

Picture

I’ve come across this three times this week, but feel compelled to add to its viral propagation. Here and There is a “horizonless projection” map of Manhattan, which some have more intuitively described as a “hamster wheel projection”:

http://schulzeandwebb.com/hat/

Previous Puzzle – The Inconvenient Hobby

Last time I asked for a time-based goal that can easily become part of a routine but sits somewhere between once-a-day and once-a-week. Given some of the answers, it became clear I hadn’t emphasised the ‘easy’ part sufficiently!

One answer was to tie different aspects of the same goal to different days of the week For example, if the goal is to exercise 3 times a week then one could do three activities once a week each, assigning each one to a particular day of the week.

My own answer has been to create a spreadsheet which automatically pops up when I boot up my PC and tells me how many days have elapsed since I last did the six things I’m trying to do with non-trivial frequencies, and whether that exceeds my target number of days to elapse for each one. Or at least, that will be my solution, but I haven’t got around to implementing it yet, which perhaps speaks to a greater problem.

Puzzle – the Space Stick

Information cannot travel faster than the speed of light. If it did, you just need to apply a bit of special relativity (not even general relativity) and you quickly get paradoxes. There’s a deeper argument to be made there, but trust me, if information could travel faster than the speed of light, It Would Be Bad, in the Ghostbustersian sense.

[Side note: that link was an example of something Kevin Kelly has spoken about – bringing the tools we have for literacy (cut and paste, footnoting, referencing) to moving pictures. Unfortunately the audio is very quiet on the YouTube video I linked to so it probably doesn’t quite work, but it’s close. See http://kk.org/ct2/2008/06/tools-for-vizuality.php ]

Unfortunately this important speed limit on information transfer seems to break if you have an extremely long stick.

It’s difficult to state the problem both precisely and concisely, but here we go:

Imagine you are at one point in space and your friend is one light-year away. You are about to have a baby and your friend will want to know if it is a boy or a girl as soon as possible. If you were to send this message at the speed of light, which is incredibly fast, it would still take one year for the message to reach them, since you are one light-year apart.

Anticipating this issue, you have got hold of a Space Stick, which is one light-year long and as rigid and low-mass as a substance can possibly be. With the Space Stick spanning the distance between you and your friend, you arrange for it to sit above a button that activates a buzzer at their end, the idea being that you simply press on your end of the Space Stick and the button is pressed pretty much instantaneously.

With a pre-arranged code (tap for a boy, long press for a girl) it seems as if this could be used to transmit information faster than light. Why could it never work?