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    Infrared Telescope Action


    2012 - 05.25

    Just check this out.

    Now think about what the James Webb will be able to do in infrared….

    Playing the Mario banner


    2012 - 04.09

    So as some of you may have noticed, there’s a new banner which randomly appears on the desktop version of this site with a mario theme. I built it using the level editor in Super Mario X, and oh man, it’s actually really hard. Have a look at the below video of me dying once, then trying again and beating it. What you don’t see are the 10 takes before this one where I screwed up and died repeatedly. SHEESH!

    Kepler lovers, get comfy


    2012 - 04.04

    The Kepler Space Telescope, which I was riffing on a while back was supposed to run out of funding this November.  Well, stock up on popcorn exoplanet hunters because the show is going to keep going for a long time!  As of today, NASA has extended the mission to 2016.  Yes, that’s right.  Pass the salt :D

    Timelapse… IN SPACE


    2012 - 03.26

    I’m guessing a lot of the readership is already aware of this video, but I’m going to post it anyway because this timelapse is just THAT badass. It’s shot from outer space (on the ISS) and shows some unbelievably spectacular views of the heavens in motion and earth spinning below them.  To me, it really drives home the notion that we’re floating in space… a fact that we seldom take time to appreciate.  Ultra-cool:

     

    And, unlike a lot of awesome timelapse videos, the music is surprisingly tasteful! I can’t get enough of this one.

    I Want a New Phone: The State of Tech in Early 2012


    2012 - 03.22

    I usually don’t write about phones on here because I think they’re an ultra-transitive subject. In one year’s time, it’s likely that all phone discussion will be completely irrelevant and not worth reading, or even skimming. That’s the paradox of a cellphone; it’s the essential piece of technology that you can’t leave the house without, and which you interact with constantly, many times throughout the day. It’s extremely important–and yet it has no permanence–in a few years time it wears out and you need a new one. So this will be a phone discussion wrapped in a State of the Technological World discussion. Let’s hit it!

    I think the lifecycles of tech companies generally goes like this: Up-and-coming Company X introduces a new product which is not perfect but is pretty great. Everyone wants it. Pretty soon, everyone has it. As their market share goes up, innovation dies, bloatware multiplies, and they stop listening to anyone about the flaws in their product. Wicked and annoying quicks become enshrined under the banner of “Whaddya gonna do, chumps?! Leave us?! We’re the only game in town, so you’ll take our crap and you’ll LOVE IT! You got no other option, suckerrrrrrs!”

    In the 80s and 90s, Apple Computer was a niche market, catering to those who wanted to “think different” or those bored with the endless phalanxes of Microsoft beige-box machines. Apple was a scrappy underdog, fighting to differentiate themselves and carve out a small following against the near-monopoly of MS. Oh, the dripping irony of how time has reversed those roles! Today Apple is the most valuable American corporation. They’ve come full circle from fighting ‘the man’ to becoming ‘the man’ themselves, complete with gargantuan Asian sweatshop factories that struggle to quash suicide controversies. The iPhone is getting long in the tooth, with a dated UI design that they can’t change or abandon now, and Microsoft, of all people, are the ones with the hip’n’with-it fresh ideas! What world do we live in?!

    I had the original, first-generation iPhone shortly after it came out. And I will give it to them; it was far ahead of its time. It took a long time for Google to catch them. But eventually they did, maybe in 2009 or 2010. I’ve always hated iTunes with a passion; its slowness, the ridiculous refusal to play nice with FLAC files (which continues even several years later! Seriously, What.–TheF#%K.), lack of cool visualizers (hello Milkdrop!), lack of support for 3rd party plugins (Compressors. They make every song better. Ever. Times eight), but most of all the syncing. Oohhh boy, the syncing. You can’t share mp3s onto your friend’s iPod (like that’s going to stop anyone from burning them a CD). You can’t put songs from other computers in your own house onto your own iPod. And anytime you download a new track, you have to manually import it into iTunes, make sure it’s tagged (Apple: “What are these ‘file-names’ you speak of?”) and then wait fooorrrrrrreeeeevvvvvvveeeeerrrrrrrrr if you’re putting music onto an iPhone because it needs to do some DRM-BS with every single ‘app’ you ever downloaded. This syncing induced blood-boiling rage on many a night when I had just found some slamming new track that I knew I’d be dying to hear tomorrow. Try syncing before bedtime. You’ll be awake at least an hour longer than you intended.

    Eventually iTunes broke me. Two years ago I made the jump to Android. This netted me turn by turn GPS, better cell reception on Verizon, voice recognition long before Siri, and most importantly, access to SD card storage. Having my phone be able to function as a flash drive is the most under-appreciated part of Android. I use it constantly, every day to move files around, freely transfering them between computers and accessing them on the phone itself. And if I get a hot new track I want to listen to, it’s copied over with windows explorer in a mere seconds. No importing, no syncing, no tagging. Done. This is how it should be.

    I’ve been rocking a Motorola Droid X for nearly two years. When I first got it, it was a mean machine. One time a waiter even asked me, “hey is that the new Droid??” As a photo-nut I also love the idea of a physical, dedicated shutter release button. But lately it’s been doing some very unfortunate things which it definitely should not be doing. Like rebooting at random, and just generally getting really slow. Having owned the phone for almost two years, I know that it should not be feeling this sluggish. Something is wrong. Once, (and thankfully only once) it even committed the cardinal sin of rebooting in the middle of a phone call. That’s grounds for dismissal right there. In its defense, I have used the utter bejeezus out of this thing, even far more than I ever used my iPhone. I’m getting antsy to replace the Droid X, but honestly all the phones Verizon is offering at the moment are boring, outdated, and unimpressive.

    New phones are a dime a dozen, and even with my near-daily reading of Gizmodo and Engadget, I always skip the phone coverage. So I’ve been educating myself lately on what’s out there. I definitely don’t want to go back to Apple. I’d sooner choke myself with a 32-pin connector than suffer through another round of iTunes slogging/slavery. Plus, a bigger screen is quite nice. You get used to that. And the turn by turn GPS is majorly helpful, especially driving stickshift. But do I want an Android? What else is there?

    Google, particularly in the last several months, has been more and more annoying. They’ve come out with a unified privacy policy, which I’ve had to click ‘okay’ for, like, 50 times now. And I know what it really means. It means, ‘all this time, we’ve been collecting every single thing you do online, and now we’re gonna totally sell that shiz and get like a bajillion dollars richer for it. And you can’t opt out. Whaddya gonna do, chumps?! Use Altavista?! We’re the only game in town, so you’ll take our crap and you’ll LOVE IT! You got no other option, suckerrrrrrs!

    Actually, there is a new game in town. Microsoft has been steadily working out their “metro” UI, which was pioneered on the Zune (remember that?!), refined on the xbox, and now reached its logical zenith on Windows Phone. “Skeuomorphism” is the guiding principle behind a lot of Apple’s interface design, where the notes application looks like a yellow-page notepad, the calendar has fake leather, all the icons look like digitally recreated glass, etc–it’s feeling, idunno, tired. Metro is a clean slate, literally. It’s solid blocks of color that feel fresher and cleaner than a cluttered iOS homescreen with fake water droplets under fake glass icons (or for that matter, the me-too design aesthetics of Android).

    I really dig what Microsoft has done there, and the fact that Nokia, a very experienced hand when it comes to mobile hardware, is leading the charge on Windows phone–that interests me. It also doesn’t hurt that they’ve got Carl Zeiss printed around the lenses on those phones, even if they are plastic lenses. Searching through the MS app store, I see they’ve got all the essential apps I use; pulse, shazaam, wordpress, and the obligatory facebook (another company we’ve all become slaves to). Hmm. This is all looking pretty appealing. And I could break out from the pervasive we-know-everything-you-do-and-are-totally-getting-rich-off-it ethos of el Goog.

    Only thing is that none of these phones are available yet in the US. The Lumia 900 is totally sweet. I’d be over at the Verizon store today pickin that up if they sold it. In white. Hmm. Same story on the Lumia 610, which also looks nice. So what else is there of the “what else”?

    The biggest strength of Android would probably be choice (in many senses). Accordingly, there’s an Android phone for anyone. As I wrote about on here long, long ago, I totally went bananas for the Microsoft Courier concept videos. Sadly and stupidly the project ended up being abandoned, and MS lost one of their biggest design gurus in the fallout. Rightly so. One of the big appeals Courier held for me was the premise of using a stylus to allow digital sketching; visualizing ideas, handwriting recognition, doodling over photos or screencaps, and also for just trying to get artistic and sketch something! I still feel very drawn to that idea. Enter the Samsung Galaxy Note. (aka the Galaxy Journal on Verizon, release date…. soon??)

    It’s way oversized for a phone. The display is 1280×800, which makes 285ppi on the 5.3″ screen (wowzers). That’s monsterously, perhaps even irritatingly huge… yet that real estate is purposeful; it allows you room to draw, which is a central feature to the device. I actually went over to the local AT&T store to try this sucker out. The handwriting recognition requires careful penmanship. The stylus isn’t perfect. But it does have a wacon-designed 128 levels of pressure sensitivity, and you can certainly make drawings with it, faster, easier, and better than with a plodding fingertip, beyond question. That a pretty unique feature for something that will always be in your pocket. One that I think could potentially challenge me to sketch more, be more artistic, and maybe even pay dividends here on the website, in the form of amusing drawings to accompany blogposts, or even new hand-drawn artwork for headers and various other pages throughout the site.

    Hmph. That’s definitely food for thought. Being able to sketch might be worth flying the Android flag for a while longer. Although I do envy that sleek new Metro UI. I guess we’ll just wait and see which phone becomes available first! Expect a sequel to this post…..

    Last thing I’ll mention on the State of Tech 2012 is the disturbing trend toward “appification” in the newest crop of OSes. I don’t want “apps,” I want “programs!” The first preview version of Windows 8 dropped last week and it continues Microsoft’s unification of all platforms under the Metro UI language. As stated, I love the concept of Metro, but what I don’t like is the idea that eventually all programs will be run full screen, and frozen while not in the foreground. This is not, at all, how I use my computer now. I sometimes render timelapse video in Premiere while making beats in Reason, which has multiple windows. Multitasking and multi-window programs, which inherently improve productivity with user-customization. I hope the desktop paradigm never shifts away from that. Because if it does, I’m staying on Win 7. Call me a technophobe. ;P

    μC Bicentennial


    2012 - 03.12

    Well here we are folks, blogpost # 200. It’s nice milestone to be hitting!

    Hmm, pressure’s on, better bust out something cool… how about a photo I took…… of the moon?? 

    Shot with Canon 100-300mm @ 300 and cropped (1:1 original resolution shown). 1/125th @ f/11 ISO 100. w/ a Canon T3i. Mirror lockup and ten second delay on the shutter. Phase based autofocus (through the viewfinder). Light enhancements in CS5.

    It occurred to me that I’d never taken my 100-300mm zoom outside on a clear night at tried snapping shots of the moon at the long end of the lens. What you see here is a 100% resolution crop. So this is the max resolving power of my erm, best refractor, at the moment, coupled with the T3i’s max 18MP setting. I’d say it came out pretty well.

    And speaking of new phases, I will be moving soon! Which means a whole lot less time on the computer and thereby a whole lot less time available for posting on here for a while. Fortunately I’m way, way, way behind on posting my Primo Vino Art, so there will be a bountiful explosion of images for you photography nuts and oenophiles. I intend to schedule these posts in advance, so while I am busy shuffling boxes around there will still be a steady stream of things to look at.

    Speaking of things to look at, some of you may have noticed that the header image at the top of this blog has been changing recently. I happened upon a really sweet little piece of code that allows you to setup a directory full of images, and then randomly display any one of them. Currently there are 4 different header images that appear at random. Over time, I intend to continue expanding this until there’s like 10-20 different ones. Eventually the background may become randomized as well. Variety! It’s the spice of life. And we all know spice expands consciousness.

    Feels good to hit 200! Cheers people!

    A sampling of Nebulae from Other Galaxies


    2012 - 03.03

    A week or so ago I sent a brief letter to mister Phil Plait, aka the Bad Astronomer. I read his blog about every day and it’s almost always got something of interest to me. The letter was:

    I keep thinking about something you said on Bad Astronomy. You were talking about the Orion Nebula, saying how it’s so large and vibrant that it would stand out to observers from another galaxy who were looking at the Milky Way. That got me thinking: are there large nebulae in other galaxies that we can see, as ‘standout’ features? The biggest picture I’ve ever seen of another galaxy was Andromeda, and I looked for an equivalent of M42 in M31, but I didn’t spot much. Are there any well known examples of large beautiful nebulas in other galaxies?

    And he replied:

    Actually, yes. Look online for image of the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is lousy with nebulae. Also NGC 604 in the Triangulum Galaxy. One of my favorites!

    So let’s look at those things he recommended! We’ll start with NCG 604.  Since this one is actually located inside of a distant galaxy, I think it qualifies best as what I was originally thinking of.  First off, check out this sweet 25 hour “amateur” capture of the whole Triangulum Galaxy:

    If you didn’t spot NGC 604 already, it’s the large pinkish area straight below the two large yellow stars at the top of the picture.  The appearance of NGC 604 seems to vary a lot depending on what wavelengths you look at.  This one from Hubble is my favorite:

    I did a little reading based off Phil’s suggestions and found out that all the Nebulae I’ve been digging are called H II regions, for those who are ‘in the know’. As you might guess, this name refers to a concentration of ionized hydrogen gas, H2. Get the full lowdown on wikipedia, it’s a good read.  But back to the gawking.  Checking out the Large Magellanic Cloud, the biggest standout Nebula is the Tarantula, which is actually the most active starburst region in our local group of galaxies. Accordingly, it’s mondo-luminous. If the Tarantula Nebula were as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula, it would shine as bright as the full moon in the night sky. Think about that! It would cast shadows; you could possibly read by that light at night. Jeez.

    Also really sweet in the LMC is LH 95, another incredible-looking nebula where stars are being born.

    Just for a little perspective, here are some distances:
    Large Magellanic Cloud: 160 thousand light years (w/ Tarantula Nebula NGC 2070)
    Andromeda Galaxy (M31): 2.6 million light years
    Triangulum Galaxy (M33): 3 million light years (w/ NGC 604)

    Far out, maaaan. It’s cool to check out those starburst regions as parts of other galaxies. A brief blurb from wikipedia worth repeating:

    From a viewpoint in the LMC, the Milky Way would be a spectacular sight. The galaxy’s total apparent magnitude would be -2.0—over 14 times brighter than the LMC appears to us on Earth—and it would span about 36° across the sky, which is the width of over 70 full moons. Furthermore, because of the LMC’s high galactic latitude, an observer there would get an oblique view of the entire galaxy, free from the interference of interstellar dust which makes studying in the Milky Way’s plane difficult from Earth. The Small Magellanic Cloud would be about magnitude 0.6, substantially brighter than the LMC appears to us.

    One more to leave you with, N90, in the Small Magellanic Cloud:

    If you dig this, then check out what else awaits under the cosmology tag.

    Megapixels have officially jumped the shark


    2012 - 03.01

    Okay, there’s a few interesting new bits of technology in the news that I’d like to riff on. The brand new Nokia 808 PureView, the Nikon D800, and the Canon C300. People love to focus on numbers, stats, specifications. Especially in the world of cameras, how things look ‘on paper’ is important. For many years, megapixels were kind of the end-all-be-all number that told you how good a camera was. Those days are over. In fact, they’ve been over for several years now but that won’t stop people from beating a dead horse.

    Observe:

    Nikon’s new flagship DSLR is the D800 and it’s got a whopping 36 megapixels (that makes a dastardly 7360×4912 image). This guy gets a free pass because okay, maybe some professionals are using it to shoot images which might be printed onto billboards or something. But this new Nokia 808 PureView phone (seriously, a PHONE!) has… are you ready for this? 41 megapixels. That’s just absurd. And yeah, in the end, that number is nothing more than a headline-grabber, marketing mumbo-jumbo garbage, as the final image max size which gets saved is… 8MP. Hah. But my point here is that dudes, we need a new number to focus on. Megapixels are the new gigahertz (as in computer CPUs)… they are a distraction from what’s actually relevant.

    The Canon C300 sprints boldly in the opposite direction. To be clear, the “C” stands for “Cinema” and this camera costs 16 large. However, its max still image megapixel count is a modest 8MP. And video maxes out with 1080p at 24fps (not counting interlaced modes, because f–k interlacing). However… It’s a light-eating monster. Canon should have some standardized number they could point to, which compares it to other cameras and shows how much drastically better the C300 is, in terms of real-world shooting.  Like a light sensitivity index or something.  Maybe the square micron area of the individual pixel size?

     As an aside, check out this video below, in which they compare footage from the C300 versus the Canon 550D, aka the Rebel T3i, which happens to be the camera I own!  For a camera that costs $500ish stacked up against something that costs 32 times that amount, I think the scrappy little Rebel holds up well!

    When it comes to lenses, aperture is an excellent number to compare lenses by. But try to explain what aperture actually means to someone who isn’t intimately familiar with photography: F-number, it’s the ratio of the pupil diameter of the lens (which is proportional but NOT equal to the aperture diameter) divided by the effective focal length, which is the distance from the optical center of your lens to the film plane. That distance changes as you zoom, and so does the physical size of the aperture even when set to the same f-number. The aperture diameter at 50mm f/8 is actually not the same at 100mm f/8. Oh, and it matters where the aperture is inside of your lens too. Confused yet? Good! But you can look through say, the Canon lens lineup, and instantly tell which lenses are better ones, simply by saying hey this f/2.8 lens is a lot nicer than that f/4.5 one. (I know for the heady-est of heads, that isn’t WHAT makes a lens great or sharp, but painting with a broad brush, the statement “bigger aperture=better lens” generally holds true, in the same sense that bigger magnets generally equal better loudspeakers. A giant magnet isn’t the end-all be-all of WHY a speaker is good, but hey, you don’t slap a mammoth, expensive magnet on an otherwise crap speaker.)

    What I’m saying is that we already have a standardized number, the f-stop, which rolls in a lot of really hard to discuss ideas into a nice, neat two-digit quantification. We should have something like that for light sensitivity.

    And also, it kinda seems like we’ve hit a wall with 1080p/30fps video. Why are more cameras not featuring 1080p/60fps? That sure would be nice. And for that matter, why do we not have modes like 720p/120fps? If resolutions aren’t increasing anymore (and they won’t for a long time to come because you can’t buy a consumer-grade LCD with high enough resolution to actually display anything much higher than that!), then why aren’t our framerates skyrocketing? Everyone loves slo-mo, right? I have a prediction to make: we’re going to see high-speed video modes on a friggin phone before any (consumer) interchangable lens camera gets it. It’s so backwards, but that seems to be how the industry works.

    Yet more super sweet search terms


    2012 - 02.27

    As written about previously, I enjoy checking the search terms to see what brings people to my site. A few months back google started encrypting their searches for people who are logged in (aka any who uses gmail). This had the highly annoying side effect of giving me a huge number of “encrypted_search_terms” results on my blog dashboard. LAME!! I finally got around to creating a google webmaster account and checked out what people have been searching for. Here’s an awesome and amusing list of why you’d come to Microcosmologist:

    What Would Carl Sagan Do?
    cosmic wonderment
    old tape recorders with dust
    psychedelic pony
    alien obstacles for horses
    desk fan with blue propellor
    Leonardo Da Vinci interstella traveler
    looks like we got a badass over here (w/ MANY variations… my fav is “juicy badass”)
    dropout bear
    deep 360 waves
    planets blowing up
    not cool man
    find cat in junk pile
    the sleep of reason brings forth monsters
    biggest steak in the world
    why stop now remix
    if you have blue eyes what does it mean
    caught in the hustle
    moon butt
    i love dreaming
    just kick it
    types of jamming
    pizza flute
    the eh team
    inspire me
    i’m a shark
    hell of a good dip
    when i get sad i stop being sad and be awesome instead
    surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher
    all i wanna see is a sky full of lighters

     And so just like last time, you ask for something obscure and I deliver:

     

    Also, my overall #2 top search term: Handlebar Mustache. For serious. Really, guys?!?
          also, with the bonus variations:
    sexy handlebar mustache
    sophisticated facial hair
    moustache fashion
    this mustache had its own mustache
    where did the mustache craze come from?

    Step One: Build Epic Space Telescope. Step Two: ??? Step Three: PROFIT!


    2012 - 02.17

    There’s been a lot of talk lately about the budget cuts facing NASA, and indeed they are deep, and correspondingly tragic. I’m sure the space crowd around here is already well versed, so we’ll skip the rehash.

    But I do want to remind us all that there are ultra-sweet projects nearing fruition: budget cuts can’t stop Curiousity, which is well on its way to the red planet. The biggest, baddest rover that ever was! That thing is going to get new high scores, starting in August.

    And, despite gobbling up all the money that could have been used for myriad enticing small projects, the James Webb Space Telescope will be built and launched. One could make a very strong case that this was the wrong decision, in light of the opportunity costs in scrapped missions the Webb consumed, but I say hey, what recent space project has done more to raise public interest in astronomy than Hubble? I mean, I’d put Hubble at #2 behind the Apollo missions in terms of ability to get people fired up and fascinated with the sky. Having a brand new, next generation eye up in space is going to create better images than ever before. Pretty pictures are important, to capture the imaginations of new generations.

    In the end, it is sad that our national priorities are what they are–jeez, on MANY levels! As the SETI infographic highlighted, there is a massive disconnect between planning for an inevitable future (ie space exploration/research) versus how our money/resources get burned away at the altar of short-term profit (war profiteerism/exploitation of natural resources with disregard to the planet/etc)

    Out of everything I’ve done on this website, that infographic brought way more people through the door than everything else combined. Even almost a year later there is a steady trickle of visitors every single day who come here to look at that. What does that say? I’d venture it says there’s a large group of people out there who agree that our destiny, as an evolving lifeform, lies beyond the shore of the cosmic ocean, here on Earth. And by extension, it means that our survival depends on knowing the Universe. How well can we explore it, exploit its treasures and avoid its dangers? The answer to our ultimate fate lies in how much effort we are willing to devote into these things.

    What would it take to shift our societal priorities away from petty conflicts and toward the next horizon? There’s no way of saying. But Curiosity and James Webb are two powerful steps toward raising public awareness that hey, there is this giant thing called the Cosmos; it’s all around us and inconcievably more vast, richer, and filled with more splendor than Earth alone could ever hold. Seriously. We should go check that out. We should be part of that. To the people already abundantly aware of it, it’s easy to feel like maaaan, why aren’t we doing this already? Why did we cancel Apollo? Why haven’t we set foot on Mars yet? Why does our brain power go to work on Wall Street, instead of at JPL? Don’t they understand that we have places to GO?

    I definitely feel that myself. But I also remind myself that it’s still less than one century since the theory of “island universes” became an accepted idea. It takes time to build concensus. It took eons for life to evolve from the sea to the land, and it will take perhaps a long time for humankind’s larger consciousness to grasp what the revelations of the last century in astronomy actually means for us all. I have to admit, I feel it does say something dark and disturbing about our society that we should develop fusion bombs well before fusion powerplants. But I keep hope that as James Webb lifts the veil from the great cosmic metropolis stretching to infinity in all directions, and as Curiousity digs to find martian secrets in our veritable backyard, it will open more eyes.

    Open more eyes to the unavoidable truth that the Universe is beyond our vocabulary for Ancient, Boundless, and Beautiful. It has existed for longer than the word Epochs can articulate and it will continue unaffected when we are gone. An extension of our word for “nature,” the cosmos is equally stuffed to the brim with magnificence as it is with impartiality toward the folly of its minor tenants. The sooner we awaken to our own frailty and societally grok the rarity, the sacredness of life, the better our chances to gain that lucky opportunity to be part of this cosmos, to savor it and chronicle it.

    To me, that’s the truth that Webb will awaken in more people. Curiosity is the other prong; doing. Being able to know what’s out there and prepare to go ourselves. That’s the part where the “homo” genus get to, you know, not become extict someday. But in order to get there, we need to prioritize it. We need the vision to see. Fortunately we’re going to get the most powerful set of eyeglasses yet, launching around 2018………