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    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………

    Angering The Fan Gods?


    2012 - 01.31

    Every once and a while some older post will suddenly get a lot of clicks for no apparent reason. Once and I while I can trace this to search terms or referrers, which I find interesting just for the sake of learning how and/or why people walk through the door around here. Today I noticed that the top viewed post for the last 7 days is this one, talking about obsessive-compulsive fan collecting from last spring. I checked out the referrers list and found out that someone on a fan-collecting forum had linked to the post and brought a lot of their friends through the door. To that I say:

    Welcome, esteemed connoisseurs of fine blades and stylized means of airflow generation!

    I am down with the fan collectors.

    What’s definitely making me laugh though, is the fact that the guy who posted the link is mocking me, saying essentially that I’m an idiot for thinking that plastic fans are cool, and that metal fans are where it’s at. Oh the embarrassment! I had no idea that real fan collectors have to make the jump up to metal! This whole time I’ve been nothing but a poser!  Gasp!! I guess you ain’t hardcore unless you rock the METAL.

    \nn/ \nn/   WEEEEWWWW!!!!! (that’s me doing air guitar)

    Okay, any of you metal fan fiends, I wanna see some example pictures in the comments, because I’m just not convinced that it’s all about the metal. What if you dig like 60′s or 70′s design, are there sweet metal fans like that? You come to my website for ‘ignorance at its finest’ and the cup overfloweth.

    Actually, I think it’s pretty awesome that someone is getting bent out of shape over what I thought looked cool. I mean, that’s part of the nature of design–what looks hip to one person will inevitably seem passé to another. I’m imagning this guy in his secret lair of glimmering display cases filled with ALL METAL fans, at the moment that his google searching brought him to my blog and erupting in a righteous fury of indignance “Oh my god dude, oh my god. You totally have no clue what you’re talking about here, oh my god. Good fans are METAL fans?! Hello? Everyone knows that, I mean, oh my god, everyone knows that!! Duh duh duh duh duhduhhh! Oh my god, clear my afternoon I need to rant about this right. now.”

    Oh my god.

    I guess this solidifies my cred as a wannabe, armchair fan collector, never to join the ranks of the hip’n'with-it Collectors with a capital C. I think I can live with that. Speaking of air guitar, I recently watched a very over-the-top documentary about the World Air Guitar Championships (yes, this is really a thing) which sort of reinforced the idea that with esoteric, niche hobbies there’s a fine line between kickass and laughably ridiculous. I’m content to sit on the sidelines and watch other people walk that tightrope.

    I’m also content to continue basking in my ignorance (okay that deserves it’s own tag on the blog from now on) when it comes to plastic versus metal. There was a salient comment on the original post when it comes to ‘hoarders with more money than brains’ in the hobby of fan collecting… oh man that comment applies SO DAMN HARD when it comes to model trains as well. Probably applies to telescopes and amateur astronomy too. Sweaty-keyboard-elitists aside (every hobby’s got em!) the model railroaders I have met, and the amateur astronomers I have met, have been by and large a swell group of people whom I greatly enjoyed chatting with. I’m sure fan collectors are swell people too.

    Do they have like meet ups for this kind of thing? Or conventions? Is this the first step on my way to an eventual 12-step recovery program for metal fan addiction? Tune in next time to find out! This is JB on the fans tag, signing out for now.

    The Perfect Camera is the One You Have With You


    2012 - 01.15

    For a long time now, smartphone cameras have been eating up the camera market for pocketable cameras. It’s easy to see why; smartphone cameras are ‘good enough’ for most people, and why carry around a possibly redundant second thing in your pocket? This week in gadget nerd news, I see that Polaroid will soon be introducing an android-powered camera. This is flirting with a dream object of mine: the awesome compact camera that so happens to have a phone built into it.

    For a long time now we’ve seen thousands of high-quality smartphones… that happen to have a decent camera on them. But there still does not yet exist a high-quality camera… that also happens to have a decent smartphone in it! It’s so obvious. Why has no one does this? For serious guys. It’s a photo nuts dream machine. Slam. Dunk.

    There’s even companies who already make excellent smartphones AND excellent cameras, like Samsung or Sony. Man. How hard can it be to combine these things? Apparently, impossible.

    There have been a few halfhearted attempts, like the Samsung sch-w880 (Asia only, and not Android), or the Panasonic Lumix Phone 101P (shown above) which is Japan only, but it IS Android. That lumix comes the closest to what I’m wishing for. You could probably import one, for like a thousand dollars. That’s so sad. This new Polaroid SC1630 is actually nothing more than a rebrand of a phone that’s been on the market in Asia for a long time now, called the Altek Leo. I was kind of excited by the Polaroid phone until I figured that out.

    While all these phones are interesting, I would still posit that none of them are doing it RIGHT. All of them are still trying to compete with phones on slimness and not offering the features that would make the photo geeks salivate. By that I mean no product exists that offers a serious high quality lens with a phone… in a fat body which barely fits in a tight jeans pocket, one that is brazenly and unapologetically a still a camera first and foremost.

    And so, just for fun, I’ve decided to make a fake advertisement for cameraphone of my dreams that would cater to the hardcore photo niche. If you know what “Av” stands for, and have level 10 Photoshop skillz, this is for you. Since Kodak has been in the news lately for their almost-bankruptcy, I’m imagining it as a comeback product for them: a sexy vintage rangefinder that could steal people away from the Fuji x100 AND the ‘Droid-of-the-week in one fell swoop!  And one that relied heavily on advanced knowledge of what made film so beautiful.  (If this website is slow, the same file is also hosted at Flickr here)

    Maybe I’ll clarify a couple things: I envision the camera and the Android section as essentially independent entities. They both use the same SD card, and they both use the same Android set of buttons, but with different functions depending on the position of the camera/android switch. Also observe that there is an AUTO setting on the ISO dial… this means you could set it to Av, pick your aperture, and have the camera autoselect your shutter speed AND your ISO. That would be super duper nice, to help avoid camera shake. When distracted, I get caught by slow shutter speeds in Av mode all the time, it happens easily.

    A few final thoughts: the body isn’t exactly what I wish it could be, as I was limited by my ability to find a rangefinder camera that had high resolution photos taken of it from the front, top, and back. Given the boring backsides of many film cameras, finding the back image was surprisingly tough. It would definitely be two-tone though. No question there. Another limitation was my own Photoshop ability and how much time I wanted to invest getting an idea across. If I were sketching this thing from scratch, I would’ve probably laid out the controls slightly different, but this conveys all the features I wanted, maybe just not in the exact right positions. I thought a edited photo would be a lot more enticing than a sketch though, so I went that route.

    For anyone who’s curious, what’s here is a touched up version of a Zorki-4, an old Soviet rangefinder. I also used the spun dials from my old Marantz amp, a photo of the screen on my Droid X, and the camera/play switch from my old Canon A60 (that switch always felt so sure and right under my finger, with a satisfying click into each position). There’s a few things that did get left out; I would’ve liked to add a neat looking lens cap that tethered to the body with a small cord to stop it from getting lost. Also I would’ve liked to mock up pictures of the accessories, but it would’ve taken a lot of time. It’s hard to translate something in your mind to something visual.

    Last thing I’ll add is that it’s sort of wild that Kodak is even in the position it is… I learned on Wikipedia that in 1976 Kodak had a 90% market share of photographic film sales in the United States.  That’s a lot.  Maybe they should draw on that colossal expertise and build a camera like this one, instead of inkjet printers and digital picture frames.  It’d be cool to see them turn it around and make incredible gear.

    Kepler Space Telescope still bursting our conception of the universe at its seams


    2011 - 12.27

     As Microcosmologist turns one, today is Johannes Kepler’s 440th Birthday. Happy 440th, ya old coot!

    This week I saw a headline at Ars Technica (one of my favorite sites to read): “This week in Exoplanets” which added the subtitle “with a side dose of the rest of science”. I had to laugh at this.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and venture that my readership is already well informed about the latest findings (go ahead and peruse the above link if not) so I’ll skip out on rehashing these latest news bytes. Indeed, one could run a whole blog solely devoted to chronicling the Kepler team’s findings.

    What fascinates and delights me at this moment is standing back and observing the fact that this project is completely dominating the headlines. To the point where other very interesting scientific discoveries are taking a backseat to Kepler. It underscores the universal desire to know this cosmos around us. And the yearning to answer that nagging question ‘are we alone?’ (spoiler alert: we’re certainly not!) It’s a natural question to ask. But it’s an exceptional group of people who begin the undertaking to concretely find it and prove life exists, which is what we’re all talking about here.

    So Kepler has found Earth-sized exoplanets, and exoplanets within the habitable zone of their star. It’s simply a matter of time before a world is located satisfying both of these criteria. As much as Kepler has grabbed the headlines, the project is still in the ‘warm-up’ phase, in the sense that if they need 3 transits to verify a planet, and the mission launched in 2009, next year will be the year in which they could start verifying planets with the exact size and position of Earth, orbiting around other stars. The best is yet to come!

    I firmly believe they will find their Earth-twin. Probably tens or even hundreds of them. To me, this is a foregone conclusion, but one that will nevertheless be monumental when it’s announced. It’s a major stepping stone on the path to finding more life as-we-know-it. When I think about the cosmos, think about its vastness, it occurs to me that if there is a non-zero probability of life arising (and here we are), then in a universe as inconceivably expansive as ours, life MUST abound. It simply must. The realist in me doubts that I will live to see its existence scientifically verified, but as a nerd-type I deeply envy/revere the people who are conducting this search. Going a step further, as a human being, a self-aware consciousness, I know it is in our nature and our very destiny to seek connection with whomever else shares this universe with us. It is a quest upon which we are compelled to embark.

    One thought that keeps reoccurring to me as the Kepler data gets dissected, is that our search is so ‘geocentric’. That is to say a lot of the analysis I read is focused purely upon the assumption that life can only arise on a goldilocks planet with Earth mass, Earth gravity, Earth atmosphere, and Earth chemistry. That’s a sensible and proper extension of the scientific though-process: we go with what we know. One thing I am very hopeful to see in my lifetime is the shattering of this geocentric view on life. Maybe even as early as this time next year when the Mars über-rover curiosity touches down on the red planet and kicks off its search for life there.

    We humans think of ourselves as impossibly complex organisms, but really we are nothing more than collections of microbes that have had long time scales to build up into spiffy configurations. If we find microbes in the soil of Mars, or deep underground in Martian caves or aquifers, or somewhere beneath the icy surfaces of Europa’s oceans, then it follows that given adequate timescales, these microbes can build up their own spiffy configurations in the form of Europa-pean super-intelligent dolphins or whales, or fox-like Martian creatures that exist in complex networks of subterranean caves. Consider the fact that the number of microbes which live inside your digestive tract is greater than the number of humans ever born. Intricate organisms grows from microbes, and the more extremeophiles that pop up, the wider the playing field grows.

    Daydreaming of what must be out there, I imagine there must be species which exist in far heavier gravities than a human could withstand, species that dine on arsenic-seasoned dishes, and organisms that swim through seas of radiation which would kill us almost instantly. When asked whether he looked forward to the first contact with an alien lifeform, Stephen Hawking expressed his belief that the encounter would likely parallel the meeting of Christopher Columbus and the American Indians. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more formidable intellect than Stephan, but the alien Christopher Columbus parable only holds true if Earth had some uncommon resource or a hospitable environment. Perhaps it does; oxygen atmospheres and vast oceans of liquid water. But look at our own search: singlemindedly seeking Earth-twins. Aliens from a gas giant would be singlemindedly searching for a planet like our Jupiter. How common would it be, for other intelligences to arise whose environmental requirements are incompatible with our own? And perhaps a more fascinating question: what would we learn by communicating with them? Even if we could never physically meet in person, what would their cultures have created? What truths would they see in the universe we share?

    Among the awe-inspiring discoveries ongoing in our lifetimes, the chronicling and cataloging of exoplanets is right up there at the top. The other prong of this search is the expansion of our science’s boundaries on where life can exist. That includes extremeophiles living in volcanos and deep sea trenches here on earth, as well as the planetary science missions underway and forthcoming. Both of these are metaphorical digging in our own backyard that will change the way we look at what we see through the mirrors of our greatest telescopes. As Kepler blows up the newspaper headlines, my mind floats out to the Curiosity rover, traveling fast and silent through the coldness of space, racing towards a higher plateau in our search to find the next door neighbors beyond the thin blue shell of Earth’s skies…

    One Year In Microcosmology: A Retrospective


    2011 - 12.22

    Happy first birthday to Microcosmologist! Since the very first post was on December 1st 2010, I guess we’ve been one for a while now.

    It’s been an interesting project on many levels. It’s also amusing to look back on the sketching and drafting I did, originally brainstorming on what I wanted the website to be, before I had even put anything up. All in all, I feel what’s here now is a solid actualization of what I had envisioned a year back. Maybe some of the more ambitious ideas never became reality; I never created my own custom mp3 player for the navigation bar, I never figured out a way to get past ‘frames’ and still have that navigation bar, and I haven’t made it quite the dizzying maze of self-referential links I’d wanted–but overall, the majority of the bullet points were crossed off the list.

    A lot of the ideas which never made it into reality were the ones that simply would’ve taken a lot of effort for not much real return. It would’ve been cool to have some fancy splash screen as an intro to the site… which any regular visitors would watch once and then bypass every time afterward. It would’ve been really neat to host my own photo gallery onsite, and animate it to look like a slide projector… but flickr makes it so easy to organize and share large images; not to mention the fact that it won’t crash when 40,000 people come to see your infographic all on the same day! I guess that underscores the need to wisely allocate your time. It doesn’t make sense to invest huge amounts of effort into something that won’t add all that much to the end user experience.

    The biggest highlights of building this site have most definitely been who it’s put me in touch with. Talking to Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute was coolness that crossed over into surrealness. Mister Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog was a peach to chat with. I also traded emails with Simon Allen the drummer in my favorite band, The New Mastersounds, and got to chat it up with guitar wizard Eric Krasno on the phone for a half hour. All these were supreme pleasures. I wonder what 2012 will hold!?

    Are you sure you’re sure there’s nothing to an amp?


    2011 - 12.12

    Finding out you’ve been wrong about a long-held assumption is both a triumph and a defeat in the same breath. On one hand it’s awesome learning something and then moving forward with newly discovered truth; on the other hand, oh the wasted years!

    Maybe that’s a tad overdramatic for this particular instance, but I did learn an important lesson this week: amps matter! Being a loudspeaker-building hobbyist, I’ve long been of the opinion that if you’re getting a stereo, you should spend like 90% of your money on the speakers and then just get whatever crappy amp and CD player you find for the cheapest price possible, within reason. I mean, my living room stereo with my large main speakers have been powered by an Aiwa receiver for over a decade now, and it sounds extremely, extremely good. I spent somewhere around $1500 building those speakers and I power them with an amp that costed maybe $150, tops? And the resultant sound quality is, to my ears, better than any speaker system I’ve ever heard in any showroom, anywhere… with the exception of the DALI Helicon 800 which I heard at Decibel Audio in Chicago. Those were mind-blowing speakers. I forget how much those retailed for, but it was well over 5k. And hey, Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries (DALI)? The danes know their speakers. If I have to lose out to someone, it’d be them, for sure. But I digress…

    For the last several months, I’ve had the speakers I built for my brother hooked up to an Onkyo TX-8210 reciever. I figured hey Onkyo is a Japanese brand, reputable name, should be a solid unit, fidelity-wise. When I finally got the speakers finished and started doing my critical listening, I was very happy with the treble, but disappointed in the bass. It sounded a bit bloated, boomy. Certain basslines would have notes that were noticably louder than the rest of the bassline. That should never happen. Some songs which happened to be rooted on those notes were almost unlistenable. I double checked my enclosure math, tried messing with the port length, added more stuffing inside the enclosure. Still boomy. I checked the driver response curves and scratched my head–these drivers both have very flat curves, with the exception of a slight dip at 2.5kHz (the crossover point). Man, did I mess up the enclosure somehow?? It should not be sounding like this. I kinda felt let down, like I was disappointed in my own skills. Maybe I’m not as good at this as I thought.

    Fast forward to last week, when I spotted this puppy on Craigslist for $80–a Marantz PM 750 DC integrated amp from circa 1982 with 80W per channel into 8Ω. Score!

    I’ve always really dug the looks of vintage Marantz gear, with that slightly-gold-tinged silver finish, and the fancy looking typography. It just looks quality, substantial, solidly built, you know? So I jumped at the chance to join the owners club for cheap. This baby was rescued from a junk pile, so it has a few scratches and dings, but so far it seems to be working as it should. All the LEDs light up and all knobs, sliders, and inputs seem functional. There is plenty of crackling when I hit the EQ switches, but hopefully some deoxit on its way in the mail will clear that up. I see on this guy’s page that none of those potentiometers are sealed against dust, so it figures that they’ll be crackly (update: DeoxIT worked wonders, even restoring the right channel which had gotten mighty cracklin). I may also follow his footsteps and swap out the caps in there too as they do wear out with age. This baby’s at least 25 years old. He also notes that maybe ’82 was a little past the golden years for Marantz, but stilllllllll:

    This unit has made a tremendous difference in the sound. As in, major, immediately noticable difference. All the boominess is gone and the treble seems even clearer yet. Those Scan-Speak tweeters sounded awesome before–they are spellbinding now. I’ve been kinda glued to this stereo in the evenings this last week, going back through my playlists, re-listening to favorite tracks, and evaluating the bass on ones that I remember were previously problematic. I’m sort of shocked by the fact that everything now sounds perfect. No more weird notes popping out in the basslines anymore. I had no idea an amp could cause weird EQ issues like that! For what it’s worth, I ran it with any EQ functionality on the Onkyo disabled, and anyway a bass EQ should not cause single-note resonances like that. So STRANGE!! I’m still kind of scratching my head, thinking WTF, that was the AMP causing this, that whole time?! And an Onkyo amp at that?

    So I’ve reached three conclusions:

    1. This Marantz unit rocks. It’s clear. Clean. Detailed. And all of those things at authoritive volume levels. Two nights this week as I laid down to go to sleep I noticed that my ears were ringing! That’s a definite indicator of a quality stereo: one that you keep turning up the volume because it just sounds so good!–until you’ve turned up the volume well beyond a reasonable level and you don’t even realize it because the sound quality remains solid. I definitely fell head first into that trap with the Marantz. Searching around the internet I see plenty of people scoffing at this amp saying that it’s not as good as Marantz’s older stuff.  That may be true, but it’s a giant step up from that Onkyo, and to my ears it sounds excellent.  I’m really impressed with the detail on Telefon Tel Aviv’s “TTV” from Fahrenheit Fair Enough (a reference listening electronic track, to be sure): I had the intro, filled with quiet sonic subtleties, cranked up VERY loud. Unreasonably loud. And when the beat drops, I had my hand resting on the volume control, expecting to need to turn it way down. I didn’t have to. Because:

    2. My bro’s speakers are like 5-10X more badass than I even knew they were. The TTV bassline and kick drum came in at seriously thumping volume, tight and clear, with no distortion or buzzing. That means that those Silver Swan woofers can pump out the volume, and without the bloated notes I was getting from the Onkyo. Oh man. It’s a combination of relief and delight. Turns out I didn’t screw up the design afterall, and not only that, the finished product ended up sounding superlative. These babies can’t top my living room system, but they can nip at its heels. WOW. And as mentioned previously, the Scan-Speak tweeters now sound even richer, more full of detail.  Cymbals sound more present, acoustic guitars seem richer.

    3. I’m suddenly beginning to seriously question if my Aiwa receiver in the living room shouldn’t be replaced. It’s sounded excellent for many years now, but the lion’s share of the credit (and then some) goes to the speakers. I now have an itching curiousity to know what my full-size units would sound like with a better amp supplying the juice. Maybe this weekend I will hook up the Marantz and do some listening.

    Happy 77th to the poet of Science


    2011 - 11.09

    It’s Carl Sagan’s birthday today, November 9th. He’d have been 77. Today is a day to rejoice in the legacy he left behind, and maybe to lament his absence just a little too. Like so many other people he’s affected, I have a profound admiration for Carl. It’s hard to pin it down to one reason why, or even a small handful of reasons.

    Today in the news I read that the amusingly-named Russian “Phobos-Grunt” probe (ok, grunt is the Russian word for “dirt”) has apparently stalled in Earth orbit after launch. The probe was supposed to travel to Mars’ Phobos moon and return to Earth with samples of the soil. Roscosmos has a downright dismal failure rate of attempting to send probes to Mars. To the tune of 19 missions with partial sucess at best but mostly outright failures. The record was so lousy that they gave up for the last 15 years. So it’s some combination of ironic and sad that this one should fail too. The engineers still have a chance to get things back on track. We’ll see. But something that sort of sticks out in my mind is that while Russia is the traditional US rival, really we all lose when any attempt at space exploration fails. I think Carl was a big pusher of that kind of thinking. The idea that exploring space is all about expanding the boundaries of human civilization as a whole, about the survival of our species, and about the next leap in our evolution–from sea creatures, to land dwellers, to explorers of other worlds. From that point of view, to think of humanity as a contest of nations seems petty, narrow-minded, backwards. Feudal.

    Another sweet piece of news this week was that the team at JPL has instructed the Voyager 2 probe to switch over to secondary thrusters. The spacecraft radioed back that it had done so successfully. It’s 9 billion miles away and it took 4 days for the command-acknowledgement signal round trip. That’s amazing. The Voyagers have been rocking for 34 years now, older than I am, and still running. What a triumph for all those who worked on the probes; and also for every human. We have probes that have almost made it to interstellar space. Seriously, that’s a milestone for a lifeform. And they both carry a hello message from Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. It’s perfect.

    Maybe if I wasn’t preoccupied with many other things this evening I’d try to make an apple pie from scratch as a tribute. Tonight I need to start packing for Bear Creek music fest, but there will probably be time to sneak in an episode of Cosmos and enjoy some time with Carl, one of the best humans of our times.

    If killing Courier was the right thing to do, then why are we all still talking about a non-existent device one year after the project was cancelled?


    2011 - 11.03

    This week CNET published a fascinating two part article on the death of the infamous Microsoft Courier project, which I had rapped about on here previously. It was a maddening walk down memory lane to read; the story of how a categorically innovative product was sacrificed on the altar of “platform synergy” or whatever corporate doublespeak you want to call it.

    The intriguing insider tale of exactly how it all went down reads a little bit like the Empire Strikes Back, with an ending that sees the team you rooted for in defeat and their forces scattered to the wind with their home base destroyed. Peppered around CNET’s analysis and echoed by Ars Technica (among many places I’m sure) are references to the device being “consumer-focused”. I have a beef with this term; it should be “creator-focused”.

    Someone like me, who curates a website, likes to photograph, and is perpetually jotting down ideas, would truly stand to benefit, perhaps dramatically, from the use of a “digital moleskin” like the Courier intended to be. Ars Technica could not be more wrong when they said that killing the Courier was the right move made for the wrong reasons; it was the wrong move made for Microsoft’s own “right” reasons–maybe preserving a product lineup that operates in lockstep with MS Enterprise 2015 is the right decision to keep your users corralled into your tiny little pen, but squashing this hardware that creative types could use for a whole new digital workflow: that’s a defeat for the everyman, no two ways about it.

    It’s not about the device; it’s about what people will do with it. Apple didn’t create Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, nor did they create Filtatron, the Moog synthesizer app; two of the coolest things to do on the iPad. They set up a platform for people to do neat things, and then creative types figured out how to use it, and turned it into the awesomeness that it is now (and wasn’t on day one). In a smiliar way, you can’t foresee the fresh ideas that would have been inevitably spawned on the Courier. If iPad is meant for consumption and Courier was meant for creation, these devices would have been complimentary… everyone loses in its absence. I would probably be using a Courier to collect, organize, and publish content on this blog right now if it existed. That’s just one narrow, specific example.

    The sad part is that only a company like Microsoft, with huge amounts of resources in software and hardware design, could actually manufacture a compact device that combined slick interface design, multi-touch/gesture input, pressure-sensitive stylus input, handwriting recognition, integration with cloud content hosting, seamless web publishing and so forth. I don’t see anyone else making something that offers up the “whole package” like that. Maybe it’ll be another 10 years before someone manages to work up to that level. Maybe one company will never do it, but it will only be possible with a hodgepodge of various services and some DIY know-how.

    In any event, Courier was a tantalizing glimpse into the future by some very forward-thinking people. A vision too far ahead of it’s time–a byproduct of a company with the creative brainpower to shatter the boundaries of what portable electronics could do, but too straightjacketed by legacy products and enterprise strategery to see the real-world potential of what Courier was.

    But whatever. I’ll step off the soapbox. Microsoft will be Microsoft I guess. It’s unrealistic to expect something miraculous from them.

    Finding The Meaning: Why Are We All Here?


    2011 - 09.20

    aka Awesome Search Terms That Crack Me UP.

    I check the stats pretty regularly on this blog and one thing that is an eternal source of fascination and amusement are the search terms that bring people around. If a website is a wide open door, it’s pretty neat to listen in on the reasons why new people came through it. I’ll divide the terms into two groups, with a few comments inserted here and there.

    group one

    “Kindred Spirits”:
    mind blowing things to think about
    vastness of the universe
    infinity written out -just as futile as trying to write out a googolplex?
    girls brain waves voyager -We all know who this is referring to!
    how small we are compared to other things
    van gogh yourself -I want to do this too!
    be-positive-spelled-out-in-colorful-refrigerator-magnets -this one made me smile. And sort of bummed out a little bit that I don’t have the right picture to reward whomever came through trying to find this. Tell you what, let’s fix that right now:

    and group two

    “You Came Here Looking For WHAT?”:
    selective choices among low-brow tastes -AWESOME. I wanna be like the bargain basement headquarters for this!  Matter of fact, new tag, starting now.
    changing dimensions green man -green man? Like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia “green man”?
    99% of snapple facts are fake -I hope you’re right
    “space porn” -ok I get that.
    disco speaker building
    fuji obey -a testament to the seductive power of the X100?
    message in a bottle in the sewer -I was with you until that last part
    oinking a goomba -I really do AND DON’T want to know what this means. Maybe I should not be encouraging people looking for this to come here.
    like raspberries but thinner and longer -You ate what?
    james brown seti -what a mashup! HAH!
    why not to scream around cicadas -WTF, seriously.
    what is this

    This second group has made me laugh out loud on several occasions, while the first makes me smile in a different way.  Keep on comin’ you kooky kids!  I check the results every day and it always raises an eyebrow.  Love it!

     

    I’ve Become A Twit


    2011 - 09.01

    So I broke down and joined the party; there is now an official microcosmologist twitter feed.  Chiefly I plan to use to to see if it can promote the bloggin on this site.  We’ll see if it’s fruitful or not.  There’s a whole ton of people on twitter; maybe I can lure some unsuspecting blue birds over here.