Sunday, 19 June 2022


crisis on terra prime: US president Biden invokes emergency powers to boost solar energy production

midsommar: ten ways to celebrate the June Solstice—via Strange Company  

madagascator projection: another look at mapping and bias—see previously  

unai no tomo: an early twentieth century catalogue of Japanese toys  

imago and eclosion: good pictures of a newly emerged swallowtail  

controlled burn: astronauts have lit thousands of little fires in microgravity to understand its strange behaviour  

you spin right round, baby, right round: the only way to play Weezer’s new singles is to become one’s own turn table—via Waxy  

perovskites: research into making cheap but brittle photovoltaic technology sturdier to rival modern solar cells

Wednesday, 18 May 2022


conservation of momentum: a Newton’s Cradle performs Psy’s K-Pop classic  

the tweter: a sweater for two  

the elephant: an Ames inspired trainer—see previously  

trust-fall: a collection of Italian ex-votos (previously) depicting divine intervention during a stumble 

the bond bug: a three-wheeled two-seater produced by Reliant Motor Company—via Pasa Bon!  

amphorae: Ukrainian soldiers digging trenches outside of Odesa discover ancient Greek artefacts   

bill medley: the ending sequence of Dirty Dancing set to the theme of The Muppet Show—via Boing Boing

Sunday, 15 May 2022

orbital mechanics

Enunciated for the first time the following year after some concerted fact-checking and re-taking measurements since the outcome seemed to elegant to be true, Johannes Kepler discovered the last of his three laws of planetary motion on this day in 1618, capturing the relationship between the distance of a astronomical body from its host star and the time it takes to complete a trip around it: that is, the value of the cube of the semi-major axis divided by the square of a planet’s orbital period is a constant—for our solar system. The publication was also delayed due to rather laborious attempts to reconcile his formula with the theory of the music of the spheres (see here and also above), thus making this third discovery known as the harmonic law.

Friday, 13 May 2022


Futility Closet relates an anecdote from the live of mathematician Kurt Gรถdel in residence at Princeton University Institute for Advanced Studies and his friendship with fellow resident scholars physicists Albert Einstein (previously) John von Neumann and economist Oskar Morgenstern, whom felt obliged to make sure their younger charge’s tendency for over-thinking remained an asset and not his undoing and monitored Gรถdel’s preparation for the US citizenship exam in 1947, Einstein himself naturalised seven years earlier. The prodigal and influential logistician widely settled the impossibility of formulating a self-consistent and complete set of rules governing all of mathematics at the tender age of twenty-five, Gรถdel assayed the project of his examination with signature tenacity and revealed to his wardens that in his research, he had uncovered a fatal-flaw in the American constitution that could led to dictatorship, the corruption and consequence of totalitarian democracy. Einstein and company implored him not to share this discovery and the test was actually a much simpler affair, though basic civics and recent history might have suggested otherwise. The proctor for the citizenship test inquired of Gรถdel his state of origin and its form of government—to which Gรถdel replied Austria and a republic, but owed that “the constitution was such that it soon become a dictatorship.” Despite the examiner’s insistence that the same could not happen in the USA and Gรถdel’s refutation with the offer of proof, the panel stuck to the business at hand and conducted the test. No mention was made in their collective memoirs what that finding might have been and we suppose won’t know it until it’s happened.

Thursday, 3 February 2022


1:12: a 1983 architectural magazine’s call for dollhouses  

way-finder: a friendly reminder about the most important app ever made 

i can’t hear you—i’m wearing a towel: dated New Yorker cartoons whose punchline has become a depiction of the everyday—via Waxy  

fisheye lens: a floating exhibit platform showcases Norwegian aquaculture practises 

philately: a brilliant abecedarium (see previously) of vintage postage stamps from around the world  

tensor strength: researchers engineer new material that can absorb and release enormous amounts of energy—like super-charged rubber band, via Slashdot  

the vault of contemporary art: a collection of architectural sketches and schematics from a Things Magazine omnibus post on the subject

Friday, 7 January 2022


Courtesy of the always engrossing Kottke, we are directed to an updated version of the Ames’ classic Powers of Ten from the BBC science desk, Open University and presenter and particle physicist Brian Cox that updates the scale to bring in up to par with our current observational powers—about a thousand fold more of the Cosmos than were capable of some forty-five years ago when the original short film was made.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

rogue waves

Distinct from tsunamis, killer waves—defined as reaching twice the height of waves in a wave record—occur in open-water as a convergence of constructive interference and other conditions but were considered at best anecdotal, tall-tales and the stuff of maritime myth until quite recently when one was detected on New Year’s Day in 1995 and measured by instruments housed on the Draupner gas pipeline support platform in the North Sea. Subsequent research has shown the phenomenon to be a common one, occurring in multiple media, including finance and has been retroactively used to account for shipping accidents, including the 1975 sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald and the iconic titular wave portrayed in The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai.

Sunday, 12 December 2021

small astronomy satellite a

Launched on this day in 1970, Uhuru (also known by the above designation) embarked on fourteen-month mission to perform a comprehensive scan of the entire sky in a first of its kind demonstration of x-ray astronomy. Scanning space for cosmic x-ray sources, Uhuru, among other achievements, identified the first strong candidate for the then theoretical black hole and triangulated an entire catalogue of extragalactic sources. The satellite was named after the Swahili word for freedom in recognition of the hospitality of Kenya, where the launch took place, from a former Italian operated off-shore oil platform converted into a spaceport near Mombasa and on the equator.

Friday, 10 December 2021


Cancelled for a second year due to the pandemic, normally the Nobel Banquet (previously here and here) is held annually on this day (the anniversary of the death in 1896 of its benefactor, inspired to become a philanthropist after reading a premature obituary of himself that described him as a war profiteer, indeed having amassed his fortune from dynamite), the fรชte hosted in the Blue Hall of the rathaus of Stockholm for 1971 would have included amongst its guests Willy Brandt, chancellor of West Germany, Pavlo Neruda, Chilean poet and diplomat, Simon Kuznets, responsible for turning economics into an empirical, cyclical science, and Gรกbor Dรฉnes, inventory of among other things holography.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

j/ฯˆ meson

The subatomic particle also known as a psion—comprised itself of a charm quark and a charm antiquark bound in a state referred to as “charmonium” (see previously) was discovered independently by two laboratories in Stanford and Brookhaven who made their joint announcement on this day in 1974. Sharing the Nobel Prize in physics two years later for their “November Revolution” for setting of a new era in the study of high-energy physics, the research leaders were able to validate the heretofore theoretical quark model, considered a mathematical fiction—particles with fractional charges and flavours (“spin”)—as a way of classifying and ordering the newly discovered menagerie of constituent, subatomic units.

Sunday, 12 September 2021

shower-thoughts or super criticality

Though precedents in chemical chain-reactions that could lead to explosions were well understood and the mechanism of nuclear fission had yet to be fully articulated, scientist Leรณ Szilรกrd (previously) first hypothesised the possibility of an atomic chain-reaction whilst waiting on a stop light on Southhampton Row at the crossing of Russell Square in Bloomsbury. This flash of insight on the part of the exiled Hungarian physicist, realising that an atom could be split with the recently discovered neutron, cascading with the release of more neutrons plus massive amounts of energy would be self-perpetuating, self-amplifying, would lead to nuclear applications in warfare and power production.

Friday, 3 September 2021


mmorpg: a thought experiment that ponders whether dark energy might be the by-product of alien quantum computers  

abbatars: after four decades, ABBA is getting back together, first performing as holograms  

role models: China bans men not deemed masculine enough from television 

fonarnye bani: a renovated spa in St. Petersburg  

push pins: an exhibition of the iconic poster art almanac 

wise 1543: unique old, cold orphaned brown dwarves may be ubiquitous in the galaxy

Sunday, 29 August 2021


First synthesised on this day in 1982 at the Darmstadt Institute for Heavy Ion Research (GIS, Gesellschaft fรผr Schwerionforschung) the synthetic meitnerium (Mt) was given the above provisional designation following Grigory Mendeleev’s nomenclature for undiscovered atomic elements—the convention becoming a placeholder shortly before its discovery with the controversy over the honours and naming-system being overhauled.
The research-team wanted to recognise the previously overlooked contributions of physicist Lise Meitner for her pioneering work in nuclear fission and her co-discovery of the element protactinium with Otto Hahn. Curium being named for both Pierre and Marie Curie, meitnerium is the only element named for a non-mythological woman. Because of its half-life of mere seconds even in the most stable isotope, few of its chemical properties are known though study continues, and its periodic neighbours, hassium and darmstadtium, are both named for the above laboratory.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021


Via Slashdot, we learn that a group of researchers studying ant tunnel architecture with the aid of 3D x-ray imaging and computation models are gleaning some of the eusocial insects’ secrets to digging and creating enduring, stable structures using only the physics of the medium, selecting the grains of soil for the exact right qualities of inertia, friction and cohesion to form a self-reinforcing shaft underground. This ability, scientists believe, is a highly evolved behavioural algorithm—an instinct—that could be duplicated for microscopic mining machines (see also) that could extract ores and other useful materials in a far less intrusive way.

Monday, 2 August 2021

the manhattan project

The phenomenon of nuclear fission only just discovered and prompting the United States to eventually establish its own research programme, with the endorsement of Albert Einstein Hungarian physicist Szilรกrd Leรณ (*1898 - †1964) dispatched his letter to president Franklin D. Roosevelt on this day in 1939. Immediately comprehending the ramifications for energy production or warfare having conducted experiments with less fissile materials and unable to sustain a chain-reaction, Szilard first in mid-July thought to warn Belgium as their colony in the Congo held the largest known reserves of uranium and was fearful that the Germans could persuade them to part with it handily, not realising what they were trading away and had recruited Einstein to speak on his behalf through consular channels as Einstein was friends with the Belgian royal family. With the closing salutation, “Yours truly,” the letter began: 

In the course of the last four months it has been made probable – through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America – that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future. 

Specifically citing the suspension of the sales of uranium from occupied Czechoslovakia and on-going research in German universities, Szilard further conjectured that while it probably was not feasible to miniaturise the components necessary for a nuclear reaction for portable bombs and mobile warheads, he did believe it likely that the process could be accommodated on board a ship that could attack a city from the harbour. FDR (his reply pictured) was delivered this executive summary plus a longer, more detailed explanation of the science underpinning his forewarning.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

perpetuum mobile

Via Kottke’s Quick Links, we are led to a tantalising research project that if it fully pans out bypasses the second law of thermodynamics (see also, that energy in a system tends to wind down and dissipate) and have created “time crystals” as predicted by Richard Feynman in 1982. An exotic state of matter produced and maintained within a quantum computer, the matrix of atoms continually flips between two states without expending any energy, forever—like a perpetual motion machine.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

i feel the earth move

On this day in 1976 at the Avignon Festival—title taken from the post-apocalyptic novel about the aftermath of global thermonuclear war—the Philip Glass Ensemble premiered the four act opera Einstein on the Beach—see previously here and here—a trilogy of portraits of personal vision and transformational thinking that spurred revelation through ideas rather than brute force and might. This two-hour excerpt from 1979 faithful recreates the staging from the five-hour debut.

Thursday, 24 June 2021

rotation № 17

Born this day in 1926 in Berlin (†1999), Robert Rotar was a painter, sculptor and photographer whose contemplative, meditative repertoire drew on symbolism, instructions—flow-charts from alchemy and astrology and was quietly prolific and accrued many patrons from all over the world. Receiving artistic training in Kรถln after the war—his studies at the Waldorfschule and Vitte in Hiddensee interrupted, Rotar became a member of the Deutsch Werkbund, collegial with Mies van der Rohe, Joseph Beuys, Florence Knoll, Alfred Schmela and other gallerists and artists, departing somewhat from the school’s usual output with a doctrinaire opus that conveyed a certain philosophic correspondence, indulging a trance-like state as he worked, especially with spirals, which embraced the motif of coincidentia oppositorum—out of the union of opposites wisdom is gained and cultivated close friendships with such contemporary thinkers as Werner Heisenberg, Niel Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli and Erwin Schrรถdinger.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

aggregat 4

During a test launch taking place on this day from the proving grounds of the Peenemรผnde Army Research Centre (Heeresversuchsanstalt) of a V-2 / A-4 rocket, a manufactured object for the first time passed the Kรกrmรกn line defining the edge of atmosphere and outer space (the after-the-fact boundary usually placed at one hundred kilometres above the surface of the Earth) and reached an apogee of one-hundred and seventy-six kilometres before falling back to the ground, not designed to attain orbital velocity. This particular achievement was the greatest vertical distance covered by a projectile thus far but the team of scientists, under the leadership of Werher von Braun, were more proud in with their 1942 feat of having penetrated the rarefied thermosphere—about eighty kilometres above and where ultraviolet radiation creates ions and the charged atmosphere allows radio wave communication to be transmitted and received beyond the horizon. Coincidentally one year later to the day, in 1945, the US Secretary of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved a secret recruiting programme called Operation Overcast to bring scientists from Nazi Germany to America to assist in shortening the war with Japan and augment post-war and peacetime rocketry applications. Interviewing US Ordnance Corps officers would attach a paperclip to the files of those they wanted to be brought to the States for work, importing through 1990 more than sixteen hundred researchers as intellectual reparations claimed by the Allies (minus the Soviets that had their own recruitment campaign) with an attendant $10,000,000,000 worth in associated patents and industrial processes.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

man in motion

Venerated on this day on the occasion of martyrdom (†303) after a series of horrendous torture sessions for keeping the faith and recruiting many converts, Erasmus of Formia—also known as Saint Elmo, is presented as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (previously), whom are to be called upon for intercession and deliverance. Going underground during the persecutions of both Diocletian and Western successor Maximian Hercules, an angel persuaded to return his diocese in Campania. En route, Erasmus was captured by soldiers, and professing his Christianity was imprisoned in Illyricum but the angel helped him escape and establish a church there near modern day Zadar. Having attracted the ire of local magistrates due to the success of his congregation, Erasmus was made to bow before the pagan gods, whose statues crumbled by dint of his faith, which prompted his captors in response to stick him in a barrel with a spiked interior and roll him down a hill. The angel healed him as with his subsequent ordeal of being painted in pitch and set alight and another jail-break. Erasmus finally succumbed, recaptured with his belly slit open and his intestines wound around a winch, a windlass that’s now part of his iconography, the crane for loading and unloading cargo signifying his affiliation with mariners as well as patronage for stomach ailments and cramps. A further connection with sailors was the saint’s steadfast homily aboard a ship despite the plasma phenomena of ball lighting or Saint Elmo’s Fire haloing the mast as precursor to a thunder strike, afterwards taken as an omen of protection though it didn’t always pan out that this aural warning was a good sign.