Giant things that blog

After the BLDGBLOG lecture at UCL last week, Mark, Russell, James and myself retired to the Malborough Arms for post-match analysis; and Russell dropped on us the fact that Roll-Royce’s jet engines are now prolific bloggers.

They twitter about what they are doing back home to Derby from wherever they are above the globe, 33000 feet up.

At the risk of sounding a bit like one of the guest publications on “Have I got news for you”, here’s a quote from Aviation Maintenance Magazine that Rusell found to back-up his pub-fact

“Engine diagnostics, and predictive analysis that our technical people are doing, feed into the operations control room, the hub of global fleet support for large engines, to see how they are performing, combined with flight log monitoring.”

The company is able to monitor 3,000 engines in real time, collating technical data streamed via satellite in flight.”

Of course, there must be an entire swathe of giant things that blog, and have been blogging since the dawn of telemetry; but it still seems faintly magical.

A Manhattan melange of “Macroscopes”

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Globe of Patents, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

By chance this morning found an excellent mini-exhibition in midtown Manhattan.

“Places & Spaces: Mapping Science” has been curated by Dr. Katy Börner and Deborah MacPherson.

From the website:

“Today, the word “science” encompasses myriad arenas of physical and abstract inquiry. This unique exhibition, at the Healy Hall in midtown Manhattan, uses innovative mapping techniques to physically show what and where science is today, how different branches of science relate to each other and where different branches of study are heading, where cutting edge science is erupting as archipelagos in the oceans of the yet unknown – and – how it all relates back to the physical centers of research. The world of science is turned into a navigable landscape.

Modern mapping imagery has come a long way from Ptolemy. In this stimulating show compelling for all ages and backgrounds, audiences will both visually and tactilely uncover how contemporary scientific thought has expanded. Such visualization of scientific progress is approached through computer-generated relationships, featured on large panels as well through the collaboration of New York based artists W. Bradford Paley, Digital Image Design Incorporated and Columbia University and Ingo Gunther with renowned scientist from the field of scientonometrics: Eugene Garfield, Henry Small, André Skupin, Steven A. Morris, Kevin Boyack and Dick Klavans.”

Scientonometrics! Awesome!!!

It’s a concise, enjoyable and clear exhibit showing concrete examples of what John Thackara might call ‘macroscopes’: artworks, mappings and visualisations of complex interconnected systems (in this case science and intellectual property) that help ‘ordinary folk’ examine the choices they make and those being made for them.


Before and after science (fiction)

To get going again, some words from our new sponsors.

John Thackara, “In the Bubble” (if you haven’t read it yet, why not?):

“…switch attention from science-[fiction] dominated futures to social fictions in which imagined new contexts enrich and otherwise familiar world. Design scenarios are powerful… because they make a possible future familiar and enable the participation of potential users in conceiving and shaping what they want”

H.G Wells, in an 1891 essay “The rediscovery of the unique”:

“Science is a match that man has just got alight. He thought he was in a room – in moments of devotion, a temple – and that his light would be reflected from and display walls inscribed with wonderful secrets and pillars carved with philosophical systems wrought into harmony. It is a curious sensation, now that the preliminary splutter is over and the flame burns up clear, to see his hands and just aglimpse of himself and the patch he stands on visible, and around him, in place of all that human comfort and beauty he anticipated – darkness still.”

T.S Eliot (in his 1940 commentary on H.G. Well’s ‘The first men in the moon’):

“We can have very little hope of contributing to any immediate social change; and we are more disposed to see our hope in modest and local beginnings, than in transforming the whole world at once. On the other hand , though the immediate aims are less glittering, they may prove less deceptive: for Mr. Wells, putting all his money on the near future, is walking very near the edge of despair; while we must keep alive aspirations which can remain valid throughout the longest and darkest period of universal calamity and degradation”

Last word to Mr. Wells:

“If the world does not please you, you can change it.”

Planets, sweet.

Steve Bowbrick ruminates on the pace of unmanned planetary exploration, and if I read between the lines a little; the torrents of telemetric information and simulation that the next generation have access to (cf. access to the Maestro simulations of Mars rover data, and more way-out “Why Starfleet”)

“My kids – before they’re my age – will know Mars better than I know, say, Tasmania or Patagonia. They won’t have been there but they’ll feel like they have. If they’re paying attention (unlikely), they’ll also have a pretty detailed mental image of two or three of our Sun’s other planets, submarine images from Europa’s salty ocean and – maybe – reasonable pictures of half a dozen small-ish, blue-ish planets orbiting other stars. I suspect they’ll also know that the solar system – and the universe beyond it – are greener and more hospitable to life than we could ever have imagined and that there’s as much water (liquid and otherwise) on distant planets as there is here on earth. They’ll also have a pretty good idea how it got there.”

Blowing Melvin’s mind

Deep joy to be had from subscribing to Melvin Bragg’s “In our time” newsletter, that supports the Radio4 show of the same name.

This week our hero, Melvin, describes having his mind blown early one morning by a bunch of physicists explaining string theory to him:


This morning’s programme was a tough one for me. I gave up physics at
the age of 14 because the school to which I went was very small and at
that time, in the mid-Fifties, you had to make what proved to be
crucial decisions ridiculously early. I was also not much good at

About 15 years ago when, as I discovered like many people in my
generation, I saw that some of the most intense, vivid and beguiling
ideas around were to be found in general books about science, I tried
to get some sort of grip on what I had left behind quite happily at
the age of 14.

It’s proved to be extremely difficult and this morning was clearest
proof. Sometimes you hold on by your fingertips. Sometimes you hold
on by your fingernails. I was holding on by what could be called a
planck length which is so infinitesimal as to make the head of a pin
look like Wales.”

Read the full newsletter below:
Continue reading “Blowing Melvin’s mind”

Processing parallels

Sci-fi staple, the parallel universe, examined by Sci. A lot to take in here even with Maciej’s excellent bullet-point summary:

“The first kind of parallel universe is an inevitable consequence of the fact that we seem to live in an open universe with a uniform distribution of matter. Because all energy is quantized, a given volume of space can only contain a certain (unbelievably huge) number of configurations of matter (unless you do something crazy like turn the temperature to infinity). In an infinite Universe like ours, that means any finite volume of space is bound to repeat itself somewhere. An infinite number of somewheres. You just have to be willing to travel. According to Tegmark, the nearest copy of yourself is about 10^(10^29) meters away (he declines to say in which direction). Finding the nearest copy of our entire visible Universe is more of a slog – it’s about 10^(10^181) meters away. There’s also every imaginable near-variant to be found – a mirror-Earth where you’re wearing a different colored shirt, a mirror-Earth with a monkey typing Shakespeare, an infinite number of mirror-Earths where Ann Coulter gets sacrificed to a volcano god tomorrow.”

» Idle Words: parallel universes