Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

There were a number of articles this week about Voyager 1. Launched in 1977, along with its twin Voyager 2, the primary mission of this tiny piece of technology was to fly by and image the outer planets. From the articles I have read, it was never really expected to last this long, but just in case it did, the designers equipped the Voyagers with power and instruments to continue transmitting data back to Earth long after they left the outer planets.

The real-time clock on the Voyager web site indicates the spacecraft is now over 18 Billion kilometres from Earth. 18 Billion!

The question is when will know that Voyager 1 has finally left the influence of the Sun (the solar system)? Articles published in Science magazine last week indicate the instruments are seeing a sharp decline in the solar wind and an increase in cosmic rays. What hasn’t changed – and this was the theory – is the magnetic field surrounding the space craft is still orientated towards the Sun, which would tend to indicate there is still some influence from the Sun where Voyager 1 is.

Voyager 1 at the edge of the solar system - News @ NASA

Voyager 1 at the edge of the solar system – News @ NASA

I am not a physicist or astronomer, but I guess I am a child of the space age. When I was not yet 10 years old, a friend of my Dad’s brought his home-made telescope to the house. It was truly amazing to see a close-up view of the Moon, the rings of Saturn and galaxies. I remember the first satellites being placed into Earth orbit. I remember the Mercury astronauts and the excitement around their flights. I stayed up with friends to watch a grainy black and white television image of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon in 1969. I grew up reading historical accounts of previous encounters with Halley’s comet and I looked forward to 1986 when it would be back. Unfortunately, it was not the spectacle that it had been in the past but went out in a winter’s night anyway to catch a glimpse. And I read about space and science and science fiction. When I was in the 7th grade, I was kicked out of the school library because when they asked why I wasn’t taking out any books, I told them I had read all the ones that interested me. My teacher made me take out one ‘classic’ (Dickens, Shakespeare, etc) a week – which were dutifully placed in my bedroom for the week and returned unread the following week. I had gone through all the science and science fiction books in the library by that time and the rest weren’t of interest.

This is a sort of long-winded explanation of why I feel emotional when I think of that tiny ship sailing through the void. The fact that we can still get data and make amazing discoveries is mind-boggling to me. That it is out there at all is somewhat comforting and exciting at the same time. There is a purity about searching for the sake of searching … not for glory, not for profit, not for fame. Just to see what is beyond the next hill. We need that sense of wonder – makes us humble, which in the context of where we are in the universe, is appropriate.

And finally, a shot of the International Space Station travelling over Edmonton from my Flickr page.

A short time lapse photo of the International Space Station over Edmonton, Alberta 2009

A short time lapse photo of the International Space Station over Edmonton, Alberta 2009


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By training, I am a geographer. That is sort of hard to pin down, but there is an element of generalist in the position. One my professors in undergraduate used to say there are only three main disciplines – geography, the study of space, history – the study of time and mathematics – the study of the abstract. Everything else flows from those three.

Google Earth was the most amazing web tool that I could imagine and many an hour has been spent searching the globe from my desktop. A couple of days ago, I stumbled across a game that someone has made using Google Earth Street View, called GeoGuessr – http://geoguessr.com/.

It is simple but brilliant. You are given a Google Earth Street View scene and you have to guess where it is. And you get points for how close you are to the actual spot. Nothing more, nothing less. But this is geography heaven. You can move around in Street View, but you can’t zoom out to see where you are. I have shared this with a couple of friends and they have all come back and said it is addicting. So to whoever came up with this one – well done!

BTW … my high score is currently 18260.



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One of the things we learned when recording was how precise the process is. And precise means it takes far longer than we ever imagined. The last three times we have been in the studio there was precious little recording happening. Mostly we were going over the songs again and again – picking up imperfections, mistimed notes and variations in the sound levels. Rick, our sound guru, is amazing at picking up these little issues and as he works he is continually asking what we want and how we like the sound. And this is the right thing to do but it illustrates a very interesting phenomena.

Less of this ...

and more of this

It was a couple of nights ago and nearing the end of a 3-hour session mixing a 2 minute song when Rick asked our opinion on something relatively trivial. My brain just said “whatever” – I just wanted to get it over. Thankfully someone else had the right answer (which I knew was correct but I was so tired of things at that moment I just didn’t care). At the end of the night, Rick told us about “ego depletion” – a theory that it the more decisions you make, the harder it becomes to make them. He used the example of car salesman – they ask the easy and trivial questions first and then hit you with the expensive decisions near the end of the negotiations – when your brain is tired and the “I don’t give a rat’s ass” malaise sets in. Ego depletion is based on the work of Ray Baumeister in the United States.

This is fascinating stuff with lots of real world implications. Recording is just one small example. When we read more, some of the research talks about the possible role that blood sugar levels may play in this situation. As a diabetic, this caught my interest. I think the next time we go in, I am going to bring along some form of sugar to see if it makes a difference in how I approach the tasks associated with recording. Playing is one thing – putting it all together is another.

And the New York Times’ columnist John Tierney had a real interesting article on the subject earlier this year. It is a good article and gives an insight into how this phenomena can be used in your everyday life.

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