How to grow your own fresh air (TED)

15 April 2009

Researcher Kamal Meattle shows how an arrangement of three common houseplants, used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air.

How strange. I have at one time or another in the past owned all three of the plants mentioned. They all died of neglect. Maybe I should try again…


Remembering Apollo

9 April 2009

The flight computer onboard the Lunar Excursion Module, which landed on the Moon during the Apollo program, had a whopping 4 kilobytes of RAM and a 74 KB “hard drive.” In places, the craft’s outer skin was as thin as two sheets of aluminum foil.

This quote is from an article at titled Beyond Apollo: Moon Tech Takes a Giant Leap.

The above facts made me curious so I took a quick look at Wikipedia’s page on Apollo’s Guidance Computer (AGC).

This is a photograph of the AGC user interface:


By today’s standards that computer was tiny.

The AGC was used in the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) – later called the Lunar Module (LM). The LM was the bit that landed on the Moon. Here is a photograph of the LM:

Apollo 16 Lunar Module

The Apollo program is on my mind because this July it will be 40 years since the Apollo 11 mission. Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Niel Armstrong took that small step – the beginnings of humanity’s journey out of the cradle. You may have guessed that I think this event is significant in the history of humanity. It will still be remembered in thousands of years as one of the major milestones in our development.

Incidentally; the guidance computer was one of the driving forces behind early research into integrated circuits – necessary for development of that computer you are using to read this.

10th December 1815 – First computer programmer born

10 December 2008

Ada Lovelace (Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace) was born this day in 1815.
The following quote is taken from Wikipedia’s entry for Ada Lovelace.

She is mainly known for having written a description of Charles Babbage‘s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. She is today appreciated as the “first programmer” since she was writing programs — that is, manipulating symbols according to rules—for a machine that Babbage had not yet built. She also foresaw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on these capabilities.

Programming language Ada was named after her.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

30th November 1934 – Flying Scotsman 100 mph

30 November 2008

From Wikipedia:

On 30 November 1934, running a light test train, 4472 became the first steam locomotive to be officially recorded at 100 mph (160.9 km/h) and earned a place in the Land speed record for railed vehicles; the publicity-conscious LNER made much of the fact.

4472 Flying Scotsman

4472 Flying Scotsman

My fascination with steam locomotives is I think based on the fact that these graceful machines are purely mechanical. They do not need electronic components in order to function. They belong to an age that passed away before even I was born.

20th November 2008 – International Space Station 10 years old

20 November 2008

Now the largest spacecraft ever built, the orbital assembly of the space station began with the launch from Kazakhstan of its first bus-sized component, Zarya, on Nov. 20, 1998. The launch began an international construction project of unprecedented complexity and sophistication.

via NASA – Nations Around the World Mark 10th Anniversary of International Space Station

International Space Station

International Space Station

In the photograph above of the International Space Station, Zarya is the third “bit” from the bottom. It’s solar panels are folded up. below it is Zvezda with it’s solar panels ‘horizontal’ and below that is ESAs Automated Transfer Vehicle Jules Verne with it’s X-shaped solar cells. Jules Verne has been deorbited so it is no longer docked to the ISS. Below is a detailed image of Zarya.


The orbit of ISS is inclined about 51-52 degrees which means it never passes directly overhead where I live (above 60 degrees North). Here we see it passing in the South low on the horizon about every 14 days or so. Even so it is great fun to see this man made object brighter than the brightest stars. I visiteed the South of France earlier this year and had the opertunity of watching the ISS pass over the zenith. Jules Verne was about to dock so we saw that pass over about 10-15 degrees in front of ISS. The ISS has been continually staffed since 2nd November 2000. Think about that. Humans have been continually in space for the last eight years.

6th November 1940 – Galloping Gertie collapses

6 November 2008

Galloping Gertie (properly known as the Tocama Narrows Bridge) opened on 1st June 1940. It collapsed into Puget Sound on 6th November 1940. The collapse was caused by aeroelastic flutter. To see what that means in practice take a gander at this video:

Since the failure took some time no people were injured. Here is the account of Leonard Coatsworth the owner of the car that went down with the bridge.

Just as I drove past the towers, the bridge began to sway violently from side to side. Before I realized it, the tilt became so violent that I lost control of the car…I jammed on the brakes and got out, only to be thrown onto my face against the curb…Around me I could hear concrete cracking…The car itself began to slide from side to side of the roadway.
On hands and knees most of the time, I crawled 500 yards [450 m] or more to the towers…My breath was coming in gasps; my knees were raw and bleeding, my hands bruised and swollen from gripping the concrete curb…Toward the last, I risked rising to my feet and running a few yards at a time…Safely back at the toll plaza, I saw the bridge in its final collapse and saw my car plunge into the Narrows.

Coatsworth’s cocker spaniel Tubby was lost with the car.

10th September 2008 – The World did not end today

10 September 2008

Nice one Google…