As humans we are wired to look for patterns in nature, and my field of interest is patterns in time. Natural patterns are usually cyclical and often fractal, sharing symmetry at different scales. Some patterns surprise and delight you, but none more so than finding astounding symmetry in your own life. Let me explain...
A few days ago I became a dad for the second time. The baby came a few days later than predicted but arrived on a day with spectacular significance. My wife and I have birthday's that are exactly (to the day) six months apart, and in total there are four and half years between us. My newest daughter arrived, not only six months apart from my eldest, but exactly four and a half years apart. I'm floored, overjoyed and a very proud dad.
Part of my daily journey into work takes me passed the St. Martin's Theatre, home of Agatha Christie's stageplay, The Mousetrap. The play opened in London in 1952 and has been running continuously ever since, making it the longest opening run of any play in modern times.
Last week I stopped to take a picture of the theatre and I snapped another one this morning. Happy 58th birthday to The Mousetrap.
There were lots of new feature announcements at Adobe MAX this year but one of the most exciting was support for multi-touch in Flash Player 10.1. This along with the likes of accelerometer are paving the way for a massive push onto smartphones. You won't be able to buy a smartphone next year that doesn't come with a Flash Player... okay, maybe just one.
During the keynote Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch demonstrated multi-touch in AIR 2.0. What caught my eye was the app was using multi-touch gestures to control calendaring. Swipe to flick from month to month and pinch to zoom into weeks and days. The company behind the demo are Cynergy Ssystems who are doing some great work with UX in web applications. If you want more information about the project it's worth reading the blog posts from Dave Wolf and Andrew Trice.
I wasn't really going to get into this one for a couple of years but Roland (10,000 BC, Godzilla, Independence Day) Emmerich has bumped it up my schedule. Next month sees the release of the 2012 movie, the premise of which is that the world will end in a massive catastrophic event on the 21st of December 2012. This is all said to have been predicted in the "long count" calendar system of the first millennium meso-american civilisation, the Maya.
Oh god, where to start...
Emmerich has a penchant for mashing up history (and geography for that matter; 10,000 BC had mammoths charging around the pyramids) so I dread to think what he's done with the Mayan calendar. Don't get me wrong, I think it'll be great entertainment - I remember the Long Now Foundation had a big night out to go see 10,000 BC - but it'll do nothing to contextualise history.
Without wishing to alarm anyone, the problem with debunking this one is that there are elements of truth in it. Wrap these in a few layers of new age catastrophism, add some special effects and you have a Hollywood blockbuster. And much like The Da Vinci Code you know it's hokum but differentiating the fact from the fiction requires digging through some rather arcane material.
I don't claim to be an expert on the Maya but I have visited many of the great Mayan sites in Mexico and I know enough about astronomy and ancient calendar systems to throw my [tinfoil] hat in the ring, so here goes...
The Fact: The Maya kept count of many cycles of differing length. The longest cycle, the "Long Count" will reach the end of the 13th Baktun on the 21st December 2012 (Gregorian). In long count notation this looks like 220.127.116.11.0 .
Everything else is speculation. Notice I didn't say this will mark the end of the Long Count, never mind the world. Some scholars argue for a cycle length of 20 Baktun ending in 18.104.22.168.0. The Mayans were undoubtedly excellent astronomers and they were fascinated by cycles, but cycles don't end, they just start round again. The world isn't going to end - this is a rollover problem. For an astronomical perspective on the issue you might like to read Gia Milinovich's article on the subject or a series from Universe Today.
If you are a proponent of catastrophism then you're not alone either. In the bunker you'll find former MI5 agent and erstwhile Messiah of Surrey, David Shayler. The movie viral is in full swing now so if you like your theories half-baked then you can follow Charlie Frost at 'thisistheend.com' and on Twitter. And if you're still on the fence then I'd suggest waiting until the 22nd to buy your Christmas presents.
A few years ago I studied astronomy up at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. The course was held in the the upper floors of the "new" or southern building. The original observatory was constructed in 1675 so "new" actually means late Victorian. By the time I got there the place was a little run down and a little dusty but it had bags of charm.
In the roof of the building was the Thompson dome and inside that was the tiny Caird Planetarium - built in the 1960's, it seated less than 50 people. It didn't always work but every now and then the projector could be coaxed into action it was able to show the relative motions of the planets, sun and stars.
A year or two after our course finished the south building was closed, gutted and completely renovated as part of the £17.7m Time and Space project. When it reopened in 2007 the inside was unrecognisable. It now contains the Astronomy Galleries and adjacent to this is the amazing new Peter Harrison Planetarium. It's the first all digital planetarium in Europe and it sports a Digistar 3 projector capable of pushing 4000 x 5000 pixels at a steady 60 FPS.
So today I made a trip up to Greenwich to see the new planetarium show, We Are Astronomers. I tried to tweet about it but the 45 tons of bronze over my head made short work of that. Enough to say it's really inspiring stuff, and I'd recommend it if you can get along. As you'll see from the video above the graphics are stunning. These were done by NSC Creative, the in house creative team at the National Space Centre in Leicester. The soundtrack is by Wellington based musician Rhian Sheehan and is rather lovely, very reminiscent of Múm or Röyksopp in places.keep looking »