Archive from July 2015
23. July 2015

On July 23rd, 1985 the Commodore Amiga was first introduced to the world in a huge launch show demonstrating the then unheard of capabilites of this new 16-bit generation of personal computers. It could do things that are totally common today, but were almost utopic in 1985 – not even the first Apple Macintosh, released a year before, was able to deliver what the Amiga did back then. Although this marked the commercial release of the Amiga 1000 and the later, much more popular Amiga 500 and 2000 only appeared two years later, it was the start of a revolution – the first true multimedia computer was born.

The video embedded below is a recording of the famous show at the Lincoln Center in New York exactly thirty years ago – it was a somewhat pompous event, but it delivered the goods. Andy Warhol painting a digitized image of Debbie Harry is maybe the most memorable part of the show, but everything else is actually a very fair and unexaggerated demonstration of the computers abilities. Remember, this was 1985, only three years after the Commodore 64 was introduced!

I think it may be time to write a big Amiga article soon. My own Amiga 2000 is still in good working condition, although the second floppy drive and the harddrive are broken – but the computer itself still works!

Science & Astronomy
18. July 2015

The last couple of days have been nothing short of amazing. Until only a week ago, Pluto had been literally just a small blob of pixels to humanity since its discovery eighty-five years ago by Clyde Tombaugh, but then New Horizons made its approach to the former planet. Even before the actual flyby, Pluto and its Moon Charon were transformed from pixels to detailed photos, which brought many surprises and some poignant visual allusions, like the now famous heart – which also looks like a certain dog! It’s been incredible and maybe the most exciting thing in uncrewed space exploration since the Voyager missions in the 70s and 80s!

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Science & Astronomy
11. July 2015

Every time I write about The Infinite Monkey Cage, the brilliant science-comedy radio show from Brian Cox and Robin Ince, I begin with “I can’t believe I missed it again!” and this time will be no exception because I really hadn’t noticed that the first new episode has already been online since Monday! Those are the live shows that were recorded earlier this spring during their US tour, so they are going to be even livelier and sillier than before. There will be five more episodes, broadcast each Monday on BBC Radio 4 and afterwards the extended versions will be available on the web as usual – which is the better way to listen to the episodes.

Note that the podcast website has been completely revamped and although the runtime always says 30 minutes, these are still the extended podcast versions and not the truncated half-hour radio broadcasts. The archives have also now been extended to the previously unavailable series 1 and 2, so now you can download all the episodes from the beginning on or catch them with your favourite podcasting software on your phone or tablet. And of course there’s also the wonderfully funny title song for the series that Eric Idle recorded some time ago!

I can only highly recommend this show – Brian Cox and Robin ince are utterly funny and their guests are always fantastic. Besides, it’s even educational, despite most shows ending up somewhere completely different than they originally started – but that’s just the fun of it. As usual, major English listening skills and a healthy curiosity about science are required, but it’s actually quite easy to listen to. And, of course, if you like Brian Cox and/or Robin Ince, you’re in for a very special treat. (Note: I wrote the last paragraph for the previous posts about the series, but why write something new when there’s something perfectly okay available to recycle?)

Science & Astronomy
9. July 2015

I feel somewhat obligated to at least post one article about the New Horizons mission, because next to the Rosetta and Philae comet landing the Pluto flyby is easily the most exciting thing happening in space exploration this year. I’m not even going to attempt reporting about the mission in detail because I’m not a journalist, but instead I will try to make some recommendations where you can find the best journalism and information about New Horizons.

But what’s so exciting about Pluto? It isn’t even a planet anymore! That’s what I often hear from people not really familiar with what’s going on in space exploration. The answer is relatively easy: because we (as in humanity) have not been there yet! The Grand Tour of the solar system, which was proposed in the mid-1960s, could have gone to all the planets and much more, but politics slashed the budgets to such an extend that this one-in-a-lifetime planetary alignment opportunity fell to the Voyager Program, which amounted only to a light version of the tour. When it came to decide whether to send Voyager 1 to Pluto or to Titan, the decision was made in favour of the former – and Pluto remained unexplored for almost 40 years. In the meantime, Pluto has even lost its planethood status due to all the new discoveries in its vicinity…

Enter New Horizons – which has a quite a history itself. I recommend the very good Wikipedia Page of the mission for further details, but now on to a collection of links and tips where to get all the current and always up-to-date information about the flyby, which will happen next Tuesday, July 14th, at exactly 11:49:57 UTC. The first brief transmission after the flyby will be only happen late Tuesday and the first new images will be downlinked on Wednesday – Emily Lakdawalla has a must-read, detailed article about what to expect before and after the flyby. But New Horizons has already been busy observing Pluto sending back lots of amazing photos – and had even almost given the scientific community a heart attack by going into safe mode briefly. But everything is fine now and Tuesday’s historic encounter will happen no matter what. Here are the most important links and people to follow:

New Horizons Main Site – This is the official mission website.
New Horizons NASA Site – The NASA website for the mission.
• New Horizons Press Kit – An extensive 42-page press kit from NASA
New Horizons LORRI Images – All images from the Long Range Reconnaisance Imager
New Horizons Youtube Channel – All the video series and hangouts of the mission.
DSN Now – Realtime activity data of the Deep Space Network, useful for checking if NH is transmitting
Emily Lakdawalla from the Planetary Society is one of the best sources for NH.
Universe Today has less breaking news, but more in-depth articles.

The real action will happen on Twitter, though – here are the important accounts to follow:

New Horizons – The official NH Twitter feed directly from Alan Stern.
New Horizons NASA – NH Twitter feed from NASA, mainly retweets from other accounts.
Alan Stern –  NH’s Principal investigator.
Joel Parker – NH’s Co-investigator.
Kimberly Ennico Smith – Deputy Project Scientist
Cathy Olkin – Deputy Project Scientist
Alex Parker – Planetary astronomer working on the NH mission
Kelsi Singer – Postdoc on the NH team
Simon Porter – Scientist working on the NH mission
Jason Cook – Planetary astronomer working on the NH mission
Amy Shira Teitel – Embedded in the NH media team and making Pluto in a Minute!
Emily Lakdawalla – Breaking news from the Planetary Society writer and blogger.
New Horizons Bot – Automatically tweets new images from New Horizons.

I put all of the above into a Twitter List and I also recommend my larger Science & Astronomy and Spaceflight lists, which will probably full of Pluto and New Horizons soon. And because the Weekly Space Hangout and Astronomy Cast are both on summer break right now, have a look at the WSH Crew Google+ Community, where we will discuss and post the latest space and science news! And I think that’s all for now – good luck New Horizons!

7. July 2015

At the end of May, Google had unveiled its new Google Photos service at the I/O conference. This came as no great surprise, since there had long been rumours and hints that the photo section of Google+ would be spun off into a separate product as a competitor to Flickr, Facebook & Co – and the results are okay, but the spiffy new web interface and mobile app are still a long way from being perfect. I’ve been using Google Photos in the last couple of weeks a lot because I post my photos not only on my own website, but also over on Google+ as well and while I’m overall somewhat impressed, there are still some minor problems and limitations. Here are some observations, complaints and tips how to make the best out of it.

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4. July 2015

More than 25 years ago, they made great adventure games for Lucasfilm Games. Now they’re getting the band back together.

That’s right – Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick and David Fox of Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken and Monkey Island fame are making a new game called Thimbleweed Park – but it’s not just any game. Reminded of their good time they had at Lucasfilm Games, later LucasArts, in the late 1980s when they revolutionized and practically invented the genre of the Point & Click Adventure, Gilbert and Winnick decided to make a “new old game” in the classic style, like a lost Lucasfilm adventure that was never released. Because time is money and creating something like this just as a hobby would be problematic at best, Gilbert and Winnick decided to fund their project with Kickstarter and were greeted with a phenomenal response – a budget of over half a million dollars enabled them to start working on the game in earnest. The kickstarter video trailer was already amazing and it’s only going to get better…

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3. July 2015

Well, this happened yesterday… it was actually even a little bit hotter. I can’t remember when we last went over 35°C, but the 36 to 37 were really a surprise. Fortunately it was still dry and later last night we got a much needed thunderstorm which cooled things down considerably. Today it’s “only” about 30°C which feels comparatively cool to yesterday, but for tomorrow the forecasts say somethingf about 36°C again.  So I’m taking thinks veeeeeeeery slowly at the moment and thanks to having both a solid new tablet (more about that later!) and a smartphone at hand, I really have no reason to even think of switching on a computer in this sort of temperature.

I also managed to figure out how to get a smartphone photo right into the blog without having to go through the computer, so making quick article thumbmails like this one are not a problem anymore even though the quality is not the best and I obviously can’t do the round edges I usually do with a pictue frame mask in PSP. Photo processing except for quick smartphone shots is also not really comfortable (yet?) under Android because getting the photos off my camera is somewhat difficult and there are simply no mobile photo editors that really fit my needs. But since I have a LOT of already finished photos ready to post and I’m not in any danger of running out, that doesn’t really matter and the photo posting will continue as usual over on the Photography Blog – and I even might have a movie/dvd-review coming soon over on DVDLog later when the temperatures are a bit more normal again.

So stay tuned, keep as cool as possible and I hope everyone can beat the second mid-European heatwave of this summer!