Lost in space, the final days of the Solar system

11 February 2009

We already know it is likely our galaxy, the Milky Way, will merge (a subtle way of saying collide actually) with our, for now, distant neighbour Andromeda, forming an entity called “Milkomeda”.

It is also possible however that our Solar system will see out its days completely alone somewhere in the cosmos, if it is somehow ejected from the Milky Way during the Andromeda “merger”…

The future is never certain, though, and alternative endings can be written. There is a slim chance that the whole solar system, sun and all, might be thrown out of Milkomeda intact. Out in the emptiness of intergalactic space, the planets would be safe from marauders. There they could continue to circle our darkening star until their energy is eventually sapped and they spiral inwards. One by one as they hit the black-dwarf sun, a few final flares will rage against the dying of the light.

Originally published Wednesday 11 February 2009.

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Twitter novels: when will they be the next big thing?

9 February 2009

Would you read a novel that was served in 140-character instalments? Text message novels are already proving popular, especially in Japan, and with the ever increasing reach of Twitter, it’s only a matter of time before the 140-character novelists put aside their phones and try the idea online.

In fact, there are already several people tapping together Twitter novels, though at the moment their efforts are generally being greeted with the response: “what’s the point in that?”

Then again, there are still plenty of people questioning the point of Twitter itself, so while Twitter novelist superstars are yet to emerge, writing-off the potential of the idea is definitely premature.

After all, people have built celebrity around themselves in the past by way of all sorts of seemingly unfathomable means, including webcams, YouTube, and even blogging, so it’s only a matter of time before someone comes along with an idea for a Twitter novel that has mass appeal.

“The confessions of a lovelorn sex kitten” anyone?

Among some of the 140-character novelists currently exploring Twitter as a literary medium though, thoughts of fame — or notoriety — seem to be far from their minds.

For example Nick Belardes who writes “Small Places”, which he describes as “a very compartmentalized love story”, thinks Twitter is a great environment for developing a novel, but little else:

Don’t write a novel using Twitter, but mold a novel, transform a novel using Twitter. In my opinion, Twitter isn’t a scratch pad. Any good writer should have a plan, and so should either use a completed manuscript, or a portion, as is my case. The line-by-line rebuilding of the manuscript should be challenge enough. There should be lots of note-taking, forethought, and not just random phrases thrown at readers.

Mike Diccicco, author of The Secret Life of Hamel, sees composing a novel using Twitter as a way of improving his writing skills more than anything:

No — this is about the creative challenge of trying to be interesting and engaging and telling a story under a significant constraint. Plus, after years of preaching “compression” to copywriters in my ad agency, it’s time to see if I can practice what I preach.

For many Twitter novelists the challenge lies in building up a following, and maintaining an on-going interest in the story, something however that is all too familiar to many people already pedalling their wares online.

It’s just a matter of finding the right mix of the usual ingredients, a sticky idea, some deft execution, and a little bit of the WOW factor.

Originally published Monday 9 February 2009.

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When galaxies collide well be living in Milkomeda

28 January 2009

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is destined to “merge” with our giant neighbour, Andromeda, in about five billion years.

Currently both galaxies are approaching each other at speeds of 120 kilometres (km) per second, and “Milkomeda” is one name that has been dubbed for the combined entity.

Before the collision occurs though both galaxies will fly past each other twice, occurrences that could possibly result in the Sun, and its family of planets, being drawn into the Andromeda system.

There is also a remote 3% chance that the Sun will jump ship and defect to the Andromeda galaxy during the second close passage. “In the night sky, we would then see the Milky Way from a distance,” says Loeb.

Just to put the distances into some perspective, moving at a rate of 120 km per second means covering about 3.8 billion km per year. The planet Neptune is some 4.46 billion km from the Sun, so we are talking about some very, very, vast amounts of space here.

Originally published Thursday 28 January 2009.

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What will happen when Antares explodes?

13 January 2009

If search engine queries here are anything to go by, the prospect of Antares, a red giant star located in the constellation of Scorpius, exploding seems to intrigue some visitors, so I decided to learn more about the imminent (anytime in the next million years, that is) Antares supernova.

In a word though, it will be spectacular.

While it will be unmissable in the night sky, the remnants of Antares may – for a short time – be visible during the day, and even alien astronomers in distant galaxies will temporarily see our galaxy, The Milky Way, outshine many other galaxies that are visible to them, as a result of the explosion.

Despite the galactic light-show the explosion of Antares will not however pose any direct danger to Earth.

There are fears that an exploding star, or supernova, could threaten our planet by way of debris from the blast, or that the resulting radiation and gamma rays could destroy Earth’s ozone layer, in turn triggering a mass extinction.

It has been found however that a supernova needs to be within 26 light years of Earth to cause any sort of harm, and Antares is some 600 light years away.

The only possible risk lies in the glare that any supernova could generate, which may be blinding, according to Dr Nick Lomb of the Sydney Observatory.

Antares isn’t the only potential supernova-star in the stellar neighbourhood either, and Eta Carinae, about 8000 light years away from Earth, could also explode at any time.

Originally published Tuesday 13 January 2009.

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Workafrolics work harder but live longer

29 October 2008

And following on from the workafrolic piece last week, comes news that hard working, conscientious people, may live a little longer than other people, according to a Marie Claire article. Why? Mainly because they are so busy working they have little time for excesses and taking life threatening risks.

Nearly 9,000 took part in the study to analyse personality and lifespan and lead researcher Dr Howard Friedman concluded: “Highly conscientious people live on average two to four years longer.” “There is evidence for several sorts of reasons. Conscientious folks are less likely to smoke, drink to excess or take too many risks.” He added: “But it is also true that conscientious folks lead life patterns that are more stable and less stressful.”

New Scientist subscribers can view the original source article here.

Update: The Marie Claire article is no longer online.

Originally published Wednesday 29 October 2008.

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Is Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd a workafrolic?

22 October 2008

Workafrolic is the latest buzzword of a neologism to pique my curiosity and it will no doubt lead to an obsession in due course. Richard St. John author of Stupid, Ugly, Unlucky and Rich defines a workafrolic in a recent interview with The Telegram

Successful people work hard, but they love it. They’re “workafrolics”, St. John says, because they have fun working.

Australian graphic designer Sonya Mefaddi provided a slightly more real life definition in an article in the SMH MyCareer liftout last weekend (18-19 October 2008, page 3):

If I am out at a club with friends, I often think I’d rather be at home working.

Never thought I’d say this, but her words strike a definite chord with me. At this point in time anyway.

Update: The Telegram article is no longer online.

Originally published Wednesday 22 October 2008.

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Presenting Injader: content management for everyone

29 September 2008

Sydney IT manager and software developer Ben Barden is the creator of Injader, an open source content management system (CMS) for websites and blogs, and an Australian made alternative for the likes of WordPress or Movable Type.

Update: Injader is no longer available.

Originally published Monday 29 September 2008.

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A review of the Sony Ericsson C902 Cyber-shot phone

27 September 2008

The crew at Sony Ericsson recently gave me one of their newest mobile phones, the C902 Cyber-shot to call my own for a couple of months.

Given my love of taking photos, I’ve been waiting for a chance to try out the phone’s five mega-pixel camera up at the nearby UNSW campus (where I have a stack of shots from my digital camera to base comparisons on), but to date Sydney’s topsy-turvy weather has thwarted me.

August is statistically Sydney’s driest month, but a clear sunny day, ideal for the outdoor shots I want, continues to elude me whenever I plan to be on the uni campus. Never mind, maybe next week.

Back to the C902. Mobile phones have continued to evolve far beyond being a simple telephone, and the C902 is the latest in this line of development. I have more than the means to simply phone or text home to say I’m running late, sitting comfortably and unobtrusively, in my shirt pocket.

I can send and receive email. Surf the net (reminding me that I need to create a dedicated mobile device stylesheet for disassociated), participate in conference calls, organise my calendar and tasks (I’ve long since dispensed with a paper diary), film and view video clips, listen to the radio or MP3s, and of course take photos.

It’s certainly a stylish piece of equipment, and the black finish complete with the silver-grey trim, makes for a uber-appealing tool that permits me to take off into the wide blue yonder for days at a time without having to worry about being out of the loop.

Anyway a few observations to date:

Battery life

So far I have no qualms with the C902 battery. Mobile phone battery life is truly a case of “your mileage may vary” with any phone though. Some weeks my usage has been higher than others, and I’ve needed to recharge the battery after three days.

Another week passed before a recharge was required, with only a few short calls, but the phone was on stand-by the whole time.

Reception

I’ve found reception to be very clear, and even if I’m walking alongside a busy road, or in an area where reception is not so strong, I can still hear a caller’s voice quite clearly.

Mind you I haven’t used the phone away from inner Sydney yet, so can’t comment on reception in rural, or more remote, areas.

Keypad

The keypad is rather compact, and sometimes I press the wrong key. My current phone is a Motorola MOTOKRZR K1 and I find its keypad easier to use. I do have oversize hands though so this may not be a problem for everyone.

I also appreciate that that “clam shell” type phones do have a little more handset real estate, or room, to allow for slightly wider keypad buttons, as opposed to “candy bar” type phones such as the C902.

Text messaging

Despite my fat fingers text messaging with the C902 is simple and straightforward. I especially like what I call the “multi-choice predictive text function”. The C902 will offer several suggestions as to which word, or part of, you wish to use, as you are typing. This took some getting used to, but now I am finding it quite useful.

Screen Icons

I was a little confused by some of the icons appearing on the phone’s screen display, particularly a U-shaped like red arrow. Was it some sort of warning?

A browse of the phone’s manual failed to turn up a legend, or explanation, of screen icons. I have since deduced however that the icon is a “withheld”, or missed call, indicator.

Another initial puzzle was an “H” icon 1 which was present on some occasions but not others. I noticed it would vanish from the screen if I stepped into a lift, or was in an underground car park, so I assume it is a “strong signal” indicator.

Security

One little gripe I have is with phone security, or lack of.

While the C902 does feature a keypad lock, this really only guards against accidentally dialling a number while the phone is in your pocket or bag. In comparison the MOTOKRZR K1 has a PIN activated phone lock, meaning I can’t do anything with the phone until I tap in a PIN code.

It’s an extra layer of security I appreciate. If the C902 does have such a phone lock, its activation eludes me.

Computer synchronisation

I was quickly and easily able to synchronise the phone to my laptop by way of the C902’s “PC Suite” software, which is included on the DVD that comes with the phone.

I can transfer photos and videos from the phone to my local drive, manage my contacts/phone book, appointments, and task lists, and best of all, send SMS text messages via the computer keyboard, something I appreciate no matter how big a phone’s keypad is.

Summary to date

Aside from the points I make about understanding screen icons and security, I am enjoying using this phone.

A “quick reference” page in the operating manual addressing points such as screen icons and phone security would be useful, as I consider these primary to the phone’s use, as opposed to, say, the camera, which strikes me as being a secondary function, and something I would expect to have to read more about before using.

Further reading and reviews

A few other Australian bloggers are also trying out the phone, Jen, Ben Barren, and Neerav Bhatt, so between us you’ll end up pretty clued-up on the C902.

Originally published Saturday 27 September 2008.

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The page 69 rule for determining a book’s quality

19 September 2008

That’s right. If you’re trying to read a lot of books, how can you decide what’s worth the time investment, and what’s not? The idea is as follows: flip open a novel at page 69. If you like what you read, chances are the rest of the book should be ok.

A lot of things happen at the point of 69. (Some of them aren’t suitable for inclusion in this blog). Man walked on the moon. Bryan Adams had a summer. Evel Knievel died at the age of 69. And so, ironically enough, did Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian academic to whom we owe a (strictly innocent) relationship to the number 69. His theory of how to choose a book goes like this: first of all, read page 69. If you like it, then chances are you’ll like the rest of it too.

And therein lies a tip to authors. Make page 69 awesome, and you’ll be home free.

Originally published Friday 19 September 2008.

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Twit Face route your Facebook status updates to Twitter

18 August 2008

Dylan Davis published a method of routing the Facebook update statuses of both you and your friends to Twitter a few days ago as a Facebook note. I thought this was something people might be interested in trying out, and Dylan was happy to let me republish his update status routing recipe. Enjoy!

Here’s a recipe for routing all your and your friend’s Status updates from Facebook to Twitter. See also my post about doing the same with Ecademy and other services.

Things you’ll need:-

  • An Open ID
  • An RSS feed for just your Facebook status updates. Go to your profile, click on minifeed, see All. Click on Status Stories. There’s a Subscription link bottom right.
  • An RSS feed for your friends’ Facebook status updates. Friends – Status updates from the drop down at the top of the page. There’s a Subscription link bottom right.
  • A dummy Twitter account. Create a new Twitter account and follow it from your main account.

Route your Facebook updates so when you post it also posts to Twitter.

  • Login with your OpenID into Twitterfeed.
  • Create a new entry. Put in your main Twitter account ID and Password and the RSS for your status updates.
  • Update 30 minutes, Include title only, Include Item link, Prefix each Tweet with FB.

Now each time you post a status update on Facebook, within 30 minutes it will create a Tweet from you on Twitter with a link back to your profile on Facebook.

Route your Friends’ Facebook updates so when they set their status on Facebook, you can read it in Twitter.

  • Login with your OpenID into Twitterfeed.
  • Create a new entry. Put in your dummy Twitter account ID and Password and the RSS for your friends’ status updates.
  • Update 30 minutes, Include title only, Include Item link, Prefix each Tweet with FB.

Now each time any of your friend’s post a status update on Facebook, within 30 minutes it will appear in your Twitter Friend’s timeline with a link back to their profile on Facebook.

You can use the same basic technique for any service that has one or both RSS feeds. It works better with services that include the name of the poster in the title. So Facebook, Plazes, Jaiku but not Pownce. AFAIK, Twitter is the only service with an API for updating a status externally and a 3rd party RSS to post service. Which means Twitter ends up as the best aggregator for all your services.

So the next question is which service you should use as your main update. I’m finding myself doing most of my updates on Twitter with occasional updates on Facebook and Ecademy to keep my profile on those services fresh.

Thanks again, Dylan.

Originally published Monday 18 August 2008.

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