Never have so many people understood so little about so much…

What inspired you as a child ?

A child today hopefully seeing the exploits of Elon Musk and Space-X launching and recovering rockets with showmanship seldom demonstrated by serious rocket scientists may have their interest  sparked in science and technology?

Personally my love of technology came yes from rocket science, but also crucially from growing up during a golden age of science broadcasting in the 1970’s when well informed specialist correspondents were on our TV screens it seemed every day.
Reginald Turnill, Patrick Moore and Raymond Baxter had both huge experience and knowledge in the fields of aviation and astronautics but were also great story tellers explaining often complex issues without the dumbing down so common today.

Reg Turnhill
Raymond Baxter in the backseat of the Harrier piloted by the great John Farley.

For me however the greatest of this generations was James Burke. Watch here his truly breathtaking live commentary of the Apollo 13  re-entry – a masterclass in explaining what is happening to the viewer during an incredibility tense few minutes.

I was too young to really remember Apollo 13 however in 1978 James Burke wrote and presented his seminal series Connections to try and explain how technology had come to play such an important part in society, in the first episode of the series he paraphrased Churchill to make the point as relevant today as it was then…

Never have so many people understood so little about so much…

I loved this series, Burke does a masterful job linking technological developments over 10,000 years to explain the modern world – imagine my joy on finding that the series had be re-released last year and is available on Amazon.

Let me show you why I am so gushing in my praise of James Burke…

Watch below perhaps the greatest “piece to camera” every filmed from Episode 8 of the series, here James Burke explains the connection between the invention of the thermos flask and landing on the moon.

Make sure you watch to the very end !

Eat your heart out Brian Cox !

A Martian afternoon with Brian

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OK not Mars but the Airbus Defence and Space factory in Stevenage, where for testing rovers they have build a “Mars Yard”.  The about of effort that goes into space engineering I still find astonishing, the yard is lit using lights that match the spectrum of light on the surface of Mars and the sand matches the cohesion and granularity found on Mars.

Spent the afternoon with my friend Brian the Mars rover, So marvellously British that.. an autonomous robot called Brian !

App Engine for Academics

As the geospatial world moves every closer to the mainstream IT, the potential of “Cloud” based technology to share mapping data and provide distributed processing for spatial analysis is increasing relevant to academics and researchers working in higher education.

Yesterday Google announced a programme to allow academics use of Google App Engine for their research projects. App Engine is the service used by Google for building and hosting web applications and offers fast development and deployment, simple administration and built-in scalability.

This new award programme will support up to 15 projects by providing App Engine credits in the amount of $60,000 to each project for one year. In its first year, the program is launched in a limited number of countries, including the UK.

See the RFP for details.

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)

Head West young man !

Well in the UK and want to experience the 4G LTE  new iPad you need to head to Newquay or St. Newlyn in Cornwall where two cell sites have been upgraded by Everything Everywhere and BT. There is also talk of a trial in Bristol !

For the rest of use we need to wait for OFCOM to auction the spectrum and the UK operators to build out their new 4G networks… Perhaps another 2 years ?

Of course HSPA is slowly rolling out around the UK, offering speeds approaching LTE, but LTE offers much greater capacity for data traffic which is of course increasingly the important factor.

You could head East of course to France, Germany, Sweden etc to try LTE now..

Welcome to the wireless slow lane..

Written and Submitted from the Festival Hall, London. (51.505N, 0.116W)

The end of the era of complex machines ?

A week ago today I stood nearly ten miles away from the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis, on its way to the International Space Station. Despite the distance I “felt” the launch in a number of ways. Unless you have experienced a launch it’s hard to describe the physical impact of such power, shaking the ground, vibrating every molecule around you, imagine a continuous clap of thunder lasting for more than a minute is the closest way I can attempt to describe it.

But the launch also effected be emotionally, I felt the same way watching the last three Concordes landing back at Heathrow together when they were retired from service.

As a child growing up in the seventies I expected my adult life to involve jumping on and off supersonic aircraft, perhaps flying to a spaceport somewhere to fly into orbit, instead I got the 8:20 South West Trains Service to Waterloo.

Perhaps it was always science fiction, but as a boy growing up watching Thunderbirds and Tomorrows World, if you had told me that society would develop and then lose supersonic transport and that by 2011 NASA would no longer be able to put Americans into low earth orbit I would not have believed you.

My hypothesis to this rather sad state of affairs for a geek, is that we allowed ourselves to over engineer solutions producing an era of machines that are so complex that economically they are unsustainable.

For example to launch Atlantis required tens of thousands of people to work at facilities all across the United States for four months to service the shuttle following it’s previous mission. This means that each shuttle missions in pure operational expenses costs hundreds of millions of dollars. Concorde was also a “hanger queen” requiring far more maintenance than conventional airliners.

Both Concorde and the Shuttle will not be directly replaced, instead in many ways less capable and simpler systems have and will take their place.

In the field of geospatial technology will we see the same trend ? Complex highly engineered solutions replaced by less capable and simpler systems, there is some evidence to suggest that trend, on the other hand Arc/Info in it’s various forms is only a year younger than the space shuttle programme and looks like it will outlive it with ease…

Is Google to ESRI as Scaled Composites and SpaceX are to NASA? I’m not sure but the old guys can always learn new tricks, while for the new guys there is wisdom to appreciate.

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)