Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Today on Radio New Zealand National I talk about stargazing, and how you can use cheap or free technology to help you understand what you’re seeing when you look into the night sky. I’ll be on after the 11am news.

Read on for my speaking notes, or after the broadcast you’ll be able to download the audio as ogg or mp3. (more…)

posted by colin at 7:14 pm  

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is this the strangest looking aeroplane?


This is a Lockheed SR71 “Blackbird”, displayed on public view at the air museum in Duxford, England. The Blackbird was a high-altitude supersonic spyplane used in the later part of the cold war. The Americans started using the Blackbird after Gary Powers was shot down over the USSR in his U2 – the SR71 flew higher and faster – but pensioned it off after it became clear that advances in missile technology meant it was at risk of shooting down from the installations it was sent to observe. Now, of course, we all use satellite technology thanks to Google Earth. As a kind of postscript, the U2 is still flying over Iraq and other hot spots, long after the aircraft designed to replace it has gone to the museums.

The Blackbird flew at over Mach 3, at heights of over 75,000 ft. It took off and landed – of course – at sea level, so its engines and airframe needed to be able to deal with low speeds as well as its cruising altitude. The engines would only burn subsonic air, so the inlets of the engines had to be complex and vary in shape to slow the air enough when the plane was going fast. That’s the purpose of the cones pointing forward out of the engines – the cones moved in and out depending on the aircraft speed. Even so, the SR71 would sometimes suffers what the US military quaintly called an “unstart” while at cruising speed and altitude. Both engines would go out, meaning that the aircraft would have to descend and decelerate while trying to restart the engines nearer sea level. That’s not something you would want to have to do over enemy territory!

Even so, not a single Blackbird was lost to enemy action. But 12 out of the 32 that were made crashed in accidents. It’s not technology that you’d want to use in airliners.

But I still think it’s a wonderful, if strange, looking aircraft.

posted by colin at 9:42 pm  

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Weird but interesting…

…in a geeky kind of way. Over in the hill in Featherston, Rowan Smith has posted a video of the Huygens lander hitting Titan. There was no camera crew, of course – this video is part live feed from a camera on the bottom of the probe, and part visualisation from the instruments. And there is sound from a mic on the lander.

Go on, you know you want to.

posted by colin at 12:01 pm  

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dance on a Volcano

I’ve just been to New Zealand’s most active volcano. It’s an amazing experience. (more…)

posted by colin at 5:34 pm  

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cables being cut in the Middle East

Some undersea cables have been cut by a ship. The results have affected Internet and phone service in the Middle East. (more…)

posted by colin at 9:50 am  

Thursday, October 11, 2007

We all need standards

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about standards for computers and networking and why we need them.

The capsule summary here is:

  • Having no standards allows companies to charge what they like and kills innovation.
  • Having two or more standards is much the same as having none.
  • Having one officially-blessed standard means that companies have to compete on the excellence of their products rather than being able to lock their customers in. And it allows magic like the Internet to emerge.

Read on for my speaking notes, and as usual there are some links at the bottom.


posted by colin at 10:50 am  

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Volcanos and Earthquakes!

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about volcanos and earthquakes and what you can find out about them on the Internet. The New Zealand web site GeoNet tells you all about volcanic and seismic activity. Read on for my notes and the links at the end.

posted by colin at 11:50 am  

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Another map of the Web

As someone who once spent a few hours wandering around the Tokyo subway, and who loves the Web, this appeals to my sense of cool :-)

posted by colin at 8:31 pm  

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