Burning Man Time Lapse Video

Time lapse videos are always fun. Here is the entire 2007 Burning Man event compressed into approximately ten minutes.

What’s fun about this video is not just seeing the blinky lights and blinding sandstorms, but also the fact that you get to see the Man burn not once but twice. When there are just under seven minutes left in the video, you see a brief fire followed by a quick hose down, after which the night time scene is illuminated by floodlights. The show must go on, so they quickly rebuild the Man in order to burn him by the end of the event.

This episode brings into sharp focus the paradox of stage-managing anarchists and choreographing chaos. What sort of a church did Dionysus really preside over?

Shortly after the Civil War began in 1861, the legislators of the Confederate States of America were charged with writing a constitution for their new country. They faced a crucial question: should the right to secede, which they had so proudly exercised the month before, be guaranteed by their new constitution? Answer: no. Secession is a fine thing, but only in moderation, please. We splitters must hang together.

We all crave a little madness, but only after the curtain goes up and before it goes down. In the battle between directors and destructors, order wins every time. The force that builds the Man is stronger than the force that burns him down. That’s exactly what’s being celebrated.

[Spotted at O’Reilly Radar]

Go Sox!

As a Boston-based blogger, I can’t let the recent events in Colorado pass without a mention. At this point, I’m just wondering if there are any more National League fields named after beer companies. Beer parks have brought good luck to the Red Sox, first in Busch Stadium in 2004 and now in Coors Field. A quick review of all the parks turns up chewing gum and orange juice, but no more beers. Mmmm… chewing gum.

To my brother in Colorado, who gamely called me tonight and offered a friendly wager (so long as he was allowed to bet on the Sox), I will point out that losing to the Sox in 2004 brought good luck to the Cardinals in 2006.

UPDATE: My beer assertion above is wrong. Owing to a bleary-eyed posting oversight last night, I completely missed the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park. Astute reader Chris K points out in the comments that the stars are now aligned for a Brewers/Sox showdown. Thanks Chris!

Science Tattoos

Carl Zimmer, the blogging science journalist, mentioned in a recent post that he has a biologist friend with a DNA tattoo on his shoulder. He went on to offer to post pictures of any scientific tattoos that people cared to send him. So many people sent him pictures that he started a Flickr photo set on the topic. There are currently 81 photos there.

I like this one of Darwin’s first diagram of a branching tree of speciation. Earlier this year a Darwin exhibit came to the Boston Museum of Science and I remember being mesmerized by that picture. And any fan of alchemy will appreciate this symbol of the Philosopher’s Stone.

People are sometimes surprised when they see scientists being passionate or emotional. But science, after all, is just a way for people, often passionate angry people, to come to agreement in spite of their emotions. Logic channels energy, but it can’t create it. I like these tattoos because they hint at something dark and subtle in the part of the lawn that Occam’s razor can’t trim.

Which way is the girl spinning?

Yes, I know this is a suggestive silhouette that was no doubt created by a man. BUT: see if the visual effect does not bend your brain.

Clockwise? Counterclockwise?

The question is very simple: is this figure, as viewed from the top, rotating clockwise or counterclockwise? If you’re like me, you’ll have an immediate and unshakable opinion on the matter. One glance and I was certain it was clockwise. I was so certain that I was extremely puzzled when I read that it’s possible to perceive this as rotating in the other direction. It made sense; there are no depth cues to the profile. And yet I could not imagine how I might jump start my brain into seeing it go the other way. My eye flitted away from the screen briefly, and then POP! I’m now seeing it spin counterclockwise. Now I can’t see it go the other way. Can you switch your brain from one direction to another on demand?

This short piece in the Australian Herald Sun puts a pop psychology gloss on it, which is probably about as meaningful as a horoscope, but the claim is that if you’re a clockwiser, then you’re a right-brained bearded herbal tea drinker. And you wear those weird, comfortable shoes. Otherwise, you went to MIT. Those being the only two kinds of people in the world and all.

After a little Googling, I came across this impressive site dedicated to optical illusions. His take on the spinning girl effect is that you can reverse the direction by looking at the shadow. Work for you?

Truck ads: good and bad

It makes sense to me that big pickup trucks are advertised during football games. That’s probably as concentrated a demographic as you can hope for when it comes to potential truck-buyers. And I should probably also say that I personally am not in the market for a pickup truck. Even so, I find almost all the football-game ads for big American pickup trucks intensely irritating, because it seems all they can do is wave the flag, show some dirt-throwin’ four-wheeling in a meaty American landscape, and recite some terse, muscular copy that implies a relationship between horsepower and patriotism. I don’t even object to this in principle. It’s just dull and sad when you see it done over and over and over. Don’t those marketers have just a little more faith in the imagination of the American consumer?

Because of all this, I was so happy to see this great ad for a pickup truck that is completely set in World of Warcraft (“Did you see me lay down the law?! I am the lawgiver!”).

At last, a truck marketer with some imagination! And… it’s for a Toyota Tundra. If I were in the market for a truck, this ad would make me want to buy Japanese. Please please please Detroit, let us out of the tiny box you think we’re in.

(also spotted on metacool)

Two faces of a moon

“Japetus is unique in the Solar System—you know this already, of course, but like all the astronomers of the last three hundred years, you’ve probably given it little thought. So let me remind you that Cassini—who discovered Japetus in 1671—also observed that it was six times brighter on one side of its orbit than the other.

“This is an extraordinary ratio, and there has never been a satisfactory explanation for it. Japetus is so small – about eight hundred miles in diameter—that even in the lunar telescopes its disk is barely visible. But there seems to be a brilliant, curiously symmetrical spot on one face, and this may be connected with TMA-1. I sometimes think that Japetus has been flashing at us like a cosmic heliograph for three hundred years, and we’ve been too stupid to understand its message.”

Arthur C. Clarke gave these words to his fictitious astronomer Heywood Floyd near the climax of his book 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like a lot of people, I read those words years ago and thought to myself: what is the dang deal with Japetus? Clarke wasn’t making up the part about the two-faced nature of Iapetus (as it is more commonly called), an oddball Saturnian moon.

The two-toned satellite is still mysterious, but now we have some quality snapshots from the visiting Cassini spacecraft. And, hoo boy! they do not disappoint. I find this APOD picture astounding: The Strange Trailing Side of Saturn’s Iapetus. Great Clarke! Look in the sky! It’s a cosmic snowball rolled in dirt… it’s a sugar-frosted chocolate space truffle… it’s… it’s a much better investment than the International Space Station. You know what we need? I’ll tell you what we need: more space robots with cameras and fewer accident-prone gold-plated Tang-sucking astro-cosmo-taikonauts.

The wallowing Olympic Voyager

Here is a video, taken from a helicopter, of a cruise ship taking a beating from massive seas.

You look at this video and you think, Good God! What must it have been like to be inside that boat?

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this kind of thing anymore, but this being the web, you jolly well can find out what it was like to be inside that boat. Here’s a link to a Spanish news video about the experience: Inside The Rough Cruise Ship Video

I once saw a TV special on the disastrous Sydney-Hobart Race of 1998. This was a big regatta that sailed straight into the teeth of an enormous storm. Boats sank, people died, and since they were rich enough to own racing yachts, this story hit the news in a big way. The funny thing I noticed from the show was this: rough seas don’t look that rough from a hovering helicopter. There was plenty of video footage of visibly frightened people clinging to boats, and it just didn’t look that bad. But I know full well that if I were plunging to the bottom of every trough, sick with apprehension about the structural soundness of my ship (not to mention seasick), I would be just as scared.

That’s one reason I was fascinated by this cruise ship video. Once again, the seas don’t look so bad until you see the dramatic effect on the wallowing barge.

So what was the real story with the cruise ship? The ship was the Olympic Voyager, and the event was a Valentine’s Day storm in 2005 that knocked out her engines. What you’re watching is a large ship (though not big by modern cruise ship standards), designed to be fast, unable to make way in a massive swell. Without enough speed to give her steerage, she’s taking the seas in a particularly bad way. Here’s the full story from MSNBC: Once-hobbled Spanish cruise ship out of danger.

Web research has the ability to make a story pop out of the screen into three dimensions. Because you’re able to come at things from so many different angles, from inside and outside the boat and so on, you can develop a larger sense of the events that occurred. This story was hard to track down though, because this one video was so popular that it washed everything else out of the search results. It took a while to sift through the dozens of sites that simply reposted the video along with its minimal and somewhat incorrect text description. I was pleased, though, to eventually find this review from an earlier voyage:

Much of the time it was actually quite dangerous to try to walk anywhere on the ship, because the pitching and lurching of the ship was often violent. Day after day of staggering is not a pleasant experience. The fundamental problem seems to be that the ship simply cannot handle water that is rougher than a ripple.

Speedy though she is, my advice is to avoid the Olympic Voyager.