Welcome back Philae!

June 14, 2015 by

To celebrate the news:

Click the green flag and press S to start …. then press space bar to launch Philae. Arrow keys for left and right. Up arrow for thrust. If it all goes weird, hit R to reset.
Hit the red landing site to get points, but not too fast or you’ll pop! You have limited fuel, so try and get as many points as you can before you run out.

Class notes:
This project was written in Nov 2014 by my seven year-old son and I for fun. We used it (about 2 months ago) to teach his class of 18 seven year old kids about the Rosetta mission.

After watching the ESA video, and some narrative from me, they played this game. After about 10 minutes we went “inside the game” to let them edit the code (e.g. size of comet, speed, etc.), and draw their own Philae (which they loved). The game is deliberately more like lunar lander as I thought it was a bit too much to do a full gravitational and trig-based model with that age group!


Key learning outcomes for the class:

  • What comets are.
  • We sent a spaceship to a comet: it was an amazing achievement.
  • That the spaceship was controlled by software, and we can make something like it.
  • That we can “see inside” a game.
  • That we can edit it to make it our own version.
  • That we can draw our own things.
  • They also got an idea of what stop-frame animation is.

My favourite moment was when I said “we’re now going to go inside the game” and they all looked amazed – one turned and said “are we going to hack into it?!” – to which I said “yes”, of course. to see the code/copy/modify as you wish.


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My slides from O’Reilly’s Strata conference “Making Data Work” today.

I described some of AMEE’s journey: through open data aggregation and distribution, accessibility, provenance,  and structure. But better data isn’t enough – no one (well, a few) really cares about the science or the technology. We need to engage with stakeholders to provide meaningful insight and relevance to their business. AMEE will be launching a new initiative this year to create an environmental score for every company in the UK.

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Energy Identity

July 19, 2012 by

Since AMEE’s inception in 2005, we have recognised that the emerging sets of data needed for carbon calculation and energy assessment present huge privacy issues.

Combined with the automation of data capture through smart-meters, mobiles, purchases and other “digital identity” sources there is a real need to address some fundamental issues.

As we help to glue together the instrumented world, what are the outcomes and what are the risks?

Energy Identity = The digital embodiment of
your physical consumption

(from slide 32 of my eTech presentation)

This concept applies to everything from individuals to businesses to countries, a product to a supply-chain, a home to a bank.

Issues include;

  1. Data ownership
  2. Data privacy
  3. Data portability (sharing) and control

The good news is that we’ve “seen this movie before”. In the 1990s we stumbled online, throwing our digital identity information all over the place, in an unstructured manner, and didn’t consider these points until it was too late. Initiatives such as OpenID and OAuth are only now trying to re-invent control mechanisms to address what we all need.

With energy, we have an opportunity to pre-emptively declare the rules of engagement. Some activity is already evident in this space (e.g. Google Powermeter testifing to congress). In the UK, since we have the UK Government as a client, I was able to seed some of these ideas some time ago (the UK is also gifted with the presence of MySociety).

To summarise, the issues include:

1. Data ownership

This should really default to you/your business (i.e. the source of the consumption).

The EULA of your service provider should ensure that you own your data and have expressly given permission to use it. Standard stuff really, but we’re a long way from that in this emerging dataverse.

From AMEE’s perspective, when we hold your data it’s subject to the EULA of the provider you are coming through (e.g. Dopplr) and defaults to you otherwise.

2. Data privacy

As with other services, the default should be to use a series of seperate silos.

AMEE holds each client’s data in separate silos (e.g. Google in one silo, Morgan Stanley in another). This allows for both digital separation and, if required, physical separation. AMEE can shard to enable this.

Further we anonymise the data on the way in – in fact we insist that clients don’t use AMEE to store e-mail addresses etc, and just use the anonymous key AMEE provides to link their user data. This key is held in their user database and points to the anonymized “AMEE Profile”. Given how much personal data is stored about businesses and individuals in AMEE we wanted to pre-emptively push away this risk, and instill confidence in our clients that even if AMEE were compromised, their users would remain anonymous.

3. Data portability (sharing) and control

Having established that ownership and privacy are the two foundation stones, we can then acknowledge that the ability to share information is extremely important. To do so opens a lot of issues, which we’ve been working on for a long time now, but we are confident that AMEE’s model enables extremely rich data portability without compromising ownership and privacy, by pushing control back to the data owners.

Thanks to effective anonymisation and security, we also believe that data mining and interpretation can be carried out without compromising privacy. Because AMEE has an effective security strategy in place, we can interpret and analyse the Energy Identities of, and on behalf of, our clients, and their clients, in an aggregate fashion, without becoming a “big green brother”.

The results of this research can be used to track the impact of policies regarding energy generation, distribution and use; and to confirm and develop carbon accounting protocols.


Thankfully most of the these issues are recognisable trends in the online development.

The challenge, and more importantly, the opportunity is to pre-emptively address these issues as we move to a deeper interconnected world.

The potential is for all of us to become involved in the development of our low-carbon economy, the democratization of energy and sustainability and, we hope, to avoid mass extinctions.

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ISEA 2012

May 29, 2012 by

I’ll be speaking at the Eighteenth International Symposium on Electronic Art, ISEA2012 Albuquerque.

Machine Wilderness is a symposium and series of events exploring the discourse of global proportions on the subject of art, technology and nature. The ISEA symposium is held every year in a different location around the world, and has a 30-year history of significant acclaim.

Acoustic Cosmology will be included in the “Radical Cosmologies” track.

Update: I’m speaking on “The Utterance of a Cosmological Model” in Hotel Albuquerque: Sandia Room at 2:30pm.

The “Radical Cosmologies” theme will gaze at the universe and question our place in it. It will explore a wide range of creative perspectives and practices around the cultural, scientific and philosophical possibilities of contemporary astronomy. This theme will incorporate various forms of media, written word, performance and installation, as well as workshops, community-based actions, lectures and online projects to offer viewers fresh interpretations and experiences of cultural myths, indigenous histories and contemporary science.

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A sneak preview of some of the work I’ll be presenting on Sunday.

Below is a radio-image taken by ALMA of the “Antennae Galaxies” colliding. We have transformed the image-cube data, in which each pixel represents an electromagnetic radio spectrum, into a sonic spectrum. By clicking the image and moving your cursor around you can “play” a spectrum of the colliding galaxies.

Spend some time moving slowly around the red(redshifted) areas – there is a surprising richness to the harmonics for such a simple sonification.

Note: this loads a 62MB data-cube before displaying (still working on a compressed version) … it could take many minutes to appear if you are on a slow connection – it did take these photons 70 million years to reach us, so please be patient while they go the last few bit-miles!

To view & listen, I recommend you open this link in a new tab while you are reading this post.

To get a sense of the picture at optical wavelengths, here’s the HST image .

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“On 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first human in outer space and the first to orbit the Earth. 2011 sees the fiftieth anniversary of that event…”

As part of my ongoing work on Binary Dust, I am speaking at Heavenly Discourses on Sunday 16th October 16:45 – 18:00. PANEL: Music

I’ll be presenting new work (including sounds and pictures derived from ALMA) that my great collaborators, Andrew Newsam and Julie Freeman, have helped me with (thank you!).

Here’s the abstract of my paper. I am delighted to have been accepted – esp. as I’m one of the few/the only non-institutional presenters at the conference.

The utterance of a cosmological model?

A conjoining of languages, Acoustic Cosmology is an attempt to describe our audible worlds – a 21st century progression of the music of the spheres – a narrative of acoustic sculpture within n-dimensional space. With no intentional stance on sound as a cultural construct or phenomenology, we openly explore links between cosmology and music, using the language of mathematics and sonic art.

Building on the works Trevor Wishart and Jean-Pierre Luminet, and developed by professional astronomers and musicians, we question and connect the fabric of these non-verbal languages.

Using cosmology and sonic art as its basis, this paper will provide a journey of discovery – a basis for discussion in the junction between music and astronomy, opening up new methods of comprehending scale, connection, depth and complexity. Sound examples and visuals will be included in the presentation.

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Possible futures?

May 8, 2009 by
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A Climate of Polarisation

January 28, 2009 by

(copy of my post on the O’Reilly Radar)

We’re all aware of the emotive language used to polarize the climate change debate.

There are, however, deeper patterns which are repeated across science as it interfaces with politics and media. These patterns have always bothered me, but they’ve never been as “important” as now.

We are entering an new era of seismic change in policy, business, society, technology, finance and our environment, on a scale and speed substantially greater than previous revolutions. The sheer complexity of these interweaving systems is staggering.

Much of this change is being driven by “climate science”, and in the communications maelstrom there is a real risk that we further alienate “science” across the board.

We need more scientists with good media training (and presenting capability) to change the way that all sciences are represented and perceived. We need more journalists with deeper science training – and the time and space to actually communicate across all media. We need to present uncertainty clearly, confidently and in a way that doesn’t impede our decision-making.

On the climate issue, there are some impossible levers to contend with;

  1. Introducing any doubt into the climate debate stops any action that might combat our human impact.
  2. Introducing “certainty” undermines our scientific method and its philosophy.

When represented in political, public and media spaces, these two levers undermine every scientific debate and lead to bad decisions.

Pascal’s Wager is often invoked, and this is entirely reasonable in this case.

It is reasonable because of what’s at stake: the risk of mass extinction events. If there is a probability that anthropogenic climate change will cause the predicted massive interventions in our ecosystem, then we have to act.

The nature of our actions must be commensurate with both the cause and the effect. The causes are many: population, production, consumption – as are the effects: war, poverty, scarcity, etc.

Our interventions will use all our means to address both cause and effect, and those actions will run deep.

Equally, we must allow science to do what it’s designed to do: measure, model, analyse and predict.

From a scientific perspective we must allow more room for theories to evolve, otherwise we’ll only prove what we’re looking for.

However, if we ignore the potential need to act, the consequences are not something anyone will want to see.

It’s not something we can fix later (for me, “geo-engineering” is not a fix, it’s a pre-infected band-aid).

Given the massive complexity of the issues, and that – really – anthropogenic climate change is only one of many “peak consumption” issues that we face, there is no way we can accurately communicate all the arguments that would lead to mass understanding.

However, the complexity issues are no different from those we face in politics. They are not solvable, but they are addressable.

We can communicate the potential outcomes, and the decisions that individuals need to make in order to impact the causes.

Ultimately it’s your personal choice.

My choice is based on my personal exposure to the science, business, data, policy, media, and broader issues around sustainability. That choice is to do my best to catalyse change as fast as I possibly can.

We all need to actively engage in improving communication, so that everyone – potentially everyone on Earth – can make informed choices about the future of the planet we inhabit.

Recommended reading: is a great resource.

Today, the UK Government launched a campaign “to create a more science literate society, highlighting the science and technology based industries of the future”

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This year is the 50th anniversary of Jodrell Bank.

Today is also a landmark day for Jodrell Bank – the whole science team are moving from on-site, to Manchester University. While this is probably very practical, I can’t help feeling sad that this unique and historic research establishment is dramatically shifting its identity.

I worked at Jodrell from 1994-1995 and thoroughly enjoyed it: 120 scientists in the middle of a field in deepest Cheshire. Remarkably “British” Science – on my first day I was shown around to one of the “workshops” (very slightly more advanced than a garden shed) where someone was building an amplifier for the main dish, and cooling it to under 20 degrees Kelvin, making it one of the quietest amplifiers on Earth.

In another room, years later, someone was building their own data router, to carry data at 30 Gigabits per second, since the best commercial ones couldn’t come anywhere close

…today MERLIN‘s seven telescopes ship 30Gbps, each, to a huge computer cluster at the main facility that processes 150-200Gbps of data in real time – making it one of the most powerful computers on Earth.

The history of Jodrell Bank and the Lovell Telescope is vast: it’s first official task was to identify and track Sputnik – it was the only instrument the West had (at the time) that could do so.

Pulsars and Quasars are amongst the discoveries in which Jodrell was the catalyst. The Cosmic Microwave Background, Masers, Gravitational Lenses, and myriad others are part of the rich mixture of Radio Astronomy research.

Jodrell gets very little mention compared to other facilities, unlike its US counterpart the VLA, or the Hubble Space Telescope. The latter is particularly relevant – Jodrell has had equal or better resolution than the HST since before HST launched – and the only reason you don’t know that is because NASA have a $20m “marketing budget” to tell the world. That’s about the same as Jodrell had to upgrade the entire facility.

Jodrell was mentioned a couple of times in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “… Jodrell Bank looked straight through them — which was a pity because it was exactly the sort of thing they’d been looking for all these years … someone decided it was time for a nice relaxing cup of tea” – and happens to be very true: tea at 11am and 3pm was an unmissable part of the day. Everything stopped.

It was at tea that one of the longest serving members of staff was trying to recall how they’d built some of the 6-bit computers I was trying to re-interpret the data from (“now was bit 3 the weather or the telescope ID?”). I should have kept that envelope…

Last year the Lovell Telescope was nominated the UK’s greatest ‘Unsung Landmark’ in a BBC competition. This only scratches the surface. To me, Jodrell Bank is iconic of an entire country of passionate, brilliant scientists, who get little of no recognition for the spectacular work that they do. At various times, Jodrell has had to justify its existence, which is reasonable for any institution to have to do, but I believe that much of its real value is overlooked….

I am delighted that, 13 years after leaving, I will be going back to hear some of my music (“Binary Dust“) played at the 50th Anniversary celebrations, right in front of the Lovell Telescope dish.

They are also projecting onto the 76m Lovell dish, which should be quite spectacular – it’s at least twice the size of the largest IMAX screen (hope the weather’s good!).

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ICMC presentation (3D-sound)

January 25, 1994 by

Part of the results of my Masters Degree in Computer-Music from Glasgow University.

Amongst other things, we “streamed” uncompressed WAV files between Glasgow and Edinburgh, because we could.
I went on to build a 3-site, 40 NeXT machine network to do audio research at the University.

Starks, G.R. & Linton, K.N. (Sept. 1994).
sndSpace: A Graphical 3-D Stereo Application“,
International Computer Music Conference, Aarhus, Denmark.

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