Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website,

Friday 30 November 2012

Website update !

Time for another website update, you lucky people. Quite a lot this time. Firstly, you can now buy selected renderings via StockTrek Images (click for a gallery of the images currently available). You can either buy images in high-resolution electronic format, or as actual physical prints. Quite why anyone would want to do this, I'm not sure, but apparently there's a market for this so what the hell.

A rather nice consequence of this is that I re-rendered the images at print resolution. Some of these needed a lot of work to bring them up to a more modern standard, which means now they're significantly improved I think. The most improved images can be seen below, with the old renders for comparison.

Aries IB lunar ferry from "2001 : A Space Odyssey"

Orion-drive nuclear spaceship leaving Earth

Orion launching from the ground

StockTrek have a contract which is nothing short of lovely for a commercial company - it's totally non-exclusive and I'm free to do whatever I want with the images independently. Therefore I've posted the updated images in full HD on my website, and though you can go through StockTrek to get the high-res versions, you can also negotiate with me directly, if you want. So I've avoided selling my soul to capitalism, which brings me nicely around to item 2.

Sometimes people contact me with requests for images that I simply have to outright refuse due to time constraints. I couldn't do that for the latest one - not in good conscience anyway. It would've kept me awake at night if it turned it down. The project was to illustrate a book cover for a sci-novel by a certain Robert Burns. The plot of The Unselfish Gene involves zombies, tsunamis of fire, Buddhists living on the Mooon, and oh yes, a a 40,000 tonne spacecraft propelled by nuclear bombs. Yet for some reason the original edition of the book had, as its front cover, this :

OK, it's a sexy lady, though I do wonder why our careless heroine has found herself sans clothing on a zombie-infested planet. Anyway, it's not an bomb-propelled spaceship escaping from Earth being hit by planet-killing comet, which is what we decided on for the new cover image. An earlier idea was to show the Anita blasting off from Dallas. As this would guarantee that Dallas would be even worse off than everywhere else (shortly before a giant comet wipes out the planet) - and by now readers should be aware that I dislike Dallas intensely - this was a very tempting option.

I didn't spend as much effort working out the physics of the Anita as I did the original Orion, of course, but I did do some fast-and-dirty numbers to check that the chemical rockets would be adequate. Not to get the ship into orbit, but just enough to get it off the ground. In fact they can do rather more than that, with enough fuel (based on the size of the tanks) to get it to 20 km. More than enough for a safe landing with a healthy margin on error.

Did I mention that the ship is friggin' massive ?
More images can be found on my website in The Unselfish Gene gallery.

And that leads me neatly into item 3. I discovered the wonders of Microsoft's service, which lets you convert huge (as in 400 megapixel) images into a format you can explore in a web browser. I have 3 zoomable images so far :

Timeline of the Universe - image I made for a public Observatory in Belgium.
Size Comparison Chart - of spaceships and other things I have made. 
The ALFALFA Sky - all eleven thousand galaxies in one image.

That's all for now. I'll be adding images to the StockTrek site as time permits. I'm also working on a colour version of the size comparison chart.

Friday 23 November 2012

Told You So

Well, doesn't time just fly by. No, actually, it sort of trudges along with great reluctance most of the time. At first I couldn't quite believe it had been a month since my last post, and then I realised I couldn't believe it because it felt like a lot longer.

Anyway, I am pleased to report that my failure to acclimatise to Puerto Rican life has not been entirely total, contrary to popular belief. Firstly, I discovered during a drunken pre-convention Trek marathon (in a small, massively overcrowded flat) that my capacity for heat tolerance has improved tenfold. Those who mocked my former susceptibility to modest increases in temperature are now laughing on the other sides of their faces. Ahahahahah.

Secondly, just after returning from the UK, a small delegation from Arecibo participated in a mini-conference in a university in Rio Piedras, part of San Juan. Rio Piedras is a very nice place indeed. It's practically European. There are actual, proper streets. It has buildings more than 50 years old, and more importantly, bus stops.

My adaptation to the ridiculous climate of the Caribbean was verified through discussions with the Puerto Rican students who had been drafted - I mean, attended freely of their own volition - to the seminars. At least one of them thought it was too hot. I thought it was alright.

But wait, there's more ! The aforementioned student had spent some time in France, and wished that Puerto Rico had a similar public transportation system.

HAH ! Take that, whoever thought I was whinging needlessly about the lack of a bus service !

I should probably add that although there are buses in San Juan (and a train service too), apparently they don't go anywhere useful. Some say this is because the taxi drivers objected. This wouldn't surprise me, given that Puerto Rico is investing nearly $80 million to build a bus lane on the motorway. And yes, I really do mean building an entirely new lane, not just painting "Bus lane" all over one part of the road.

One would have thought that the great advantage of buses, over, say, narrowboats, is that they don't require any specially-constructed canals in order to operate most effectively. Actually, they seem to do best without them. In fact, they work really very well indeed - much better than trains - on plain old regular roads. Which is why building special lanes for them is one really quite spectacular way to throw away a large amount of currency that would have been better spent on, ooh, I don't know... a fleet of buses and a multi-city transportation system, perhaps....?