The practical side of the transit of Venus

The transit of Venus is cool.

I think we can all agree on that. On Tuesday, the planet Venus will pass between us and the Sun—a little black dot sliding across the face of a giant, yellow ball. Barring the Singularity, this will be your last opportunity to see a transit of Venus. The next one won't happen until December of 2117.

But, beyond looking nifty and reminding you of your own mortality, what, exactly, is the transit of Venus good for? Is this a cultural event, a scientific event, or a little of both?

Historically, the transit of Venus provided the data that allowed us to gauge the size of the solar system for the first time. This time around, according to, researchers will be watching the transit with an eye to the universe outside our solar system. That's because what we learn from the transit of Venus could help us identify planets (including Earth-ish planets) elsewhere in the galaxy.

Astronomers already key in on transits to search for alien worlds, often finding them by detecting the telltale dips in brightness exoplanets cause when they pass in front of their parent stars. NASA's Kepler space telescope has been very successful using this technique, flagging more than 2,300 candidate alien planets to date.

“During the transit, Venus Express will make important observations of Venus’ atmosphere that will be compared with ground-based telescopes to help exoplanet hunters test their techniques," said Håkan Svedhem, ESA’s Venus Express project scientist.

Read the rest of the story

Find lots of educational materials, how-tos, and useful transit of Venus information at

Check out Discovery News' guide to safely photographing the transit of Venus Read the rest

What's quantum physics got to do with biology?

Photosynthesis allows plants to convert light from the Sun into energy, and, in some cases, it does this incredibly well. In fact, certain bacteria can capture 95% of the light that hits them and turn it into useful energy.

Solar panels also convert light from the Sun into energy—but they aren't nearly as good at it. The very best solar panels ever tested in a lab (i.e., not the ones actually available for sale and installation on your house) were able to convert about 34% of the light that hit them into electricity. (Individual experimental solar cells can do better than that. But those are even further away from being incorporated into commercially available panels.)

Why can't we use the Sun's energy as effectively as bacteria can? The secret may be that the bacteria are using quantum physics to transmit energy. It's sort of like the bacteria have a method for keeping boxes of energy from falling off the truck during transport. Read the rest

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EFF Geek Reading, May 30 in San Francisco

Joanna from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes:

If you plan on being in or around San Francisco May 30, come join EFF for a Geek Reading with Barbara Simons. An expert on electronic voting, Simons co-authored Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count? As Simons told us recently 'The way we run our voting system in this country is really a scandal,and it's a scandal that no one talks about.' Lots of people will be talking about it at EFF's upcoming Geek Reading, though, and you're invited to join in the discussion.

EFF Geek Readings bring Internet users, bloggers, free speech advocates, and other interested folks together to hear from prominent writers and thinkers, meet like-minded community members, and exchange ideas.

Geek Reading: The Broken E-Voting System with Barbara Simons (Thanks, Joanna!) Read the rest

Geology geeks: Time for a shopping spree

The United States Geological Survey is having a great big spring sale, with lots of maps, charts, and publications—some of them mid-century vintage—discounted to $1. Yes, $1. At that price, you can't afford to not own entirely too many USGS maps. (Via Travis Weller) Read the rest

South African 3D printing conference

Chris sez, "I'm helping to arrange a conference on 3D printing/additive manufacturing in South Africa. We have some world-renowned professors on the subject coming and its being held in a game reserve so it should be fun!"

Rapid Prototyping remains a key technology in the Rapid Product Development suite of technologies. However, over the past decade we have experienced growing acceptance of this powerful technology in the manufacturing industry, not only as prototyping tool, but increasingly as niche manufacturing technology. The inherent ability of the technology to accommodate part complexity and customization, coupled with an ever-increasing range of materials, has provided industry with unprecedented flexibility in design and production. Resulting from this, Additive Manufacturing has replaced Rapid Prototyping as internationally accepted terminology for this technology. Also in South Africa the uptake of Additive Manufacturing by industry has been breathtaking.

In the calm and pristine environment of the South African Bushveld, the conference programme will offer a variety of opportunities for participants from industry, R&D institutions, academia and government to listen to presentations, engage in discussions, visit exhibitions and just interact informally during the three days of the event.

Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (Thanks, Chris!) Read the rest

English National Opera to mount Philip Glass production about Walt Disney's last days

Philip Glass and the English National Opera will stage "The Perfect American," adapted from Peter Stephan Jungk's fictionalized account of Walt Disney's last months.

Glass – described by the ENO as “one of the world’s most important composers” – said the life of the man behind Mickey Mouse was “unimaginable, alarming and truly frightening”.

The story follows cartoonist Wilhelm Dantine, who worked for Disney in the 1950s. The production does not have the rights to use Disney’s most famous characters, but it is likely to find a way to reference them. Berry said: “Glass is very interested in the impact that a personality of that order has on wider culture.”

ENO to stage Philip Glass opera about the last days of Walt Disney (Thanks, Tom!) Read the rest

Chicago Writers Conference seeks funds

Bill Shunn sez,

The Chicago Writers Conference is Chicago's only homegrown mainstream literary conference focusing on practical business advice for fiction and non-fiction writers alike. The brainchild of Mare Swallow, it will feature such editors, agents, and authors as Chuck Sambuchino, Christine Sneed, Robert K. Elder, and Jennifer Mattson.

But it can only happen with support! The CWC is in the final eight days of its Kickstarter campaign and still needs to raise over $4000 for equipment rental, web development, speakers' travel expenses. There are lots of great incentives remaining for various donation levels, including art, signed books, and query letter or story manuscript critiques from Chuck Sambuchino and William Shunn. Please help, and support Chicago's long tradition of literary excellence!

Make the Chicago Writers Conference a Reality! (Thanks, Bill) Read the rest

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Register for a chance to watch a SpaceX launch in style

Plan on being in Florida on April 29/30? Then you should register to watch the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket as part of a NASA Social. There are only 50 spots available, randomly selected from the pool of registrants. If you get in, you'll get a tour of the launch pad and Kennedy Space Center, get to talk to people who work in both public and private space programs, and get to watch the launch from a splendid vantage point with a bunch of other awesome space geeks. Downside: You cover your own transportation. (Via Karen James) Read the rest

Underground press history event in San Francisco this Saturday

Rina writes, "Join SF in SF and PM Press for an evening with ON THE GROUND: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S. with Trina Robbins, Billy X. Jennings, Judy Gumbo Albert and Terry Bisson. Join contributors to the original underground press movement in discussion, reading, and what's bound to be interesting debate!"

As with all SF in SF events, it's free: Mar 31, 6PM, 582 Market Street @ 2nd and Montgomery, San Francisco, CA 94104.

Bonus Reading This Saturday – Sixties Underground Press Read the rest

Return of Mat Ricardo's London Varieties

Juggler/impresario Mat Ricardo sez, "Just wanted to say a big thanks to all the BoingBoingers who came to Mat Ricardo's London Varieties last month - it was a sell-out, and a hell of a show, partly because of our smart, savvy and fun audience. All the performers are telling me how much they're loving working to such great people, so I couldn't be happier. Next month's show is April 12th, with another killer line-up - a street performer who made it to the Royal Variety show, and beyond - The Boy With Tape On His Face, Time-travelling magicians Morgan & West, Shadowgrapher Paul Dabek, and in performance and in conversation, the legendary Lenny Beige. The podcast of last months show is available here, and you can buy tickets for the April 12th show here." Read the rest

Free Claude Lalumière and Richard A. Lupoff in San Francisco

The next installment in San Francisco's excellent SF in SF reading series will feature Claude Lalumière and Richard A. Lupoff, on Mar 17. Jameson's will be served at the cash bar. Admission is free, as always, though donations are solicited for Variety Children’s Charity of Northern California. Read the rest

LA folks: Amazing Dangerous Minds party Friday night, Masonic Temple

The Masonic Lodge, Los Angeles

Richard Metzger and Tara McGinley of Dangerous Minds have cooked up an incredible event taking place this Friday night in Los Angeles, timed to coincide with the occasion of the SXSW music, film and interactive festival/convention. Richard writes:

The fine people at Mastercard PayPass® and Google Wallet have teamed up with Cool Hunting and Dangerous Minds to bring a little of what’s cooking in Austin to you, the Dangeorus Minds reader. And they’re going to feed you and treat you to an open bar.

This Friday night, March 16th, at the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywoord Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, you can catch a big-screen simulcast of the Sub Pop Records showcase, live from Red 7 in Austin. featuring Niki & the Dove, THEESatisfaction and South Africa’s exciting Spoek Mathambo

The Los Angeles event will be MC’d by “America’s Funnyman” Neil Hamburger and DJs that evening will include Chris Holmes, Elijah Wood, Brie Larson and TURQUOISE WISDOM.

Food will be served by Grill Em All and Mandoline Grill with sweet deserts from Coolhaus.

If you are reading Boing Boing, you need to go. Man, Spoek Mathambo alone is worth it—below, his "Control."

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Alan Turing centennial concert and installation in Seattle, June 22

On June 22, Seattle will celebrate the Alan Turing centennial with an evening concert and installation at the Chapel Performance Space, curated by David Stutz (free software hacker, musician, vintner, and the guy who produced the musical CD that accompanied Neal Stephenson's Anathem -- an all-round happy mutant).

The event will be held as part of the Wayward Music Series at Seattle’s wonderful venue for experimental music, the Chapel Performance Space. Details will be forthcoming, but I plan on presenting a number of musical pieces, poetry that paraphrases a proof by Turing in the style of Dr. Seuss, the work of several visual artists, small vignettes from Turing’s life, and possibly some dance and/or theater. When the final program has been finalized, I will post it here.

a seattle concert and installation in honor of Alan Turing Read the rest

Get yer ORGcon 2012 tickets now!

Reminder: tickets are going fast for ORGCon 2012 in London on March 24: speakers include Larry Lessig, Wendy Seltzer, Ross Anderson, Tim Lowenthal and me. Read the rest

This Thursday is Wear Your EFF Swag to Work Day

The Electronic Frontier Foundation would like you to know that this Thursday, Mar 8, is "Wear Your EFF Swag to Work Day" -- the day when you discover which of your co-workers are already clued in to the need to keep the Internet free and open and ensure that civil liberties make the jump from the physical world to the digital one. Kellie from EFF sez, "All day on March 8th, we'll also be watching #EFFatWork and retweeting notable EFF gear photos."

Wear Your EFF Swag to Work Day! Read the rest

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