Category Archives: Web Wanderings - Page 2

Remembering Chernobyl

On April 26, 1986 reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union near what is now Pripyat, Ukraine. Nearly twenty one years later this remains the worst nuclear power accidents and a reminder of both the awesome and potential destructive nature of nuclear power. In recent years, as radioactivity levels in the area have decreased and time has marched on, there has been much less discussion about the accident and it often receives only a cursory discussion in schools. To those still living in the area who see constant reminders of the destruction and sacrifice which followed the accident the Internet has provided a medium to ensure the accident is never forgotten.

In many ways the Chernobyl accident remains shrouded in mystery. In part thanks to the suppression of news and reporting during the Soveit era and in part due to the deaths of key figures there remains much we do not know about the accident and the aftermath. In much the same way there is controversy surrounding the discussion of the accident as well as modern exploration of the accident site. The goal of this article is to provide some guidance in the exploration of Chernobyl related resources.

A good place to start for an overview is the Wikipedia article on the Chernobyl disaster but remember that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone and may contain bias or inaccuracies. Another good place for background information and papers is the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Chernobyl page. If you’re specifically interested in the natural implications of the disaster you may want to check out the book Wormwood Forest: A natural history of Chernobyl by Mary Mycio.

Once you have a good understanding of the disaster itself you may want to start looking at some of the modern exploration and notes from the Chernobyl site. One of the most popular sites was created by the so called “Kid of Speed” Filatova Elena Vladimirovna who wrote two photographic stories (Ghost Town and Land of the Wolves) of trips into the exclusion zone and hosts them along with other thoughts on the disaster at her website. It is worth noting that several people have called parts of her stories (particularly early revisions) out as hoaxes but she remains a prominent figure and committed to remembering the disaster and her site contains many interesting photographs from the so-called exclusion area. The Nuclear Flower site, an anti-nuclear power site from Australia, contains some higher resolution photos from the exclusion area. The 26-04-1986 site was setup by seven artists from Moscow, Minsk and Berlin to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster and contains some artistic photos from the area. National Geographic also featured the Chernobyl disaster in their April 2006 issue and this online exhibit. Use the links of the side of that page to see photos, writings, maps, sites and sounds from the area. Looking toward the future you may examine the site, setup by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which bills itself as an “international communications platform on the longterm consequences of the Chernobyl disaster”.

Downloading online Flash video

As with many technologies, the advent on online Flash video (flv) has both an upside an downside. On one hand it eliminates, or at least substantially reduces, the need to have a great variety of platform dependant streaming video tools (a la RealPlayer) but on the other hand there’s a lot of good, or at least interesting, content on YouTube which could either disappear without notice and requires an Internet connection to view. This is an argument I have with most of these Internet based services such as YouTube, Flickr, etc. I think people are setting themselves up for a future problem by posting so much potentially important data at sites with unknown and uncontrollable futures. Enough of my rant though. The point here is to find a solution, or at least a mitigation strategy for viewing Flash videos offline.

Thanks in part to others experiencing the same problem and the popularity of YouTube there are a number of people with an interest in this. Several online sites such as KeepVid and Javimoya offer web-based methods of saving these videos as well as downloadable FLV players for viewing them. Again though, I have a problem with relying on web services which are unpredictable in the future. A better solution would be to use a cross platform script, such as the python based youtube-dl, which does not rely on the cooperation of a third party. Even better is to understand how a script such as youtube-dl works by reading some information on manual FLV downloading from sites like this or this.

Remebering toasters that fly

I was recently reading some excellent interviews Tommy Thomas, of Low End Mac, did with the AfterDark team which brought back some fond memories of the flying toasters. Those who remember the quirky early Macintosh screensaver developed by After Dark (later Berkely Software) often wonder where the creativity went in screen saver development, something Thomas touches on in his interviews.

For the time being those who wish to relive the golden days of the screen saver you’ll either need to find an old copy of these screensavers many of which don’t run on modern operating systems or check out some of the knock off versions such as this free one, which unforunatly doesn’t look much like the original.

I only wish I could have a room like this

Someone recently shared a link to this flickr collection where someone is showing off their basement Macintosh collection. I too have a basement vintage Macintosh collection but mine resides mostly on shelves and only gets pulled out for special occasions. I only wish that I had room and time to create as neat a display as this person has.

Finding publicly accessible journals online

As the internet continues to shake up the academic community more and more scholarly and scientific journals and associations are discovering their mission is best met through open and unrestricted access to information. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) aims to provide a searchable database of publicly accessible journals in order to promote the increased usage and importance of open access journals. In order to be included in the directory the journal must allow users to “read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts” of articles. It’s important to recognize that the journal not only provide free access but that it be open to the distribution of articles. This is especially important for instructors who want to utilize journal articles in the classroom and which sometimes have to jump thorugh any number of hoops to do so.

DIY Rapid Prototyper

Those familiar with rapid prototyping (essentially 3D printers for computers) know that both machines and supplies can be extremely expensive. Now a group known as Fab@Home has published instructions and software for building your own rapid prototyping machine. The machine they propose is certainly not as durable or precise as the commercial offerings, but at a fraction of the cost it may serve your needs just fine. If all you’re looking to do is a bit fo experimentation or introducing students to what a rapid prototyper can do a less expensive system such as this might be all you need. NewScientistTech also has a story on the Fab@Home project.

Happy Birthday Square One

Today is the twentieth birthday of Square One Television, the 1980s and 90s television show produced by Children’s Television Workshop (CTW, now Seseme Workshop). Many of us remember watching both Square One (for math) and 3-2-1 Contact (for science) as children. To some extent educational science programming continued after the discontinuation of 3-2-1 Contact, both Newton’s Apple (for adults) and Bill Nye (for students) continued the trend of high quality educational science programming, though both of those programs have also ceased production. Yet there has never been another successful attempt at educational math programming that I’m aware of. The same fate was met by Ghostwriter (for reading/writing) and Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego (for geography/social studies) which were also popular educational PBS programs. Although these programs may sometimes have been of dubious educational value, they were certainly more educational than much of what is found on afterschool television today and they were enjoyed by a great many people.

Aside from a reprise in this creative and clever educaitonal television writing for school-aged students (most educational programming these days seems aimed at the pre-school to 2nd grade crowd) I would hope that the producers of these early pioneering shows would see fit to release DVDs. Much of this programming is still used in schools because nothing better has come along and the episodes would also be enjoyed by a wider populace which either remembers them or is looking for quality educational programming. Until the day these are available on commercial DVD I’ll have to be satisfied by the tape collection which I have traded with other collectors and converted to DVD.

For more information on Square One Television visit the fantastic Square One Television fansite and forums. For more information on 3-2-1 Contact and early science programming read 80s Science TV at Inkling Magazine.

Explaining the Cingular/AT&T Name Change

I recently ran across this video of Stephan Colbert explaining the Cingular/AT&T name change. He goes though a complete explantion of the lineage of Cingular back to the original AT&T and ends up how today’s AT&T looks a lot like the AT&T of the early 1980s…

Making fun of popular music

I recently saw two videos which poke fun at pop music. The first claims that many pop songs utilize only four chords. The point is illustrated by playing and transitioning through many songs over the course of the video. The second points out that many pop songs are based on the meledy in Pachelbel’s Canon in D. It also does this by playing segments of the songs where the meledy appears.

Of course there are a few problems. First, the key of many of these songs is changed in these videos to make it more obvious so it’s not really the same chords but the same chord progression. Secondly, it’s important to remember that while these songs may incorporate the same chord progression or meledy these are only parts of the song and not the entire basis of the song. There’s a long tradition in the arts of reusing others’ work so I don’t see this (especially the Pachelbel one) as a criticism of pop music so much as a fun and humorus exercise.

Creating free installers for Windows applications

On a recent trip around the web I discovered two open source tools that allow you to create installer packages for Windows applications. The Nullsoft Scriptable Install System (NSIS) has been around for quite a while, I even used it once upon a time to package up a few scripts of mine. A chief complaint at that time was that it didn’t look or operate in the same way the Microsoft Installer (MSI) programs did which has the potential to confuse some users or make them feel that your software was of a lesser quality. In fact recent versions of Mozilla Firefox, Gaim, OpenOffice and many other popular applications use NSIS for the installer. An interesting thing about NSIS is that you can cross compile the Windows installer on POSIX OSs such as Linux.

An alternative to NSIS is Inno Setup which has been around since 1997 when the author grew frustrated with InstallShield Express (ahh the days of InstallShield). Since that time a community of support for this installer has developed leading to tools such as ISTool, a graphical intergface for creating the installer script. One of the interesting things about Inno Setup is the extensive support claimed for installing 64-bit applications, something bound to catch developer’s eyes as more consumers move towards 64-bit computing.