Science, technology, and all things awesome with Ian Steadman

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Curiosity taking a self-portrait. Image: Nasa
Curiosity sniffs farts on Mars, could mean extinction of humanity
By Ian Steadman - 19 December 15:00

Fluctuations in methane gas in the Martian atmosphere, detected by the Curiosity rover, could mean that there's life living below the surface of Gale Crater. The implications could be surprising.

Worms from a garden waste composter. Photo: Getty Images
Is a worm's brain in a Lego robot alive, or just creepy?
By Ian Steadman - 16 December 12:21

Researchers find model of worm brain acts just like a worm would, if it was a robot made of Lego.

James Watson at an event at the Science Museum in London, 2005. Photo: Getty Images
Russia's richest man indulges James Watson's Nobel Prize sale tantrum, buys to give it back
By Ian Steadman - 09 December 16:44

Alisher Usmanov spent just shy of $5m to purchase Watson's 1962 Nobel medal at auction, but says he plans to return it. Can we please go back to ignoring this bigoted man now?

The Orion capsule at the head of Nasa's Delta IV rocket as it launched today. Image: Screenshot of Nasa live feed
Orion, Nasa's next-gen Mars rocket, launches on first successful test flight
By Ian Steadman - 05 December 12:13

Major milestone passed as part of ongoing plan to land humans on Mars by 2030.

Sangeang Api, a volcano off the coast of Sumbawa Island, Indonesia, as it erupted on May 30, 2014. Volcanic dust can cool the Earth. Image: Nasa
The problem with keeping the Earth cool with space mirrors and fake volcanic eruptions
By Ian Steadman - 01 December 11:46

Reflecting heat back into space, seeding the ocean with iron, simulating the effects of volcanic dust - the problem with thinking big about fixing the climate is that the massive risks are far more expensive than the known costs of simply not screwing the planet up in the first place.

Footballer Gavin Swankie (left), just one of the players whose every goal is recorded by the Whitehall fan. Photo: Getty Images
Who's the Whitehall civil servant spending hours each week editing footballers' Wikipedia pages?
By Ian Steadman - 27 November 15:59

Someone, somewhere in government, is spending a considerable amount of time keeping Wikipedia's entries on Scottish football up-to-date.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the head of the ISC, has said companies like Facebook offer terrorists a "safe haven". Photo: Getty Images
Making Facebook an arm of MI5 won't be a guarantee against terrorism
By Ian Steadman - 26 November 13:42

The security services want social networks like Facebook to be more forthcoming with material posted by users that might indicate a threat to national security. But the root causes of terrorism will never be fixed with data alone.

Collateral damage? Debris from Virgin Galactic's crashed SpaceShipTwo
Space incorporated: lessons from the deadly Virgin Galactic crash
By Ian Steadman - 13 November 10:00

Governments are setting their sights on missions to Mars and the moon but private companies are focused on shorter excursions into space. Their motivation is simple: there’s money in it.

An illustration of Philae (right) detached from Rosetta (left) and falling towards the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (background). Illustration: ESA
Rosetta, Philae and the comet: what you need to know about today's historic space mission
By Ian Steadman - 12 November 13:47

Some background while we wait for the ESA's probe to touch down on the comet's surface.

Free capital: a winning design for one of Peter Thiel's floating cities. Image: Andras Gyorfi
Peter Thiel: we must stop fearing the future
By Ian Steadman - 30 October 12:35

The co-founder of PayPal, Facebook board member and hugely successful venture capitalist is disappointed in the future. He doesn’t think we’re ambitious enough.

A young Hungarian protester throws the base of a desktop computer at the headquarters of the governor of the FIDESZ party to protest against the plan for the introduction of the internet tax next year in Budapest on October 26, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Hungarian government's tax on internet use inspires massive "free speech" protest
By Ian Steadman - 28 October 13:05

The government in Budapest wants to bring in a tax on internet file transfers - and the public sees it as a tax on free speech.

Hostile planet: Echus Chasma, one of the largest water source regions on Mars, is pictured from ESA's Mars Express. Photo: Getty
68 Days Later: why the Mars One mission would end in disaster
By Ian Steadman - 23 October 10:00

A team from MIT estimated how long it would take for the mission to experience its first fatality. The answer: 68 days. The second group would arrive to find the first pioneers had been dead for more than a year and a half.

The moon rises behind the turbines of Whitelees Windfarm,the largest in the UK, on October 7, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo: Getty Images
Wind power briefly overtakes nuclear in the UK, thanks to storms
By Ian Steadman - 22 October 17:58

Another milestone in wind power generation does nothing to reverse the government's scepticism over its potential.

Diana Wynyard as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion in 1937. Photo: Getty Images
The ultimate weapon against GamerGate time-wasters: a 1960s chat bot that wastes their time
By Ian Steadman - 15 October 12:49

In a kind of digital version of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, tenaciously dull videogame truthers have met their match in an inexhaustibly interested chat program coded 50 years ago.

Free again: Doctorow signals the danger of states pushing tech boundaries. Photo: Rex/Will Ireland/Future Publishing
Betrayed by your smartphone: Cory Doctorow on the future of internet censorship
By Ian Steadman - 09 October 10:00

“Information doesn’t want to be free,” writes the sci-fi novelist and activist Cory Doctorow, “people want to be free.”

A closeup view of marijuana in a grinder along with a cigarette as photographed on August 30, 2014 in Bethpage, New York. Photo: Getty Images
Cannabis still isn't as addictive as heroin, no matter what the papers say
By Ian Steadman - 08 October 15:28

Some poor science reporting in the papers this week in response to a review of the literature on the risks of marijuana consumption.

The copyright symbol, sprayed onto a wall. Photo: Horia Varlan/Flickr
Taking the piss just became legally easier with new copyright exceptions for comedy
By Ian Steadman - 01 October 18:08

Changes to intellectual property law also make it legal to backup digital files to other formats and devices.

The dry bed of the once-mighty Aral Sea, 2014. Photo: Nasa Earth Observatory
The fourth-largest lake in the world has now completely dried up
By Ian Steadman - 30 September 18:22

The dangers of unsustainable irrigation practices, starkly illustrated.

An artist's conception of Maven in orbit around Mars. Image: NASA/GSFC
Martian skies get busier with arrival of two new probes
By Ian Steadman - 22 September 14:54

It's a boom period for study of the Red Planet - space agencies can't stop sending probes and robots there. And Nasa's latest probe will soon be joined by another from India.

People stand next to the wreckages of the Malaysian airliner carrying 295 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur after it crashed, near the town of Shaktarsk, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on 17 July 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Returning the gaze: everyone’s a war reporter in an always-connected world
By Ian Steadman - 11 September 9:21

The internet brings war and conflict into homes around the world more immediately than ever before, but with the torrent of data, images and videos comes confusion and propaganda. It demands a new kind of war reporting – one which can make sense of digital evidence, and use the decentralised web as a tool for undermining the enforced narratives of the powerful.

llustration shows the police discovering the body of one of Jack the Ripper's victims, probably Catherine Eddowes, London, England, late September 1888. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
DNA evidence “proving” Jack the Ripper was a Polish barber isn’t enough to be conclusive
By Ian Steadman - 08 September 10:40

DNA analysis of evidence from the scene of one of the infamous Whitechapel murders has allegedly “proved” the identity of the Ripper – but it’s not an open-and-shut case.

The Sun, seen from the International Space Station. Photo: STS-129/Nasa
The curious case of space plankton
By Ian Steadman - 04 September 9:29

It’s increasingly becoming clear that space is a more hospitable environment than was assumed.

Hayabusa-2 on display at JAXA’s facility in Sagamihara, suburban Tokyo during its unveiling on 31 August, 2014.
Japan readies space probe for mission to chase asteroid and shoot it with a cannon
By Ian Steadman - 03 September 13:26

Following on from the mixed success of the ambitious Hayabusa-1 mission, Japanese space scientists are almost ready to try again at hunting an asteroid.

A screenshot from Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes vs Women in Video Games series, featuring an ad campaign for Hitman: Blood Money with sexualised images of dead women. Image: Screenshot
Tropes vs Anita Sarkeesian: on passing off anti-feminist nonsense as critique
By Ian Steadman - 27 August 17:50

Anita Sarkeesian makes videos looking at how poorly women are represented in games, and gamers hate her for it, insulting her work and accusing her of dishonesty. It's almost like they're trying to prove her premise.

A typical Twitch stream, with a user playing Dota 2, one of the most popular spectator games. Image: Screenshot
Amazon's new acquisition is a billion-dollar site where people watch each other play games
By Ian Steadman - 26 August 16:46

The most exciting spectator sport in the world is gaming, and Amazon just grabbed the biggest broadcaster.

An Apple iPad with Twitter's native app. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Twitter's taking away your control over what tweets you choose to see
By Ian Steadman - 20 August 12:38

A subtle change in how Twitter's feed works will make some people very angry, but most people probably won't even notice.

A screenshot from Pavel Klushantsev's "Луна́" (or "Luna"), 1965. Image: Screenshot
This is (maybe) how we’d have colonised the Moon if the Soviet Union had got there first
By Ian Steadman - 19 August 13:39

This fascinating documentary from 1965 shows what Soviet scientists hoped would be possible with colonisation of the Moon. 

A close up of the OnePlus One. Photo: photo4howi/Flickr
No, tech industry, getting women to pose for a chance to buy a phone isn't "chivalry"
By Ian Steadman - 14 August 16:54

Even the tech companies that explicitly try not to be like the others can't help but struggle with not treating women like exotic aliens.

Robin Williams (right) arrives with daughter Zelda (left) at Sony Pictures' premiere of 'R.V.' at the Mann Village Theatre on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. Photo:  Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Robin Williams’s daughter Zelda leaves social media after abuse
By Ian Steadman - 13 August 12:28

Yet again, a prominent woman is driven from Twitter because she dares to exist.

Microsoft researchers find cool way to turn home movies into ethereal "hyperlapses"
By Ian Steadman - 12 August 12:19

A team of researchers has figured out how to take GoPro footage and speed it up ten times as fast while also eliminating shakiness.

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