Science, technology, and all things awesome with Ian Steadman


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.

A screengrab of the Friends Reunited website. Photo: Getty Images
Friends, Reunited: the founders of the first big social network are back to try to save it
By Ian Steadman - 10 August 14:41

The three men at the centre of the first social media phenomenon of the millenium tell the story of how Friends Reunited boomed and busted – and how it might rise again.

Pages from Working On My Novel. Photo: Penguin
Artful procrastination: Cory Arcangel and Jonah Peretti on a book of tweets about writing books
By Ian Steadman - 06 August 15:40

What do you do if you have a novel to write? Go to Twitter, and tweet about the work you're not doing, of course. Artist Cory Arcangel's new book is a compilation of those who couldn't resist tweeting the words "working on my novel".

The MIT camera "listening" to a conversation via a discarded crisp packet. Image: MIT
Packets of crisps and plant leaves may be spying on you
By Ian Steadman - 05 August 17:56

High-speed video of ordinary objects can make it possible to eavesdrop on private conversations, even through soundproof glass.

Colombian fans take pictures using phones, cameras and tablets during the Group C football match between Colombia and Ivory Coast during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 19, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Introducing Social Media Week
By Ian Steadman - 04 August 10:01

We've had long enough to get used to living our lives online – how do we really feel about social media? What’s happened to us, now that “being social” is just as much a digital as a physical thing?

A couple walks in a supermarket food aisle in Paris, France. Product placement in supermarkets is guided by intensive study of shopper habits. Photo: Getty Images
Facebook and OKCupid are the latest iterations in the architecture of psychological manipulation
By Ian Steadman - 31 July 18:12

When we find out our favourite websites have been experimenting on us, we instinctively recoil in disgust - but Facebook and OKCupid are only the most recent human-made environments where psychological manipulation is a key factor in how design choices are made.

Water turbidity in the Bahamas. Image: SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE
The white beaches of the Bahamas might come from a surprising place: Saharan dust storms
By Ian Steadman - 29 July 18:29

Winds blow dust from the Sahara across the Atlantic, and scientists are discovering the effects of what happens when it lands.

Phelsuma ornata - journal.pbio.1001382. Photo: Luke J. Harmon - Harmon LJ (2012) An Inordinate Fondness for Eukaryotic Diversity. PLoS Biol 10(8): e1001382. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001382. Licensed under CC-Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
Why, exactly, has Russia organised a gecko orgy in space?
By Ian Steadman - 28 July 12:00

Russian scientists hoping to observe geckos mating in orbit are engaged in serious research, as ridiculous as it might sound.

The fastest supercomputer in the world - 2000. Your toaster probably has more computing power now. Photo: Getty
Reviewed: At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise
By Ian Steadman - 25 July 10:12

Ian Steadman reviews Michael Brooks’s book on scientific discovery.

Dancers perform on stage as the English National Ballet rehearse 'Coppelia' at the Coliseum on July 22, 2014 in London, England. Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images
Hearing disembodied voices as violent or helpful depends on culture, study finds
By Ian Steadman - 23 July 13:09

A Stanford study has found that those who hallucinate voices are influenced by the culture they live in, with differences in mood and tone depending upon where in the world they live.

Silicon Valley wants to split California into six new states out of selfishness
By Ian Steadman - 17 July 17:33

A venture capitalist's dream of a Silicon Valley freed from the pesky regulations of intrusive government is going to a statewide ballot in 2016.

A map generated by ESA's Swarm array, detailing changes in the Earth's magnetic field - red is strengthening, blue is weakening. Image: ESA/DTU Space
Get ready for the Earth's magnetic field to flip over
By Ian Steadman - 16 July 18:20

New satellite data has indicated that the Earth's magnetic field is weakening, ahead of a rare - but regular - event.

A graphic from Megumi Igarashi's crowdfunding campaign for her vagina kayak. Image: Megumi Igarashi
Japanese artist arrested for disseminating 3D-printing files for kayak copy of her vagina
By Ian Steadman - 15 July 14:01

While Megumi Igarashi's work usually involves humorous repurposing of female genitalia, her most recent project has fallen foul of the authorities in Japan.