The Scale of the Universe 2 is an interactive Powers of Ten that takes you from the Planck length all the way up to the size of the observable Universe. That's more than 60 orders of magnitude! Also interesting that the smallest things (Planck length, strings, branes) are millions of times smaller compared to human scale than the observable Universe is larger. Plenty of room at the bottom indeed.
The Eames' Powers of Ten and Eva Szasz's Cosmic Zoom both came out in 1968 and were based on Kees Boeke's 1957 essay called Cosmic View. This seems like an incredible coincidence. I couldn't find anything online about which film came first or if there was any influence one way or the other, so I thought I'd ask if anyone knows anything about which came out first. Hit me at email@example.com.
There's finally a stable copy of Charles and Ray Eames' seminal Powers of Ten video available online, courtesy of the Eames Office YouTube account.
Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only a s a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward -- into the hand of the sleeping picnicker -- with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell.
Speaking of Steven Johnson and new books, Alex Ross has a post about how Johnson's long zoom concept has influenced his music writing *and* has a new book of his own out soon called Listen to This (at Amazon). See how deftly I knitted that together in a Johnsonian way? Ahem. Anyway, here's what Listen to This is about:
It offers a panoramic view of the musical scene, from Bach to Björk and beyond. In the Preface, I say that the aim is to "approach music not as a self-sufficient sphere but as a way of knowing the world." I treat pop music as serious art and classical music as part of the wider culture; my hope is that the book will serve as an introduction to crucial figures and ideas in classical music, and also give an alternative perspective on modern pop.
The best part is that Ross' web site contains an extensive collection of audio, video, and images of the works mentioned in the book.
Take a little time with this one, zoom it in and out, especially on big cities. Excluding everything but the labels from the map emphasizes the Powers of Ten-like design of highly effective zoomable online maps. (via waxy)
Since 1998, the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium have engaged in the three-dimensional mapping of the Universe. This cosmic cartography brings a new perspective to our place in the Universe and will redefine your sense of home. The Digital Universe Atlas is distributed to you via packages that contain our data products, like the Milky Way Atlas and the Extragalactic Atlas, and requires free software allowing you to explore the atlas by flying through it on your computer.
It has an organizing theme of how innovative ideas emerge and spread in a society, while integrating many different threads along the way: 18th-century London coffeehouse culture; the Adams-Jefferson letters; the origins of ecosystem science; the giant dragonflies of the Carboniferous Era; the impact of energy deposits on British political change; the discovery of the gulf stream; the Alien and Sedition acts; Jefferson's bible; the Lunar Society; mob violence; Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions; Ben Franklin's kite experiment.
It's also not, somehow, 6500 pages. I thought for sure that this was going to be some sort of long zoom book, not a book with a long zoom approach.
It's been awhile since I've heard anything about Spore, Will Wright's long zoom supergame. Last summer the word was that EA's promo machine had gotten started too early and that the game wasn't quite ready for primetime because it wasn't "fun":
The unofficial word from someone on the development team is that Spore the system is almost ready but Spore the game isn't all that much fun yet. A recent round of user testing didn't go so well. Hence, the delay.
EA said at the time that the release date would be after March 2008, which still seems to be the case. In an October 2007 interview, Will Wright said the game was about six months away from release, which means April 2008. Even so, Wired made Spore the #2 pick on their Vaporware 2007 list. Anyone have any better intel on a release date or if the game is more fun now? Hit me on my burner.
Update: EA's fiscal year starts in March, so it's not delayed until 2009...just until after March 2008. (thx, zach)
Update: The unofficial word from someone on the development team is that Spore the system is almost ready but Spore the game isn't all that much fun yet. A recent round of user testing didn't go so well. Hence, the delay.
- a bacterium
- the human body
- a geographical map
- a man
- a working friendship
- a household
- a city government
- a neighborhood
- a waste management system1
- an epidemic
- a city
- human civilization
You hooked yet? Well, you should be. As the narrative unfolds around the 1854 London cholera epidemic, author Steven Johnson weaves all of these social, geographical, and biological structures/webs/networks into a scientific parable for the contemporary world. The book is at its best when it zooms among these different scales in a Powers of Ten-like fashion (something Johnson calls The Long Zoom), demonstrating the interplay between them: the way the geography of a neighborhood affected the spread of a virus, how ideas spreading within a social context are like an epidemic, or the comparison between the organism of the city and the geography of a bacterial colony within the human colon. None of this is surprising if you've read anything about emergence, complexity, or social scale invariance, but Johnson effectively demonstrates how tightly coupled the development of (as well as our understanding of) viral epidemics and large cities were across all of these scales.
The other main theme I saw in the book is how inherently messy science is. Unlike many biographies, The Ghost Map doesn't try to tie everything up into a nice little package to make a better story. The cholera epidemic and its resolution was sloppy; there was no aha! moment where everyone involved understood what was going on and knew what had to be done. But the scientific method applied by John Snow to the situation was solid and as more evidence became available over the years, his theory of and solution to cholera epidemics were revealed as actual fact. Johnson reminds us that that's how science works most of the time; science is a process, not a set of facts and theories. During the recent debate in the US over evolution and intelligent design, I felt a reluctance on the part of scientists to admit to this messiness because it would give an opening to their detractors: "haha, so you admit you don't know what's going on at all!" Which is unfortunate, because science is powerful in its nuance and rough edges (in some ways, science is what happens at the margins) in helping us understand ourselves and the world we live in.
 Had Mark Kurlansky written this book, it would have been called "Shit: How Human Effluence Changed the World". ↩
Steven Johnson on The Long Zoom, "the satellites tracking in on license-plate numbers in the spy movies; the Google maps in which a few clicks take you from a view of an entire region to the roof of your house; the opening shot in 'Fight Club' that pulls out from Edward Norton's synapses all the way to his quivering face as he stares into the muzzle of a revolver; the fractal geometry of chaos theory in which each new scale reveals endless complexity." And that's just the introduction to an interview of Will Wright about his new Long Zoom game, Spore.