Monthly Archive for November, 2006

Mercury transit today

I’m a bit late on this month’s What’s Up article, where I usually detail events like this, but I wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of today’s transit of Mercury.

A transit occurs when a planet interior to our own (Mercury or Venus) crosses directly in between the Earth and the Sun. What we see is a black disk crossing the face of the Sun over a period of several hours.

Venus transits the Sun in the summer of 2004

The transit begins at 2:12 p.m. EST, and lasts for about five hours.

Note: Do not observe the Sun without proper protection. Sunglasses don’t count. Only use approved solar filters when looking at the Sun, or better yet, rig up a simple projection system.

Projecting the Sun’s image onto a piece of cardboard

NASA’s Exploratorium has an article with instructions on how to view it safely. You may want to check out Larry Koehn’s animated simulation of the transit.

Adobe wants feedback

Sarah at Scriptorium’s Palimpsest was asked by Adobe to distribute a questionnaire to technical communication professionals.

Adobe wants feedback on the future of its tech. comm. products. Chime in with your opinion.

Presidential tag cloud has compiled a text database of the speeches and documents made by all the US presidents, and generated a tag cloud for each.

It’s a fascinating way to explore history. Scanning the clouds allows one to determine what issues were most important to the president at the time.

I’ve always thought tag clouds were an intriguing way to visualize information… and this type of experiment is a great example of good information design. In addition to weighting the common themes by font size (bigger is more frequently used or important), a color shading is added to indicate a temporal relationship (brighter is more recent, dimmer is “older”). Therefore, in each tag cloud, a single image can show the relevant words of a given text, the importance of each, and the temporal relationship between them.

Tag clouds can go wrong, too. My own, which is automatically generated by code in my WordPress theme (read: I didn’t write the code), doesn’t do a good job of encapsulating monkeyPi (in my opinion). But when it’s done right, it’s a fascinating example of how malleable information can be.


Hubble reprieved

    There once was a spacecraft named Hubble,
    whose finances fell into trouble.
    When its budget runs dry,
    it will fall from the sky
    and break up into nothing but rubble.

But it won’t happen anytime soon…