This is so good: “We are dead stars, looking back at the sky”

Can’t believe I hadn’t seen this before. It is the best video ever. Made in May 2014 by  The Atlantic and The Really Big Questions, the video (3:57) features NASA astronomer Dr Michelle Thaller explaining, beautifully, how “the iron in our blood connects us to one of the most violent acts in the universe—a supernova explosion—and what the universe might look like when all the stars die out.”

Rental house prices & Antarctica mission: visual stories online

This is an old post but I’m leaving it here for the hell of it. Failed links have been updated (where possible) or removed.

I’m enjoying the work coming out of the NZ Herald’s data ‘department’ (not sure it’s big enough to warrant that description but I like the sound of it). This week Harkanwal Singh, the Data Editor, has published an interactive map of New Zealand showing changes in rental prices for houses since 2001, and 2006.

It’s fascinating moving round the map and seeing the changes, suburb by suburb. More fascinating is where high-rent areas sit cheek-by-jowl with low-rent areas.

The graphic is nicely set up: just move around the map like you would on Google Maps and hover over a suburb to see a summary of median rents and the number of houses that are rented. Harkanwal’s written a useful set of guide notes to go with it.

The NZ Herald’s rental map shows changes in the median rental prices of houses since 2001, and 2006. You can explore the map city by city, region by region, and suburb by suburb.
Can’t remember what a ‘median’ number is? has a simple explanation with examples: Place a list of numbers in value order and find the middle number. For example, take 12, 3 and 5. Put them in order, 3, 5, 12. The middle number is 5, so the median is 5.

Stuff, meanwhile,  published an interactive feature (link was about the trip a team of scientists took to Antarctica to investigate the feeding habits of blue and humpback whales, and to look at icefish and grenadiers, which are prey of toothfish. The graphic’s broken into sections: The Vessel, The Journey, Whale Size, Whale Numbers.

Included is a particularly sobering graph showing a steep decline in blue whale numbers in the Antarctic region from an estimated 250,000 in the early 1900s to near extinction in 1960 and a small recovery since they became protected in 1966. Sigh.

The New Zealand-Antarctic Ecosystem Voyage is an interesting one, not least because the team were going to ‘listen’ for whales using sonobuoys:

Sonobuoys deployed from the ship will provide bearings towards the source of the low frequency whale songs even when the singing whales are hundreds of kilometres away.

“Crossed bearings from multiple sonobuoys will accurately pinpoint the location of the whales,” said Science Leader with the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Mike Double.

They were also going to moor an echosounder under water in Terra Nova Bay and leave it there over winter “to see what happens”. The larvae and eggs of Antarctic Silverfish, which are prey for seabirds, fish, whales and seals, are found in the bay but the scientists want to know more about the adults.

“When the ice clears in spring, you find lots of eggs and larvae of silverfish but you don’t see the adults. We don’t know if the adults move in during winter and lay their eggs there, or if the eggs drift in from somewhere else,” said Voyage Leader and NIWA Principal Scientist Dr Richard O’Driscoll.

Here is Dr O’Driscoll talking about the trip, a collaboration between NIWA (the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research), Antarctica New Zealand and the Australian Antarctic Division,which took more than 12 months to prepare.

See also:  Antarctic toothfish poachers flying false flags

“The exploration of outer space shall be the province of all mankind”

I love the language in the United Nations Treaties and Principles on Outer Space (related General Assembly resolutions and other documents) (PDF).

Apollo 11 Mission Image – View of moon limb with Earth on the horizon, Mare Smythii Region

Article Number 1

“The exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.

“Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies.

“There shall be freedom of scientific investigation in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and States shall facilitate and encourage international cooperation in such investigation.”

Read the rest of the Treaties and other space-related documents and databases, including the Online Index of Objects Launched into Outer Space, on the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs website.

Māori weather and climate indicators – a poster from NIWA

I notice that NIWA, New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, has a poster of Māori climate and weather indicators for download on its website. You can either grab the pdf or order a full-sized paid-for poster.

Maori Climate Forecast Poster

The weather (day-to-day state of the atmosphere, varying from minutes to weeks) predictors include:

  • From Te Roroa: The sound of breaking waves up the valley = Approaching rainfall and inclement weather is expected
  • From Te Whānau a Apanui: The plume from White Island lies to the left = Rainfall expected; The plume flattens and the end breaks off = Watch out for extreme weather

The climate (synthesis of weather, averaged over longer periods from months to years) predictors include:

  • From Te Arawa: Flowering starts on the upper branches of Pohutukawa and progresses downwards = A cold and winter-like season will follow; Flowering starts on the lower branches and progresses upwards =  A warm and pleasant season lies ahead
  • From Kai Tahu: Early and profuse flowering of Tï kouka (Cabbage) tree = A long hot summer follows

A good companion read for the poster is this piece on Te Ara, New Zealand’s encyclopedia, about Māori customs around weather and the creation stories of where wind, clouds, rain and storms come from.

The only weather predictor I remember from childhood is: Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning, which the UK’s Met Office interprets thus:

The saying is most reliable when weather systems predominantly come from the west as they do in the UK [and New Zealand]… A red sky appears when dust and small particles are trapped in the atmosphere by high pressure. This scatters blue light and leaving only red light to give the sky its notable appearance.

A red sky at sunset means high pressure is moving in from the west so therefore the next day will usually be dry and pleasant. “Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning” means a red sky appears due to the high pressure weather system having already moved east meaning the good weather has passed, most likely making way for a wet and windy low pressure system.

I came across a lot of sites featuring old-timey weather predictors. I like this one on Farmers Almanac about dew:

When the dew is on the grass
Rain will never come to pass.
When grass is dry at morning light,
Look for rain before the night.

“Why? If dew has time to form on the ground overnight, it means the night was clear without any clouds. Clear skies allow the earth to cool, and water to condense in the form of dew (or frost at cooler times of the year). If the night is cloudy, the clouds act as a heat barrier keeping the heat in and not allowing dew to form. This saying assumes that if the night skies are clear, the day following will also be cloud-free.”

NIWA has a bunch of other posters for sale that depict, among other things, projected rainfall, what the seabed looks like around New Zealand, undersea volcanoes, and the country’s energy assets.

On a related note: If you’ve ever wondered how weather balloons are used in New Zealand, check out this post on the Met Service blog.

Visualisations of satellites orbiting earth

From Quartz, an interactive graphic of every active satellite orbiting earth – all 1200 of them (as at August 2014).

The graphic’s based on data from the Union of Concerned Scientists, and lets you filter by age of satellite, launch country, purpose or primary user. You can also animate the satellites into their orbits, and see which are in low, medium or high orbit.

Satellites in Low Earth Orbit

Hover over any of the dots and you’ll see a summary of the satellite’s owners, age, characteristics and purpose.

Satellites in Medium Earth Orbit

Interesting facts about satellites

If you’re interested in New Zealand participation in commercial and other space activities, you might want to check out RocketLab, which has kicked off its Electron “small, fast, & agile” satellite launch system. Also the New Zealand Space Agency, Centre for Space Technology and KiwiSpace.

Matt’s guides to Google Analytics and the value of informative file names

Matt Lane has done a nice job explaining how Google analytics works in two nicely illustrated posts over on Medium. I particularly like the way he explains (and shows) what the snippets of code look like and how and where to add functionality.

The first piece, An Idiot’s Guide to Google Analytics, looks at the basics, starting with helpful images of the source code for a webpage without tracking code and with tracking code.

The second, Supercharge your Google Analytics, walks you through how to get more information out of analytics, including demographics, filtered views, time-spent-on-site calculations, and tracking search, downloads and external links.

I want to endorse Matt’s advice on giving the views you create in Google Analytics informative names – so that anyone in your organisation can see the name and understand what the view is going to show them.

Giving files, images, folders, views – anything you create – useful names is the best of habits to get into. The small amount of extra time you take to give your file a useful name (that you or anyone else will understand today, next month or a year from now) will spare you hours and hours of time and frustration later.

Matt gives a couple of examples of well-named views: (UNFILTERED) (EXCL. <orgX> and <orgY>)

I like the tips offered by the people over at ustwo on naming systems for web design/development workflows. In their fantastic Pixel Perfect Precision design guide they suggest the following system for naming design components:

A good approach is to base your naming on a hierarchical system, which starts off with a broad identification of the component and then progressively adds more information. So you might end up with a structure like this:


The type refers to the category the component belongs to, such as:

bg (background)

btn (button)

 icn (icon)

img (image)

The next step is to add the screen or location where this component appears:



Then add the unique identifier, as an example, buttons on the home screen which create and delete documents would be called:



Finally, if the component has multiple states then add them to the end:



Designer Kerem Suer has shared a naming convention for Photoshop files (and their various iterations) on Dribbble:

filename platform direction iteration

For example:


You’ll see other people’s suggestions in the comments on Suer’s piece, and some more here.

Jill Duffy makes some good points about file names on PCMag. She says file names need to be:

  • unique
  • indicative of what the file contains
  • in line with how your business thinks about information
  • scannable (with the human eye) according to how you and your employees find information
  • naturally ordered alphabetically
  • consistent!

Just think of how much more productive you and your colleagues could be if you knew with high certainty what each file contained before you opened it.

She gives the following examples:

date code context description

For example, for a photo of a market in Montreal taken in September 2010:


If there are lots of market images she’ll add more detail to the name:

1009bg_mnrl_mrkt_peppers01.jpg (image of peppers taken in market in Montreal in September 2010)

Righto. That’ll do for now.

Hats off: a whole week with only one tab open at a time

Some people at Fast Company had a go at using only one browser tab at a time – for a whole week.

The premise behind this challenge is that multitasking rarely works–yes, we can walk and talk at the same time, but when we’re quickly shifting between email, filling out spreadsheets, and checking our Twitter, all we’re actually doing is juggling tasks, and this just kills our focus and makes work take longer.

The outcome? Sometimes it makes more sense to focus on one task (and however many tabs you need open to do that one task) rather than rigidly sticking to the one-tab rule. Because this: “Open Twitter. Think “crap, I need the story link.” Close Twitter, open article page. Copy link. Close article, open Twitter.”

But all in all, single-tasking can be very productive and rewarding: “It was SO refreshing to have just one thing to do…I was actually having creative ideas (something that usually doesn’t happen in the middle of the work day). It made me realize I need to take more opportunities to single-task.”

The post is worth a read. It includes this video of Gina Trapani explaining why multi-tasking doesn’t work for work.

The ‘evils of multi-tasking’ is something of a theme for New Zealand agile coach Sandy Mamoli who has been tackling some new ways of working with TradeMe’s Tech department. She is a fan of using Personal KanBan and Portfolio Kanban to help people focus on the task at hand and finish it before moving on to the next.

“When we introduced Scrum and Kanban to our teams the most loved addition to our way of working were visual workspaces.

“We found it tremendously helpful to make our tasks visible though post-it notes, to visualise our workflow and to make sure that we didn’t do too many things at the same time. With the visual task wall, the so-called team Kanban board, everyone knew how close we were to our goals, what still needed to be done and who was working on which task.

“But as not everyone works on only one project – some people work across several project teams, others work predominantly by themselves – we started to think about how we could transfer the benefits of the shared visual board to our individual todo lists and people’s personal workflows.

“This, in combination with our newfound love for the agile idea to finish one task before starting a new one, led us to create personal Kanban boards.”

How to add macrons to Māori words

Macrons are the little lines on top of a vowel that indicate it should be pronounced long rather than short. If you’re not sure where to use macrons when typing Māori, try the Māori Dictionary (there’s also an app).

Tom Robinson has advice for how to use macrons in html/xhtml.

Below are a couple of ways to modify your computer keyboard to add macrons to Māori words in everyday applications like Word.


You can try holding down the letter on your keyboard and see if a little menu appears with all possible accents/macron. Then type in the number of (or click on) the accent/macron you want.

I prefer to enable the Māori keyboard and use OPTION-vowel to add a macron. To do this:

1. Go to Systems Preferences

2. Click on Keyboard

3. Choose Input Sources and click on + at bottom left of screen

4. Select Māori from dropdown menu and click on Add

5. Close System Preferences.

6. Go to Menu Bar (top right of your computer screen)

7. Click on little flag icon and select Māori. The keyboard should stay enabled.

Now, whenever you want to add a macron, use OPTION-vowel.  For example, if you hold down the Option key and type a, you will get ā.

Windows 7 or later

The Māori keyboard is built in but, as I understand it, you need to enable the keyboard:

1. Control Panel>Clock, Language, and Region> Change Keyboards (or Add Language in Windows 10)

2. Change keyboards (or Add Language in Windows 10)

3. Select Māori (New Zealand) >Keyboard>Māori>Click OK (or Select Reo Māori in Windows 10)

4. Select MR Māori (New Zealand) and click on Apply (or select Options > install Language Pack in Windows 10)

5. Check keyboard is enabled

6. Type a backtick ` before the vowel that needs a macron. So `a will give you ā.

The keyboard should stay enabled until and unless you select another.

Older PCs

Check out the advice on

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