The Oldest Boardgame in the World

This bearded scholar at British Museum would be a splendid NPC in so many RPG settings, such as Call of Cthulhu, Chock, Skuggornas Mästare, and Buffy. Here he explains how he deciphered the cuneiform rules for the ancient boardgame “Twenty Squares”.


The Apollo Semicentennial

Fifty years ago, the Apollo project sent 27 astronauts to the Moon. I was a child and followed their live broadcasts on TV together with my father, an aerospace engineer in the then-nascent European space program. The Lunar exploration lasted for four years and eleven launches, after which the United States retrenched to a more modest space program. Hopefully, I will see astronauts on the Moon again some day, perhaps in the company of curious and eager grandchildren.

“Let me be like Bach”

Let me be like Bach, creating fugues
Till suddenly the pen will move no more.
Let all my themes within — of ancient light
Of origins and change and human worth —
Let all their melodies still intertwine,
Evolve and merge with growing unity,
Ever without fading
Ever without a final chord …
Till suddenly my mind can hear no more.

Beatrice Tinsley (1941-81),
Ph D, professor of astronomy at Yale University
Read more about her successful career as a cosmologist — link >>>

Venus Exploration: Thinking Outside the Box

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of NASA’s top research facilities, is currently investigating whether it is feasible to design a wind-powered clock-work rover for Venus, tentatively named Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE). The basic concept was conceived by Jonathan Sauder, a mechatronics engineer at JPL.

AREE is designed to function on Venus’s surface without electronics, because the searing (470°C) and crushing (92 bar) atmosphere destroys such components quickly. Fortunately, the planet’s forceful winds can power Savonius wind turbines that provide the required mechanical energy for ground propulsion and on-board devices, for example a mechanical computer. Ergo, AREE is a clock-tech design made of hi-tech materials able to survive in that hellish environment for months.

AREE communicates with a Venus orbiter by a contraption of radar-reflective panels that can be set at various angles. The orbiter broadcasts a radar signal that is reflected back from those panels; the received “image” is then decoded by the orbiter. This simple device is comparable to Morse code or 18th-century semaphore telegraphs. (Also, check the movie The Martian where a stranded astronaut devises a similar method to communicate with Earth.)

Click on the AREE picture for a larger version.

Read more about the AREE studies here — link >>>

XKCD: Rocky Bodies in 2 Dimensions

The eminent site XKCD has published this picture that compares the surface areas of notable rocky celestial bodies in our solar system. The four giant planets are excluded because they lack mappable surfaces. The arrangement would be laid out nicely on the type of Ringworld that Larry Niven proposed in some of his stories — link >>>

Venus-safe Technology Is Hard to Get

NASA is currently investigating what materials and devices could be used for future Venus landers. The planet’s hellish environment degrades even stainless steel quickly, so research probes have so far ceased to function within two hours after touchdown. The Glenn Extreme Environments Rig is a 14-ton testing chamber that recreates Venus’s toxic, corrosive, and hot surface conditions.

Read more here — link >>>