Visual Inspiration: Aztec-Engineered Floating Garden Islands

Did you know that Aztecs created floating garden islands on swamps to feed 200,000+ people? I didn’t before now.

Te Papa Aztec Chinampa Model

An article by Lynette Townsend for the Museum of New Zealand descibes the structure of the chinampas:

“These ingenious creations were built up from the lake bed by piling layers of mud, decaying vegetation and reeds. This was a great way of recycling waste from the capital city Tenochtitlan. Each garden was framed and held together by wooden poles bound by reeds and then anchored to the lake floor with finely pruned willow trees. The Aztecs also dredged mud from the base of the canals which both kept the waterways clear and rejuvenate [sic] the nutrient levels in the gardens.”

Apparently the chinampas were separated by channels, and canoes were used for transport. In addition to food crops and flowers grown, fish and birds drawn to the chinampas were caught for food as well.

Te Papa Aztec Chinampa Model Closeup

What an incredibly smart feature to engineer! It also strikes me as a fantastic (no pun intended), pragmatic thing to adapt into a SFFnal world.

Found via Ultrafacts at Tumblr.

Images: models by artisan collective Te Mahi via Museum of New Zealand / Te Papa Tongarewa.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Living in a Science Fictional Present: Food from Air, Water from Sunlight

“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this” is my favorite line from the movie The Martian. The amazing thing about our species is that we do that every day, and every once in a while it pays off in a phenomenal way. Below are two cases that have the potential to do just that.

Researchers at the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. have created a process for making protein from air. Specifically, it uses carbon dioxide, water, and electricity, plus added nutrients.

Solar Foods Solein Protein Powder Sm

Apparently they’ve had a test installation running since June. The resulting protein powder, dubbed Solein, looks like flaky meal and reportedly tastes like wheat.

Read more at Yle news (Finnish only), or in English at The Guardian or Solar Foods website.

Professor Peng Wang from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia lead a study introducing a strategy to produce fresh water. Essentially, a distillation unit attached to photovoltaic panels evaporates seawater at relatively low temperatures more efficiently than conventional solar stills and yet generates electricity at the same time.

BBC News Wenbin Wang Solar Panel Water Purifier Concept

More at BBC News and journal Nature Communications.

Images: Solein protein powder by Solar Foods. Combined solar panel and water purifier by Wenbin Wang via BBC News.

50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

July 20, 2019, is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission—the spaceflight that landed the first people on the Moon.

Ben Feist, a software engineer and historian at NASA Johnson Space Center, and a team of other experts put together a website for Apollo 11 video, audio, and pictures of the astronauts and mission control.

Apollo 11 in Real Time Ben Feist Screencap

The site consists entirely of original historical mission material, with data and audio restored plus transcripts corrected. There’s video, too, and views of the Earth receding and Moon showing up in the viewscreen, various details from the lunar surface, and support teams back home. And a whole host of additional data.

How cool is that!?!

Image: screencap from the Apollo 11 in Real Time website by Ben Feist

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Historical Miniaturization: An Astronomical Ring that Opens into a Sphere

The Swedish History Museum shared this nifty gadget on their Facebook page:

FB Historiska museet Astronomy Ring1

We all know looks can be deceiving, right? That’s definitely the case with this item. It’s a German 16th-century ring that turns into an astronomical sphere:

FB Historiska museet Astronomy Ring2

It’s a brilliant example of the possibilities of miniaturization technologies. I’m immediately thinking of a fantasy or alternate history world where a (rich!) scholar takes this with them when traveling for work.

Images by Historiska museet via Facebook

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Striking Iron: A New Exhibition at the National Museum of African Art

One of the current exhibits at the National Museum of African Art is “Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths”. It focuses on blacksmithing in sub-Saharan Africa and features works dating from the 17th century to recent times: not just weapons, but other tools and implements such as musical instruments.

The range and design of shapes is truly impressive. Below are just some of the examples.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Ceremonial Knives

I wasn’t familiar with the concept of rain wands (image below) before. They were planted in the earth with the intention of drawing the life force of the Earth up toward the heavens in order to bring down rain.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Rain Wands

Various kinds of sound instruments are also displayed, including lamellophones.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Lamellophone

And, since it’s ironworking, there are weapons.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Double-bladed Dagger

I’m especially struck by the multiple elaborate curls of the ceremonial knives and the rain wand in the shape of a three-headed snake. Simply stunning.

The exhibition runs until October 20, 2019.

Found via NPR—make sure to visit the article for more photos!

Images: Ceremonial knives by Olivia Sun for NPR (Democratic Republic of the Congo; 19th century; iron). Rain wands by Olivia Sun for NPR (Nigeria; iron). Lamellophone (chisanji) via Smithsonian (Chokwe artist, Angola; late 19th century; wood and iron). Double-bladed dagger by Olivia Sun for NPR (late 19th-century Sudan; iron, bone, and crocodile skin).

Turning Vinegar and Lobster Shells into Sustainable Bioplastic

Four Master’s students from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College, London, UK, have created a bioplastic from chitin combined with vinegar. This sustainable plastic can be manipulated to produce items of varying stiffness, flexibility, thickness, and translucence by adjusting the ratios of the base ingredients.

Instagram Shellworks Variety of Material Properties

Instagram Shellworks Bags Bubblewrap

Apparently, the material can also be turned back into the original bioplastic solution.

Shellworks is Ed Jones, Insiya Jafferjee, Amir Afshar, and Andrew Edwards. Their work is still at prototype stage, but it sounds like there is a potential for increasingly (if not utterly and entirely) recyclable, non-toxic plastic here. Sounds awesome!

Visit the Shellworks website or Instagram for more.

Found via Colossal.

Images: Variety of Material Properties by Shellworks on Instagram. Bags and bubblewrap by Shellworks on Instagram.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

An Example of the Infinite Possibilities of Writing Systems: Mandombe

I recently came across Endangered Alphabets, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization engaged in “preserving endangered cultures by using their writing systems to create artwork and educational materials”.

An article in Colossal pulled several examples from the Endangered database. The most striking of them, I thought, was Mandombe. It was created about 40 years ago by David Wabeladio Payi. His work was influenced by the look of a brick wall and a wish to connect the direction a shape pointed with pronunciation.

Endangered Alphabets Mandombe-script-example Sm

Apparently, Mandombe is based on consonant and vowel graphemes, but they are organized into syllabic blocks (like written Korean) instead of word-length units.

Endangered Alphabets Mandombe Script Table Sm

Today, Mandombe is taught in Angola, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, and Brussels.

Wikipedia Mandombe Book Sm

Isn’t it fascinating?

P.S. Did you know that the United Nations declared 2019 The Year of Indigenous Languages (IY2019) in order to raise awareness of the thousands of languages that are in danger of disappearing? Also, go ahead and visit the gallery or atlas at Endangered Alphabets for even more eye candy!

Images: script sample and table via Endangered Alphabets. Mandombe book via Wikipedia.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Chance to Watch Coverage of InSight’s Mars Landing

On Monday, November 26, 2018, NASA Television is bringing coverage of InSight’s Mars landing to a website or social media near you!

NASA JPL-Caltech Simulated InSight Landing on Mars

From NASA’s press release:

“NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet at approximately 3 p.m. EST Nov. 26, and viewers everywhere can watch coverage of the event live on NASA Television, the agency’s website and social media platforms.”

There are a few pre-landing broadcasts, and on the landing day, coverage will start early in the morning. The landing itself is expected to take place from 2 to 3:30 p.m. EST, with post-landing news conference to wrap up the event.

Wow, sounds incredible. Even though the cameras are “only” inside JPL Mission Control and the mission itself will be covered by audio “only”, it’s the closest I can get to experiencing touching down on another celestial object. I will have to make time for this!

Found via File 770.

Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Visual Inspiration: Photovoltaic Facades

Solar power technologies are advanced enough that they are increasingly being integrated into buildings during construction, not just added onto existing ones. For example, there’s a way to make thin enough, light-weight enough, and transparent enough solar cells to embed them into windows. Some cells even have color, which makes inventive facades a definite possibility!

Below are some colorful glass facades and/or windows, some actually photovoltaic, others made from regular glass or other sun control materials, to illustrate just a few possibilities SFF creators might want to consider.

 

SwissTech Convention Center in Ecublens, Switzerland

Using dye-sensitized solar cells or DSSC (also known as Grätzel cells), the world’s first multicolored solar facade was built at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. Although the technology is 30 years old already, the building is only from 2014.

EPLF Chris Blaser Facade External

EPLF Chris Blaser Facade Internal

 

Biochemistry building at The University of Oxford in Oxford, UK

The facade is made up of glass fins that emulate the colors of the historic buildings surrounding it.

Flickr Andy Matthews UOxford Biochemistry

 

Clapham Manor Primary School in London, UK

A new wing added to an existing Victorian school. No solar glass as far as I can tell, but the combinations of solid and fritted, on one hand, and clear and colored glass, on the other, allow for some environmental control.

de Rijke Marsh Morgan Clapham-Manor-Primary_04

 

Environmental education center El Captivador in Alicante, Spain

Designed by CrystalZoo, the roof tiles of the sustainably built environmental education center flow from bright reds via oranges to yellows.

Twitter CrystalZoo El Captivador

 

Xicui entertainment complex in Beijing, China

GreenPix, a photovoltaic Zero Energy Media Wall, built for the Xicui entertainment center before the 2008 Beijing olympics, was the largest color LED display in the world at the time.

GreenPix 00_08(c)SimoneGiostra-ARUP-Ruogu

 

Gare de Perpignan in Perpignan, France

An atrium with semi-translucent photovoltaic ceiling panels plus regular colorful glass (as far as I can tell).

Wikipedia Projet_BIPV_-_Gare_TGV_de_Perpignan

 

Kuggen building, Chalmers tekniska högskola in Gothenburg, Sweden

Designed by Winngårdh Arkitektkontor for the Chalmers University of Technology, Kuggen has a movable sunscreen and six floors, each shielding the floor below.

Flickr magro_kr Chalmers Kuggen

 

At the moment, it seems that next to cost, fairly low efficiency is the biggest problem with building-integrated photovoltaics. (Although, the efficiency problem might soon be solved.) Fortunately, both are something that SFF writers can easily deal with. 🙂

Images: External EPLF facade by Chris Blaser via Flickr, internal EPLF facade by RDR_FernandoGuerra via Flickr. Biochemistry building at U of Oxford by Andy Matthews on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Clapham Manor school by Jonas Lencer / Philip Marsh Alex de Rijke via de Rijke Marsh Morgan. El Captivador by CrystalZoo on Twitter. GreenPix by Simone Giostra & Partners. Gare de Perpignan by Laurent Lacombe / Issolsa via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0). Kuggen by magro_kr on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

National Museums Scotland Online

National Museums Scotland have made their collections available online.

First, you can tour the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh through Google street view. Around 20,000 objects on display at the permanent galleries can be seen this way.

Google Arts National Museums Scotland Screencap

In addition, over 1,000 objects from the National Museums have been added to the Google Arts & Culture online collection. They are arranged in groups that work much like online photo albums. Clicking on an image opens a detailed view of that item with additional information.

Four separate museums form the National Museums Scotland: in Edinburgh, the National Museum of Scotland and the National War Museum, plus the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian and the National Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride.

This is so great! I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit the National Museum of Scotland in person, but that was years ago and I couldn’t get to everything I wanted to see. Now I can patch those holes in my not-quite-a-bucket-list. 🙂

Image: screencap from National Museums Scotland Google Arts & Culture webpage