Searching for contentment

This is what fascinates me most in existence:
the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.
– Philip Gourevitch
epigraph to Blindsight by Peter Watts >


Global population density graphic

Closeup of global population density graphic by Alasdair Rae of Automatic Knowledge LTD

Alasdair Rae of Automatic Knowledge LTD created a stunning graphic of our world. Here's his About this print description:

This is a 3D representation of the world's population—approximately 7.8 billions people (as of 2020). No land is shown on the map, only the locations where people actually live. Each spike represents an area roughly 2km × 2km (about 1.25 × 1.25 miles). The height of the spikes highlights the population density of each area. The higher the spike, the more people live in an area. Where there are no spikes, there are no people (e.g. you can clearly identify the location of the Sahara Desert).

It's immediately obvious from the map where the major concentrations of the world's population are located—e.g. particularly in China, India, and Indonesia. Yet it is often also possible to pick out even quite small towns and cities, such as those in the south of New Zealand, or northern Russia.

The light and shadow effect on the map is intended to help highlight the areas of highest density, but it also allows us to identify some more isolated population centres, such as those in Hawaii, or central Australia.

Take some time to study the map and you'll begin to appreciate the old saying that 'where there is water, there is life'. We hope you enjoy it!

Global population density graphic by Alasdair Rae of Automatic Knowledge LTD


For a larger view of the full graphic, see the tweet about the project by Alasdair Rae @undertheraedar⩘ : Global population density graphic⩘ 

Ordering info and more about the making of the prints: Prints – Automatic Knowledge LTD⩘ 

Blog post by Alasdair Rae: How to make a 3D population density render for any country in the world⩘ 

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Elizabeth Bear, Machine

Machine by Elizabeth BearDeliciously narrated by Adjoa Andoh

A fun romp through the solar system with a wide variety of playfully and vividly imagined species who work together in a vast space station that is the solar system's largest hospital. The main character, the human-based Doctor Jens, works as a rescue doctor, a perilous job she loves and embraces with enthusiasm. She also loves to talk philosophy and joke around with the representatives of the many other species she works side by side with, deeply craves a good cup of coffee that she hasn't been able to have for years because the smell so very much disgusts the other-than-humans who inhabit the station with her, and brings a big heart and an optimistic outlook to solving the challenges she, her workmates, and the entire hospital face.

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2020, Downpour⩘ 

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Living in the Rockies

A bit more than a week ago, it was very hot, everything was extremely dry, our neighborhood was threatened by a nearby and out-of-control wildfire, another fire, a huge one, exploded up in the mountains to the west of us, joining a third huge one that has been burning for a couple months in the mountains to the northwest of us. After a week of anxiety and on and off mandatory evacuations, we finally returned home a few days ago. Over the past couple of days, we received nearly a foot of snow and single digit temperatures. Up in the higher mountains, they received up to two feet of snow. The fires aren't fully out—the air is still full of smoke—but they have been stalled and tamped down by the snow, increasing the odds that the firefighters can get them all under control.

Snowy view to the north

Higher res versions of this photo >
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The Windtraveler shoji lamp

Windtraveler lamp

Dedicated to my good friend Thomas Hey'l
who has inspired me to look at design more deeply
and to take even more care about precision.

More about this project >
More woodworking >


Sharks kill an average of 10 people per year. People kill around 100,000,000 sharks per year 1. People also kill approximately 425,000 people per year, topped only by mosquitoes, which kill about 725,000 people per year 2.

(See also: The woman who swims with sharks⩘ )

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People walk at an average pace of about 2.5 miles per hour.
Trail winding up Cow Creek valley by Toshen
Meanwhile, light travels about 186,000 miles per second, or about 11,160,000 miles per hour. It would take light about 0.13 seconds to travel around the Earth,
Blue Marble, 2012. Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
1.3 seconds to travel the 238,900 miles from the moon to the Earth,
Big end-of-year moon by Toshen
8.3 minutes to travel the 93,000,000 miles from the sun to Earth, and 1.3 hours to travel the 890,000,000 miles from the sun to Saturn. To get a glimpse of an idea of just how far away Saturn is, see If the Moon were only 1 pixel⩘  by Josh Worth.
Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
At the scale of the solar system, the Earth is a spec of dust. 1,300,000 Earths could fit within our sun.
Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
Our sun, as big as it is, is just a tiny twinkle of light in a suburb of the Milky Way galaxy. Its light takes about 27,000 years to travel to the center of the Milky Way.
The Milky Way in Yosemite by bgwashburn is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
One light year is just short of six trillion miles (5,878,625,000,000). The Milky Way has a diameter of about 100,000 light-years, and contains as many as 400 billion stars, which together create a smidgen of light in our local group of galaxies.
The Milky Way: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello is licensed under CC CC0 1.0 (cropped) The light of the Milky Way takes about 2,300,000 years to travel just to the nearby Andromeda galaxy. Isn't it amazing that by using our inherent art of visualization, we can be there, instantly, in this moment.
Andromeda. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The observable universe is estimated to contain as many as two trillion galaxies. To get more perspective on this eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) Hubble image, see the short video: Hubble Legacy Field Zoom-Out⩘ . Make sure to read the notes, too.
To get a glimpse of an idea of just how big the observable universe is, see Neal Agarwal's fun website, The Size of Space⩘ .
Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF). Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team

By the way, because of the Earth's spin, if you're standing still at the equator, you're actually moving at about 1,667 km/hour (1,037 miles/hour). The Earth is orbiting our sun at approximately 30 km/sec (67,108 miles/hour). Our sun is orbiting the center of our Milky Way Galaxy at approximately 250 km/sec (560,000 miles/hour). And our galaxy is moving through our universe at approximately 600 km/sec (1,340,000 miles/hour). Hang on!

If you'd like to move through time as quickly as you're moving through our universe, you might enjoy watching this TED talk by David Christian, one of the founders of the Big History Project: The history of our world in 18 minutes⩘ 

All distances and times are approximate.

Image credits:

  1. Hiking trail in Cow Creek valley⩘  by Toshen, CC by NCSA⩘ 
  2. Blue Marble, 2012, Earth image⩘  by NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
  3. Full moon image⩘  by Toshen, CC by NCSA⩘ 
  4. Saturn⩘  by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  5. Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun⩘  by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
  6. The Milky Way in Yosemite⩘  by bgwashburn⩘  is licensed under CC BY 2.0⩘  (cropped)
  7. Milky Way in Summer: VL test PSP8⩘  by gjdonatiello⩘  is licensed under CC CC0 1.0⩘  (cropped)
  8. Andromeda⩘  by NASA/JPL-Caltech
  9. Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF)⩘ : NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team