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May 23, 2005

Massive Change

I had an inspirational weekend partly due to a visit from a good friend from Montreal whom I don't see nearly enough and partly due to a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see their collaborative exhibit with the Vancouver Art Gallery, called Massive Change, an exhibit to show our "unprecedented capacity to plan and produce desired outcomes through good design".

Space Debris / Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
There are nearly ten thousand man-made objects larger than a softball in Earth orbit. Of these, only seven percent are operational satellites. The remaining ninety-three percent consists of dead satellites, rocket fragments and debris. While these objects are generally very far apart, their presence and great velocity can potentially interfere with space missions and even threaten the lives of astronauts - a tiny speck of paint from a satellite once dug a quarter-inch hole in a space shuttle window. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has been tracking these objects since 1961. Today, before every critical launch, analysts perform a collision avoidance test to make sure the mission will not cross paths with any of these objects.

Ozone Hole / Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
In 1983 scientists noticed strangely low levels of ozone, the layer of Earth's atmosphere that absorbs harmful ultraviolet radiation. They began to produce visualizations that showed an alarming ozone "hole" over the South Pole. These images were key to gaining the attention of the scientific community, the public and governments. By revealing that the ozone was being affected by emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from aerosol cans, refrigerators and air conditioners, these images mobilized action worldwide that led to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international treaty to eliminate CFC production and consumption. Between 1986 and 1997, global production of CFCs dropped by eighty-five percent, a significant victory for the environment, and proof of the power of visualization.

Internet / Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
In computing, a network is an interconnected group of machines. The Internet is a vast network of networks, all able to communicate with each other. This map of the Internet shows the hardware that serves as the "skeleton" or infrastructure of the Internet. The colors indicate geographic location. Despite its obvious complexity, this map represents just a fraction of the whole network - the rest is simply impossible to accurately represent. The structure of the Internet is constantly changing, not surprising when you consider its continued growth, with more than 24 million additional host computers added in 2002 alone. Fortunately, unlike many systems, the Internet's extreme interconnectedness is designed to be extraordinarily resistant to problems stemming from malfunction, war or natural disaster. When any part of the system fails, data is simply re-routed through a different path.

Earth at Night / Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
Observing the Earth at night gives us new perspective on worldwide access to electricity, and on population density in developed regions. National borders of North Korea and Israel are clearly depicted and human preference for settlement on transportation routes is obvious along the Nile River and Trans-Siberian rail line. The dark areas can be deceiving, because densely populated poor nations with low energy consumption are not visible. This visualization represents four primary types of light: human settlements (white), fires (orange), gas burnoff from oil wells (green), and heavily-lit fishing boats (cyan). The orange bands of fire that cover parts of Africa, Asia and Australia are the result of agricultural activity and natural causes. The extent of these fires is exaggerated because they occurred over the course of a full year - a single satellite orbited the Earth 2190 times to make this image.