In vantablackest night

In dark arts and sciences news, a group of researchers in England have created the coolest and most unnecessarily dark substance ever.

The material, known as Vantablack (Very Amazing New and Totally Awesome black), was described by patrons at the Optics Express kiosk at the mall as “really blackety-black”.  It works by taking really thin carbon drinking straws and gluing them to aluminum foil.  Light gets stuck between the tiny straws and is absorbed.*

Vantablack is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing, and wanders off in search of simpler colors to look at, like periwinkle and burnt sienna.  It absorbs 99.965% of the light that hits it, setting a new world record for the blackest thing.  The previous record was set by Jack Black and Black Manta at a Clint Black/Black Eyed Peas concert in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2002.

Vantablack’s practical uses include calibrating sensitive imaging systems, which must be pointed at something as black as possible. Today, cameras must be calibrated by pointing them at black items such as a door knocker, London cab, or Audrey Hepburn (below).


There are military uses that the material’s maker, Surrey NanoSystems, is not allowed to discuss.  However, loose-lipped CTO Ben Jensen explained that the landscape disappears on areas covered by it.  “You expect to see the hills and all you can see is like a hole, like there’s nothing there.”  Federal investigators would not comment on any connection between Vantablack and the recent disappearance of certain hills in South Dakota.

Natalie Portman 8100005

The nanostraw material has been grown on sheets of aluminum foil in the Newhaven-based company’s cafeteria. Hot and Bright Star Natalie Portman (shown here floating incorporeally around a dress-shaped hole) told reporters, “I was having lunch at Surrey NanoSystems the other day.  I was enjoying my quiche, but I couldn’t finish it, so they wrapped the leftovers for me in the shape of a Vantablack swan.”

News of the discovery was heralded by groups as diverse as the Goth Poets Society, the National Endowment for the Puritan Arts, and avant-garde hell-raiser Coco Chanel.

Stephen Westland, professour of colour science and technology at Leeds University, said traditional black was actually a colour of light, producing a traditional blacklight to prove his point.  “Many people believe black is the absence of light.  I totally disagree with that.  And I ought to know.  I’m a professour of colour science and technology.”

“It is too a thing!”, he yelled in response to a reporter’s question.  (News that “colour science and technology” was a thing one could profess in was greeted with great excitement by rising third-grader Miranda Johnson of Mrs. Marino’s art class.)

Vantablack is one of a growing number of extreme colors under development.  Scientists in Los Angeles are working on Vannawhite, a white so dazzling it is capable of turning letters, but can only be seen a half hour at a time.  Fantaorange is a shade of orange so orange you can practically drink it.  Colour science experts believe that Fantaorange could be the new Vantablack.

†Visually Appealing but Not Nearly Absolute white

‡Fruity Amalgam of Nectarine, Tangarine and Apricot orange

* Warning: Vantablack should be cleaned periodically with a damp sponge.  Failure to do so will cause it to continue absorbing light until it creates a supernova that rips a hole in the fabric of existence.  Do not dry clean.

Click here to try to see more about Vantablack.  

Click here to see simpler colors like periwinkle and burnt sienna.

One in a row

Today at work I got an e-mail inviting me to “the first in a series of lunch sessions on Concurrency”.  I will not be attending.  It seems to me that if they were really serious about Concurrency, all the sessions would happen at the same time.

Fortune favors the believer

My fortune cookie with dinner said, “The eyes believe themselves; the ears believe other people.”

Upon further review, it turns out the nose believes in life after love, the fingertips believe the children are our future, and the tongue believes in Crystal Light, because I believe in me.

Yep, I’m a believer. Not a trace of doubt in my mind.


During a recent brief hospital stay, my mother casually mentioned to me that one of her nurses recognized her from a brief hospital stay a few months earlier.  (She’s doing well, thank you.)

She and I were both surprised by this.  My mother is not a frequent visitor to the hospital, a place that does quite a lot of business.  It’s not out of the question, of course.  I, for example, only see my mother at Christmas, but I recognize her on sight almost every time.  And there are blackjack dealers in Vegas who recognize me every year when I go out on vacation, despite the fact that they see upwards of 100,000 players in between, and I’m not the kind of high-roller that gets noticed.

But it got me thinking about how being recognized on sight is a mixed bag.  Sometimes you want to go where (almost) everybody knows your name, and they’re (usually) glad you came.  Other times not so much.  For example:  Continue reading

Universal service

In cosmic connectivity news, a hotspot of powerful, ultrahigh-energy particles may help scientists answer a century-old question: can we get a decent wi-fi signal in Ursa Major?

Gordon Thomson, of the University of Utah, worked with a team of scientists to capture 72 cosmic rays over a period of five years.  The signals were captured by the Telescope Array cosmic ray observatory, an isolated pavillion with a solar panel on the roof next to a telephone pole (above).  (Disclaimer: Based on the lack of reference points, this might just be an uncomfortable lounge chair.)

Thomson is the co-principle investigator for the Telescope Array observatory.  “Our main principle is ‘No findings, no grant money’.  Our co-principle is ‘Don’t be too specific.’  That’s where I come in.  I make sure that our findings are vague enough that they can’t be contradicted.”

Asked to describe his findings, Thomson said, “All we see is a blob in the sky, and inside this blob there is all sorts of stuff — various types of objects.”  He added,  “Now we know where to look,” referring to the blob of stuff and objects.  Continue reading

Cold caller in a pickle

A telemarketer for some outfit that calls me a lot at home while I’m at work just told me, “You’re harder to get to than the last pickle in a pickle jar.”   And then tried to ask me for money.   Possibly to buy a fork.   Or maybe to pay for finger lengthening surgery.

I explained to her that if you pour out the pickle juice, you can turn the jar upside down, and the pickle will just fall into your hand.

Good deed for the day: done!

Disclaimer: Don’t pour pickle juice down the drain.   It will combine with all the bacon grease down there and result in global warming.

Editor’s Note: When I searched online for a picture of a “pickle jar”, I got the image above.  I believe it is a pickle urn, in case your pickle drowns in brine before you can get to it, and you want to keep its ashes on the mantle as a tribute.

Threat assessment

Since I started this blog last year, people often come up to me and ask, “Why are you so concerned about the monkey apocalypse?”  (Disclaimer: No one has ever come up to me and asked me this question.)  “Why not be concerned about more tangible, immediate threats, like government spying by the NSA and the IRS?”  (Disclaimer: The IRS and NSA are valuable organizations that fund the government and protect us from terrorism, respectively.  Neither of these crucial missions would be furthered by sending a drone to my house.)

The main reason I don’t worry about massive intelligence gathering is that it never seems to result in any intelligence.  Once you start putting together enough bits of data, you can create any picture you like, and the chances that it will be correct are nearly infinitesimal.

Let me give you an example.  As you know, the total sum of human knowledge is owned by three companies: Microsoft (which controls everyone who doesn’t like Apple), Apple (which controls everyone who doesn’t like Microsoft), and Google (which controls the flow of information between Apple/Microsoft and us mere humans).  (Disclaimer: This is a sign of a utopian society.  Please do not send an e-drone (or an Apple iDrone for that matter) to my house.)

Everything and everyone on Earth gets its information from this electronic infrastructure.  (Disclaimer: Everyone in the Kepler Space Empire still gets their information from TV signals we broadcast in the 1950s.)  In spite of this, I have been receiving a spate (more than a smidgen, less than a plethora) of e-mails which clearly indicate that the hive mind is drunk-dialing me.

For the past few months, LinkedIn has been notifying me that my various contacts have “recommended” me for my proficiency in certain skills.  The most common of these skills is “device drivers”.  Device drivers are the software that interacts directly with computer hardware (spin the CDROM drive, notice that the mouse moved, etc.).   In more than three decades as a software engineer, I have never worked on device drivers, and yet I have multiple recommendations from former co-workers, many of whom have watched me never work on device drivers.  More to the point, I have also received device driver recommendations from a woman I studied financial planning with and the decorator who remodeled my house.  Coincidentally, none of these people actually remembers making the recommendation.

The risk that any person or (apologies to Harold Finch) Machine can extract useful information out of that much data debris is well within my comfort zone.  The thing I’m most worried about is that some shadowy government black-budget entity will ask me to fix their device drivers.