The Spacecraft Soon Arriving at Planet Nine…

New Horizons

In July of 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft will arrive in the vicinity of Pluto. It will make the first flyby of Pluto, the last of the classic nine planets of the Solar System to be visited by a spacecraft. Below is an artist’s impression of the unmanned craft.

Until 1962, all eight planets had only been viewed through earth-based telescopes. With the dawn of the space age, unmanned probes were dispatched to those distant worlds; gradually they gave up their secrets, and Pluto will be the final one.

1962 – Venus

In December of 1962, the American Mariner 2 spacecraft made a flyby of Earth’s closest neighbour, Venus. The cloud-covered planet was further visited by several U.S. and Soviet craft, including a short-lived landing craft in 1967. The harsh surface conditions (a runaway “greenhouse” effect) presents a challenge to any lander.

1965 – Mars

Mars has in recent years received several American landers and rovers, but its first successful visitor was the Mariner 4 spacecraft in July 1965. The crude images returned showed none of the famous “canals” that had been mistakenly observed from Earth (an optical illusion) but more significantly showed a cratered surface not unlike the Moon. Later craft showed apparent river channels and other features from early Martian history that suggested the former presence of water, and a possibility of past or even present Martian life.

1973 – Jupiter

In December of that year, a spacecraft from Earth, the American Pioneer 10, made a flyby of the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter. Pioneer 10 was aptly named, and paved the way for the heavier and more famous Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, both of which visited the planet.

The Jovian system has since been visited by more spacecraft, including the Galileo craft which went into orbit around the planet. It was thus able to witness the demise of the Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 as it crashed into the planet in 1994, and was able to launch the first probe into the atmosphere of the gas giant.

The use of the gravity assist technique to increase the speed of a spacecraft as it travels to more distant worlds,has ensured that Jupiter has received several passing visitors.

1974 – Mercury

The closest planet to the Sun, Mercury, was first visited by yet another U.S. spacecraft in the Mariner series, number 10. Once again, it revealed a cratered world.

The old notion that one, similar to the Moon, Mercury kept one face pointing at its parent, is not the case (which spoiled a few science fiction stories).

1979 – Saturn

In September 1979, two years after the Voyager craft had been launched, the earlier Pioneer 11 spacecraft flew past Saturn, the ringed planet, returning the first close-up images of this beautiful world. The craft had earlier visited Jupiter along with its sister Pioneer 10.

Since 1979, the Saturnian system has been visited by several craft, the Voyager probes and the Cassini spacecraft which landed a probe on the largest moon, Titan.

1986 – Uranus

In January 1986, the Voyager 2 probe became the first, and so far only, probe to fly by the seventh planet. The triumph of this feat of unmanned engineering, after a 9 year voyage, was to be marred a couple of days later by the Challenger accident.

1989 – Neptune

The Voyager 2 probe’s final planetary encounter (though it is still working as of 2015) was with the blue gas giant, Neptune, in 1989. The eighth planet has yet to receive any further visitors.

2015 – Pluto

Pluto was “demoted” from the club of planets in 2006; it is now a minor planet, along with the larger dwarf planet Eris, and others.

If all goes to plan, in July, humans will finally be able to view this most distant rocky world and its largest moon, Charon.

The digital images, broadcast back to Earth at the speed of light, will take over four hours to make the journey; compare that with the second and a bit that it takes a light from the Moon to reach us, and the 8 minutes that is required for light from the Sun to reach us.

Ten Easter Eggs

The Easter weekend is over and the more restrained amongst you may still have some chocolate eggs lurking in your kitchen cupboards. However, did you know there may also be some Easter eggs hanging about in your favourite films, or even on your computer?

I’ve rounded up a few of my favourites:

1. There’s a Starbucks cup visible in every scene of Fight Club.

2. An X appears before the death of someone in The Departed.

3. R2D2 and C3PO appear in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

4. The Chrome “unable to connect” dinosaur turns into a game when you press the space bar.

5. The Spotify app updates – look at the last one in “What’s New”.

6. A strange bug in the Windows calculator – find the square root of 4, then subtract 2, the answer isn’t 0.

7. This product page – just wait.

8. On IMDb, the rating for This is Spinal Tap goes up to 11.

9. The Facebook globe icon changes depending on where you are in the world.

10. Enter the Konami code on (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a).

Rule Breakers and Record Makers: 10 Facts About the Oscars

The 87th Academy Awards will be taking place this Sunday evening (or 1:30am Monday morning for us Brits). Here’s your chance to brush up on your awards trivia:

1. There are only three films in the history of the Oscars that have walked away with the “Big Five” awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay): It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoos’s Nest (1975) and Silence of the Lambs (1991). 

2. Midnight Cowboy (1969) is the first and only X-rated (as per American film ratings) film to win the Best Picture Oscar (the rating has since been reduced to R). The only other X-rated film to be nominated in this category was A Clockwork Orange (1971).

3. The only actor to win an Oscar for portraying an Oscar winning actor is Cate Blanchett who played Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator.

4. John Williams has racked up a staggering 49 nominations to date (45 of which are for Best Score). However, he is beaten on this record by Walt Disney who was nominated 59 times with 26 wins!

5. Beauty and the Beast (1991) was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Since then, animated films Up (2010) and Toy Story 3 (2011) have been nominated in this category. Beauty and the Beast lost out to Silence of the Lambs but did take home the award for Best Original Score.

6. The sealed envelope was first introduced at the 13th Academy Awards in 1941 after the Los Angeles Times had leaked voting results in 1939.

7. Bob Hope hosted the Academy Awards 18 times between 1940 and 1978. The next most frequent host is Billy Crystal who has hosted 9 times between 1990 and 2012.

8. Seat fillers are employed at the Awards Ceremony to make the place look full if people either haven’t shown up or someone has temporarily vacated their seat e.g. to accept an award. The only people who can apply for this position are relatives of people who work at the Academy or employees of PricewaterhouseCoopers (the accounting firm that counts the votes).

9. There are many rumours surrounding Marisa Tomei’s Best Supporting Actress win in 1992 for My Cousin Vinny. Few had anticipated that the relative newcomer would win against the other veteran actresses in her category. There was speculation that the presenter, an elderly Jack Palance, had misread the name and the Academy were too embarrassed to correct the mistake. Another claim is that the other four nominees split the vote to such an extent that the only solution was to allow an underdog (Tomei) to take home the award.

10. The number of blondes to win the Best Actress Award is 18; the number of brunettes is 45.

Leading from Behind – Some Bands Named for a Man at the Back

In the jazz and swing era, the instance of the naming of a band by someone other than the front person was quite common, but in the rock and pop era, this is quite unusual.

Here are a few exceptions:-

Fat Larry’s Band

Known in most territories for their single big 1982 hit, if you view the video of “Zoom” below you’re probably not going to be surprised to learn that Fat Larry was not the singer but was in fact that large chap on the drums. Sadly, and perhaps (again) not surprisingly Larry passed away just five years after this record hit the top.

The Dave Clark Five

It remains fairly unusual for a pop or rock drummer to be a band’s leader (Phil Collins and Don Henley being notable exceptions) but drummer Dave Clark (also the manager and executive producer) didn’t sing on those sixties hits such as “Glad All Over” and “Bits and Pieces”; here they are with the latter song in 1964:-

Manfred Mann

Keyboard player Manfred is not the singer of either the band’s sixties era or the later “Earth Band” who hit the charts in the 70s with a Springsteen cover. You can see the chirpy Paul Jones singing below:-

Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes

This one is something of an exception; Harold was the original singer of this “Philly sound” vocal group, but he stepped back to let Teddy Pendergrass sing on their biggest hits, notably “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” and “Don’t Leave Me This Way”.

Here are the band performing in matching blue suits (of course) on Soul Train. Teddy is handling the miming of lead vocals, and Harold is to his right. The “Dad dancing” part is at 1.57

Sadly in 1982 Teddy was badly injured in a car crash that left him a quadraplegic. He performed at 1985’s Live Aid concert in a wheelchair, and passed away in 2010.

The Spencer Davis Group

Spencer was  the guitarist. The band featured Steve Winwood who sang on their hits “Keep on Running”, “Gimme Some Lovin” and “I’m a Man” before leaving to form Traffic. Here they are in 1965:-

Fleetwood Mac

The decision by lead guitarist and singer Peter Green to name his blues band after his drummer and bass player has left a legacy that has endured for almost a half century.

In this clip of “Oh Well” you can see the beardless Mick Fleetwood on drums and bassist John McVie at the extreme left, slightly in the shadows.

Also mentioned:-

  • Van Halen
  • Santana (Carlos rarely sings)
  • Mike and the Mechanics

Sadly there was no Herman in the Hermits.

My 5 Most Recently Downloaded Apps (iPhone)

1. Sleep Time – £1.49

This is an alarm clock with a difference – it monitors and analyses your sleep cycles by sensing your movements throughout the night. It then uses this information to wake you up when it knows you are no longer in the deep  stage of REM cycle. So no more waking up feeling groggy!


2. TwinPics – Free

A simple but nicely designed memory game. All you do is match up as many pairs as you can within a limited time, avoiding obstacles along the way. The colours and photography used are stylish and attractive and it’s easy to dip in and out of making it the perfect game for when you just have a few minutes to fill.

3. BBC News – Free

This is more of a recent update than download as I have had the app for a while, however, about a week ago, the BBC released its first major redesign since the app launched in 2010. The app now offers a much more personalised view of the news as it includes local news content and you can select the topics that interest you the most.

4. SkinDeep – Free

Do you know what chemicals are in your personal care products? EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is the world’s largest safety reference tool for personal care products and the app provides information on more than 72,000 products. Enter the product name into the app and it assesses the ingredients and how they may affect your health. It then calculates a hazard score allowing you to make informed purchasing decisions.

5. Serial –  Free

This is actually a podcast, not an app, but I felt it was well worth a mention. The 12-part series (you can now download all the episodes from the website) follows journalist Sarah Koenig as she investigates a murder case from 1999 in which a high-school student was found dead in a Baltimore Park having been strangled. Her ex-boyfriend was charged with her murder and sentenced to life in prison but has protested his innocence ever since. The podcast is totally addictive and a great way to pass the time on your commute.

Robin Williams: 10 Best Moments

We have a few major film fans in the office so we were very sad to hear about the death of Robin Williams. As a child of the ‘90s, I grew up watching many of his movies over and over again. Here are a few of my favourite Robin Williams moments:

1. Mrs. Doubtfire

2. Aladdin

3. Good Will Hunting

4. Hook

5. Good Morning, Vietnam

6. Jumanji

7. Dead Poets Society

8. The Birdcage

9. Friends

10. Mork & Mindy

Top 10 Android Apps of 2014

We’ll be launching our ukphonebook Android app in the next few weeks, so in preparation we’ve narrowed down our top 10 Android apps of 2014.

1. ukphonebook – Free

This is essentially a pocket version of the website. You can search the UK telephone directory for business and residential information, search the Electoral Roll, look up postcodes and dialling codes and even TPS check phone numbers. And you still get your free search credits every day. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to be the first to hear when we launch in the Google Play Shop.

2. Nova Launcher Prime – £2.40

Customize your homescreen interface with Nova Launcher Prime. This app allows you to play with various settings such as gestures and drawer groups, whilst maintaining a super-fast and smooth experience. You can also customise themes and access icon sets available on Google Play.

3. Google Keep – Free

This is a syncing notepad that supports photo notes, voice notes, and checklists and saves them to Google Drive where they can be accessed on any other web-connected device. It is ideal for quick note-taking on the go with a colourful and easy-to-use interface.

4. Spotify – Free

This app is free to download but we highly recommend taking out a premium subscription once you have downloaded it. Spotify can essentially replace your music collection as it provides you with access to a huge inventory of music on-demand. You can even download your favourite music for offline listening.

5. Snapseed – Free

Image editing and filters have recently improved on Instagram, however, you will still want to run your photos through this app before Instagramming them. You get more control when correcting/tuning/adjusting your images and there is a wide range of filters to choose from.

6. Duolingo – Free

Learn Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, and English. This app makes a game out of learning a new language with bite-sized lessons. You can easily track your progress and also have the option to set daily goals for yourself.

7. Untappd – Discover BeerFree

Untappd is a social discovery network for anyone that enjoys beer. You can record each new brew you try, rate it and even add tasting notes to share with fellow beer lovers. Discover new beers and bars through the vibrant Untappd community.

8. Google Maps – Free

Just a few taps and this app will tell you exactly where to go. Get directions to your chosen destination and decide whether you want to travel by foot, bike, car or public transport. You can even see what’s around you by using the street view option.

9. Allthecooks RecipesFree

If you’re stuck for what to cook for dinner, get inspiration from this cooking community app. There are hundreds of thousands of recipes to be found with people sharing their experiences of making them by posting photos of their attempts. You can add favourite recipes, manage shopping lists and set up meal calendars.

10. The Room/The Room Two£0.69/£1.99

This is the only game on our list and it is well worth a look. “A physical puzzler, wrapped in a mystery game, inside a beautifully tactile 3D world” as the developer Fireproof Games puts it. The sequel is just as good, if not better than the original and will have you puzzling for hours as you become completely immersed in the clever puzzles, spine-tingling music and beautiful graphics.

Behind The Scenes: Hull-isms

In spite of the bad press, many view Hull as a city of hidden charms. Due to become Britain’s City of Culture in 2017, it is home to the engineering wonder that is the Humber Bridge, a recently restored marina and promenade as well as the terrific aquarium, The Deep.

In addition to this, the city has given birth to musicians, poets and actors as well as two of our very own Directors here at Simunix. With this in mind, Hull is a hot topic of conversation in the Simunix offices and coming up with various “Hull-isms” has become a popular Friday lunchtime game. Here are some of John and Ian’s favourites:

  • Er kner (Oh no!)
  • Arse in yer kerk (Ice in your Coke)
  • The bern’s rarin’ (The baby’s crying)
  • The fern (The telephone)
  • Ferth uv Jular (American Independence Day)
  • Thes a hernet on’t bern’s cernet (there’s a wasp on the baby’s ice-cream)
  • Ezzle Rerd (the main thoroughfare between Hessle and Hull)
  • Perch degg (poached egg)
  • Ners kern  (nose cone)
  • Merhbarle fern (mobile phone)
  • Mamamia  (Mother I have returned home)
  • Iantgoranee (I do not have any)
  • Jinerr? (do you know?)
  • A hertell  (A hotel)
  • Shurrup (please be silent)
  • Anglebie Rerd (Anlaby Road)

Any Hullensians please feel free to add to the list!

Nearly Departed

A List of Five Famous Groups of Persons Who Have Mostly Passed Away

1 – The Mercury Seven

Chosen in 1959 in a fanfare of publicity, America’s first astronauts flew that nation’s first manned spacecraft, the tiny single-seat Mercury capsule. Alan Shepard was the first to fly, performing a sub-ortbital flight in 1961; John Glenn’s more famous orbital flight followed in 1962. Their story was related in the 1983 movie The Right Stuff.

As of April 2014, only Glenn (lower second from right), the oldest of the men, remains with us. He became a Senator, and eventually flew in space again in 1998 aboard a Space Shuttle.

  • Gus Grissom (top centre) followed Shepard in a sub-orbital flight (his capsule famously sunk after landing), flew the first two man Gemini flght, and died in the Apollo launch pad fire in 1967.
  • Donald Slayton (lower, second from left) was grounded but stayed as Astronaut chief; he flew the joint US and Soviet mission in 1975 and died in 1993.
  • Alan Shepard (top, left) flew to the moon in 1971 as the commander of Apollo 14 and became the oldest moonwalker aged 47. He died in 1998.
  • Gordon Cooper (top, right) flew the final Mercury mission and a Gemini flight but lost his seat on a Moon mission to Shepard. He died in 2004.
  • Walter Schirra (bottom, left) flew in Mercury, Gemini and the first manned Apollo, he died in 2007.
  • Scott Carpenter’s solo flight in 1962 went badly (he was blamed for an off-target landing) and he never flew in space again. He died in 2013. He is pictured at the right of the lower row.

2 – The Mamas and The Papas

Only originally together from 1965-1968, the American folk harmony vocal group left a legacy of work that remains renowned and popular to this day.As of April 2014 only Michelle Phillips (lower centre) remains with us. She has had a sucessful TV and film acting career.

  • Cass Elliot (top centre) died in London in 1974 during her sucessful solo career. The untrue story that she choked on a sandwich (she suffered a heart attack) is mirrored by the actual coincidence of Keith Moon’s death in 1978, in the same flat.
  • John Phillips (lower right), the group’s leader and Michelle’s former husband, released a couple of solo albums, was convicted of drug trafficking, revived the group in the 1980s, had a liver transplant, and died in 2001 aged 65.
  • Denny Doherty (lower left) had a faltering solo career, went sober in the 1980s, joined the revived group and died in 2007.

Here is a clip of the band performing their most famous song live in Monterey in 1967.

3 – Dad’s Army Cast

The show ran originally from 1968 to 1977. As might be expected, the elderly cast members passed away in the years that followed, and in April 2014 only Frank Williams, who played the vicar, and Ian Lavender playing the teenage Frank Pike, are still with us.

  • James Beck (Private Walker) died in 1973 aged just 44.
  • Edward Sinclair (The Verger) died in 1977.
  • John Laurie (Private Frazer) died in 1980.
  • Arthur Lowe (Captain Mainwaring) died in 1982.
  • John Le Mesurier (Sergeant Wilson) died in 1983.
  • Arnold Ridley (Private Godfrey) died in 1984.
  • Clive Dunn (Corporal Jones) was much younger than the role he played; he died in 2012.
  • Bill Pertwee (Hodges) died in 2013

Here is a short clip of the most famous scene from the series. The platoon have been ordered to guard a captured U-Boat crew.

4 – T-Rex

The classic lineup of T-Rex, that recorded their hits in the early 1970s, is pictured above. Formed originally in 1967 by singer-songwriter and guitarist Marc Bolan, T-Rex continued to record and perform until 1977.

As of April 2014 only the drummer Bill Legend (left) is still with us.

  • Marc Bolan (second from right) had divorced, had gained a son, and hosted a sucessful TV show in 1977, when he was sadly killed in a car accident.
  • Steve Currie (right) played bass and left the band in 1976. He was also killed in a car accident, in 1981.
  • Mickey Finn (second from left) was the percussionist. He left the band in 1975, but played with a revived T-Rex from 1997 until his passing in 2003.

Here is a clip of the above lineup performing “Jeepster” in London in 1972.

5 – The Great Train Robbers

The stopping and seizure of the millions of pounds from the mail train in 1963 rocked the establishment more than any activities of the young in the later 1960s. Most of the gang were caught and jailed, and none had a long and happy young retirement as a result of the raid. Their “gentleman thieves” image was forever damaged by the premature death of the train driver, badly injured during the robbery.

As of April 2014, of the known criminals involved in the robbery (three were never caught), only Douglas “Gordon” Goody (the “brains” behind the operation) and Thomas Wisbey remain alive.

The fates of some of the more (in)famous members of the gang are recorded here:-

  • Charles Wilson, regarded as the most dangerous of the robbers, was murdered in Spain in 1990.
  • Buster Edwards, famously portrayed by Phil Collins in the 1988 movie Buster, was found dead in 1994; the verdict was “open” but suicide was suspected.
  • James Hussey died in 2012. He had made a deathbed confession to being the robber who attacked the uncooperative train driver Jack Mills. The validity of the confession has been disputed.
  • Bruce Reynolds was the gang leader. He hid overseas until being captured in 1968. He died in 2013.
  • Ronald Biggs was the most famous of the gang members due to his escape and long residence in Brazil. He finally returned to the UK, was re-imprisoned, released on compassionate grounds and died in 2013, having attended Reynolds’ funeral earlier in the year.

Behind The Scenes: Simunix Staff Pick Their Top 10 Greatest Albums of All Time

For a bit of fun, we’re starting a series of “Behind the Scenes at Simunix” blog posts. To kick off the series, we asked some of our Simunix staff members to list their top 10 albums of all time…

John Lewis – Managing Director

  1. Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks
  2. The Beatles – Revolver (except Yellow Submarine)
  3. The Beatles – Rubber Soul
  4. Kate Bush – The Dreaming
  5. The Band – The Band
  6. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
  7. Van Morrison – St Dominic’s Preview
  8. Weezer – The Green Album
  9. Brad Paisley – 5th Gear
  10. Joni Mitchell – Blue

Ian Martin – IT Director

  1. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti
  2. Janis Ian – Between The Lines
  3. Genesis – A Trick of The Tail
  4. Joni Mitchell – Clouds
  5. The Cardigans – Life
  6. Amy Winehouse – Frank
  7. Swing Out Sister – Kaleidoscope World
  8. Bear Macreary – Battlestar Galactica Season Three Soundtrack
  9. English Sinfonia – Sir Charles Groves Conducts Elgar, Ravel, Fauré, Satie etc
  10. RJD2 – Since We Last Spoke

Laura Cunningham – Marketing Executive

  1. Jay-Z – The Black Album
  2. Nirvana – Nevermind
  3. Jurassic 5 – J5
  4. Joni Mitchell – Blue
  5. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
  6. Green Day – Dookie
  7. Kate Bush – The Kick Inside
  8. Radiohead – The Bends
  9. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  10. London Grammar – If You Wait

Jamie Bradley – Developer

  1. Radiohead – In Rainbows
  2. Built To Spill – Keep It Like A Secret
  3. Bombay Bicycle Club – Flaws
  4. Pixies – Doolittle
  5. Daughter – If You Leave
  6. Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts Of The Great Highway
  7. Deftones – Around The Fur
  8. The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient
  9. Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American
  10. Björk – Debut

Patrick Wahl – Developer

  1. Pearl Jam – Vitalogy
  2. Pearl Jam – Yield
  3. Red Hot Chilli Peppers – One Hot Minute
  4. Underworld – Beaucoup Fish
  5. Springbok Nude Girls – Goddank Vir Klanke/The Fat Lady Sings
  6. T.R.O. – Play Times Over
  7. Pixies – Surfer Rosa
  8. Depeche Mode – Songs Of Faith And Devotion
  9. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
  10. Various Artists – Dad, I Blew up America