A Short History of the World

For the past few days I’ve been improving my orbital simulation model. A few years ago I turned it into a 3D model in which you could look at anywhere from anywhere else – like the view of the Earth from Saturn. But it was a transparent 3D model. The Earth was transparent, and so was Saturn. You could look through the Earth and see the outlines of the continents on the other side. And now I’ve started making the planets non-transparent, and painting the stars first, and then the planets on top of them, and then the Earth and its continents and islands, like an oil painting, from background to foreground. There are quite a few tricky geometrical problems to solve – like how to paint horizons – which I haven’t completely solved. Here’s my first ever opaque Earth, with a few opaque asteroids bearing down on it:


In the background there are stars and constellations. The red line is the ecliptic plane. The blue line the galactic plane. And we’re riding aboard a small asteroid that skimmed past the Earth a week or two back. It was only spotted the day before it flew past. And that’s normal with asteroids. Sometimes they don’t get spotted at all – like the fireball that exploded above Chelyabinsk 4 years ago. Nobody saw it coming.

I use the simulation model to look at asteroid orbits. But I’ve also been using it recently to construct an atmospheric simulation model, and was delighted when it produced Global Warming, and the atmosphere boiled off. I’ve also looked at tides, and I have plans to look at crustal forces (earthquakes). I constructed a Foucault pendulum in Paris, and it behaved just like the real one, slowly shifting its swing axis. I also tried building a spinning top in East Anglia, but it just fell over.

Looking at the world with this model, I suppose I really ought to be a globalist, and think globally. After all, we live in the early years of the Space Age, and perhaps the most iconic images of our time are of the Earth seen from space, a little blue teardrop, flecked with clouds. It looks so immensely vulnerable. What if the ocean and atmosphere was to suddenly boil off it? Such are the terrors of the new age.

But if anything, I think that my simulation model has made me all too aware that I’m one of the many millions of people for whom this planet is home. And every time I see Great Britain come into view on the surface of  the spinning Earth, I think “I live there!”

And as I look down on the Earth, I keep discovering new things. New islands I’d never heard of. New lakes. Just a week or so back I added a new lake to my map of Canada. It was called Great Slave Lake. Did they have slaves in Canada? Constructing this map has been a lesson in geography.

The biggest surprise of my model of the Earth was to see just how big the Pacific ocean is. It covers half the entire planet. It’s huge. Pretty much all the continents are on one side of the world. Here’s a view of the Pacific, seen from Saturn:


It’s as much a lesson in history as geography. The Portuguese navigator Magellan sailed across it in 1521, roughly from 5 o’clock to 9 o’clock. It was he who named it the Pacific ocean. He ended up in the Philippine Islands (named after Philip II of Spain), where he was killed in a local war. If he’d sailed a bit further south, he would have discovered Australia. It was another 250 years before south eastern Australia was discovered by the British Navigator James Cook. And he was killed in Hawaii, much like Magellan before him.

And that’s pretty much been the history of the world since about 1500: European navigators sailing round the world, followed by governors and soldiers and colonists, each of them claiming the new lands they’d discovered for their home European king. Pretty much the whole world was carved up between a few European states: Portugal, Spain, Holland, Britain, France. It was a global conquest: the indigenous natives didn’t have a hope in the face of European muskets and cannons and horses, the super-weapons of their time.

Europe was a global superpower for over 400 years, and got very rich off its global empire. Or at least some European nations – the ones with navies – got rich off their empires. Those without navies, like Austria and Hungary and Germany, barely got a look in. And when WW1 broke out, it was a war between the European haves and have-nots. And, not too surprisingly, the haves – who could call upon colonial troops and supplies – won the war. And they also won the WW2 second leg a few years later. But the wars left Europe bankrupt and broken. It never regained its global supremacy. And all the colonies were granted independence, if they hadn’t forcibly grabbed it already.

The EU has been touted as a project for European unity, to prevent such devastating wars ever happening again. But it’s really an exercise in closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. And it’s also an attempt to regain some of its lost former clout. Having lost their global empires, the Europeans (who remain as imperialistic as any of their forebears) have been trying to create a new Habsburg-style empire in the continent of Europe. And it’s showing every sign of being about to disintegrate back into its original component nation states.

Which some people think will be the prelude to new European wars. But why should that happen, now that so little is at stake? A century ago, when WW1 broke out, Europe pretty much owned the whole world, and there was a great deal at stake. Now it owns next to none of it. The only people who stayed out of WW1 and WW2 were the Portuguese and Spanish, who had already largely lost their empires, and so had little reason to fight. Now the whole of Europe is like Portugal and Spain, with no cause for any of them to fight the others.

If anything, the real danger is coming from an entirely different direction, which reflects the loss of European power and influence. For if a self-confident Europe expanded out across the entire world after 1500, the entire world seems to now be coming to Europe. Millions of Islamic migrants and refugees and terrorists are now entering Europe in waves. And the indecisive and sclerotic EU is doing next to nothing to stop it. In fact, many European leaders (e.g. Angela Merkel) have even been welcoming the invaders – as a form of cheap labour. It’s utter madness, and more and more Europeans are realising that it’s madness – Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders among them. With Britain about to (hopefully) leave the EU, it should soon be well placed to stem the influx of this new Islamic tide, which is as dangerous as any of its predecessors. We will soon be needing to reconstruct the coastline defences that were needed against the Spanish Armada and Napoleon and Hitler. Britain –  and the whole of Europe – is facing a terrible new threat.

And with that thought, I will return to the geometrical problems of drawing horizons, and to adding surprising new lakes and islands to my map of the world.


About Frank Davis

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23 Responses to A Short History of the World

  1. Fedrik Eich says:

    In fact, many European leaders (e.g. Angela Merkel) have even been welcoming the invaders – as a form of cheap labour.

    Refugees surely!
    I would guess the vast majority just want somewhere to prosper in safety!

  2. waltc says:

    Hurriedly: just heard on Rush w/guest host Mark Steyne, that in a poll of ten EU countries (well, including the UK) eight voted for zero migration by either a majority or a plurality.

  3. Frank Davis says:


    The European Union (EU) is to open asylum processing centres in West Africa and countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean because the continent “need[s] six million migrants”, Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos has said.
    Speaking in Geneva last week, the Greek Eurocrat denied terror attacks are linked to migration and warned the “biggest threat” to Europe is “the rise of populism, nationalism and xenophobia”.

    Declaring “the 27 [member states] will need 6 million immigrants in the future”, Avramopoulos explained the Commission is going to open reception centres to recruit migrants, because an open borders approach would fuel populism.

    “We will open offices in all countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean and in West Africa. This is the best way to fight smugglers.”

    “Obviously, we are not going to just open the borders and let everybody in. This would be absurd and would only feed xenophobia, nationalism, and populism. Having said that, we must protect the persecuted and treat everyone with dignity,” he said.

  4. Lepercolonist says:

    The first images of earth from the moon were enthralling. They were my first computer desktop images. I still love those beautiful photos.

  5. Joe L. says:

    Frank, have you considered open-sourcing your orbital simulator code on GitHub, GitLab or the like? I, for one, would be inclined to contribute in my spare time (or lack thereof). However, I’m more of a C/C++ guy, so I’d need to familiarize myself with Java’s graphics libraries (not to mention astronomical mathematics). Just curious.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I’ve not really thought about it. My orbital simulation model is a labour of love. I’ve always wanted to have one, ever since I learned about the laws of motion and gravitation when I was 16. I got my first one working 20 years ago, and have been tinkering with it ever since, a bit like a biker who’s always dismantling and rebuilding his bike.

      And I’m not really a Java programmer. In my heyday I worked mainly in assembler, down among the bits. But I manage to make things work. And C is very like Java. I think the main difference is that Java is a highly structured language, which makes you write code its way. It took me quite a while to get used to that. C is much looser.

      I’d be quite happy to open-source the model. But I’d want to clean it up a bit. There are whole tracts of dead code in it: things I was doing 10 years ago, that I never use now, but are still in there. It’s very untidy.

      I don’t know anything at all about GitHub or GitLab. I do all my development using NetBeans IDE, which anyone can download and install. If I’m no great Java programmer, I’m a complete novice with NetBeans. I only got hold of it 4 or 5 years ago. But I use it all the time now. Anyone who’s got NetBeans (or maybe even Eclipse) should be able to get it working.

      As for Java graphics libraries, I don’t know much about them. I use the same basic graphics environment that came with Java 20 years ago. And there’s very little “astronomical” mathematics. 95% of the mathematics is trigonometry. I’m forever working out things like where a horizon circle lies on the surface of a sphere of radius R for someone h metres high (to mention something I’ve been doing over the past few days), and finding the latitude and longitude of points on the horizon circle, or maybe the Right Ascension and Declination. Getting 3D to work better over the past few days has entailed finding these horizon circles and drawing them as filled polygons. The model is chock full of code that’s doing stuff like this. Some 30 years ago I worked on a graphics package (written in some variant of C), and I got shown how to do things like find the tangent between two circles, and ended up writing a lot of the code that did that sort of thing, so I had the mathematical skills.

      The way I mostly use the model is to construct asteroid orbits. The last one I did was asteroid 2017 EA, which passed about 30,000 km from the Earth a couple of weeks back. I get hold of the state vectors (position, velocity, date) from NASA Horizons I also get the state vectors of the sun, moon, earth, and all the planets. It’s an amazing facility. After a few observations, they can construct orbits far into the past and future for any astronomical body. Once I’ve got the state vector of everything needed, I can watch what 2017 EA does (see below). And then I usually build a cloud of rocks around it, or along its orbit, to see whether any of them hit the Earth. I got interested in asteroids after the Chelyabinsk event, and a long term project of mine has been to find whether the Chelyabinsk rock could have been a companion of DA14 that passed on the same day. NASA and all the pundits say it couldn’t have been, but I think it could. Other projects have included building Foucault pendulums, and bouncing balls, on the surface of the Earth. The simulation model is in many ways a general physics test bed.

      Anyway, I have a Chelyabinsk colleague/co-conspirator who’d like to have a copy of my model. But he’s no computer programmer. If you’re interested, I’d be quite happy to make the source code and associated files available, with minimal instructions about how to get it working. What’s GitHub/Lab all about?

      • Joe L. says:

        GitHub and GitLab are simply websites that provide hosting for Git source code repositories along with interfaces that allow for contributors to communicate with one another. Say I create some new feature and modify a few Java files in your program. I would upload my changes to the Git repo and submit what is called a ‘pull request.’ You, as the maintainer, would receive an email notifying you that I submitted changes. You can then view a diff of the changes via the web interface and download the changes locally via Git to compile and test them. After reviewing, you can accept the changes and merge them into the codebase, or add comments and request changes (or make them yourself) until satisfied.

        Both websites offer free public repositories, where anyone in the world have access, however GitHub charges for private repositories, whereas the newer GitLab, which is open source itself, provides free private repos (private meaning people must be invited in order to view the code, let alone modify it).

        • Frank Davis says:

          It sounds quite interesting. It’s how quite a lot of code gets developed, I gather. But I’ve never used it, and have no idea how to start.

        • Joe L. says:

          GitHub and GitLab are fairly straightforward; just sign up for an account and play around with the web interfaces (GitHub has plenty of documentation, also). Git itself, however, has a steep learning curve. It was created by Linus Torvalds, and thus is native to Linux. It has a very powerful but expansive command line interface. If you’re not a big Linux user (your screenshots appear to be Windows 7), there exists “Git for Windows” which emulates the CLI and also provides a GUI, but it’s not that great (yet). If you get the urge to look into this further, feel free to send me an email and I can send you some helpful links.

        • Frank Davis says:


          And yes, I am using Windows 7.

          At present my impression is that GitHub/Lab are ways of managing the development of open source code (like the Linux operating system itself) when there are multiple code developers. But it’s not an IDE like NetBeans or Eclipse.

        • Joe L. says:

          You’re welcome, and yes, your impression is correct.

        • @Joe, when someone comes up with a site for the greatest computer language ever (ie SInclair BASIC) then do please let me know…I say ‘greatest’ as in ‘the only one that ever made any bloody sense to me’. OOPS we’ve come up a language no one can understand. I spent months trying to get my head around JAVA, trying to understand the point of objects and classes when a simple line number and a ‘GOTO’ or ‘CLS’ would have sufficed.
          If you know of anyone who wants a free 2nd hand copy of ‘Head First Java (2005)’ https://tinyurl.com/jm4rkvk then feel free to email me .

        • Frank Davis says:

          I must say that I always liked Basic. And the Basic on my Sinclair QL was better than most. It may even have been the best.

          It took me quite a while to get my head around Java. But I eventually did, and now think that way quite naturally (or because I’ve been re-educated). In my orbital simulation model I have lots of classes. For example the Body class, which has variables like mass, radius, and various other things. The Earth is an instance of such a class. So is Jupiter. I also have a class called Map, of which my map of the Earth is an instance, along with other instances like the latitude-longitude grid, the horizon and terminator circle.

        • @FD ” (or because I’ve been re-educated)”
          I think that probably is a very apt description. Something I noticed straight way is that it is a different way of thinking. I liked the progression of BASIC, the straightforward ‘booleanness’ of it, if A then B then C, 1001 GOTO 1003 of it.
          Maybe because I was never much good at programming but I did find the ‘one step after another’ of BASIC logical. Infact a few years back I took my nephew to a Computer Museum in Germany and they had a ZX81 up and running (nearly all their exhibits were ‘hands on’). I sat down at it and despite it having been 30 years within seconds i had a simple ‘Hello World’ Print-CLS running and it was clear to me that a few hours ‘playing’ and I could have written something halfway interesting. Who needs more than 16K?
          Which is something I dislike about modern computering, no one even knows what a ‘K’ looks like or how to stuff it full anymore…gigabyte here, Megabyte there…so much waste. *PRINT “Old Fart”*
          I think i shall go rewatch “Bird Of Prey” with the immortal Richard Griffiths which I have in my dropbox somewhere….

        • Frank Davis says:


          I took my nephew to a Computer Museum in Germany and they had a ZX81 up and running (nearly all their exhibits were ‘hands on’). I sat down at it and despite it having been 30 years within seconds i had a simple ‘Hello World’ Print-CLS running

          I had a similar experience with a nephew. He was asking me about computers one dinner time, and I said I’ll show you after dinner how to programme them. There was some personal computer (I forget which one) in a box somewhere in the house, and after dinner we got it out of its box, along with its manuals, and plugged it into a TV set. I’d never used it before, but within minutes I was writing a little diddy programme that drew circular coloured blobs on the TV screen, and moved them around. My nephew watched intently while I explained what it was doing, and how you could change it. Eventually, I saved the programme as BLOBS.BAS, and we put the computer and its manuals back in their box. The entire “lesson” had lasted about an hour. I wondered if he had taken any of it on board. But I felt I had shown him that it was quite easy. Or not too difficult.

          About 15 years later, in conversation with him over another dinner, when he had a highly paid job in computing, I asked him when he’d first got to understand how computers worked (it took me forever). And to my surprise he replied that he’d first started to get the hang of it when I’d written BLOBS for him. So he had indeed taken it all on board. And thereafter had gone on from strength to strength.

  6. I also tried building a spinning top in East Anglia, but it just fell over.
    I call shenanigans! It is a well know scientific fact that anything constructed in Norfolk or Suffolk just sinks inexorably into the bog!

  7. Frank Davis says:

    Still haven’t got 3D quite right, but it’s coming along:

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