Lockdown Moments

During the almost two months of safety isolation I have changed daily, and sometimes hourly, from mild complacency right through the trough of emotions all the way up to near fatal panic.

I think we’ve all done this. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you’ve not been a little bit worried, then you should be. Wash your hands! Sneeze away from me! Away from everybody!


The one thing I have sought out during my moments of concern is ways to surpress the urge to stop doing anything and curl into a foetal ball.

I already meditate, but when isolating with your family in one place finding a bit of time to do that can be difficult. I tend to do breathing exercises until my wife notices and asks me if I’m all right. Nope. Not all right, hence the breathing.

I needed something that would take me somewhere special. Find me a moment of euphoria in the midst of this madness.

And I found one.

I was playing a silly game on my phone to wile away a moment or two, when at the bottom of the screen an ad came up for, no surprises, another app. Normally I only glance at them for a second, but this one caught my attention as I recognised something about the app’s logo. It looked a little like the letter “M” if each leg was made up of two or more lines. It rested against black and I thought, “Why do I recognise that?” Then I suddenly had it. It was the International Space Station.

Before I knew what I was doing, I clicked on the link. Clickbait central, here I come.

Within 5 seconds I was redirected to Google’s App store and downloaded what was probably a scam to my phone, but the app had said the word “live feed” somewhere in the text so I thought, what could I lose?

The real truth was what I would gain.

The app is called “ISS Live Now” It has a few videos made by the crew of the station, including a tour, some other NASA information and, lo and behold, a real love feed from a camera pointed along its orbit. A camera that showed a live view of the surface. Of our planet.

I pressed the tiny button at the bottom of the screen and the small view went full screen on my phone, filling the 5inch by 2.75 inch screen with cloud, land and sea as the ISS flew at 27500 or so kilometres an hour around or planet. A 720p live feed of the surface of our homeworld. A slice of the blue marble travelling below the ISS, rotating towards the bottom of my phone.

As I watched, distant weather systems over the Pacific gave way to the coast of South America, a range of mountains spanning the screen from top to bottom drifting in real time.

I was transfixed. The whole world was there. Beneath my gaze as if I was flying high above it. It was, it still is, breathtaking.

So now, when I feel low, I open my phone and float up above it all to look down on the planet with the app. To see continents and clouds and sunsets and sunrises and sea and I breath in and out. And it is, for me, euphoric. And exactly what I needed.

It works for me and perhaps it might help you to.

The Google App store link to this app.


I created this a short while ago with Blender. Yep. It’s me talking about Blender again.

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As usual, it started as an accident. I was trying to create a fractal landscape using a subdivided grid, a subdivision surface modifier and a displace modifier with a cloud texture. By chance, moving through the cloud’s settings, I saw at the top cell noise. By setting the cell depth of the cell setting to 1, I had a large square block displacement. Changing it to two, this give me an overlay layer of half sized on top of the originals. Changing that up to 4 gave the look of the land.

Seeing the Minecraft-esque look, I immediately changed the camera to an orthographic and moved it to an isometric angle. I decided it would be nice to have a shader that emulated the land and water levels using RGB constants on a colour ramp. I’ve done something similar before in Maya, but never in blender. I started with a principled shader, added a colorRamp into the colour. In order to map it only in the Z, I separated off the Z position from a Geometry Input Node – giving me a value of 0 to 1 in the Z, and added this into the factor of the colorRamp. This then maps the colorRamp from 0 to 1 vertically, the top and bottom colours carrying on into infinity. Multiplying this value by 4 made it go from 0 to 1 over a distance of 0 to .25 (I realise I could have easily remapped that with a different node now) and added a little amount to that value to move it up a touch on the Z and match better to my displacement height.

To add a little variation to the edges, I mixed into the colour a darker version of the colorRamp using the Pointiness of the Geometry Input node. Such a wonderful input, it uses object edge angles similar to a dirtPass in V-Ray and, using a crunched up colorRamp as the controller, I was able to add the darkened edges over the original colorRamp.

The sea was a Plane but with a very simple translucent shader on it. This made it possible to see whatever was just below the surface clearly, but added a little blur as the ground was further away. Mixed with a glossy shader to add a little reflection, I stopped there with the water.

But I wanted something more. So I built a tiny ship using two different block sizes to try and emulate a similar feel to the landscape.

Importing this, I shrunk it down and added it into the water, duplicating it a couple of times.

So that is where it is right now.