acronymically speaking

by | Dec 7, 2011

there is every likelihood that at some time in the past i inadvertantly subscribed to nasa’s hubble telescope press release system. i say inadvertantly because i have no recollection of having ever done so, and while i’m as fascinated by the night sky and the concept of those specks of light being several million light years distant as any other star trek fan, i have not even the vaguest comprehension of much of which they speak. this is because nasa speaks with forked tongue and in a series of acronyms.

highly appropriate for this time of year, the one that most recently came to light (if you’ll pardon the pun) is c.a.n.d.e.l.s., letters that are an abbreviation of cosmic assembly near-infrared deep extragalactic legacy survey. nope, i have little or no idea what that means either. however, the press release of which this information formed a part was principally concerned with the use of the telescope’s near-infrared vision to take a look back nine billion years in time. i though for a moment this past weekend that time travel had indeed been invented, bizarrely by argyll and bute council.

they were issuing updates on twitter over the weekend regarding a landslip on the a83, rest and be thankful which has caused disruption to the main road artery to islay. though it turns out the council was, in fact, listing the time at which the update was issued. missing a colon between numbers gave the impression the year was 2030 rather than late 2011. all sorted now, though not without a certain degree of humour.

anyway, to return to the more serious business of acronyms employed by america’s national aeronautics and space administration. a few more that inhabit the space age firmament are w.m.a.p. (wilkinson microwave anisotropy probe); gamma-ray bursts are referred to as grbs (not entirely unsurprisingly), while the sloan digital sky survey shortens itself to s.d.s.s. we should, no doubt, think ourselves extremely fortunate that there is no external compulsion to attend seminars related to the hubble telescope. well, apart from those of you who work in that particular section of nasa.

reading these periodical but fairly regular press releases from the depths of the hubble cupboard partially inures one to this geeky practice, while offering endless possibilities of conversing with one’s work colleagues, secure in the knowledge that they will have even less idea of which i speak. but then, having baffled us with science and an impressive predilection for obscure acronyms, they spoil the whole facade by almost casually bursting the bubble. have an educated (or obtuse) guess at what the letters v.l.t could possibly be willing to impress upon the great unwashed? the imagination, now operating in obscure nerd mode, takes pleasure in running riot, only to be severely let down on discovering that those three letters mean nothing other than very large telescope.

that is, when all is said and done, an incredibly obvious and tautological statement. if it took the might of something akin to a saturn v rocket to transport the necessary bits and pieces into space for assembly, there’s a pretty good chance that the hubble is a smidgeon larger than that often seen pointing from a bedroom window. the latest observation, issued at 2pm this afternoon, concerns the discovery of the fastest rotating star in the known universe. v.f.t.s. (which i believe is an acronym for very fast turning star. honestly) spins on its axis at one million miles per hour. fortunately, it is situated 160,000 light years from earth.

the use of acronyms, as we well know, is hardly confined to the offices of nasa, having invaded the crevices of the bicycle industry more than just a few years ago. the disappointing factor here is that many apparent abbreviations applied to bicycle framesets are entirely without merit. colnago have, for several years offered a frame or bicycle entitled the clx, an explanation of which has, to my knowledge, never been satisfactorily made. pinarello and not just yesterday, initiated a series of accoutrements and accessories under the moniker f.a.s.t. i cannot relate just exactly to what those letters refer, but i have a notion that they thought of the acronym first, then built in the back story to fit.

one who has not been backward in coming forward when it comes to speaking in forceful abbreviations, is premier frame-builder, richard sachs. i have in my wardrobe, a black and yellow t-shirt sent to me last year by mr sachs which rather brazenly accompanies the letters c.f.r with just exactly what that means. and if you are one who receives any form of e-mail correspondence from the great man, you will perhaps be familar with the signature a.t.m.o. though the latter may, at one time, have been used in its purest sense, it has now pretty much become mr sachs’ call sign. indeed, both c.f.r. and a.t.m.o. have made their presence known on his cyclocross team kit for the 2011/2012 season, and for the first time on a bona-fide, extremely desirable richard sachs casquette.

the casquette is, i am pleased to relate, not solely confined to signed-up team members, and available for purchase from the richard sachs website at a mere $20. with the extensive waiting list for one of his precision steel frames, wearing one of these caps is perhaps the nearest most of us are likely to get to being associated with the marque. should you be in any mind at all as to what would constitute an excellent christmas present, those who would not openly welcome one festively wrapped under the tree, must be few and far between.


The preceding article was originally posted on thewashingmachinepost on December 5 2011.