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Walter Alvarez, discoverer of the cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs and author of  T. Rex and the Crater of Doom and The Mountains of Saint Francis, lectured today here at his home-base in UC Berkeley about Earth History in the Broadest Possible Context. He was standing on the very spot where his Nobel Prize winning father Luis Alvarez gave his proudest lecture some 50 years ago. Walter spoke for a while about the concept of Big History and David Christian’s book Maps of Time and then got to the big revelation of the day— the first public demo of ChronoZoom computer program created by Walter Alvarez and Roland Saekow

Chronozoom program home site

Opening Screen of The ChronoZoom tool site.

 He demonstrated this program which reminded me of a lecture given several years ago here by Michael Jones of Google at which he demoed GoogleEarth. That was great and I love GoogleEarth and use it almost every day and this new first generation of ChronoZoom strikes me as an Earthshaking program also, because what GoogleEarth does for navigating the Earth, ChronoZoom does for time and the relationships of things and ideas. 

 On first using this program it seems to be all about astronomy and Deep Time but that’s because we are imbedded in deep time and rarely think about it. So this zooming feature instantly brings you into a more intimate relationship with your place in the universe. That’s a little disturbing even if you are used to astronomy and have some intellectual feel for how very big the universe is compared to our personal lives. 

When you prowl around in this ChronoZoom you really shrink personally in time and space and Alice in her Wonderland zooming about suddenly seems as intimately close as your own skin.  In this new view of reality your familar world resides inside the pixel in the upper right corner of the screen but when you zoom into that tiny pixel you discover the dinosaurs are still traipsing about, so you zoom again and see Homininae at 15 Ma, zooming again to a tiny zone in the upper right where a colorful zone appears dedicated more to humans but unless you are an anthropologist you still will not recognize much there except Ardi and Lucy. Then you zoom into written history but that present hasn’t been filled in just yet and Alvarez requested people in the audience to submit materials. 

My hope is that this program goes much further and becomes wikified so the whole world including the totality of the human world can be woven into this program. At present it is a virtual computer shell dedicated to the Big Picture and Big History but it is waiting to be filled in and has the capacity to expand to everything. At the upper right are several options, one of which is Human History, which is where most astronomically subdued humans will want to spend their time wandering around their personal universe and hopefully filling in data. 

From my perspective, I would like to see the Juliana space and time dating system linked into ChronoZoom because the Juliana system, based on a combination of the Julian Day numbering system and the standard decimalised geographic locating system. That would give unlimited accuracy to the time and location of any event. Thus, for example, you could go back in time and space to the Crater of Doom at Chicxulub and run a real-time clock in time and space for detailing how those events would play out at any specific location. (For an ancient event that requires a bit of arbitrary choosing of an exact moment by some authority like Alvarez. But once that is agreed upon it becomes precise and real.) 

I hope that ChronoZoom will soon be as famous as Chicxulub.

 ————— update 2010/04/07 email from Roland Saekow

Dear Friends of ChronoZoom,

Walter Alvarez’s complete lecture titled “Earth History in the Broadest Possible Context” is now available online!

This 1 hour long video was filmed on April 29th, 2010 at the 97th Annual Faculty Research Lecture Series. ChronoZoom was first publicly announced and demonstrated at this event.

Watch now:

We have also begun uploading extra video footage. These fun videos give a behind the scenes look at the development of ChronoZoom. We are also adding narrated video guides to explain the vast content of ChronoZoom.

We invite you to view these extra videos:

Thank you for your time, and please share ChronoZoom with your friends.

Roland Saekow & Walter Alvarez
Earth & Planetary Science
University of California, Berkeley