28 Februar 2013

The Engadget Show 41: 'Space' with NASA, SETI, Liftport and Mary Roach

The Engadget Show 41: 'Space' with NASA, SETI, Liftport and Mary Roach


The latest episode of the Engadget Show is about space, and it's terrific. It's co-hosted by Brian Heater, senior editor at Engadget and our own Comics Rack reviewer!

We kick things off with a profile of LiftPort, a commercial space endeavor operating out of a small garage in rural Washington State that has been funding its dreams of space elevators through crowdfunded Kickstarter campaigns. Next, we head out to Cape Canaveral in Florida, where Swamp Works has set up shop in an old Apollo training facility. NASA scientists will tell us about some of the organization's far-out plans for getting to Mars and back and 3D printing structures on lunar and planetary surfaces once we arrive.

The Engadget Show 41: 'Space' with NASA, SETI, Liftport and Mary Roach

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The men who designed space colonies

The men who designed space colonies


If your mental image of futuristic human colonies in space involves tubular ships, rolling hills, and a population seemingly plucked from a cocktail party in Sausalito in 1972, chances are good that you've been influenced by the art of Rick Guidice and Don Davis — illustrators commissioned by NASA to envision human homes among the stars. At Discover.com, Veronique Greenwood writes about these artists and the lasting impact they've had on science and science fiction.

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Space tourist Dennis Tito plans mission to Mars, manned by a man and woman (sex in space!)

Space tourist Dennis Tito plans mission to Mars, manned by a man and woman (sex in space!)


The world's first commercial space traveler, Dennis Tito, is today launching "Inspiration Mars," a space tourism project which involves a 501-day flight for two astronauts to do a "flyby" past Mars, then loop back to Earth. The multimillionaire's Mars project would "set plenty of precedents on the final frontier," writes NBC's science editor Alan Boyle, the most intriguing of which may be "the astronauts that are to be sent: one man and one woman, preferably a married couple beyond childbearing years. We're talking about sex in space, folks."

A live web video press conference is under way with Dennis Tito, hosted by Miles O'Brien (whom I told I'd happily take the trip with!). Tito, who is 72, won't be taking the trip.

Dan Vergano at USA Today:

The trip would rely on planned Falcon Heavy rockets under development by Elon Musk's SpaceX corporation, which will be even larger than the heaviest current U.S. rockets. Falcon Heavy launches could deliver 1,600 pounds of cargo to Mars at a cost of around $128 million (providing about 350 square feet of room for that cargo), according to a 2012 analysis by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. SpaceX last year announced its first commercial contract and Defense Department contract for the rocket, intended for launch this year or next.

"SpaceX does not have a relationship with the Inspiration Mars Foundation," says SpaceX spokeswoman Christina Ra. "However, SpaceX is always open to providing a full spectrum of launch services to interested customers."

Any of you Boing Boing readers up for going? I'm guessing the reason gay couples aren't invited has to do with wanting to observe the differing effects on male and female subjects.

More coverage: Guardian, Space.com, Wired, WSJ.

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27 Februar 2013

ISO 8601

ISO 8601


ISO 8601 was published on 06/05/88 and most recently amended on 12/01/04.

via xkcd.com http://xkcd.com/1179/

25 Februar 2013

Mark's "World's Worst" book 99-cents sale on Kindle

Mark's "World's Worst" book 99-cents sale on Kindle


I can't think of a better day than today to announce that my 2005 book, The World's Worst: A Guide to the Most Disgusting, Hideous, Inept, and Dangerous People, Places, and Things on Earth is on sale as a Kindle edition for 99-cents. It's a limited time offer!

Bookstore shelves are lined with tomes dedicated to the finest things that life has to offer. This is all well and good, but the real entertainment is to be found not in the cream of the crop, but at the bottom of the barrel. The World's Worst is a celebration/indictment of nearly 50 infamous and little-known exemplars of the awful. In thoroughly researched, scathingly funny essays, author Mark Frauenfelder avoids the obvious and digs deep to tell the fascinating tales of the worst people, places, and things on Earth for the reader's amusement and edification. Half of the entries are also mischieviously illustrated by the author. Addictively readable, and sure to appeal to fans of the popular Worst-Case Scenario and Darwin Awards series, The World's Worst is hilariously unafraid to wallow in the mire.

The World's Worst: A Guide to the Most Disgusting, Hideous, Inept, and Dangerous People, Places, and Things on Earth

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20 Februar 2013

I Can't Let You Do That, Dave: when we design computers to boss us around

I Can't Let You Do That, Dave: when we design computers to boss us around


My latest Publishers Weekly column, "I Can't Let You Do That, Dave," is a look at the dangers of redesigning our computers to boss us around instead of doing what they're told and trying to help us:

Contrary to what’s been written in some quarters, Aaron Swartz didn’t attempt to download those journal articles because “information wants to be free.” No one cares what information wants. He was almost certainly attempting to download those articles because they were publicly funded scholarship that was not available to the public. They were scientific and scholarly truths about the world, information that the public paid for and needs in order to make informed choices about their lives and their governance. Fighting for information’s freedom isn’t the point. It’s people’s freedom that matters.

All of which makes the publishing community’s embrace of DRM and its advocacy for badly written, overly broad legislation to support DRM, fraught with peril. Since Frankenstein, writers and thinkers have recoiled in visceral horror at the idea of technology overpowering its creators. But when we actively build businesses that require censorship, surveillance, and control to thrive, we make a Frankenstein’s monster out of the devices that fill our pockets and homes, and the network that binds them all together.

I Can't Let You Do That, Dave

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18 Februar 2013

Robert Sheckley nailed the problem with drones in 1953

Robert Sheckley nailed the problem with drones in 1953


Don sends us, "the Gutenberg Project's copy of Robert Sheckley's 1953 story Watchbird from Galaxy Magazine about one nightmare scenario arising from the use of armed drones to solve all our problems. Also made into TV and radio episodes."

"I have an objection." Gelsen stood up. His colleagues were glaring coldly at him. Obviously he was delaying the advent of the golden age.

"What is your objection?" the representative asked.

"First, let me say that I am one hundred per cent in favor of a machine to stop murder. It's been needed for a long time. I object only to the watchbird's learning circuits. They serve, in effect, to animate the machine and give it a pseudo-consciousness. I can't approve of that."

"But, Mr. Gelsen, you yourself testified that the watchbird would not be completely efficient unless such circuits were introduced. Without them, the watchbirds could stop only an estimated seventy per cent of murders."

"I know that," Gelsen said, feeling extremely uncomfortable. "I believe there might be a moral danger in allowing a machine to make decisions that are rightfully Man's," he declared doggedly.

"Oh, come now, Gelsen," one of the corporation presidents said. "It's nothing of the sort. The watchbird will only reinforce the decisions made by honest men from the beginning of time."

"I think that is true," the representative agreed. "But I can understand how Mr. Gelsen feels. It is sad that we must put a human problem into the hands of a machine, sadder still that we must have a machine enforce our laws. But I ask you to remember, Mr. Gelsen, that there is no other possible way of stopping a murderer before he strikes. It would be unfair to the many innocent people killed every year if we were to restrict watchbird on philosophical grounds. Don't you agree that I'm right?"

Watchbird by Robert Sheckley

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HadOneJob: photos of monumental cockups

HadOneJob: photos of monumental cockups


HadOneJob.com is a collection of images showing massive, inexplicable cockups that appear to be the result of terrible negligence and/or deliberate sabotage. I laughed and laughed, and then I cried. Then I laughed some more. Been there, been bitten on the ass by that (as recently as yesterday, when the guy whose job it was to close the door on my Delta flight from Newark to Phoenix broke the door in the process and put the plane out of commission).

YOU HAD ONE JOB! (via MeFi )

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15 Februar 2013

Alan Friedman takes mind-blowing photos of the sun from home

Alan Friedman takes mind-blowing photos of the sun from home


Colossal has a gallery of Alan Friedman's stunning sun photography. (Here's Friedman's TEDx Talk from December).

[Alan Friedman] points a telescope skyward from his backyard in downtown Buffalo, directly into the light of the sun. Using special filters attached to his camera Friedman captures some of the most lovely details of the Sun’s roiling surface. The raw images are colorless and often blurry requiring numerous hours of coloring, adjusting and finessing to tease out the finest details, the results of which hardly resemble what I imagine the 10-million degree surface of Sun might look like. Instead Friedman’s photos appear almost calm and serene, perhaps an entire planet of fluffy clouds or cotton candy.

Alan Friedman’s Astonishing HD Photographs of the Sun Shot from his Own Backyard

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14 Februar 2013

Happy Birthday, Pale Blue Dot: A Timeless Valentine to the Cosmos

Happy Birthday, Pale Blue Dot: A Timeless Valentine to the Cosmos


“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.”

On this day in 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft — which carried The Golden Record, Carl Sagan’s love letter to Annie Druyan — turned its revolutionary camera around and took the iconic “Pale Blue Dot” photograph that later inspired the famous Sagan monologue of the same title. The image, composed of 640,000 individual pixels, depicts Earth, a mere 12% of a single pixel, at the center of a scattered ray of light resulting from taking an image this close to the Sun. It endures, even in an age when the future of space exploration hangs in precarious balance, as a timeless Valentine to the cosmos.

The Pale Blue Dot: Captured from 3.7 billion miles away, Earth appears as a tiny dot halfway down the orange stripe on the right.

Image: NASA / JPL

The “Pale Blue Dot” was part of a Family Portrait series of images exploring the Solar System.

The Family Portrait: These six narrow-angle color images were made from the first ever 'portrait' of the Solar System taken by Voyager 1 at 3.7 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. The spacecraft acquired a total of 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system which shows six of the planets. Mercury is too close to the sun to be seen. Mars was not detectable by the Voyager cameras due to scattered sunlight in the optics, and Pluto was not included in the mosaic because of its small size and distance from the sun. These blown-up images, left to right and top to bottom are Venus, Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.

Image: NASA / JPL

But we owe the actual recognition of Earth in the legendary photograph to Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, one of the two University of Arizona scientists who developed the command sequence that controlled the timing for each photograph’s exposure. That day, she was sitting in front of a computer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab with her shades drawn when she noticed the tiny speck on an image sent back by the camera she had helped design, which was now 4 billion miles away. She told NPR a few years ago:

It was just a little dot, about two pixels big, three pixels big, so not very large. … You know, I still get chills down my back because here was our planet, bathed in this ray of light, and it just looked incredibly special.

The Pale Blue Dot: This blown-up image of the Earth was taken through three color filters -- violet, blue and green -- and recombined to produce the color image. The background features in the image are artifacts resulting from the magnification.

Image: NASA / JPL

And yet photograph almost never happened — the NASA imaging team feared that aiming the camera at the Sun would damage it. But Sagan himself lobbied long and hard for an attempt. Vice Adm. Richard Truly, former head of NASA, recalls:

I did get a visit from Carl Sagan. We talked about a lot of things. And somewhere in that conversation he mentioned this idea. I thought, heck, with Voyager so far away, if it could turn around and take a picture of the different planets including the Earth, that that would really be cool. And so I was a great advocate of it, although I can’t take any credit for it.

(Those were the golden days when NASA made historic decisions simply because something seemed “cool.”)

Fortunately, it did happen. And four years later, Carl Sagan wrote of the iconic image in the preface to his book titled after it, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (public library ):

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Earthrise, December 24, 1968

Image: NASA

But Sagan’s beautiful and timeless words might not be entirely his own — perhaps a manifestation of neurologist Oliver Sacks’s insights on memory and (inadvertent) plagiarism. As historian Robert Poole notes in Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth (public library ), after the equally iconic Apollo 8 “Earthrise” photograph made its debut in 1968, the poet Archibald MacLeish penned an essay ‘Riders on the Earth,’ in which he articulated a strikingly similar sentiment:

For the first time in all of time, men have seen the Earth. Seen it not as continents or oceans from the little distance of a hundred miles or two or three, but seen it from the depths of space; seen it whole and round and beautiful and small… To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold—brothers who know that they are truly brothers.

The essay appeared in The New York Times on Christmas Day that year.

Then again, the similarity in language might simply be an inevitable expression of the overview effect. Whatever the case, the “Pale Blue Dot” endures as a sublimely beautiful cosmic Valentine that reminds us, more than two decades later, of the ineffable relativity of our human scale.

Celebrate the “Pale Blue Dot” and its legacy with some stunning animated adaptations of Sagan’s words.

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Inside the Battle of Hoth: a military analysis of The Empire Strikes Back

Inside the Battle of Hoth: a military analysis of The Empire Strikes Back


Spencer Ackerman, from the Wired News defense technology blog Danger Room, writes a brilliant military analysis of the Battle of Hoth at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back.

From a military perspective, Hoth should have been a total debacle for the Rebel Alliance. Overconfident that they can evade Imperial surveillance, they hole up on unforgiving frigid terrain at the far end of the cosmos. Huddled into the lone Echo Base are all their major players: politically crucial Princess Leia; ace pilot Han Solo; and their game-changer, Luke Skywalker, who isn’t even a Jedi yet.

Read the whole epic thing, complete with schematics and tactical diagrams: Inside the Battle of Hoth: The Empire Strikes Out | Danger Room | Wired.com.

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Human condition, with email

Human condition, with email


Hidden in the tooltip for today's XKCD, a piece of important existential philosophy:

A human is a system for converting dust billions of years ago into dust billions of years from now via a roundabout process which involves checking email a lot.


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