Four weeksago or so, NASA’s JPL successfully landed the rover “Curiosity” (wikipedia) on Mars. The landing was probably one of the most watched (and celebrated) events on the Internet, witness the many gifs of cheering NASA people (Happy NASA guy and Happy NASA people) and the pop-rock-star treatment of the NASA engineers at Reddit (“We’re engineers and scientists on the Mars rover mission”).
As any major news event that at one time broke the Internets, news and interest in the Curiosity rover is slowly dwindling down. However, great photos and mission details are posted on Curiosity’s main site at NASA (MSL website). My favourite one is the movie about the landing (taken from images from the one of the rover’s cameras), which thanks to the Internet, was then made into a HD 25 fps movie, which you can watch right on Youtube. If you like hi-res images of anything but Mars, go here.
I’ve always been a proponent of unmanned flight as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts years ago. The risk of losing a rover is worth less than the risk of losing people in extremely dangerous environments.
NASA’s MSL project is supposed to last a year. No doubt, the rover will keep trucking for a long time after that.
Last week, Google opened their ‘Knol’ site for the general public: It’s a knowledgebase and it’s targeting the other knowledgebase we learnt to hate and love, Wikipedia. The web itself is divided in the (usual) camps: Love it and Hate it. To me, it looks like Google has actually learned from the problems that Wikipedia (still) has: the site is actually a lot easier to read, plus, contributors don’t seem to be hiding behind usernames. For example, there’s this excellent article on colon cancer, which, by far, seem to be more informational than Wikipedia’s entry. Additionally, it seems that Knol contributors seem to disclose their affiliations to commercial entities. I only find Google’s choice of name a bit unfortunate.
The other site I want to mention is NASA images, which is a site, powered by the Internet Archive, that hosts, you guessed it, NASA images from the past. There’s way too much to discover on that site and I wouldn’t do it an honour to try to fit it in a small paragraph: The Spaceflight section is amazing and comprehensive, albeit a kind of obnoxious to navigate through (kind of ‘sliding’ pictures pop-up interface, that isn’t all to user-friendly). Pictures and photos can be zoomed in and downloaded (for free, of course).
And not at all related, I’ve always been impressed with Truthmapping which at one time I considered to be a useful tool for creating test scenarios (can’t find the link right now at xsamplex). Apparently, the only clone (which claims to be superior to Truthmapping) I’ve found is ‘DebatePoint’, which is open-sourced. It sort of reminds me of Halfbaked (which makes an excellent tool for mapping out ideas).
I had troubles with a patched up version of the Flashplayer 10 plugin (Ubuntu-non-free) this weekend and I wasn’t surprised to see a new patch being applied just a couple of hours ago. Additionally, it looks like a Firefox patch made it through too. OK: this still means that the WordPress media uploader is broken. It uses Flash, you see, and it appears to have put in place new security measures, which haven’t been taken care by the WordPress developers. So, if you see that silly error when trying to upload files (the browse files thing seems to disappear everytime you open the upload box), you may want to check out a plugin to force WordPress to ignore the internal Flash uploader. Or you can wait out for WordPress 2.6. I may consider moving to another ‘platform’ before that hits the streets.
So, yeah: talking about software, I saw this application demoed the other day and it purports to be a Universe Sandbox (that’s also the name of the software). I think it allows you to smash galaxies and that: if you’re in a destructive god-like mood, you may like it (Windows only, though, so not really a help for me here).
There’s a great interview with a NASA developer about the software for their missions and landers. This quote stuck out (on the premise that software produced by the government should be released to the public domain):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean even though these are not military spacecraft, the technology used in them is space technology. And so the State Department does not allow us to release anything that we’ve done in terms of technical details to foreign scrutiny. Now, in fact as I said, we have a team of Canadians. The Canadians delivered our meteorology instruments, and we had to be very careful about our relationship with them and how much we could disclose to them.
And the very last item: I noticed the Pencil project, a sketching and prototyping plug-in for Firefox. Yeah: it really works too, so if you’re in dire need of making application mock-ups, it might actually be useful (without a doubt, it will also probably run via ‘xul-runner’).
Earlier this week, I heard that the International Space Station’s computers crashed. ‘It was the Americans fault’, according to the Russians:
Russian specialists believe that the new solar panel installed by the Atlantis astronauts during their spacewalk could be the origin (of the breakdown).
Apparently (just today), the Russians were able to reboot the computers1, 2. If you had a bad computer day, think about it if you were in charge of a multi-billion dollars space station! (Related: Space Station Computers)
So, the budget made it through it, despite the premier’s last minute efforts to get Conservative MPs to vote against the amendments to the Atlantic Accords. The other day, I was listening to a CBC interview with NL’s premier Danny Williams (who apparently doesn’t get along with the federal Tories as reported earlier) and he literally ‘cut into’ Peter MacKay (A Tory MP for NS). Too bad the CBC doesn’t keep recordings online.
Via Nu.nl (Dutch language alert!), I read that Amsterdam Airport was selected best European airport of the year. This is huge! Wait. It isn’t: Even the ACI’s website doesn’t mention this achievement. Their site,though, has an interesting news item (dated 03/12/07), which mentions Halifax airport as the best airport with fewer than 5 million passengers. Other contestants were Ottawa, Porto (Portugal), Malta (Malta) and Sandefjord (Norway). As for Amsterdam Airport (or Schiphol) being best European airport: if I think back at the number of times I flew in (and out) to/from that airport I must confess that I never had any problems there (as opposed to the many problems I had at that other big European airport which I shall not name here).
There were a couple of items in the news that caught my eyes, that is not including the frigid temperatures over here:
Astronaut and the love triangle that went wrong: An astronaut (and a successful one at that), a lover and another one. How do you end up throwing a successful carreer away?
Microsoft to support OpenID: Bill Gates announced that Microsoft will support OpenID 2.0. However, I tend to be just as skeptic as Bruce Schneier who says that “Microsoft has a long history of ‘supporting and then co-opting’ open standards”. Embrace, extend and extinguish.
Steve Jobs’ thoughts on music has the blogosphere buzzing. The gist: Maybe we should get rid of DRM? Frankly the main clue is actually in the last paragraph where Jobs says that:
Much of the concern over DRM systems has arisen in European countries.
You may have heard that a lot of EU states are considering banning iTunes, following France’s example to ban iTunes completely. I wonder how much that is hurting Apple’s pockets.
And hey, and so once in a while small guys win in domain name disputes. Well, for now it seems.