We are awesome

593419main pia14834-full full Mars Science Lab...
Mars Science Laboratory Guided Entry at Mars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not just talking about you and I, or the family or whatever. I mean us. The human race.

Look at what happened at 05:21GMT this morning. We deposited a new robot on the surface of Mars.

OK, so far so “heard it before”. But this is the largest machine we’ve placed there yet, weighing over a ton. And then you get into how we even got the thing there. It wasn’t “dropped” – it was lowered gently.

It takes about 14 minutes for radio signals sent from Mars to reach Earth, so there was no real way this could be done by some guy piloting it with a joystick. The entire thing was automatic.

In the 7 minutes it takes from the craft hitting the Martian atmosphere, it had to be slowed right down to near-stationary and its payload deposited on the surface. All without someone directly controlling it, or being able to override anything if anything happened and in an environment we can’t fully test on Earth.

This video on NASA’s website covers the details in 5 minutes, but briefly:

First off, the craft has to be guided as it ploughs through the upper atmosphere to ensure it lands where it’s supposed to. The calculations involved in this are incredible, ensuring that it starts to enter the atmosphere at the right time based on forecasting the position of the planet in relation to ours at the time we launched the original rocket from Earth so that we knew what the craft would be aiming at. The module will be jostled during its travel as it heats up to incredible temperatures while the on-board computers keep it on target using directional rockets.

The atmosphere on Mars is 100 times “thinner” than that of Earth. That mean there’s enough that the craft has to take it into account while it descends, but not enough to help with slowing the thing down to as large an extent as it would here. As a result, the largest parachute NASA have ever fabricated is put into use, slowing the craft from 1000mph to something more manageable. This parachute needs to withstand 65000lbs (29500kg) or force, yet only weighs 100lbs (45kg) itself.

Once the parachute is deployed, the heatshield on the base of the unit “pops” off exposing RADAR equipment which takes speed and distance readings for the next stage of the landing.

The parachute does a great job, but only slows the unit down to 200mph. Still far too fast for a safe landing. Instead, rockets will be used to slow its descent over the final stages. The parachute is detached and the rockets first of all push the main unit sideways, away from it to ensure that the two don’t become entangled.

While still ensuring the lander is travelling towards the designated site, the rockets further slow the descent to something more manageable.

However, we have one final problem. Mars is covered in very fine dust. If the rockets were used to take the actual exploratory unit right down to the surface, so much dust would be kicked up that visibility would be nill and there would be a significant risk of the mechanics and electronics being damages.

This is where it gets really cool.

At 20m above the surface, safe from kicking up that cloud, the rocket unit hovers. Then lowers the actual wheeled exploratory unit on a “skycrane”, winching it down to the surface at a slow speed. It allows it to touch down and settle, then disconnects and flies off to crash elsewhere so that it won’t get in the way of the planned examination of the planet’s surface.

All of this automated control is the result of 500,000 lines of computer code.

We did this. Human beings did this.

We foresaw every possible problem. We built rockets and units and mechanics and a host of other devices and bundled them into a package the size of a small truck. We then shoved a means of generating power, sensors, RADAR, propulsion and more into a unit the size of a small hatchback car. And then we flung the whole lot into space, managing to land it on a pre-determined spot the size of our back garden a distance of 140 million miles (250 million km) away.

We worked all of those final stage problems out to the extent that we could give instructions to a computer to handle everything. 500,000 lines of code sounds like a lot, but when you consider all the calculations and instructions necessary to hit the levels of precision necessary it’s paltry.

In a week that also sees the Olympics going on, the geek in me is overjoyed to see science grabbing the headlines for a few hours. I’m convinced the landing was scheduled for the early hours so it wouldn’t have to compete with any of the events at the Games!

Between both events, they demonstrate the pinnacles of human achievement both physical and intellectual.

I say again. We – Are – Awesome.

As a race, we are capable of so much. We waste a lot of our potential or expend it on stupid things like wars, but when we actually put the effort in these are the things of which we are capable. To be able to point at the staff of NASA, or the athletes breaking record after record, it gives our children something to go “wow” at – and hopefully the desire to emulate and exceed these achievements.

[Please excuse any glaring inaccuracies in the numbers in this post – I’ve used very rough figures and averages for some of them, and any cockups will be mine]

Enhanced by Zemanta

Internet access *is* a Human Right

English: Emblem of the United Nations. Color i...
Emblem of the United Nations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thus sayeth the UN after a resolution was passed unanimously by their Human Rights Council.

This is a Good Thing, as the resolution declared that the right to be able to get online and express oneself freely was a right of every person on the planet. Wonderful, and something I wholeheartedly agree with.

However…

a) How could China, with it’s famous “Great Firewall“, sign this with a straight face? While Chinese people can access the internet, they do not get access to the same level of information as people in the West. They also certainly cannot express themselves freely as many recent news stories have demonstrated, with people being arrested for even drawing attention to certain topics let along going into detail about them.

b) France has a “three strikes and you’re cut off” policy for those accused of (note: not necessarily “found guilty of”) downloading copyrighted material. The UK has been looking at similar plans as have other countries. This resolution is going to knock that kind of legislation for six, surely? It’s worth pointing out that neither France nor the UK are current members of the United Nations Human Right Council, so did not sign the resolution.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Stop SOPA

At midnight tonight, a WordPress plugin will kick in which “blacks out” this blog (and my travel blog). I know I only get a few hits a day (around 50-100, usually), but it’s my small way to take part in the STOP SOPA Wednesday.

For those who don’t know, SOPA (and also PIPA) are motions to be put through the US legal system in a bid to allow large copyright holders power to close down websites simply because they don’t like them. OK, it’s a little more complex than that but that’s what it boils down to. SOPA has, in fact, already been shelved as a result of public outcry but PIPA is still alive and threatening horrific levels of censorship.

Essentially what these laws will do is allow a copyright holder (read “rich media company”) to force any website to be taken offline if it claims said site infringes on its copyright. Forget about any discussion over “fair use”, similar content which isn’t actually copied, mistakes and the like – it’s “guilty until proven innocent, which you won’t be because the people putting in the complaint have more money than you”.

Notice, that I said “site”. Remember the case a couple of years back with a baby dancing to a Michael Jackson track on YouTube? Jackson’s record company attempted to sue the baby’s parents for breach of copyright as they dared to put a dodgy recording of part of a song by dead weirdo onto a publicly accessible website. Obviously, this would cost them a fortune in lost revenue. Tossers.

Under SOPA, the media company could force YouTube offline. An extreme and unlikely example, but under the wording of the legislation completely possible. The host is liable for the content uploaded by its members. Even if those members number potentially in their billions.

The methods used to remove sites from the internet is also flawed and involves messing about with the internet’s central servers – something which has had industry experts who actually know what they the hell they’re on about (therefore obviously not politicians, lawyers or record company execs) up in arms.

I’m glad SOPA has been shelved, but I fear it will return. Right now we have to ensure that PIPA is also put down. Although obviously focussed on the US, this will affect anyone using the internet if it goes through. It could also lead to similar legislation being put in place in other countries.

Many sites, far bigger than this little bunch of rants and reviews, are also blacking out for 24 hours. Reddit, WordPress.org, TwitPic and Wikipedia are amongst them. Imagine an internet without them – and many other sites who are not participating. Twitter. Facebook. YouTube. Blogger.

Frankly it beggars belief. Yet the ignorance and stupidity of the media companies trying to push this madness through does not.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Spreading the love

The following post comes verbatim from Hyperham and Andy’s “Family v2.1” blog. I’m posting it as part of the point of it is to spread the names of certain hate-filled individuals who have taken it upon themselves to harass a young girl for daring to report her school for displaying a religious banner – against the rules laid down in the US. These so-called Christians (whatever happened to “forgiveness”) have been quite happy to post their names detailing what they’d like to do to her before someone pointed out how stupid that was and they’ve removes a lot of the posts from Twitter and facebook.

The joy of the internet – and a point I made to some of my classes this very week – is that what you put up there is up there forever. Even if you take it off, someone else could have grabbed a copy, even someone like Google who archive many web pages.

I gather many of the hate-filled individuals are finding themselves directly related to these comments right at the top of a Google search. I hope this remains the case when they go seeking work.

Anyway – the post:

In addition to being a multiracial family, we are also a multi-faith family. Baby was christened in a Lutheran ceremony, but still says goodnight to the household gods before bed. We (Monkey and I) are both very open and accepting of others’ faiths (or lack of), and so this works for us. It works so well that when I am presented with people not like us (eg, nutters), it is a bit of a shock.

In Cranston, Rhode Island, a 16 year old atheist took exception to the wall hanging in her school which had a prayer. Now, anyone with an 8th grade understanding of civics knows why this is unconstitutional, and it was eventually taken down. However, some ‘Christians’ of the school and community took offense, and decided to ruin her life. Here is the link to most of the screengrabs before the little cowards went private. Below, in plain text, are the words that these feral little monsters used in describing 16 year old Jessica Ahlquist and the case. (And of course, all spelling, punctuation, and syntax mistakes are theirs, not mine).

Jenn Gould: I hope people start complaining about this one particular person and how ugly they are, maybe they can get them removed.

Matt Starchild: May that little, evil, atheist teenage girl and that judge BURN IN HELL!

Donna Higgins: Well, I want the immediate removal of all atheist from the school, how about that?

Amanda Aldridge: she just destroyed a piece of cranston west’s history. hope you’re happy #stupidbitch

@MichaelRebl_ (Michael Martin Jr): to the girl who had the prayer taken off at cranston west – why the fuck does it matter? its basically history. just don’t look at it. #bitch

Elijah Kilbane: If this banner comes down, hell I hope the school burns down with it!

Wes Wyatt: I HOPE SOMEDAY YOU, WILL NEED GOD IN YOUR LIFE.

@Margaret538: U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, you have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!

@Crotchsnot (Mike Oxbig): How does it feel to be the most hated person in RI right now? Your a puke and disgrace to the human race.

Destiny Marcello: This girl must be so unloved to get negative attention from everyone. Yeah everyone talks about you because you’re psycho @Ry_Simoneau: “But for real somebody should jump this girl” lmao let’s do it! hmm jess is in my bio class, she’s gonna get some shit thrown at her.

@Ry_Simoneau (Ryan A Simoneau): But for real somebody should jump this girl I want to punch the girl in the face that made west take down the school prayer… #Honestly

Joseph Vezina: I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist fuck #TeamJesus (this tweet was also promoted by @REK Rachel Knight)

Sydney Magner: Honestly I think the juniors are most mad about the banner thing because all of us actually know the psycho bitch. literally that girl is insane. and the best part is she already transferred schools because shes knows someone will jump her #ahaha

Taylor Crocker: shes not human shes garbage (to jessica) youre wrong the state had no choice like i hope you go to hell i honestly do youre a shitty person omg she almost as bad as blacks everyone is going to beat you up now prob gods going to fuck your ass with that banner scumbag

@xxx_carys (C. Morgan): When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust on all the atheists

@Gab_Zacccaria (Gabriella Zaccaria): I think everyone should just fight this girl

@zachthedogg: Fuck Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face

Caleb McDevitt: definelty laying it down on this athiest tommorow anyone else? im sabotaging her site on fb lets just say its going to be nuts you need in on dat dawg?

Alyssa Pingitore: Jessica Ahlquist may have won her case, but she is going straight to hell. #Godoveranything

AJ St.Angelo: Let’s all jump the girl who did that banner #fuckthatho lol what a little bitch I wanna snuff her lol I wanna stick that bitch lol brb ima go drown that atheist in holy water We can make so many jokes about this dumb bitch, but who cares #thatbitchisgoingtohell and Satan is gonna rape her.

Dante Smith: hail Mary full of grace jessica is gonna get punched in the face

@zombiecamera: your home address posted online i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you fucking worthless cunt

Eric Rosa: wen the atheist dies, they believe they will become a tree. so we shld chop her down, turn her into paper then PRINT THE BIBLE ON HER. nail her to a cross

Gabriella Cimarelli: yeah well she’s definitely got it coming to her

Alexandra Vachon: if I wasn’t 18 and wouldn’t go to jail I’d beat the shit out of her idk how she got away with not being beat up yet this girl honestly needs to be punched in the face #justsaying whoever the bitch is that is continuing to fight for the school prayer at west to come down deserves to be punched in the mouth #tobadim18

Chris Lawton: i’ve decided that i’m going to eat her family

Kam Sadiq: LMAO everyone’s harassing her, but then again whose she gonna report it too? West? Lmao the administrators probably hate her haha

(Editor’s note: If you have any screengrabs, please feel free to put them on dropbox, flickr, etc, and send me a link, and I’ll add them on this wall of shame.)

So, to Kam Sadiq, Chris Lawton, Alexandra Vachon, Gabriella Cimarelli, Eric Rosa, Dante Smith, AJ St.Angelo, Alyssa Pingitore, Caleb McDevitt, Gabriella Zaccaria, Carys Morgan, Taylor Crocker, Sydney Magner, Joseph Vezina, Ryan A Simoneau, Destiny Marcello, Mike Oxbig, Wes Wyatt, Elijah Kilbane, Michael Martin Jr, Amanda Aldridge, Donna Higgins, Matt Starchild, and Jenn Gould:

For those of you who hate Jessica because her belief system is different that yours – I’m unsure if your priest/pastor/vicar/rabbi/holyman/etc ever filled you in on what Jesus said about those with different beliefs, but he was actually fine with different faiths. So, while you think you may be standing up for Christianity, you are actually a blight on the very concept of love and acceptance. Frankly, if losing a 50 year old banner (while ignoring the 250 year old document that forbids it in the first place) somehow ruins your faith, might I suggest your faith is pretty damned weak.

And for those of you who hate that your school has lost part of its charm from a banner coming down – based on your massive spelling mistakes, I would recommend you spend a little more time in your wonderful institution learning English and the 1st Amendment, and less tweeting and facebooking. In either case, your parents obviously failed spectacularly in raising you to be decent human beings, so now the Internet will have to take over. Your names and words will be indexed on search engines, and the next time a job recruiter or admissions officer from your dream college Googles you, they will find your hatred and vitriol. They will see exactly how much of a feral animal you are, and they will (God willing) run in the other direction. Because society didn’t teach you to be a decent human being, the rest of us will show you that your actions have consequences.

And a special slow clap for the parents of these creatures: I’m not sure where you were when your kids were raising themselves “Lord of the Flies” style, but WELL DONE on raising your little sociopaths. Truly. Fantastic job.

Our son may grow up and decide to become Protestant, the faith I was raised in. He may decide to follow the path of his father’s ancestors. He may become pagan. He may become an atheist. As long as he doesn’t use his belief system as an excuse to bully, belittle, threaten, or harm another person, have at it.

Until then, we’ll always have Google.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Asian Raspberry Pi


English: Extract from Raspberry Pi board at Tr...
Raspberry Pi - almost actual size. Image via Wikipedia

For those not aware, Raspberry Pi is an initiative to supply incredibly low-cost, tiny little computers for school children to use. They retail at $25 for a standalone model and $35 for one with a network port soldered on. They’re also being distributed by a non-profit charity. A wonderful idea and I’ll be buying one once they go into full production.

Even better – from a pride point of view – is that it’s a British company doing this. The aim was to make it as British as possible including the manufacture. Sadly, this hasn’t been possible.

To keep the price point low, the actual building of the board has had to be done in the Far East. Partly this is down to manufacturing costs and availability of plants wherein the work could be done. What really stinks, though, is that even the closest British plants in price ended up being non-viable due to a ridiculous policy on import duty.

You see, if you have something like this manufactured abroad and imported in then the finished product incurs zero tax. However, if you import in the individual components these themselves do attract duty. Hence importing the bits to have the system built in the UK is more expensive than paying a factory in China (or wherever) to build them and then just shipping in the finished products.

And we wonder why we have no sizeable electronics industry in this country any more.

Full marks to the Raspberry Pi people for their openness and honesty. Minus several million to the idiots at the Inland Revenue for a somewhat inexplicable policy.

[BBC article which prompted this post]

UPDATE: Someone’s started a government-targeted e-petition regarding the issue.

Enhanced by Zemanta