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Posts Tagged ‘NASA’


February 10th, 2012

Top tech tales from the sleigh this week

Top tech tales from the sleigh this week

Too cool for technology?

Singer-songwriter Laura Marling recently proclaimed “I never love England more than when covered in snow.” Now, while it certainly still looks very pretty outside my window, and children and um, folk singers, are still having a ball on their sleds, it is darn cold and not entirely conducive to work.

Not that a half-foot of the white stuff was ever going to stop *us* in our tracks. Promptees have been dashing across countries and oceans all week dodging the worst of the weather to make a flurry of face-to-face briefings, presentations, pitches and reviews with many of our clients. It’s been a whirl, but we did manage to stop and smell the technology from time to time…

Gadget news first up, then. Did you hear about Amazon’s new 9-inch Kindle Fire set to be launched later this year? How about the Samsung Galaxy S2 Ice Cream Sandwich with chocolate sprinkles on top? There’s definitely one Canadian who hasn’t noticed anything at all, however shiny, since Amazon kindly delivered his brand-spanking-new PlayStation Vita well ahead of even the early-bird launch. Gah! We hope his thumbs fall off from too much fun.

It’s not all rosy in the world of gaming though. Ahead of the huge Vita launch, games sales in the US have been slumping badly, down 34% year-on-year in January according to NPD group. Analysts are split over blaming the economy (why not?) or, yup, you’ve guessed it, Sony. Never mind – at least all the research into more efficient GPU chips during the downturn has brightened up The Muppets!

In international news, things have been a tad more serious. Germany has refused to sign the controversial ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) accord, asking for more “time to carry out further discussions”. Meanwhile Iran appears to have cut off internet access entirely leaving a population bereft of networking, social or otherwise. Iceland has tired of volcanoes and thinks it has the answer to low-cost data storage. And US authorities are charging a Romanian for hacking and damaging NASA JPL computers last year.

So all-in-all, maybe it is better if you do heed the wild weather warnings this weekend. Just plug in a laptop, tablet, games console, smartphone and fan heater, and just marvel at the technological world progressing without you from the relative safety of your cosy lounge. What could possibly go wrong?

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August 2nd, 2011

Post something out of this world

Post something out of this world

NASA astronaut Ron Garan captures Space Shuttle Atlantis leaving the ISS for Earth for the last time

One of the problems some people encounter while trying to maintain a hectic social media schedule is that they quickly run out of interesting things to share. Businesses and individuals often start with good intentions of posting on their blogs daily, tweeting frequently and regularly updating their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles.


But what if the daily grind takes over, you find yourself tied to your workplace and the only thing you have to stir your creative juices is the world outside of your window?

Not a problem for Ron Garan who has been sharing his own unique view with thousands of followers on Twitter since the start of April. Ron is a NASA astronaut, part of the crew for Expediton 27 on board the International Space Station (ISS) and has plenty to tell the world about his work, the equipment he uses, his space walks, and his refreshingly distant perspective on Earth ecology, regeneration and relief projects.

Ron says he is “connected via comm link to a remote PC in Houston which is connected to the internet -Cool!” He also has at his disposal 11 Nikon digital SLR cameras with which he documents his adventures before posting dramatic images of the earth below him, the moonsets and other extraordinary vistas all around, or even visiting spacecraft…

If you’ve got social media block this week, then why not follow @Astro_Ron and take some inspiration? The images he sends daily are stunning to say the least, while his documentation of the final voyages of Atlantis, the last space shuttle, were genuinely moving (and not just for space geeks).

But remember – Ron leaves the space station on 8 September so you now only have a month to convince him to take a snap of your part of the world or to give you a ‘shout out’ from orbit!

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August 21st, 2009

New perspectives on the bigger picture

New perspectives on the bigger picture

Technology is a perpetually engaging and fascinating subject because of the extremes with which it deals. It continually throws up new perspectives on both the minutiae and the monumental of human experience, the overwhelmingly public and the deeply personal. It’s all things to all people, and for this we love it and loathe it with fickle abandon.

As monumental endeavours go, attempting to map the entire planet in 3D is right up there. And it’s not just the boys at NASA who are informing our topological and geographical view of our world. Bhuvan, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s answer to Google Earth and Wikimapia, was made available for public download earlier this week. Sanskrit for ‘Earth’, Bhuvan is a 3D online satellite imaging and mapping tool that has been in testing and tweaking since the Spring.

According to The Times of India: “If Google Earth shows details up to 200 metres distance and Wikimapia up to 50 metres, Bhuvan will show images up to 10 metres.” It continued: “Imagine if you could count the lions in Gir or let fishermen find concentrations of fish in the sea, just by dragging a mouse on a computer screen.”

Of course it’s actually camera resolution, application stability, speed of manipulation, regularity of updates and robustness under load that really count when it comes to public digital imaging on this scale, but we’re delighted to see ISRO expand its portfolio of ‘space applications’ in such an ambitious direction.

The other story that really caught my imagination this week crossed boundaries between the public, the personal, and the political.

“On a happiness scale of 1 to 10, the world scored a 6.16 on Monday, according to Emotionr.” This is how the San Francisco Chronicle opened a report this week which discussed online services that purport to gauge how happy our population is feeling.

Some might argue that emotions are intangible, and that attempting to overlay metrics onto the landscapes of 6.8 billion complex minds is always going to be an inexact science at the very best. But if pressed over how we’re feeling on a scale of 1 to 10, most of us will begrudgingly offer up “about 6 or 7?” – and that’s pretty much the level of data that services such as Emotionr and others feed upon.

Emotionr is a free online tool with an emotional slider that submits individual scores to the global happiness pool, while also allowing you to track your own state of mind over time. TweetFeel claims to use “insanely complex analysis” to examine tweeter attitudes to anything you care to type into a search box. Google Insights for Search compares search volumes and patterns for the marketing community. Our emotions, it seems, are not only measurable, they can be ‘monetized’.

As The Chronicle pointed out, even President Obama’s chief economic adviser Lawrence Summers recently cited the decline in Google searches for “economic depression” as a sign of optimism.

But are the Googling and Twittering classes really ready to become representative of the happiness of our world? How do you ‘feel’ about that? Please let us know. Also, please tell us what you think of Bhuvan. We’ll literally be watching this space…

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September 15th, 2008

Atom Heart Hackers*

Atom Heart Hackers*

Last week, as we all know, the LHC, or Large Hadron Collider experiment kicked off at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. Although the experiment’s ultimate objective is to split elementary particles in beams of protons to prove the existence of Higgs boson, all it has managed to do so far is split observers around the world into two camps – those who think it’s all rather cool and exciting, and those who think its really dangerous and will end with the planet being sucked cataclysmically into a tiny black hole on the banks of the Rhone. Or something.

This week however, a third, covert camp has emerged – those who weren’t excited or scared enough by any possible remifications to time and space to prevent them thinking that a bit of old fashioned hacking might give such events a bit of extra spice.

The hacking group, going by the name of ‘The Greek Security Team’ broke into networks at CERN last Wednesday, and uploaded a new web page describing the facilities’ IT security staff as “schoolkids”, while also stating they had no intention of disrupting the experiment (once a techie…)

According to The Times, the hackers “targeted the computer system of the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment, one of the four detectors that will be analysing the progress of the experiment.”

James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN, said: “We don’t know who they were but there seems to be no harm done. It appears to be people who want to make a point that CERN was hackable.”

Now, being opinionated on the subject of hacking is somewhat tricky. I realise that hacking can be disruptive and can cost private business and public organisations millions in lost revenue due to downtime. I also realise that hackers are also just a massive pain in the neck for security teams and developers. But I’m generally also a bit shocked by the severity of censure levied or threatened in the direction of confirmed hackers, especially when they are so often just misguided youths.

My gut reaction to the repurcussions following this latest breach is that CERN staff have proven themselves to be extremely reasonable and lenient in their view of the incident. Maybe they were just pleased to be pointed in the direction of a potentially serious vulnerability? Maybe they just raise chilled techies in Geneva. What I do know for sure is, lackadaisical or not, I certainly prefer CERN’s attitude to that of NASA, which is still pushing for a maximum prison sentence of up to 60 years for Gary McKinnon (or Solo), the self-confessed British hacker who broke into space agency networks and is now appealing for leniency on the basis of alleged Asperger’s syndrome.

*With thanks to Rick Wright, 28th July 1943 – 15th September 2008

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June 9th, 2008

Google's NASA relationship goes into interstellar overdrive

Google's NASA relationship goes into interstellar overdrive

Once your precocious start-up has become a multi-billion dollar global phenomenon, it takes a truly out-of-this world technology partnership to rocket business to a new level and bring the competition crashing back to earth.

If you haven’t kept tabs on Google and NASA’s mutual wooing over the past year, recent news is excuse enough for a quick refresher.

It all started out seemingly innocently enough last September when the media noticed NASA had let Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Bri share one of its company parking spots. A simple enough agreement you might think, until you read in the Herald Tribune that the parking spot in question was a much coveted federally-managed runway in NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, California (so very handy for Google HQ in Mountain View) and the company vehicle was a refurbished private wide-body Boeing 767-200…

At the time, Lenny Siegel, director of the Pacific Studies Center, a local non-profit group that has opposed proposed expansions of civilian flights at Moffett Field, had said: “If they are doing science missions, that’s OK. If they are doing it just because they are rich and popular, it is not OK.”

Anyway, a few months later a deal was inked between NASA and Google that enabled the search giant to access detailed 3D images of the Moon and Mars and use them in their web applications. The two organisations confirmed they would collaborate in a variety of areas including enriching Google Earth and launching Google Mars and Google Moon.

Finally to bring you completely up to date, Google last week signed a 40-year lease to build a 1.2 million square foot high-tech office campus on land owned by NASA, once again at the Ames Research Centre near Mountain View.

The BBC reports that over the last four years, Google has added more than 17,000 employees to boost its payroll to 19,156 workers and now needs the extra space for ever more ambitious expansion plans.

Building work is expected to get under way before 2013 with the final phase of work starting in 2022. After the 40-year lease expires, the agreement could be extended by as much as 50 more years.

The next stage of this friendship is anyone’s guess.
Care to share your wildest dreams?

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