Just in case you missed these:
25nm achieved. The Intel/Micro Flash memory JV announced the launch of a 25 nanometer fab, which will double storage densities. SSDs getting ever larger and, since many such are connected via USB 2.0, making that spec look ever more aged.
'Big Dog' robot procurement. DARPA lets a $25m contract to Boston Dynamics to create a deployable version of its Big Dog prototype walking robot. Lots of speculation on futures, some a bit out there, at the first link.
Spray-on glass? It's claimed that Germany's Nanopool has developed a spray-on glass coating material that creates a film a few dozen molecules thick, radically altering surface properties, including on living materials. Pretty cool if it pans out. Let's hope they've got a safe way to apply it.
The right turn in space. I spend enough time trashing Obama's economic incompetence that it's only fair to throw a bone when he does something right. Such is the decision to get NASA out of the rocketship building business. NASA was great back in the day, when it was new and had a clear charter, but like all bureaucracies it's turned into a haven for pork barrel projects and long term employment for functionaries. If we want space flight to be sustainable, not a taxpayer funded stunt, it's time to turn over the construction projects to private concerns that worry about things like cost learning curves, and minimizing the manpower and capital used for building and operations.
/.ed, but just in case you missed it, a very nicely done compilation of the launch and ascent images from the just concluded Atlantis mission:
I've never liked the 'all things to all people' Shuttle design, and it's killed two of its crews, but still - anything that makes orbit is sublime in its own way.
DRM moribund. Nearly five years ago, I wrote about digital rights management as a (negative) business diagnostic. It always creates user disvalue, so your only analytical task is to figure out whose business model is in the process of failing. Now it seems that the RIAA finally gets it, too. Now perhaps they can spend some time figuring out how they are going to build something that will actually add value. Not that I was feeling bad about it to begin with, but I regard this as final vindication for all of the so-clever DRM business plans that I've consigned to the circular file or bit bucket over the years.
A wart on Jupiter. How cool is this? An amateur Aussie astronomer noticed a new black spot on Jupiter over the weekend, which may have been caused by a meteor or comet impact (like Shoemaker-Levy in 1994) that escaped other's notice. More discussion here. Observations and analysis still coming in. Update: Confirmed.
Construction workers and mechanics have always known this. But now some scientists think they've proved it: Expletives reduce pain. The English researcher says: ""I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear." Having pulled a back muscle during a volunteer trail build project this weekend, I should be cussing the proverbial blue streak, but unfortunately the positive effects seem to be transient.
Not Photoshop. From the Pink Tentacle blog, Japanese rice paddy art. Apparently by planting rice with variously colored foliage. Some of these should show up on Google Earth. Coords, anyone? And in case you need some recon capability to check it out, here's the Blackbird flying again, sort of. Awesome job!
RIP, Sir Arthur C. Clarke. I was in a seventh grade reading class, and had run through all the required in-classroom assignments, when my teacher reached into her desk drawer and came up with something to keep me amused. The first book in the stack wasn't by Clarke, it was Asimov's Pebble in the Sky, but the second or third was Clarke's 'The Wind from the Sun'. As Bruce Webster said in his great obit, that was two of the big three of the time right there (I came to Heinlein later). I'd been introduced to Tolkien's work the year before, and the combination of greats produced a fascination, if not sometime addiction, to speculative fiction and fantasy. My copies of Clarke's later works have since gone off to war, but I was unable to part with his early stories: Winds, 'Against The Fall of Night' and 'Tales from the White Hart' are still right here. Thank you for a life-long pleasure, Sir Arthur.
Trouble on the Network Line. The wireless network at the home office has been up and down all week for causes still not completely diagnosed. A bad combination with limited mobility. It did get me over my case of procrastination in replacing an aged 'Snow' version Apple Airport, so there's a brand new Airport Extreme sitting here for installation over the weekend. Blogging will become more frequent when I don't have to crutch my way up and down stairs to get at the network.
The Second Act Begins. The surgeon likes the progress on my leg's healing, so now I'm up to 50% weight bearing, and on crutches rather than a walker. And my physical therapist proved to me this morning that 50% is actually more than that ankle really want to hold up just yet. A tib-fib break this bad dumps lots of coagulated blood and other junk into the ankle and even knee joint. I'll probably be back to being able to carry full weight well before I have the flexibility to fully use it. Next milestone: Enough ankle flex to run the accelerator and brake!
Morita-san Must Be Spinning In His Grave. It took Sony decades to build up from exporting cheap transistor radios to having a brand that could command a premium price for its Trinitrons and other audio and video components. It appears all that brand equity is being frittered away over about the same period. Sony entirely lost its Walkman position in the transition to MP3, compromised by its content investments. It's an also-ran in flat panel TV - the Koreans are duking it out for the lead position. Then the root kit fiasco, again propelled by its content bias. Now the company wants to charge customers $49 for removing the pre-installed bloatware on its Vaio laptops. And then backed down under pressure within 24 hours - of course leaving the Web debris to come up on any future searches about the Vaio. I suppose I can in some sense understand the reasoning - I'm sure there are bounties from signups and upgrades from the preloads that are figured into the product's P&L - but a few clues by the relevant product managers would have told them the downside was much worse. Sony seems to have lost its way in the network age, and I'm guessing it's not going to find it until the shareholders unsheathe their kitanas and take a few management heads. This kind of tin ear tends to start at the top.
Telling The Story, Missing The Point. Via the Blogfather, Popular Mechanics touts Konarka's Power Plastic polymer solar cells and substrate. The company is going after roll-to-roll processing to drastically reduce the costs of solar power. Good so far, but the magazine then fails completely to ask or research the questions that determine whether it's of any use: What's the efficiency? How does that substrate hold up under the sun it's meant to capture? And why is this product still in vapor three years after it was given an innovation award? That's the kind of thing customers or investors might like to know, not a few quotes wrapped around a press release.
Reverse engineering Mother Nature. Very cool, working backwards from current organisms to reconstruct a protein sequence from a common ancestor, and then determining some of the adaptations and environment of that early organism. It's hard to believe there are still evolution deniers out there, just as we're taking big strides in exposing and analyzing its action over time. Via Ole Eichhorn.
Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency is building and testing prototype components for orbital powersat systems. Glad to see someone serious about this, we need to be trying out all the alt.energy approaches that look feasible, for both strategic and environmental reasons.
I got a good prognosis from my first post-op X-Ray yesterday. The price is six more weeks cooped up on a walker. Well worth it for a full recovery.
The roll out of the designs for the next generation Scaled Composites / Virgin spacecraft is a good time to point all the activity going on this sector. Dale Amon has a nice link list of the serious private ventures aiming to attract commercial passengers and cargo. In spite of the hype blip, parts of the Scaled Composites program are apparently still on hold, pending a final resolution of the cause of the deadly explosion at their Mojave facility back in July, so it's good to see not only a growing list of ventures, but a wide variety of approaches.
Woo-hoo! They made it - there and back again. Kudos to Paul Allen, Burt Rutan, and especially to pilot Mike Melvill, whose butt was on the line. And, of course, though this flight itself goes into the record books, it's also the warmup for an attempt on the X Prize. (Though some intervening flight tests could result, depending on the evalutions of a stuck control and cracked fairing whose significance is still undisclosed.)
For the first time in many a long year, it feels like we're on a path to space that might be sustainable for the long run. The mainstream press and the space bloggers are rightfully banging on about the potential for a 'space tourist' revenue stream that will make this all more than a very costly form of ego-boo for billionaires. For instance, Dale Amon has some worthy reflections. So perhaps I'll fill in by pointing out a few other straws in the wind that might indicate other potential revenue flows for both SpaceShipOne-like architectures, and other low-cost suborbital / LEO attempts:
Over at DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, there are a variety of relevant programs. RASCAL intends to use a space plane based on modified fighter jet engines, which will carry a conventional rocket second stage capable of launching small satellites to LEO. Orbital Express is an effort to design constellations of such small satellites that could substitute for today's megabirds. And here are some new propulsion systems scaled to the appropriate size. Another launcher program, FALCON is intended to fly suborbital payloads to anywhere in the world from the continental US. Think of it as an extremely long range JDAM.
The point isn't that any of these programs are going to match 1-1 with the X-Prize vehicles, but they do indicate a latent demand for much the same payload / energy configurations being pioneered there. And a little digging around will find some of the same private companies involved in engine and airframe development.
And though my faith in NASA is pretty small - as both a space buff and investor - they are at least nominally committed to moving in a way that will create further demand rather than competition for private space. Excerpting from T. L. James' useful summary of the Aldridge Report:
The Commission recommends NASA recognize and implement a far larger presence of private industry in space operations with the specific goal of allowing private industry to assume the primary role of providing services to NASA, and most immediately in accessing low-Earth orbit....
The Commission recommends NASA aggressively use its contractual authority to reach broadly into the commercial and nonprofit communities to bring the best ideas, technologies, and management tools into the accomplishment of exploration goals.
The Commission recommends that Congress increase the potential for commercial opportunities related to the national space exploration vision by providing incentives for entrepreneurial investment in space, by creating significant monetary prizes for the accomplishment of space missions and/or technology developments and by assuring appropriate property rights for those who seek to develop space resources and infrastructure.
So the game is afoot, and the learning curve begins. For those of us who grew up with Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, this may be a reliving of our childhood. For those growing up today, they may have more of a hope that this time it will stick to the wall.
Atypically, Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites has preannounced that SpaceShipOne will fly on 6/21, trying to become the first privately built craft to break the 50 mile altitude that is set as the edge of space. Note that if the launch comes off, it will also have been a nine week cycle time since the last flight (the X Prize requires six). Maybe we're finally on a real learning curve.
Hat tip: VodkaGuy