RIP Bill, Bob & Jebediah

Sadly, I killed three Kerbals yesterday, playing Kerbal Space Program.  They were to carry the Turquoise, a small space station, into low orbit, about 100 kilometers.  Unfortunately, I had not adequately secured the station within its fairing, and it broke apart on the launch pad, igniting a booster and causing a massive explosion.

A rocket created for the Kerbal Space Program video game.

The rocket intended to carry the “Turqoise” space station into low orbit.

I always add features to modules holding live Kerbals, that allow me to press an abort button (<Delete> key) that detaches the module from the rest of the rocket and fires small solid fueled rockets to lift it away.  However, yesterday I had neglected to have the fairing deployed with an abort, trapping the Kerbal’ module while trying to make its escape.

Turquoise station components

Components of the “Turquoise” space station.

Like most of my mishaps, I blame my clinically diagnosed ADHD.

(???,) 

Adventures in Space

Rocket falling over from above the launch pad.

One of my early attempts into orbit, achieving a spectacular fall after a 35 meter ascent

I’ve been playing around with a video game. I have spent, by far, more time with this game than all video game play in my life prior to retirement. And I’m feeling a bit guilty for it. All of my tech work has always been for production, since teaching my self to program TRS-80 (Radio Shack Model I & III) computers in 1982 so that I could write programs for my students (the school system having appropriated $0 for software). With these machines that have so changed my life, I have spent nearly all of my time coding, writing or preparing slide decks for my presentations.

Astronaut, flaming out, after locking his keys in the spacecraft during an EVA.

At about 26 Kilometers, my Kerban pilot decided to do a space walk. Alas he locked his keys in the capsule and burned up during the descent.

I’ve had a professional interest in video games, however, especially as research was starting to reveal the powerful learning taking place as kids were playing these games. World of Warcraft (WOW) and Minecraft were especially interesting to innovative educators. A friend of mine started a special class for at-risk high schoolers where he gave them missions or quests to perform as teams in WOW. Then they would debrief with discussion of strategies, not just in achieving the mission but also how they collaborated with each other. The students also wrote reports, as newspaper reporters, about their various missions and their strategies and methods. They were developing skills in math, problem solving, communication and more by actually using those skills in meaningful ways.

A nearly successful orbit

These three Kerbans made it into an orbit whose apogee was around 1.4 million kilometers and perigee was somebody’s basement on the far side of Kerbal.

Authentic Learning” (an instructional approach that allows students to explore, discuss and meaningfully construct their own learning within meaningful contexts) was a term being used a lot among education leaders, until No Child Left Behind corrupted public education, shifting emphasis to rote memorization over functional understanding.

I am thoroughly enjoying the experience learning to play Kerbal Space Program (KSP). Its Wikipedia article defines the game as:

“..a space flight simulation video game developed by Mexican developer, Squad. In the game, players direct a nascent space program, staffed and crewed by green humanoid aliens know as ‘Kerbal.’ The game features a realistic orbital physics engine, slowing for various real-life orbital maneuvers such as orbital rendezvous.”

The first time that I explored KSP was in 2013, preparing for a keynote address at a conference for the National Science Teachers Association. I wanted to use the game as an example of an educational science simulation. Sadly, with only a few days to acquaint myself with the game, I was able to compellingly demonstrated how a rocket can blow up on the launch pad.

Today, after much learning and practice (orbital mechanics is hard), I can finally establish a good circular orbit around the planet, and even loop around the moon. But there is much more that I can’t do you.

Rocket is in orbit.
Almost ten years later, I’m in orbit, finally figuring out how to use the orbital maneuver tool that helps you aim your rocket in the correct direction, know when to start your burn and how long to burn, in order to achieve your desired outcome.

More to come!

1 Wikipedia contributors. “Kerbal Space Program.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Sep. 2022. Web. 15 Sep. 2022.

A Million of Us

I wrote this in my head last night when I was supposed to be sleeping. I also spent some time thinking about how to split some hickory logs to create borders for my wife’s rhododendron garden.

A Million of Us

We are a million children of fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, all who thrived in times other than our own.

We are a million descendants of immigrants, who, as individuals, made the decision to leave what they knew, to make a new future.

We are a million descendants of an Age of Enlightenment, when great thinkers shared new ideas to escape the tyrannies of belief and wealth and corruption.

We are a million descendants of an Age of Enlightenment, when great thinkers shared new ideas to escape the tyrannies of belief and wealth and corruption.

We are a million descendants of families, who learned to thrive in a new world of untamed wilderness.

And we are a million descendants of those who practiced the habits of growth, celebrating its liberty, while hiding its abuses.

We are a million descendants of great men and women, who designed a government and made laws that benefited each of us, instead of benefiting themselves.

We are a million descendants of horrendous crimes and we are the descendants of the victims of those crimes.

We have used the might of an enormous and rich land, and a million individuals of like mind to right great wrongs, and, too often, inflict great harm.

But we are starting to learn, 
That there is much that we will need to know, 
In order to realize our nation’s “state of becoming” in a rapidly changing world,
Instead of recreating a  “state of being” that was lost in some mythical past. 

And we are starting to seek a new enlightenment, 
Of new ideas that will, 
Like before,
Deliver us from the tyrannies of belief and wealth and corruption, 
So that we might live in a land where everyone is healthy and educated,
And free to not only be satisfied with comfort, 
But be inspired to pursue a million dreams.

dfw


If You don’t Trust the News, then You May be Looking in the Wrong Places

Mark Thiessen, contributer to FowNews

Among the “Top News” stories in my news app yesterday, there was an opinion piece [https://fxn.ws/2V6JIaH] from FoxNews, written by Mark Thiessen, a FoxNews contributor from the Washington Post (plus a former speech writer for George W. Bush). He introduced a recent Columbia Journalism Review poll that found that half of Americans have “hardly any confidence at all” in the media. That’s less confidence than we have in congress. Then he goes on to use this bit of information to attack CNN and The New York Time’s coverage of the continuing debate over the legitimacy of Brett Kavanaugh’s right to be a Supreme Court Judge. 

Thiessen’s attack may have a valid basis. I don’t know. But my concern, as one who wants to be able to trust the news, is that the author did not have the courtesy of providing us with a link to the original CJR report. In fact every link that he did provide pointed to other FoxNews stories, — a giant red flag when evaluating online sources.  

With little effort, I found the CJR report [http://bit.ly/2NoPcfS ], and found it interesting that most of the people who have “hardly any confidence..” in the media are Republicans, white, have little or no college and are retired or self employed. The CJR’s poll also indicated that 80% of the respondents get their news from television, the Internet or social media. Only 6% get their news from news print, and 5% from news apps.

Where we go to get our news seems a more critical issue to our condition today, than Brett Kavanaugh’s “ding-donging phase.”

A New Tech Wave?

Sinclair Research’s launch advertising for the ZX81. High-profile advertisements such as this were used to promote the benefits and value for money of the ZX81.

After I had taught social studies for a few years we started to hear talk about personal computers. They could fit on your desk, were fully programmable to perform a multitude of functions and could be had for prices ranging from a few hundred to a thousand dollars and more. Their practical applications were hardly imagined and were noticed only be a subset of a subset of nerd types.

I am starting to wonder now if we’re on the verge of a new emerging and equally surprising technology, do-it-yourself satellites. That’s right, satellites in low earth orbit, built with commercial off-the-shelf components and designed for scientific research.

nCube, 10cm CubeSat created by University students in Norway.
nCube, 10cm CubeSat created by University students in Norway.

They are called CubeSats, typically about 10 centimeters cubed and weighing about 3 pounds. They can be launched as part of the payload of commercial rockets or deployed from the International Space Station.

There are three reasons why I believe that they may be coming to a high school (or middle school) near you.

  1. Our exploration of space has continued with NASA’s exploration of the solar system with robotic space craft and the successful rocket launches by commercial interests including SpaceX and many others. Our interest in Space exploration remains high as shown in a June 2018 Pew Research report which reports that 72% of surveyed believe that U.S. remain a world leader in space exploration. Also indicating increase is a survey reported by Centauri Dreams, that Americans believe that space exploration is a good investment, increasing from 49.5% (1988) to 59.3% (2007) to 69.1% (2018).
  2. Increasing commercial interest in mining asteroids for precious metals and iron, cobalt and nickel for space construction; and weightless manufacturing.
  3. A probable increase in the demand for professionals with knowledge and skills related to a space industry, including: electronics, computer science, geology, chemistry, astronomy,exobiology, engineering, astrophysics and philosophy.

Some high schools have already started designing and constructing CubeSats, some already in orbit. Here is a list with launch dates from nanosats.eu:

  • Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology [LD:2013-11-20]
  • Max Valier Technical High School [LD:2017-06-23]
  • Woodbridge High School [LD:2018-11-11]
  • University High School [LD:2018-12-03]
  • Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology [LD:2019-10-19]
  • IRIM – Croation Makers (Croatia) [LD:2020-12-31]
  • Ithica High School [LD:2020-12-31]
  • Raisbeck Aviation High School [LD:launch canceled]
    First high school team to design, fund, build, test, launch, and communicate with an imaging CubeSat and a 3D-printed chassis—using polyether ether ketone, PEEK.
  • Palos Verdes High School [LD:2020-12-31]
  • University High School [LD:2021-12-31]
  • Arnold O. Beckman High School [LD:launch canceled]
  • Valle Christian High School [LD:launch canceled]
  • University High School [LD:2021-12-31]

18 New Planets Just Showed Up

As engineers work to design better telescopes, both earth- and space-based, another kind of astronomy is taking place and teaching us astonishing things about our galaxy. Even though the Kepler space telescope ran out of fuel 8 months ago, the 1.38 terabytes of data (my calculation) that it generated is still being examined — by a new breed of astronomer who writes code at a computer, instead of watching the sky through lens.

They are developing smarter algorithms to scan all that data to identify objects and phenomena that were previously hidden in the digital noise. René Heller, of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, and his colleagues recently uncovered 18 new planets. All of them are small, with the largest being just a bit wider than two Earths. One of the worlds is among the tiniest Kepler has yet found; it’s just 70 percent of Earth’s width. Another orbits in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star, where the temperature might allow liquid water to remain on its surface. 

The 18 newly discovered planets, seen in this illustration in orange and green, are all smaller than Neptune, with three even smaller than Earth. The green planet, dubbed EPIC 201238110.02, is the only one in the new haul that might be friendly to life.

Anna Alfonso has written a good description of data astronomy (The State of Data in Astronomy) in her blog, data iku.

There are now 3,972 confirmed exoplanets, worlds that are orbiting other stars, according to NASA’s Exoplanet Archive.

Initial Source: https://on.natgeo.com/2IlA7Xv

Back in the Code

I do not know how many times I’ve said to myself that, “I’ve learned my last programming language.” But it’s what got me hooked on computers, that in 1981 the only way to making them useful was to learn to program them.

Interactive area graphics representing data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Click the Image to see the interactive version.

During the last years of my advocacy work I became fascinated by infographics and data visualization. Data viz was more captivating because there was magic there, “..making numbers tell their story,” I use to say.

Anyway, reading about some of the visualizations being featured in the dataisbeautiful sub/reddit, I learned that a lot of people were using a language called R. Above are a couple that I’ve been working on for the past week or so. Click them to see the interactive versions.

“Currently…”

Ancient Library
An Ancient Repository of Knowledge

What was at the core of much of my advocacy for retooling education came from a condition that can best be illustrated by the Knowledge Doubling Curve. Recently adjusted by Faras Batarseh of the London School of Economics, it states that Until 1900, knowledge was doubling roughly ever century. However, by 1950, it was doubling every 25 years. 2000 saw it doubling every 12 months. Today, says Batarseh, “knowledge is doubling every day.”1

There are a number of logical reasons, but it leads to a society that is plagued by VUCA.

  • Volatility is about the nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  • Uncertainty, describes the lack of predictability and a loss of the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • Complexity, considers the multiplex of forces leading to and confusion.
  • Ambiguity, represents the haziness of reality and the potential to misread information.

Change is the new normal and there is not a single area of study or interest that is not in affected..

and..

Change has embowed a new significance to the word, current.

Public school instruction can no long afford to lag decades behind what is known today about science, health, mathematics, philosophy, and even history. It’s the reason I use to say (back when people were paying attention to what I had to say.)

We need to stop teaching students how to be taught, and start teaching them how to learn for themselves.

We will have achieved real education reform, when no teacher believes that they can teach the same things, the same ways, year after year; and when we are providing them with the resources and the time to retool their classrooms every day.

For this technology-rich and information-driven world, the best thing we can be teaching our children is literacy – learning-literacy.

1Batarseh, F. A. (2017, September 21). Thoughts on the future of human knowledge and machine intelligence [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2017/09/20/thoughts-on-the-future-of-human-knowledge-and-machine-intelligence/

The Next Technology Revolution: Not in my Neighborhood

Fiber, the New Technology Revolution

This is a personal issue to me since our neighborhood in Cherryville is still waiting for wired Internet. There are only seven homes, which are not profitable to warrant bringing in the infrastructure.

I just listened to a podcast interview with Susan Crawford, a Harvard law professor and author of Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution… For the book, she researched the conditions of fibre optic networking in Asia (Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Korea), comparing what she learned with conditions here in the U.S., as revealed by interviews with citizens and government officials at the local, state and federal levels.

Among her surprising statements were that,

  • OECD adoption of Fibre, the U.S. ranks 25th of 36 nations.
  • The World Economic Form ranks the U.S. as 27th among nations regarding their technical preparedness for future industries.

She says that we are suffering from a number of digital divides, among them are divides between urban and rural, rich and poor, and the gap between the U.S., and Asian and Nordic countries.

To Blame

First it was deregulation of the telecommunications industry in 2004. The competition has concentrated on profitable urban areas, especially affluent sections where high priced services are sold.

Second is big-money oriented governments, such as my state’s General Assembly, who passed a law in 2010 preventing municipalities from creating and running their own fibre networks. This was a response to the town of Wilson establishing their celebrated GreenLight network, which I wrote about here: http://2cents.onlearning.us/?p=4329

Links

One of my Early Computer Programs

My brother found this at my parents’ house the other day. First off, for those of you who are wondering, it’s perforated printer paper. The holes (originally on both sides) are grabbed by the printer’s tractor cogs that pull the paper in to be typed on. The perforations enabled you to remove the hole strips and divide the conveyor of paper into 8 1/2 by 11 sheets. Since computers mostly delt with columns and rows of data back then, the green stripes made reading them easier.

Click Image to Enlarge

But what I’m excited about is what’s printed on the paper, a computer program that I wrote in 1983, when I was still teaching Social Studies in South Carolina. The program is a database application for our TRS-80 (Radio Shack) computers. It enabled students to create datasets for the counties of SC or states of the U.S., or animals by phylum and genus, and then run analyses on them.

I wish that I could find printouts of some of my games. It was such an exciting time when we were free to push the technology, writing and adapting software to support new ideas about learning, because no one else knew what we were doing. It was just computers.