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

Learning Doesn’t Ever Slow Down

I had a conversation yesterday with my neighbor, Paul Gilster, of Centauri Dreams. He comes over about every other week and we talk about our histories, families, space and tech stuff, and it often erupts into some pretty insightful observations – if only to us. 

But we both agreed that as we are getting older, our learning has actually increasing rather dramatically. Of course, we are also forgetting a lot more as well. 

But one of the truisms I’ve concluded from a career of learning and teaching is that something learned and used once, can easily be relearned, growing our life long toolset. 

MARS

2016 TV Series produced by National Geographic

I finished a two-season TV show last night, “MARS.” What’s most interesting about the program is its play between documentary and drama, separated by 17 years. The drama is a mission to the red planet, the intent of which is starting a colony. There are no return tickets. They will either find water and protection from solar radiation or they won’t, and will perish. With two seasons, the outcome of is apparent.

Season one is on Netflix and season two on the National Geographic Channel

The documentary part is mostly interviews with persons involved in planning, designing and testing for future exploration and colonization of Mars. They include  Elon MuskAndy WeirRobert Zubrin, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Eventually the science colony, which is supported by the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF), a multinational funding and governing organization, is joined by a second colony, Lukrum. A resource extraction corporation, Lukrum has powerful interests in nearly every country represented in IMSF, and they use that leverage to promote and prioritize their mining activities on Mars.

The miners are all likable characters as are the scientists (with one exception) and they get along together gangbusters, as one would expect for people who are ultimately isolated from Earth for years. It’s only when commercial activities collide with scientific discovery that things break down. Even at that, the personal fondness and even trust between the commanders and their crews mostly continue.

Of course, the 2016 interviews and documentary footage shifts its focus to our planet’s ongoing competition between corporate interests and the common good, and that there is little reason to believe that the same will not happen as we become an interplanetary race. These points may be handled a bit heavy-handedly by the show, though I don’t dispute the sentiments, especially considering how much space exploration is being promoted today by commercial organizations.

The show ends on a positive note, especially as one of my favorite characters survives, a short-tempered Spaniard who leaves every conflict spouting rapid Spanish exclamation, Ricky Ricardo style.

Klaatu Barada Nikto

Novelty UFO at the visitor's center in Moonbeam, Ontario, Canada.

Novelty UFO at the visitor's center in Moonbeam, Ontario, Canada.

When I was out in the world promoting modern ideas about education, I frequently suggest for several reasons that students should be studying science fiction literature in English classes along side Milton, Melville and Faulkner. But This was not one of the reasons:

I had a chat yesterday with my neighbor, Paul Gilster (Centauri Dreams), who is an expert on all things outer space, and especially the latest that is known or suspected about the nature of the universe. He was telling me about ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar object (not from the Solar System) that we have detected passing through the Solar System. It was discovered with the Pan-STARRS telescope, which is the only instrument on Earth that could have seen it. Pan-STARRS first came online only eight years ago.

Our classification of the object has changed as astronomers have learned more about it, ruling out various theories. One of the few speculations that has not been disproven is that ‘Oumuamua is some sort of autonomous space craft, built by a technologically advanced civilization, and sent out to encounter star systems and gather data about their planets and moons, perhaps to be “phoned home.”

Personally, one of my favorite moments in movies is from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” when Klaatu (played by Michael Rennie, not Keanu Reaves) lands his flying saucer on a baseball field in the middle of Washington, DC. Are we ready to meet our neighbors? What’s the etiquette?

This, and other discoveries, have more and more scientists suggesting that we should be making people, our Earth’s inhabitants, ready for the possibility / probability that we may well discover hard evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations in the near future.

Sources:

Paul’s Centauri Dreams blog article about ‘Oumuamua – https://goo.gl/8RhTBb

Wikipedia article about ‘Oumuamua – https://goo.gl/TqDqEt

Opening scene from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) – https://goo.gl/CPXLdh

Gilster, Paul. Personal interview. 9 Jan. 2019.

Coworking Space in Shelby

I discovered something interesting, while leaving Hannah’s Coffee House yesterday. It was a flyer for a new company in Shelby called BizHub. It is a coworking space, opened last August, that serves professionals, creatives and organizations in the Shelby area who have a need for temporary work or meeting space. At BizHub, you and I can rent a desk, a conference room or an office for a week, a day or an hour – professional work space with high speed WiFi, printers, coffee and sodas, big screen TVs, etc and etc. Wikipedia describes coworking space as being “attractive to work-at-home professionals, independent contractors, independent scientists or people who travel frequently who end up working in relative isolation.”

A friend of mine, Brian Russell, established the first coworking space in the research triangle, Carrboro Creative Coworking. Even though Carrboro was to far from Raleigh to be practical for my use, the concept fascinated me, as an independent home-office professional.

Jason, with whom I spoke at BizHub, said that they host meetings for groups who found coffeeshops too noisy. They also have business travelers who use their space for working while on the road, locals who need a formal office for a period of time and other professionals who simply need some work time away from their usual workplace.

I loved being an independent worker, what Dan Pink called a free-agent worker, and spaces like BIzHub make it a lot easier to do work independent of corporate or government direction.

Photo by David Warlick
Photos by David Warlick

IMG_1747 (1)

IMG_1748 (1)

The Process of “Making” a Picture

A friend of mine (not to mention world traveler, master educator, keynote speaker, master photographer) once said in one of his photography workshops, that there was a difference between TAKING a picture and MAKING a picture. It’s the reason for the title of this blog article.  I struggled between “The Process..” and “A Process..”  The rolled better though it is not the more accurate phrasing.  Each photograph that I publish on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr or that I choose to print, is developed by a process that depends on the particular challenges it presents and the outcome that I am working toward.  So the follow is the process for making a particular picture of a Great Blue Heron.

 

 1.

First is the original photo that I took while walking along the Mine Creek Trail, part of the Capital Area Greenway in Raleigh.  This is one of about 20 photos taken as I followed the bird trying to get clear shots through the trees and other growth between us.  Of those, I picked images to post process based on classic and also unique positions or postures.  This one I liked because of the classic posture, but also the motion that the rising left leg implied.

0HeronProcess00

Blue Heron 1

 

 2
0HeronProcess0001

Blue Heron 2

This is a fine snapshot of a Great Blue Heron. However, I want to celebrate its Heron-ness, and there is too much distracting space in the photo that prevents the viewer to from subject. So I use Lightroom to crop the photo down to a 1×1 ratio, a square.  

 3.

There is still too much activity around the bird that is distracting. It is mostly the leaves and pine needles. So I load the image into Photoshop and use the healing tool to remove them. Sounds like magic? The software takes a marked object find imagery near it that matches its surrounding and then stamps that over the object.  I also used the healing tool to enlarge the surface of the moss.

0heronProcess01

Blue Heron 3
 4.
0HeronProcess03

Blue Heron 4

In image four, I have used a blurring filter in Photoshop to make the background less interesting / less distracting. This probably seems strange since I blurred the entire image. But that’s going to be fixed by one of the coolest tools at the photographers fingertips.

 5.

 Before blurring the image (4), I had made a copy of the clearer version. These two versions were layered on top of each other. Of course, the layers top is what I saw and would would be saved. To re-clarify the parts of the image that I did not want blurred, I created a mask. This is essentially an additional layer that is all white. The white doesn’t show. However, any part of the mask layer that is painted black essentially creates a hole through which the layer beneath shows. So using a black digital paint brush I painted the rocks, water, under wash of the bank and part of the moss. Then I carefully painted in the bird’s head and neck so that they would be detailed. What’s cool about this process is that if you make a mistake and blacken too much, then you simple fix your mistake by painting the problem white.

 

0HeronProcess04

Blue Heron 5
 6.  

0HeronProcess05

Blue Heron 6
In image six, I wanted to punch up parts of the image with more color. To do this, duplicated my working layer and then turned up the color saturation on the layer beneath.
 7. For seven, I asked the top, less colorful layer and then I painted through only the parts I wanted to increase the color for – the rocky sandbar and the bird. 
0HeronProcess06

Blue Heron 7
 8.  

0HeronProcess08

Blue Heron 8

 For image eight, I didn’t like the dark area at the top, so I cropped that out.

 

 9.  I’m close now, simply fixing small things that bother me, such as the unexplainable dark area in the top left corner. So for version nine, I used the healing tool to bring in some more moss. I also made a duplicate layer, increasing the exposure on the bottom layer, making it brighter. Finally, I used the masking tool to paint in the parts of the bird that I wanted to brighten up.  I also decreased the color saturation after bringing it back into Lightroom, to make it a little more real.  

0HeronProcess031117 1a

Blue Heron 9

Like so many things, you are never done. There is always something else you can do to make it better, especially when you come back to it hours or days later. But typically, I am done when the photo interests me, when I’ve come close to capturing what it was that inspired me to take the picture.

Extraordinary Learning

A 15 year old Canadian schoolboy, with a fascination for the ancient Mayan Civilization, recently theorized a correlation between the star positions in major constellations and the geographic locations of known Mayan cities. Based on this theory, he used Google Maps to suggest the location of an unknown ancient city. The Canadian Space Agency was so impressed that they used a satellite-based space telescope to study the spot and confirm the existence of the hitherto, unknown city. 

In my work I ran across many ordinary youngsters who — with access to technology, supportive teachers and unconstrained curiosity — did extraordinary things. It all begs for a more empowering and imaginative way of educating our children. 

SpaceX full simulated demonstration.

I’ve posted a few videos of some small SpaceX tests before but I have yet to see a full demonstration of the sequence of events from launch to retrieval. Obviously this is just an animation but I think this makes it pretty clear that SpaceX can seriously advance our methods of getting in to space […]

SpaceX full simulated demonstration

I’ve posted a few videos of some small SpaceX tests before but I have yet to see a full demonstration of the sequence of events from launch to retrieval. Obviously this is just an animation but I think this makes it pretty clear that SpaceX can seriously advance our methods of getting in to space on a repeated basis as long as they continue to be successful in their development.

Embed This Video

International Space Relations

In the 1960s, it was every child’s dream to be an astronaut. This was the age of the space race, or who would get into orbit and to the moon first. Of course, Russia beat America in getting into space, but we beat Russia in getting to the moon. With the International Space Station, it […]

InternationalRelationsinSpace_52f104453d20cIn the 1960s, it was every child’s dream to be an astronaut. This was the age of the space race, or who would get into orbit and to the moon first. Of course, Russia beat America in getting into space, but we beat Russia in getting to the moon. With the International Space Station, it has become less of a competition against one another and more of a cooperation to gather knowledge.

This infographic gives information on the space race, relations between various nations since the moon landing, and little tidbits that are just interesting. Share this with your students, and discuss the future of the space program. John F. Kennedy said that America would reach the moon by the end of the 1960s, which came true with a few months to spare. What do your students think will be next? Ask for a timeline on the future of space travel with support for their guestimations.

Blog: http://visual.ly/international-relations-space