Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Paperless Tradeshow

In space, you can't be wasteful. Every bit of extra weight needs to be lifted up. That entails paper, tools and even food and water. Almost the opposite seems to be happening at tradeshows. I recently did some cleaning up of my office at work. Among the items I got rid of were about 2 lbs of flyers, magazines and CDs I got at a couple of trade shows I went to as a part of my job. In software engineering things move (note I didn't say progress...) very fast, and what describes the latest and greatest component or contains a demo of a new release soon becomes stale and outdated.
So here's a simple idea I hope Microsoft, Google or any other company would pick up - the paperless tradeshow. It's a tradeshow without any paper (or any other write-once, read-many media such as CDs or DVDs). Oh, but we love the shiny brochures you say? What do you do with them when you get back from the tradeshow? What do you ever use them for if not as links to online resources? I'm sure you can live without those colorful paper airplanes and find something else to use as a coaster.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thank You!

We live in a culture that always wants more. More money, bigger house, greener lawn. Or better - better car, better nose, better job. And when we actually get there, we want different. Different job, different house, different appearance. Thanksgiving, leaving the controversy of its origins or validity aside, is one of those rare moments that make us stop and reflect on what we have, who we are and the people in our lives that matter and actually be thankful, recognizing the good in our lives.
It's that gratifying feeling that gets induced by such thoughts that make us get off the "What's next" train. In some ways, I think it makes us a better version of ourselves, if only for a little bit.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Computer Interfaces in Space

As a software engineer with an interest in user interfaces, the fine line between the human operating the machine and the machine itself, I got curious about the computers and interfaces on space shuttles and the International Space Station.

A lot of ideas are depicted in movies - for example, the talking (and treacherous) computer HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey" or the friendlier one in StarTrek. Other imagined interfaces are elaborate touch screen interfaces (StarTrek) or hand waving wearing special gloves in "Minority Report" (hey, it looked good on Tom Cruise, why not Nicole Stott or Robert Satcher?).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Space Patches: From the School Library

My kids knew that Space Shuttle Atlantis is launching today. We all watched it when I came home from work and the kids all had their own fantasies about what you could do during launch while I explained to them how fast the shuttle was flying.

As was the case with the Ares I-X launch, I had it up on my monitor at work streaming from SpaceVidCast, what seemingly is the only way to see it in HD apart from having a huge satelite dish. Several people gathered to see the launch, making me feel pretty good about raising awareness of the space program even if just a bit.

I enjoyed seeing the book that Yotam, one of my almost-9 year old twins, brought home - Space Patches: From Mercury to the Space Shuttle. Not an extremely interesting book for a kid this age apart from the pictures of the patches themselves and not very current (a lot of missions flew since 1986), but it was nice to see a little space rubbing on him. In case anyone's interested, there seems to be a similar but more current book from 2001 - Space Mission Patches.

Naturally, in this online age, the NASA history site has a Mission Patches page showing the designs of all the patches, upto and including STS-129 that had a perfect ascent, the one before last flight for Atlantis according to current plans.

The patches, mostly designed by the mission astronauts themselves, are both a testament to the uniqueness of each mission, unifying the participants and promoting NASA image.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


No, I don't mean seconds of time, or asking for seconds during a Thanksgiving dinner, sealing the deal for the upcoming food coma. There's something to be said for people being second at something.

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Apollo 12. It was the second landing on the moon, and after the legendary "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" spoken by Neil Armstrong after becoming the first person to ever set foot on ground that's not Earth, Astronaut Charles Conrad Jr. said "Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me.", after making a bet with a journalist that what he said wasn't scripted by NASA.

Was it less epic or important than Apollo 11? I don't think so. Apollo 12 actually achieved what Apollo 11 didn't - a much more precise landing, for example.

Interestingly, though, one of the things Apollo 12 was actually a first in was the first Playboy centerfold in space...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

First Violinist in Space

I have been playing the violin since I was five and a half years old. Unlike my father's wishes, I did not become a professional violinist as my technical side was stronger and brought me to engineering.
What I would definitely like to do is play violin in micro-gravity, for example on the International Space Station. Even though musical instruments have been in space, as far as I can tell playing a violin or any other bowed instrument in space would be a first.

(On the right: a photo of my violin I took in February 2009)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Buran - The Russian Space Shuttle

The Buran space shuttle on its way to the launch pad
An article in Time Magazine about the NASA space shuttle program mentions the Buran, which up until a few days ago I didn't know existed. It had a much shorter life and a sad ending but that doesn't change the fact, that the Russians had a space shuttle. Not only that, but arguably it was better than the NASA one.

Russian (left) and American
The resemblance between the American and Soviet space shuttles is undeniable and either validates the design or may hint on espionage. Just look at this picture: