Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Feel of a Launch

As some may already know, my day-job is at a company called Webroot Software, based in Boulder, Colorado. Apart from being a space-nut and budding runner, I am the manager of a development team working on the company consumer anti-malware set of products.

In the software industry like in the space industry there are launches. Usually software launches are much more frequent and take less to prepare for than space launches, especially compared to rocket launches when humans are on-board.

Webroot Internet Security Complete 2011
Over the past weekend we launched a set of products with more similarities to the space industry than other releases we've had in the past. This new version entails a new architecture, building on parts of the old architecture and technologies while learning lessons from prior products. Kind of like the next step in human space exploration, it took us longer than expected (close to two years, much longer than we originally expected and longer than usual software release cycles of products this size), went over budget, incorporated third party sub-contractors who delivered varying levels of responsiveness and initial quality and all that during what will not be known as the best two years in the history of U.S. economy.

I guess it is no surprise, then, that I feel great satisfaction and at the same time the concern of rocket designers when their rocket is making its first few full launches rather than static or partial tests (in the software industry we call these "betas").

Like space-access systems, maybe even more so in software, there are always patches and improvements and more to be developed, but the initial launch occurred. As of now the rocket didn't explode on the pad, always a good sign. Unlike a rocket (at least with current low-Earth-orbit launches), though, knowing nothing major went wrong may take a week or two, but so far reports are looking good - it feels like a successful launch.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

25th Anniversary of a Friend to Space

Among all the anniversaries these past couple of weeks (41st of Apollo 11 and 60th of the first Cape Canaveral rocket launch are two of them) there is one that is noteworthy for the computer geeks among us (you know who you are).

In the dark ages of the mid 1980s, when IBM compatible PCs had 4 color screens, beeps that barely passed as sound and an operating system that looked like a '>' symbol, out came a computer with preemptive multi-tasking (in layman terms, real multi-tasking, which Macs didn't have until years later), thousands of colors, stereo sound and a graphical user interface - the Amiga 1000. To reminisce in case you're an Amiga fan or to learn more about the Amiga tumultuous life, PCWorld provides a very nice walk down memory lane in this article.

No, I don't want to start a "Who was first" debate here (we all know it was Xerox). I was one of those geeky kids with an Amiga computer, playing games, creating boot floppy disks that contained entire development environments and had a SCSI 120MB hard-drive while everyone else had the beeps and poor graphics on their huge IBM-compatible PCs.

What does the Amiga computer have to do with space?
     Woman: "Aren't you astronauts?"
     Buzz Aldrin: "Yes, Mam. We'd like to compare notes with Stevie on the new space station."

Here is the full commercial for your enjoyment:

Standing next to Buzz are two of the original Mercury-7 astronauts Scott Carpenter and Leroy Gordon Cooper (thanks for your help figuring this out, @flyingjenny and @iammdsquared).

Yes, back in those days (1986) the planned space station wasn't international, it was called "Freedom" and had a centrifuge module for artificial gravity research. Neither Freedom nor the centrifuge ever materialized, just like the Amiga never took the world by storm and about ten years later became all but a thing of the past.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thoughts about Transportation while over the Atlantic

The plane that brought me to Israel
I'm sitting in a plane (OK, I'm not while editing this post, but I was while writing these words). It's not very comfortable and it seems very long. I watched a movie, helped the kids with their food, put a pull-up on the little one, slept a little, and woke up.

From my position here over the Atlantic ocean, at 624mph at 35000ft, I marvel both looking back and forward in time.