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Saturday, May 31, 2008

NASA's Phoenix Lander Tweets, A Big Hit With Geeks

If you are using twitter, and who isn't, you may be one of the ~10,000 followers of @MarsPhoenix like I am. Veronica McGregor, news services manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has been playing the part of the Phoenix lander and keeping us informed of the it's progress since the real mission began last week. You can ask questions about the lander or the mission and McGregor will forward them on to the tech's and respond to you with their answers. Many twitterers have found the tweets very informative and, I for one, enjoy reading the questions posed to @MarsPhoenix and the first person responses. I hope that educators are paying attention and encouraging students to follow, it's a wonderful way to learn about the mission and puts you on the inside with the team responsible. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s media team truly is in touch with the tools available in a web 2.0 world and in my opinion use them very effectively. Good job folks! NY Times story here.

Energy Star Recycle My Old Fridge Campaign - Video Contest

Here's an invitation from the Energy Star folks to all Great Big Geek readers:

Thank you for mentioning the ENERGY STAR Recycle My Old Fridge Campaign on the Great Big Geek.

ENERGY STAR invites readers of the Great Big Geek to check out two cool contests from the 2008 Recycle My Old Fridge Campaign for a chance to win a trip to Washington, D.C.

Through July 28, the Video Challenge invites consumers to tell their story about recycling that inefficient old fridge. Up to three entrants will win a trip to the nation’s capital to be honored at the campaign celebration in September at the National Building Museum. The winners will be selected, in part, based on the number of votes received. Let Ben Franklin tell you all about the video challenge

Have an artistic bent? Check out the Art Fridge Contest. Those actively promoting the campaign are invited to submit a decorated refrigerator or refrigerator door by July 15 for the 2008 ENERGY STAR Recycle My Old Fridge Campaign’s national Fridge Art Exhibition. Three top entries will win a trip to D.C. to be exhibited at the campaign celebration in September. Once again, Ben knows all about it –

Led by the U.S. Department of Energy, the ENERGY STAR Recycle My Old Fridge Campaign encourages consumers to recycle old, inefficient refrigerators and, when needed, replace them with new ENERGY STAR qualified models, which are at least 20 percent more energy efficient than the minimum federal standard.

To learn more about the campaign, the Art Fridge Contest and the Video Challenge, visit or contact


Friday, May 30, 2008

Mars Had Water, But Could It Sustain Life?

No longer are we debating the fact that there was at one time water on Mars, but could it have sustained life? "If Martian life had to contend with the conditions we found, it certainly would have had a tough time," said Nicholas Tosca, a Harvard University geochemist who used data collected by the Mars rover Opportunity and other probes. "If there is a window of life to survive on Mars, it's probably pushed back to when the planet was very young," Tosca told Discovery News. "From what we know about the origins of life on Earth, an acid pH and high salinity might not have worked so well for the evolution of life on Mars,". It will be interesting to see if the arctic adventures of the recently landed Phoenix mission change these finding in any way... more data please.

Stonehenge A Royal Burial Ground - Archaeologist

Radiocarbon dating of cremated bodies excavated from Stonehenge put the bodies on the site some 500 years before the first stone was laid. Burials continued until the last stone was erected according to British archaeologists. "It was clearly a special place at that time," said archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield. "One has to assume that anyone buried there had some good credentials." Another indication of status is the fact that few objects were found with the remains. "One significant discovery, however, was a mace made of stone. Such maces have long been a symbol of authority in Britain, and even now Parliament has its own mace." according this LA Times article. Interesting read, hope to catch the TV special "Stonehenge Decoded,"

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dell Entering Netbook Market

A BBC article citing Gizmodo as a source is reporting that Dell is about to enter the Netbook market, a market that is being driven in larger part by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, the success of the Asus Eee PC and the availability of low-cost and low power consumption chips designed just for such devices. "I've not seen energy like this from our customers in a long, long time," said Intel chief executive Paul Otellini to The Associated Press.

All of the usual suspects seem to be lining up to enter the market for netbooks and Dell is no exception, it would appear. Microsoft recently announced it would be selling XP for sub-notebooks at a price of just $32, keeping the OS alive to stave off competition from linux. HP and Acer are both coming out with low power machines and Asus believes it will sell almost two million linux powered Eee PCs in the first half of this year. While I've seen the OLPC laptop, and it's cute, I'm not apt to purchase one for my own use. The Eee PC, and potentially others like it, are a little more appealing for certain applications however... such as blogging on the go!

Segway Inventor To Unveil His Latest Invention

Dean Kamen is at the D: All Things Digital conference to unveil his latest invention, a new kind of artificial arm that he says is vastly superior to existing prosthetics according to Ina Fried's Beyond Binary blog. His new limb provides a greater range of motion, and apparently with just two days of training, Kamen told Fried, "... a soldier that lost both arms in Iraq was able to use the prosthetics to disassemble and then reassemble an M-16 rifle." If you've ever marveled at the beauty of the segway, like I have, you're likely to be imagining something very special in these new prosthetics.

NASA Rushes Parts To Shuttle For ISS Toilet Repairs

I guess jiggling the handle will not fix the problem, and when you are confined to the close quarters of the International Space Station(ISS) the last thing you want is a misbehaving toilet. The Russian made toilet has apparently been acting up for weeks and a pump within it had been bypassed by the crew aboard. NASA has sent an employee from Russia to Florida with a replacement 1½-foot-long pump and related hardware, packed in a diplomatic pouch and carried on board a commercial jetliner as carry on luggage. The parts will fly to the ISS on board the Shuttle Discovery, taking the place of some wrenches, a spare part for the station's oxygen generator, and a microbe-killing device used in the European space lab, as space aboard the shuttle is limited. "Clearly, having a working toilet is a priority for us, so some of these things that we didn't need for the next six months or so could wait," said payload manager Scott Higginbotham. Interestingly, not scrapped is a Disney action figure, Buzz Lightyear, who is going "to infinity and beyond" aboard Discovery as part of an educational program for math and science teachers and their students. CNN story here.

NASA Employee Suspended Over Blog Posts - Emails

NASA has suspended an employee who solicited donations, wrote politically partisan blog posts and sent e-mail messages while at work. Doing so has put the employee in violation of the US gov't Hatch Act and means a suspension of 180 days without pay. “Today, modern office technology multiplies the opportunities for employees to abuse their positions and — as in this serious case — to be penalized, even removed from their job, with just a few clicks of a mouse,” said Special Counsel Scott Bloch. Federal Computer Week article here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Windows 7 Will Be Touch Enabled - Gates

According to Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, Windows 7 will start the revolution that drastically changes the way we interact with our computers, employing a fingertip interface among other improvements. According to Gates, "Today almost all the interaction is keyboard-mouse. Over years to come, the role of speech, vision, ink - all of those things - will be huge." Windows 7 is scheduled to release in 2009, not a moment too soon for many users who have given Vista the cold shoulder, though Ballmer says Microsoft has shipped 150 million copies. Gates who was speaking at the All Things Digital conference in San Diego says "The way you interact with the system will change dramatically," While Windows product manager Chris Flores has recently written in a blog post that "Touch is quickly becoming a common way of interacting with software and devices," and that "Touch-enabled surfaces are popping up everywhere including laptop touch pads, cell phones, remote controls, GPS devices and more." Not sure what impact this will have on emerging products like the Surface PC, seems like that becomes a little obsolete if all new PCs will be touch enabled, but you can't deny the appeal of the touch interface. BBC story here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ottawa Net Neutrality Rally Today - 11:30 a.m. ET

Hundreds of protesters will descend on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday in an attempt to convince government to take action and keep the Internet free from interference by service providers. At issue is the practice of slowing down Internet speeds of customers using certain applications such as peer-to-peer software used for file sharing. Bell Canada Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc., Canada's largest Internet Service Providers, as well as other large ISPs have begun to "throttle" access to certain users, because they say a small percentage of customers are abusing peer-to-peer applications and causing network congestion.

According to the CBC "Protesters will urge Industry Minister Jim Prentice and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to enact rules that prevent ISPs from discriminating between different types of traffic, and to force more transparency from the providers." and among the groups planning to attend the rally are:
  • The National Union of Public and General Employees.
  • The Canadian Union of Public Employees.
  • The Campaign for Democratic Media.
  • The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.
  • The Council of Canadians.
If you are in the Ottawa area, get out there and show your support!

India Demands Research In Motion Assist In Cracking Encrypted Messages

The Government of India is demanding that Research In Motion (RIM) provide it with the company's master encryption key so that it can decrypt suspicious text messages sent via Blackberries. RIM is quoted in the Times of India as saying "The Blackberry security architecture for enterprise customers is purposefully designed to exclude the capability for Research in Motion (RIM) or any third party to read encrypted information under any circumstances," According to this BBC report " The country has only about 115,000 Blackberry customers at the moment, but it is a rapidly growing market." Indian authorities are said to have been reluctant to allow the widespread use of Blackberries in the country for fear that militant and criminal elements will take advantage of the secure system. This is likely a concern in many countries where the government is challenged by threat of violence however the company has a responsibility to it's customers as well, where exactly does it make sense to cross this fine line?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Images From Mars

The University of Arizona, a partner with NASA on the Phoenix Mars Mission has a great website with the first images sent home from Phoenix. Check it out here. Very detailed, but only black and white, so far.

Phoenix Touches Down

A Signal relayed via the Mars Odyssey orbiter has indicated to NASA that the Phoenix Mars Lander has touched down on the red planet's polar region. The landing of Phoenix was a huge relief for scientists as Mars has a reputation of devouring space craft, the successful landing means they are now batting .500 with 6 of 12 attempts a success. The initial signal only indicated a touchdown however and news of condition of the craft would have to wait for subsequent passes of the orbiter over the landing site.

The Phoenix is a robotic science lab on a 90-day mission to dig into the ice-rich soil and study the planet's frozen water for evidence of carbon-containing chemicals. It is also designed to monitor the planet's arctic-region weather from the surface.

Congratulations Phoenix team on surviving the "7 minutes of terror"! We look forward to the images you send back to us on the blue planet.

CBC story here.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Biggest Drawing In The World

One of the things that I love, and hate, about the web is the odd destinations that you end up at when you start out looking for something completely different. Today I happened upon a sight that chronicles the delivery of a brief case filled with a gps unit that, according to the story, was handed off to DHL with explicit delivery instructions that when plotted on the map creates a self portrait image of the artist Erik Nordenankar. I'm not sure whether or not to truly believe this, but I suppose stranger things have happened in the name of art, you can judge for yourself. It just seems to me that the path, particularly over water, seems a bit sketchy... pardon the pun. It's quite the feat if indeed it happened as told...

An Interesting Read - Insight Into Phoenix Mission

As the Phoenix Mars Lander readies for the final approach and "7 minutes of terror" the geek in me needs to know more... surfed on over to NASA and the mission website to find some great images and a video walk through of the seven minutes, it's easy to see why the engineers are so concerned. A great find however is the Phoenix landing blog that started May 19th and has been updated by mission specialists ever since. The blog is a first had account of what is going on inside the project team and what's been happening with the vehicle as it approaches Mars and readies for landing. Consider this, it takes a signal from Mars 10 minutes to reach earth, the landing is over in 7 minutes, therefore the vehicle must be able to make all of it's own decisions regarding it's decent... it's on it's own. Good luck Phoenix!