The Forces of Nature – “Paradise and Hell”.

As the casualties continue to mount after the great Indian Ocean tsunami, with entire families and villages swept away, I found the words of Lars Collmar, a Lutheran pastor at Stockholm’s Adolf Fredriks Church on Wednesday night instructive. “Slowly it is coming to us that we have been hit by a tremendous catastrophe. We live in a world which is at the same time paradise and hell.”

And nature, which gives us so much, also shows us how easily things can be taken away. I wish everyone saddened by this tragedy peace of mind, comfort and closure in the coming year.

I Think I Forgot to Duck

This little item just in from Space Daily. Seems a little 5 meter wide asteroid called 2004 YD5 zoomed “just under the orbits of geostationary satellites, which at 22,300 miles (36,000 kilometers) altitude are the highest manmade objects circling Earth” and no one noticed until after it had passed by. Turns out it approached sunward (right in our blind spot), flew over Antarctica, and continued merrily on its way. Astronomers spotted it after it had passed us by.

Did anyone remember to duck?

Fun Friday: Kuiper Airborn Observatory and SOFIA, Sun Fun, and Intel Bails Out Again

Wow, such a busy Friday. On the humorous side, Sun president Jonathan Schwartz is free to call Hewlett-Packard’s HP-UX a “dying operating system” because HP-UX really is a dying operating system. At least, that’s what Sun said back to HP when they whined about Sun picking on them. Maybe I’d be sympathetic if HP was the size of a one-man op, but last I heard they’re a big fat corporation. Talk about not being able to take a taunt…

On the pleasant side, this “candy dish” mirror was unveiled as the “Astronomy Picture of the Day” today. Does anybody remember NASA’s Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO)? It was a 1m IR telescope mounted on a C-141 that flew out of NASA Ames for about 20 years, ending in the late 1990s. Well, its successor is this telescope mirror destined to fly on the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Turns out William Jolitz has a lot of memories of the Kuiper mirror, as he worked on it when he worked at NASA as part of the NASA-Ames work-study program while he was a student at Lynbrook High School (before he went on to Berkeley). For some good inside stories, check out Memory – Mirror for Kuiper Airborn Observatory as a homage to all those great people who worked on this earlier project.

Finally, looks like Intel has cancelled a major chip for flat screen TVs that was their flagship consumer electronics semiconductor project. This after killing the 4 GHz pentium 4 last week. Looks like Intel President Paul Otellini is reevaluating some of his predecessor’s projects.

Attention WalMart Shoppers – You Can Find Linux Computers Next to the Ironing Boards

David Einstein’s review pans the WalMart Linux PC, and deservedly so. With a slow processor, small disk drive, miserly memory, and no monitor, for $300 you could get a lot more system building it yourself. Admittedly, the kind of shopper WalMart is selling a Linux PC to is probably not “top drawer” when it comes to computers, so it may seem a good enough “bargain” to them. But it is a bad bargain nonetheless.

David is correct in noting that Linux / Unix systems don’t support as much software as Windows, especially for certain apps like Quicken, and support for printers like Epson has always been difficult. This is why the stats say 80% of the aftermarket Linux PCs have bootleg windows copies placed on them over Linux in Asia. This is to be expected as legacy apps are converted. In the meantime, it’s hard to compensate with open source without expert assistance, as in a company.

But it can be done. And here’s how to do it.

Girls Just Want to Have Astro Fun

I was out of the office teaching what’s hot in astrophysics much of this week to a wonderful audience – the best and brightest middle school girls in science in California. The American Association of University Women of California (AAUW) sponsored a one week summer program for young women at Stanford University called “Tech Trek Science, Math, & Computer Camp” on July 11-17 2004. There were 125 seventh graders attending from all over California this year – all vital and curious.

I put together a presentation on current topics in astronomy and astrophysics. It’s a great time for a girl to consider this area as a career, with the Rutan’s SpaceShip One and the robotics successes of Spirit and Opportunity. Plus, as I mentioned in my presentation, there is very little gender discrimination in the field – in other words, equal pay and equal work is the norm in physics and astronomy, plus many mixed teams and interesting projects.

Let’s Arm Wrestle for Sniffing that Rock

Went over the PARC yesterday to hear Kanna Rajan of the Computational Sciences Division of the NASA Ames Research Center discuss “From Interplanetary Cruise to the Surface of Mars – The Challenges of infusing AI in Space”.

Integrating AI into anything has always been a tough proposition, because the generalized systems solutions are always in search of a problem that can’t be solved by breaking down the problem into simpler components or by the use of sheer massive computational grit. So it was interesting to hear it used – not for complicated analysis of navigation in spaceflight, for example, as intended but instead to resolve scheduling disputes between teams sharing time on an interplanetary robot by using a “mission-critical AI application on a NASA science mission”.

California, Missions, and Astronomy…

One of the nice things about Silicon Valley is the plethera of colleges and universities who offer all kinds of unusual lectures. Where else but here would we get to hear a talk combining, for example, astronomy, ancient cultures, and the California Missions?

My 4th grade daughter, an amateur astronomer, also did a California missions project this year as mandated for all California elementary students. She did a movie on Mission San Jose, a walking tour through the recently renovated mission describing all of it’s interesting history and features. One viewer said she was the “next Sister Wendy”.

The Perfect Eye

Well, just for fun we followed Autumn along as she entered and competed in the Synopsys Science and Technology Championship with her project The Perfect Eye and created a little video on the science fair experience and at Great America for the ceremonies.

Since the project had the interest of some people in the San Jose Astronomy Association, a little notice on a local astronomy list mentioned the vid – and then the traffic started. Within one minute of posting, people were clicking and watching – thousands of views in less than a week, many repeat complete views. I had to allocate more bandwidth.

I guess everyone loves a science fair.