Archive for December, 2005

Spaceport Sheboygan

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

This is a great story from the WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL:

Cooking a tasty brat is not rocket science.

So forgive me, Sheboygan, if I laughed when I first heard your plans for space travel.

Then I remembered that people in your fine city actually surf in Lake Michigan when the waves kick up each winter. That takes at least as much guts as blasting in a tin can past the stratosphere.

And then I remembered that the moon is made out of cheese, a Wisconsin specialty.

So maybe a Sheboygan space odyssey isn’t so far-out after all?

In case you missed it, state Sen. Joe Liebham, R-Sheboygan, has launched legislation at the state Capitol to create the Wisconsin Aerospace Authority. His bill, SB 352, would seek federal money for “Spaceport Sheboygan,” a launch pad in Brat Land for commercial satellites and, eventually, private spaceships carrying tourists.

At a minimum, I have to give Liebham credit for “thinking outside the bun” about Sheboygan’s and Wisconsin’s long-term economic futures. Most politicians don’t think past the next election. Liebham is literally shooting for the stars.

Yet Liebham had to know his proposal would draw snickers. Sure, hundreds of Midwestern high school science students annually meet in Sheboygan to shoot 8-foot-tall rockets over Lake Michigan. But rockets with people on them?

Skeptics might stamp Liebham’s idea as a clever grab for federal money. Remember the $223 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska. Remember the $50 million indoor rainforest for Iowa?

This might be another boondoggle. Or maybe, just maybe, Liebham is on to something.

Sheboygan, like Cape Canaveral in Florida, sits on the western edge of a large body of water. Booster rockets could fall into Lake Michigan as innocently as rockets from the space shuttles fall into the Atlantic Ocean.

UW-Madison, with ties to NASA, could help with technical know-how. And Oshkosh’s nearby EAA AirVenture fly-in could help draw visitors.

Sheboygan also lacks a major airport, limiting air traffic. In fact, a good chunk of Lake Michigan airspace is restricted.

George French, president of the Oklahoma-based company Rocketplane, recently testified at the state Capitol in Madison that Sheboygan is suitable for space launches.

According to French’s Web site,, his company has created “a sub-orbital spacecraft that will launch civilian astronauts more than 330,000 feet above Earth’s atmosphere.”

They even throw in a hearty meal! “Your day begins with a special astronaut breakfast,” the Web pitch begins.

Eggs and hash browns would be the last thing on my mind minutes before blastoff. But the pitch gets better: “As the engines cut off at 175,000 feet and you silently coast upward to peak altitude, you look out the window and are presented with the spectacular view of Earth. You feel the sensation of weightlessness.”

The Web site suggests the flights will start in 2007 – in Oklahoma, not Sheboygan.

Yet a group of Sheboygan business leaders hopes to raise millions in public and private dollars to turn a more than 60-year-old Sheboygan armory into a space tourism complex.

The bottom line, of course, will be money. Just how much will state taxpayers be asked to float on the spacey idea. Even if taxpayers are merely asked to back up borrowed money to get the project off the ground, that might be a tough sell.

Then again, Wisconsin could proudly launch the first brat into space. It would have to be a Sheboygan brat, of course, simmered in beer, chopped onions and butter, cooked on a grill and tucked into a hard roll.

Add that to Rocketplane’s in- flight meal, and I just might sign up. All I’d need is $200,000 and some ketchup.

Handheld Time Machine? Cool.

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

LG Electronics has announced the launch of the world’s first ‘Time Machine satellite DMB handset, LG-SB130/KB1300. The ‘Time Machine TV Phone’ is equipped with the ‘Time Machine’ function so that users can continue watching TV without pausing even when they receive an incoming phone call or are abruptly interrupted. ‘Time Machine’ technology enables users to record the program while receiving calls and play the recorded program back at a later time. The ‘Time Machine’ function can operate up to 60 minutes.

With the LG-SB130/KB1300, users can watch TV for a maximum of 3 hours as the model is equipped with a low-power consuming TV receiving chip developed by LG. It also supports multi-tasking features including calling or messaging while watching TV and capturing the screen image of a TV program by using the camera button.

The ‘Time Machine TV Phone’ provides the best quality picture as it is a true abstract of LG’s world-class technology in a digital TV format. The model is equipped with a Mobile-XD Engine, a mobile chip which improves the quality of the picture, and a 2.2 inch QVGA(256×320) LCD. Moreover, its swing T style form factor provides convenience for users to watch TV even when using with only one hand. The model also supports 3D sound and has various multimedia features such as auto-focus 3 mega-pixel camera and MP3 with more than 300MB memory capacity. With its TV-Out feature, users can watch pictures and motion-pictures taken by the handset on TV as well.

“The World’s First ‘Time Machine TV Phone’ is a perfect combination of state of the art digital TV and handset technologies. We will maintain the leadership in the DMB market by developing products that fully reflect our customers’ needs,” said Mr. SUNG HA CHO, LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company.

Best Space Pictures of 2005?

Friday, December 16th, 2005

See for yourself and vote for you favorites at

How many broadcast stations are there in the U.S.?

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

Periodically the FCC releases a count of the number of broadcast stations licensed in the United States. Last week’s Broadcast Station Totals as of Sept. 30, 2005 shows a total of 1,034 UHF TV stations and 715 VHF TV stations. The FCC listed a total of 593 Class A TV stations (485 UHF and 108 VHF), a total of 2,117 LPTV stations (1,621 UHF and 496 VHF), and 4,503 TV translators (2,678 UHF and 1,825 VHF).

After adding in AM operations, along with FM full-power, low-power and translator stations, the count reveals a total of 27,079 licensed broadcast stations as of Sept. 30, 2005. It should be noted that DTV stations are not counted as separate licenses, so although a TV station may be transmitting on two channels, it is counted as only one station.

NORAD is on the watch

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

Tracking Santa has never been so high-tech from
It’s a Christmas tradition that many parents of inquisitive children have come to appreciate immensely, and an opportunity for the U.S. military to show its softer side to the public. Best of all for taxpayers, though, is that corporate tie-ups and volunteering efforts make tracking down Santa relatively cost-free for the government’s coffers.


Astronomers Use Hubble To ‘Weigh’ Dog Star’s Companion

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

For astronomers, it’s always been a source of frustration that the nearest white-dwarf star is buried in the glow of the brightest star in the nighttime sky. This burned-out stellar remnant is a faint companion of the brilliant blue-white Dog Star, Sirius, located in the winter constellation Canis Major.

Now, an international team of astronomers has used the keen eye of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to isolate the light from the white dwarf, called Sirius B. The new results allow them to measure precisely the white dwarf’s mass based on how its intense gravitational field alters the wavelengths of light emitted by the star.
“Studying Sirius B has challenged astronomers for more than 140 years,” said Martin Barstow of the University of Leicester, U.K., who is the leader of the observing team. “Only with Hubble have we at last been able to obtain the observations we need, uncontaminated by the light from Sirius, in order to measure its change in wavelengths.”

“Accurately determining the masses of white dwarfs is fundamentally important to understanding stellar evolution. Our Sun will eventually become a white dwarf. White dwarfs are also the source of Type Ia supernova explosions that are used to measure cosmological distances and the expansion rate of the universe. Measurements based on Type Ia supernovae are fundamental to understanding ‘dark energy,’ a dominant repulsive force stretching the universe apart. Also, the method used to determine the white dwarf’s mass relies on one of the key predictions of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity; that light loses energy when it attempts to escape the gravity of a compact star.”
Sirius B has a diameter of 12,000 kilometres, less than the size of Earth, but is much denser. Its powerful gravitational field is 350,000 times greater than Earth’s, meaning that a 68 kilogram person would weigh 25 million kilograms standing on its surface. Light from the surface of the hot white dwarf has to climb out of this gravitational field and is stretched to longer, redder wavelengths of light in the process. This effect, predicted by Einstein’s theory of General Relativity in 1916, is called gravitational redshift, and is most easily seen in dense, massive, and hence compact objects whose intense gravitational fields warp space near their surfaces.

Based on the Hubble measurements of the redshift, made with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, the team found that Sirius B has a mass that is 98 percent that of our own Sun. Sirius itself has a mass of two times that of the Sun and a diameter of 2.4 million kilometres.

White dwarfs are the leftover remnants of stars similar to our Sun. They have exhausted their nuclear fuel sources and have collapsed down to a very small size. Despite being the brightest white dwarf known, Sirius B is about 10,000 times fainter than Sirius itself, making it difficult to study with telescopes on the Earth’s surface because its light is swamped in the glare of its brighter companion. Astronomers have long relied on a fundamental theoretical relationship between the mass of a white dwarf and its diameter. The theory predicts that the more massive a white dwarf, the smaller its diameter. The precise measurement of Sirius B’s gravitational redshift allows an important observational test of this key relationship.

The Hubble observations have also refined the measurement of Sirius B’s surface temperature to be 25,000 degrees C. Sirius itself has a surface temperature of 10,000 degrees C.

At 8.6 light-years away, Sirius is one of the nearest known stars to Earth. Stargazers have watched Sirius since antiquity. Its diminutive companion, however, was not discovered until 1862, when it was first glimpsed by astronomers examining Sirius through one of the most powerful telescopes of that time.

Source:ESA/Hubble Information Centre
Date: 2005-12-14

Robbie the Robot Works at Purdue University

Tuesday, December 13th, 2005

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A new resident of the Math Sciences Building is supporting the sophisticated data-storage needs of researchers at Purdue University and helping to establish the institution among the nation’s supercomputing elite.

“Robbie the Robot,” named for the mechanical star of the 1950s sci-fi classic “Forbidden Planet,” is a cutting-edge, automated storage and retrieval system that will enable vast amounts of data to be seamlessly archived and quickly located for researchers’ use.

The $1 million robot system has the capacity to store up to 1 petabyte of data.

“To put this in context, one petabyte equals 1,000 terabytes,” says Dwight McKay, director of systems engineering with Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP). “The U.S. Library of Congress contains approximately 10 terabytes of data, and our capacity is about 100 times that amount.

“That is substantial considering all the Internet content in existence is estimated to be 8 petabytes. This system brings Purdue up to the kind of data storage that other large, high-performance computing centers have.”

This initiative is part of ITaP’s ongoing efforts to upgrade high-performance computing capabilities.

“We’ve been actively expanding our resources to attract researchers to Purdue, and this robot system is one of the tools to help us become competitive at the national level of supercomputing,” McKay says.

This is especially needed to support the new Cyber Center for supercomputing that was announced last summer as part of Discovery Park, the university’s multidisciplinary research center.

“Researchers are coming to Purdue and bringing their very large data sets with them,” says Mike Marsh, senior engineer in the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing. “With this system, we have the ability to capture that data in our library and have it automatically available to them, and that’s a big advantage.”

The robot also will enable more researchers to move toward mining data collected from multiple, sophisticated simulations. Some of the current research that will benefit includes climatology modeling and structural biology.

“These researchers have large computations and simulations, as well as large data sets,” McKay says. “This is the tool they need to be effective in doing this kind of science.”

McKay and his team monitor researchers’ use of and needs for the system, which is in the testing phase and set to be operational in the spring. Through a user group, ITaP is able to gather feedback and adjust to the needs of researchers.

“We’re a partnership with researchers,” McKay says. “We are familiar with their labs so we see how we can help and what kinds of resources they need.”

The tape robot device is part of a hierarchical storage-management system that consists of a server computer attached to the robotic tape mechanism, all within a 6-by-20-foot space. It uses extremely fast, fiber-channel technology. The software on the server conveys to users that their data is online and available when they request it.

Behind the scenes and within about 10 seconds, the robotic arm – which resembles those used in automobile manufacturing – moves along a hallway of shelves storing data tapes to select and then load the requested data into the computer for researchers to access. Data that isn’t being requested can be moved onto tapes for storage until it’s needed. The entire process is lightning fast and carefully controlled by sophisticated sensors, Marsh says.

“Robbie” represents the third generation of such robots on campus.

“We’ve had similar, but much smaller, systems in the past,” McKay says. “In this generation, we’ve added a significant piece of hardware with very large storage capability for archiving data and supporting data-intensive science.”

The previous tape-storage robot – in use at Purdue since 1996 – could hold up to 60 terabytes of data on about 960 tapes with 15 tape drives that could each transfer 11 megabytes of data per second.

“Robbie” represents a quantum leap ahead, McKay says.

The new robot – an ADIC model using LTO-2 tape drives – has 5,400 tape slots and 36 drives that can each transfer 40 megabytes of data per second.

This type of system can be found at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Social Security Administration, national research labs and very large insurance companies – not many universities

“These systems are expensive, physically large and require high-level staff to operate,” Marsh says. “This robot is putting Purdue ahead of the curve.”

The system can easily be doubled in size to two petabytes with additional tape drives. It also can accommodate 11 different models of tape drives from four different manufacturers, and many of the parts are engineered to be “hot-swappable” and redundant, which makes the system more flexible and able to stay online during maintenance.

“We can replace failed power supplies or tape drives while the library continues to run, which keeps the system available to researchers at all times,” Marsh says.

The system operates 24 hours a day, providing continuous backup and automatic downloading to researchers. The old robot system will be online for about a year while its data is migrated to the new system.

Marsh says the new system also provides more efficiency in meeting government requirements for storage of sensitive data.

“It’s critical that data be backed up in a separate location in case of natural disaster,” he says. “With this system, it will be possible to locate another robot system elsewhere, like Indianapolis, and duplicate critical data in that remote location.”

While “Robbie” is putting Purdue in the upper echelon of supercomputing, tape-storage needs will continue to become more sophisticated.

“One exabyte is 1,000 petabytes, and it’s estimated that a 5-exabyte library would be able to store all the words ever uttered by every person who has ever lived since the origin of our species,” Marsh says. “We should have libraries capable of storing an exabyte of data within the next several years.”

Writer: Amy Page Christiansen, (765) 463-2644, [email protected]

Sources: Mike Marsh, (765) 496-8240, [email protected]

Dwight McKay, (765) 494-4481, [email protected]

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; [email protected]


NASA readies for 3D view of the sun

Tuesday, December 13th, 2005

NASA readies for 3D view of the sun

By Stefanie Olsen


Story last modified Tue Dec 13 04:00:00 PST 2005

Studies of solar magnetic storms, the solar system’s most violent explosions, will soon come in “stereo.”

Two nearly identical robotic spacecraft known as Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatories (or STEREO) are in development and testing by NASA to capture high-definition 3D images of the sun and solar wind–the first-ever stereoscopic measurements of the sun’s explosions.

NASA expects to launch the two-year mission this spring after it completes testing of the crafts at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland this winter.

The $520 million project is the next frontier for scientists observing the sun and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), powerful solar eruptions that can disrupt the protective magnetic field surrounding Earth, as well as the general environment in space. Related to solar flares (scientists still don’t know which come first), CMEs can pack a punch equivalent to a billion megaton nuclear bombs.

Showing Photographs of the Trees You Love

Monday, December 12th, 2005

If the 12 drinking days of Christmas have you behind on your holiday shopping, consider purchasing a tree in the Amazon rainforest. A British company is promoting the conservation measure with a cool satellite twist:

This ‘go green for late Christmas presents’ idea is promoted by secure email provider, Link Information Systems, which is looking to save 1,000,000 trees before 31 December, 2005…

Amazon rainforest trees make a highly unusual but considerate gift. On the Greenmail website, the trees cost £1 each and as few as five can be bought at any time. In other words, the cost isn’t much more than a Christmas card, which actually uses up paper and therefore reduces trees. The recipient gets a certificate of ownership and can view their trees by satellite.

Viewing the tree by satellite– a vast improvement over the certificate of ownership I have for my property on the moon….

2005 TDDoC

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

Ahhhhh, darkness at 4:30, freezing cold air, the sweet melodies of frequent noseblows, and inescapable Christmas music in every nook and cranny of the face of the earth….it must mean….it’s time for….


LOCATION: Day 1: cb’s aka Charlie Brown’s on Route 1 in West Windsor NJ.

Note: Day 2 advanced warning due to extra travel: New Brunswick

Now for the details. For those that are new to the TTDDoC, I’ve included
the following Guidelines. For those that are familiar with the TTDDoC format,
you may still want to re-acquaint yourself. It’s not as easy as riding a bike.

1. For the purpose of the Festival, working days in which you could
drink AFTER WORK are considered “Drinking Days”. (I know that the term
“Drinking Days” causes some controversy every year as it is easily and often argued
that every day is a “Drinking Day”). Traditionally the Festival begins on
the date that allows 12 “Drinking Days” to occur prior to Christmas
Day – This year it’s the 8th of December. Unlike other chapters throughout the country (especially those in the greater San Jose area), there will be no special exceptions due to plant closings, postal holidays, moon/earth alignments or other such nonsense. The twelfth day of the event will as always occur on Dec. 24 (unless otherwise dictated by non-democratic mandate, such as this year).

2. Attendance is scored by showing up and drinking with your friends,
colleagues, soon-to-be-friends, and assorted annoying bores. Any action to discourage someone from showing up simply because they have bad breath, poor eating manners, or are a pompous ass is severely frowned upon. This is good fodder for the stats (see guideline # 7). However, unwillingness to imbibe can of course be held as a strike against any otherwise worthy candidate.

Tradition has it that there is a one-drink minimum to be awarded a Point. Anyone on travel during The 12 Days & gathering in the spirit of The 12 Days will, of course, be considered participants if they 1) are actually drinking and 2) submit Stats. Phoning in alone does not enable point awardance but is highly encouraged to aid the home team in stats preparation. Drinking by yourself does not count, and drinking with some casual loser work friend if that loser is not involved in the larger effort does not count either. If you want a point for drinking with that casual loser work friend, you will need to drag them out to multiple mainstream TTDDoC events in order for your miserable time with
them to count. If you choose not to imbibe, NO POINT FOR YOU, however, we’d still like to see you out. Whoever has the highest Tally of Points
on Day Twelve will be awarded a coveted TDDoC trophy, and, as always, be obligated to abuse those that fell short in their quest to be the champion for their lameness. Never mind that
said trophy has NEVER been awarded. It sounds good on paper.

Far and away the most significant value of the point system is to incur
repeated heated discussions, fisticuffs, and “airing of the grievances”.
Please keep this in mind and argue about points that you “should have had”
as often as possible.

3. Any adult-beverages consumed outside these events (weekends, from
the bottom-drawer at work, at breakfast.. .) is regarded as Practice for
The 12 Days and will not be scored. However, as in any hard-core sporting event, practice
is highly encouraged.

4. Events are to be held in a different pathetic central NJ establishment
each of The 12 Days. Suggestions for events at further-away locations are, as always, highly encouraged, and yet, as always, highly unlikely.

5. Invitees are by no means limited to those addressed in this initial
distribution. This is an open invitation. Any stiff that you can drag out is more than welcome. Participants should also encourage breakout chapters in other sections of the country. Once again, the San Jose CA and Dulles VA chapters will also be in full working order.

6. Family events, work parties, watching Alf re-runs, having to “wash
your hair” that night, spending time with loved ones, etc. are to be
considered POOR excuses for missing TDDoC events. These may be important during
other parts of the year but during the TDDoC festivities, please try to focus on
what is really important, i.e. “Where are we drinking tonight?”.

7. Which brings us to the daily Stats.

a) Stats are to be published the following day, with enough time to
prepare for that day’s event (i.e. before/during lunch), by an elected or forced stat-writer. This
responsibility traditionally rotates between participants. Amendments
and/or additions to the original published Stats are not only welcome but,
in fact, encouraged (Different points of view can be awfully amusing). HOWEVER, rebuttals should stick to the general topic of TDDoC and the stats. Using the distribution list for sharing of personal jokes, “cool” newspaper articles, and/or naked pictures of one’s own butt are highly discouraged and the author will be placed on distribution for every internet junk e-mail list possible.
b)The Stats have generally been a free-form record – Including, but
not limited to, the night’s activities (should at least cover the basics,
where when who etc), discussion topics (politics, sports, fashion, WHATEVER),
liquids consumed (cooking/dipping oils and food condiment consumption are
especially welcome here) and any patriotic songs sung.
c)Include an announcement/proposal as to where the next night’s gathering
is to be.
d)And the running Point Tally.
e)Stats are an ideal forum to introduce Suggested Topics for that night’s
discussion. Throw out a topic or two you (the scribe) would like to see
tabled during the night’s activities. This of course may (and likely will) be completely
f)Stats of course need not be true!! Embellishment and downright manufacture of the details is
highly encouraged!
g) Note: Use of the word “scribe” itself is highly discouraged in East Coast chapters.

8. WHYYY?? call: It is standard for the first person who shows at that night’s event to vent their frustration from having to sit at the bar by themselves like a huge loser by calling another participant on their cell phone and yelling “WHY????” into the phone, which is of course short for “WHY am I drinking alone?”. Per custom, it is encouraged to then hang up the phone prior to allowing the recipient of the phone call to respond in any manner. No special bonuses are awarded for this other than the personal satisfaction of taking out your societal anger on an unsuspecting other party.

9. Contests, competitions, shenanigans: Contests such as no-repeat beer quest (not repeating a brand/style of beer for the entire 12 days), no-repeat tequila shots, drinking your drink out of another’s shoe, duels at 20 paces, and of course footraces are highly encouraged.

10. Alleged celebrity sightings: Always encouraged, always highly unlikely. I believe that there has been only a single alleged celebrity sighting in the history of the TDDoC: the alleged sighting of Lilleth from Cheers in the Main Street Bistro circa 1999. Please try for more, and if encountered do your best to engage them in either (1) drinking heavily or (2) mean-spirited fisticuffs.

11. (New for 2005) Hard liquor of the day: The first person at the bar (or first person that cares to do so) is encouraged to name a hard liquor of the day, and all are encouraged to imbibe in said liquor at some point during the evening, be it in a mixed drink, shot, straight up, or pouring it over one’s own head. Shouts of “ALRIGHT, WHERE’S THE HARD LIQUOR?” (copyright The Thomas E. Hawker Foundation) should of course accompany said activity.

So, without further adieu, clear out your calendar and load up your office desk drawer with hangover remedies!!

For more information on responsible decision-making regarding beverage alcohol consumption, go to