Archive for July, 2007

It Fell Out of the Sky in Bayonne

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

We’ve seen meteors in New Jersey before, but this is something else. This crashed through a roof in Bayonne and people thought is was space junk, or part of a commercial jet.



The folks at local news radio 1010 WINS explain:

Object That Fell Through Bayonne Roof Identified

BAYONNE, N.J. (AP)  — It didn’t take a rocket scientist to solve the mystery of what it was that fell through the roof of a Bayonne home Tuesday, though some had wondered if it was part of a space craft.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters on Wednesday said the mystery metal was part of a commercial woodchipper.

For most of a day, the FAA, New Jersey Transit officials and others were scratching their heads about what the hunk of gray metal may have been.

The man who lives in the house was watching television Tuesday when he heard a crash and saw a cloud of dust. In the next room, he found a hunk of gray metal, 3{ inches by 5 inches, with two hexagonal holes in it.

Experts said it was manmade, but couldn’t identify it.

New Jersey Transit has railroad tracks about 100 feet from the house, but spokesman Dan Stessel said the object isn’t something that would have flown off a train.

FAA officials said it wasn’t a part that would have fallen from a plane headed into or out of nearby Newark Liberty International Airport.

A NASA scientist said it did not appear to be part of a spacecraft.

Peters said that when an FAA inspector took the piece back to his office Tuesday afternoon to work on the mystery, a colleague recognized the piece.

The same part from a different machine had caused similar confusion — though it did not get any publicity — last year. Peters said the inspector could not remember where in New Jersey the other one fell.

The part came from the grinder of a woodchipper. Peters said the piece moves very fast and, apparently, can launch into the air if something goes wrong. "Maybe we can use it as a new weapon,” he joked.


Bayonne is located just south of Jersey City and lies across Newark Bay and the Newark Liberty International Airport. The city even has it’s own bridge, to Staten Island


Slim and Sleek in Your New Spacesuit

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Back in March, we wrote about the efforts of scientists to build the next generation of spacesuits, and their goal of halving the 300-lb weight of current spacesuits and increasing mobility.

Now, however, Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, has a new "Biosuit" design that not only meets those requirements — but adds the all-important element of style.

 MIT News explains:

Newman is working on a sleek, advanced suit designed to allow superior mobility when humans eventually reach Mars or return to the moon. Her spandex and nylon BioSuit is not your grandfather’s spacesuit–think more Spiderman, less John Glenn….

Newman’s prototype suit is a revolutionary departure from the traditional model. Instead of using gas pressurization, which exerts a force on the astronaut’s body to protect it from the vacuum of space, the suit relies on mechanical counter-pressure, which involves wrapping tight layers of material around the body. The trick is to make a suit that is skintight but stretches with the body, allowing freedom of movement.

Over the past 40 years, spacesuits have gotten progressively heavier, and they now weigh in at about 300 pounds. That bulk — much of which is due to multiple layers and the life support system coupled with the gas-pressurization — severely constrains astronauts’ movements. About 70 to 80 percent of the energy they exert while wearing the suit goes towards simply working against the suit to bend it.

Working in a three hundred pound suit is only possible in a low-gravity environment. But if humans ever step foot on Mars, they’ll need lighter suits such as the one designed by Newman:

Key to their design is the pattern of lines on the suit, which correspond to lines of non-extension (lines on the skin that don’t extend when you move your leg). Those lines provide a stiff "skeleton" of structural support, while providing maximal mobility….

The suits could also help astronauts stay fit during the six-month journey to Mars. Studies have shown that astronauts lose up to 40 percent of their muscle strength in space, but the new outfits could be designed to offer varying resistance levels, allowing the astronauts to exercise against the suits during a long flight to Mars.

Perhaps most amazing is the Biosuit’s safety aspect:

[I]f a traditional spacesuit is punctured by a tiny meteorite or other object, the astronaut must return to the space station or home base immediately, before life-threatening decompression occurs. With the BioSuit, a small, isolated puncture can be wrapped much like a bandage, and the rest of the suit will be unaffected.

To get a full perspective of the complex requirements that must be met for a spacesuit to function safely in the hostile environment of space, check out this entry from Wikipedia. 


I want my Big Ten Network

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Higher taxes, decreased services, increased crime, atrocious construction—these are the issues that make city residents furious. But last December, absent these circumstances, I’ve never seen more rage in my pleasant home town of Madison, WI. Why? The Green Bay Packers were playing on the NFL Network and the local cable companies refused to carry the network. Listen to the radio or squeeze into an over-packed neighborhood bar — this was a decision Madisonians didn’t want to have to make.

This is a scenario that could play out again in Midwest sports towns, with the launch of the Big Ten Network (BTN) in August. BTN will air 35+ football games, 105+ Men’s basketball games, and 55+ Women’s basketball games a year, in addition to other sports and academic programming. The network currently has national agreements in place with DirecTV and AT&T but many cable operators are still holding-out. This includes Comcast, which responded to BTN sharply:

Indiana basketball fans don’t want to watch Iowa volleyball, but the Big Ten wants everyone to pay for their new network.

Now, BTN is turning to the grassroots to get Comcast and other providers to pay-up (link):

To get the Big Ten Network, Penn State fans should visit and enter your zip code, which will then provide a link to the cable providers in your area, as well as DirecTV and Dish Network, to make a request for them to carry the Big Ten Network.

Back to Madison, WI: cable-subscribing Badger fans are set to be in-the-dark when it comes to the BTN. And, while a lot of reader are outraged at Charter (the dominant local provider), one man is equally ticked-off at the Big Ten:

Commissioner Jim Delany needs to get real about charging Wisconsin fans millions of dollars to watch his new Big Ten Network — the second most expensive national cable channel in the country — which will air what sports columnists are now calling "fifth tier" sporting events such as nonconference tune-up football games and university swim meets.

In order to salvage the BTN into a profit-making venture, Delany says that he will try to migrate to his network many games from the ABC and ESPN networks, thus asking consumers to pay premium fees for many of the games they used to be able to see for free.

But moving the games to the expensive new channel could reduce revenues to our schools and dramatically hurt recruiting efforts. Many high school stars who don’t live in Big Ten states could be effectively shut out of viewing Big Ten games.

To be selfish: as a DC resident with the prospect of getting more Big Ten games out-of-market, I’ll be the first to say: I want my MTV Big Ten Network.





The New Television Situation in Germany

Monday, July 16th, 2007

We read this news clip couple of weeks ago how the German Federal Cartel Office (offically Bundeskartellamt) has again contradicted itself whether a "positive signal" for the planned entavio platform was ever given. The proposition to convert TV viewers to a digital platform in Germany has be mired in regulatory proceedings for a while.



Now it seems they’re ready to launch in September with Premiere, via press release (in German and French, too):

Pay-TV broadcaster Premiere has signed an agreement to use SES ASTRA’s digital satellite platform entavio in Germany. Starting on September 1, 2007, new Premiere customers will be offered the Premiere programmes also via entavio. With this agreement, entavio wins a first important pay-TV client for its technical services. entavio-enabled receivers will be widely available in the market.

The new agreement also improves SES ASTRA`s ability to offer all broadcasters access to more than 2.5 million Premiere and Premiere-enabled satellite receivers in German TV households. SES ASTRA will continue to offer this access to other programme operators on neutral and transparent terms. SES ASTRA thereby further increases the attractiveness of its service portfolio to broadcasters.

I believe entavio will gradually replace Premiere set-top boxes over time. Broadband TV News tells us we can expect additional pay-TV companies to come aboard:

The new thematic bouquet from German pay TV operator Premiere is taking shape. The platform, which will use the entavio encryption facilities of SES ASTRA, is close to signing deals with both the RTL Group and ProSiebenSat1 to carry their new thematic channels.

The two contracts would bring RTL Living, RTL Crime, Passion, SAT1 Comedy and kabel eins classics into the fold. Earlier this year a deal was signed with Turner Broadcasting to carry the German language versions of Cartoon Network, TCM and Boomerang.

The total number of channels on the September 1st launch date is going to be twenty. Also planned are a kids channels and thematic channels about literature, music (concerts) and adult entertainment.

Nice video introduction, in German:

See you!


DIY Friday: Camcorders

Friday, July 13th, 2007

If the thought of taking home-movies on a low-quality, cheap video recorder makes you squeamish or, better yet, embarrasing your family with a clunky, odd-ball camera makes you smile, try building your own camcorder.

The Chaos Blog took-on the project and left us with some pretty good instructions.

1) Capturing
The core of the project is a standard CCD surveillance camera.

These goodies comes in all shapes and sizes. I recommend a monochrome with 480 tv-lines or more. Colour cameras are quite expensive especially if you’d want 3CCD, and it’s very hard to control the colours of your recordings, if you don’t know what you’re doing. You should never choose a higher value than 0.5 lux when it comes to light sensitivity. If you stick to this you’ll always be able to shoot video indoor with just a few lamps turned on.

2) The optics
The Chaos blogger recommends standard SLR optics from your 35mm camera. They are cheaper than camcorder optics and you probably already own a few different focal lengths. Purchase a C-mount lens adapter (specific to your SLR lens brand) or build the adapter yourself.

3) Storage/Recording

For storage/recording I have used a SONY Digital8 recorder. They are easy to come by and relatively cheap on e-bay. The really cool thing about these recorders is that you can record both from an analogue video source or digital (firewire) video source. So if your standards get higher you can always buy a security camera with a Firewire output. And the quality of these recorders are superb though they are aren’t that young. No doubt this is a pro video tool and with lots and lots of option settings.

A number of readers also recommended using a cheap Aiptek MPVR. A more expensive Archos AV500 Mobile DVR would also do the trick.

4) Microphone & Pre-Amp
Any compact microphone with a built-in pre-amp should work.

5) Viewfinder

Since decent viewfinders that you can actually use for this project are very hard and expencive to come by, I’ve chosen to use a LCD-screen instead. Luckily, I already had one that was as “made for the job” all ready with a hotshoe build on, so it would be easy to mount.

6) Batteries

Since both the recorder and viewfinder-screen carry their own battery pack, the only thing I had to supply with power was the security-camera (12v dc) done with 8 1,5v AA batteries. A lot of security cameras can even take aprox. +-3, but for the safety of your camera it may be a good idea to put a “current controller” between the camera and the battery pack.

7) Mount
This is where you have to be very creative. Unless you have a perfect contraption laying around (the Chaos blogger used “an old Velbon monopod and other bits”), you will need to sort through your garbage stack and hardware store. I’d even consider using wood, which would make your DIY-camcorder even more ridiculous looking (and, thus, better).

Still not satisfied? Try building these:

Underwater Camera

Nightvision Camera

Excellent instructions on building a nightvision camera from a disposable CVS video camera are available here.

Satellite Robots

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

With the new Transformers film now in theaters, it is only fitting to discuss robots. The San Diego Union-Tribune takes-up machines based on nature:

“The Wright brothers learned how to control (a plane’s) direction by watching hawks in flight,” he said. “They figured out that turning a plane had to do with changing wing surfaces, though not the way hawks did it.

“That’s an important distinction. The Wright brothers drew inspiration from biology, but they didn’t exactly copy it.”

Robotic designs based upon natural organisms are as diverse as the animal world itself. There are devices in the works that mimic caterpillars, spiders, dogs and octopuses. Their goals and purposes are equally varied, from new medical treatments to space labor to being a soldier’s best friend.

The satellite business took note:

In January, a pair of small robots developed by European and Japanese scientists took their first steps in space – not steps, actually, since the robots lacked legs, but the feat was still a giant leap for robotkind.

During the brief suborbital flight Jan. 22, a rocket launched from Japan released a satellite that, in turn, deployed three daughter satellites. These three pulled out a 360-square-yard triangular net with the mother satellite at its center.

From the mother satellite, two palm-sized robots then crawled onto the net like spiders moving across a web. To avoid drifting off in zero-gravity, the spiderbots were equipped with a series of wheels that gripped both sides of the netting.

The experiment did not last very long. One spiderbot stalled after just five seconds of movement; the other after 30 seconds.

Engineers say the problem was likely knots in the net. But they contend the experiment was a conceptual success. They say the technology may ultimately revolutionize the satellite industry because large, costly antennas and solar panels could be launched from small, inexpensive rockets, then assembled in space by tiny robots.

What was the design inspiration?

Bernhard Putz, responsible for their design took advantage of the experience gained during several years of very successful robot soccer games. The viennese team regularily ends up in the final of European and World championships and is renouned for its innovative and robust designs. (link)

Big Broadband in Bermuda

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007



If you’re ever been to Bermuda, you may have noticed a very large satellite antenna in Devonshire Parish while motoring around the island on a rented scooter/moped/motorcycle. We read last month they’ve begun dismantling it since a new submarine cable is being light up for service:

World’s largest commercial satellite dish to be replaced by fibre optic cable

It’s out with the old and in with the new as Cable & Wireless begins tearing down its satellite dish, the Standard A Earth Station antenna.

The dish has been a Devonshire landmark for 24 years and is visible from North Shore and Middle Roads.

A new 800-mile submarine cable that will replace it is due to be operational by the end of October.

It has 700 times more capacity than the old cable it will replace, and will link all of C&W’s customers with access to their global network, the company said.

Like the satellite dish, the telecom firm’s existing undersea cable is obsolete and will be replaced by its new next-generation ‘Gemini Bermuda’ cable.

In its heyday the dish could carry 400 simultaneous circuit feeds to 15 different countries, and could withstand hurricane winds of up to 180mph, the company said.

As telecommunications technology evolves, dismantling outdated equipment like the dish marks the end of an era for Bermuda and indeed the world.

Weighing 400 tonnes and boasting a diameter of 300 meters, the 30-metre-high structure is the largest commercial satellite dish in the world.

"The new undersea cable will satisfy the growing demand for diverse, reliable high-speed data and broadband services which cannot be provided by the restricted capacity of the current cable," said Eddie Saints, C&W’s CEO. "This investment is one in a series of capital investments planned for the Bermuda marketplace in the near future in order to deliver truly world class communications services."

He assured reporters gathered at the facility for a press call yesterday that the transition from ageing cables and satellite transmitters, to state-of-the art fibre optic cables would be seamless.

"It’s extremely reliable and has withstood hurricanes," Mr. Saints said. "If one unit fails, a separate and equal (secondary) satellite takes over."

He said the company will continue to use the 400-tonne base of the station as high-speed data processing centre.

C&W has commissioned M.R. Construction to tear down the dish.

The $750,000 dismantling project, which began three weeks ago, will take another seven weeks to complete. "It cost money to put it up and it costs money to take it down," Mr. Saints said.

Most of the scrap metal will be recycled, some of it here, but most of the materials will go elsewhere.

"Carbon steel remains will be recycled as local mooring weights, [but some material will go to the] landfill," Mr. Saints said. "Other materials such as stainless steel and aluminum will be recycled in the United States."

We rocket scientists always favor recycling materials, so we’re glad to read they’ll be doing that. That’s why Bermuda is cool and at the forefront of technological innovation. Internet access is ample, to be sure.

This new cable, which is owned by Brasil Telecom and runs from Bermuda to New Jersey to Venezuela and Brazil — sort of a modern Bermuda Triangle made of fiber-optic cable — runs along the Continental Shelf, in water ranging from 20 to 600 meters in depth.

Not only are they moderninzing their telecommunications capabilities with other countries, they announced a country-wide RFID system for all their vehicles yesterday. Actually, it’s a first:

Bermuda’s Transport Control Department (TCD), an arm of Bermuda’s Ministry of Tourism and Transport, has launched an island-wide deployment of electronic vehicle registration (EVR) to automate compliance and enforcement using TransCore’s radio frequency identification (RFID) eGo® windshield sticker tags and readers. Initial deployment is underway.

The EVR system will automate enforcement of Bermuda’s vehicle-specific regulations including vehicle inspection, insurance, and registration and ensure the accuracy of vehicle data. Over the next five years, TCD expects to recover approximately $11 million in lost fees from unlicensed vehicles on the island’s roadways and reduce the number of non-compliant vehicles to less than 1 percent.

“Bermuda is a country with 53 square kilometers of land with 65,000 people and 47,000 moving vehicles. We’re the sixth largest population per square mile,” said Randy Rochester, Director of Bermuda’s Transport Control Department. “Bermuda has the world’s highest density per square kilometer of motor traffic on its roads. Consequently, we needed a system to facilitate compliance and lessen the burden on law-abiding citizens and our civil servants. EVR will expedite enforcement and ticketing of those not in compliance and recover lost fees more efficiently than our current manual system.”

TransCore is doing some good work — and they use satellite. We like that.

Who’ll Own Dow Jones?

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Talk about the rapidly-shifting media landscape! For the last several days, the press has been abuzz with conflicting reports about the fate of Dow Jones and its true content-producing prize, the Wall Street Journal.

Interestingly, a major satcom player has stepped into the scene of this high-stakes business drama.

A few days ago London’s Business Online claimed an exclusive scoop, handing the prize to Rupert Murdoch:

 Rupert Murdoch has succeeded with his $5 billion bid for Dow Jones, owners of the Wall Street Journal, according to sources acting for the Dow Jones board. Negotiations on price and matters of principle have been completed, though some details remain to be resolved. None is regarded by either side as a deal-breaker.

The Dow board is confident that the terms of the deal will be accepted  by the Bancroft family, which controls a majority of voting shares in Dow Jones, over the next few working days. A formal announcement is expected next week.

On Friday afternoon London time, Dow Jones, reacting to the first posting of this story, issued a statement saying that it was "incorrect". When The Business contacted Dow’s corporate affairs, however, it refused to elaborate on the record.

While it’s only Tuesday, and news confirming the scoop could come at any moment, Forbes reported yesterday that Dow Jones may be holding out for a White Knight

Dow Jones, in talks to be acquired by News Corp., is holding onto hopes that it can avoid Rupert Murdoch’s grasp. The Wall Street Journal publisher was to meet Monday with a supermarket baron who has been looking to buy a major newspaper.

Dow Jones (nyse: DJ news people ) board members were scheduled to sit down with billionaire Ron Burkle. Last month, the Dow Jones union approached Burkle about a possible bid. The union, which represents over 2,000 employees, has opposed a $5 billion, $60-per-share offer from News Corp. (nyse: NWS news people ) saying that Murdoch could meddle with the media company’s editorial products and hurt its journalistic integrity.

But perhaps the White Knight will come from the stars or — in an ironic twist — from a consortium that includes a Web 2.0 guru who got famously rich from (you guessed it) Rubert Murdoch himself:

EchoStar Communications is part of an investor group, led by MySpace cofounder Brad Greenspan, which is looking to buy part of Dow Jones, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Greenspan brought together of group of investors that are looking to purchase part of Dow Jones at $60 per share and to invest another $250 million, offering an alternative to Rupert Murdoch’s $5 billion offer for the financial-news company.

Greenspan’s group “would include the participation” of EchoStar, according to The Journal. EchoStar declined to comment to the paper.

Looking to invest in Dow Jones would be the latest in a series of unusual investment moves on the part of EchoStar, the nation’s second-largest direct-broadcast satellite provider. Earlier this year, Charlie Ergen’s company reportedly made a failed $2.13 billion bid for ION Media Networks, which owns 60 TV stations and runs a broadcast network. ION ultimately accepted a tender offer from NBC Universal and Citadel Investment Group.

And just last month, EchoStar teamed up with its satellite rival, DirecTV, to make a bid for Intelsat, the world’s biggest provider of fixed-satellite services. But BC Partners won in that auction, acquiring a majority stake in Intelsat for $5 billion.

Now, for those who haven’t been closely following the plot: NewsCorp bought MySpace, making Brad Greenspan a rich man. EchoStar chief  executive Charlie Ergen and Murdoch were previously locked in a years-long battle for No. 1 satellite-TV operator DirecTV, which Murdoch’s  News Corp. eventually acquired. Now EchoStar and Greenspan appear to be going head to head with Murdoch in a bid to grab one of global media’s premier content properties.

What’s at stake in this ongoing competition between Ergen and Murdoch to build their respective satellite and content empires? News Corp. wants to launch Fox Business Channel, so having Dow Jones would give them a competitive advantage over CNBC. Considering how quickly Fox News became competitive with CNN, or how quickly MySpace added value to NewsCorp’s media portfolio, it’s not an overstatement to say that the final results of this bidding war will reverbate for years to come.

And so the convergence continues….

STS-117 Mission Video

Monday, July 9th, 2007

Very cool video by Andrewwski, courtesy of NASA Six minutes of entertainment. They put this up on a server over at the Johnson Space Center and the crew viewed the video and loved it.

These are the kind of video edits NASA TV should be broadcasting!


Zhongxing-6B Launched

Monday, July 9th, 2007

Zhongxing-6B (Chinasat-6B), a French-built communications satellite, had a nice launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center last week.


Via Xinhua:

The satellite was lifted by a Chinese Long March-3B carrier rocket which blasted off at 8:08 p.m. (Beijing Time) Thursday. It was the 101st launch mission for the Long March series of carrier rockets.

The satellite separated from the rocket 26 minutes after lift-off, entering its preset orbit.

"Chinasat 6B", manufactured by France’s Alcatel Alenia Space, has a designed lifespan of 15 years.

Fitted with 38 transponders, the satellite is expected to improve telecommunications transmission for Asia, the Pacific and Oceania.