Archive for August, 2008

DIY Friday: Build Your Own CD Stack Lamp!

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Remember all those AOL CDs that used to clutter up your mail box, and served as great drink coaster during your austere grad school days?

We haven’t seen them as often in our mailbox as we used to, but we still have a pretty good collection of old software CDs, misburned DVDs, and some really embarrassing music CDs that are best left unmentioned.

What to do with them all? We observed just the other day that it’s getting darker earlier, and we may soon be needing some additional light in the Really Rocket Science lair.

And thus we arrive at today’s DIY Friday project: build your own CD stack lamp!


 The project is relatively simple:

 The pile of CDs that had been massing in my room was growing to epic proportions. So I decided to make myself a CD lamp. The circular base was actually cut using a template on a table saw, then sanded after clamping it in a drill press. The cold cathode lamp is from NewEgg….

There are several other designs online, but this is one of the better ones that I have found.

Check out the additional photos here.  When completed, the lamp also serves as a rather luminous shrine to duct tape.

(Hat tip to Lifehacker.)

Catching Crooks with GPS

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

There’s little doubt that GPS has made the world a better place. The combination of satellite technology and an old fashioned map has kept a lot of people — yours truly included — from getting stupidly lost. It’s also made waiting for the bus a far less mysterious endeavor.

Increasingly, too, when people do stupid– and criminal– things, GPS is helping to unravel those mysteries, too.

The AP reports on how the proliferation of GPS is being used in forensics:

The growing popularity of GPS systems — in cars, cell phones and other handheld devices — gives authorities another powerful tool to track suspects.

Among recent cases:

_ In September, a man in Butte, Mont., pleaded guilty to rape shortly after a judge ruled that evidence from the GPS unit in his car could be used against him at trial. Prosecutors planned to use it to show that Brian D. Adolf "prowled" through town looking for a victim.

_ In New Brighton, Pa., a trucker’s GPS system led police to charge him with setting his own home on fire. GPS records showed his rig was parked about 100 yards from his house at the time of the fire.

_ In the case of a missing Chicago-area woman named Stacy Peterson, investigators sought GPS records from the SUV owned by her husband, former police officer Drew Peterson. She still hasn’t been found, and no one has been charged….

 "What we’re dealing with here is a use of the technology that I don’t think the good people at Magellan or Garmin or TomTom really thought about when they were developing it," says one police detective:

Detectives are often able to extract map searches and desired destinations that have been entered into a GPS unit by the user. Some devices are equipped with a "track back" feature that can show where the unit was at a particular time….

The GPS feature on a cell phone has already helped solve at least one crime. In 2006, police in Virginia Beach, Va., used the GPS on a homicide victim’s cell phone to find the phone and her purse in a garbage can behind a home. The home was linked to the man who was eventually charged with killing her.

Jon Price, a trainer at Garmin Ltd., the leading maker of commercial GPS units in the U.S., started getting calls five years ago to work with law enforcement in cases involving GPS data from the company’s units was being used as evidence.

Price estimates he’s helped with about 25 criminal cases, some of them involving GPS-equipped boats running drugs out of South America. He’s testified as an expert witness in a half-dozen cases…

"Typically the GPS data being used is for the purpose of contradicting (defendants’) alibis," Price said.

GPS data is usually just one part of the criminal case, however, as attorneys must also prove the defendant possessed the unit and entered the information into it. 

Eutelsat, NTDTV Controversy Continues

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Seven weeks ago, Eutelsat’s W5 craft suffered a major technical failure, resulting in Eutelsat having to shut down four transponders. They lost a number of channels, including controversial Chinese channel New Tang Dynasty (NTDTV). 

That’s one side of the story.

The other side of the story goes like this:

Because New York-based NTDTV is sympathetic to the banned Falun Gong organisation and is one of the few critical voices going into China, NTDTV has blamed Eutelsat for attempting to cosy up to China in order to win more Chinese business. (Muddying the waters was the admission by a Eutelsat staffer in China that the channel had been taken off the air because of political pressure.)

Not coincidentally, critics maintain, the loss of NTDTV on Eutelsat came just before the Olympics began in Beijing.


RapidTV has more: 

[0]ver the past seven weeks NTDTV has carried out an impressive press and public relations exercise targeting Eutelsat, and winning support from international but largely ill-informed press organisations such as Reporters Without Borders and other independent NGOs. The pressure is continuing. Last week NTDTV participated in a Forum in Sydney, Australia and which featured speakers arguing for more independent voices going into China.

Adding to the pressure was a statement from the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists arguing for Eutelsat to “stop hiding behind the technical mumbo-jumbo” and to reinstate the signal. The European Union has also written to Eutelsat asking for an explanation.

Eutelsat, in a measured response, has repeated that it holds “absolutely no prejudice against channels broadcast by our satellites and notably NTDTV which continues to broadcast in Europe” via Eutelsat’s Hot Bird system, says Eutelsat. “NTDTV has been treated in every respect in identical fashion to other channels present on the W5 capacity that had to be shut down.  The loss of the use of one of the satellite’s solar panels, requiring the immediate shutdown of four transponders used principally for Direct-to-Home television broadcasting which consumes most power, resulted in a loss of signal over Asia for EuroNews and C-Music as well as NTDTV.”

Eutelsat also responded to reports that capacity on W5 has magically become freshly available since the incident with the termination of broadcasts by Radio Free Asia and Voice of America. “These services were broadcast within the framework of a contract with the American broadcaster IBB. The termination of this contract, which Eutelsat was aware of before the W5 incident happened, was naturally taken into account in managing the consequences of the satellite’s power loss. The end of the IBB contract provides us with margin which is required to continue operating W5 in orbit in a safe condition, but it does not make it possible for us to restore any DTH broadcasting service, either for NTDTV or any other TV channel.”

Eutelsat’s statement continued: “The extent of the problem affecting W5 was explained in person to NTDTV when we received Mr Wang, President of NTD TV Canada, at our headquarters in Paris on 6 August. We confirmed to him that the technical anomaly is irreversible as the technical review completed with Thales Alenia Space (the satellite’s manufacturer) has concluded that there has been a 50% reduction of the satellite’s power following permanent loss of the use of one of the satellite’s two solar arrays.  We also confirmed to Mr Wang that Eutelsat operates no other satellite with coverage of Asia but that there are many satellites operated by other operators that do have capacity available and that are even able to offer superior coverage of China than W5.

Jean-Paul Brillaud, Eutelsat’s deputy CEO, stressed in an interview with Agence France Presse, that the [technical] breakdown is irreversible, and that NTDTV had not considered alternative transmission solutions suggested by Eutelsat.

HD Wars

Monday, August 25th, 2008

There’s a race going on to win the largest number of HD channels. In Europe, Eutelsat just pulled ahead, boasting 49 high-def channels vs. SES Astra’s 42.

As in any long-distance race there will be moments when the lead changes, and there s every likelihood that by the end of the year Astra will be carrying nearer 60 HD channels, perhaps even more, helped by BSkyB boosting its total to nearer 30 high-def channels. Canal Plus over France, Digital+ over Spain and Premiere’s HD plans over Germany will all add to Astra’s overall portfolio.

Despite the ramp-up in HD offerings, Screen Digest says many homes that have HD sets don’t use them to view broadcast high-def.

The report confirms that Astra, as at Dec 31st last year, had more than 1.2m homes viewing high-def programming. But this is still a miserable number considering Europe s 29.8m homes with HD-Ready devices installed. North America, also at Dec 31st, had 32.3m HD-Ready sets in use, and an impressive 19.3m viewing HD.

The trend is expected to change by 2012, with Europe taking the lead in high-def homes.

DIY Friday: Batman

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

If you’re still haunted by the stellar filmmaking in The Dark Knight and need a little more superhero in your life, this week’s DIY Friday is for you.

For a quick and easy project that’ll add some unique decoration to your home/office, check out this LED Bat-signal.

With just a couple of bottle caps, some tin-foil and a cheap LED laptop light, you’ll be good to go.

For the more ambitious DIY-er, check out this guy’s full scale replica of the batmobile.

In the pantheon of awesome fan art, Bob Dullam holds a place of high regard after his work on a full scale, working Tumbler replica from the movies Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Constructed in his two-car garage with little more than pictures and the extra features from the DVD, Bob has built for himself the single baddest piece of driveway candy ever to make the leap from the silver screen. [Jalopnik]


Digital TV Set to Boom

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

With the US analog switch-off date — the Analog Deathwatch, as we like to call it — mandated for February 2009, and most Western European countries terminating transmission before the European 2012 Analog Deathwatch deadline, the next 2 years will see a rapid increase in new digital TV households.

Just how much of an increase? A new report from market analysis firm Datamonitor has the details:

DTV will grow an average of 12% year-on-year, with particularly strong adoption in the near term as broadcasters terminate analog terrestrial television," says Chris Khouri, analyst for media and broadcasting at Datamonitor and the report’s author."In 2007 there were 158 million households using digital television services in Western Europe and the US. By 2012, Datamonitor expects there to be an estimated 274 million digital TV households in these regions."

At the end of 2007, 54% of homes in Europe and the US had some form of DTV service. This will grow to 88% by the end of 2012 primarily due to the significant increase in digital terrestrial television (DTT) households, according to the report:

DTT households in Europe and the US will increase from 26 million in 2007 to 55 million by 2012, illustrating an average yearly growth rate of 16%. As a whole, however, Datamonitor expects there to be a significant migration away from free-to-air services in the medium-to-long term, as bundled offerings (triple play, quad play etc.), enhanced features and premium content grow in importance to consumers.

Digital cable and DTT platforms will experience the largest net additions from 2007 to 2012 Over the next three years, all DTV platforms will show strong growth as consumers transition to digital services. The two fastest growing platforms in Europe and the US will be digital cable and DTT. Datamonitor expects they will achieve net household increases of 50 million and 30 million, respectively.

And here’s the bit that stokes two of our greatest obsessions — satcom and IPTV:

PTV services will show the strongest average yearly growth at around 28%, reaching almost 23 million households by 2012.

Despite satellite services illustrating very moderate growth of 5.5%, there will be a 20 million increase in subscribers by 2012, reaching around 86 million households.

The boom years lie ahead, that’s for sure. 

Global Mobile Satcom

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008


Inmarsat CEO Andrew Sukawaty said it best:

The Inmarsat-4s are the world’s most sophisticated commercial network for mobile voice and data services, and the successful launch of the third I-4 allows us to complete the global coverage for our broadband services. Once the third I-4 is operational, Inmarsat will have the only fully-funded next-generation network for mobile satellite services.

Very cool mission: complete global coverage from 3 satellites, for land, air or sea.  Oh, and so many spot beams:

Each I-4 can generate 19 wide beams and more than 200 narrow spot beams. These can quickly be reconfigured and focused anywhere on Earth to provide extra capacity where needed.



A spacecraft this powerful is a biggie:

Each satellite can digitally form more than 200 spot beams. More power and spectrum can be allocated to certain beams to cope with the fluctuations in traffic. An on-board digital signal processor routes the signals to the different beams, acting like a switchboard in the sky: any signal uplink can be routed to any mobile downlink beam and vice versa.

All three satellites are identical and interchangeable – their coverage is programmable and can be reconfigured in orbit. They are based on the E3000 version of Astrium’s outstandly successful Eurostar satellite platform series, and equipped with electric propulsion system. Their 45m-long solar array generates 14 kW of electrical power at beginning of life and the spacecraft weighs approximately 5,950 kg at launch. The main body is 7 metres high and the unfurlable antenna reflector has a diameter of about 10 metres.

Here’s the launch video:


Putting the Little Guy in Space

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

We’re written a good deal about space tourism in the past, and about the burgeoning private spaceflight industry.

Most notable in the field, of course, is Spaceship Two project headed by designer Burt Rutan and backed by entrepreneur Richard Branson.

But what about the little guy, toiling away in his metaphorical garage in the hope of becoming the Steve Jobs of private space travel?


By day, Morris Jarvis works as an instrumentation and control engineer for Intel Corp.’s newest factory, Fab 32.
By night and on the weekends, he is Arizona’s version of the "Astronaut Farmer," building a vehicle he hopes to launch into space someday.
Jarvis and his 10 partners have built a prototype of a craft that would take everyday people on suborbital flights for a fee. He named the craft Hermes, a Greek god of land travel…

 Jarvis is about three years into the latest prototype, a gleaming white craft that resembles a boxy version of the space shuttle and seats four passengers. He works on it in his shop at his east Mesa home.

The problem is that Jarvis needs money to get a workable model off the ground.
He estimates he needs about $100,000 to do glide testing. He then would need $1.5 million to launch the craft with a helium balloon, the cheaper of two methods he is considering.
Launching the craft with a rocket would take about $5.4 million, he estimates.
Jarvis’ business plan is aimed more at the regular tourist than the wealthy, at least relatively speaking. He hopes space travelers will pay $25,000 — or about the price of a new car — for a trip powered by a helium balloon and $100,000 for a ride powered by a rocket.

That compares to Virgin Galactic, which has already collected $25 million in deposits from would-be space travelers at $200,000 per flight.

But lest you think that Hermes is too much of a garage space project, we should note that Jarvis’ employer, Intel, is building the chip set for the spacecraft. 
(Incidentally, Hermes was also the name of a proposed mini-shuttle designed by the French Centre national d’études spatiales (CNES) and the ESA to compete with the space shuttle back in the late 70s and early 80s, according to Wikipedia.)
The race to get normal people into space is, of course, part of a larger, renewed space race all around the globe
It’s an exciting time to be a rocket scientist. 

Iran Launches First Satellite

Monday, August 18th, 2008

The space race got a little more crowded yesterday.

Iran launched its first satellite, using a domestically produced rocket. The launch of the Safir (Ambassador) rocket was shrouded in mystery…surprising, I know.

Few details were available about the rocket or its payload…Western experts say Iran rarely provides enough details for them to determine the extent of its technological advances, but that much Iranian technology consists of modifications of equipment supplied by China, North Korea and others.

And how are Iran’s neighbors responding? Israel, for one, says it’s unconcerned.

The launch comes on the birthday weekend of Hazrat Mahdi, the 12th Imam. Shiites believe his return will signal the end of days.

DIY Friday: HDTV Antenna

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Question: What can you make with 2 forks, an old lamp, and a shoelace?

Answer: A sweet HDTV Antenna!

One of our most popular DIY Friday projects was this post on how to build your own HDTV antenna.

And, this week we’re bringin’ it back with some new tricks.

The $10 lamp version above is a great option. Or you can try the Gray-Hoverman Antenna, which has gotten some great reviews:

"Boy, this antenna is hot. I finally got it pointed right. After I did a search for channels, I got 23 digital channels, and this is from about 30-40 miles, over mountains…This antenna is a vast, and I mean REALLY VAST improvement over anything I have used." – DogT