Monday, April 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Samuel Morse!

Samuel Morse Statue

Morse Telegraph

International Morse Code

Morse code is a type of character encoding that transmits telegraphic information using rhythm. Morse code uses a standardized sequence of short and long elements to represent the letters, numerals, punctuation and special characters of a given message. The short and long elements can be formed by sounds, marks, or pulses, in on off keying and are commonly known as "dots" and "dashes" or "dits" and "dahs". The speed of Morse code is measured in words per minute (WPM) or characters per minute, while fixed-length data forms of telecommunication transmission are usually measured in baud or bps.

Originally created for Samuel F. B. Morse's electric telegraph in the early 1840s, Morse code was also extensively used for early radio communication beginning in the 1890s. For the first half of the twentieth century, the majority of high-speed international communication was conducted in Morse code, using telegraph lines, undersea cables, and radio circuits. However, the variable length of the Morse characters made it hard to adapt to automated circuits, so for most electronic communication it has been replaced by machine readable formats, such as Baudot code and ASCII.

The most popular current use of Morse code is by amateur radio operators, although it is no longer a requirement for amateur licensing in many countries. In the professional field, pilots and air traffic controllers are usually familiar with Morse code and require a basic understanding. Navigational aids in the field of aviation, such as VORs and NDBs, constantly transmit their identity in Morse code. Morse code is designed to be read by humans without a decoding device, making it useful for sending automated digital data in voice channels. For emergency signaling, Morse code can be sent by way of improvised sources that can be easily "keyed" on and off, making Morse code one of the most versatile methods of telecommunication in existence.

Check out article at Wikipedia.

I checked out the Development and History section of the Morse Code article and I must say that I learned something new! Having not known much about the history of Morse Code, I had always assumed that it was originally invented for the same reasons that it has been used for the last 150+ years. Surprisingly enough, the technology evolved through some interesting methods... history never ceases to amaze!

On another note, if the world and all of it's technology were to be turned upside down one day, one could depend on basic technologies such as Morse Code for communication. Those possessing this knowledge would be indispensable! Unfortunately, like many old-school technologies and skills, they are falling by the wayside as digital technologies take over. But one day, it will all blink off and we'll need to know how to do things old-school again... one can only hope the library has some good info in print. But, I digress...

Check out today's Google art:

Samuel Morse 2009

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day 2009

Earth Day 2009

Earth Day 2009

Earth Day 2009

Earth Day 2009

Earth Day 2009

Earth Day 2009

Earth Day Flag

From not-so-humble beginnings in 1970, when 20 million participated across the U.S., Earth Day has grown into a global tradition, with a billion expected to take part in 2009. Find out when it is, how it started, how it's evolved, and what you can do.

When Is Earth Day?

Every day, the saying goes, is Earth Day. But it's popularly celebrated on April 22. Why?

One persistent rumor holds that April 22 was chosen because it's the birthday of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union.

"Lenin's goal was to destroy private property and this goal is obviously shared by environmentalists," the Capitalism Magazine Web site noted in a 2004 article perpetuating the theory.

Kathleen Rogers, president of Washington, D.C.-based Earth Day Network, which was founded by the original organizers of Earth Day, scoffs at the rumored communist connection.

She said April 22, 1970, was chosen for the first Earth Day in part because it fell on a Wednesday, the best part of the week to encourage a large turnout for the environmental rallies held across the country.

"It worked out perfectly, because everybody was at work and they all left," she said.

In fact, more than 20 million people across the U.S. are estimated to have participated in that first Earth Day.

Earth Day is now celebrated every year by more than a billion people in 180 nations around the world, according to Rogers.

Mad People and a Frustrated Politician

Earth Day's history is rooted in 1960s activism. The environment was in visible ruins and people were mad, according to Rogers.

"It wasn't uncommon in some cities during rush hour to be standing on a street corner and not be able to see across the street" because of pollution, she said.

Despite the anger, green issues were absent from the U.S. political agenda, which frustrated U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, whose campaigns for the environment through much of the 1960s had fallen flat.

First Earth Day "Took off Like Gangbusters"

In 1969 Nelson hit on the idea of an environmental protest modeled after anti-Vietnam War demonstrations called teach-ins.

"It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country," Nelson recounted in an essay shortly before he died in July 2005 at 89.

"The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air—and they did so with spectacular exuberance."

Nelson recruited activist Denis Hayes to organize the April 22, 1970, teach-in, which today is sometimes credited for launching the modern environmental movement.

By the end of 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had been born, and efforts to improve air and water quality were gaining political traction.

"It was truly amazing what happened," Rogers said. "Blocks just tumbled."

Earth Day Evolves

Amy Cassara is a senior associate at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., who analyzes global environmental trends.

She noted that, since Earth Day started, environmentalism has moved from a fringe issue to a mainstream concern. "As many as 80 percent of Americans describe themselves as environmentalists," Cassara said.

Environmental issues today, however, are less immediate than dirty air, toxic water, and a hole in the ozone layer, she added.

For example, the impacts of global climate change are largely abstract and difficult to explain "without coming off as a doomsday prognosticator," Cassara said.

"As we become more industrialized and our supply chains become less transparent, it can be more difficult to understand the environmental consequences of our actions," she noted.

Earth Day Network is pushing the Earth Day movement from single-day actions—such as park cleanups and tree-planting parties—to long-term commitments.

"Planting a tree, morally and poetically, requires taking care of it for a really long time, not just sticking it in the ground," Earth Day Network's Rogers said.

To help make the transition, the organization is aligned with a hundred thousand schools around the world, integrating projects with an environmental component into the year-round curriculum.

"They announce the results on Earth Day, so Earth Day becomes a moment in time," Rogers said.

Cassara, of the World Resources Institute, said her organization uses Earth Day to convene with leaders in the movement and assess progress in their campaigns.

"[Earth Day] doesn't raise awareness among the general public in the same way that it used to. But it still provides a benchmark for reflection among those of us in the environmental community," she said.

What to Do on Earth Day?

For those whose inner environmentalist speaks loudest on April 22, Earth Day Network's Rogers encourages them to make a public commitment to take an environmental action.

"We are headed for a billion commitments to do something green," Rogers said. "And that doesn't mean think about it—it means do something."

Commitment ideas promoted by the Earth Day Network include pledging to educate friends and family on global warming or buy green products such as energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).

The commitments are part of a yearlong initiative called the Green Generation, which leads up to the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in 2010.

According to Rogers, everyone is part of this generation, which marks the transition from the industrial revolution to the green revolution.

"It is also about the green generation of energy and the generation of green jobs. ... The name [Green Generation], whenever I say it to people, they have their own idea of what it means, which is exactly what we want."

Check out article at National Geographic News.

In case you're wondering how you can do your part to preserve our beautiful planet, visit the Leave No Trace website.

Be sure to check out the Earth Day Network website.

Check out today's Google art:

Google Earth Day 2009

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Scientists Race to Prevent 'Catastrophic Disaster' in Space!

Space Debris in Low Earth Orbit

In 1970, Marshall Kaplan, then an aerospace engineering professor at Penn State, had a peculiar dream — he wanted to retrieve Sputnik, the world's first orbiting satellite, from space.

Sputnik had been launched by the Russians in 1957, and by 1970 it was no longer operational. Kaplan wanted to go get it.

NASA had never considered space retrieval before, but it thought it was a good idea. Kaplan got the job, but it didn't work out — because the time frame was too short. Sputnik, nearing the end of its life cycle, was already about to deorbit — the technical term for what happens when an object circling the Earth gets close enough to be caught in gravity and burned to cinders in the atmosphere.

But that didn't mean Kaplan needed a new line of work. In fact, his work was just beginning.

For the next 40 years, Kaplan, now a senior researcher in the space department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., has been figuring out how to bring down objects from space.

That makes him one of a few dozen scientists feverishly trying to prevent what he calls a "coming catastrophic disaster" — a collision between a manned spacecraft and orbital debris, or space junk, thousands of pieces of which are zooming at thousands of miles per hour 300 to 800 miles above the Earth, ready to take out anything in their paths.

Space junk is anything that's lost or discarded in orbit — everything from the spare glove astronaut Ed White lost on the first American spacewalk in 1965, to the garbage bags jettisoned by cosmonauts stationed on the Mir space station in the '80s and '90s, to the dangerous remnants of a old weather satellite blasted into smithereens by a Chinese missile in 2007.

The probability of a disastrous orbital collision has been on front pages lately. On Feb. 12, a Russian-made satellite smashed into a commercial U.S. telecommunications satellite, creating the second worst mess (after the deliberate Chinese incident) ever in space.

Fortunately, the telecom satellite was quickly replaced, and the Russian "bird" had long been out of commission.

But a month later, on March 13, the two astronauts and one cosmonaut aboard the International Space Station had to scramble into an escape capsule after they got less than 20 minutes' warning that a piece of speeding junk was heading straight for them.

There wasn't time to reposition the ISS, which could have suffered a fatal loss of pressure had the five-inch piece of an old rocket punctured the walls of a living area. Fortunately, the debris missed.

"This is just a taste of what's to come. Experts are saying we could expect a crash every couple of years, but this is an educated guess," says Michael Krepon, co-founder of The Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington-based think tank that focuses on security concerns.

"We really don't know the scale of the problem — we just know that we've already done serious damage to a zone of space that's essential to our security."

Our fast-paced, hyperlinked world could not exist without orbital relays; everything from phone calls to GPS devices to banking transfers needs satellites to work.

Even more damaging to satellites, and the enormous potential of the commercial development of space overall, could be a ground-based threat — crippling lawsuits over orbital-debris collisions.

"Liability claims killed the private aviation industry," says Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation, which sponsors contests and awards for private space ventures and innovation. "In space, we're going to be dealing with 'Your satellite killed my satellite' claims. It's going to be a mess."

No ... it's a mess already.

"We're currently tracking 18,000 objects floating through space," says Kaplan. "But that's only objects larger than 4 inches. At 10,000 mph, even a nut or a bolt could do serious damage."

In the microscopic range, there are literally billions of micro-particles around — too small to puncture a spacecraft's exterior, but enough to have already pitted windows on a space shuttle and destroyed a lens on an orbiting telescope.

It's Kaplan's job to figure out how to get all of this down, and it's a big job.

"This clean-up will cost tens of billions of dollars," he says. "It's going to require a whole new space program to pull off. But we don't have a choice. This is just a cost-benefit analysis. If we don't clean this mess up in the next 20 years, we're going to lose our access to space."

Nations are beginning to act. On Feb. 13, the United Nations endorsed seven "Space Debris Guidelines to Curtail Space Debris in the Future."

The guidelines include adding more shielding to spacecraft and giving satellites extra fuel so they can either deorbit themselves quickly (it normally takes decades) or put themselves into higher, less crowded orbits at the ends of their life cycles.

The Colorado-based Secure World Foundation, a space think tank, is calling for a Civil Space Situational Awareness System — essentially a global air-traffic controller that would track everything in orbit so collisions could be avoided.

That sounds like a no-brainer, but it's something of a problem for the Air Force, to use only one example of a governmental authority that naturally has serious concerns about telling anyone where its surveillance satellites are at any given time.

A Stanford study released in late March suggests that future space junk can be minimized by simply forcing nations to "take out their own garbage" by deorbiting anything after it's done its job.

Most experts feel the U.N. recommendations will be ratified by international treaty, or a similar mechanism for good-conduct rules will be enacted soon.

But while all of these ideas are good planning, they don't get rid of the junk that's already up there.

That's what Kaplan spends most of his time working on.

Recently, he conducted a global survey of orbital waste-management ideas. He got over 100 — some pipe dreams, some crack-pipe dreams, but 30 or 40 of them with merit.

One concept that's gotten attention is the "space broom," a ground-based laser that will use quick pulses to singe orbital debris, changing each piece's trajectory so that it deorbits faster. The idea has considerable merit, and considerable problems — how to hit each piece, for one.

"We don't really know where this junk is with any real sense of accuracy," says Kaplan. "We can get within a few meters, perhaps, but that's not enough for a laser."

You could get a lot closer by putting the lasers on a spacescraft, but that would be a space-based weapon, and those are banned by several international treaties.

"Collection by collision" is another possibility Kaplan is earnestly examining.

The idea is simple — coat a spaceship in something sticky and put it into orbit. Think of it as a giant lint roller — debris will naturally collide with the craft, but instead of bouncing off or tearing through it, the junk will simply adhere. The added mass will lower the ship until it deorbits on its own.

And then there are a bevy of independent thinkers eager to jump into the mix.

Retired aerospace engineer Jim Hollopeter was profiled in a recent Wall Street Journal article, which reported that he wants to load aging rockets with water and bring down debris with what would essentially be the world's largest fire hose.

Meanwhile, the folks at Tether Unlimited, a Washington-based aerospace company funded by the Air Force, have created the "terminator tape," basically a pizza-sized box that can be clamped on to to a defunct satellite.

Once attached, the box opens, several hundred meters of electro-dynamic wire unspool and atmospheric drag does the rest to bring the bird down.

There are also nets, and magnets, and a science-fiction treasure trove of tantalization. The bad news is that none of them, even something as low-tech as the terminator tether, comes cheap.

The good news is that many could be "bootstrap"-financing technologies. There's a fortune to be made in space-mining operations, for example in harvesting nickel from the moon.

Diamandis himself believes this future industry will produce the world's first trillionaire, and if the fortunes of the 19th-century "robber barons" are anything to go by, he may not be wrong.

The point is that cleaning debris out of space means learning how to tow objects around space — a fundamental component of any mining operation.

"You don't even have to go that far out," says Diamandis. "Whatever 'waste management' organization gets the contract for space is looking at heaps of valuable material already floating around above us. You have to remember — one man's waste is another's treasure."

Check out article at Fox News.

It seems that wherever we go, humans somehow manage to pollute and litter the environment. When will we ever learn... LEAVE NO TRACE!!!

Be sure to check out NASA Orbital Debris Program Office

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Cosmic Hand Reaches for the Light!

Chandra Nebula PSR B1509-58 - The Giant Hand

Tiny and dying but still-powerful stars called pulsars spin like crazy and light up their surroundings, often with ghostly glows.

So it is with PSR B1509-58, which long ago collapsed into a sphere just 12 miles in diameter after running out of fuel.

And what a strange scene this one has created.

In a new image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, high-energy X-rays emanating from the nebula around PSR B1509-58 have been colored blue to reveal a structure resembling a hand reaching for some eternal red cosmic light.

The star now spins around at the dizzying pace of seven times every second — as pulsars do — spewing energy into space that creates the scene.

Strong magnetic fields, 15 trillion times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field, are thought to be involved, too. The combination drives an energetic wind of electrons and ions away from the dying star. As the electrons move through the magnetized nebula, they radiate away their energy as X-rays.

The red light actually a neighboring gas cloud, RCW 89, energized into glowing by the fingers of the PSR B1509-58 nebula, astronomers believe.

The scene, which spans 150 light-years, is about 17,000 light years away, so what we see now is how it actually looked 17,000 years ago, and that light is just arriving here.

A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers).

Check out article at Fox News.

Whoa... awesome photo!!! Let's just hope it stays out there and doesn't head this way, as is predicted in Nine Inch Nail's The Warning, from Year Zero!!!

Nine Inch Nails Year Zero

Check out my Nine Inch Nails: Year Zero post!

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