Monthly Archives: February 2009

Bring On The Mechas

Travis Taylors One Day On Mars

Travis Taylor's "One Day On Mars"

Last summer, I was looking through the “new books” section at my local library and I was instantly intrigued by the cover of one of the books (and the title BTW, I’m an admitted Mars junkie). After reading the inside cover blurb, it sounded like a good read.

I blew through the book in three days! It was great! I loved the sci-fi element as well as the military aspects. Two major features of the story were mecha-based aeroplanes for the space jockeys and mini-mecha suits for the Marines. Now, I grew up on Robotech, which in my opinion still is one of the best anime series around (I need to get that on DVD). I was really digging Mr. Taylor’s detailed description of the mechas and the soldiers that went to work using them.

This morning, I was catching up my Google Reader and read a Wired article (via the Danger Room) about an exoskeleton head-to-head rivalry going on between two scientists, Stephen Jacobsen and Hami Kazerooni. In recent years, both have made tremendous progress in the development of human-augmentation suits. I wonder how soon we will develop something as robust as Taylor’s mechas? His story takes place in 2383. I hope I don’t have to wait that long…

Africa Has Cities

Sonic saves Africa

Sonic saves Africa

When I started this blog, I made a promise to myself to not speak on racial politics too much. I wanted this to be a blog about technology, scifi, and overall nerdiness from my perspective; a young brotha with kids. There are many more people out there that have excellent blogs where great cultural and political discussions are held everyday. I tend to drop comments out there. But, my kids and I had a great exchange the other day and it prompted this “short” post.

A few weeks back we bought Sonic Unleashed. I had to get this game as Sonic holds a special place in my gamer’s heart as one of the first truly awesome games. My son thought that the werewolf transformation was cool! The premise of the game is that Sonic’s world breaks up and he has to travel to different places to help put it all back together. In each level in the game, Sonic visits different parts of the world and takes down Eggman with the quickness.

In the second level he visits “Africa”. Now in the game it is called Mazuri, but it’s Africa (most likely it’s supposed to be Mali, one of the buildings looks like the Great Mosque of Djenne). And to no one’s surprise, the people lived in a village. Mud huts with thatch roofs, traditional African clothing, barefeet; the works. Now, you noticed I said, “To no one’s surprise”. Even mine. But for some reason, this irked me on the day I played that level. Why are Africans always portrayed as living in dusty villages with with lions and elephants running around? I posed the question to my kids and we had a very good lengthy discussion on the topic.

Now do I think this game is racist? No. Do I think the developers purposefully intended to make the “Africans” seem less technologically mature than the other societies in the game? No. But, it just begs the question, Why? Maybe no one on the staff thought of it? Maybe it’s just an accepted idea, Africa = no shoes, grass huts, beads, and wraps.

I know that Africa as a whole is not the most developed place in the world (why is a whole ‘nother discussion). But, Africa does have cities. Rather nice ones. There are cities with suburbs. There are cities with malls. There are cities with modern infrastructure. But it’s hard to tell in today’s media (games, TV, movies). A suitable analogy is someone only showing people living in trailer parks when talking about Americans. Is that accurate?

A few weeks ago, there was a dustup about the upcoming Resident Evil 5 and its portrayal of African zombies jacking a white woman for some grey matter. I think the argument about this game in particular is bunk and stupid, but my larger question/issue remains. Why don’t we ever see African cities in games or in the movies? Everyone doesn’t live in the bush. Here are some pictures to help those that may not believe me.

Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria

Nairobi, Kenya

Abidjan, Cote dIvoire

Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire

The Internets circa 1997 – Colbert is hilarious

I never wanted to hear that Internet dial-up crap again, but this was too funny. FF to about 1:25 in the video…

Review: Jack McDevitt’s The Devil’s Eye

The Devil's EyeAnother great story from Jack McDevitt. If I ever write a book, I hope to be able to present my story so well…

Check out my review

Review: Mike Resnick’s Starship – Mutiny

Starship Mutiny
I was disappointed to say the least. This book came well recommended through LT’s recommendation algorithm…

Check out my review

On to Europa!

Artist concept of Europa observer

Artist concept of Europa observer

NASA continues to deliver good science and great decisions! After extensive review of competing proposals,  the selection committee decided that the next Outer Planets mission would focus on the potentially life-bearing moon, Europa. I was happy that they chose Europa as the Great Cassini has (and continues) to deliver tons of data on Titan. Let’s show some love for some other planets!

The new orbiter is expected to launch in 2020 (perfect timing with our expected return to the Moon, if all goes well with the Constellation program). It will arrive in 2025 and study both Jupiter and Europa over a period of 4 years. Other highlights would include flybys of Io, Ganymede, and Callisto.

This will be the second extensive exploration of the Jovian system since Galileo ended its eight year mission by plunging into Jupiter’s atmosphere in 2003. The Juno mission (which is being run out of my new hometown’s Marshall Space Flight Center) will launch in two years with a goal of studying our resident gas giant in detail.

Earth-sized planets coming soon

Preparing Kepler for launch

Preparing Kepler for launch

In just under 15 days, NASA will be launching one of the new next-generation space telescopes, Kepler. This photometer based scope will observe a section of the sky looking for planetary transits. A transit occurs when a planet crosses in front of the star it orbits (from our vantage point on Earth anyway). Kepler will be able to detect the slight drop in luminosity of the star’s shine. It will be sensitive enough to detect a planet as small as the Earth! The scope will be able to “continuously and simultaneously monitor the brightnesses of more than 100,000 stars“. Wow. We’re talking 30 – 90 terabytes of image data!

I can’t wait until we start to see results from this magnificant piece of hardware and software. How many more exoplanets will we add to our known catalog? How many will be earth-sized and have signatures for water and oxygen? Will one of the new discoveries be the target of humanity’s first extra-solar mission? So many questions, so many possibilities…

Mars Cribs with Janine Baijnath

MDRS, the party spot!

MDRS, the party spot!

The Mars Society runs an analog station in the Utah desert, Mars Desert Research Station. The location has terrain similar to what may be expected on Mars, so it gives researchers a place to experiment with different exploration techniques, crew schedules and tasks, as well as studying psychological conditions (can’t have people going postal 100 million miles from home).  The crew’s usually do a two to four week stint at the station.

I am on the Mars Society‘s mailing list and this morning I received a note about the wrap up of Crew 75. After a few click-throughs I ended up on the crew’s YouTube page. Most everyone has seen the MTV show Cribs. Well, it looks like some of the producers have moved off planet. 🙂

I think Miss Janine did a great job as tour guide. It’s good to see a little humor being injected into the science world every now and then…


MDRS will play host to this year’s University Rover Challenge. Ahhh…what I wouldn’t give to be a young pup back in the university world again…

Review: Ben Bova’s Mars


I am beginning to like this LibraryThing!

Check out my review

A Little Space News

Dragon unfurls its wings

Dragon unfurls its wings

After getting home today, I had an appeal from SpaceX in my inbox. The crew is encouraging their supporters to contact the Congress (in particular members of the House and Senate commerce committees) and ask that funding for the Dragon cargo module be included in the stimulus bill that’s currently going through a conference committee. The email makes a pretty good argument for why the some of the funding should go to Dragon development:

  • Shuttle retirement in 2010 (that’s next year!)
  • Relying on the Russian Soyuz to get access to the Space Station through 2016 (hope we don’t have beef before then)
  • Reduced cost (compared to keeping the shuttle going or paying the Russians)

Here is another blurb from the email:

F9/Dragon would cost less than $20M per seat and it is 100% manufactured and launched in the United States. We are estimating that it would create well in excess of a 1000 high quality jobs at Cape Canaveral and an equivalent number in California and Texas, where we do our manufacturing and testing. Moreover, the total cost would only be $1.5B, so taxpayers would save nearly $2B.

There are always those that question the need to keep our space program alive. Here is a good example of how the business of spaceflight is contributing directly to the creation and maintenance of jobs in THIS country. The message also included a link to a pretty cool animation simulating a Dragon launch and landing.

On another note, Emily Lakdawalla over @ The Planetary Society (I’m sending in my renewal membership any day now 🙂 ), blogged about some great news coming out of ESA. Both the Venus Express and Mars Express probes have been given an extension on life.

When we launch out little robot buddies out in to the void and they begin returning amazing scientific results, it is with grand announcements and proclamations. But, they soon fade from the general public’s view and only us nerdy types keep up with them on a regular. Many of these explorers are outliving their original design lifetime and are continuing to return significant information. It’s good to see that the people with the money bags are still willing to let the good times roll.

And finally, for those of you who have the patience, our solar neighborhood is about to put on a little light show for you. Between now and March 1st, Comet Lulin will continue to become brighter and may even become visible to the naked eye. The best time to try and catch a glimpse of Lulin is between 10 PM and 1 AM. It will appear in the Virgo / Leo area of the sky, coming real close to Saturn on Feb. 24th. With the moon waning, things should get real interesting in the next few weeks. I’m going to have to break out the telescope and go hunting for the green comet as soon as the sky clears (not looking good until next week for North Alabama).

On another note, I’m going to have to get a new setup so that I can snap my own astrophotos. Anyone want to contribute to the cause?

Not quite dark sky

But it’s a start (in response to The World At Night)

Moonrise at the top of Monte Sano in Huntsville

Moonrise at the top of Monte Sano in Huntsville

VBASs Conrad Swanson Observatory

VBAS's Conrad Swanson Observatory

BSG: Blood On The Scales

Rest in peace Felix

Rest in peace Felix

INSTAPOST: Another bangin’ episode! Even though I already knew they couldn’t let Adama go out like a punk, I was still on the edge of my seat during this entire show. I must say that Starbuck is bad as hell! She cold cocked dude while he was taking a pee break. How come Lee didn’t take em out? Hilarious.

In the end, I felt sorry for Felix. He really did think he was doing the right thing. And Zarek deserved a bullet. How do you smoke the whole quorum? Maniac.

So here are my questions:

We know Sam can’t be dead, but where is he, Starbuck, and Romo?

What did Tyrol see in the FTL engine room on the wall?

When are the other Cylons going to catch up to the fleet? I miss the coniving Cavil.

The preview for next week looks like a lot of reveals. Damn.7 more days…

The World At Night

Just one night during this spring or summer. Take some personal time. Travel to a remote site. And look up! Here are some of things some of your fellow humans have observed by just doing that (via The World At Night site, via the Cosmic Diary)

Copyright Yuichi Takasaka/

Copyright Yuichi Takasaka/

Copyright P-M Heden/

Copyright P-M Heden/

Copyright Oshin Zakarian/

Copyright Oshin Zakarian/

Visit Mars with The Googles

MER Opportunities waypoints around Victoria Crater

MER Opportunity's waypoints around Victoria Crater


That was about all I could say after reading the online buzz about the new Mars mode in Google Earth 5.0. I couldn’t wait to get home from the day job and get my hands on the update myself.

For you Google Earth users, you can now visit, fly over, zoom in, and explore our red planetary neighbor in all of its glory! The image and telemetry data was provided by the many exploration initiatives NASA and ESA have going on right now and in the past, including MRO, MER, MGS, and Mars Express.

I’m still exploring and playing with the new interface, so here is a write up to a more extensive overview. At the top is my first screenshot of where the MER Opportunity spent much of its time recently. At the end of this post are more of my screenshots from the new GE interface.

Back in 2006, NASA and Google agreed to partner with each other in helping to disseminate planetary data via the Space Act Agreement. This new feature built into GE (and a damn BIG feature it is!) is just the first in what this new partnership dares to bring to planetary scientist wannabes like myself. I can’t wait until more juicy chunks of data are made so readily available to the masses.

If you have not had the opportunity to use Google Earth at all, you now have one more reason to hit the download site and get it for yourself. Go NASA and go The Googles!

The Big 4 volcanoes using terrain data from MGS

The Big 4 volcanoes using terrain data from MGS

Valles Marineris in an edge on view using Mars Express data

Valles Marineris in an edge on view using Mars Express data

Spirit near its current resting place near Home Plate

3D model of Spirit at its current resting place near Home Plate