Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Geek Shit Wednesday Vol. XVII

Dawn Spacecraft To Visit Giant Asteroid

Vesta, the solar system's second heaviest asteroid, is due to be visited by NASA's Dawn spacecraft at 1:00 AM EST on July 16th as the exploratory vessel slides into orbit to begin a year of gamma ray and neutron surveys from 9,900 miles above the asteroid, which has a circumference of 329 miles.

"'It has taken nearly four years to get to this point,' said Dawn project manager Robert Mase of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a press release. 'Our latest tests and check-outs show that Dawn is right on target and performing normally.'

"Dawn navigated toward the asteroid belt, a space rock-rich zone between the solar system’s inner and outer planets, using gravitational energy from Mars and by firing its ion-powered thrusters. Its arrival at Vesta is expected at 1:00am EDT on July 16.

"It will take 10 minutes and 30 seconds—the time it takes light from Vesta to reach Earth—for engineers to know if the operation succeeded."

After the survey of Vesta, Dawn is due to fire its thrusters and move on to the massive asteroid Ceres, which is so large it is referred to as a "dwarf planet."  NASA hopes to capture invaluable data from the trip, as Ceres is suspected to contain water ice and have active mud volcanoes. 

Army Testing Smartphones As Alternative To Proprietary Tech

The United States military, with its vast budget, is continually testing new expensive technology to make navigation, tracking, and reporting easier on the battlefield.  I was constantly astounded at the price tag associated with the equipment I worked on during my time in service, with simple radios (that never worked) costing in the tens of thousands of dollars.  

Often, the civilian tech market seizes a military tech concept and then markets it for civilians.  However, with increasing budget concerns in 2011, the military is now testing a simple device that has made a hit with every cell-phone user in America: smartphones.

"The results have been promising, according to program director Michael McCarthy, stating that younger soldiers who grew up with smartphones and handhelds are very comfortable using them for military purposes.

"Soldiers in the field can text GPS coordinates, send pictures of their surroundings, or file common reports directly from their phone."

The project has run across some problems, most laughably the fact that the service coverage of the iPhones tested was spotty at best in testing zones in New Mexico and Texas.  However, this seems like a cheap solution to a very expensive problem.

Even Amid TV And Twilight Madness, Comics Rule Supreme At Comic Con

Comic Con is the biggest geek convention of the year, having attracted comic nerds for four decades to San Diego California.  However, sometimes the convention sees an increased presence of other media shown on the floor, with Twilight-mania notably infecting this year's gathering.

However, comics still reign supreme, as they appear to be the media that binds the geekier aspect of the entertainment industry together.

"'The comics are what I like to call the gooey center of all pop culture,' said Joe Field, who owns a comic book store in Concord, Calif., and has gone to the convention annually for the past 25 years.

"'Movies, TV and video games all spin out of the creativity of telling stories with words and pictures,' said Field, who founded the industry's annual Free Comic Book Day. 'That's why the San Diego Con has become this sort of beehive of pop culture activity, because comics are really the genesis of visual entertainment.'"

Ugh.  I intend every year to go and never end up doing it.  Someday, Comic Con, someday.

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