Space from the cheap seats

by lestro

A couple of students over at MIT apparently took this picture with a rig that cost them less than $150 total:

The two students (from MIT, of course) put together a low-budget rig to fly a camera high enough to photograph the curvature of the Earth. Instead of rockets, boosters and expensive control systems, they filled a weather balloon with helium and hung a styrofoam beer cooler underneath to carry a cheap Canon A470 compact camera. Instant hand warmers kept things from freezing up and made sure the batteries stayed warm enough to work.

Of course, all this would be pointless if the guys couldn’t find the rig when it landed, so they dropped a prepaid GPS-equipped cellphone inside the box for tracking. Total cost, including duct tape? $148.

Ridiculous.  So that shot above, what’s the deal with that?

The picture you see above was shot from around 93,000 feet, just shy of 18 miles high. To give you an idea of how high that is, when the balloon burst, the beer-cooler took forty minutes to come back to Earth.

And just in case you want to try this at home, they will be posting instructions here.

Amazing. Who needs NASA anyway?

The final frontier

by lestro

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Apollo 11 mission, the absolute apex of the human scientific and engineering experience, the 20th century and American achievement all rolled into one.

To celebrate the event, the NY Times has a long, but exceptional article written by the man who covered the space race the first time around, John Noble Wilford, including details of the run-up to Apollo 11 and what it meant to the country and world, as well as the explanation for how he arrived at one of the single most perfect ledes in the history of print:

I get up and read the articles I have written about the mission up to now. Reporters may feel impelled to write of the next day’s events as the culmination of the space race, the achievement of an ambitious national goal, a historic triumph. I swear to myself that I will not use “historic” in my top paragraph.

I reach for my notebook and try several opening sentences. They must be put on a strict diet. I cross out adjectives. I eliminate clauses that are superfluous and sound too much like heavy music for a movie soundtrack. I begin again: “American astronauts landed.” No, too restrictive and chauvinistic; it will be clear soon enough that the astronauts are American and the goal of a decade has been achieved.

I finally get to the irreducible essence in one short sentence: “Men have landed and walked on the moon.”

Literally, the entire world watched and shared in the joy as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on a planetary body that was not our own.

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Don’t Stop Believing

by twit

This weekend I was insisting that we’d see gay marriage legalized, and sooner rather than later.  After all, it is no longer illegal to be gay in America.  And then I saw this video, which only makes me more sure that equality is on its way.

Even if the military manages to get this video taken down.  This is a postcard from the internets letting us know that our culture is undergoing some kind of a shift.

and they really look like they’re having fun, too.  GO ARMY!

update:  From the New York Times on February 8, 2009:

Last year the principal architects of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” former Gen. Colin Powell and former Senator Sam Nunn, said it was time to “review” the policy.

That’s a polite way of saying they’ve changed their minds.

fun with evolution

by twit

although this video styles itself as a history of the internet…

Inauguration Day!

by twit

the text of President Obama’s Inaugural address:

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.

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The Year Anything Was Possible

by lestro

To me, 2008 was The Year Anything Was Possible. I remember the moment it dawned on me. I had been thinking it all year long, but at about 8:27 p.m. (pacific) or so Oct. 29, I realized without a doubt that in 2008 the rules were being re-written and Anything Really Was Possible.

It had been a year of Believing and Hoping and doing the math over and over, but that night, I knew.

By the end of 2007 it seemed as though there was real potential on so many fronts. And as 2008 dawned, the depression and gray cloud that had hung over the US since the USSC handed Bush the White House finally began to peel back.

The end was finally in sight. His time was over. There really was light at the end of this tunnel. We only had to make it through 12 more months, 12 months in which we would see his influence wane as the next presidency began to take shape right before our eyes. On January 1, that still seemed like either Hillary Clinton (most likely) or Rudy Giuliani (equally as likely, really).

But just three days later, the rest of the country caught up to what many of us saw: a new candidate, who not only talked about change but actually, himself, seemed to represent the very shift this country needed – away from the bickering, away from the personal politics, away from the Boomers.

When, on January 3, Barack Obama, a half-black intellectual with a funny name shocked just about every pundit in the country by thrashing both Hillary and John Edwards in the Iowa Caucuses, the buzz began to build: this guy is different.  This guy could actually do it. Was it really possible?

On the Republican side, John McCain, the one-time Maverick who stood up to the establishment in 2000 and gave George W. Bush all he could handle in the primary (before Bush’s people [allegedly] started planting ugly rumors in South Carolina about Mac’s adopted orphan daughter and knocked the real war hero and bipartisan right off the map) was lagging. But thanks to Rudy’s ridiculous and ultimately suicidal decision to entirely forgo the first two contests, there was no clear leader, allowing smiley unknown Arkansas Conservative Mike Huckabee to sneak in and eke out a victory amongst the corn. Anything was Possible.

A few days later, Hillary came roaring back in New Hampshire, a state that was leaning heavily in Obama’s favor until he picked up the victory in Iowa – Anything Was Possible – and Johnny Mac once again found his name at the top of the pile and the buzz began to once again build behind the former war hero who at one time spoke his mind but had since become a Bush apologist. After being all but left for the wolves in late 2007, Mac was once again the guy to beat, especially after Rudy – whose decision to skip NH and IA meant no one had heard a peep from him in the media for weeks – finally folded like an off-suit 7-2 after Florida. Anything was Possible.

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It is no longer illegal to be gay in America

by twit

via Slog, there is a flickr stream from the Courage Campaign, in protest of the attempts to nullify the marriages of thousands of gay and lesbian couples in California.  For example:

100_4241 by courage.campaign.

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