Thursday, 25 August 2011

Russian Space Ship crashes - What now NASA?

A Russian space station supply ship, Progress M-12M, crashed into the Siberian landscape just
A Russian Soyuz lifts off from the Baikonur Co...Image via Wikipediaminutes after its launch. It was carrying three-tonnes of supplies for the International Space Station astronauts.  All contact with the spacecraft was lost. Reports of the wreakage falling to ground with a deafening roar led to Russian space officials declaring the flight a total failure.

The loss of the supply spacecraft will not pose to big a problem for the astronauts in the International space station as they have more than enough supplies. It will threaten the launch of the next crew, just one month away. This is because the upper stage of the unmanned Soyuz rocket that crashed is similar to one used in the manned, Soyuz-FG, version of the rocket. In addition the crew presently based at the station may have to stay a little longer.

The crash immediately brings to the fore the discussion about the US stopping its Shuttle programme. With Russia being the only space going transport provider right now, if there is a major flaw in the present batch of Soyuz Rockets this may not be the last of the spaceship crashes. Keep in mind this is the second failure of a Russian rocket in a week. On August 18, a telecommunications satellite was put into a wrong orbit.

The Obama administration decision to abandon the space shuttle has been under much scrutiny. The idea being that private companies must come up with cheaper and efficient methods to launch payloads into orbit. Sounds great but why would a company like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and others spend millions of dollars to design a spacecraft that may or not be selected as the newest generation spacecraft.

Spacecraft like the Orion project, cancelled because of budget cuts, was destined to be the new 'shuttle' but now all the work for that project has been shelved for the time being. It makes you wonder if the decision to abandon a space going programme without an alternative available was the best decision to make? Sure the US may save some money now but what will the long term effects be?

Russia will continue to gain valuble experience and research into rockets, as will China and other near space going countries like India. Whereas the US are approaching the space race with a capitlistic point of view and not so much with national pride as the space race was run a couple of decades ago.

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Sunday, 21 August 2011

Clouds of 1's and 0's

Cloud computing is fast becoming the future of information technology. Everywhere you go people are talking about it, even people that would not normally speak about something technological are talking about it. Cloud computing and cloud based services are pretty impressive. This blog is done in the cloud, people have been using the cloud for a long time and may not have known about it even.

My initial thoughts on cloud-based services are less than favourable to using it from an enterprise perspective but from an end-user point of view cloud services are fantastic. My concerns are mainly around security of ones data mind you.

Why trust someone else to look after my data? What happens if the company whose hands you have willingly placed your data into fails? Big companies can crash especially in economic times we are in, think Lehman Brothers in 2008 or scarier Worldcom, the big telecommuncations company back in 2005.

Who is to say that the likes of Amazon, Apple, or Google may go bankrupt. Then what will happen to all that data and the businesses that have been reliant on their services being there and suddenly they are not.

At this stage there is no real security regulation of the cloud based services? We would like to think the corporations will look after our data but big companies are also targets for hacking groups which could led to unexpected down time of your business should you be making full use of cloud services.

The accountant may see benefit in moving things to the cloud but for the IT administrator / security engineer the cloud is a potential landslide of issues. In a country like South Africa where a decent internet connection is rare, why would a small business or for that matter a large business move to cloud based services.

Even if the Internet was better what about the issue of power, can we rely on Eskom to provide sufficient power. Sure UPS devices in businesses work for a shortime but eventually you will lose your Internet connection ergo your business. Not every business can have generators running 24/7.

In my opinion cloud based services are not for South Africa yet, the services will become mainstream in SA as they have elsewhere but only because the accountants think it is cheaper. This is until a Telkom outage or Eskom load-shedding incident occurs showing the folly of the decision.

We will not escape the cloud as it is the future. Microsoft are already designing and launching products aimed at the cloud and with pc's, tablets, and phones increasingly needing the internet it is not surprising.

The cloud is coming, will it be a big, grey and stormy one or a beautiful, soft and fluffy one we will not know. The cloud is there on the horizon looming large, lets wait and see what it brings.
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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

13,000 MPH plane crash

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, attempted to fly the fastest aircraft ever built. The experimental aircraft is called the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2). This vehicle is designed to be part of the US defence force "Prompt Global Strike" programme.

The HTV-2 is designed to be able to strike anywhere in the world within 60 minutes. To be able to achieve this feat an aircraft would need to fly at 13,000MPH. The HTV-2 would be launched and successfully placed into desired trajectory by using a separate vehicle. After successfully separating from the launch vehicle the HTV-2 would transition into MACH 20 aerodynamic flight.

On August, 11, 2011, the HTV-2 was launched and separated from the launch vehicle, Minotaur IV. More than nine minutes of data was captured before an anomaly caused loss of signal. This anomaly has puzzled scientists and they are trying to understand what went wrong. It appears that the HTV-2 crashed into the Pacific Ocean along its planned flight plan.

“Here’s what we know,” said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, DARPA HTV-2 program manager and PhD in aerospace engineering.  “We know how to boost the aircraft to near space.  We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight.  We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight.  It’s vexing; I’m confident there is a solution. We have to find it.”

There are a couple of technical areas of concern that DARPA are working on to get the HTV-2 operational. The areas are aerodynamics, aero thermal, guidance, navigation and control. When DARPA do manage to solve these vexing problems it is certainly going to make the US defence that much more powerful than it is already.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Happy 30th Birthday PC!

New York City on August 12, 1981, the IBM 5150 personal computer made its debut. The IBM 5150 ran the Microsoft Disk Operating System, MS-DOS, the precursor to modern day Windows.

Over the last 30 years the technological evolution of the PC has been astounding. The personal computer has lead to many breakthroughs in the way in which we do business and even interact with other. The PC of today is vastly different from the one that made its debut in NYC way back in 1981.

We now have Xbox and Playstation consoles that are more capable and better equiped than most PC's from just a couple of years ago. The ubiquitous smartphone is everywhere nowadays and even these devices are more functional and powerful than a PC of only a couple years old.

This does make you wonder where the PC of the future is going to be. Is there even going to be a need for the PC as we know it today? Why not just have a smartphone that can double up as a PC when needed. The phone could project a 'screen' and a keyboard at the same time and you could work away. The rise of cloud computing and services means you just need a phone with a browser capable of providing such service.

The will be no licensing issues, just a paid-for access account to the services needed. No need for cumbersome printer drivers with modern printers linked to the Internet and their own e-mail addresses. There will also be no lost software disc's.

I think the PC is going to be made redundant within the next few years and replaced by better and faster smartphones. Then again weren't online news sites supposed to have killed off the newspaper already? Either way I for one am very keen to see what the future brings.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

eGenius - Electric airplane takes flight

We have seen and heard of electric automobiles such as the awesome Audi R8 E-tron. The E-tron is capable of 232KW of power and 4,500Nm torque and going from 0-100Km/h in 4.8seconds. The idea of an electric aeroplane could not have been to far behind.

The electric aeroplane "eGenius" which has the backing of Airbus took its maiden flight on the 26th May 2011. The flight lasted all of 20 minutes but completed a two-and-a-half hour flight the following day. The 20 minute flight was more just to prove that the all electric propulsion system worked.

The propulsion for the eGenius is a 60-kilowatt motor and is capable of cruising at speeds of 235Km/h and a range of about 400Km. The eGenius can carry up to 180 kilograms which effectively means it can carry two people.

The eGenius was developed for participation at the NASA/CAFE "Green Flight Challenge". The Green Flight Challenge has been officially scheduled for 25 September 2011. The eGenius has been developed at the University of Stuttgart in Germany.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

7 things to Make Blackberry better

Since I got the Blackberry Torch 9800 I have been wondering how it could be better. The phone works well and to date I have no complaints. However there are those little things that you notice over time that would be nice to have when you compare it to other phones and manufacturers.

My 7 things that I hope Blackberry introduce that would make it even better.
  1. Improve the Blackberry Desktop Manager software
  2. More apps in the App World
  3. Improve the usability of Blackberry Maps
  4. Voice guided navigation as standard with Blackberry Maps and not through an app
  5. Bright, colourful icons
  6. E-mail subject lines to scroll (so you don't need to open the e-mail)
  7. Get the headset to ring when a phone call comes through

My first improvement would be to completely overhaul the Blackberry Desktop Manager software. Apart from making backups and copying folders across there really is not much more to be done with the software. Ok, you can you application maintenance as well but when you compare it to the likes of say Nokia Ovi suite, BB desktop manager is found wanting in just about all areas.

It would be great to have better access to your device, like being able to view your contacts on the physical phone, read and delete text messages with ease. Even integrate the Blackberry App World into the software to make purchasing apps that little bit easier.

Talking of the App world, when is it going to grow into the size of the Android, Apple and Ovi stores? Also why is not possible to get apps like "Angry Birds" for example. Blackberry needs to do more to get better apps onto the market.

Blackberry Maps appears to be something that RIM just added because others had it. Maps offers navigation but it is difficult to drive and constantly look at your phone for the turn-by-turn navigation and then realise you need to have manually moved the navigation checkpoint on after each point. Bring on free voice guided navigation. There are voice guided navigation apps in the App world but if another brand can do this why can't RIM.

Something that would be nice is nicer looking icons, where is the colour? The icons are boring, functional yes, but boring as hell to look at everyday. I am sure there is probably an app or something for this but surely as a default package you could add some choices.

When accessing the strong point of the Blackberry, e-Mail, something that would be nice is have the subject line scroll so you do not need to open the mail to remind yourself what it is about. This would save time due to peoples poor e-mail etiquette.

The last thing that I believe would make Blackberry that much better is something that seems small and obvious yet RIM have not implemented. When you have the headset plugged in, make sure the phone rings in the headset. This is very annoying when driving along with your headset on and the phone rings and you do not know it is even ringing.

Let me know what you think would make the BlackBerry devices better.