All posts filed under “Geeking out

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Privately-launched rockets = cool

In my last post lamenting the state of government activity in the space program, I mentioned SpaceX. Little did I know that shortly after I wrote that post, SpaceX made the first successful launch into orbit by a privately-funded company. WOW!

This is a landmark achievement, and I look forward to seeing more successes from them as they rollout increasingly bigger launch vehicles. (aka, Big-F’in Rockets) If they meet expectations, they will dramatically decrease the cost of launching satellites into space, which is a very good thing. (Dramatically = ~10-25% of current costs!)

Watch history in the making below. (My favorite part is hearing the employees in the background go nuts.)

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Hazards in pushing the envelope

Pushing the envelope can be a very dangerous business. This is even more true in the aerospace industry.

There is a company in California that I have always admired: Scaled Composites. Burt Rutan and his team have built some of the most interesting aircraft ever. (My favorite being the Boomerang.)

Their most high profile project to date was SpaceShipOne, which won the Ansari X Prize. Scaled made two flights in excess of 100km above the earth (past the edge of space) within two weeks using the same vehicle. It was an amazing feat, and Virgin partnered with them soon after to license the technology and build a space tourism business with Virgin Galactic.

Unfortunately, last summer during rocket motor testing in the development of SpaceShipTwo, an explosion occurred. Three Scaled employees died, and more were seriously hurt in the explosion, including a good friend of mine from University.

Scaled recently posted an update on the accident investigation [PDF] which was quite revealing:

After doing our best to take care of the families and each other, the first order of business was to work with Cal OSHA in its investigation of the accident. Cal OSHA took through the end of January this year to complete its investigation. The agency did not determine a cause for the accident. We are continuing to work with Cal OSHA. In doing so, we hope to support Scaled’s needs as well as the ongoing efforts of others in this developing industry.

You are truly working on the edge of the envelope when such an event occurs and months later no one knows the reason why it happened. Scaled was working with Nitrous Oxide, which is probably one of the safest substances you could use and still turn it into a rocket motor. I’m amazed that the cause wasn’t determined, and hope that the many actions Scaled has taken to prevent future accidents will prove effective.

As I wrote above, pushing the edges of the envelope can be a very hazardous business; unfortunately it’s the only way to truly grow.

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Day and a half left…

So the countdown to our departure to Beijing is getting very short. Tomorrow we do the online checking and pray for decent seats, and finish the day by packing. (I’ve made our list, but haven’t packed a thing yet.) That should be straightforward, though. It’s damn hot, and we aren’t doing anything fancy, so mainly t-shirts, shorts and sandals.

But before we go, here are a couple of cool links/stories I wanted to pass on:

  • Checklists for Doctors (from the New Yorker): A simple four-step checklist managed to reduce infection rates in intensive care units by 66%! In eighteen months, the group of hospitals saved 1500 lives and $175million.

    No matter how good someone thinks they are, and how much study they’ve done of complex procedures, checklists are absolutely necessary. After three years running a nuclear reactor, I can say this with certainty. While we were trained to be able to do everything without instructions, we failed any procedure where we didn’t use them.

    I really hope this is something that actually catches on in the medical community. It’s long overdue

  • Looking for a quick laugh? I keep forgetting to check McSweeney’s. This feature is great: “Corrections to last month’s letters to Penthouse Forum.” (via kottke)
  • If you like politics, and don’t mind a little math, you have to check out FiveThirtyEight.com. Developed by Nate Silver, who’s a pioneer in sabermetrics (aka baseball statistics), it’s a really deep look into the state of the Presidential and Senate races for this election. Very light punditry, very heavy math.

And to end this post, photos of Elise and Sarah’s bronze in Athens 2004, as well as Elise and Anna’s World Cup gold in June of this year.

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iPhone – Impressions after a bit of ownership

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So I’ve had my iPhone for a little while now, having never owned or used an iPhone or Blackberry before. These are my thoughts:

The Great:

  • REAL web browser. This is just such a killer app. Whether a website has been “optimised” for the iPhone or not, it looks awesome, can be navigated easily, and is pretty damn quick! I use this extensively.
  • App Store: infinite possibilities. I love the potential that’s wrapped up in the Apple App Store. Right now I’ve downloaded a bunch of different applications, though I only use a few regularly. (New York Times reader… awesome when it works!) As the iPhone ecosystem expands, there will likely be more and more very valuable apps here that will make the iPhone much more powerful.
  • Push e-mail. While I have it turned off most of the time (I prefer to get e-mail on MY terms, not on a timer), it is fantastic when I’m expecting something important to land in my inbox. With this, who needs a Blackberry?
  • GPS. This is awesome, especially when I’m out and about in London and need to figure out a) where the hell I am, and b) how to get home or wherever else I’m looking to go. The integration with Google Maps is fantastic.

The Horrible:

  • SMS. Ouch, this is bad. I mean, yes you can text. You can even text multiple people. But you CAN’T save a draft text, you CAN’T setup standard template texts, and if a phone number is wrong, you CAN’T tell the status of a message after it’s been sent. (Or if you send it to one person with a correct number and a different person with an incorrect number, it will throw up an error, but won’t tell you if anything got sent at all.)

    This is really pretty damn bad. They are all features that I used a lot on my old phone, which was a Motorola RAZR I bought nearly THREE YEARS ago. I really hope this gets sorted out soon.

  • MobileMe. I signed up with .Mac when it was still free so I could get the username that I wanted. I’ve paid for it since then, with decreasing value every year. I was initially really excited about MobileMe… push e-mail/calendar/contacts to the cloud, etc. But Apple’s roll-out has been AWFUL. I couldn’t access e-mail at all for the first 24/36 hours after MobileMe went live, it still acts up at times so reliability is still a problem. And then one day most of the phone numbers and a good chunk of my iPhone contacts just disappeared! They were still in the cloud, but no longer on my iPhone!

    Luckily this has since been solved, but I’m still very wary of MobileMe. I hope they actually get it to a point where it’s reliable enough for me to depend on day-to-day.

  • Copy-and-paste. Everyone has been complaining about the lack of copy-and-paste on the iPhone since it came out. I don’t think it’s a horrible issue, but there are times (such as when I can’t forward a text) when I really wish I could do this.
  • GPS. Yep, I listed it as one of the best things, but it’s also one of the worst. When it works, it’s awesome. But there are too many times where it just can’t seem to pick up a GPS signal worth a damn, even when I’m not near tall buildings or other signal blockers. I don’t know what the hell is going on with this, but I don’t like it very much.

So those are my opinions about the iPhone. Overall, a fantastic phone with a LOT of potential. (I can’t wait for the next software update to get rid of the 2.0 system bugs, though.)

What do you think?