Friday, August 31, 2012

Postcards From Mars

from NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, used w/o permission"...This image is a portion of a larger image taken by Curiosity's 100-millimeter Mast Camera on Aug. 23, 2012. See PIA16104. Scientists enhanced the color in one version to show the Martian scene under the lighting conditions we have on Earth, which helps in analyzing the terrain...."

Next, a closer look at the center of that photo.

from NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, used w/o permission"...For scale, an annotated version of the figure highlights a dark rock that is approximately the same size as Curiosity. The pointy mound in the center of the image, looming above the rover-sized rock, is about 1,000 feet (300 meters) across and 300 feet (100 meters) high."

Mount Sharp: Oddly-Tilted Layers

Scientists figured the terrain in Gale Crater would be interesting. They probably didn't expect anything quite this odd, though:

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, used w/o permission)
"This image taken by the Mast Camera (MastCam) on NASA's Curiosity rover highlights the interesting geology of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside Gale Crater, where the rover landed.... "
What's intriguing about this photo are the strata - more-or-less horizontal layers on the face of Mount Sharp. What's unusual about this set of layers is that the upper ones are tilted quite a bit more than the ones underneath. the dividing line between those two zones runs roughly across the middle of the photo.

Strata being at different angles isn't at all unusual here on Earth - it has to do with plate tectonics, according to a fellow in a NASA news conference. But around here, it's normal for the upper set of layers to be much more horizontal than the lower ones: the opposite of what's happened on Mars.

Voicemail From Mars

"First Recorded Voice from Mars"
Mission News, NASA (August 27, 2012)

"The following statement by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was returned to Earth via the Mars Curiosity rover.

"Hello. This is Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, speaking to you via the broadcast capabilities of the Curiosity Rover, which is now on the surface of Mars.

"Since the beginning of time, humankind’s curiosity has led us to constantly seek new life…new possibilities just beyond the horizon. I want to congratulate the men and women of our NASA family as well as our commercial and government partners around the world, for taking us a step beyond to Mars...."

We've had the technology for sound transmissions from Mars for more than a decade. Still, Administrator Bloden's speech was a 'first.'

As of today, you can still see this video in "Interplanetary Voicemail," on NASA's website. In case NASA reorganizes their site before you see this post, here's a low-resolution version:

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
California Institute of Technology (August 27, 2012)
video, 1:33 (file size: about 10.8 MB)

The server for the low-res. version is nowhere near as fast as NASA's, so the file may take quite a few minutes to load.

Sounds of Mars - Maybe Next Time

The Mars planning FAQ page says that Curiosity doesn't carry a microphone, so we won't be hearing 'live from Mars' broadcasts. This time.

A late-20th-century Mars expedition carried a microphone. Signals from Mars Polar Lander ended on December 3, 1999, on its way down to the Martian surface:
Related posts:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Curiosity: Landing Video; and Settling In

"NASA Mars Rover Begins Driving at Bradbury Landing"
Mission News, Mars Science Laboratory (August 22, 2012)

"NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has begun driving from its landing site, which scientists announced today they have named for the late author Ray Bradbury.

"Making its first movement on the Martian surface, Curiosity's drive combined forward, turn and reverse segments. This placed the rover roughly 20 feet (6 meters) from the spot where it landed 16 days ago.

"NASA has approved the Curiosity science team's choice to name the landing ground for the influential author, who was born 92 years ago today and died this year. The location where Curiosity touched down is now called Bradbury Landing.

" 'This was not a difficult choice for the science team,' said Michael Meyer, NASA program scientist for Curiosity. 'Many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars.'..."

"This 360-degree panorama shows evidence of a successful first test drive for NASA's Curiosity rover. On Aug. 22, 2012, the rover made its first move, going forward about 15 feet (4.5 meters), rotating 120 degrees and then reversing about 8 feet (2.5 meters). Curiosity is about 20 feet (6 meters) from its landing site, now named Bradbury Landing. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech"

Taking a Look Around

Like many travelers, Curiosity is taking time to settle in before heading out to get a closer look at local attractions. In the case of this semi-autonomous robot, it's particularly important to check out equipment. Curiosity is a long way from home, and roadside service isn't available in Gale Crater. Not yet, anyway.

Here's a detail of that panoramic scene Curiosity sent back, showing spots where landing rockets marked the ground.

"...Curiosity will spend several more days of working beside Bradbury Landing, performing instrument checks and studying the surroundings, before embarking toward its first driving destination approximately 1,300 feet (400 meters) to the east-southeast.

" 'Curiosity is a much more complex vehicle than earlier Mars rovers. The testing and characterization activities during the initial weeks of the mission lay important groundwork for operating our precious national resource with appropriate care,' said Curiosity Project Manager Pete Theisinger of JPL. 'Sixteen days in, we are making excellent progress.'..."
("Mission News")

Video from Mars

This video is a bit choppy. Bear in mind, though: it was taken by a robot; and sent from Mars. Audio is what folks in mission control, back on Earth, were saying.

"Curiosity Lands on Mars"

NASA/JPL - Cal Tech (August 5, 2012)
via Brian Gill, YouTube (August 24, 2012)
video, 3:32
(Original video: "Dropping in on Mars in High-Res")

Related posts:

Lemming Tracks: No Pictures, Please! The Lemming is Busy

The Lemming frantically assures visitors that there will be a post ready, later today: if the Lemming isn't interrupted. Again.

This time, the Lemming says that an unexpectedly hectic schedule pushed today's post aside: and that's the story the Lemming is sticking with.

And, seriously: no pictures of the Lemming, or today's post may not show up until next week!

Related post:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Roomba Review, and Dancing Robots

"It Might Not Be the Robot We Want, But It's the Robot We Deserve"
Roberto Baldwin, product review, Wired (August 13, 2012)

"Along with the zombie apocalypse, the robot uprising is a real fear among the people that populate the internet. Blame it on Terminator if you want, but in reality, the mass-produced robots that have entered our homes have yet to come close to even the comically inept Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons.

"Instead of autonomous robots running our households and raising our children, we have Roomba. The utility robot from iRobot has been sweeping our floors for 10 years, and while the basic task it performs has remained the same, the famous vacuuming disk has gotten smarter. Not smart enough to take over the world, or even the family room, but smart enough to keep the floors clean. Or at least clean-ish.

"The new Roomba 790 series is the latest vacuum out of iRobot. The base functionality of the device is better than previous versions - in my testing, the 790 gathered more dirt and animal hair than my older Roomba ever did...."

Maybe some of "the people that populate the internet" really do fear "the robot uprising." Maybe they're the same folks who kept seeing Elvis, back in 'the good old days.' Then again, maybe not.

What the Lemming is fairly certain about is that the Roomba series of robots has become part of many American households: not as a toy, but as a (slightly) intelligent household appliance.

It's the Lemming's opinion that seriously-intelligent robots are more likely to have nice, polite, deferential personalities like Star Wars' C3PO. Maybe they'll be good dancers, too:

"Dancing Japanese Robots"

pongielan08, YouTube (December 29, 2005)
video, 3:26

Related (?) Posts:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lemming Tracks: It's Friday?!

For those loyal folks who reasonably expected to see a post this morning: the Lemming offers sincere, contrite, and belated apologies.

There's a very good explanation for why Friday morning's post didn't show up.

The Lemming didn't write it.

At a hastily-arranged meeting, the Lemming explained that today being Friday slipped the Lemming's mind. It's been 'that sort of a week.'

And, let's face it: the Lemming is a bit fuzzy around the head at the best of times.

There will probably be a post ready tomorrow. Or maybe the day after that. Or sometime before next Friday.

At least, that's the plan.

All-too-related posts:

Friday, August 3, 2012

First Montauk, Now This: East River 'Monster,' Another Dead - Thing

"Dead East River 'monster' confounds New Yorkers, animal experts"
Philip Caulfieldn, New York Daily News (July 25, 2012)
"A gnarly, dead carcass snapped by photographer Denise Ginley has the Parks Department claiming it's just a pig, while naysayers are crying 'foul.'...

"...A bloated, pig-like carcass spotted beneath the Brooklyn Bridge over the weekend has spooked New Yorkers buzzing about mutant river 'monsters.'

"Photographer Denise Ginley shot pics of the rotting, sand-covered corpse on Sunday. 'My boyfriend and I were walking along the East River on our way to a farmer's market when we spotted it among some driftwood on a small stretch of sand below the Brooklyn Bridge that you can barely call a beach,' she emailed the Daily News...."

This particular dead critter looks like a pig, sort of: judging from the photos, it's about the right size, has ears that are sort of pig-like. What's at the end of the legs? Maybe not so much:

(Denise Ginley, via New York Daily News, used w/o permission)

(Denise Ginley, via New York Daily News, used w/o permission
"Photographer Denise Ginley shot pics of the rotting, sand-covered corpse on Sunday while strolling with her boyfriend along the Manhattan side of the East River."

(Denise Ginley, via New York Daily News, used w/o permission
"Photographer Denise Ginley thinks it is odd that the Parks Department so quickly said the creature was a 'discarded cooked pig' and that the department 'threw it out.' "

A Pig: With Hands?!

No, the Lemming does not think that this is a mutant space-alien Elvis impersonator. Maybe a pig's hooves look like that, after being exposed to the elements for long enough.

Or maybe the Parks Department officials are city folks, and never got closer to pigs than a supermarket's meat department.

Or - maybe this is Elvis! (July 30, 2008) Or, not.

"East River Monster Is Either a Raccoon or Dog or Rodent (or Monster)"
Joe Coscarelli, New York (July 26, 2012)

"When the New York City Parks Department tried to tell us that this fat little blob of horror was a pig, we said hell no because we have eyes and our paranoia will not be placated. Instead, we came up with conspiracy theories about chemicals in the East River, offshore animal testing, and the Jurassic Park–style breeding of many more Montauk Monsters. Then, just in case, we asked the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, where a wildlife expert told Daily Intel through a spokesperson that 'the carcass in the picture you provided appears to be a raccoon.' Hmmm. Maybe?

"But the experts do not agree.

" 'Obviously, all of the hair is gone and the carcass is greatly bloated due to decay, so all of the typical body-form clues are absent,' said our source. 'But the overall body appearance, coupled with the hands/feet, look like a raccoon.' The original Montauk Monster also got called a raccoon, but who knows how deep this thing goes) The wildlife people aren't making any promises anyway: 'We cannot say for certain though without examining the carcass in person.' It's too bad the Parks Department 'just threw it out.'..."

So, is the east river monster a drowned dog, a deceased raccoon, a mutant pig, or something else? In the Lemming's considered opinion: maybe.

(Denise Ginley, via New York, used w/o permission)
"...But this doesn't look like a dog paw to us either...." (Joe Coscarelli, New York)

Actually, "pig" seems unlikely. The ears are sort of pig-shaped: but the - paws? Hands?

What's at the far end of the front legs for mammals that don't have hooves is fairly standard hardware: so all that the Lemming will commit to is that the east river monster almost certainly is a mammal, and comes from Earth.

And Now, Something Crazy

On the other hand, it would be so cool if this was the body of an escaped prisoner from a top-secret space alien government black ops undercover mad scientist frankenfood biotech CIA plot.

Involving Elvis.

Related posts:

Music, Walking Ads, and Other Ways to Drive Away Visitors

"12 Annoying Things About Your Website That Drive People Away"
Shelly Kramer, V3 (Vision. Voice. Value. V3 Integrated Marketing) (June 21, 2012)

"...12. Music

"Music blares the minute I visit your site. That is unexpected, disruptive, and downright rude, from a customer experience standpoint. And, in case you weren't sure, it ticks me (and most people) off more than just about anything. Wake up and smell the coffee! That is so 2001. Frankly, it wasn't cool even back then—but today, music on your website can mean the kiss of death....

"...9. Walking Ads

"[Cue scream here.] Speaking of pop-ups, walking ads stink even more. They are annoying, disruptive, and inconsiderate. I came to your site for information. You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and walking ads are not the way to do it. I don't care who sold you on it. It’s a bad idea...."

This is a well-written and useful look at what *not* to do: in other words, the Lemming agrees with most of the 12 points. Most, not necessarily all.

For example, annoying thing #5 says:

"...Black backgrounds and white or grey type are nearly IMPOSSIBLE to read. With very few exceptions (there are some sites done very well by people who know what they're doing, but they are rare), cut it out...."

A bit later in that paragraph the author urges folks to do marketing research before committing to a black background. That, in the Lemming's opinion, is good advice: certainly for a commercial website, and probably for most personal ones.

Marketing research - for a personal website?! That's another topic.

Getting back to 'down with black backgrounds:' The Lemming's experience is that low contrast between text and background is more of a problem than black backgrounds. This is where designers should remember that not everybody has the same sort of monitor, among other things.

The article's bottom line is - under the "Bottom Line" heading:

"...Great design is cool. And cool is nice. But that isn't enough when it comes to effective online marketing...."

The Lemming agrees: although it's great if a website or blog can be cool and effective.

(A tip of the Lemming's hat to Sonia Winland, on Linkedin, for the heads-up on this article.)

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