Posts filed under ‘Geek’

A Secret Government Spaceship is Circling the Earth

The US government recently launched a secret space plane called the X-37B. You’ve probably never heard about it and that’s because nobody is really talking about it.

We do know that the X-37B was launched on April 22, 2010. It was originally a NASA project in 1999, but was transferred to the department of defense in 2004. It looks very similar the space shuttle, but it’s unmanned and about a quarter of the size. It also operates very similar to the space shuttle, it is launched by powerful rockets and it lands like an airplane. It has a small cargo bay, about the size of a pickup truck bed.

For safety and security, a little over 14000 space objects are cataloged and tracked. The objects include satellites, debris and rocket bodies. Tracking these objects reduces the chance of a collision between them. In fact, there are a few public websites that let you view this information, some will even plot satellites on a map so you can try to spot them when they’re over your area. The location and orbit of the X-37B spacecraft has not been announced by the government.

However, a group of amateur astronomers and sky watchers believe they have enough sightings to identify the craft and it’s orbit. The space plane has been tough to spot since it seems to be operating in a low orbit, similar to the height of military spy satellites. There are a lot of satellites in the sky, 75 military satellites plus 15 search and rescue; 37 gps and 19 Navy navigation satellites. Then, there are thousands of other satellites for communications, science and entertainment uses.

China and Iran are both on edge about what this space plane is capable of. According to China, it may signal the start of a space arms race.

Experts believe the X-37B is just another spy plane, except it can stay in the air for 270 days before returning for fuel. The sky watchers who are tracking the space plane have seen it over Iraq and Afghanistan and believe it is currently testing surveillance equipment. Because it can return to earth and be redeployed very quickly, it’s likely that it will serve a number of different roles as needed.

As for the name, it’s just a test plane series number. For example, the X-24A was the model of the plane used in 1963 to test the re-entry heat-shields that would end up on the bottom of modern day space shuttles.

When the X-37B does return to earth, it will land on a runway in California. If it veers too far off course, it will self destruct. Seriously.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Yahoo, Space.com, Wikipedia 1 2, n2yo

May 31, 2010 at 5:00 am 4 comments

Most Expensive TV Pilot in History: LOST

If you’ve watched ABC in the last week then you’ve probably seen commercials for the final episode of LOST this Sunday. If you’re not a LOST fan then you’re probably sick of hearing about it. Frankly, if you’ve never seen the pilot episode, then bear with me for one minute while I tell you why I think you should at least watch that first episode.

I think that everyone likes a good story, that’s why we read books, follow the same TV show for years and lineup overnight for movies. We suspend our disbelief to live in a different world for a few hours, days or even years. We do this because we want to feel happy, inspired and surprised. Great stories make us smile, laugh and cry — LOST is no exception.

Rent the first season on DVD and at least watch the 2 hour pilot episode. At $11.5 million, it’s the most expensive TV pilot ever made and it’s worth every penny. In fact, that’s more money than it cost to make Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and it’s a much better story too. But, it cost more than a lot of money, it cost Disney Chairman Lloyd Braun his job — they fired him for green-lighting such an expensive pilot. In hindsight, he made the right decision, LOST is one of the most successful shows ABC history.

The story of LOST draws from; makes subtle references to, and more than anything; pays homage to dozens of literary classics including: Alice in Wonderland, King Lear,Through the Looking Glass, Catch 22, The Fountainhead, A Tale of Two Cities, Of Mice and Men and dozens of others.

Just to put it into perspective, LOST is so rich with story that it has it’s own book. There is a character with a bit part in the pilot episode. That character (not the actor) is an author who wrote a book. There is no mention of the book in the show, other than its use as a prop in one scene, but you can buy the book on Amazon. Yes, it’s a real book that they wrote just for the show, the author listed is even the Character’s name on the show. As a viewer, you don’t need to read the book, but it’s apparently a pretty good book and it has a meaningful subtext if you’re a fan of the show.

LOST is filmed in Hawaii, which presents its own challenges. One reason the first episode was so expensive is because they bought a decommissioned Boeing 777 airplane to recreate the plane crash scene. Just the shipping on the plane alone cost $250,000. The crash scene was clearly visible to other planes landing at the nearby Honolulu airport. A plane crashed on the beach is not what you want to see from a plane that is about to land on a short runway that ends at the beach. So, airlines were advised to notify passengers they were looking at a TV set.

Many scenes in LOST are filmed in the same area as Jurassic Park. If you remember the magic you felt when you first saw that film, I think you’ll feel the same when you discover what’s great about LOST.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: Movie Budgets, LOST Books, LOST Trivia

Photo: ewen and donabel (cc)

May 21, 2010 at 5:30 am 3 comments

Arial is Not a Font

Arial is a typeface (aka “font family”). In fact, what many people refer to as “fonts” are actually “typefaces.”

The meaning of the word “font” has been butchered since the introduction of desktop publishing in the mid 1980s.

What is the true meaning? Directly from Wikipedia, “… a complete character set of a single size and style of a particular typeface.”

In other words, a font is a specific version of a typeface. Arial is a typeface, and 12-point Arial Italic is a font. 14-point Arial Italic is a different font in the Arial font family.

Changing the size of text on a computer is not a significant amount of work, so it might seem silly to think that you’re actually changing the font when you do this. Especially since we think of the font as just the typeface and not its size or style. But, this terminology made a lot of sense before desktop publishing.

The first printing presses used characters that were carved from wood and arranged in order to form a complete sentence, although they were glyphs rather than Latin characters.

This evolved into more modern systems that used metal characters that were more durable. At that time, changing the size of a typeface was a lot of work — it meant you had to pull all of the letters out and reassemble the words with a different set of metal pieces. (more…)

May 18, 2010 at 12:01 am 6 comments

Defenestrate Means: To Throw Out of a Window

Whenever someone tells me a computer frustration story, it usually ends with the phrase, “I almost threw it out the window.”

If you prefer more concise dialogue, then you’re probably reading the wrong website, but I can share a helpful word with you: defenestrate. It means, “to throw out of a window.” Used in a sentence, “I nearly defenestrated my computer.”

Today, this word is typically used for humor, but it has a very serious past. It comes from Latin, de means from and fenestra means window or opening. The word was coined around 1618, upon what is now known as the Second Defenestration of Prague. (more…)

May 12, 2010 at 12:01 am 1 comment

The Space Bar Scrolls Down in Your Browser

This is an awesome week and I mean that figuratively. The Book of Awesome arrives in stores this Wednesday and I wanted to celebrate by sharing some broken secrets from the website 1000AwesomeThings.com.

One of my favorite “Awesome Things” is “Learning a new keyboard shortcut.” Since I’m talking favorites, I want to share one of my favorite keyboard shortcuts: the space bar.

If you’re reading this in a web browser or you do a lot of reading on the web, this is one shortcut you should learn before all others. To scroll your browser down exactly one page, press the space bar.  To scroll up one page, hold shift while you press the space bar.

It’s that simple, happy reading.

Broken Secrets

Written By: Chad Upton

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Photo: jakebouma (creative commons)

April 11, 2010 at 9:59 pm 5 comments

3D TVs are Available Now

I was at my local big-box electronics store on the weekend where they had a 55″ Samsung 3D TV running. The picture looked funny to me, but one of the other customers, who I suspect had been sitting there for a while, immediately handed over his 3D glasses and told me to try it out. It was awesome.

It was the kind of experience that was once limited to theme parks and special events.

3D media in general is not new; the first 3D camera was patented in the year 1900. Many early prints and movies used red/blue glasses to present 3D images. This technique is called Anaglyph. The color filters are a basic way to present separate images to both your eyes from a single frame, which gives you the perception that some objects are closer than others. The downside is that everything is either red or blue.

I remember Captain EO at Disneyland back in the 80s, that was the first 3D film I saw without the red/blue lenses (although they were invented in the 1950s). In most cases, theaters use glasses with polarized clear lenses. The polarized lenses are different, each one filters out light waves that do not oscillate in the same orientation as the polarization. The projection system projects two images, one that will be filtered out by right lens and one for the left. This allows us to have a full color 3D experience. Although the projection system is very expensive, polarized glasses are fairly cheap and that’s why they’re the primary choice for theaters.

In 2003, 3D films started gaining in popularity, showing up in regular and IMAX theaters. Now, many local theaters have at least one 3D projection system. Some of the films in this time have included: Bugs! (2003), The Polar Express (2004), Chicken Little (2005), Nightmare Before Christmas (2006), Beowulf (2007), Meet the Robinsons (2007), Bolt (2008), Coraline (2009), Up (2009) and of course Avatar (2009).

There were many more, but those are some of the more popular ones. Since there have been so many 3D movies in the theaters, 3D home theater will let you enjoy those movies in all their glory over and over again. (more…)

March 25, 2010 at 12:45 am Leave a comment

Caller ID Can Be Hacked

If you rely on caller ID to screen calls, you should be aware that the number you see cannot always be trusted.

There are a few services available that let people choose the caller id number that appears when they make a phone call.

Telemarketers and collections agencies are not allowed to change their number, but some still do.

I share this secret because caller id spoofing is becoming popular among fraudsters. You should be weary of any caller asking you for something, especially money or personal information. If a caller claims to be from your financial institution or another company that requires personal information, ask them some information that confirms they are who they say they are. For example, if it’s your cell phone company, ask them which calling plan you’re on.

(more…)

March 8, 2010 at 12:46 am 3 comments

Why Vinyl Records are Becoming Popular Again

By Chad Upton | Editor

There have always been cool record shops in the hip parts of town hocking vinyl to the enthusiasts. But, it had been a long time since the major record stores carried them, until last year.

Maybe you’ve noticed, maybe not. But if you’ve been into BestBuy recently, some of their stores have a massive vinyl record selection. A year ago, they had a few, now they have hundreds. It’s not every store, but some of them.

 

Vinyl Edition

 

For many people, it’s probably hard to imagine that anyone would go back to using records.

Records are not convenient to use. They don’t play for very long, about 26 minutes before you have to flip it over or put a new one on. You can’t easily skip songs at the push of a button. They have to be kept very clean to sound good. The needle drags on the record so the sound degrades over time and worst of all, they are expensive.

Since all of these drawbacks are easily overcome by digital formats like CDs and MP3s, it surely makes people wonder, why are vinyl records making a mainstream comeback? (more…)

February 19, 2010 at 1:26 am 4 comments

Why Airplanes Don’t Always Fly in Straight Lines to Their Destination

If you’ve ever been on a flight equipped with a screen that shows the flight path, you might notice some zigs and zags that make your direct flight look like a scenic air tour. There are a number of reasons for this, but most of the time it comes down to Air Traffic Control (ATC).

Some people think that air traffic controllers are the guys that stand on the ground, waving lighted wands to guide the plane up to the gate. Those guys are actually part of the ground crew and they only have control over your flight for the last couple hundred feet before you reach the gate. The rest of the flight is controlled by someone else and it’s not the pilot.

The pilot flies the plane, but his course is being set by somebody on the ground. Those people are known as Air Traffic Controllers.

This system is a lot more complicated than it seems.

At the airport, the air traffic controllers sit up in the control tower. Those guys decide who gets to take off and land, which runways they use and when. They also direct planes that are moving around on the ground between gates and runways on the apron and taxiways. This aims to provide an organized flow of ground traffic and a safe flow of air traffic.

Once your plane has left the immediate area of the airport, the pilot must then communicate with a regional controller at an Area Control Center (ACC). If you’re on a long flight, you may get passed from one ACC to the next multiple times as you fly across the country.

Why? (more…)

February 17, 2010 at 2:39 am 13 comments

Some Rechargable Products Use Standard Batteries

I normally shave the old fashioned way, with shaving cream and a razor. Although, a couple times a week I use a rechargeable electric razor.

It doesn’t shave as close as a straight blade or cartridge razor, but it does shave time off my morning routine. It’s an easy way to catch up when I’m running behind or anxious to get working earlier.

I’ve had the same electric razor for about 10 years. I got it as a gift and it has worked really well, but its ability to hold a charge has degraded significantly since it was new. When it was new, I could travel for a week and not recharge it. Recently, it has required a charge after every use.

A couple weeks ago, it failed to run for more than a few seconds. I charged it again, and had the same result.

The internal rechargeable battery had finally failed. (more…)

February 16, 2010 at 12:27 am 1 comment

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