Category: Technology

Oops! No need to go to Cape Canaveral to watch a rocket explode on launch

#gottaleaveamark
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The USS The Sullivans got more than it expected during a test launch of a SM-2 “Standard” missile…The DDG-68 ship was sailing off the coast of Virginia performing when the missile was boosted out of the Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer’s Vertical Launch System cell and the SM-2 detonated in spectacular fashion…

Here is the official Navy statement:

On July 18 at approximately 9 a.m. (EDT) a Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) test missile exploded after suffering a malfunction as it was fired from the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) during a planned missile exercise off the coast of Virginia. There were no injuries and only minor damage to the port side of the ship resulting from missile debris. The ship returned to Naval Station Norfolk for assessment. An investigation into the malfunction has been ordered and is being conducted by the Navy’s Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems, which is part of Naval Sea Systems Command. It is too early to determine what, if any, effect this will have on the ship’s schedule.

get the wieners
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I like the understated style of that last sentence. Wonder what they’d say if it took out the aft end of the ship?

NASA satellite provides breathtaking new view of Earth


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NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has returned a breathtaking image of planet Earth from a distance of roughly one million miles from the homeworld. The image captures the full disk of our planet showing a stunning sunbathed vista of blue oceans and swirling clouds, with glimpses of the North and Central America land masses.

Thanks to the proliferation of Earth observation platforms coupled with the all-pervading reach of social media, images of our planet from space are easy to come by. However, most Earth imaging observatories are too close to the planet to capture a complete picture of the complex ecosystem that we call home…

DSCOVR…having reached its planned orbit in February, is capable of snapping regular high detail portraits of spaceship Earth from a staggering 1 million miles above its surface. This new image is a near perfect example of DSCOVR’s capabilities, displaying Earth hanging against the infinite blackness of space, granting a notion of the fragility of our planet, with a beauty to rival any image of Earth’s full disk taken to date…

The image was captured from the orbiter’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), which boasts the capacity to observe our planet with the use of 10 narrowband filters between the ultraviolet to near infrared spectrums. In this case, three separate images were combined to create a finished piece with near photographic-quality.

My new favorite Blue Marble photograph.

Flash – Must – Die

Adobe Flash—that insecure, ubiquitous resource hog everyone hates to need—is under siege, again, and hopefully for the last time. The latest calls for its retirement come from some of the Internet’s most powerful players, but if the combined clattering of Facebook, Firefox, and a legion of unsatisfied users isn’t enough finally to put it in the ground, scroll down to see how to axe it from your devices yourself.

Why would you want to?

Because Flash is a closed, proprietary system on a web that deserves open standards. It’s a popular punching bag for hackers, which puts users at risk over and over again. And it’s a resource-heavy battery suck that at this point mostly finds its purchase in pop-up ads you didn’t want to see anyway.

Open or closed means little to me – other than so-called open is even easier to hack than a crappy, poorly-designed closed system like Flash. Nothing is hacked more often than Linux.

This week, in the wake of newly discovered vulnerabilities in Flash, Facebook security boss Alex Stamos called for a termination date for Flash, and late Monday night Mozilla disabled all current versions of the plug-in by default in its Firefox browser. Even Google is limiting Flash’s impact; last month, it announced that future versions of Chrome will “intelligently pause” Flash-based content that isn’t part of a website’s core experience (e.g. video ads).

That doesn’t mean this is the end … yet. Facebook still uses Flash to play video on some browsers, and Firefox reintroduced Flash support on Tuesday when a secure update arrived. The point is clear, though: Flash is officially more trouble than it’s worth. <a href="http://www.wired.com/2015/07/adobe-flash-player-die/'>Flash. Must. Die. | WIRED.”>And it has been for some time.

…Killing of Flash has been on-trend since being software non-grata on the original iPhone. Steve Jobs penned a famous open letter in April, 2010, explaining why he wouldn’t let Flash anywhere near Apple’s mobile products, highlighting concerns over openness, security, and its impact on battery life.

More than five years later, the case against Flash remains largely unchanged—and the security problem is the most immediate and important. After all, the newly discovered critical vulnerability that led Mozilla to quarantine Firefox from Flash was the third problem of its kind discovered this week thanks to a data breach of controversial digital surveillance firm Hacking Team…

However actively Adobe has been working on Flash Player security, it doesn’t seem to be enough. This week’s mistrials are but the latest in a string of security lapses that have plagued Flash for years. Exploit kits—packets of code that take advantage of these sorts of vulnerabilities in your browser to push malware or ransomware—have used Flash to futz with countless sites. So-called zero-day vulnerabilities (a security hole that hackers find before the software company does) are found on Flash with such regularity they almost feel like a feature.

The good news is, you don’t have to wait for Adobe to pull the plug. You can do it yourself.

RTFA for instructions re most browsers.

I stopped concerning myself when iOS stopped running it in any of Apple’s mobile devices. The pressures exerted by Steve Jobs at the time pushed Google into speeding up their pace of adopting html5 everywhere – especially at YouTube. If you show up at YouTube without Flash installed, the site automatically switches into an html5 version of whichever video you’re looking for.

If I run into a site that refuses to run anything other than Flash – most often, the BBC, nowadays – I don’t run their videos. No need to tempt some script kiddie.

Pigeons wearing bras go to war

The pigeon vest was a vest that was created to protect carrier pigeons as they parachuted through the air strapped to the chest of paratroopers during World War II. Once the paratroopers hit the ground behind enemy lines, they would release the pigeons so they could fly off to deliver important messages.

And what does this have to do with brassieres? The pigeon vest was designed and manufactured by the brassiere company, Maidenform. On December 22, 1944, Maidenform agreed to make 28,500 pigeon vests for the U.S. government, switching, as many companies did, from peacetime production to producing necessary supplies for the war. In addition to the pigeon vest, Maidenform also made parachutes.

RTFA. It all makes sense.

Don’t fear that killer Volkswagen robot

Headlines rang out across the internet…that a robot killed someone in Germany. Beneath the sensationalist surface, there was a tragic truth: an industrial robot at a Volkswagen plant in Germany had indeed killed a 22-year-old worker who was setting it up. Coverage notwithstanding, this didn’t seem like the start of a machine-led apocalypse–I wanted a second opinion before heading to my backyard bunker. Ryan Calo is a law professor at the University of Washington, and he’s published academic works on our coming robot future, and the interaction between robots and cyberlaw.

Here are some of the questions…paired with his responses:

Popular Science: Yesterday Twitter was all abuzz about an industrial robot killing someone. You said at the time “this is relatively common.” What did you mean by that?

Ryan Calo: In the United States alone, about one person per year is killed by an industrial robot. The Department of Labor keeps a log of such events with titles like “Employee Is Killed When Crushed By Robot” (2006) or “Employee Was Killed By Industrial Robots” (2004).

You’ve written before about the potential for unique errors from autonomous machines. In future “robot kills man” stories, what characteristics should we look out for that make something go from “industrial accident” to “error with autonomy”?

Right. Industrial robots tend to do the same thing again and again, like grabbing and moving, and cannot generally tell what it is they are working with. That’s why factories establish “danger” or “kill” zones that people have to stay out of while the robot is operating…

Initial reports attribute the death to human error. At what point do you think having a human “in the loop” for an autonomous system constitutes a liability, instead of a safety feature?

In industrial robotics, that ship has long sailed. You couldn’t have a person in the loop and maintain anything like today’s productivity. Rather, you have to try to make sure — through protocols, warnings, etc. — that people stay out of the robot’s way

RTFA for more of the same sensible discussion guaranteed never to make it into your local newspaper.

BTW, Professor Calo says he wouldn’t guarantee that Atherton’s questions weren’t being answered by a robot. :)

Solar Impulse 2 lands safely in Hawaii

Hawaii landing

Solar Impulse 2, piloted by Andre Borschberg, exceeded the previous record of 76 hours’ flying time.

The journey from Nagoya in Japan to Kalaeloa, Hawaii, breaks the absolute distance and duration world records for manned solar-powered aeroplanes – records set by Solar Impulse on earlier flights.

We watched the landing, live on BBC World, at 9:54 MDT.

Brick-laying robot can build the structure of a full-sized house in two days

As robots get smarter, cheaper and more versatile, they’re taking on a growing number of challenges – and bricklaying can now be added to the list. Engineers in Perth, Australia, have created a fully working house-building machine that can create the brick framework of a property in just two days, working about 20 times faster than a human bricklayer.

Named Hadrian (after Hadrian’s Wall in the UK), the robot has a top laying speed of 1,000 bricks per hour, which works out as the equivalent of about 150 homes a year. Of course there’s no need for the machine to sleep, eat or take tea breaks either, giving it another advantage over manual laborers…

“The Hadrian reduces the overall construction time of a standard home by approximately six weeks,” Fastbrick Robotics CEO Mike Pivac told Gizmag. “Due to the high level of accuracy we achieve, most other components like kitchens and bathrooms and roof trusses can be manufactured in parallel and simply fitted as soon as the bricklaying is completed…”

“The machine will fill the void that exists due to shrinking numbers of available bricklayers, whose average age is now nearly 50 in Australia,” he says. “[Hadrian] should attract young people back to bricklaying, as robotics is seen as an attractive technology.”

Surely beats the crap out of the romance of making adobes. :)

Solar plane starts on longest section of flight across Pacific Ocean

A solar-powered aircraft has now passed the point of no return on a record-breaking attempt to fly across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Hawaii…

The plane, which has a wingspan bigger than a jumbo jet, took off from Nagoya Airfield in Japan at 18:03 GMT on Sunday. On Monday morning it was off the east coast of Japan and, all going well, it is scheduled to land in Hawaii in approximately 120 hours.

Live video from the cockpit of the plane is being broadcast on YouTube, and shows the pilot André Borschberg wearing an oxygen mask and thick flight clothes to protect him from the cold…

The five-day leg from Japan to Hawaii is regarded as the most challenging part of the journey.

“If we did a five day flight across a continent and we encountered any problems – be it weather, operational issues, there’s an alternate airport we can land,” the project’s managing director Gregory Blatt told Al Jazeera.

“Crossing the Pacific, there no alternate airport so that’s what keeps me up at night, that’s what keeps up the teams, the engineers, the pilots. This is a first ever – are we going to be able to make it?”

If successful, the 120-plus hour flight to Hawaii will be the longest solo flight in aviation history. It will also break records for being the longest distance flown by a aircraft powered only by the sun.

Stay in touch folks. Here’s the link, again, for the live YouTube link.