Monday, June 27, 2005

Back on the Blog Wagon

I've taken a bit of a hiatus whileI was at the SDSS collaboration meeting in Portsmouth etc. My presentation was well received even though it was thrown together at the last minute. Did do some some blog stuff though - helped my Dad start a blog for the cookbook he is working on.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Astro Viz Workshop webpage is up

I've put up a webpage from the Astro Viz workshop I posted about a week ago. You can find the page here.

Here is a picture taken in CyberSpace while the workshop was going on(courtesy of Curtis Wong)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Top five "out there" robot ideas

Robotics is a field on the verge of taking off. The first commercial robots are in people's homes (we love our Roomba), and there are all kinds of wild ideas out there for what robots can do. So inspired by the "roachbot" in today's Science Times here are the top 5 "out there" robot ideas:
5. The Roachbot: Basically a car which is controlled by a poor little coachroach atop a ping pong ball.

4. The intestine crawler: This 6-legged robot disigned at Carnagie Mellon's nanorobotics lab will crawl around your small intestines snapping pictures as it goes.

3. Reproducing Robots: This robot can copy itself - sort of.

2. The SlugBot: The SlugBot gets its energy by hunting its food (slugs) and digesting them.

1. The ShapeShifter: I coach a First Lego League Robotics team and my kids really like the idea of the TETwalker a tetrahedral robot that walks by shortening two of its lengths and falling over. I'm going to see if we can build one out of Mindstorms. Anyway NASA has ideas about connecting together several of these tet structures to create a shapeshifting swarm. Here is a paragraph from their press release:

These miniature TETwalkers, when joined together in "swarms," will have great advantages over current systems. The swarm has abundant flexibility so it can change its shape to accomplish highly diverse goals. For example, while traveling through a planet's atmosphere, the swarm might flatten itself to form an aerodynamic shield. Upon landing, it can shift its shape to form a snake-like swarm and slither away over difficult terrain. If it finds something interesting, it can grow an antenna and transmit data to Earth. Highly-collapsible material can also be strung between nodes for temperature control or to create a deployable solar sail.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Finding Comets

As part of my duties for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, I check all the spectra we take which the software is not able to identify. Some times this is because the object we imaged is no longer there. Satelite trails, asteroids, supernovae and comets all fall in this class. A few weeks back I got an email from Mike Solontoi from the University of Washington who was compiling a list of all the comets imaged by the SDSS; so far he had compiled a list of 11 found using 4 different techniques. I only had notes I was able to find on 1 big one I stumbled across recently (older notes were lost in an email crash). To find more I performed a skyserver query to look for galaxy targets whose spectra were unidentified and had very low signal to noise. This provided 5 more, the first four of which were on Mike's list (as was the bright one I had notes on), I'm haven't heard back from him on the 5th, but I'm hoping it's a new one. By that I mean new for him, all 6 on my list turn out to be known comets. You can check out the list here.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Podcasts I'm listening to

Here are the ones I'm suscribed to: ratings out of four stars

Slacker Astronomy(****): My favorite - these guys are really funny. Ad Pamela's voice, well...

One World Expedition(***): These guys phone in every day from their mission to cross the Artic this summer. It's really compelling stuff. One was about how they can't find where they packed the bullets, and the polar bear that has been following them.

Planetary Radio(***): A podcast of the Planetary Society's radio show, high production value and good interviews.

Universe Today
(**): Phone interviews with astronomers on recent disoveries. The production value is low but improving, and the science is good.

Science@NASA(**): This was actully the top rated podcast in Febuary.

Living on Earth(**): The radio show. I'm listening to this to prepare for the series of forums on climate change that we just received a NASA grant to put on (I'll blog more about this later). But the 1 hour shows are really too long for me to listen to on the train.

Make Zine Podcast(***): A really nice podcast about fun tech stuff. Robots, hacking, reviews of consumer electronic etc.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Using NASA RSS feeds in the CyberSpace gallery

OK, I'm cheating a bit but I'm coping this post from my other blog which talks about whats going on in Adler's CyberSpace gallery. Since this article was posted Thom has started working on a more sophistiated version of my program which will check the feed and download the images every night and load them into a MySQL datbase. A script would then query the database and create files for the Macromdia Director sideshow. Anyway, here is the post:

NASA is doing a feature story on their website about our use of their RSS feeds! The story is at
It's really hard to try and keep the gallery current with more than 20 different displays, so using RSS seemed like a great solution. Turns out that it was pretty easy to parse the xml in Macromedia Director (at least once I stopped trying to use their xml parser and just wrote my own). The first thing I tried was just making a slideshow of the NASA image of the day feed. It worked pretty well, but the images it linked weren't high enough resolution to use in the gallery. I sent an email to Colin Engar at NASA about this and he was nice enough to set up a special feed with links to hi-res images. Three months later and it's finally up in the gallery. Right now we have two displays taking information from RSS feeds, and I hope we can add a couple of more soon. There is the image of the Day one which loops through the last five NASA images of the day, and our new intro screen which runs the "breaking news" feed as a ticker across the bottom.