Space Living: Now and the Future

Astronauts are currently enjoying space living and travel via the International Space Station (ISS), but what about the future? If the answer is on a government owned site, we're all lost. Almost all government websites and social media accounts are offline due to the government shutdown here in the good old United States. Luckily, the inefficiency of Congress doesn't reach out to Earth orbit, because past and present astronaut bios are still online (probably hosted on a non-government server), and the astronauts in the ISS are still tweeting!  Check out this wonderful shot from astronaut Luca Parmitano (@Astro_Luca)

Luca and others are living that space life. Former astronaut Garret Reisman visited the Q&A website Quora to give us some insight on what it's like to transition into life in space. Via Quora:

At first it's just weird.  
All kinds of things are happening to your body.  Your vestibular system is all messed up - your inner ear isn't working at all and it's sending garbage signals to your brain.  Your heart, which is used to pumping against gravity to do its most important job, delivering oxygenated blood to your brain, is now pumping too much and your head gets all puffed-up.  (I woke up in the middle of my first night in orbit and wondered why I was standing on my head for a few seconds, until I realized, no - I was just in space.)  When you close your eyes to go to sleep, you see lightning flashes inside your eyeballs.
And you have a hard time just moving around.  The first day is filled with apologies as you inevitably kick or elbow your crewmates as you thrash around like a fish out of water.
But eventually you get the hang of it, and for those of us who were lucky enough to do long-duration missions, about a month into flight you finally really get used to it.  Then you wake up in the morning, float out of your sleeping bag, shoot across the space station like superman and turn a few somersaults on the way to the galley for breakfast. 
Now you are a real spaceman!

It's pretty amazing that it takes a month to get used to it.  It usually takes me a few days to get over something as simple as jetlag if I'm flying across the country.  Then again, I may be at home in space since here on Earth I'm already known for inevtiably kicking or elbowing people close to me due to my clumsiness.

Below are a few more interesting videos from the Quora thread. Former ISS Commander Sunita Williams gives us a walk through in Nov 2012 before she departs back to Earth.  On the second video, YouTube user VSauce speaks about how long it may take us to truly live amongst the stars. Check them out!

Reefcasting The Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast bite pic.jpg

If you want to watch Netflix and YouTube on your television, you have a few options -  video game console, Blu ray player, smart TV, Apple TV, or Roku Box. Google has developed an alternative that is both more affordable and easier to set up  The Google Chromecast lets any iOS or Android device, as well as any computer running the Google Chrome browser, control video streaming on your television. For $35, it's a steal. Check out my video review below!

Speedrun Through Your Favorite Sci-Fi Movies

SciFi

If you love science, you probably also love science fiction (sci-fi) movies.  Sometimes you just don't have the time to watch the entire movie, but you need a quick fix. I found a great YouTube user account - 1A4Studio - who does beautiful hand drawn versions of sci-fi flicks that are only one minute long. They are very well done and hilarious - you'll definitely see your favorite scenes!  

40 seconds into Star Wars A New Hope is a marvelous reenactment of the Obi Wan - Darth Vader fight. 26 seconds into the Matrix you see Morpheus doing the STOP TRYING TO HIT ME AND HIT ME stance during the dojo fight. 40 seconds into Back to The Future shows George McFly knocking the stuffing out of Biff with a well-timed Mortal Kombat uppercut.

If you can't see the videos below, please click here.

This post also appears on TWIB.

The Universe: Bigger and Deffer

One of my favorite YouTube series, Minute Physics, just released a fascinating video on the size of the universe.  It boils down to this: we can observe a certain amount of the universe from Earth. When we observe stuff  that's really far away, the light takes so long to travel to our eyes that by the time we see it, it's already moved far, far away.  Earth within this huge observable universe (95 billion light years) is about the same scale as a teeny tiny virus is within our solar system. We are a TINY part of the universe.

If you can't see the video below, click here.

Also, you know what Bigger and Deffer is right? B.A.D.? As in I'm Bad? Maybe this video below will remind you - if you can't see it, click here.

Programming Can Help You More Than You Know

Nowadays there are more ways than ever to learn the basics behind programming, most of which I listed in a previous post. No matter what kind of work that you can do, learning the basics of programming can help you learn how to break a problem into logical, modular steps.  Programming is a language, and it's a good tool to have in your toolbelt.

I'll leave it up to one of the masters, Adria Richards of But You're A Girl, to explain the benefits.

 

I Love The Internet, But ...

Editor's note: I've been profiled in the Charlotte Observer - check it out!

 

 

Mashable is reporting that the United Nations Human Right council has declared the internet a human right. From the article:

The resolution says that all people should be allowed to connect to and express themselves freely on the Internet. All 47 members of the Human Rights Council, including notoriously censorship-prone countries such as China and Cuba, signed the resolution.

The internet has changed the world as I wrote about earlier, but I wouldn't equate it to a human right. These rights tend to be intangibles such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I view the internet as a utility, like electricity, gas, and water - very important things that a civilized society needs, but not a right.

If the internet stopped operating tomorrow, I'd have a tough time.  But I could also live like - oh, I don't know, how I did the first 14 years of my life before I discovered the web in high school.  I can still read, play video games, program, and enjoy life. I couldn't say that if I lost access to freedom.

 

Thank You, Internet


The internet has changed my life. I've been able to easily keep up with old friends, find new friends that share my interests, and keep myself educated on everything from history to electronics. And of course, this blog would be nothing more than a personal journal if I couldn't share it online.

The flag shown above was created by Google and is comprised of several quotes about what makes the internet awesome. Check out some of the quotes in detail in the video embedded below, and add your quote at Google's site.


#ScienceLooksGood - Space Theme for Your Computer

 

Lifehacker has an amazing space desktop theme available for Windows, MaC, and Linux.  Check out their post here. It includes the above wallpaper plus customized skins and icons to make your desktop look like Spaaaaace! The following are included for Windows:

The Goodnight Tale wallpaper from DeviantArt
The Rainmeter system management and configuration utility for Windows
The Encoded skin for Rainmeter to get the date and weather
The Enigma suite for Rainmeter for the system stats on the right side of the screen
The Google bar for Rainmeter for the search bar in the upper right
StarDock's ObjectDock to replace the Windows taskbar
The Token icon set for the dock at the bottom

Check it out at Lifehacker!

Online Courses for Free and Customized Educational Videos

 

 

Yup, it's me. High school was awesome.


I've been a huge fan of MIT's online OpenCourseWare initiative. For 10 years, MIT has made several of its engineering courses (and a few others in the Sloan business school) available online free of charge. Impressively, it was more than just a few PDFs - there was lecture videos, lab notes, problem sets, and exams.  It was truly an interactive way to learn for those of us proactive enough to seek out information online.

Now, Harvard and MIT are teaming up to offer free online courses. Similarly, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michiganan are also planning to offer free online courses. The two groups are using different companies, which will bring the competition needed to truly flesh out the best way to offer information online.  The best thing about these efforts is that they will be actual courses, which will be graded either by professors, peers or crowdsourcing.  While I doubt that you'd be able to use these for any actual course credit outside of the involves university, it's still a great idea.  Just think about what this can look like a generation from now. 

Hopefully, universities will be as inventive as TED, an educational video site, is when it comes to interactive educational video. They've just unveiled a great way to mix and match segments of videos as well as add annotations, quizzes, and other parts to create a product customized for a specific audience. This is great because sometimes it can be a pain to send someone a video and mention what part they should pay attention to - with this solution, the video itself can be as brief and contain the relevant text itself.  Cool stuff!

Here's to using technology to help improve education! And for free!

 

Flipping Education On Its Head

 

Its common knowledge that the United States education system needs some work.  But too often people throw technology at the problem without a plan.  Dumping a bunch of iPads on a school without a process on how to utilize it is an expensive recipe for disaster.

Thankfully, Arizona is doing the opposite. They are taking advantage of online lectures on sites such as YouTube and Khan Academy to create a "flipped classroom".  Learning a concept in class and applying it at home is flipped into learning the concept at home (using the online tools listed above) and turning class time into a large group workshop to apply that concept.  Fittingly, the idea began in Colorado and has spread via social networking to schools across the country.

This is a new concept that has many challenges. For example:

The biggest criticism of the flipped classroom is that some students don't have access to high-speed Internet.

To overcome this, some schools leave their computer labs open during lunch hours and after school. Others direct students to public libraries within walking distance.

Flipped classrooms are more likely to be in private schools, where more families can easily afford computers and high-speed Internet, some superintendents said.

As this teaching style gets tested, challenged, and improved, I hope that it can reach kids regardless of what school and socioeconomic background they are. Our schools need to get a little crazy and nontraditional to be able to break out of mediocrity.

Speaking of nontraditional, some enterprising students at Vanderbilt are developing a custom tablet that allows blind people to understand algebraic concepts using touch and vibration.  The video is so great that I can't really do it justice - check it out below!

 

Pinning All Over the World

I love Pinterest. it's a completely visual social networking tool where people post photos that they've taken or that link to other websites. But to me the links and comments aren't important. I like to jump on, browse the photos, and like / reshare (called repin) cool pictures, and jump out. This usually takes around 5 minutes or so. The elegant web design arranges everything is a grid and is very easy on the eyes.

Pinterest also allows you to follow only certain categories, called boards, that a user creates. So if someone is posting about ugly shirts, I can unfollow just that category and still have access to the other pictures from the user.

Then my man Pierre showed up. He began following me and I fell in love with his old school tech pics. The I went to his profile page and saw that it's completely in another language! If this was another network, the language barrier would have effectively prohibited us from easily connecting on the site.

Pinterest is not the first site to offer this visual view. Instagram comes to mind, but it's limited to iOS devices and the site design isn't nearly as good. And Flickr is a little dated and more suited to serious photography.

If you haven't been pinning, get to it! Follow me at Pinterest.com/shareefjackson

What's In a Name?

  1.  

    I've maintained several website personas over the years, but eventually as I got older, I decided to start using my real name online. Now why would I do this? To control my message.

    More and more interactions occurr online, and tying those interactions to my real life persona is crucial for networking. I like to be able to say that my website, Twitter account, and other social networks are united under my name. It adds a sense of legitimacy and it also makes me accountable to what I'm putting out their online.

    By publishing my content under my name, I'm also owning my search results. If you do a Google search on my name, you'll get content that I've created. Because it's not limited to just my professional work, it makes me a well-rounded person and shows that I am more than my resume. Of course there's that one MySpace model who also shares my name, but hey, that's just one result :)

    Jeff Jarvis has recently written a book, Public Parts, that talks about this concept. He believes that embracing publicness is a strong asset in this Internet connected world. It helps us maintain what we really want to be private because the public information will dominate any search results, leaving the private information as secured as it can be. It's never 100% secure - if someone wants your information, they'll get it - but by embracing a public persona, this means that you can control it to the best of your ability.

    It might be weird, and it's definitely not for everyone, but try using your name a little more on the Internet. You might be surprised at the results. I mean, y'all love me right?

     

CNN gets live streaming - if you pay for cable



CNN has jumped into the new media game headfirst by allowing live streaming of its TV channel. You can log on anywhere and view CNN on your web browser, iPhone, or iPad. Yes!

The catch? You have to be a paying cable subscriber. Since I'm in Philly, I had to verify my Comcast username and password. The good news is that I'm not tied to my Comcast internet connection - I can view CNN from any wifi access point.

This is a great move by CNN, and I'm sure it's only possible because its restricted to cable subscribers. Still, it doesn't help me to cut the cord, get rid of cable, and stream all of my TV online. Maybe it's just a dream ....

Spotify: You Get What You Pay For

 



 If you're thinking about Spotify, pony up and pay the $10 / month. You'll get access immediately instead of waiting in the invite queue for the free version.  My (short) adventure with the free version is below.

I have a beta invite to the free version of Spotify, a music streaming service that just debuted in the US. Basically, Spotify lets you stream music from a huge library.  There is also a paid version, but I wanted to give the free version a try.

I downloaded the app on my PC and allowed it to connect to iTunes.  I installed it on my iPhone and I was able to see all my iTunes playlists - cool!  See I can see all of the songs that I've put into playlists, I can stream them, right? Especially since I own them?  Apparently not with the free version.

 

 

It turns out that the free version of Spotitfy is only useful for streaming Spotify's catalog on a PC or laptop, or downloading music that you already have onto your iPhone.  The latter is is exactly what you can already do with iTunes, albeit this is a wireless solution.  In other words, the free version is useless.

I upgraded to Spotify premium for $10 a month.  For the price of an album, I can stream from the Spotify catalog on my iPhone, as well as replace iTunes as the syncing device for my purchased music.  The best hard is that the songs queue up quickly over 3G, so much so that it feels like the songs are stored locally on the device instead of Spotify's streaming servers.  

There's also the option to download songs locally if you'll be without internet for a while. This is good if you can predict a bad internet connection - but how often does that happen? My advice is to always keep a core selection of songs on your phone, and use Spotify to access songs that pop into your head during the day. That alone is worth $10 a month.

Bottom line - you should expect to pay for a great service, and Spotify is just that.


Netflix: It's $6, people

I can spend hours on Netflix streaming

Netflix is currently $10 for unlimited streaming of its video library along with one DVD at a time.  However, this price will be increasing in a few months. Starting in September, Netflix will cost $16 for unlimited streaming video along with one DVD at a time.

I don't mind paying an extra $6 a month for a great service that provides what I want. Between Netflix for old TV / movies and iTunes for paying per episode for recent shows, my TV watching habits are satisfied.

Many of the arguments against the change are on a principle level - the fact that allowing a company to boost their prices by 60% is a slippery slope that will give other companies the leeway to raise their prices.  The truth is, Netflix put itself in this position with a low, almost impulse-buy price that I'm sure it realized was not sustainable in the long term. $16 a month is still a bargain, especially considering the amount of server space that Netflix uses to provide streaming content, and the resources required for its DVD service.

I'm sure Netflix will come out of this unharmed, despite the noisy echo chamber currently going on at a lot of the major tech sites.

Why Don't I Use One Of My Favorite Websites Anymore? Poor Digg.com

Digg is a site where users can submit news stories that other users can vote up or down. The stories with the highest votes get pushed to the front page of the site. Because stories had no be manually submitted, it cut down on the power of major publishers. In a world before Twitter and excessive Facebook status news sharing (2004), this was the best way to get a sense of the news that people found important. So why don't I use it anymore?

I no longer use Digg because it has become a bloated mess after Digg's latest revision last year. What was once a front page driven by users (though some did admittedly game the system, like Mr. Babyman) became a dominated by major news publishers who were allowed to automatically submit content to the site. Digg became one huge RSS reader - one that purported to be the view of the community. Meanwhile, sharing news links via Twitter and Facebook became the new social currency.I can safely says that I find out about breaking news (like today's acquisition of T-Mobile USA by AT&T) from one of these means quickly.

Digg fell behind the times. Since Digg's founder Kevin Rose resigned in the last few days, there has been a flood of news coverage on Digg. In particular, Sara Lacy wrote a great Techcrunch piece on what Digg meant to the San Francisco tech community. It's a shame to see Digg fall apart in shambles and die as a former shell of itself, but that's what happens if you don't continue to evolve your product with the market.