Ubuntu Superphone . . . I’m geeking out.

A couple of days ago, Ubuntu launched a crowdfunding campaign to build a premium “proof-of-concept” Ubuntu smartphone.  The deal is, you pledge $813 to their campaign, and if they reach their funding goal, you get the phone when it’s produced.  Otherwise, you get your money back.

This is exciting on several levels.  First of all, I wish I had $800 burning a hole in my pocket to buy one of these things.  Mobile phones could be a whole new way to introduce the average person to Ubuntu.  Additionally, the plan is for this device to be a ‘converged’ device, meaning it can serve the purpose of phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and home media center, all in one device.  Finally, even if it fails to reach the goal, but still has a great showing, it would demonstrate interest to other handset makers such as LG, Samsung, HTC, etc.

Mark Shuttleworth says that if this is a successful venture, they may make this effort a regular thing.  When I finally finish being a student, I’m in.

Don’t Look Now, But See Who’s Catching Up?

Did you know that China has a space station?

That blew my mind when I read this article–made me feel very sheepish for my “Western-centric” thinking.  Why shouldn’t I expect that non-western countries, especially one as ambitious as the People’s Republic of China, can have a substantial space program?

Courtesy Slate Magazine

I hope that this a) helps keep the US engaged in space exploration at the right level, and b) fosters Sino-American cooperation.  It is quite interesting to consider how quickly China will be able to move forward with their space program, given that their government can do so unchecked–the American government is too bogged down in budget negotiations and pork barreling and regulatory guidance to make anywhere near the same amount of progress. I won’t be surprised if the Chinese make it to Mars before we do, and likely in then next 30 years.

A Chinese Palace Crosses the Sun | Slate


Modern Day Magicians

We live in the future.

I say that to my wife all the time (and I’m sure she’s sick of hearing it!) We have mobile communicators with which we can retrieve a vast amount of information from wherever we happen to be. The average person can launch a balloon into space. And, it turns out, we have flying robots which can perform maneuvers that are difficult or impossible for a human to perform.

I ran across this TED talk a couple of weeks ago.

To be clear, I have seen some of these demonstrations before; yet, I’m still in awe for technical reasons. To the average person, though, this demonstration must seem nothing short of magic.  Some thoughts:

  • The magical quality of this demonstration could be good or bad: good in that it could attract or inspire people to get interested in engineering and robotics. Bad in that it may seem inaccessible to ordinary people and have the reverse effect.
  • Note that there still is a safety net and Raffaello still wears eye protection to get close to the aircraft. He may be smooth and confident, but failures must be common enough that he needed to hedge his bets.
  • Amazing as it was, the stuff he’s showing are still (as he admits) toy problems.  On top of that, humans were working behind the scenes much more that most people would realize.  All of the demonstrations were well rehearsed with pre-programmed scripts, and the students “behind the green curtain” were performing mode changes and other decision-making activities that it is still difficult for machines to do on their own–that’s where the money really is.
  • As long as those maneuvers and the sensing that it requires is too big to fit on the vehicle, the potential applications will remain limited.

Wunderbar für Munich, Lubuntu!

The City of Munich has taken an unusual step in an attempt to limit the trashing or recycling of older computer equipment which is still serviceable but not capable of running Windows 7: they are distributing copies of Lubuntu for free.

For those not in the know, Lubuntu is a variant of Ubuntu Linux which packages the lightweight LXDE desktop environment, and is specifically geared for use in computers with older hardware.  This is unprecedented but I think a smart move on the part of the city. 1) It’s cheap–Lubuntu is free and open-source.  All Munich has to do is pay for the cost of burning and distributing the CDs. 2) It could breathe new life into computer systems that would otherwise end up in a landfill, and likely get that computing power into the hands of lower-income people, and 3) It expands the computing “horizons” of average PC users who otherwise might never get experience with an OS other than Windows.

P.S. Claus, I apologize if I am butchering the German in my title.

Countering the Pink Aisle With Engineering Toys for Girls

Right now my daughter is into LEGO Friends.  I’ll admit, when I first saw the pink and purple colors and the fashion, I wanted to vomit.  But at least she’s playing with Legos.  Last week I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of the characters is into science, and my stomach recovered a bit.


That’s why I got excited to read about Goldieblox and see their neat promo (below).  I’m putting some of these on her list for Santa this year.  For Linux fans . . . notice the little girl with the hammer has a stuffed Tux?

Another First! Sikorsky Prize Taken.

I’m actually a little late on this–a Kickstarter funded company built and flew a human powered helicopter that met the requirements of the Sikorsky Prize established 33 years ago. The actual flight took place a month ago, but the flight was certified today.

This is amazing on so many levels. Consider that the company only started a couple of years ago, whereas universities (aka Maryland) has been working for decades with some of the foremost minds in helicopter theory (Gessow, Chopra, Leishman). Leishman had published in his textbook that a human being was not capable of generating enough sustained power to hover (guess Leishman will have to release a new edition!)

Congratulations to Aerovelo!

Finally! A Human-Powered Helicopter Wins the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize | Popular Mechanics

Boating across the Atlantic autonomously. Wow.

I’m truly in awe of these seven guys.  Most college students would be hitting the beach for the summer, or taking an internship, or maybe just laying around on the couch.  These guys voluntarily decided to:

  1. Design a boat;
  2. That was autonomous;
  3. Actually build it from keel to stern, including electronics and software;
  4. And sail it across the Atlantic Ocean.

And, they’re not getting any grade or credit for it (at least not through their universities).

By the way, if successful, this will be the FIRST crossing of the Atlantic by an autonomous vessel. These guys will set a world record before most of them can drink alcohol.

Good money bets they’ve already got job offers on the table.

Scout Transatlantic

‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’? How about this guy?

Saw an article the other day about this inventive African man.  It seems that he has built a helicopter out of bubble gum and baling wire.  This is both happy and sad for Africa.

Happy, in that engineering talent is out there and will blossom assuming financial and political stability prevails. Eventually, universities and other educational means will become more and more available, and Africa will be like a sleeping giant awakened.

Sad, in that inventors like this guy might kill themselves trying to fly their contraptions before they ever get a chance to really succeed.  Look closely and you’ll notice that there is no swashplate, no pitch linkages, and that the tail rotor is a facade. Which means that this thing would spin out of control the moment it lifted off the ground.

Clever. But scary.

Hackers in Africa are building their own aircraft | Hack A Day