The Modern Space Race

The Institute of Engineering and Technology’s monthly magazine always has plenty of tech articles and this month is no exception with a look at the different approaches to space flight being adopted by the US and Russia in Gateway to the Stars.

In the US, privateers are pushing forwards with the new Spaceport America in New Mexico, while the Russians continue with the Soviet-era Baikonur Cosmodrome. The pictures of the new spaceport under construction and Virgin Galactic craft contrast sharply with the utility of Baikonur. Obviously the sites are aiming at different markets, one consumer-led into sub-oribital flight, the other for ballistic launches, typically satellites and cargo runs to the ISS.

Picture courtesy of Virgin Galactic. The new spaceport terminal is the building under construction in the foreground.

The article also has some great trivia. Did you know that the nearest settlement to Spaceport America is called “Truth or Consequences” or that Baikonur Cosmodrome is actually 300 km from Baykonur so as to mislead the West? Or that the launch countdown to zero can be credited to Fritz Lang’s 1929 film “The Woman in the Moon”?

The London Underground but Overground

The map of the London Underground is world famous for its linear representation of train stations and lines. It was created by Harry Beck in the 1930s and subsequently became the standard by which other metro and subway maps were designed. The map uses a simple set of rules to great advantage, such as coloured lines, stations equally spaced, lines can only go horizontally, vertically or diagonally, curves always have the same radius and so on. Here’s a small section of the map showing some of these features (the whole map is copyright Transport for London).

However, we’re now so used this particular version, that it’s easy to forget that it represents a physical geography. With a mashup of Google Maps and station co-ordinates, Jonathan Stott has put together a representation of the London Underground, showing where the underground lines are in the real world. The image below is just a screenshot – if you go over to his website, you can play with the map.

It’s interesting to see where the underground lines actually go but it’s also worth reflecting that this is exactly what Harry Beck was trying to get away from 80 years ago.

The Ultimate Hotel Room

Longtime readers of GNC will recall that we sometimes divert from the path of pure geek to cover other interesting topics and there’s been a short series of strange hotels. We’ve had aircraft fuselages, boxes in the woods and undergrounds caverns. However, this has to be the ultimate hotel room at the Conrad Rangali Island Maldives Hotel, even if it is only temporary.

Normally, this underwater space is a dining room but to celebrate the restaurant’s 5th anniversary, it’s being converted into a luxury undersea bedroom for a limited period. It’s 5 m to the surface.

 

Magellan Partners with AAA, Upgrading GPS to Travel Guide

Looking back, the conversion of GPS from a military weapon to a ubiquitous consumer gadget is one of the defining technologies of the last twenty years and Magellan has been at the forefront of GPS technology since 1986, so it knows a thing or two about getting from A to B. Andy McCaskey gets some pointers on the direction of the GPS market from William Strand, Senior Product Manager for Magellan.

William demos the new Magellan RoadMate 9055, which is a tablet-style GPS with a 7″ screen, real-time traffic info and Bluetooth, a new generation of larger GPS units which go beyond just navigation and become travel guides. Magellan have exclusively partnered with AAA to include their TourBook guides in the RoadMate, giving ratings for places to visit, eat and stay. Available now for a penny shy of $300.

To finish, Andy and William discuss the relative merits of dedicated GPS devices versus GPS-enabled smartphones. Watch the video to find out what they think.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News.

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Scosche Industries’ Great Gadgets

Todd chats to Ted Lopez, Interface Product Manager for  Scosche Industries on their long-term association with the motor (auto) industry and their latest award-winning products.

Scosche have been in business for over 30 years starting out on dash-mounted entertainment systems, which 30 years ago was probably just a radio and a cassette player. These days Scosche still has a strong business with in-car entertainment but more recently has expanded into Bluetooth systems and accessories for the iPhone and iPod. Ted gives Todd a drive-by of their latest products, all of which have won innovation awards at CES or other major shows.

The FreedomMIC is a lapel-mounted Bluetooth microphone suitable for video interview work. Available in Spring – price not known.

The FlipSYNC II keychain are small charge’n’sync cables that clip up into a keyfob. Two models, one for Apple devices, the other micro- and mini-USB. Never leave home without them. Available now for $19.99.

The MotorMOUTH II (shown above) is a Bluetooth hands-free kit and A2DP audio streaming device that plugs straight into the 3.5 mm jack on the car dash. I need one of these – I currently use a Jabra BT3030 for streaming audio to my car stereo but if I have to take a phone call, the microphone is poor. Available now for $79.99.

Finally, the MyTREK is an armband fitness trainer with a complementary iPhone app. No surprise there. Available Spring – price not known.

All innovation award winners so check them out.
Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central

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Mobile Edge Scanfast 2.0 Checkpoint & Eco-friendly Stylish Laptop Bags

Matthew Olivolo of Mobile Edge Stylish Laptop Bags (www.mobileedge.com) presents the Scanfast 2.0 collection of Checkpoint-friendly and Eco-friendly laptop computer bags. Amazingly, the material is actually constructed out of corn and is therefore made of non-petroleum-based material. Featuring a butterfly design, the laptop does not have to be removed in order to be scanned, nor do the bags have to be placed into the TSA gray bins — they are designed to roll right down the rollers into the scanners. The laptop bags feature plenty of zippered pockets for numerous accessories. Models include a briefcase, messenger bag and backpack. The briefcase version will accommodate up to a 16″ inch laptop, while the backpack version will accommodate up to a 17″ laptop. The bags are priced affordable at $99 each and come with a lifetime warranty. If a zipper should break the consumer can send it back in for repair at no cost to the customer.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast and Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

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Where Are You & What’s Around You?

One of the most useful features/services of today’s smartphones is the ability to take advantage of the integrated GPS chip in combination with an always-on data connection, facilitating location-aware apps.

Priced at $1.99, “Allstays Truck & Travel” is an app that is available for Apple iOS and Google Android. It’s part of a larger suite of different types of location-aware mapping apps available at http://www.allstays.com/apps/.

The “Allstays Truck & Travel” app concentrates on showing locations for truck stops, truck scales, truck dealerships, truck washes, low clearance overpasses, Walmart locations, public rest areas and other places with truck parking.

The list of data points of interest seems reasonably complete, and the producer of the app seems to encourage as much user feedback as possible.

One potentially useful feature of the app is the ability to set up automatic alarms to give notification when one is within so many miles of an upcoming exit with specific types of favorited business.

The Underground Hotel

If you want to get away from it all, then this hotel (motel) room in the Grand Canyon Caverns might be just for you.  Over 200 ft down in a vast underground cavern, you’ll be pretty much guaranteed to get an undisturbed night’s sleep, even if the bomb goes off.  New for 2010 and situated in a cave 200 ft wide, 400 ft long and with a 70 ft ceiling, you’re also unlikely to find a hotel room much bigger.

Rates are a slight pricey $700 per night for two, with additional guests at $100 each but it would be a pretty unforgettably experience.  Totally dark and totally quiet.  It’s a dry cave system so there’s not even the drip of water to break the silence.  Regrettably, if you’re not an early riser, you’ll have to put up with tours coming through the cave while you’re still snoozing.

I visited the caves while on holiday last week, though I didn’t stay overnight.  You’ll find the Grand Canyon Caverns on Route 66 between Seligman and Peach Springs, Arizona.

Get your kicks here.

(During the Cuban missile crisis, the caves were designated as bomb shelters by Kennedy.  Enough food and water to keep 2000 people alive for 30 days was brought down into the caves….and it’s still there.)

Tree Hotel Mirrorcube

Continuing the series of insane hotels, I offer the Mirrorcube at the Tree Hotel, Harads, Sweden.  It’s a 4m by 4m by 4m aluminium cube covered in mirrored glass hung round a tree trunk.  Once it’s in place, it simply disappears into the forest.  The panoramic views from the windows must be absolutely stunning.

Designed by Tham & Videgård Arkitekter, the cube is a treehouse for two people, with room for a kitchenette, bathroom, bedroom and roof terrace.  None of the pictures show how you actually get into the cube but rope ladders and bridges are mentioned in the blurb.

In case you are wondering about birds flying into the cube, apparently the glass is coated in an ultraviolet colour which is invisible to us but visible to birds.

A must for all Predators taking a short break on Earth.



Fastest Passenger Train

This might’ve been overlooked during the Christmas / CES / Google v. China period but China launched the world’s fastest passenger train, the Harmony Express, at the end of December.

The trains go 1069 km (664 miles)  from Guangzhou to Wuhan in around three hours with a top speed of 394 km/h (that’s 245 mph).  For the purposes of comparison, Japan’s Shinkansen train manages 300 km/h (186 mph) and France’s TGV 279 km/h (173 mph).  The Acela Express in the USA reaches just 240 km/h (150 mph).

China is in the middle of an ambitious railway building programme with the aim of increasing the network from 86 000 km to 120 000 km.  This particular link cost US$17bn and took only four years to build.  The eventual plan is to link Beijing in the North with Guangzhou in the South and close to Hong Kong with a 2,000 km high-speed line.

For all the gricers out there, you’ve a new one to spot.

There are some photos at the Daily Mail.