Tech Talk iconTech Talk

NASA Administrator Resigns in Address to Agency Employees

The chief of the U.S. space agency said today he will step down next week to make way for a new hire to be selected by the incoming Obama administration to take his place.

In a televised address to all NASA's facilities, Administrator Michael Griffin thanked the agency's 300 000 employees for their contributions over his four-year term to getting the space shuttle program running smoothly again after the calamitous failure of the Columbia orbiter in 2003, which brought the program to a halt. Pres. George W. Bush named Griffin, a veteran aerospace engineer, to the post in April 2005 to head the space shuttle recovery effort and to supervise the planning for NASA's future objectives in space as outlined in the president's 2004 Vision for Space Exploration.

Griffin today said that the professionals at NASA had a duty to support the next administrator as diligently as they had supported him, according to a published account online from the Associated Press.

"NASA will look great whether we're asked to return to the moon and establish a permanent presence there and go to Mars, as I think we ought to be asked to do, or whether we're asked to carry out some other task," Griffin stated. "If you can't support the agenda, then the proper thing to do is to leave," he added. "There are many different things that you could do with a $17.5 billion NASA civil space program. But what we can't do is squabble and fight."

President-elect Obama has not yet named a candidate to replace Griffin, but press speculation has circled around retired Air Force Gen. J. Scott Gration, who served as an advisor to the new president on military matters in the past.

The outgoing administrator told agency employees that he considered getting the shuttle program up and running after the Columbia disaster to be his greatest accomplishment.

"Nothing â'' nothing in the world â'' is harder than picking yourself up after a cataclysm like that and moving forward, and we've done it," he said.

Griffin, 59, was NASA's 11th administrator over its 50-year history. He is a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics.

Obama's inauguration, the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium march, portable toilets, and IEEE: connecting the dots

All eyes on Tuesday will be on Obamaâ''s inauguration. And the inauguration parade. Behind the scenes at the parade, in charge of making sure the logistics go off without a hitch, is the parade director, 30-year-old Peter Gage. Heâ''ll decide where the president will walkâ''and will make sure there are enough portable toilets.

Step back to a critical Washington parade 40 years agoâ''the 1969 Vietnam moratorium. Behind the scenes, in charge of the logistics for the 500,000 person march and, indeed, worrying about the toilets, was John Gage, Peter Gageâ''s father. These days, John Gage, an IEEE member, is with Kleiner Perkins venture capital, targeting the problem of global warming, after spending much of his career at Sun Microsystems (IEEE Spectrum profiled his dream job with Sun here.) Organizing the 1969 march, he told Spectrum, was basically an engineering job. â''Itâ''s not hard,â'' he says, "but it involves toilets, you know, you have to have water. You have to have places for lost kids. You have to cap the meters so the cars wonâ''t parkâ''just simple organizational things.â''

Like his father, Peter Gage thinks like an engineer. Take a look at his breakdown of the parade logistics, including 8000 police officers, 120,000 metro passengers per hour, and 112 new light bulbs along the parade route, and 4100 portable toilets.

And yes, proud father John will be on the scene.

Nanotechnology Making Inroads into Water Applications

When you get past the economic crisis, then the energy crisis, and then the Global Warming crisis, there is one rather large crisis that gets ignored: the water crisis.

Nanotechnology has been offering for some time solutions and promises of even greater capabilities in the future when it comes to addressing the issue of clean drinking water. Moving these technologies to industrial scale has remained largely elusive, but there appears to be an increasing amount of research in applying nanotechnology to water applications, which could start to show dividends.

In further evidence that there appears to be a critical mass of research in how nanotechnology can address the water purification issue, Philip Ball in an article for the New Scientist chronicles the history and latest developments of how carbon nanotubes are being used to filter out harmful ions from water, thereby making desalination more efficient.

According to the article, in further research it could be possible for the technology to lead to the capability of separating mixtures of hydrocarbon gases, filtering CO2 from a power plant chimney, or even extracting the gas directly from the air.

The latter bit should excite those environmentalists who are more alarmed at the plight of the polar due to global warming than they are at those who don't have access to clean drinking water.

NASA reporting presence of methane on Mars, reigniting talk of Martian life

Methane is one of the byproducts of life. Methane on Mars may be biological or geological. The methane was found alongside water vapor. This is a very interesting discovery and will reignite talk of life on Mars.

NASA made the announcement at a Washington D.C. press conference today at 2:00 p.m.Look for huge coverage in the news.

What NASA scientists have found are large plumes of methane. The gas was found in spectroscopic studies using large telescopes over seven years.

A cometary collision could have produced it, but no evidence of large collisions are seen. Geologic activity (volcanism) usually produces other gases, which are not seen. Biological organisms produce methane. NASA scientists are saying it is hard to say what is causing methane on Mars.

Methane on Mars may also make terraforming somewhat easier as methane is a greenhouse gas.

CES 2009: First Hardware Switch for Booting Multiple Operating Systems

This product gets my vote for most awesomely geeky gadget at CES:

For my personal use, I have no need for the device; one partitioned drive works fine for me. But I can see Ken's switch catching on, even if it's for niche applications. And he already has a product that solves his own problems. So far, he's self-financed the whole development himself, and he's still working on bringing down the manufacturing price. So what do you think? Would you find this device useful?

Steve Jobs Steps Down Temporarily as CEO of Apple

The iconic leader of Apple Inc. has decided to take a medical leave of absence until this summer. Late today, Steve Jobs informed his employees that he will temporarily step aside as Apple's chief executive officer because his well-publicized recent health issues are "more complex" than he originally expected.

In a companywide email note, Jobs wrote today:

Team,

I am sure all of you saw my letter last week sharing something very personal with the Apple community. Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well. In addition, during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.

In order to take myself out of the limelight and focus on my health, and to allow everyone at Apple to focus on delivering extraordinary products, I have decided to take a medical leave of absence until the end of June.

I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for Apple's day to day operations, and I know he and the rest of the executive management team will do a great job. As CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out. Our board of directors fully supports this plan.

I look forward to seeing all of you this summer.

Steve

Jobs, 53, announced last week prior to the firm's Macworld conference that health concerns would prevent him from delivering his annual keynote speech to the Mac faithful in San Francisco. At the time, he described his condition as a "hormone imbalance," which was under treatment. The announcement partially quelled rumors that Jobs' health was deteriorating dramatically, as evidenced by a noticeable weight loss in his physical appearance over the last year. The Apple co-founder has successfully fought off pancreatic cancer in the past.

Today's news caused shares of Apple to drop 8% (to US $78.40) in after-hours trading, according to an item from CNN/Money online.

Nanotechnology and Public Engagement: Is there a benefit?

Richard Jonesâ'' Soft Machines blog has a lengthy discussion--well worth reading in its entirety--on the impact of public engagement in scientific research, and in particular in the area of nanotechnology.

Andrew Maynard has written a reaction piece on Jonesâ'' work that provides some US context to Jones who was focused primarily on the UK experience.

I am afraid that I fall into the category that Jones describes as â''cynicalâ'' when it comes to the usefulness of public engagement, which seems often to be â''exercises that are intended, not to have a real influence on genuinely open decisions, but simply to add a gloss of legitimacy to decisions that have already been made.â''

But the real root of my concerns regarding public engagement is not that it is some ruse cooked up by the powers that be to appease the public, but that science may be governed by the ignorance of the mob. As Maynard describes it, â''The challenge is to develop and enact ways of achieving this that are socially responsive and tap into the â''wisdom of the crowdâ''â''rather than the â''madness of the mobâ''.â''

My cynicism was turned on its head when I discovered that the two scientists: Jones and Maynard, are strong proponents for the usefulness of public engagement, arguing that it actually may lead to better science.

Maynard sees that maybe with a new Obama administration poised to take office and powerful new networking tools public engagement may be able to beneficially influence science and technology decision-making processes. I just hope that the networking tools can help to overcome the deficit in the public understanding of science so we can get more of the â''wisdom of the crowdâ''.

CES 2009: Duck Hunt Without the Video Game Console

duckhunt.jpg

Here at Spectrum, weâ''ve covered our fair share of remote-controlled, flying toys. There was the rotary wing Bladestar featured in this yearâ''s gift guide, the indoor plane from 2007, and the Micro Mosquito palm-size helicopter from 2006. But with each toy, the basic experience is usually the sameâ''fly the vehicle around for a minute or two until it runs out of power.

At CES this year, however, the flying toy market got injected with a welcome dose of novelty (and nostalgia for the original Nintendo Entertainment System). Interactive Toy Concepts (the company behind the Micro Mosquito) had a representative in full hunting gear showing off their new Duck Hunter toy/game. After you hand-launch the lightweight, flapping, electronic fowl, it's time to pick up the included light gun and take aim. Each time you "hit" the duck, it will temporarily stutter. Land three shots during the 30 seconds of flight time, and the bird will drop like a stone.

Video of the duck in-flight after the jump:

The company is looking to sell the toy for about $30 when it hits stores in the spring. They're also developing a two-player version, where a second player takes control of the duck for evasive maneuvers. All we'll need then is a robotic, laughing dog to mock our poor marksmanship.

Nano News Aggregators Unintentionally Humorous

In order to keep up to date on nanotechnology news I use a variety of Internet tools to follow the latest developments in the world of nanotech. The most recent one I have started to acquaint myself with is Alltop.

Once I managed to get over the omission of the â''nanotechnologyâ'' entries made into this TechTalk blog, which are now nicely displayed here, I looked over the list of stories and web sources.

The one that really struck me was a blog called Nanonews, which describes itself as â''News about the newsâ''. But it really isnâ''t. Itâ''s all about Salvia Divinorum, and defending its lawful usage.

Why this subject would give itself a website title â''Nanonewsâ'' or why it would describe itself as â''News about the newsâ'', I have no idea. But what is more perplexing is how this rather odd blog managed to get on a list of web sources for the subject of nanotechnology.

Omission of IEEEâ''s Tech Talk aside, there are a number of other worthy blogs that cover the subject of nanotechnology, such as TNTLog and Nanobot--both of which represent blogs that have been around longer than most and actually have points of view as opposed to being merely press release stenographers.

But knowing something about the subject you are aggregating news items for does not seem to be a high priority. Rather tools for identifying the highest traffic websites that use the term "nano" has become the only way to define a source of information on nanotech.

Advertisement

Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.

Advertisement
Load More