Glenn writes a lot about satellites and space: links

I've developed an obsession with space in the last couple of years, particularly with satellites, probes, landers, rovers, and other gadgets that we send into it. When I was a kid, I used to read and dream about space, but wandered off into other meadows. Returning to it is a blast (sorry) as my decades studying, working with, and reporting with technology gives me an entrée into the world (or worlds) of mission planning, launches, travel, landing, and deployment. 

Glenn visits Curiosity's sibling at JPL in Pasadena.

Glenn visits Curiosity's sibling at JPL in Pasadena.

Here's a collection of what I've been writing about, largely at the Economist.

Voyager 1 & 2

The Voyagers continue to function nearly four decades after launch, delivering useful science. Most recently, Voyager 1 passed the edge of the solar magnetic bubble (the heliosphere), crossing the heliopause into the interstellar medium! (It's still within the solar system, as defined by the sun's gravitational pull, however.)

In a bit of nice timing, I visited the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena in January 2013 for a bunch of reporting, and wrote up a visit with Ed Stone for the Economist, the principal investigator of the Voyager missions from their start in the 1970s and still a

In March 2013, the first paper appeared suggesting that Voyage 1 had broken through the heliopause. I wrote an Economist Explains about it. Later in the year, after more analysis had appeared and more scientific consensus was reached, I filed a long report for Boing Boing on Voyager 1's progress and ostensible current location.

My long-time Economist editor, Tom Standage, co-wrote a feature for Technology Quarterly, "In Praise of Celestial Mechanics," about keeping all this gear alive when it's in orbit around Earth or billions of miles away. (In typical Economist fashion, I wrote a long draft from my JPL visit and other research, Tom tinkered with it and extended material from his expertise, and I was delighted with the final result.)

Nanosatellites and Other Small Birds

The cost per kilogram of pushing something from Earth into orbit, however high, has dropped substantially over the last few decades, and is poised to drop another order of magnitude if SpaceX perfects its reusable craft. However, it's still relatively expensive. But instead of relying on cheaper launches, sending up more compact and capable gear sheds cost, too! Nanosatellites — 10 cm cubes weight about 1 kg — and both somewhat smaller and larger gear are already revolutionizing how information will be gathered from near space.

I did some more travel for this piece, interestingly to San Francisco, where several firms are making bijou satellites inside of ordinary office spaces and small warehouses. Thousands of small satellites will launch in the next couple of years, bringing information from space within reach — anything a satellite can measure up, down, or sideways. I filed this Technology Quarterly cover story, "Nanosats are go!"

As part of this reporting, I wrote about the KickSat, a partially crowdfunded three-unit nanosat (30 cm by 10 cm by 10 cm) that contained over 100 femtosatellites, the size of postage stamps. It launched, but wasn't able to complete its mission — a charging problem left it unable to trigger its spring release in time. The first piece was "Magic Dust"; the follow-up, "An elegy for satellites like maple-tree seeds."

I also wrote about NASA's PhoneSat project, which takes the innards of ordinary Android phones and beefs up the battery and radio components and then puts them into space. These missions go up fast, iterate quickly, and produce useful results.

Other Pieces

An ancient spaceship was captured (with permission) by citizen scientists, and I wrote a three stories about it. First, after NASA granted permission and a team was booting up communications ("How to revive a satellite"). Then, when it seemed likely they'd be able to put the satellite into a new permanent orbit ("An old workhorse satellite spins back up"). And, finally, when it still seemed possible that the new trajectory would be possible ("The ancient mariner"). Sadly, the old bird was only able to make a few residual firings before it was determined the tanks were depleted — not strange for living decades past its original sell-by date.

I also filed this story on nanosatellites potentially reigniting interest in aerospace engineer careers, which had fallen on some hard times in recent years as internet engineering jobs took off.

It Takes a Hidden Village

I love Kevin Kelly's work and life, and had a great talk with him months ago for my podcast, The New Disruptors. But during his talk at the 2014 XOXO festival a week ago, I felt a distinct chill when, in describing his book Cool Tools, he said it was the work of two people over a few months, and then went on to note their use of Elance and other distributed work tools.

Tim Maly felt the same chill, and wrote a very interesting essay riffing on that and related issue: independent creators are dependent on the work of so many others, most of whom aren't afforded the same opportunities at advancement and independence. Tim followed the thread of labor down to the Chinese workers referenced in another talk by the creators of the NeoLucida; the two guys behind that project traveled to China and spent two weeks in the factory that was making their gear.

I know that Kevin didn't mean to disparage or denigrate the work of the hundreds of people who put in minutes or hours through various freelance/contract aggregation services. In fact, in our podcast, he spoke specifically about these folks (full transcript):

In the end, I probably redesigned at least 90 percent of the pages, but they were delivered at such a stage that it was possible for me to refine them. We were generating I forget how many pages a day from all the freelancers. They were first class. They were really great.

He also noted:

What it is doing is arbitrage. It’s matching the needs of one person with the abilities of the other in a very low friction way. I think that’s what really comes forward. Sometimes you don’t need necessarily the design power. You want something a bit more modest, and this is a way to kind of connect with that person very directly, very quickly within a matter of hours. I think that’s really the beauty of this system.

He can speak for himself, but from a similar position, I know what he meant: it only required a couple of dedicated people, not working exclusively on the project, to coordinate and bring it into being; something that not long ago would have required a team of several and a year and maybe an order of magnitude or factors above that in cost. He was the motive force; without his interest, energy, and money, the book would never have come to pass.

When I created The Magazine: The Book (Year One) earlier this year, it was my idea. I came up with it, coordinated it, raised the funds, hired people, and handled nearly all the details. But, of course, dozens of people were involved in it directly, tens of thousands at one remove, and millions at another.

The book required the expertise of a graphic design and production team of three and my contract editorial team of two (managing editor and proofreader); a few dozen writers, artists, and photographers; paper and ink, printing presses, postal and shipping services. You can crank the aperture wide or small about how many people were involved depending on what level of detail you want to discuss. Someone had to mine ore, smelt it, refine it, and stamp out machine parts for the equipment that embossed the covers of the hardback edition.

We are ourselves often cogs in someone else's machine. The lower level the task, the less likelihood we have to control our own destiny. I don't think Kevin has lost sight of that at all — he began his life's work by traveling the world to find disappearing societies and met people forgotten by everyone else. But our independence is always positional, relying on the constraints of others to make the raw stuff on which we depend.

Important Dishwasher Update

I realize that all five of you have been wondering about the update to the dishwasher situation. It turned out worse case/best case.

To recap: everything went to hell in and around our house and then order resumed. The dishwasher, however, continued to leak. We talked to a highly rated local repairman, who advised us based on age and model to replace it. We tried. The installers came and claimed (maybe true) that they couldn't squeeze the replacement in. (Thanks, Sears, for charging my card and not refunding the price nearly four weeks later. Second pissy email sent, and will be filing a complaint with my credit-card company next.)

So we convinced the repairman to come out, who charged us $55 for an hour or more of testing and consultation, during which he determined that even if we put $300 of parts and a few hours of his time in, the thing might still leak and it wasn't worth keeping alive.

Cue figuring out how to get a well-reviewed dishwasher that didn't cost $1,200 and that would fit in the space. We needed a "short tub" (under 33 1/2 inches tall), which are for some reason also in the ADA Compliant category. I gather that they have lower racks, perhaps, and thus easier to load with disabilities? Not sure.

We wound up ordering from a local appliance company, Albert Lee, a Bosch SGE63E15UC. Not cheap at about $800 with free delivery, but the only thing that would both fit and people didn't hate. (Other suggested units had terrible reviews.)

We then also had to hire our regular contractor, now mostly retired but willing to do some work for us, to come out because the plumbing and electrical weren't quite right. The folks who three-quarter-assedly renovated the house when they owned it 25 years ago put the cutoff valve for the water behind the dishwasher, instead of under the sink. And it was also too high off the floor. The Bosch likely wouldn't have fit, because it had nearly no clearance above the valve.

Our contractor cut a bunch of holes, swore a lot, dropped a few things, and managed to replumb it to work. Then the Bosch arrived with some strange attachments, and he drilled a few more big holes, and got it all together, leveled, and running. We'll probably owe him $300 or so for his hours of work.

Not cheap, but in a family of four with two growing boys, I think necessary. Lynn grew up washing dishes by hand, and it's not terrible to do so. But the new dishwashers are actually relatively efficient compared with handwashing: time, energy, and water consumed. Based on initial loading of the new machine, I think it might hold twice as many dishes as the old one, as bizarre as that seems as it takes up the same space. And it looks like it's even more energy efficient than the model it replaced, as well as using less water. So we might use 25% to 33% the water and energy per dish, and thus pay back the high cost quickly enough to take the sting away.

What I’d Like to Hear Tim Cook Start with

At the start of the keynote tomorrow, I'd like to hear Tim Cook say this:

You've seen all the coverage about hacked accounts and stolen private images and data. We at Apple are appalled about this and as soon as we were alerted, began days of auditing, and immediately fixed problems that abetted the password cracking related to iCloud that led to some of these breaches.
You trust us with your most personal details, and we take this seriously. The possession and disclosure of private data is a crime. Make no mistake: This isn't funny and the victims should not be blamed for trusting us and others. No one should be sniggering, shaming, or pointing figures. Criminals stole people's information and then released it. We will do everything in our power to assist law enforcement to track them down for prosecution.
We have already taken some steps, and in the next two weeks will take more. We can do better.

(Spoiler: he didn't.)

Does Every Modern Doctor Who Feature a Hidden or Crashed Spaceship?

No, but a surprising number from the modern series. I count 31 firm "yesses," and a lot of maybes.

Eccleston

"Rose": Alien species on Earth with a hidden transmitter.
"The End of the World": No, just creepy skin person.
"The Unquiet Dead": No, but alien race hiding on Earth.
"Aliens of London": Yes. (Also hidden aliens.)
"World War Three": Yes. (Also hidden aliens.)
"Dalek": No, unless the Dalek is a spaceship. (Dalek is hidden.)
"The Long Game": No, but hidden alien.
"Father's Day": No. Even the TARDIS goes missing.
"The Empty Child": Yes. (Hidden nano-aliens.)
"The Doctor Dances": Yes. (Hidden nano-aliens.)
"Boom Town": Yes. (Hidden alien.)
"Bad Wolf": Yes. (Dalek ships around Earth. Hidden aliens!)
"The Parting of the Ways": Not exactly at this point, but continuation of previous episode.

Tennant

"The Christmas Invasion": No. Straight out invasion.
"New Earth": No. (Hidden human!)
"Tooth and Claw": Not precisely. An alien species seems to have come to Earth. In a hidden fashion.
"School Reunion": No, just hidden aliens attempting to conquer time and space.
"The Girl in the Fireplace": Yes. (Hidden robots.)
"Rise of the Cybermen": No.
"The Age of Steel": No.
"The Idiot's Lantern": No, just a hidden alien.
"The Impossible Planet": No. Hidden devil.
"The Satan Pit": No. Hidden devil.
"Love & Monsters": No, just a hidden alien.
"Fear Her": Yes. (Hidden alien.)
"Army of Ghosts": Kind of. The hidden spaceship (and aliens) is in the Void.
"Doomsday": Not precisely.

"The Runaway Bride": Yes! Both in orbit and (kind of) at the heart of the plant, though it's more appropriately an incubation pod. (Hidden alien!)
"Smith and Jones": No, although hospital is transported to the moon.
"The Shakespeare Code": No. (Hidden aliens.)
"Gridlock": No, just enormous hidden crabs.
"Daleks in Manhattan": Not exactly: hidden Daleks.
"Evolution of the Daleks": Same.
"The Lazarus Experiment": No.
"42": No. (Alien hidden in brains?)
"Human Nature": Yes. (Aliens hidden in jars.)
"The Family of Blood": Yes. (Yes.)
"Blink": No, just hidden aliens.
"Utopia": No. (Unless you count each crazy end-of-universe person as a spaceship. They are hidden humans, not really aliens.)
"The Sound of Drums": No.
"Last of the Time Lords": No.
"Voyage of the Damned": Not exactly, though the ship does show up around Earth, hidden.

"Partners in Crime": Kind of. (The ship comes back, but the whole building is full of alien tech. And there are hidden aliens.)
"The Fires of Pompeii": Yes. (Hidden stone aliens.)
"Planet of the Ood": No. (Hidden brain.)
"The Sontaran Stratagem": Yes, and hidden Sontarans.
"The Poison Sky": Ditto.
"The Doctor's Daughter": No.
"The Unicorn and the Wasp": No, but a hidden alien.
"Silence in the Library": No — and they're not aliens, either; they're native.
"Forest of the Dead": No.
"Midnight": No. (Hidden non-alien.)
"Turn Left": No. (Phase-shifted hidden alien.)
"The Stolen Earth": Sort of? The Dalek ship is hidden initially.
"Journey's End": No.

"The Next Doctor": Yes — sort of? (Hidden Cybermen.)
"Planet of the Dead": No.
"The Waters of Mars": No. (Hidden virus.)
"The End of Time": Yes.

Smith

"The Eleventh Hour": No, just a hidden alien.
"The Beast Below": No, just a hidden space whale.
"Victory of the Daleks": Yes.
"The Time of Angels": Yes.
"Flesh and Stone": Yes.
"The Vampires of Venice": No? I guess just hidden aliens.
"Amy's Choice": No.
"The Hungry Earth": No — they were already there and not aliens!
"Cold Blood": No.
"Vincent and the Doctor": No, just a hidden alien.
"The Lodger": Yes. But no aliens, just holograms.
"The Pandorica Opens": No.
"The Big Bang": No.
"A Christmas Carol": No.

"The Impossible Astronaut": No? There's a whole control system underground for the hidden aliens, but I guess not a spaceship as such.
"Day of the Moon": No?
"The Curse of the Black Spot": Yes.
"The Doctor's Wife": No, although I guess the whole intelligent planetoid is a…ship? That they were unaware of?
"The Rebel Flesh": No.
"The Almost People": No.
"A Good Man Goes to War": No.
"Let's Kill Hitler": No.
"Night Terrors": No, just a hidden alien.
"The Girl Who Waited": No.
"The God Complex": Yes. (Alien isn't precisely hidden.)
"Closing Time": Yes!
"The Wedding of River Song": Yes! The Teselecta!!
"The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe": Yes.

"Asylum of the Daleks": Yes! And then Clara is also a hidden "alien" among Daleks.
"Dinosaurs on a Spaceship": No — wait, yes! There's a hidden craft inside the bigger craft.
"A Town Called Mercy": Yes.
"The Power of Three": Yes.
"The Angels Take Manhattan": Not exactly — more like a kind of prison?
"The Snowmen": No, and is the Great Intelligence an alien?

"The Bells of Saint John": No.
"The Rings of Akhaten": No, just a hidden alien.
"Cold War": No, just a hidden alien.
"Hide": No, just a hidden alien.
"Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS": No.
"The Crimson Horror": Yes. (Rocket as opposed to a spaceship. Hidden worm thing that's native to Earth, I guess.)
"Nightmare in Silver": Mmmm, hidden Cybermen, but not precisely a ship.
"The Name of the Doctor": No, unless you count the TARDIS.
"The Night of the Doctor": No.
"The Day of the Doctor": No. (Hidden Zygons!)
"The Time of the Doctor": No.

Capaldi

"Deep Breath": Yes, with disguised robots. (And Missy may also be on a hidden ship.)
"Into the Dalek": Yes! The ship is hidden from the Daleks!
"Robot of Sherwood": Yes, with disguised robots.
 

On the Conspiracy of Material Objects

The other day, the world conspired against us, as discussed in the previous blog entry.

Our car was stolen. A few days later, I lost my keys (car, bike lock, and home). A feather down pillow sprung a leak in the washer and exploded in the dryer. Running the clothes repeatedly through clothes-washer and dryer to get rid of the fluff and feathers ultimately clogged the hard-to-reach filter. Tried to clean the filter and found I needed a specialized tool, even though I'd fixed it before. The dishwasher started to leak. The toaster seemed to disobey me.

The world was out of joint. Then it slowly righted itself.

The clothes were finally mostly down-free, and I ordered (for $20) a set of tools that would let me reattach the filter hose. Our car was recovered three weeks after it was stolen, apparently left in a supermarket parking lot for most of that time, not trashed nor in need of many repairs. My keys were found. The toaster listened to reason. The dishwasher — well, we stopped using it, talked about repairing it, and decided to replace it.

A few years ago, our upstairs toilet started to leak, and, being installed about 25 years before, we called a repairman who said it could be reconditioned for about $250 in labor, but would still use a large amount of water. For $600, he would haul off the old one, and install a new, low-flow toilet. We agreed, and, good gravy, we were wasting a lot of water. I believe we're saving $60 a year in water, two years in.

The same seems like the right course for the dishwasher. While it's only 14 years old, it cost $400 new, and the repair outfit we called mostly talked us out of repair: it's at the end of its life already, apparently! We believe them, as why would they try to not make money fixing it? (They would if we asked.)

We're going to pay $800 to replace it based on our toilet experience, using a recommendation from The Sweet Home. (We won't wash dishes in the toilet.) The new dishwasher will use less water, and its better internal design means we will run it 25% to 50% less. Between electricity and water, I figure we can pick up $30 to $40 a year in savings.

It's not the best time in our life to buy a new dishwasher, but it doesn't makes sense to put $150 to $300 into the old one. And, fortunately, we haven't had to replace a piece of our kitchen or home for years.

Conspiracy continues, updated August 29th: Installers came with the new dishwasher and discovered that our dying one was crammed into the space, and a standard height (roughly 34-inch) model will not fit into the space no-how. Calling around and checking, it looks impossible to find an affordable model that is also low-enough to fit. Punting to repair.

And the repair didn't work: The dishwasher is truly effed, but it only cost us $55 to get a looksee, a temporary fix, and a diagnosis. We're hiring a contractor we trust who will replumb, move the shutoff valve, fix the electrical, and install a different dishwasher (about the same price) that will actually fit. Ah, the joys.

All We Are Is Dust in the Window Shades

The toaster refused my toast. The dishwasher began to leak. A down pillow exploded in the dryer. The washing machine became clogged. Our car was stolen. I lost my keys.

I gave the toaster a talking to. I ordered a new seal for the dishwasher. Three washes and eight dries later, the clothes with the pillow were clean. I unclogged the washer—mostly. Our car was recovered and being repaired.

My keys? Unimportant, extras, not lost near home, clearly. The clog? I am short on being able to reattach one hose, but have ordered "Hose Clamp Pliers Set" arriving tomorrow.

Material possessions own us, it's true. And they conspire.

Love, Sex, and Relationships in Age without Definitions

We can have any sort of relationship we want in America: we're not prohibited by law and increasingly less so by custom. Sarah Mirk wrote the book Sex from Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules to help people figure out how to unfold the map of contemporary life if they don't subscribe to a dogma (religious or otherwise) about precisely how they should form romantic and sexual relationships for a night or for the rest of one's life.

I wrote up a review of her book at Boing Boing, and we also had a wide-ranging podcast talk about polyamory, asexuality, feminism, sex, and much more! Give a listen below (or you can go to SoundCloud and download for later).

Sarah's writing and research phase was a great help to me as I was charting my own map, and I could read what she was finding for herself and in the many interviews she conducted for the book. She and I talk about the choices we each made about intentional non-monogamy in the podcast.

Read All The Magazine Archives Free (for a little while)

We're relaunching.

We're relaunching.

I've just pushed out a new version of The Magazine app, switching to the platform developed by the folks at TypeEngine to publish the current and future issues. As part of the update, I've opened our archives for the next four weeks to anyone using the new app for free reading!

The app itself is free, and we fund the publication entirely through subscription fees. The new app version allows us to sell single issues, whether from our archives or new issues, which we hope appeals to more casual readers who don't want a recurring monthly subscription.

We have published about 200 articles since October 2012 on a huge range of interesting subjects: reintroducing wood bison back to Alaska, the background to serious cosplay from people who make elaborate and fantastic outfits, the last performance of Trek in the Park in Portland, a woman named Amelia Earhart who retraced her namesake's worldwide trip (successfully), DIY medical equipment, and, wow, a lot more.

The app works in iOS 7 and I hope you'll take a look and spread the word about our archives. (You can also subscribe and read on our Web site, which has a selection of free articles.) We'd love for people to read what we publish even if they never subscribe; we've tried to find stories worth telling.

XOXO to XOXO 2014

The XOXO conference and festival is back for its third outing this September 11–14 in Portland, Oregon, the center of all that is creative and right with the world at this moment. Portland is a special place and XOXO is a special event that could only occur there, I think. The organizers, Andy Baio and Andy McMillan are amazing people in their own right, and they bring together so much good will and positivity about life in one place.

Here's what I wrote about it years past and a podcast with Andy and Andy:

The first XOXO in 2012 changed my life. I was in a slump and slightly at sea, and nearly everything I did after XOXO was different than before: I changed my job (from programming and writing to mostly editing and podcasting with some  writing) and oriented what I do much more about facilitating the creativity of other people, through which I get my own joy and participation.

The 2013 event felt like a consolidation: less change but more fervor. I met so many people who I only knew online, made new friendships and connections, and went out with new energy right into a Kickstarter that launched a few weeks later—and (figuratively) nearly killed me.

I made some friends that I hope I will keep for the rest of my life. Oddly, I've met people in the months since who attended XOXO 2013 who I didn't meet there, and we've since become friends! There's an affinity for attending that extends outside of the event. ("There's a little bit of XOXO in all of us," I might say, and then hate myself.)

This year, I'm sitting out the conference part. That's for a few reasons. I've gotten so much benefit from the event, I feel like I should make room for other people. They've switched to a different kind of selection process that I fully support, in which they will pick nearly randomly (and filter only those who are clearly trying to market to participants). However, they're going to also moderate the randomness by attempting to gain more participation from people who are traditionally underrepresented at most conferences:

More than 80% of the people who’ve wanted to attend XOXO in the past are white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied dudes, and we want everyone who’s not in that category to know XOXO is for you too.

I fit that 80% definition. I don't feel required to exclude myself, but I also think having gotten the benefit twice, I should step back.

I've gone through so much this year already, I don't think I'm prepared for another "tear your head off" iteration. The Kickstarter kicked my ass. It was great and powerful and I couldn't be happier with the book we made. But I spent November to March working nearly full-time on it in addition to my regular full-time-plus amount of work and then April finishing up, while also writing a three-page Economist story about nanosatellites that's among one of the favorite things I've even written. During May, I believe I was in a fetal position. (June has proven much better.)

I'm applying for a festival pass (access to events, not the conference track), so that if I get picked, I can come and hang and podcast and do fun stuff, but won't challenge myself as much as I did. I don't have it in me this year to re-invent myself again! Maybe in 2015.

XOXO has been described as so many things. It's like an encounter group for entrepreneurialism. It's a place in which speakers, both relatively to quite famous and those known in niche super-interesting circles, talk about their failures and how to overcome them.  It is a place that may encourage earnestness at the expense of criticism. It's a place to make new friends and colleagues.

They've added an option for people who travel together in response to some complaints last year. If two people who identify as spouses or significant others list each other's name in the conference application, if one doesn't get picked for a conference pass, that person will be given priority to sign up for a festival pass.

I encourage anyone who wants a jolt and an incredibly enjoyable few days in Portland to apply!