Saturday, February 23, 2013

NASA Hangout Notes

I joined Google+ Hangout on Air with NASA today. Special appearances in this session are by two austronauts on the ground and three in Space Station, all to answer public questions. Most of their answers are worth sharing. Here are some that I can recall:

(when asked how they know when to sleep and wake up)
Dark and bright sky aren't available in space, but biological circadian rhythm still works well. It also helps to pay attention to time. Rooms are also lit with specific setting for visual cues --dim for nighttime and bright for daytime.

(when asked how they were able to take good pictures with different light condition from earth)
Lighting is extremely different in space so different technique is a must. Good thing trainers back on earth prepared them well. Funny note: in weightless space, there is no worry about getting tired holding heavy cameras.

(when asked which historical scientist they would take up to space, if possible)
Newton! Back in his time Newton figured out all this gravity-no-gravity experience by sheer imagination. It would be awesome to take him up and let him know that he was right on the matter (Strike 1: this answer gave goosebumps)

(when asked if they can see man-made object on earth from space)
Contrary to what rumors say, astronauts cannot see Great Wall of China from space. Other kinds of man-made are visible. The exhaustions of forests in any part of earth is hard not to notice. The view breaks their hearts (Strike 2)

(when asked how it feels experiencing gravity again after weightless experience)
They say the body adapt to home very quick. Speaking of "home", space experience changes one's  perspective on the word. One astronaut claimed, landed on Kazakhstan, he said to himself, "Good to be home." After space, home is Earth. (Strike 3: and if that didn't get you, you are one cold zombie)

Another session of NASA Hangout is coming up, in case you're interested.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Noble Pursuits. Engineers. #002

*In Dead Poets Society, John Keating (Robin Williams) describes "professions" as 'noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life'. These notes are to appraise those noble pursuits. The part about Curiosity is there because I just can't help it.

Engineers. These people build machines, write programs, and make the two work together. They make it their problems to invent instruments that strengthen our routines by speed or power (or both). They make stuffs that imitate our bodies, and maybe, given time, our souls. Some of these toys even do things that are beyond us, like that curious rover that is now feeding us pictures from the grounds of Mars. Engineers profess by reflecting. What our biology enables us, or doesn't, inspire them. Many times we don't really get what they offer us, so they put metaphors that ring true to nature in their advertisements to help us understand.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Noble Pursuits. Athletes. #001

*In the movie Dead Poets Society, John Keating (Robin Williams) describes "professions" as 'noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. These notes are to appraise those pursuits. And in this season of Olympics, it is only appropriate to start with this one.

Athletes. One of the curious professions I've ever encountered. That it is a profession eludes me. One, it doesn't require mysterious skills. Two, all they do is perform from one competition to the next, between which they make another obsessive preparation. On their triumph, we curiously reward them with medals. I think we revere them because we think of them as delegates of our species. We assign them to take up crazy physical and mental challenges. They muscle out, react, cope with pains, adapt, strategize. They are the symbols of how far we can push our humanly limits. We live vicariously through them, too, thinking that if they can win those challenges, we can, too (at least in part).

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

SciFi Rises, Rises, Rises.

Note: originally intended as a short comment on The Dark Knight trilogy.

As Scorsese's told it in his Hugo, magic found its way to movie technology in 1900s pioneered by Georges Melies. Men started fighting dragons, soaring through skies, inhabiting Mars, exploring space, and resisting alien invasions ever since. Imaginations, fantasies even, were the main features above all else. The visual tricks didn't fool anyone, but audiences were in it for the out-of-this-world plots, anyway.

Then came the day when fantasies are only bought if bundled with better visuals. Technology came to save these days. When Richard Donner's 1978 Superman poster said 'You will believe a man can fly', it was a statement of visual FX. Though it was still obvious that Christopher Reeve was pasted on to some shots of blue skies, overall, it looked good. Not long after, studios like Industrial Light And Magic, to name one, perfected the art and began to dazzle movie buffs. We started to rack our brains thinking how Millenium Falcon can possibly manneuvered the way it did. This goes all the way to animatronics (remember: Jaws, Jurassic Park) and then CGIs (Terminator 2, Lords of The Ring). We no longer know how they're possible. They're almost sorcery.

After all the CGI frenzy, smarter plots became non-negotiable. Unless you're Tolkien, mere fantasies won't cut it (apology, Tim Burton, even George Lucas didn't quite make it). Even visual cosmetics have habituated audiences. The pretty magic now has to make sense. Favreau did a great job on this with Iron Man.  The Dark Knight trilogy most notably raised the bar by many factors. Coming out of a theater, one would believe that certain ordeals would make a Batman out of you. Team Nolan established believability by filling in countless blanks neglected by their predecessors: Bruce's inherited love of Gotham, philosophical combat training, theatrical inspiration into being a symbol, unlimited supply of innovative toys, requirement of alliances, and finally, need for Houdinian exit strategy.

So good luck to whoever signed for the comic icon reboot. On a second thought, good luck to all following flicks.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

That Vague Face of the Little Bird

Since invented, I think only a few people have some ideas what Twitter is. It didn't even have a business model until recently (though the same goes to Facebook, even Google). I surely doubt that there was any vision that it is to be the most poweful global conversation engine of the 21century. Co-founder Williams hinted during his TED talk that he and the other founders were just thinking along the line of 'wouldn’t be interesting if there's an online application with which people can say what's on their minds in an instant.' Much of what has been happening next with Twitter were as surprising to them as they were to any tech foretune teller, or maybe even any of us.

It's amazing how invention seldom work the way the inventors intended. Once society has their hands on them, they figure out ways to make them work in their directions. Some of the time they even work way better (I suspect that by 'some' I mean 'most of the time' but as usual I have no data to back me up).

Back when Yahoo! was the king of the net (a day in internet years) it flooded me with new stuff, but they are stuff they steered me to know. When Google took the throne, I suddenly realized that I was just being handed the freedom that we netizens rightfully own all along (I mean, the page was just a logo and a search box). That was the year that my browsing frenzy truly began (that and the fact that I began to have enough money to pay for my own internet connection). Like a ferocious cancer, the number of information I accessed was on crazy high-speed growth.

The crazy thing about that --that is, for me-- is that Twitter actually managed to top that. With Twitter, you sign up, you follow people --those of your peers, those whom you share similar interests, and here comes the good part, those who know better than you do, and those who inspire you. After that, cyber magic happens.

With Google, the one thing that stands between you and the knowledge 'for you' is the right keyword. If you're keyword blind, all you the data you get are just garnish at best. Suddenly with Twitter, that blindness is globally medicated. All you need is those people to connect to. It even doesn't matter whether you know if the the people you know know what you don't know (ah crap, my line). You just follow some people, and you get what THEY google, too. It's like your very own outsourced team working for you. For free. And you can do the same for them, too. How you collaborate with them is a wide-open possibility.

On my Twitter days so far, I get to find out who inspire my idols. I get to know that Bill Gates is admiring Khan Academy founder Salman Khan. I get to read the same economic essays my favorite comedians read. I witnessed some great scientific minds get creamed by novice science soldiers (great overlooked debates of all time, in my opinion). I get to see how evidently the number one of anything is number one only by social perception, not by facts. Yes, I get to see significant political changes from the point of view of the very people who bring the strong words on to the streets, too (as opposed to major news media narratives). That exec from Google who had something to do with recent Egypt revolution is amazing.

The likes of these you can see literally every day. These are available because people you know search for things you probably won't, and TWEET them (maybe not for you, but you get them anyway). I think that is the clue to the true face of Twitter.

Those chains of rants and cheap wisdoms that busied our timelines are merely the surface, cosmetic even. Still, they don't have to be a bad thing. Maybe we'll learn as we go (besides, they may be well be a post for another day). Maybe these misthoughts are the building blocks of the eventual better lessons we will learn and earn. I have no freaking clue what will happen next with people. Will we still be on Twitter when we're better people? Or will we mirgrate to some Twitter killer? Or will we even be better people with whatever app at hands? You have to agree that is exciting (No, you don't have to).

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Not These Ones

My sister told me that my dad is now a proud owner of a Twitter account. She hadn't told the username, so I googled "anwar yusuf on twitter." I found these. I don't think neither is my dad.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Small Attention

Early morning there was a sad news in the family. On the taxi ride to meet my family, a 'good-morning-drive-safely' from a toll-booth officer on duty eased up my worried mind, to my surprise.

Thank you.