Suppose an object, say a cannon ball, was shot horizontal to Earth’s surface at an extremely high speed.  Suppose that the cannon ball traveled so fast that if it fell, say one foot toward the ground, the Earth’s curvature would move away at the same rate.  In theory, the cannon ball would fall at the same rate the earth curved away and the ball would appear to stay the same height in the air while speeding around the Earth.  This idea is known as orbiting the earth and it was first accomplished by the Russians in October of 1957 with the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite.

Since the early days of the Space Race between the United States and Russia, satellites have increased immensely in size and capability.  They support global communications systems, GPS, military intelligence systems, etc.  Even with all of this impressive technology, events beyond human control show that there is still room for improvement.  According to a Fox News article, a TV communications satellite has been disabled by a solar storm and is wandering into a US cable provider satellite’s path.  The two satellites will not collide but interfere with one another meaning the loss of several TV stations.  As of now, scientists don’t know what to do but they are working on the problem.

Genre Hybrids?

May 5, 2010

Recently I came across a game review for Test Drive Unlimited 2 on gamespot.com.  Test Drive Unlimited 2 is a racing game in which players drive high end sports cars through the back roads and streets of a Mediterranean island and Hawaii.  The more races players win, the more cars they unlock.  The graphics are breathtaking to say the least.  Also, the new game features a passing of time feature so that racing in the day, night, or during sundown / sunup changes the way the landscape looks.  Another new aspect of the game that I found related to class is the attempt to emphasize online interaction between players (see video clip on link page above, start clip time at 1:45).

Besides making everything look amazing, the creators added a new feature in which each player customizes an avatar.  Players can meet other players online through their avatars by meeting in clubs or car dealerships.  This reminded me of the game Second Life which is nothing short of a full virtual world.  In Test Drive Unlimited 2, players are now encouraged to meet via avatar, and can do simple interactions such as wave or say “hello”.

This kind of online interaction surprised me.  I’ve heard of interacting through avatars, but not in a video game whose genre is racing.  I guess that leads to the question is a first person shooter on the same level as a virtual world with avatars?  After all, each player has their own body and not every body looks alike.  Also, you interact with teammates by calling out programmed commands, via Ventrilo, or through in-game chat for consoles.  Sure, covering a teammate’s back isn’t the same as waving to them and having an (avatar) face-to-face conversation, but the idea of friendship is there.

This being said, I think the answer to the question presented above is no, although avatar gaming and shooters share similar concepts.   The difference is that avatars have a customizable appearance and because interaction is the focus of the game, their appearance is very important.  Conversely, since a shooter game’s focus is on fighting, appearance only matters to determine what side a player is on. For instance, the importance of a gamer’s appearance in Call of Duty: World at War is to tell if he is German or American.  The looks don’t really matter past this.

This is what makes Test Drive Unlimited 2 such a unique game:  it combines the racing genre with avatar centered interaction between players.  I think it is interesting that two types of games that have always been thought of as separate, are not being integrated together to compliment each other and improve the game as a whole.

Based on a FOX News Article, the Chinese Government is strengthening a law that requires phone and internet companies to report customers that have “leaked state secrets” to local and federal authorities.  The issue of governmental censorship has grown from recent legislation by not only China, but other governments (such as in South Korea) as well.  The article mentions that such restrictions recently caused Google to move their Chinese HQ to Hong Cong, as there are less governmental restrictions there.  Later on, the article mentions that “after deadly ethnic riots broke out in … July, Beijing blocked Twitter and Facebook, unplugged the Internet entirely and slowed cell phone service to stifle reports about the violence”.  This control of communication is simply another way the government limits the rights of the people, and keeps most in the dark about current issues.

The problem with the new legislation is that “state secrets” are defined broadly, so as to include anything the government deems a secret at any moment in time.  This will restrict free speech and free expression of thought; if people know the government is watching, they will act differently just as people drive the speed limit when they see a police car.  The real scary thing is that companies similar to our AT&T, Comcast, and Verision are being forced to act as spies and report back to the government.  Although this is not the first piece of legislation of its kind, I don’t believe it will be the last.

Greenpeace is an international environmental group that uses photography to document human activities that damage the environment.  The organization uses the photos and videos that it collects to spread global awareness.  From illegal whale hunting to the impacts of an oil spill, Greenpeace petitions global leaders on a variety of issues to take action in favor of the environment.  Their action center has a list of current issues along with links labeled “Take Action”.  The links allow anyone to send a personalized message regarding a specific environmental issue to a political leader.   I believe this form of activism is useful, as it puts the average civilian in contact with someone that has the power to correct the issue.

Internet Activism is increasing in popularity because it is easy to participate in and also anonymous.  I think people are more likely to support a cause if they don’t have to proclaim their position.  In this way online activism provides more / better participation.  Also, being online, the activist can access more information about the group and learn about the issues before they participate.  For example, on Greenpeace’s website they post all of their pictures so one can understand the importance of joining their cause.  These tools are quickly accessed online.

In class we revisited the green map.  We analyzed the updated map based on four categories: icons, sites, comparisons with other maps, and overall usefulness / accuracy.

Looking at the Icons that we tagged on the map, the most common were Bike Parking, Bus Stop, and Recycling.  As for the least common, many icons we not used at all.  Of the icons used, the least frequent were WiFi, Traffic Hazard, and specific areas such as Tennis Courts.  The most important icons for our project are the bike path, bike parking, public transportation, and public space / recreation area icons.  These are the most useful icons for students as their primary concern is traversing campus in a limited amount of time.  Also, finding a grassy area to relax, play frisbee, or nap (weather permitting) is useful between classes.

Several sites on campus have much more mapping than others.  Heavily mapped areas include the Main Quad, the Engineering Quad and north campus, Krannert Center, and the South Quad.  Students were assigned to map specific sections of campus which led to ‘icon clumping’.  However, the assigned mapping areas are boarded by apartments, frats, and sororities and so mapping all of campus would not yield many additional icons.  In the areas that were mapped, many icons were missed due to time constraints.  For instance, the green map only shows one Place of Worship where, in fact, there are several throughout campus.

Comparison of the Champaign-Urbana Green Map and other maps revealed very different patterns.  The green map of Stevens Point had icons that mostly marked businesses or restaurants, where ours had mostly transportation related icons.  The least used icons at Stevens Point marked local Parks.  It is also interesting that the majority of the icons were off the nearby campus and focused near the Wisconsin River Flowage.

The green map of Berlin, Germany is similar to Stevens Point in that the majority of its icons mark out businesses such as stores and bars.  Also, the occasional park and theater are indicated on the map.  This is very different from the Champaign-Urbana map although this may be because the Berlin map deals with a city, not a campus.

The final map we compared to Champaign-Urbana focused on Syracuse, New York.  This map is also very similar to Stephens Point in that although Syracuse University is nearby, the majority of icons are set to the West of campus.  The majority of these icons indicate businesses and restaurants around the interstate.  As it is similar to Stephens Point, it differs with the Champaign-Urbana map in the same way.

The last way in which we analyze the maps is based on their usefulness and accuracy.  The Champaign-Urbana map is useful for students that wish to plan routes to class and to find places to relax outside between classes.  However the map is not useful outside central campus because not much data is recorded there.  As for the usefulness of the other maps, due to their icons pertaining to businesses, they seem to be made for a tourist.  Also, as in the case of the Champaign-Urbana map, only a limited area is mapped and not all businesses are included.  The usefulness of these maps will be increased as more icons are added in diversity and number.  For now, its a start.

In class we watched a video regarding South Korea’s growing video game epidemic.  According to a Yahoo! article, video game addiction has become so bad that several gamers have died after not taking a break for several days or even weeks.  Also, last year a couple’s newborn daughter starved to death when they neglected her and played video games for days at a time.   The urgency of the situation has caused the South Korean government to pass legislation that will set up a gaming curfew for all online games in both public and private places.  To do this the gamers’ bandwidths will slow down significantly for every hour the game is being played after midnight until it is impossible for the game to run.  The government is starting with the 4 largest online RPGs (role playing games) but will eventually add 19 game titles to the “curfew list”.  These games will account for around 80% of the online games played.  The government is taking matters into its own hand.

The government’s push for the legislation is due to the severity of the situation.  The government must step in and act as the parent, as many parent’s are not enforcing less gaming time.  Also, some parents, as in the case mentioned above, are apart of the addiction and therefore have no one to control their addiction.

As for the argument against the legislation, people argue that the government has no right to act as a “parent”, especially not to adults.  If people want to practice unhealthy behavior, then that is their choice.  Also, the involvement of the government in private affairs, such as when you play video games at home, is an invasion of privacy.

As for my argument, I agree that the problem is severe enough to demand attention, but I do not believe that direct government control is the answer, although it may be the easiest (for the government).  To address the problem, video game cafes should monitor and limit the number of hours each patron spends in the business to a reasonable number, say 8 hours.  No direct control should be taken to control private gaming.  The best that could be done is to make adults and parents aware of the situation, to encourage the parents to monitor their child’s gaming time, and to give them tips of how to curve their child’s addiction.  It’s really sad that the government is taking a parental role but it feels like it must since the child’s parents are not, whether intentionally or not (working late, not home all the time).

After presenting the topic of the International Space Station to my group, we discussed how the space industry will change with the loss of the Space Shuttle Program.  One option is that NASA will join up with the Russian program, using Russian rockets and launch sites.  This may relieve the tension between Russia and the United States as the US has been pushing Russia to sign a new nuclear arms treaty in which both nations will continue to reduce their nuclear stockpiles.  A second possible outcome of losing the Space Shuttle is that travel to the International Space Station and beyond will be in the hands of private corporations.  This is not a new concept, as contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman design and build our military aircraft.  The downside to private corporations running the space program is their limited budget.   As space travel is expensive, vehicles and missions will be small scale and not as frequent as current NASA missions.   In the end, I don’t believe the space program will fall apart.  The loss of  the Shuttles is a temporary “bump in the road” which will be bypassed somehow.

The International Space Station (ISS) has introduced a new era of technology and exploration.  Humans are now capable of living in outer space for extended amounts of time on the ISS, a football field-sized laboratory.  This lab offers a unique environment for experiments, research, and the develop of new technologies.  An article from NASA mentions the success of experiments in the past 9 years, including “advances in the fight against food poisoning, new methods for delivering medicine to cancer cells and the development of more capable engines and materials” among the hundreds that have taken place.  As for physical dimensions the station has “a mass of almost 400 tons and more than 12,000 cubic feet of living space” and is nearing completion.  For a better idea of the structure, visit an interactive time line from USA Today that assembles the station in the order it was built.  At the end of the animation each piece’s function is explained.

In recognition of its success, the International Space Station Program was awarded the 2009 Collier Trophy.  According to a second NASA article, “the National Aeronautic Association bestows the award annually to recognize the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America”.  However, this award does not only honor American astronauts and scientists, but many other people from different countries as well.  The title “International” Space Station reflects the joint project of five space agencies and 15 countries including NASA, European countries, Japan, and Russia.  The joint project is due in part to the immense cost of building and maintaining the station, but also as a cooperative peace gesture.  In space, there are no countries or boundaries, no physical barriers; nationalities cease to exist and only humanity remains.  The joint effort of America and Russia is an example of this.  45 Years ago marked the height of the Cold War and the Space Race between Communist Russia and the Democratic United States.  In a CNN article and video, a recent joint mission between Russia and America took flight.  The Russian rocket took off on April 4th, 2010 with NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko.  This cooperative effort demonstrates not only the evolution of space technology, but also the evolution of cooperation and peace between former opposing nations.

The International Space Station possesses unique concepts of location, place, and space.  For example, the physical location of the ISS is constantly changing and, therefore, its general location must be referred to as its orbit and given a specific time, its exact location over Earth can be calculated.  This is important information, as scientists need to know when and where the ISS will be when sending up a shuttle or rocket to dock with it.

A second unique concept of geography at the ISS is place.  Place is defined as “the distinctive and distinguishing physical and human characteristics of the locales”.  “Characteristics of the locales” usually refers to culture but in this case cultures are mixed.   The commonality among all those on board the station is their careers and love for science and space.

The final term, space, plays a huge role concerning living in the International Space Station and maximizing its uses.  For instance, in a typical household on Earth gravity prevents the use of at least half of every room from being occupied.  In space, the absence of gravity no longer dictates what is “up” or “down”, redefining the phrase ‘one astronaut’s floor is another astronaut’s ceiling’, literally!  Also, walkways are not needed as one can simply float through a room.  Although it seems much space is available, in reality most of it is used for storage of supplies and equipment.  The isolation of space requires a lot of ‘stuff” to be put in a small area.  Therefore, the amount of space available is closely monitored and was scrutinized over during the early development of the ISS.

“Status report?”

“We have clearance, Clarance.”

“Rodger, Rodger.  What’s our vector Victor?”

Apart from the chatter with flight control, the flight simulator at the Beckman Institute’s simulator building allows every aspect of flying apart from actually being in a plane.  There is a pilot and co-pilot seat complete with a full dashboard including control of the throttle, cowl flaps, and aileron trim.  The outside world is projected onto three large walls.  The simulator software offers a variety of terrain (from mountains to cities), weather (including rain and snow), and aircraft (from commercial and military jets to single prop) .

I was given the chance to fly an F 22 Raptor through the grand canyon.  It felt so realistic that I was very tense as I banked sharply through the canyon walls.  At one point I tried a barrel roll but did it so fast that I think it made everyone in the room dizzy.  I’ve always liked planes and flight (hence my major as an aerospace engineer) so this being the closest i’ve ever been to flying a jet really made my day.

F 22 Raptor by Lockheed Martin

The flight simulator is extremely useful for conducting flight training in a safe environment.  For example, a flight problem or disaster can be purposely caused in order to practice what one would do in the situation.  Another use could be for the practice of dangerous maneuvers.  The simulator’s realism causes different planes to handle differently.  For example, a large commercial airliner is much harder to pull out of a dive as compared to a jet.  The simulator is a safe method of experimenting with different, unfamiliar planes.

The Green Map Project utilizes GPS to acquire a specific “green” location via latitude and longitude coordinates.  The collection of locations are then laid over a custom map (for example, in google maps) to produce a Green Map. A list of Green Map Icons define the green locations.

My group was assigned to a main section of campus:  from the Henry Administration Building (north boundary) to Gregory Street (southern boundary) and from the Psychology Building (west boundary) to Matthews Street (east boundary).  This section included the Main Quad.  We used the GPS to mark “green” locations such as bike paths, public transportation (bus) stops, recycling areas, and public recreation places (YMCA).  The GPS was not only very easy to use, it was also extremely precise and accurate with regards to our position and heading.

The only trouble we had with the GPS was seeing the screen in the daylight.  It wasn’t until after we finished that we realized the GPS’s backlight was not on.  The ability to manually control the screen’s brightness is a necessary feature in order to prevent the battery from being drained when the GPS is not in immediate use.