European Space Agency Launch Number 200 100% Success

The European Space Agency (ESA) has been pooling 18 European countries for over 40 years and supports the International Space Station (ISS).

The ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) Johannes Kepler launched at 21:50 16 February 2011. This marks several milestones for mankind in space and the 200th launch by the ESA.

No only is the Johannes Kepler capable of a much larger payload than ATV-1 (the Jules Verne), it is also the first time an ATV has been used for mission critical supplies for the ISS crew, as well as putting the space station back into a higher orbit which naturally decays with time.

The Jules Verne first launched on 9 March 2008 first docked to the Russian section of the IIS on 3 April 2008.

The complexity of an automated docking to the ISS would be difficult to fathom to the average person. The maximum payload of the Johannes Kepler just a bit north of 6.6 metric tons, with combined wet and dry cargo. This mission includes the stuff that is a mere annoyance at best on terra firma. Beyond the fuel needed to boost the orbit of the ISS, that human basic requirement (water) which is not found easily in space is on the payload.

It may be interesting to note that that very life required component is the lightest part at 855 kg, or 855 liters (almost 2226 gallons of H2O weighing in at about 1885 pounds. The majority of the weight is used getting the beast ‘upstairs’, with the middle ground used for fuel to control space based control. Different fuels are needed when there is no air to convert fuel to usable energy.

Americans that have fretted that the Shuttle is being retired in 2011 can breath a sigh of relief that not only has ATV proven itself, again. ATV-3 the Edoardo Amaldi will keep the ISS alive and going in late 2011 to early 2012.

The next step is to give up burning the rig in re-entry (disposing of waste in the process) and to modify for human up and a safe return.

NASA buffs can get a great deal of data from http://www.esa.int

TRCBNews is happy to say we watched the launch live and we we’re amazed how the fully automatous operations work. Congratulations ESA!

Assess, the New Online Assessment Tool for Government Job Applicants

New assessment tools have replaced the traditional complex knowledge, skills and abilities statements completed by government job applications. The introduction of the new assessment tools has been made by the Office of Personnel Management.

Angela Bailey, OPM’s deputy associate director for recruitment and diversity, said that Assess, the online platform, will be used to streamline the federal hiring process. Assess provides testing tools for almost all kinds of government jobs which mainly include security administrators, human resource managers, administrative assistants, accountants, budget analysts, contracting officers and information technology workers etc. to be exact, Assess serves as a perfect testing tool for applicants to 12 types of jobs frequently found across government.

Bailey also said that they took their time in introducing Assess, but it was worthwhile as its quality and focus are remarkable.

The first agency to use Assess was The Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency in Kansas City. Other agencies such as Defense, Health and Human Services and Justice will also be using Assess soon. Up till now, Assess has been quite satisfying.

The quality which makes Assess unique is that it takes into account various aspects such as problem solving, math reasoning, reading comprehension and decision-making skills. Then t automatically scores and weighs the score based on the particular field applicant has applied to.

OPM also plans to work with agencies to develop more specialized assessment tools for occupations such as nursing and engineering, but those tools could be several years away. It was pretty obvious that if agencies found convenience in such a discovery, then more agencies would step forward and want similar assessment tools as well. Therefore OPM is going slow and steady, and will step by step fulfill the need of each and every agency, but does not plan to show haste, at all.

Alexander Graham Bell – Must Be Spinning In His Grave

One of the failures in the recent developments of Egypt lays with Google. On 25 January 2011 attempted to mitigate the Egyptian governments Internet outage by purchasing SayNow.

This is not an attempt to trash Google. The failure was Egypt had taken the Internet off line so it was difficult to tell the citizens that they have the option to go to SayNow.com with a phone call which would transcribe what was said, an turn that into a tweet with Twitter.com. That Catch-22 has been put in the trash bin with the Internet back on in Egypt.

While Google can be lauded for its move, it does bring up an important question. What value is a phone number these days?

Certainly the TRCBNews staff has several phone numbers per staff member. Most of us have at least one per country that we interface with. And it is interesting to look back and see the staff has been dropping phone numbers, or at least consolidating them. Google Voice is becoming an ‘umbrella’ number for our staff.

Increasingly, we find ourselves on some sort of Instant Message system with voice on either GTalk or Skype. With sites like Facebook, we all have a global “white and yellow pages”.

There are several limitations to the phone number. The user has to jump through hoops to access voicemail or a conference call. Dial a number, put in some sort of control code. Control pretty much does not exist. Who has not gotten a phone call in the middle of the night from someone who mis-dialed. Too often the mis-dialing comes from someone who had a bit too much to drink and winds up arguing to get a hold of a person that isn’t at that number.

Having (and paying for) an unlisted number does nothing to stop that. Telemarketers violate the Do Not Call list.

How many times has your life been interrupted because the caller is searching for someone at your number, and they are not there?

If, or should we say, when Facebook adds VoIP to its capabilities, control of who can reach you will give you considerably more freedom and the ability to restrict who is reaching out to touch you.

Certainly, privacy issues surround sites such as Facebook. There is an easy answer to that. Lie. It is not a crime to be less than accurate with your birthdate on Social Media. In fact, I suggest it. It is a piece of data that is invaluable in Identity Theft.

Of course nothing is perfect. And taking voice away from the phone number and to a Facebook page certainly will be an improvement to your quality of life.

Google Voice may well be the last phone number you ever release.

Another Reason To Switch From AT&T

Robert J. Ringer in a book he wrote a long time ago that AT&T had to be the worst company in the galaxy.

More than 10 years later, we have proof that is still true.

They will be the first carrier to use location based sensing ability to target text ads. with coupons and other offers to subscribers, beginning in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.

One of it’s first clients is Kmart. The ‘victim’ (you) will be targeted within one mile. As it is based on cell-tower location it works on any phone (not just smartphones).

Other firms likely to upset AT&T customers are:

Got Milk?
HP
JetBlue
Kibbles ‘n Bits
Nature’s Recipe

You must opt-in according to the statement.

And the Easter Bunny is going to bring you a great basket of treats too.

The pee & vinegar tone of this piece is based 100% on personal history of myself and people I know.

To wit:

An AT&T pre-paid calling card which states a maximum fee using a pay phone. The end-game, $5.00 USD for making a 3 minute Local call in New York against the card. More than twice the printed maximum rate.

Myself and friends all HAD AT&T pre-pay phones for ‘roaming without roaming’. We did not want voice mail, and did not turn it on. AT&T ‘helpfully’ turning it on, then charging a $1.00 USD access fee for using the system. I personally watched over $50 get burned this way. And in my 1st degree circle of friends report the same issue. Forget the fact you have to pay to hear old voice mails that are no longer valid, adding insult to injury.

Popular and multiple experiences that are far more recent than Ringers comment speak volumes of the sub-optimal choices within AT&T.

Certainly I wish to see technology advance and only wish it was a firm that does do what it, in writing, says it will do.

My best advice is if you are with AT&T, RUN to another carrier. You can force AT&T to port your current phone number if that is important.

Users do not like Ads on their phones.

A Wombat Skeleton Of A Prehistoric Monster

Recently a wombat skeleton has been found in Australia. According to scientists it is of a pre-historic monster. According to scientists, that monster did not feed on flesh only, but whatever creature got in his way, would have definitely trampled to death.

The skeleton is of a giant wombat named as diprotodon. It weighs around 3 tons and stretches up to a length of fourteen feet. According to research and studies, the wombat giant roamed in the continent of Australia two million years ago.

A few things have been discovered after looking at the fragment of bone found with the wombat giant skeleton. This fragment of bone has been found with the remains of another diprotodon. The wombat skeleton has been discovered from South Wales and at the time of early Aborigines, these creatures lived there.

In that fragment a small bone was found and it suggests that this wombat giant was brought down by using a spear. According to Micheal Archer, a professor from Australian Museum, they will be able to reconstruct all the bones and will put them in correct and original positions and this will give them a better idea of the exact shape of the wombat giant. This skeleton was found at the cattle station, where the professor has travelled.

Some artists have even drawn the paintings according to the shape believed by the scientists, but the exact shape will only be found after the placement of bones in the original position. The size and the shape of the creature will be revealed soon. According to Archer, the skeleton of the creature was relatively undamaged and definitely weighs three tons. Another unusual thing that occurred was that all the bones of the creature were found at one place. According to him only one bone was sticking out and therefore they found the rest of them.

General Motors Back On The Track Of Recovery

GM has been going through a bad patch of bankruptcy and asked the government to help. But now it is back in the stock market and is performing at its best. Many new things happened like a new management was put in charge that had plans to pull out GM from the massive debt it was in.

Fortunately, debt has been decreased and labor costs have also been cut sharply. If we have a look at GM’s history we will see that it has played its part as being at the top of automobile industry in 2000, when it gained more than any other company, i.e., about $4.5 billion. But all that was almost lost during the great recession. Now investors are not sure whether GM’s present stability and success is long lasting or not.

In order to gain investors trust back, the new architects of GM and other industry analysts and investors have pin pointed some key metrics which can be regarded as a lesson that has been learnt by the company.

Firstly, debt must not grow that it becomes difficult to handle. GM declared bankruptcy in 2009 with a total debt of about $172.8 billion. All that debt has now been cleared, as indicated by GM’s IPO prospectus. A massive debt of about $8.6 billion was cleared in September 2010.

Harry Wilson, former senior advisor to US government auto task force, stated that debt can lead to a disaster even for a company like the General Motors. With too much debt no company would then have the financial strength to invest in future.

Secondly, a company must increase its earnings steadily. Mr. Wilson stated that the previous GM management was more focused on maintaining the market share. He said that new management during the past two years has cut down costs and is enjoying a profitable business despite a drop in sale. He informed that the last quarter earnings were about $34.1 billion.

Tony Boase, analyst at the First American Funds sated that the European market seems to be more competitive than the US. So, GM would have to engineer a strong comeback plan for reversing the losses incurred in Europe.

Earning Extra Income Through Online Stores

Selling on eBay might be a fantastic method to earn extra money. So many people are put off from the online world, so they ignore the source which could help them make some extra income. There are a number of online stores which welcome new customers who are new to the site or selling products.

When one eventually makes up his mind to earn income online, he needs to keep a few things in mind. Firstly he should establish a merchant account with PayPal. Although it is not the only option, but it surely makes the transactions easy, as PayPal is kind of standard account used for online transactions.

There are a lot of online stores with attractive and different designs and layouts. But a few online stores like eBay cost very low. Although there are extra fees involved, but they are comparatively lower than the other online stores. Online stores also offer the choice of establishing a minimum price for an auction, because of which the costs of listing the particular items can be easily covered. Plus products can be shipped to the purchaser as soon as payment is made, eliminating any additional cost for listing the products.

Therefore any used item found in garage or attic can be instantly put on for-sale on the online stores and anyone can earn this extra income. Works of art, vintage furniture, jewelry, clothes and house wares are a few typical products offered on these online stores. Sites like these not only help people get rid of the extra commodities they have at home, save space, earn extra money but also help the purchasers as they might find some good deals and would not have to spend extra money on buying the new good, when he can purchase a used one on the store. Plus collectors and people with hobbies can find a lot of interesting stuff on these online stores too, for their collections, which is hard to find in market.

 

Cable TV – Keep or Cut the Cord?

Dan Rayburn does a good job expressing a view explaining why $65 USD a month is a good deal for TV content.

He points out that two tickets to the movie theater cost him $28. for he and his wife. His position that pays for almost 2 weeks of cable I cannot with.

And it looks a bit like comparing an apple to an orange. Sure they are both healthy food choices.

And having seen True Grit in the movie theater, I cannot compare that to any screen I could see in a home. The theater was a richer experience, period.

On the other side of the coin, I am a bit skeptical of his claim that buying online would cost the same. Quoting his thoughts: “Netflix, Hulu, MLB and bought two shows a week on iTunes, that would cost almost $64 a month”.

Sad to say he does not break out what MLB costs. Netflix is less than $10 a month. Currently it is about $15 a month if you want DVD’s mailed to you along with instant download.

A Netflix family can support the young ones off at a dorm room in collage. How does cable do that?

Here’s the real kicker. Not a word was spoken about OTA (Off The Air) programming. Unless someone slipped some LSD into my coffee on Sunday and slipped suggestions into my brain, I saw the Super Bowl on Fox TV. That was F.R.E.E.

Beyond Fox, I get ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, WB, and a host of independent stations. It’s isn’t FREE, its paid for with ADS. What is the difference between ads on YouTube videos, and broadcast TV?

Ads are embedded in YouTube, while they are linear in the new version of plain old TV. If I really hate ads, I can stream OTA to a box or computer and buffer a few minutes (or hours) and fast forward through the sponsorship. Personally, I don’t. Who is selling what is something I at least keep one ear to, if not my eyeballs.

Mr. Rayburn takes on streaming issues, and says that cable has plenty of HD content. Well sir, it seems to me that OTA has a great deal of HD content. I will grant you older material on PBS is not HD. Older content from *anybody* is not HD.

The counter to OTA is all the hassles and possible safety issues of installing an antenna. The images of getting on a roof, possibly dropping an antenna mast on high-voltage power lines turning the installer into a piece of fried bacon come to mind.

That is so last century.

“Installing” an antenna is something GrandMa can do, if she can hang a picture and get someone to screw the cable into the TV set. There is a little discussed type of antenna that works for a large number of folks called a “smart antenna”.

The biggest trick is to find how the user gets the best signal. This involves hooking up the antenna to the set and doing a channel scan while the antenna is flat, say lying down on top of a book shelf. Then stand it up so it is vertical, and repeat the process. Go with whichever gives better results.

The antenna is considered smart because it electronically adjusts itself on a channel by channel basis to go for the best signal strength while avoiding reflections of the same signal.

If a person is a bit more ambitious, an indoor/outdoor antenna may prove even better. I used to refer to my antenna as a “Barbie doll” antenna. Well, it turns out that is a lie.

The iconic doll is just over 9 inches tall. My Barbie doll antenna is a little under 8 inches in height, and less than 11 inches with its “mast”. Weight for either comes in about the same as a Big Mac.

There is no electrical issues from thunder storms. It is an all plastic body. I haven’t bothered to cut it open, and it appears that the creator took some metal foil and shaped it inside the plastic body. The plastic is UV immune and of course, waterproof.

Installation involved a bit of silicon from a small tube, gluing the base mast to the rail on the patio. Once it dried, I put the antenna on, and rotated it while listening to the signal strength meter from the TV. Once I found the optimal position, I tightened the large thumb screw.

Total cost for the antenna and 100 feet of cable was less than the monthly cost of cable. That is with tax and shipping.

Both my Barbie doll antenna and most of the smart antennas are both UHF and VHF capable.

So what am I missing besides a cable bill?

Could Kindle Kill the Tablet/Phone Market?

On 9 March TRCBNews ran Web Revolution Version 3 Dying On The Vine? In that article we took a good look at a report from Forrester Research on the Mobile Market Revolution with Smart Phones and Tablets. At the end we speculated that the spoiler could well be the Amazon Kindle.

It appears, we’re not alone in that speculation. Sarah Rotman Epps is a Forrester Analysis serving Consumer Product Strategy Professionals. On 10 March in her blog she posted:  Why iPad 2 Won’t Have Much Competition in 2011 – Unless It’s From Amazon.

It is an Excellent read. If you want to check it out now, go ahead. We’ll wait for you to come back.

Let’s assume for a minute Jeff Bozos doesn’t want to take on the world. We also agree with the Forrester Analyst that Android is not going to put a serious dent in Apple iPads. (See TRCBNews 16 March: Android Is Winning Market Share: For Now). And according to Wired.com, the Amazon Apps Store launches 22 March.

TechCrunch has a nice piece on why the Amazon App Store could be a Android App store that combines the safety of Apple’s with freedom of Google’s Android App  Market. We have already seen that Google‘s approach to freedom has its dangers. (7 March TRCBNews Mother of All Malware Found for Android).

Given the mindshare Amazon has along with its excellent backend operations, it’s logical they could be a real threat to Apple. Even more so if we’re correct that Amazon could be giving away the Kindle to it’s Prime Customers for free, by Christmas 2011.

Finally, there is one more thing that could spoil Apple’s ride. There state-of-the-art hardware is heavily dependent on components from Japan. The disaster of 11 March is certain to create a shortagefor the iconic company.

Amazon was founded in 1994 and began operations in Seattle in 1995. After an IPO filing on 15 May 1997 (NASDAQ AMZN) it was widely criticized and expected to fail in the dot-com bust. It didn’t record it’s first net profit until the end of 2001.

 

EFF Squared Off Against FBI

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been battling with the FBI for two years with a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) regarding the “Going Dark” program. It appears that the handle does not have anything to do with a specific concept. The agency has responded with: “the program name given to the FBI’s efforts to utilize innovative technology; foster cooperation with industry; and assist our state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners in a collaborative effort to close the growing gap between lawful interception requirements and our capabilities.”

The EFF did get some paperwork and found five points the Federal Law Enforcement agency wants. Those points are:

modernization /amendment of existing laws, enhancing authorities to protect industry proprietary and [law enforcement] sensitive lawful intercept information, equipment and techniques, enhancing [law enforcement] agencies’ coordination leveraging technical expertise of FBI with other [law enforcement] entities, enhancing lawful intercept cooperation between the communications industry and [law enforcement agencies] with a “One Voice” approach, and seeking new federal funding to bolster lawful intercept capabilities.

While most would agree the FBI does serve important functions for the safety of the Unites States and its citizens, the EFF and others are concerned that law changes/updates without outside review could create situations for Internet Service Providers that are very costly or technically unworkable.

One of the bullet points they are looking to address is encrypted communications that are peer-2-peer based, Skype being a popular example. This is a great example of how it would be impractical and quite costly to attempt to monitor communications in an investigation.

It is tough to see how this is a big problem for the FBI. Certainly they can and do use existing law to get a court order to enter a suspects place insert a keystroke logger, and leave, without informing the suspect(s). Since the keystroke logger records before encryption, they got everything they need.

In a separate related document the EFF has expressed is concern with the expansion of Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).