Saving The Planet, One Asteroid At A Time

Apophis Asteroid TrackingThe Planetary Society is hosting a contest allowing people from around the world design a mission to rendevous with and "tag" a Near-Earth asteroid that is scheduled to come dangerously close to our world in 2029, and again in 2036.

The asteroid Apophis (previously known as 2004 MN) is a 300-meter wide rock that orbits our sun and is currently millions of kilometers away.  However, in 2029, this asteroid will come so close to the Earth that it will be visible from the ground and will be closer to the atmosphere than some of our satellites.

There is a very small chance that Apophis will hit the planet in 2029 (only a 1 in 45,000 chance), but some believe that it may fall into a 400-meter wide gravitational window that would send it around the sun, then smack into the planet on the next pass in 2036.  This, of course, would be a bad thing.  The resulting death and destruction on a global scale would be almost equivalent to what killed off the dinosaurs, and worse than that, my house (which should be fully paid off by then) will have a less than 50% chance of surviving the resulting destruction ... regardless of where the impact takes place.

Seriously, though ... this would be a bad thing.

So, in an effort to collect more data and determine what can be done about the asteroid should it become an Earth-bound object, the Planetary Society is offering a prize of $50,000 to the first engineering team that can design a space vehicle that will rendezvous with Apophos and send some telemetry and other data back to scientists here on Terra-firma.  At least a hundred teams have already submitted their letters of intent, and the UK-based space firm EADS Astrium is busy at work developing a vehicle they're calling Apex, which would meet the asteroid in 2014.

I'm really looking forward to what possible solutions will be created for this.  The technologies and methods developed here can be used to maintain absolute tracking of hundreds of other Near-Earth Objects that intersect our orbit every year.  Because the goal of this project is not to develop a machine that will do anything to the asteroid itself, I would think the space craft could be relatively small.  If we could develop units the size of the Mars Rovers (though immobile), it could be possible to launch a rocket with a dozen or so of these devices strapped on.  Then, once in orbit, the tracking tags could be released and shot towards their intended targets.  This would reduce one of the most prohibitive aspects of extra-planetary vehicles (being the actual escape from Earth) and could be cheap enough that every nation could work towards supplying a certain amount.

Of course, since we would be sending a machine towards a rock in space, I wonder how much it would cost to include some basic equipment to determine the asteroid's composition.  If we had fifty years to do something about a potential collision, and the asteroid held a reasonable quantity of an ore of value, perhaps the best way to handle the matter would be to send an army of mining drones to rip the rock to pieces and refine just the ores.  From there, we could devise a way to capture the ores safely and put them to use on either the Earth or our Moon.  The remaining chunks of rock would have been demolished enough by the robots that our atmosphere could easily handle anything coming too close.

Ah, science fiction ... you make things sound sooooo easy :P

September Starts With Cash

It's All About the BenjaminsSeptember means quite a few things to me this year.  My wife's birthday is in just a few weeks.  I've been living in Japan for a full month, now.  And I was lucky enough to win my first contest ... ever.

Darin wanted to title="Darin.cc - Make Money Posting Comments">substantially increase his comments before September 1 on his great Search Engine Marketing site.  To speed the process a bit, he decided to offer cash to the person who wrote the x00th comment.  In my case, I was commenter 700, which was good for a cash prize of $70.

Thanks for hosting the contest, Darin!  I know precicely what to do with this money, too.  Because my Reiko will be celebrating a nice round numbered birthday, I've been searching high and low for the perfect gift.  I knew exactly what I wanted to get her but, considering how I've been unemployed for the last six weeks (title="j2fi.net - Japan Approves of Me">which will soon be rectified), I've been a little short on cash.  With this little boost, I'll be sure to get Reiko a gift that she can enjoy for many years to come :)

If you haven't been to Darin's site, he provides some great tips on SEO and SEM.  His title="Darin.cc - SEO Tip Number 1">three title="Darin.cc - SEO Tip Number 2">SEO title="Darin.cc - SEO Tip Number 3">tips are incredibly well written and should be read by anyone that wants to get more traffic through Google, Yahoo and other search engines.  After applying some of his suggestions to this site, I noticed a traffic increase of 20% within a month and it continues to grow still.

Thank you, Darin, for hosting the contest.  The prize money will be well spent :P

Now ... time to head over to amazon.co.jp ....

How Would You Like to Win ... A NEW CAR!?!?

2007 Scion tCText doesn't really give the subject the right "umph", as I was trying to do a take on Charlie's exciting exclaimation from Price is Right.  But the prize is still valid, though.

Prija (a.k.a. the Sneaky Bastard) is running perhaps the most expensive contest ever held on the blogosphere, with the grand prize being a brand new 2008 Scion TC.  This is being done for a few different reasons, but the primary goal is to draw some incredible media attention for his upcoming film, Blogging The Movie.

This car has recieved some incredible reviews over the last while, and it certainly looks like a great ride.

There are only 500 spots in the contest, so chances of winning are pretty good.  Taking part involves buying some advertising space on the BloggingTheMovie site, so even if you don't win, you have the opportunity for some great referrals.  I'm really looking forward to the attention this contest will recieve as it could very well make Prija's movie plans come true a heck of a lot faster than anticipated.

Head over to Blogging the Movie and check it out.  Once the mainstream media get wind of this contest, chances are the 500 spots will be gone.

A Simplified Online Backup Service

How often do you back up your files?  I know I've asked this question several times before, but with so much of our personal lives now being stored in digital format, protecting that data has become a critical part of our regular computer maintenance.  You do maintain your computer ... right? :P

IDrive-EI recently found out about an online backup service that offers free accounts up to 2 GB for users, and an unlimited service for under $50 a year.  IDrive-E is an incredibly easy to use service that has many useful features not found with the competition, such as Mapped Drive support.  Considering how the service was free for the first two gig, I created an account and downloaded their IDrive-E Classic Interface software to give it a test drive.

After a quick backup of some hefty files, I can sum up my experience with this software in one word:  slick.

I've been looking for some insanely easy to use software for family memers as they have thousands of digital photos, a DVD burner, and yet never once made a backup of these digital memories.  In the last few years they've lived through several computer failures, and each time they lose data.  Some can be recovered, but in many cases, pictures and documents are somtimes lost forever.  What they need is something that will run in the background and back up their files intelligently everyday, or every few days.  But the software needs to be easy, and they don't want to pay money for the service.

IDrive-E fits the bill perfectly.

There are several aspects of this service that I like.  The data is encrypted before being sent over the internet and archived, the backup schedule can be set to whatever you need it to be, backups are incremental (meaning that you're not sending files again and again if they haven't been updated), and you even have version control on files.  This can be incredibly useful if you need a copy of your resume from two weeks ago before you accidentally over-wrote it.

For people wanting to back up more than two gigabytes of data, there is a package available for $4.95 a month (or $49.50 if you prepay the year) and this will provide "unlimited storage".  That said, according to their Conditions of Use page, unlimited really means 150 Gig.  This should be plenty for most people, as backing up large video files or audio collections shouldn't be done online.

Are you using an online backup service?  What features do you look for when choosing one?

This has been a sponsored post obtained through PayPerPost.

Mars Rovers Operational After Six-Week Hibernation

After several weeks of silence on NASA's Rover Mission page, the rovers have resumed operations!

Band of Bright Rock in Victoria CraterNASA's twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are beginning to move again after being put into a deep hibernation mode for six weeks due to the severe dust storms that swept across the planet in late June.  The storms hit just as Opportunity was poised to enter Victoria crater, which scientists believe may contain crucial geological records of past conditions on Mars.  However, after a month-long dust storm, I wonder how easy it will be for the machines to maneouver and get through all the sand.

The storms had blocked most of the sunlight required for the rover's solar panels to generate power.  Both robots had to stop driving, and Opportunity was running so low on power that NASA through it might "freeze to death" during the frigid Martian night.  Luckily, the storms have receded and both rovers are about to start driving towards their targets.

Dust left over from the storms is still causing some problems, however.  Some dust appears to have fallen onto the lens of Spirit's microscopic imager when the protective cover was opened.  The imager is one of several instruments attached to the end of Spirit's robotic arm and is used to return detailed observations of rocks and soil.

In an attempt to remove the dust, scientists have been pointing the imager directly down, then opening and closing the cover as a form of "robotic blinking".  Some dust has come off this way, and the image quality is a bit better, but still less than before the storms.

As dust settles out of the atmosphere, some is also landing on the rovers' solar panels and blocking some of the sun's rays.  But this is not expeted to become a serious problem.  Gusts of wind help clean the panels from time to time, which is something that seems to have happened to Opportunity once already since the end of the storms.

Opportunity has also started driving and was expected to arrive as early as Monday on a spot on Victoria crater's rim, where it will make some observations.  These will help the team evaluate targets in the crater and possible routes to get inside.

Where To Go When Starting Your First Blog

According to the blog trackers at Technorati, the blogosphere is continuing to grow, with a blog created almost every second.  In their latest State of the Blogosphere report, they report the number of active blogs being tracked stood at 72.2-million, up from 60-million this past December.  The report goes on to suggest that, on average, the number of blogs is doubling every five months.

But how does someone start a blog?  What tools do they need?  What should they look out for?  These questions are often asked by people just starting out for the first time, and visiting some of the most popular blogs on the internet could make someone think they need to be a professional writer or have consistently killer content.  While both of these can certainly help when it comes to reader retention, they're not absolutely necessary.

Becky from Preblogging dot comLuckily, there are sites out there that cater to the new blogger audience at the Beginner's Guide to Blogging at preblogging.com.  This site provides tips on blogging and earning some revenue in a highly readable format, and even offers a simple guide to starting a blog, complete with screenshots and targeted links.  I really liked how Becky broke each step down into easy to digest segments and, since I happened to have a guinea pig available, I wanted to put the steps to the test.

A friend of mine has been thinking about starting a blog for months, but never got around to it.  I had offered to set one up for him, completely installed, configured and ready for content, but he just never wanted to invest the time (which probably means any blog he created would have a lifespan of about 20 minutes).  However, throwing caution to the wind, he agreed to follow the Beginner's Guide and set himself up on Blogger, then went about adding some content.  Maybe when he gets tired of saying "zOMG" and writing Chuck Norris jokes, I'll post a link :P

Aside from just showing people how to start a blog, Becky offers tips on how to monetize the site using PayPerPost, AdSense and other programs, as well as how to direct more traffic.  One post I found particularily interesting showed us how to update our blog's thumbnail in both Technorati and Alexa.  I've wanted to do this from time to time, but never invested the effort into finding out how.  Thanks, Becky!

If you know anybody that's been thinking about starting a blog but hasn't committed, or if you're relatively new to the Blogosphere and want to improve your site and gain more readers, then a visit to PreBlogging.com is definately in order.

Japan Approves of Me!

My Spousal VisaToday Reiko and I made the trek down to the Nagoya Immigration Office to pick up my Certificate of Eligibility (a document from the government saying that I was legally permitted to live and work in Japan) only to find that instead of another piece of paper, my passport was updated with an approved spousal visa!

w00t!

According to quite a bit of documentation and a number of sites about international marriage (in Japan, and Canada), we would have had to apply for a spousal visa after obtaining this certificate.  It might have been necessary to fly out of the country for a few days, too!  But luckily, this was not the case, and I can cancel my trip to South Korea as it's no longer required.

It would have been fun to go, though ... I've wanted to visit Seoul and Jeju Island for a few years, now.

Oh well.  Now that I can legally work in this country, it's time to really start canvassing for a job :)

Blog Action Day

Blog Action Day I first heard about Blog Action Day through Spud over at Nice4Rice and, after a quick read through the site, it sounds like a great project.

The idea is to get thousands of bloggers discussing a single topic on a specific date in an effort to raise awareness of a cause.  This year the cause is the environment, and the date is October 15th, 2007.

"For just one day, we'd like to unite as many of the millions of bloggers around the world and speak about one issue - the environment.  We want to display the potential and the power of the blogging community, which is a disparate community but one with an amazing size, breadth and diversity. By bringing everyone together for one day, we can see just how much can be achieved, and how much we can be heard."

- Collis Ta'eed, an Australian blogger from FreelanceSwitch.com, and cofounder of Blog Action Day


As an alternative to blogging about the environment, bloggers can opt to participate by donating their blog's proceeds from October 15th to several environmental charities.  Greenpeace International, The Nature Conservatory, the National Wildlife Federation, the Conservation Fund, and The Sierra Club are all associated with this event.

Seeing as how this site's average daily income is around 8 cents, I'll be donating all revenue aquired between October 1st and the 15th to the National Wildlife Federation.  To keep things a little fair, I've also imposed on myself a minimum donation of $20.

Now to start writing that great environmental post....

The One TeraByte Optical Disk

Mempile’s TeraDiscBlue-Ray has certainly pushed our perceptions of what a 5.25" optical disc can hold, but a new technology from an Israeli company is about to dwarf the current 50-GB limit.

Mempile says it's able to fit an astonishing 1 TeraByte onto a disc the same size as existing CDs and DVDs.  This is 20 times that of the largest Blue-Ray discs available.  The capacity is achieved using a new technology employing 200 five-gigabyte layers, each only a few microns apart.  The discs are completely transparent to the red lasers which are used in the necessary recorder.

The prototype has already been made to hold a whopping 800 GigaBytes of data, and Mempile says they will break the 1TB barrier before moving on to bigger projects.  These discs will come with an expected lifespan of 50 years, and could be available to consumers before 2012.

"TeraDisc is made of a material which is highly responsive to two-photon writing and reading.  This allows us to write anywhere in that we can focus a red laser onto the disc, e.g. multiple layers.

When a red laser is focused to a small spot inside the TeraDisc, we can choose if we probe the state of this material (reading , low power) or alter it (writing at higher power). This is very similar to the way a regular CDR works, except for the fact that this is now done in 3D."

- Dr Beth Erez, Mempile CMO


It's hard to imagine the disc being used by regular consumers, but considering the amount of data being placed on our home computers, it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine these discs being used for un-attended backups or put into digital jukeboxes and read by any computer on the network.

The Ever Positive Karl Moore

Karl MooreThere are quite a few blogs out there that are consistently positive and well written, but none are quite like the one I found today at Karl Blog.

The blog is written by Karl Moore, one of the world's top developers and the CEO of US-based media group White Cliff.  He's also the author of two VB.net books (Basic.NET: The Tutorials">Visual Basic.NET: The Tutorials and VB.NET and ASP.NET Code Book">The Ultimate VB.NET and ASP.NET Code Book) and, as chance would have it, I own them both.

Despite his incredible knowledge of software development, and the various projects he works on, Karl Blog does not focus on technology.  Instead, we're treated to some inspirational messages designed to help people in their spiritual growth, without discussing any particular religion or faith.  On Mondays we're treated to Random Act of Kindness, with many of these being so insanely simple it makes me wonder why I haven't done these things more often, and on Friday we get a Factoid.  I particularly enjoyed his commentary on the interrobang, as I had seen the symbol a few times in life but never knew what it was called or the language it was supposed to belong to.

With all the negativity on the interwebs, it's nice to know that a site like Karl's exists.  It's already made it into my Top 10 daily reads, and I encourage everyone to check it out.

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