Category Archives: Tech Watch

Reaching for the Stars: Space Colonization

Image: Bryan Versteeg / Spacehabs.com

DrakeMackley, Staff Reporter

As the world’s population continues to grow, so does our effect on the Earth’s environment. Thousands of legislation have been passed worldwide in order to decelerate the destruction caused by mankind, however much of the damage done can not be fixed. In the past 143 years, the world has released 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, found in the atmosphere naturally is now found in enormous quantities that are causing average world temperatures to rise and in turn, melting glaciers and rising sea level. Oceans naturally absorb carbon dioxide and reduce the atmospheric pollution; however, the unnatural amount of carbon dioxide has raised the acidity of the oceans thirty percent in the last one hundred years. Attempts to permanently repair Earth’s atmosphere have been unsuccessful, so humanity should look elsewhere for the source of their preservation.

The solution to this is problem is for some of Earth’s overflowing population to migrate into space. A space settlement will be a place for ordinary people to inhabit outside of Earth’s atmosphere. Currently only people willing to pay thirty million dollars, such as Richard Garriott, are able to experience space travel and the entertaining zero gravity of space, however, if the world was able to create a space shuttle that could efficiently transport thousands of people to a space settlement, the possibilities could be endless.

What is humankind waiting for? Why haven’t international governments constructed permanent residences on the moon or on Mars? In Robert Zubrin’s book “The Case for Mars,” Zubrin makes a strong case for the colonization of Mars since materials required for natural life may be present on Mars. Although this may seem fantastic, there is a severe drawback. The gravitational pull on Mars is 3.711 m/s², one-third of Earth’s 9.8 m/s², and 1.622 m/s² on our moon, which is about one-sixth of the gravitational pull Earth’s inhabitants are accustomed to. To put these numbers into simpler terms, children raised on Mars or the moon would have an awful time when under the three or six times difference in gravitational pull that they normally feel. This would make any physical activity, including walking, extremely rigorous, so kids raised on other planets would only be able to visit Earth in times of great need.

In order to preserve the ability to travel between future settlements and Earth, the optimal solution is an independent biosphere that is in orbit, instead of on a planet. The benefits of building an in orbit settlement include, but are not limited to: short distance from Earth to the habitat, energy self-sufficient and unbelievable views.

Although we have the ability to travel to far-out planets, it may not be the wisest decision as a preliminary settlement. According to NASA, when the Mars is at its closest point to Earth, a flight takes about 280 days, over nine months. Assuming that WiFi isn’t interplanetary, news, mail and supplies will all take nine months to transport between planets. On the other hand, much of today’s communications already pass through orbiting satellites, so calling an orbital habitat on your mobile could definitely be accomplished. It currently takes a shuttle eight and a half minutes to leave Earth’s atmosphere. After shuttling into space, orbital colonies could be constructed quickly for two reasons: first, the transit is short, so resupplying can reach the habitat extremely quick.. The second reason construction would be efficient is because astronauts in orbit can move items that weigh tons on Earth by hand in space since everything is weightless. The short distance between Earth and an orbital colony would also be beneficial in terms of future trade. If Earth’s soil and atmosphere becomes contaminated, space settlements can produce food and then ship it to Earth’s surface for distribution. Distance is an enormous factor to consider when choosing where to build humankind’s first space habitat.

Developed countries currently rely heavily on coal, oil and natural gas, all of which are finite fossil fuels. Eventually the ability to use these resources will decrease because it will be uneconomical or too environmentally damaging to retrieve. The in-orbit space station that is being proposed would be an exemplary place for solar energy because there is no night in orbit, so solar power is available every day, all hours of the day. Much of the Moon and Mars have night half of the time and due to Mars’s increased distance from the Earth, it only receives half the solar power available on Earth. Mars also has harsh dust storms which would disrupt the gathering of solar energy. The orbital habitat will be energy self-sufficient, but what about all the other resources that the colony requires for construction and then continued survival? Rocket company SpaceX says that their newest rocket can put material into space for $1000 per pound, this figure is not nearly low enough for space habitation or construction. Because of the cost to propel mass into space, most of the necessary materials need to come from the Moon or asteroids and comets near Earth. The Moon has large amounts of oxygen and metal, but not enough hydrogen and carbon to fuel our settlement. That’s where comets and asteroids come into play, both of the space rocks have large amounts of metals, oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. From mining what’s in space we can retrieve the bulk of what is needed for the settlement and be mostly self-sufficient from Earth. We know the location, we know where we can get our supplies from, but how feasible is a man-made environment for long-term use? Since 2001, the University of Arizona has funded the Biosphere II, a project to prove the viability of a closed ecological system. Although the Biosphere II had a few problems, such as running out of air six months into the first year, it was fully sustainable and with a few adjustments could support human life in space.

Before we jump into our space shuttles and blast off, there are a few problems that need to be addressed: the extremely large cost and the after construction settlement. The cost to put humans into space needs to be reduced from thirty million to $1,000 and the cost to put materials into space needs to be reduced from $1,000 per pound to one hundred dollars or less. Once the funding is no longer a problem, we still need to solve the problem that University of Arizona is having in their Biosphere II, running out of oxygen. The bio dome that we’re creating needs to be an endless loop of nutrients and needs to function like Earth in order to support life endlessly. If technology continues to advance at the rate that is has been, humankind will hopefully be able to overcome the previously stated hurdles by the year 2040.

Educational Apps

TylerChan

Technology has given students the freedom to learn course material from non-textbook formats. Though not many people think about it, smartphones are becoming an ever-growing popular tool in education. As a result, many companies are developing new innovative apps for smartphones to allow students that learn through unorthodox, yet effective, methods of application.

On some apps lessons are intertwined within games or built as interactive tutorials that normally would be dreary to read about in a textbook. These apps allow people to learn a topic without the realization that a lesson is being taught.

The most effective educational apps to learn from are within the subjects of reading and writing. Apps such as “SAT UP,” which is a game based on matching two vocabulary words within a list together with similar definitions under a time limit, improves the individual’s ability to connect vocabulary words within texts and as stand-alone words. Another app, “The Grading Game” is a game based on accurately identifying the grammatical errors in an essay within a short time limit. As stand-alone games, these two apps appear boring if one were to play them for their own entertainment, but in terms of education, these apps make learning dull topics more exciting and enjoyable.

Improving one’s ability to learn through apps can also be done indirectly. Apps such as “Luminosity” increase brain activity which in turn increases one’s ability to understand topics faster by being able to connect them to related subjects more quickly.

Apps typically are not associated with learning, but students who are exposed to topics in different ways gain a better understanding of what needs to be learned.

(Photo Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons)

Tech Review: A Week with Android Wear

NateHarris, Guest Writer

Oct. 15 is a big day for fans of the Android operating system and phone lineage. Android L, the newest version of the operating system that was unveiled at Google I/O in June, was officially named “Android 5.0 Lollipop,” sticking to the theme of naming each successive operating system after a confection in alphabetical order. The operating system is set to be pushed out on Friday to the Nexus line of devices first, with other Android devices following over the upcoming months.

Oct. 15 also marks a week after I finally received my Android Wear device, and in that time I have learned a thing or two. Android Wear, for those who do not know, is an extension of the Android operating system running on watches resembling small smartphones, therefore dubbed “smartwatches.” Though Pebble watches have been out for a while, and Apple announced over the summer plans to launch a smartwatch in 2015, Android Wear was the first to take on the concept of a watch being more than a watch in full force. The first smartwatch hit the market last year with the Samsung Gear, though it did not run Android Wear software, and its marketability, though eye-catching, did not fare too well. Since then, a few more iterations of the smartwatch have come out, with “the Big Three” consisting of the LG G Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Gear Live (both square faced), and the Moto 360 by Motorola, which has a round face. I, like a lot of people looking at this technology, decided to go all out and combine fashion with form and went with the Moto 360. This added about two weeks to my wait, as, while I could walk into any Best Buy and pick up one of the other watches off the shelf, the Moto 360 was sold out everywhere, including at stores, on Google Play and on Motorola’s website.

(courtesy Nate Harris)
(courtesy Nate Harris)

So let me start with the design. Motorola designers and engineers attest to their idea that when designing the watch, that it look like a watch first and foremost. There is nothing necessarily wrong with a square face, but in my opinion, if clocks are round, a watch should be round. Motorola also teamed up with a Chicago leather manufacturer, offering black and grey leather straps for the watch out of the box (Motorola recently began offering metal linked straps as well). The leather feels great and adds to the style. It feels integrated with the product, as opposed to just serving a purpose like the plastic and rubber straps on the other two watches. The device itself is only 1.7 inches in diameter, but while some other reviewers argue that it is too big or too small, with my wrist, the size is just right. Some complain that it is too thick, but in comparison to the other smartwatches, it is only two millimeters thicker, and compared to a regular round watch, the difference is basically inconsequential.

(courtesy Nate Harris)
(courtesy Nate Harris)

The device has only one button on it, placed on the right side where a dial would be on a wind-up watch, and this button serves no other purpose than to turn the screen and device on and off. The Moto 360 does not have a speaker (unlike the other two), so there is a drawback when making phone calls (yes, you can make phone calls using the watch), but, as one main selling point of these smartwatches seems to be a new-found dedication to fitness, all the watches feature some sort of heart rate monitor and pedometer. As far as I’ve used it, it works quite nicely, though finding my heart rate does seem to take a bit of time (perhaps it is just me). The Moto 360 is not completely round; a small cutout at the bottom of the screen is black, but this is to make room for the ambient light sensor and display driver, a feature special to the Moto 360 that allows the screen to adjust its brightness according to the amount of available light around it. The screen also goes dim after a timeout period, and turns back on by the push of the button or by moving the watch in a sweeping motion that simulates raising your wrist up to your face. The Moto 360 seems to have only two major negative criticisms by reviewers, and those are its battery life and its processor. As far as battery life, it depends on what you use it for. Once I stopped touching it every two minutes, the battery lasted me an entire workday (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.). An update to the operating system significantly rectified this issue, though. And while the battery does drain a little faster than one might prefer, the device charges (through an inductive charger, no external ports or USB) from dead to one hundred percent in a little over an hour and a half. The other issue is the processor. Motorola put so much effort into the design, yet copped out for three-year old processor chips. I do not see any real side-effects from this decision, though it does seem to lag a bit if put under more than an average amount of stress.

(courtesy Nate Harris)
(courtesy Nate Harris)

Now to how the device actually works. These smartwatches are not phones. They are accessories that connect to an Android phone through Bluetooth. The first function of the watch is, of course, telling the time. All the watches come with pre-installed watch faces that can be switched out at will, and many developers are releasing more watch faces that can easily be used on the device. The watch syncs with the phone, and any app downloaded on the phone that works on Android Wear appears on the watch (though it is stored on the phone). Android Wear displays all notifications from the phone on its screen, as well as any cards in Google Now. Many of these notifications can be interacted with on the watch, though all of them will open on the phone. However, one app I have right now is a Wear browser, which allows someone to share a URL from the browser on their phone and view it on the watch (a miniature version of the websites’s mobile view). The watch is mostly a Google Now watch. Saying “OK Google” or just tapping on the screen will bring up Google. There is a keyboard on the phone (at least on the browser, there is), but for Google, it is all voice. Yeah, you look like weird walking down the street talking to your wrist, but those people around you are just behind the times. As for accuracy, unless there is really loud ambient noise, Google will understand what you said virtually every time. This is helpful, because the texting function (yes, you can text from your watch) is also voice-operated.

(courtesy Nate Harris)
(courtesy Nate Harris)

From the Google screen, a swipe up will allow access to setting and apps. Since Android Wear is fairly new, there is not too much out there, but it is really interesting to see the ingenuity that developers are having with this new technology. The Moto 360 was the last of the big three to come out, so a lot of apps are optimized for square screens, but many developers are working hard to bring full function to the round screen. I have some games (2048 and a Rubik’s Cube), some functionality apps (Calculator, a third-party Twitter beta app, a flashlight) and some accessibility apps (remotely control the volume or music playback on my phone, remotely control my camera, record audio). The app market is increasing exponentially daily, and it should not be long before big-name apps are available in some function on Wear (iHeartRadio, Tinder and FlyDelta have already taken advantage of the device).

Overall, the device is a nifty little thing. The interface is clean and easy to use, and the round design of the Moto 360 specifically makes it feel like it is a watch. I have had more than a few people give me a weird look as I respond to a text in public, but many of those people end up gawking over it when I show them that I am not crazy, but instead “embracing the future.” The functionality of the watch is a little underdone, but this is a brand new thing and so the full power and extent of its use is still being delved into right now.

Now comes the ultimate question: Is it worth it? I guess I did not say the price in the intro, my bad. The LG G Watch is $229, but Best Buy has been slashing its price to $159. The Samsung Gear Live is $199. The Moto 360 is $249. Now is it worth it? Well, if you are an iPhone person, you can leave now. You too Windows Phone people. Now the non-smartphone people. Now anyone with an Android device older than a year and a half. Okay, first off, you need Android 4.3 and above. Then you need to use Google a lot (as in multiple times a day. Multiple times an hour, even better). Now you need money, and lots of it. Now you need to be able to deal with imperfection, but at the same time experiment, try things out, be a beta tester and respond back to developers with constructive criticism and advice. This is not an everyday user device, not yet. In a few months it may be. The way I see it, as many see it, it is a niche product, for now. Right now, not many people know about it, and even fewer have it, so it is “weird.” The word “smartwatch” keeps showing up as misspelled, that is how unknown it is. Soon more people will know about it, but still few people will have it, and it will be “hipster.” Eventually, everyone will know about it, and everyone will have it, and it will be “mainstream.” Personally, I love being at the forefront rather than in the middle of the pack, being a leader rather than a follower.

So is it worth it? As soon as you have it, as soon as you strap it to your wrist, you will find worth in it somewhere. So is it worth it? Better question is, what is it worth to you?

 

(Cover photo courtesy Nate Harris)

The next three big technologies of 2014

SungminAn

Curved Screens

Samsung and LG reveal new televisions with curved screens. (courtesy dailymail.uk)
Samsung and LG reveal new televisions with curved screens. (courtesy dailymail.uk)

Last year, Samsung Electronics, Ltd. unveiled the world’s first curved OLED display in September 2013. Four months later, it revealed its 105-inch curved-screen TV at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The prototype bends only few inches around the corner, so the curved-display has few advantages over its flat counterpart. Despite this small difference, the curved-screened TVs cost much more than conventional LED TVs: LG’s curved, 105-inch TV, which was also displayed in CES, costs $69,999

BMW i3

The new BMW i3 electric car. (courtesy caranddriver.com)
The new BMW i3 electric car. (courtesy caranddriver.com)

BMW has always been known for designing cars that are luxurious and fun to drive, albeit inefficient when it comes to fuel efficiency. But the company is trying to change this image, and it is planning on releasing a new model to do just that. This new electric car has a futuristic design that may shatter the common conception that electric cars are only for hippies or tree huggers. According to BMW, the design of the i3 was inspired by a “desire for sustainability and efficiency”; therefore, it looks “clean, reduced, homogenous and dynamic at the same time.” Furthermore, its textile seats are made from 100-percent recycled polyester and 25 percent of its plastics are made from recycled material or renewable resources. Parts of its main body frame are made from carbon fiber, the light material that is used by supercar manufacturers like Lamborghini and Ferrari. But to most consumers, the car’s biggest appeal will come from its competitive pricing: starting MSRP of just $41,350, which is surprisingly cheap for an automaker that is known for creating cars that cost over $60,000. This means that the i3 costs just $12,370 more than the Nissan Leaf and $28,550 less than the Tesla Model S. But when it comes to the maximum driving range, the new Bimmer falls short of its competitors: even with the optional two-cylinder gasoline range extender, i3’s maximum range is only 186 miles, compared to the Model S’s range of 300 miles. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether this new car will increase the appeal of electric cars for consumers.

Wearable Technology

New wearable technologies hit the market, including Google Glass, Samsung Gear and Pebble smartwatch. (courtesy digitaltrends.com)
New wearable technologies hit the market, including Google Glass, Samsung Gear and Pebble smartwatch. (courtesy digitaltrends.com)

Google has long been in the process of developing its Google Glass, which promises to replace smartphones and integrate data into our everyday lives. In 2014, this avant-garde gadget is finally expected to become available to the general public. Other wearable gadgets, such as smartwatches, are also coming into vogue. Available from companies such as Samsung and Pebble, these gadgets allow the users to make calls, check emails, and take pictures without getting their phones out of their pockets. Because this is a relatively new technology, it remains to be seen whether consumers will welcome it as necessary to their lives.

(cover photo courtesy wpengine.com)