Friday, June 12, 2009

Zero G

Last March, the Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata joined the ISS, staying until few days ago. Besides his scientific task, he was doing a list of experiments for the people (selected in a contest), the list includes:

1. Calisthenics: Is it possible to follow an audio-guided workout program in zero gravity?
2. Backflips: On Earth, backflips take a lot of practice and leg strength. How about in zero gravity?
3. Volleying (soccer): Crumple a piece of paper into a ball and try kicking it around. How does the ball behave in zero gravity? Can you volley it?
4. Push-ups: In space, can you do push-ups while facing the ceiling or walls?
5. Cartwheels: In zero gravity, can you rotate yourself continuously like a windmill?
6. Swimming: Try to swim through the air as if you were in water. Can you move forward by swimming? If not, why not?
7. Spin like an ice skater: On Earth, ice skaters can increase their rotation speed by pulling their arms closer in to the body while they spin. Does the same thing happen in zero gravity? If so, what is the reason?
8. Folding clothes: In space, can you fold clothes and put them away as you do on Earth? It seems that the shirt sleeves would be difficult to keep in place. What is the best way to fold clothes in space?
9. Magic carpet: Try to sit on a floating carpet. Magic carpets are a fantasy on Earth, but are they possible in space?
10. Water gun: On Earth, if you squeeze a drink bag, a single stream of liquid shoots out through the straw hole and falls to the ground. How does the liquid behave in zero gravity?
11. Eye drops: On Earth, you have to face upward to put eye drops into your eyes. Is there a better way to do this in zero gravity?
12. Propulsion through space: When floating in zero gravity, how much power do you need in order to propel yourself around? Can you move simply by blowing air from your mouth or by flapping a hand-fan?

The next four activities are to be performed by two people:
13. Arm wrestling
14. Shaking hands
15. Sumo
16. Tug-of-war

He did all the list, and the results are really curious. The next is the video of the experiments, I cannot imagine how is to be in zero-G.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

One year on Mac

I always admired Mac as computers, cool designs, functionality in the OS, *nix in the core, everything just works. Many years ago I wished to have my own Mac, unfortunately I never had the income to buy one (Mac are even more expensive in the third-world).

Twelve months ago I started to use a Mac for my everyday coding/writing work. Before this, I used Linux principally for the same tasks, so the migration was painless. My Mac is a iMac with a nice large screen (I love it!), 2GB RAM, 300 GB HD, Intel Core 2 Duo, very stylish. The exception in the design is the damn mouse, why one button? Many applications require the missing button, forcing to use the Control key, besides the scroll button is failing and failing. When I find a nice and cheap white 3-button mouse I change it.

Put the terminal in the bar as access was the first thing I did, I discovered that is a common pattern for coding people like me. I was not impressed with the desktop effects, after being a regular user of Compiz/Beryl/Matisse you can said: "I saw better useless effects in Linux".

My regular coding work is based in Perl, so I did not have any problems, but in other tools I can say the same. Mac updates release are good, but they aren't the last stable version in some cases, Java is a nightmare. I found some interesting programs to use/test based in Java, when I tried to run, many required the 1.6 release, Mac Leopard has the 1.5 version and update is not an option. Frustration!

Other bad point is the software update, after some time you install more and more programs, and keeping update is a waste of time, you can use some tool like AppFresh, but this are miles away from the versatility and utility of Linux application managers like dpkg, apt-get, urpmi, yum, ... which with a single and simple command can update (or upgrade) a full system.

I use a lot the shell for my work, from running programs to parse files, the mac has the typical bash shell and many of the *nix tools, but not everything, so I use Darwin Ports to install the missing commands (wget, imagemagik, ...).

My final claim is for iTunes, I commonly work hearing music (my nirvana state includes music/coffee/food), I have a large collection of music accumulated over the years (legally acquired, I own the CDs, stored in a big box in my home in Mexico). I obviously transfer my music to iTunes, and iTunes fails to recognize the MP3 tags, many of the MP3s are in wrong categories, the albums are split or files has a bad annotation. OGG files are not recognized and you need a special codec to use it and you need to convert the files to ACC before to transfer to iPod. Why does iTunes update need a system reboot? More frustrations!

After this time, I recognize the value of a Mac as workstation, specially because I used mine with really complex and heavy genomic/image analysis. And many tools/programs prepared for the Mac installs/works perfectly without problems. Now I'm using Mac specific programs and after 75% of disk usage I can't switch. I'm still asking me how this Mac looks/works with Mandriva.

I'm still believing the perfect system does not exist (at least for me).