Cassini On Station


The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft (Space.com, Florida Today, NPR, (images & ESA), performed a flawless 96-minute engine burn Wednesday night and sailed into orbit around Saturn. During the next four years, Cassini will circle Saturn more than 75 times, conducting a detailed study of the planet and its moons and rings.


In January, the spacecraft’s Huygens probe will descend through the atmosphere of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn and a world high in astrobiological interest.

After two decades and $3.3 billion, the international exploration of Saturn begins this week after the spacecraft slipped through a gap in the planet’s shimmering rings and arcs into orbit.

Cassini is 22 feet long, 13.1 feet wide and weighed nearly 12,600 pounds loaded with fuel and the probe. Too far from the sun to rely on solar panels, it uses nuclear power to provide electricity.

Some people worried that an accident could release nuclear material protested Cassini’s Oct. 15, 1997, launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. There was more concern when Cassini made a 1999 Earth flyby, but all went as planned.

The wok-shaped Huygens probe, developed by the European Space Agency, will be released from Cassini in December and will enter Titan’s atmosphere in January.

Just under 9 feet in diameter and weighing 705 pounds, its six instruments will investigate Titan’s atmosphere and then its surface, if it survives the impact of landing after a 2 1/2-hour descent by parachute.

It may not find a hard surface, however, and instead splash down into liquid ethane, which would quickly shut down the probe.

The probe will radio data back to Cassini up to a maximum of 30 minutes after touchdown. By then, either its batteries will have failed or Cassini will have passed over Titan’s horizon.

Saturn is some 930 million miles from Earth. Radio signals will take 84 minutes to travel each way, so the spacecraft will enter orbit on autopilot.

A 13-foot-diameter high-gain telecommunications antenna, was provided by the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, will serve as the Cassini spacecraft’s “voice box” and “ears,” sending data back and receiving commands from Earth during the 11-year-long mission. The multi-channel antenna is also a crucial part of several of Cassini’s scientific investigations, including imaging radar and gravity experiments.

Professor Tim Leighton, of Southampton University, says that discovering a sea on Titan would be a major contribution to the Huygens mission – with the sound of a splash or even a “methanefall” a way to do so, if it can be recognised.

He told BBC News Online: “If there is a splash and not a crunch when the probe lands, that would make Titan the first known body other than Earth to have an ocean open to an atmosphere.

“This would mean there could be babbling brooks and streams and a beach at minus 180C, lapped by an ocean of liquid cooking gas.

The Huygens Probe is named for 17th-century Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Titan in 1659. The Cassini spacecraft is named for Italian-French astronomer Jean-Dominque Cassini, who discovered four more of Saturn’s moons and in 1675 found the gap — now called the Cassini Division — that separates two of Saturn’s more prominent rings.

Iowa Rest Stops Get WiFi


Iowa motorists, like those in Texas and Maryland can now check their e-mail and surf the Internet at wireless hot rest stops, while they stretch their legs.

The Iowa Department of Transportation said a six-month trial will test three wireless rest stops, then access may expand to 40 rest areas statewide.

Wireless users will be directed to a customized home page that includes links to Iowa weather and road conditions; Amber Alerts concerning missing children; food, lodging and fuel at nearby businesses; and tourist attractions and events.

“This new service has the potential to significantly increase tourism activity and local spending in communities around the state,” said Nancy Landess, manager of the Iowa Tourism Office. The Iowa rest area wireless access is provided at no expense to state government by Des Moines-based I Spot Network, which hopes to profit by selling advertising.

“We don’t want people saying, ‘Hey, that’s kind of cool, but why are my taxes being used for this?’ ” said Mark Wheeler, I Spot chief executive officer.

The Texas Department of Transportation began experimenting with free wireless Internet access at the state’s 84 rest areas and 12 travel information centers while Maryland is launching “hot spots” at two of its welcome centers on Interstate 95.

A large 75MHz of bandwidth has been allocated for mobile communications with safety applications to get priority at 5.9GHz, or precisely from 5.850 to 5.925GHz. Tolls are presently taken at about 915MHz in north America (within 902 to 928 MHz, a shared band). The new north American 5.9GHz standard is designed around the 802.11a so that it will be able to use mass produced componentry and software.

There’s a working group: 802.11p. It will operate at ranges of up to 1km (3280ft) and move data at up to 27Mbps though it will normally be powered for a range of 300m (1,000ft) and a 6Mbps datarate.

Next up: WiFi in Cars.

The Mount Hood Loop Highway was completed 80 years ago, today, in 1924. The highway starts and ends in Portland, Oregon and circles Mount Hood. Some WiFi hotspots wouldn’t hurt.

Microsoft CoLocates (with GPS)


At the TechEd conference, in Amsterdam, two Microsoft employees dressed respectively as a cell phone and a PocketPC demonstrated a simple application that enabled them to take a photograph and post it, along with the location, to a Web log. The World-Wide Media eXchange, can couple with SenseCam output for a lifetime store of everything.

Microsoft is planning to deliver data about the location of cell phones to developers through a partnership between its MapPoint Location Server and several U.K. network operators. Microsoft’s director of marketing for the MapPoint, Tom Bailey, said he expected to have a deal with network operator O2 signed by the fall.

U.K.-based Zingo created a taxi-hailing service that matches mobile phone location data with GPRS positioning systems mounted in black cabs, but had to approach each network operator separately, a time-consuming, process.

A similar deal with TeliaSonera of Sweden is expected to be signed in July, and one with Dutch company Teydo is ready to go, says C/Net. Teydo supplies mobile phone positioning data from networks across Europe, including those operated by Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile and Orange in the United Kingdom.

WiFi RF-ID like Apriso and Aeroscout might be just the ticket for Wireless grocery shopping. Wi-Fi based positioning systems, like PlaceLab work best where GPS fails – indoors. RF-ID is also being used in Smart License Plates.

Herecast provides location-based services on a WiFi device. At its simplest level, it can tell you where you are. More advanced services can use your location to enhance information lookups, publish presence information, and create unique games — all while preserving privacy.

It’s not based on GPS or wardriving. Herecast uses a symbolic naming system — instead of using coordinates such as “42.9875, -81.2915″, it expresses your location in terms an ordinary person would use — for example, the name of the building. Every wireless access point broadcasts a unique identifier, which can be used to tell it apart from other access points. That identifier can also be used as a “landmark” to identify a particular location.

The immediate goals of the project are:

  1. Make sure it works as intended for Pocket PC, and that the user interface is good.
  2. Port it to desktop Windows XP.

Quarterscope’s Wi-Fi positioning technology, is similar GPS replacer. Wi-Fi Planet has the scoop on Quarterscope and their Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS). It calculates the position of a client in a manner similar to other Wi-Fi positioning developers such as PanGo Networks, Newbury Networks, Bluesoft and Ekahau.

Location Based Services might also develop around Blogmapper (links blog entries to clickable locations on a map), GeoURL ICBM Address Server (add Lat/Long to webpages), GeoNotes, (a free JAVA app that automatically detects your position for location-tagged messages), as used in Annotate Space, Trepia (a location-based list of other nearby Instant Messaging users), LocalFeeds (finds nearby RSS News feeds) and WWMX Travelogue (GPS tagged maps, photographs and text). Google Location Search can find local resources.

Ford Motor Co. announced yesterday that it has deployed WhereNet’s WhereCall real-time parts-locating system in its new F-150 truck plant in Dearborn, Mich. The wireless real-time locating system, should be able to track and schedule work more efficently.

Directions Magazine has a series of articles on mobile location-based services and content. Other magazines include Geospatial-Online, Geo World, GPS World and Wireless DevNet. Here’s a great list of innovative mobile projects

Related stories on Daily Wireless include:

YDI Buys Ricochet


Ricochet has been bought by YDI Wireless. C/Net has the poop on the $3.5 million deal.

Denver-based Ricochet, one of the first “city-cloud” providers used 2.4 GHz networking to link their access points on lamposts. End users could receive 128Kbps using a small, portable modem that worked on the unlicensed 900 Mhz band. It’s available in San Diego and Denver, but was once available in more than a dozen metropolitan areas.

YDI, a provider of wireless-infrastructure products, hopes to relaunch the service in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the other major cities where the ISP used to operate. The company plans to retain the name “Ricochet” for the service.

“Although Ricochet has generally operated as a service provider, this is a great match for YDI,” Robert Fitzgerald, YDI’s chief executive, said in a statement. “With the purchase of Ricochet, YDI further expands the breadth of its product offering with robust mesh technology products operating in the 2.4GHz and 900MHz frequencies.”

YDI’s customers had been asking for products in the low-frequency range, which allows wireless connections to pass through walls and other obstacles. The company had been offering only high-frequency, or line-of-sight wireless offerings. The Ricochet deal gives YDI an Internet service option; the company had previously only been a product vendor.

Orange Expands Hotspots


UK cellular provider Orange, will expand its French Wi-Fi hotspot service by 1,500 sites, taking its total to 4500 locations by the end of the year, reports The Register.

Growth of the pricey service comes on the back of deals signed with Air France to equip the airlines’ airport business lounges with wireless Internet access, and to provide a similar service to Accor hotel guests.

The mobile operator also has hotspot deals with Virgin, France Telecom and Club Med, all contributing to its current 3,000-hotspot tally.

Meanwhile, Yahoo Broadband, which has 636 Wi-Fi hotspots in Japan, will be available to GoRemote, iPass, Boingo customers: The joint venture of Softbank and Yahoo Japan will expand to 5,000 locations by March 2005.

Video Eye-to-Eye Tricks


TechDirt complains about webcams showing people staring off camera (at their monitors), rather than looking you in the eye. There are several solutions.

Microsoft’s research lab has been developing a technique using two cameras under the name i2i. It could be released for video chat sessions in the future. A (cleaned-up) background may also be substituted for your messy room/office).

Two webcams can transform the video images to a 3D image map that re-creates an accurate angle-manipulated video in real-time. So it looks like the person is looking right at you (the camera) when, if fact, they are looking at the monitor.

Facetop puts a translucent image on the monitor. It improves the level of collaboration by blending a person’s image over the computer display which results in a ‘ghost’ image on the screen. When he points at something, “his video reflection appears to touch objects on the screen.” “All we need is a $100 FireWire camera, a Macintosh and the Internet,” says the inventor. The system’s software controls the transparency effect and the fingertip tracking.

Documentary film maker, Errol Morris (Fog of War, Gates of Heaven, Fast, Cheap and Out of Control), developed a solution for the off-camera gaze. It’s similar to teleprompters used by newscasters.

His Interrotron (left), allows Morris to project his image over the camera’s lens.

Interviewees look straight in the eye at Morris, while looking directly in the camera lens. It lets Morris and the audience achieve eye contact.

Serious Magic has a product called Visual Communicator ($200) (demo) that also features an on-screen teleprompter and can insert titles with PowerPoint-like transitions.

Serious Magic also has a practical blue screen solution called Ultra ($800). It offers in-the-field chromakeying. A chromakey background scrim can be setup anywhere and doesn’t have to be lit carefully (FAQ). Ultra is a stand-alone application and works with any video editor.

DailyWireless hopes to try posting videos now that we bought a Sony P-32 for $99 (on closeout). It shoots MPEG-4 videos at 640×480 or 160×120 on a memory stick.

The Gallery of Achievers has lots of great video clips. I embedded one on the right. Below is code I used (substitute your own .mov). A tutorial on embedding video clips is at Quicktiming.

<OBJECT CLASSID=”clsid:02BF25D5-8C17-4B23-BC80-D3488ABDDC6B” WIDTH=”160″HEIGHT=”144″
CODEBASE=”http://www.apple.com/qtactivex/qtplugin.cab”>
<PARAM name=”SRC” VALUE=”quicktiming.mov”>
<PARAM name=”AUTOPLAY” VALUE=”true”>
<PARAM name=”CONTROLLER” VALUE=”false”>
<EMBED SRC=”quicktiming.mov” WIDTH=”160″ HEIGHT=”144″ AUTOPLAY=”true” CONTROLLER=”false”
PLUGINSPAGE=”http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/”>
</EMBED>
</OBJECT>

Of course, the best clips will always be obtained if you use a DV camcorder, separate mike, good video editing software and dedicated compression. That’s what SeattleWireless TV and Steve Garfield do…but it takes a long time.

Video clips on chip cameras work okay. They’re better than short phonecam video clips and cheap laptops (like mine) can edit them. They transfer is seconds. Daily posting of news (from a conference, for example), might be practical and relatively easy with MPEG-4 chip cameras.

Quicktiming, Steve Garfield, Streaming Media and Streaming Media Magazine have more information on embedding and shooting video.

Winamp TV, like the MP3 player before it, allows creators to view or “broadcast” programming. SHOUTcast is Nullsoft’s Free Winamp-based distributed streaming audio system. AOL counts 18 million installations of the video-enabled Winamp 5 player. Media Player boxes can distribute audio/video content over local WiFi networks.

Bill Viola (I think) did a piece of video art called “The Greeting”. The content is utterly simple; two women (who obviously hadn’t seen each other in a long time), greet each other.

In real-time it must have taken 20 seconds. But at 100 frames a second “The Greeting” lasted a good 5 minutes. It was the most captivating thing I’ve ever seen. I had no idea that people’s expressions were so rich and subtle. You can’t see it in real-time, but it was all right there in ultra-slow motion.

Who knows what subtle processing the brain does in split-seconds. Perhaps it’s the key to fight or flight. I bet we only partially understand “body language”. Our brains may working on subtle or invisible cues that we can’t grasp consciously.

That may be why eye-to-eye contact is so important