Revisiting An Old Friend – ACME Aerospace

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Back in 2006, my final project was to come up with a campaign for a fictional company. Since I had been recently enamored with the space shuttle and all things involving rockets, it was an easy choice on what to go with. My generic company name was ACME Aerospace but darn it, I should have gone with SpaceX. Sure it was founded in 2002 but no one really knew about it in those days. Nonetheless, I pressed on with stationery, a magazine cover, logo, etc. Then I needed to design a billboard. What to do?

Well, a lot of people visualize a person sitting at a console with a giant red button that says “LAUNCH”. I mean that’s kind of how it worked in “The Right Stuff” (that poor guy hated pushing that button). So, I had the button idea. Now I needed a slogan. I knew that space tourism was being touted as something that would happen sooner rather than later so I went with that angle. A company that gives rides into space. I wanted it to be edgy so I figured that gravity is the main culprit in keeping us bound to the surface. Ok then, give it the finger…by pushing the button to launch the rocket. It’s a play on words. I really hope I don’t have to explain it but my instructor and classmates got a laugh out of it.

The First

The original piece was pretty basic but all the elements were there for what I needed:

The Last

The newer version maintains some of the simplicity with a little more flair here and there. I reduced the fonts to just two. While Trajan is a very much used font, I kept it because if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. I used a san serif for a more modern look on the button. I also wanted to give the impression of it being a button. I just went top-down 2d style with it, again, for simplicity. I also wanted to give it more of a glow effect but not overdo it. The new background has a rocket trail from a long exposure photo. I gave it a little more texture.

A more notable change is changing the slogan up. I put “THE FINGER” on the arrow itself and changed the color of the arrow as gray was looking a bit drab. I actually made that change while writing this post. I could pick this thing apart for hours but it was just for fun and I don’t want to devote too much time to it. It got me the grade, either way. Also, it’s all vector. Something I didn’t do originally.

I think the new one looks at least a little nicer:

One final note is that this was a rebuild more than an edit. The original file has long since vanished into the horror that is my drawer full of old hard drives. Another task for another day. I mean it was 12 years ago, after all.

If tasked to do this again, I’d redesign it entirely as opposed to just correcting some things and updating a few things. I think I’ll do a SpaceX poster next just for the fun of it. Perhaps an infographic.

The Samsung NX1 Is Dead, Long Live the NX1

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Ok, the NX1 has long been dead. So, this is more of a lament than anything. A very late review perhaps? More than anything, just my thoughts and how much I liked using this camera.

In 2015 we needed a camera for a video shoot. For our needs, we required a camera that would shoot at least 120fps. After back and forth research on various cameras it came down to the Panasonic GH4 and the Samsung NX1. The GH4 only shot 96fps which is 4x slower than 24fps. I felt the additional 24fps (bumping it to 120fps) is what edged the NX1 out. So we took the plunge and dropped a couple of grand on the camera and a couple of lenses. Then, we got to work.

The Device

Using the device was a treat. It had a touchscreen or you could dial things in manually. I should also mention that it also shot 4k at 30fps. It had lenses that could be changed, always a bonus. The camera was mirrorless. This means that a mirror doesn’t flip out of the way to expose the sensor, whereas a DSLR works in this way. There was no physical “snapping” sound but it had a tiny speaker to simulate one. Cute, eh? So, you could effectively shoot images all day an no one would ever know. Good for candids! Manual controls were a breeze. Exposure, aperture, everything; easy to change on the fly without even taking your eyes off the subject.

One very distinct advantage of a mirrorless camera was filming welding. Normally you have to wear protective eyewear. However, the screen and eyepiece were tiny LCD screens. That meant that the light would only be as bright as the screen would allow it, registering as just white light. That, opposed to looking through optics only to magnify the intense light directly into your retina.

The only drawback was that it shot in h.265 vs h.264. At the time, no computers could handle that file format right out of the box. It’s like an mp3 version of a video file. Granted an h.264 mp4 is already compressed enough, h.265 took compression even further. That allowed smaller video files at 100mpbs. It required a lot of processing power to render those types of files.  We had to use 3rd party software to render them to h.264 files and in the process, you could end up with a file that was 10x larger than the source file, at the same bit rate. Good compression indeed. A couple of years ago, it was a slight issue. These days things like Windows 10 play h.265 right out of the box. Adobe Media Encoder and Adobe Premiere can edit those files with no problems. Just make sure your machine has enough horsepower (CPU, GPU, RAM).

The Images

Images shot with this camera were clean and sharp if done correctly. Low light images had very little noise which made it ideal for me to take home and point at the night sky. Believe me, I’ve pointed lots of cameras at the night sky and none quite compared to the NX1. Samsung manufactured their own sensor as opposed to using a 3rd party. I guess that’s why I’d never seen anything quite like it before or since.

Video quality was equally amazing. I can’t say enough about how well this camera shot video. Shooting at 120fps was amazing because of the dramatic effect you could invoke in a scene. We would shoot 4k and then render to 1080p to have amazingly clear images. We could also pan/zoom with a 4k video if we chose to. It was a purchase that paid dividends, many times over. I converted a colleague over to this camera who was used to using Nikon devices. By the time I left my previous job, we would all fight off who got to use the NX1. It was that good.

I particularly like an image of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) that I captured. It’s a feat I’ve only been able to accomplish with that particular consumer grade camera. This was literally out of the box with a 200mm lens. On the tripod. Snapped 4 pics. Stacked. Processed. Done. I was impressed. Are there better M31 images out there? By far, yes. With the kind of gear I used? Maybe. Still, I love that image. You can see it here.

The End

After a few months of use, a few firmware updates, software being able to support h.265; support was discontinued. I guess it just didn’t quite make enough money? Maybe competitors felt threatened by it and something happened behind closed doors? I really don’t know why, just that it did. No more lenses being made. No more updates. An amazing camera, frozen in time.

Eventually, entropy will take its toll and the camera will fall into disrepair. I’ve already seen people on Facebook (Only visible to members?) that lament about a damaged camera that cannot be easily repaired. Thankfully, it was water resistant so that gives it a little more longevity. One day, there will be a world where the NX1 is kept in a case, only to be looked at as a relic long since forgotten. Not by me though. I’ll never forget the joy of experiencing the Samsung NX1.

Godspeed the Samsung NX1 and Samsung, if you read this, maybe give a try to making the NX2. It’s a longshot but hey, never hurts to try?

What Came Next?

We eventually caved and bought a Pansonic GH4. We needed a dual camera setup and it was the logical choice. I will say this, it is also an amazing device. That being said, the NX1 was/is better. Less noise. Better sensor. 120fps vs 96fps. Better images. Conversely, the GH series has lots and lots of support. Also you can mount any lens to the GH4. So, it does edge the device out as far as practical use goes. Don’t get me wrong, the GH4 is great. The NX1 just holds a special place in my heart.

A Couple Of Examples

To see various images shot on the NX1, look no further than the NX1 Flickr page.

This video was shot entirely on the NX1 and was the single reason for making the purchase:

Another starry night image. The camera had a time-lapse mode that made things like this possible. Again, no fancy setup. It was plugged int and shield from the wind with a fan blowing nearby to ward off any sort of dew that might form:

Sure Fire Way To Tell Diet From Regular

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I just wanted to give a preview of the next video I’ll be making. As much as I want to make videos about debunking flat earth claims, eh, there’s plenty of those. I’d rather divert my energy to other things.

Have you ever gotten a couple of drinks at the drive through and they weren’t labeled correctly? Worse is that the ratio of syrup to water has the taste a little off. So the “sweeter” one could be diet while the diluted one is actually regular! It’s a conundrum.

After having this happen one too many times I finally realized there’s a sure fire way to know and it works every single time. I’ve already shot the footage. I just need to edit and voice it. After looking at my Leidenfrost Effect video, I got inspired to make another one in the similar style.

Turning A Stranger Things Poster Into A Facebook Cover Image

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Original Poster (Well scaled down)

There’s this show everyone is talking about and one day I might get around to it. OK, I’m joking. I watched it the day it came out (that goes for Season 2 as well). If you don’t know what Stranger Things is, you should check it out. It’s pretty darn good. Me being me, I wanted to “Stranger Things” up my Facebook cover but I couldn’t find anything pre-made. Again, being me, I figured I’d just make one myself. All I need was a good source to start with. Thankfully, there were tons of images of the poster. It’s the standard 24″x 36″ size but I felt motivated to try and make something fit into the 851×315 cover image size for Facebook.

The first thing I wanted to do was make sure I kept all the characters so I’d need to isolate them all and do some rearranging. First things first, I took to the polygonal lasso tool and got to work. Some people prefer the pen tool but I feel more precise with the lasso tool and I’m faster with it. After a few minutes of snipping everyone out of the image I got to work with positioning them.

I wanted to basically keep them in the same relative location but Will being at the very top posed an immediate problem. While he is central to the story, Eleven is more prominent. I could work with that. Will would come off the top and to the left of Eleven (Eleven’s left). Conversely, Joyce would also come down beside Eleven but not quite as much. I also had to draw in some extra fabric on Joyce to make it look right. I also scaled her down a bit compared to Eleven. That was the most labor intensive part really.

With that done I could position Jonathan and Nancy over near where they originally were (left side of the image). Hopper would take a spot basically where he was before (off to the right). Though, I put the Moon right in between Will and Hopper because I didn’t want to lose it. They were probably the easiest characters to arrange.

Next, I had to deal with the last three protagonists; Lucas, Dustin and Mike. Actually there wasn’t much to do except make sure they didn’t get cut off. The other thing I did is that you can see Eleven’s hand directly behind Dustin. It was the only place to put it really as it would look ridiculous if her hand was reaching “out at you” but was behind the bushes. It would also look even worse had it obscured Dustin. It works for me. The thing is that I wanted a basic symmetry and for it to not get too crowded in any one area. Including the guy in the hazmat suit, both sides are even with Eleven and Mike lining up top/bottom. Good deal.

Ok, last but not least, the background. I wanted to keep the colored lights and the night sky. so I just cut them out, scaled them accordingly and did some color tweaking. The only other thing I did at this point was put a very subtle glow around Eleven. I wanted to make her pop a little bit more. If I didn’t mention it, you might not even notice. In fact, I did those so long ago that I’ll probably make a couple of edits to this blog to say “Oh and…”

The finished product:

Turned out pretty good, I think

For now, that’s my journey from full size poster to tiny Facebook cover image. If anyone wants the PSD for whatever reason. I can provide it.

Falcon Heavy – A Roaring Success

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So, this week was an exciting one in the realm of rockets. That happens to be a favorite realm of mine. I’ve been waiting for Falcon Heavy to launch for years. The last time something that powerful launched from the Cape would have been Space Shuttle in 2011. As you can imagine, a lot of people made the trek to the Space Coast to witness the historical moment. I would have but life said “not right now” and also if I go, it gets delayed. That’s just my luck. I attempted 4 Shuttle launches and only got the final attempt because of a glitch in Murphy’s Law! I jest. It’s just really hard to know if something will scrub a launch, especially an experimental one.

Speaking of which, experimental launches usually have a dummy payload or something to simulate the mass of an actual payload. No need to put a billion dollar satellite on something that might detonate like a small atomic weapon. So they put a car on it. Specifically Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster. Inside they put “Starman”, a dummy in a suit that looks a lot like one of the members of Daft Punk. Where is the car going? Way out into space is where. It was said to be going to Mars but the truth is that it isn’t going to land on Mars but it’s orbit will take it out as far as and beyond Mars. It’s going to be orbiting the Sun just like most other things in the solar system. There, it will remain for millions or perhaps billions of years. I’m sure it’ll see some wear from the vacuum of space and relentless onslaught of solar wind.

The only part of the mission that didn’t quite go as planned was the center core sticking the landing out at sea. I’ve heard it only lit one engine vs three and subsequently hit the water going pretty fast. I’ve love to see that video footage as well. Elon Musk has a pretty good outlook on things as he’s posted plenty of videos of the spectacular failures they’ve had over the years.

The best part, if you weren’t there, is the amazing launch AND landing footage. I’ll post a couple of my favorites but I won’t get out of control.

This one is wicked! You need headphones because the sound is binaural and sounds like you’re actually there or pretty darn close. The whole video is cool but it should start a few seconds before liftoff with the clip I’m posting.

This landing and the sonic booms are just, wow. These guys were close.

Lastly, I give you the Earth from inside a Tesla Roadster. Queue up some relaxing music and kick back and take in the beauty.

It’s worth looking up other videos. With lots of bad things going on in the world, it’s nice to see things like this. We can accomplish great things if we work together.

Thoughts on Nintendo Switch

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I love the Nintendo Switch. There, that’s out of the way. I didn’t think it’d succeed but boy was I wrong (and I’m glad I was).

That said, this isn’t a review as much as it’s just some basic thoughts about the system. It goes without saying that the Switch has been a raging success. Initially driven by Zelda: Breath of the Wild but furthered by Super Mario Odyssey and a host of other games. I’ve personally spent 98% of my time playing Breath of the Wild, BotW from here on out. It’s a beautiful game. It’s hard at times. It’s easy at times. You’ll spend a lot of time playing this kind of game. Why is that important? That’s where my “thoughts” come in.

Nintendo is releasing something called Labo pretty soon and it’s certainly intriguing. It is basically cardboard pieces you assemble into various thing (fishing rod, motorcycle handlebars, etc). It’s cool that the Switch has the sensors to be able to do all of these things. There remains an issue though. It isn’t the cardboard that will inevitably wear out as much as it is the Switch itself.

You see, lets talk about Zelda again. I’ve put in about 120 hours of gameplay. I have 120 shrines completed. I have the fully powered Master Sword (Holy geez what a pain!). So, yeah, lots of time and effort. It’s rewarding and fulfilling to accomplish these things. Do you want to know what would make me lose my mind? Having my switch inside of a cardboard apparatus only to fall out and there goes your Switch and all your save data for every game you’ve ever played. Ever.

Yes. That is right. All save data is locally stored on the device. If anything happens to your switch major or minor, you will lose your save data. I love this system but this is a glaring flaw that must be addressed. I know they wanted to avoid people hacking the system but in trying to avoid hacking, you’ve created a reason for people to hack. Understand, if I found a way to hack the system to save my progress externally, I would do it. Voided warranty be damned. XBox has cloud save. Playstation has it. Maybe? I don’t own one.

The point is that before you launch a product that will have kids flailing their delicate game systems about, some sort of save backup system needs to be implemented. Cloud? Sure. Local on a MicroSD? That works, too. Both? Even better. I can almost guarantee there will be a flux of very pissed consumers once their Switches start flying and smashing into the floor.

All that said they did take a step in the right direction a couple of months ago. Our switch had gotten damaged and the joycons (controllers on the side) wouldn’t slide on unless we really forced them to. So, I got a replacement from Amazon. There is a feature that allows you to transfer your data to another switch. That’s great and saved, well, our saves. The issue is that it moves your data. It does not copy it. So, it’s a nice thing to have but it’s a band-aid for a problem that needs a proper fix/solution.

I’m sure they’ll do something and given the Labo launching, it should be sooner rather than later. If it’s later then, oi, I wouldn’t want to answer the phones for their support to tell people they’re SOL. Just give us backup options, Nintendo. It’ll be A-OK.

Falcon Heavy

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The Falcon Heavy rocket is slated to lift off on February 6th, 2018 from Kennedy Space Center’s Launchpad 39A. This is the same pad that Apollo and Space Shuttle both used. To top it off, literally, Elon Musk has placed his own Tesla Roadster atop the powerful rocket. If successful it will be the most powerful liquid fueled rocket in the world. The only other rocket to hold that title has been retired since the 70s.

It will be a sight to see as two boosters come roaring back to land at LZ1 and LZ2, followed by not two but four sonic booms. The center stage will land out at sea. The Tesla Roadster? It will continue on to Mars. Yep. Mars. Here’s hoping it doesn’t blow up but if it does, they will learn from it. The only good thing is that rapid deconstructions (explosions) are spectacular when it comes to rockets. A show and lessons learned, either way.


Tribute to Apollo IV

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The year was 1967. Earlier that year a fire had killed three astronauts. There was a degree of uncertainty perhaps and a degree of even more fierce determination. On November 9, 1967, NASA and the American people would get a win.

The Saturn V would fly for the first time. Even when it was all assembled and everything was checked and double checked, no one was still 100% sure what was going to happen when then engines ignited and the clock hit 0:00.

I’ve read accounts of people being in absolute shock and amazement from the power of this rocket. It dwarfed everything before and after it. No loss of crew or payload ever came at the hands of this machine. It was and still is the mightiest rocket to have ever been put into service. This is just a little tribute I put together.

The song is on my SoundCloud page and may beprone to changes because I honestly still want to tweak a couple of things with the audio. Getting all the voices to come through the pounding audio was hard enough. Thank goodness for modern day music editing!

NOTE: Some of the video clips are from Apollo 8. Not a whole lot of  high quality footage from this first flight exists that I could find.

Put a candle out with “air”

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What you will need:
Baking soda
White vinegar
Measuring cups
One or more candles
Lighter or matches
Stable flat surface
Tall pitcher or large glass
* Adult supervision

The Set Up

First, prepare the baking soda and vinegar. Measure out about 1/4 cup of baking soda and around 1/2 cup of vinegar (if you’re container is smaller use smaller amount to avoid a mess). Once you’ve done that, set them aside and you can light the candle.

Next, mix the baking soda and vinegar. Pour the baking soda in first and then slowly add the vinegar. This will help keep it from bubbling over. Once the reaction has settled down you’re ready to put the candle out.

The Experiment

Take the container and make a pouring motion directly above the flame as if you were pouring liquid onto it.

Note: Do not pour the liquid onto the flame.
It might take a little practice with your aim but the flame should go out. You’ll know when you’re close as it will usually flicker before going out. If it doesn’t then you can mix more baking soda and vinegar and try again. If you had trouble getting the flame to go out, the next section might help.

What’s Happening?

The active ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid (5% usually). It’s this acid that reacts with the baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). The reaction, as you can see, can be pretty vigorous. The byproducts of the reaction are sodium acetate, water and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the one we’re interested in because it is what puts the fire out.
Carbon dioxide is heavier than the surrounding air and this allows us to trap it in a tall container and pour it onto the flame as if pouring a liquid. The carbon dioxide gas deprives the candle of oxygen and extinguishes the flame.

Beaker Freaks Out!
I promise this won’t happen!

Extra Credit

Try putting out multiple candles at once. Can you think of another way to cut off the oxygen supply to the candle using the materials on hand? Remember to ask your parents for help!

All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind. – Martin H. Fischer

* Remember, safety first! Children should have adult supervision when doing this.

He’s a nifty video showing it in action


Spot The Station

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I was recently asked by a local magazine The Kitchen Draw to write an article about science and/or space. I wrote two articles and the space one won out. It’s about how to spot the International Space Station.  I couldn’t find it on the site as it was print only but I figured I’d post what I wrote here because why not eh? So, without further ado.

Did you know that you can see the International Space Station with the unaided eye? In fact you might have seen it and not even realized it. Let’s start off with what we’re looking at in the first place.

What is the International Space Station?

The ISS is the largest man made structure ever built in space. If you were to lay it on a football field it would extend beyond the boundary lines. It measures some 350ft long and weighs in at over 100 tons. There are currently 6 crew on board but when shuttle was flying, there were as many as 13 on board. Construction on the station was completed in 2011 as the space shuttle went into retirement and it took 12 years to complete.
The purpose of the space station is multifaceted in that we want to know how to build things in space, live in space and conduct science in space. The effects of micro-gravity on the human body aren’t entirely understood and zero-g experiments on Earth are nearly impossible to conduct.


Ok, so, where is it?

It’s in space! OK, more specifically it’s in low earth orbit at an altitude of around 350km (220mi). The average speed of station is around 28000kmh (17,500mph). If that sounds fast, that’s because it is fast. Any slower and it would fall right back to Earth!
The first thing you need to know is when to look. Here’s a site I use which allows you to set up email notifications:

The trick with looking for the ISS is that you can only see it with the naked eye in the morning or in the evening. The reason is that during the height of the day it’s just too bright to see the station. In the middle of the night the station will be in Earth’s shadow. Morning and evening is when you’re catching it in between these two extremes.

Now that you know when too look, you need to know where. Personally, I prefer evening viewing as I’m just not a morning person. The site will give you the option for either or both times of day. When you get a notification it might look confusing but it’s really quite easy once you get the hang of it. The diagram on this page will help to get you oriented but at the very least so long as you which direction to look (i.e. Northwest at 6:52pm) then you’re in pretty good shape.

A view of ISS from my hometown.
A view of ISS from my hometown.

So what are you looking for anyway?

It will initially appear as a slow moving dot and might even look like a plane. This is why you might have seen it and not realized what it was. The thing is, you won’t hear any sound and you won’t see any blinking lights.

What’s in it for me?

As much as I’d like to say it’ll be this massive object with solar panels bulging out and astronauts hanging off of it; it isn’t.

Wait, there is more! Despite it not appearing as more than a bright, fast moving dot, you have to remind yourself there are people inside that dot. They’re passing nearly directly over your head at many times the speed of a bullet. They’re studying everything from material science to medicine to planetary science.

To me that’s awesome enough but there’s one more thing station will do if viewed in the evening; it will pass into Earth’s shadow. It’s quite a sight to see as the white dot slowly takes on a yellow tint, then orange, and finally a deep red before being eclipsed by our home planet.

The take away, for me, is a deeper understanding of our place in the Universe. The ISS is a sort of beacon of humanity and what we can accomplish when we work together. As it is now, the International Space Station is our single outpost in space and will be for some time. Why not take a few minutes of a warm summer evening and gaze upward? It’s a subtle event but it’s worth your time. I’ll never forget the first time I said “Wow… There it is!”

Keep this in mind; This is what you’re seeing

Please watch this video. Set screen to full. Set to the highest resolution your internet can handle and turn it up. You won’t regret it.