Fat Worms that Suck Blood – When Patents Attack

Software patents continue to be a devastating barrier to companies and programmers who might otherwise create some wonderful things for us. Certain evil companies run by misguided and greedy people collect patents for the sole purpose of extorting money from companies and people who create things.

A few years ago I wrote an article called Freedom is Free! on software creation and the oppressive legal issues surrounding it. Today I came across an NPR article that does a most excellent job of laying out the problem for people who may be unfamiliar with the issue.

So this quick post is solely for this purpose, to point out that most excellent article on the problems with software patents called When Patents Attack. In it you will find the twisted and manipulative logic used by “patent trolls” to justify their own parasitic greed.

Caught in Orbit Tonight with Ion Drives – Vesta and Dawn

Vesta as seen from Dawn spacecraft
Image of Vesta taken during approach of NASA's Dawn spacecraft. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

If years of planning and work pay off, NASA’s Dawn space craft was just now gravitationally captured, as of 10pm PST, by an asteroid that lives in the wide region of our solar system between Mars and Jupiter. The asteroid is named Vesta.

It’s thought that Vesta, which is only 326 miles in diameter, once had lava flows. If Vesta did once have lava flows, it makes no sense with our current understanding, since Vesta is too small to contain a molten interior. The Dawn spacecraft will spend a year orbiting Vesta investigating its composition in an attempt to shed some light on this puzzling situation.

Some people believe Vesta may have a high concentration of radioactive elements, such as Aluminum-26, that fell together from a nearby supernova explosion, and worked its way to the core of the asteroid, resulting in geologies similar to what we find on Earth and Mars. Hopefully, we’ll know soon enough.

After a year, Dawn will depart from Vesta heading toward the nearby dwarf planet Ceres. This will mark the first time any spacecraft has managed to orbit one celestial body, then move away to orbit another.

Ion EngineNASA accomplishes this feat through the use of ion propulsion drives rather than chemical rocket drives. The Deep Space 1 mission years ago proved the viability of using ion propulsion drives for space exploration. Ion drives allow spacecraft to travel considerably faster than chemically-propelled rockets. Although chemical rockets produce a lot more up-front force, ion drives produce a small force over thousands of days, which gives you much faster speeds, and incredible “gas mileage”. In fact, at full throttle, the ion propulsion drives will produce little more force than a piece of paper does when held in your hand.

Tomorrow night around this time we’ll know for certain if Dawn was captured by the gravitational field of asteroid Vesta, and the science will begin. It could well be we will learn some important facts about how our solar system coalesced into this big ball of dust we’ve come wandering out from. Here’s hoping!

Anticipation on the 4th of July with Fetched Balls

It’s nearly dusk & fireworks will start soon. For being out so far away from Seattle you’d think there would be nothing but sparklers. But ever year, somehow, fireworks start going off in all directions — big ones that often fill the sky. I really don’t know who can afford such things, but it’s more than one person or group!

Jake doesn’t mind the noise. It starts 2 or 3 days before the 4th, and continues 2 or 3 days after. Loud booms that feel like something slapped the top of your roof. You can hear some here.

They’re getting louder and more frequent now. Soon you’ll see them shooting into the sky, even before it’s completely dark. You can’t resist the anticipation, I suppose.

Here’s Jake playing catch an hour or so ago. I found a hole he dug, too, and he gets disciplined.