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Mars Ingenuity Helicopter's First Flight to Occur Soon

NASA says it will launch no earlier than April 14th

Wednesday, April 14, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything


Image courtesy of NASA

Back in February, NASA's Perseverance rover landed on the surface of MarsPerseverance is equipped with all sorts of amazing tools and gadgets - including the first ever Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity.

Originally, the helicopter was scheduled to attempt its first flight early Monday morning, but data that NASA scientists received late last week have caused them to postpone the flight to no earlier than April 14th (that's today - wonder if we'll get an update soon?). In any case, whenever this little 4-pound helicopter does attempt its inaugural flight, you'll be able to watch via NASA's livestream.

Last week, scientists at NASA located a spot on the surface that was flat enough and free of obstructions and plopped Ingenuity there to prepare for its first flight. Mission controllers have spent the last several days making final adjustments to prepare, including a test of the motors and the releasing of the helicopter's motor blades.

The JPL team will transmit flight instructions to Perseverance, which will then relay the info to Ingenuity. There were many factors that could potentially delay the flight - including high winds or other inclement weather - but according to NASA's press release, there was a different reason for holding off on the launch.


Image courtesy of NASA

"During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a “watchdog” timer expiration. This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode. The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth," NASA said in a release on their website.

"The watchdog timer oversees the command sequence and alerts the system to any potential issues. It helps the system stay safe by not proceeding if an issue is observed and worked as planned."

During a press conference, Ingenuity operations lead at JPL Tim Canham said that we should expect about 40 seconds worth of data. Ingenuity is equipped with a downward facing camera that will snap photos during the flight, snapping images about 30 times a second. The camera, in addition to documenting the flight, will serve as an altimeter to help mission planners localize the chopper's landing spot. The Perseverance will also attempt to capture images of the test flight via its Mastcam-Z camera.

Assuming the flight goes well, this the first time in history that NASA - or any other space agency - has successfully attained power controlled flight on an alien planet. The success of this mission could introduce an entirely new dimension to exploration of the Red Planet.

If you want to make sure you don't miss the test flight, you can keep an eye on NASA's official schedule here. I know I'll be keeping an eye on it - how about you? Science is cool!


A concept art piece of Ingenuity in flight. Image courtesy of NASA

 

 

New 'Deep Nostalgia' service can turn photos of loved ones into short videos

Anyone else getting Harry Potter living painting vibes?

Wednesday, March 3, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything

I imagine that I'm probably not the only one who has inherited boxes of old photographs of dearly departed family members throughout the years. Many of the photos I have in my possession depict people I never got a chance to meet - my great grandfathers and grandmothers, for instance - and what really connects me to the photos are the loving stories that my parents and grandparents would share about them.

A company that provides automatic AI-powered photo enhancements called MyHeritage has developed a new service that can animate people in old photos called Deep Nostalgia. These short videos look like they were recorded as the people prepped and posed for their photographs and are somewhat reminiscent of the Live Photos features (the ones that record several seconds of videos before and after the camera's shutter is pressed) that you see on iOS devices. 

I admit that the process freaks me out a bit, but it's honestly pretty cool. It's completely automated - users just upload a photograph through the MyHeritage website. The image is then sharpened and enhanced to improve the quality of the final animation and to make it easier for the deep learning algorithm to work. The orientation of the person in the photograph is analyzed completely, determining the direction of their head and eyes, then matching a modern recording of a face making movements to guide how the photo is animated.

These short videos manage to somehow preserve the aesthetics of the original shot in order to help sell the effect. The program does have some limitations, though - for example, photos with multiple subjects in them are still limited to animating just a single person. The animations are also limited to only the subject's head and neck. Still, even with limitations, the technology - and the eerily lifelike results that it produces - is incredibly impressive.

The animated photographs made me think of the living paintings in the Harry Potter universe. Anyone else?

Certainly maybe not as dramatic as that, but still - it's a beautiful little keepsake to remember loved ones. In order to use the Deep Nostalgia service, you'll need to sign up for a MyHeritage account. The company offers other services, such as family tree tracking, DNA analysis, historical records, and more.

Would you consider animating the portrait of a departed family member or friend? Share your thoughts with me!

NASA's Mars Rover "Perseverance" Has Landed

It landed on the surface of Mars last week

Wednesday, February 24, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything

In case you hadn't noticed, we really love space here at Stardock.

Our fascination for space and science-fiction is obviously reflected in tons of our games, from Galactic Civilizations III to Offworld Trading Company and Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion. Because of our collective interest in space as a whole and in the Sci-Fi genre, we get excited about rocket launches and missions to other planets.

Last March, the Mars Rover got its name ahead of its July 2020 mission launch. We watched with equal excitement as the Perseverance Mars Rover touched down on the surface of Mars at the Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. Perseverance's primary job is to "seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth."

Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of the mission comes in the form of a tech demonstration that hitched a ride on the Mars rover. The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, is a brand new piece of technology that will have its inaugural flight on Mars in order to test powered flight on another world for the very first time. Once the team finds a suitable location for a helipad, they will release Ingenuity and run several test flights over a 30-Martian day period starting sometime in the spring.

For the helicopter's first flight, it will only take off a few feet from the ground and hover in the air for 20-30 seconds before landing. This alone would be considered a major milestone, as it would be the very first ever powered flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars. We will definitely be watching this first flight - and all of its subsequent flights of incrementally farther distances and great altitudes - with extreme interest!

 

"5 Things to Know" about Ingenuity, pulled from NASA's website.

Let's get back to Perseverance and some of its primary goals during this mission. According to NASA, the rover's key objectives are:

  • Explore a geologically diverse landing site
  • Assess ancient habitability
  • Seek signs of ancient life, particularly in special rocks known to preserve signs of life over time
  • Gather rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth by a future NASA mission
  • Demonstrate technology for future robotic and human exploration

The timeline for the mission now that the rover has landed is to spend at least one Mars year (the equivalent of two Earth years) exploring the landing site region. The Perseverance is geared up with seven instruments designed to conduct unprecedented science and test new technology. They are:

  • Mastcam-Z - an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom.
  • SuperCam - an instrument that provides imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy at a distance.
  • Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) - an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer and high-resolution imager.
  • Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) - a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and uses a UV laser to map mineralogy and organic compounds.
  • Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) - a technology demonstration that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  • Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) - a set of sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, and dust size and shape.
  • Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) - a ground penetrating radar that will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface.

You can learn more specifics about the above tools here! There are a ton of awesome resources and pictures over on NASA's website that detail the mission and everything that goes into it, from the people to the tech. 

What do you think Perseverance will find during its mission? Share your thoughts with me!

Ringing in the New Year...with Dancing Robots!?

Boston Dynamics released a video last week - warning: may induce smiles

Wednesday, January 6, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything

Happy 2021, everyone!

Now that the holidays are over, it's back to accidentally writing the wrong year on everything for at least two weeks before everything starts to normalize and feel like routine again. Anyone have any major New Years resolutions?

This is a little delayed, since it came out about a week ago, but I just couldn't stand the thought of people missing out on some dancing robots to ring in 2021. Boston Dynamics, who have become known over the last several years for their robotic innovations and fairly fantastic videos, put together a fun little New Year's video with some of their robot models. And although the idea of AI and the potential rise of robot overlords sort of freaks me out, I can't stop smiling when I watch this video.

In the video, three of the company's models - Atlas, Spot, and Handle - boogie down to "Do You Love Me?" by The Contours. Frankly, every single one of those robots dance better than I do personally, and I'm particularly amused by Spot's "twinkle toes" moves. This stuff is the kind of wholesome content that I absolutely needed in order to start off my New Year right.

If you're not familiar with Boston Dynamics, their website describes them as a world leader in mobile robots, tackling some of the toughest robotics challenges. "We combine the principles of dynamic control and balance with sophisticated mechanical designs, cutting-edge electronics, and next-generation software for high-performance robots equipped with perception, navigation, and intelligence. Boston Dynamics has an extraordinary and fast-growing technical team of engineers and scientists who seamlessly combine advanced analytical thinking with bold engineering and boots-in-the-mud practicality."

And then they use those robots and make some pretty awesome YouTube videos like the one above.

In actuality, the robots are utilized commercially for a variety of functions. The Pick, for example, is designed to assist with removing boxes from incoming pallets in warehouses, while the Spot is designed to navigate various terrain while remaining stable. The Atlas, which is the more humanoid robot you see dancing in the video, isn't available for commercial purchase and is used as research and development at the company.

I'm not a technical person and I'm certainly not at all adept with the idea of building a robot (I have terrible stress flashbacks just thinking about building my first PC!), but I love robotics. I'm fascinated by it and have lots of friends who are deep in both the profession and the hobby of robotics. One of the highlights of my year is usually visiting one of the local FIRST Robotic competitions that take place throughout the winter and early spring. A friend of mine is a head ref here in Michigan and used to mentor a team. These kids do some incredible things, and the games are usually an absolute riot to watch! 

At any rate, enjoy the dancing robots. I hope your New Year is off to a strong start and that you find much health, happiness, and prosperity in 2021. Boogie down!

Stardockians show off their holiday spirit with a virtual ugly sweater contest!

We usually do this in person, but you know...pandemic.

Friday, December 18, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything

Seasons Greetings, everyone! All of us here at Stardock are wrapping up our work for 2020 as we prepare to go on our holiday break next week, but that doesn't mean we haven't made sure to fit some festivity into our days. 

Normally, we'd be a'wassailing at our holiday party together right now, but for obvious reasons, we're skipping that this year. Instead, we decided to share some cheer from our home offices by displaying our merriment in the form of ugly sweaters. Here are the results:

 

I'll just start off by saying that I bought this sweater and skirt getup last year right after Christmas and have been waiting all year for this moment. The tinsel-laden mask I found at Five Below was, I thought, an entertaining touch.

Debbie, from our operations team, went all-in with this festive sweater and adorable Christmas leggings! I love the fun tree glasses and the elf hat, too.

William from the games team sports a fantastic sweater depicting an epic battle! Honestly, I love how the "ugly sweater" design has taken off in all sorts of fandoms and hobbies over the years.

Jillian, my partner-in-crime from the marketing team, found this "cool Santa" sweater and I am digging it! The matching stuffed Santa and over-the-top Christmas tree hat make this a pretty fantastic ensemble. 

Raeann, another critical member of our operations team, is feline fine (I'm not sorry about the pun) in this adorable cat sweater, complete with actual shoulder cat! I'm jealous both of the sweater itself and the fact that she can get her cat to sit like that. Mine would beat me up.

We had some great sweaters, but in the end someone had to win, and it was Jillian! Raeann came in a respectable second place, followed by me netting the third place victory. I'm excited about the really cute Ugly Sweater ornaments that Alex from our games team printed up for us!

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year! Stay safe, stay healthy, and we'll see you all in 2021!

WC Community Question: Roasted, Fried, or Smoked Turkey?

Thursday, November 26, 2020 by Island Dog | Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything

Happy Thanksgiving! If you partake in Thanksgiving what's your favorite way to cook the turkey?

Roasted, fried, smoked?

Let us know your cooking plans and have a safe and wonderful day!

Meet the Dogs of Stardock!

Employees have been bringing their dogs into the office for over 10 years

Thursday, November 5, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything

Nearly fourteen years ago, long before I arrived here at Stardock, some of my colleagues arrived to the office on a chilly morning. Tied to a post in the parking lot was a small poof-ball of a puppy, a little Shih Tzu mix, who would eventually come to be called Sophie.

Sophie Puppy
Sophie, in all her little floofy glory, not long after she was adopted by Pat

Pretty much everyone here at Stardock is a major animal lover, so there wasn't any chance of Sophie being left out in the cold. Our manager of Tachyon and long time employee, Pat, scooped her up and took her home, where she lived happily with him and his family for 14 years until she passed away last month.

She came in and out of the office with him often during those 14 years, and that was how I met her: as a wiggling, happy little energetic dog who was all too enthused about running over to my desk to get treats from me. I am definitely the sucker here at the office - all of the dogs know where my desk is and who has the snacks, both human and canine!


A picture of Sophie from about a year ago. 
She was deeply loved and is terribly missed.

And thus, the tradition of "Stardogs" was accidentally born. Sophie started coming into work with Pat from time to time, and as the years went on and other employees adopted dogs of their own, they would also come into the office and share the joy of man's best friend with everyone.

Since it's 2020 and everything has been a dumpster fire lately, I figured we were all due for a dose of cute - and dogs fit the bill! This is by no means a comprehensive list of everyone's dogs here at the company, just the dogs whom I've met and have visited over the years. And here they are, in no particular order:


CEO Brad Wardell's dog, Bailey, hanging out in the Stardock Cafeteria

Bailey is a 9 year old Entlebucher Mountain Dog who was brought home as a puppy by the Wardell family. She loves food and has no problem foraging for it (sometimes we think she's a Trash Panda masquerading as a dog!) and really loves her family. Bailey comes into work every day with Brad or his wife, Debbie, who works on our operations team. 

Remember how I said that Bailey really loves her family? Well if she can't be with all of them at once, she certainly has her first choice, who happens to be Debbie. Debbie works on the top floor of the office while Brad works downstairs with the games team, which often puts poor Bailey into conflict. Fun fact? Bailey can open (disclaimer: some) doors.

It's not an unusual sound here at Stardock to hear a dog howling in the stairwell. If we do, we know it's Bailey - she's opened the downstairs door and has gone all the way to the top floor, but she can't open that door because it pulls rather than pushes. Eventually, one of us will usually go free her so that she can get back to one of her humans. She really is a funny dog!

Trixie
Trixie loves people so much that she will come barreling toward you if she hasn't seen you in awhile and
all but knock you over in order to give you kisses and get your pets. 

Trixie was adopted at around a year or so of age from long-time employee Paul, who has been bringing her into work with him every day since. Never liking to be far from Paul, Trixie follows him everywhere he goes, wandering off only every so often to seek out some treats (from me, the sucker) or some pets (from just about anyone, we all love petting dogs here). 

Trixie is known for crying when she can't find Paul, and it's enough to break your heart. Her exuberance whenever they are reunited is definitely enough to mend that, though! Truly, this dog just has so much love to give that she hardly knows what to do with it all.

Cheesecake
Cheesecake posing as a Beanie Baby for Halloween 2020

Cheesecake is an English Cream Golden Retriever and is just a little over a year old. She was picked out as a puppy by Ryan Wardell, who is one of our artists here. She started coming into the office with him at the end of last summer, and it's been a joy for all of us to watch her grow up! 

Cheesecake is at her happiest when she is getting treats and pets - especially on the belly, which she is all too happy to present to you as soon as she sees you. She spends most of the work day hanging out in her nice soft bed near Ryan's desk, and I am always delighted to run into her when she's wandering around.

Remi
Remi, the newest and youngest Stardog to join the fleet! She is HR Operation Manager Amy's first dog.

Remi is a miniature Australian Shepherd and was adopted by Amy a little over 2 months ago. This little spitfire has only visited the office a couple of times, but it was more than enough to leave some serious pawprints on our hearts.

Remi's favorite activities include snuggling, dragging giant stuffed toys around the house, and running around with all of her puppy energy and greeting any humans she comes into contact with. She is a much needed dose of joy whenever she visits and we can't wait till she pops in again!

Paladin
Paladin, pictured with his favorite stuffed animal: a squirrel, which Sarah says he is rarely without.

Paladin is a 4 year old mixed breed (some terrier, some pit-bull, and who knows what else!) that QA Support Systems Engineer Sarah adopted through a shelter exchange program. According to Sarah, Paladin loves to tug on ropes, play keep-away with tennis balls, and chew on bones!

He visits the office occasionally, and while he's a little timid at times, he warms up pretty quickly (especially if you have a snack to share). I mean, look at that face - how can you not just love it?


Scherzer's human assures me he's a hardcore Michigan State fan and was just borrowing his other dog friend's UofM bed.
Trust me, this rivalry is serious business here in Michigan!

Scherzer is another new addition to the Stardog roster along with his human, Max, who just joined the games team a few months ago! A shepherd mix of some kind, Scherzer is almost two years old and has been with his family since November of last year. According to Max, he loves balls (tennis balls are his favorite!) and will systematically hunt down and destroy the squeaker in any toys that dare to make noise, leaving a flurry of cloth and cotton in his wake.

I just met Scherzer for the first time last week and I fell in love (which, for me, really isn't hard. If it has four legs, a tail, and is soft, then I am immediately friends with it). He's so soft, like petting a cloud! 

Indy
Indy at about 4 months old. I swear he was winking at me!

Indy belongs to long-time Stardock friend Kris, who picked him out when he was just a little puppy. This little golden cotton ball is super well-behaved and is very attached to Kris, whom he follows everywhere! He is always happy to come over for a little love and attention, and he will happily chase and (sometimes) bring back a ball for you.

He's much bigger now from when pictured above, but since Kris lives out of state and is employed elsewhere at the moment, we haven't seen Indy in person for quite awhile. We can't wait until they visit again, though!

Whew! So that's our current roster of Stardogs - and like I said earlier, it's by no means a complete list! A lot of us here at Stardock also have cats and other furry (or scaly, or slimy!) friends, so it's really just a big collection of all-around animal lovers here.

Share your precious pets - canine and otherwise! - in the comments with me, and don't you dare skimp on the pictures. Bring on the cute!

Microsoft is in discussions to buy Chinese owned TikTok

The purchase may happen as soon as September 15th

Wednesday, August 5, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything

In a statement issued on Sunday, Microsoft posted on its corporate blog saying that it will continue discussions for a potential TikTok purchase in the United States.

For the unfamiliar, TikTok is a video-sharing and social networking service based out of Beijing, China founded in 2012. TikTok allows users to create short dance, lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos and share them with thousands of other users on the platform. The app currently holds worldwide popularity, and TikTok has global offices in Dublin, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Singapore, and several other cities.

According to the blog, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had a direct conversation with the president regarding the purchase and all of the safety and privacy concerns associated with the platform. Following the discussion, Microsoft says that it appreciates the importance of the concerns and is "committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review," along with promising some proper economic benefits for the United States.

Both Microsoft and ByteDance (TikTok's parent company) have provided notice to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) on their intent to explore a preliminary proposal regarding the sale. The purchase would also grant Microsoft control of the service in other areas, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Microsoft has also said that it may invite other American investors to participate in the purchase on a minority basis.

The new structure of the platform would add "world-class security, privacy, and digital safety protections." Microsoft also assures that the new model would ensure transparency to users and appropriate security oversight by governments in the countries they manage the platform in. 

Microsoft concludes the blog by stating that the discussions are only preliminary and that "there can be no assurance that a transaction which involves Microsoft will proceed." The company has no intentions of providing any additional updates before there's a definitive outcome of the discussions.

Do you use TikTok? If not, if Microsoft purchases it, do you think you might start?

 

NASA and SpaceX confirm SpaceX’s first ever astronaut launch is ready to go - today!

First Astronauts Launched to Space Station from U.S. Since 2011

Wednesday, May 27, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything

The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft roll to pad 39A during its first test flight in February. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Today, American astronauts will launch on a rocket from American soil to the International Space Station, marking a new era of human spaceflight. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, chosen for their experience on several previous missions on the space shuttle and extensive test pilot and flight experience, will fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, lifting off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:33 p.m. EDT May 26th from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. The astronauts will remain on the International Space Station for an extended stay for the Demo-2 mission. 

This historic moment has been a decade in the making thanks to a groundbreaking public-private partnership that finally returns the United States to the business of human spaceflight for the first time since NASA's space shuttle fleet retired 2011. After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon, which was built by Elon Musk's SpaceX company and funded by the US government under the Commercial Crew Program.

According to NASA's website for the mission: "Lifting off from Launch Pad 39A atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon will accelerate its two passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station. Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things. In about 24 hours, Crew Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the space station. The spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be diligently monitoring approach and docking and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary."

The Demo-2 mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit. The mission website also states that, "This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024."

Want to watch the launch? You can see it live here on NASA's YouTube channel, plus visit their website to see what other upcoming events might be worth watching. Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 




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