Sixty Years Ago Today: Yuri Gagarin Becomes The First Human In Space

As those of us with an interest in space exploration look forward with excitement towards new Lunar and Martian exploration, it’s worth casting our minds back for a moment because today marks a special anniversary. Sixty years ago on April 12th 1961, the Vostok 1 craft with its pilot Yuri Gagarin was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in what is now Kazakhstan. During the 108-minute mission he successfully completed an orbit of the Earth before parachuting from his craft after re-entry and landing on a farm near Engels, in the Saratov oblast to the south of Moscow.

Yuri Gagarin

In doing so he became the first human in space as well as the first to orbit the Earth, he became a hero to the Soviet and Russian people as well as the rest of the world, and scored a major victory for the Soviet space programme by beating the Americans to the prize. All the astronauts and cosmonauts who have been to space since then stand upon the shoulders of those first corps of pioneering pilots who left the atmosphere alone in their capsules, but it is Gagarin’s name that stands tallest among them.

In Russia the anniversary is being celebrated with particular fervour with special events, TV coverage, and a visit by President Putin to the landing site, and from space by the Russian cosmonauts in orbit on the ISS. Meanwhile space agencies closer to home are remaining tight-lipped, with NASA failing to mention that particular objective for ISS Expedition 65 crewmembers.

We consider that the politics of the Cold War should not be allowed to detract on our side of the world from the achievement of Gagarin and the engineers and scientists who placed him in orbit, thus we prefer to tell the whole story when dealing with space history. If you’d like to read a bit more Vostok history then we’d like to point you at the story of another Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.

Header image: Нина ПЕТРИЩЕВА, CC BY-SA 4.0.

MicroLEDs: Lighting The Way To A Solid OLED Competitor

We’re accustomed to seeing giant LED-powered screens in sports venues and outdoor displays. What would it take to bring this same technology into your living room? Very, very tiny LEDs. MicroLEDs.

MicroLED screens have been rumored to be around the corner for almost a decade now, which means that the time is almost right for them to actually become a reality. And certainly display technology has come a long way from the early cathode-ray tube (CRT) technology that powered the television and the home computer revolution. In the late 1990s, liquid-crystal display (LCD) technology became a feasible replacement for CRTs, offering a thin, distortion-free image with pixel-perfect image reproduction. LCDs also allowed for displays to be put in many new places, in addition to finally having that wall-mounted television.

Since that time, LCD’s flaws have become a sticking point compared to CRTs. The nice features of CRTs such as very fast response time, deep blacks and zero color shift, no matter the angle, have led to a wide variety of LCD technologies to recapture some of those features. Plasma displays seemed promising for big screens for a while, but organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) have taken over and still-in-development technologies like SED and FED off the table.

While OLED is very good in terms of image quality, its flaws including burn-in and uneven wear of the different organic dyes responsible for the colors. MicroLEDs hope to capitalize on OLED’s weaknesses by bringing brighter screens with no burn-in using inorganic LED technology, just very, very small.

So what does it take to scale a standard semiconductor LED down to the size of a pixel, and when can one expect to buy MicroLED displays? Let’s take a look. Continue reading “MicroLEDs: Lighting The Way To A Solid OLED Competitor”

Exhuming An Ancient Game From A Government Warehouse

Many readers will be familiar with the final scene of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, in which the Ark of the Covenant, having been retrieved by Indiana Jones, is placed in a crate and wheeled off to be lost in the seemingly infinite depths of a dusty Government warehouse. Who knows what treasures lurk in such fabled taxpayer-funded repositories, and as if to prove their vast potential, [Arthur O’Dwyer] relates a tale of digital archaeology in which the entire source code of a game thought long-lost was regurgitated with the help of a civil servant.

The game in question is Castlequest, which he had played in the 1980s on the now-defunct GEnie online service. One of very few online references to it came via an entry in the copyright catalog of the US Copyright Office, where copyright holders can choose to register their works. Eventually after some detective work and a conversation with one of the game’s authors, he received copies of the entry. But instead of the expected summary, he was pleasantly surprised to find the full Fortran code of the game. The snag was that it came as a PDF scan of printed pages rather than as code itself, so there followed a tedious process of transcription before it could be published in a GitHub repository and eventually made compilable. The code remains copyrighted as an important part of its story, but should you be interested you can transport yourself back four decades and try your luck at text adventuring.

Maybe there’s more to be found in those dusty copyright warehouses, and searching for it has to be more pleasant than digging up landfills.

Playing The Interview Game

Technical interviews are generally dreaded, just like every other interview. However, technical interviews include many elements that non-technical folks might find mystifying or even pointless, such as whiteboard problem solving, take-home assignments, design sessions, or even just straight brain teasers. [Erik McClure] went a bit off the beaten path and started using the factory builder game Factorio as a technical interview.

Many point to the intent behind the problems and tricky questions inherent in whiteboard coding exercises and assert that the focus is not to complete the problem, but rather to expose how a candidate thinks and problem solves. Factorio is all problem-solving as you work as a team to slowly scale up a humble production line to a massive factory, which makes it a good candidate for assessing these sorts of skills. We doubt that the fine developers who wrote the game ever imagined it being used as an interview.

In all likelihood, you probably won’t have a Factorio interview anytime soon as [Erik] estimated each interview would take between eight and twenty hours. But we love the idea of reimagining the interview from a tedious set of problems to solve to an evolving cooperative game. Of course, you can also read more about getting the experience necessary for a job and what companies are looking for in an interview.

A trailer for Factorio is after the break.

Continue reading “Playing The Interview Game”