Aviation history is a bit strange. People tend to remember some firsts but not others and — sometimes — not even firsts. For example, everyone knows Amelia Earhart attempted to be the first woman to fly around the globe. She failed, but do you know who succeeded? It was Jerrie Mock. How about the first person to do it? Wiley Post, a name largely forgotten by the public. Charles Lindbergh is another great example. He was the first person to fly across the Atlantic, right? Not exactly. The story of the real first transatlantic flight is one of aviation hacking by the United States Navy.
Anyone who worked in the tech field and lived through the Y2K bug era will no doubt recall it as a time seasoned with a confusing mix of fear and optimism and tempered with a healthy dose of panic, as companies rushed to validate that systems would pass the rollover of the millennium without crashing, and to remediate systems that would. The era could well have been called “the COBOL programmers full-employment bug,” as the coders who had built these legacy systems were pulled out of retirement to fix them. Twenty years on and a different bug — the one that causes COVID-19 — is having a similarly stimulative effect on the COBOL programmer market. New Jersey is one state seeking COBOL coders, to deal with the crush of unemployment insurance claims, which are killing the 40-year-old mainframe systems the state’s programs run on. Interestingly, Governor Phil Murphy has only put out a call for volunteers, and will apparently not compensate COBOL coders for their time. I mean, I know people are bored at home and all, but good luck with that.
In another throwback to an earlier time, “The Worm” is back. NASA has decided to revive its “worm” logo, the simple block letter logo that replaced the 50s-era “Meatball” logo, the one with the red chevron bracketing a starfield with an orbiting satellite. NASA switched to the worm, named for the sinuous shape of the letters and which honestly looks like a graphic design student’s last-minute homework assignment, in the 1970s, keeping it in service through the early 1990s when the meatball was favored again. Now it looks like both logos will see service as NASA prepares to return Americans to space on their own launch vehicles.
Looking for a little help advancing the state of your pandemic-related project? A lot of manufacturers are trying to help out as best they can, and many are offering freebies to keep you in the game. Aisler, for one, is offering free PCBs and stencils for COVID-19 prototypes. It looks like their rules are pretty liberal; any free and open-source project that can help with the pandemic in any way qualifies. Hats off to Aisler for doing their part.
And finally, history appears to have been made this week in the amateur radio world with the first direct transatlantic contact on the 70-cm band was made. It seems strange to think that it would take 120 years since transatlantic radio became reduced to practice by the likes of Marconi for this accomplishment to occur, but the 70-cm band is usually limited to line of sight, and transatlantic contacts at 430 MHz are usually done using a satellite as a relay. The contact was between stations FG8OJ on Guadaloupe Island in the Caribbean — who was involved in an earlier, similar record on the 2-meter band — and D4VHF on the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa, and used the digital mode FT8. The 3,867-km contact was likely due to tropospheric ducting, where layers in the atmosphere form a refractive tunnel that can carry VHF and UHF signals much, much further than they usually go. While we’d love to see that record stretched a little more on each end, to make a truly transcontinental contact, it’s still quite an accomplishment, and we congratulate the hams involved.
Sailboats have been traversing the Atlantic Ocean since before 1592, sailing through sunshine, wind, and rain. The one thing that they’ve all had in common has been a captain to pilot the ship across this vast watery expanse, at least until now. A company called Offshore Sensing has sailed an unmanned vessel all the way from Canada to Ireland.
The ship, called the Sailbuoy, attempted the journey last year as well but only made it about halfway before the mission was abandoned. This year, however, the voyage was finally completed, and this craft is officially the first unmanned ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The journey took about 80 days using sails and a small set of solar panels to drive the control electronics.
Using this technology, the company can investigate wave activity in specific areas of the ocean without having to send out a manned vessel to install a permanent buoy. The sailbuoy simply uses its autonomy to stay in a particular patch of ocean. There have been other missions that the sailbuoy has been tasked with as well, such as investigating the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. With a reliable craft like this, it becomes much easier, safer, and less expensive to explore the ocean’s surface.
Thanks to [Andy] for the tip!
For some reason, communications and power infrastructure fascinates me, especially the long-haul lines that move power and data over huge distances. There’s something about the scale of these projects that really gets to me, whether it’s a high-tension line marching across the countryside or a cell tower on some remote mountain peak. I recently wrote about infrastructure with a field guide that outlines some of the equipment you can spot on utility poles. But the poles and wires all have to end at the shore. Naturally we have to wonder about the history of the utilities you can’t see – the ones that run under the sea.
Water: Life on earth wouldn’t exist without it. 71 percent of the Earth is covered by water. That only leaves 29 percent for us humans to live – and not all of that land is inhabitable. Water is so important that most human settlements start near water of some sort. Water to drink, or water to move goods. With all this water in oceans, lakes, and rivers, it is no surprise that hackers, makers, and engineers alike build some incredible projects that work on and under the water.
Sailing a small boat across the Atlantic ocean is quite the daunting task. As many have discovered, it is a journey often fraught with perils, typically ending in failure. A team of four college students decided the best way to get a small boat across the ocean would be to remove the human element from the process, so they set off to build an autonomous craft to take on the task.
Like most projects, this one started as a handful of wild ideas exchanged between friends [Dylan Rodriguez and Max Kramers]. As they thought about it more, they decided that turning [Max’s] sailboat into an autonomous ocean-going craft would be pretty awesome, so they got to work. Recruiting help from their friends [Brendan Prior and Ricky Lyman], the project started to quickly take shape, and Scout was born.
Scout is 8 feet long and consists of foam core covered in carbon fiber. It is filled with various electronic components such as a SPOT tracker, a battery bank that will power the boat for up to 25 hours, and the various servos and motors which will be used to pilot the craft.
It’s a rather ambitious project, though the boat is nearly complete – just in time for their launch, slated for May 29th. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this project as the launch date approaches – good luck guys!
Head on over to their Kickstarter page to see a promo video introducing Scout.