The Moon: Been There, Done That

Apparently Washington’s all abuzz with the idea that Cheney and Bush are planning to announce a new initiative for NASA, probably with a new mission to the Moon.

But the timing of this move seems particularly suspicious. With the war in Afghanistan forgotton, and the war in Iraq going badly, this seems like an administration ploy to set up an easy victory: let’s invade the one place that has no defenders — the Moon!

Not only would the mission to the Moon cost billions of dollars, adding to our already record-level deficits, but it would draw valuable resources away from a variety of military and domestic initiatives. It would also reward a variety of industries that are heavy contributors to the Bush campaign, which is no doubt an unstated objective of the plan.

Going to the Moon is a fool’s errand. In peacetime the space program gives the nation direction and provides money for industrial and technological innovation that spurs achievements in a wide selection of sectors. In war time, and when the country is in deep financial trouble, proposing to go to the moon is an obvious ploy to turn attention away from our problems and turn them towards easier successes. It worked for Kennedy, but that was a different time. We were in a cold war, and funding the space race was a way to make ourselves look like a powerful but peaceful nation while channeling money into technology that would benefit both civilian space tech and military tech as well. But this isn’t the 60’s and Bush isn’t Kennedy. Not by a moon-shot.

The above is my opinion, and is not necessarily shared by StreetTech or its corporate sponsors (um, who are the sponsors again?). Agree? Disagree? Comment!

Plasma’s Not The Only Game In Town

Sure, everybody wants a plasma TV, and with prices for basic models hovering around $3000, they seem almost reasonable (to those lucky enough to have a good job these days, anyways). But plasma TVs have inherent problems, such as the fact that they can experience screen burn-in pretty quickly, and the low end models don’t come with tuners and are incapable of true HDTV resolution. For the more discriminating consumer, rear-projecting sets are becoming a better choice — and they’re not your daddy’s rear-projection monster, either.

Take the new RCA Scenium HDLP50W. It’s a rear-projecting set that’s just 16 inches deep (that’s about the same as my 24″ cathode-ray TV) but it has a 50″ screen with full HD compatibility. It uses digital light processing instead of old-style CRT projection for super-sharp images and very good contrast. And there’s no burn-in like plasma TVs. It’s also got..get this… an ethernet port and an internal Windows CE operating system with browser. Now that’s cool. Sure, it’s a lot bigger and weighs 100 lbs, but for this kind of resolition and features you’d pay three times more for an LCD TV. Price is around $3500 on the street. Also available in 60″ model.

Fuji’s New 6 MP Camera/Camcorder

Fuji has just released news of the upcoming 6 megapixel Finepix 610. The camera, which has the same upright for-factor as the older 601, has an improved CCD from previous models claiming 6 megapixels (12 mp interpolated?) for near-professional image quality. It has other tweaks, such as improved shooting speed, a second LCD for camera functions, continuous shooting mode (3.3 frames per second), and a high-quality movie mode that captures at 640 x 480 at 30 frames per second. At that rate of capture, the movie mode is easily as good as most standard tape-based video recorders. Most of these features are already available on the FinePix F700 ($350 street), including the 3x optical zoom, though that model doesn’t seem to have the improved CCD. Price of the new F610 is yet unreleased, but look for it around $500 in the first quarter of 2004. But before you spring for one of these please note that they both use the expensive proprietary xD card for picture storage.

Save The Robots!

The Tokyo robot show, sponsored by Honda, has 7 pages of pics of the latest innovations in robotics, including humanoids, industrial robotic arms, remote-controlled fighting robots, and even one that seems to have interchangable heads — one for use with the kids and others for frightening neighbors (pictured). There’s also a few entertainment robots, including a life-like female “actroid” and a few silly looking kabuki-bots.

Virtual Environment Control On The Cheap

The TrackIR2 is an infrared head-motion tracking system. It can be used with any first-person game that uses the mouse for looking around (i.e. my favorite, Thief II) and will translate any head movement into a mouse movement. You may be thinking (as I did) that moving your head while watching the screen is uncomfortable or impractical, but apparently the TrackIR only requires a modest head movement to work, so you can look at the screen while your mind is tricked into thinking you’ve made a more substantial rotation, and essentially simulating the effect of a much more expensive head-mounted display. The device works by tracking the movement of a reflective dot on the user’s forehead, so there’s no need to strap a big bukly device to your cranium. Sounds dizzying, but fun. Price is around $130.

Nanotech Gets Big Boost

President Bush today signs the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, giving nanotech research $3.7 billion over the next four years. While many of the practical applications of nanotech have yet to be realized, the technology of machine miniturization could yield some very cool technologies in the future. Microscrubbing toothpaste ‘bots and self-replicating hair weaves are among the most ambitious of the things that nanotech has to offer, though that may be a long way off.

Get The Simpsons On the Go

If you’ve got a color PDA, it’s probably capable of video playback. But getting the video in the proper format and size for your PDA, and getting it onto a memory card, is a hassle. GemSOC has come up with a way of making the whole process a little easier — a device that records video directly to the card and preformatted for PDA playback. Using MPEG-4 compression, the Media Jukebox 2000 records video directly to either a Secure Digital or Compact Flash card in 352 x 240 res and 25 frames per second, with audio recorded in MP3 or AAC. And while there’s no internal hard-drive for archiving shows, it appears that it’s possible to hook up an external one. Price is expected to be less than $200.