15 August 2012

Balloon-borne camera, part 9: Finally, success (and a final post)

I'm happy to report that after a lot of unhelpful weather got in the way, we finally have successful video! Before we get to that, I have a few more details to fill you in on. The first is that, emboldened by the success of our tiny $4 kite, we invested in what can only be described as Kite Kong, Lord of the Kites, with a whopping 9 square feet of surface area. We also bought 500 feet of 150-lb rated kite line. We went with a delta-shaped kite because they have a reputation as being easy to fly and very stable, although this parafoil kite was also an option due to a similar reputation for stability and good performance in low wind conditions. In the end, the real difference maker was that giant kites look way more awesome, so if a big parafoil kite had been available, we may have gone with that.

Anyway, with the help of one of the camp counselors, on Monday we had our first successful video-capturing flight! Here's a short excerpt from the video - as you can tell from the audio, we were having a little trouble getting altitude and needed a little help from the campers :)

Edit: Nix that for now, I'm having trouble
getting an excerpt from the video.
Will add it later.

13 August 2012

Curiosity on Mars!

Big news lately has been that NASA put a robot the size of a car onto Mars, utilizing one of the most hare-brained landing schemes ever concocted.

So far, this has got to be one of my favorite pictures ever: a satellite orbiting mars managed to find the robot during its descent and snap a photo.

Derek Lowe, from In The Pipeline, writes:

And since we are well into the 21st century, it's only fitting and proper that we have a laser-firing, nuclear-powered robot rolling around on Mars. On to Europa, Titan, and Enceladus!

09 August 2012

Balloon-borne camera, part 8: switching to kites and fixing poor choices

Like I told you last time, we had to make a sad decision and give up on the balloons in favor of kites. This exposed some bad practices I described in earlier posts, which will be corrected as soon as I post the corresponding correct practices!

So it was with sadness in our hearts but determination in our eyes that we went and bought our first kite, from a nearby hardware store (yeah, a hardware store). In fact, it was this kite, and it was super inexpensive. I was a little apprehensive about how much weight this little kite could lift, given our previous troubles with the balloons, but man was I proven wrong. With a little help from the high winds of an oncoming storm (note: it is a pretty dumb idea to fly a kite in a storm), we got our camera way up on the first try! No pictures, sadly, but if you look at pictures from previous posts and replace the balloons with a small Canadian flag kite, you'll get the idea.

So it worked really well, except (there's always an except)...

08 August 2012

Olympics and the Fosbury Flop

I get really sucked into the Olympics, and I had a great time watching the high jump last night. How the heck do you walk up to a bar that you can't even reach with your fingertips, and say to yourself, "I'm gonna get my feet over that"?

I found this video from the 1968 Olympics, where the Fosbury Flop made its international debut. Since every jumper now uses this technique it was really cool to see the variety of ways people used to clear the bar before this was developed. It's even cooler to see how one guy's ingenuity allowed him to dominate the competition.

You wonder how much of a vacuum he was working in. Does anybody have any information on other people trying similar techniques at the time? There are hints of it on Wikipedia but not much solid information, and an admittedly cursory search on the web doesn't reveal much. 

The technique actually lends itself to physics analysis for its clever use of the distribution of the jumper's weight. It's explained well here (maybe with a little too much physics). I also liked reading on Wikipedia about how the eponymous Fosbury had his first inkling about the technique in high school and kept developing it until it finally worked better than the prevailing styles of the time. Technology played a role, too: I realized (obviously, in retrospect) that high jumpers didn't always have nice, cushy foam pads to land on, so athletes before the 60s had to land on their feet or risk having very, very short careers.

I should mention that this post was inspired by the Museum's three-day event, Science at the Games (en français)! If I have somehow managed to collect some Ottawan readers, you should definitely come by. We have great sports demos going on and some really exciting guests, including Jean Labonté, a gold medalist Paralympian in sledge hockey!