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Comment Zero Robotics (Score 1) 64

Check out Zero Robotics. It is an annual programming competition for high school students that runs during the fall. During the season students write C++ programs for the SPHERES satellites developed by MIT and run online simulations. After several virtual rounds, the championship competition is live from the space station hosted by an astronaut. This year's season is just finishing up, and the finals will be held on January 11. It is also expanding to a limited group of of middle schools this summer.

Anyone can sign up for an account and write programs and for and run simulations of SPHERES from the web-based interface. There has already been one general public competition that was mentioned on /. a while ago where the finalists had their code demonstrated in space. We hope to have more in the future.

(Full disclosure: I am one of the co-founders)

Comment Re:Emulator download? (Score 1) 54

Disclaimer: I'm involved with the project. Sorry, the tutorial there is a bit out of date and refers to an older pilot of the program. We host the simulation and editing tools online for a number of reasons, including the ability to distribute bug fixes and updates rapidly as well as allow for online collaboration and centralized scoring. A downloadable version of the simulation has been a repeated request, and it is in the long-term queue, though likely not for this competition.

Comment Re:Emulator download? (Score 3, Informative) 54

If I can only access the simulator online, and I can only copy paste my C code into a flash window "IDE", then this sounds pretty dead in the water already. No thanks.

Disclaimer: I'm involved with the project. Coding and project management is online in a JS-based IDE. The flash component is for viewing the results of the simulation in 3D. Also, we're working on adding 2D charts/plots to be deployed before this starts. The editor has evolved from a simplified IDE targeted at high school students and constrained in ways to make the code compatible with the satellite hardware, so be prepared for some limitations. At the same time, there's really quite a lot you can do.

Comment Re:For free? (Score 1) 54

It isn't strongly emphasized in the release, but this is primarily run out of a lab at MIT (the Space Systems Laboratory). From that perspective a big goal is to make a contribution in the sense of academic research. The hope is that the outcome of the contest will prove useful to future space missions in much the same way that a publication of a paper could contribute. Compared to just publishing simulation studies, this provides an opportunity to actually test the algorithms in space. The chance to run (and view in real time!) tests on the ISS is quite a rare opportunity.

...they even let everyone look at their source code, so that other programmers can learn from it or modify it.

Not everyone's code will be published, just the finalists that have been guaranteed a spot for the ISS tests.

Submission + - Try your programming skills in space: DARPA Satellite Programming Challenge (

null action writes: Want to have your code run on a satellite in space? Take a look at this. MIT Space Systems Laboratory and TopCoder are hosting a DARPA competition to create the best algorithm for capturing a randomly tumbling space object. Contestants in the Zero Robotics Autonomous Space Capture Challenge will compete in online simulations, and four finalists will have their algorithms tested aboard the International Space Station on small satellites called SPHERES. “In this challenge, you have no advance knowledge of how it will be rotating. We’re pushing the limits of what we can do with SPHERES and we hope to break new ground with this challenge,” said Jake Katz of MIT.

Comment How about a 5 day school week first? (Score 1) 311

I grew up and went to high school in a rural school district in North Idaho where my parents are still teachers. As mentioned in many of the post above, the resistance to this move is not some anti-tech paranoia. There are serious concerns like plans to lay off large swaths of teachers, and use the savings to pay for the computers.

I most seriously object to the notion that the superintendent of schools is going to "fix" education with this move when many of the state's districts are in shambles. State and local support for schools is so dismal that my home district has gone to a 4 day school week to cut costs, and that's been going on for 7 years, one of the first in the country. Students all the way down to first graders sit through class from 8:00 to 4:00 every day to meet state requirements for hours, then spend 3 day weekends melting away what they learned. Every year the school board whittles away at the foundations, most recently furloughing salaries for two days during the Thanksgiving holiday. Every two years when the school has to levy the community for additional funds, the scenario gets even more bizarre and terrifying. The most recent levy had things like paper and dry erase markers on the chopping block as well as all extracurricular activities which were lumped in with things like "art" and "band." Is issuing every student a laptop going to solve these problems? By the time students make use of them, everyone will be outside in the rain doing algebra with sticks in the mud.

These issues seem to always take a tone of vilifying teachers for being antiquated and unprepared, when I really think they are true saints, working with the best that they have. I hope Idaho takes a little closer look at the reality on the ground and thinks of a better strategy than paying a company in another state to tube-feed content while slashing budgets.

Comment Re:but but but.. (Score 2, Interesting) 373

I would caution you against using the periodic solar activity claim to back your argument. This idea has been injected into the public dialog as a farcical talking point and is lacking in evidence. If you would like to examine a great source of information and a healthy debate, check out: I'd also recommend Thomas Friendman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded, which very clearly outlines many important issues and facts connected to climate change.

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