Astronauts or Astro-nots?

You must have heard by now, back in July Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin both launched ordinary citizens to space. When I say ordinary, please read rich/lucky. 

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic successfully launched and returned 6 people from the edge of space. Virgin Galactic has this 2 stage launch process. An aircraft first takes you to high altitude. From there, the rocket separates and uses thrusters to go into space. 

Blue origin does things in a more traditional way. Using rocket propulsion from the very first. 

In blue origin’s case there were 4 people, including Jeff. They were in space for about 11 minutes. 

In both cases you will notice, the launch is conveniently in day time. Not some odd time at night. This is because there was no need for orbital injection. They could take any orbit as long as they were empty. This is not the case for satellites. For satellites, you must inject your payload into a specific orbit. So launch times are not always convenient. 

I hope you all enjoyed the Twitter drama in addition to the launch itself. 

And There was a lot of dirt thrown around as no one wanted to lose customers to the other company. I am not going to comment on the Karman line debate. To me it doesn’t matter. In both cases, you have enough altitude to gaze towards the earth in awe. What I will comment about is the use of the word “astronaut”. 

If you visit Blue Origin website (as of 2021 September 25) you will see something like, “become astronauts”. Is it really that easy to become an astronaut?

I have had the opportunity to talk with 2 astronauts. That being a social setting, we could ask just about anything. What you immediately notice about them, they have this aura of calmness around them. Not in a rush. You can get a glimpse of knowledge and experience when you talk to them face to face. And when they start talking about space, there is a spark of flame in their eyes and a hint of smile. These people dedicated their entire life to follow one goal. They train for a decade even before a mission is set for them.

To become an astronaut they pursued a degree in advanced science, sometimes serving in the military. Gaining tons of experience before even applying to become an astronaut. Your application is one in a few thousand others. From that you get shortlisted and finally accepted to be ‘trained’ as an astronaut. 

And now if people have a quarter million in their bank, can they call themselves an astronaut? Sorry mate. Feels like a gimmick to me. 

In both cases, there was a ‘ceremony’ shortly after the landing. Ceremony where they were ‘awarded’ astronaut wings. Richard Branson was designated as ‘mission specialists’ in the official documentation. If you visit Blue Origin website (as of September 2021) you’ll see the term “Commercial astronauts” Participants did go through a minimum amount of training before the flight. but this is nowhere close to the real thing to call yourself an astronaut. 

By the time I managed to finally write this article, another private company, SpaceX, had successfully launched 4 more people to space. This time, higher than the other 2 companies (even higher than ISS), longer than other 2 companies (3 days). The passenger ‘had difficulties’ using the restroom while they were orbiting the earth. Dude, what were you expecting? People gave their lives for us to come so far. I’m upset about how the industry is trying to sell this as roller coaster tickets. Would I have taken the ride if I had the opportunity? Probably. Do I have the money to buy the tickets? Nope. Would I call myself an astronaut if I could go. Nope. Absolutely no. If I’m a passenger on a commercial flight, do I get to call myself a pilot? Being an astronaut takes dedication, courage, commitment on a level that only a few can imagine. I’m glad that the conversation around this has started Maezawa san is flying soon. Call them space-tourists or whatever, but to me, they are astro-nots. 

Help me grow

Hello internet. I have a favor to ask.

One of my goal in my life is to spread knowledge and education to those who desire it. Since I specialize is Satellite Systems Engineering, I would like to help others who wish to follow similar path.

Now time is a limited resource. I cannot endlessly write articles on the topic and hope someone finds it useful. Therefore I have decided I will resume google analytics on this site, to find out what my audience is most interested in. Also, if you have any suggestion for improvement, leave them in the comments.

By the end of 2021, I wish to participate in forum promoting science and technology. I don’t know yet if the appropriate platform is already there. If not, I’ll also need to built it. Wish me luck.

Nvidia buys ARM: from a perspective of a developer?

Although the deal isn’t done yet, the announcement has been made. Now, the whole news cycle is dominated by Nvidia. Here are my two cents as a developer uses these chips for development. 

First, Nvidia is a big player when it comes to AI and machine learning. I cannot think of any competitors to CUDA cores. If Nvidia has the right intention and plays their cards right, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of Nvidia’s desktop-level features trickle down to ARM SoC. Since the majority of smartphones uses some ARM based chips, this could be revolutionary. 

Second, Nvidia’s competitor AMD has one advantage. AMD also makes CPU along with GPU. With ARM, Nvidia now has a way to come up with specialized products to further reduce AMD’s market share. We might more efficient systems overall. 

Third, Nvidia has a bad reputation with the Linux community. Nvidia never really cooperated with open source community. As an open-source supporter myself, I’m afraid of the changes  Nvidia will bring in the future. As a company, I can see Nvidia growing. If I had the money, I would buy their stock now. But as they grow bigger, they might bring negative results for the open-source community. 

Fourth, speaking of open source, Nvidia is a US-based company. That would mean Chinese phone manufacturers will not be able to use ARM in the future. Does this mean RISC-V will finally get the boost I was expecting? 

Waiting patiently to see how this turns out.

Depreciation of smartphones

I noticed this month, my cell phone’s battery is dying. I don’t have the statistics of my battery cycling, but it makes sense. Although I’ve been cautious to preserve battery life, it’s been 2 years since I bought my phone. Only naturally I need a replacement now. That got me thinking, should I just buy a phone that I can throw away every year?

The phone I have right now is about $500 phone. It’ll probably last until the end of this year. So roughly, $200 depreciation for every year. So how about I buy a phone with this $200 and not bother when the phone dies. Cheap phones are great nowadays. Sure, occasionally they give you a headache. But if you are just checking your emails and receiving text, they are more than enough. Or, how about buying a $400 phone for 2 years. So the yearly cost is the same, but you get so much more. Buy an OnePlus phone and I don’t think you’ll be missing much. You have everything you could possibly need. Third option bit more luxurious. How about you buy a phone as soon as it comes out. Then keep watching the market. As soon as the second-hand market value goes below a threshold, you sell it. That way, you get the best of both world, with some risk. Your phone value may go to zero. You may break it, or lose it. All options seem like a good one. So I tried to post a poll on Facebook. Here is the result,

Option 1. Buy a $400 phone, use for 2+ years, throw away
8 votes

Option 2. Buy a $200 phone, use for 1+ year, throw away
9 votes

Option 3. Buy an $800 phone, use for 1 year, try to sell for $600
3 votes


total 8+9+3+8 =28 votes

32% of people for option 2
29% of people chose option 1
10% of people chose option 3
29% of people would do something different.

In short, most people will buy the cheapest phone they can find. Rest will buy a sensible phone and hold on as long as possible.

Makes sense. I checked the online public data on smartphone value depreciation. iPhones do depreciate, but a lot slower compared to Androids. Android phone loses a large chunk of their value as soon as you unbox.

I looked at the amazon price history. Note8 is selling for 50% of their original value. Note10 lite has already lost 40% of its value in 6 months. Some phones are refurbished. Also, comes with no warranty.

Here’s what I think,
This time, I’ll fix my phone for $100. A new battery should keep the phone running for 2+ years. When the phone dies, I’ll buy something like Note 10 lite. A phone which is cutting edge, but already selling for less in the refurbished market. Or buy a phone like Note 8. A 2-year-old model but great features and low price.

Communication; Version 2019

I think I come back to this rant every year. Every year I do something and slowly forget about it. Then the next year, the cycle repeats. I’m still looking for a solution. Maybe I’ll start over this rant next year if I don’t find a solution. Until then, I’ll put my thoughts out there, anyone who is reading.

This is about internet monopoly. Giant corporations that has taken our life hostage. Corporations that don’t pay us any money, but they own our lives. Our memories. Our identities. Our business. And there is nothing we can’t do anything about it. Therefore, my rant. 

I don’t even have to name these companies anymore. Had it been 3 years earlier. I might need to. But now… now you guys know. You’ll either harmonize with me and let out a sigh. Or keep scrolling. Whichever you choose, we are powerless.

Last month, my wife’s Facebook account was frozen. Why was it frozen? That is for another time. The day it was frozen she tried to do whatever she could. Checking her email for some kind of notice. Trying to reset password. Submitting govt. Issued ID to Facebook which has a spooky privacy policy attached to it. Despite all her effort, the account was still frozen. Whom is she going to complain to? The whole process is automated. There is no customer service phone number. 

“OK. So what? It’s just Facebook. Just open another account” you may say. We could. Our friends are family would be notified. A fresh page. Fresh. Your old memories erased. It is there. Just not available to you. The way the world works right now, if you never never posted on Facebook about it, it never happened. 

Fortunately, we found out a way. Submitted scans of our passport. And a selfie of my wife with the passport visible in her hand. She got her account back. She got her memories back. She got her identity back. Only to be governed by an organization. Not a government. But an organization. We are at the mercy of Facebook. 

I have 7 different apps on my phone. All to make calls and chat with my friends. There is only 1 which is used everyday. Facebook. For some reason, nobody I know uses something different. I uninstalled messenger from my phone last year. I did not post on Facebook of my action! Still I received complaints. why am I not available? So I reinstalled it. 

I prefer email over phone calls. For that too, I am relying on a company I have no financial transaction with. No agreement between us. Should I be banned from google servers, I’ll have no identities left. Not even Facebook. I’ll be erased from the internet. 

I tried to find for options. I tried to find a way out. I’m still trying. If you found the way before me, help me. Drag me out of this house of cards.