Moulton Lava

Moultonic Musings

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Location: New England, United States

Friday, February 24, 2006

RIM Shots

Users of the highly popular BlackBerry devices are biting their fingernails over a patent infringement lawsuit that is threatening to shut down the service.

Previously, a jury found that Research In Motion (RIM), the developer of the BlackBerry product, had infringed on nine technical patents held by NTP, a patent holding company.

In the meantime, the US Patent Office has had second thoughts about the disputed patents, and has been systematically reviewing them. One by one, at the snail's pace one would expect of a technical bureaucracy, the patent examiners have reversed themselves and ruled the NTP patents invalid, largely on the basis of 'prior art'.

The judge in the case is in a quandary. The parties refuse to settle, and the Patent Office is slowly pulling the rug out from under the case by invalidating the patents.

It's a good demonstration of just how useless our intellectual property laws are in the age of high technology.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Grooving With SuitSat-1

59-Second Britches Song (Feelin' Groovy)

[Click to Start Midi]

Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the mission last.
Just tumbling down the robot tones.
Looking for juice and feelin' groovy.

Ba da, Ba da, Ba da, Ba da...Feelin' Groovy.

Hello blog-post,
What cha knowin'?
I've come to watch your signals growin'.
Ain't cha got no rhymes for me?
Doot-in' doo-doo,
Feelin' groovy.

I've got five words to speak,
And promises to keep.
I'm crackled and fading and ready to sleep.
Let the morning time drop all its kudos on me.
Space, I love you,
All is groovy.

Lyrics CopyClef 2006 Simon & Garfunkel and Barsoom Tork Associates.
Midi Sequence by

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Tracking SuitSat-1

Amateurs around the world have been tracking SuitSat-1 and reporting their reception of messages, telemetry, and slow-scan TV signals.

Part of the telemetry is the 'mission time' — the number of minutes since the gear was powered on prior to deployment.

Because of noise and signal fading, it's not always possible to hear all the digits in the telemetry. But the mission time should be predictable from UTC, once you work out the precise date and time the clock was started.

A few days ago, there were enough posted reports to do this, and to work out a convenient formula relating mission time to UTC.

I did this with the first three reports where the full telemetry of the mission time could be heard. My calculation of the 'epoch term' — the UTC corresponding to the startup time — should have been the same for all three reports, but they inexplicably differed by about 17 minutes.

Finally, one of the hams posted a comprehensive table with all his data for a week. I plugged them into a spreadsheet and applied my formula.

Lo and behold, the error between my calculated valued of mission time and the reported mission time was getting larger by the day. Was the clock aboard SuitSat-1 running slow?

I reworked, my formula, allowing for the possibility that the clock was running at a rate other than 1440 minutes per 24-hour day. Sure enough, I got a perfect straight line fit with the clock running at 1432.4 minutes per 24-hour day. SuitSat's onboard clock was apparently losing precisely 7.6 minutes a day.

The designer of the clock confirmed that it is indeed running slow, for reasons not yet diagnosed.

This peculiar discovery will give students one more activity to do while tracking SuitSat-1.

Monday, February 06, 2006


After several days of nearly inaudible clips comprised mostly of static, a Canadian ham radio operator [Bob King / VE6BLD] posted a clip from this morning that is the best one so far.

"This is SuitSat-1 Amateur Radio Station RS0RS ..."

America has been in space almost my entire adult life. The amateur radio community already has other relay satellites in space.

But there is something about SuitSat-1 that chokes me up. Perhaps it's the recorded voice of 17-year old Michelle Bauer transmitting her greetings to children around the world. Perhaps it's the whimsy of packing an automated amateur radio station inside an old Orlan space suit from the Soviet era. Perhaps it's the challenge of capturing any signal at all from the tiny 5-watt transmitter tumbling 100 miles overhead and moving so fast that the receivers on the ground have to track the path of the hurtling spacesuit while at the same time tuning their frequencies to compensate for the rapidly changing Doppler shift.

In these troubled times, when youth around the world struggle against the odds, there is something hopeful and heartwarming about hearing children's voices and messages from space.