Paolo Amoroso's Journal

Astronomy & space apps, Google, Python

Although Linux had been my daily driver for almost two decades, when I switched to Chrome OS I regarded the Crostini Chrome OS Linux container mostly as a curiosity.

Sure, I was eager to have some fun with Linux on my Chromebox. But I already lived fully in the cloud and web apps met all my computing needs. I assumed the main use cases for Crostini were advanced development or DevOps.

To check out Crostini, I installed some astronomical image visualization and processing software for Linux. Next, I used Python preinstalled on Crostini to test the code I was writing with Repl.it and make sure it ran on a different system.

When I began working on Suite8080, a suite of Intel 8080 Assembly cross-development tools in Python, I needed some CP/M emulators and 8080 tools to test the Python programs I was developing, as well as my Assembly code. Again, installing and running such Linux software on Crostini worked well.

I came to love Crostini, now a key component of my Chrome OS toolset. It lets me run all sorts of niche applications and specialized software for my hobby projects and geeky interests.

#ChromeOS #Linux

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I'm among those who think the best camera is the one I carry with me.

There's no grand scheme motivating my choice not to get a traditional camera, using instead my smartphone for on the go and travel photography. It's hard to beat a compact and light device I always have handy.

In my trip to Florida to view a rocket launch from Kennedy Space Center, I took photos with my current smartphone, a Google Pixel 4 XL. Its camera recorded the two rocket launches I ended up viewing, the space facilities and museums I visited, and general travel photography.

How did the 4 XL camera fare?

Distant subjects and rocket launches

Despite having been released almost three years ago, the 4 XL still holds up well.

The camera works best when the subjects fill most of the frame. But my daylight photos at Kennedy Space Center show also good detail of distant vehicles, such as the Crew-4 Falcon 9 rocket at launch complex 39A and the SLS rocket at 39B. The photos bring out also enough detail of the daylight Starlink 4-14 launch, despite the dynamic action and the high tonal range difference between the rocket structure and the bright exhausts.

The 2X optical zoom helped make distant subjects large enough to reveal detail better. However, I wish I had a latest generation flagship device with a more powerful optical zoom to enlarge those subjects a bit more.

Night launches

Where the 4 XL camera fell short is with night photography of dynamic events.

My photos of the Crew-4 night launch didn't record much light to reveal the complex detail and delicate tones of the exhaust plume of the ascending rocket. At that point, the booster was too far and not lit enough to show any detail.

As for the launch itself, from when the rocket engines ignited to when the booster cleared the tower and began ascending, the performance of the 4 XL was similar to that of the newer generation devices the friends who traveled with me used. In my photos, the ascending rocket looks like a saturated blob of light. The tonal range was so high, with the black background of the night sky contrasting with the blinding rocket exhausts, that not even recent smartphones may adequately capture and present it.

Wide-field photography

This travel experience with the 4 XL camera made me change my mind on lenses.

I thought a wide-angle lens wouldn't be useful to me, as I don't do much landscape or people photography, and preferred a lens with optical zoom.

However, by shooting photos at Kennedy Space Center, I realized that, without a wide field of view, it's hard to frame large and close objects in full — or nearly in full — without cropping. A wide field lens would have come in handy, for example, to shoot the Atlantis Space Shuttle or the Saturn V. You can come very close to these vehicles, which is a challenging observation point for framing.

#Android #space

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From April 18 to 28, 2022 I traveled from Italy to the Space Coast, Florida, to view the launch of the Crew-4 space flight from Kennedy Space Center. I was with a group of good friends the Crew-4 crew member and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti invited as her guests.

Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

The odds of this once in a lifetime trip were against me.

A few weeks prior to the departure, my old mom was hospitalized and her condition raised some concerns. Also, the Crew-4 launch date kept slipping due to the delays of the higher priority mission Axiom-1, which made the margin of our stay grow increasingly thinner.

But we made it.

Not only did I join the trip and viewed Samantha's launch, but also made incredible experiences, visited great space facilities and places, and met wonderful people.

Thinking back to the trip, once more I want to go over the major things I saw and experienced.

The crew-4 launch

Samantha's spectacular night launch on April 27 was the highlight of the trip.

The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off on a clear starry night. At the Banana Creek viewing site we managed to follow the booster in the sky through the second stage burn, and spotted the eerie reentry burn of the first stage heading for a landing on a droneship in the Atlantic ocean.

Meeting Samantha

A few days earlier, on April 21, we had a lot of fun meeting Samantha and her crew less than half a chilometer away from her Falcon 9 rocket on the pad, at launch complex 39A of the Kennedy Space Center. It's the same historic pad where the Apollo missions left for the Moon.

NASA calls the experience “wave across the ditch”.

It's a traditional, intimate outdoor event where the astronauts meet the joyful crowd of their families and friends a few days prior to the launch. The quarantined astronauts remain half a dozen meters away from the guests.

Kennedy Space Center

Touring Kennedy Space Center gave many opportunities to us space geeks.

In those days of April of 2022, the giant SLS rocket of the Artemis I lunar mission was on the pad at launch complex 39B for a wet dress rehearsal test. Our closest view was from pad 39A at the wave across event.

Speaking of giant space stuff, at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and nearby area we came up close with the Space Shuttle Atlantis orbiter, a Saturn V rocket, a crawler-transporter vehicle in motion, and the Vertical Assembly Building (VAB) we viewed from the press site.

Prior to Samantha's launch, on April 21, we were lucky enough to score a bonus launch. We viewed the daylight launch from complex 40 of a Falcon 9 carrying the 4-14 batch of SpaceX Starlink satellites.

On April 24, the recovered first stage of that Falcon 9 booster was back at Port Canaveral where it had been hoisted by a crane. The following day we had great views of the recovered booster, the payload fairings, the droneship, and a support ship from both the ground and a helicopter ride. Amazing sights.

The Endeavour Dragon capsule of Axiom-1 finally splashed down in the Atlantic ocean on April 25, thus clearing Crew-4 for launch, and was carried to Port Canaveral aboard a support ship. The same day we went to the port for a quick look at the capsule and the ship.

More space places

There were other geeky space places we visited both at Kennedy Space Center, such as the Rocket Garden and the Heroes and Legends museum, and elsewhere. For example, we spent a lot of time at the American Space Museum in Titusville, and briefly peeked at a site near Cocoa where SpaceX did early assembly work on Starship prototypes.

The people

The human side of the trip was as unique and rewarding as the space-related experiences.

We met Samantha and her family at private events; geeked out with other ESA and NASA astronauts; cheered with Samantha's guests at the launch; watched on TV with them and Samantha's family her arrival on the International Space Station; shared meals with friends who live in the area and work in the space program or are space enthusiasts.

Down to earth

Although the trip was unforgettable, we had a poor air travel experience. But we were incredibly lucky and ejoyed a fine weather despite the full Florida spring.

When in October of 2007 I viewed the STS-120 Space Shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center, as a guest of the crew member and ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, I hoped I would live a similar experience again.

Fifteen years later, mission accomplished.

#space

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What I anticipated and planned for is happening.

After the great momentum of the initial work on Suite8080, I set it aside for a couple of months. Now I'm about to resume work on the project and wonder how hard it'll be to dive back into the Python code and continue development.

I tried to prepare for this by documenting the system and commenting the code. I also took many notes on to-do items, features I'd like to add, and ways to implement them. At a few thousand lines, the code base is small and I hope it won't be too difficult to understand and change.

Still, I'm a Python beginner and my code is tightly coupled, fragile, not modular, and hard to extend.

Suite8080 is a suite of Intel 8080 Assembly cross-development tools I'm writing in Python.

#Python #Suite8080

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When I run across a well written or insightful post, I can quickly discover other content from the same author and enjoy more of their interesting thoughts or projects. What I do is tremendously effective.

How do I do that? What's my secret?

I click links.

I start from the initial article or post and click any links that may lead to more of the same content. For example, if the article or post is published on a blog, I go through the navigation bar, sidebar, header, or footer where content is typically organized. Social profiles are other good starting points for links.

I specifically look for these publications or resources by the author:

  • blogs
  • newsletters
  • books
  • personal websites
  • GitHub repos
  • Twitter profiles
  • podcasts
  • videos, especially talks and screencasts

Once there, I repeat the discovery process, usually in depth-first order.

Interesting people tend to share content by other interesting people, so I click also promising links in the content itself and browse blogrolls to review the quoted or linked authors. Then I start the process again for the new authors.

It's amazing how many gems this helps me uncover.

It's trivial. And it's what we did in the early days of the web.

But many no longer do it. Social platforms trained them so effectively not to click on or read anything beyond the snippets and bits of content the algorithms feed them, these users are less and less familiar with the open web and other content formats or platforms.

#misc

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Google I/O is going to begin in just a couple of days and I haven't seen many rumors or leaks on what to expect, if at all. The 2022 edition of Google's developer conference may actually be the one with the least rumors, which is a good thing as I don't like spoilers and prefer a good suprise.

#Google

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Science journalist Luigi Bignami made a documentary that tells the story of astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti through the memories of some of her friends and colleagues. It's a unique resource as it shares little know facts about Samantha's early life and background.

Originally aired in Italy on the eve of Samantha's launch for the Crew-4 space flight, the documentary is now available for streaming: Ad Astra – Ritratto di Samantha Cristoforetti.

The Crew-4 launch was scheduled for April of 2022. In early February, Luigi, knowing I'm friends with Samantha, got in touch with me to ask whether I would have liked to contribute to the documentary with some anecdotes or recollections. I was happy to do so.

I shared the story of when I first met Samantha in 2007 at a convention of an online community of Italian space enthusiasts, and let her know ESA was planning to select a new astronaut group. She applied and was selected.

Samantha invited me to view the Crew-4 launch at Kennedy Space Center, a wonderful and unforgettable adventure.

#space

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Now that Chrome's reading list icon is next to the omnibar, I wondered whether I'd notice it and use the feature. Nope. To maximize the content area, I keep the reading list collapsed and the icon isn't prominent enough to notice.

So I'm back to my read later tool of choice: Google Keep.

#ChromeOS

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I joined Mastodon over a month ago. But I've been seeing a noticeable increase in my follower count since Twitter announced Elon Musk acquired it. Many people are likely checking out the fediverse.

I wondered how these new followers find me, as Mastodon has no algorithmic recommendations and few discoverability tools. It turns out they see my toots boosted by other users, monitor hashtags I tag my toots with, or browse the Trunk for the Fediverse lists. I rely on similar resources for populating my Mastodon feed.

This hints the Mastodon community is proactive, not passive and apathetic like the many Twitter users who consume only what the algorithms feed them and don't step outside of the platform's walled garden.

#fediverse

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With a group of friends, in April of 2022 I did a dream trip to view the launch into space of astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

We flew Turkish Airlines from Malpensa, Italy, to Miami, USA via Istanbul. Although the airline food was better than average and the staff helpful, a number of issues made the flights unpleasant and stressful: broken, confusing, and limited website and mobile app that didn't issue boarding passes, forcing us to long lines at check-in desks; hard, uncomfortable seats that hurt our butts; unresponsive and miscalibrated touch screens of the in-flight entertainment systems; tight margins for connecting flights; delays that forced us to mad rushes for chilometers at Istanbul's airport to catch connecting flights at impossibly far gates; too many passengers not wearing face masks, or wearing them incorrectly, while the flight crews didn't care much.

On top of that, our baggage didn't arrive with the return flight. Most of us got the baggage soon, but one of my friends is still waiting for his.

I'm not sure I'll ever fly Turkish Airlines again.

#misc

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