Fun in space with Evochron Legends

Posted March 24th, 2009 by Spaceman
Categories: Space

Flying past space stationsI’m sitting in my custom-built mining ship on the surface of an unknown planet, listening to music and catching up on emails. In the sky I see a faint ring of debris and the main star peeking out from the clouds — looks like it might rain soon. In a few moments I’ll fly to the nearest city and unload the metals I’ve mined. Since there is a huge lack of capable miners here, they’re paying really well. I’ll take my money, point my nose to the sky, set the engines on full and watch the planet get smaller behind me. Next stop, skimming the corona of the nearby star to collect some much needed fuel for my trip to the next system.

Evochron Legends is probably the best space game you’ve never heard of. It is a sandbox game, meaning you are given the tools to play with and let loose in a universe to explore your own path. There are no rules in Evochron, save for that only your actions define who you are. There is an active economy, a detailed reputation system, a story that will take you to the edges of the galaxy, and a contract system that will have you fighting, cleaning, spying and delivering your way through space-based society.

It is also one of the best looking space simulation games out there too, have a look at these screenshots.

At the time of writing this, the game is $25. All of that goes to the company that created this game (StarWraith 3D Games) which is comprised of, get this, a single person. One man is the programmer, sound editor, 3D modeler, website developer, forum administrator, artist and advertiser. His twenty year passion for creating space games has resulted in a carefully crafted grassroots masterpiece where one can fly through space, dogfight other players, travel through planetary atmospheres and trade their way to financial success. And he does a world-class job. The graphics are advanced enough to rival most other games like EVE Online and Vendetta, as are the sound effects, flight simulation capabilities and economies. Plus, there are no loading screens or cutscenes, everything is seamless.

There is a free 90-minute demo with an in-game tutorial. There is a bit of a learning curve, but it is well worth it for the freedom and adventure offered by this space sim. The download is 45 megabytes — for the full game also — but you shouldn’t be fooled by the small size. Once in memory this game uses as much resources as any modern game thanks to techniques such as advanced compression and procedural generation.

Now to get back to my mining, platinum is getting a good price these days…

The thumb on the hand of society

Posted January 17th, 2009 by Spaceman
Categories: Uncategorized

I can’t fully describe what has happened these last 3 days, but I wanted to write some of it down before I forget or it gets rolled in with other memories from our Philippino trip. We’re vacationing in the Philippines for a month for me to meet Marlen’s family and for us play eco-tourist around this beautiful country.

We arrived 3 nights ago connecting from Tokyo (which by the way has some surprising bathroom accommodations if you’re used to western facilities — a porcelin hole in the ground, noise machines for the easily embarrased, etc). Manila was quiet, thank goodness we arrived late at night. I had read on the plane the introduction to a guidebook we had, an excellent primer on understanding their culture. Our driver hadn’t yet eaten, so sure enough as the book predicted, the store we stopped at on the way to Morong served food into plastic bags. Apparently soft drinks are served similarly and with a straw, allowing the shopkeep to save the bottle and thus the deposit.

The suburbs and downtown Morong are perhaps 0.5km apart, easy walking distance. The temperature and pollution from passing tricycles make it tough enough, but the biggest challenge to walking anywhere is how social everyone is! I swear it took us 2.5 hours our first day, but it’s time well spent. Filippinos are incredibly friendly and each have huge personalities. It was new to me, I stand out like, well, a white guy in a throng of Asians. Kids were following me in the street, crowds gathered wherever we stopped, and almost everyone wanted to talk. I’m still stopped by the occasional person calling “Hey Joe!,” harkening back to the American GI Joes stationed here at bases in recent history. One lady we met was jokingly (or maybe not?) talking about her daughter and that I should introduce her to my brother back home. Honestly she was a nice person, but western society seems oddly novelty and revered to filippinos. Especially since the lack of money forces people to be friendly and charitable here in an everyday practical manner, far more than Canadians who may not even know who their neighbours are (and I’m guilty of this too). Our day finished with taking in the Miss Gay 2009 competition, featuring transvestites in a pagent-style competition. Most of the town came to watch, and it was as weird and funny as you might expect.

Yesterday I woke up to some of the kids here singing together in the front yard as they were playing. Later I saw a cockfighting arena in the next town over (Baras) and watched a few matches. I think the best way to desbribe it is with pictures and video, which I’ll upload soon.

I badly needed a haircut so we stopped by a barbershop downtown. The barber was the most detailed I’d ever seen, even using a razor blade to trim my hairline. However, we were seated right next to the door and I had nasty visions of someone bumping his elbow as they were coming or going, and me subsequently grasping my neck. Ahh, it’s best not to worry, heh. He charged what was around $1 for the haircut, so I gave him $2.

Oh, I’ve also seen fireflies, tried homebrewed coconut wine at the neighbours, and driven a Jeep along a rice field!

Today we leave for Bohol, and we negotiated a lower rate for a ride to the airport than last time. Airfare for the one hour flight is about $50 each, not bad. With the hot temperatures I hope (please oh please) that we can pack lightly enough!

I’ve gotta run for now, the roosters are waking up and because it’s Sunday the church bells have started up too. And all before 5:30am.

Re-orbit

Posted August 15th, 2008 by Spaceman
Categories: My life, Site news

My Mars trip has overshadowed what I originally intended for my blog, although I’ve been grateful for what has resulted and the interest countless people have taken in space exploration (even the Earth-bound variety). Starting shortly, I’ll resume some ramblings about the many big and small ideas I tend to keep to myself, including my thoughts on how to fix Canadian healthcare, musings on dealing in business ethically, and maybe even a geologic “story” or too.

Oh yeah, and space! I hope that my upcoming trip to the International Astronauticsl Congress in Glasgow this September will elucidate just how I want to deal with my rabid fascination for natural sciences.

I’m behind on watching Red Dwarf this year. Red alert bulb, anyone?

CBC Radio interview – 2

Posted March 3rd, 2008 by Spaceman
Categories: Mars Desert Research Station, My life, Space

Today I was on the CBC Radio One program On the Coast again for a follow-up interview on my visit to the Mars Desert Research Station last month. Click below to download the MP3!

On the Coast interview (icon)
On the Coast interview #2

(3.9MB; 10 minutes, 11 seconds)

Elsewhere in my blog you’ll find emails I sent to middle schools, my research proposal, and lots and lots of photos. The official site for information on our mission is here.

Belle and I

Expedition Delta: The Photos

Posted February 29th, 2008 by Spaceman
Categories: Mars Desert Research Station, My life, Space

Out of the almost three thousand photos and movies, I picked out the ones I think best sum up our Expedition Delta mission at the Mars Desert Research Station in February of 2008.

Online photo galleries:

Downloadable image archives:

  • Full-resolution 155MB
    124 full-size images
  • Medium-resolution 29MB
    124 images at 1024×768 resolution suitable for desktop wallpapers, emails, etc
  • Photos of Kerry at MDRS 13MB
    12 full-size images of me, intended for newspapers or people who really really like me — Hi Mom & Dad!

Feel free to use these images in any non-defamatory and educational way you like. If possible, please credit “Expedition Delta of Mars Society Canada.”

Expedition Delta: The Movie

Posted February 27th, 2008 by Spaceman
Categories: My life, Space

I’m back from the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, and I had an awesome trip! You can look at my older bi-daily updates I wrote to a local middle school so you can see how things progressed. In the meantime, you can look here (crew 66) for our past daily reports, or have a look at the current webcam images. We’re no longer there of course, but it’ll give you a nice glimpse into what crews do there.

During our mission we put together an hour long video highlighting each of our specialties, general station operations, EVAs, and more. It stars our entire crew: John Thaler, Anna Grinberg, Perry Edmundson, Michele Faragalli, Nasim Kaveh, Cheryl Wartman, Arthur Guest and myself. You can download it below.

Movie (icon)
Expedition Delta: The Movie

(696.9MB; 1 hour, 7 minutes, 56 seconds)

If you’d like a smaller video that still shows what it’s like there, check out this small clip I filmed:

Movie (icon)
MDRS: Wonderful World

(2.1MB; 22 seconds)

Coming soon… Expedition Delta: The Photos.

Mars Surface Report #5

Posted February 13th, 2008 by Spaceman
Categories: Mars Desert Research Station, My life, Space

The following is last part of a series of five emails I sent to a local middle school during my visit to the Mars Desert Research Station as the crew geologist.

MDRS: Tourists

Hello,

MDRS: Shadow astronauts

Boy am I tired! Over the last few days I have done a lot of EVAs. Most of them are long too, usually more than three hours. With a spacesuit on it’s enough to tire anyone out. A lot of the crew has been tired from time to time, so we have to be careful to space out our EVAs, and to give people a rest when they want it. Otherwise people get grumpy or uncomfortable. We have six spacesuits and eight people, so we’ll rotate who goes out and who stays in. As the geologist I have to go out a lot, but today I get to stay in.

There’s a lot of science going on here at the Mars Desert Research Station. I do geology, but there is also a biologist and an engineer who each have their own experiments.

When Mars astronauts finally do visit the Red Planet, they’ll have to be prepared to live there for many months. If they had to bring all their water and fuel from Earth though, it gets to be very expensive, and it has to be carefully measured. If there was some way to look for water and fuel on Mars, then we wouldn’t have to bring so much with us. That means we could also get to Mars faster, since we don’t have so much weight.

MDRS: Drilling

MDRS: Drilling through tough soil

MDRS: Analyzing gases

My geology project is to look for places where both fuel and water can be extracted. You may have heard of groundwater, which is basically just water that is in the ground. It can be found anywhere on Earth if you dig deep enough, even the driest deserts. Mars astronauts might not be able to dig really deep though since they won’t have the big drills and special equipment they need. But, if there are places where water vapor or methane can seep up through the ground as gases, we could go to those places and extract those resources and bring them back to the Mars lander.

The best places for these gases to seep through are along faults, places where the rock has scraped past other rocks. It is a lot easier for gases to move along faults up to the surface than to simply seep through solid rock. In my project, I dig holes and measure the gases that come out. If I find a place where there are lots of gases, then that’s a good place to extract resources for Mars astronauts. I don’t know how to actually get the gases out though, I just try to find them. The next step is for a smart engineer to come up with an idea to extract the gas.

MDRS: Daphnia

MDRS: Toxicity tests

Our biologist, Cheryl Wartman, is testing our water to see if it’s toxic. She’s also testing our “grey water”, water that is put down the sinks and recycled, to see how toxic that is as well. Additionally, she’s testing what mixtures of grey water and normal water are toxic. She uses very very tiny organisms called “daphnia,” which sort of look like extremely tiny shrimp. Once she puts them in the water mixtures, she checks up on them every 6, 12 and 24 hours to see how they’re doing. Once she finds the point that half of them aren’t able to make it, it’s considered toxic and definitely not safe.

MDRS: Smart small logistics container

We also have an open-ended researcher, Arthur Guest, on our trip and he’s testing a “smart” container that tracks what is put into it and what is taken out of it. This is useful because if an astronaut loses or misplaces something, it may be the only one on the trip! Every item that goes inside has a tiny computer chip attached, and the box reads the chip and updates a website that can be viewed from any computer with internet access.

His container is built as a hexagonal prism so that lots and lots of boxes can be stacked on top of each other. Also, the boxes will be smart enough one day to alert you if you put something in that box that’s not supposed to go there, like a food item inside the same box as a fuel can for example.

Here’s lots of pictures of our various experiments, and these are just the ones we do on our trip. There are lots of other experiments that could be done in order to prepare astronauts for such a big journey. Can you think of any?

From Mars,
Kerry, Crew Geologist
Mars Desert Research Station – Crew 66

MDRS: Refuelling

Mars Surface Report #4

Posted February 11th, 2008 by Spaceman
Categories: Mars Desert Research Station, My life, Space

The following is part four of a series of five emails I sent to a local middle school during my visit to the Mars Desert Research Station as the crew geologist.

MDRS: Kerry teaching

Good morning!

Lots of people enjoy a good breakfast in the morning, and that doesn’t change for astronauts. The problem is that it costs a lot of money to send things into space, and if you get new supplies every few months (or not at all) you have to make sure the food doesn’t go bad. Freeze-dried food is great because it can stay on a shelf for seven years, they’re so light (~100g), they’re pretty small and they can still be nutritious.

MDRS: Food 1

MDRS: Food 2

The usual way of eating food in space is by adding water to freeze-dried food, waiting a few minutes, and then chowing down. We’re trying to simulate the Mars astronaut experience, so we eat freeze-dried food too. Our meals include scrambled eggs and bacon, beef stew, noodles and chicken, lasagna, mexican style rice & chicken, macaroni & cheese, and others. We often eat the right out of the package too, saving us from doing so many dishes for 8 people!

If we’re really lucky, our greenhouse named “GreenHab” is doing well enough that we can eat some fresh food. This greenhouse is the smaller building beside our main “Hab,” and it filters and reuses a lot of our water as well as letting us grow some vegetables.

MDRS: Greenhouse

The water from our sinks drain into the greenhouse where it gets filtered, exposed to ultraviolet light to kill any bacteria, filtered again, and then filtered again. This “grey water” is then used to flush toilets so that we don’t use up our precious clean water. Real space missions will have to recycle almost all their water — every single drop — since there’s nowhere to get more of it in space.

MDRS: Growing food 1

MDRS: Growing food 2

MDRS: Growing food 3

But we do use a bit of fresh water to grow some vegetables. Our best crop so far has been radishes, and we had one with our salad a few nights ago (we did bring some lettuce and tomatoes with us, but real astronauts wouldn’t — they’d have to grow everything themselves). The greenhouse needs soil too, and there are some experiments running to see if we can grow plants in “Mars” (Utah) soil. They’re not doing too well though, we’re still having to use potting soil from a nursery so it’s a work in progress.

Next time I’ll tell you all about the special science experiments we’re working on!

From Mars,
Kerry, Crew Geologist
Mars Desert Research Station – Crew 66

MDRS: Arm wrestling

Mars Surface Report #3

Posted February 8th, 2008 by Spaceman
Categories: Mars Desert Research Station, My life, Space

The following is part three of a series of five emails I sent to a local middle school during my visit to the Mars Desert Research Station as the crew geologist.

MDRS: Kerry planning

Hello!

We have power back on now, and it looks like our power problems are a thing of the past. That can change quickly though, but my fingers are crossed.

This part of Earth is a lot like what Mars might be like. Before this place was picked to have a Mars station like ours, a lot of research and effort went into figuring out why this place might be a good “analogue” to Mars.

MDRS: Pathfinder landing site

You can probably tell from the pictures that it’s very dry here. What else do you notice? I’ve attached one photo from the Mars pathfinder rover, and a few from our Mars Desert Research Station

MDRS: Astro walking

MDRS: Astro walking 2

You might notice, there’s not much water or plant life. But if you look closely, you may see old riverbeds. Since this is a desert, water flows here once in a very very long while. When it does, most of it is soaked up in the soil. Yesterday I saw an old waterfall about 20ft high, but there was of course no water flowing. It’s weird to see!

But this is the same problem people have on Mars. There are huge canyons, ancient beaches, gullies and valleys, but almost no water to be seen. Some scientists think it’s buried deep beneath the soil. Hrm, that would make a good research idea for one of these Mars analogue missions, to see if a researcher could find water here (maybe in groundwater?)…

There are a few other Mars analogue stations throughout the world, including one in the Canadian arctic and one in Australia. People are also investigating if Iceland and Hawaii are good places for analogue sites, can you think of reasons why?

MDRS: Untangling

It is also very cold here. It hovers around 3-6°C and overnight our pipes can easily freeze. By insulating pipes and burying them, our pipes USUALLY don’t freeze, but you can never tell for sure what’s going to happen.

MDRS: Meal prep

Ah! I’ve also attached a picture of our delicious meals, but I’ll talk more about them in my Monday email. I’ve got to get my spacesuit on, and I don’t want to be late!

From Mars,
Kerry, Crew Geologist
Mars Desert Research Station – Crew 66

Mars Surface Report #2

Posted February 6th, 2008 by Spaceman
Categories: Mars Desert Research Station, My life, Space

The following is part two of a series of five emails I sent to a local middle school during my visit to the Mars Desert Research Station as the crew geologist.

MDRS: Climbing suits (intro)

Hello again,

MDRS: Hab and Musk

What an amazing two days! If anything can go wrong, it definitely will. Engineers are incredibly important to have around on space trips. Our team has electrical engineers (for wires and electricity) and mechanical engineers (for everything else), and between them they’re able to fix just about anything, Plumbing problems, generators, changing the oil in ATVs, fixing spacesuits, getting the hot water tank running, pump fresh water for us to drink, and everything in between. Without them we wouldn’t have heat, electricity, or water. In fact, engineers are really important in the NASA space program too. On the International Space Station they have to fix things just like we do, without any extra tools or equipment apart from what they take with them.

MDRS: ATVs and Musk

Only the heating hasn’t died yet on our mission, but we’ve certainly had our share of problems. Last night we lost power four times, and tonight three times. It’s incredibly dark in the desert, so when the power goes out it’s reeeeeeeally dark. It’s a good idea to always carry a flashlight, I think. Can you imagine what it would be like without heat, water or power? Or all three at once?

Tonight the power generator is down so we’re operating on battery backup right now. Hopefully the power will stay up long enough for me to send this email to you. We don’t need a lot of electricity though, and our engineers will fix it tomorrow.

MDRS: ATV tracks

MDRS: Window

I wanted to show you some pictures of what it looks like when we go onto the surface of “Mars”. The rocks and scenery here are amazing! Our spacesuits don’t work the same way as real spacesuits, but they’reclose. They give us air so we can breath inside the helmets, a radio so we can talk to our crewmembers standing beside us (otherwise they can’t hear you), and protection against the cold. It was 3°C outside today, but I was perfectly warm inside my suit.

MDRS: Airlock crew

When we go outside in spacesuits we call it an “EVA,” which stands for Extra-Vehicular Activity. Lately we’ve been going on EVAs just to get used to wearing and walking in the suits. It’s sometimes cramped and the backpacks that keep us alive are heavy, so they take some getting used to. I usually turn my radio up too loud by accident before I go into the airlock, and once I’m outside I can’t change the volume. All my radio calls are then really loud, but there’s nothing I can do once I’m outside. Also, there’s no way to scratch an itch on your face because the helmet is in the way. The best thing you can do is to try not to think about it, and look at what it’s like to pretend to be on Mars.

Have you looked up at night sky lately? Mars is the reddish twinkling star near the the two brightest stars to the East. It will take a LOT of scientists and engineers and other helpers to get there one day. Many of these people are in school right now, maybe even in middle school. Spaceships have to be built, tools have to be made, experiments have to be done, spacesuits need to be made better, and food needs to be healthier. Are you up to the challenge?

MDRS: Utah landscape

Next time I’ll talk about the sort of food we eat and show you some pictures of astronauts doing real work on the surface. Digging, getting tired, digging some more, and driving on ATVs.

MDRS: Perry and shells

We also do field trips here — the man standing outside without a spacesuit is on one of these trips. Look at his feet, those are all shells from animals that lived over 100 million years ago.


Kerry
Crew Geologist
Crew 66 – Mars Desert Research Station