One for Remembrance Day…
Many moons ago, before the days of mobile/cell phones, I was sitting under a clear night sky in the Andalusian hills of southern Spain. Someone beside me suddenly exclaimed, ‘I just saw a shooting star!’ From the other side of me came the sardonic reply, ‘Space trash.’ A conversation then began regarding the probability of the observed moving object being man-made debris burning up in the atmosphere. Years later when writing A Little Matched World, a modern-day adaptation of Hans Chritian Andersen’s The Little Match girl, (available for free download at the above link), that discussion came to mind when writing dialogue for the character who saw ‘a shooting star’. By that time though, 2008, the proliferation of communication satellites was known about. Fast forward to a recent similar conversation, which made me aware that I didn’t know how many, although now in 2015 there were definitely more. This post is the result of my looking into it.
Actual numbers I’ve come across are varied and conflicting. This could be due to classification. It could also be because some users have been known to be less than forthcoming about potentially sensitive information. The data below is collated from various sources, several of them government or government-controlled.
Satellites, some of which can be described as orbiting platforms, are used in a variety of ways: meteorological, GPS, agricultural (Chinese authorities are big on crop monitoring), military and national defence, (which includes surveillance), scientific, and communication – television, Internet, telephone. Over 60 percent are said to be used for communications.
Communication satellites can be as large as a school bus and weigh up to 6 tons. Most weigh a few tons or less. Some, called microsats or nanosats, can be as small as 10cm and weigh 0.1kg. The largest man-made satellite currently in orbit is the International Space Station.
Communications satellites are geosynchronous, meaning they maintain fixed points and/or 24-hour orbits around the planet, usually around 22,000 miles/35,000km up. GPS satellites orbit at 12,000 miles/19,000km. Others, military for instance, orbit lower. The International Space Station orbits at around 260 miles/418km. Not all satellites are geosynchronous, some move more rapidly in a low-earth orbit (LEO).
Russia launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957. The oldest still in orbit, which is no longer functioning, was launched in 1958. More than 50 countries own a satellite or a significant share in one, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Private companies also own them, some of whom use Sea Launch, a consortium of four companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Norway, to launch them from international waters.
So how many are there?
Well, the Union of Concerned Scientists Satellite Database (updated quarterly) lists ‘more than 1000’ operational satellites currently in orbit. But an Analytic Graphics Inc. Google Earth plug-in shows the real-time position of 13,000 satellites around the Earth. This YouTube video demonstrates the visualization, while the following graphic posted on Twitter by Vala Afshar, chief marketing officer of network infrastructure company Extreme Networks, gives a static view.
But satellites aren’t trash. What about the ‘space trash’?
It’s currently estimated that 370,000 pieces of man-made space trash traveling at up to 22,000mph/35,000kph are currently in orbit around the Earth. These comprise a variety of materials including abandoned inoperative satellites, shrapnel from anti-satellite weapons tests, old boosters and other rocket parts, and wreckage from satellite collisions and explosions. Satellites that fly below a certain height are supposed to be put in an orbit that will make them fall to Earth and burn up within 25 years. Higher altitude satellites are boosted up to still higher orbits to move them out of the way.
The following image put together by Michael Najjar in collaboration with the Institute of Aerospace Systems at the Braunschweig University of Technology, is one that represents existing orbiting objects of the kind described above.
Another display of ‘stuff in space’ is the website Stuff In Space where you can see all but the smallest bits of the estimated 500,000 or so smaller orbital debris (1-10cm in diameter) and about 21,000 larger bits (larger than 10cm) that, according to NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, are orbiting the Earth right now.
Programmer James Yoder, designer of the website, which tracks the paths of the objects in realtime, says that, “The website displays anything currently trackable — low-earth orbit, geosynchronous, and anything else there is.”
Once loaded (and be advised, loading it into your browser is a geeky job!) the site presents a slowly spinning globe, accurately displaying day and night, surrounded by various colour-coded dots representing satellites (red), debris (grey), and discarded rocket bodies (blue).
Also displayed are the orbits of satellites and large debris, highlighted as blue lines and their names or designations, displayed in text. Related objects are collected in groups and there’s even a search function.
If you’re feeling particularly geeky, Yoder (love the name!), in admirable open source style, has posted the source code on Github.
So next time think you saw a shooting star, you might be right, but…
The Turkeys of England have narrowly rejected a motion that promised to replace old-fashioned Christmas carnage with a bright, death-free 21st century future, due to strong opposition from traditional wings of the shed.
‘I’m not a self-hating turkey,’ said a retired bird from Ipswich and member of the Cage of Lay-it-ere, ‘but my mother taught me to know my place. We were told as eggs we could do anything we liked – accountant, racing driver, you name it – as long as we accepted that, one day, we would end up lying on our backs, feet behind our ears with a carrot up our arse, waiting for Gas Mark 5. I truly believe that if God had meant us to fly, he wouldn’t have invented basting, sprouts, cranberry sauce or the big glass oven shelf.’
Senior flock leaders voted overwhelmingly in favour of plans to replace the annual ritual of humiliation and carnage with a more vegetarian rite, but were narrowly beaten by representatives of the rank-and-filed beaks. Some opposing the idea believed it to be their ordained role in life to be ceremonially slaughtered and trussed up, while others felt the decision could not be made without consulting all poultry currently destined for the dining table, including turkeys within the fold who lived way, way outside the fold.
‘As English Turkeys we clearly can’t fly in the face of Italian chickens and Greek geese, or those very important birds, whatever they’re called, from Africa, or they might come over here and humiliate us by demanding to be eaten,’ gobbled an old black-feathered Turkey wearing a festive Italian chicken costume to emphasise how ridiculous all these foreign views might be.
However, the non-Turkey world has reinforced its stance that turkeys are ripe for the eating. ‘They’re just sitting ducks as far as I’m concerned’ said a metropole. ‘And no, I can’t pretend to have tried to understand their point of view or seen with my own eyes what they’re on about by visiting one of their Norfolk sheds. Not even the big pointy one in the middle of Norwich’
Yesterday I posted up several quotes from Steve Jobs. One of them was taken from an address to students at Stanford University, which is worth reading in its entirety:
The text of the Commencement address at Stanford University by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.
I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.
The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then
stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really
quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed
college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption.
She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates,
so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer
and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last
minute that they really wanted a girl.
So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of
the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want
him?”They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that
my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had
never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final
adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents
promised that I would someday go to college.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college
that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class
parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six
months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to
do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it
out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved
their entire life.
So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It
was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best
decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking
the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on
the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the
floor in friends’rooms, I returned Coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits
to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every
Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I
loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity
and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy
instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every
label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I
had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided
to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about
serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space
between different letter combinations, about what makes great
typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in
a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life.
But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh
computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac.
It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never
dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never
had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since
Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer
would have them.
If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this
calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful
typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the
dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very
clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only
connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots
will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something
– your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never
let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
My second story is about love and loss.
I was lucky– I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I
started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and
in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a
$2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our
finest creation – the Macintosh – a year earlier, and I had just
turned 30. And then I got fired.
How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew
we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company
with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our
visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling
out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I
was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire
adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had
let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had
dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David
Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly.
I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away
from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me – I still
loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one
bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple
was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness
of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner
again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the
most creative periods of my life.
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another
company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been
fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the
patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick.
Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going
was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And
that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way
to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the
only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found
it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart,
you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it
just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking
until you find it. Don’t settle.
My third story is about death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live
each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be
right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33
years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If
today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about
to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve
ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because
almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear
of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the
face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that
you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of
thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is
no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in
the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t
even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost
certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect
to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go
home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare
to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d
have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to
make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as
possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a
biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my
stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got
a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there,
told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors
started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of
pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and
I’m fine now.
This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its the
closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can
now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a
useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want
to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No
one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is
very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change
agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the
new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually
become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.
Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of
other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown
out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to
follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you
truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole
Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was
created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo
Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the
late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it
was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was
sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came
along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth
Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final
issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of
their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road,
the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so
adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”
It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay
Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you
graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.
Thank you, Steve. Rest in peace.
Some thoughts from a man whose vision has influenced my life more than any other.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart…