Meet an OSU grad who gets to work on one of the coolest telescopes ever.


elcome back from the break, and we hope everyone is enjoying their winter term of school!

Today, we wanted to give you a great example of an Oregon college graduate who went on to do awesome things—the kinds of awesome things we talk about right here on Get Real!

Michael Thorburn graduated from Oregon State University some time ago, with a degree in mathematics. After that, he got a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.

From there he went on to do a whole slew of awesome stuff, including being named the head of the Department of Engineering for ALMA.

What’s ALMA? It’s what happens when scientists and engineers work together to make a super-telescope, with the power of its 66 combined individual telescopes. We mentioned it a while back. Also, check out this video that ALMA released.

Here's an image ALMA produced—this is what radio telescopes are capable of! Image by European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Here's about what the ALMA radio telescopes look like—these ones are the prototypes, gazing into the heavens. Image by ESO.

It stands for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, because it’s a radio telescope which scans in the millimeter frequencies. As an awesome side-note, ALMA is Spanish for “soul.”

We’ve also talked about the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) which is a lot like ALMA. The differences are these: ALMA is much nearer completion (scheduled to be done in March, as opposed to SKA, whose construction begins in 2016); and SKA is going to be a bit bigger, since it’s newer.

Here's what the completed ALMA will look like. Image by ESO.

Why should you care about radio telescopes? Because you can look back in time—Because only travels so fast, the further away from Earth you can look, the older the stuff you see actually is.

“We can look at stars 13.5 billion light years away,” Thorburn said. “The Big Bang is said to have happened 13.7 billion years ago.”

Awesome engineering.

Read on:

When quadrotors and Kinects combine…


e haven’t talked about quadrotors, Kinect, and the cool engineering projects you can work on when you go to one of Oregon’s awesome engineering universities, in a while. But let it be known: the possibilities are endless, when you’re an engineer. And using a pre-invented idea like a quadrotor, or a pre-invented tool like the Kinect, is what engineering is all about: finding a creative new use for an existing tool.

Here’s the coolest part: in Oregon, quadrotor and Kinect projects are still fairly uncommon, so you can be one of the pioneers in the field, for our state.

Check out what MIT and and UW have done recently:

This project awesomely combines both quadrotors, and the Kinect.
Imagine doing something like this (or whatever you can think of)

Yeah, it’s kinda like that. Read some of the previous things we’ve talked about regarding quadrotors, and Kinect.

What skills will you need to work on a project like this, when you’re in college? It depends on what you want to do:

You could be the person who builds the quadrotor, which would make you a mechanical engineer; you’d need knowledge of physics, and an interest in building (did you ever enjoy LEGOs or something similar, or do you ever find yourself sketching designs for inventions or buildings?)

If you think you might like programming, think about the awesome things you could do one day by programming a Kinect.

You could also be the person who figures out how to connect the Kinect, power the propellers, wire this to the processor, and trasmit the data, which would make you an electrical engineer; you’d need a knowledge of some math and physics, and an interest in making things work (did you ever tinker with remotes or electronics, to figure out how they worked?)

Or, you could be the person who programs the built contraption, telling it how to balance itself in flight, map the room, navigate, or communicate the data, which would make you a computer scientist; you’d need a knowledge of math, and an interest in solving puzzles and problems (did you ever program your calculator to make math class easier, like solving riddles, or enjoy problem-solving brain games?)

Link Dump 12/10

Let’s keep talking down, so you can get straight to the best engineering and computer science links on the web!

The RYNO electric bike is a one-wheeled motorcycle whose creator lives in Portland!

Oregon Leaders Eager to Listen to High School Students.


nd they really listened when high school senior Savannah Loberger spoke at an Oregon Leadership Summit. We’ve written about some of the other things Savannah has done, such as designing and running an all-girls program called Girls Get IT.

Listen to her speech about high school engineering:

She cracks a couple good jokes, too.

Savannah was pretty lucky, because she got to go to Hillsboro High School which has an excellent engineering program under Don Domes. And maybe not every high school has an engineering program like it, but she sure got a lot of people listening to her.

By the way, she spoke just a few minutes after the governor of the state of Oregon. And she was speaking in front of business leaders and politicians (state and national legislators)—the kind of people who, listening to Savannah speak, can actually do something about it.

Savannah Loberger is the mastermind of Girls Get IT, and acted as a student mentor this year.

Here’s the point: Those leaders want to listen to you. They want to make your schools better, and they want to give you opportunities. And they want to hear what you have to say. Which means we need more people to speak up about what they want.

If you’ve ever had a problem with the way things are taught, especially if it has to do with a lack of classes you’re interested in—like engineering or computer science—you ought to tell someone how you think schools can improve, and see what you can do yourself. Rattle some cages! These people are eager to listen, and if you work hard you could get the same kind of recognition that Savannah does.

Bonus—check out this free informational event about how to apply for financial aid for college: College Goal Oregon)

Texting Turns Twenty—Time To Move On?

The first SMS message was sent exactly 20 years ago, in 1992, in the United Kingdom. And since then, it’s become the most used mobile data service ever. It’s used more than the phone part of your cell phone; over 190,000 texts are sent every second. And they’re all 160 characters or less. Check out this awesome infographic (warning—get your scrolling finger ready):

Since its creation, SMS has really done a lot to shape the world we live in.

The success of SMS comes from its smart design. At the time, signalling formats required a maximum of 128 bytes of data to be sent at a time. This was eventually improved to 140 bytes, also known as 160 characters.

But that’s from a design over 20 years old. Our data infrastructure today is so efficient you can get a 1080p HD video on your computer in a matter of seconds, and SMS was designed when you couldn’t even send an audio file that quickly.

And it’s one of the most overpriced things, too. Read about how one company literally charged 10,000,000% more than what seems fair.

In this world of fast data, why is a 140-byte text so expensive? Because there’s not a good replacement that people want. If there were, it would already be out there and we’d be using it.

Coming up with a good way to package and send data is something computer scientists do for a living. Doesn’t sound cool at first glance? Consider that texts are used to save lives during natural disasters, and have helped people overthrow despotic governments, and help keep friends in touch during their time of need. What’s cooler than that?

The Internet, Freedom, And The UN


hat do these things all have in common? The freedom of the internet is going to be discussed at an international scale soon, at the UN. Behind closed doors. And that’s got some people scared—including Google.

We aren’t going to take a stance on this, because we believe it’s important for you to decide for yourself. But it’s hard to find unbiased news on the matter (especially on the internet). Still, we’ll do the best we can to stay fair.

Right now, no one government controls the internet. Anyone who wants to can simply connect to just about anywhere in the world, which makes it easy for people to send messages and hard for nations to control its people.

There are 196 member states of the United Nations, and many UN members are against a free internet as it is right now, for that very reason: they want to be in control of their countries. You may have heard of Arab Spring—that’s an example of how the internet can play a huge role in overthrowing governments (just ctrl+F “internet” on the link above).

The member states who want to control the internet have been trying to convince a group called the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to take over and regulate the internet, which could turn over control of the internet to one big, international government.

And so the UN plans to meet in order to discuss the future of internet freedom. And they’re doing it behind closed doors, meaning nobody but the people present will know what’s being discussed—scary, considering it means they could be talking about the best ways to keep people from having free information. That’s why Google has this page about the UN meeting in Dubai, and this video.

Internet regulations are a hot topic right now, because most of the current internet laws are from 20 or 30 years ago—when the internet was brand new and nothing like it is today. While it’s hard to say we don’t need any new laws, it’s scary for internet-based businesses who worry about their profits. And these laws could easily impact you, too: new laws might limit who you can talk to on the internet, or what files you can share, or what websites you can visit.

Computer science today relies heavily on the internet—really, it always has. For everyone—but especially future computer scientists—topics like this are a big deal. This is your future being discussed, so you need to decide what you believe and make your voice heard.

Read on:

Does Adversity Inspire Success?


t’s not uncommon to hear about geniuses coming from places with low wealth. A lot of people think the fact that life is harder for people in that area is actually what helps make these geniuses so smart. But we don’t think that’s the case.

First, check out this awesome, inspirational video about Kelvin Doe (AKA DJ Focus) who is from Sierra Leone in Africa, and raids trash bins for electronic parts to build radio transmitters, generators and batteries.

He loves MIT for its electronic parts, but he doesn’t like American food!

We’re not at all doubting how awesome Kelvin is, nor that his unique story is part of what motivates him to learn. But we don’t think he’s a hard worker because he’s poorer than some people in America—that’s just not a fair way to think.

Kelvin is smart because he works hard and is interested. Maybe the ways he’s learned (by raiding garbage cans and taking things apart) is a result of his environment, but not his drive.

Every person has a unique story, which can motivate them in a different way.  Kelvin wants to help his family and community. What do you want to do?

If you want to be as driven as someone like Kelvin, it’s not a matter of living in Sierra Leone and raiding garbage bins. It’s a matter of knowing what you want to do and striving for it. That’s why he’s so good at what he does.

Whether it’s building your own radio transmitter, programming an awesome videogame, developing greener fuels, designing an efficient building, or just getting an A on that next project, success is a result of hard work. And hard work can be pretty fun when it gets you what you want.