NASA Wants YOU to Join Astronaut School

Do you have the "right stuff?"

NASA is now accepting applications for its next class of astronauts, the space agency announced Tuesday, an effort to bolster its reserves of brave spacemen following a National Research Council report earlier this year that warned the corps was getting too small.

"For 50 years, American astronauts have led the exploration of our solar system," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said. "Today we are getting a glimpse of why that will remain true for the next half-century. Make no mistake about it, human space flight is alive and well at NASA."

The incoming class of candidates will begin training in 2013 and will ultimately pioneer a new generation of commercial launch vehicles, as well as a "heavy-lift" vehicle that NASA intends for deep space destinations. Next stop, Mars?

If you dream of flying through space, fly first across the world wide web to the government-run website, where you can fill out an application and possibly soar to the stars.

The good news: Rocket scientists aren't the only ones who can apply. The requirements for submission are a bachelor's degree in engineering, science or math and three years of "relevant professional experience," NASA said, meaning jet pilots, educators, or significant engineering or science backgrounds.

Don't get too excited just yet, however: The space agency won't be seeking hundreds of new astronauts. There will be room for only around 8 to 12, Duane Ross, manager for astronaut candidate training, told last month.

"The number is one of those things you don't decide on until the very end," Ross cautioned, noting that "the number will be small -- last time we picked nine."

And since astronauts will be expected to fly on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, they must fit Russia's physical requirements for its cosmonauts. That means no one under 5 foot 2 inches or over 6 foot 3 inches.

Beyond the extra-vehicular activity, robotics, and flight training, Russian language training is a part of today's astronaut training as well.

"English is the agreed-to language in space," Ross told, but due to the close collaboration with the Russian space agency, it's helpful for American spacemen to speak Russian.

The class will also include a broad look at such topics as geology and geophysics, Ross said.

Salaries for civilian astronaut candidates are based on the Federal Government’s General Schedule pay scales for grades GS-11 through GS-14, according to NASA's website. One job listing pegs that at $64,724 to $141,715 per year.

The quest for astronauts comes on the heels of a September report from the National Research Council, which argued that the United States must maintain a strong astronaut corps, even though human space flight has been temporarily stalled for NASA and many astronauts have retired or quit this year.

Android conquers marketshare, Apple conquers profits: Who’s winning?

As Android entrenches itself as the leading smartphone platform in terms of sales, most of the smartphone money seems to be going to Apple. What matters more: money or marketshare?

A new report from market research firm Gartner has phones running Google’s Android operating system accounting for 52.5 percent of the worldwide smartphone market in the third quarter of 2011, giving it more than three times the share of its nearest global competitor Symbian, with a 16.9 percent share. (Apple’s iOS managed a third-place finish for the quarter, with a 15 percent share.) Overall, Gartner found that nearly 60.6 million Android phones were sold to customers during the quarter, compared to about 17.3 million iPhones.

android-raceWith figures like that, it’s easy to jump to a conclusion that Android is winning the smartphone wars: after all, when a product’s share or sales tips over 50 percent, it’s generally viewed as a market-dominating force. And there’s no question that Android is seeing considerable success, particularly entering into the end-of-year holiday season with a plethora of new tablet devices (like the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet) and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich heading at consumers.

But as Charlie Sheen can attest, there’s more than one definition of “winning.” A report distributed to clients this weekend by Oppenheimer shows another interesting story: it finds that, among Android handset makers, only HTC and Samsung seem to be making any money. What’s more, Apple appears to have captured roughly two thirds of the operating profit in the entire smartphone business — a margin Oppenheimer believes will increase a bit in 2012.

What matters more: market share or actually making money?

It’s easy to see Android’s recent dominance of smartphone sales as a huge advantage for the platform. After all, more people buying Android devices translates to more sales for device makers, more contract and pre-paid subscribers for mobile operators, and a growing market for app and service developers making software for Android. This is how ecosystems are made: Build a platform, stimulate customer interest, provide third-party opportunities, then reap the benefits of growth while continuing to innovate the platform.

galaxy-nexus-droid-razr-iphone-4sDespite the lingering cloud of patent litigation and encumbrance from the likes of Oracle, Microsoft, and (indirectly) Apple, Android has effectively executed in this idea. Even though Android got off to a rather fitful start (especially compared to the already-mature iPhone), Android has rapidly evolved its technology and interface to the point where it frequently rivals Apple, and in some cases exceeds Cupertino’s efforts. The diversity of the Android hardware world does make for an uneven experience — some devices perform well, while others are sluggish or eat batteries — but for many consumers that diversity of devices is precisely the appeal of Android. Mobile users who want a smartphone with a QWERTY keypad for messaging or a 4-inch or larger screen simply have nothing to buy in the one-size-fits-all iOS world. Android has also worked hard to catch up with iOS on the interface and fit-and-finish department — although Android still isn’t as consistent as iOS, in a few instances Android now arguably exceeds Cupertino’s efforts.

And it’s not just consumers embracing Android, it’s developers too. The Android Market now sports more than 320,000 apps compared to about 450,000 in the Apple App store. (Although, interestingly, over a third of Android apps have been removed from Android Market since they were published, compared to less than a quarter of apps released for iOS). For iOS and Android, the sheer number of apps available for each platform is ceasing to be an issue: basically, if mobile users want an app, odds are it (or something close) is available for both platforms.

Historically, Android’s broad marketshare should translate to long-term success for the platform, giving it a large installed base of customers who, if they like their initial Android devices, are likely to stick with the platform (and their apps) when they move on to their next smartphone. Similarly, they’re more likely to embrace Android on other devices like tablets and (Google hopes) televisions, since they’re already familiar with the operating system and ecosystem. For that installed base, sticking with Android becomes the path of least resistance — similar to how Microsoft Windows has been able to maintain market dominance of desktop operating systems.
The profit argument

However, comparing Android’s smartphone market share to iOS is also a bit misleading, since it pits the marketshare of a number of handset makers — Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG, Acer, Sony-Ericsson (and, heck, even the likes of Dell, ZTE, Huawei, Pantech, Garmin, NEC Casio, and Cherry) against a single company: Apple. Comparing companies directly, Samsung is ahead, but Apple is a close second place.

Yet, if Oppenheimer’s figures are accurate, Apple currently accounts for about two thirds of the entire smartphone industry’s operating profit, despite a second-place (and, arguably, dwindling) share of device sales, although the smartphone market will continue to buoy all players as it grows. But by 2012, Oppenheimer doesn’t expect Motorola, LG, Sony-Ericsson, or Nokia will be earning any significant profit in the smartphone business, despite having significant revenues. And Samsung’s profit will be roughly one quarter of Apple’s.

samsung-focus-flash-review-front-windows-phone-tilesRegardless of marketshare, it’s very difficult to persuade device makers to support a platform if they can’t reasonably expect to make money by building devices. Even companies that seem positioned to at least do decent business in Android devices are hedging their bets: Both HTC and Samsung are marketing Windows Phone devices, and Samsung hasn’t given up on Bada, which it controls. In other words, despite Android’s current popularity, making Android devices doesn’t seem to be a sure-fire business opportunity.
How did Apple capture smartphone profits?

In part, Apple’s lead in profit is buoyed by ruthless business decisions with carriers: Apple famously charges carriers substantial fees up front for every iPhone sold. Apple’s original deal with AT&T with the original iPhone had AT&T paying Apple every month for every iPhone on the market. That kind of revenue sharing went away with the iPhone 3G, but the high costs of offering the iPhone continue: U.S. carrier Sprint is reportedly paying Apple $500 for ever iPhone 4S it sells; AT&T and Verizon Wireless aren’t much better off with a reported $400 up-front price, although they pay lower prices for the previous iPhone 4 and (for AT&T) 3GS. A typical subsidy to a smartphone maker is about $250 per device. It would be safe to assume Apple takes a similarly high-priced stance with international carriers.

By that token, Apple’s lead in revenue ought to be about 60 to 100 percent higher than other handset makers on a unit-for-unit basis. And that roughly bears out in Oppenheimer’s figures (although they compare revenue share, rather than raw revenue). For 2011, Oppenheimer estimates Apple will account for about one third of the smartphone industry’s revenue. Samsung accounts for about 18 percent — a bit over half Apple’s whilst moving more units — and HTC, RIM, and Nokia are expected to manage about 11 percent each.

One might think that, with Android gaining so much traction with consumers, Android device makers could extort similar premiums from carriers. That doesn’t seem to be the case. After all, if Samsung decides it wants $500 per device from carriers, those carriers can just turn to HTC or Motorola for a different (and some might argue, better) Android device… then play the makers against each other. In this sense, the diversity of the Android ecosystem actually works against device makers. It does create market forces that ought to help keep prices down for consumers, but which also mean manufacturers are operating on little or no margin.

As the sole provider of iOS devices, Apple does not face that pressure. Its profit margins are not being eroded by competitors offering the same platform. By the same token, Apple feels no pressure to lower its prices to consumers — especially since it seems to be able to sell almost everything it makes.

Apple further leverages its position by working out beneficial supply chain deals with component suppliers — and this is the area where Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook strong operational skills have paid off for the company. Apple famously uses its deep pockets to lock in suppliers, components, and manufacturing processes. This was perhaps no clearer than when Apple rolled out the iPad and would-be competitors found themselves unable to match Apple’s prices even with slower components and smaller screens. In 2010, Apple reportedly locked HTC out of high-resolution “Retina displays” by essentially acquiring all manufacturing capacity. Similarly, Apple has made massive prepaid deals for flash memory and other supply chain components, and bought out all capacity for particular manufacturing processes: There’s a reason there aren’t many other companies doing unibody aluminum notebooks.
What the graphs don’t show

Google is essentially giving Android away for free. Although device makers might find themselves encumbered by licensing fees to Microsoft (and, in the future, maybe Oracle and/or Apple), pretty much anyone can grab Android’s source code and have a go. Google’s gamble with Android is that it will provide a compelling experience backed by Google services like Google Search, Gmail, and Google Maps — and those services, in turn, earn revenue for Google through advertising and access to aggregate customer data.

You’ll notice who is left out of that equation: device makers. They do not share in revenues Android generates for Google. Instead, device makers have to make their money on the outright sale of Android devices, or by making Android devices that tap into their own revenue-generating ecosystems.

That’s where the Kindle Fire comes from. Amazon essentially forked Android, put on a custom interface that buries Android in the background, and plugged the device into Amazon’s substantial content offerings, including video, music, and (of course) books. Although Google will arguably see some revenue from advertising to users brought to Google services by the Kindle Fire, Amazon has cut out things like Google Books and the forthcoming Google Music, along with other services were Google could directly collect money from customers. The same idea underlies Barnes & Noble’s Android-based tablet offerings: Use Android to power the device, but do everything you can to lock it into your own services so you can actually make some money.

It’s important to note that:

    Neither Amazon’s nor Barnes & Noble’s offerings are smartphones
    They’re trying to make their money by locking Google out of Android’s revenue stream.

Bottom line: despite Android’s dominance of smartphone sales, it’s a tough time to be an Android smartphone maker. And Apple is just fine with that.

Shelby Supercars releases interior photos of its potential Bugatti killer, the SSC Tuatara

Check out the latest pictures for Shelby Supercars extremely powerful, and expensive, SSC Tuatara.

You might recall a few months back we brought you a brief look at Shelby Supercars mysterious SSC Tuatara. Shelby’s latest supercar is reported to have a 7.0-liter twin-turbo V8, has the potential to spit out an astonishing 1350 horsepower, and achieve an estimated top-speed of 275 mph, as well as an astonishing 0-62 mph in less than 3 seconds.

While we still don’t have much more to offer by way of full specs or a hard production release date, we know it will be fast, powerful, and really expensive (just under a million dollars). We do have some recently released pictures of the interior of the SSC Tuatara for you to excitedly drool over.

Super Mario 3D Land targeted by animal rights activists

PETA targets Super Mario 3D Land with "Mario Kills Tanooki" campaign.

Mario’s return to the spotlight in Super Mario 3D Land is big news for gamers, but PETA has a bone to pick with Nintendo’s iconic plumber.

No, it’s not Mario’s turtle-stomping or gorilla-toppling ways that have the animal rights group up in arms — it’s his raccoon-like Tanooki suit.

“Tanooki may be just a ‘suit’ in Mario games, but in real life, tanuki are raccoon dogs who are skinned alive for their fur,” said PETA in an official statement. “By wearing Tanooki, Mario is sending the message that it’s OK to wear fur.”

The organization — which has become known for their rather unique protest campaigns over the years — even went so far as to fight fire with fire, commissioning a playable game to highlight their complaints. In “Mario Kills Tanooki,” players take on the role of a skinned tanuki chasing after Mario as he flies away wearing a bloody suit made out of your fur.

Nintendo hasn’t officially responded to the campaign at this point.

Facebook spam virus bombarding users with graphic images of violence, hardcore porn

Facebook accounts are being flooded with graphic images of violence and hardcore pornography thanks to a new spam virus that's currently sweeping across the social network.

Facebook users, beware: There is a nasty virus quickly spreading across the social network that floods accounts with gruesome images of beastiality, hardcore pornography, self-mutilation and a variety of other very-NSFW pictures, reports Emil Protalinski at ZDnet. Facebook has confirmed the presence of the virus, and says it is currently investigating the matter.

“Facebook is aware of these reports and we are investigating the issue,” said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement.

According to The Christian Post, which first reported the virus, the nasty cyber attack maybe be the work of Anonymous, whose members have previously vowed to launch an attack on the social network as retribution for “selling information to government agencies and giving clandestine access to information security firms so that they can spy on people from all around the world.” The involvement of Anonymous is so far unconfirmed. (Update: It is now doubtful that Anonymous had any involvement in this attack, based on expert security analysis. See further update below.)

While we have not yet been exposed to the spam virus ourselves, others say the problem is rampant. Actress Courtney Zito tells The Christian Post, “I have 5000 friends. My feed is littered with porn. I can’t even check my news feed with anyone around because of it.”

Other users have taken to Twitter to report their exposure to the virus, which appears to spam users’ friends with the violent and pornographic images after they click on a malicious link.

“What is all the crap on Facebook now?” writes Twitter users @_Ms_Ash. “I can’t even go on there without seeing porn or gory violence. Its disgusting.”

“Yep looks to me like facebook has been hacked on some level,” writes Twitter user @SMASHGORDON_FTW. “[M]Y entire news feed is filled with violence and porn.”

This story is still developing, and we are looking into it further. If you’ve been hit with the virus, please contact your reporter at @andrewcouts on Twitter.

Update: Here are instructions for what to do if your account is hacked by this virus. (You must be logged in to Facebook to view this link.)

Update 2: We reached out to George Petre, head of social media research for Internet security company Bitdefender, which makes the social media security app Safego, and he says that there is good reason to doubt that Anonymous’ so-called “Fawkes virus” was behind this wave of disturbing attacks:

Over the past two weeks we’ve seen an increasing number of threats, based on the statistics provided by our social media security app Safego. Most of these threats contained porn images or shocking images.

Since this outbreak followed a relatively quiet period for Facebook threats, and considering the Anonymous video, we wondered if these are related to the Fawkes virus. However, we decided not for a number of reasons:

1. It looks like other Facebook outbreaks
2. It’s coming before Black Friday, and in the past we’ve seen this kind of threat correlate with important shopping events
3. Some of the URLs used to spread this kind of worm contained a domain name related to the idea of shopping (

These are ordinary scams and we believe Anonymous would use something more sophisticated. We expect the Fawkes virus to be something related to malware, and to have complex mechanisms. The closest threat to the Anonymous video description is the one that we covered on Saturday. Of course, every Facebook scam in the following period may be related to that Anonymous video, but we’ve seen outbreaks like this in the past, and we are confident that this kind of threat will continue to exist on Facebook.

Scion FR-S teaser

Scion VP Jack Hollis discusses the Scion FR-S concept car which is an homage to the Toyota AE-86 Corolla.

The Scion FR-S is a concept car from Scion that was revealed at the New York Auto Show in April of 2011. It’s a sports car and the FR-S apparently stands for Front-engine, Rear-wheel drive, Sport. The idea behind the FR-S is to achieve what Scion is calling “pure balance”. It features a light-weight design and a short wheelbase to make it more agile around corners. The powertrain is mounted lower and gives it a lower center of gravity and a favorable front-to-rear weight ratio. It’s supposed to be an homage to the AE-86 Corolla. The video above shows off the car and features the Scion VP Jack Hollis. It’s a little hammy just to warn you.

Samsung PND8000 Series: Hands-on video review

We take a hands on look at Samsung's top-of-the-line plasma, which not only offers an excellent picture, but shows that Plasma technology can be thin and attractive too.

In our hands on video of the Samsung PN51D8000 plasma TV, we take a close look at the TVs size and shape, go through some of its better features and discuss the set’s outstanding picture quality. With this top-of-the-line plasma TV, Samsung shows that plasma technology is not that far behind LED/LCD TVs in terms of thin and attractive design.

Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS SE: Hands-on video review

We take a hand-on look at the very compact Boston Acoustics Soundware XS 5.1 speaker system

In this video we take a close look at Boston Acoustics’ take on the compact speaker system, the Soundware XS 5.1. The super small satellites pack two drivers inside for enhanced sound and all the hardware needed for mounting comes in the box. Watch the video to learn more about why this compact surround system is really hard to beat.

#Occupy: The Tech at the Heart of the Movement

With the police raids in the past few days of camps from Oakland to New York, the Occupy movement is at a key juncture. We want to step back and look at the role of technology in the protests' establishment, spread, and future. This essay inaugurates a series of stories on the ways that protesters have shaped technologies to fit their needs -- and how technologies opened up new space for their messages.

Let's start with what seems self-evident, but what I'm sure is more complex than it appears: Occupy is different from the protests that preceded it. To be honest, I'm not sure anyone can explain why. The list of factors contributing to its outstanding run is long: economic circumstances, a distance from the enforced patriotism that followed 9/11, disappointment on the left with Obama's presidency, the failure to adequately regulate banks, the neverending foreclosure crisis, the Adbusters provenance, severe cuts to social programs at the state and local level, the language of occupation, and the prolonged nature of the engagement.

But among those factors, technology plays a central role. I don't mean this is in any narrowly celebratory way: "Technology caused Occupy Wall Street!" But I will say that a set of mobile technologies that didn't exist ten years ago offered protesters new human capabilities that they used to record and disseminate information, as well as organize -- or maybe more properly, design -- the protests. These new behaviors, like blanket cell-phone photo coverage paired with social media amplification, were unprecedented in the United States, though activists put them to use in the Arab Spring protests.

To take a small example of the changes in action, let's return to the moment when the protests went viral. A New York police office was caught on video pepper spraying several women in the face. Our James Fallows captured the spirit of the moment and why it brought such support for the protesters: "[T]he casualness of the officer who saunters over, sprays right in the women's eyes, and then slinks away without a backward glance, as if he'd just put down an animal, does not match my sense of 'appropriate' behavior by officers of the law in a free society."

It's possible -- though perhaps unlikely -- that a TV news crew would have caught such a moment. It's possible that in the pre-Internet world such a moment would have circulated quickly on copied videotapes or on cable access shows. But it is not possible that such an event could have been captured in the way that it was and transmitted within 24 hours to thousands of people through dedicated protest information channels, some of whom amplified the signal to their contacts outside the movement, and so on. Millions had seen the clip within a day or two. And though the news media piled on, it would not have taken members of the press to spread the video. Its emotional power pushed easily through the information networks of the Internet that daily spread cat videos and essays about the Thai floods.

The message of the clip's dissemination is clear. Protesters have chanted, "The whole world is watching" for decades. That's never been strictly accurate, and it's not now either. But what is true is that nearly every action is being recorded -- and with the right set of circumstances, that action can be virally distributed to millions. The moral stopping power of citizen observation has been extended.

After the Occupy protests began to gain mindshare, Americans saw something they'd never seen before. The immediacy of protest images taken by protesters felt new. The speed of their distribution certainly was new. The angle and production values of the protesters' videos were different from the produced segments news organizations put out. Social media pushed the media off to the side, turning them (us) into surfers on a wave that they could see but not control.

All this to say: It wasn't just the protests that were novel for Americans, but the way that the protests could be experienced was also new. In addition to reading about them in the paper or on a blog or seeing them on TV, they saw tweets from people on the ground, photos posted to Facebook, and livestreamed video. All this happened in real-time, so new support could be rallied *during* events, not long after them. The support could arise from formalized general social networks, not solely through custom-built protest networks. Occupy intruded into the lives of the digitally connected in ways that were not possible before. Peering out from the cell phones of protesters everywhere, being on the receiving end of government power had never felt so possible, so real. It felt as if *you* were there as the line of riot cops approached, and somehow that felt different from the view from the television news camera. (Twitter, Facebook, and nearly every other social network did not even exist during 1999's WTO protests or the World Bank protests in DC the next year.)

I'd also argue that Internet technology, specifically, has created new habits of mind and expectations of large-scale projects. Whereas before, hierarchy would have been assumed in a national happening like Occupy, protesters could look to other models of organizing work. They could look to open source projects or, more simply, the insta-networks that spring up around metastatic information. Networked organization is a useful reality as well as a sort of psychological support structure. We're running networks around them! Loose bands of young people can defeat the gray suited corporations! They can't fight what they don't understand!

So, stay tuned. We'll be exploring both the technical and conceptual realities of technology as employed by the Occupy movement and those watching it.