Astronomy and UAV news

There is a new naked eye comet out there which you can see for the next two weeks.  You can read about this in the independent .

I liked this article about how companies are responding to UAV in Reuters.  You can buy a bird of prey to keep drones off your property, or a bazooka that shoots gas!

From Reuters:

“At one end of the scale, the Dutch national police recently bought several birds of prey from a start-up called Guard From Above to pluck unwanted drones from the sky, its CEO and founder Sjoerd Hoogendoorn said in an email.

Other approaches focus on netting drones, either via bigger drones or by guns firing a net and a parachute via compressed gas.

Some, like Germany’s DeDrone, take a less intrusive approach by using a combination of sensors – camera, acoustic, Wi-Fi signal detectors and radio frequency (RF) scanners – to passively monitor drones within designated areas.

Newer start-ups, however, are focusing on cracking the radio wireless protocols used to control a drone’s direction and payload to then take it over and block its video transmission.

Singapore’s TeleRadio Engineering uses RF signals in its SkyDroner device to track and control drones and a video feed to confirm targets visually.

DroneVision Inc of Taiwan, meanwhile, says it is the first to anticipate the frequency hopping many drones use. Founder Kason Shih says his anti-drone gun – resembling a rifle with two oversized barrels, coupled with a backpack – blocks the drone’s GPS signals and video transmission, forcing it back to where it took off via the drone’s own failsafe features.”




Some astronomy news

This is a reposting from my highschool mentor, Craig Robinson of the Copernicus Planetarium.


A couple of things in the NASA news files that caught my eye.  Piers Sellers died last week.  He was a NASA mission specialist that flew on missions to the International Space Station in 2022, 2006, and 2010.  It is interesting to note that when John Glenn died, who was one of the first seven astronauts that the United States had, just about everyone knew who he was.  When Piers Sellers died not much mention was made of it yet he has many more hours in space than John Glenn had.  I am not complaining about this, those first seven were indeed brave folks to be some of the very first folks to fly in space and their names became household names known by just about everyone.  To date 533 people have orbited the Earth and 12 have walked on the moon according to most sources.  (There is much disagreement as to how many have flown in space but only got high enough to qualify and didn’t actually orbit the earth.)   Most people won’t be able to name the 12 that have walked on the moon other than the first couple.  (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin).  The 533 come from 25 different countries, even though only three countries have launched orbital space missions, The Soviet Union , now Russia; the United States; and China.  You might not know that China is barred from sending its astronauts to the International Space Station (By an act of the US congress.) so they have launched two of their own orbiting space stations into space, one in 2011 and a second one this past September.  They have manned them with at least 5 different crews so far but we hardly hear about them.  It is kind of like what we heard of the old Soviet space program back in the early years.  Everyone here thinks it is because the Soviets kept their space program a secret.  Yet, as I have said before in prior Planetarium News articles, every time I wanted information on the Soviet space program I only had to ask my relatives in England to send it to me and they did.  They only kept things secret prior to the events.  Once they were happening the Soviets, and now the Russians, gladly shared the information about their space efforts.  It was as if the American Press at the time didn’t want to acknowledge the Soviet Space accomplishments and simply didn’t report them in any detail so it was hard to come by the information in the US so it gave rise to the idea that the Soviets kept their space missions a secret.  However that is simply not true if I could get the information from my relatives living in England. Just something to think about.


Cassini shot a close up of Saturn’s small moon Pandora in December.  It reminds me in many ways of Mars’ Phobos in the way it looks.


There are now 8 CYGNESS satellites in orbit around the Earth.  They are NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, used to track hurricanes and cyclones to better understand them and to hopefully help predict their storm paths.  Some of them are still being calibrated and tested but all 8 are up and will hopefully be fully operational sometime next year.


How is this for a mouthful.  NASA has a spacecraft named the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security, Regolith Explorer.  In other words OSIRIS- REx.  From its name it is difficult to figure out what mission this spacecraft is on.  This is the spacecraft on its way to the asteroid Bennu to study its surface composition by blowing a jet of nitrogen at it and blowing some into a sampling device.  It will be activated in early February to photograph the area of the Earth’s orbit where there should be some Trojan Asteroids.  These are asteroids assumed to be in a stable orbit around the Sun 60 degrees ahead of the Earth in one of the Earth’s LaGrange points where objects can inhabit the same orbit as a larger object, in this case the Earth.  So far only one is known and that is 2010 TK7 which was discovered in 2010.  There are most likely others and OSIRIS-REx will be in a great position to possibly photograph some of them as it passes by their suspected location in an orbit that cuts inside of the Earth’s orbit so they should be illuminated by sunlight.  Should be interesting.

“Getting Started with MATLAB and Simulink for VEX Robotics” Courseware

You can find various High School courses from Mathworks at this link.

My particular curriculum is at this link.

I am very excited to have Mathworks publish my VEX curriculum.

Cool Camera for Robotics Teams

Each year, our robotics team hosts several large FLL and VEX robotics tournaments at BU. One important feature that we would like to implement in the near future is a live video stream from each of these events on our team’s youtube channel. We will be using the high definition video capture capabilities of one of these security cameras since they allow 1080P video to be uploaded to youtube with some simple transcoding in between instead of a expensive hardware encoder. Using this guide for RTSP to RTMP transcoding it is possible to use any RTSP capable IP camera to stream to youtube. Instead of setting up a poor wireless stream from a camera with wifi capabilities or utilizing a low-quality IP camera such as the Axis camera we currently use to stream video from our robot for analysis, this camera’s hd output will allow us to stream hd video to our youtube server. The addition of audio input, either from the video itself or from our tournament’s sound system, will make the stream more accessible and informative for those watching over the internet. We may then publicize our video stream by embedding it on the front page of our team’s website.


Another purpose for our camera would be to record video from our robot in hd quality. Although we currently use a low-quality IP camera for quick streaming and target detection, these high definition ip cameras would allow us to record onboard video separately, without interfering with our robot’s vision system or the other wifi signals on the field. By FRC competition rules, most cameras with wifi capabilities are not even allowed on the field, but this camera’s lack of a wifi streaming feature actually provides a huge benefit for us. Again, we may then be able to publish the onboard videos on our website and youtube channel. Often, onboard videos are very helpful in for training new robot drivers and demonstrating our robot’s capabilities. This camera would certainly be a significant and much-needed addition to our team’s inventory!

new Homework

GRADES CLOSE ON October 21 at 3PM. All work not in by 3PM on Friday (including lab reports, test corrections, extra credit, and written and online homework) will not be counted as part of first quarter grades.

Test 2: Friday Oct 14;   Test 3: Thursday Nov 17

Rough Draft of Gravity Lab Report:  Monday Oct 10 at 10PM

Final Draft of Gravity Lab Report Nov 3 at 10 PM


Homework 9

  • Gryffindor               Monday 9/26
  • Hufflepuff            Monday 9/26
  • Ravenclaw             Tuesday 9/27
  • Slytherin            Monday 9/26

Introduction to Motion

Learn about motion and velocity

Read Blog

OR YouTube Video  

OR Read Textbook Chapter 3  (Sections on Speed, Velocity), Appendix A  (US Customary System, System International,  Appendix B (first column only)  AND Workbook p iv (How to use This Book), Chapter 1 pp 1-2 (Speed Velocity, NOT acceleration), Read Examples 1-3


Homework 10

  • Gryffindor               Tuesday 9/27
  • Hufflepuff            Tuesday 9/27
  • Ravenclaw            Wednesday 9/28
  • Slytherin            Wednesday 9/28

Motion and graphing:

Learn about motion and graphing

Do Visual Classroom HW Questions on graphs of Constant V

Do Workbook Questions: Write the answers IN your workbook: For the A problems at the end of the chapter you can show your work on a separate sheet of paper  Chapter 1 p 12 Do Ex. A1-A6


Homework 11: Graphing motion and acceleration

  • Gryffindor               Thursday 9/29
  • Hufflepuff            Wednesday 9/28
  • Ravenclaw             Thursday 9/29
  • Slytherin            Thursday 9/29

Learn about acceleration

  • Read the Blog page
  • OR YouTube Video  
  • Or Read Textbook Chapter 3  (Sections on acceleration, Galileo Inclined Plane), Appendix B (Computing velocity and distance on inclined planes and when acceleration is constant)  AND Read Workbook p 2 (Acceleration) and p 5 (Example 5)

Do Workbook problems (do problems in the workbook)  pp. 6-7 Exercises 5-8

DO Visual Classroom HW Questions on acceleration


Homework 12: Accelerating motion:

  • Gryffindor               Friday 9/30
  • Hufflepuff            Thursday 9/29
  • Ravenclaw             Friday 9/30
  • Slytherin            Friday 9/30

Learn about Kinematic Equations and constant accelerating motion

  • Read the Blog page
  • Or Read Textbook Chapter 3 (How fast, How far, How quickly How Fast Changes)  AND Read Workbook Chapter 2 p 8-9 (Free Fall) and (Examples 6-9)

Visual Classroom Questions on Free Fall

Do Workbook problems p 10-11 Exercises 9-14


Homework 13: Free fall and Inertia: 

  • Gryffindor               Monday 10/3
  • Hufflepuff            Monday 10/3
  • Ravenclaw             Tuesday 10/4
  • Slytherin            Monday 10/3


Learn about Galileo and free fall and Newton’s 2nd Law

  • Read Textbook Chapter 4 (Newton’s second law of motion, when acceleration is free fall), Chapter 9 (Newtonian Synthesis, Universal Law of gravity) AND Workbook Chapter 7 p 97 and p101.

Visual Classroom Questions on Free Fall Problems

Do Workbook p 12 Exercises  A7, A8, A9, A12, A15 , B1, B5




Homework 14: Lab Report Guidelines:

  • Gryffindor               Tuesday 10/4
  • Hufflepuff            Tuesday 10/4
  • Ravenclaw             Wednesday 10/5
  • Slytherin            Wednesday 10/5

Learn about writing a lab report on the Blog Page



Homework 15: Introduction to lab report: 

  • Gryffindor               Wednesday 10/5
  • Hufflepuff            Wednesday 10/5
  • Ravenclaw             Thursday 10/6
  • Slytherin            Thursday 10/6

Write the introduction to lab report: Submit to Blackboard

Minimum 500 words, Maximum 1250 words

Introduction will be an ungraded assignment, but you will receive feedback


Rough Draft of Gravity Lab Report:  Monday Oct 10 at 10PM

Homework for September

For the new students and their parents, you can find the homework syllabus for the month of September at this link. or cut and paste

This coming week we will explore Newton's 1st and and the ideas of Inertia.

Let's see if any students actually read the blog.  10 House Points is you can determine (and prove) the velocity of one of the bowling balls this Friday at the new students bowling gala.  Now I know there is a screen which tells you the velocity.  But is it true?  How can we know?  So get out your cell phones and prove to me that the screen is telling the truth.

In the news:

I wanted to quote Craig Robinson from CCSU about Thursday's Space X Falcon 9 rocket explosion. Craig was my mentor when I was in high school

" With what I know now the rocket seemed to have what NASA calls a RUD.  (Rapid Unintentional Disassembly).  The rocket seemed to explode from an internal source of ignition that was fairly high up on the rocket as it was being fueled prior to a static test firing.  (Or it could have been in the state of being test fired I am not 100% sure about this point yet.)  Whatever, the rocket pretty much completely disintegrated within seconds of the fire starting and was not still standing on the launch pad several hours after the explosion as some press stories claimed and I mentioned in the Planetarium News yesterday.  What I think happened is some reporters mistook the damaged service tower that was still standing after the explosion for the rocket itself.  The Amos 6 satellite that was mounted in the rocket at the time is a total loss as it fell into the fireball from the top of the rocket as the rocket below it disintegrated in the explosion.  This is a setback for Space X and its programs but if you remember NASA had quite a few rocket explosions with its new rockets too until they found what was causing them and fixing each problem as they turned up.  The Falcon rocket program is still a very new program and will continue to have problems for at least a little while yet.  I just hope they keep up the effort for they have achieved a great deal already, like landing the rocket’s first stage on a barge so it could possibly be used again.  And in case you are wondering why NASA just doesn’t say the rocket destructed on the launch pad the term destruct has a technical meaning in NASA parlance.   Destruct means someone intentionally destroyed the rocket using its self-destruct radio command to blow it up to prevent a mal-functioning rocket from falling onto populated areas, or from possibly destroying something else if it hits the ground in an unintended way.  So NASA doesn’t use any word with destruct in it unless someone intentionally destroyed the rocket. "

Welcome to the New School Year

For incoming BUA students, here is your weekend homework.  You will be sorted into Houses on the first day of classes. Due dates are:

  • Gryffindor   Tuesday 9/6
  • Hufflepuff Tuesday 9/6
  • Ravenclaw Tuesday 9/6
  • Slytherin Wednesday 9/7
  1. Write a letter (approximately one page in length) telling me about yourself. What are you interested in, what did you do over the summer, your family, what do you like to do, etc. It may be either typed or handwritten. Font size and spacing do not count.   You must hand this in on paper, not electronically.
  2. Read blog on Introduction to Physics. Or

In the news:

They discovered 3.7 billion year old fossils in Greenland which you can read about in the NY Times.

Using the Chandra X-Ray observatory, NASA discovered a Galaxy Cluster about 11.1 billion light years from Earth.

The FAA has paved the way for Commercial Drones to be flying within a year.

Mark Zuckerberg gave a drone to Pope Francis.  This drone could be used to beam the internet (and Facebook) to countries without the internet.

Summer Robotics Update

Monday afternoon June 6:  I would love help if you want a study break with

  • Finishing the senior yearbook
  • Writing the annual review
  • Sending out thankyou notes
  • finish prepping the physics classroom for the summer camps

The end of season BBQ will be Friday evening, June 10th at Owen's House.  Directions and exact ETA coming.

The Beantown Blitz is Saturday, June 18th.  This is a one day FRC FIRST event at Revere High School.

If you have younger siblings, please have them sign up for our summer STEM workshops.

Our first workshop will be the week of June 20-24.

We have a camp from the Northshore that asked to stop by for a labtour and demo on July 5 and July 19

The Boston MakerFaire is July 23.

My current thought is to have the lab open for summerwork on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4PM to 7PM, starting June 14th.

Summer projects include:

  • Oliver needs help coding and implementing his 4 speed transmission for the Hungry Hippo.
  • I need some guinea pigs to try out the MATLAB/SIMULINK VEX curriculum I have written.
  • Start working on the new VEX game, StarStruck.



Coach’s Update March 24

Dear friends,
On Thursday March 31st we will be demonstrating our robot at Google at Robo Madness. This will be an exciting event with lots of the big names in Boston area robotics!
Our final event of the season will take place next weekend.
FIRST Robotics Competition Boston District event will take place from 4/2 - 4/3 at the Boston University Agganis Arena.  There will be 40 high school robotics teams competing at this event from all over New England.
The public agenda is a brief overview of what the competition schedule will be. FIRST Robotics team Overclocked of Boston University Academy will be competing and our match schedule will be released on Saturday (4/2) morning.
Additionally, there will be a FIRST Lego League Junior Expo (students aged 6-9) in the lobby of Agganis on 4/3 from 10am -2 pm. This is great opportunity for children aged 6-14 to see the FIRST programs they can join now.
If you can't physically attend the event, the event will be live streamed here.
The team had a great spring break.  The students made it into the semi-finals at the North Shore FIRST District event at Reading High School, and won the Innovation in Control Award for great work on their robot’s vision tracking and automatic transmission.
Then it was on to UMASS Dartmouth where the team made it into the quarter-finals at the District event, and won the Engineering Inspiration Award for great outreach to the community including teaching classes with the Mass Pre-engineering program, running FIRST LEGO League Tournaments and workshops, and helping teach the BU College of Engineering U-Design summer camp.

And view photos from the event here:

The Engineering Inspiration Award entitles the team to present their portfolio of great work at the FIRST New England Championship in Hartford.  Unfortunately the team did not earn enough District Point to compete with their robot at the NE Championship.  A small group of students will probably travel to Hartford on Friday, April 15th to present to the judges.  This would not involve an overnight stay.
We have an opportunity to do a demonstration at the Cambridge Science Festival on Saturday April 16th.

Robotics Scholarships and How do I get my team to the Robotics World Championship?

We have an amazing group of seniors on the BU Robotics team this year.  They have built an amazing robot and have high hopes of attending great colleges and competing with their robot in the robotics world championship.

One of the things that I have to do as a coach is figure out how to get my team to the World Championship.  I am bringing one team to the VEX World Championship the third week of April.  My seniors have high hopes of attending the FIRST Robotics World Championship in St. Louis.  I can tell you, that I never again want to take the bus to St. Louis.  As much as I love the students, that is a 24 hour ordeal I do not want to repeat.  Affordable last minute flights are hard to come by.  While surfing the web, I just discovered a travel web sight I was not familiar with, Flight Network.

While surfing their page trying to figure out how to get my team to the Robot Championship I discovered that they have a $1000 scholarship.  One of my other duties as a teacher and a coach is to write letters of recommendation and look for internships and scholarship opportunities for my students.

So as  head's up for my students (and other robotics students) I want to encourage them to apply for the Flight Network Scholarship.  If you have a 3.0 GPA you can apply for this scholarship. All you have to do is tell a travel story.  And I can tell you, on these trips with robotics students, there is ALWAYS a good story to tell.  To apply, just write a short story (500 to 1000 words) about your travel experience or topic (like a 24 hour bus ride and how next time you will fly to the championship).

Once you have written your story, submit it online at this link! Once you have uploaded your story, go to Twitter and mention @FlightNetwork, tweet a travel photo and use the hashtag #FNScholarship.  Then go to Facebook and post a travel photo with the hashtag #FNScholarship on Flight Networks Facebook page.

The deadline is December 31st, 2016 but I would encourage you to submit your photos and stories while we are at the robotics championship!

The winner will get a $1000 scholarship from Flight Network and will be featured on Flight Network's blog!  So as we head out on the road with our Robot in April, please write a short reflection on our trip and submit it to Flight Network!