Mars rover’s test drive set for next week
The canyons and buttes of Mount Sharp beckon the $2.5 billion rover, some 5 miles away from the rover’s Aug. 6 landing site. The rover is halfway through tests of its 10 science instruments, and has completed an “intellect upgrade” of its steering computers, says mission engineer Jim Donaldson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
“I think it’s fair to say that our science team, and our rover drivers, really everybody, is kind of itching to move,” says mission scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL. The rover now rests on gravel-covered bedrock inside Gale Crater, a 96-mile-wide dent in the Martian surface with Mount Sharp in its center, separated from the rover by a pair of broad sand dunes.
“This is pretty spectacular terrain,” Vasavada said Tuesday at a briefing. “We don’t see many vistas like this on Earth.”
On a two-year mission, the rover will investigate the habitability of the Red Planet, looking for chemistry that might suggest Mars once could have supported life. Although the rover will sample a few rocks on the way, its real target is the foothills of Mount Sharp. The mountain is believed to be made of clay topped by a layer of sulfur-laced rock similar to deposits that NASA’s still-working Opportunity rover found in 2004 on another part of Mars.
First though, the rover will have to start rolling across Gale Crater. Mission engineers will activate its six wheels this weekend for a tentative test drive on or around Tuesday, its fifteenth Martian day, or “Sol.”
The test drive will likely only cover a few yards and then back up, says mission planner Michael Watkins of JPL. The rover should travel about a football field’s length a day as it heads for Mount Sharp.
Engineers are debating six paths to pass through sand dunes on the way to Mount Sharp. The rover will only need to climb part of the mountain to perform investigations with instruments that include a drill, laser and chemistry lab.
“We’re trying to just keep our eye on the prize, finish these check-outs and get going,” Vasavada says.
The surprising, stealth rebirth of the American arcade
We might be living in the era of the 99 cent app, but there’s stilly plenty of magic to be had for a quarter.
The arcade industry is dead in the United States—everyone knows it—done in by a combination of rapidly advancing home consoles and rapidly expanding suburbanization in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The only people not in on this bit of conventional wisdom are the ones who happen to be opening a surprising number of successful new arcades around the country.
Adam Pratt, who runs industry website Arcade Heroes when he isn’t managing his own arcade in West Valley City, Utah, tracked at least 12 major, dedicated, independent US arcades opening their doors in 2011, with 10 more opening so far this year. That might not be enough to rival numbers from the golden age of arcades, but it’s a notable expansion from the years before.
“I have missed plenty of locations, but despite that, there really has been an increase over the past two years or so,” Pratt told me. “News occasionally comes along of a place closing, but it is far outweighed by openings.” And almost all of these locations are thriving, based on what Pratt has been hearing.
Could the trend continue? “I guarantee you’re going to see at least two or three [arcades] in every city in this country within the next 10 to 15 years,” said Chris Laporte, founder of Las Vegas arcade Insert Coin(s), which recently announced an expansion to a second location in downtown Minneapolis. “That’s because the geeks have inherited the earth. People who grew up on this stuff have now grown up, but they’re not really grown-ups, you know what I mean?”
Bar + arcade = Barcade
Classic arcade games might seem like a tough sell in the middle of the glitz and glamor of Vegas, but in the 15 months since Insert Coin(s) opened, Laporte said the location has grown to fill its 298-person capacity every night—and often has 45 minutes lines to get in. Those customers aren’t just there for the arcade games, though. The Fremont street location also offers a full-service bar (with table service that includes loaner systems ranging from the NES to the Xbox 360), a DJ-equipped dance floor, events like a Halloween costume contest, and frequent musical guests including De La Soul and Talib Kweli.
Expanding from a pure arcade into what Laporte calls “interactive nightlife” is an economic necessity. “As a businessman, you really have to supplement [the arcade machines] with another form of entertainment,” he said. “You’re not going to make money off of a dollar of credit. You’re not going to pay the rent with that… I’m buying refurbished machines for $1,500 to $2,000 a pop. New machines with new technology, you’re looking at eight to 12 grand—how are you making your money back on that? Financially, it’s difficult to do it in and of itself because the popularity isn’t there yet, but I can see it coming.”
That’s a perspective shared by Doug Marks, who recently opened the Emporium bar/arcade in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood after seeing the success his brother had managing Brooklyn’s Barcade. “What makes us unique is the games—they’re fun and people still play them. But after a while, if you don’t have a good bar, you’re not going to have people keep coming back,” he said. “I think it could even be more important to get the bar aspect right than the arcade aspect, because it has to be a place people enjoy going for more than one reason. After a while they’ve played all the games… but if it’s a place they know they can get as good a beer as any place in the city and [also] play games, then that’s what makes it stand out.”
That doesn’t mean Emporium’s customers treat the games as an afterthought to the alcohol, though. “We could be completely full to capacity and all of our tables will be open—no one is at the tables because everyone is out playing games,” Marks said. “Any other bar I’ve ever been to in my life, the tables are the prime real estate, not the games.
“One of the messages we get from a lot of the people that are here is that they’ve never been to a bar where people are so happy before. It’s a very laid back, fun atmosphere where people are just running around with big smiles on their faces playing any games they can get hands on because they’re just having a good time.”
But the recent boom in arcade openings isn’t just among places that use games as an excuse to serve alcohol. “Our intention was more to be a resource for young people in the community,” said Jeromy Darling, who opened ZAP arcade in the Minneapolis suburb of Jordan as a way to keep the town’s young people occupied. “There’s really nothing for youth there. There’s a water tower, a lake, a creek… it’s small. That was really our intention when we opened, to be a safe resource for kids, to offer something in the community that was just sort of cheap fun.”
Instead of quarters, ZAP charges customers a $5 door fee that grants unlimited play for the entire day, along with $15 monthly memberships that Darling compared to “going to the gym.” The idea is to give parents a place they can feel comfortable leaving their children while they go out and do something on their own. “I don’t necessarily want to be a babysitter, but… you can trust kids to be safe here, and they can stay and play.”
Geek This Week:
Aaron: Became a customer of Bank Simple. LOVING TweetBot for Mac.
Gozer: Nexus 7 Poetic Case Hardback Protective case, The Raid Redemption, Batman Comics: Cacophany & Widening Gyre
The Geek’s Choice: Trulia.com
Featured Segment: 2012 Chevy Volt Review
Feedback & Items of Note:
This is ZitterZap, Gozer might remember me from Playstation.
We just started a podcast and I wanted to ask if you guys have any tips regarding improving voice and recording quality over Skype. Currently I am using Call Graph to record which works great but sometimes there is a little bit of voice quality issue especially if some of my European friends join us on the podcast.
Also just a little feedback on the Apple Official Podcast app which you recommended in a previous episode. It just plainly
- Is very slow
- Doesn’t update the podcasts properly
- If you hit download the podcast it only downloads the first 5 or 10 minutes
You think these are the products of post Steve Jobs era.
ZitterZap from Anonymous SquadCast
Check us out on Stitcher! Visit http://www.stitcher.com/geekcast and sign up. Not only can you catch the podcast through the app, but if you use the code ‘geekcast’ within the app and you’ll be entered to win $100!
Hover.com: Domain names made simple! Experience minimal cross-sell, ‘no wait’ phone support where your call is answered on the first ring, and a simple interface. See how easy and hassle-free registering your next domain can be. Just visit http://www.hover.com/geekcast and see for yourself.
Audible: Try Audible Now and Get 1 Free Audio Book Download with a 14 Day Trial. Choose from over 85,000 Titles. Continue your membership and receive 1 audio book credit a month for only $14.95 per month! Just visit <a href=”http://www.audiblepodcast.com/TheGeekcast“>AudiblePodcast.com/TheGeekcast</a>