Third compile problem with Bookcase 0.8

If you’re trying to compile Bookcase and getting a lot of errors like this:

/usr/lib/libexslt.so: undefined reference to `xsltInitElemPreComp'

then change line 7 in src/Makefile.am to have LIBXSLT_LIBS instead of XSLT_LIBS. For some reason, and I can’t remember why, that got changed between version 0.7.2 and 0.8. My commit logs are useless. πŸ™‚ Automake will have to regenerate the configure file, too, so you’ll need it to be installed. Or wait for 0.8.1, which I plan to put out tomorrow or Monday.

What confuses me is why my compilations never had problems. Why would Mandrake not need the -lxml2 but SuSE would?

Driving on the Red Planet

The MIT Alumni Association published an interview with Jennifer Trosper that mentions some of the details of her work at JPL. If you want to know more about a day in the life of an MER Mission Manager, go check it out.

And she mentioned Unified Engineering, the sophomore group of classes in the Dept. of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Course XVI, in MIT lingo). Unified is how Aero/Astro teaches most of the fundamentals of engineering. It’s 4 total classes, two each semster of the sophomore year, and it’s notorious at MIT for being one of the most rigorous and demanding course loads. My class got t-shirts at the end of the year that said I survived Unified and on the back was a quote from one of our favorite TAs that said And then the wings fell off. Ah, but looking back with rose-colored glasses, it was great fun.

Warmer and no snow

Cornell put out an amusing news release two weeks ago, pointing out that the Northeast has been colder than Mars lately.

ITHACA, N.Y. — During the most recent early afternoon on Mars, the temperature at the rover Spirit landing site in Gusev crater was an admittedly chilly minus 11 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Fahrenheit). But it was still warmer than most cities in the upper Northeast, gripped in a frigid winter chill.

If you can’t tell, I’m going back and reading through some Mars blogs and news stories from the beginning of the month.

Spirit endorses Dean

As seen on Space Politics:

MARS – NASA received a signal today from the twin to their successful Spirit rover, indicating that it is dropping out of the Democratic presidential primary. “With my need now to focus on my Martian duties,” the rover said, “I can’t devote enough time to campaigning. I have learned a lot from this experience, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But it is time to step aside and throw my backing behind the next president of the United States, Howard Dean.” Dean’s spokesman indicated that the endorsement was unexpected, but appreciated.

It’s funny, read it. πŸ˜€ And it’s just one more confirmation that Spirit and Opportunity are female.

An unusual sense of ownership

The NY Times ran an article on Tuesday that puts words to something that had occurred to me last weekend, entitled Eager NASA Is Bringing Mars Down to Earth. Particularly in the blogosphere, but also in the newspapers and in conversations I’ve had with other folks, people are really taking an active interest in the Mars rovers, and it’s not something that’s significantly fading after Day 1.

No, Mr. Caron, a 19-year-old college freshman, does not work for NASA, despite his use of the first-person pronoun. But he is one of many Americans and others around the world expressing an unusual sense of ownership in the space agency’s current Mars mission.

The flow of updates from Mars has led to a new addiction among some Americans, who find themselves checking for news dozens of times a day. In interviews, many reported feeling depression and withdrawal symptoms when the Spirit stopped communicating last week.

The article rightly, I think, points out that the root cause of the wave of interest is NASA’s decision to make available just about all the data they receive from the rovers. That information is allowing people to do their own calculation about Opportunity’s landing site location, create their own virtual reality panoramas, process their own images, and even analyze the color spectrum of the cameras.

When Spirit’s communication problems first developed, friends started emailing me with condolences and encouragement. Never mind that my responsibilities for any MER hardware ended over a year ago. Never mind that these friends’ eyes glaze over whenever I mention any details from work. It was enough that I’m associated with that Mars thing in their minds, and they felt involved, too.

I gotta say, this is all really, really nice. When we lost Mars Climate Orbiter due to the units mixup, I didn’t want to go out in public. I got teased relentlessly about the waste of all that money. Then when Mars Polar Landed failed shortly thereafter, everyone predicted the demise of Faster, Better, Cheaper and even cutbacks in robotic space exploration. But it looks like managers are actually useful. The changes in project management and a willingness to adequately fund difficult projects seems to have paid off. Now, the JPL and MER web sites have received over 4 billion hits from 32 million people. Let’s hope that all this enthusiasm and interest is not irresponsibly used or ignored. Whatever form the future of NASA’s space exploration takes, I hope we continue to generate this feeling of ownership by such a large slice of the country, and heck, even world-wide.

Bookcase's popularity in Debian

I ran across the results of the Debian Popularity Contest today. It doesn’t claim to be anything of a scientific survey , just the results from people who voluntarily run a script on their own machine. As of today, Bookcase is tied for 4484th place by the number of people who use it regularly and tied for 6544th place among those who just have it installed.

And those stats are for version 0.6.6. I hope they can get it updated to 0.8 soon.

Amazing QTVR and some camera info

I didn’t notice last week, but Hans Nyberg put up another Quicktime VR photo of the landscape around Spirit. Somehow, the black & white image is more compelling than the color one, just conveying the bleakness with the rocks and hills. The resolution of the PanCam images is just really impressive.

I came across a paper by the guys who designed and built the MER cameras from 2001, available at http://robotics.jpl.nasa.gov/people/mwm/papers/spie01/homepage.html. I worked with Mark Schwochert when I handled the vibration testing for all the MER cameras, and he’s a really neat fellow. To me, it’s amazing that they were able to use a very similar design for all four camera types: the NavCam, HazCam, Microscopic Imager, and PanCam. The only difference between them is the lens type, as far as I remember. The interfaces are all identical.