N1VG’s Balloon Launch a Great Success: See Pictures

For a detailed report on the launch, see http://n1vg.net/balloon/.

A quick summary: winds prevented the launch on Saturday morning, so the launch was set for Sunday morning. Winds and not enough camping gear prevented my husband and I from spending a second night in the tent in the desert, so we spent the night at a motel in Barstow and spent some of Sunday morning tracking the balloon.

Tracking was interesting, as we had no internet coverage and intermittent cell phone coverage. We ended up talking to my mother, living in Virginia, who was watching the progress on the web at home. The balloon landed in a perfect spot (less than a mile off a road in a dry lake bed), but alas it wasn’t really on the road to Vegas, so my husband and I said goodbye and headed up highway 15 to get in a day and a half of playing tourist before my conference starts this morning.

Stats: the balloon reached an altitude of at least 106,000 feet, and took more than 1000 pictures. Again, see the website for complete details and all of the pictures. The pictures are just in a directory now, but should be in some type of photo album for easier browsing soon. Thanks to WA8LMF for providing another way to track the balloon, including a plot on the map that showed the path and elevation of the balloon. Not quite as nice as Tufte’s favorite map of Napoleon’s march, but much more useful when one is wanting to see the path of the balloon. The path is no longer active on the website, but I’ll be contacting the webmaster to see if any screenshots were taken and post them here if I can obtain them.

Checking my email Sunday morning was an interesting experience. None of us had had any way to update the web page showing the launch information, so people thought that they had missed it or that the tracking wasn’t working correctly. I didn’t realize how many people were interested in the launch until there were messages on three or four different mailing lists (including that of a competitor to the product my brother manufactures for tracking) asking about the launch, stating their own site had had several hundred hits looking for the balloon, etc.

And to tie all of this in to something related to search engine marketing, web publication, and the like..I look forward to attending the PubCon sessions regarding website analytics and the time later this week that I’ll spend looking over the Google Analytics and server-based statistics. The page for the balloon was only put up about three days before the launch of the balloon, and when I left town Friday as the second most visited site on the page. For PubCon, I feel like I did when I first started applying to graduate school. I’ve been doing things on my own, learning as I go, and now it’s time to use what I’ve learned by trial and error and see how my understanding compares to the experts and see how I can improve things. Hope to meet some of you this week in Vegas!

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Filed under amateur radio, APRS, balloon, ham radio, N1VG, near space, pubcon

High altitude balloon experiment using APRS this weekend.

For some time (two or three years at least), my brother (N1VG) has been actively involved with developing, manufacturing, and selling APRS trackers. Some of these trackers and GPS units have been deployed in high altitude / near space / edge of space balloon projects. He decided it was time to do a project himself, and combine it with a camping trip to our favorite spot in the Mojave desert, Red Rock Canyon State Park. The details of the high altitude balloon experiment are included on his website. To track the balloon, check out Map at Findu.com and Google Earth: http://argentdata.com:8080 (add as a network link)

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Filed under amateur radio, APRS, balloon, ham radio, N1VG, near space

How I Would Change MySpace Groups

I’ve been using online groups since the late 90s, and have been online (via dial-up BBSs) since the mid 80s. I’m no stranger to finding my way around new websites and systems, but MySpace seems to be in a separate category. I’ve come to expect a certain set of functions, or at least a certain consistency to the group-based offerings. I’ve been quite frustrated with MySpace in several respects, but in here I’ll just outline the difficulties I have encountered with their groups, and how I would change that particular part of MySpace.

I would add more categories, or make subcategories in the Groups area. The Cities and Neighborhoods subcategory is a great example of this. Logical subgroups would be by country then state. Yes, you can search by zipcode, but if you’re in Humboldt you’re not going to find the West Coast group, which is listed as being from Santa Monica.

The search function seems to take some time to be updated. I started a new group, and it was well over a week before it was included in the index. Even craigslist manages to update their index every 15 minutes, it shouldn’t take a week for a listing to appear.

Follow Jakob Nielsen’s advice and put a search box when you’re browsing the category pages, not just a link to a search. In his UseIt Article he states that putting a textbox search function on his homepage, rather than just a link, increased search usage by 91%.

Use correct breadcrumb navigation. I clicked on Automotive groups, and the navigation states MySpace Groups > Most Popular Groups. No indication that I’m in the automotive groups.

Inconsistent use of search. On the groups main page, the search box is the simple search. If you click the search link on a sub-page, you’re taken to an advanced search.

Even advanced search is not very advanced. Say you want to find a group dedicated to VWs automobiles, so you search on VW. Here are the first ten results, the most popular groups with VW somewhere.
– VW Owners and Lovers
– vwvortex.com (vw/audi enthusiasts)
– The Transformers (the 1980s toy)
– VW – Volkswagen Enthusiasts Unite
– Stuck in Frederick Maryland
– 951/909 DirtSports
– Lovers of Orlando Bloom
– German Autos
– GTI Owners for Life
– Nanaimo BC

Search on Volkswagen, and also only six of the top ten groups are related to VWs (others include a description as a voice that won’t be co-opted by Volkswagen and a group on the psychedelic era).

At least all of the sponsored links are about cars. Maybe MySpace should use their ad-targeting algorithms for search and ditch their own search?

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Filed under myspace, Web usability

Day In the Sky / Take Flight For Kids

This spring, I volunteered at Day In The Sky in Watsonville and had a great time. Shared Adventures of Santa Cruz organized free airplane rides to challenged children and their guests. That day, 35 pilots made 120 flights and flew 350 people.

This fall, some of the same organizers are putting on Take Flight for Kids at the Hayward Airport on September 30th. Volunteers and pilots are still needed, and there is a signup form on the website.

Update: We had a fantastic day, and many wonderful memories were made. There were 98 plane rides with about 400 people flying. The weather was marginal, which did delay the start of flying, and prevented some pilots from being able to fly to the event, so there were some waits for flights and some kids turned away, unfortunately. For those turned away, or anyone with a child aged 8-17 interested in flying, visit the EAA Young Eagles program to request information about an opportunity to go flying.

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Filed under Volunteer Opportunities