Wednesday, June 28

the French Space Place & some soccer

I've been busy over the past few days and right now, I'm procrastinating, again. I shut the blinds so I can't look out my window, and I've checked my email enough times, so I'll blog!

Yesterday, we did another field trip. We went to the Centre National d'√Čtudes Spatiales, or CNES, which is France's equivalent of NASA. It was on the other side of town. We first went through the usual security. They must like to see American passports because it seems like they collect them as frequently as possible--perhaps it's because there's French in them. After affixing our visitor badges we were led to the welcome part. We walked down the street and around the roundabouts, past several office park buildings until we got to the right one.

The room to which they took us was appropriately all spacey. It was high tech looking with pictures of space, modern lighting, a model of a satellite, and a futuristic color scheme. We were all delighted to find free stuff sitting on chairs, for us! Inside of a black stylish (I'm actually not being sarcastic) CNES bag, there was an assortment of various objects: a pen, several pieces of literature (in English!) about CNES, and a bumper sticker. I really like the bag; I, in fact, used it today. It's perfect to hold notebooks and folders. Wait a second. That isn't important.

As we were admiring our newly acquired free stuff, they began to torture us with a power point. No offense to the guy who presented it, but I'm going to give some frank advise, although most of the French people that have spoken to our group speak better than I could in my second language, Spanish. To French people: French accents sound pleasant so you don't have to be embarrassed about it, just please, please, PLEASE! talk loud and slowly (at least at a normal pace) for the sake of everyone involved.

I don't know why, but I didn't notice something until recently: making a power point is like splitting the atom. Used in the right way, it can do amazing things, but when it falls into the wrong hands, look out! I guess I never noticed before because all my past experience with it was while being jittery sitting in line to give one myself in school. Lately, though, I've seen nothing but terrible power points and yesterday was no exception. To me the worst kind is when someone just narrates the various condensed phrases on the slides.

The first power point they showed us looked great, but I'd rather be spoken to and not read to. As I said before, the guy did a way better job than I could have done in an equivalent situation, which for me would be something like having to give a power point about something to do with UW-Madison to Spanish speakers. I can talk about everyday things well, but it's much harder to speak with a direction, especially when it's a one-way format instead of person to person.

In 10th grade English, in our public speaking unit Mrs. O had us give a 15 minute presentation about our heritage. Her condition, if we were to use power point, was that, since it was a visual medium, it should be mostly visual, keeping text to a minimum. And it had to be timed to our speaking, no mice or pointer clicking. I did a power point and I think it was and will be the best one I ever give. So minimizing words and maximizing pictures seems to be a reasonable philosophy about power points, to me. Luckily, the first power point had a bunch of pictures of their rockets and satellites.

One of our classes this summer is an engineering communication class, so the professors have touched on power points. In an engineering situation, words are obviously necessary; 50 slides of schematics and graphs would make even an engineer pull out his hair. So, I guess, the best power point for the average situation is somewhere between the two, using thought out concise phrases, with ample pictures. Also, the thing that really makes a power point awesome is how prepared the speaker is. In a good presentation, the slide show is just going in the background; in a bad presentation, the speaker reads directly from the show.

I'm probably saying the same thing the professors said. Well, you, (the profs) didn't miss anything; the power points would have made you go bonkers, like that one conference. U-ni-ver-si-TEE.

After that, we then were led to the clean rooms. They are dust free environments where they build the satellites. It was pretty neat to see all the parts. They build a dummy to test the systems and fix things on Earth before they build the real one. I learned from the pictures that apparently satellites and air conditioners have very simular insides.

We then stopped by the department that runs the "Spot" group of satellites that map, survey, and take pictures of the Earth. I thought that was interesting because this past semester, I had a surveying class in which the professor talked about remote sensing which is using satellites to collect data.

Then we stopped by the control room. Unfortunately, nothing was going on and we weren't allowed to have cameras so I couldn't take a picture. We didn't get to go into the actual room, but we sat in the glass observation room above. It looked, basically, just like this other room at CNES:

Except it was an older room so there were all the computers, big screens, and technology, but it was decorated in the style of the end of the 60's with green marble or something on the walls. We had power point #4 here. They really got us because they had the first slide on the big screen already, so we didn't recognize what was going on until the control room guy started. All of the presentations weren't bad, but I tried to ask the guy a question about what kind of coordinate system they use to keep track of a satellite's position and it took me three rephrasings before he got the question. It turns out they use radar about once every two hours to get the postion and define the exact orbit of a certain satellite.

Finally, we went to the department where they diagnose and fix problems with electronic hardware. They had all the equipment: many different kinds of scanners, x-ray machines, electron microscopes, and other instruments that cost millions each. It was pretty neat, especially because they guy spoke to us directly--without a slide show--passed around satellite parts, then showed us their 'scopes, and took us in the glass room where they keep the expensive stuff.

All in all, I give the CNES tour a B+. They would have gotten an A for coolness, but four power points in two hours really bogged down the tour. On the plus side, their tour was very organized compared to the airplane testing place, to which I give a D (with the benefit of the doubt). They got that because they looked at the number of people and randomly split us up into two groups and then my group walked around in the hot sun for a couple of hours to see the "air blowey-thing", and then the building where they have the "airplane systems chamber do-hicky", then the "drop crash thing", and the "zapper-ma-bob". The other group saw the "landing gear bouncy thing" and the "warehouse".

Last night was rather exciting. At 9 pm, France played Spain in the World Cup and they're now to the elimination part so the loser was going home. In the first half Spain scored first on
a penalty kick (so it wasn't too legitimate), then France finally answered right before half time.

They spent the second half tied until 6 minutes left when France scored again. It was one of those where the French guy ran faster than the defenders so it was him and the goalee. Then they scored again in the same way with about 90 sec left in injury time, the usually about 3 minutes they stick on the end to make up for injuries. Afterwards, people started driving through the streets and honking their horns. (One could almost pretend it was VE day again) Too bad they now have to play Brazil, who along with England, is probably the best team in the world.

I never really watched soccer before. It's not really that bad. According to a news article, only 6% of Americans are following the World Cup closely. I think I'd be in the 'somewhat closely' group, 15%. 'Not very closely' is 31% and 47% of Americans are following it 'not at all'.

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