5 Intriguing Things: Monday, 2/10

A lonely spacecraft, ad automation, cyberattack indemnity, Calvin and Hobbes, and what's wrong with everything.
International Cometary Explorer (NASA)

1. Sad: we launched a spacecraft in 1978 that is now returning to Earth, but we've lost the technical ability to communicate with it.

"Communication involves speaking, listening and understanding what we hear. One of the main technical challenges the ISEE-3/ICE project has faced is determining whether we can speak, listen, and understand the spacecraft and whether the spacecraft can do the same for us. Several months of digging through old technical documents has led a group of NASA engineers to believe they will indeed be able to understand the stream of data coming from the spacecraft. NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) can listen to the spacecraft, a test in 2008 proved that it was possible to pick up the transmitter carrier signal, but can we speak to the spacecraft? Can we tell the spacecraft to turn back on its thrusters and science instruments after decades of silence and perform the intricate ballet needed to send it back to where it can again monitor the Sun? The answer to that question appears to be no.

The transmitters of the Deep Space Network, the hardware to send signals out to the fleet of NASA spacecraft in deep space, no longer includes the equipment needed to talk to ISEE-3. These old-fashioned transmitters were removed in 1999. Could new transmitters be built? Yes, but it would be at a price no one is willing to spend. And we need to use the DSN because no other network of antennas in the US has the sensitivity to detect and transmit signals to the spacecraft at such a distance.

This effort has always been risky with a low probability of success and a near-zero budget. It is thanks to a small and dedicated group of scientists and engineers that we were able to get as far as we have. Thank you all very much."

+ This should be required reading for all science fiction writers. 


2. Ad-automation firm Rubicon Project does 100 billion advertising transactions per month and had revenue of $56 million in the first nine months of 2013. This is how they make money, according to their IPO filing

"We generate revenue from buyers and sellers who use our solution for the purchase and sale of advertising inventory. Buyers use our solution to reach their intended audiences by buying advertising inventory that we make available from sellers through our solution. Our solution enables buyers and sellers to purchase and sell advertising inventory, matches buyers and sellers and establishes rules and parameters for open and transparent auctions of advertising inventory. We recognize revenue upon the completion of a transaction, that is, when an impression has been delivered to the consumer viewing a website or application, subject to satisfying all other revenue recognition criteria. We are responsible for the completion of the transaction. We generally bill and collect the full purchase price of impressions from buyers. We report revenue net of amounts we pay sellers for the impressions they provide. In some cases, we generate revenue directly from sellers who maintain the primary relationship with buyers and utilize our solution to transact and optimize their activities. Our accounts receivable are recorded at the amount of gross billings to buyers, net of allowances, for the amounts we are responsible to collect, and our accounts payable are recorded at the net amount payable to sellers. Accordingly, both accounts receivable and accounts payable appear large in relation to revenue reported on a net basis."

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