Recently in Geekdom Category

Interesting developments - batteries

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Interesting news from Australia - from Gizmodo:

Australian Scientists Just Worked Out How Zinc-Air Batteries Can Replace Lithium-Ion Batteries
Researchers at the University of Sydney just worked out how to solve one of the biggest problems standing in the way for zinc-air batteries to replace lithium-ion batteries as our go-to for modern electronics.

Zinc-air batteries are batteries powered by zinc metal and oxygen from the air. Becasue of how much zinc metal we have around the world (it's a lot), these batteries are much cheaper to produce than lithium-ion batteries, and they can also store more energy (theoretically five times more than that of lithium-ion batteries), are much safer and are more environmentally friendly.

Total win-win.

Now, while zinc-air batteries are currently used as an energy source in hearing aids and some film cameras and railway signal devices, their widespread use has been hindered by the fact that, up until now, recharging them has proved difficult. This is because of the lack of electrocatalysts to reduce and generate oxygen during the discharging and charging of a battery.

The researchers developed a new three-stage method to overcome this problem.

According to lead researcher Professor Yuan Chen from the University of Sydneys Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, the new method can be used to create bifunctional oxygen electrocatalysts for building rechargeable zinc-air batteries - from scratch.

Very cool news - commercial production in five years? Looking forward to it.

Shred Armstrong

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Take a Stretch Armstrong toy and an industrial shredder. Add a couple liters of liquid nitrogen (-321°F):

Be sure to check out the video at the industrial shredder link - cute!

But of course

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From Science Direct:

Creativity on tap? Effects of alcohol intoxication on creative cognition
Anecdotal reports link alcohol intoxication to creativity, while cognitive research highlights the crucial role of cognitive control for creative thought. This study examined the effects of mild alcohol intoxication on creative cognition in a placebo-controlled design. Participants completed executive and creative cognition tasks before and after consuming either alcoholic beer (BAC of 0.03) or non-alcoholic beer (placebo). Alcohol impaired executive control, but improved performance in the Remote Associates Test, and did not affect divergent thinking ability. The findings indicate that certain aspects of creative cognition benefit from mild attenuations of cognitive control, and contribute to the growing evidence that higher cognitive control is not always associated with better cognitive performance.

Electronic Navigation - a two-fer

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As times get interesting:

It's the fat boy among others - from The Beeb:

North Korea 'jamming GPS signals' near South border
North Korea is using radio waves to jam GPS navigation systems near the border regions, South Korean officials said.

The broadcasts have reportedly affected 110 planes and ships, and can cause mobile phones to malfunction.

I would guess that this was some kind of hoax if not for the fact that there is fundraising going on - talk about a useless piece of tech. From The Verge:

This smart salt shaker has voice controls but can’t grind salt
You can now pay money to buy a smart salt shaker that you can control with your smartphone or an Amazon Echo. That’s probably because we’re going to turn everything we can get our hands on into a smart device, even if it seems super gratuitous.

Called the Smalt, the smart salt shaker can also play music through a bluetooth speaker, offers multi-colored mood lighting, and lastly, but perhaps most importantly, can dispense salt in any amount you choose via a connected app. It’s currently raising funds on Indiegogo, and so far 51 brave souls have backed it. The Smalt usually costs $199, but is currently available for an early-bird price of $99.

I wonder if there are any hackable components inside as these are going to be hitting the remainder shelves for $10 each in about six months after release. The campaign is currntly at $8,764 with a goal of $25,000 - 24 days left. Rotsa ruck!

Infrastructure - our power grid

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Worrysome article by Glenn Harlan Reynolds (of Instapundit fame) at Popular Mechanics:

U.S. Woefully Unprepared for a Blackout Like India's: Analysis
Last week, India suffered two huge blackouts. Tuesday's cut power to 370 million people; another one on Wednesday blacked out 670 million people, making it the worst blackout in the history of humanity.

Talking about this with a colleague, I said, "Don't worry. That can't happen here." "Why not?" she asked. "Because we don't have 670 million people," I replied.

This wasn't the comfort she was looking for.

The specific causes of India's blackouts aren't likely to be a problem in the United States. India's electrical grid was brought down in part by state governments drawing more power from the grid than they were supposed to; American power grids are better managed. And while India's grid has been strained by rapid economic growth, America currently faces no such problem.

But don't get too comfortable. America's grid has its own problems, and not enough is being done to address them. And, ironically, because American electric supplies have generally been pretty reliable, we're in some ways worse-equipped to handle a major power outage than India is. That's also something we should probably be doing something about, both at the national level and as individuals.

A complex issue - Glenn outlines the concerns very well. We have a fairly robust infrastructure but there are some major weak points: substation transformers, backup electrical power, water and sewer (both rely on electrical pumps to function) communications, etc... Well worth a read and be sure to stock up on three weeks of emergency food and water plus flashlights, a radio and a couple books or a deck of cards. Prescription medicines and pet food too.

Cool technology

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From these folks: Handjet as well as this website: INK-JET EBS-260 HANDJET

No sign anywhere of a list price which is never a good sign. Looks like a great tool for the right application - I could have used this at Microsoft for labeling computer boxes (IP Address, 'puter name, etc...)

Far from the wailing and gnashing of teeth that our media seem to specialize in. From ReCode:

The White House asked Apple, Google and other tech giants to help upgrade the federal government
The White House has asked the likes of Apple, Amazon, Oracle and Qualcomm to lend some of their digital expertise to Washington, D.C. in the coming months to help the Trump administration rethink the way that federal agencies use technology.

On a private call with those and other major tech companies Thursday, top advisers to the president, including Jared Kushner, announced the White House would be forming small “centers of excellence,” teams focused on reducing regulation while trying to get federal agencies to embrace cloud computing and make more of their data available for private-sector use, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter.

As part of those centers, Kushner and his aides with the Office of American Innovation asked the tech industry for its help — potentially through a system where leading tech engineers can do brief “tours of duty” advising the U.S. government on some of its digital challenges.

For now, the effort is still early, but the huddle marks the next step for Kushner’s effort to modernize government after Trump convened the chief executives of Apple, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley staples at the White House in June — part of the administration’s push that month with “tech week.”

Very cool - I remember when the Y2K scare was happening - would these legacy systems handle the calendar date rolling over from 1999 to 2000. Some of those systems are still in use today - it would be an incredible efficiency boost to just scrap the legacy systems one by one and gradually roll out new systems based on modern hardware - something that can be reliably upgraded. They are talking to the right people too - Oracle for databases, Google for large data servers and storage, Amazon for high-performance web servers, Qualcomm for networking.

They just unveiled their newest robot - Eagle Prime:

More on their website including info on the upcoming duel between Eagle Prime and KURATAS created by a group in Japan known as Suidobashi Heavy Industries

Very cool project - Rosetta@home

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Back when I worked for Microsoft, I managed some of their test labs. My last lab had over 1,100 small computers and we would run software on these that each simulated hundreds of users logging in to a web site and trying to access data / purchase an item / play a game. Manufacturers would bring in their large servers to test them against large client loads. I got to play with some amazing machines - the latest top-of-the-line chips from Intel, boxes with 32 and 64 processors in them, machines costing in the millions.

In between testing sessions, the lab owner had zero problem with me installing SETI@home and doing our bit in the search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (S.E.T.I.) - imagine the kudos if our lab actually found something out there.

I just got turned on to something a lot more practical and useful - Rosetta@home. You install it on your computer and in between your using it, it uses your CPU and GPU to calculate protein folding. From their About page:

Rosetta@home needs your help to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running the Rosetta program on your computer while you don't need it you will help us speed up and extend our research in ways we couldn't possibly attempt without your help. You will also be helping our efforts at designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer's. Please join us in our efforts! Rosetta@home is not for profit.

We believe that we are getting closer to accurately predicting and designing protein structures and protein complexes, one of the holy grails of computational biology. But in order to prove this, we require an enormous amount of computing resources, an amount greater than the world's largest super computers. This is only achievable through a collective effort from volunteers like you.

I recently put together a large system for working on photographs and video - Rosetta@home is running on it now.

The original Turbo Encabulator

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I had seen this video before and tried to find it again, only to find a bunch of similar knock-offs. Got it along with the story:

From the link at the top:

Published on Apr 9, 2010
This is the first time Turbo Encabulator was recorded with picture. I shot this in the late 70's at Regan Studios in Detroit on 16mm film. The narrator and writer is Bud Haggert. He was the top voice-over talent on technical films. He wrote the script because he rarely understood the technical copy he was asked to read and felt he shouldn't be alone. We had just finished a production for GMC Trucks and Bud asked since this was the perfect setting could we film his Turbo Encabulator script. He was using an audio prompter referred to as "the ear". He was actually the pioneer of the ear. He was to deliver a live speech without a prompter. After struggling in his hotel room trying to commit to memory he went to plan B. He recorded it to a large Wollensak reel to reel recorder and placed it in the bottom of the podium. With a wired earplug he used it for the speech and the "ear" was invented. Today every on-camera spokesperson uses a variation of Bud's innovation. Dave Rondot (me) was the director and John Choate was the DP on this production. The first laugh at the end is mine. My hat's off to Bud a true talent.

This original is much better than the later imitations. They try to hard.

And it is off to YouTube for a bit

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Got the hoses running on the plants for another while - today was very overcast with smoke from the British Columbia wildfires so it was not as hot as predicted but tomorrow is supposed to be even warmer. Get the root systems nice and wet so they can weather through the day. No sense trying to water during the day - you lose 90% of your water through evaporation.

Planning to head in to the Vintage Tractor show tomorrow - for reals this time... Looking for a couple of things for my shop as well as just to see the steam engines. Despite being perfected in the 1700's and 1800's, steam technology is a remarkably efficient means for converting thermal energy to mechanical energy. Sure, there have been many tweaks along the way but the basic engineering and mathematical understanding of steam engines has remained unchanged for 250 years.

One thing I like about them is that unlike internal combustion engines, your torque is in the boiler. With IC engines, the torque is delivered intermittently and needs to be stored in a flywheel if you want continuous drive (for a vehicle or running a machine). With a steam engine with more than one piston, the torque is a function of boiler pressure - want more torque? Turn up the heat in the boiler.

When you go downtown to the courthouse to register and license your new boat and you see this sign posted on every teller window:

20170801-drives.jpg

Click to embiggen

Turn right around, head back to your vehicle and:

  1. pump another hours worth of time into your parking meter and
  2. grab a book or magazine.

You will need it. I did not and although I did not get a parking ticket, it took almost 90 minutes to register one boat and one trailer.

The problem was that they had last been registered in 2001 - 16 years ago - and that data had not been entered into the new system. The clerk was saying that they could call the State Capital to get the data and have it faxed. They also said that they could treat it as a hybrid new boat/old boat and issue a new Hull Identification Number and a new License Number. Needless to say, we went with that.

On top of everything, the poor clerk's computer system was slow as molasses and she could not get the credit card reader to work for about 15 minutes - had to unplug it from the network, power-cycle the reader itself and reconnect it.

Gave me the warm and fuzzies knowing that this was the "new" computer system at work - our tax dollars being spent wisely and with accountability.

DARPA is the US Government's skunk works - the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. They get to build a lot of the fancy toys we hear about. They also deal with a lot of other diciplines. From this Request for Information:

Request for Information (RFI) DARPA-SN-17-57 Confidence Levels for the Social and Behavioral Sciences
"Confidence Levels" for the Social and Behavioral Sciences
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Defense Sciences Office (DSO) is requesting information on new ideas and approaches for creating (semi)automated capabilities to assign "Confidence Levels" to specific studies, claims, hypotheses, conclusions, models, and/or theories found in social and behavioral science research. These social and behavioral science Confidence Levels should rapidly enable a non-expert to understand and quantify the confidence they can have in a specific research result or claim's reliability, reproducibility, and robustness.

In lay terms, they are seeing if anyone out there has a reliable and automated bullshit detector for the social and behavioral "sciences". I love it!

A return to paper ballots

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Voting machines are becoming more common but there is a large concern about them - their security is horrible. From Cory Doctorow writing at BoingBoing:

Defcon vote-hacking village shows that "secure" voting machines can be broken in minutes
Since the 2000 Bush-Gore election crisis and the hanging-chad controversy, voting machine vendors have been offering touchscreen voting machines as a solution to America's voting woes -- and security researchers have been pointing out that the products on offer were seriously, gravely defective.

Nearly 20 years later, the country's voting security debt has mounted to incredible heights, and finally, just maybe, the security researchers are getting the hearing they deserve.

This year's Defcon security conference in Las Vegas sports a "Voter Hacking Village" where surplus voting machines (purchased in secondary markets like Ebay) were made available to security researchers who'd never had an opportunity to examine them, who were then invited to hack them in a timed trial.

The winning team hacked their machine in minutes.

A sobering article - it was as simple as plugging in a keyboard and mouse and hitting [CTRL]+[ALT]+[DEL]. The machine was running embedded WinXP.

Goodbye Flash

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Adobe's multimedia platform - Flash - has been a security disaster and performance hog throughout its entire lifetime. Yesterday, Adobe published this on their website:

FLASH & THE FUTURE OF INTERACTIVE CONTENT
Adobe has long played a leadership role in advancing interactivity and creative content – from video, to games and more – on the web. Where we’ve seen a need to push content and interactivity forward, we’ve innovated to meet those needs. Where a format didn’t exist, we invented one – such as with Flash and Shockwave. And over time, as the web evolved, these new formats were adopted by the community, in some cases formed the basis for open standards, and became an essential part of the web.

Yadda, yadda, yadda, and then this:

Adobe is planning to end-of-life Flash. Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020 and encourage content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to these new open formats.

Good riddance. I specifically uninstalled Flash on all of my computers and have not noticed any problems except for when I went to renew my County Food Handlers Permit - I had to reinstall Flash and then uninstall it after the transaction.

Back in 2010, Steve Jobs took Flash to the woodshed with this wonderful excoriating rant:

Thoughts on Flash
Apple has a long relationship with Adobe. In fact, we met Adobe’s founders when they were in their proverbial garage. Apple was their first big customer, adopting their Postscript language for our new Laserwriter printer. Apple invested in Adobe and owned around 20% of the company for many years. The two companies worked closely together to pioneer desktop publishing and there were many good times. Since that golden era, the companies have grown apart. Apple went through its near death experience, and Adobe was drawn to the corporate market with their Acrobat products. Today the two companies still work together to serve their joint creative customers – Mac users buy around half of Adobe’s Creative Suite products – but beyond that there are few joint interests.

I wanted to jot down some of our thoughts on Adobe’s Flash products so that customers and critics may better understand why we do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads. Adobe has characterized our decision as being primarily business driven – they say we want to protect our App Store – but in reality it is based on technology issues. Adobe claims that we are a closed system, and that Flash is open, but in fact the opposite is true. Let me explain.

Much more at the site.

Check out the Social Justice Warrior Insult Generator - click on the New Insult button for another one.

Describes me to a 'T'

  • You're a racist, close-minded, nationalistic Nazi!
  • You're a chauvinistic, male, homophobic Republican!
  • You're a white, fat-shaming, anti-semitic colonialist!
  • You're a racist, elitist, intolerant traditionalist!

Like I said, good for about fifteen seconds of fun...

Back in January of this year, the European Galileo satellite program experienced failures in several of their atomic clocks - here and here. Of particular interest is the following from the second link:

Particularly worrying is that both types of clocks are affected – six Hydrogen Masers and three of the Rubidium devices are currently out of commission. The issue is further complicated by the fact that clock failures occurred on two different satellite platforms, one built by Airbus and Thales Alenia as part of the In-Orbit Validation (IOV) satellite series and the other by OHB Systems that is the prime contractor for the operational Galileo satellites.

These satellites are designed to provide location and timing services much like our GPS and Russia's GLONASS. This report indicates that they have found the problem although details are very skimpy - from the Galileo website:

Problem behind failing clocks identified
Investigators have uncovered the problems behind the failure of atomic clocks onboard Galileo satellites, the European Commission said.

For months, the European Space Agency has been investigating the reasons behind failing clocks onboard some of the 18 Galileo navigation satellites.

Each Galileo satellite has four ultra-accurate atomic timekeepers, two that use rubidium and two hydrogen maser. But a satellite needs just one working clock for the satnav to work, the rest are spares.

Three rubidium and six hydrogen maser clocks were not working, with one satellite sporting two failed timekeepers.

“The main causes of the malfunctions have been identified and measures have been put in place to reduce the possibility of further malfunctions of the satellites already in space,” commission spokeswoman Lucia Caudet said.

I am sure that the details will be released in some quiet paper in about six months or so - long enough for some engineer's face to no longer be quite the shade of beet red that it is now. An orbiting satellite is not something you can call back to the shop for a repair...

Road trip - The Isle of Sark

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When I moved from Seattle to here, I was really happy. One reason being that finally, I lived away from the big city and would have dark skies to indulge a long-time hobby of mine - astronomy. Got the first really clear night and was treated to a view of the skyglow from the conurbation around Abbotsford, British Columbia - less than 20 miles to my Northwest. Population of 150,000. I can practically read a newspaper from the light pollution.

A friend of mine turned me on to this Island - from The Guardian:

Sark is world's first 'dark sky island'
The Isle of Sark draws its fair share of visitors in the warm months of summer. The rock is a haven for rare wildlife, a landscape where pretty hedgerows and quaint villages are bordered by a breathtaking, craggy coastline. There is plenty to do. The events calendar is full with wildflower walks, scarecrow competitions and sheep races that last a weekend.

Today, the inhabitants of Sark, the smallest of the four main Channel Islands, celebrate a unique addition to their list of attractions, one they hope will bring more visitors in the cold, dark winter season. Lying 80 miles off the south coast of England, Sark has been declared the first "dark sky island" in the world.

The award is in recognition of the exceptional blackness of the night sky that makes for spectacular stargazing on the island. On a cloud-free night, countless stars and hurtling meteors are visible against a backdrop of the Milky Way that reaches across the sky from one horizon to the other.

The announcement, by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), a US-based organisation devoted to preserving the darkest and most beautiful night skies on Earth, follows more than a year of work with the island's 600-strong community to ensure as little light as possible spills upwards into the sky, where it can blot out starlight.

"You get spectacular views from lots of places in the UK, but there are few very special sites that are world class in terms of how dark they are," said Steve Owens, an astronomer who led Sark's application to the IDA.

Time for a road-trip! A couple more great stories at the link - well worth visiting and reading the whole thing.

48 years ago this evening

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I had just graduated from High School and was in Massachusetts working for a pipe organ builder. My parents were spending the summer in Rockport, Mass (they alternated years between Rockport and the area near Estes Park, Colorado)  so I drove over to their cottage and watched the moon landing. Always been a science nerd and this was pure nerdgasm for me.

We need to get back to space - NASA has become diluted with climate foolishness - time to return to its roots.

Going after the darknet - from The Hill:

DOJ takes down dark net marketplaces
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday said it had shut down the online criminal market AlphaBay and one of its chief competitors, Hansa.

"This is likely one of the most important criminal cases of the year," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a press conference.

Sessions said the DOJ had seized the infrastructure and arrested the criminal market's owner, ending speculation about why AlphaBay had recently disappeared.

And this about Hansa:

After AlphaBay went dark, many of its patrons moved to Hansa, a competitor, not knowing that law enforcement had taken control of that site as well.

"Make no mistake, the forces of law and justice face a new challenge from the criminals and transnational criminal organizations who think they can commit their crimes with impunity by 'going dark,' " said Sessions.

"This case, pursued by dedicated agents and prosecutors, says you are not safe. You cannot hide. We will find you, dismantle your organization and network. And we will prosecute you."

Busted. The darknet is nothing to protect - it sells illegal goods. Good that the various world governments (AlphaBay was run from Thailand, Hansa from the Netherlands) are waking up to the dangers of these organizations. Security expert Brian Krebs once had a black-hat hacker buy heroin and have it shipped to his home - the intent was to call the cops when it arrived. Here is his tale (February 17, 2017):

Men Who Sent Swat Team, Heroin to My Home Sentenced
It’s been a remarkable week for cyber justice. On Thursday, a Ukrainian man who hatched a plan in 2013 to send heroin to my home and then call the cops when the drugs arrived was sentenced to 41 months in prison for unrelated cybercrime charges. Separately, a 19-year-old American who admitted to being part of a hacker group that sent a heavily-armed police force to my home in 2013 was sentenced to three years probation.

And here is Brian on the Hansa bust:

Exclusive: Dutch Cops on AlphaBay ‘Refugees’
Following today’s breaking news about U.S. and international authorities taking down the competing Dark Web drug bazaars AlphaBay and Hansa Market, KrebsOnSecurity caught up with the Dutch investigators who took over Hansa on June 20, 2017. When U.S. authorities shuttered AlphaBay on July 5, police in The Netherlands saw a massive influx of AlphaBay refugees who were unwittingly fleeing directly into the arms of investigators. What follows are snippets from an exclusive interview with Petra Haandrikman, team leader of the Dutch police unit that infiltrated Hansa.

Quite the story at his site - good work all around!

Great video of an electrical fire when a car hit a power pole:

Shot in London, Ontario

The 13th Doctor

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A teaser from the Beeb:

Now this looks interesting

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Don't have an application for it but it looks like a fun technique - wonder how it would do with continuous tone (photographs) - the examples they show are all line art.

More here: Hydro dipping

Happy palindrome days

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Almost missed it - a couple of days in July are palindrome days. They read the same forward as they do backward.

m-dd-yy (Month, Day, Year)

  • 7-10-17 - 71017
  • 7-11-17 - 71117

up to and including 

  • 7-19-17 - 71917
  • 7-20-17 - 72017 (dang!)

Cyberdyne Systems is hard at work

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Skynet is coming online as we speak. From Co Design:

AI Is Inventing Languages Humans Can’t Understand. Should We Stop It?
Bob: “I can can I I everything else.”

Alice: “Balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to.”

To you and I, that passage looks like nonsense. But what if I told you this nonsense was the discussion of what might be the most sophisticated negotiation software on the planet? Negotiation software that had learned, and evolved, to get the best deal possible with more speed and efficiency–and perhaps, hidden nuance–than you or I ever could? Because it is.

This conversation occurred between two AI agents developed inside Facebook. At first, they were speaking to each other in plain old English. But then researchers realized they’d made a mistake in programming.

“There was no reward to sticking to English language,” says Dhruv Batra, visiting research scientist from Georgia Tech at Facebook AI Research (FAIR). As these two agents competed to get the best deal–a very effective bit of AI vs. AI dogfighting researchers have dubbed a “generative adversarial network”–neither was offered any sort of incentive for speaking as a normal person would. So they began to diverge, eventually rearranging legible words into seemingly nonsensical sentences.

An interesting article and a curious development in AI - we are now at the baby-steps stage. AI was much hyped 15 years ago but it is now coming into its own.

A fun project for August's eclipse

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Check out EclipseMob (from George Mason University) - there is not a succinct "About" entry on the website but the basic idea is that several hundred people have built kit receivers and will be monitoring two frequencies during the total solar eclipse to check propagation through the ionosphere during totality. Looks like a fun project - I will build the antenna and use my SDR to receive.

Very cool geek-fu

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Receiving satellite signals from some old TV rabbit ears, a cheap (under $100) receiver and some software:

A short excerpt  of the 144 items from this website:

Ink, Floor Wax, Ballpoint Pens, Football Cleats, Upholstery, Sweaters, Boats, Bicycle Tires, Sports Car Bodies, Fishing lures, Dresses, Tires, Dishwasher parts, Tool Boxes, Motorcycle Helmet, Caulking, Petroleum Jelly, Transparent Tape, Faucet Washers, Antiseptics, Clothesline, Curtains, Soap, Vitamin Capsules, Antihistamines, Cortisone, Deodorant, Footballs, Putty, Life Jackets, Rubbing Alcohol, Skis, Electrician's Tape, Tool Racks, Mops, Roofing, Toilet Seats, Fishing Rods, Ice Cube Trays, Electric Blankets, Glycerin, Nylon Rope, Candles, Trash Bags, House Paint, Water Pipes, Hand Lotion, Roller Skates, Surf Boards, Shampoo, Paint Rollers, Shower Curtains, Guitar Strings, Luggage, Aspirin, Safety Glasses, Antifreeze, Football Helmets, Awnings, Eyeglasses, Clothes, Toothbrushes, Ice Chests, Footballs, Combs, CD's & DVD's, Paint Brushes, Detergents, Balloons, Sun Glasses, Tents, Heart Valves, Crayons, Parachutes, Telephones, Pillows, Dishes, Artificial limbs, Bandages, Dentures, Model Cars, Folding Doors, Hair Curlers, Cold cream, Movie film, Soft Contact lenses, Drinking Cups, Fan Belts, Car Enamel, Shaving Cream, Ammonia, Refrigerators, Golf Balls, Toothpaste

Can you guess the common denominator with all of these items? From the website again:

A partial list of products made from Petroleum (144 of 6000 items)
One 42-gallon barrel of oil creates 19.4 gallons of gasoline. The rest (over half) is used to make things like:

Americans consume petroleum products at a rate of three-and-a-half gallons of oil and more than 250 cubic feet of natural gas per day each! But, as shown here petroleum is not just used for fuel.

I find it odd that there are people out there who labor under the delusion that petrolium is evil and we must stop using it. Fools!

Programming maxims

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One of the things to strive for in programming is the wonderfully named Principle of least astonishment - from Infogalatic:

Principle of least astonishment
The principle of least astonishment (POLA), sometimes also referred to as Principle of Least Surprise, applies to user interface and software design, from the ergonomics standpoint. It is alternatively referred to as the law or rule of least astonishment, or of least surprise. "If a necessary feature has a high astonishment factor, it may be necessary to redesign the feature." In general engineering design contexts, the principle may be taken to mean that a component of a system should behave in a manner consistent with how users of that component are likely to expect it to behave.

A textbook formulation is "People are part of the system. The design should match the user's experience, expectations, and mental models." The choice of "least surprising" behavior may depend on the expected audience, e.g. end users, programmers or system administrators.

In more practical terms, the principle aims to exploit users' pre-existing knowledge to minimize the learning curve, for instance by designing interfaces that borrow heavily from "functionally similar or analogous programs with which your users are likely to be familiar." User expectations in this respect may be closely related to a particular computing platform or tradition. For example, Unix command line programs are expected to follow certain conventions with respect to switches, and widgets of Microsoft Windows programs are expected to follow certain conventions with respect to key bindings. In more abstract settings like an API, the expectation that function or method names intuitively match their behavior is another example. This practice also involves the application of sensible defaults.

Closely related to the OhNoSecond

This is interesting to see how this story is being reported

First, from the New York Times:

Hackers Are Targeting Nuclear Facilities, Homeland Security Dept. and F.B.I. Say
Since May, hackers have been penetrating the computer networks of companies that operate nuclear power stations and other energy facilities, as well as manufacturing plants in the United States and other countries.

Among the companies targeted was the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, which runs a nuclear power plant near Burlington, Kan., according to security consultants and an urgent joint report issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week.

Were any systems compromised? Any damage? No? End of story. Case in point:

In a joint statement with the F.B.I., a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said, “There is no indication of a threat to public safety, as any potential impact appears to be limited to administrative and business networks.”

How did they do this?

Hackers wrote highly targeted email messages containing fake résumés for control engineering jobs and sent them to the senior industrial control engineers who maintain broad access to critical industrial control systems, the government report said.

The fake résumés were Microsoft Word documents that were laced with malicious code. Once the recipients clicked on those documents, attackers could steal their credentials and proceed to other machines on a network.

This was a Word Macro attack - this threat has been around for a long long time with the first instance being the Melissa virus in 1999 - they entered the public awareness in 2006.

Second is from Bloomberg. They do Fake News and go full Russian on the story:

Russians Are Suspects in Nuclear Site Hackings, Sources Say
Hackers working for a foreign government recently breached at least a dozen U.S. power plants, including the Wolf Creek nuclear facility in Kansas, according to current and former U.S. officials, sparking concerns the attackers were searching for vulnerabilities in the electrical grid.

More:

The chief suspect is Russia, according to three people familiar with the continuing effort to eject the hackers from the computer networks. One of those networks belongs to an aging nuclear generating facility known as Wolf Creek -- owned by Westar Energy Inc., Great Plains Energy Inc. and Kansas Electric Power Cooperative Inc. -- on a lake shore near Burlington, Kansas.

The possibility of a Russia connection is particularly worrisome, former and current officials say, because Russian hackers have previously taken down parts of the electrical grid in Ukraine and appear to be testing increasingly advanced tools to disrupt power supplies.

Completely unfounded - the authors - Michael Riley , Jennifer A Dlouhy , and Bryan Gruley - are running on speculation here as the original report does not mention Russia or any other nation as being suspects, it merely factually describes the attempt. In addition, the "aging nuclear generating facility known as Wolf Creek" is in top operating condition. It first came online in 1985, 31 years ago. These reactors have a fifty year design life so it is only middle-aged, not aging. More about the plant here: Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation.

Bloomberg = Fake News. So sad.

Back home again - successful trip

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Drove about 270 miles today from home to Lynnwood, to Bellingham and back home again. Picked up some stuff I needed from the Costco business center, visited Ed's Surplus (great place) and TAP Plastics (a disapointment - the Seattle store had a huge selection while this one had just some basic sheet and tube stock and some fiberglass supplies).

Decompressing over a beer and doing tacos for dinner tonight again - good stuff.

While I was in Costco, I was walking down an aisle and there was a man and a woman walking ahead of me. The man had some kind of harness and there was a backplate with MOLLE webbing on it. It looked like an armor plate carrier and I wondered who this guy was. I sped up a bit and saw that they had a newborn and said newborn was ensconced in a tactical baby carrier. Too frickin' cute!

It was something like this from these people: Mission Critical

20170706-MOLLE.jpg

Shooting the Anvil

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This is a long-standing blacksmith tradition only this time, one of the anvils had its base milled out to take a full pound of black powder:

This is from Essential Craftsman - one of my favorite YouTube channels. The guy doesn't post often but they are always well worth watching.

I love it - going to have to steal this design for the farm - the audio right at the end (the logo) is a bit loud.

Fireworks and drones - XKCD

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Heh - from Randall Munroe at XKCD:

4th of July

Fun website - text to speech

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Type in some text and you can then download an MP3 file with that text converted to speech.

Check out From Text To Speech

The original National Space Council was formed during the Reagan years and was lacklusterly carried forward by Bush1 and subsequently killed off by Clinton - it's back again. From the New York Post:

Trump signs executive order reviving National Space Council
President Trump will form a National Space Council to enhance America’s leadership in space exploration.

The president signed an executive order Friday to revive the council, which was last active
in 1993.

“Today’s announcement sends a clear signal to the world that we are restoring America’s proud legacy of leadership in space,” he said.

“Our journey into space will not make us stronger and more prosperous but will unite us behind grand ambitions and bring us all closer together. Wouldn’t that be nice? Can you believe space is going to do that? I thought politics was going to do that,” he added, as the room erupted in laughter.

Think that SpaceX's reusable rocket boosters are cutting edge engineering? The Douglas DC/X was built under budget and ahead of schedule and did ten sucessful flights. It was not just a booster that could be recovered, it was an entire single-stage-to-orbit rocket ship. This was about 25 years ago.

Glad that we are finally picking up where we left off.

Five years ago today - San Diego

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Do not use gasoline as an accelerant:

Diesel fuel is much better - low vapor pressure so it starts calmly. Don't ask me how I know this...

Laurel and Hardy - Big Business

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Great comedy from the masters - Organist Justin LaVoie accompanies the Laurel and Hardy 1929 comedy movie Big Business during the Festival of Silent Comedies organized by the American Organ Institute at the University of Oklahoma, March 4-5, 2016. This is a live performance.

The American Organ Institute not only teaches all kinds of organ performance, they also teach building and restoration. I have always been fascinated by pipe organs - built one as a teenager and worked for an organ builder before entering college. This would have been a great place to go to school. Other things called to me though and I am very happy where I am now.

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