Recently in Geekdom Category

Congratulations Alec Steele

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Alec is an English YouTube star - an excellent blacksmith. He just celebrated his 20th birthday and his YouTube account just got its 500,000th subscriber.

Alec is an inspiration to me - he is always trying out new techniques and his eye for design is a delight.

Good meeting

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Pretty well attended - the speaker tonight was a local guy who does a lot of digital processing with amateur radio. His YouTube channel is pretty interesting: Budd Churchward

News you can use - solar panels

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Planning to install some solar panels? Get them now beofre the price spike. From Bloomberg:

Solar Companies Are Scrambling to Find a Critical Raw Material
Solar manufacturers are being battered by higher costs and smaller margins, after an unexpected shortage of a critical raw material.

Prices of polysilicon, the main component of photovoltaic cells, spiked as much as 35 percent in the past four months after environmental regulators in China shut down several factories.

That’s driving up production costs as panel prices continue to decline, and dragging down earnings for manufacturers in China, the world’s biggest supplier.

And the reason:

The price spike came after an environmental crackdown in China coincided with an annual lull in polysilicon output, according to Jenny Chase, head solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Refiners in China typically cut back polysilicon production during the summer for routine maintenance. Solar manufactures anticipate the seasonal slowdown, but it was exacerbated this year when China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection shut down several plants that make metallurgical silicon, a partially refined polysilicon that other companies further purify for use in solar cells.

The two events led to a polysilicon shortage that drove prices in China from $14 to $19 a kilogram over the past four months, according to Guelph, Ontario-based Canadian Solar, which has most of its manufacturing in China.

Sad that the prices are rising but it is good that the Chinese government is taking its environment seriously. I have a couple of these for my ham radio setup: Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Panel - great for emergency power. Most ham radio stuff runs off 12VDC to begin with so no need for any inverters.

The stopped clock is right twice/day

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Senator Al Franken actually said something intellegent recently - from Wired:

AL FRANKEN JUST GAVE THE SPEECH BIG TECH HAS BEEN DREADING
Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) delivered some of the sharpest criticism yet about the dangers of tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon during a speech on Wednesday, encouraging regulators, as well as lawmakers in both parties, to better police the market power of dominant online platforms.

“Everyone is rightfully focused on Russian manipulation of social media, but as lawmakers it is incumbent on us to ask the broader questions: How did big tech come to control so many aspects of our lives?” Franken asked in a speech to a Washington think tank. A handful of companies decide what Americans “see, read, and buy,” dominating access to information and facilitating the spread of disinformation, he added.

A bit more:

Franken argued that the same control over consumers that facilitated the spread of Russian propaganda on social media also helps Facebook and Google siphon advertising revenue from other publishers and helps Amazon dictate terms to content creators and smaller sellers. Tech giants are incentivized to disregard consumer privacy, Franken noted. “Accumulating massive troves of information isn’t just a side project for them. It’s their whole business model,” he said. “We are not their customers, we are their product.”

So true - emphasis mine. With my new phone (which I dearly love by the way!) I am constantly getting advertising and "helpful notices" from any and all places I visit on the web. I will google something about a TV show on my laptop and all of a sudden, my cell phone is sending me the latest gossip about actors staring in that show. I have to drill down through many many layers to throttle this feed down to a dull roar. There is no OFF switch to be found...

New 'Bot from Boston Dynamics

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This has to be an incredibly fun place to work:

I would love to spend a couple weeks poking around there and playing with their toys tools.

From Stanley "Dirt Monkey" Genadek

Science fiction in 1985 - reality today

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Remember this scene from 32 years ago?

Flash forward to today - from Popular Mechanics:

Stuck in Time
It's at the beginning of Back to the Future, about 20 minutes in, when Marty McFly first sees a futuristic four-wheeled hunk of metal—outfitted with a flux capacitor—back out of a smoke-filled trailer. Turning to the wild-haired Doc Brown, McFly exclaims, "Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"

The article goes in to quite a bit of DeLorean history and then drops this little nugget:

While the DeLorean Motor Company wait for their fate on the ground, another company born from DeLorean's legacy is looking to go somewhere where we don't need roads. Paul DeLorean, John's nephew and CEO of DeLorean Aerospace, is developing "a Formula One race car...for the sky."

Despite the catchy slogan, DeLorean explains that it's "absolutely not a flying car." The DR-7 VTOL is a two-seat, fully-electric airplane that has vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities and will be sold strictly as a consumer product—as opposed to a fleet, like Uber Elevate.

DeLorean said he designed the aircraft for commuting, but he's already had interest from the military, law enforcement, search and rescue, and first responders. The futuristic aircraft could one day be fully autonomous. "Unmanned would be a fantastic application," Delorean told Popular Mechanics. "you could have 10 or 20 of these on a rooftop somewhere...and they would get there in the fraction of the time."

Here is the website for DeLorean Aerospace. Still waiting for Paul Moller to start shipping his SkyCar.

Only in Japan

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Does the sound of slurping noodles bother you? Meet Otohiko:

News keeps cropping up that they are not ready for prime-time. This story from Android Central:

Pixel 2 XL screen burn-in is real, Google 'actively investigating'
Consternation surrounding the display in the Google Pixel 2 XL is well known at this point, and to be honest most of it has been pretty overblown. But we have something new to talk about now: screen burn-in. It's something people with OLED screens worry about (to varying degrees) and something people who prefer LCDs like to poke fun about. But one of our Pixel 2 XL review units, in use for about a week, is already seeing some pretty crazy levels of burn-in.

Glad I got my Moto Z phone and didn't wait for the Google.

The downside to smartphones

Readers will know that I recently upgraded from a cheap Walmart burner cellphone to a Motorola Z. Quite the leap in technology and I love it. Where I live, there is no cell service so I have had little need for a phone (hence the cheap one) but now that I am spending more time on the road, a better phone was called for.

Here is a cautionairy tale though - from Bloomberg:

Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody’s Counting
Jennifer Smith doesn’t like the term “accident.” It implies too much chance and too little culpability.

A “crash” killed her mother in 2008, she insists, when her car was broadsided by another vehicle while on her way to pick up cat food. The other driver, a 20-year-old college student, ran a red light while talking on his mobile phone, a distraction that he immediately admitted and cited as the catalyst of the fatal event.

“He was remorseful,” Smith, now 43, said. “He never changed his story.”

Yet in federal records, the death isn’t attributed to distraction or mobile-phone use. It’s just another line item on the grim annual toll taken by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration [NHTSA]—one of 37,262 that year. Three months later, Smith quit her job as a realtor and formed Stopdistractions.org, a nonprofit lobbying and support group. Her intent was to make the tragic loss of her mother an anomaly.

And some numbers:

Over the past two years, after decades of declining deaths on the road, U.S. traffic fatalities surged by 14.4 percent. In 2016 alone, more than 100 people died every day in or near vehicles in America, the first time the country has passed that grim toll in a decade. Regulators, meanwhile, still have no good idea why crash-related deaths are spiking: People are driving longer distances but not tremendously so; total miles were up just 2.2 percent last year. Collectively, we seemed to be speeding and drinking a little more, but not much more than usual. Together, experts say these upticks don’t explain the surge in road deaths.

And this one:

Finally, the increase in fatalities has been largely among bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians—all of whom are easier to miss from the driver’s seat than, say, a 4,000-pound SUV—especially if you’re glancing up from your phone rather than concentrating on the road. Last year, 5,987 pedestrians were killed by cars in the U.S., almost 1,100 more than in 2014—that’s a 22 percent increase in just two years.

More at the site - my truck allows for hands-free calling and I would never browse while driving. I am not stupid. I see it all the time though when out on the road.

One other cause for the increase in fatalities that was not mentioned was the CAFE Standards - the easiest way for a manufacturer to make a vehicle more fuel efficient is to cut its weight. This makes the car or truck lighter and less strong. For more on that story: Here, here and here - a lot more at Google if you look.

New toy - Moto Z Play

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Been having a lot of fun syncing my new phone to my other computers and learning the ins and outs of its operation. An amazingly powerful computer which can send and receive telephone calls. Want to get everything set up before I try rooting it. Need to see if there are any useful apps for emergency management or amateur radio.

Trish had a big event at her school last week so she is rummaging around cleaning up and stowing the boxes of supplies and papers from the event.

Now this looks like fun

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For someone else but still - the development of drones brought out some new technologies and they are being scaled up to bigger machines:

Having those propellers right at kneecap level would give me a case of the willies. Gust of wind? The inertial moment on those propellers has got to be large so it will take time to respond to a perturbation. What happens if it starts to tip over?

SQL Ledger

I have been using GnuCash for a while and really like it. True double-entry bookeeping and none of the bloat the QuickBooks has. Getting checks to print correctly was a byzantine few days but this is something you only need to do once so hey...

On an email list, there was mention of SQL Ledger as being more of a large ERP application. Looks interesting - been in development for more than ten years and it's last release was in April of 2017 so it is under active development. It is written entirely in PERL and runs using a SQL Server as its backend. No mention of speed (running an interpreted language) but still, the feature list is quite comprehensive. Here is the feature list from their website

Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Vouchers, General Ledger, Inventory Control, Billing / Invoicing, Payroll, Time Cards, Recurring Invoices, POS, Check Printing, Purchase / Sales Orders, Customizable Taxes, Multi-user, Multi-company, CMS, Audit Control, Foreign Currency, Internationalization, Access Control, SQL server backend, Customizable Templates, Customers, Vendors, Assemblies (BOM, kits), Chart of Accounts, Customizable Reports, Memorize Report Layout, Financial Statements, Export Payments File, Administration Module, Application Interface, Backup to file/email, Import transactions, Use on Handheld, Document Control

Have to download it and give it a try when I have nothing else to do and feel like dinking around with a new application.

Public WiFi - be careful for now

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Someone just broke the encryption used in public WiFi - from ZDNet:

WPA2 security flaw puts almost every Wi-Fi device at risk of hijack, eavesdropping
A security protocol at the heart of most modern Wi-Fi devices, including computers, phones, and routers, has been broken, putting almost every wireless-enabled device at risk of attack.

The bug, known as "KRACK" for Key Reinstallation Attack, exposes a fundamental flaw in WPA2, a common protocol used in securing most modern wireless networks. Mathy Vanhoef, a computer security academic, who found the flaw, said the weakness lies in the protocol's four-way handshake, which securely allows new devices with a pre-shared password to join the network.

That weakness can, at its worst, allow an attacker to decrypt network traffic from a WPA2-enabled device, hijack connections, and inject content into the traffic stream.

In other words: this flaw, if exploited, gives an attacker a skeleton key to access any WPA2 network without a password. Once they're in, they can eavesdrop on your network traffic.

The bug represents a complete breakdown of the WPA2 protocol, for both personal and enterprise devices -- putting every supported device at risk.

What to do? Use basic comon sense. Do not do any online shopping or send crucial data over a public network. That simple. This has already been patched for Windows 10 and iOS - Android is still vulnerable but they are working on it.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day

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From the website Finding Ada:

Celebrating women in STEM
Ada Lovelace Day (ALD) is an international celebration day of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). It aims to increase the profile of women in STEM and, in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in STEM.

Founded in 2009 by Suw Charman-Anderson, it is now held every year on the second Tuesday of October. It features a flagship Ada Lovelace Day Live! ‘science cabaret’ event in London, UK, at which women in STEM give short talks about their work or about other women who have inspired them, or perform short comedy or musical interludes with a STEM focus. This year's event will be held on Tuesday 10 October 2017 at the Ri in London

The day also includes dozens of grassroots events around the worldorganised entirely independently from the ALD Live! event. These events take many forms — from conferences to Wikipedia ‘edit-a-thons’ to pub quizzes — and appeal to all ages, from girls to university students to women with well-established careers. Every year, people in dozens of countries across six continents put on their own event to support women in their own communities. Anyone can hold an event, so why not get involved?

Ada was an amazing person - a biography can be found here: Ada Lovelace: Victorian computing visionary

My new cell phone is a Motorola Z - came highly liked from several owners and am happy with it so far. Went to their website to see about available apps to download and was presented with this wonderful screen:

20171008-moto.jpg

Nothing but placeholders. I'll try again later. One thing is that I routinely do not run Flash on my computers - too bug-ridden and too many epic security failures. Maybe their website still uses Flash?

Overheard at the store

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How do you milk a sheep?

Come out with a new iPhone and charge $1,000 for it.

A fun ride

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While I was at the lumber yard, I spotted an old Ford Ranger EV - this was a small electric truck manufactured by Ford from 1997 through 2002. Very cool - talked to the owner for a while. Even at over fifteen years old, the original NiMH battery pack still works well and delivers a 45 mile range (original range was about 80 miles).

Not practical for my life in the country but perfect for potting around the city.

Amateur Radio in the news

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From the Amateur Radio Relay League - our craft guild (in operation for more than 100 years):

American Red Cross Asks ARRL’s Assistance with Puerto Rico Relief Effort
The American Red Cross (ARC) has asked the ARRL for assistance with relief efforts in Puerto Rico. ARC needs up to 50 radio amateurs who can help record, enter, and submit disaster-survivor information into the ARC Safe and Well system. In the nearly 75-year relationship between ARRL and ARC, this is the first time such a request for assistance on this scale has been made. ARRL now is looking for radio amateurs who can step up and volunteer to help our friends in Puerto Rico.

Hell - if I was 20 years younger and not involved with so many things I would be there in a heartbeat.

Some fun music videos

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From New Zealand artist Nigel John Stanford (website) Nigel also did this one from 2014 - Cymatics

Signs and portents

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An interesting theory and easily verified - from SHTF Plan:

Do 40,000 Lightning Strikes Over Southern Cali Point To A Mega Quake On The Horizon?
A volatile storm has ignited a slew of 40,000 lightning strike in southwestern California. The strikes have hit Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties – all between September 10-11.

The electric storm was most active on Sunday with an amazing 5,000 lightning bolts in the area over a three-hour period. NWS Los Angeles took to Twitter to report the tremendous display. The intense storm brought plenty of lightning to the Golden state’s southern region, but almost no rain.  The greatest rain total of .44 inches at Sudden Peak on Sunday. By Monday morning, heavy showers, thunderstorms, and 35-mph winds were reported in eastern Los Angeles County.

But now conspiracy is swirling around this fascinating and unique electric storm.  Strange lights and electrons acting oddly seem to have been appearing either before or during major earthquakes –  like the recent 8.2 magnitude quake in Mexico. Could these lightning strikes be a sign that  California’s mega quake is on the horizon?

That would have been fun to see - I love a good lightning storm. We will seee what happens in the next week or so. Like I said, easy to verify.

Sweet little go-kit

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One of the things ham radio operators often do is to build a complete station into a portable box - this is called a go-kit and is essential in case of an emergency. I am building one of these but taking my time collecting ideas first - here is an excellent example:

Here is a nice presentation on emergency communications from the ARRL. Here is a much more complex example.

Ho. Li. Crap - look outside tonight

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Great chance of Aurora Borealis tonight - the Planetary K-index is 8. If it is six or over, we have a great chance of a display. Eight will guarantee it:

20170907-kindex.gif

Of course, the skies are smoke-filled and salmon colored...

A little list - Logical Fallacies

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From Stephen Hicks - list compiled by Brian McGroarty:

McGroarty’s Logical Fallacies — fun list
Ad Hominem: This is the best logical fallacy, and if you disagree with me, well, you suck.

Appeal to False Authority: Your logical fallacies aren’t logical fallacies at all because Einstein said so. Einstein also said that this one is better.

Appeal to Emotion: See, my mom, she had to work three jobs on account of my dad leaving and refusing to support us, and me with my elephantitis and all, all our money went to doctor’s bills so I never was able to get proper schooling. So really, if you look deep down inside yourself, you’ll see that my fallacy here is the best.

Appeal to Fear: If you don’t accept Appeal to Fear as the greatest fallacy, then THE TERRORISTS WILL HAVE WON. Do you want that on your conscience—that THE TERRORISTS WILL HAVE WON because you were a pansy who didn’t really think that Appeal to Fear was worth voting for, and you wanted to vote for something else? Of course not, and neither would the people you let die because THE TERRORISTS WILL HAVE WON.

Appeal to Force: If you don’t agree that Appeal to Force is the greatest logical fallacy, I will kick your ass.

And eighteen more at the site. More on actual logical fallacies at InfoGalactic - here and here

Follow the money - Al Gore

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A fascinating post by Leo Goldstein taking a look at Al Gore's influence in Silicon Valley and how SV has changed:

Has Al Gore Remade Silicon Valley in his Image?
The story of Silicon Valley’s embrace of climate alarmism and all things hard Left went from mystery to crime thriller.  In fact, Al Gore played an enormous role in Silicon Valley’s transformation from technological marvel into marketing/finance/software/censorship hub, animated by Leftist passion for destruction and deep-ecology anti-humanism, both amplified by artificial intelligence.

No, this is not because Al Gore invented the internet.  In fact, he has never said he did.  Al Gore made a much stronger statement: “I took the initiative in creating the Internet…” (1999 video). Inventing is only a small part in creating.  Thus, Al Gore pretended to be almost a Creator of the Internet.  Of course, it is not true.  But he has done a lot to remake the technological industries and the whole U.S. economy in his own image.

Al Gore has been involved in the tech since his vice presidency and after that. From Forbes, 2013:

“Along with cultivating Current [TV], Gore, 64, joined the board of Apple in 2003 and served as a senior adviser on green issues to Google beginning in 2001, three years before the company went public.   As of February, Gore, who is still an Apple director, held more than $35 million in stock and options in the Cupertino, Calif. technology firm.”

Al Gore made more than $30M on Apple options alone (1).  The eBay billionaire Jeffrey Skoll financed his 2006 movie The Inconvenient Truth.  But probably the most important among Al Gore’s connections to Silicon Valley was his role in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) venture capital firm, which he joined as a partner in 2007.  He probably is not active today, but his name still appears on KPCB website.  He probably retains interest in some of the KPCB investments, and is still liable to the investors as a general partner (VCs are not limited liability corporations).  Al Gore remained politically active after he lost 2000 elections.  He considered running for President in 2008 and participated in the launch of the notorious “Attorneys General for Clean Power” witch hunt in 2016.  His party comrades also remained in the federal and state governments, especially in California and Washington.  KPCB is a legendary venture capital firm.  Its investments include Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and countless other successful companies in the Silicon Valley ecosystem.

I love that sentence in the first paragraph: 

In fact, Al Gore played an enormous role in Silicon Valley’s transformation from technological marvel into marketing/finance/software/censorship hub, animated by Leftist passion for destruction and deep-ecology anti-humanism, both amplified by artificial intelligence.

So true - it happened incrementally so most of us never noticed. The big breakthroughs are no longer happening, it is now patent trolling and crony capitalism - Silicon Valley has lost its mojo. It has become gentrified. The Overton Window at work.

I wonder where the next SV will spring up - Detroit or some place like it? Cheap real estate and a lot of intelligent people hanging around with nothing but ideas and a passion.

All hail King Google

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It has started acting like an all-powerful monarch - from The Washington Post:

Google is coming after critics in academia and journalism. It’s time to stop them.
About 10 years ago, Tim Wu, the Columbia Law professor who coined the term network neutrality, made this prescient comment: “To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king.”

Wu was right. And now, Google has established a pattern of lobbying and threatening to acquire power. It has reached a dangerous point common to many monarchs: The moment where it no longer wants to allow dissent.

This summer, a small team of well-respected researchers and journalists, the Open Markets team at the New America think tank (where I have been a fellow since 2014), dared to speak up about Google, in the mildest way. When the European Union fined Google for preferring its own subsidiary companies to its rival companies in search results, it was natural that Open Markets, a group dedicated to studying and exposing distortions in markets, including monopoly power, would comment. The researchers put out a 150-word statement praising the E.U.’s actions. They wrote, “By requiring that Google give equal treatment to rival services instead of privileging its own, [the E.U.] is protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all democracies depend.” They called upon the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice and state attorneys general to apply the traditional American monopoly law, which would require separate ownership of products and services and the networks that sell products and services.

Google has been funding New America for years at high levels. Within 24 hours of the statement going live, Google representatives called New America’s leadership expressing their displeasure. Two planned hires for the Open Markets team suddenly were canceled. Three days later, the head of the Open Markets team, the accomplished journalist Barry C. Lynn, received a letter from the head of the think tank, demanding that the entire team leave New America. The reason? The statement praising the E.U.’s decision against Google was, according to New America President Anne-Marie Slaughter, “imperiling the institution.” (As of this writing, Slaughter has denounced the story as false, claiming that Lynn was dismissed for failures of “openness” and “collegiality.”)

Google has come a long way from its 1998 motto of "Don’t be evil." I know that Google has a lot more revenue streams than just searching for pron but still, Duck Duck Go is a nice alternative for Google's search engine and it can run as a plug-in on Chrome - best of both worlds.

Now this will be interesting

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From Business Wire:

Alexa Meet Cortana, Cortana Meet Alexa
Amazon and Microsoft announced today that Alexa will be able to talk to Cortana, and Cortana will be able to talk to Alexa. You will be able to turn to your Echo device and say, “Alexa, open Cortana,” or turn to your Windows 10 device and say, “Cortana, open Alexa.”

Alexa customers will be able to access Cortana’s unique features like booking a meeting or accessing work calendars, reminding you to pick up flowers on your way home, or reading your work email – all using just your voice. Similarly, Cortana customers can ask Alexa to control their smart home devices, shop on Amazon.com, interact with many of the more than 20,000 skills built by third-party developers, and much more.

“Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us,” said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. “Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”

“The world is big and so multifaceted. There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience,” said Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon. “It’s great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana.”

Alexa and Cortana will begin talking to each other later this year.

As Skynet comes online in 3... 2... 1...

From Amazon:

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

If the authors name sounds familiar, Andy's first novel was The Martian - a delightful read and excellent movie adaptation. I'll have to request it from my local library.

An interesting development - Palau

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From Channel News Asia:

US military to install radar in Pacific's Palau
The United States has announced plans to install radar systems in Palau, a move that will increase its monitoring ability in the western Pacific region recently rocked by threats from North Korea.

In a joint statement, the US Defense Department and the Palau government said they were working to finalise the location of radar towers on the archipelago nation of 22,000 people.

"The radar systems will provide Palau enhanced maritime law enforcement capability... while also providing the US with greater air domain awareness for aviation safety and security," they said in the statement dated Aug 21.

No mention of what the system is or its range and resolution but it will be a good thing for everyone to have. The article mentions that it will also be used by Palau to look for illegal fishing - a big problem for fragile reef ecosystems.

At Jay Leno's Garage:

Skip to 11:40 for the startup and run.

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.

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