Recently in Geekdom Category

Showing on SciFy August 17th:

I love technology - memory cards

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From Amazon:

20190719-1tb.JPG

And, of course, this will be down to $99 in six months and $49 in a year.

Actually, yes, shit. From Pampers:

Introducing the world's first all-in-one Connected Care System
Beyond keeping them dry through the night, we wondered: how can we do more to support babies’ daily development?

So we partnered with Verily and Logitech to create Lumi by Pampers - the world’s first all-in-one connected care system that’s revolutionizing baby monitoring by helping parents monitor and track their baby 24/7. By combining a video monitor with an activity sensor, Lumi helps parents blend real-time data with their intuition seamlessly and offers insights tailored to their unique baby using the Lumi by Pampers app.

60 years ago, we reimagined baby care with the first disposable diaper. Lumi by Pampers is the next step in our mission to continue re-inventing baby care.

It does a lot more than just sent a text when the nappies are full. Clever idea actually.

A stroke of genius - I bet the person who came up with this idea woke up at 3:00AM scrambling for a pencil and paper. One of those kinds of ideas:

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Sigh - learning a new language

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A couple of projects I want to do with the Raspberry Pi and the Arduino rely heavily on the Python scripting language.

A couple years ago, I got pretty good with the Lua scripting language and really like it - compact and fast. Used in Adobe products as well as my fave video editor DaVinci Resolve as well as darktable (photo cataloging) and a bunch of other applications and utilities that I use.

Now Python seems to be the go-to language. Unfortunately, there are some libraries for Python that are not available for Lua so having to learn Python in the next month or three. Checked out the O'Reilly bible from the library: Learning Python, 5th Edition. 1,648 pages. Not like I am doing anything with my spare time...

From their website: Flash Drives for Freedom

DONATE USB DRIVES TO HELP US SMUGGLE OUTSIDE INFORMATION INTO NORTH KOREA
Believe it or not, USBs are a significant form of sharing information in North Korea. Many citizens have devices with USB ports. So for many years, North Korean defectors have organized efforts to smuggle outside info into North Korea on USB drives to counter Kim Jong-un’s constant propaganda. But these groups were buying USB drives at cost with limited resources. Flash Drives For Freedom is a campaign that travels the world inspiring people to donate their own USB drives. As a collaboration between the Human Rights Foundation, Forum 280, and USB Memory Direct, Flash Drives for Freedom is significantly increasing the capacities of these North Korean defector groups.

Donate a USB Drive
Mail in your USB drives or donate cash to purchase drives. Every dollar donated in cash is equivalent to one drive.

Drives are prepared
The USB drives are erased, logos are removed, and are filled with content proven to inspire North Koreans to disbelieve Kim Jong-Un's propaganda and take a stand. Content includes e-books, films, and an offline Korean Wikipedia.

Drives are smuggled in
The drives are smuggled into the country using many different methods. A healthy black market distributes the drives throughout North Korea. The majority of North Koreans have access to devices that can read USB drives.

I have a bunch at the farm that I was wondering what to do with. 1-2GB devices are not that useful any more.

Gregorian Voices: Early Roman Catholic Church Song Generator

You can order an MP3 file with your settings if you are a Patreon. Nice stuff to run in the background.

EU GPS satellites down

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Curious - from ZD Net:

EU's GPS satellites have been down for four days in mysterious outage
Galileo, the EU's global navigation satellite system, has been down for four days, since July 11, following a mysterious outage. All Galileo satellites are still non-operational, at the time of writing.

According to a service status page, 24 of the 26 Galileo satellites are listed as "not usable," while the other two are listing a status of "testing," which also means they're not ready for real-world usage.

The European GNSS Agency (GSA), the organization in charge of Galileo, has not published any information in regards to the root of the outage, which began four days ago, on Thursday, July 11.

On that day, the GSA published an advisory on its website alerting companies and government agencies employing the Galileo system that satellite signals have degraded and they "may not be available nor meet the minimum performance levels."

Yikes - GPS is used for a lot more than just positioning. I have several applications that I am running that use GPS for timing - the WSPR transmitter for one. To lose this service would shut down a lot more than people's navigation. Emergency 911 calling on cell phones for one.

We have a comment - WSPR

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Someone had posted a comment to this post about my building a WSPR antenna.  The antenna is actually for my WSPR beacon transmitter. I am using the desktop unit from ZachTek and been getting solid repeatable spots at 1,000 miles with the occasional spot up to 2,700 miles (Hawaii). The current antenna is just a 4' hank of wire hanging out of my 2nd story window. The antenna I am building is a vertical 20' non-resonant single wire using a 9:1 Balun transformer and ground to get the coupling a bit more efficient.

I am setting up a receiver (KiwiSDR) and will be using a horizontal 60' non-resonant single wire for that receiving antenna. Been playing with some SDRs already - have two cheap Chinese units and been running an SDRPlay for the last four months and just love it. All of the fiddly bits of circuitry are now done entirely in software.

More as I get stuff built and on the air.

Security cameras in the news

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Looks like we are (finally) getting serious about Chinese spying. From Bloomberg:

Banned Chinese Security Cameras Are Almost Impossible to Remove
U.S. federal agencies have five weeks to rip out Chinese-made surveillance cameras in order to comply with a ban imposed by Congress last year in an effort to thwart the threat of spying from Beijing.

But thousands of the devices are still in place and chances are most won’t be removed before the Aug. 13 deadline. A complex web of supply chain logistics and licensing agreements make it almost impossible to know whether a security camera is actually made in China or contains components that would violate U.S. rules.

The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which outlines the budget and spending for the Defense Department each year, included an amendment for fiscal 2019 that would ensure federal agencies do not purchase Chinese-made surveillance cameras. The amendment singles out Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co. and Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., both of which have raised security concerns with the U.S. government and surveillance industry.

Hikvision is 42% controlled by the Chinese government. Dahua, in 2017, was found by cybersecurity company ReFirm Labs to have cameras with covert back doors that allowed unauthorized people to tap into them and send information to China. Dahua said at the time that it fixed the issue and published a public notice about the vulnerability. The U.S. government is considering imposing further restrictions by banning both companies from purchasing American technology, people familiar with the matter said in May.

Good. We have seen this before with other Chinese electronics - specifically servers imported and used by a number of large corporations including Apple and Amazon.

The malicious chips, which were not part of the original server motherboards designed by the U.S-based company Super Micro, had been inserted during the manufacturing process in China.

Glad to see the US finally being proactive.

A word from the wise

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None other than The Woz - from TMZ:

STEVE WOZNIAK:  GET OFF FACEBOOK!!!  Privacy Concerns Scare Me
Steve Wozniak has a warning for anyone who uses social media ... the platforms are eavesdropping on your private conversations, and sending that precious data to advertisers.

We got Steve at Reagan National Airport in D.C. Friday and just had to ask him if he's worried about Facebook, Instagram and others infringing on his privacy ... the Woz says he's terrified, and you should be too!!!

Steve knows what he's talking about ... the dude co-founded Apple, and he's very much plugged into Silicon Valley and all aspects of tech.

Wise words from someone who knows what he is talking about...

Looks like we are winning big - from the Nikkei Asian Review:

HP, Dell and Microsoft look to join electronics exodus from China
Global consumer electronics makers HP, Dell, Microsoft and Amazon are all looking to shift substantial production capacity out of China, joining a growing exodus that threatens to undermine the country's position as the world's powerhouse for tech gadgets.

HP and Dell, the world's No. 1 and No. 3 personal computer makers who together command around 40% of the global market, are planning to reallocate up to 30% of their notebook production out of China, several sources told the Nikkei Asian Review.

Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Sony and Nintendo are also looking at moving some of their game console and smart speaker manufacturing out of the country, multiple sources told the Nikkei Asian Review. Other leading PC makers such as Lenovo Group, Acer and Asustek Computer are also evaluating plans to shift, according to people familiar with the matter.

Much more at the site. The article does not mention the IP theft, the spying, and the security issues but I bet that these are major factors as well.

That seems to have done the trick

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The cell service up here is lousy. I tried an amplifier but it was spotty at best.

I checked with T-Mobile to see what they could do and they gave me a cell spot - it hooks into my router and is a small cell tower in a box. Works great. Only problem is that it absolutely hogs my broadband. I have 1GB service and everything else was flat-lined at times. Going to take a quick sniff with darkstat and then maybe break out a more detailed analysis tool like Observium or Nagios.

Running Brave

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Posted about the Brave browser yesterday - installed it on my eBay machine and liked it. Now installed it on my two main machines. Works great. Nice and snappy response and say goodbye to annoying pop-ups. Now, I need to find out how to disable autoplay for videos.

Check out: Brave

Brave is a browser based on Google's open source Chrome but with less evil. Much less evil. The browser respects user privacy and is now implementing quite the ad-blocker. From ZD Net (used to be Ziff-Davis publishing company):

Brave defies Google's moves to cripple ad-blocking with new 69x faster Rust engine
Brave, the Chromium-based browser developed by Firefox co-founder and JavaScript creator Brendan Eich, thinks there's a better way of handling ad-blockers than Google's approach. 

Brave's answer, which it argues massively improves browser performance, is found in Rust, the Mozilla-hatched programming language that was in part created by Eich.   

As ZDNet reported in June, developers of Chromium-based browsers like Opera, Brave and Vivaldi, didn't support Google's plans to cripple ad-blockers outlined under its Manifest version 3 proposal.

Brave now claims to have delivered a "69x average improvement" in its ad-blocking tech using Rust in place of C++. The improvements can be experienced in its experimental developer and nightly channel releases. 

Going to give it a try on a different machine. Big fan of Chrome and Android. Not a big fan of Google.

If it ain't broke

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I had ordered a linear power supply for a WSPR receiver I am building. The "standard" power supplies used in the last 20 years are based on high-speed switching. This allows much smaller transformers, lighter weight and greater efficiencies. The only problem is that if they are not shielded well, they can emit a lot of radio interference right where I am trying to listen. I will be trying to hear stations several thousand miles distant that are transmitting with less than one watt radiated power. When doing this, you try to minimize all potential noise sources.

My supply came in today - took a look at it and it used a 723 integrated circuit voltage regulator chip with a 2N3055 power transister for the output stage. Talk about a walk down memory lane:

RCA first marketed the 2N3055 in the 1960's

2N3055
The 2N3055 is a silicon NPN power transistor intended for general purpose applications. It was introduced in the early 1960s by RCA using a hometaxial power transistor process, transitioned to an epitaxial base in the mid-1970s. Its numbering follows the JEDEC standard. It is a transistor type of enduring popularity.

Enduring popularity - no shit Sherlock... The 723 is just as venerable:

Bob Widlar
Robert John (Bob) Widlar (pronounced wide-lar; November 30, 1937 – February 27, 1991) was an American electrical engineer and a pioneering designer of linear integrated circuits (ICs). Widlar invented the basic building blocks of linear ICs including the Widlar current source, the Widlar bandgap voltage reference and the Widlar output stage. From 1964 to 1970, Widlar, together with David Talbert, created the first mass-produced operational amplifier ICs (μA702, μA709), the first integrated voltage regulator ICs µA723 by Fairchild launched in 1967

Nothing wrong at all with these component choices - fun to see that chips I grew up with are still in current production and are still suitable for the task.

Project Veritas and Google

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I love Project Veritas. They will issue a report damning to some progressive organization. Said organization issues a very public rebuttal. They deny it and say it was taken out of context. Project Veritas returns with several weeks worth of further reports covering the same organization and driving its little pointy head into the ground. They first caught the public eye when they did this to ACORN. ACORN is now no longer - they lost their funding and disbanded.

Recently, they have been looking at Google - first with this from yesterday

And now, today - Project Veritas:

BREAKING: New Google Document Leaked Describing Shapiro, Prager, as ‘nazis using the dogwhistles’
Project Veritas has obtained a newly leaked document from Google that appears to show a Google employee and member of Google “transparency-and-ethics” group calling conservative and libertarian commentators, including Dennis Prager and Ben Shapiro, “nazis.”  Project Veritas received this document after the release of its investigation into Google through the “Be Brave” campaign at VeritasTips@protonmail.com.

Project Veritas has copies of the email as well as videos. One thing I love about them is that they do not go public until every single I is dotted and every single T is crossed. When they say something, they are 100% credible and they have the source materials to back it up.

Like I said yesterday, there are a lot of other search engines out there. DuckDuckGo has a really nice plug-in for Chrome (sigh - I know).

Single point of failure

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From an engineering standpoint, a single point of failure is something to avoid at all costs. This is one point, where if there is a failure, the entire system goes down and fails. Adding redundancy to a system minimizes the potential for this and is frequently done with large server farms - even to the point of getting multiple electrical substations feeding from different sections of the power grid. Downtime is not good.

An excellent example of this happened in Japan with a hapless slug - from CNN:

Small slug throws Japan's high-speed rail into chaos
A single, small slug has been blamed for a massive power failure that brought part of Japan's high-speed rail network to a standstill last month.

An estimated 12,000 passengers were delayed on May 30, after power was cut on lines operated by rail company JR Kitakyushu, in the country's southern Kyushu region.

The outage occurred during peak commuter time, at 9.40 a.m, forcing the company to cancel a total of 26 trains.
Japan is famous for its large network of efficient high-speed trains, which run the length of the country and carry thousands of passengers every day.

During a later inspection of the network's electrical equipment, the company's engineers discovered a dead slug, measuring about 2 to 3 centimeters (0.7 to 1.1 inches) long.

The timing on Japanese trains is legendary - there are so many different lines that making connections can be screwed up by a couple minutes delay. If a train is off-time, they will issue a very abject and genuine apology.

Been fooling around with these and the Arduino small computers. Raspberry Pi just released their Model 4

Only $35 for the basic version - specs look really really sweet.

I love capitalism - iPhone privacy

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Heh - make something evil such as the level of iPhone surveillance and the market responds. Meet Guardian:

Introducing Guardian Firewall for iOS
Starting over 2 years ago, we embarked on an ambitious mission: Build a tool that allows any electronic device owner in the world to take back control of their digital privacy. This tool needed to be incredibly easy to use, straightforward, and must allow a user to “set it and forget it” if they did not want to apply any customizations.

We could have cut plenty of corners and shipped an acceptable tool. Instead we took our time and did things right, putting together the most powerful tool and dataset we were capable of building. Why? Because we are working towards a broader set of goals: Make surveillance capitalism an untenable business model. Degrade the quality of shadow profiles maintained on every user of an internet connected device. Methodically expose every bad actor we can find. The electronic devices you bought and own should not be snitching on you at regular intervals. Something has gone very wrong, and the course must be corrected to prevent pervasive data collection from becoming an acceptable norm. It’s time for war. No stone will be left unturned.

Waiting for the Android release...

A very nice article at the Stanwood-Camano News:

Emergency communications trailer placed on Camano; Amateur Radio Field Day is June 22
Camano Island now will be safer in a disaster situation. Island County Department of Emergency Management (DEM) has stationed a mobile emergency communications trailer on Camano Island.

The multi-use trailer provides communications capability for the fire department and other Island County agencies, as well as the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, according to Sue Ryan, Stanwood Camano Amateur Radio Club president.

The public can stop by to check out the trailer during Amateur Radio Field Day on June 22 at Tyee Farms (see below), the Mabana Fire Station Open House on June 29 or the Terry’s Corner Fire Station Open House on Sept. 14.

We have been waiting for this for almost a year - turned out way better than we were initially expecting:

The trailer is 28-feet long, fully self-contained and stocked with a VHF/UHF dual band radio, HF radio, CEMNET radio and antennas, along with a Packet and Winlink computer with VHF/UHF radio.

Amateur Radio ARES volunteers and county officials will staff the unit, which can be moved anywhere it is needed. Ryan said its generator can be set up in minutes to provide power under any conditions.

For now, the trailer will be used for weekly emergency communications drills and community events such as Amateur Radio Field Day, National Night Out and Camano Community Center Car Show, among other events.

During any emergency, such as the frigid February conditions that limited travel on Camano, communications are extremely important to everyone on the island.

“This trailer will ensure information about conditions here on Camano can get to the DEM immediately and information about the situation will get back to Camano Island, so we can better handle the situation,” Ryan said. “When all else fails, amateur radio won’t!”

CEMNET is the state-wide network that I participate in on Tuesday. Winlink is a very cool protocol for sending email over the air. It is error correcting so if the roads are out and Mr. Smith is running out of a specific medication, we can get that information to the hospital with knowing that the spelling will be accurate and zero chance of error. Winlink also can use standard FEMA communications forms so after the event, it will be easy to build a timeline of what happened.

Here are Larry and Rhonda at last years field day:

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Rhonda is using Winlink - the laptop connects to the radio through a USB audio adapter.

Heh - great photo

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Someone had a great idea and executed it perfectly:

20190619-grinder.jpg

We got Maui

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Running the WSPR beacon and got a ping from Maui - this is the furthest yet. 4,265 km or 2,650 miles.

Still running a crappy antenna - will get the stuff to build a good one when I am up at the farm Thursday.

Just wow - the Olds Elevator

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Why didn't someone think of this before - counter-intuitive but perfectly logical (it has to be - it works):

Website here: OLDS Elevator - a new conveyor for bulk materials

I love that they have been operating as a family business in a small town in Australia since 1918. Much of their equipment is still steam driven.

Heh - welding

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Been doing a lot of welding recently - getting my skill level up. Loving TIG. Found this over at Kim DuToit's site:

20190617-weld.jpg

We need one on the island. Don Williams' dad retired from the corporate world and then bought an ice cream truck. Don still has the music box that came from his truck:

The company is still in business (since 1957): Nichols Electronics Company Their fanciest unit (32 songs) is $225

If you have the chance, there is a wonderful movie about two ice cream families in Glasgow called Comfort and Joy

Microsoft screws up big-time

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I bet the manager who signed off on this decision is already out the door. From omg! ubuntu! (a linux news website):

CERN Ditches Microsoft to ‘Take Back Control’ with Open Source Software
CERN is best known for pushing the boundaries of science and understanding, but the famed research outfit’s next major experiment will be with open-source software.

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN, and also known as home of the Large Hadron Collider, has announced plans to migrate away from Microsoft products and on to open-source solutions where possible.

Why? Increases in Microsoft license fees.

Microsoft recently revoked the organisations status as an academic institution, instead pricing access to its services on users. This bumps the cost of various software licenses 10x, which is just too much for CERN’s budget.

Very stupid decision on many levels. Bad publicity - the "cool factor" of CERN is off the charts. This move looks bad to geeks around the world. Bad decision - CERN is an academic institution. Sure, it gets government money but the experiments were designed by Physicists working at various Universities around the world. Bad management - this is going to cut into the bottom line of MSFT - yanking the rug out from under CERN might prompt other large organizations to re-consider their "investment" in MSFT products. Bad optics - this makes MSFT look to be a corporate bully. The world of Open Source Software has matured - a LOT - in the last ten years. There are very viable replacements for every Microsoft product except maybe for their gaming platform. These replacements are free and the source code is published so tweaks or modifications can be made to better suit a particular environment.

Bad Microsoft. No biscuit.

This is a duck

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Great idea for emergency communications - here is a ten minute video of it in action:

It is the brain-child of these people: Project Owl

Absolutely brilliant and cheap resource for emergency communication in the time of a disaster. emailed some links to the local EMS people - see if there is any interest for an island network.

While tracking my contacts through WSPR, I noticed that one station was far and above the others when it came to picking my small signal. It was in the central California coastline and had an unusual call sign: KPH. Most receiving stations had three to ten contacts but KPH has 63 so far.

I exercised my Google-fu and came up with this place: The Maritime Radio Historical Society

KPH History
KPH provided reliable service to ships at sea from the early days of radio. This service is what most people think of today when recalling the great radio installations at Bolinas, Point Reyes and Marshall, California. But in fact KPH was the poor cousin to the point-to-point service that operated mainly under the call KET. From the beginning until its last days KPH was always struggling for funding and facilities, often relegated to using transmitters and antennas no longer needed by the point-to-point service. But the KPH maritime service outlasted not only the point-to-point service but the satellite service that replaced it!

As well as:

Who We Are
Let's be honest... We're a bunch of radio squirrels. And very lucky radio squirrels at that. We inhereted the last remaining Morse code coast station in North America. It was off the air but it was an intact time capsule.

We made the restoration of KPH to operational status our life's work. That was back in 1999 - the year the last commercial Morse code message in the U.S. was supposedly sent.

Through the trust and vision of the Point Reyes National Seashore we were given permission to begin our project of restoration, documentation and operation. And we've never looked back.

As True Believers in the importance of our maritime radio heritage we have tried to research and document every aspect of the field. Our area of specialization is the coast stations, ships and companies of the west coast of the United States. But anything to do with maritime radio anywhere in the world is of interest to us.

Dedicated MRHS volunteers are busy with the preservation, restoration and repair of the historic artifacts with which we have been entrusted. That work is the foundation on which the real goal of our project rests. That goal is to assure that the culture, techniques and traditions of the men and women who came before us are not forgotten. We feel that the best way to achieve that goal is through actual on the air operations.

A very fun project and an awesome fortune that they would be able to step in and take this historic site over. Their antenna farm is unreal in its scope. No wonder they pick me up with such reliability. They could pick up a gnat fart on the East Coast. The transmitting power of the early ship-board stations was very low so it makes sense that they put their money into the shore stations. If you have the misfortune to need to call SOS, you really want to be heard.

They also have a regular ham radio station and have scheduled operating hours - I will have to try to reach them when I have my big station set up down here.

They may be shutting their doors. From hackaday:

MAKER MEDIA CEASES OPERATIONS
Over the years we’ve had the dubious honor of bidding farewell to numerous companies that held a special place in the hearts of hackers and makers. We’ve borne witness to the demise of Radio Shack, TechShop, and PrintrBot, and even shed a tear or two when Toys “R” Us shut their doors. But as much as it hurt to see those companies go, nothing quite compares to this. Today we’ve learned that Maker Media has ceased operations.

Between the first issue of Make magazine in 2005 and the inaugural Maker Faire a year later, Maker Media deftly cultured the public face of the “maker movement” for over a decade. They didn’t create maker culture, but there’s no question that they put a spotlight on this part of the larger tech world. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the shuttering of Maker Media could have far reaching consequences that we won’t fully understand for years.

While this news will surely come as a crushing blow to many in the community, Maker Media founder and CEO Dale Dougherty says they’re still trying to put the pieces together. “I started the magazine and I’m committed to keeping that going because it means something to a lot of people and means something to me.” At this point, Dale tells us that Maker Media is officially in a state of insolvency. This is an important distinction, and means that the company still has a chance to right the ship before being forced to declare outright bankruptcy.

In layman’s terms, the fate of Make magazine and Maker Faire is currently uncertain. The intent is to restructure the organization and rehire enough people to keep the brand alive, but it may take rethinking their business model entirely. While they aren’t looking to crowdsource the resurrection of Make, Dale said he believes the answer may ultimately come from the community’s willingness to financially support them, “my question is can we perhaps rely on the community to offer support for what we’re doing in ways we have not asked for in the past.” Ideas currently being discussed include the sort of annual membership and pledge drives used by public broadcasting.

Not surprising. It started out with a lot of really interesting content and I would get them religiously. The level of content started declining to where it was one major project and a lot of puff pieces and the price of this magazine rose to almost $20. $20 for a frikking magazine. I think not. Sad to see it go but they lost their mojo and are paying the price.

WSPR

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What I had alluded to in an earlier post was WSPR - an interesting amateur radio mode of operation. WSPR stands for Weak Signal Propegation Reporter and is an outgrowth of Joe Taylor's incredible (he won a Nobel Prize for it) work with low power radio signalling for the two Voyager spaceships launched a bit more than 40 years ago.

V'ger had very limited electrical power on board so they had to use as minimal transmission power as possible. The trade-off was very slow speed (the images and data would take several hours each to send).

Fast forward to today - a WSPR beacon uses 0.2 watts to send. A hand-held radio uses about five watts. A desktop radio uses from 20 to 100 watts. I have a 600 watt amplifier for my desktop set. There is a guy in Sweden who makes very inexpensive WSPR beacons and I bought one of them. Some amateur radio operators are also running WSPR receivers connected to the internet so when they pick up the signal from a beacon, they will post that data to a centralized website.

This data is then available to view.

The advantage is that now that our sun is in a very quiet mood, long-distance radio communications is a lot more sporadic event and running a WSPR beacon will tell me which frequencies are carrying the farthest. Here is a sample output map:

20190608-wspr.JPG

This is from a couple of hours operation. Also, the antenna I am using is absolutely sub-optimal. A length of wire hanging out my window. When I am up at the farm this week, I will bring a better antenna to use. I am also looking at building a WSPR reciever in the next month or so - get in on the fun...

More here, here, here and here

Cool library - BBC Sound Effects

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The Beeb has put 16,000 sound effects up for download at this link: BBC Sound Effects

Free for personal, educational or research purposes. Commercial license is just $5 per clip.

Great special effects

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This guy has a career in Hollywood:

Tip of the hat to Van der Leun

We have tons of rare earth ores in the USA. It is just that importing it from China is cheaper for the end users. China doesn't pay for the environmental controls and they pay their slaves workers a pittance. Now that our foreign trade balances are being balanced, things change. From FOX Business:

First rare earth processing facility outside of China to be built in Texas
Rare earth elements are used every day. They are metals that are used in everything from cell phones to cars, televisions, military jet engines and medical devices.

However, the tit-for-tat trade Opens a New Window. war between the U.S. and China, Opens a New Window. may present a challenge to the industry which heavily relies on China. The retaliatory tariffs from China on $60 billion worth U.S. goods goes into effect this weekend.

Blue Line Corp., a chemical company based in Texas, is the first and only company outside of China that can process small batches of rare earth. They just partnered with Australian rare earths mining company Lynas to build a processing facility in the U.S.

“The group of materials we're looking at doing are the heavier rare earth materials and there's no commercial plant in the world that is actually separating these materials other than inside China. And these are very strategic materials that are used for a number of high tech and defense applications,” said Blue Line Corporation CEO Jon Blumenthal in an exclusive interview with FOX Business’ Lauren Simonetti Opens a New Window. .

Good news - maybe this will stimulate the production of Thorium - a lot of these minerals (Th = Monazite Ore) are found in proximity. Cheap plentiful energy source.

They certainly seem to be violating it - from Yahoo/Reuters:

U.S. Justice Department prepares antitrust investigation of Google - sources
The U.S. Justice Department is preparing an investigation of Alphabet Inc's Google to determine whether the tech giant broke antitrust law in how it operates its sprawling online businesses, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Officials from the Justice Department's Antitrust Division and Federal Trade Commission, both of which enforce antitrust law, met in recent weeks to give Justice jurisdiction over Google, the sources said.

One source said the probe focused on allegations that Google gave preference to its own businesses in searches.

The potential probe was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

I found the WSJ link but it is behind a paywall so not going to post it here. About time - Facebook next.

Technology - then and now

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An interesting historical look at Nautilus:

Most Tech Today Would be Frivolous to Ancient Scientists
Surrounded by advanced achievements in medicine, space exploration, and robotics, people can be forgiven for thinking our time boasts the best technology. So I was startled last year to hear Sarah Stroup, a professor of classics at the University of Washington, Seattle, give a speech called “Robots, Space Exploration, Death Rays, Brain Surgery, and Nanotechnology: STEMM in the Ancient World.” Stroup has created a college course integrating classics and science to show how 2,000 year-old Greek and Roman STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine) underlie and illuminate the sciences today.

Stroup starts with robotics. The Greeks made self-acting machinery such as an automaton theater, a first step toward building a real robot, and they imagined a mythological one. Talos, a bronze being made by the god Hephaestus (later the Roman Vulcan) patrolled the island of Crete and threw rocks at threatening ships, anticipating today’s development of intelligent battlefield weaponry that chooses its own targets. In the 4th century BCE, Aristotle foresaw other implications of intelligent machines when he wrote, “If every instrument could accomplish its own work… chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves,” as is now happening when robots and artificial intelligence replace people.

The origins of the word "technology"

“Technology” comes from the Greek τέχνη, techne, which designates art, skill, or cunning. In Greek, it can be applied to sculpture, to metallurgy, to any craft or a method or set of rules for doing anything. The Latin translation of τέχνη would be ars, from which we get our word art. I find it amusing that moderns tend to imagine technology and art as opposites, when in fact the root words—techne and ars—mean exactly the same thing. In terms of τεχνολογία—technologia—it means specifically a systematic treatment of grammar. The modern sense of the word technology is not found in the ancient word. 

A fascinating read.

Intel's milkshake is being drunk by all of the other major chip makers. Intel is having major problems making 10 micron CPUs (here, here and here for starters) while other companies are shipping 7 micron right now. From Tech Crunch:

AMD unveils the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X, at half the price of Intel’s competing Core i9 9920X chipset
AMD CEO Lisa Su gave the Computex keynote in Taipei today, the first time the company has been invited to do so (the event officially starts tomorrow). During the presentation, AMD unveiled news about its chips and graphics processors that will increase pressure on competitors Intel and Nvidia, both in terms of pricing and performance.

Chips
All new third-generation Ryzen CPUs, the first with 7-nanometer desktop chips, will go on sale on July 7. The showstopper of Su’s keynote was the announcement of AMD’s 12-core, 24-thread Ryzen 9 3900x chip, the flagship of its third-generation Ryzen family. It will retail starting at $499, half the price of Intel’s competing Core i9 9920X chipset, which is priced at $1,189 and up.

The 3900x has 4.6 Ghz boost speed and 70 MB of total cache and uses 105 watts of thermal design power (versus the i9 9920x’s 165 watts), making it more efficient. AMD says that in a Blender demo against Intel i9-9920x, the 3900x finished about 18 percent more quickly.

If I were an Intel stockholder, I would be asking all sorts of questions. They tried to improve their bottom line by importing all kinds of cheap engineering labor through the H1-B visa program and they are now paying the price.

Two days ago, SpaceX recently launched 60 small satellites - these are the first of a series of 12,000 birds which will provide global communications and internet.

Some people at the SatTrackCam Leiden station in Leiden, Netherlands managed to predict the orbit and had a camera ready and waiting:

WOWOWOW!!!! A SPECTACULAR view of the SpaceX Starlink satellite train!

20190526-satellite.jpg

On 24 May 2019 at 2:30 UT, SpaceX launched STARLINK, a series of 60 satellites that is the first launch of many that will create a large constellation of satellites meant to provide global internet access.

Just short of a day after the launch, near 22:55 UT on May 24, this resulted in a spectacular view over NW Europe, when a "train" of bright satellites, all moving close together in a line, moved across the sky. It rained UFO reports as a result, and the press picked it up as well.

There were no orbital elements for the objects available yet on Space-Track, but based on the orbital information (53 degree inclination, initially 440 km orbital altitude) I had calculated a search orbit and stood ready with my camera.

My search orbit turned out to be not too bad: very close in sky track, and with the objects passing some 3 minutes early on the predictions. And what a SPECTACULAR view it was!

It started with two faint, flashing objects moving into the field of view. Then, a few tens of seconds later, my jaw dropped as the "train" entered the field of view. I could not help shouting "OAAAAAH!!!!" (followed by a few expletives...).

There is a video at the site that is downright amazing - beautiful!

SystemD in the news

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And not in a good way. It is essentially the traffic cop that starts up and shuts down various Linux and Unix applications. Unfortunately, it is huge, bloated, and buggy. The original solution was a daemon called init (daemon?) that was the first process to start in the boot cycle and it kept running until you shut the system down. You needed to know what the fsck you were doing but it was very light and nimble and it worked (works) well. It is small enough and has been around for long enough that everyone is familiar with it.

Saw this today on Slashdot:

Systemd Now Has More Than 1.2 Million Lines of Code
This week Phoronix marked a very special anniversary:

Five years ago today was the story on Phoronix how the systemd source tree was approaching 550k lines so curiosity got the best of me to see how large is the systemd Git repository today. Well, now it's over 1.2 million lines.

After surpassing one million lines in 2017, when running GitStats on the systemd Git repository today it's coming in at 1,207,302 lines. Those 1.2 million lines are spread across 3,260 files and made over 40,057 commits from nearly 1,400 different authors... So far this year there have been 2,145 commits while last year saw 6,245 commits while 2016 and 2017 each saw less than four thousand commits total. Lennart Poettering continues being the most prolific contributor to systemd with more than 32% of the commits so far this year.

SystemD is reviled enough that there is a website about it: Take a stand against systemd! listing all of the distributions that do not use SystemD. E.M. Smith had a nice post from last October:

More SystemD Follies
Here’s an interesting article by an experienced Systems Admin saying he is done with SystemD. I find the “honesty” in it refreshing ;-)

http://www.cathalferris.com/archives/1154

Systemd stupidity – or why Poettering is an idiot

Yes I work as a Unix admin, and I’m getting so sick of “systemd”, that complete ball of crap that Poettering has foisted upon the Linux community. His poor quality of work has singlehandedly caused the most problems I’ve had to face in my day-to-day work in the past year, through his shoddy code, his abysmal system design and his complete lack of knowledge on how to do things the Linux way.

Things that systemd breaks, in no particular order, and I’ll update this as I see them:

Much much more at the site. Anything with 1,400 individual authors and more than a million lines of code is going to be buggy as shit. I use Debian and Puppy.

Happy towel day

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In honor of towel day, the Beeb has 25 Douglas Adams quotes - here are three:

    • We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.
    • A learning experience is one of those things that say, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”
    • Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.

Wise words...

July 2019

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