Recently in Geekdom Category

Close-up magic

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I love it. This guy is incredible. Obviously, there secrets at play under the baize but the end result is pretty freaking awesome:

Eric has a YouTube channel - no website that I could find.

An Obituary - Mario A. Segale

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A Seattle man with a curious history - from The Seattle Times:

Mario A. Segale
Mario A. Segale, from Tukwila, WA passed away surrounded by his family on October 27, 2018. He was born April 30, 1934 in Seattle, WA to first generation Italian immigrant farmers, Louis and Rina Segale and was their only child. It was a humble beginning for a man who, with sheer determination and unbelievable self-taught business acumen, created a remarkable legacy.

And the curious history?

While he was the inspiration for the name of Nintendo's 'Super Mario' from when they were tenants in his business park in the 1970's, he always ducked the notoriety and wanted to be known instead for what he accomplished in his life.

So there really was a Super Mario...

Life before AutoCAD

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CAD stands for Computer Aided Drawing and is the replacement for having a lot of people hunched over drafting tables doing this manually. Bored Panda has a great collection of photos - here is just one:

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AutoCAD is sort of the gold standard (in features and in price) when it comes to drafting programs but there are a lot of other options available. These are free: LibreCAD, FreeCAD, BRL-CAD, OpenSCAD. For doing electronic circuit boards, KiCad is excellent.

Forged and Filed from Jesse Beecher on Vimeo.

Just when I think I'm doing some nice work, people like this come along. An inspiration...

Robot moonwalk

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The people at Boston Dynamics are making some amazing robots. Here is Spot dancing to Uptown Funk:

Standards are good

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That is why we have so many of them. Batteries? There are AAA, AA, C, D and 9volt radio batteries right? Nope - here is a list of over 70 different battery sizes and designations.

Who would have thought...

Make something a little more difficult to read and your brain will remember it better. Such is the idea behind this new typeface. From the Australian Broadcasting Company:

Sans Forgetica font makes readers remember text by being harder to read
In an age of information overload, it's good to have some memory hacks up your sleeve.

And text in its multitude of applications has become a style destination in its own right.

Now a team of experts have developed a font specifically designed to help you remember things, aptly named Sans Forgetica.

But how can a humble typeface improve your mental processes?

Stephen Banham, a lecturer in typography at RMIT who helped create it, told RN Drive San Forgetica was actually a good font to discuss on the radio because it was designed on a highly conceptual basis.

"Sans Forgetica is a typeface that's been specifically designed with features in it such as back-slanting and little gaps inside the letters," Mr Banham said.

The unexpected elements encourage the reader to take more notice, he said, triggering memory because of the effort required to process the text.

A sample:

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Avaliable as a free download here: Sans Forgetica

From the fine people at HACKADAY:

MALICIOUS COMPONENT FOUND ON SERVER MOTHERBOARDS SUPPLIED TO NUMEROUS COMPANIES
This morning Bloomberg is reporting a bombshell for hardware security. Companies like Amazon and Apple have found a malicious chip on their server motherboards. These are not counterfeit chips. They are not part of the motherboard design. These were added by the factory at the time of manufacture. The chip was placed among other signal conditioning components and is incredibly hard to spot as the nature of these motherboards includes hundreds of minuscule components.

Though Amazon and Apple have denied it, according to Bloomberg, a private security contractor in Canada found the hidden chip on server motherboards. Elemental Technologies, acquired by Amazon in 2015 for its video and graphics processing hardware, subcontracted Supermicro (Super Micro Computer, Inc.) to manufacture their server motherboards in China. It is unknown how many of the company’s products have this type of malicious hardware in them, equipment from Elemental Technologies has been supplied to the likes of government contractors as well as major banks and even reportedly used in the CIA’s drone operations.

SuperMicro is a very high end and very good manufacturer - used their products for years building high-end machines for people, while I was at MSFT and now whenever I build a system. Them and ASUS are rock solid top-of-the-mountain when it comes to reliable hardware. To have this happen is really going to hit the fan for them. Talk about consumer confidence...

From our friends at FEMA:

The IPAWS National Test
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will conduct a nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and Emergency Alert System (EAS) on the backup date of October 3, 2018 due to ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Florence. The WEA portion of the test commences at 2:18 p.m. EDT, and the EAS portion follows at 2:20 p.m. EDT. The test will assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether improvements are needed.

The WEA test message will be sent to cell phones that are connected to wireless providers participating in WEA. This is the fourth EAS nationwide test and the first national WEA test. Previous EAS national tests were conducted in November 2011, September 2016, and September 2017 in collaboration with the FCC, broadcasters, and emergency management officials in recognition of FEMA’s National Preparedness Month.

Cell towers will broadcast the WEA test for approximately 30 minutes beginning at 2:18 p.m. EDT. During this time, WEA compatible cell phones that are switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA should be capable of receiving the test message. Some cell phones will not receive the test message, and cell phones should only receive the message once. The WEA test message will have a header that reads "Presidential Alert" and text that says:

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

The WEA system is used to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children, and other critical situations through alerts on cell phones. The national test will use the same special tone and vibration as with all WEA messages (i.e. Tornado Warning, AMBER Alert). Users cannot opt out of receiving the WEA test.

About 11:18 AM for those of us on the left coast. A very good system - well designed and robust (except for one time in Hawaii - oops).

Found on the internet - a question

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I can use one of these - drywall

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From engadget:

Humanoid construction robot installs drywall by itself
If Japan's Advanced Industrial Science and Technology Institute has its way, construction workers might be a thing of the past. Researchers have built HRP-5P, a humanoid bot that can handle a variety of construction tasks when there's either a staffing shortage or serious hazards. The prototype uses a mix of environment detection, object recognition and careful movement planning to install drywall by itself -- it can hoist up boards and fasten them with a screwdriver.

The design doesn't have as much freedom of movement as a human being, but makes up for that with numerous joints that flex to degrees you wouldn't see in real people. It won't always look the most natural when doing its job, but it'll be effective. It can also correct for slips, and it's not deterred when it has a limited field of view.

Prototype for now but I can see it ten years from now...

The new internet

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The core design of the internet is for it to be able to route around damage. A node goes down? Traffic is passed along different nodes. No packets are lost. Looks like the inventor of the World Wide Web is looking to route around the damage being caused by Facebook, Google, etc... From Fast Company:

Exclusive: Tim Berners-Lee tells us his radical new plan to upend the World Wide Web
Last week, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, asked me to come and see a project he has been working on almost as long as the web itself. It’s a crisp autumn day in Boston, where Berners-Lee works out of an office above a boxing gym. After politely offering me a cup of coffee, he leads us into a sparse conference room. At one end of a long table is a battered laptop covered with stickers. Here, on this computer, he is working on a plan to radically alter how all of us live and work on the web.

“The intent is world domination,” Berners-Lee says with a wry smile. The British-born scientist is known for his dry sense of humor. But in this case, he is not joking.

This week, Berners-Lee will launch Inrupt, a startup that he has been building, in stealth mode, for the past nine months. Backed by Glasswing Ventures, its mission is to turbocharge a broader movement afoot, among developers around the world, to decentralize the web and take back power from the forces that have profited from centralizing it. In other words, it’s game on for Facebook, Google, Amazon. For years now, Berners-Lee and other internet activists have been dreaming of a digital utopia where individuals control their own data and the internet remains free and open. But for Berners-Lee, the time for dreaming is over.

“We have to do it now,” he says, displaying an intensity and urgency that is uncharacteristic for this soft-spoken academic. “It’s a historical moment.” Ever since revelations emerged that Facebook had allowed people’s data to be misused by political operatives, Berners-Lee has felt an imperative to get this digital idyll into the real world. In a post published this weekend, Berners-Lee explains that he is taking a sabbatical from MIT to work full time on Inrupt. The company will be the first major commercial venture built off of Solid, a decentralized web platform he and others at MIT have spent years building.

Looks interesting - much more at the article and at the inrupt website.

Loading up the van for the first of the big garage sales. I signed up with Square to take credit cards - $50 for the readers and a couple percent haircut on each transaction. I went looking for some point of sale software so I could record the transactions as well as allow people the option of a reciept for their purchases.

Found a great free application - Dale Harris runs the Keyhut website and has written a full-function POS that runs great. In MS-DOS. Fortunatly, DOSbox is a free program that opens up an MS-DOS window under the 64-bit operating systems of today. The POS software runs perfectly. Have not tried it with a receipt printer yet but it offers the capacity so not expecting any problem.

Buy it now - BaoFeng

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Interested in ham radio? There is a brand being imported from China that is a really decent rig for a very low price. I am speaking of BaoFeng - specifically their older UV-5R ($25) or the new version, the BF-F8HP ($63). The newer unit has more power (eight watts instead of five) and more features. You will also need to spring for the bigger antenna ($17) and maybe a larger battery ($17). You will also need to pick up a programming cable ($21) but if you are in any kind of ham radio group, probably someone out there already has one you can borrow. Hams are good like that. Free programming software here: CHIRP

The upshot is that for about $100, you can get a much superior system to one that would have cost $500 ten years ago. The rapid march of technology is not just about computers and televisions...

The reason for urging you to buy now? From the Federal Communications Comission:

TWO-WAY VHF/UHF RADIOS MAY NOT BE IMPORTED, ADVERTISED, OR SOLD IN THE UNITED STATES UNLESS THEY COMPLY WITH THE COMMISSION’S RULES
The Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has observed that a growing number of conventional retailers and websites advertise and sell low-cost, two-way VHF/UHF radios that do not comply with the FCC’s rules. Such devices are used primarily for short-distance, two-way voice communications and are frequently imported into the United States. These radios must be authorized by the FCC prior to being imported, advertised, sold, or operated in the United States.

Many of these radios violate one or more FCC technical requirements. For example, some can be modified to transmit on public safety and other land mobile channels for which they are not authorized, while others are capable of prohibited wideband operations. Such radios are illegal, and many have the potential to negatively affect public safety, aviation, and other operations by Federal, state, and local agencies, as well as private users. Because these devices must be, but have not been, authorized by the FCC, the devices may not be imported into the United States, retailers may not advertise or sell them, and no one may use them. Rather, these devices may only be imported, advertised, sold, or used only if the FCC first has approved them under its equipment authorization process (or unless the devices operate exclusively on frequencies reserved for amateur licensees or they are intended for use exclusively by the federal government). Moreover, with only very limited exceptions, after being authorized, the devices may not be modified. Anyone importing, advertising or selling such noncompliant devices should stop.

Yeah - they can operate outside the legal ham radio frequencies. The nice thing for emergency communications is that we can monitor the police and fire and rescue bands. In the event of a full-on emergency situation, that is a very good thing to do and we, as licensed radio operators, have taken the training for FEMA's ICS protocols. The problem that the FCC is seeing are clueless yahoos buying these rigs and using them for family communication without bothering to learn what is right and what is not. They are disrupting public service communications - not a good thing.

Anyway, if you are interested, a great resource for getting licensed can be found at QRZ

On the air

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Spent a delightful 45 minute on the radio with our local ham radio group. Worked on several frequencies and modes. Always good to practice operating with other people.

Now this gave me goosebumps

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Looks like I will be watching more than just YouTube videos next year:

An upcoming project

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Been brushing up on my C++ coding skills and planning a project for the next year. I want to wire the Camano Island house for media and other things (printers, weather station, security cameras, etc...)

Just ran into the openHAB platform - looks really really good! Runs on a lot of platforms - Windows, Android, iOS, Raspberry Pi and it has support for a whole bunch (ie: 1,400 and counting) of devices. Open source so if yours is not there, write it, upload it and we are now at 1,401.

So true - writing code

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I have been playing with a Software Defined Radio recently and using the Raspberry Pi - canned programs are fine but I want to brush up on my C++ and write my own. This cartoon really brings home programming logic:

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An interesting hotel in Japan - Henn na

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Means weird. BBC Click's Spencer Kelly travels to Sasebo, Nagasaki to find out more.

Video dates from 2015 - it would be interesting to see the upgrades. Hotel's English language website: Henn na Hotel

Some experimental airplanes have reached this high but here, we are talking about an unpowered glider. From NBC News:

Experimental glider smashes record for high-altitude flight
Riding the wind above the Andes Mountains, an experimental glider has set a world record for high-altitude flight.

On Sept. 2, the sleek Perlan 2 glider carried two pilots to 76,100 feet, or more than 14 miles, over the El Calafate region in southern Argentina. That’s the highest altitude ever reached by humans aboard an unpowered fixed-wing aircraft, and one of the highest altitudes reached by an aircraft of any description. Only spy planes and specialized balloons have flown higher.

“The biggest impression is, it's a long ways down from up here,” one of the pilots, Jim Payne, said after the record-setting flight, which was one in a series of test flights sponsored by aerospace giant Airbus. “The horizon starts to have a curvature in it and the sky is getting darker as we climb. … It's a fantastic experience, once in a lifetime.”

The record eclipses one set during a previous Perlan 2 flight over El Calafate on Aug. 28, which reached an altitude of 65,600 feet.

But the recent outing, which took about five hours, wasn’t just about establishing bragging rights. Ed Warnock, the aerospace engineer who heads the Perlan Project, a Beaverton, Oregon-based nonprofit that designed and built the $3 million glider, said data collected by the glider would help provide a better understanding of high-altitude air currents. That could help commercial pilots avoid dangerous but invisible regions of turbulence.

Very cool - here is the website for The Perlan Project They are going to try for 90,000 in a few days and then, new wings and 100,000.

A clever idea - The Skim Reaper

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Credit Card skimmers are devices added to Credit Card readers that allow malicious types to read the magnetic stripe on a users card as well as record their keystrokes to get the PIN.

Someone finally came up with a card that can be inserted into a suspect reader - it will detect if there are more than one read heads. From the 2018 Usenix Security Symposium:

Fear the Reaper: Characterization and Fast Detection of Card Skimmers
Payment card fraud results in billions of dollars in losses annually. Adversaries increasingly acquire card data using skimmers, which are attached to legitimate payment devices including point of sale terminals, gas pumps, and ATMs. Detecting such devices can be difficult, and while many experts offer advice in doing so, there exists no large-scale characterization of skimmer technology to support such defenses. In this paper, we perform the first such study based on skimmers recovered by the NYPD's Financial Crimes Task Force over a 16 month period. After systematizing these devices, we develop the Skim Reaper, a detector which takes advantage of the physical properties and constraints necessary for many skimmers to steal card data. Our analysis shows the Skim Reaper effectively detects 100% of devices supplied by the NYPD. In so doing, we provide the first robust and portable mechanism for detecting card skimmers.

The paper goes in to a lot of detail - a very elegant hack to cure a very serious problem.

Happy birthday eBay

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From the Infogalactic entry for Pierre Omidyar:

In 1995, at the age of 28, Omidyar began to write the original computer code for an online venue to enable the listing of a direct person-to-person auction for collectible items. He created a simple prototype on his personal web page, and on Labor Day, Monday, September 4, 1995, he launched an online service called, Auction Web, which would eventually become the auction site eBay. In May 2003, eBay was successfully sued by Thomas Woolston for patent infringement of online auction software Woolston had invented in the late 1990s. The service was hosted on a website Omidyar had originally created for information on the Ebola virus. The first item sold on the site was a broken laser pointer. Omidyar was astonished that anyone would pay for the device in its broken state, but the buyer assured him that he was deliberately collecting broken laser pointers. Similar surprises followed. The business exploded as correspondents began to register trade goods of an unimaginable variety.

Omidyar incorporated the enterprise; the small fee he collected on each sale financed the expansion of the site. The revenue soon outstripped his salary at General Magic and nine months later, Omidyar decided to dedicate his full attention to his new enterprise.

One of the better Silicon Valley success stories - right place, right idea, right time.

Magnetic tape data storage

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Yes, really - some fascinating advances being made. From IEEE Spectrum. The author - Mark Lantz - is the manager of the Advanced Tape Technologies at IBM Research Zurich.

Why the Future of Data Storage is (Still) Magnetic Tape
It should come as no surprise that recent advances in big-data analytics and artificial intelligence have created strong incentives for enterprises to amass information about every measurable aspect of their businesses. And financial regulations now require organizations to keep records for much longer periods than they had to in the past. So companies and institutions of all stripes are holding onto more and more.

Studies show [PDF] that the amount of data being recorded is increasing at 30 to 40 percent per year. At the same time, the capacity of modern hard drives, which are used to store most of this, is increasing at less than half that rate. Fortunately, much of this information doesn’t need to be accessed instantly. And for such things, magnetic tape is the perfect solution.

Seriously? Tape? The very idea may evoke images of reels rotating fitfully next to a bulky mainframe in an old movie like Desk Set or Dr. Strangelove. So, a quick reality check: Tape has never gone away!

Indeed, much of the world’s data is still kept on tape, including data for basic science, such as particle physics and radio astronomy, human heritage and national archives, major motion pictures, banking, insurance, oil exploration, and more. There is even a cadre of people (including me, trained in materials science, engineering, or physics) whose job it is to keep improving tape storage.

A long and readable overview of the advancements in data storage. An amazing world we live in.

Also, had completely forgotten about the movie Desk Set - a wonderful comedy directed by Walter Lang and starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Don't see it on Netflix but I will try Amazon and see if they have it. Really funny film!

A very fun mashup

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From BoingBoing:

Tom Clancy's Jim Ryan
John Krasinski is best known for playing Jim Halpert in the TV series The Office. Now he's playing the title character in Amazon's new series Jack Ryan (available as of today), based on the Tom Clancy character. It only makes sense that the CIA operative would be instantly mashed up with The Office. Funny or Die jumped on that idea.

Heh...

Well crap - it used to be that the open source crowd was one of the most inclusive (and fun) groups of people you could ever meet. They would hang out with the far left, the far right, the military, big corporations, black-hat hackers, white-hat hackers, vegans, bikers, etc... etc... etc...

Seems like some of them (at MIT no less) got a big social justice warrior hard-on and are engaging in major virtue signaling. From the preeminent open source file-sharing site GitHub:

Add text to MIT License banning ICE collaborators
The following license shall not be granted to the following entities or any
subsidiary thereof due to their collaboration with US Immigration and Customs
Enforcement ("ICE"):

- "Microsoft Corporation"
- "Palantir Technologies"
- "Amazon.com, Inc."
- "Northeastern University"
- "Ernst & Young"
- "Thomson Reuters"
- "Motorola Solutions"
- "Deloitte Consulting LLP"
- "Johns Hopkins University"
- "Dell Inc"
- "Xerox Corporation"
- "Canon Inc"
- "Vermont State Colleges"
- "Charter Communications"
- "LinkedIn Corporation"
- "United Parcel Service Co"

We will see how well that goes - a lot of large open source software projects are funded by grants from corporations - talk about byte-ing the hand that feeds you...

Fun stuff - Raspberry Pi computers

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I have been playing with the Raspberry Pi single board computers for two years now but always using code written by other people. I used to be OK at C++ programming but am looking to brush up on it in the next couple of months - an alternative to watching YouTube videos...

When you write code, you use an editor and there are programming editors that integrate with the compiler and other bits and pieces of code generation. This is called an IDE - Integrated Development Environment. Once such example is Microsoft's Visual Studio. I used to be good at VS5 but they are up to 2017 now so a lot has changed. They do offer a free version but their cheapest commercial version is $539/year

Fortunately, the open source community has come out with Code::Blocks. I have downloaded it and playing around with it. Looks pretty nice and it works with compilers that support 64-bit code. It compiles to Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems so will work just fine on the Pi.

About those $15/hour minimum wages

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Meet your new chef - Creator:

A couple of photos from today

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Meeting the local amateur radio operators and they are universally turning out to be a well educated fun group of people. Today's potluck picnic was no exception. Here are some photos of the event:

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The event sprawled out over a fairly large area - probably about 50 people there.

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Lots of food - people brought their choice of protein to grill and also a side dish. I brought a good potato salad which Costco has started carrying recently and some hot dogs for me and whomever wanted any too.

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There were a lot of radios in operation here - the guy on the right was setting up a digital station with a Linux netbook and a handheld walkie-talkie and the woman on the left was using a standard 2 Meter handheld to reach out to the island repeater.

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The venue was a really nice small park on the south end of the island. Little stage for music and movies. Great store and deli next door.

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Here is the pond - it is a natural spring and has been stocked with fish. It has also been a popular place for pet goldfish when the owner gets 'tired' of them. Aparently some of them are quite large.

All in all, a delightful summer day spent with good people.

A bit of rain

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Near Camano Island the valleys are very broad and flat. We got about a half of an inch of rain this afternoon (and some thunder and lightning too!) - this precipitation is reflected in the flow of the Stillaguamish River:

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This was the gauge near Arlington, WA will a good ten miles before the river reaches the ocean. I will take a look tomorrow at the Stanwood data to see what it shows.

A great resource for radio - Intercept

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A great website if you want to find local police, fire and emergency service frequencies. Perfectly legal to monitor, you just cannot transmit. This site ties into the FCC main database so you can also get frequencies for commercial business radio, school districts, highway and construction. Amazing what is out there.

Check out Intercept

Very cool tool - ZipLevel

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I had an engineer come out to the house today to see about fixing the drainage problem as well as propping up where the foundation had settled.

He brought out one of the coolest tools I have seen in a long long time. A ZipLevel. It is a case with a hose reel and a box on the end of the hose. Inside the box is a pressure sensor that looks at the relative difference in air pressure between the box and the other end of the hose. Yes. That sensitive.  You zero out the box and can then walk around and the box will display its relative height compared to the zero point. If you get the high precision version, it is accurate to 0.01 inches. Srandard is just 0.1" or 1/8th inch. High precision version sells for about $1,200 with all the accessories.

WIth this, he was able to walk around the house mapping out the high and low points.

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Great opening set - Kraftwerk

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Guten Abend Kraftwerk, guten Abend Stuttgart!
On 20 July 2018 around 21:50 local time, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst welcomed the legendary electronic band Kraftwerk and 7500 visitors to the Jazz Open Festival on Stuttgart's Schlossplatz – live from the International Space Station, where he will live and work until mid-December 2018. During the call with space, Kraftwerk founding member Ralf Hütter and Alexander played a special duet version of the track Spacelab, for which Alexander had a tablet computer configured with virtual synthesizers on board. With thanks to Kraftwerk for sharing this video footage.

News you can use - Epoxy

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Great to know - big fan of JB Weld:

Long day today

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Spent the morning packing up kitchen stuff and then ran into the condo later this afternoon. There was a meeting of our Ham Radio Digital Group tonight so planned to attend that and very glad I did.

There was a presentation on HamWAN

A modern, multi-megabit, IP-based, digital network for amateur radio use!
HamWAN is a non-profit organization (501c3) developing best practices for high speed amateur radio data networks. HamWAN also runs the Puget Sound Data Ring, which is a real-world network implementation of the proposed designs.

So far, HamWAN networks have been used for things like low-latency repeater linking, real-time video feeds from distant locations, serving APRS I-gates, providing redundant internet access to emergency operations centers, and more. Any licensed radio amateur in the service area can connect their shack directly to the network with just a small investment in equipment and no recurring cost. Since many traditional uses for Internet at home are not compatible with Part 97 rules, this won't replace your home Internet connection. However, it works and acts just like one.

This service is available throughout most of Puget Sound and they are rapidly expanding. Like the blurb says, it will not replace a home internet connection but the equipment is hardened and in the event of an earthquake or sustained power outage it will provide decent connectivity. The antenna and modem are about $200 - cheap. Unfortunately, no service yet where I live but it is a fun technology to see develop.

I have been assembling parts for a go-box - a carrying case with a portable radio, digital modem, computer, battery and antenna that can be deployed in a moments notice. Someone brought theirs in tonight for show and tell and I got some great ideas.

Back around 2000, an English ham radio operator John Hey, G3TDZ developed a specalized radio for use in cave rescues. "Normal" radio frequencies do not go through earth very well - the higher the frequenices, the more they are blocked. Normal ham radio bands range from around 3 million Hz up to 440 million and up. John's device operated at 87 thousand Hz and is therefore able to penetrate earth and rock.

The HeyPhone was used in the Thai cave rescue. Here is the website:  HeyPhone Cave Rescue Communication System 

Here is an article on various cave radio systems from 2001: The HeyPhone Story

Fascinating technology. Works so well it has not been changed in 18 years.

Celebrating Independence Day

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Firing an anvil. The one being launched weighs 80 pounds. The one on the base is 150 pounds and the charge is one pound of black powder.

From one of my favorite YouTube channels: Essential Craftsman

From The Smithsonian:

Buried by the Ash of Vesuvius, These Scrolls Are Being Read for the First Time in Millennia
It’s July 12, 2017, and Jens Dopke walks into a windowless room in Oxfordshire, England, all of his attention trained on a small, white frame that he carries with both hands. The space, which looks like a futuristic engine room, is crowded with sleek metal tables, switches and platforms topped with tubes and boxes. A tangle of pipes and wires covers the walls and floor like vines.

In the middle of the room, Dopke, a physicist, eases the frame into a holder mounted on a metal turntable, a red laser playing on the back of his hand. Then he uses his cellphone to call his colleague Michael Drakopoulos, who is sitting in a control room a few yards away. “Give it another half a millimeter,” Dopke says. Working together, they adjust the turntable so that the laser aligns perfectly with a dark, charred speck at the center of the frame.

The author takes some time setting up the story - here is a bit more:

The facility, called Diamond Light Source, is one of the most powerful and sophisticated X-ray facilities in the world, used to probe everything from viruses to jet engines. On this summer afternoon, though, its epic beam will focus on a tiny crumb of papyrus that has already survived one of the most destructive forces on the planet—and 2,000 years of history. It comes from a scroll found in Herculaneum, an ancient Roman resort on the Bay of Naples, Italy, that was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. In the 18th century, workmen employed by King Charles III of Spain, then in charge of much of southern Italy, discovered the remains of a magnificent villa, thought to have belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus (known as Piso), a wealthy statesman and the father-in-law of Julius Caesar. The luxurious residence had elaborate gardens surrounded by colonnaded walkways and was filled with beautiful mosaics, frescoes and sculptures. And, in what was to become one of the most frustrating archaeological discoveries ever, the workmen also found approximately 2,000 papyrus scrolls.

And in 1883-4, they tried unrolling a few of these scrolls with disastrous results. They crumbled. Fortunately, the rest of the 2,000+ were left intact - they did not try to read them. Very cool move - there will always be some technology in the future to fix what you can not do today.

The article is a long and wonderful read - the lead researcher was able to cobble together elements of Computer Tomography and use a particle accelerator for high energy X-Ray spectroscopy to differentiate between the ink, the carbon from the charing of the paper and the paper substrate itself. They are now able to read the scrolls without having to unroll them. This was the personal library of some Very Rich Dude from 2,000 years ago.

Fun time to be alive. Web site for: Diamond Light Source

Light Saber in real life

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What would happen if they were real:

Probably will not even see the light of day - if it ever does, it will give the Juicero a run for its money as the most hyped/under performing modern product. From Engadget:

The SWORD is a weapon-detecting smartphone case
No matter how stylishly makers dress them up, most smartphone cases are really about one thing: protecting screens from smashing. They're fragile cargo, we get it. Of course, some enterprising companies have taken things further, whipping up cases that transform into Android phones and selfie drones. Now Royal Holdings has jumped into the fray with SWORD, a five ounce phone case that works like a 3D-imaging scanner.

Let's get the drawbacks out of the way first. Right now, SWORD is only compatible with iPhone 8 Plus and Google's Pixel 2XL, so its applications are limited. On the other hand, SWORD can scan individuals from up to 40m away -- non-invasively -- to determine whether they're carrying concealed weapons.

It supposedly does this via a programmable 3D sensor that's able to infiltrate objects using radio waves. SWORD's antennas relay a signal toward an individual and receive returning signals that are subsequently recorded by an integrated circuit. There's also a facial recognition feature that compares a person's face against a watch list, and would alert any attending security officer. Everything happens through a dedicated app and take a fraction of a second.

For all of its superhero associations, SWORD has obvious security benefits. Barry Oberholzer, the CEO of Royal Holdings, says "this type of product doesn't exist right now" but the ramifications for personnel working in airports or restricted areas are promising. If you were planning on buying SWORD, expect to pay a high price. Pre-orders are already open at $950 and you'll need to pay a $30 monthly subscription on top. There's still the question of whether SWORD can uphold all its vows, but we'll know more in spring 2019 when shipments begin.

I can only imagine the lawsuits if it mistakes something like a hip implant (which I have) for a weapon. Or the metal in the frame of a backpack or briefcase, or if it fails to detect a goblin who was wearing sunglasses that afternoon.

Stunt doubles

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Walt Disney is working on autonomous robot stunt doubles for movie making. Here is a 40 second brag reel:

Very cool and these are just the 1.0 versions...

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