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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...

Turns out there is a back door to the Office email system - from Cyber Security Blog:

Exposing the Secret Office 365 Forensics Tool
An ethical crisis in the digital forensics industry came to a head last week with the release of new details on Microsoft’s undocumented “Activities” API. A previously unknown trove of access and activity logs held by Microsoft allows investigators to track Office 365 mailbox activity in minute detail. Following a long period of mystery and rumors about the existence of such a tool, the details finally emerged, thanks to a video by Anonymous and follow-up research by CrowdStrike.

Now, investigators have access to a stockpile of granular activity data going back six months—even if audit logging was not enabled. For victims of Business Email Compromise (BEC), this is huge news, because investigators are now far more likely to be able to “rule out” unauthorized access to specific emails and attachments.

The secret tool provides evidence that could have saved hundreds—if not thousands—of companies from having to declare a data breach. It is very likely that small businesses were disproportionately affected, since they lack the budget to employ forensics firms and to utilize Office 365 subscriptions that support audit logging.

Until now, this level of granularity was thought not to exist. Turns out, however, that it did, and those who were in the know kept this knowledge a secret.

Much more at the site - as they say:  ...developing...


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What if Microsoft did phones 20 years ago:

10,000,000 patents

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Wow!  Talk about being a productive nation. The US Patent Office just issued it's 10 millionth patent three days ago.

Here is a link to the patent: Coherent LADAR using intra-pixel quadrature detection

Here is a link to the US Patent Office's commemoration page: 10 million patents

Interesting project in New York

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From the New York City FOX affiliate:

Fixing a massive NYC plumbing leak, 55 stories underground
New York City is in the midst of a plumbing repair job of monumental proportions.

Hard-hat workers are toiling deep underground, 55 stories beneath the Hudson River, to eliminate gushing leaks in an aging tunnel that carries half the city's water supply over 85 miles from Catskill Mountain reservoirs. Using a cylindrical, space-rocket-size borer, they are carving through solid rock to create a 2.5-mile bypass tunnel around the worst of the leaks.

When they finish the $1 billion tunnel in 2022, the entire Delaware Aqueduct will be shut down for months to prepare for the diversion. And if they do it right, New Yorkers turning on their faucets will never even notice.

"It's really the largest and most complex water tunnel repair that the city of New York has ever done," said Vincent Sapienza, commissioner of the city Department of Environmental Protection. "There's a lot of moving parts that we've been wrestling with for several years now."

Big engineering projects fascinate me a lot. They are losing 18 million gallons of water each day - too big to ignore.

I resemble that:

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From the UC Berkeley website Project IRENE

Project IRENE at UC Berkeley is a collaborative effort, funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation, with team members from the UC Berkeley Linguistics Department, UC Library, Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, and the particle physics division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The project aims to use the innovative technique of non-contact optical scanning, to create digital versions of the audio recorded on the nearly 3000 wax cylinders in the Hearst Museum collection over a total of three years. 

The cylinders themselves were recorded in the field by UC Anthropologists under the direction of Alfred Kroeber between 1900 and 1940. They recorded Native Californians from many regions, and cultures speaking and singing; reciting histories, narratives and prayers, listing names for places and objects among many other things, all in a wide variety of languages. Many of the languages recorded on the cylinders have transformed, fallen out of use, or are no longer spoken at all, making this collection a unique and invaluable resource for linguists and contemporary community members hoping to learn about or revitalize languages, or retrieve important pieces of cultural heritage. 

Scholars and community members are already engaging with the collection through the California Language Archive (CLA), which facilitates restricted access to existing transfers. Though transfers already exist, they are not exhaustive, are often of poor quality and, largely, have not been made digital. This project will increase the scope and ease of access to the collection by creating digital versions of the entire collection, at higher, more easily listenable quality and turning them over to the CLA, who will provide access under appropriate restrictions.

Here is a short video of the guy involved in the project talking about the technology - very clever.

Clever fire-fighting robot

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Meet the Dragon Fire Fighting robot:

One of the designs for the Tough Robotics Challenge at Tadohoku University. From their website:

In recent years, large scale disasters have occurred frequently. Application of robot technologies to improving disaster response, recovery, preparedness and mitigation capabilities, improving efficiency, and at the same time ensuring the safety of responders is an urgent issue. However, current robots are delicate goody-goodies that cannot show the same performance of work in the extreme environment of disasters as they can indoors. Their ability to respond to unexpected situations is low.

Artificial Intelligence and the military

From Reuters:

Deep in the Pentagon, a secret AI program to find hidden nuclear missiles
The U.S. military is increasing spending on a secret research effort to use artificial intelligence to help anticipate the launch of a nuclear-capable missile, as well as track and target mobile launchers in North Korea and elsewhere.

The effort has gone largely unreported, and the few publicly available details about it are buried under a layer of near impenetrable jargon in the latest Pentagon budget. But U.S. officials familiar with the research told Reuters there are multiple classified programs now under way to explore how to develop AI-driven systems to better protect the United States against a potential nuclear missile strike.

If the research is successful, such computer systems would be able to think for themselves, scouring huge amounts of data, including satellite imagery, with a speed and accuracy beyond the capability of humans, to look for signs of preparations for a missile launch, according to more than half a dozen sources. The sources included U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the research is classified.


Forty years ago yesterday, Intel released the 8086 CPU chip and the world shifted on its axis - from Extreme Tech:

Happy 40th Anniversary to the Original Intel 8086 and the x86 Architecture
Forty years ago today, Intel launched the original 8086 microprocessor — the grandfather of every x86 CPU ever built, including the ones we use now. This, it must be noted, is more or less the opposite outcome of what everyone expected at the time, including Intel.

According to Stephen P. Morse, who led the 8086 development effort, the new CPU “was intended to be short-lived and not have any successors.” Intel’s original goal with the 8086 was to improve overall performance relative to previous products while retaining source compatibility with earlier products (meaning assembly language for the 8008, 8080, or 8085 could be run on the 8086 after being recompiled). It offered faster overall performance than the 8080 or 8085 and could address up to 1MB of RAM (the 8085 topped out at 64KB). It contained eight 16-bit registers, which is where the x86 abbreviation comes from in the first place, and was originally offered at a clock speed of 5MHz (later versions were clocked as high as 10MHz).

Morse had experience in software as well as hardware and, as this  historical retrospective makes clear, made decisions intended to make it easy to maintain backwards compatibility with earlier Intel products. He even notes that had he known he was inventing an architecture that would power computing for the next 40 years, he would’ve done some things differently, including using a symmetric register structure and avoiding segmented addressing. Initially, the 8086 was intended to be a stopgap product while Intel worked feverishly to finish its real next-generation microprocessor — the iAPX 432, Intel’s first 32-bit microprocessor. When sales of the 8086 began to slip in 1979, Intel made the decision to launch a massive marketing operation around the chip, dubbed Operation Crush. The goal? Drive adoption of the 8086 over and above competing products made by Motorola and Zilog (the latter founded by former Intel employees, including Federico Faggin, lead architect on the first microprocessor, Intel’s 4004). Project Crush was quite successful and is credited with spurring IBM to adopt the 8088 (a cut-down 8086 with an 8-bit bus) for the first IBM PC.

One might expect, given the x86 architecture’s historic domination of the computing industry, that the chip that launched the revolution would have been a towering achievement or quantum leap above the competition. The truth is more prosaic. The 8086 was a solid CPU core built by intelligent architects backed up by a strong marketing campaign. The computer revolution it helped to launch, on the other hand, transformed the world.

The segmented architecture made a lot of early adapters want to segment some of the design engineers. When programming in a higher-level language, this was not a problem as the compiler took care of this for you but when you wanted to optimize some code and write it in assembly, it was all kinds of fun. Still, it was a powerful instruction set, reasonably fast and very cheap.

It has been a great ride and still looking forward!

Keeping fingers crossed - GitHub

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I work with a lot of open source software - these are applications developed by teams of volunteers who publish not only their programs but also the source code for these programs inviting anyone to make additions, changes or improvements. These files are kept in a repository accessable by the general public - the biggest and best of which is GitHub. They offer this service for free, making their money by hosting the same service for businesses for internal file storage. They recently celebrated their 10th anniversary.

From Microsoft:

Microsoft to acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion
REDMOND, Wash. — June 4, 2018 — Microsoft Corp. on Monday announced it has reached an agreement to acquire GitHub, the world’s leading software development platform where more than 28 million developers learn, share and collaborate to create the future. Together, the two companies will empower developers to achieve more at every stage of the development lifecycle, accelerate enterprise use of GitHub, and bring Microsoft’s developer tools and services to new audiences.

“Microsoft is a developer-first company, and by joining forces with GitHub we strengthen our commitment to developer freedom, openness and innovation,” said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. “We recognize the community responsibility we take on with this agreement and will do our best work to empower every developer to build, innovate and solve the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft will acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion in Microsoft stock. Subject to customary closing conditions and completion of regulatory review, the acquisition is expected to close by the end of the calendar year.

GitHub will retain its developer-first ethos and will operate independently to provide an open platform for all developers in all industries. Developers will continue to be able to use the programming languages, tools and operating systems of their choice for their projects — and will still be able to deploy their code to any operating system, any cloud and any device.

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Nat Friedman, founder of Xamarin and an open source veteran, will assume the role of GitHub CEO. GitHub’s current CEO, Chris Wanstrath, will become a Microsoft technical fellow, reporting to Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie, to work on strategic software initiatives.

If MSFT can keep their mitts off GitHub and let it continue to run as it does, this will be wonderful. I hope they have the wisdom to do so.

Fun times in Vancouver - SIGGRAPH

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Special Interest Group - Graphics. Meets every year and highlights the developments in computer graphics. Some amazing stuff - here is a short brag reel:

T and I have been talking about some traveling in the future. Iceland and Scotland are being discussed. I think I found one of our destinations:

First put into operation in 1906 - here is the website: Sumburgh Head Foghorn  They also have a Stevenson lighthouse (yes, that Stevenson and this Grandson) as well as one of the first RADAR installations - beginning operation December 27th, 1939.

Looks like quite a place to visit.

Happy 45th birthday - Ethernet

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The backbone of the internet - from Infogalactic:

Ethernet was developed at Xerox PARC between 1973 and 1974. It was inspired by ALOHAnet, which Robert Metcalfe had studied as part of his PhD dissertation. The idea was first documented in a memo that Metcalfe wrote on May 22, 1973, where he named it after the disproven luminiferous ether as an "omnipresent, completely-passive medium for the propagation of electromagneticwaves". In 1975, Xerox filed a patent application listing Metcalfe, David Boggs, Chuck Thacker, and Butler Lampson as inventors. In 1976, after the system was deployed at PARC, Metcalfe and Boggs published a seminal paper.

More at The Register:

Ethernet — a networking protocol name for the ages
In the beginning, Ethernet was optional. When Bob Metcalfe and David Boggs cooked up their network protocol at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s, it was meant to connect the research haven’s now famous Alto machines — but only if researchers felt the need. “Each scientist would get a kind of Alto order form,” Metcalfe remembers, “and you had to check a box if you wanted Ethernet.”

Then, one afternoon, with maybe ten Altos on the desks of ten PARC researchers, someone accidentally disconnected a networking cable. When ten people stood up to ask “What happened?,” Metcalfe realized his fledgling network protocol might be a keeper. “From then on,” he says, “Ethernet was not an option.”

More than thirty years later, Metcalfe went looking for a new Ethernet cable, strolling into an everyday American electronics retailer. “The woman at the cash register took me to a twenty-foot-wide wall filled with cables and said ’What color do you want?’”

Pervasive and foolproof. The backbone of modern computing.

Found on the web

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Presented for your enjoyment:


Handy Chrome tips and tricks

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Been using Google's Chrome browser for quite a few years now. Here are some handy tips you might not know.
From Fast Company:

27 Incredibly Useful Things You Didn’t Know Chrome Could Do
These days, a browser is more than just a basic navigator for the web. It’s effectively a second desktop—a gateway to countless apps, sites, and services. And optimizing that environment can go a long way in increasing your efficiency.

Google’s Chrome in particular is full of hidden shortcuts, features, and power-user possibilities. Take the time to learn these tips, and watch your productivity soar.

Going to incorporate these in my daily browsing...

Pocket calculators - a history

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Fascinating article about the origins of the HP-35 pocket calculator. This was manufactured by Hewlett Packard and was the first calculator that could perform trig functions. Here are some excerpts of this from Codex 99:

The article starts by talking about HP and how it had grown from two people in a garage to 9,000 employees:

Tom Osborne, a Berkeley-trained electrical engineer, wasn’t one of those 9000 employees. In his Bay-area apartment, he had built a floating-point electronic calculator he called the Green Machine (after the color of the automotive touch-up paint he used on the balsa wood case). He tried shopping it around but no one was interested until he showed it to HP in June, 1965. Bill Hewlett asked “can it do transcendentals [sine, cosine, tangent, etc]?” Osborne’s Frankenmachine couldn’t, but he replied “Sure, why not?” Hewlett was sufficiently impressed and convinced Osborne to stay on for six weeks as a consultant to see if he could turn his device into a proper calculator.

And, a few years later, they came out with 1.0

“I was barely able to stay ahead of the alligators on my tail,” Osborne recalled. His six weeks became six months, then a year, and then another, but, finally, in early 1968, they had finished the 40-pound, typewriter-sized 9100A Computing Calculator.

The 9100 was introduced at the New York IEEE show on March 11th, 1968. It filled a gap in the market between simple adding machines and complicated mainframes and was, in many ways, the first personal computer. Steve Jobs (yeah, that Steve Jobs) remembered the 9100 as the first desktop computer he ever saw.

The HP-35 was released in January 4th, 1972 and they were stunned by the demand. Everyone wanted one. I had serious lust in my heart but could not afford the $395 price tag. I did get an HP-45 when they came out though - also a great machine. The first year of sales accounted for half of HP's profits. Not bad.

A fun and well-written article - worth reading if you are interested in the history of electronics.

An interesting observation from Popular Mechanics:

The Longest Route You Can Sail in a Straight Line Without Hitting Land
The Earth is about 71 percent ocean. If you start at a port and head into the sea, you’ll likely travel hundreds or thousands of miles before seeing land again. But what course would allow you to travel the farthest distance in a straight line without ever hitting land?

Back in 2012, a Reddit user by the name of kepleronlyknows posted an interesting map of the world, showing a line from Pakistan to Russia across the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans. The poster claimed that this was the longest straight-line path anyone could take without touching land. The problem was that such a claim was extremely difficult to prove mathematically.

Now, two computer scientists, Rohan Chabukswar at the United Technologies Research Center in Ireland and Kushal Mukherjee at IBM Research in India, developed an algorithm to find a solution. The problem is that manually checking every straight-line path would take ages, so instead the researchers employed a much faster technique called the branch and bound method.

Much more at the site - the route is 19,939.6 miles, just about 5,000 miles short of the planet's circumference. I bet someone somewhere is thinking about getting a boat and outfitting it for this journey...

The Geek-fu is off the charts here - from The Atlantic:

Artificial Intelligence Is Cracking Open the Vatican's Secret Archives
The Vatican Secret Archives is one of the grandest historical collections in the world. It’s also one of the most useless.

The grandeur is obvious. Located within the Vatican’s walls, next door to the Apostolic Library and just north of the Sistine Chapel, the VSA houses 53 linear miles of shelving dating back more than 12 centuries. It includes gems like the papal bull that excommunicated Martin Luther and the pleas for help that Mary Queen of Scots sent to Pope Sixtus V before her execution. In size and scope, the collection is almost peerless.

That said, the VSA isn’t much use to modern scholars, because it’s so inaccessible. Of those 53 miles, just a few millimeters’ worth of pages have been scanned and made available online. Even fewer pages have been transcribed into computer text and made searchable. If you want to peruse anything else, you have to apply for special access, schlep all the way to Rome, and go through every page by hand.

But a new project could change all that. Known as In Codice Ratio, it uses a combination of artificial intelligence and optical-character-recognition (OCR) software to scour these neglected texts and make their transcripts available for the very first time. If successful, the technology could also open up untold numbers of other documents at historical archives around the world.

Just wow!  There is a big difference between trying to decipher a typeset page and one that was hand written. A fascinating article that goes into some of the difficulties of OCR - specifically the Catch 22 of Sayre's Paradox. A fun read if you are interested in typography - the solution is ingenious!

This will be an amazing resource for scholars and historians. Truly a fun time to be alive!

Something cool from Google

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Ahhh Google - the company that people love to hate (privacy concerns). They came out with an artificial intellegence kit for makers last year. Now they came out with a much improved pair - from Google Developers blog:

AIY Projects: Updated kits for 2018
Last year, AIY Projects launched to give makers the power to build AI into their projects with two do-it-yourself kits. We're seeing continued demand for the kits, especially from the STEM audience where parents and teachers alike have found the products to be great tools for the classroom. The changing nature of work in the future means students may have jobs that haven't yet been imagined, and we know that computer science skills, like analytical thinking and creative problem solving, will be crucial.

We're taking the first of many steps to help educators integrate AIY into STEM lesson plans and help prepare students for the challenges of the future by launching a new version of our AIY kits. The Voice Kit lets you build a voice controlled speaker, while the Vision Kit lets you build a camera that learns to recognize people and objects (check it out here). The new kits make getting started a little easier with clearer instructions, a new app and all the parts in one box.

To make setup easier, both kits have been redesigned to work with the new Raspberry Pi Zero WH, which comes included in the box, along with the USB connector cable and pre-provisioned SD card. Now users no longer need to download the software image and can get running faster. The updated AIY Vision Kit v1.1 also includes the Raspberry Pi Camera v2.

Looks like a fun kit with a lot of possibilities for machine learning. What makes it fun is that these kits are being sold at Target of all places: Google Voice Kit AIY and Google Vision Kit AIY

Fun time to be alive...

A new way to make graphene

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Graphene is one of the latest hot new materials - it is basically a very thin layer of carbon and can be used for electronics as well as chemical processes (filtering) Used to be expensive to manufacture but no more - from MIT:

A graphene roll-out
MIT engineers have developed a continuous manufacturing process that produces long strips of high-quality graphene.

The team’s results are the first demonstration of an industrial, scalable method for manufacturing high-quality graphene that is tailored for use in membranes that filter a variety of molecules, including salts, larger ions, proteins, or nanoparticles. Such membranes should be useful for desalination, biological separation, and other applications.

“For several years, researchers have thought of graphene as a potential route to ultrathin membranes,” says John Hart, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity at MIT. “We believe this is the first study that has tailored the manufacturing of graphene toward membrane applications, which require the graphene to be seamless, cover the substrate fully, and be of high quality.”

Very cool!

Self-driving cars boats

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Curious development - from Motherboard:

Autonomous Boats Will Be On the Market Sooner Than Self-Driving Cars
When the Costa Concordia hit a rock near Tuscany and dipped into the Mediterranean in 2012, people around the world wondered how the captain of a cruise ship carrying 4,229 people could have made such a simple yet fatal miscalculation. Altogether, 32 passengers died.

“Ships worth hundreds of millions of dollars shouldn’t be able to be manually driven onto the rocks. We have the technology available to control these vessels,” marine engineer Michael Johnson, who worked as vice-president of project management at Crowley Maritime at the time, told me in a phone interview from Boston. His company ultimately won a bid to perform what, at $1.5 billion, became the most expensive commercial salvage of all time.

Had no idea that the volume of shipping was so great:

In the autonomous revolution that is underway, nearly every transportation machine will eventually be self-driving. For cars, it’s likely going to take decades before we see them operating freely, outside of test conditions. Some unmanned watercraft, on the other hand, may be at sea commercially before 2020.

That’s partly because automating all ships could generate a ridiculous amount of revenue. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea and 10.3 billion tons of products were shipped in 2016. According to NOAA’s National Ocean Service, ships transported $1.5 trillion worth of cargo through US ports in 2016. The world’s 325 or so deep-sea shipping companies have a combined revenue of $10 billion.

Makes a lot of sense - eliminating 20-50 jobs per ship quickly adds up. No reason why the Captain can't be sitting in an office somewhere looking at a screen for eight hours (although the mariner in me cringes at the thought).

A little over 16,000 of them. Searchable and you can either listen to them online or download individual ones as a WAV file.

Go here: BBC Sound Effects

Some restrictions:

The Sound Effects are BBC copyright, but they may be used for personal, educational or research purposes, as detailed in the license.

Facebook killer? Meet Hello

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An interesting alternative lurcking in the wings - from Bloomberg:

The Man Behind Orkut Says His ‘Hello’ Platform Doesn’t Sell User Data
In 2004, one of the world’s most popular social networks, Orkut, was founded by a former Google employee named Orkut Büyükkökten. Later that year, a Harvard University student named Mark Zuckerberg launched ‘the Facebook’, which over the course of a year became ubiquitous in Ivy League universities and was eventually called

Orkut was shut down by Google in 2014, but in its heyday, the network had hit 300 million users around the world. Facebook took five years to achieve that feat. At a time when the #DeleteFacebook movement is gaining traction worldwide in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Orkut has made a comeback by launching a new social network in India. Say hello to “Hello”.

“ is a spiritual successor of,” Büyükkökten told BloombergQuint. “The most important thing about Orkut was communities, because they brought people together around topics and things that interested them and provided a safe place for people to exchange ideas and share genuine passions and feelings. We have built the entire ‘Hello’ experience around communities and passions and see it as Orkut 2.0.”

Sounds good - if they can resist the temptation to commercialize by aggregating user data and selling it, they should do OK. I like the community idea - something a bit more regulated than Reddit. Reddit is a lot of fun but it is a bit Wild West for my tastes.

Curious editorial at New York Magazine:

The Internet Apologizes …
Something has gone wrong with the internet. Even Mark Zuckerberg knows it. Testifying before Congress, the Facebook CEO ticked off a list of everything his platform has screwed up, from fake news and foreign meddling in the 2016 election to hate speech and data privacy. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility,” he confessed. Then he added the words that everyone was waiting for: “I’m sorry.”

There have always been outsiders who criticized the tech industry — even if their concerns have been drowned out by the oohs and aahs of consumers, investors, and journalists. But today, the most dire warnings are coming from the heart of Silicon Valley itself. The man who oversaw the creation of the original iPhone believes the device he helped build is too addictive. The inventor of the World Wide Web fears his creation is being “weaponized.” Even Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president, has blasted social media as a dangerous form of psychological manipulation. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he lamented recently.

To understand what went wrong — how the Silicon Valley dream of building a networked utopia turned into a globalized strip-mall casino overrun by pop-up ads and cyberbullies and Vladimir Putin — we spoke to more than a dozen architects of our digital present. If the tech industry likes to assume the trappings of a religion, complete with a quasi-messianic story of progress, the Church of Tech is now giving rise to a new sect of apostates, feverishly confessing their own sins. And the internet’s original sin, as these programmers and investors and CEOs make clear, was its business model.

To keep the internet free — while becoming richer, faster, than anyone in history — the technological elite needed something to attract billions of users to the ads they were selling. And that something, it turns out, was outrage. As Jaron Lanier, a pioneer in virtual reality, points out, anger is the emotion most effective at driving “engagement” — which also makes it, in a market for attention, the most profitable one. By creating a self-perpetuating loop of shock and recrimination, social media further polarized what had already seemed, during the Obama years, an impossibly and irredeemably polarized country.

Much more at the site - an interesting read.

They have made their money, they have lobbied for legislation which allows them to maintain their monopoly and now they apologize for the social ills caused by their making their platforms attractive.

Time to cue the Worlds Smallest Violin...

Well crap - RIP Art Bell

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I used to listen to his radio show a number of years ago. Pure conspiracy theory but a lot of fun. From the Las Veas Review-Journal:

Pahrump-based radio host Art Bell dies at 72
Longtime late-night radio host Art Bell died Friday at his Pahrump home. He was 72.

Bell was best known for his unsettling conspiracy theories shared on his paranormal-themed show, “Coast to Coast AM.” He was fascinated with the paranormal and the unexplained, including Bigfoot, UFOs and crop circles.

Coast to Coast was syndicated nationwide on about 500 North American stations in the 1990s before he left the nightly show in 2002. He broadcast the show from Pahrump’s KNYE 95.1 FM, a station he founded. He was his own producer, engineer and host.

He was also a long-time radio amateur - W6OBB now SK

Hat tip to The Silicon Graybeard for the link: The Open Space Agency One of their projects is the Ultrascope - a smallish reflector telescope using an arduino for the controller and a smartphone camera for the imager (no eyepiece). This scope is designed to be remotely operated as a distributed array for people looking for asteroids, meteors, etc...

From the project website:

For the Ultrascope project we asked ourselves if it was possible to develop a kit-set telescope that would reduce the cost of pro-level astronomy by an order of magnitude.

In other words, a robot telescope - or ARO - Automated Robotic Observatory, that would allow amateur astronomers to contribute to citizen science projects for a radically reduced cost. We're still refining the performance of our first EXPLORER SERIES ULTRASCOPE - a 3.5 Inch mirror ARO that is able to conduct celestial photography and photometry.

This dream would have been almost impossible just 24 months ago. The levels of precision required for a maker-made scientific quality scope would have resulted in compounding errors conspiring to make observations frustrating for aspiring citizen scientists. However the emergence of low-cost 3D printers and Laser-cutting, paired with microcontroller platforms such as Arduino and Lumia 1020- with its 41 Megapixel CCD - mean that a project such as this is now eminently possible. 

Very cool and something definitely do-able for anyone with access to a makerspace.

A fun time to be alive. I would be building this project if I didn't live in an area with poor seeing.

Could not be happening at a better time. Of course, it will be several years before production is ramped up but there is a worldwide need for Rare Earths and China is the only vendor so far. We have huge resources in the USA but the environmentalists will not let us mine them. From Nature:

The tremendous potential of deepsea mud as a source of rare-earth elements
Potential risks of supply shortages for critical metals including rare-earth elements and yttrium (REY) have spurred great interest in commercial mining of deep-sea mineral resources. Deep-sea mud containing over 5,000ppm total REY content was discovered in the western North Pacifc Ocean near Minamitorishima Island, Japan, in 2013. This REY-rich mud has great potential as a rare-earth metal resource because of the enormous amount available and its advantageous mineralogical features. Here, we estimated the resource amount in REY-rich mud with Geographical Information System software and established a mineral processing procedure to greatly enhance its economic value. The resource amount was estimated to be 1.2Mt of rare-earth oxide for the most promising area (105km2×0–10mbsf), which accounts for 62, 47, 32, and 56 years of annual global demand for Y, Eu, Tb, and Dy, respectively. Moreover, using a hydrocyclone separator enabled us to recover selectively biogenic calcium phosphate grains, which have high REY content (up to 22,000ppm) and constitute the coarser domain in the grain-size distribution. The enormous resource amount and the efectiveness of the mineral processing are strong indicators that this new REY resource could be exploited in the near future.

Very cool - 50 years worth of ores. China just lost a major revenue source.

A quiet day

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T has written a study guide for her teaching and we are updating it as well as putting it up for sale on Amazon.

Their Kindle Direct Publishing is very awesome and easy to use. Choose the page size, download the appropriate MSWord template and cut and paste. Upload and you get a bunch of options for selling your magnum opus - either buy copies for yourself or sell them through Amazon as either paper books or Kindle files.

The big storm that was forecast is turning out to be a nothingburger here. Some blustery winds earlier this afternoon and some off-and-on rain but not the big storm they were telling us about.

About that coal problem

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I love coal and it is not a problem although some enviros seem to think it is. Wonder if they have ever held a piece of it. I use it for blacksmithing and usually keep a couple nuggets in my truck to show people. It is not dirty in the least - very clean burning and environmentally friendly if burned correctly. Coal just reached a new level of awesome - from the University of Kentucky:

UK Researchers First to Produce High Grade Rare Earths From Coal
University of Kentucky researchers have produced nearly pure rare earth concentrates from Kentucky coal using an environmentally-conscious and cost-effective process, a groundbreaking accomplishment in the energy industry.

"As far as I know, our team is the first in the world to have provided a 98 percent pure rare earth concentrate from a coal source," said Rick Honaker, professor of mining engineering.

From national defense to health care, rare earth elements or REEs are essential components of technologies like iPhones, computers, missiles and other applications. Interest in REEs is at an all-time high in the U.S. right now, with the Department of Energy investing millions in research. Honaker has received $7 million from the department to produce rare earths from Kentucky coal sources, a feat he has now accomplished, and $1 million for other REE projects.

"The primary objective for our DoE (Department of Energy) project was to produce a concentrate containing a minimum of 2 percent rare earth elements," he said. "We have far exceeded this objective."

The process recovered more than 80 percent of the REEs present in the feed sources. The concentrates were comprised of more than 80 percent total rare earth elements on a dry whole mass basis and more than 98 percent rare earth oxides. More importantly, critical elements such as neodymium and yttrium — used in national defense technologies and the high-tech and renewable energy industries — represented over 45 percent of the total concentrate.

We know of a lot of REE ore deposits in the continental USA but the enviros have been sucessful in blocking any mining efforts which is downright stupid because we turn around and buy them from China who does absolutly zero environmental mitigation. Our mines would be clean but those nutcases will not let us build them. Nice to find an alternate source!

Fun times with a Tesla Coil

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Those crazy Ukrainians :)

Netflix in the news

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Some heavy virtue signalling from them - from Musings from the Chiefio:

Dear Netflix…
I see you have hired Susan Rice on your Board Of Directors.

Now as I see it, there are only 2 possible reasons for doing this. She isn’t exactly a media mogul after all, no screen credits that I know of, not a lot of business acumen on display, hasn’t built a media empire… so what’s left?

1) You are sucking up to The Progressive Socialist Left / Clinton Machine / Obama Wannabee Machine.

2) You are a fellow traveler giving her a great cushy income for doing nothing but “virtue signalling” you are on side.

Now which of these tells me I want YOU to send MY MONEY to HER? Hmmm?

Oh, wait, none of the above.

E. M. Smith goes on to ask the question that the Netflix CEO needs to ask:

Can my company, Netflix, survive a year or two if 1/4 of my audience (say 1/2 of the 1/2 that voted Trump) get pissed off and cancel while they go look for alternatives?

So, can you?

’cause here’s the deal: We’re done with the whole “We’ll be nice and you can be shouting shit in our faces and picking our pockets” thing. It’s “on Mother F…” You hit me with a spit wad, I take out the bazooka.

Netflix has put a lot of time and money into developing an intuative user interface and has some entertaining content. -but- there is a lot of competition out there.

It seems that this cronyism is not limited to just Netflix - from FOX News:

Big tech companies offer gilded safe space for Obama officials
When former national security adviser Susan Rice was named to the Netflix board of directors Wednesday, she became at least the third high-ranking official under former President Barack Obama to receive a top post at a tech giant after leaving the White House.

And a bit more:

But Rice isn't the only Obama alum benefiting here. David Plouffe, a former senior adviser to Obama, was hired by ridesharing company Uber in August 2014 to be its senior vice president of policy and strategy. This past January, Plouffe was lured away from Uber by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to help run his Chan Zuckerberg social advocacy organization.

Former White House press secretary Jay Carney has settled down at another titan, Amazon. Carney, who departed the West Wing in June 2014 and spent six months as a political analyst at CNN, joined Amazon in March 2015 as senior vice president for corporate affairs.

They are now reaping their rewards for having enabled these tech giants to make money hand over fist while the US was in the middle of a big recession.

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