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Category: Technology

Tech, science, gaming, entertainment, space exploration, energy, and anything else tech-related.

July 26, 2015

Citizens of Tech 011 – Prosthetic Phone Diving



The National Ocean Service, part of NOAA here in America reports that:

“According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are over 332,519,000 cubic miles of water on the planet. A cubic mile is the volume of a cube measuring one mile on each side. Of this vast volume of water, NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center estimates that 321,003,271 cubic miles is in the ocean.

That’s enough water to fill about 352 quintillion, 670 quadrillion gallon-sized milk containers!”

If you’re glad you know that, you are obviously a Citizen of Tech! In today’s show, we acknowledge our software overlords, let the cars do the driving, investigate Lego prosthetics, deep dive on diving, and more.

So we start off looking at tech news of today with a disturbing-yet-awesome story from the ubernerds at MIT…


Programs patching programs



  • MIT Software called Helium.
  • revamps and fine-tunes code without ever needing the original source, in a matter of hours or even minutes.”
    • The process works like this: “The team started with a simple building block of programming that’s nevertheless extremely difficult to analyze: binary code that has been stripped of debug symbols, which represents the only piece of code that is available for proprietary software such as Photoshop. … With Helium, the researchers are able to lift these kernels from a stripped binary and restructure them as high-level representations that are readable in Halide, a CSAIL-designed programming language geared towards image-processing. … From there, the Helium system then replaces the original bit-rotted components with the re-optimized ones.
  • Results: Helium can improve the performance of certain Photoshop filters by 75 percent, and the performance of less optimized programs such as Microsoft Windows’ IrfanView by 400 to 500 percent.” Their full academic paper (PDF) is available online.

Uber wants to buy all 500k of Tesla’s Autonomous Cars in 2020


  • Uber wants to dump the driver. “If Tesla can produce half a million cars by 2020, then Uber CEO Travis Kalanick will buy them all for his service, according to venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson..”
  • I don’t think self-driving cars are actually viable by 2020. Referring to Automobile Magazine, August 2015 edition.
    • Expense – these cars are loaded with technology.
    • Legislation – who’s responsible when a driverless car kills someone? State by state issue.
    • Improvement in data distribution systems – automated cars need real-time information about roads and traffic. We’re not far here, but things aren’t perfect. Map databases are a big one.
    • That said – people who *do* drive cars kill people. Isn’t it likely that when the software is fully baked that a driverless car is less likely to kill someone, and the percentages of automobile related fatalities goes down? Radar can see better, software isn’t subject to distractions, etc.

Lego-compatible Prosthetic Limb Gives Kids Something To Smile About


  • Creator Carlos Arturo Torres Tovar fom Umeå (OO-Meh) University in Sweden
  • It follows the basic premise of LEGO: Let your imagination run wild!
    • The system is compatible with both your average LEGO set and Mindstorms (LEGO’s DIY robotic line), allowing children to swap the prosthetic’s standard three-finger gripping attachment for one of their own creations.
  • It’s about empowering the child. “Using IKO’s simple twist-and-lock mechanism, children can easily pop their prostheses in place without the help of an adult, which Tovar hopes will empower them along the way. From there, it’s a simple matter of building, taking apart, and building again. An arm can be a fully-functioning digger, a laser-shooting blaster, or a deep-sea science submersible. With IKO, the possibilities are as endless as the imagination.”
  • “Playing makes sense to all of us,” says Tovar. “So why not build a bridge? It’s about learning. Creating. [And just] being kids.”

iPhone 6S Rumor Roundup


  • Apple is expecting this phone to be a huge hit – 85-90M production run requested.
  • Mostly the same form factors – 4.7 & 5.5 inch screens. A 6C is rumored as a plastic phone with a possibly a 4” screen.
  • 2GB RAM
  • Force Touch
  • iOS9
  • Better aluminum chassis — 7000 series (bendgate)
  • 32GB / 64GB / 128GB Flash storage
  • Pink (rose gold?)
  • Faster LTE. “Qualcomm MDM9635M LTE chip, which supports download speeds of up to 300 Mb/s.”
  • Unconfirmed camera improvements from 8MP to 12MP.
  • Announcing in August or September with availability in mid to late September.

Feature – Diving Through History


Today I Learned

Today I learned that in the ancient Persian Empire, an idea was debated twice: drunk and then sober. The idea first had to sound good in both states of mind before being considered a good idea… according to Heroditus.



The Optical Telegraph


  • It’s 1796, you need to get a message from London to Portsmouth (60 miles) how long does it take? Would you believe 15 minutes?
  • The first practical telegraph system was inaugurated in France by Chappe in 1794; this was a semaphore or moving-arm type. The stimulus for this was command and control of the French armed forces in the Revolutionary wars. The idea was quickly adopted in Britain, (which was at war with France for almost all this period) where there were clear advantages in rapid communication with the coastal ports where the British Navy was based. After tests a shutter type was adopted, rather than a semaphore, and by the end of 1796 two telegraph lines were in operation.
  • A shutter telegraph station had six pivoted boards, which could be swivelled by the ropes leading down to the cabin, so they were either visible or edge-on.
  • Six shutters gives a 6-bit binary code, allowing 63 non-zero states to be transmitted. These were allocated as the 26 letters of the alphabet, ten numerals, and some useful preset sentences, such as “Defeat the French Navy immediately”.
  • The average London-Portsmouth message took about fifteen minutes to get there. Data-compression was used in the form of omitting the vowels in common words. The preparatory signal could be sent from London to Deal or Portsmouth, and be acknowledged in two minutes; an early version of the “ping”.


This magic exoskeleton for industrial workers is the future—we know, we wore one


  • “The exoskeleton is incredibly neat: there are shoe-like platforms that fit beneath my shoes. Going up my legs were some large velcro straps and bendable metal brackets following up to my knees. There, a hinge allowed me to bend and jump as normal. When the exoskeleton rose up to my hip area, it met a metal ring that went around my entire waist. There, at my right hip, was a strange device where a large swing arm fit into a socket. At the business end of this arm was what I thought was a 30 to 40 pound power sander, or some other large power tool.”
  • “Connected further up my torso was a stripped down backpack—replete with two traditional shoulder straps—but also with a column along my upper back area for Angold to drop weighted discs onto, to act as a counterweight. The suit is totally mechanical: it has no battery of any kind.”
  • “In 2012, the company debuted its flagship product, the “Ekso,” an exoskeleton designed to help people regain mobility after a spinal or other injury.”
  • “As the skilled construction workforce gets older, and with fewer younger workers coming up to replace them, older workers can potentially work longer and suffer from fewer injuries with an exoskeleton. If Ekso Bionics can capture even a small slice of those future construction jobs, it seems set to do well.”


That about does it for this episode of Citizens of Tech, now we recommend you kick back and enjoy a cold Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster…but very carefully!

July 11, 2015

Citizens of Tech 010 – Vinyl Glacier Robot Earthquakes


Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time writes,

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”

If that question made you stop and go, “Hmm,” then you might find the Citizens of Tech podcast interesting. So pull up an earbud, and have a listen. I’m Ethan Banks, and joining me is Eric Sutphen. You can find us on Twitter @citizensoftech. This show is a part of the Packet Pushers podcast network. Citizens of Tech and other fine technology podcasts can be found at PacketPushers.net.

Our show is in three segments. We examine tech stories of the present, glance over our shoulder at the past, then peer towards the horizon at future tech we hope someday will become reality.

On today’s show recorded July 8th, 2015, we cover news from Amazon, review a cheap IP surveillance camera, dive deep on retina displays and how your eyeballs work, and do not discover extraterrestrial life. Also, robots duel, and glaciers cause earthquakes. Among other things! So let’s dive in with our first story…


Amazon throws in $100 million, developer tools to open Echo’s Alexa ecosystem

  • The software developer kit (SDK) is called the Alexa Skills Kit, which is a series of application programming interfaces that allow developers to create voice features for Alexa.
  • Amazon said that it will open Alexa’s voice services up to third party hardware makers and they will allow hardware vendors to use the Alexa Voice Service for free.
  • Echo is now available to the public, not just Prime subscribers

Cheap IP Surveillance Camera Review – Microseven

  • http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00M5PHAYW
  • Wide angle field of view
  • ONVIF (onvif.org) – works with my Synology.
    • “Driving IP-based physical security through standardization.”
    • “ONVIF is an open industry forum for the development of a global standard for the interface of IP-based physical security products. ONVIF is committed to the adoption of IP in the security market. The ONVIF specification will ensure interoperability between products regardless of manufacturer.”
    • “The cornerstones of ONVIF are:
      • Standardization of communication between IP-based physical security
      • Interoperability between IP-based physical security products regardless of manufacturer
      • Open to all companies and organizations”
    • “The ONVIF specification defines a common protocol for the exchange of information between network video devices including automatic device discovery, video streaming and intelligence metadata.”
  • PoE
  • IP66
    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IP_Code
    • Ingress Protection Marking
    • First number – solid particle protection
    • Second number – liquid ingress protection
    • The first “6” = dust tight. There is no higher number.
    • The second “6” = powerful water jets.
  • 1280×960
  • Companion software

It’s on: Team Japan accepts US challenge to a giant robot duel

  • US-Based MegaBots Inc. Challenged competitor Suidobashi Heavy Industry to a giant robot fight.
  • This makes perfect sense. In the challenge MegaBots stated: “We have a giant robot, you have a giant robot; It’s obvious what needs to happen.”
  • Kogoro Kurata said: “Yeah, I’ll fight. Absolutely.” Kurata, who designed and built Suidobashi’s 4-ton mech robot, said: “We can’t let another country win this. Giant robots are Japanese culture.”
  • There is a caveat:
    • Kurata’s response to MegaBots’ challenge also upped the stakes, with the Japanese designer asking if the duel can be fought as a physical melee rather than with the MegaBot Mark II’s paintball guns. “My reaction?” says Kurata in the video. “Come on guys, make it cooler. Just building something huge and sticking guns on it. It’s … Super American.”

Bluetooth Star Trek communicator shows just how awesome real life is

  • “Made by The Wand Company, the gadget certainly looks the part. It’s a Bluetooth headset made of metal and plastic with a smart magnetic stand to charge it.”
  • “It plays the right sounds, too.”
  • “But as a piece of technology, gosh, isn’t Star Trek terrible?…Leap forward a decade and smartphones are abundant. The communicator—with its buttons, grilles, and limited functionality (it doesn’t even have a camera!)—looks positively archaic.”

Magic carbon layer not a sign of extraterrestrial life

  • Claim is nonsense.The Guardian, which generally has pretty good science coverage, has an article up reporting that some top scientists believe that the comet 67P may harbor lots and lots of life. The purported evidence for life is the presence of complex hydrocarbons on the comet’s crust. But The Guardian could at least have done some background reading on the person behind the claim, Chandra Wickramasinghe. It would have found that he has a long history of making claims about extraterrestrial life.”
  • Surface chemist says carbon growth happened naturally. “As it came in from the cold, 67P was in almost perfect condition for carbon growth: it has spent a lot of time sweeping through the Solar System, gathering organic molecules as it went (which it seems to have done)—its surface is so cold that most molecules will hit and stick. In other words, the comet has simply been gathering all the ingredients that it needs to start performing chemistry.”
  • “The comet 67P is approaching the Sun, so the surface temperature is starting to increase. As it does so, the surface mobility and local partial pressure of hydrocarbons in the almost non-existent atmosphere will increase. The intensity of ion bombardment and ionizing radiation will also grow as the comet hits its perihelion (its closest point to the Sun). That means all the stuff that I observe in the lab will now be happening at top speed on the comet surface.”
  • “With such a reactive mix, almost any carbon layer with any structure you care to think of can and will form.”

How breaking a glacier makes the Earth quake

  • Army of GPS sensors. “A team of researchers led by Swansea University’s Tavi Murray outfitted the face of Greenland’s Helheim Glacier with just the kind of sensors we needed to answer to this question. They placed an array of GPS stations atop the crevassed, treacherous ice cliff, and measured the motion of the glacier during calving events.”
  • Movement during calving. “In one representative example, a 790-meter-thick iceberg with a top area of almost half a square kilometer cracked off and rotated up onto its side. During that process, which took several minutes to play out, the GPS sensors back from the edge moved about ten centimeters back away from the water, before shifting back to their original position. The sensors also sunk downwards a similar amount, only to bob back up.”
  • Glacier compresses like a spring. “As the bottom of the iceberg (soon to become its side) swung up away from the glacier and toward the surface of the water, the top of the iceberg pushed back against the front of the glacier. That caused the glacier to compress like a spring, creating a seismic wave that propagated down into the bedrock and away.”
  • Space between glacier and iceberg creates low pressure that registers on the bedrock below. “At the same time, the opening of the space between the iceberg and the glacier created a lower pressure zone as water rushed in. Believe it or not, that low pressure zone not only pulls down the glacier, but it means slightly less of a load on the bedrock below, causing that bedrock to flex upward just a tiny bit. That slight flexing is also enough to release a seismic wave—in sync with the compression of the glacier, but a vertical motion this time.”

FEATURE – What is a retina display, anyway?


Apple Watch – Sales are down 90% as compared to launch

  • In an ambitious bid for the luxury market, Apple also unveiled a gold “Edition” model priced at $10,000 or more. So far, fewer than 2,000 of them have been sold in the U.S., Slice contends.
  • Furthermore, two-thirds of the watches sold so far have been the lower-profit “Sport” version, whose price starts at $349, according to Slice, rather than the costlier and more advanced models that start at $549.

Today I Learned

TIL that NASA has it’s own radio station called ‘Third Rock Radio’ which plays Rock/Indie/Alternative music with NASA news items and mission updates embedded throughout


Vinyl records are still riding that big comeback wave, sales up 38% in a year

  • Brief intro from http://www.explainthatstuff.com/record-players.html

    • Stylus bumping across a groove creates mechanical energy. “A typical record player has a stylus (similar to the needle in Edison’s machine) that bumps up and down in the groove of a vinyl (plastic) disc. The stylus is a tiny crystal of sapphire or diamond mounted at the very end of a lightweight metal bar. As the crystal vibrates in the groove, its microscopic bounces are transmitted down the bar. The stylus fits onto the end of an electromagnetic device called a cartridge, containing a piezoelectric crystal.”
    • The mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy via a crystal or magnetic coil. “The metal bar presses against the crystal and, each time it moves, it wobbles the crystal slightly, generating an electrical signal. These signals are fed out to the amplifier to make the sounds you hear through your speakers or phones. Not all record-player cartridges use piezoelectricity to convert sound vibrations to electric signals. Some have tiny electrical coils and a magnet inside them. When the stylus moves, it pushes the magnet up and down past the coil, generating electrical signals that way.”
  • “Nielsen Music released its 2015 US mid-year report, finding that overall music consumption had increased by 14 percent in the first half of the year. What’s driving that boom? Well, certainly a growth in streaming—on-demand streaming increased year-over-year by 92.4 percent, with more than 135 billion songs streamed, and overall sales of digital streaming increased by 23 percent.”
  • “But what may be more fascinating is the continued resurgence of the old licorice pizza—that is, vinyl LPs. Nielsen reports that vinyl LP sales are up 38 percent year-to-date. “Vinyl sales now comprise nearly 9 percent of physical album sales,” Nielsen stated.”
  • “Also interesting is that Nielsen found that digital album sales were flat compared to last year, and digital track sales were down 10.4 percent. Unsurprisingly, CD sales were down 10 percent.”
  • “When Nielsen reported in 2010 that 2.5 million vinyl records were sold in 2009, Ars noted that was more than any other year since the media-tracking business started keeping score in 1991. Fast forward five years and that number has more than doubled, as Nielsen counted 5.6 million vinyl records sold.”


Could in-flight refueling be an alternative to the hub-and-spoke model

  • “The RECREATE study—REsearch on a CRuiser Enabled Air Transport Environment—was funded by the European Union and conducted by researchers spread across Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Sweden, and Switzerland. It was meant to come up with novel ideas for air transport that would reduce the amount of fuel and CO2 that currently result from long-distance air travel.”
  • “According to the study, using shorter-range (2,500-3,000 mile (4000-4800km)) 250-passenger jets, a single in-flight refueling during a 6,000 mile (9,650km) long-haul journey could reduce the weight of fuel by 20 percent (versus a two-flight journey over the same distance). That’s because a plane flying a longer distance in a single leg has to carry more fuel as a percentage of its overall weight. What’s more, this calculation takes into account the fuel needed by the tanker.”
  • “RECREATE proposes a slightly different refueling model than currently used by the US Air Force. The airliner would fly along, straight and level, and then be met by a specially designed tanker aircraft rather than making the plane being refueled do the hard part. The tanker aircraft would have to be capable of delivering 35,000lbs (15,875kg) of fuel and would need to be able to loiter at the refueling point for at least four hours.”


Thanks for listening to this week’s Citizens of Tech. As the Riddler said to Twoface in Batman Forever, “Don’t kill him! If you kill him, he won’t learn nothin’!” If there’s something you don’t like about the show, hey — don’t kill us. Tell us what we did wrong so that we learn. And if you are listening and like what you hear, let us know that, too.

Oh and BTW — pay attention to the feed. You’re getting this show through the Packet Pushers Full Feed or Community Podcast feed right now. Now that we’re past show 10, CoT will be getting its own feed soon. We’ll drop a final note onto the current feed to let you know when you need to switch over and how to do it.

Thanks everyone, and now go start a rumor about Peter Jackson’s “The Silmarillion.”