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Category: Technology

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

November 23, 2015

Citizens of Tech 018 - Historical Binary VR



In 1992, Neal Stephenson described virtual reality to his Snowcrash readers thusly. Ethan reads a selection from Snowcrash.

Eric continues: ...and we’ll discuss how virtual reality is shaping up in the real world, doubling your bandwidth with T-mobile, the FCC’s velvet glove, Tesla seatbelt recall, binary stars becoming one, oxygen batteries, all sorts of computer history, and more on today’s Citizens of Tech.

On November 20th, 2015 we gathered in our virtual studio to record this epic bit of nerdery. We start the day with…Eric continues with the T-mobile story.


T-Mobile going for the jugular - CEO: “Both investors and customers are going to be real happy. This could be the biggest thing we’ve announced.”


  • Introducing unlimited video streaming - which doesn’t impact your data limit

    • Supported platforms:

      • Netflix

      • Hulu

      • FoxSports

      • NBC Sports

      • NO YouTube or Twitch yet… but in talks

  • Already allow Unlimited Spotify and Apple Music

  • Also doubled bandwidth limits to 2, 6, and 10GB

FCC Preserves your right to hack your WiFi Router


  • “The FCC has modified its proposal to allow open source firmware like DD-WRT or Tomato.”

  • “The agency will only forbid tweaks that take a router "out of compliance," such as an overly strong signal.”

Final Kiss of Two Stars Heading for Catastrophe

  • VLT (very large telescope) has found the hottest and most massive touching double star

    • “Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, an international team of astronomers have found the hottest and most massive double star with components so close that they touch each other. The two stars in the extreme system VFTS 352 could be heading for a dramatic end...”

  • Located 160,000 Light Years away(!) in the Tarantula Nebula

    • This remarkable region is the most active nursery of new stars in the nearby Universe and new observations from ESO’s VLT [2] have revealed that this pair of young stars is among the most extreme and strangest yet found.”

  • They orbit each other in just over a day - that’s crazy fast.

  • They’re so close that their surfaces touch!

  • Combined mass of 57x that of our sun.

  • Over-Contact Binary https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contact_binary

  • This will end one of two ways:

    • Merge into one large, fast spinning, possibly magnetic star - “If it keeps spinning rapidly it might end its life in one of the most energetic explosions in the Universe, known as a long-duration gamma-ray burst,” says the lead scientist of the project.”

    • Binary black holes - “If the stars are mixed well enough, they both remain compact and the VFTS 352 system may avoid merging. This would lead the objects down a new evolutionary path that is completely different from classic stellar evolution predictions. In the case of VFTS 352, the components would likely end their lives in supernova explosions, forming a close binary system of black holes. Such a remarkable object would be an intense source of gravitational waves.

Tesla recalling 90,000 cars over seatbelt concern


  • The cost of the worldwide recall will be "immaterial," the company said. The problem was discovered after a single report to the company in early November of a seat-belt assembly breaking when a customer in the front passenger seat of a Model S on the road in Europe turned to talk with passengers in the rear seat.

  • "We expect the vast majority of seatbelts to be fine."

  • Tesla may send service technicians to customers if necessary, the spokesman said.

  • Fixing an improperly installed belt assembly will take about 6 minutes, Tesla officials said.


Computer History!!

Eric & Ethan read and discuss together.

Content I Like

Account Killer - Instructions for removing your data from service providers; cuz it’s not always easy.


Today I Learned

400 Million years ago, before trees came on the scene, Earth was home to giant mushrooms called Protoaxites, which grew up to 24ft (8 meters)  in height.



Oxygen Sponge Metal


University of Southern Denmark

  • Cobalt based salt. “The key component of the new material is the element cobalt, which is bound in a specially designed organic molecule. In standard form – and depending on the available oxygen content, the ambient temperature, and the barometric pressure – the absorption of oxygen by the material from its surroundings may take anything from seconds to days.”

  • Artificial Hemoglobin. "The material is both a sensor, and a container for oxygen – we can use it to bind, store, and transport oxygen – like a solid artificial hemoglobin."

  • The crystalline material changes color when absorbing or releasing oxygen: black when saturated, pink when oxygen released

  • Could be used for harvesting oxygen and storing it from oceans, etc.

  • Controlled release - "We see release of oxygen when we heat up the material, and we have also seen it when we apply vacuum," said Professor McKenzie. "We are now wondering if light can also be used as a trigger for the material to release oxygen – this has prospects in the growing field of artificial photosynthesis."

Samsung Gear VR


  • It’s not exactly TRON, but consumer (non-Enthusiast) VR is finally an approachable deal.

  • Owners of Samsung S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ or Note 5 can purchase a $99 headset for their phone

  • You also need a bluetooth controller, which will run you around $60 for a good one

  • As always: Content is king, so what’s the deal?

    • Oculus Store - The cohesive hub for the VR experience - Games, Samsung Gear apps, library app, etc.

    • Lots of “shooter” style games of all varieties

    • VR Karts

      • Mario-Kart style game

    • Land’s End (not the catalogue clothing store, though that could be interesting in VR…)

      • Exploration, exploration, exploration

      • Gorgeous and Meditative, Immersive, Stunning, Extraordinary, Beautiful and Serene

      • John Carmack (formerly of ID Software, now Occulus) says it’s “Great VR!” I had a great time playing through; I’m really proud to see quality like this showing up on Gear VR.

    • Omega Agent - Various locales, but really here are the 3 big selling points:

      • Jetpack

      • Shotgun

      • Robots, rockets and UFOs to shoot

    • Not just games!

      • Oculus Video has 9,000 videos from vimeo, Twitch, 70 feature length films from Fox and Lionsgate

      • Netflix app

  • Social integration is the next “killer app” to be added, and since Facebook bought Oculus, you can rest assured it’s well along in development.


Citizens of Tech is brought to you by Cyberdyne Systems, proud manufacturers of Skynet and humanoid destroying robots. If you’ve got a species you’d like to destroy, Cyberdyne can help.

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November 14, 2015

Citizens of Tech 017 - Self-Driving Nano Bricks



Welcome to the Citizens of Tech podcast, a show where we discuss all sorts of interesting technology without skipping the details. This isn’t really a news show. Sure, we talk about some newsy stuff, but we try to include more of the science and nerdy details that make the stories interesting. While we’re at it, we also have a bit of fun with features like Deathwatch, we look back to the past at old technology, and peer ahead to technology we think might be the future.

We hope you’ll stick around as we discuss making your bricks the open source way, Googlemobiles, 4K streaming with Roku, a DOA phone, LP cover art, orbiting memory, carbon nanotube non-volatile RAM, and more.

I am Ethan Banks. Follow me for mostly technology tweets @ecbanks. Eric Sutphen, my fellow Citizens co-host and producer joins me today. Today is November 9, 2015, and it is a beautiful day.

And we jump into the news with a Kickstarter project.


The Liberator Compressed Earth Brick Press


  • An open source compressed earth brick press. “AjarTech is kicking off its first big project, and we need your help. We want to bring Compressed Earth Brick Presses (CEBs) to the masses as they should be: Open source! The Liberator CEB allows you to take clay and dirt dug for foundation and compress it into bricks for a house, a factory, a wall...anything! It's an exciting project and we can't wait to bring you on board.”

  • The money will turn CAD into a document anyone can use. “We need your support to take the existing CAD designs for The Liberator Compressed Earth Brick Press, or CEB, and make them into a single document that anyone can download, modify, and go to a hardware store and buy the parts for. We're working with [CAD firm], a local Chicago design group, to make sure that the designs are professional, functional, and immediately useful to anyone.”

  • “This project will only be funded if at least $20,000 is pledged by Wed, Nov 18 2015 8:54 AM PDT.”

Google’s cars need to drive less like robots and more like humans


  • Training is going well for the Googlemobiles.

  • They are really safe, with only 16 accidents since 2009, and most of those were humans rear-ending the Googlemobiles.

  • But Googlemobiles aren’t sentient. They are victims of programming and therefore unforeseen circumstances.

    • A fixed-gear cyclist balancing on his bike at a stop prevented the Googlemobile from moving.

    • The Googlemobile wouldn’t go around a double-yellow line despite being stuck behind a double-parked vehicle.

Gaming news: Steam Hardware, Fallout 4, etc.

  • Steam Controller

  • Steam Link

  • Steam Boxes by Alienware, Syber, etc.

  • Fallout 4 Tomorrow! YAAAAAAY!

    • Initial Reviews are mixed, but generally positive.

    • Interesting comparing the previous edition Fallout: New Vegas with FO4/ FO3 - different developers, different focuses

    • Upgraded visuals, better character development, same old same old gameplay - if you loved FO3/NV, you’ll likely love FO4 as well.

Roku finally gets into 4K with new streaming box, updated software



  • A new Roku box. What’s a Roku? Pretty much the best, most easily usable streaming player.

  • Roku 3 has been the hot player for a while now. For $99, comes with a wireless remote control with a built-in headphone jack, plus an IR port for people who use universal remotes. HDMI, wired, wireless.

  • So now, the Roku 4 has been announced.

  • 802.11ac

  • 4K @ 60fps. Reportedly, neither the new Apple TV nor the Amazon Firestick can do that.

  • HDCP 2.2 is an enabler for this. The Tivo Bolt will also have HDCP 2.2, and presumably will support 4K @ 60fps.

  • Of course, the 4K adoption problem is three-fold.

    • (1) Still not many sets out there.

    • (2) Still not much content.

    • (3) 4K streaming is a bandwidth problem. 4K streams can be theoretically compressed down to 10-12Mbps, but even 12-15Mbps will be hard without efficient improvements converting from H.264 to HEVC format. Netflix 4K streaming is currently 15.6Mbps. Let’s assume you can stream that much. How many hours of 4K content can you watch before you bandwidth cap is exceed? Based on 15.6Mbps and a 350GB cap, the theoretical max is about 52.5 hours. And doesn’t take protocol overhead into account, or any of your other browsing, video chat, software updates, etc.

  • So how much do you care about Roku 4?


Blackberry Priv


  • A goody. Another Android phone.

  • Oh, but this one has a physical keyboard. I admit I sort of get that. Even with my new iPhone 6s+ super phone, I can’t type accurately on a virtual keyboard and I’m not a fan of predictive typing technology.

  • So, maybe it’s an interesting phone, but when’s the last time you saw someone with a Blackberry? They are exceedingly rare.

  • Yes, the Priv is a nicely spec’ed phone.

    • 5.4-inch curved AMOLED display

    • 2560 x 1440

    • 3,410 mAh battery, 22.5 hours of mixed use

    • Snapdragon 808 CPU

    • 3GB RAM

    • 32GB storage, expandable with SD card

    • 18-megapixel sensor with Optical Image Stabilization and a dual-LED flash

    • $699

  • But this phone, with the unfortunate name, is a last stand for Blackberry. “But there's way more riding on the $699 Priv than whether or not it's a decent Android phone. BlackBerry's CEO says the company needs to sell 5 million a year to stay in the consumer handset business — a number that's either eminently achievable or wildly optimistic depending on your perspective. It's the last chance for a once-dominant global brand to stay relevant, and if it fails, BlackBerry will have little choice but to accept a future as a niche company that provides software services to business and government.”

  • My prediction? No way in the world Blackberry can sell 5M of these per year.

Content I Like

ST33: Uncovering the art of the vinyl sleeve


  • Just a neat blog that examines old album covers.

  • In the days before streaming, people bought physical media.

  • LP covers were often high art that marketed the recording.

  • More often, LP covers were simply interesting visualizations of what was inside.

  • Each blog post highlights a specific cover, and talks about why the author found it interesting. There’s usually a good bit of history behind it, perhaps some information about the record label, all providing context that helps shed a little light on how the audience of the time might have received it.

  • ST33 blog posts are infrequent, cataloging the discoveries of the blogger, Simon Robinson. He describes himself thusly, “I’ve been interested in album art since I was at school. As a designer I even got to do a few vinyl sleeves in the late seventies and early eighties, before the CD format took over and have been able to do a few vinyl packages again in the past couple of years, as demand and interest means the format continue to thrive.”

Ranking Digital Rights


  • “Internet and telecommunications companies, software producers, and device and networking equipment manufacturers exert growing influence over the political and civil lives of people all over the world. These companies share a responsibility to respect human rights.”

  • 16 Internet and telecommunications companies were evaluated according to 31 indicators focused on corporate disclosure of policies and practices that affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy.”

  • “Companies’ scores and accompanying analysis were generated through a rigorous process including peer review, company feedback, and quality control.”

  • Internet services topped by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter (in that order)

  • Telecom topped by: Vodafone, AT&T, Orange, and America Mobile

Today I Learned

TIL that native format at a movie theater 4096 x 2160 4K resolution, while the new Ultra HD consumer format has a slightly lower resolution of 3840 X 2160.


TIL that "muskeg", very damp soil, is why northern Ontario is almost uninhabited. Sometimes 100 feet deep or more, unless completely cleared it freezes and buckles construction in winter, and swallows anything left (locomotives, construction equipment, moose, etc.) when it thaws in the spring.



A piece of memory from Gemini 3 spacecraft is up for auction


  • Buy a piece of history. “Do you want a piece of the first computer on a manned spaceflight? Of course you do -- and you're in luck, because a piece of RANAM (Random Access Non-Destructive Readout) from the Gemini 3 spacecraft's computer is up for auction.”

  • Or...buy a piece of space junk. I guess it’s how you look at it.

  • Not all of the space missions required computer. Mercury didn’t, for example. “The prior Mercury missions didn't require a computer, but Gemini needed both a second astronaut and an on-board computer that aided with six mission phases: prelaunch, ascent backup, insertion, catch-up, rendezvous and re-entry.”

  • I remember when cars were like that.

My 90s Television


  • Throwback to the 90s - commercials, movie trailers, Gameshows, sports, etc.

  • Not the only one of its kind - My80stv.com (holy Richard Marx, Batman!), my70stv.com -

  • http://mydecadetv.com/

  • Era-appropriate video filters

  • Pulling from Youtube? I’m not honestly sure, but doesn’t have the usual youtube embedded player. Maybe by doing it via API, it removes that? I’m no Youtube embedding expert.


Carbon Nanotube (CNT) NVRAM aka “Nano-RAM” aka “NRAM”



  • Nantero has been working on this since 2001.

  • Government related projects have shown some interest.

    • “In August 2008, Lockheed Martin acquired an exclusive license for government applications of Nantero's intellectual property.”

    • “In May 2009, a radiation-resistant version of NRAM was tested on the STS-125 mission of the US Space Shuttle Atlantis.”

  • Still ongoing research and projects. “Nantero raised a total of over $42 million through the November 2012 series D round.[12] Investors included Charles River Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Globespan Capital Partners, Stata Venture Partners and Harris & Harris Group. In May 2013, Nantero completed series D with an investment by Schlumberger.[13] EE Times listed Nantero as one of "10 top startups to watch in 2013".[14]”

  • Why NRAM?

    • DRAM can only get so small, the end result limiting density and therefore capacity.

    • If you try to go smaller with DRAM technology, the metal electrodes can’t hold a charge significant enough to indicate a 1 or a 0.

    • NRAM is also faster than DRAM, more like the speed of SRAM. SRAM isn’t very dense, and is thus costly. NRAM is also more dense.

    • NRAM could be the ultimate RAM answer, and some suggest is the universal memory. “Universal memory refers to a hypothetical computer data storage device combining the cost benefits of DRAM, the speed of SRAM, the non-volatility of flash memory, and infinite durability. Such a device, if ever it becomes possible to develop, would have a far ranging effect on the computer market.”

  • NRAM can get smaller, limited only by the ability of nanolithography to lay down metal pathways over the carbon nanotube grids.

  • How does Nano-RAM work?

    • A complex grid of carbon nanotubes are used to store state permanently, i.e. without a voltage having to be constantly applied. (Non-volatile.)

    • A zero is represented by carbon nanotubes at a particular junction being apart.

    • A one is when the nanotubes are touching.

    • Two forces at work allow the 0s and 1s to remain in place when the electricity is gone.

      • 1. Stiffness of the nanotubes that allow them to hold their natural shape, where they are not contacting one another.

      • 2. Voltage is applied to drive contact between nanotubes at a specific memory location. When the voltage is removed, van der Waals force takes over, keeping the contact in place. “Van der Waals forces include attractions and repulsions between atoms, molecules, and surfaces, as well as other intermolecular forces.”


As we bring this show to a close, we remind you that joining as one with Vger is probably a really, really bad idea. No matter how poetic it sounds. I mean, you’re not the creator. You’re just not. So how do you think it’s going to go for you when it figures out your lie? That you’re merely representative of a species, and not the actual maker? That all of your so-called “answers” are really overwrought platitudes designed to take advantage of the child-like nature of this unimaginably large intellect?

It’s all over, man. It’s all over. I see universal singularity in your future. Yeah. You want to be responsible for that? Do you want to be the one bringing about the end of all things? No. No, I didn’t think so. So just say “no” to Vger next time, k?

But say “yes” to Citizens of Tech. We’ll be back next week. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter @citizensoftech, subscribe via iTunes or CitizensOfTech.com, and tell your friends.