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Category: Technology

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

January 26, 2016

Citizens of Tech 025 - Dieselpunk Cellophane Titanosaurs


On this, the 25th glorious Citizens of Tech podcast, we revel in the largest dinosaur ever unearthed, a 100 year old engine that’s still running, a harmful poison helping nearsightedness, your hot, hot data, the coming electric car crisis, along with our regular segments “Content I Like” and “Today I Learned.”


Unveiling the Titanosaur, which may be the world’s largest dinosaur


  • A monster fossil was discovered. Femur the size of your sofa. “The find itself made news when images came out of paleontologist Diego Pol lying on the femur of the skeleton, which is roughly the size of a sofa (though far less comfortable). Since then, the team from the Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio (MPEF) has excavated more than 200 bones, representing 70 percent of the skeleton.”

  • This monster was not full grown. Wow. “Since this individual belongs to a species that hasn't been formally described, there's no official name to give it. They do know, however, that it's not a mature adult—certain bones in these animals fuse when growth stops, which didn't happen here.”

  • So, how big is big? “This young adult was roughly 37 meters long (122 feet) and weighed in at an estimated 63 metric tons. … The skeleton filled an entire room that could easily fit hundreds of people, and it was arranged so that its head jutted out the doorway and into the hall beyond. From a distance, everything looks roughly proportional, so it's difficult to appreciate just how big everything is. It's only when you drop your gaze low enough to see how the legs compare to full grown people that the size of it is really driven home.”

  • And what room are we talking about? Well, it’s on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. And by “it,” we mean a fiberglass cast of the bones. “The skeleton on display is made of lightweight fiberglass casts, as the actual bones would weigh far too much to support”

  • It is thought the Titanosaur was an herbivore, but that’s speculation right now. “It also has distinctive teeth. Although they're not sharp, they're pointier than you'd expect from a herbivore. "The teeth worked like big rakes," Novacek told Ars, adding that the dinosaur simply obtained as much foliage as possible but didn't actually chew it.”

This Dieselpunk Shrine Hides a Century-Old, Fully Operational 800 HP Motor


  • This is just really cool. A relatively ancient, but still functioning diesel engine. “Close to the gorgeous towers of the Óbuda Gas Works, there is a humble, church-like brick building housing an amazing piece of engineering: a still-functional 103-year-old Sulzer diesel motor connected to a Ganz generator.”

  • This isn’t just any old underpowered engine from yesteryear. This thing's a monster. Purpose? Electricity generation. “The 4-cylinder, 800-horsepower, 180-RPM stationary engine was built in 1912 by the Láng (Flame) Machine Works of Budapest, based upon the license of the Swiss industrial engineering and manufacturing firm Sulzer. The two-story machine supplied 110-volt direct current electricity for the Óbuda Gas Works with the help of the attached generator. Next to it is a control room, and behind that, a switch gear and distribution room.”

  • Lots of fantastic pictures in the Gizmodo post - worth your time to visit.

  • Also a gentle reminder that, 100 years later, we’re still burning stuff to generate electricity. But at least we’re making headway. If only solar wasn’t so darned expensive...


Could Atropine Eyedrops Help Reduce Nearsightedness In Children?


  • In the 1990’s, science noted that atropine had a positive effect on nearsightedness. Not that we know how it works, exactly. “As early as the 1990s, doctors had some evidence that atropine can slow the progression of nearsightedness. In some countries, notably in Asia, a 1 percent solution of atropine eyedrops is commonly prescribed to children with myopia. It's not entirely clear how atropine works. Because people become nearsighted when their eyeballs get too elongated, it's generally thought that atropine must be interfering with that unwanted growth.”

  • Take too much, and bad side effects can happen. No, not oily staining, but some other stuff. “Because it dilates pupils and blurs vision, atropine makes it hard to see up close or to stand bright lights.”

  • The trick then, was getting the dosage right. Lowest effective dose was surprisingly low, at 0.01% solution. “The children getting the lowest dose, eyedrops that were just 0.01 percent atropine, had the least worsening of nearsightedness compared with any other group after a five-year period. … And the children on 0.01 percent atropine had almost no uncomfortable side effects from the eyedrops, the researchers reported Monday at the American Academy of Ophthalmology annual meeting in Las Vegas.”

  • So, awesome! We can get this in the US, right? Nope. Sure can’t. You can get 1% solution. Not 0.01%. “To get the diluted version, families and physicians in other locales need to get a compounding pharmacy to create it, and the Food and Drug Administration has approved only the 1 percent solution so far.”

  • And also, the use-cases seem to be in folks whose eyesight is getting rapidly worse. Not folks like me who have a very mild myopia. Although I guess that might be up to a doctor’s discretion. One doctor mentioned in the article “recommends it for children whose eyesight is rapidly getting worse and need new eyeglasses every few months, but not for patients who have only mild vision impairment.”


SSDs Are Getting Quite Hot


  • PCI-E SSDs run really hot. That’s just the way of things.

  • Current Intel 750 series SSDs are shipping with massive aluminum heat sinks - big ones on the consumer grade SSDs, and huge ones for the commercial grade.

  • The link in the show notes demos a crazy liquid cooling rig. Not strictly necessary, but maybe where we are heading someday.

  • My big takeaway? High performance SSDs generate a lot of heat. Who knew?

Are We Headed For An Electric Car Crisis?


  • Consumer demand isn’t driving electric car sales. For the most part, people would rather drive SUVs, etc. if sales are any indication. “Given the chance, Americans will default to bigger cars every time. Not hybrids and EVs, but trucks and SUVs.”

  • We talk about Tesla on this show, but most people can’t afford them. Tesla is catering to the luxury end of the market.

  • Interestingly, if Tesla was mass-market affordable, they would do well (we think). The Tesla is, more or less, just a car. Not super-small, it actually can seat up to 7 passengers. Little to no range anxiety depending on your driving habits and which battery configuration you buy. I even see the occasional Model S up here in New Hampshire.

  • But automakers aren’t making EVs because it’s what customers are asking for. They are making them because they have to for purposes of regulatory compliance. “Automakers are going green not just to save the planet, but because they have to: by 2020 California will require 10 percent of all sales to be EV or fuel cell cars, and nationally, fleets have to average 54.5 mpg by 2025. Right now, we’re at about 24.7 mpg. Oof. The result, the News points out, is what industry folks are calling a “two-tier market”: one market full of SUVs and trucks people actually buy, and one with the “money-losing compliance vehicles” of EVs and hybrids people aren’t buying.”

  • Automakers with deep pockets can make this work. They can sink the funds into the R&D required to put an EV on the road. Smaller automakers are going to struggle, though. They don’t have the deep pockets. They are buying credits to keep up with compliance requirements. “It’s the classic battle between market forces and regulators. But the latter isn’t going to back down, even when it forces smaller automakers like Mazda or Subaru (or cash-strapped ones like Fiat Chrysler) to buy EV credits to stay in compliance.”

Content I Like

Dinosaur Comics

  • Old school art. Highly pixelated with a limited color pallette.

  • The panels are the same every time, AFAIK. Only the words change. It’s always a conversation between a T-Rex and (I think) a velociraptor.

  • The text is dot matrix, and sometimes the letters don’t quite fit into the panel.

  • The conversation usually proceeds from sane and logical to completely ridiculous.

  • Takes a while to figure it out, but I look forward to each one more and more now that I’m into it.

Today I Learned

Atropine Was Called “Belladonna”


  • “Atropine was known as belladonna, and fancy Parisian ladies used it to dilate their pupils, since big pupils were considered alluring at the time.”

Cellophane is biodegradable:


  • Cellulose from wood, cotton, hemp or other sources is dissolved in alkali and carbon disulfide to make a solution called viscose, which is then extruded through a slit into a bath of dilute sulfuric acid and sodium sulfate to reconvert the viscose into cellulose. The film is then passed through several more baths, one to remove sulfur, one to bleach the film, and one to add glycerin to prevent the film from becoming brittle.


And with that, this week’s Citizens of Tech comes to a close. You can find us on Facebook, visit us at CitizensOfTech.com and follow us on Twitter @citizensoftech. If you would, please tell your friends about the show, and rate us on iTunes. Our download numbers keep going up, and that’s good, but it’s up to you, fellow Citizen, to help drive them higher.

World domination. We wantz it.

January 19, 2016

Citizens of Tech 024 - Spying Supernova Bacteria


Today we’ve got the biggest supernova ever, your gadgets spying on you, accelerated bone repair molecules, plastic eating bacteria, the death of the shiny disc, and even a little history!


'Assassin' supernova discovered that is 570bn times brighter than sun


  • Roving telescopes have discovered the brightest explosion of a star we know of. “Astronomers have discovered the brightest star explosion ever, a super supernova that easily outshines our entire Milky Way. An international team revealed “the most powerful supernova observed in human history” Thursday in the latest Science journal.”

  • Don’t stare into the supernova. “It is 570 billion times brighter at its peak than our sun.”

  • Why did they call it assassin? Meh. Nothing too cool. “Labeled ASASSN-15lh for the All-Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae and pronounced “assassin,””

  • What’s next? Figuring out how the darn thing is powered. That’s a lot of energy.


The Internet of Things Is A Growing Spy Network for Internet Advertisers


  • You know how Internet ads try to send you ads for things you’re interested in, right? For example, Google some product, visit a product page, and for the rest of your life a banner ad for that product will appear...even if you already bought it or decided against it.

  • The big deal here is targeted advertising. Don’t just display an ad generically on the Internet. Rather, target a specific ad designed to engage you individually. The older the Internet gets, the more sophisticated targeting technology is getting.

  • IoT is in on the action now. “As computers get embedded into more of the objects we live with and use, and permeate more aspects of our lives, more companies want to use them to spy on us without our knowledge or consent.”

  • Yes, but we didn’t consent, because who would do that? But oh wait...we did. “The license agreement we didn't read but legally agreed to when we unthinkingly clicked "I agree" on a screen, or opened a package we purchased, gives all of those companies the legal right to conduct all of this surveillance. And the way US privacy law is currently written, they own all of that data and don't need to allow us to see it.”

  • So, how is the spying being done now? Cross-device, baby. The don’t just want your browser. They want you no matter what device you’re using. “SilverPush is an Indian startup that's trying to figure out all the different computing devices you own. It embeds inaudible sounds into the webpages you read and the television commercials you watch. Software secretly embedded in your computers, tablets, and smartphones picks up the signals, and then uses cookies to transmit that information back to SilverPush. The result is that the company can track you across your different devices. It can correlate the television commercials you watch with the web searches you make. It can link the things you do on your tablet with the things you do on your work computer.”


Nano-shells Deliver Molecules that Tell Bone to Repair Itself


  • We’re telling the cells at the injury site to start repair work, and doing it at a molecular level. “Scientists at the University of Michigan have developed a polymer sphere that delivers a molecule to bone wounds that tells cells already at the injury site to repair the damage. Using the polymer sphere to introduce the microRNA molecule into cells elevates the job of existing cells to that of injury repair by instructing the cells' healing and bone-building mechanisms to switch on, said Peter Ma, professor of dentistry and lead researcher on the project.”

  • The therapy can last a long time - as long as a month. “The microRNA is time-released, which allows for therapy that lasts for up to a month or longer…”

  • So...why do we need this? I mean, broken bones have been healing without help for a long time. Well, consider other bone issues, such a bone loss. “The technology can help grow bone in people with conditions like oral implants, those undergoing bone surgery or joint repair, or people with tooth decay. … Millions of patients worldwide suffer from bone loss and associated functional problems, but growing and regenerating high-quality bone for specific applications is still very difficult with current technology.”


CD Players In Automobiles

  • I have a car with a 6 CD changer now. I find I don’t like to consume music this way anymore.

  • Spotify Premium with offline syncing has spoiled me.

  • And if not Spotify Premium, I’d rather consume my own ripped collection via compressed file format.

  • CDs take up lots of physical space, and don’t hold very much, assuming non-compressed.

  • Yeah, CD-TEXT is a thing, but not all head units read the data, and most CD’s aren’t encoded. Sorry, but I want to see my artist & track.

  • Yeah, CDs sound better than compressed MP3s...but in the car? Who cares? The automobile suffers from wind and road noise, as well as crappy speaker placement. The best you can hope for is loud, clean, and faithful frequency reproduction with no distortion. But you’ll never get a proper sound stage, control over reflection, etc. Audiophiles need not bother. So, why NOT MP3s or other streams? The car is the perfect application.

Content I Like

Hamilton Original Broadway Cast

  • I never cared so much for history surrounding the revolutionary war.

  • But this is smartly written and scored. A very interesting retelling of the story of Alexander Hamilton with a modern vibe.

Today I Learned

Bacteria that can degrade plastic exists, but was discovered accidentally.


  • In 2014, A Chinese researcher found holes in plastic bags of millet in his pantry, and moths + larvae nearby. His team analyzed their gut, and discovered a bacteria that can digest and degrade polyethelene.

  • There is hope for our landfills yet!


As we bring this Citizens of Tech to a close, we encourage to pay close attention to your enemy radar. Oooh. Dots. Nope, they’re gone. No wait, there they are! To the left. No, no! TO THE RIGHT!! Where are they?!? They have to be RIGHT ON TOP OF US!!!

Yes. Oh, yes they are. Right above you. They’re in the ceiling. And it’s too late.

Until next time, farewell fellow Citizens. Farewell.

January 12, 2016

Citizens of Tech 023 - Genetic Cassette Emulation



The best meme I’ve seen relating to Star Wars Ep.7 was about Luke’s new Skywalker:


Citizens of Tech arrives in 2016 with new nerdy bits to inspire and amaze you. We have some past, present and future tech today, as we discuss emulators, cassettes, long distance wireless charging, SpaceX, gene editing, Oculus Rift, and NOT flying over Antarctica.

I am Ethan Banks. You can follow me on Twitter @ecbanks, where I tweet interesting articles on IT, bad puns, my blog posts, and other nerdy bits I think you might like. Standing tall is my co-host, that master of energy, gaming, and trivia Eric Sutphen.

And onto the show, there’s a pretty sweet game emulator for Mac that we read about.


'OpenEmu' for OS X Now Supports Nintendo 64, PlayStation 1 and More


  • Eric loves emulators.

  • OpenEmu is for OS X. Big upgrade. “Free Mac OS X multi-platform retro video game emulator, has received a substantial upgrade”

  • Version 2.0.1 adds support for a ton of systems.

    • Atari 5200, 7800 and Lynx

    • Bandai WonderSwan

    • Coleco ColecoVision

    • GCE/Milton Bradley Vectrex

    • Magnavox Odyssey2/Videopac+

    • Mattel Intellivision

    • NEC TurboGrafx-CD/PC Engine-CD + PC-FX

    • Nintendo Famicom Disk System and Nintendo 64

    • Sega SG-1000 and Sega CD

    • Sony PlayStation and PSP

  • Oh yeah, it supported all of these old systems already…

    • Atari VCS/2600

    • Game Boy

    • NES

    • Genesis

    • Virtual Boy

    • MAME arcade games

    • Sega’s Saturn

    • Other platforms

Retro-tech: 2015 was an astounding year for one cassette tape factory


  • Cassettes aren’t dead. I know vinyl is hipster retro cool. But cassettes? “National Audio Company (NAC) President Steve Stepp told Ars that his Springfield, Missouri, company had been seeing a (very) healthy 20 percent year-over-year growth in demand for audiocassette tapes for several years. But 2015 was even better. As of the beginning of October, NAC reported a 31 percent increase in order volume over the previous year.”

  • As other cassette manufacturers have been going away, NAC has been buying up their gear. That’s pretty good for NAC, because no one is making new gear for cassette manufacturers. “The company has 50 to 60 different pieces of heavy machinery in reserve that it has purchased through the years. “Thirty or 40 of that we've cannibalized for parts,” Stepp told Ars.”

  • Who is driving demand? Indie bands. Blank cassettes. Trendy modern artists, sort of like the vinyl thing, including Metallica and The Flaming Lips.

  • Playlist, thy name is mix tape.


Ukrainian startup: We’ve solved long-range wireless charging


  • Long range wireless charging. As in, power through the air. That’s what we’re talking about here. Not simply your phone on an induction mat.

  • Of course...we’re talking 5 meters. So...uh...is that long distance really?

  • Oh and...your phone is still in a cradle.

  • So, yeah. It’s early days. How does it work, anyway?

    • Like a crystal radio. “The idea of a crystal radio is simple: with just a coil of copper wire, antenna, capacitor, crystal detector, and high-impedance earphones—and no additional power—you can listen to some radio stations, though the sound level is weak.”

    • “What XE claims to have done is build an efficient combination of a transmitter and receiver so that the power passed along could be used to charge the buffer battery.”

    • Believe it or not, the antenna is the breakthrough. They are using shortwave frequencies for the transmission, which usually requires a long wire antenna. Now they’ve got one that works, but will fit inside an iPhone case.

    • Yes, but won’t this boil my insides and cause me cancer and make my pets’ hair fall out? “Addressing the obvious safety concerns, Chuba said that the transmitter's nominal rating power is 2.5W and its maximum output is 5W, which is safe for people and animals.”

With a historic landing, SpaceX launches new age of spaceflight



  • SpaceX sends an vehicle into space and returns it to the earth safely for reuse. “SpaceX did it. On Monday night the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket soared into space, separated from the second stage, and then made a guided flight back to a landing site in Florida. The historic flight marked the beginning of the orbital economy by promising a future of dramatically lower launch costs.”

  • So...didn’t Blue Origin get there first? Yeah. But what SpaceX did was more impressive. Far more. “However, it is worth noting that on Monday night the Falcon 9 rocket descended from about twice the altitude as the New Shepherd vehicle, and at about twice the speed, approximately Mach 7.5. It did not simply drop back to Earth from a vertical launch; rather, the Falcon 9 flew hundreds of kilometres away from the coast before turning around and flying back. By doing so it became the first orbital rocket ever to achieve such a feat, and presumably the first of many.”

  • This graph highlights the major differences between the two flights, and illustrates just how much more complex of an undertaking the SpaceX flight was.

Gene editing tech named Science magazine’s Breakthrough of the Year


  • Would you like to edit a genome? Well, now you can. “CRISPR is a futuristic technique that can be used to edit and manipulate the DNA of any organism—crops, livestock, and even humans. It can allow scientists to control gene expression and selectively turn genes on or off.”

  • Yeah, but isn’t it really expensive? Not so much, it seems. “CRISPR is not only remarkable for its ability to manipulate the DNA of a targeted organism, it is also remarkable because it is an extremely inexpensive and relatively easy technique to use. In terms of the resources it requires, it could be implemented in almost any microbiology lab worldwide.”

  • So, let’s edit out all the bad things and make humans live forever and stuff! Not so fast. “The most contentious use of CRISPR is its application to humans. CRISPR could provide a potential solution for many diseases that are genetically inherited, but researchers would need to consider the ethical implications of genetically altering patients. They would also need to consider the ethical implications of failing to use genetic modification if it has the potential to save a life.”


Oculus Rift. You didn’t think it would be cheap, did you?



  • Cost of headset.

  • Cost of hardware that can render pixels.

  • Estimated that less than 15% of existing PC configurations can run this.

  • Really, you want specially designed games.

Today I Learned

Why are there no commercial flights that fly over Antarctica?


  1. Geography. It’s just not the shortest path.

  2. ETOPS rules. ETOPS governs how far certain planes can travel considering the number of engines they have. Two engine plane - no go to Antarctica. Four engine plane - yeah, that would work...if there were somewhere in Antarctica that enough people to fill a four engine plane would need to go.

  3. If you want to fly that far south, you gotta prepare the plane extra special. There are rules. For example, special survival equipment for planes going below 72 degrees latitude.


And that wraps up Episode 23 of Citizens of Tech. You can follow the show @citizensoftech on Twitter and find us on Facebook. Also visit citizensoftech.com for this and all our prior episodes. And just remember, if you were abandoned on a desert planet as a child, they are totally not coming back for you. Suck it up, kid.