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Category: Technology

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

September 26, 2016

Have we lost our ability to think critically? - CoT 045


Have we lost our ability to think critically?



  • Scientific findings are subject to peer review.

  • Negative responses to scientific findings are published in the form of rebuttals. Formal treatments of the issues with the original paper, also subject to scientific scrutiny.

  • The problem? Original articles are cited, while rebuttals are often not. “We examined seven high-profile original articles and their rebuttals, finding that original articles were cited 17 times more than rebuttals, and that annual citation numbers were unaffected by rebuttals.”

  • While 7 papers is not a very large sample, it’s indicative of a problem with critical thinking. We read it online, and we accept it.

  • We should be reading online and wondering if it makes sense. Does it add up? Is there quality thought here? The joke is that, “I read it on the Internet. It must be true.” That joke tells us that we know we’re bad about this. And yet, if it comes from a seemingly legitimate source, we’re likely to accept it.

  • True story. I once “published” an academic paper on a joke protocol, and was contacted by a reporter looking to write a story on it. The paper was created via an auto-junk generator, filled with meaningless jargon.

Say, that’s a nicely spec’d mobile device you have there


  • Designed by former Apple employees

  • 5” Multi-touch Touchscreen

  • Wireless N connectivity

  • Quad Core 2.3Ghz CPU

  • NVIDIA Graphics

  • 2GB of DDR3 RAM

  • CD Quality Audio

  • 1080p Camera with 30FPS video

  • Sounds like a decent tablet device, right?

  • Weight: 45lbs (20kg)

  • Wait, what??

  • It’s an oven.

  • New buzzword: Software Defined Cooking

  • Temperature sensors

  • Built in scale

  • Over The Air Updates

  • “Food Recognition Engine”

    • A high definition camera pairs up with powerful hardware and software to bring you the most advanced food recognition possible.

    • Identifies cookies, for instance and bakes appropriately

  • Can cook a 12 lbs turkey

  • Uses 6 carbon fibre heating elements

  • Safe to the touch

  • Apps, apps, apps.

    • Recipes, Remote Control, Alerts “The potatoes are almost done.”, info: where in the baking process are we? - etc.

  • I think this may be the first “smart appliance” that I actually care about.

  • …..but probably won’t be getting any time soon

    • $1,495

Please make our cars easier to work on.


  • In college, I studied JIT.

  • Now, imagine if you were making the parts you needed right in the factory.

  • That’s what’s going on at a Toyota plant in Texas. Most of the suppliers are housed in the factory, making parts “immediately in time.”

  • They design and build the car virtually, right in the factory. If it doesn’t go together well there, they can tweak it.

  • They can also make sure the virtual vehicle meets all of the specs for the actual vehicle before finding out that the real thing has issues.

  • For example, they found out in virtual space that a proposed grill for a Tacoma had an airflow issue. So...they fixed it ahead of time by making larger grill holes.

  • Reader comments here were interesting. One I agreed with. Can’t they use the fancy software to make certain items user-serviceable?

    • Replacing head lamps, for instance.

    • Radio / dash stack.

Slack is dead. Long live slack.


  • Slack is amazing. (Also it’s not really dead, just in case you were worried.)

  • We were talking about that earlier today

  • However, it’s also expensive if you have a team larger than say… 5-10 people

  • Looking into it for my day job, we were faced with ~$600/mo

  • Enter Mattermost

  • Mattermost.org is:

    • “an alternative to proprietary SaaS messaging, Mattermost brings all your team communication into one place, making it searchable and accessible anywhere. It’s written in Golang and React and runs as a production-ready Linux binary under an MIT license with either MySQL or Postgres.”

  • Slack-compatible, not Slack-limited

    • Slack webhooks, integrations

    • Import your slack teams and users

    • Import your public channel history

    • Mimic your custom Slack theme

  • Has mobile apps for Android and iOS

  • Desktop apps for OSX, Windows, Mac, Linux

  • Runs as Linux binary, Docker image, OSX binary, Amazon Elastic Beanstalk app

  • Heroku, Puppet, Kubernetes, OpenShift, Cloud Foundry Installers

  • Monthly feature updates

  • Dozens of community integrations and applications, including Jira, IRC, XMPP, Hubot, Giphy, Jenkins, GitLab, Trac, Redmine, SVN, RSS/Atom and many others. Build and share your own apps using Mattermost APIs and drivers.

  • I’ve been messing with it a bit in a sandbox… and it’s really, really slick

  • Honestly works and looks like Slack with some minor customizations

  • Self-hosted allows lots of flexibility, unlimited storage, unlimited integrations, zero cost.

  • Self-hosted headaches are a thing.

  • Is it worth it?

Iowa, we hail your energy prowess. http://www.slate.com/articles/business/future_tense/2016/09/iowa_is_the_most_impressive_state_for_renewable_energy.html

  • It’s trendy to get energy from renewable resources. This is a big deal. Our way of life is based on energy consumption, so we need a way to maintain a modern society once oil runs out.

  • Harvesting wind and sun are leading sources, but they aren’t terribly efficient. Still, when you have lots of land that have a desirable wind profile, throw up the turbines.

  • Where is this happening notably? In Iowa. Yep. In 2008, Iowa generated about 4% of their energy from wind. But in 2015, it was up to 31.3%, more than any other state in the US.

  • Now, they’ve given the green light to a MidAmerican Energy project called Wind XI. This is a $3.6 billion project that will stand up 1,000 2-megawatt turbine. It should be done by 2019 -- then Iowa will be up to 40% of its power from wind.

Content I Like



  • Learn to the play the bass guitar.

  • Lots of free lessons.

  • More content available for $180 a year.

Today I Learned

The five second rule is a lie. If you drop something on the floor, it’s picking up whatever is down there. It all depends on the food and the surface just how fast it picks it up, but really, if you drop it, you, in almost all cases, should leave it there. Because science.


TIL in the coconuts used as "horses" in Monty Python and the Holy Grail didn't start out as a joke - they decided to use them because the film didn't have the budget for actual horses.

September 19, 2016

It’s Dangerous Flying at 60,000 km/s - CoT 044


It turns out that going 60k km/s is really, really dangerous. Also, robotic octobots, the ghost in the MP3, a sound cannon that could actually cripple you, and more!

Take me to the Opera.


  • Does anyone remember the Opera browser?

  • In days of yore it was Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera

  • Market share for Opera has fallen drastically in recent years with it hovering around what I deem an optimistic 5% of global market share.

    • It is, however, according to wikipedia, the top browser in most of Africa

    • That made me wonder why, and I think it may be related to “Opera Turbo” where they essentially compress things in transit to you. With bandwidth being a precious commodity in many areas of Africa, this is the most logical assumption I could come up with.

  • That 5% share is interesting, because Chrome, IE, Safari, and Firefox (in that order) all are far more popular in the rest of the world.

  • Opera is introducing a very interesting feature to their browser in what I see as an attempt at grabbing more market share; but one that I fully endorse.

  • State snooping is rampant in many parts of the world by oppressive regimes and less oppressive regimes even…

  • Enter the Opera VPN!

    • Encrypts all your data between your browser and Opera’s termination point

    • Netflix users rejoice!

    • Folks trying to access information deemed “unacceptable” by governments or educational institutions, and so forth will benefit from this.

  • Ethan, you and I and probably many of our listeners are more than capable of setting these types of VPN connections up for ourselves, but I imagine this could be very beneficial to end users, so what’s your take on this?



  • Robots are these stand-up things with legs and arms and saw blades and stuff.

  • What if they were actually soft-bodied? Then they could squeeze through small spaces, and you could 3D print cool variations.

  • But where do you mount the electronics and fuel? Early versions were tethered, and that’s no fun. Or they were  a combo of soft piece and hard pieces. Yuck.

  • Now, we’ve got a truly soft-bodied robot.

    • Flexible fuel tank.

    • Fueled by a chemical reaction. Hydrogen peroxide combines with a platinum catalyst to form oxygen. The oxygen gas then powers the motion, like compressed air was in earlier versions.

  • The oxygen is routed to the limbs via microfluidic channels managed by a microprocessor.

  • Directed by the processor, the oxygen arrives at a compartment where it can expand inside the limb. This changes the shape of the limb, causing motion.

  • A proof of concept here, but it’s got a lot of potential.

TheGhost in the MP3


  • "moDernisT" was created by salvaging the sounds and images lost to compression via the MP3 and MP4 codecs.

    • The audio is comprised of lost mp3 compression material from the song "Tom's Diner" famously used as one of the main controls in the listening tests to develop the MP3 encoding algorithm.

    • The form of the song intact, but the details are just the leftovers from the original that were lost in the

  • There is a video rendition as well, made form the MP4 ghost created in collaboration with Takahiro Suzuki.

  • So essentially, both the audio and video versions of it are just the "ghosts" of the compression codecs used to slim them down.

  • This was really interesting to me, because we so often forget about the things that are lost in the compression process.

  • Audiophiles will appreciate this because it shows, quite literally what they’re so concerned about. Lossless compression really is worth it if you have the equipment to hear the difference.

  • For example, I heard a CD quality rendition of Glycerine by Bush, just today and noticed something that I had never recognized before, the bass line isn’t just played by the bass guitar, but rather by a cello or actual BASS, you know the big, stringed and bowed instrument. This lends an amazing depth and quality to the bass line that I had always appreciated but never truly noticed before. Probably because I only ever heard it in MP3 format, but then again, maybe I was just inattentive in my younger days.

TheLRAD Sound Cannon. You need one for the house.


  • Article goes back to 2014.

  • It’s an acoustic weapon. Or not. The LRAD people claim it’s a "directed-sound communication device." Like a screaming toddler, which I would argue should be classified as a weapon.

  • 30-degree wide beam.

  • Voice commands transmitted as loud as 162dB as far as 5.5 miles away.

  • How loud is that? Remember that the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear. Thus, a 3dB increase is about double the volume, and a 10dB increase is about 10x the volume, and a 60dB increase is about 1M times the volume.

  • Humans start to feel pain around 120dB. We lose hearing permanently around 130dB. Say the LRAD was at 140dB. Then “anyone within its path would not only suffer hearing loss, they could potentially lose their balance and be unable to move out of the path of the audio.”

  • The LRAD corporation says that anyone within a 100 meters of the device's sound path will experience extreme pain. The version generally utilized by police department (the LRAD 500X) is designed to communicate at up to 2000 meters during ideal conditions. In a typical outdoor environment, the device can be heard for 650 meters. The 500x is also capable of short bursts of directed sound that cause severe headaches in anyone within a 300-meter range. Anyone within 15 meters of the device's audio path can experience permanent hearing loss.”

Thisjust in! Going fast turns out to be really dangerous...


  • Remember a few shows back we talked about Breakthrough Starshot?

  • Yeah, that - the plan with B.S. is to accelerate these things up to 20% the speed of light to get them to their destination and relay back information… you know, within a human lifespan… cuz that’s important to the people doing the science.

  • To quote a top notch documentary on the subject, “Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.”

  • Alpha Centauri is 4.37 light years away. About 40 Trillion kilometers

  • The speed of light is just about 300,000 km per second.

  • So 20% the speed of light is 60-ish thousand km per second that’s fast. We know that. But how fast?

  • The moon is 384,000 km away, give or take a few hundred kilometers

    • At 20% the speed of light you could get to the moon in 6.4 seconds instead of ~72 hours Apollo spacecraft took

  • 20-30 years at that speed to get to Alpha Centauri

  • High speed collisions kill people in cars. We’re talking about 100-140kph

  • At 20% the speed of light, dust is a serious destructive reality

  • Regular atoms won’t really be an issue, hydrogen, helium, etc. it’s heavier elements and compounds that pose the real danger.

  • 15 micrometers is a large enough particle to destroy one of the tiny ships

  • Heat is a serious issue as well, as friction at these kinds of speeds is a serious issue - in fact it’s even more important than the collision factor, since it’s statistically improbable that particulate matter would cause a significant loss of swarm density.

    • 1050 to one against particles large enough to do damage actually colliding with any given craft

  • They’re proposing a few solutions to this

    • Heat shielding made of graphite to keep the craft and instruments cool enough to survive and do useful scientific measurements

    • A physical shield giving it a more bullet-like shape

    • Folding the solar sail that is used for acceleration up to get it out of the way

  • Keeping the crafts on course is the big question, since even small impacts will throw off the vector of the craft. Over distances of trillions of kilometers this will certainly throw them off course.

  • This is where the swarm factors in - throw lots of them out there and enough should get there / close enough to do meaningful measurements and relay said information back - round trip time for data to get back to earth… arrival time + 4.37 years - since the radio waves will travel back at the speed of light.

MythsAnd Legends Of MacBook Battery Replacement



  • My battery is 4 years old.

  • Apple will replace it for $199. Sounds good. But they want an admin user/pass. Not so good.

  • I could wipe the system and restore from backup when I get it back.

  • We’ll see where this goes. I might try a meatspace Apple store and see if they can do the work while I wait.

  • Oh, sure I could service it myself. There’s 38 steps, involving lots of tightly packed electronics under the hood, and a heavily glued battery.

  • But an interesting article popped up claiming to breathe new life into the battery with just a bit of software fiddling.

    • First, clear your PRAM and NVRAM settings by power cycling and holding down cmd+option+P+R. Let go when it reboots again.

    • Second, erase the ~/Library/Preference/com.apple.desktop.plist file.

    • Last, killall Dock. This clears out whatever preferences you might have been running.

  • So, I did all of these things. What I saw was that the battery life estimate did appear to climb, all the way up from 3.5 to about 5.75 hours using half-brightness of the screen and a single bar of keyboard backlight. Wow, it’s a miracle!

  • Nope. I started a timer, and found that the actual battery life was the exact same as it had been. The estimate just changed more radically depending on how much I was doing on the system. It was as if the algorithm to measure the time-to-empty was reset to “dumb” so that it couldn’t do the job well.

  • Software can’t beat physics.

TodayI Learned

Weare mostly empty space...as is everything else. Atoms are electronsspinning around an incredibly compact nucleus. Take out the emptyspace, and you could fit the entire human race into the space of anapple. Or maybe a sugar cube. Although some brainiacs think there’sno such thing as space exactly, because it’s filled with electroncloud. So maybe we mean we just take out all the electrons...



September 12, 2016

Giant Magellan Telescope w/ Dr. Patrick McCarthy - Citizens of Tech 043


Today on Citizens of Tech, we interview Dr. Patrick J. McCarthy, interim president of the Giant Magellan Telescope Observatory. The GMT project is in early days, but promises to be the largest telescope in the world once it’s operational.

September 5, 2016

Double Angular Adams - Citizens of Tech 042


Today on the show we have trivia about Douglas Adams, Streaming Music services compared, new Lithium battery tech, cords being cut all over the place, Orbital Angular Momentum, the END OF THE WORLD and AMD’s new CPU tech.