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Category: Technology

The podcast for nerds who like science, gaming, entertainment, space exploration, energy, and anything else tech-related.

November 28, 2016

Elon Musk is Driving Tech Forward - CoT 053

00:0000:00

Come along as we count our blessings, such as truly broadband Satellite internet, brain implants, solar power at your local fueling station, leadfoot electrical generation, powering an entire island with the sun, astonishing advancements in weather satellite tech, and of course a dash of Deathwatch, Content I Like, and Today I Learned.

Satellite Internet That Doesn’t Suck

http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/11/16/spacex-files-fcc-approval-4425-satellite-global-broadband-constellation/

  • Satellite Internet sucks
    • Latency galore
    • Data caps
  • SpaceX wants to change that with the “SpaceX System”
  • So what is the SpaceX System?
  • They’ve filed an FCC approval request to launch 4,425 satellites (plus additional cold spares) into low earth orbit
  • These will be used to provide “global broadband and communications”
  • 386kg each, orbiting between 1,110km and 1,325km
  • Operating in the Ku (12–18 GHz microwave) and Ka (26.5–40 GHz) bands
  • NGSO - Non-geostationary orbit with 83 orbital planes
  • They’re looking to do this in stages, with 5 phases of deployment
  • The goal is to provide continuous global coverage at a minimum elevation angle of 40 degrees
  • This differs from current satellite solutions where it’s geostationary, you point your antenna and it never has to change
  • The SpaceX System will actively track available satellites and switch between them as their availability window passes.
  • Each satellite should be good for a coverage area around 1,060km (radius)
  • Speed? Gigabit
    • Current solutions are capped around 15Mbit (50GB peak traffic, 50GB off-peak)
  • Latency? 25-35ms
    • 600-750ms is standard for current satellite solutions
  • The fact that these are in low earth orbit is the key to low latency - less than 1/29th the distance between the ground and the satellites.

 

Controlling Your Environment With Your Mind - Progress

http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/11/first-at-home-brain-implant-lets-locked-in-woman-talk-venture-outdoors/

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2112562-first-home-brain-implant-lets-locked-in-woman-communicate/

  • Your brain generates electrical signals.
  • When you think, certain areas of your brain are engaged.
  • So, if you can sense the electricity generated in certain parts of your brain as you think about specific things, you could use that generated signal as an instruction set.
  • Interpret the electrical input with software, and you could then use your mind to impact the world around you. Software is programmed to react to your input and make something specific happen.
  • One application is for people who are locked-in. By locked-in, we mean they can’t interact normally using limbs, their voice, etc. They may have no muscle control due to quadriplegia or disease, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) aka Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • If all you’ve got left is your ability to think, then an interface that can react to your thoughts can help you interact with the real world. Communicate. Get work done.
  • Cost and complexity have been an issue with these sorts of interfaces in the past. But now, there’s a simpler, cheaper system that is working for an anonymous ALS sufferer.
  • The system consists of two electrodes planted beneath the skull onto the brain. One electrode is over a region stimulated when controlling the right hand. The other is over the region stimulated when counting backward. Both are not required. One is considered a backup for the other.
  • The subject is leveraging the electrode used for controlling the right hand, and trained it by playing Pong. The electrode monitoring the “counting backward” section isn’t in use yet.
  • The electrode is hard-wired to a small box in her chest, that translates the signal into a software input read wirelessly by a tablet running the software.
  • The system lets her spell out words. The software interface monitors the electrical patterns of her thoughts, and she can move a selector box around a screen to choose letters and spell out words. It’s slow. With practice, she can select a letter in about 20 seconds, meaning it can take several minutes to spell a word. But that’s not nothing, and the time has improved from about 50 seconds.
  • This is a backup to her primary eye-movement tracking system, which she might lose the function of due to ALS, and which doesn’t work that well in bright light, such as outdoors.

 

Solar Infrastructure Coming to a Gas Station Near You!

https://electrek.co/2016/11/15/oil-company-solar-panels-gas-stations-convert-ev-charging-station/

  • Total, the French multinational oil & gas company announced $300 million USD investment in Solar
  • They aim to install 200 MW of solar PV at 5,000 of their fueling stations around the world.
  • That’s 40 KW per station
  • The official line from Total is:
    • The project is fully aligned with Total’s ambition of becoming the responsible energy major and its commitment to developing solar power. It will reduce our carbon emissions by 100,000 tons per year and cut our electricity bill by $40 million per year. The panels will be supplied by our affiliate SunPower, which offers the world’s most efficient solar technology. This project demonstrates Total’s confidence in SunPower, especially its ability to bring our customers competitive, clean energy.
  • However, 40 KW is a heck of a lot more power generation than your average gas station is going to need, and the Electrek article seems to lean in that direction as well
    • 40 KW at full tilt will generate 40 KWh per hour, so in areas with 4-7 hours of “peak” sun (most of North America, for instance), that would generate many hundreds of kilowatt hours of electricity per day.
    • The average “full EV” battery pack can hold 60 kwh of electricity.
    • Could this be a play to simultaneously eliminate Total’s electrical bills and prepare for the coming electrification of the global vehicle fleet? Seems plausible to me.
    • Slap some PowerWall or similar storage in place to make sure the generated electricity doesn’t go to waste and then install some DC fast charging stations  and you’re in business.
  • It’s a win either way, in my opinion.

 

Fat people rejoice - recovering footstep energy is now possible!

http://arstechnica.com/business/2016/11/las-vegas-gets-kinetic-tiles-that-power-lights-with-foot-traffic/

  • EnGoPlanet is selling a tile that, when you walk on it, can charge a battery. 4-8 watts can be recovered, which I take the mean that the heavier you are (or the harder you step), the more energy that can be recovered.
  • This is used primarily for street lighting right now, although there’s more energy input to the system than just foot traffic. There’s also more energy output than light.
  • The system is also solar, so in addition to the footstep energy recovered, the sun contributes.
  • In addition to lighting, the system also offered video surveillance plus USB and wireless charging.
  • Currently, there’s a pilot system installed. “Four streetlights in a plaza off the Las Vegas Strip.”

 

Tesla / SolarCity Provide Solar to an Entire Pacific Island

https://www.engadget.com/2016/11/22/tesla-runs-island-on-solar-power/

  • Tesla has officially been greenlit by its shareholders to acquire Solar City
  • As a show of what the soon-to-be singular company is looking to do in the power generation & storage field, they installed a solar microgrid at 1.4 MW for the Pacific Island of Ta’u (part of American Samoa)
  • 5,328 Solar Panels
  • 60 PowerPacks
    • PowerPacks are the industrial & utility grade big brother to the PowerWall
    • Storage capacity of 6 MW
    • ~3 days of cloud cover without issue (though that’s incredibly rare on Ta’u)
  • The changeover took about a year and displaces the diesel generators they used to use
    • Preventing the burning of ~300 gallons (1,135 liters) of diesel every single day.
      • Cheaper (long term)
      • Cleaner
      • More reliable (diesel shipments can be delayed, etc.)
  • This is all part of Tesla’s plan to demonstrate that this idea really works.
  • Granted, Ta’u is an idyllic test bed, with modest power requirements, nearly perfect solar exposure, ideal weather, and so forth, but it is yet another indicator that utility scale solar is viable, at least in certain areas of the world.

 

Better weather satellites going into orbit

http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/11/americas-new-super-expensive-weather-satellite-launches-saturday/

http://noaasis.noaa.gov/NOAASIS/ml/genlsatl.html

  • NOAA has been putting weather satellites into orbit for decades.
  • There are at least two major kinds. Polar orbiters and geostationary orbiters.
  • Polar orbiters are relatively close to the ground. “The orbits are circular, with an altitude between 830 (morning orbit) and 870 (afternoon orbit) km, and are sun synchronous.”
  • Geostationary are “35,800 km (22,300 miles) above the Earth, high enough to allow the satellites a full-disc view of the Earth.”
  • Back in the day, I used to listen to NOAA polar orbiters with my all-frequency receiver. The trick was to be able to receive the transmission consistently, which would vary in strength as the satellite came up over the horizon. There were some fancy antenna schemes out there to improve reception, including a double-helix design that I all but built before I ended up moving into an apartment.
  • The signal was similar to a fax machine, where scan lines were broadcast. I could send the audio output of the receiver into a soundcard input on my PC, and some open source software would decode the satellite scanlines into a picture and colorize it.
  • To predict when a given NOAA satellite would be overhead, I used software that used orbiter datasets from NOAA, and would then draw lines and coverage areas over a map. You could use that map data to determine when the satellite would be overhead, and how high in the sky it would be. Then it was a matter of tuning to the right frequency and waiting for the pass.
  • Somewhere buried in my photo archives, I have a picture direct from a NOAA satellite of Hurricane Georges passing overhead when I lived in Pensacola in September 1998.
  • The new satellite that NOAA is launching is the first in a series dubbed GOES-R. It will cost about $11B to launch these between now and the end of the program in 2035.
  • GOES-R satellites are more capable than existing weather satellites. “The GOES-R improves every current GOES satellite product, while adding new information about lightning, smoke, fires, and volcanic ash, among other variables. The images it produces of weather systems on Earth will have four times the resolution of its predecessor. And with its new Advanced Baseline Imager, the satellite will have the capacity to scan major storm systems every 30 seconds and the entire western hemisphere five time faster.”

Deathwatch

Hughesnet & their ilk.

  • They may be the only option a lot of people in remote locations have now...
  • Within a few years, that should change, if SpaceX has their way.
  • Why? 3 L’s - Latency, Low speed, and Limits

 

Content I Like

Udemy

https://www.udemy.com

  • Want to learn something? Udemy probably has a course for it.
  • Software Development, IT certifications, photography, languages, health & fitness, music theory & instruments, marketing, finance… the list goes on.
  • I scored several classes during their Black Friday “Binge Learn” event for $13 each, so if you can grab a course during a sale, you can get some great content pretty cheap.

 

Today I Learned

LOLCats date back to the 1870s

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lolcat#History

British portrait photographer Harry Pointer created a carte de visite series featuring cats posed in various situations in the early 1870s. To these he usually added amusing text intended to further enhance their appeal.[4]

November 14, 2016

Ay yai yai, it’s AI. - CoT Episode 052

00:0000:00

Today we’ll discuss creatine, polling, blockchain, HyperLoop, earthquakes, AI, along with our regular features of content we like and today we learned.

Body tech: creatine
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263269.php
What is it? A “nitrogenous organic acid produced in the liver.” It’s for supplying energy to cell, muscle cells especially.
Train harder.
Push out more reps. Obtain stronger musculature.
Eric uses it. So, take that non-believers. We will shun you!

How did the pollsters get it wrong?
https://www.quantamagazine.org/20161108-why-nate-silver-and-sam-wang-are-wrong/
Trump is the President-elect, but the polls strongly predicted HRC.
It’s about sample set.
Polling of humans is not an exact science. Because humans.
CAPTCHA is contributing to a sample set.

What’s so great about blockchain technology?
http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/11/what-is-blockchain/
http://www.ibm.com/blockchain/what_is_blockchain.html
“A blockchain is a ledger of records arranged in data batches called blocks that use cryptographic validation to link themselves together. Put simply, each block references and identifies the previous block by a hashing function, forming an unbroken chain, hence the name.”
It’s distributed. Everyone participating in this blockchain has access to the same ledger. Thus, everyone can see the same chain of events. Everyone knows what happened all the way through the chain.
Because of the hashing, you can’t tamper with the chain. Messing with one of the blocks would cause a validation failure. The hashing algorithm in the next block would compute a different hash than should be there if the block had not been tampered with.
Blockchain is the foundation of Bitcoin. Controlled by no one. Can’t be tampered with.
Compute intensive. Lots of machines doing lots of calculations.
Applications beyond currency. Any sort of record keeping could be based on blockchain.
“The distributed ledger makes it easier to create cost-efficient business networks where virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded—without requiring a central point of control.”

HyperLoop One is moving forward in Dubai
https://electrek.co/2016/11/08/hyperloop-one-unveils-system-announces-deal-bring-network-dubai/
http://electrek.co/2016/10/31/hyperloop-prototype-taking-shape-gallery
Nevada: DevLoop prototype is being built
3 years ago this was just a white-paper, but now it’s actually taking form
The goal of DevLoop is to build a fully scaled test loop to test the safety and stability of both the track and the pod system at a speed of 1,126 kph which they are calling their “Kitty Hawk Moment”
At the same time, Hyperloop One is in talks with the Dubai Transit Authority to build out a HyperLoop between Dubai and Abu Dhabi a distance of around 125 km
Travel time by bus is about two hours currently
Hyperloop claims they can get that down to about 12 minutes
But wait, there’s more! Call now for your free one year supply!
One of the goals is to be a first-mile to last-mile transit solution, too. Not just arrive at a station and queue up for a seat in a pod.
A smaller pod will actually come to you, autonomously drive you to the hyperloop entry point, connect to other hyperloop pods inside of a larger pod and then you will fire off at 1,100 kph, arrive at the other end of the hyperloop, your pod will disjoin, disembark and drive you to your destination.
The terminals for embarking / disembarking are being called HyperLoop Portals
A bit Voltron, a bit Jetsons.
It all still sounds like scifi to me, but based on some information released by CEO Rob Lloyd, they may be aiming for a 2021 maiden voyage.

What the frack is going on with all these earthquakes?
http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/11/yet-another-earthquake-hits-oklahoma/
You don’t think of Oklahoma when you think of earthquake zones.
But hey. We figured out how to cause them. Sorta.
Oklahoma is injecting “wastewater into deep disposal wells.” The wastewater is a byproduct of conventional gas and oil extraction -- water comes up with the oil.
How to deal with this polluted water? Send it back down into the ground is about the cheapest way.
That is triggering earthquakes in old faults underneath north and central Oklahoma. Seems to be the added water pressure.
Oklahoma is going to scale back on the water injections now, to reduce the potential future damage to towns like Cushing, where a 5.0 magnitude quake did damage to 40 downtown buildings.
My friend Tom lives in Norman, OK. He said he felt the 5.0 roughly 80 miles away. He thought his kids were moving his chair. Yup.

Your boss the AI
http://www.zdnet.com/article/future-enterprise-companies-will-be-ran-by-robots/?loc=newsletter_large_thumb_related&ftag=TRE17cfd61&bhid=22664003079360471782245392128744
The premise here is that AI will make decisions for businesses, so that human employees can focus on more creative endeavors. This sort of echos a bit of the sample size / machine learning stuff we talked about at the top of the show.
At the Lisbon Web Summit, the CIO of Volkswagen (Martin Hofmann) says that the “robotic enterprise” is closer than most realize, with some roles ready to be performed completely by machine learning and AI.
He says that they follow a staged implementation based upon an outline used in the development of automated driving tech.
Manual: All business decisions are made by humans.
Assisted: AI offers recommendations based on business data analytics and algorithms, but human operators make the call.
Semi-automated: Artificial intelligence makes the decisions, but human operators are needed to confirm before any changes are made.
Highly-automated: Routine tasks are fully made by AI systems.
Fully automated: All business decisions are made by artificial intelligence and humans have no say.
No company has successfully achieved stage 4 or 5, but Hofmann believes that it is feasible with neural networking, ML, and AI that we can get to that point in the relatively near future.
Meantime they will continue to use machine learning to recognize and respond to trends in markets and so forth, ultimately with the AI making team assignment decisions, time planning and document management.
He does offer a caveat of "We will need to train people in higher and more creative things," Hoffman says. "I also believe humans should never get always out of the game -- we should be the final instance to make the final decision, not an algorithm."

Content I Like
Socratica (Youtube Channel)
https://www.youtube.com/user/SocraticaStudios
Learn about white dwarf stars, black holes, neutron stars, Chemistry, abstract Algebra, Python programming, art, calculus
There’s also Socratica Kids as well as French, Spanish, German and Portuguese

 

Today I Learned
Nearly all celestial bodies in our solar system, including the Sun, rotate counter clockwise. Except Venus (clockwise, slowly) and Uranus (on its side). “Not only do all of the rocky planets revolve counterclockwise around the Sun, and not only do all of the gas giant planets revolve counterclockwise around the Sun, but something like 99% of the known asteroids, kuiper belt objects, and comets also revolve counterclockwise around the Sun!”
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-venus-spins-the-wrong/
http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2010/10/07/counterclockwise-but-there-are/

 

November 7, 2016

I Am Jack’s Wobbling Solar System - CoT 051

00:0000:00

In this episode we discuss the new Macbook (dongles, dongles, dongles!) and the new Surface Studio PC from Microsoft, Planet 9 and how it may be causing our solar system to wobble, solar EV charging, how the human race settled the pacific islands, Content I Like, Today I Learned, and more!


Discussion: Is Microsoft out Apple-ing Apple?

  • Macbook Pro refresh - has apple lost its way, or is this a worthy successor?

    • Sleek

    • Light

    • Engineering Marvel - the machine tolerances are razor thin

    • A bit of a disjointed mess?

    • There’s now two different 13” MBPs - with and without touch bar

    • No SD slot

    • Only USB-C ports (2)

    • The age of the dongle is upon us!

  • Surface Studio PC

    • Also sleek (though, not a laptop, obviously)

    • 28” Display @ 4,500 x 3000 resolution (192ppi)

      • iMac 27” 5k is 5120 x 2880 (218ppi)

      • 10 Point Multi-touch

    • 6th Gen i5 or i7

      • iMac is 5th gen currently

    • Discrete graphics

    • “Zero gravity hinge”

    • The dial - though I don’t believe that comes with it

    • Price is… steep. Entry level is $2,999 USD

      • 27” iMac is $1,999 with similar-ish specs

Solar EV charging for the whole company… or just one very special employee.

http://www.envisionsolar.com/solar-tree/

  • Solar Tree

    • 35’x35’ (nearly 11sq meters)

    • Tracks the sun for optimal production

    • Can provide 700 miles of charge per day (probably in Southern California, not in NH)

  • EV-Arc

    • Single space unit

    • 9 Solar panels

    • 120 Miles of charge per day (again, California/Nevada, we presume)

    • Battery will store charge for night charging / off grid power

  • Both have the advantage of shading the car to prevent cabin oven syndrome(™)

Is Planet 9 making our solar system wobble?

http://blogs.voanews.com/science-world/2016/10/20/is-planet-9-causing-our-solar-system-to-wobble/

  • Have you heard of Planet 9?

    • Theorized to be massive

    • As yet unobserved

  • Thanks the preservation of angular momentum, our solar system has a mostly flat orbital plane

  • The sun appears to be at a 6 degree angle respective to the rest of the solar system

  • Only maybe we’re the ones at a 6 degree angle…

  • And maybe Planet 9 is to blame

  • Researchers at CalTech seem to think so

    • Planet 9 is theorized to be 10 times the mass of earth

    • That’s ~5,000 x the mass of Pluto - so no, Pluto is still not a planet.

  • 4.5 Billion kilometers from the Sun (20x the distance from Neptune to the Sun)

    • ~900 Million kilometers further than Pluto, roughly the distance from Earth to Saturn.

  • So if it’s really there, then why haven’t we directly observed it?

    • Estimated orbital duration: 10-20,000 years.

  • According to mathematical models, the 6% tilt fits perfectly with Planet 9 being these dimensions and distances

  • Is this a case of “dark matter” or Einstein’s “fudge factor” in the Theory of General Relativity?

  • “It continues to amaze us; every time we look carefully we continue to find that Planet 9 explains something about the solar system that had long been a mystery,” said one of the researchers.

  • If it really exists, there’s a pretty decent chance it will be directly observed in the relatively near future.

How did humans settle the Pacific?

http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/11/how-did-humans-settle-the-pacific/

  • By boat, obviously. The question is one of pathways. From where and to where did we go?

  • We have no certain documentation or history that explains this.

  • We can only surmise based on a limited amount of archaeological evidence and a mashup of data.

  • The data was used to extrapolate prevailing wind patterns that would help explain the probable settlement routes. ”The authors used a Seascape computerized model that randomly selected frequency-weighted monthly current and wind data collected by the US Navy’s Marine Climatic Atlas of the World. It combined these probabilistic weather patterns with the speeds for small seafaring vessels, although the precise type of ship used for various migrations is not known. The sailing patterns the model produced were combined with land distribution data to determine the most likely short-hop trajectories between islands. Trajectories started in the eastern Philippines and Solomon Islands.”

  • Here are the big findings.

    • Palau was settled from starting points in the Philipines and Maluku to the west.

    • Mariana Islands were settled from North Guinea and Bismarck to the south.

    • Chuuk was settled from the Solomon Islands.

    • Samoa was likely settled from West Polynesia, although there is no archaeological evidence for this.

    • The Marquesas would have been jumping off points for Easter Island to the east.

    • Both the Marquesas and Society Islands jumping off points to the Hawaiian islands to the north.

    • New Zealand was likely reached via the Society islands to the north and east.

  • The model accounts for seasonal changes in the winds as well as the hemispheres.

Content I Like

Alone in the Wilderness

https://youtu.be/VyaNaa6IDEM

In 1968, at the age of 52 Richard Proenneke moved to the wilds of Alaska and lived there in simple, relatively solitarily. This was his retirement. He brought a satchel of hand tools and built a log cabin, garden, storage containers, etc. He lived alone, with occasional shipments received via airplane. Largely he hunted, fished, foraged, gardened and canned his food.

He kept journals and recorded much of his initial site work and home building on 8mm film which were later combined and narrated for the film.

Today I Learned

Polar Bears are invisible to night vision goggles

https://www.insidescience.org/news/new-research-reveals-how-polar-bears-stay-warm

It’s due to the number and density of their hairs and how they bounce light around.

Canada has more coastline than the rest of the countries of the world…... combined.

http://chartsbin.com/view/ofv