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/Kai Staats

About Kai Staats

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So far Kai Staats has created 451 blog entries.

True or False … stay tuned

There was a period in my life, from 2012-2015 when I was adept at producing a regular series of essays. I was weekly sharing stories of my travels, adventures, meetings, and interactions with the world in so many ways. I felt, at that time, that my life was rich, dynamic, and impossibly full. Yet, now, I am working more hours each day, more full days each week than in the past decade and the richness of my engagements is equally fulfilling, even if in a different way. Yet, the stories are internalized, always on hold, for the process is each day unfolding.

When a day in Palestine, Tanzania, or South Africa is a day worth describing, a day working on Python coding leaves one wanting to get away from the keyboard, not closing the day with more typing. What’s more, there is a fear of ridicule for sharing the process if the process is one already tested and proved true or false, for in research the goal is not to rediscover, but to discover anew.

To share the process is to share potential success or potential failure in the making. And that is hard to do.

By | 2018-05-17T00:46:49+00:00 May 17th, 2018|Ramblings of a Researcher|Comments Off on True or False … stay tuned

When Stars Collide

A few paragraphs from my book, “When Stars Collide” (working title)

This is the realm of multimessenger astronomy, the amalgamation of instruments each designed to witness a cosmic event though a unique point of view. Not unlike seeing the human body from the outside, optical light refracting from clothing and skin, an x-ray image looks past the superficial to the inside. Add ultrasound, CAT, and fMRI and we have a multimessenger means to probe the interior as we do the vast exterior of the cosmos with telescopes.

[snip]

What makes astronomy so exciting is that while you anticipate one thing, you are often met by another. It is not that the laws of physics are being broken, rather that our understanding of the laws is being challenged and expanded. What we did not expect catches us off guard, keeps us humble, and reinforces a childlike sense of the mystery and magic of the incredibly vast universe in which we reside.

[snip]

Franco was annoyed that I had not kept up with the LIGO email lists, that we could not reflect on this together. I realized my mistake, for I had missed the live unfolding of something extraordinary. But what we didn’t know then was that just three days later there would be another detection event, this one a total game changer.

[snip]

This confirmed that the signal was real. It could be seen with an unaided human eye above the background noise in the data from both Hanford and Livingston. At that point, all skepticism disappeared and a chant erupted in the telecon chat: “Send the alert!” “Send the alert!” “Send the alert!”

The alert went out to hundreds of astronomical observatories around the world, partners who had for years waited for just such an opportunity. This started it all. This was the birth of multimessenger astronomy.

By | 2018-05-17T00:11:11+00:00 May 17th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on When Stars Collide

10 steps to improved digital security

  1. A unique password for each on-line account or account groupings with a minimum of 8 alpha-numeric and non-standard characters that are not an explicit word or phrase. While you may have an incredible password, if it is the same across all of your accounts, a thief with immediate access to one of your other accounts has access to them all.
  2. Encrypt all data storage devices such that if your phone, tablet, or computer is stolen (assuming you were not logged in and active at that time), the data cannot be obtained even if the storage is removed from the device. Encrypt your SD card too, if supported, or do not move key apps and dadta onto the SD card.
  3. Enable remote locking of your phone so that if lost, it can be disabled.
  4. Do not install bank, PayPal, or investment apps on your phone, or do not auto-enter your account name and password. The chance of you losing or having your phone stolen is substantially higher than your laptop or desktop computer. And as your phone is always on-line, it is interrogated on a regular basis and therefore is more susceptible to a break-in.
  5. Use the Private Mode on your web browser for all financial transactions. Do not allow 3rd party cookies. Clear your browser cookies once a day, or worse case every week. Remember that in a non-private mode, when you move between websites your browsing history can be tracked by cookies, meaning companies know where you came from and where you will go next.
  6. Log out of every account you are not using, on your phone, laptop, and especially at a cafe.
  7. Use a cable tether from your phone to your laptop, not cyber cafe networks or open networks on city streets if you are at any point in time entering a username and password. Or use a Virtual Private Network (VNP) to secure the full connection, end-to-end.
  8. If you have the capability, create an email alias for every new on-line account, such that facebook@[your_domain_name].com and twitter@[your_domain_name].com are different from united_air@[your_domain_name].com or first_bank@[your_domain_name].com. This allows you to track who is selling your data and at the same time, keeps bots guessing as to what your login email address might be.
  9. Get your friends and co-workers to drop Hotmail and Yahoo! as these email systems are single-handedly responsible for the vast majority of spam. Every time an account is hacked, the bots harvest the address book and deliver its contents to massive databases sold to marketers.
  10. Never accept a broken or invalid security certificate. Never. A broken security certificate can be a sign of a man-in-the-middle attack or spoof in which your credentials are intercepted and stored for use by hackers.

Finally, read every End User License Agreement (EULA) before installing a new app on your phone. Use Uber? You might not if you knew how much of your life they have acquired: your full contact list, calendar, and every text message you send. Just because a company’s services are cool does not mean the company is cool with your data. You need only look at Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony to understand the effect of an open-ended EULA and associated privacy and distribution. As of May 25, the European Union implements the General Data Protection and Regulation (GDPR) policies which will change the way in which all international corporations manage client data.

Thank you Chris Murtagh for guiding me for the past two decades to maintain high quality server and personal computer security. Surely, the horrendous mistakes you have witnessed in your world of systems administration has saved me and others countless catastrophes.

By | 2018-04-28T15:21:39+00:00 April 24th, 2018|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on 10 steps to improved digital security

For a loss of words

I have all but lost my philosophy. It lingers, here and there, a remnant of its once prominent place in my daily routine. The words used to describe something deeper, a connection to more than the mundane are now missing from my vocabulary. I can discuss algorithms, programming paradigms, and the missing depth of themes in modern film, yet I feel next to nothing. That upwelling, that hidden source of power, angst and rhyme has eluded me for months at a time.

In daily conversation I find that what I say has almost no impact, not on me nor those with whom I speak. Just words. Just phrases. A kind of auto-complete. Yet inside there is a depth that has not been tapped since I departed South Africa in 2015 and moved back to the States. I seemed to have left that part of me behind that listens more than I do speak, contemplates more than I generate, and creates more than I mitigate.

Productive I remain, checking off items on my list every day. Yet closer to that which I desire … I remain at a distance for my goals are amorphous, ambiguous, and ever set to change. Only with a foundation set in philosophy, some undercurrent of constant flow and direction does everything I do carry the subtle underpinnings of a belief system, a philosophy of hope and change.

Maybe it is time to read the classics again, to be reminded of the words of those who have come before. I need to allow the stories, the poems, the rhymes of many generations to settle into me, to again become integrated into who I am such that when I speak, I speak with the depth and conviction not of a single entity, but of a whole.

It is time to read more, write more, sing more–to no longer fail for a loss of words.

By | 2018-03-25T16:42:33+00:00 March 25th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on For a loss of words

March for our lives

March fo our Lives - 2018 03/24

Future generations will look back on this time and place and see us as selfish and corrupt, as barbarians who were year after year, election after election willing to put congressional desires for power and control before the lives of those they claim to represent.

As one of the high school survivors shared, “We are survivors of a cruel and silent nation, a nation where we do not live out the true meanings of our creed. When will we as a nation understand that non-violence is a way of life for a courageous people … we are here to fight for love and peace. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Violence cannot drive out violence. Only peace can do that. Death cannot drive out death. Only proactive life can do that.”

To not directly address the issue of this nation’s addiction to violence is to perpetuate a state of insanity that future generations will look upon as we do now electric shock therapy, castration of those with learning disabilities, and witch trials. Looking back we will see clearly how inconceivable it is to reduce the use of weapons through the application of more weapons. We are on the verge of curing cancer, building synthetic thinking machines, and walking on the surface of Mars. At the same time our congressmen and women would rather watch hundreds of school-age children be gunned down than admit they were wrong to accept overt monetization of our democratic process for the increase of their personal wealth and power.

We will some day look at those who ignorantly repeated the phrase “Guns don’t kill, people do” and say simply, shame on you.

March fo our Lives - 2018 03/24 March fo our Lives - 2018 03/24 March fo our Lives - 2018 03/24 March fo our Lives - 2018 03/24

By | 2018-03-24T19:38:49+00:00 March 24th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on March for our lives

When a Computer is to Blame

The first death associated with a fully autonomous vehicle occurred Saturday night in Tempe, Arizona, as reported by the Associated Press. While it is not yet determined what happened, and if a human controlled vehicle might have resulted in the same unfolding, this raises a number of questions about how we should now and will over time learn to deal with the death of a human due to computer error.

For me, it feels different than when a human kills a human due to drunk driving or not paying attention while behind the wheel. It feels wrong. And yet, the theory is that if all vehicles were self-driving, the 40,000 vehicular deaths per year would be reduced to almost none. To tabulate lives this way is to reduce humans to a body count, even if it the portrayal of saved lives is accurate.

For our society to accept that a computer mistake, not a human one will be acceptable is going to take a while. How will autonomous vehicle companies deal with law suits? Will the car company as a whole, the supplier of the cameras, sensors, or software designer be responsible? When a person is killed due to an intoxicated driver or distraction we blame that individual and perhaps society for allowing substance abuse or texting to continue. But when a computer is at fault, a system designed to be faster and safer than a human, will we still seek to blame or simply justify the error by running the numbers?

By | 2018-03-25T16:47:46+00:00 March 19th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on When a Computer is to Blame

Dunes

White Sands dune by Kai Staats

Here I lay. My feet, ankles and shins were buried in the cool, moist gypsum, my head was covered in a light hood, the wind blown sand collecting down wind from my nose and eyes. I fell to sleep on the side of a sand dune.

It was one of those deep naps that rejuvenate in a way that feels more important than a full night’s rest. I woke to my water bottle half buried, additional particles of sand collecting as I watched. Roughly one millimeter per minute, it seemed. At this rate, six centimeters in an hour. My rudimentary calculation suggests that one meter of sand could shift in a day, but this seems too high. Even at one tenth that rate, the movement of these dunes is rapid in geological time frames.

A waitress at a restaurant in Alamogordo stated stated that in her twenty years of living here, the dunes have crossed roads that were not even in close proximity before. Blowing, shifting, burying and revealing again. I wonderer how long I would need lie there before like the road, I became something people once recalled but could no longer find.

Somewhere, over there (pointing with one hand outstretched, the other shading the eyes) … there was a Kai. They say he fell to sleep and, well, the dunes just went right over him. Guess he’s still in there, somewhere. I hear it’s cool inside a dune, so maybe he’s alright.

This is my third week in a row spent in and out of National Parks and Monuments of the American Southwest. I am feel privileged to have these opportunities: Chaco Canyon National Monument and Canyon Lands National Park with Colleen, now White Sands National Monument. Here I am shooting footage for a series of promotional and educational films for Mission Control Space Services, a Canadian company testing their software on two rovers in this park for three weeks.

Inside these parks is a sense of endless space, horizon to horizon vistas and room for all who enter. Yet, in reality, these parks are minute in comparison to the land once occupied by the Natives to these regions. I can’t help but feel a simultaneous desire to explore from end to end and an urge to shed tears, knowing there are ranches, oil rigs, mining operations, interstates, and cities nearby. I feel a sense of longing for something that is not entirely gone. Not yet.

In a dinner conversation with the software developers of Mission Control I raised a discussion about preservation of wilderness. I have opened this discussion a number of times in the past, often in mixed social settings knowing that some or all of the participants might not feel as I do about this subject.

The conversation was stimulating, each of us providing a different point of view. Kevin stated clearly that he was born, raised, and now lives in a city. “I go camping every summer. I hate it. Mosquitoes in my ears! Bugs! I just want to get back to Ontario.”

I responded, “I understand that if you didn’t grow up in the out-of-doors, if you were not given that sense of comfort at an early age, it might be difficult to make that connection.” I then countered my own statement by sharing how people who float the Colorado river sometimes find it impossible to go back again. There are a number of stories of individuals, some whom I have met, who quit their East coast job, sell their house, and move west simply because something inside of them was given a sense of home.

Kaizad responded that our detachment to the wilderness and overt displacement of the natural areas as lead to what very well may be irreversible collapse of parts of the ecosystem. I mentioned the loss of some 80% of honey bees in less than two decades.

Kevin retorted, “Who cares! We can build drones that will pollinate the flowers or just 3D print our food!” Everyone laughed, but me. “That is the very approach that got us in this mess to begin with, to believe that the entire world is our domain to control. We are an integral part of a system, not an outsider reaching in,” I suggested.

I thought I’d try a new approach and mentioned research that shows a strong connection between attention deficit disorders and lack of time outdoors. “In my recent backpacking trip with Colleen we spent three days in Canyon Lands. As the trails are well marked and frequently signed, it was easy to gage distances from junction to junction. I could not help but recognize the stark contrast between walking a half mile in a city and a half mile out there. In a city, very little would engage me. Very little would draw me in. Concrete. Bricks. Glass. The roar of traffic, sirens, traffic lights. None of it helps me to feel welcomed. I can’t wait to get inside and away from it all.

Yet on the trail, one could easily spend an entire day exploring that same distance, measured not in city blocks but in the aromas of creosote, mesquite, and sage, the tracks left by mice, hare, fox, coyote, and mountain lion. Juniper twist as they rise while pinion slump to the canyon floor. Several edible plants provide a snack for those who know, and pockets of water refill bottles if you carry a filter or make a still.

In response Ewan listed all the activities available to those who live in Toronto, in town or an hour outside. True, Toronto provides a plethora of activities, but I could not help but note that each he listed was something you did to the environment, a kind of traverse for speed or distance: running, skiing, ice skating, horse back riding. What I was speaking of was letting the environment do something to you.

Inside, I started to feel trapped. Not by this conversation, but by the reminder that the preservation of wilderness is a loosing battle. Developers have ultimate power in their deep pockets and promise of jobs and increased tax revenues for a town or city.

Clearly, our acting president sees the preservation of land, open space, and natural corridors as a resource lost, not a resource gained. And as Edward Abbey lived, we must fight in defense of the land because it cannot defend itself from the chainsaw, bulldozer, and selfish politician.

I read in a recent New Scientist that the year 2017 marked the first time in recorded history that more open land was gained than lost. Climate change has forced many farmers to abandon their land. Advances in yield has afforded higher profit from smaller farms. And some willingly designated their land as open space, donating or selling part or all to nature conservancies for future generations.

Maybe there is hope. Maybe we will learn from our mistakes. Not a lot of examples of humans doing so, but perhaps the land will in fact fight back, in its own, subtle way–no longer providing for us as we see fit.

By | 2018-03-15T15:48:15+00:00 March 15th, 2018|From the Road|Comments Off on Dunes

Postcard from Mars – a SIMOC update: March 10, 2018

At 8 pm this evening, the ASU Capstone team that has been developing the SIMOC game interface will have completed the first working prototype. This brings to fruition six months development of this unique agent model, and lays the foundation for its continued evolution.

As with all software projects, we begin with the blue sky as our goal, and a belief that we will reach that far. In October, November, and December of 2017 we engaged two calls each week, Saturday and Monday evenings. These 1-3 hour brainstorming sessions were a chance for the entire team to explore the possibilities of a scalable, mathematical model with a gaming interface.

We continually juggled the need to build a scientific foundation, a tool to be used for research with the goal to provide a gaming interface that engaged the non-scientific community (while yet producing scientific data, under the hood). While I have extensive experience in software development through my ten years as CEO of Terra Soft, and each of the ASU team came on-board with skills and experience ranging from Python to C, bash to CSS and SQL servers, none of us have built anything quite like this. None of us was truly the leader, nor anyone following. We all pitched in, challenged each other in the conversations, and slowly laid a design foundation that seemed to work.

ASU undergraduate astronomy student Tyler Cox came on-board in July 2017 to get the ball rolling. He built the first, working agent-based model (ABM) using Python and the Mesa library. He was able to quickly demonstrate a functional “astronaut in a can” model in which the initial parameters determined if the human crew of astronauts lived or died (they mostly died). Even our simple model with a light interaction between humans, a few species of plants, and a contained atmosphere proved tricky as even a minor imbalance in the system lead to catastrophic results.

SIMOC data flow by Ben Mccord

In January the capstone team duplicated Tyler’s work on an Amazon web server, integrating SIMOC into an SQL database instead of the original JSON configuration files. Following a minor setback in which we realized Unity was overkill and a good ol’ web interface would suffice, we reset our expectations and started again. The end result goes lives tonight at 8 pm Arizona Mountain Time. It will be simple, and a little rough around the edges, but the Launch screen, Configuration Wizard, and Dashboard (game interface) will be complete (for now).

I have enjoyed the pleasure of working with the following ASU undergraduate students through the Computer Science Capstone team: Ben McCord, Greg Schoberth, Terry Turner, Thomas Curry, and Yves Koulidiati. In addition, we have this year welcomed the incredibly talented, widely published space artist and habitat designer Bryan Versteeg of Spacehabs.com as a backbone to our design process. And most recently, Kevin Hubbard comes to us with a strong foundation in the social sciences, his intent to introduce a means by which we can integrate human social behavior into a more advanced version of our model.

By | 2018-03-10T21:53:09+00:00 March 10th, 2018|Ramblings of a Researcher|Comments Off on Postcard from Mars – a SIMOC update: March 10, 2018

A Fear of Silence

It seems we have grown afraid of silence.

Despite the increasing isolation, we no longer know how to be alone.

We now talk to our computers, to our cars, to the machines that provide our music and to our phones. Talking, talking, always talking. Yet, we no longer longer just talk to each other.

It seems we have grown afraid of silence.

It seems we don’t want to be alone.

By | 2018-02-19T02:45:19+00:00 February 19th, 2018|The Written|Comments Off on A Fear of Silence

Postcard from Mars – a SIMOC update: February 5, 2018

Rover by Bryan Versteeg Just two weeks ago our work on SIMOC resumed. The holiday break was longer than anticipated (by me). I feel we lost some momentum from the pace we set last fall, but we are regaining now, shooting for a working prototype by the Interplanetary Initiative meeting March 5.

The team made a decision last week to abandon Unity as our game play engine, instead building a Javascript web interface. While we will have less total functionality, we are now more closely aligned with the current goals of this first version of our game play interface. And we will far more easily achieve the desired cross-platform support through a web interface. This decision cost us a week-long sprint of agile programming. Not a tremendous amount of time, but a loss that could have been avoided had I. A lesson learned, but no long-term damage done.

Greenhouse by Bryan Versteeg With the start of the new year we welcomed Bryan Versteeg, world renowned space artist onto the team. He is now leading the design of the game play interface and playing “pieces”, the icons that represent the growing, off-world community.

By | 2018-03-10T18:46:27+00:00 February 5th, 2018|Ramblings of a Researcher|Comments Off on Postcard from Mars – a SIMOC update: February 5, 2018