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So far Kai Staats has created 439 blog entries.

Counting Raindrops in Pasadena

Following years of drought, months of fires, and weeks of hope for rain, it finally came.

The fine black dust that covers the rooftops, the hand rails, the pool decking, and the leaves of the trees is finally washed clean. Every drop is welcomed, every cloud asked to linger unrestrained. In the high density living of this LA suburb, the rain has the same affect as it did in Tokyo ten years ago—the air cools, the aromas are enhanced, and the blankets are brought out from storage to provide warmth and comfort against the welcomed chill.

By | 2018-01-09T03:24:22+00:00 January 9th, 2018|From the Road|Comments Off on Counting Raindrops in Pasadena

A Raspberry Pi for the Holidays

Raspberry Pi desktop through VNC

It may not look like much, but this is pure joy. Not since the development of Karoo GP for my MSc have I enjoyed discovering the potential of a computer. I recognize I am a bit late to the game, for the Raspberry Pi has been out since 2012. But for me, I finally made time to configure, launch, and explore the Pi 2B gifted to me for Christmas 2015.

The Sunfounder 37 Modules Sensor Kit has proved to be a great deal of fun. Nothing less than simple to execute, the experiments open a new world for automation, data collection, and robotics. I can’t wait to dive back in soon, to learn more.

Now, I have VNC running directly to my MacBook Pro which also provides Internet access. I have loaded Kodi, the multimedia player, and will tomorrow conduct a test-run of the Raspberry Pi with a 7″ touchscreen LCD as my principal provider of music in my Subaru. If successful, I will remove the Kenwood deck and instead install the Raspberry Pi plus amplifier and once again have full control of my driving environment.

By | 2018-01-18T02:00:22+00:00 December 29th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology, Ramblings of a Researcher|Comments Off on A Raspberry Pi for the Holidays

SATA, Thunderbolt, USB, and SD cards

An update to my post Digital Film – Storage, this brings the I/O performance, transfer bandwidth, and storage capacity numbers up to speed. I offer this in part for my own quick reference, in part to compare to the industry standard just a few years ago, and in part to keep companies such as Apple from spewing marketing bullshit. While the latest, greatest Thunderbolt might offer an increased capacity, the reality is that the drives themselves are very much limited by their ability to get data off the spindle or out of the Solid State interface.

USB I/O PERFORMANCE
USB 1.0 (LS) – 1.5 Mbit/s (187.5 KB/s calc)
USB 1.1 (FS) – 12 Mbit/s (1.5 MB/s calc)
USB 2.0 (HS) – 480 Mbit/s (60 MB/s calc)
USB 3.0 (SS) – 5 Gbit/s (625 MB/s calc)
USB 3.1-2 (SS+) – 10-20 Gbit/s (not yet to market?)

SATA and THUNDERBOLT I/O PERFORMANCE
SATA 1.0 – 1.5 Gbit/s (150 MB/s real-world)
SATA 2.0 – 3 Gbit/s (300 MB/s real-world)
SATA 3.0 – 6 Gbit/s (600 MB/s real-world) *
SATA 3.2 – 16 Gbit/s (1.97 GB/s real-world)

Thunderbolt 1 – 10 Gbit/s (1.22 GB/s calc)
Thunderbolt 2 – 20 Gbit/s (2.44 GB/s calc)
Thunderbolt 3 – 40 Gbit/s (4.88 GB/s calc)
(source)

* The fastest single drive on the market today delivers 6 Gb/s which could, if the drive is running at its maximum performance, saturate a USB 3.0 connection yet it remains 40% slower than the slowest Thunderbolt.

SD CARD PERFORMANCE
DS – Default Speed: 100 Mb/s (12.5 MB/s)
HS – High Speed: 200 Mb/s (25 MB/s)
UHS1 – Ultra High Speed I: 832 Mb/s (104 MB/s)
UHS2 – Ultra High Speed II: 2.5 Gb/s (312 MB/s)
UHS3 – Ultra High Speed III: 6.6 Gb/s (832 MB/s)

SD CARD CAPACITY (SIZE)
SD: 2GB or less
SDHC: 2-32GB
SDXC: 32GB-2TB
(source)

By | 2017-12-29T04:30:04+00:00 December 29th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on SATA, Thunderbolt, USB, and SD cards

When a hero dies

Luke Skywalker, young If you were not born in the ’70s, if you do not feel books and movies as deeply as you do real life, if you were not instilled with a sense of magic and hope by the original Star Wars trilogy, then you will not understand when I say, When a hero dies, a part of each of those who believed dies too.

A good story takes an inherent risk in its telling. A story might engage or totally alienate the reader; a work in film might be praised or pass relatively unnoticed, long forgotten in the cold-storage archives. A good story does not need to be modified to grow the audience, rather, the story itself is compelling.

Luke Skywalker, old If a film is engaging, we should be moved to ask How are we affected? What do we take away? How do we see ourselves in the story unfolding, and how is our own view of the world changed? Perhaps the story received is a simple comedy, designed to give us a moment of joy, or one that haunts us for hours, weeks, even years. The depth of connection to the characters can bring us back again and again to the same story and to its sequels. A new universe is given form, and in that time and space, the story becomes our own.

But when a story is driven by a market opportunity, when the dollars grossed on the opening days are the primary motivation and the chief reward, the potential to feel anything for the action on-screen is lost. Written without connection to the characters developed in the original films, without shame for infiltrating the central theme with marketing to a me-too generation, Stars Wars: The Last Jedi abandons those of us who waited forty years to once again feel the pain of loss beneath dual setting suns, the fear of a man who will kill his own son to maintain power, and the joy of victory against impossible odds.

Instead, we feel only remorse for Disney’s agenda to build a franchise, profit before story in film.

By | 2017-12-28T16:55:14+00:00 December 21st, 2017|Film & Video|Comments Off on When a hero dies

FOR SALE

We have succumb to a future once foretold in science fiction films. Not the one in which we explore strange, new worlds and seek out new civilizations. Rather, the one in which product placement agents know our most intimate desires, our habits, our favorite colors. Advertisements interrupt our conversations to remind us what we prefer for breakfast, how to spend our weekends, and where to save on new attire.

We are so completely inundated with advertising that like the audible drone of a near-by highway or cacophony of car alarms on a windy day, we are told to accept it as the norm despite the slow erosion of our soul.

We celebrate programmers and the algorithms they deploy. News stories promote the accuracy of tracking of our behaviour, celebrated as a technological breakthrough, something to behold! And with that we welcome the invasion of our privacy, the compromise of our digital and physical lives, and the aggravation of all that makes us individuals into the neurons of an AI in which we are seen as wearing neon “FOR SALE” signs, perpetually held just out of our own reach.

To express concern is acceptable. To fight is to fail to contribute your part in the new global order. To leave the system altogether, Rolodex, day timer, and cash in hand would be … unthinkable.

By | 2017-11-24T23:16:23+00:00 November 24th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on FOR SALE

Hydrogen is back!

Riversimple hydrogen car

Many years ago, while at ASU, I was a member of the American Hydrogen Association. We worked toward the proliferation of a hydrogen powered fuel economy. Under the leadership of Roy MacAlister, they converted a Datson 280z (a very sexy car) to hydrogen and drove it from Phoenix to Flagstaff (200+ miles rt) entirely on water. They even lined the rear window sun shade fins with a small PV array to help with the electrolysis of water.

But hydrogen tech disappeared for two decades. Just recently Toyota brought hydrogen cars into California, and now, a Welsh company is building 20 prototypes of a hydrogen powered car (as sexy as the 280z).

What I find fascinating about this is the full story, the patience and persistence required to bring something like this to fruition. My grandfather Ray Kruse spoke of a time in the ’70s when Winnebago (the RV company) was experimenting with a hydrogen fleet. But they were challenged by the oil companies (according to my grandfather) who forced them to halt further development. UPS too experimented, and stopped.

Hydrogen makes sense from an energy-density point of view, time to refuel, and working with an existing infrastructure. But one big question remains–where will we find the most abundant element in the universe? We don’t have enough clean water to pour into our gas tanks. Salt water is too expensive to desalinate (at current technology). And that leaves us with hydrogen-packed fossil fuels, which puts us right back where we started from.

Damn.

By | 2017-11-16T14:02:47+00:00 November 16th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on Hydrogen is back!

The Elephant, the Lion, and the Skies of the Karoo

Everyone desires a safe space, a home base, a place to return to when everything else in life is unsettled. For some, this is a certain room in the family home. For others, a timeshare overlooking the waterfront in a far-away town tourists have not yet discovered. Some travel to the cities while others escape, seeking something a little less whelming.

I too have my safe places. Buffalo Peak Ranch in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, our family farm in rural Iowa, and Sutherland, South Africa. This past week I was given the opportunity to return to the South African Astronomical Observatory. The drive from Cape Town to the Sutherland site is, no matter how many times you have made the journey, an adventure, a flight through space and time despite the confines of this planet’s gravity.

Those at the point of departure provide assistance in loading your travel bags and wish you well. Upon arrival, the guest house staff greet you by name, no matter how long since your last visit, and provide the keys to your dormitory. With hushed voices and careful motion we unpack and settle in, for the astronomers are yet sleeping. As with African game preserves where human visitors peer out from protective blinds to watch the animal world unfold, astronomers use telescopes to watch the cosmos evolve, to observe both the mundane and the most spectacular stellar shows.

Those areas in the world in which dark night skies yet exist are a kind of sanctuary, a place where we are reminded of what it means to be inspired. From our unique vantage point in this cosmic wilderness blind, we see new-born stars, middle-aged nobles, and ancient giants intermixed with nebulae, supernova, and massive black holes. To witness one rapidly rotating, small but massive neutron star consuming it’s neighbour through a dance that lasts eons is to watch the lion consume the elephant in painfully slow motion, frame by inexorable frame.

What we observe is explained through the application of physics, chemistry, and mathematics. While the interaction between stellar bodies is anticipated, even considered routine, there remains the daunting, bewildering, difficult to explain phenomena which send researchers into overdrive for decades.

It is the data of the routine which confirms our formulae. It is the unexpected which keeps us hungry for more.

Upon arrival to the guest house at the observatory I was filled with emotionally charged memories of my grandparents’ farm in Iowa. The anticipation that builds with the first glimpse of the domes on the horizon is to crest the edge of the Pride of the Valley farm, the final stretch of the curving road, and ultimate descent into the complex of white buildings.

Inside, each piece of furniture has its place and orientation, the sofas, the chairs adorned by cloth covers too easily wrinkled and caught in the spaces between the cushions. Throw pillows are returned each day to their proper position. The pool table is showing its age, the felt torn and the legs less stable. One can complain, or enjoy the added challenge. The library has been stripped nearly bare as the journals are now entirely digital. Yet the aroma from the kitchen, the sound of the kettle boiling, the light wind buffeting the west-facing windows all say, ‘Welcome home!’.

By mid-afternoon intense conversations unfold as the engaged astronomers rise and those of us who retain fairly normal sleeping hours share the dining hall and common space. Steven, Retha, and I, the next day joined by Willie and Lisa covered more topics than I do recall, from the generation of water from humid air to the politics of South Africa, to data reduction and the application of Machine Learning against the wishes of those who are not yet ready to let go of their scripts and proved techniques.

With all telescopes at the SAAO observatory now capable of being remotely controlled, there is debate about the value of sending astronomers to these remote locations. For certain, the mechanical aspects of pointing the instrument to a distant object, capturing photons, and moving onto the next can be done without a being on-site. Yet, it is the draw of the dark night skies, the bliss of isolation, those moments of being only here, right now, that draw us into this place.

It is my experience and my hope that astronomers will continue to come to these places for the same reason we venture to witness the elephant and the lion, not on-screen. The sound of the wind whipping over the top of the open dome, the smell of the machine oil, the sensation that one has stepped into a spacecraft destined for anywhere cannot be reproduced through a remote connection.

Until the next visit to Sutherland, I will recall that for those brief four days, I enjoyed a return to one of my safe spaces, where both the routine and unexpected unfold every night.

By | 2017-09-16T15:02:03+00:00 September 16th, 2017|2017, Out of Africa|Comments Off on The Elephant, the Lion, and the Skies of the Karoo

Sun Beams and Seals

Small waves, calm, relatively warm, with little wind.

The sun was pushing through the clouds, forming those intense beams of filtered light to the horizon. Distant mountains shrouded in the mist.

A seal played with us at sea. He went beneath my board, back and forth and again, popping up his head and staring at me repeatedly. If I had reached down, below my board, I could have touched him. Then he dashed to another surfer and did the same, returning once. One of the surfers, a woman, squealed in delight. Everyone was engaged, hoping the seal would come to them next.

When the waves came, he used the momentum of the rolling water to propel himself into the air, diving into the wavefront again and again. Then there were two, playing in unison. I had tears in my eyes, salt water mixed with salt water. There is a connection I can’t explain, mammal to mammal perhaps, intelligent hunters who recognize when it is time to play.

We all know, as surfers, that if a seal is relaxed, playing, then there are no sharks around. If instead they pop their heads up, look around intently, take a deep breath and dart off down the shoulder of water along the beach, then we had better swim to shore too.

By | 2017-11-13T03:11:39+00:00 September 11th, 2017|2017|Comments Off on Sun Beams and Seals

Counting Raindrops in Germany

Again I have promised myself to find sleep before 1 am. Again, I am awake, working to catch-up with my life after the intense experience of the International Space University, Space Studies Program in Cork, Ireland.

A moth flutters between the lamp shade and bulb. A distant jet passes overhead, by the sound neither arriving to nor departing from Frankfurt International Airport which is just a few kilometres distance from where I sit. This enclosed space provides the deeply nourishing aroma of untreated pine, floor, walls, and ceiling. An enclosed half gazebo is my resting spot each night, in the back yard of a family friend in Rüsselsheim, Germany.

Small spaces. Safe spaces. A room just big enough for a bed and table lamp, both resting on the floor; an area rug and place to place wet shoes. This is what feels right to me. Not the opposite of wrong, but right as in comfortable, natural, and satisfying.

We are so much driven to embrace thick walls, insulated ceilings, and windows that reflect heat and block sound that we forget what it means to fall to sleep to the wondrous sound of raindrops, falling, one by one.

By | 2017-08-30T18:52:15+00:00 August 30th, 2017|From the Road, The Written|Comments Off on Counting Raindrops in Germany

TensorFlow enabled Genetic Programming

GECCO ’17 Proceedings of the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference Companion
http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3084216

Abstract: “Genetic Programming, a kind of evolutionary computation and machine learning algorithm, is shown to benefit significantly from the application of vectorized data and the TensorFlow numerical computation library on both CPU and GPU architectures. The open source, Python Karoo GP is employed for a series of 190 tests across 6 platforms, with real-world datasets ranging from 18 to 5.5M data points. This body of tests demonstrates that datasets measured in tens and hundreds of data points see 2-15x improvement when moving from the scalar/SymPy configuration to the vector/TensorFlow configuration, with a single core performing on par or better than multiple CPU cores and CPUs. A dataset composed of 90,000 data points demonstrates a single vector/TensorFlow CPU core performing 875x better than 40 scalar/Sympy CPU cores. And a dataset containing 5.5M data points sees GPU configurations out-performing CPU configurations on average by 1.3x.”

My first 1st-author paper is published! Thank you Lee, Eddie, Marco, Arun, and Iuri for your input, support, and collaboration. –kai

By | 2017-08-05T18:31:13+00:00 August 5th, 2017|Ramblings of a Researcher|Comments Off on TensorFlow enabled Genetic Programming