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If a finch could fly faster

Would the finch donning a strap-on propeller evade the claws of the hawk or eagle?

Would the tuna sporting a motorized fin and AI controlled rudder escape the stomach of a dolphin?

Would the earthworm find more fertile soil if it was able to employ ground-penetrating radar?

Does dominion over the natural world grant us a sense of superiority and control?

The hawk would be forced to shift its diet to those prey yet within its reach, as all species have had to do over time. But if the trend spread quickly, and all birds under the watchful eye of hawks, eagles, and owls were to escape most encounters relatively unharmed due to hi-tech gear acquired on low interest rate loans, the ecosystem would collapse for the uncontrolled proliferation of those that consume insects and seeds and the inevitable demise of their food source too. Only the vulture would benefit, in the short term, until a new balance was found.

Coyotes with Kevlar body armor would stand fearless against the rancher. Mountain lions with pepper spray and tasers would no longer take refuge in trees against hunting dogs. And the lowly rat would dominate the human house if its teeth were reinforced with diamond-carbide coatings, enabling concrete block, drywall panels, and wire mesh a mere time consuming annoyance.

Yet, with each improvement, with each upgrade, the rapid altering of a balance defined by millions of years declares no winner, only those who lose. When will we be OK with what we have, finding joy in the speed of our own two legs, the strength of our own two arms, and focus instead on the development of our heart and minds?

By |2020-11-10T21:59:11-04:00August 10th, 2020|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on If a finch could fly faster

Because I don’t have to …

For more than a century,
radios have done our bidding at the movement of a hand.
News updates, music, and live events
our attention captured in AM or FM band.

Because I don’t have to rise from my chair.

Now smart speakers listen, processing all that we say.
Every conversation transcribed,
key words sold to the highest bidder.
Our most intimate secrets lost to a market we fail to consider.

Because I don’t have to walk over there.

Every time we replace effort with an automated mover;
Every time we use our voice to replace a louver;
Every time we give in to the temptation to make things easier,
we fail to recall that we are three dimensional, analog creatures.

Because it makes life easier, simpler, faster, better.

It is the rotating of the dial to that special space between 91 and 91.5
that gave us the satisfaction of knowing how to tune in.

It is balls of aluminum foil atop the antennae
that coaxed invisible energy to the audible domain.

It is the voice of the DJ in the context of static
that told us the quality of the skies and pending weather.

Because I don’t care.

While the speaker may have become smarter,
we have surely grown dumber.
Like parrots in a cage,
all we do now is, speak.

By |2020-02-02T00:47:09-04:00February 2nd, 2020|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology, The Written|Comments Off on Because I don’t have to …

Did we really find gravitational waves?

Letter to the editor, New Scientist:

Concerning “Exclusive: Grave doubts over LIGO’s discovery of gravitational waves” —October, 31 2018

When I was CEO of the software development company that produced Yellow Dog Linux, I was frequently interviewed about our product launches and related support of Apple, IBM, and Sony computers. In one particular interview the “reporter” got it all wrong, so bad that for the first (and last) time I was forced to take action to have the article retracted, as colleagues, even close friends reached out to ask if it was true.

It occurred to me then that if people who knew me, who trusted me were swayed by the power of the printed word to question my integrity, when in fact nothing of the sort occurred, how many other articles had I read by this small-town publication, and many more by large format journals, were equally incorrect or intentionally slanted to sell copy?

In reading the New Scientist article Did we really find gravitational waves? I was blown away by the disinformation contained therein, intentional misuse of key facts and figures, a total lack of understanding of the means by which the LSC isolates signal from noise, and the blatant disregard for the 70+ EM follow-up confirmations (not just one). The article reads as a children’s storybook, a version taken to such simple explanation that it becomes wrong.

Now, as I did many years ago, I question the integrity of the publication as a whole. While I have for a half decade enjoyed NS’ snippets of information in a diversity of subjects, fully aware of the sensational cover stories, I am baffled by how this article could be called an “investigation”. An investigation requires the reporter to become something of an expert in the subject during his or her information gathering campaign. This was clearly not your agenda. Rather, you moved to publish cover story to capture the attention of the reader without concern for the integrity of the information contained therein.

It is one thing to give a scientist a platform on which to question a colleague’s work. That is the very reason we publish. But to call it an “investigative report” and feature it on the cover when the article doesn’t even begin to describe the methods by which the LSC conducts its research is a completely different ball game.

I am not an astrophysicist, yet I could give a half hour lecture on the points of this article that were intentionally slanted or simply wrong. I was proud to have my latest film LIGO Detection, launched by New Scientist but will not be renewing my subscription in 2019. Not because as a member of the LSC I am offended. No. Because I know enough to recognize the fallacy in what was published, begging the question how many more of your publications portray research in an equally incorrect manner. You have given in to the need to capture attention through conflict instead of good science in a world that needs more critical thinking, not polarized controversy.

Cheers,
Kai Staats, MSc

Read a more complete story at Ars Technica

By |2018-11-25T12:56:21-04:00November 14th, 2018|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on Did we really find gravitational waves?

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

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 |2018-11-25T17:14:17-04:00December 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 |2017-12-29T04:30:04-04:00December 29th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on SATA, Thunderbolt, USB, and SD cards

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 |2017-11-24T23:16:23-04:00November 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 |2017-11-16T14:02:47-04:00November 16th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on Hydrogen is back!

Faster, easier, better.

What is this fascination with faster, easier, better?

I have heard it said that biology is lazy, that all creatures pursue that which requires the least energy expenditure. Perhaps entropy is the true guiding force, the omnipotent, intelligent designer, the deity which laughs when we grow to despise all but the very softest lap of luxury.

Have we not learned from our ancestors? Civilizations collapse when wealth exceeds labor.

How readily we forget, how easily we fail to recall, it is a challenge which grants us a sense of accomplishment, not arrival to the destination unencumbered.

By |2017-06-10T00:56:07-04:00June 10th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on Faster, easier, better.