Humans & Technology

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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+00:00 November 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+00:00 April 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+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

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!

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+00:00 June 10th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on Faster, easier, better.

The Ultimate Camping Subaru

Your Office in the Woods
When we think of car camping, we often picture a tent or open air sun shade, cooler, cook stove, folding chairs, and mountain bikes atop an SUV or minivan. Car camping allows ready access to beautiful, even if not terribly remote places.

But for me, car camping is what I do when I need to quickly get away from the insanity of the city, even if I continue working. With 4G mobile data, the speeds are sufficient for email, web research, multi-channel conference calls, and the upload of draft film edits. So, why sit in a stuffy office in a stuffy building with stuffy people when you can instead be working from your favourite campsite?

Exactly. So, all we need is power.

To work from the primary car battery is not a good idea. Yes, it functions, but standard lead acid batteries are designed for short, high amperage discharge to start your car, not the continuous drain of a low-wattage cell phone charger or laptop power adapter. While AGM batteries are becoming more common, and deliver both the power to start your car and consistent supply for electronics, concern remains for monitoring your battery to make certain you can start your car again. If you are all alone in the middle of the National Forest, running your car every 2-3 hours might be ok. But if in a campground, the fumes are annoying, the sound obnoxious. Why not go solar?!

This photo essay is how I converted my 2000 Subaru Forester into the ultimate camping car with a continuous supply of 110V power, day or night, supplied by 100% renewable nuclear fusion—the sun.
  

Parts
Each of the following are available from Amazon, save the battery and 12V power socket which I purchase from a local auto parts dealer:

  • Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Panel
  • Renogy AK-20FT-10 10AWG Adaptor Kit Solar Cable PV with MC4 (F/M) Connectors
  • Renogy TOOL-MC4 Solar Panel Mc4 Assembly Tool
  • Morningstar Sunsaver TrakStar 15 Amp MPPT Charge Controller 12V/24V
  • Renogy Solar Panel Mounting Z Bracket Set of 4 Units RV Boat Off Grid Roof
  • [brand] 12V / 7AH AGM battery
  • 12V power socket with mounting bracket
  • Morningstar SI-300-115V-UL 300W pure sine wave inverter
  • Household 110V A/C power socket and toggle switch to trigger the inverter ON/OFF

Design & Planning
What these photos and this essay do not convey is the amount of time spent in measuring, sketching, measuring again, and planning the layout of this project. One does not just drill holes in the roof a car, even a 16 year old car, without some careful consideration.

I likely spent equal time in Ace Hardware, working with one of the helpful employees to find the best way to accomplish the task at hand, as I did implementing each task.

This project required 3-4 hours a day for 5 days, or roughly 20 hours start to finish.
  

Solar Subaru: remove panels by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: lower roof panel by Kai Staats

Solar Subaru: drilling holes by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: drilling holes by Kai Staats

If you can find a way to bring the cables from the solar panel into the car interior without drilling holes, by all means do this. You thereby avoid potential water damage and of course, drilling holes in the roof of your car.

On my prior 2003 Outback Sport, I was able to do this because the solar panel I applied was lower wattage and therefore used thinner electrical cables. With this 100W panel, I stuck with the suggested 10g wire which with its thick insulation was pinched by the opening and closing of the rear hatch. So, drill holes I did.

If you must drill holes, remove all interior panels required to lower (or remove) the ceiling panel, allowing access to the metal of the roof, where the holes will be drilled. In selecting the location of the holes, I took into account the cross bar which I most certainly wanted to avoid, the placement of the panel and where the power leads terminate, and the physical constraints of the water proof adapters employed for the task.

I used a multipurpose hole saw which adapts to a drill bit. Let is spin at nearly full speed, press lightly, and be ready to catch the whole contraption before it punches through if you did not remove the interior panel. Else, you may accidentally drill through that too.
  

Solar Subaru: make water tight housing by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: insert water tight housing by Kai Staats

I experimented with a number of water tight fittings at the hardware store before I discovered these nifty right-angle adapters which have both a removable plate for helping the wire make the bend, and a water tight fitting which when turned, closes around the wire at the end. The silicon rubber ring is a separate purchase. I had to ask the manager to look when the clerk was unable to find what I needed. Ultimately, they had the right one to both fit over the threads of the threaded fitting and seal to the roof of the car. I did not use any adhesive, and it is 100% water tight against the car wash, garden hose, and weather.

Of course, you want to select the hole saw to match the diameter of the threaded nut as close as is possible.

You will also note that I used a metal hack saw and 120 grit sand paper to reduce the depth of the threaded nut to a minimum profile so as to not press against the upper (hidden) side of the roof panel, allowing the thick solar cable to bend over the widest arc possible.
  

Solar Subaru: water tight cabling by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: panel mounts by Kai Staats

The final installation is both professional in its appearance (if you consider plumbing parts on the roof of your Subaru to be professional), low profile for minimum air resistance, and water tight (see above, left). Once the cables are routed above the ceiling panel and down the interior of one of the two rear beams, you are ready to replace all the interior panels.
  

Solar Subaru: panel mounts by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: remove roof struts by Kai Staats

The mounting of the solar panel will be specific to your vehicle. I found a way to use the existing roof rails (above, right) in which I drilled holes and inserted bolts from the bottom up. Using lock washers, I was able to fit thread dowel nuts onto the bolts, creating a surface onto which the panel brackets rest. When the wing nut is tightened, the panel is completely snug, not the slightest vibration.

All of this took a significant amount of careful measurement, so take our time, check all measurements twice, and do it right the first time.
  

Solar Subaru: panel brackets by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: panel mounts by Kai Staats

Solar Subaru: panel hing by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: panel up by Kai Staats

Mounting the panel itself was a bit tricky. I used the brackets ordered along with the panel, but in a way they were not intended. Designed to attach to the side of the panels, I drilled new holes along the ends, again carefully measuring so as to fit perfectly to the bolts which press through the roof rails. The only messy effort is the need to make the holes in the mounting brackets slightly oblong so as to accommodate the angle of the panel when it lowers onto the bolts.

The hinge serves two functions: to allow the raising and lowering of the panel for work on the wiring or cleaning the roof without removal, and to angle the panel to face the sun. I now carry a short wooden stick which readily props the panel to approximately 45 degrees. Eventually, I would like to attach a metal “kickstand” with a set of angles built-in.
  

Solar Subaru: panel flat by Kai Staats

The final product is solid, low-profile, and even allows for full use of my roof rack, unobstructed.
  

Solar Subaru: finished by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: finished by Kai Staats

Solar Subaru: 300W inverter by Kai Staats Solar Subaru: 110V A/C by Kai Staats

In the rear-left (driver side) cargo pocket I drilled holes to route the positive (+) and negative (-) electrical cables from the panel into the interior space, to the AGM motorcycle battery. The charge controller is mounted to the wall of the pocket (which was a bit tricky, given that no glue would stick to the vinyl). I used T-nuts designed for wood working, applying 3 small screws per T-nut but careful to not strip the forced threading in the thin plastic wall of the pocket. Again, this is specific to my installation. The new 12V power socket was affixed using the same T-nuts and a total of 6 small screws, 3 per T-nut.

In the rear-right (passenger side) cargo pocket I mounted a standard, household A/C socket and toggle switch connected by 18g wire to the Morningstar 300W inverter mounted on a slab of wood (cut to fit neatly in the bottom of the plastic bin) just above the spare tire. The wire from the inverter to the socket is standard 14g as required in home wiring.

The end result is A/C power from either side, or both, whenever I need it.

The AGM motorcycle battery is ample (without the sun up) to provide one full charge of my Apple PowerBook Pro. Seems low, but when I run the numbers it makes wattage sense. It is incredible how much power is stored in Lithium-Ion batteries but at 1/10 the physical volume of the AGM. For now, it serves its purpose perfectly, providing power to get through the evening hours and into the night with my laptop and cell phone charging, a low-wattage LED work light. By day, I have all the power I need.

I now have a completely separate electrical system which leaves my car’s primary battery to start the car. Should it ever die, I simply run a cable from the original rear power socket to the new socket I installed, positive-to-positive, negative-to-negative (parallel wiring) and I can charge the dead battery from the rooftop solar PV panel.

By | 2018-03-27T16:42:31+00:00 May 23rd, 2017|From the Road, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on The Ultimate Camping Subaru

Who is driving whom?

I am greeted by an orchestral movement with the press of the power button.

I press the pedal and I am warned to apply my seatbelt.

I loose my hands from the wheel to momentarily scratch my chin,
and the wheel corrects, keeping me from collision.

I shift into reverse, and the beep is profound.

I come too close to the curb,
and the dashboard is alight with an immanent sound.

I am safe. I am safe. I am … safe from myself.

And I wonder, who is driving whom?

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:30+00:00 March 29th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on Who is driving whom?