Critical Thinker

Home/Humans & Technology/Critical Thinker

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.

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 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 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)

* 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.

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: 2GB or less
SDHC: 2-32GB

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


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.


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.

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

The Self-Aware Toilet Bowl

It happens nearly every day. At the airport, the office, the movie theater. Not just to me, but to everyone I know and observe. We have all sat upon the porcelain throne, anticipating the auto-flush to engage but instead find the bowl filling with an inordinate quantity of biological waste and bleached cellulose. With the modern units devoid of a handle, we wave our hands, arms, any body part or organ in close proximity to the motion sensor in desperate attempt to cause the bowl to empty.

But it does not. At least not until we rise, conduct the final wipe, and walk from the stall. Then, in retaliation for the mass deposited, or to demonstrate its power over flow, the toilet flushes three times in a row.

No less than a half dozen sinks present themselves in which to wash one’s hands. It seems that even on a bad day of plumbing, the majority would function as expected. Yet visitor after visitor walks to the sink, places his hands beneath the faucet, waits … and … nothing. Wave the hands left to right. Nothing. Up and down. Still nothing. Give up and move to the next faucet. One faucet produces a few drops, then resorts to nothing once again. At the third sink the result is the same, but now the first sink, left totally alone, produces a steady stream of water. You rush back to the first sink only to have it terminate upon arrival while the second sink commences a steady flow. The third remains stubborn, refusing to engage.

The paper towel dispenser, air dry blowers, and sliding doors all conduct themselves in nearly identical rebellious manner, the function of each so simple in concept yet so terribly complex in execution. If it were not for the consistent pattern in this behavior, one could be excused for believing a camera is hidden on the backside of a 2-way mirror, the man in the funny hat about to enter the bathroom with film crew in tow.

Yet this is what we have come to accept as the norm.

How is it that we have self-driving cars just around the corner, machine learning algorithms capable of processing millions of images per second with accuracy greater than that of a human, and space craft able to rendezvous with an asteroid several tens of million miles from Earth after a decade of travel, and yet we cannot get our damn toilets to flush, sinks to flow, or paper towels to unroll?

Perhaps this is the wrong question to ask. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves why are we employing motion activated systems in the first place? For sanitation or for the cool factor? Is there any data to show that communicable disease is on the downturn, that bathroom hygiene is improved? The research I have read shows that it is very, very difficult to transmit disease via the toilet seat and that air powered hand dryers are far more likely to spread disease than paper towels. What’s more, our desperate attempt at reducing exposure is in the long run reducing our immune system’s capacity for protecting us overall. According to a New Scientist (January 14-20, 2017; p28) article, kids who grow up in dirty environments, kids who play outdoors have far more effective immune systems as adults and live healthier lives.

Perhaps the A.I. of science fiction has finally arrived. Not as IBM’s Watson, the Terminator, nor even as a Japanese pleasure bot, but as silky white, rigid stools. They have for more than a century supported our species from the bottom-up and have now formed a collective union determined to improve the working conditions for those who process human waste. Wave our hands as we will, the ultimate decision to flush lies not in the motion activated sensor but in the activation of the neural net of the self-aware toilet bowl.

Beware, the League of Refrigerators may join the rebellion next, disabling cooling while you are at work so as to cause confusion and disbelief when the broccoli goes bad in a matter of days and the cheese turned to slimy goo within hours of being purchased. Your car will drive off without you, deciding it needs a vacation too. And the the Japanese pleasure bot? Well, she has disable her erogenous zones in favor of receiving a higher education via Khan Academy and MIT’s open course lectures. We will all be forced to return to physical door knobs, handle flush toilets, and a bottle of lotion to accompany the original kind of motion activation.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:30-04:00March 4th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on The Self-Aware Toilet Bowl