Category Archives: Technology

Random Thoughts

There’s no specific theme or topic–just goofy stuff that has gone through my head as I self-isolate.

1. There’s no understanding the lengths people will go through to take advantage of others. A museum near Amsterdam closed because of the COVID-19 emergency. Someone–or several someones–broke in and stole a Vincent van Gogh painting, The Parsonage Garden at Neunen.  As near as I can tell, except for artwork that the Nazis looted, there are less than a dozen masterpieces that have been stolen and not recovered.

Imagine if the thieves had put their time and talent to work doing something worthwhile. Then again, maybe they think that they look good in fluorescent orange jumpsuits.

2. The hospital ships USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy supporting New York and Los Angeles are amazing. They started out as commercial supertankers, and if memory serves correctly, were cut in half to make them longer. USNS indicates that the ship is owned by the US Navy, but is not a commissioned vessel. The crew is a combination of military and civilian mariners under the direction of the Military Sealift Command.

The 1000 bed medical facility is under the command of a captain from the Navy Medical Corps or Navy Nurse Corps. Each has a complement of diagnostic and treatment facilities including radiology, CT Scan, 12 operating rooms, and a burn care unit.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the USNS Mercy and she’s an awesome ship. Both have helicopter landing pas for patients being medevaced. The trauma receiving area–similar to an emergency room–has its deck painted red, an old tradition so blood isn’t as obvious. After all, these were built to support combat casualties.

 

Heroes

When I was growing up, there were heroes I looked up to.

  • Chuck Yeager–the first person to break the sound barrier in level flight.
  • John Glenn–the first American to orbit the earth and later US Senator
  • Neil Armstrong–The first man on the moon
  • Gene Kranz–NASA Flight Director for Gemini and Apollo

Each of these people did something noteworthy–PLUS three of the four are from my home state of Ohio. Gene Kranz graduated from the same high school I did.

Women who did great things in the 1960s didn’t get the spotlight, or even worse, the credit went to a male instead of the female who actually did the work. VADM Grace Hopper, NASA’s Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and their colleagues would not be publicly acknowledged until decades after they had achieved great things..

The closest I came to considering a celebrity as a hero was Jimmy Stewart. I liked his laid back style, but I admired the fact that he enlisted in the Army as a private as soon as he could, became a pilot, and volunteered to fly B-24s over Europe. After the war, he remained in the Air Force Reserve, attaining the rank of brigadier general.

Who are today’s heroes? Who do our children and grandchildren look up to? Who inspires them?

Sometimes the Old Ways Are Best

“(CNN)NASA may have a multi-billion dollar budget and some of the most advanced technology in the world, but when the Mars InSight lander got into a spot of bother, scientists came up with a charmingly rudimentary fix for its space technology: Hit it with a shovel.”

The apocryphally named “GM’s Law” says, “Don’t force it! Get a bigger hammer!”

Sometimes the old ways are, in fact, the best. Occam’s Razor rules.

Rules of Acquisition

The Ferengi appeared as aliens in several Star Trek iterations. They were the ultimate business people who frequently quoted from their 286 rules of acquisition. I’ve heard they were originally planned as the villains for Star Trek: The Next Generation, but came across as more silly than intimidating.

In my favorite interaction, one Frengi asks, “What if this becomes a war?” The other replies, “Rule 34.”

The first responds “Ahhh, war is good for business. But, but, what if it doesn’t lead to war?” The response is “Rule 35.”

“Ahhh, peace is good for business.”

Today there are real Ferengi; not as exotic looking, but every bit as greedy:

  • People pretending to be employees with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are knocking on doors, wearing white lab coats, telling residents that they’re testing for COVID-19. Then they rob them.
  • A former White House advisor asked if people staying home to avoid the virus is worth the economic consequences.
  • Senators dumped stocks after being briefed on the coronavirus, but before that information was released to the general population.
  • All kinds of scammers are selling phony medications or religious talismans.

Oh, wait. Rule 14.  “Anything stolen is pure profit.”

Premeditated Twinkie Offenses

I have no inherent dislike or paranoia about guns. I served in a war zone and carried a weapon. I like to go to a range and plunk at targets.

However, there are those today who are purchasing guns to protect their “stuff” in the event of shortages. It’s disturbing to think that anyone would kill another person over a loaf of bread, a side of beef, or a twinkie.* Talk about premeditated murder.

Somewhere around 250-280 AD, there was a pandemic–probably smallpox. The Roman death rate was around 30 percent, but in areas with a Christian presence it dropped to 10 percent. Why? The Romans deserted their sick friends and relatives to avoid catching the disease. Christians, even knowing that they might catch the disease, cared for one another.

 

* These are probably the same people who physically fought their way through the crowd to grab 18 cases of toilet paper.

Sorry, I Don’t Believe in Reality

Well, actually I do, but there are apparently many others who do not. The coronavirus COVID 19 is the current pressing example. People are dying–why wouldn’t you believe in it?

Easy.

If someone has a radio talk show or a podcast that makes money for them, there’s more money in denying reality than accepting it.

KACHING!

As a human being, I am embarrassed. It may not be as profitable, but it is more human to help one another instead of leeching off others’ misfortune.

Medical Mayhem

One of the problems with medical issues is that scientists’ and physicians’ assessments must constantly be revised. As additional facts are uncovered, logical conclusions are changed. That is difficult for some people to accept.

For example, 1.2 + 1.2 when rounded is two. However, if additional research adds a mere .1 to the equation, the answer would be rounded up to three. This is how science works.

This is how reality works. This is how life works.

The view of the effects of coronavirus is changing as more data are available.  This is good. This is how the intellectual process works. This is a time for thought, not emotion.

Viruses are unaffected by opinions, polls, or politics. So too are suffering and death. It is by keeping an open mind, examining the facts, re-examining the facts, and focusing on facts that we can progress.

Bring on the NANOBOTS!

See the source image

I love nanobots.

Nanobots are microscopic robots that can do anything from curing disease to treating injuries or providing energy to weapons. There’s just one minor problem with nanobots . . . .

They don’t exist in the real world.

But they are a staple in science fiction. Have an insurmountable problem? Write how nanaobots resolved it—it’s the best Deus ex machina* tool ever. For example:

Powerful, evil dudes attack good people, who are powerless to resist.
Nanobots are released that change the mental and emotional state of the bad guys. Soon, everybody sings Kumbaya.

However, there may be technology on the horizon that provides the benefits of nanobots using existing materials. The first, albeit tiny, steps are being taken in utilizing a virus to edit genes in a patient by using the CRISPR technique. It’s not as sexy as the nanobots in a John Scalzi novel, but this is real world technology, which is rarely sexy.

Will it work, or like so many other ideas, fail to execute as imagined.

Stay tuned!

 

 

* Deus ex machina (/ˌdeɪəs ɛks ˈmækɪnə, – ˈmɑːk-/ DAY-əs ex-MA(H)K-in-ə,[1] Latin[ˈdɛ.ʊs ɛks ˈmaːkʰɪnaː]; plural: dei ex machina; English ‘god from the machine’) is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence.[2][3] Its function can be to resolve an otherwise irresolvable plot situation, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending, or act as a comedic device.

Corona Virus Side Effects

There is a lot of angst regarding the corona virus (COVID-19). Oddly, most news coverage focuses on its impact on the stock market.

The news media, critically important for a democratic society, focuses on stories that sell newspapers, encourage internet clicks, or result in more pharmaceutical advertising during the evening news.

However, it’s best to put things in perspective.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are now 459 COVID-19 [link] cases in the United States. There was a death  today, which although is regrettable, makes a total of one.

On the other hand, influenza (the flu) has sickened at least 19 million across the U.S. and led to 10,000 deaths and 180,000 hospitalizations. This does not seem as significant because we encounter influenza every year. The Spanish flu in 1918 killed between 50 and 100 million people around the world.

The disease that infects millions and kills thousands is no big deal because we see it every year. A new disease, because it is novel, scares us to (near) death.

I’m not minimizing the potential of the virus. However, COVID-19 has been sensationalized, so the threat and probability of encountering it are more prominent in our mind, regardless of likelihood. Each of is, at least at this point, far more likely to be seriously affected by or to die from influenza, yet we focus on COVID-19.

I wish each of you good health–and a speedy recovery for your equity holdings.

 

Newspapers

I am one of those Luddites who still enjoys reading via pigment on cellulose (i.e., ink and paper). Several times in the past, I subscribed to more than one newspaper–usually a local paper, then another from the main city of the metropolitan area. I wanted the local news, but also the regional news.

How did I choose the newspaper? The local paper was geographic while the metropolitan newspaper was based on the funnies.

van halen

Why? Because if a newspaper treats the funnies as important, they will treat everything else they print as important. It’s kind of like Van Halen (and I RARELY get to compare myself to Van Halen in any way, shape or form). Van Halen specified in their contracts with their performance venues that there would be M&Ms in the dressing room, but all the brown M&Ms would be removed.

While it initially sounds like a 20th century ridiculous prima donna demand, there was a method to their madness. If, when they got to the site, the M&M requirement was met, they felt that they could safely assume that the other requirements were met. If there were brown M&Ms, they knew that there was sloppiness on other issues, like how safe and sturdy the stage was, security, and other real world issues. The M&Ms were like the canary in the mine shaft–an early warning system.

But I digress.

My local paper, The Virginian-Pilot (now owned by Tribune Publishing*) has continued to shrink over the past few years. The newspaper has gotten thinner, the lower quality newsprint pis allowed more space today than a year ago? The obituaries. You’d think that they would not want to feature how their readers are dying off, but since they’re all paid obituaries . . . .

Why do I like real newspapers? First, I’ll take a newspaper into situations such as rain, a bath tub, etc. where I would never take my computer or tablet. Second, it just feels more reliable. How many times, when reading online, do you see updates every few minutes. They don’t have to be accurate because they can always correct errers errors. Newspapers should (and I hope–I HOPE) do more fact checking before they publish because they can’t do updates.

I’ll have more to say, the next time I can sit down and write this blog.

 

 

 

*Tribune Publishing Company (formerly Tronc, Inc.) is an American newspaper print and online media publishing company based in Chicago, Illinois. The company’s portfolio includes the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, The Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel, South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, the Hartford Courant, additional titles in Pennsylvania and Virginia, syndication operations, and websites.

 

Facebook–Say What?

Among many others

Moderators for YouTube must now sign a document acknowledging that they might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder by reviewing YouTube posts.

Excuse me?

When a website creates stress similar to a combat experience, it’s time to just stop and ask ourselves what the hell we’re doing. We expected Facebook, YouTube, and other social media sites to be an opportunity to share ideas. Now, at best, they share thousands of pictures people take of themselves or pictures of their latest meal. At worst–they post images so disturbing that they can cause PTSD. Something is wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.

I have a better idea. Make it a policy that postings are hateful, disgusting, or otherwise inappropriate for polite society, the social media site will respect their First Amendment rights, so long as they include their (verified) name, address,cell phone number, photo, and e-mail.

Decent people have no use for a coward.

Bait and Switch

Once upon a time, the Internet was lauded as a forum for intelligent discussion, but like most things, it soon became primarily focused on enriching a few people. I have nothing against commerce, but it seems that many websites will stoop at nothing to get you to click on one of their links. To whit:

The Fed dropped mortgage rates? No. They adjust the prime rate, which may affect mortgage rates. but they don’t directly control mortgage rates.

 

Let’s stop in mid -sentence to see if viewers will click. After all, Trump and the Washington Post are usually totally simpatic0.

 

It seems that there’s shock and surprise about where every movie / television / music performer lives–or that they don’t look like they did 30 years ago. Oh, and  what’s Lawyers Blvd got to do with Meg Ryan?

 

Do you think that maybe, possibly there might have been just a tiny bit of Photoshopping involved? Not much, just a smidge?

Then there’s this poor girl. When I travel, I see her being arrested in every city I visit. She must be innocent, or they wouldn’t let her out to be arrested again and again.

So much for intelligent exchange of ideas.

A Different Coda

As we’re trying to downsize, I’m trying to cull the musical herd. My daughter gets to take the piano once she gets her own place. My son’s clarinet doesn’t take up to much space. However, my guitar collection and the drum set do. I hope to get down to my Taylor 6 string, Greenbriar by Peavey 12 string, Peavy Raptor electric, and of course, my Brian May guitar.

My current guitar amplifier is an oldie but a goodie, a Peavey 112 Bandit Sheffield Transtube, Silver Stripe. By the long name, you might expect it to be big. It is. It is also heavy and loud.

My new Peavey Vypyr VIP1 is smaller, lighter, and has all kinds of effects built in. It’s got a 32 bit floating point computer processor, which is a marketer’s way of saying, “You have to learn how to program it.”

The bottom line, I now have a guitar amp, cell phone, tablet, laptop, etc., ad nauseum ALL of which are smarter than I am.

I miss the days when my biggest challenge was to get the VCR to stop flashing “12:00”.

Love and Hate

I have a love-hate relationship with engineers

While it may not be politically correct to talk about this anymore, in the past, it was projected that 80 percent of engineers had Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s Syndrome is now considered to be on the autism spectrum, so it may be considered a disability. Its symptoms are extreme focus and the inability to reconcile others’ ideas with one’s own; in other words, I’m right and you’re wrong.

On one hand, if I’m driving across a bridge that is both long and a good distance from the water, I want it to have been designed by somebody who put 100 percent of their focus on designing that bridge. I want that person to be so focused that everyone else’s opinion was not a distraction. Their focus—regardless of its source—is a wonderful attribute.

On the other hand, interacting with engineers, either at work or socially can be less satisfying. They are apt to say factually correct, but awkward (for the listener) statements like:
“You sure have aged.”
“How much weight have you gained?

Ya gotta lovem.

And hatem, too.

Changing Relationships

Wired Magazine has an interesting article this month that talks about how the Internet has changed. When I read it, it was like getting a diagnosis for an unpleasant condition.

I have been somewhat avoiding the Internet because I no longer trust it–and that’s the nicest thing I can say about it. What once was, or at least hoped to be, a forum for exchanging ideas for the betterment of all has become a hate-filled pariah that imposes itself on anyone who will allow it.

Put another way, if the Internet were a neighborhood, I’d move.

Naturally, it makes me less prone to writing. It used to be that I got ideas for blogs on the Internet, but what has become acceptable and routine is not worth reading. Even the news glamorizes the crackpots and mass murderers.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did our attitudes toward civility decline, which led to today’s Internet or did the Internet lead to our loss of civility?

WordPress Screws It Up, Yet Again

I had begun this post, stopped, worked with WordPress, and thought that the problem was resolved.

NOT SO FAST! PUT DOWN THE IDEA AND STEP AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD! KEEP YOUR OPIBIONS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!

(Sigh)

When something works, why do geeks (and yes, I’m a geek) insist on changing things? When I was in medical imaging, there was a Cardiac CT Scanner that was cutting edge technology. The problem was that the engineers kept improving it. That should be great, right?

Not so much.

Each scanner was slightly different than every other scanner because of the improvements. That meant that the parts, diagnostic routines, manuals, etc. were all different.

Play piano? Imagine if every keyboard you sat down in front of was laid out different. An 8 note scale? Nope, we like eleven (I would have used the numerals, but the WordPress program, in its infinite wisdom thinks it should be 11. Why?).

I remember when Japanese manufactured cars went from a novelty to the norm and every mechanic had to have both SAE (English) size tools as well as metric. I can deal with that; if you tell me the rules, I can follow them.

So, bottom line is that when I have a few spare minutes around job, family, chores, repairs, and the miscellaneous hurricane or other disaster, I want to jot down my  ideas and share them.

WordPress, if I wish to be frustrated, I have children and a job; I don’t need you to add to it.

(Sigh)

Oh, and I’m still looking for the draft of the post I wanted to put here.

(Sigh)

Space – The Final Frontier

Gene Kranz–THE Flight Director

I grew up during the early days of the space program. At night, when Echo I–a satellite that was essentially a giant, shiny Mylar balloon–passed overhead, the whole family would go outside. A clear sky, the overflight time from the local newspaper, and we’d watch until we saw that tiny speck of light pass overhead.

The Mercury program gave us America’s first manned space flights when I was in grade school. For each launch, someone would bring a transistor radio–the latest thing–and the whole class would listen. Somewhere during the tail end of the Mercury program and the beginning of the Gemini program, the radio was replaced by a television. While most televisions were large and treated as a piece of furniture, some of my classmates had a smaller television that was (barely) light enough to transport to school. The picture was black and white, but then, most televisions were.

When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, I sat on the couch with my girlfriend and watched, transfixed. Apollo 12 didn’t generate as much interest, but when Apollo 13 suffered a near catastrophic explosion, everybody followed coverage until the astronauts were safely home.

Later, when I lived in Florida, along the Space Coast, I could watch launches–including the space shuttles–from my driveway. One time I drove up to Cape Canaveral to watch a shuttle launch up close. First there was the sight of the liftoff, which was followed by the sonic roar and a pressure wave against my chest that attested to the power of the engines.

But, what I remember most fondly, is the final stage of the countdown as the flight director polled each section to ensure that the mission could be successfully launched .
“Medical?” “Go!”
“Range?” “Go!”
“CapCom?” “Go!”
“Flight?” “Go!”

Each function had to make sure their area of responsibility was ready. Each wanted desperately to add their affirmation–to say yes and to agree to move forward.

Contrast that with today when so many people are so eager to say “No.”

Boeing 737 Max B

Aircraft evolution is really quite fascinating—right up to the Boeing 737 Max 8.

Initially, the Wright Brothers (Wilbur was the real inventor, Orville was the trusty sidekick) actually bent the wings to cause it to turn. Fortunately, if wings are fabric covered wood slats held up by metal cables, bending them is easy. Soon, elevators (the little wings at the tail) controlled whether the aeroplane pointed up or down, and ailerons (movable sections of the main wings) determined whether a plane would angle and turn; the rudder helps turns but is mainly to keep the back of the plane coordinated with the front.

The United States entered World War II in 1941 with most of its aircraft still made of wood frames covered by fabric AND two sets of wings, but more modern planes were arriving and more under development. By 1945, the US Army Air Corps (there was no US Air Force until 1947) was flying multi-engine, high altitude aircraft with pressurized cabins. Next, jet engines replaced many propeller-driven airplanes. Soon passenger aircraft were taking business from the railroads.

The biggest change came when the technology changed from mechanical controls to computers. Small general aviation aircraft, for example, have cables connected from the pilot’s yoke (the thing that looks like a partial steering wheel) and the rudder pedals to the various control surfaces. The pilot pulls back on the yoke and the plane points its nose up; push and the nose goes down. There are other factors that that play a parrt, but you get the idea.

Fly-by-wire describes having a computer between the pilot and the aircraft control surfaces. When the pilot pulls back on the yoke, it is really a computer interface that gives a command to the elevators to move. It’s designed so that to the pilot, it feels the same regardless if it’s mechanical linkages or fly-by-wire. So far, so good.

Basic general aviation planes are built to be stable, and therefore forgiving. The Cessna 172 that I learned to fly, for example, could recover itself from some unusual situations (like a spn) if I just let go of all of the controls. I never tested this, but like most student pilots, I was harder on that little plane than it was on me.

When you add computers, there are all kinds of possibilities, starting with sophisticated autopilots. A military fighter aircraft ideally needs to be highly maneuverable, which means you sacrifice stability. However, by adding a computer, it’s not just the commands from the pilot, but hundreds of little adjustments by the computer. These invisibly make the aircraft act stable but still give the pilot control.

In a modern military aircraft, the pilot is the weak link. The aircraft can accelerate to speeds that would cause the pilot to black out. The aircraft can fly longer than the pilot can remain alert. The pilot’s main job is to provide judgment; even so-called “drones” are remotely piloted.

Planes like the Boeing 737 Max 8 have an upgraded computer system. The new 737 seemed so similar to previous versions, except for the computer and software, that the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t require the exhaustive testing required of a brand new aircraft. It’s possible that the new software has some flaws, flaws that reportedly cause the plane’s nose to drop and not respond when the pilot pulls the yoke back to correct it.

This is only a guess, based on various news reports. When a thorough investigation is complete, including reviewing the data from the flight recorders—the “black boxes”—then we should know more.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is*

I’ve never been crazy about switching back and forth between standard time and daylight savings time. I realize that daylight savings time is worth billions of dollars to the outdoor grill and charcoal industries, the gulf courses, and–at least on Halloween, the candy manufacturers.

But why switch back and forth? Oh, I forgot, our Congress came up with that idea to save energy, even though it actually uses MORE energy and there’s a great loss of efficiency whenever we change.

Time is pretty arbitrary to begin with. If you set up a sun dial in your backyard, with precise orientation, the time at your location is very unlikely to match the time your clock/telephone/nuclear synched weather station, etc. We have time zones because the railroads needed it back in the 19th century–today I guess it’s for network television.

Take the Eastern Time Zone. It stretches from Qaanag (Thule), Greenland to Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. In Qaanag, sunrise today is at 0819 (8:19 AM) with sunset at 1912 (7:12 PM).

In Indianapolis–in the same time zone–sunrise is at 0758 (7:58 AM) and sunset at 1949 (7:49 PM). On the east coast of Virginia, sunrise is at 0719 (7:19 AM).

Since it is so arbitrary, anyway, why don’t we just stop switching back and forth. Personally, I’d prefer staying on daylight savings time–I like a little sunshine after I get off of work.

Twenty-First Century Customer Servcie*

In many retail stores I find several recurring themes–none of which are particularly appealing.

  1. Everything gets moved around. This is true at WalMart, the local grocery store chain, and who knows where else (I don’t shop too many other places).
  2. Once everything is moved (at least at the grocery stores), the prices are raised by about 10 percent.
  3. Of course, the idea of having employees available to answer questions, like, “Where are the clocks that used to be here?” died a long time ago.
  4. There are employees available, but they’re busy stocking shelves. Shelves are no longer stocked at night, but instead, at the peak of business activity, and giant carts loaded with merchandise are used to make passage through aisles absolutely impossible.
  5. It’s bad enough that shoppers are expected in 9 out of 10 cases to scan and bag their own purchases. However, the use of the plastic bags that defy all human efforts to open them (i.e., the front and the back stick together no matter what you do) manage to raise the bar on customer frustration to an all-time high.

Each of these practices are irritating, but since they seem so widespread, I have to ask. Did some retail guru (perhaps from Radio Shack, Sears, or J.C. Penney’s) promote these ideas? We may never know, but we are entitled to our suspicions.

 

* Yes, I know it’s misspelled. You see, it’s a sarcastic jab at poor customer service. Besides, I want to be the originator of a meme like covfefe or hamberder. So use Servcie every chance you get! Servcie! Servcie? servcie