Topic Tuesday #174 2015/11/17 "Happy Birthday to ME!!!"

Topic Tuesday #174 2015/11/17 "Happy Birthday to ME!!!"

Google gave me a doodle for my birthday, 

Google gave me a doodle for my birthday, 

Today I am 37 years old. I would have taken the day off, but a guy at work has the same birthday and took it before I did. Dibs on next year! So I worked a full day driving for 6 hours and doing 2 hours of actual work. Once I got home, I made my own cake, devil's food this year. I shampooed carpets to get rid of cat mess (he's not liking the food or some reason). I did several loads of other people's laundry; I will get to mine eventually. I read stories to my children and then collapsed for a little bit since the shampooer atomizes the cleaning solution and it seizes up my lungs something terrible.  I don't recall birthdays being quite so... responsible? before. It's funny how life creeps up on you and the daily grind cannot be easily ignored. 

Once upon a time, while running role playing games, I suggested doing a persona game, where everyone would write up themselves, into a character sheet. We had a little game with chopping wood, throwing things, standing and running long jumps, and basically lifting heavy things. Then we would take an average of what other people thought our stats were. It was all in good fun and we were nothing if not kind to each other. So, In being kind but realistic, I thought I would revisit my stats. These are based on the AD&D 3.5 edition, now the Pathfinder rule system should you be curious.

  • Strength - 11
  • Dexterity - 10
  • Constitution - 8
  • Intelligence - 14
  • Wisdom - 16
  • Charisma - 15

Yeah, that's about right I think. 10 is pretty average, and physically I feel more average than mentally. I can perform stupid feats of strength when required, but I tend to get sick a little more often than others. I'm not the best judge of my own abilities however, so if you think I'm wrong, let me know and provide your own stats too!

Topic Tuesday #162 2015/08/25 "Musings on Transience and the Meaning of Life"

Topic Tuesday #162 2015/08/25 "Musings on Transience and the Meaning of Life"

Greetings readers. My brain seems to be short on contemplativeness this evening, so I will bring up one that tends to haunt me. Transience. 

As a human being, it seems in our nature to want to make things that last beyond us. We are all inherently afraid to die. The psychology behind this need to continue existing is long and extensive and fairly well understood academically. It stems from the basic self preservation instinct that exists in all living things. Live as long as you can to continue the species. We have our big brains to out think our biology and we can consciously choose to not produce offspring, but I have to wonder if that choice is enough. Perhaps our subconscious will always spur us forward to make something that will outlast our own pathetic life spans. Perhaps the more artistic types will give birth to a painting, novel, sculpture, a piece of music, even a simple poem. The more technical minded may create empires of technology; stone, steel, silicon. Others will create businesses that may do nothing but perpetuate themselves, constantly reinventing themselves to adjust to market forces. It seems that as a human, we are driven to create a legacy of some type, be it biological, intellectual, or something firmly tangible. 

There seems to be another component to this inborn trait: we can never really stop. We are so programmed that we will always create something. We can't help it, and perhaps those that do have the self control to say enough is enough are the broken ones, as the vast majority can never relent.

So, I often sit and ponder my legacy. I write this blog every Tuesday, as a kind of legacy; one for my daughters to read through when they are old enough to be on their own but still need to listen to their dad drone on about this or that in hopes of imparting some tidbit of helpful insight into our human condition. I still have a lot to do, and often I feel stifled. I want to write that great american novel. I want to build my dream house. I want to travel the world to see it all. I want to play though that video game and binge watch all the popular TV and movies I have collected. I have issues... I have to eat. I have mouths to feed. I have responsibilities. So my desires to curtail my own transience on the good Earth, are held in limbo among other cognitively dissonant conundrums. Metaphorically, I am on hold - doodling on the corner of an envelope, wishing I were somewhere else doing something else, while the voice of my father rings in the back of my mind.

"Be present. Be here. Here is all there is. Find happiness in the moment, for the moment will never come again."

So I smile. I listen to the hold music and feel the fan's discordant buffeting against my face. It feels good, like the physical expression of white noise. I clear my mind. I take stock. Life is pretty good when you slow down to realize you are alive and amidst a great number of perfectly improbable things. Live in the now with the aim at a better tomorrow, for yourself and others. That is your legacy, and mine.  

Topic Tuesday #159 2015/08/04 "Moving my cheese"

Topic Tuesday #159 2015/08/04 "Moving my cheese"

I have dove straight into Windows 10. This is not a post about Windows 10, but about migration habits. We have so many things that we use on a daily basis that having it readily at hand is both paramount and sometimes surprisingly difficult. Being an I guy... I have, to be quite frank, too many machines in my armada. I have multiple computers used for my day job, including multiple servers that I log into all the time. I have multiple android devices like phones and tablets that are both for work and play. I have a couple laptops and desktops at home that are for the children and myself as well as development and testing of my skills. I can't even give an accurate number to the mass of hardware I could go through on a day to day basis. So how do I have all the things I need with me? It's not an easy solution, so I have any options and use them all to varying degrees of success.

The cloud is wonderful! Wonderful for small documents and notes and pictures. Anything above 20MB and it becomes a pain because of internet performance, and if you are on a WiFi hotspot and paying for data... FORGET IT. Also there are security concerns. Data breeches are a valid concern in this day and age, so security must also be a component of any solution.

What I end up with is a hodgepodge of solutions. Some in the cloud, some on portable drives that I can take with me, some that are always going to live on a server and network drive that will be accessed by remote control. And many syncing solutions between all of these to ensure everything is up to date and consistent.

Certainly, I am an "edge case". So, I ask you... How do you do IT?

Topic Tuesday #156 2015/07/14 "Pictures of Pluto!"

Topic Tuesday #156 2015/07/14 "Pictures of Pluto!"

With the blue Atlantic Ocean as backdrop, smoke and steam fill the launch pad, at right, as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft roars into the sky aboard an Atlas V rocket. (NASA)

New Horizons launched January 19th, 2006 at 14:00 hours atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas V from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Space Launch Complex 41, after being manufactured in Maryland. It is roughly the size and shape of a baby grand piano weighing half a ton. Its mission was to complete the initial human survey of the solar system’s planets. There are 7 scientific instruments on-board (See Below), a nuclear decay power generator, the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh who discovered Pluto in 1930, a CD ROM with 434,000 names, another CD ROM with pictures of the New Horizons Team, a chunk of Space Ship One, 2 state quarters, 2 little American flags, and a US postage stamp from 1991, that says "Pluto Not Yet Explored" (29 cents).

The instruments, because I know you are curious:

  1.  Ralph: Visible and infrared imager/spectrometer; provides color, composition and thermal maps.
  2. Alice: Ultraviolet imaging spectrometer; analyzes composition and structure of Pluto's atmosphere and looks for atmospheres around Charon and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).
  3. REX: (Radio Science EXperiment) Measures atmospheric composition and temperature; passive radiometer.
  4. LORRI: (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) telescopic camera; obtains encounter data at long distances, maps Pluto's farside and provides high resolution geologic data.
  5. SWAP: (Solar Wind Around Pluto) Solar wind and plasma spectrometer; measures atmospheric "escape rate" and observes Pluto's interaction with solar wind.
  6. PEPSSI: (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) Energetic particle spectrometer; measures the composition and density of plasma (ions) escaping from Pluto's atmosphere.
  7. SDC: (Student Dust Counter) Built and operated by students; measures the space dust peppering New Horizons during its voyage across the solar system.

Today, New Horizons made it! The spacecraft did a fly by, 7,800 miles from Pluto, at 30,817 mph, to take the best pictures we have every had of the dwarf planet, before heading for the next phase of its mission, the exploration of the Kuiper Belt.

Pluto is 3,000,000,000 (3 billion) miles from Earth (at this time in it's elliptical 248 year orbit around the Sun.

That's Pluto and Charon nestled to scale between Earth and our Moon. (Copyright Walter Myers)

It takes radio signals (traveling at the speed of light) a little over 4 and half hours to reach us, at a staggeringly slow 1 kilobit per second. At that data rate, the images take almost an hour to download on a 200 foot dish antenna. 

Pluto, Hubble Image, 2010, NASA

Previous to this mission the best image we had was the second round of pictures from Hubble, seen here.

Yesterday, 7/13/2015, New Horizons gave us this image from its LORRI instrument.

More even higher resolution images and readings will be downloaded over the next days and weeks. I can't wait!!!

Pluto, New Horizons (LORRI), taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. (NASA)

To sum up how far we have come, the fine folks at VOX lined up these images, the one on the left is the earliest photo from Hubble, maybe before it got its glasses. 

We have now visited all the planets of the Sol System.  But there is much work still left to do. Stephen Hawking commented on this latest historic mission  and his words say it all. 

"The revelations of New Horizons may help us to understand better how our solar system was formed," Prof Hawking said. "We explore because we are human, and we want to know. I hope that Pluto will help us on that journey. I will be watching closely, and I hope you will, too."

In case you were curious, These are the years we did reconnaissance on our planetary neighbors. 

  • Mercury - 1974
  • Venus - 1979
  • Mars - 1962 Soviet, 1965 Mariner 4
  • Jupiter - 1979
  • Saturn - 1980
  • Uranus - 1986
  • Neptune - 1989
  • Pluto/Charon 2015

Take a moment, Think about the task and really applaud the team of scientists and engineers that made this happen. Remember, Space is hard. #Penny4NASA

Topic Tuesday #154 2015/06/30 "Leap Second"

Topic Tuesday #154 2015/06/30 "Leap Second"

Long ago, I wrote about the origins of the calendar. #24

But what I didn't discuss was corrections to timekeeping.
See the calendar that we eventually landed on is not perfect, by a long shot. This is why every 4 years we add a day (24 hours) to February. This keeps the calendar in sync with the planet's seasons. Today, June 30th, the last minute of the day has 61 seconds as we add a leap second in order to keep the time of day close to the mean solar time, or UT1. Without such a correction, time reckoned by Earth's rotation drifts away from atomic time because of irregularities in the Earth's rotation. Since this system of correction was implemented in 1972, 26 leap seconds have been inserted, including today's. Ideal implementation adds a positive leap second between "second 23:59:59" of a chosen UTC calendar date (the last day of a month, usually June 30 or December 31) and "second 00:00:00" of the following date.

Peter Whibberley, senior research scientist at the UK's National Physical Laboratory (NPL), said: "Because they depend on measurements of the Earth's rotation, which varies unpredictably, leap seconds occur at irregular intervals. Leap seconds are announced only six months in advance. This means computers and software cannot be supplied with leap seconds programmed in, and they must be inserted manually," he explained. "Getting leap seconds wrong can cause loss of synchronisation in communication networks, financial systems and many other applications which rely on precise timing. Whenever a leap second occurs, some computer systems encounter problems due to glitches in the code written to handle them. The consequences are particularly severe in the Asia-Pacific region, where leap seconds occur during normal working hours."

Due to these complications many would like to do away with the practice of adding leap seconds. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is set to discuss the topic at the World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva this November.

There was some jargon in there, like "Mean Solar Day" and "UT1". Let me do the work for you and tell you what those are.

The duration of daylight varies during the year but the length of a mean solar day is nearly constant, unlike that of an apparent solar day. An apparent solar day can be 20 seconds shorter or 30 seconds longer than a mean solar day.

UT1 is the principal form of Universal Time. While conceptually it is mean solar time at 0° longitude, precise measurements of the Sun are difficult. Hence, it is computed from observations of distant quasars using long baseline interferometry, laser ranging of the Moon and artificial satellites, as well as the determination of GPS satellite orbits. UT1 is the same everywhere on Earth, and is proportional to the rotation angle of the Earth with respect to distant quasars, specifically, the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF), neglecting some small adjustments. The observations allow the determination of a measure of the Earth's angle with respect to the ICRF, called the Earth Rotation Angle (ERA, which serves as a modern replacement for Greenwich Mean Sidereal Time). UT1 is required to follow the relationship
ERA = 2π(0.7790572732640 + 1.00273781191135448Tu) radians
where Tu = (Julian UT1 date - 2451545.0)

Around the world, we try to use UTC, (oddly acronymed for Coordinated Universal Time, because French.)
UTC is an atomic timescale that approximates UT1. It is the international standard on which civil time is based. It ticks SI seconds, in step with TAI. It usually has 86,400 SI seconds per day but is kept within 0.9 seconds of UT1 by the introduction of occasional intercalary leap seconds. As of 2015, these leaps have always been positive (the days which contained a leap second were 86,401 seconds long). Whenever a level of accuracy better than one second is not required, UTC can be used as an approximation of UT1. The difference between UT1 and UTC is known as UT1. 
For most purposes, UTC is considered interchangeable with GMT, but GMT is no longer precisely defined by the scientific community.

Topic Tuesday #152 2015/06/16 "Software-Curses, foiled again!"

Topic Tuesday #152 2015/06/16 "Software-Curses, foiled again!"

Okay, get this: my oldest daughter has been recording herself (with my help of course) doing how-to draw sessions. I was using the cheap cell phone that I got to keep tabs on her (and entertain her) but I am not as steady as a sniper, so the video production quality blows. I'm a techie, so I figure I can do this better than a cell phone. I attached a 1080P webcam, the Logitech C615 to a tripod (it has the mounting built in) and positioned it above her desk.

Awesome!, looks great! but it's upside down... and the angle I have to get things at , it would be over her shoulder and it would be a mess logistically. I don't have another boom that I can incorporate into this, and now it is becoming a huge hassle. I figure I will fix it in software, just flip the image.  

An hour later, and many software trials and failures later, I "think" I can manage it with the Open Broadcasting software ( I was originally using to stream the podcast. But that is less than intuitive to use, so what the hell am I missing?

This would be a problem on pretty much any platform, save smart phones...  The absolute easiest, not the best quality for sure but easiest, is to mount the cell phone to the tripod with a $7 accessory , manipulate the orientation by just rocking it until the gyroscope kicks to the right angle, maybe give it a charging cable and make sure it has enough space to record, and hit it. Seriously... 2 minutes to setup. Then even if I screw up there was a free app to flip the video. Then just go to the Youtube app and upload the video. No stress, it just works. 

WHY CAN'T MY COMPUTER DO THIS? I love my beast of a desktop and the power of my laptops, but seriously, for simple versatility and functionality a smart phone is absolute champion. Add a couple adapters, and send the video to a big screen and it will function for 90% or more of all you ever do on the web. If you are clever, you can use it to remote to another system, like your power house desktop, and crunch away at the heavy tasks or acquire files you need. 

Life these days is played out in the palms of our hands. It's no wonder everyone you see is looking down at their phones, they are actually living their life on that little screen, falling through the looking glass of untapped potential. I swear once I get my augmented reality glasses, I simply won't know what to do with myself. One day... One day at a time... 

Topic Tuesday #151 2015/06/09 "Mobility - The Urge To Travel"

Topic Tuesday #151 2015/06/09 "Mobility - The Urge To Travel"

Do you ever have the urge to do something that you haven't done in decades? I have found myself day dreaming. I want to travel. I want to see the country and meet fascinating people. I do not want to fly, that has become too stressful and expensive. I don't want to stay in hotels, though they are often fabulous, they are also too costly and inflexible in many ways. No.. I have a somewhat crazy idea to buy a travel trailer. 

I have a van that can tow 3,500 lbs. I'm not buying a truck just for this idea. I will use what I have and make it work. I have 2 children. If I plan on taking them, which I certainly do since camping is an American family tradition, I need room for them to sleep. If I want to take my significant other, then I have more berths to allocate with more offspring. I essentially need to look at a sleeping capacity of 6. The criteria of tow weight and number of bodies narrows down what I can look at significantly. A nice, snug fit: 184BH | 2015 JAY FLIGHT SLX  

There are a plethora of options out there, including the styles that pop out beds on the sides. Those models have more space, but have more moving parts. I grew up playing around in an old Winnebago (Brave Style). I have fond memories of that experience, but more than that, I see more potential. Should I go down this route, I want it simple, no setup beyond stabilizing. I want to open the door and be in a little home, or an office. This is not just a camper, this is a mobile command center, at getaway, a den, a club house - with a kitchen. I like this model because of the flow.

I have many aspirations. One day, I would like to just be mobile. Go wherever and setup and be home away from home. I fantasize about podcasting and writing from my mothership, being my own master. Wireless internet and cloud services have made staying connected an easy proposition. It could work. I could be doing it right now, and you would never know! 

Dare to dream.

But, as dreams go, this is quite an affordable option. Brand new, one of these is under $15,000. My van will be paid off soon, and this, this could be toddling behind me on my way to the next grand adventure. 

What do you think? Is camping your thing? Do you have dreams to escape the rat race?