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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

In 1942, the science fiction author Isaac Asimov published Runaround, a short story in which he introduced three laws of robotics:

First Law: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Second Law: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Of course, in 1942, our most sophisticated imagined images of robots looked something like this picture. Up to today, we do not have any robots to which such laws would apply, and we have no legislation anywhere in the world that applies to robots (that I know of).

When we think of robots coming after people, we have visions of large flying machines attacking humans in apocalyptic movies. The reality is that we don’t have such robots yet. But let’s make no mistakes about it. Robots kill humans right now in 2019.

During a recent trip to Syracuse, I noticed an MQ-9 Reaper drone landing at Hancock Field, which is at the Syracuse airport, where the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing is based.

The Reaper is built by General Atomics right here down the street in Poway, California, and costs $15.9 million each. As of 2014, 163 of them have been built, mostly for the United States military, but also used by NASA, the CIA and U.S. Customs. Some have been sold to allied countries.

Here is a short video of a flight.

These drones are semi-automated robots. They can stay aloft for 14 hours when fully loaded. They are actually flown by pilots on the ground in the U.S. but they can be located anywhere in the world. The MQ-9 can attack a village in Yemen or Afghanistan, kill all participants at a wedding or birthday party (because presumably a terrorist was present there), and then the “pilot” can go home at 5:00pm in Syracuse and have a BBQ party with his friends in his backyard. We citizens don’t actually know how autonomous these robots are, but I am quite certain they could fly autonomous missions, without pilots, if we so chose.

Is the Reaper following the First Law of robotics? Certainly not. It’s designed to perform reconnaissance and to kill people. That’s its purpose.

Another robot that recently killed humans by the hundreds is the Boeing 737 Max airliner. Ok, the plane is flown by humans, but the investigation has shown that the humans on the plane were not able to override the flight control system (a piece of robotics). Due to a single faulty sensor, in two separate airplanes, the flight control system pushed down the nose and minutes later all people on board perished. In October 2018, 189 people died in Indonesia, and in March 2019, another 157 people died in Ethiopia. See New York Times article here.

Another type of robot are self-driving cars. People are getting killed in self-driving vehicles. While most experts, as well as insurance companies, agree that self-driving vehicles are safer than human-driven vehicles, we really do not have enough incidents and experience monitoring self-driving traffic and incidents to establish reliable statistics. The bottom line is: we do not know. I personally believe that self-driving vehicles are going to be MUCH safer than human-driven vehicles.

We classify them as Level-1 to Level-5, where Level-5 is fully automated, defined as unconditional (that is, no-limits) automated driving, with no expectation that a human driver will ever have to intervene. Clearly, a Level-5 automated vehicle is definitely a robot. It is only a matter of time before our roads will be full of them. It could be a few years, it could be a few decades. But it is a certainty.

Let’s think, for a moment, about ethics of robotics, going right back to Asimov’s three laws. Let’s say a self-driving vehicle is driving down a narrow street and, due to a stalled car crossing in front of it, it has to stop. Let’s say the brakes of the vehicle are failing. I know this should not be happening, but brakes do fail occasionally. The vehicle detects that the brakes are failing, and it now knows that in 0.8 seconds it will impact. But it has a choice to make. I might add here that 0.8 seconds is a long time for an automated intelligent system to “think” about a problem.

Here is the problem: Let’s say it detected that there is a young woman with two small children in the back in car seats in the stalled vehicle. It realizes that if it hits that stalled car broadside at the current speed, it will likely kill all three occupants of that vehicle. But it can swerve to the right and jump up on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, there is an elderly couple walking their dog. The man is in a walker. The woman alongside him, is holding the leash for the dog. The car knows that if it swerves to the right, it will kill the elderly couple and the dog. It has no other choices.

The robot now needs to decide, in less than 0.8 seconds, which three souls it will certainly kill. How should it decide? Clearly, Asimov’s three laws are not sufficient. Does it go for the old people and spare the children and young woman?

I know this is a gruesome example, but this type of thing will happen, and to some degree it’s going on already. Our American lawmakers are certainly not thinking about this stuff right now. Congress can’t seem to make up its mind about what to do about relatively benign ethical problems like illegal immigration and asylum laws. The laws that apply to robotics are an entirely different matter altogether.

Robots are killing people, right now, as we speak, and we as a society are not yet ready to deal with the consequences.

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When I was 14 years old, I was into “designing computers.”  I bought a book about computers, studied it, and started drawing logic diagrams, cobbled together logic gates to perform the basic arithmetic calculations on notepads. To test them, I used a transformer from my slot car track, bought little lightbulbs and sockets to represent binary memory registers, toggle switches to enter binary data into the system, and wired the various gates using tiny wires and Molex connectors. The stuff was mounted on a 4 by 4 foot sheet of plywood. I got as far as creating a working system to perform multiplication from 1 x 1 up to 10 x 10. I had built a computer.

Today I received the Elegoo kit. This is a kit based on the Arduino processor.

 

For less than sixty dollars I received a huge amount of components with enough computing power to rival the mainframe computers of the 1960s. The whole thing comes in a nice plastic case the size of a large coffee table book.

Now I just have to build something.

When I was 14, I had all the time in the world. Not so much now!

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This is one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. It shows Buzz Aldrin on the moon with the American flag on July 20, 1969.

I was 12 years old then, old enough to think on my own and science-minded enough to sit up in the middle of the night (in Germany) in front of our TV at 3:56am local time when Armstrong made that famous first step onto the moon.

The movie Apollo 11 is a documentary of the moon landing, and as we are coming up on the 50th anniversary of this event, it is ever more significant. The entire movie is not narrated or filmed. It is entirely constructed of actual clippings, both video and audio, taken at the time, and put together in a coherent sequence that tells the awesome story in all its glory. There is a minimum of screen prompts, like “Day 3,” that keep the viewer oriented. Other than that, it’s all original material, and that makes the impact all the more powerful.

This is not a movie, but rather a documentary of humanity’s peaceful conquests, and it is told masterfully.

 

 

Now that I rated the movie, I have to add my own ruminations about the moon landings.

I am not sure exactly how all those people who were born after this, which is the majority of humanity, think about the moon landings. But I remember clearly reading science fiction in the 1960s when I was in awe of the immensity of the undertaking. I remember a world before humans reached another body.

50 years have now gone by. 77 percent of all people alive today were not alive when the first moon landing occurred. Another 12 percent of all people alive today were younger than age 12 at the time of the moon landing, and therefore probably do not have first-hand memories of the events themselves.

So a full 89 percent of the world’s population did not have the experience of sitting in front of the television that day, watching those grainy pictures from very far away.

I remember what I thought that day. I remember thinking that by the time I was “old” I’d be able to buy a ticket to take a vacation on the moon. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that by 1972, we’d stop going there, and by 2019, the United States is actually in a position where it does not have the technology to put a man into space, let alone onto the moon. I recognize that we’re on track to change that soon, with initiatives by SpaceX and Boeing for human-rated rockets underway and both within 12 months of realizing that goal.

Of the 12 men who ever walked on the moon, eight are now deceased. Only Buzz  Aldrin (age 88), David Scott (85), Charlie Duke (82) and Harrison Schmitt (82) are still alive as of today.

I would never have thought that a boy in South Africa (Elon Musk) who would not even be born for another two years after the summer of 1969 would be the one that would make it possible for the United States to launch humans into space in 2019, and who would have the vision to take them to the moon and Mars.

The collective will of our nation, and our species, to set goals beyond the next election cycle, has diminished and we are left at the whims of individual politicians with an outlook of a few years at a time. Real goals, like a space program that allows us to leave the planet, are achieved in decades of dedication and lifetimes of focus. Unless we figure that out soon, we might as well continue to ruin our planet and render it unlivable, with no way out.

Perhaps movies like Apollo 11 will inspire us to do more with our time than line our pockets and gratify our immediate urges and needs.

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I am a man who flies well over 100,000 miles a year in commercial airliners. I have taken many flights in 737 Max 8 planes. I am also a software engineer who spent a significant time of his early career working on servo motor controls and control systems. So I know a think or two about software controlling machinery, overrides, safety stops, redundant sensor input and the like.

I saw an article in the current Time Magazine titled Second-Hand Safety and chose to show you this excerpt:

Enter the 737 Max. Featuring new engines and aerodynamic changes, the grownup Baby Boeing promised carriers up to 20% better fuel efficiency and lower operating costs. There were challenges in the new design. The model’s new LEAP-1B engines, for instance, are 20 in. larger than the original engines. So Boeing redesigned the 737’s pylons, which hold the engines to the wing, and moved them farther forward. But the more powerful engines in a different location could pitch the jet’s nose upward, creating conditions for a midair stall.

To prevent the stall, Boeing created an automated-flight-control feature called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). When MCAS sensors detected the nose of the plane pitching up, the software controlling the tail’s horizontal stabilizer would automatically push the nose back down. It was a novel fix to a nagging design problem.

But Boeing took a number of steps that blunted the scrutiny the feature could draw from safety regulators at the FAA. In an early report to the FAA that certified the plane as safe to fly, Boeing understated how much the system could move the horizontal tail, according to the Seattle Times. “When the planes later entered service, MCAS was capable of moving the tail more than four times farther than was stated in the initial safety analysis document,” the Times reported. Also, Boeing failed to account for how “the system could reset itself each time a pilot responded, thereby missing the potential impact of the system repeatedly pushing the airplane’s nose downward.” And Boeing said MCAS should not be activated if it received data gathered from just one of two sensors – “and that’s how it was designed” the Times reported.

Just as it understated the extent to which MCAS might take automated control of the plane, Boeing, with the support of regulators, decided against extensive training for pilots on the 737 Max, including in how to disable the software.

— Time Magazine, April 1, 2019, page 44 – Second-Hand Safety

This is scary. When you work on machines that can kill people when they malfunction, it brings the tension and stress to a whole other level. I have a lot of respect for the engineers who are writing the software for the SpaceX Dragon system for manned space flight. I have respect for Elon Musk who will have to watch that first launch with two astronauts on board, whose lives will be at risk. Any one software mistake can result in catastrophic failure.

I do not know the details of the Boeing 737 Max 8 problems, other than what I have read in the popular literature, like all of us. It sounds like the engineers did their jobs. Software will forever control the lives of humans, and the MCAS system is just one of those systems. But not allowing pilots to be trained properly to accelerate sales was negligent. A pilot needs to know that the horizontal stabilizers can act against the flight controls and push the nose down, and pilots need to know how they can disable this if needed. Something went wrong with the software and the pilots apparently weren’t trained to see the failure and certainly they didn’t know how to override the system before catastrophe hit.

This is not good for Boeing.

In this time when “regulations” are being rolled back everywhere, we need to remember that these regulations are there to protect us, from long-term effects of pollution, from longer-term effects of climate change, to very short-term effects of a robot failing and sending an airliner into a nosedive. It is the government’s responsibility to protect us from corporations that have a profit motive above all.

We’re now dealing with the fallout of this lack of enforcement.

I’ll be flying again soon.

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Tesla has changed the landscape of the automotive industry. Musk, through sheer vision and will, made that happen. Other people certainly could also have done it, but it would have taken longer. The large automotive firms, like Toyota, Daimler-Benz, BMW, GM, Ford, Nissan, all could have started the revolution, but they didn’t. Just like Checker Cabs could have become the Uber, but didn’t. It takes vision and grit to make a revolution happen. Musk had both, the started something unique, he started something big. In the the end, Tesla might not succeed, but the movement will certainly survive and there will be electric vehicles everywhere.

In Insane Mode, McKenzie guides us through that revolution and gives us the back story. He also shares some of his own thoughts and vision on just what an impactful revolution the electrification of automobiles actually brings, and how much it will change the way we live, work and play.

Insane Mode will change the way you think about electric vehicles. If you have an enterprising mind, it will make you ponder where you might apply your own ingenuity in the tremendous opportunities the near future offers.

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Moondust came out in 2006 when Andrew Smith had set out to interview the twelve men who had walked on the moon. At the time, there were only nine alive. Three had already passed away.

Smith has an easy-to-read, colloquial style, and he weaves background stories about the astronauts in with the core interviews and tries to get answers to the most fundamental question we all have: What was it like to be on the moon?

We learn trivia about the intense competition in the early astronaut corps, and what their families went through during those years. We also get to know the men themselves, from the taciturn and almost reclusive Neil Armstrong to the gregarious and visionary Buzz Aldrin, and all the other astronauts that followed them on their journey.

Smith juxtaposes the moon landing over his own life as a boy in Orinda, California, and what he remembers happened to him on that historic day.

Moondust is at times a bit hard to follow. Its structure and the jumps back and forth and from one astronaut to the other sometimes left me guessing and mildly confused, but I was able to get past that. The tidbits of information, the insight, and the obvious awe the author has for the adventure of the 1960s came through and made it a worthwhile read.

Sadly, as I write this, of the twelve men who walked on the moon, only four are alive anymore. That includes  88-year-old Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), 85-year-old David Scott (Apollo 15), 82-year-old Charlie Duke (Apollo 16) and 82-year-old Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17).

In addition to the missions that landed on the moon, there were a total of nine Apollo missions that left earth orbit and went to orbit the moon: Apollo 8, Apollo 10 and Apollo 13.

The total number of men who left earth orbit is 24 and 12 of those are still alive today.

Only 12 people are with us today in the history of mankind who have seen the earth as a pale blue marble in the black of space, and only four of those have walked on a body other than the earth. All of them are now well into their eighties or older.

I was a 12-year-old boy when I watched the first moon landing. I was sure I would be traveling to the moon as a tourist and spending time in a moon hotel by the time my retirement age came around. I was dreaming big, and I was inspired.

Yet, at this time, humanity has not sent anyone to the moon in over 46 years. The United States does not even have the capability to launch humans into space, not even to low-earth orbit. The only two nations that can do that now are Russia and China. The lack of vision and engagement by our people and our government has starved us out of adventures we took for granted 50 years ago.

Moondust by Andrew Smith made me marvel about all this and it fired up my imagination.

 

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I have waited for In Saturn’s Rings for several years and have followed their Facebook page. It took the producers years longer to finish it than they thought it would. It was supposed to be done on December 31, 2014, but was finally finished on May 4, 2018. It is a 42-minute documentary made exclusively from real photographs taken by spacecraft, from the Hubble Space Telescope to the Cassini-Huygens space craft. The movie uses no computer generated graphics (CGI) technology. All images are arrangements of actual photographs.

There are not many places in the country where the film is currently shown. On my visit to New York City I decided to go out to the New York Hall of Science in Flushing, NY, about 30 minutes outside of Manhattan where it is currently playing.

I have always been fascinated with Saturn and its rings, and I have written plenty about it here. Here is one of my descriptions from almost five years ago where I marvel about floating in the rings and then actually refer to this movie.

But I was disappointed. Perhaps I am spoiled by the amazing CGI production in movies and documentaries where pictures are enhanced and animations are smooth and stunning. In Saturn’s Rings seemed flat and boring in comparison. But again – I realize that there is value in looking at actual photographs, not made-up stuff. And I give the producer credit for that.

However, there is too much fluff in the movie. It starts out with the Big Bang and plays images of Hubble of distant galaxies. Then it moves into an odd collage of photographs of science and scientists, wasting a lot of time on those flying and merging still photographs that didn’t add any value to the message or the film itself. There were fillers, and there were too many of them.

The film is narrated in parts, but some of the descriptions of images were subtitled rather than narrated. I found that annoying. The images were there for a short time, and rather than looking at the images, I found myself reading the captions that described what I was looking at while the narrator was silent. Then the images were gone and the next ones came up. I missed them. This happened a lot.

In Saturn’s Rings is an admirable effort but ultimately not worth it. The images you see in the movie would be much more valuable in a book. Buy a book on the Cassini mission and I am sure you will see the best photographs there. You can read the captions in leisure, and then look at the images as long as you want. In the movie, you only have a few seconds before the next one comes along. Having the image move, or zoom in or out is not adding enough value to account for the brevity of the viewing experience.

As coincidence would have it, I was flipping through the channels yesterday and came across the Science Channel and found Space’s Deepest Secrets – Cassini’s Grand Finale. This was a documentary about the Cassini mission and it showed spectacular graphics of Saturn taken by Cassini but it also provided professional narration and interviews of scientists along with the history of the program. The subject was similar to that of In Saturn’s Rings, but done much better.

 

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Earth and Moon

Image Credit: NASA/OSIRIS-REx team and the University of Arizona – [click to enlarge]

We forget how empty space around us is. This picture taken from composites of the OSIRIS spacecraft shows how far the moon is away from the earth, and how little it is, yet, it is our nearest neighbor. There were nine manned missions that went to the moon in the history of humanity, of which six landed on the moon. The last such mission was in 1973, which is now 45 years ago! A number of the people involved in these missions are no longer alive now.

Humans haven’t left the little ball on the left since then, and missions to the space station, in comparison, are so close to earth that you could not even see them on this image.

Space is vast.

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The GOP just voted for a law that allows your Internet service provider to sell your browsing history to anyone willing to pay for it. What on earth are they thinking? What’s the point of this?

Obviously, companies like Google, AT&T, Verizon, all the huge Internet service providers love this since there is a whole new revenue stream now going to those companies. There is no other reason on earth that would justify this. Obviously, the Internet service providers have paid off some congressmen and senators big time.

And this is the GOP, who always rants to us about privacy:

  • We can’t have a registry of gun owners, since that would be a violation of people’s privacy.
  • They have no problem not keeping a record of White House visitors anymore, citing privacy.
  • They don’t mind that Donald Trump keeps his tax returns private.
  • They want to keep research by the EPA on climate change private.
  • Mega donors to political action funds can stay private.

However, they don’t give a damn about the people’s privacy, if someone gets to make money off it:

  • Publishing our Internet browsing history, so we can be more exploited by targeted advertising is fine.
  • Publishing our emails and chat logs.
  • Publishing our health history.

Make no mistake about it. Anyone with access to your browsing history can exploit all these areas of your private lives. And now it’s for sale. And the GOP is enabling it.

I think they forgot that they are people, too. You see, for their health plan, Congress has its own and it does not have to live with the same plan the rest of us have to put up with. So they can repeal and replace all they want, and they are not affected. However, on the Internet, we’re all the same, and so are they.

There are already net-neutrality advocates who are crowd-funding initiatives to buy the browsing history of all congressmen and senators and publish it on the Internet. But that won’t quite work.

The problem is that the law will still prevent Internet service providers from selling data that can be connected to specific individuals. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits the sharing of “individually identifiable” information. However, aggregate customer information can be sold. And that’s where the rub is: There are companies whose specific business it is to match consumer tracking information with identifying details we all publish on Twitter and Facebook, and through this process it is possible to match our personal identity with our browser data.

Now the genius currently occupying the White House is signaling that Obama era regulation is overreach and he wants to tackle this. Oh boy, oh boy.

It won’t be done much legally, but you can bet that the crooks on the Internet will be doing it, and that’s where it’s going to hurt. Do I need to say “Russian bots” to get your attention?

This shows you that our government, the GOP, and Trump, just don’t know what they are doing. Yet, we gave them the keys to our lives.

 

 

 

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spare-parts

Here is a book I give four stars, because I cannot think of a book more relevant today.

It tells the true story of four undocumented Latino teenagers from Mexico in Carl Hayden Community High School in West Phoenix. In 2004, against all odds, they started a robotics team under the guidance of two extraordinary and inspiring teachers. They built an underwater robot (in the Arizona desert) and took it to the Marine Advanced Technology Education Robotics Competition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They were up against some of the most renowned engineering schools in the county, like MIT, funded by grants of thousands of dollars. Their robot was built out of spare parts, PVC pipe bought at Home Depot, glue, a briefcase, all stuff they found around the house and the garage. The robot wasn’t pretty. They called it Stinky, because the glue they used stunk.

Against all odds, they won.

Spare Parts tells the story of four kids, Oscar, Cristian, Luis, and Lorenzo, how they came to live in the United States, what brought them to Carl Hayden High School, what motivated them, and what happened to them after they created national headlines with their unexpected underdog success.

Spare Parts tells the story of undocumented aliens in the United States. Each of these kids was as American as you or I. They were brought to the country by their parents when they were infants, toddlers, or elementary school kids. Yes, they were born in Mexico, but they knew no reality than their lives in the barrios of Phoenix. They were Americans and they could not understand why they didn’t get the same opportunities their American-born friends got. They were marked.

Their crime was that their parents brought them into the country by sneaking through a hole in a fence somewhere in the desert. They were guilty, and they were illegal, because their parents committed a crime, the crime of trying to make better lives for themselves and their families.

I am not advocating that it’s right to slip through the fence on the border to improve your lives. We have laws, and they don’t permit this. But I am advocating that it is not right to punish children for the crimes of their parents. Yet, our laws do exactly that.

Read Spare Parts and get a view into the lives of four teenagers, all of whom found themselves in this extraordinary situation, where they were very smart, driven, dedicated, hard-working, willing to serve their country, but not permitted to do so and ostracized and criminalized for it. Read Spare Parts to understand the problem.

Not only did these four teenagers in 2004 create extraordinary success for themselves, they started a movement. Carl Hayden High School has gone on to win many competitions in robotics all over the country since then. More students at the school get engineering scholarships than all sports combined. The interest in engineering has gone through the roof, and the program is now renowned.

Spare Parts refers to Jeff Sessions and Barack Obama. Both have appearances in the book. In 2001, Senator Dick Durbin had introduced legislation to provide a path to citizenship for young immigrants who had been in the United States for at least five years and were attending college. That was the Development, Relief, and Education for Minors Act, the “DREAM Act.” The bill failed to even make it to a vote. In 2010, he tried again, using Oscar Vazquez, one of the four teenagers in Spare Parts, as an example. Senate Republicans commenced a filibuster, blocking the vote.

“This bill is a law that at its fundamental core is a reward for illegal activity.”

— Senator Jeff Sessions

The Senate needed 60 votes to break the filibuster. They only got 55.

Spare Parts was written and copyrighted in 2014. Enter Trump in 2017. Jeff Sessions, the Illustrious, is now our Attorney General. Guess what will happen to immigrants now? Donald Trump has signed orders to have Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents round up “illegals” and deport them, sometimes without due process. Trump has blatantly labeled Mexicans rapists and murderers. Trump is fomenting xenophobia. Trump is stirring up vigilantism. Trump is dividing the country.

Reading Spare Parts will give you insight into the plight of illegal immigrant children and their despair about finding their own place in a world where they can’t figure out where they belong. I challenge you to read this book, and then come to me and defend Trump’s current approach.

I challenge you!

Rating - Four Stars

 

 

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I didn’t think this would ever happen, but in a year where I have said this many times, I actually have a bit of praise for Trump. Here it is:

I have been an outspoken critic of the F-35 programs and its massive cost overruns over the years. The F-35 is the Pentagon’s largest single program, and is likely to cost the government around $400 billion over the next 22 years.

It has always bothered me that a single F-35 fighter plane costs between $100 and $200 million, and we’re buying 2,443 of them. How can that be? How can nobody in the government stand up to this and deal with it? Obviously, the military industrial lobby is extremely strong, so even Obama in his eight years didn’t stand up to it.

The fact that nobody can even tell us exactly how much each plane costs is alarming. Try to google it! The difference between $100 and $200 million is $100 million. Do you realize how much good $100 million can do for our country? Do you realize how much good $100 million times 2,443 could do? Yet, we have no problem blowing that kind of money on a marginal and highly criticized program that may never even work.

Here is a list of posts I have published over the years to give you some background on the F-35:

February 14, 2016 – The F-35 is an exceptionally bad plane

November 13, 2015 – Trump on the F-35 Boondoggle

May 21, 2015 – Buying the F-35

April 5, 2016 – Government Contracting at its Worst

November 14, 2016 – The Insanity of the Republican Candidates

November 7, 2015 – Giving Foreign Aid to Israel

Trump, with his loose Twitter finger, has been poking and prodding Boeing about the cost of the new Air Force One 747 planes and Lockheed Martin about the F-35 and its incredible cost overruns. The stock of both companies declined immediately after he did that, and sure enough, the CEOs of both companies responded.

Here is a tweet from the CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson:

lockheed-f-35-tweet

Here is Trump commenting on it later:

It’s a little bit of a dance. But we’re going to get the cost down,” he said, calling the F-35 program “very, very—uhhh—expensive.

— Donald Trump

Here is an article that provides a bit more background about the exchange between Trump and Hewson. This concession by Lockheed Martin would never have happened without the brash and bold behavior of Donald Trump. I was hoping over the years that Obama would show backbone and stand up to this boondoggle. He didn’t. Bush before him didn’t. No modern politician did. I would venture to say that the word “F-35” never once got mentioned in any presidential debate by any candidate of either party. Lockheed Martin had (and still has) a steady stream of cash coming to it – a redistribution of wealth from the American taxpayer to the shareholders and executives of Lockheed Martin.

We have been blaming Obama for being a redistributor, and we have pointed to the measly food stamps program that helps destitute Americans to get nourishment for their children. But right in front of our eyes, glaringly in the open, we have tolerated a redistribution program on a much grander scale – and nobody has spoken up.

Enter Donald Trump.

I have nothing but disdain for the man Donald Trump. But this is good.

This little tweet of his might have been worth quite a few billions of dollars of American taxpayer wealth that can now go to more noble causes.

trump-tweat-f-35

Trump is the first politician in my memory that is standing up to the military industrial complex.

And there you have it. I have posted in praise about Trump.

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I am so, so, so tired of Clinton’s emails.

Trump stated tonight that Clinton has no right to run for the presidency “because of what she did with emails and other things.”

Because of what she did with emails?

Goodness.

I know a thing or two about emails. I am a software developer and I had several email accounts years before most people in the world had ever heard the words “dot com.” Our company has run, maintained and hosted our own email servers since the beginning of its existence before 1995. I give email etiquette and security lectures to our staff on a periodic basis to remind them, mostly, that email is not secure.

And the essence of this lesson is always this:

Before you hit SEND on an email, read it one more time, and consider what you would feel like if that email were published tomorrow on the cover on the New York Times. If you’d feel fine about that, go send the email. Otherwise, erase it right now.

Anything you send via email, whether that is the text of the email itself, or an attachment, is publicly accessible. Anyone who wants to can see it, with the right skills and tools. Yes, for the most part, our emails are benign. Go ahead and check out the five photographs from Thanksgiving I am sending to my mother.

But make no mistake about it – anyone with the right tools and skills can capture your email and do anything they want to do with it, including saving it, printing it, sending it on to a thousand people, posting it on a web site (Wikileaks), and of course, if the pictures are sensitive (Anthony Weiner) post them on a porn site.

Then there is backup.

Every information technology administrator (IT guy) worth his money will back up the email server in case it crashes, dies or some other bad thing happens. Those backup files get stored offline in the cloud, or, as it was in years and decades past, on other machines, or disks and tapes that then get stored offsite in bank vaults for security.

So – when you send a naked picture of yourself to your honey – because you are so inclined, that naked picture ends up in your honey’s inbox where it hopefully stays, rather than getting posted on a porn site. But that picture could also be skimmed off your email and posted in the New York Times tomorrow by a hacker. But worse, since it’s likely going through your SENT box, there is a copy of it there. Your server backup processes copied it on tape and the IT guy has taken that tape the bank for offsite storage, or the computer has shipped it off to Amazon for cloud storage. The point is, once you hit SEND, many copies of your naked picture are in all kinds of places that you no longer have any control over.

If you have ever been subpoenaed for certain email, and you needed your IT guy’s help to retrieve and print out those emails, you will know that there are more emails in your woodwork than you could possibly read and check, and they fill up boxes and boxes very quickly. Good luck to the hapless law clerk that has to sift through them, and congratulations to the lawyer that charges you $375 per hour to read them all.

Did I say email is not secure? Perhaps you understand better now why I said that.

Now on to Trump and Clinton.

I believe Clinton was incredibly naïve, even stupid, to maintain an email server in her house. She received very, very poor advice by whoever recommended that. Notwithstanding that her predecessors, all Republican, did the same thing, it was still very ill-advised and un-informed. And whatever she was trying to achieve with that – what that was is beyond me – she did not achieve. An email server is no more secure in your house in your basement than it is anywhere else. Yes, it was probably not very secure there, and the State Department’s data center would have been a better place. Clinton knows this now. I am sure she is beating her had against the wall every day that she actually did such a stupid thing in the first place, back in the day. Unfortunately, Clinton never attended and of my email etiquette and security briefings, because if she had she would have known better.

But stupid as it was, it’s not criminal, and Trump is silly for raising it as “what bad, bad thing she did with her emails.”

Look – let’s just say Clinton didn’t have her email server in her house, but she properly used the State Department’s email system. Ok, it might have been a LITTLE harder for a hacker to get to it. But any email that she was sending was still traveling over the open Internet and it was exposed. Just remember the naked picture example I gave above.

So the problem is NOT whether Clinton had classified documents in her email in the server in her house, but whether she EVER send classified documents via email, whether that be through a server in her house or the State Department. No matter where the server sits, once the document leaves via the SEND button, it’s out there. Naked pictures everywhere.

Of course, there is such a thing as secure email. Banks and other organizations use it to send sensitive and classified information over the Internet. Those systems use encryption to protect the data. But those systems are cumbersome to use, slow, and inefficient. Not what you want to use to send pictures of Thanksgiving to your mother. She could never figure out how to open them.

So the question I have: Does Trump even understand that? It does not sound like it. Because if he did, he’d know, that just about every public servant from the lowest to the highest level is guilty as charged. People send sensitive information over email all the time without thinking about it. I am sure Trump has.

After this, I think it’s time I gave our staff another email etiquette and security briefing.

Just in case.

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When we needed to buy a refrigerator recently we went for the top brand: Maytag.

The day we got it, we noticed that it was looking at us. So I could not help it – I gave it eyes and a tongue.

Maytag2

But its personality is not one of the flaws I am alluding to in the title of this post. There are two flaws with it:

The Ping-Pong Balls and the Freezer

I have always been a stickler when people leave the refrigerator door open when they get something out. Cold air falls down, hot air rises. When you open the refrigerator door, the cold air inside it immediately starts falling out towards the floor, and warm air from the top back fills the refrigerator. The longer you leave the door open, the more air – and energy – you lose.

I have used the thought experiment of ping-pong balls. Imagine your entire refrigerator being filled up to the brim with ping-pong balls. Then you open the door. Immediately, the balls start bouncing on the floor like an avalanche. That is a good way to picture what happens to the cold air inside as soon as you open the doors.

All I would have to say is “ping-pong balls” to whomever the person was that left the fridge open, and they’d get the idea.

A good and efficient freezer design is a tub, where you open the top lid. All the ping-pong balls stay right inside. The cold air can’t rise out to make room for warm air. So I thought our bottom freezer drawer – the mouth with the tongue – would be a great design.

Until I noticed that I get cold feet every time I open the freezer barefoot.

Maytag4

Well, look: What was the genius at Maytag thinking when he designed the drawer not only with the bottom completely open, but the main drawer with a rack, rather than a tub design.

There is no way to open our freezer without losing all the ping-pong balls on the kitchen floor – every time we open it. That is a truly crappy design, and not one you really think about until you use it for the first time with bare feet.

The Drawer Cover that Pops Off

Here is the second flaw: Inside the refrigerator there is a wide bottom drawer with a lid. The drawer is good for cheese, lunch meat, flat stuff in general, and it has a little temperature regulator on the right side to keep it stable. When you pull out the drawer, the lid pops up and opens. The trouble is that the lid comes off about half of the time. The pegs that keep it in place are too short, and as the lid slides back and forth due to the little play it has, it pops off the right or left peg. Then it takes a lot of fiddling to put it back in place.

I checked the forums and found that everyone with a Maytag MFF2558DEM model is complaining about the drawer. Nobody seems to be able to make it work correctly. People hate their fridge because of the flawed lid.

I took a good look and found a solution:

Maytag3

I went to Home Depot and bought four 5/16th washers and placed two inside the pegs on either side. It was a little tricky to get them in there and then pop the lid back in. It’s best to do one side at a time, and be careful because the washers tend to pop out and fall down into the works. However, once in place, the lid is rock-solid. It’s been in there for a week and never popped again.

I am dumbfounded that Maytag would have such an obvious and blatant design flaw that affects the usability of the refrigerator pretty much every time somebody opens the drawer – and get away with it. But apparently they did.

I think I’ll post a link to this solution in the Maytag forums and I’ll be a hero.

And that’s all I have to say about refrigerators for a while. I know you needed to know this.

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Check out this video and PLEASE tell me that this is a parody!

Then read down into the YouTube comments below (which I have often warned here never to do) and see how many people support these idiotic statement made in this video. Even if the person posting this video does it as a parody, these people commenting certainly don’t get it.

How can there be people in the United States, moving a mouse causing movement of cursor on a computer screen hosted by YouTube, sent to their house via satellite from some data center in Sweden, that do not believe the earth is a sphere? Do these same people use GPS in their cars?

I don’t think there is anyone outside of the United States that would buy into such batshit crazy nonsense. Europeans certainly aren’t. They are too busy building BMWs, and particle accelerators, and watches. The Chinese certainly aren’t. They are too busy building EVERYTHING.

I was at Home Depot yesterday, buying a replacement rod for blinds (made in China) and a few washers (made in China). Everything at Home Depot is made in China. Everything at WalMart. Everything at Sears. EVERYTHING. It’s because Chinese kids go to school 260 days a year and they’re not wasting time debunking science. The Chinese are busy teaching science.

Then there is our friend the dumbing-down-America in chief, Donald Trump. He is going to make America great again. Just trust him. He’s gonna do it. And he’s gonna build a wall, and Mexico is gonna pay for it. Because he’s a business man. He knows how to build great buildings.

Go vote for Trump. Make America dumber yet!

And then tell me this video is a parody, so I can rest again.

 

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As the public debate rages about Apple’s security measures and the Government’s request to create a backdoor, the country seems to be divided.

There is one side that blasts Apple as treasonous. Trump even calls for a boycott of Apple.

There is the other side that does not believe we should be living in a police state just to have the illusion that our illustrious government will protect us from San Bernardino-style Islamic lunatics. I belong this group.

For the most part, those belonging to the first group do not seem to have much of an idea of what they are talking about  – like Trump.

Here is extensive information about Apple’s response to the Government.

Enjoy!

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