Dennis L Hitzeman's world of science and technology
 
 

March

Posted at March 31, 2017 by

If you know me, then you know that I am a big fan of all things Elon Musk, but especially his spectacular endeavors at SpaceX. I have long believed that the commercial exploitation of space–as opposed to its continued government monopoly–is the future of human space travel, and I believe Elon Musk represents the bleeding edge of that reality.

What has amused me for some time about Musk’s and SpaceX’s endeavors is the number of detractors and naysayers he attracts. There are a host of smart people determined to be the first who says it can’t be done and be right, yet time after time, Musk and crew prove them wrong, if not exactly on anyone’s timetable.

This fact brings to mind an idea from American history fraught with peril and controversy, and that idea is Manifest Destiny. I’m not referring to the part where people believed it was the white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon right to own North America, but rather the part where so many people risked their time, fortunes, and lives to do things so many people said could not be done. We forget that Manifest Destiny had many, many detractors, yet those pioneers and prospectors proved them all wrong.

I see Musk and SpaceX in much the same light. He said he would build a reusable rocket, lots of people said he couldn’t, and he proved them wrong. He said he would build the first commercial crew capsule, lots of people said he didn’t know how, and he’s proving them wrong. He says he’s going to send people to the Moon and Mars, and well, you get the picture.

In the end, I think Musk represents what’s right with the American spirit. He’s the kind of man, a naturalized citizen with an idea, who helped make America the nation that it is and who will shape the nation it will yet be. We need more Musks, not less, the critics be damned.

Spaceward, ho!

DLH

 
 

July

Posted at July 17, 2015 by

2015-07-17 15.09.08If you’re at all like me, you have a lot of old technology lying about. One of the most common forms of that old tech is in the form of old cellphones, which means for me, smartphones. One of the solutions I have employed for upcycling these phones is to use them as streaming media jukeboxes. For newer phones, this solution requires nothing more than a factory reset.

UPDATE: In the five hours since I originally posted this, I have since swapped the Galaxy Note 2 for an old Droid 2 Global that does just as well and has a desktop dock, freeing the Note 2 for other projects. /UPDATE

Originally, I had an old Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (affiliate) plugged in by the audio jack to a Lepal LP-2020A+ Digital Audio Amplifier (affiliate) driving a Dayton Audio B652 6-1/2-Inch 2-Way Bookshelf Speaker Pair (affiliate). Since then, I have swapped the Note 2 out for a Droid 2 doing the same work.

I reset the phone to its factory settings then installed the various music services I use (Pandora, Google, Amazon). Now, I have a dedicated music device separate from my PC.

Do you have other uses for old smartphones? Mention them in the comments.

DLH

 
 

July

Posted at July 8, 2015 by

If you read the kinds of news feeds and websites I do, you can’t help but have come away with the breathless, panicky sense that the cyber world is collapsing in on itself as the result of what has been, so far, three unrelated technical glitches involving United Airlines, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Wall Street Journal.

While it may yet prove that some or all of these were attacks and that those attacks may have somehow been linked, it’s important to remember that nearly all of the rest of the unimaginable amalgam we call the internet is still working just fine. Attempts to label the glitches that have occurred miss the point that, even with the most widespread attacks that have so far occurred, most of the internet kept right on as it always had.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t all be vigilant, because we should, or that we should accept the explanations the various victims have put out that these aren’t attacks, because half the time they don’t even know they’ve been attacked until someone else points out they have, but rather to say that attacks on the internet are more like two armies trying to play capture the flag in a dismal swamp than cyber-themed nuclear holocaust.

It may yet turn out these were attacks, and the attacks may yet get worse, but more than likely, even if they do, it won’t be the end of things, and if it turns out to be, there will be no doubt it is.

DLH

 
 

June

Posted at June 16, 2015 by

There are those who will see the latest LastPass hack as a vindication of their view that online password managers are a disaster waiting to happen. Frankly, despite some of the hyperbolic headlines,  I believe the concept is still sound.

Here’s why:

First, it’s nearly impossible for any particular user to manage his internet presence without a password manager simply because reusing usernames and passwords becomes more inevitable if you’re generating them any other way than a manager, and reuse of easily remembered passwords is a far greater vulnerability. LastPass has a good reputation for fixing its mistakes and continuing to work hard to safeguard user data, so in the rub, a service like LastPass is still the way to go.

Second, the way LastPass protects the most important asset we entrust to them–usernames and passwords to other sites–is still fundamentally sound. Even if hackers manage to break the encryption on any individual set of user data, that likely does not give them access to everyone’s data.

Third, like most reputable web services, LastPass allows for additional safeguards like multifactor authentication to help further increase security. Using LastPass at the highest security setting is still the safest bet over the same username and password over and over.

Granted, the damage could still be more severe that LastPass currently knows, but my view right now is that it is not and the service is still safe. If it proves to be otherwise, we’ll have to dig into alternatives.

DLH

 
 

June

Posted at June 11, 2015 by

Or, caveat emptor always applies.

If you’re at all like me and follow the crowdfunding world with a sense of excited curiosity, then you can’t help but to have noticed the crop of “how not to get scammed” articles littering the tech writing world in the wake of the FTC ruling over a known Kickstarter based fraud. I think the thing that surprises me the most about all of this is the apparent naivety it seems to reveal about the crowdfunding world.

Don’t get me wrong, because I don’t think even most crowdfunders are naive. Rather, I think enough of them are that their collective outcry when a campaign fails or turns out to be a scam gets a lot of attention. And that attention seems to come from the fact that not a small number of people think the crowdfunding world is somehow immune from the risks that have attended all ventures since the beginning of mankind.

Quite to the contrary, crowdfunding is its own unique kind of risky venture because it lets anyone who wants to help incubate ideas that other forms of venture would never would probably never let see the light of day. It democratizes the incubation of ideas, and as anyone who has paid attention to democracy will note, it’s a messy, error-prone process.

So, yes, crowdfunding efforts are going to fail. Even ones for great ideas. Scamsters are going to succeed in separating people from their cash. Even seasoned venture capitalists fall for that (Dot.com bubble or Enron anyone?). Neither of those facts make the process bad. Rather, they reveal crowdfunding has risk. If that bothers you, don’t participate.

As for me, I take the risk because I enjoy the potential outcome. That’s worth losing some money once or twice, because the potential reward so often outstrips the risk.

DLH

 
 

September

Posted at September 19, 2014 by

Automation systems are all the rage in certain tech circles these days, and rightly so. Being able to save money by adjusting your thermostat from work via your smartphone or being able to shut off a light you forgot about from the cafe are great ideas.

The problem is that most of the mass market stuff out there assumes a whole lot about what and how someone wants to automate things.

I live in a 150ish year old farm house built on solid limestone. A room in our basement was built to store food once upon a time, but now it gets very damp in the summer and not always cold enough in the winter. What I need is a system that monitors temperature and humidity and operates fans and vents to keep the place dry and at specific temperatures based on the time of year. I’d like to be able to monitor that setup from my PC or smart-device via a web interface, but I’m not necessarily interested in broadcasting that data to the cloud.

There are a few devices that do some of what I want, but they all tend to fall short. What I’ve discovered is that if I want to do this kind of stuff, I’m going to have to build it myself.

Such is the life of a maker.

The projects I’m considering to date are:

  • A system to manage the temperature and humidity of the food storage room in the basement.
  • A system to monitor the temperatures of the various fridges and freezers we have (you might be surprised how many a farm like ours ends up with).
  • A system to monitor for fire and carbon monoxide emissions from a couple of alternative heating systems we have.
  • A system to monitor for fire in most of our buildings.
  • A camera system for the farm main.
  • Others as time permits and necessity demands.

Time to get to work…

DLH

 
 

August

Posted at August 7, 2014 by

I recently took the bait and started the 30-day trial of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. I can sum up my initial opinion in one word: disappointed.

The specs for the service look impressive at first blush: 600,000 ebook titles available for $10 a month on any Kindle enabled device you use. The problem is that 595,000 of those titles are books most people will never read for a variety of reasons.

I grant that fact is little different from a library. Most of us pay for libraries whether or not we use them, and many of us haven’t set foot in a library in years. The difference is that Kindle Unlimited is a voluntary library filled with books I don’t want. Why would I pay for that.

My disappointment stems from the fact that I’ve looked for dozens of books I want to read, but none of them are available under Unlimited. I don’t blame the publishers or authors for that fact. They deserve to get paid for their work. Rather, I blame Amazon for rushing the service before it had enough deals to make the service more universally worth it.

Don’t get me wrong. Kindle Unlimited has promise. It could very easily develop into the very kind of “Netflix for books” Amazon has tried to sell it as. Unfortunately, right now, it’s more like a used video store filled with second-tier titles nobody wants to watch a second time. If Amazon wants to make money off this premise, it’s going to have to try a lot harder.

DLH

 
 

March

Posted at March 17, 2014 by

There has been a lot of chatter in recent days since the Obama administration announced it plans to transition the control of ICANN away from US control, and most of it has been highly predictable.

I’m not sure I believe that the US stewardship of control over the web has been good enough to lament its passing, nor am I convinced that some other control of it will somehow herald the end of the web as we know it.

However, I am convinced of something related: handing off control of the web to someone other than the US government will inevitably force the web itself to evolve.

To me, that outcome is the best and most exciting thing to come along since the web itself. Since the first time I browsed to a web page in the summer of 1992, my main complaint is that the web, as currently construed, has settled into a constant rehashing of what has already been done. I think a lot of that rehashing is the result of how the web has been managed and controlled.

Now, I don’t think for a moment that this evolution will be clean or pretty, but just like the telco deregulation of the 8os, this deregulation is necessary for the technology and its uses to continue to develop and grow.

DLH

 
 

March

Posted at March 1, 2014 by

It turns out that I am in the market to buy a second PC for our household and businesses. We’ve tried for just about a year to function with one PC and various mobile devices, and we’ve found that there’s just enough overlap between our need to use the PC that sometimes it gets annoying. Add to that annoyance the fact that our PC right now is an all-in-one and I actually need a machine I can use elsewhere, and suddenly we need a second machine.

Enter the world of buying a computer in 2014.

It seems like it should be so simple. Once upon a time, it was. Most people didn’t have a lot of real choices. So, you picked a price point and a company and hoped for the best. If you were really savvy, you built a machine yourself. But in the end, they were mostly the same thing: riffs on processor types and memory and whatnot.

Not so today. Today, it’s sometimes difficult to even know what everyone means by a PC. To some people, a PC is not a Mac. To others, a PC is not a desktop. To still others, a PC is not a tablet or smartphone.

Even the machines themselves are kind of confused. There are machines the size of my all-in-one you can use as a tablet, sort of. There are laptops that detach from their keyboards. There are machines that fold in half. There are machines that run both Windows and Android.

How’s a guy to choose?

Ultimately, the same way he always did: by deciding what he wants that machine to do and picking the best set of features that can do it. Now, it’s just a matter of picking from a larger set of variables.

And it’s complicated.

DLH

PCs

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December

Posted at December 2, 2013 by

So, Amazon engaged in an amazing bit of free advertising Sunday night when it announced its research initiative, Prime Air, on 60 Minutes. From the moment the piece aired, sectors of the internet have been abuzz with the news.

But what has amused me the most has been the response of the technology media, led by the likes of Wired. If these writers are to be believed, if man was meant to receive packages by air, God would have given bicycle messengers wings.

Certainly, I’m being sarcastic, but I wonder if these writers really look around themselves at the age we actually live in very often . There is a very good chance you are reading this post on a device you pulled from your pocket that contains more processing power than the entire Apollo 13 mission–spacecraft and ground stations combined–that functions as a phone, network access device, and computer and was produced just 137 years after the phone was invented, 40 years after the cell phone was invented, and 21 years after the smartphone was invented.

That’s a course of development 40 times faster than it took to get from the wheel to the car.

My point here is that history is replete with examples of  people, especially the so-called well informed, declaring that something is impossible because it is different or outside the mold of what we consider normal or beyond our current technological means. It’s actually quite amusing how often the march of progress has proven such Luddites wrong.

Now, I am not saying that Amazon will succeed, or that drone delivery is the thing of the future, but I am saying that the idea is now there and that someone is going to figure out how to make some version of it–maybe even a version we haven’t imagined yet–work. And when they do, we can look back at these prognostications and laugh like we do at the early 19th century writers who said people would not be able to breath if they went faster than twenty miles per hour.

DLH

 
 
 
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