Tag Archives: Technology

Do Not Upgrade To The New Chrome! Yet.

The new Chrome browser by Google, Chrome 69, is probably an important improvement in browser functionality, look and feel, and security. But, as you might expect, the first version available for general users is buggy, perhaps very buggy. I would wait a little while for the bugs to get all hunted down and exterminated. How long? A week or two should do it.

What is new in the new Google Chrome 69 Browser?

Continue reading Do Not Upgrade To The New Chrome! Yet.

I knew it, I saw this coming! (Microsoft-Linux)

Some time ago it dawned on me that a future Microsoft operating system, a version of Windows, would be based on Linux. It only makes sense. There is no better operating system to base a desktop, server, or other specialized OS on, for normal hardware. Eventually, this would dawn on Microsoft. I thought it might have a few years ago when Microsoft went from being openly aggressive against Linux and OpenSource, to being neutral, to being nice, and eventually contributing.

And now… Continue reading I knew it, I saw this coming! (Microsoft-Linux)

Girls With Dreams and Women With Cards

Natasha Ravinand is the founder of “She Dreams in Code,” a nonprofit focused on increasing opportunities for middle school girls to engage in coding. She is also the author of Girls With Dreams: Inspiring Girls to Code and Create in the New Generation. In this book, Ntasha interviews several women in engineering and technology in order to assemble a compendium of inspiration for others like her, who want to engage in technology without the usual and common obstacles.

Natasha Ravinand is a Junior at Northwood High School (Irvine, CA). She is considered to be one of the top high schoolers in the coding world. Hello world. @natasharavinand
Here’s two facts you need to know. 1) Only 25% of the adults engaged in science and technology (STEM) are women. 2) This is a HUGE percentage compared to what it was only a few years ago. So, we are in a bad place, but also, we are moving quickly out of that place. Continue reading Girls With Dreams and Women With Cards

A New Robot For Littler Kids

The typical robot these days (such as the Makeblock DIY mBot and the Tomo) hooks up to an android or iOS device, via blue tooth, and allows for programming using a scratch-like programming language.

The smaller of the two kits, normally about $60 but under $50 last time I looked.
For somewhat younger kids, and for kids who do not happen to have a tablet they are allowed to use because they drool on it and stuff, there is an alternative that is on one hand a little harder to code but on the other hand more intuitive and very creative. I speak of the Botley Coding Robot, which comes in two styles: 1) Learning Resources Botley the Coding Robot Activity Set, 77 Pieces and Learning Resources Botley the Coding Robot, 45 Pieces. (I tested the latter, but they are the same in the parts that matter). Continue reading A New Robot For Littler Kids

How to keep your kids out of trouble in this modern age

Do you worry that your kid is going to be rejected from civilization, or, at least, college or the boy scouts or something, because of dumb stuff they do on line? Do you see evidence that your children are copying the jerky characters that grace our TV screens and movies, and are becoming too annoying, compared to how we all were when we grew up? Do you want to just tell the up coming generation to GET OFF THE LAWN!!!!

Here is a way to do that. Continue reading How to keep your kids out of trouble in this modern age

Wait, don’t buy an Echo yet!

I had mentioned before that we are enjoying our Amazon Echo, one of those robots that listens and then responds with a certain degree of intelligence.

We don’t use the Echo for very many things, but that is partly because we are not in the habit. For example, if I’m sitting in a certain chair in the library, reading, I have to stand up and turn around and kind of bend over in a certain direction to see the clock on the wall. Or, I can say, “Alexa, what time is it?” and the Echo Dot tells me. But, I almost never think of asking Alexa. But over time I’m sure I’ll get in the habit, and after that, stop moving around as much. Which will ultimately lead to atrophy about the time the robots take over, which I assume is their plan.

I use Alexa’s shopping list, we ask it questions one might as Google Assistant (but Google Assistant is much more likely so far to come up with the answer). Alexa has a large number of useful information and entertainment services, which we are using more and more, such as getting a news update, the weather, and so on.

In any event, I recommend giving Alexa a try, and if you happen to have an Internet Of Things devices, then you simply have to pepper your home with dots and stop moving entirely.

But, the reason you don’t want to just go out and buy an Echo or related device at this moment is because Amazon just came out with a new line of them. Here is some basic information to help you get oriented. Then, if you pick the second generation Echo as your first Alexa device, go for it, otherwise, I might wait until the other devices are out for a few weeks to see how people like them.

If you want to cut to the chase, CLICK HERE to see a page at Amazon.com with the details, including a product grid to help you pick out which robot you want to have as your new overlord.

The Echo Dot (2nd Generation) is your basic entry level device. It has an adequate speaker but not really good enough for music, but it also has an output you can hook to your own speakers. Your first device should be this inexpensive dot. Then, later, if you want to upgrade to a fancier device, you can still use this one as a second device say, in your garage or bathroom or somewhere.

The Second Generation Echo is essentially the Echo Dot sitting on top of a high quality speaker, and runs about twice the cost of the Echo dot.

The new Echo Plus includes a hub from which to run your smart home devices, has a somewhat better sound system than the Echo 2nd gen, and is slightly larger. This will cost you fifty another fifty bucks, so now we are up to $150, but since it includes the hub it is probably worth it.

The new Echo Spot is Echo Dot size but with a screen, small at 2.5″, but possibly useful. This is not cheaap ($129). The sound quality sis probably better than the traditional Dot. It does not have the hub.

The top of the line is the Echo Show. This has top speakers, a 7 inchs screen, and blue-tooth only audio output (all the others have plug in audio output).

All these devices can control smart home items, and allow free audio calls between people with Echos across North America. They all stream music, etc. using the services that you may or may not have such as Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, etc.

I’m not sure that I personally grok the combination of devices. Maybe I want a hub that is separate and inexpensive. Maybe I want a screen that is 7 inches or so to wall mount but it is only an output screen, but it can sit near my front door and tell me the weather, something about traffic, and if the garage door is open. I’ll have to think about it.

For now I’ll stick with my dot, and keep playing around with home made devices and robots until I see how it goes.

The big question for YOU is which device to get if this is your first one. I would recommend the Echo Dot then see how it goes, just to be conservative.

However, make sure you get a second generation Echo Dot, or Echo.

Also, Amazon is currently running a promotion where you can get the Echo Dot plus a Fire TV stick (which is roughly like a Roku, I believe) for about 90 bucks, which is cheap.. And, you can browse around for certified refurbished devices which will save you typically ten or twenty percent. Not a huge savings but they are certified.

Manga Guide to Microprocessors: Excellent tech graphic novel

It has been a long time since I’ve written any machine or assembler code, and it is a rare day that I hand construct a logic circuit using transistors. But it is comforting to know that these skills and the knowledge associated with them still reside in some form or another in the world of microprocessors.

The Manga Guides published by No Starch Press and written by a wide range of authors manga-based graphic novels on diverse topics in science, math, statistics, and technology. I’ve reviewed several here (see this post for a partial list of some of the other guides). And the newest entry to this growing and rather large and excellent library is The Manga Guide to Microprocessors by Michio Shibuya, Takashi Tonagi, and Office Sawa.

This book is really thorough, packing in piles of details about computers, focusing on the microprocessor level technology but covering a lot of related things as well such as memory and data storage and programming, with a whole section on controllers.

But this information is embedded in a story, as is the case with all the Manga guides.

This is the story of Ayumi, a master chess player who is beaten by a computer. She engages with the computer’s programmer, Kano, in a quest to learn all she can about her nemesis.

The book has three modes. One is a standard manga graphics novel sequence of frames with the main story. That is most of the book. The other is a more detailed conversation between iconic versions of the protagonists, in which detail that would be difficult to easily convey in pure cartoon form is gone over. The third is a retrospective or detailed section at the end of each chapter which is lightly illustrated, text heavy, and serves to contextualize the previous material.

I strongly recommend this book.

Here is what the various modes look like:

Most of the book looks like this.

Some of the book looks like this.

Hunley Blast Killed Hunley Crew, Research Suggests (OR MAYBE NOT!) UPDATED

SEE END OF POST FOR IMPORTANT UPDATE

A while back, I read Confederate Saboteurs: Building the Hunley and Other Secret Weapons of the Civil War by Mark Ragan. The central theme of the book was the invention, more or less, of the submarine and the torpedo, curing the Civil War, but the South.

The torpedo was a very tricky idea at the time. Most of the first ones involved dragging an object with a bomb inside it, or the bomb itself, by a rope, behind a submarine. The submarine would approach the target vessel, and submerge, going under it, and the bomb would hopefully be dragged into the target and explode. This hardly ever worked.

The Hunley, no relation to George, was an early submarine (the central figure in the above mentioned book) intended for this use. Things didn’t go well with the Hunley. An early incarnation of the craft sank because it was sitting there at the dock with all the people in it and the hatches open, then it fell over and sank. Ooops.

Eventually, the Hunley was armed with an alternative style of torpedo, one that stuck out of the submarine on a long rod. I think the idea was that the torpedo latch onto the target, and the submarine moves away a bit, then the explosion happens. But when the Hunley went after the USS Housatonic in February 1864, things went both very well and terribly wrong. The Housatonic warship was sunk alright, but so was the Hunley. Confederate Saboteurs: Building the Hunley and Other Secret Weapons of the Civil War outlines the story up to a point, and is a VERY detailed accounting of all the things that ever had anything to do with confederate torpedoes and submarines. But at the time of publication, the actualistic studies had not been done.

Actualistic studies are, of course, experiments where you replicate a situation and then see what can happen and can not happen, or might happen, or might not happen. Like you make stone tools and butcher an elephant, then look at the stone tools and the bones to help understand ancient stone tools and bones.

In this case, the actualistic studies involved blowing up submarines to see if the explotion itself, at the hull of the Housatonic, was possibly fatal to the sailors in the sub.

Likely, it was.

Here is the Abstract from the paper reporting these results:

The submarine H.L. Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship during combat; however, the cause of its sinking has been a mystery for over 150 years. The Hunley set off a 61.2 kg (135 lb) black powder torpedo at a distance less than 5 m (16 ft) off its bow. Scaled experiments were performed that measured black powder and shock tube explosions underwater and propagation of blasts through a model ship hull. This propagation data was used in combination with archival experimental data to evaluate the risk to the crew from their own torpedo. The blast produced likely caused flexion of the ship hull to transmit the blast wave; the secondary wave transmitted inside the crew compartment was of sufficient magnitude that the calculated chances of survival were less than 16% for each crew member. The submarine drifted to its resting place after the crew died of air blast trauma within the hull.

The paper is in PLOS One: Lance RM, Stalcup L, Wojtylak B, Bass CR (2017) Air blast injuries killed the crew of the submarine H.L. Hunley. PLoS ONE 12(8): e0182244. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0182244

UPDATE

The Hunley Project has issued the following rather startling press release:

Recently, Duke University issued a press release claiming one of their student’s discovered what caused the Hunley’s crew to perish and the submarine to sink in 1864. In today’s digital age, the story spread across the internet quickly due to the sensational headline. However, a spokesman for the Hunley Project said today, the story is not accurate.

The pioneering submarine and her history have captured the imaginations of people across the globe. The Hunley Project regularly receives theories from the public about what led to the submarine’s loss and other ideas related to their research. “The case of Duke University’s press release is a bit different as it has created quite a stir,” said Kellen Correia, Executive Director of Friends of the Hunley. Duke University is not part of the Hunley Project’s investigative team. They don’t have access to the detailed forensic and structural information related to the submarine, which would be essential to draw any sort of reliable or definitive conclusions.

The Hunley Project said they felt the need to issue a statement today to make sure the unsubstantiated theory claimed by the Duke University student does not continue to spread, in view of the comprehensive research conducted by the Hunley team on the submarine for more than 15 years. The idea of a concussive wave from the torpedo explosion killing the crew, as outlined in the Duke University release, has been previously considered and is one of many scenarios the Hunley Project team has been investigating.

“The Duke study is interesting, they just unfortunately didn’t have all the facts. If it were as easy as simple blast injuries, we would have been done a while ago. Though a shock wave can cause life-threatening injuries, this is something we discounted quite a while back based on the evidence,” said Jamie Downs, former Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Alabama.

The Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine in 1864 and then mysteriously vanished without a trace. She remained lost at sea for over a century and was raised in 2000. Since then, a collaborative research effort with the U.S. Navy, the Smithsonian Institution, Clemson University and others has been underway to uncover the reasons for the Hunley’s loss and conserve the vessel for future generations.

Using detailed information about the composition and dimensions of the Hunley’s iron structure, forensic analysis of the crew’s remains, and other research and archaeological data, the Hunley Project and its partners have conducted comprehensive digital and physical simulations for the past several years. While the likely cause of the submarine’s demise has not been concluded, the scenario of a concussive wave killing the Hunley crew has been deemed not likely by those working on the actual submarine and who have access to this key data.

Their most recent study was issued by the U.S. Navy this month and was conducted in collaboration with the Hunley Project. “Given the amount of uncertainty surrounding the vessel’s final mission, a bottom-up technical analysis was commissioned alongside ongoing archeological investigation of the Hunley. Calculations of Hunley’s engagement with the Housatonic were successfully completed and it was observed that the engagement would have been devastating to the Housatonic while resulting in relatively low levels of loading on Hunley,” according to their report. For the full report, go to: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/underwater-archaeology/sites-and-projects/ship-wrecksites/hl-hunley/hunley-incident-analysis.html

The Hunley Project remains committed to sharing the most accurate information about the submarine that is available and welcomes discussion and ideas from the public and other academic institutions about the Hunley and her history. Still, Correia cautions, “As tempting as it may be, we are careful not to jump to definitive conclusions until all the research has been evaluated.”

The Hunley Project
On the evening of February 17, 1864, the H. L. Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine by sinking the USS Housatonic. After signaling to shore that the mission had been accomplished, the submarine and her crew of eight mysteriously vanished. Lost at sea for over a century, the Hunley was located in 1995 by Clive Cussler’s National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA). The innovative hand-cranked vessel was raised in 2000 and delivered to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where an international team of scientists are at work to conserve the submarine for future generations and piece together clues to solve the mystery of her disappearance. The Hunley Project is conducted through a partnership with the Clemson University Restoration Institute, South Carolina Hunley Commission, US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command, and Friends of the Hunley.

How to build your own computer

Almost every resource on the Internet on building your own computer is oriented towards building a gaming computer. The second most common discussion is how to build a “budget PC.”

When I sought out the latest information on building a computer a few weeks ago, I did not like either of these two options.

A “gaming computer” is oriented towards two features: a) overclocking your processor and b) having one or two mondo power-hungry and gigunda graphics cards. A “budget PC” is an under powered machine that replicates what I could have purchased in many forms for less than the cost of a build.

My intention was to build a computer that would be able to crunch large amounts of data quickly, allow a large number of normal applications to be open at once, to be able to handle multiple very large text files, and to do mid level audio and maybe video editing (even if that required shutting down other software). Also, I wanted the computer to be 200% to 300% faster than my currently fastest computer, which is an Intel I7 holding laptop that is several years old.

I had on hand a small pile of “hard drives,” including one 2.5 terabyte hard drive, and one 125 gigabyte solid state drive (not called a “hard drive” by many, but it is essentially the hard drive.) I also had a case, and a keyboard, and a collection of monitors. I also had a case. The fact that I already had a case turns out to have been a big problem, and I’ll discuss that below.

I decided to go for an Intel I5 but a higher end one, which would give me that 300% performance increase required to make me feel like I had something new and cool, but to put in in a motherboard that would likely handle a later upgrade to a faster I7, if I made that upgrade within a year or two. Also, the mother board had to be able to handle 64 gigabytes of RAM because the best way to meet the requirements listed above is not with multiple processors or multi threading etc., but with a whopping amount of memory.

Here is a list of the parts that I bought to assemble:

Motherboard

GIGABYTE GA-H270-HD3 LGA1151 Intel H270 2-Way Crossfire ATX DDR4 Motherboard

This motherboard costs about 100 bucks. It handles sixth and seventh generation Intel Core processors, and Dual Channel DDRF4 memory, and has graphics support on board. It does not have a lot of other bells and whistles. It is supposedly sturdy and has high ratings everywhere I’ve looked.

The documentation on the motherboard is very well done. I’ve referred to it many times while messing around with this build, so I should know.

Processor (CPU)

Intel Core i5-7500 LGA 1151 7th Gen Core Desktop Processor (BX80677I57500)

As noted, I chose the I5 for just under 200 bucks instead of an I7 for more. The old I7 in my Dell Laptop, which is a reasonable computer, has a passmark rating of somewhere beteen 2000 and 3000. This process is just over 8000. I don’t know much about passmark ratings, but I know more is better and most normal fast processors produced today that you would actually buy are in the 8000 to 9000 range, so this is good.

The key number here is 7500, which makes this a seventh generation processor. Here is a key point: This mother board and this processor are claimed to work together, and I can tell you that they do. A lot of other motherboards require bios upgrades or other fiddling to make them work with the most current processor.

Anticipating something I’ll be discussing below, yes, this motherboard and processor combination work fine with Linux. It never occurred to me to worry about that, because Linux works with everything, but in case you were wondering, it does. I do not know if this configuration can be a Hackintosh or not.

Cooling system

I used the cooling fan that came with the processor and it works fine. I’ve checked the temperature readings and the processor does not get hot. However, I think the fan that came with the processor is a bit noisy. I intend to install a different cooling fan to see if it is quieter, and the one I got to do this is the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO RR-212E-20PK-R2 CPU Cooler with 120mm PWM Fan, which happens to be on sale right now for 30 bucks. I’ve not installed it, installation looks to be a bit complicated and I don’t know how I’ll like it, but that’s what I have sitting here on my workbench.

Power Supply

My build does not need a fancy power supply. The EVGA 450 B1, 80+ BRONZE 450W, 3 Year Warranty, Includes FREE Power On Self Tester, Power Supply 100-B1-0450-K1 is inexpensive and highly rated. It is onlyh 450 watts. If you are using a graphics card or two you may need to upgrade beyond this.

Bluetooth

The motherboard does not have Bluetooth or wireless. I got the MIATONE Wireless Bluetooth CSR 4.0 USB Adapter Dongle for PC with Windows 10 8 7 Vista XP 32/64 dongle to give me Bluetoth, for seven bucks. Works with Linux. Note: This is a USB 3.0 device, and it won’t work if you plug it into a USB 2.0 port. I found out.

My Wired Networking Thing

This motherboard does not have a wireless card. It does have an ethernet jack. You probably don’t even want wireless if you have a LAN nearby. In my case, temporarily (until I drill some holes in the house) my nearest LAN device is not in my office. I wanted the computer’s LAN to be hooked to the network, so when I do get around to bringing a router or switch into the office, I’ll just change what it is plugged into. So, I got the IOGEAR Universal Ethernet to Wi-Fi N Adapter.

This cute little device is basically a wireless router that hooks into your wireless LAN, and pretends to be an ethernet jack. It can get its power from a powered USB port or it can use a USB charger brick, which is supplied. Works great.

Display

As noted, I have a pile of displays laying around but they all suck. I bought a Dell SE2416H 24″ Screen LED-Lit Monitor. I had purchsed one of these from Best Buy for about 135 for a different computer. I got this one for about the same price from Amazon. The price of this monitor ranges from 120 to 190. There is also a version that is higher grade, as in, more finely tuned up but with the same specs, for a bit more. Right now, I’m using this and second, older, display, and things are working fine, but eventually I intend to get a second Dell 24 inch. This is obviously a very personal choice and people will have strong preferences. I may get the upgraded version of this monitor when it comes time to getting the second one, see below. (Reminder: This is not a gaming computer.)

RAM

Given the mother board, I went for fast. Also, since I want to eventually have 64 gigabytes, I went for large. So, I got one chip of G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 16GB 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3200 (PC4 25600) Intel Z170 Desktop Memory Model F4-3200C16S-16GVK with 16 gigs on it. I will add a second, third, and eventually, fourth chip over time.

The motherboard and memory uses a dual channel technology, which allows for effectively faster RAM. But with only one chip installed, I don’t get the dual channel effect. So, when I buy the second chip, I’ll be both increasing RAM to 32 gigabytes, and unlocking the dual channel technology, so that may be a noticeable upgrade in my future.

Here is a list of parts that are rough equivalents to the parts I had on hand. This list together with the list above will produce a full working computer:

Computer Case

I had an old case that had never been used and that is supposed to be quite. It isn’t especially quiet, and the front connectors don’t include some of the modern things computers have (it is about 12 years old) and does include some things that are fairly arcane. I regret not just getting a new case. But then, when I look at cases, I realize that I want a really good case. But, like computer build documentation, cases are either crap-budget or gamer cases, and I want neither of those. I list a case below that might be a good one to get, and if I do get that case, it will be the most expensive single element in the whole build. But it might be worth it.

Second Monitor


An old RGB monitor that works.

OS “Hard Drive”

Something like this: Samsung 850 PRO – 256GB – 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-7KE256BW). I installed the operating system on it.

Data Hard Drive

Something like this, on which I keep files: Seagate 2TB BarraCuda SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5-Inch Internal Hard Drive (ST2000DM006)

Keyboard

I like mechanical keyboards, and had this one: AUKEY Mechanical Keyboard with Blue Switches, RGB Backlit 104-Key Gaming Keyboard with Preset and Customizable Lighting Effects for PC & Mac Gamers

Mouse and Mousepad

There are advantages to having a wired mouse, and if you use a laser mouse, there are advantages to having an appropriate mouse pad. Or you can just get some wireless mouse of your choice. Currently am using these:

TeckNet Pro S2 Ergonomic USB Wired Optical Mouse for Laptop Computer, 6 Buttons, 2000DPI

3M Precise Mouse Pad Enhances the Precision of Optical Mice at Fast Speeds and Extends the Battery Life of Wireless Mice up to 50%, 9 in x 8 in (MP114-BSD1)

Here is a list of parts that I have not gotten yet but as I do I’ll be adding them to the computer.

Better second monitor

Dell S Series Screen LED-Lit Monitor 23.8″ Black (S2418H) or similar

Better case

Something like be quiet! BGW10 DARK BASE PRO 900 ATX Full Tower Computer Chassis – Black/Orange, because I want a full size ATX case that is quiet.

Building the computer

Take your time.

Get a magnetic screwdriver that fits your screws, probably Phillips.

Some people like to ground themselves with various grounding devices (such as Rosewill ESD Anti-Static Wrist Strap Components RTK-002, Black/Yellow) when they are building computers.

Start by putting the processor into the motherboard, then put the motherboard into the case, then the cooling fan on the processor, and the ram in the slot. You can change around the order of these things if you want. You’ll need to put some goop (such as Thermal Compound Paste, Carbon Based High Performance heatsink Paste, Thermal Compound CPU for all Cooler computer PC Fan) between the CPU and the CPU fan, but that will probably be supplied with the fan, most likely already smeared on the correct location.

Then put the hard drives where they are supposed to go, screw in the power supply, anything else that is not hooked up, and hook up all the wires.

Then attach a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and turn the thing on. It will work fine.

Hint: A motherboard does not “turn on” until if has power from the power supply (and the power supply is plugged in and turned on) AND the motherboard gets a signal from the case’s off/on switch.

Installing the Operating System

Set up a USB stick to be bootable, insert it into the appropriate slot, turn on the computer and select the function key that switches the boot process to a boot menu. Pick the likely choice for the USB stick, and run through the install procedure (just follow the instructions and mostly pick defaults).

Since I have a second drive for data, I created a new partition using the whole drive (ext4) and added the UUID code to the fstab file, mounting it as “/hdd” and put my Dropbox folder there. Dropbox complained, I ignored the complaints, and so far so good.

You can use a service like PC Parts Picker to work out compatibility.

For me, this was worth it. I could not get a computer this powerful and with this configuration for this price (I did explore that option). Also, I’m getting some parts later to increase the overall quality of the build, such as RAM and a monitor and probably some other things, so even if the total cost is the same or slightly more than an out of the box computer, I’ve got added flexibility that I like. Plus it is fun.

Building a computer is fairly easy, and nothing can really go wrong. If it does, I don’t know you, OK?

Good luck!