Arduino Club — Thursday, Dec. 7, 8:00 p.m., Coover 2011. (12.7.17)
One last Arduino club meeting this semester. Tonight at 8:00 p.m. in Coover 2011. We will try making our own Arduinos (Bareduinos). If you want to build one, the parts will be $7.00, payable to GT. Watching and listening is always free. Remember to bring your EE 201/230 tools if you want to build stuff. Also, if you have an Arduino, you might want to bring that, along with a laptop and USB cable for programming.
Audio Club — Thursday, Nov. 30, 8:00 p.m., Coover 2011. (11.30.17)
After the aborted attempt to build the Altoids amp last time (prior to Thanksgiving), we will try again. It should go better this time, because I have the parts available now. So: Audio Club meeting tonight, 8:00 p.m. in Coover 2011. To complete the Altoids project, you will need to bring: an empty Altoids mint tin, 2 9-V batteries, and $9 to pay for the parts, which I will bring to the meeting. I’ll have a complete set of instructions available before the meeting. Note that it is not necessary to have the candy tin and the battery in order to build the circuit tonight — you can finish that later, if need be. However, you do need the nine bucks in order to get the parts from me.
Next week will be our last meeting of the semester (obviously), and we will try making the “Bareduino” — a bare-bones version of an Arduino.
The 10 happiest American cities. (11.24.17)
I'm not sure how this list was compiled, but the towns all seem reasonable to me. (Charlotteville, Virgina was not all that happy one weekend a few months back, but we will assume that was an aberration.) I'm not surprised to see San Luis Obispo, Califonia on the list — I've always thought that it was a particularly nice place. Like Ames, it is a smallish college town and has many of the same amenities. Unlike Ames, SLO is located near the ocean, and it has a very mild climate. SLO is roughly equidistant from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Sierra Nevada mountains — less than a half-day's drive to each, so there are many fun places to visit. (Ames is approximately equidistant from the Twin Cities, Kansas City, Omaha, and Chicago. No offense to these Midwestern cities, but I think the California attractions win out.) The city government and the residents of SLO seem to work hard to make it a nice place to live, as opposed to many places where every square foot of land is offered up to the highest bidder, and city "planning" is usually an afterthought. (An example of the kind of mess that towns can create with poor planning: South Duff in Ames.) You could certainly do worse than to end up in San Luis Obispo — or any of these cities.
LED lighting increases pollution. (huh?) (11.24.17)
LEDs are great in terms of energy (and money) efficiency — reducing the amount of fossil fuels needed to generate basic illumination. We like LEDs so much that we are putting them everywhere, including many places that were never lit before. All these extra bulbs are leading to greater light pollution. Although light pollutions is not one of the great scourges of modern civilization, it does keep us from seeing and enjoying the night sky. As someone who likes to head out at night to peer at stars, planets, comets, and the milky way, I find light pollution to be a bit of downer. When I take my evening walks, it is hard to find to find truly dark places where I can stare at the cosmos and contemplate our smallness in the vast universe. (This is the closest that I ever get to having a religious experience.) While the degradation in night-time viewing is not too bad here in central Iowa, in many places there is so much light reflected upwards from street lights and parking lots that the finer features of the night sky cannot be seen. I expect that there are many city-dwelling young people, who have never seen the Milky Way or the Big Dipper with their own eys. (I guess they will have to be content with Instagram images.) And light pollution is a major difficulty for astronomers. The effects of light pollution can be mitigated with better designed bulbs and alternative ways of thinking about lighting, but we first have to recognize the problems and then we have to put our engineering brains to the task.
Here is a similar article from CNN.
The FCC prepares to kill off net neutrality. (11.24.17)
Of course, this is total bullshit. There is no one that will benefit from reversing the net neutrality rules, other than the giant internet-service providers — Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and other similarly scummy corporations. For the vast majority of Americans, the result will be higher costs and poorer internet service. So not surprisingly, that's exactly what the geniuses that we have elected have chosen to do. It is not a bit surprising, given the history of these clowns, but it is extremely depressing. Hopefully, in 1 or 3 years, there will be a day of reckoning, and Ajit Pai will be bounced out of the FCC (hopefully receiving a good kick to the groin as part of the process) and the greedy ISPs will be forced to back away from their power grap and become simple conduits to allow the internet to flow more freely. However, I'm not holding my breath.
If the thought of spending the rest of your career typing shit into a computer is too much to bear, or if you can no longer stand living in a city filled with insufferable hipsters, this might be a way to steer towards something more satisfying. Obviously, this type of life isn't for everybody, but if you are tired of being a tiny cog futilely spinning away inside the machinery of a giant corporation, this may be something to consider. And it is not an endeavor for dummies — being a successful sustainable farmer requires careful planning, the ability to acquire and apply knowledge from a wide range of topics, and skill in "making things work". Of course, these are exactly the things that engineers are good at.
1 The Wikipedia article is hopelessly lame. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be anything better on the internets. I guess that if you are interested in MBE, you can visit me sometime and I will tell you all about it for a few hours.
More on the Sander father/son engineering team. (11.21.17)
Includes a nice video. These guys will probably soon show up in one of those ISU promo commercials that air during football and basketball games.
Drowning in garbage. (11.21.17)
No extra commentary needed.
The Serial-Killer Detector. (11.20.17)
A retired reporter writes some code to find serial killers. It's really not all the profound — he is just looking for patterns in data. It is the kind of thing that data scientists do all the time. Of course, the cops are supposed to do it, too, but sometimes they can't or won't.
This kind of thing happens to me all the time. Here are some un-impeded views.
Slippery Stairs. (11.20.17)
This is destined to become an Olympic sport.
Myths of the 1%. (11.19.17)
The 1% in the U.S. is not made of up of young engineers creating successful tech start-ups. In fact, the top layer has relatively few engineers or STEM workers. Mosty, the top 1% is made up of doctors, lawyers, financiers, and high-level managers in those fields. It's kind of boring, actually, but these groups enjoy systemic advantages in the form of favorable laws and policies that make it easier for them to make the big bucks.
Turning the tide at Stalingrad. (11.19.17)
Here is today's history lesson — it was 75 years ago that the Russian army launched the counter-attack that stemmed the advance of the German army at Stalingrad. Stalingrad was the furthest advance of Germans in World War II. Their loss at Stalingrad, coupled with a defeat at El Alamein in North Africa, put the Germans into retreat — a retreat that lasted two-and-a-half years before they finally capitulated.
Stalingrad is often considered to be the worst battle in history in terms of casualties and destruction. Here are some interesting colorized pictures from that time. And the very long and detailed Wikipedia article
The Leonids meteor shower. (11.17.17)
The Leonids meteor shower hits it's peak this weekend. It might be a good show, if you can find some clear skies, and it's not too cold.
Challenging a chess grandmaster. (11.17.17)
Set some goals and see if you can pull off the kind of self-improvement that this speed learner managed. (Spoiler: He didn't beat the grandmaster. But I think the other odd things he did during his year of self-improvement projects are kind of amazing.)
Audio Club — Thursday, Nov. 16, 8:00 p.m., Coover 2011. (11.15.17)
More building — we are going to try the Altoids amp. A number of past Audio club members have done this one — it is relatively easy, it's fun, and it works! If you would like to try building it tomorrow, please send me a note (email, slack, or yell at me from across campus) to let me know — I need a rough count so that I bring enough parts. The parts cost about $9 — I'll give a detailed BOM at the meeting — so you will need to pay me that amount at the meeting or before. You will also need an empty Altoids tin — you can eat the candy yourself or force feed it to your roommate — and two 9-volt batteries. I'll provide the rest. There are no worries if you can't join in tomorrow — I'll have extra kits around, and you can try the project later at your convenience.
Drumline at the ISU band extravaganza. (11.13.17)
Steve Warren, who is in EE 333 this semester, designed and built the LED circuits that flash in the bass drum and the quads. It was one of his class projects. Pretty cool. (Steve plays the sousaphone in the band — he needs to get some lights on that thing.)
signal generators. (11.12.17)
Here is a list of some affordable signal generators, if you are looking to add to your home laboratory.
Wendell Sander. (11.12.17)
A Daily article about an ISU EE grad who moved to Silicon Valley and made a career there. He was Apple employee #16. Also mentioned in the article is eminent alum Thomas Whitney.
Comedy wildlife comedy award finalists. (11.11.17)
AC analysis or PCB projects getting you down? Maybe these will help lighten your mood...for a minute or two.
3 = 160,000,000. (11.10.17)
There is no way that this is a good thing.
No Audio/Arduino Club this week. (11.9.17)
The EE 201 exam is imminent, and people should be freaking out about that, rather than goofing around with audio circuits. Plus, there is a talk on campus that I would like attend, if I can make it. There will be audio club next week, when we will try building the Altoids amp.
A service opportunity (10.29.17)
Eric Schares, my good friend who works in the library, needs some skilled assistance with one of his current projects. He would like to have 2 or 3 ECpE students help him with some hands-on electronics instruction in a workshop that he is putting on. His email is copied below. If you would be interested in doing this, contact him directly (firstname.lastname@example.org). It would be a nice opportunity to "give something back", which is always a good thing and can generate some warm fuzzies. (It's the only thing that keeps me going.) Eric graduated from ISU with an EE degree a dozen years or so ago and worked at Intel for a decade before opting for a career change. So while you are helping him at his workshop, you can also hit him up for advice on what it is like out in the (cough, cough) real world.
I am putting on an introductory workshop next week on the basics of getting started with Makey Makey, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi. The workshop is next week, Thursday, November 2 from 3-4:30pm in Room 32 Parks Library, and I am looking for 2 or 3 ECpE students who would be willing to assist me in delivering it. We have 10 people signed up to attend so far. The first 30-45 minutes would be me presenting a Powerpoint on the differences and pros/cons of these three kits, and the last 45 minutes are for the attendees to grab a kit and build a simple circuit or project. The students’ main job would be to help in this last 45 minutes of hands-on unstructured time, going from person to person to help troubleshoot or get an LED to blink properly. I am not able to offer any pay beyond a free coffee at Bookends, but I would be more than willing to provide a recommendation for the student if they wish. I also plan for this workshop to be offered each semester, so students could conceivably help out multiple times if they enjoy it.
Could you please publicize this to your students, and have them contact me if interested?
Combined Audio/Arduino Club: 8:00 p.m. in Coover 2011. (10.26.17)
Here is a link to a pdf giving the step-by-step instructions for building the 555 timer soldering project./p>
More soldering tonight. “Seeing” how to solder is quick — there is not a whole lot of deep theory behind this skill. But learning how to solder and making your own circuit from scratch is slower, as we learned last week when a number of people got a good start on the the 555 blinker that we are using as an example project. We got through about half of the build last time and will complete it this week. So if you started a circuit last week, bring it again tonight so that we can finish it off. And if you weren’t here last week but would like to try your hand at building the blinker circuit, show up tonight and I will have the parts for you to get started. Experienced solderers (Is that a word?) are encouraged to attend also to provide moral support, dispense sage wisdom, and stamp out any fires.
Next week: Back to Arduino club. We will use the skills discussed so far to make a handful of small (and possibly useful) projects.
Combined Audio/Arduino Club: 8:00 p.m. in Coover 2011. (10.19.17)
Soldering for n00bs. (Maybe we can call it Soldering Club tonight.) Everyone has been itching “to build stuff”, so we had better get to it. We will have a bit of a tutorial at the start, and then I will have all the parts needed for soldering a couple of circuits. I’ll try to have enough for 24 people, which should be more than adequate. Old hands should still consider attending — you can help teach the rookies and show them some of your tricks and techniques. The Fire Department has been alerted.
If you want to partake in the fun, you should bring your EE 201 lab kit — or at least the tools (wire cutter, wire stripper, needle-nosed pliers, screwdriver). Also bring along a 9-V battery to power the circuits — it's not essential for tonight, but if you want to power your circuits later, you will need one.
Flight 666 to HEL. (10.14.17)
Sounds like a bad made-for-TV movie. This is funny, because my family took this flight once — on a Friday, no less. But it was a Friday the 12th, so not as demonic as it might have been. The flight itself was quite pleasant — just an easy hop across the Baltic Sea to a nice city. What was hellish about the ordeal for us was getting on the plane in the first place. When we got to the Copenhagen airport, Finnair told us that our whole group had been put on stand-by. Great — we might get bumped. We trudged off to the gate, hoping that there would be seats for us. On the way there, we went through the most severe security screening that we have ever encountered. The Danish TSA (or whatever they are called) questioned and probed in ways that we had never imagined before. Fortunately, they stopped just short of conducting cavity searches and allowed us to continue on. After nervously waiting for an hour, we were finally allowed to board. But to make certain that we weren't having too much fun, the gate agent felt compelled to lecture us about the proper quantity and sizes of carry-on luggage as headed down the ramp. (Our luggage was all in compliance — he was just being a jerk.) Sheesh. I guess that even normally laid-back Scandinavians have their moments.
Arduino Club: Thursday, Oct. 12 at 8:00 p.m. in Coover 2011. (10.11.17)
We will look at interacting with the Arduino: switches and potentiometers for input and the serial monitor, LCDs, and seven-segment LEDs for output.
Our always-on trackers will have all sorts of interesting implications as they become more prevalent. In this case, the tracking information has done some good by revealing the truth in a terrible crime. But we know that there will be many instances when tracking data will be used in less beneficial ways. What was needed in this case was some sort of sensor that would have shown the wife that her husband was a cheating, murderous SOB before he could carry out his plot. (Minority Report?)
Forward to the past. (10.10.17)
While most the bumbling Trump administration spins its wheels and accomplishes nothing (a good thing), the EPA is moving with ruthless efficiency to dismantle decades of environmental protections. (Perhaps it needs to be renamed to EDA.) The EPA chief has announced that the Clean Power Plan was being withdrawn. Apparently, he and fellow geniuses are eager to get back the pristine environments that the energy industry produced in the 1970s. Being of a sufficiently advanced age, I remember some of environmental conditions of that decade — smog so thick that it blocked the sun, rivers that spontaneously started on fire, and whole towns having to be abandoned because of impossibly high levels of chemical pollution. Look at the photos in the link to see the sort of vistas that await us.
Elizabeth Friedman (10.09.17)
Here is the story of a woman who played a pivotal role in developing code breaking techniques that helped stopped smugglers in the 1930s and Nazi spy rings during World War II. She had no formal technical training — she intended to be poet — but apparently she was a natural genius at cryptography. Most of her work was classified and kept secret for decades and so her story was hidden away during her lifetime. (It also appears that J. Edgar Hoover, the goon who ran the FBI for many decades, took an active role in trying to keep her contributions under wrap.) I often wonder how many lost geniuses were never able to make any sort of contribution because they were the wrong gender, or the wrong color, or born in the wrong place. How many future geniuses will be stymied by the same barriers? At least Elizabeth Friedman was able to put her skills to good use, and now her story will be known. This book might be a good read over Thanksgiving break.
No Arduino (or Audio) Club tonight. (10.5.17)
EE 201 students should be studying for their exam! Meetings will resume next week.
Audio Club tonight: 8:00 p.m. in Coover 2011. (9.28.17)
I’m sorry about the meeting time clashing with the football game. I had asked the university if they would move the game to another night, because it was interfering with Audio Club, but they declined.
Audio club question sent yesterday via the Slack group: Is tomorrow the day we are making the amplifiers?
Answer: No, I think we will use one more audio club meeting to discuss fundamental notions a bit further. At tonight’s meeting we will talk a bit about the frequency content of audio signals (the phrase “Fourier Transform” will be mentioned, if that scares anybody), and we will play around with some filters and distortion to demonstrate some of the ideas. In two weeks, we will have a “soldering session” for noobs and then try building the Altoids amp. Part of the reason for waiting is to allow for EE 201 to cover amplifiers before we start building those at the meetings. (Many of the people attending the club are in 201.) The Altoids amp is very low-power and quite simple — it is a good place to start. Then we will build the bigger amps and other circuits later, as we get better.
John Oliver on corporate mergers. (9.28.17)
This is a first-class rant about corporations and the merger mania that has taken hold of the business world. He is spot on about why this is mostly bad for the average citizen.
SpaceX blooper reel. (9.27.17)
Interview with Carl Nelson. (9.27.17)
Very interesting interview with analog design guru Carl Nelson, who worked at Linear Technology for many years. I found myself nodding in agreement to many of the things he said. His comments are well worth reading. A bit of trivia related to our classes: He designed the LM35 temperature sensor chip that is included in the EE 230 lab kit and that you might have used (or maybe will use) in a project.
Trivial Ass-kicking. (9.26.17)
Our team dominated at McFly's Trivia night. We won first place ($25 towards our bar tab) and earned two rounds of shots for knowing the answer to the "baffler" question (Burt Rutan) and for having the high score at the half-way point. It doesn't get any better than that. I may have found my next career. If you are OK with dive bars, McFly's is a fun place to go, especially on trivia night. (No website for McFly's, but I think they have a Facebook page.)
(Via the Washington Post.) Some truly beautiful pix. (And one that is a bit gruesome.) I particularly like the aerial shot of the camels.
Star Trek: Discovery. (9.25.17)
The new Star Trek is out (after 12 years of no new TV shows), and it looks to be a good one. It has all of the usual stuff that every Star Trek is expected to have, but with plenty of new things to make it interesting. Rather than the standard formula of the heroic captain and crew taking on aliens in a new episode every week, the new version will be a serialized story stretching through the entire season. And the underlying theme appears to be redemption, which is quite different from usual Star Trek tales.
It's a bummer that the show is available only on CBS All Access, which requires a monthly subscription fee (like NetFlix or Hulu). But it is probably worth it, if you like Star Trek. Clearly, from a business perspective, Discovery is a vehicle for pushing All Access subscriptions. One side benefit of having a subscription is that there are lots of old shows available, including every single episode from the previous Star Trek TV series.
It's now bigger than Rolex in terms of revenue. Horace Dediu has some interesting commentary about the slow and steady rise of the AppleWatch to the top of the heap.
Autumnal equinox. (9.22.17)
Summer is gone, and soon we will be freezing (in the northern hemisphere).
Sziklai transistors. (9.15.17)
Basically, a Darlington pair made using a pnp with an npn. It could be fun and useful — as an EE 230 problem if nothing else. But what I would particularly like to know is how connecting two transistors together is ground-breaking enough to have your name permanently attached to the little circuit? I guess that it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Good-bye, Cassini. (9.14.17)
The Cassini Spacecraft is making its final orbits before crashing into the atmosphere of Saturn on Friday. It was an amazingly successful scientific expedition. Here are 100 awesome Cassini photographs taken over the years.
Audio Club tonight. (9.14.17)8:00 p.m. in Coover 2011. A bit of introduction to the club. Some talk about digital and analog storage media. And maybe some music — probably Portugal. The Man.
Lixie Tubes. (9.14.17)
These look like fun. Maybe we will have to try them as a club project. (Although they are a bit expensive. And apparently out of stock at the moment.)
Getting out of our bubbles. (9.14.17)
I think this is a good idea. Instead of dashing off to our hipster-y enclaves on the coasts or just sitting in our red-state domiciles watching Fox News, it would be good for everyone to spend some time with people from other "walks of life". The first thing that we would probably learn is that we really aren't all that different. With a bit of understanding and a little effort, we might get past the silly divisions that keep us yammering at each other. Travel helps in this regard, and I'm definitely in favor of that, but a "year of service" where everyone is put together to work toward some common and worthy goal might go a long way towards fostering some more tolerance in our fractured society. Sadly, anything like this is very unlikely to happen.
Star Trek: Discovery. (6.7.17)
The first trailer for the new Star Trek TV series came out a couple of weeks ago. It looks like it will be awesome. It's been twelve years since the end of the last Star Trek TV show — far too long. The show will start sometime "this fall". It will give me an excuse to watch TV again. I can't wait.
50 Best Podcasts. (6.7.17)
Here are some podcasts that are currently popular. I've listened to a few of these, and it seems that the list is probably good. What are podcasts, you ask? Someone once described them as "kind of like radio, but without the listeners". Originally, podcasts made it possible to listen to radio programs at times other than when they were broadcast. That way I could hear NPR programs, even if they were aired at the same time that I supposed to be giving an EE 201 lecture. (Like any good lefty, commie, pinko, libtard, academic type, I listen to a lot of stuff on NPR.) I've used podcasts for years, starting before most people knew what they were (using my original iPod). I continued using them as they became cool a decade or so ago and kept on when they became uncool a half-decade ago. Now podcasts are a hot thing once again and have morphed into a new form of media, with much higher production values and even advertisers. Everybody seems to be doing a podcast these days. The 50 listed here are representative of the thousands that are currently available. If you ever get tired of the intellectual over-stimulation of downloading cat videos, you might consider subscribing to a podcast or two. If you can't find one that you like, then you aren't trying very hard. Maybe I should start a podcast — it could be called "The MOSFET Chronicles". That's sure to be a winner — snort!
Better than SpiderMan. (6.5.17)
Wow — this guy is amazing. The first ever free solo (no ropes or safety gear) up the face of El Capitan. If you've never seen El Capitan in person, do a search for some photos to get an idea of how incredible — and frightening — it must be to make this climb.
The man and the tornado. (6.4.17)
I love this picture. Mainly because this guy is responding in exactly the same way that my dad would have. Except instead of mowing the lawn, my dad would have been driving his tractor out in the field.
Jean Sammet. (6.4.17)
Computer pioneer, Jean Sammet. I liked her comments about Grace Hopper and the creation of COBOL.
Donald Trump poisons the world. (6.2.17)
David Brooks discusses the Trumpian view of the world as a vast competitive arena, where for every winner there must be a loser. And you never want to be a loser. Below, I had noted how this view contrasts from the much more optimistic and altruistic world views of a half-century ago when JFK was president. I suppose that these things go in cycles, and hopefully we have reached the maximum swing towards the "doom-and-gloom" half of the cycle. We will see.
(I am also surprised at how many formerly conservative media pundits have become reliable critics of Trump and crew. In years past, Brooks could be counted on to stick up for conservative politicians and their ideas. Now, everything he writes is critical of Trump. The same with Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post. Formerly a solid conservative, she now writes at least five articles a day lambasting Trump and his minions. I don't know how she manages to crank out so much stuff, but it is definitely entertaining.)
Another Facebook rant. (6.1.17)
From John Gruber, incited by a rant by Dave Winer.
Cool night-time sky stuff to see in June. (6.1.17)
This month, besides the solstice and a comet, Saturn will be at opposition on the 14th. This means that it is relatively close to Earth — only 840 million miles! — and will be visible all night. It may be time to get the telescope out of the basement and have a look at the rings.
Trump toilet paper. (5.31.17)
Now we are getting some products that make sense. Hopefully, this guy will market it in the U.S., too. I would even be willing to buying it through Amazon, if that were the only way to get it.
Listening for problems at the breaker box. (5.30.17)
An interesting application of machine learning. Everybody gets weak in the knees because Google/Apple/Microsoft are using ML to do things like search and sort our photo albums. But this type of application is much more interesting to me — putting sensors in places that are difficult or dangerous or just too boring for humans to be, using the sensors to conduct lots of measurements, using machine learning to determine "normal" behavior, and then continuing to monitor the processes (whatever they may be), watching for when things go wrong. These are the kinds of IoT things that will be most useful to us. (As opposed to putting buttons in the bathroom so that we can order toilet paper from Amazon at moment's notice. Bleh.) Of course, now it looks like engineers developing IoT systems will have to know machine learning, in addition to electronics hardware, microcontroller programming, and cyber-security. Embedded systems types had better get busy! (By the way: Thanks, but I can sort my own photo album.)
JFK's 100th birthday (5.29.17)
When a person dies young, it is impossible to imagine them as ever being old. So it is with JFK. With all the gloom and doom that hangs over the current presidency, it is difficult to fathom just how hopeful and optimistic the country was in the early 1960's. Of course, there were problems back then, too, but there was a general belief that the problems could be solved and that the vigorous — one of JFK's favorite adjectives — young president was the person to lead the way. Jeff Greenfield speculates about what might have happened if JFK had not been assassinated in 1963.
The Trump Documents (5.28.17)
A deep look at some "documents" coming from the Trump White House.
A YouTube history of the everything — in only 20 minutes. Perfect for watching while you eat lunch.
One of the earliest "concept albums". I listened again today for old time's sake. Many claim it is the best album of all time. It probably is. There is a really nice recent re-mix of the album available on the streaming sites, with interesting alternative versions of most of the songs.
Aw. Roger Moore died. (5.24.17)
Obituaries from the NY Times and the BBC. He was my favorite James Bond, but I liked him best as The Saint, which I used to watch when I was a kid. There is a nice story about Moore making the rounds on the intertubes — he seemed to be a decent guy, for a movie star.
Water from air. (5.23.17)
Another example of a technology that could have huge impacts. A new concept for extracting potable water directly from the air. This is nifty stuff. It is still in the research / development phase, — we will see if it lives up to the hype. We need more young people doing stuff like this.
A blood glucose monitor for the AppleWatch. (5.22.17)
If true, this could be big. And it would convert the AppleWatch from being a interesting doo-dad to essential tech for millions of people with diabetes. It is nice to see big companies trying things like this. Google is always talking about projects that are socially redeeming, but they never seem to deliver. We will see if Apple can pull this off — maybe they will talk about it at their upcoming WWDC.
Maybe this guy could be president. (5.20.17)
He certainly seems to be smart enough — at least by recent standards.
The MP3 is dead. Long live the MP3! (5.19.17)
The patents on the MP3 audio compression format have recently expired. The patent holder, Fraunhofer IIS, announced that they were no longer licensing the format and suggested that developers begin use the "much better" AAC format, which is still under patent and that they would more than happy to license. Their announcement is a bit disingenuous, though. The fact that Fraunhofer is no longer licensing MP3 technology does not mean that they format is dead. In fact, it is quite the opposite — MP3 tech is now totally free for anyone to use. This is good news, and the format may see a resurgance now that anyone, anywhere can use it. Fraunhofer's clever word play faked out many news sites, who dutifully reported the imminent demise of the technology. Marco Arment, who writes podcasting software, (Podcasts are almost universally encoded as MP3s.) tells the story correctly. His blog post — linked above — has many relevant links.
Amazing dinosaur fossil. (5.18.17)
A completely petrified "nodosaur" — way better than just bones.
Hardware hacking. (5.18.17)
It isn't just software that is targeted by hackers. Hardware is vulnerable, too, in all kinds of unique ways. For example, consider the recent incident where the Dallas tornado sirens were all set off simultaneously. Obviously a software hack, right? Not at all, it was done with radio signals. Now-a-days, every engineer building new systms has to consider how their designs might be infiltrated. Regrettable, but necessary.
38 million pieces of trash. (5.17.17)
This is mind-boggling. Human beings are pigs. (No offense to actual pigs, who are really rather clean. Apparently cleaner than humans, anyway — I've never heard of pigs trashing up an uninhabited island.)
Amazon went public twenty years ago. (5.16.17)
Love him or hate him, Jeff Bezos has certainly changed the way that we shop. (Or at least for most of us.)
We are being led by a child. (5.16.17)
David Brooks makes the case that Pres. Trump is childish, even infantile. Many others are saying similar things this week. (Of course, some people have been pointing this out for a couple of years.) I think the claim is unfair to children, in general. Many children are curious about the world and how people interact, are eager to learn new things, are willing to share and get along with their friends, and desire to please the adults in their lives. Donald Trump has none of these qualities and never will. We might be better off if we were being led by an actual child — like maybe one of these brothers. I'm pretty sure that either one of them at age 5 would be smarter and more mature than The Donald at age 70. (I love that the older brother is doing quantum mechanics in the video.)
However, there are two quotes in Brooks' column that I liked:
"He (Trump) is thus the all-time record-holder of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon in which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence." We probably all know Dunning-Kruger sufferers, and it is a sad thing to see. It is tragic when, through our own collective incompetence, we make such a person our leader.and
"We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar." That sounds about right.
Bill Gates tweets a graduation speech. (5.15.17)
A clever way to share a message to graduates. And the book he recommends — The Better Angles of our Nature — is a great read. It provides a somewhat more positive view of our modern world in a time when everything seems to be coming unglued.
Humans smell good. (5.12.17)
It turns out that human noses are actually better than we give them credit for.
Son.Of.A.Bitch. Apparently, Homeland Security thinks that airline travel is too enjoyable these days. A laptop ban might reduce the chance of an explosion by some small percentage, but it will increase the chances of passenger riots a hundred-fold. Also, what keeps the laptop from exploding when it is in the cargo hold as opposed to when it is in the cabin? Furthermore, even without terrorist assistance, laptop batteries have been known to start on fire all by themselves. Is it really a good idea to store a hundred or more possibly incendiary devices in the cargo hold, where no one is monitoring them? I am all for improved security, but I'm not convinced that this is the way to do it. Perhaps it would be more beneficial to use better screening on the ground to keep laptop-bombs off the planes in the first place.
Can you live without tech's frightful five? (5.10.17)
An interesting thought experiment: Could you live without products and services provided by the current "Frightful Five" — Alphabet (i.e. Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft? Read the article and try the thought experiment for yourself. In a rare exception to most articles on the internet, the reader comments are actually interesting and insightful.My list. If you care.
Three of the five would be trivial for me to give up completely. The fourth is slightly harder. And taking the final step would be quite difficult, I think.
- Facebook. I don't use it, so I couldn't possibly miss it. I did toy with the idea of trying out Instragram, because I would like a place to post a few pix for the 1.6 people who look at this web site. But the notion made me queasy, so I decided that I would just make my own crude photo page. (Why did Facebook have to buy Instragram? They seemed like such a nice independent company before.)
- Amazon. I barely use Amazon — the only things that I routinely buy from Jeff Bezos are certain types of cheap electronics parts for Audio club projects. I could easily forgo Amazon and buy all my junky components from the DigiKey — I get the vast majority of stuff from there, anyway. (I suppose that Amazon will soon spite me by buying Digikey.) By not buying stuff from Amazon, it helps with my long-term goal of reducing the amount of useless crap in my life. I have also made use of Amazon in another small way — when I've decided that I absolutely need to buy something (usually after much internal debate), I will use the reviews on Amazon to help select a particular brand or model, and then I will go a store and buy it there. (Yes, I know that my method is apparently backwards.)
- Microsoft. The only time that I need Microsoft is when running a few pieces of engineering software for classes — PSPICE, MultiSim/Ultiboard, SUPREM, etc. There are non-Windows versions of all of these, and it would be fairly simple to switch over and be 100% Microsoft-free. That would also give me an excuse to simply trash the MS Word and Excel files that show up in my email — Sorry, I can't open it! (Actually, I do that already.)
- Alphabet(Google). Now it's getting a bit more difficult. I try very hard to avoid most Google stuff, because I don't like their business model. I don't use Google search, Google docs, gmail, Android phones, or much of anything of else from the Googleplex. There are alternative sources/products for all of these things. The one thing from Google that I do use is YouTube, and there really are no good alternatives. But if push came to shove, I could probably live without YouTube, also. (Again, I have to lament the fact that YouTube used to be an independent company.)
- Apple. Finally, we get to the difficult one. Could I live without Apple products? Maybe. I could easily pull the earplugs out of my ears and take the watch off my wrist. I could ditch the iPad, which is used mostly for couch surfing. But the experiment finally fails for me when I get to the smart phone and computer. While, in principle, a smart phone could be replaced by a flip phone. And a point-and-shoot camera. And a Sony Walkman. And a GPS unit. That would just be dumb. So, if we take a smartphone as a given, then the choices are reduced to the iPhone or an Android gadget. On the computer side, there is the option of moving to Linux, but the learning curve of figuring out how to do hundreds of small things that I now do automatically on my MacBook is just to daunting. Since I've already failed on the smartphone front, I will have to accept a second failure and choose to keep my Apple laptop, too.
To whoever left the very nice bag filled with teas outside my office — Thank you! I wish you had left a note so that I could express my appreciation properly. If you happen to read this, please get in touch with me and let me know that the gift was from you. We will definitely be making good use of it.
The call-out culture on campus. (5.9.17)
More effects of social media.
Random advice for graduates. (5.8.17)
Probably too late for some of you.
If you can. (5.8.17)
My annual advice to graduates who are heading for fancy jobs with fancy salaries. Read this and try to follow the advice. If you can, you may be able to someday retire comfortably — maybe sooner than you think. Bernstein — who is a medical doctor, by the way — has written a number of investing and history books. I've read several of them, and he has many interesting things to share. Check him out here.
Mr. Money Mustache. (5.8.17)
If you want to go hard-core with the notion of stashing away money and possibly retiring early someday, take a look at this guy. He is a bit over the top with some of his presentation, but I agree with many of his basic ideas.
America's "Miracle Machine" is trouble. (5.5.17)
So says Eric Lander and Eric Schmidt (Google pooh-bah).
Some photos from the MRC picnic. (5.5.17)
The weather was perfect.
Annual TGID picnic (5.4.17)
Thank God, it's done. Once again, it's time to celebrate the end of it all — EE 432, EE 436, spring semester, ISU, or whatever it is that you're ending. We are having a celebratory picnic on the front lawn at the MRC, 1925 Scholl Road. It starts at noon on Friday, May 5. We will be grilling burgers, brats, and chicken breasts and eating all sorts of other summertime goodies. Everyone is welcome. Sign up using the Doodle poll. Bring $5 to pay for the food (or $7 if you want two sandwiches). Bring your friends. There will lots of people there talking about semiconductors and circuits. NOT. No technical talk allowed.
Five years ago, it seemed certain that ebooks would make traditional books obsolete. That forecast appears to have been a bit hasty. I still like ebooks for their compactness — it's hard to carry a thousand real books in your backpack — but I agree that is much more satisfying to hold a real book in your hand.
Net Neutrality B.S. (5.2.17)
The FCC and ISPs are working hard to kill basic internet consumer protections.
Typical. The day that we book our tickets for summer vacation, the gov issues a travel alert. Too late to cancel, so wish us luck...
Nope — it's not who you think. This is an interesting historical analogy. Reading this reminded me of an earlier article noting an ominous similarity between today's events and the time leading up to WWI.
The importance of wasting time. (5.1.17)
Maybe you can start after finals week is over.
Have flesh-and-blood friends: cut down on the smart phone; search for meaning, not happiness. Sounds simple enough.
Apr. 28, 2017
EE 432/532 students: I hinted to you that this was a possibility.
Apr. 27, 2017
- Around the world in 80 days ... on a bike. Now this is a serious bike ride. The goal this guy has set for himself seems incredible — 18,000 miles in about 75 days of riding, which is an average of 240 miles per day. Compare that to the Tour de France, where the best bicycle racers in the world ride around 100 miles per day for about 20 days. Of course, the Tour de France bikers are racing at 25 mph or more, and the circumnavigator will be taking a more "leisurely" pace but the numbers still seem incredible. It will be interesting to see if he can pull it off. He plans to start July 2.
- Bezier curves. If you have ever used a drawing program that could generate Bezier curves, you may have wondered how those crazy things worked. Take one look at these animations, and you will easily discern the algorithm for generating the curves.
Apr. 26, 2017
More Tuck Buckford. If you have visited my office, you probably know that I have — on occasion — eaten a cup of Chobani yogurt, although I haven't yet tried the Crime and Tuberculosis flavor. And you probably wouldn't be surprised to know that I have a link to an article about the Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani. He is an interesting character, totally in contrast the whacked-out nut job known as Alex Jones.
Apr. 25, 2017
Introverts tend to be better CEOs. Not surprising to me.
Apr. 24, 2017
sine. A few of the good signs seen at the recent March for Science protests.
- Finally, we might be getting closer to the flying car. The 21st century was supposed be all about flying cars. I don't want to ride in a boring autonomous car, I want to fly my own personal aero-gadget. (And yes, I know that I'll probably end up dying in the process.)
Apr. 23, 2017
Travis Kalanick, CEP (Chief Executive Pig) at Uber. It is not surprising that an innovative, but morally bankrupt person would start and lead an innovative but morally bankrupt company.
Here are a few more articles that I've bookmarked, to fill in some of the background about the ridiculous behavior of this company:
- growing, but still losing billions per year.
- Sexual harassment — 1 and 2.
- Theft of intellectual property.
- Using mind tricks to manipulate drivers.
- Getting into arguments with Uber drivers.
- Self-driving car failures.
- Spying on celebrities, politicians, and others.
- tech "bro culture" in general.
Apr. 22, 2017
Happy Earth Day!
- Enjoy it while you can. We've had about three months
to watch the Trump operation. For the most part, he and his minions have come across as clutzky knuckleheads who can't seem to
get anything right. (Probably a good thing.) But one area where they have been operating like skilled surgeons is in the
evisceration of the environmental protections that have been put in place over the past half century or so. Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker has the
same observation. If Trump keeps it up, we may not need to worry about impeaching him. Instead, we may just impeach
ourselves...from the Earth.
- To brighten the mood slightly, here is a recent time-lapse taken from the ISS. There are tons more of these on the YouTubes — watching these can be a bit soothing after banging your head on your desk because of all the stupid things that are going on around us.
Apr. 21, 2017
These are the funniest things that I've seen lately: 1, 2, and 3. Here is a bit of background reading if you don't know what the Colbert skits are all about. Maybe over-the-top send-ups of alt-right blowhards aren't your thing, but I laughed until my sides hurt.
Apr. 20, 2017
Tidbits from the animal kingdom:
- A badger gets ready to eat a cow. Ok, it was a small cow.
- A python eats a man. Yikes!!!
- Spiders eat all humans.
Apr. 19, 2017
Canada tries to cash in on AI. Many of the early, seminal concepts about machine learning and other aspects of artificial intelligence were introduced by researchers at Canadian universities. Yet, you don't see large groups of high-tech companies springing up to form a "silicon tundra" in the northland. (Hmmm. There might be a clue as to why within that sentence.) Anyway, Canadian officials are trying to make better use of their home-grown ideas.
Apr. 18, 2017
Apr. 17, 2017
You don't see this everyday in the opinion section of the NY Times — a piece about the beauty of math equations. It seems that the brains of people who are inclined towards mathematics respond to beautiful equations the same way that they respond to beautiful art or music. The most beautiful equation? Euler's identity, which relates e, π, i (which we EE/CprEs usually call j) and 1 and 0 (for the digital halves of our lives). That seems about right.
Apr. 14, 2017
Robert Taylor has died. He was instrumental in the early development of the internet — way more than even Al Gore. And he wasn't an engineer or a programmer — he was a psychologist, of all things. Here is what Cringely has to say about Taylor and his contributions.
Apr. 13, 2017
Darwin was a slacker. Maybe you should be, too. This is a long-ish article — set aside some leisure time in the afternoon for reading it.
Apr. 12, 2017
Here's an IEEE Spectrum article discussing Google's Tensor Processing Units which are to machine learning what GPUs are to computer graphics. Essentially, TPUs are specialized hardware inserts that are meant to facilitate the computation of neural-network codes. Google has used these for a while in their data centers, and I expect that we will see more gadgets like these in the future. This is the (very detailed) technical paper from Google.
Apr. 11, 2017
This is an interesting listicle of DIY inventions that turned into great businesses. You certainly have heard of many of these companies, and maybe even have used some of the products. All started as small ideas to solve a particular problem — a classic engineering start-up story. All of these companies still exist, and some are even still owned by the inventors (or their families). A notable local example is the Kreg Jig, started by Craig Sommerfeld, who lives a couple of miles of south of Ames. Even your smallest idea can turn into a big thing, if it offers an effective solution to a common problem.
Apr. 10, 2017In its latest iOS update, Apple switched to a completely new, modern filing system. The old file system was decades old. The fact that they were able to pull this off, completely under the radar, is mind-boggling. If you wanted to switch to a new file system "in the old days", you would approach the project with much trepidation. You certainly wouldn't proceed without making at least three complete, bootable back-ups of your computer. Then, when it came time to begin the process, you would hold your trembling finger over the start button with a pounding heart and sweat beading on your forehead. Changing something as fundamental as the file system was akin to a partial brain transplant and carried a high probability of catastrophic failure. Usually, you wouldn't even attempt to upgrade a working system — you would just wait until you bought a new computer with the new file system already installed. Now-a-days, system providers can pull off a complete re-vamping of all of the memory stored on a device, with the vast majority of their millions of users totally oblivious to the machinations underway — they just keep downloading cat videos, completely unaware of what just happened to their gadgets. Modern software development can be amazing.
Apr. 6, 2017
Historical trivia: Today is the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entering World War I. While WWI is relatively obscure today, the effects still echo in our current events. It started with a terrorist act, but could have been completely avoided with a small effort at diplomacy and reasonableness. Instead, almost all of the countries of Europe proudly marched off to war, and millions of people died over the next four years. And many of the worst aspects of the remainder of the 20th century stem directly from WWI, including WWII, the rise of totalitarian communism, and a haphazard re-arrangement of the the politics of the Middle East.
If you don't know much about WWI (And really, who does?) but would like to learn, you can try out the series of WWI history podcasts by Dan Carlin. Episodes 50 - 55 cover "The Great War". (These podcasts are also available on iTunes and Spotify, I think.) Warning: Dan Carlin can talk ad infinitum. The six podcasts probably total about 24 hours of lecturing — essentially a two-credit college course. The podcasts are a good distraction when you are working out, riding the bus to class, or digging in the garden. (Or possibly while trying avoid having to listen to an EE 432 lecturer droning on and on about plasmas.)
- Here's an interesting idea of using robotically maintained kelp farms as a source of carbon-based fuels. I'm not sure if it is practical, but it offers some intriguing notions.
Apr. 5, 2017
More travel stuff: Time "magazine" purports to know the cheapest places to travel for each month of the year. (There is is one U.S. location and one international for each month.) I don't know if they are right about the prices, but it seems to me that these would all be good places to go, regardless of the cost.
Apr. 4, 2017
Even though the web is only about 25 years old, it is difficult to remember what life was like before. To get information, you had wait for it to come to your house in the form of a newspaper or magazine, or wait to watch it on the evening news. If you wanted to buy something to be delivered to your house, you had order it by placing a call on a land-line phone. (Usually, you just went to a brick-and-mortar store, because that was easier.) If you wanted to socialize with someone, you had talk to them face-to-face! It was barbaric! It is impossible to imagine going back. The internet definitely has serious problems that must be fixed. (And, as Berners-Lee points out, there are probably no technological fixes for some of the problems.) But, on the whole, the internet and the world-wide-web have probably made our lives better, and Berners-Lee is quite deserving of the prestigious award.
Apr. 3, 2017
Today is a profoundly sad day — EE alumnus and good friend John O'Brien has died.In my long time at ISU (measurable in decades now) I have met many, many students — several thousand, to be sure. Some of them — i.e. some of you — have became my friends as we shared classes together. While graduation is a natural separating point — the students leave and I remain — I have managed to stay in touch with some of those friends over the years. John O'Brien was one of the first of my "student friends" and one of the best.
John was a student in the first set of classes that I taught when I first came back to Iowa State — EE 434 (which later morphed into EE 330) and EE 435. John was a senior that year and was taking all of the hard EE tech electives. He was the top student in those classes, and he was always coming by to ask questions. He was drawn to the small part of the EE Venn diagram where semiconductors, electromagnetics, nanotechnology, and quantum physics overlapped. Since I also lived in that corner of the EE realm, it was natural that we would have lots of discussions about our shared interests. I wrote letters for him when he applied to graduate schools and cheered him on when he left ISU for Cal Tech, where he would work with the great Amnon Yariv (CIT web site, Wikipedia). We kept in touch during his graduate school years — he would stop in when he was back in Iowa seeing his parents and I visited him a couple times when I happened to be traveling in southern California. Then he finished his Ph.D. and started on a fast-rising career at USC. For a while, we became friendly competitors, since we were involved in similar kinds of research. After a decade or so of top-notch research work, he moved into academic administration. (It appears that he was probably in line to be the next engineering dean at USC.) At about the same time, I began to de-emphasize research to focus more on teaching. As our careers evolved, there was less opportunity to get together, and I hadn't spoken to John for a while. Then comes the news that he is gone...
Today, I am feeling very, very old and cranky. And I am a little pissed at the capriciousness of Mother Nature — it's not fair that John didn't have more time. But we can celebrate the fact that he made the most of the time that he did have — in a relatively short life, he put together a sparkling engineering career. We old codgers can sit around and bemoan what has been lost, but John's life has some lessons for those of you have just started on your careers (or who have yet to start). First of all, don't dawdle. If you have things you want to do — become an accomplished engineer, create a company, start a family, travel the world, or whatever your biggest dreams are — get started sooner rather than later. You don't know how long you will have. Secondly, keep your friends close — they may be gone sooner that you think.
RIP, John O'Brien.
Feb. 6, 2017
Hilarious! iTunes terms and conditions written as a graphic novel. Even better, each page is done in a different cartoon style. If all legal crap was presented in this manner, more people might actually read it.
Feb. 5, 2017
Chris Cillizza contemplates the possibility that all of the chaos coming from White House is part of some cunning plan. I usually abide by the dictum of "Don't attribute to malice what is more likely explained by incompetence". Most screw ups are not part of a plan. But you can never be sure, especially with this crowd whose approach is far outside the norm. Are they really a bunch of bumblef**ks? Or are they just distracting us while they hatch their nefarious schemes?
Feb. 4, 2017
Kristoff points out that Canada is stepping up as the U.S. steps back. I wish it wasn't so cold up there. Maybe Vancouver...?
Feb. 3, 2017
Einstein was a regular guy. Sometimes.
Exploding balls. Two goofs over-inflating a soccer ball and football (Or a footie and an American footie as they describe them.) and then filming the results in super slow motion. It's fun to think about the physics of the explosion as the balls are torn apart. But I don't know why it takes three minutes of video to show 2 seconds of explosions, even in super slo-mo. As some of you know, I very much enjoy a good explosion. It's great fun right up the point where someone loses an eye.
Feb. 2, 2017
Go ahead. Be messy. It's good for you.
Feb. 1, 2017
Delete Uber. Couldn't happen to a nicer company.
Hackers gotta hack. (Actually, guests were locked out, not in. But it's still kind of funny.)>
Jan. 31, 2017Not every country is closing its doors. Our neighbors to the north have the welcome sign out.
Jan. 30, 2017
Wow - what a weekend. So much commentary - it's impossible to keep up with it all. Jean-Louis Gassee has some perspective from Silicon Valley. I always like reading what he has to say.
Jan. 29, 2017
Cringely doesn't write as much as he used to, and what he does write isn't as good as when he was in his prime. But he makes interesting predictions every year, and some of them can be very off-the-wall. The one that got my attention was his prediction that Intel will sell off their fab facilites 2017. Intel is in some trouble, but they are probably not yet that desperate. It seems inconceivable to have an Intel that didn't make its own chips. We will see if Cringely is right.
Jan. 28, 2017
Inspiring. Former NASA engineer finds acclaim at 98.
Jan. 27, 2017
An interesting (and somewhat long) interview with an engineer who is neck-deep in the development of autonomous automobiles (auto autos): Gill Pratt on self-driving cars.
Jan. 26, 2017
The firehose outpouring of executive orders, proclamations, crazy photo ops, tweets, bald-faced lies, and other nonsense coming from the White House is breathtaking. It is impossible to keep up with it all. A commentator on the radio likened it to a "denial of service attack" on the public and the media. There is so much coming at us that we become paralyzed. It seems to be an apt analogy. And maybe part of a plan? (Are they that clever?) It will be interesting to see if Trump and his minions can keep up the pace for long.
Jan. 25, 2017
Orwell is back. Kellyanne's "Alternative facts" comment has caused "1984" to climb to the top of the Amazon bestseller list. The last time I read it was 33 years ago - it's probably time for another reading. The Big Brother line that I always remember: "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."
Jan. 24, 2017
For what it's worth: 50 best jobs in America, based on some nebulously defined combination of number of openings, salary, and job satisfaction rating.
Jan. 23, 2017
We are off to slam-banging start! This is gonna be fun! In the same way that fighting crocodiles on a burning ship that is headed over a waterfall is fun. As always with Trump, size matters - hands and crowds both much too small. The best part, though, was Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts" remark. You know that that line will show up in some of my lectures in the days ahead. If only Mother Nature would allow us to use alternative facts - being an engineer would be easy.
Many people are despondent about the new administration and see nothing but doom and gloom in the future. However, we have survived 44 previous presidencies, and we will probably survive this one, too. While we gnash our teeth over the our domestic drama, it us helpful to remember that the U.S. is not the center of the universe. In fact, in many parts of the world, life is improving significantly, as pointed out by Nicolas Kristof. Perhaps some of you were lucky enough to see Kristof when he visited ISU a year or so ago. His articles are always worth reading.
More promising news. In the midst of the "much bigger than the inaugural" protest marches, there is evidence that people have not yet lost their sense of humor. Dana Milbank lists some of his favorites signs seen at the protest. Here are more (somewhat less PG) from Politcal Humor and Jezebel. (Any google search will show you a million of these.) I have always been curious as to why one side of the political spectrum seems to be completely humorless. For me, life would be very sad if I couldn't occasionally have a good laugh at some of the absurd things that happen around me - including the silly things that I do myself.
Jan. 20, 2017
National Geographic's choices for best pictures of 2016. The photography is outstanding, although the subjects are not necessarily beautiful. Every one of the pictures is thought-provoking, though. (Nat Geo has has lots of beautiful wildlife and travel photos, if you want some feel-good imagery).
Jan. 19, 2017
Bald eagles were once virtually extinct. Their survival and re-emergence is one of the signature successes of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. You can spot eagles flying (or possibly eating some dead thing on the ground) near Ames on any day of the year. In fact, they are now so plentiful in some places" that they are becoming pests. Over about four decades, we've gone from "How do we save the eagles?" to "What do we do with all these scofflaw eagles?" It's a good problem to have.
Today is my favorite holiday of the year: National Popcorn Day. Why? Because I practically live on popcorn. Nearly every evening we make a giant batch of popcorn (popped in a pan on the stove - none of microwave shit for us) and enjoy it with a refreshing beverage as our evening snack. If there is ever a popcorn crop failure, leading to popcorn famine, I will be the first to succumb. (And who is it that decides that Jan. 19 is National Popcorn Day, anyway?)
Jan. 18, 2017
After three years, the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is being stopped. How is this even possible? In this day and age, how can a giant airplane filled with people simply disappear? When I leave the house, I have two - and sometimes three - GPS gadgets on me that could be set up to constantly report my whereabouts. Why doesn't every airplane in the world have this same capability? I don't get it.
Not surprisingly, Zuckerberg has some minions that manage his facebook page. Even Zuckerberg knows that you should not waste your own time on Facebook.
Jan. 17, 2017
Lack of security in the internet-of-things. Some of you have heard me ranting and raving about the security problems that IoT devices present, and about how we will have to keep an eye on our internet-connected doorbells and toothbrushes, lest they become conscripted into an a evil bot army and turn against us. IoT-based malware hit the big time last fall, when hackers zapped the web site of Brian Krebs with a denial-of-service attack using web cameras and other IoT crip-crap. (Krebs was targeted because he makes lots of enemies by investigating and exposing hackers.) They knocked his web site off-line for a few days. This was followed a month later by a much more massive attack that brought down big chunks of the internet for the better part of day. Now Krebs is back with follow up, exposing some of the culprits in the attacks from last fall. It is all very interesting reading. Remember: Don't turn your back on your vacuum cleaner or your toaster - they are out to get you. More seriously, this all means that those of you who want to be embedded-systems engineers must begin learning proper security measures in order to protect the systems that you will design. Regrettable, but necessary.
Jan. 16, 2017
Robert Ubell, writing in IEEE spectrum, discussed the "failure" of MOOCs (massive open online courses) offered by many universities over the last few years. He hinges his claim of failure on the low completion rates of the courses. I'm not sure that I agree with his assessment. (Many of the commenters objected strongly.) But MOOCs have definitely not yet displaced conventional university courses, as many had predicted when MOOCs were a new thing.
Jan. 15, 2017
Here is an odd historical coincidence - today is the 50th anniversary of the first Super Bowl, then known as the "AFL-NFL World Championship Game", with a much more non-descript half-time show. At that first big game, the Packers beat the Chiefs 35-10. Both teams were in the playoffs today (but not against each other) - the Packers won and the Chiefs lost. Some things never change.
Jan. 10, 2017
Contrary to everyone else, Intel says that Moore's Law is not yet dead.
Yikes! Toddlers wielding guns.
Jan. 9, 2017
Ten years of the iPhone.
- A video of the original announcement.
- A collection of initial reactions. (It's amazing how awful some people are at making predictions.)
- An interview with Apple pooh-bah Phil Schiller
- My phone at the time. Back then, I thought it was quite cool. Now it seems like the technological equivalent of dog poop.
Still confused about ground in a circuit? These authors attempt to explain. Maybe it will help your understanding. (Or not.)
Jan. 6, 2017
At the end of EE 201 last semester, we talked briefly about the War of Currents between Edison and Westinghouse in the 1880's, leading to our current AC power distribution system. Westinghouse was bankrolling the ideas put forth by Tesla. The Wikipedia article gives a fairly comprehensive description of those events.
And, if you are short on time, here is a pithier tldr-version of the face-off between Edison and Tesla. (I also liked the Einstein/Hawking, Gates/Jobs and Picasso/Bob Ross battles. And if you don't know Bob Ross, check out out some of his old PBS videos on NetFlix -- he's a hoot.)
Jan. 5, 2017
The Amazon Echo became a big deal last year. Now the fight has been joined with the appearance of the Google Home gadget. Here is a glimpse of the upcoming epic battle for dominance in the realm of kitchen bots.
Jan. 4, 2017
As things continue to unravel here in the U.S., it might be a good year (or a good four years) to get away for a while. Here are 52 suggestions for travel destinations from the NY Times. I've been to some of these places, and perhaps I will make it to a few more this year. Hopefully, you can get away for a while, too. Some fun travel certainly beats sitting at home, waiting for the next round of hilarity from our tweeter-in-chief.
Jan. 1, 2017
It's the time of year for resolutions and advice on how to improve yourself. Here are three items that I enjoyed.
- 11 ways to be a better person. I particularly like items 1, 6, and 8.
- 15 ways to be a better person. Same type of list, but from a year earlier. (You can't have too much good advice.) I like 10 and 13 thru 15 on this one.
- Thoughts on being focused and efficient from a tech entrepreneur. What he says makes sense to me. (Except for the part about fancy watches.)
Programming note to the person who claimed to actually read this crap that I post (Mitchell - are you still out there?): 2016 was a clusterf**k of a year for me. Although I collected many things that I thought were interesting or amusing, I did not post most of them. I thought that I should tend to more important matters, and I had many of those last year. This year is starting out somewhat less busy, and so I will try to be more timely about adding things to this odd little web page. However, some of those items from last year might still have some informational or entertainment value. So, every now and then, I will pull some old stuff off the heap and post it here. Thus, the timeline might seem to be a bit out of whack for while. (Somewhat like my lectures, I suppose.) We will see how it goes in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, send me an email and let me know what's up!
Dec. 21, 2016
Winter Solstice! In Ames, the solstice occurred at 4:44 a.m., and our shortest day is 9 hours and 7 minutes. In Helsinki, Finland, it was only 5 hours and 49 minutes. Flipping to the southern hemisphere, the length of the day for the summer solstice in Christchurch, New Zealand (latitude of -43.8°) is 15 hours and 26 minutes. (There just aren't that many cities at high latitudes in the southern hemisphere.)
Dec. 16, 2016
I've completed another trip around the sun - that makes about 32.8 billion miles so far. I'm starting to get tired.
Today is also the last day of the Fall 2016 semester. The end of a semester is always bittersweet - ecstasy that the thing is finally over (particularly this semester) and a bit of sadness because people that I have known and worked with for a while will be heading off to exciting new places and challenges. Most likely, I will never see them again. Sniff. But such is life.
Nov. 23, 2016
Nov. 21, 2016
Probably everyone has seen a similar video of massed flights of starlings, but I still enjoy watching every time I find a new one. It is amazing to think about how a groups of birds, each flying according a simple set of rules (essentially "stay close, but don't collide"), can create such randomly intricate and beautiful patterns. I would like to see one of these flocks IRL someday.
Nov. 20, 2016
New vocabulary word for the week. I'm not sure that we need it just yet, but given the experiment in government on which we have just embarked, it's probably a good idea to make sure that our dictionaries are properly stocked in order to describe unfolding events. Appropriately enough, the word originates in Greece, a country that knows a few things (good and bad) about democracy.
Something potentially useful came out of a hackathon. (I always thought the primary hackathon results were sleep deprivation and B.O.) Students at the Princeton hackathon last week took a stab at solving Facebook's fake news problem. They wrote a Chrome browser extension that attempts to sort out "real" news from "fake" on Facebook. Young people can be so clever sometimes. They are making it open-source, so give it a try once it's finally available. (I won't try it myself, because I don't use Facebook - I get my fake news from other sources.)
I've never grokked the need for special software plug-ins to do things that we used handle on our own. For instance, I've always thought that any person who could assemble a handful of simultaneously functioning brain cells could probably identify obviously fake news. Even "marginally fake" news can either be confirmed or identified as "probably not true" with a few extra web browser clicks. But I suppose that I am just a dinosaur in trying to apply pre-internet notions to the current world. (When we were visiting Copenhagen last summer, I saw a prominent sign that said "I miss my pre-internet brain." That really resonated with me. Of course, for anybody under the age of about 25, there is no such thing as "pre-internet".)
The evolution of a fake news
Continuing with the theme, here is a NY Times article that chronicles the rise and fall of one fake news story on Twitter. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that things like this will happen when mass quantities of knuckleheads are interconnected with no mechanisms to regulate the flow of nonsense. It almost makes one think that some training - and possibly a license - should be required to post on Twitter and Facebook. Of course, that would be un-American. One of our most cherished freedoms is the right to be totally stupid in public.
Nov. 16, 2016
-2000 lines of code. In EE 285 today, we were talking again about writing efficient code. The link is to the story of Bill Atkinson reporting his productivity in terms of how much code he removed from the Apple Lisa operating system when it was being developed. (Lisa was the precursor to the Macintosh.) The story is told by Andy Hertzfeld - also a famous Apple engineer - as part of his book "Revolution in the Valley".
Two Americas While it would not have seemed possible before-hand, the recent election has made the divisions between Americans even sharper. There are many fascinating ways to view the fracturing of the country. The NY Times has a new take on this theme, splitting the country in two according to how regions voted. The result is two countries having wildly different geographies. The Trump America consists of a vast and sparsely populated landscape, reminiscent of the steppes of central Asia. The Clinton America is an archipelago of small, densely populated islands in a vast ocean, looking a bit like the cluster of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. It's a very interesting view of our truly messed-up state-of-affairs.
Nov. 14, 2016
It's supermoon time - when the full moon coincides with lunar perigee (closest approach). The specific time for full moon occurred at 5:21 a.m. Monday morning, so Monday night is actually a bit past full moon. Even so, it should be spectacular - be sure to go outside and have look. The last time it was this close was 1948, and it won't be this close again until 2034. Here are some cool photos from various places from Sunday night.
Oct. 14, 2016
Switching classes: In EE 285, we have been discussing cellular automata (CA). (Wikipedia and a page from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). These are interesting mathematical exercises that can be used to study some aspects of computational theory, and they have some applications in modeling physical and biological systems. In 285, we are using CA to practice the use of two-dimensional arrays, and I made an example to illustrate the process of diffusion. (Diffusion pops up in in various places in semiconductor technology.) In 2002, Stephen Wolfram (Yes, that Wolfram), wrote a 1200-page book on cellular automata. Apparently, he thinks that the subject is important.
While there are are many different ways to implement the rules governing the evolution of a CA system, the classic example is the "Game of Life", introduced by John Conway. I came across this youTube interview with Conway, in which he talks about inventing the Game of Life. He comes off as a fairly odd duck, and I thought the interview was entertaining. Maybe you will, too.
Little known fact: I wrote a Game of Life program when I was learning Fortran (My God, Fortran...) as a freshman many decades ago. The class was an early version of Com Sci 207, and it is the only formal programming class that I've ever taken. The Game of Life program is the only thing I remember from the class.
Oct. 13, 2016
In EE 201, we have been discussing feedback, and the notion of more automation in airplanes generated some commentary. A while back, I read this interesting Vanity Fair article which discussed the crash of Air France 447 into the Atlantic ocean in 2009. It provides some insight into why more automation makes flying safer and what can happen when the pilots - both human and automatic - fail. The article is a bit long, but it's a good read.
Oct. 3, 2016"Artisanal" cobalt mining in the Congo
Here is an eye-opening story about cobalt mining in Africa. Take a look at what some people endure in order for us to have the raw materials for our fancy pocket computers. It might be worth a bit of thought as you wander across campus looking at cat YouTubes on your mobile gadget.
Sep. 30, 2016Black Moon
Today is the day of the foreboding Black Moon. Meaning simply that this is the second new moon of the month. Since the new moon is out when the sun is out, you will have to go out during the day to enjoy it. (Moonrise is at 6:43 a.m. and moonset is at 7:03 p.m.) While you are out to trying to see the moon somewhere in the sky near the sun, you pick up some vitamin D as a side benefit.
July 14, 2016Apollo 11 software is available on GitHub
Of course, who cares about 50-year-old assembly language programs? Far more interesting is the fact that one of the lead programmers for the moon mission - arguably one of the most important technological achievements of the 20-th century - was a little kid. (Well, she looked like a little kid.) You should read about her - Wikepedia & an interview on the Medium web site.
She is smart and was well-prepared, and happened to be in the right place at the right time. These are the ingredients for having an impact in your career. How does a young person get into a position to have such an impact? There is no guaranteed formula, but you must always be on the lookout for what ideas and technologies are new and small now, but might someday become a big thing. You want to be there at the beginning. Of course, we often didn't know that something big was beginning until well after it is on its way. Sometimes a thing that looks like it should be a big deal ends up being a big dud. It's a bit of crap shoot. The important thing is to always keep learning and keep moving.
One thing that is almost certain: You won't have much opportunity to make a big impact if you are working as a little cog inside of a big company. (Insert name of popular job destinations: John Deere, Rockwell, Microsoft, Google, IBM, TI, etc, etc, etc.)
Final sidenote: Margaret Hamilton was also the name of the actress that played the wicked witch in "The Wizard of Oz". I guess it's a good name to have if you want some notoriety.Getting hired at Google, Amazon, and Facebook
Speaking of getting a job as a small cog, Sarah Cooper offers some help in understanding why those interviews are the way they are. (Even funnier than her points is the fact that most of the commenters seemed to think that she was serious. The tech work world must be a sad and humorless place - I guess it's a good thing I don't have real tech job.) I also like her insights on "The Future of Work in 5 Charts", "2 Types of Travelers". and "Boomers vs. Millenials @ Work".
July 13, 2016What it might take to build a carbon-nanotube computer.
For you semiconductor wannabes. This a very readable overview of carbon-nanotube transistor technology and discussion of possibilities for eventually replacing silicon.
June 19, 2016
Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice, with the most daylight of the year (in the northern hemisphere). In Ames, the sun will rise at 5:39 a.m. and set at 8:53 p.m. for a total of 15 hours and 14 minutes of sunshine. (If you happened to be in Stockholm, Sweden you would get 18 hours and 37 minutes of daylight, which would be awesome.) So get up early and plan to stay up late so that you can enjoy all the beautiful sunshine. Go do something pagan!
As an added benefit, tomorrow is also the June full moon (the strawberry moon). This is a rare coincidence - the last time the summer solstice and a full moon occurred on the same day was 70 years ago. So tomorrow you can party all day with the sun gods and all night with the moon gods.
Schedule for May 2 - May 6
It's finals week, so my availability changes. Here is where I think I will be during the week.
- Monday 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. - 335 Durham
- Monday 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. - MRC
- Monday 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. - EE 201 review
- Tuesday 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. - 335 Durham
- Tuesday 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. - MRC
- Wednesday 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. - 335 Durham
- Wednesday 2:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. - 201 exam
- Thursday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. - 335 Durham
- Friday 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. - EE 436 presentations
- Friday 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. - 335 Durham
Apr. 30, 2016
Today is the centennial of Claude Shannon's birth. If you are an EE/CprE and you don't know Claude Shannon, you should. Arguably, he is as important to our business as Maxwell, Edison, Tesla, Marconi, or Shockley. Anything having to do with manipulating or transmitting digital information stems from his original work in the 1940s. (For some of you, that means everything that you do.) Also, check out these articles from IEEE Spectrum magazine. ( 1 | 2 ). The first is a reprint of 1992 profile on Shannon. The second has links to several YouTubes about him. Read these, and then get out your EE 224 text and re-learn (or learn for the first time) the meaning of the Shannon-Nyquist limit.
Shannon had quirky hobbies (juggling and unicycle riding) and enjoyed building weird gadgets, including a juggling machine, a maze-solving mechanical mouse, and a calculator that computed in Roman numerals. My favorite is the Useless Machine (which Shannon called the Ultimate Machine). Here is a YouTube that shows a version of the machine. Take a look if you have six minutes to spend being useless. I particularly like the dueling Useless Machines. I think that any enterprising EE/CprE with access to a 3-D printer and an arduino could devote themselves to uselessness and build one of these.
Finally, I liked this Khan Academy video that explains the ideas behind perfect one-pad encryption.
Apr. 29, 2016
To all you multi-taskers out there: read this article. See if you can get through the whole thing without checking your email, taking a selfie, updating your facebook profile, sending a tweet, or checking your fitbit.
Apr. 15, 2016
Happy π Day!
I haven't posted anything for a while. Below are some items of interest that have piled up on my desk over the last month:
- I am always looking for ways to cut down on the amount of crap that I waste every year. Of course, most garbage is in the
form of useless packaging of some sort. It looks like some grocery stores in Europe are
beginning to cater to consumers interested in "pre-cycling" by converting their stocks to bulk items only. Hopefully this
will catch on in the U.S. Here in Ames, Wheatsfield has a decent selection of bulk foods, but we can probably do much
- Of course, I've been following the whole "FBI vs. Apple" soap opera closely. The eventual outcome for this stand-off will
have huge implications for us nerds. I've read many, many good articles covering the details of the FBI's "request" and
Apple's reasons for refusing. It's not possible to link to all of them but here a few recent items that were informative - or
at least entertaining.
Tech writer Steven Levy has an excellent overview of how we've gotten to where we are.
John Oliver provided his usual spot-on and hilarious take on the whole ordeal.
Apple isn't the only company in the FBI's cross-hairs. Now the Feds will be squaring off with Facebook regarding the end-to-end encryption of their WhatsApp messenging service. Eventually, the fight will spread to every tech company, and the FBI is doomed to fail.
- While a Trump presidency is still a long shot, his odds keep looking better all the time. It is probably a good idea to
make contingency plans. Here is a list of places where one might sit out the almost-certain debacle if a Trump administration came to pass. (I
like the looks of 3, 5, and 9, myself.) If graduate school is in your future, you might consider this option, which would allow you to kill two birds with one stone.
- Raymond Tomlinson, inventer of email passed away. Imgaine how different our world would be if he had chosen to use "#" instead of "@" in email addresses. We may never have had to put up with Twitter.
Feb. 2, 2016
Feb. 1, 2016
A couple of engineers build a gadget that solves Rubik's Cube in one second. Maybe not the most socially redeeming activity, but it's fun to watch.
Jan. 30, 2016
Jan. 28, 2016
shuttle Challenger explodes - Jan. 28, 1986. (
Wiki | YouTube)
Like most Americans over the age of 40, I can remember exactly what I was doing when the shuttle blew up. We were living in California while I was going to graduate school. I was eating breakfast and watching the launch live on the morning news. (Having a teacher on board made the mission interesting enough to warrant live coverage.) It was shocking.
Jan. 26, 2016
Marvin Minsky has died. He was a legendary MIT computer science professor and pioneering researcher in artificial intelligence.
Jan. 24, 2016
Some trippy optical illusions. A couple of these may even make you woozy - no alcohol needed.
Jan. 23, 2016
Five little planets, all in a row. The five "naked-eye" planets will be lined up in the pre-dawn sky for next month. It is a cool celestial show that happens every now and then. Go outside and have a look if you are willing to get up a bit early. (Or if you are staying extra late.)
Jan. 22, 2016
Larry Page. An interesting profile of Google's (er - Alphabet's) head honcho.
Jan. 21, 2016
Encryption and privacy. We put significant trust in huge corporations to help us keep our personal information safe. Some do a better job than others. Here are two articles about companies that are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of how they treat our private data: Apple and ATT. Unfortunately, most companies hew closer to the ATT approach.
Jan. 20, 2016
A possible ninth planet? At this point, the evidence is based on simulations, but they are looking for it with telescopes.
Jan. 19, 2016
Glenn Frey has died. (obit, wiki)
Wow, they are dropping like flies. The Eagles were far and away my favorite band as I was growing up. "One of these nights" is still one of my all-time favorite songs. I owned most of Eagles early albums - in vinyl no less. There will be more nostalgic listening today...
Jan. 18, 2016
"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jan. 16, 2016
More David Bowie.
I came across this twitterpic of Bowie. I was amused by the notion of Ziggy Stardust tromping around New York City in cargo pants and a ball cap (and a bit of an attitude). Apparently Bowie, the music icon, was able to lead a very under-the-radar life for his last 20 years.
Jan. 15, 2016
Robert X. Cringely predicts that the Internet of Things will become a security nightmare. Well, duh. That's hardly a prediction. If we attach 50 more gadgets to our home WiFi systems - and 48 of them will probably have really crappy software - it will be open season for hackers. Breaking into a system through an internet-connected doorbell will be child's play for a professional. The Internet of Things may already be dead.
Note: I have read Cringley for years. He has always been an entertaining source of information, analysis, and speculation about the high-tech industry. His recent disdain for IBM as a company is scathing. I still enjoy reading some of his columns from years past. Any budding entrepreneur would benefit from reading the chapter on high-tech startups from his book Accidental Empires, originally written 1991 and (somewhat) revised in 2013. Although the companies discussed in the book are now old, the description of how start-ups get off the ground and evolve is still relevant. Unfortunately, it seems like Cringely is slowing down a bit. His columns don't appear as frequently and aren't quite as sharp as they used to be. He is an older guy with young kids - maybe he is worn out.
Jan. 14, 2016
Course evaluations for fall semester came back this week. (Which is weird, because it used to take months to get these things back.) Anyway, it is always a hoot to read some of the comments - although it helps to have thick skin. (I have very thick skin.) My favorite comment regarding EE 230:
I would hate the class much more if i didn't have such a good teacher.
Hilarious! An excellent back-handed compliment. Essentially: "Tuttle's class sucks less".
Jan. 12, 2016
New vocabulary word for the day: uveitis (a.k.a. iritis). Here's a short definition: If you have it, your eye is really f**ked up.
Jan. 11, 2016
Jan. 1, 2016
James W. Nilsson (1924 - 2015).
Longtime ISU EE professor and author of the best-selling text Electric Circuits. Also, he was my professor for EE 206 (a progenitor to EE 201). His explanations were crystal clear and his diagrams drawn on the blackboard were true works of art.
Benedict Evans: 16 mobile theses .
Note in particular item 12, in which he talks about the coming ubiquity of "internet-of-things" devices.