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 that humans, anyway — I've never heard of pig 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
Protest 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 story
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 better.
- 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
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
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
Space 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,
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.