Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Technology Gateway Video

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

First the disclaimers: While I do work for NASA, I do not speak for them.  They employ me for my professional capabilities and on occasion my professional opinion. Nothing I say should ever be construed as anything other than my personal opinion. As a NASA employee I am allowed and often times encouraged to say what I think. This and the exceptional people I get to work with every day are what make NASA great and a great place to work.

I wish to respond to a number of things that have popped up on the web in the past few days and weeks. I do this here because I can control the message. Every issue has at least two sides but, only the writer gets to decide how to present them. I do not plan to make discussion of my work on this site a habit and I do not plan to allow any comments to this post. It is unlikely that any email on this topic sent to me will generate a reply. Undoubtedly, bits and pieces of this will be taken out of context and used to support claims and opinions which I myself do not hold.  Such is the nature of the Wild West Web (WWW).   All I can ever hope to do is to maintain the original content and context.  In my opinion, reputable sites will link back to this original content and others will not.

As you have likely already noted, a non-technical video on a patent application for a new technology was made public on a NASA website this past week. It is part of the overall innovation disclosure process.  It is just one of the ways NASA communicates with the public about what we do. As mandated by Executive Order, every civil servant is required to disclose an innovation or invention which may be a of value/benefit.  Google “NASA technology reporting” if you wish to read the executive order and how NASA has implemented it. If a patent application is filed, a video may be produced to inform the general public of the nature of the invention or innovation.  It may be a non-technical piece that communicates what this invention is about and why people might care.  Such is the case of the recent video on Surface Plasmon Polaritons.

As for what people are trying to read into this video, specifically my use of the word “demonstrated”, it is my professional opinion that the production of excess energy has been demonstrated when the results of the last 20+ years of experimentation are evaluated. There has been a lot of work done in the past 20+ years. When considered in aggregate I believe excess power has been demonstrated. I did not say, reliable, useful, commercially viable, or controllable.  If any of those other terms were applicable I would have used them instead. If anything, it is the lack of a single clear demonstration of reliable, useful, and controllable production of excess power that has held LENR research back. As a non-technical piece aimed at the general public, my limited media training has taught me that less information/detail is generally better than more. I did not produce or direct the video. While I saw the video before it was released, I did not learn of it’s release until the email started pouring in Thursday morning.

There have been many attempts to twist the release of this video into NASA’s support for LENR or as proof that Rossi’s e-cat really works. Many extraordinary claims have been made in 2010. In my scientific opinion, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I find a distinct absence of the latter. So let me be very clear here. While I personally find sufficient demonstration that LENR effects warrant further investigation, I remain skeptical. Furthermore, I am unaware of any clear and convincing demonstrations of any viable commercial device producing useful amounts of net energy.

So what does extraordinary evidence look like? As a trained scientist, I have been taught the historical standards for acceptance of experimental results or theories. Experiments and theories go hand-in-hand in what is known as the scientific method.  Both must be independently tested, replicated, or verified.  As a minimum, experimental results must be replicated by an objective and independent party. The nature of the test or replication needs to adhere to the spirit of the original experiment but, should be under the full design, implementation, and control of the independent tester. So, if a device is claimed to be capable of producing excess heat by nature of its operation (i.e., the consumption of fuel via a nuclear process), it must be operated properly. The way power input and power output are measured should be left up to the independent tester. This is standard scientific practice. What would take this to the next level (extraordinary evidence) would be to have the test be an open public test. The nature of the test and specific approach to executing the test should be made public. The conduct of the test should be open to additional 3rd party experts. And finally, the data should be publicly released. Further peer review of all aspects of the independent test is a must. Community consensus is the ultimate goal. Every attempted demonstration of a LENR device that I am aware of has failed to meet one or more of these criteria.

There is one last point I wish to cover. It has been claimed that I no longer give proper credit to Widom and Larsen for their theory. I disagree with that opinion. When I talk to my family, friends, or neighbors about some of my work. I do not cite Widom-Larsen Theory or any of their papers. There would be little point in doing so. Who the intended audience is must determine what you say and how you present the information. If a technically competent person comes across a non-technical presentation they should recognize it as such.  To expect that every form of communication is exactly what you need or want it to be is unrealistic.  The fact that Widom-Larsen Theory (WLT) was not explicitly mentioned in the video fit the intended audience. It is not an indication that I no longer believe WLT is likely the correct explanation behind LENR. I have been consistent in my professional briefings to indicate that I find WLT is likely correct. It appears in every briefing where I have had the time to include it and where the briefing was intended to be technical. I’ll point to my last public technical briefing at NASA GRC as evidence of this. I will continue to do so until such time that WLT has been demonstrated to be flawed. Quite frankly I am baffled that WLT is not receiving more wide spread attention. Applications of the theory appear to go far beyond LENR. The fact that I did not mention WLT in the Aviation Week article was a mistake on my part. It was a technical article to a technical audience. I communicated my regrets on that omission directly to Lewis Larsen and am quite willing to admit that error publicly – mea culpa.

Another forced Quicken upgrade

Friday, March 5th, 2010

I have used Quicken to keep track of my finances for a very long time. A few years ago, my 2004 version of Quicken stopped working – sort of. It would not download information from my on-line accounts such as Discover. That was my first experience with Intuit’s new flawed business model of forcing the user to upgrade. I quickly tried a number of Quicken alternatives, but none of them either imported my Quicken data or supported all of my on-line accounts. Rather than buy the latest version, then 2008, I shopped around and found a vendor dumping his old stock of Quicken 2007 for $10. I vowed at that time never to be forced into an upgrade again.

Termination of services notice from Quicken

Termination of services notice from Quicken

Fast forward to early 2010. Quicken notifies me that my current version, 2007, will no longer work after late April. Again, they have decided that they need more money and have arbitrarily decided to stop routing my requests for transactions and account info to the on-line institutions I do business with. It is not like the program is broken. Intuit is simply deciding to extort money from me. However, this time it wont work. Anticipating this, I started looking for options back in December and found a couple of worthy candidates. I want to move all of this off of my lone remaining windows machine and onto my Mac, so I searched for Quicken replacements that worked on OS X. I found iBank and MoneyDance. At that time, the general consensus was that iBank had some support issues and that MoneyDance worked very well. Apparently the folks who created MoneyDance got sick of Quicken’s tactics as well and prominently state that they will never force you to upgrade. They have reasonable cost and licensing terms. What has changed in the last several years is the fact that most on-line institutions now support an open protocol to request and exchange financial data, OFX. All of the work that Quicken did years ago has now been opened up to anyone who wants to write this type of software.

So, I installed MoneyDance and gave it a try. The trial version is fully functional, but is limited to 1000 new transactions. I was able to import all of my Quicken data files and only one type of transaction posed any problem. It created a few duplicate transactions for a specific and rarely used type of transaction in my brokerage accounts and were easy to find and correct – simply delete one of the duplicates. So now that I’m being extorted again, I will be buying MoneyDance and leaving Quicken forever.

It is not like they were not warned either. Last fall I received a survey from Quicken. It was one designed to gauge my willingness to purchase different versions of Quicken (Basic, Deluxe, …) at different price points, with different features, or in combination with other Intuit software as a package deal. Near the very end, I was able to provide them with verbal feedback and basically told them that I did not expect my current version to be disabled by Intuit and coerced into upgrading. I told them that if that happened again, that I would switch to another product. After the survey was completed they did give me a $5 credit with Amazon.com which I could use any way I chose to – so the cost of my $10 Quicken 2007 was now down to $5.

So, I’m keeping my word and Intuit is losing another Quicken customer.  Not that it hurts them since they were not going to be getting anymore money out of me anyway. MoneyDance runs on many operating systems, not just OS X since it is a Java app. Now if we can only do the same thing to the computer operating systems and hardware manufacturers who periodically force us into a similar upgrade cycle.  The world really cannot afford to be so wasteful by effectively throwing away perfectly functional SW/HW simply because some company needs to boost their sales.

iPad = IveReconsidered

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I just watched the iPad announcement video. I’m willing to give new ideas a fair hearing and have come to realize that the iPad is not about the hardware as much as it is about the software and the experience. I do not know what I’m going to do, but I think I am beginning to understand what the revolutionary aspects of this device are. My expectation was that that this was going to be a tablet PC. I was wrong. Instead it is something completely different.

The iPad does not need to be a Netbook or Tablet PC.  Those things run traditional software to do traditional things.  The iPad really is completely different.  I do not need an SDHC slot or a bunch of USB connectivity.  Widescreen would still be nice, but most work apps look just fine with 4:3 formatting.  I do not know of a 16:9 projector I can use at work!  The early adopters are going to show the rest of the world just what the magic of this device really is.

iPad = iFail

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

I’ll be brief. I expected a lot more from Apple. This iPad thing needed to have a real USB port, A real SDHC slot, Multitasking, and something other than AT&T for connectivity. I do not care about flash – the way it is deployed on the web, it is basically evil (HTML5 had potential, but was neutered in committee). If the iPad is hacked, I may buy one, but as it is it should have been named the iMad (Ed Mauldin), the iDisappoint (multiple sources), or the imNotSureIWantOne (JMZ).

iCanWaitUntilTheyGetItRight.

Finally switched to Windows 7

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

I know I’m late to the party, but I’m not a Windows fan boy and usually wait for some of the early bugs to get worked out and some real reviews to be written. Most everything I’ve read indicates that Windows 7 is much better than Vista and almost as good as XP. XP was without a doubt Micro$ofts best OS. Vista sucks wind and should never have been released  – I guess you still have to feed the shareholders something on a regular basis.

My target system is a Sager NP9850 “notebook”. I call it a notebook with some hesitation since it is a 12 pound transportable computer with an 18″ screen, 3 hard drives, and a battery lifetime of about an hour. I needed a fast windows computer for my image processing tasks and this was it. I ordered Vista 64-bit home premium with a Windows 7 upgrade coupon when I ordered the Sager. I installed Vista on the terabyte RAID and managed to get just about everything working. I had to work with a few vendors to get 64-bit versions of some of my astronomy software before I could retire my old Dell m500 laptop. My impression of Vista is that it was a slower, more poorly supported version of XP with a heaping handful of annoyances added just to prove to the windows users that Micro$oft has them all by the neck with nothing they can do about it. Certainly anything would be better than Vista.

So, I decided to wait until my year end vacation time to switch to 7. I really do hate to upgrade something that basically just works. I’ve found that upgrading almost always triggers an upgrade cycle somewhere else and the total end cost cannot be predicted in advance. It is not just MS products that do this. My switch to Snow Leopard ultimately cost me a scanner and a printer. The Windows 7 install went well, not very fast, but without a lot of baby sitting. It warned me that a few things might not work until their drivers were upgraded or software patched. One of those was my Intel wireless card which I use as my primary network connection. It turns out that everything worked anyway. After the install I did the obligatory first Windows Update followed by an update to the update. I went to the Sager site and downloaded all of the new drivers and installed them as well. All but one worked. I did notice one funny thing. I had FireFox on my Vista system. The windows 7 upgrade process, somehow failed to notice that FireFox was installed and it did not show up anywhere convenient. It was not found under the “All Programs” on the Start Menu. Hmm, what an odd oversight (certainly an intentional act on the part of MS).

Let’s talk about that Start Button. It is different, very different from what you have ever seen on a MS OS. Continuing the trend that MS started with Vista, you cannot change much of the way the Start menu works or how it looks. You can unpin what is there and pin programs and folders, but the folders you add are simple links – not expandable folders. There is no way to switch to a “Classic” Start Menu – although there are third party programs that add a second start button/menu as well as allow you to delete the original one. Naturally MS reorganized just about everything on the start menu. It took me a while to find the tools I was looking for. Along the way I did notice a few things that MS did indeed improve upon. Most of these fall in the category of system tools/administration/configuration. They made it very easy to control what things start at boot. While very nice, the price paid by all of the other senseless changes to the start menu is simply too high. I ended up constructing my own start menu tree for programs I use organized the way I want them to be and put it in the My Documents folder. At least there it is readily accessed and is a fully spring loaded hierarchical expanding tree – just like it is supposed to be.

I upgraded from a Vista install where I had switched everything I could over to a Classic appearance. That caused some other interesting problems. After installing 7 I had this Library folder on my desktop. I like a clean desktop and this folder was essentially a useless redundant way to access my Documents, Pictures, Music, and Videos. The problem was that I could not delete it. Oh joy! Fortunately Google really is your friend and a couple of deleted registry keys later it was gone. It seems to be a result of a sloppy installer script that was not thoroughly tested on real world system configurations. Apparently MS thinks we all love their GUI decisions and never deviate from the path they have chosen.

Windows 7 is the first version I’ve used that seems to play nice with other systems when it comes to networking – at least to a point. I easily joined my existing home network of Apple systems running Snow Leopard. It even found my time capsule I use for backups. Wow, impressive! MS finally realizes the value of diversity in the world. One of my first tasks was to move 100GB of AVIs from the Sager to the 2TB external drive on my primary Mac. I popped open two explorers and dragged a folder over (move not copy). It happily told me that the 33GB I had selected would take 20 hours to move! After the first 2.4GB AVI was copied it updated that estimate to 4 hours – OK that is better. It then informed me that there was a problem in copying the next large AVI. I hit try again several times to no avail and had to skip. It copied the next one just fine, but had the same problem on the one that followed. Moving files around on the network is one of the most fundamental processes you can think of. Why can’t MS make even this simple task robust? After several tries with the same result, I am now moving things over via USB thumb drives. Fortunately I have a 16GB stick.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on the other things I’ve found during my brief exposure to Windows 7. The trend of giving the user less and less control over their system continues. Change for change sake abounds with little practical gain in the end user experience. Windows 7 is certainly a step up from Vista – but anything would be. If I had drivers for all of the new hardware in the Sager, I’d switch to XP immediately.

Jailbreaking the iPod Touch

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

I Jailbroke my iPod Touch yesterday and wanted to pass along some observations of the rationale, process, and results. I’ve had my iPod Touch for a couple of months now. I waited quite some time for a 64GB version to come out since that was the capacity I needed. Otherwise I would have bought one of the early models long ago. While waiting for a 64GB model, I kept up to date on both the technology and the culture surrounding it. Jailbreaking is something I have watched mature into a simple 5 second process following a simple download.

For those not familiar with the term Jailbreak, it is a process that opens up the iPod Touch or iPhone and allows the user to install software from sources other than Apple’s iTunes Store. While there really is “an App for that” for just about anything you can think of there are certain things that Apple does not want you to do with YOUR iPod. My interests in Jailbreaking are an equal mix of curiosity, entitlement, and necessity. I wanted to experience the process of Jaibreaking and explore the innards of the iPod Touch OS. I wanted to do this because I could even though Apple probably did not want me to do so. I also needed to fix at least one problem I encountered with an App I bought (GeoDefense Swarm – a great game BTW).

Custom Background and Digital Battery Charge (Click for full size image)

Custom Background and Digital Battery Charge (Click for full size image)

A quick Google search reveals that the latest version of the OS (3.1.2) can be Jailbroken. A program called BlackRain, available for both OS X and Windows, is easily found, downloaded, and run. The actual Jailbreak takes about 5 seconds. After downloading the program, you plug in your iPod Touch or iPhone, upgrade to v3.1.2 of the OS if you have not already done so, shutdown iTunes, and run BlackRain. During the process, iTunes will probably try to convince you to restore the OS on your iPhone. If/when presented with what appears to be a requirement to Restore your Touch/iPhone – Do Not! Rerun BlackRain instead. Afterward, the device usually reboots on its own. If the device does not reboot, you will have to reboot it manually. Once you get to the point that the Touch reconnects to iTunes without iTunes requesting a restore, you are pretty much home free.

Custom Unlock Screen

Custom Unlock Screen

If all goes well after the device the reboots, you will have a new App on the SpringBoard called BlackRain. You need to run the BlackRain App once to select and install an App Loader, I chose Cydia. With Cydia you can search for, download, and install all sorts of Apps. I wanted to customize the look of my Touch, so I installed WinterBoard. With WinterBoard I was able to set a background for the SpringBoard, make the Status and Task bars transparent, and change some fonts. You can also download a Theme from a large set of user developed themes, or create your own. I like Pandora, but want to do other things while listening to a stream of music, so I installed Backgrounder. Backgrounder allows the user to switch a running program to run in background. It is essentially an App that lets you run multiple Apps simultaneously. Apple only allows a few of their Apps to run in background, mail, safari, and a few others. Memory is limited on these devices, so this is probably not a bad idea. Only one App can be in the foreground, so you certainly need a way to switch between running Apps. mQuickDo does that and more. It is also an useful App that speeds up access to your most frequently used programs. Using gestures, mQuickDo allows you to manage the running Apps as well as provide a way to access apps more easily. It even allows the user to put a short list of 5 Apps on the unlock screen so you can unlock the screen and go directly to one of your most frequently used Apps with a single tap.

GeoDefense Swarm Screenshot

GeoDefense Swarm Screenshot

I wanted to snoop around the device, so I installed Open SSH, changed the default password for root, and can now mount the iPod Touch filesystem on my Mac with MacFuse/MacFusion. I was most interested in trying to fix a “problem” with one of my Apps – GeoDefense Swarm (GDS). This is a great Tower Defense game. The only problem is that the author has decided to irreversibly link the game to Open Feint (OF). OF is a site that keeps track of your high scores for the various levels, shares that information with your friends, and a few other things. I had no idea what OF was when I first bought GDS and so I activated it. Since I really do not have any friends who play a lot of games and would be interested in this sort of social interaction, I have no use for OF. The problem is that once activated there is no way to turn it off. During the game it will try to connect to OF after completing each level or when you switch between Easy, Medium, & Hard. It breaks the flow of the game for me. The real problem for most folks is that if they are using an iPhone, GDS connecting to OF will cost them something each time. This is especially bad if you are out of the country where the cost of cell phone networking often is extremely expensive. Basically, the author needs to put an ON/OFF switch for OF in the game, but has yet to do so (and may never do so). In my attempts to fix the problem I deleted the App from the Touch and iTunes, bought it again (Apple is good about keeping track of what you have already purchased, so this did not actually cost me anything the second time), and reinstalled it. OF was still turned on and had all of my account info. I suspected that there was some cruft left over in the file system that deleting the App did not clean up. It turns out I was correct. Mounting the file system on my Mac and browsing around was enlightening. I found the GDS directory and a GDS-specific .plist file. I browsed that file with the Property List Editor and saw that most of the contents dealt with OF. I also saw that all of my level achievements and high scores were stored in separate files. So I deleted the .plist file and restarted the GDS game. The first screen I was presented with asked if I wanted to use Open Feint – just like when I originally purchased the game! They really try to cram this OF stuff down your throat and there is a little button at the bottom of the screen that allows you to decline the use of OF. Everything else in the game was just the way I left it. Problem Solved.

For me Jailbreaking gives me more control over those things (devices and apps) that I have purchased. Things I believe I have a right to control in more ways than the OS allows by default. Artificial limitations on my access to and use of something I own is intolerable to me. Those walls simply must be brought down. Jailbreaking my iPod Touch does just that.

LED Lamps

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Two styles of LED lamp

I’ve been searching for some LED lamps to test since I have been less than impressed by the very short lifetime of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs). The CFLs do not last anywhere near the claimed 5,000, 8,000, or 10,000 hours. I think they might last that long if I turned them on and never turned them off, but that is not exactly my home lifestyle. So, I’ve been watching and waiting for some Suitable LED lamps to test. That day arrived when my wife said she was sick and tired of those CFLs in the kitchen that took 30+ seconds to get bright first thing in the morning. The problem was bad enough that I had switched one CFL back to an incandescent bulb months ago. When you want/need light you pretty much need it now. So I went to LEDtronics.com and bought a couple of R30 and PAR30 lamps.

I bought two completely different styles. One used five high power dimmable LEDs with a narrower 25 degree beam width and a 3000K color temperature. The other uses many lower power LEDs to produce a 5500K beam with a width of 40 degrees and could not to be used with a dimmer. I planned to use the latter in the kitchen where the distance between the lamp and the counter top was about 5′. The high power lamps are going in the ceiling of my family room 16′ above the floor. I selected the specific lamps based on their total lumen of output and their candle rating (includes the effect of varying beam width). My goal was to select a lamp that appeared to result in the same candle rating of the incandescent lamps I was replacing.

LED lamps are very intense, but not all that bright. These lamps in particular have clear lenses and produce a very direct light. The 40 degree spots did not work in the kitchen. We wanted a more diffuse light there. They do, however, work very well in the bedroom and the bath over the spa where they provide a delightful ambiance. Before I installed the high power spots in the ceiling fixtures I ran a quick test by putting them in a work light fixture. They produced a nice bright spot that was easily visible during the brightest part of the day on a wall 25′ away. I have since installed them and am very happy with the intensity of the light when I’m sitting at the computer underneath one of them and very pleased with way the light looks from across the room. It gives the room a completely different look. I’m planning to get two more for the other pair of corners in the family room.

I have to give these a thumbs up so long as they last their predicted lifetimes. The nature of the illumination is quite different from either incandescent or CFLs, so you should not expect that they will perform exactly the same way. In the right situation they perform better. In the wrong one, they can be worse. Given their current cost it will be an expensive experiment.

Snow Leopard: First Impressions

Friday, August 28th, 2009

I bought the 5-license upgrade to Snow Leopard and it arrived today. I installed it on two systems (one more to go). The install goes pretty quickly and mine took just over 45 minutes each. On one system I did not install Rosetta. When I tried to start an Office 2004 app, which requires Rosetta, the system told me it needed Rosetta and asked if it should go and find a copy to install. I said OK and it was done in about 4 minutes. On the second system, my main home system which has all of my email, I use Mail. After the install, I was informed that I needed to convert my old Mail account to work with the new Mail app. Again, I said OK, but this time things didn’t go perfectly. Mail fumbled the hand-off of my account settings, specifically the settings for the outgoing SMTP authentication. I had to edit the settings so Mail would use a username and password. Not hard to fix if you know where to find the controls, but I do not understand why Apple missed such a fundamental setting. Other than that, Snow Leopard saved at least 7.5GB of disk space. Unfortunately, only Parallels version 4 works with Snow Leopard. iStat menus also does not work. Those are the only two things I have found that do not work with Snow Leopard.

Alternate Launch Abort System

Saturday, July 11th, 2009
MLAS Video (click to view)

MLAS Video (click to view)

I know this was just a test to demonstrate a proof of concept for an alternate launch abort system for Constellation, but it does seem to be quite complex and rather impractical given all of the excess mass of the system. Nevertheless, it worked amazingly well and will hopefully contribute to the overall safety of NASA’s new vehicle. It was tinkered together in a very short time. Some folks have great jobs!

SSD for MSI Wind

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Just a quick note on replacing the 7200RPM HD in my Wind with an OCZ SSD. Again the backup/restore using Acronis True Image Home 2009 went quickly and flawlessly. Formatting the 120GB SSD with NTFS took 140 seconds. Boot time of the Wind using a fast Scorpion drive took exactly 30 seconds, 10 of which were spent while the BIOS did its thing. Booting with the OCZ Vertex SSD took 23 seconds. When I first booted with the SSD, I thought something horrible had gone wrong. The fan came on and then the entire system went completely silent. Nary a peep nor hum. Only when the login screen appeared moments later did I realize that this total silence was now normal. Very nice.