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Month: January 2019

Fologram and building what was previously difficult

Fologram and building what was previously difficult

Nothing is going to be the same – not even the most menial jobs. The pace of change of what is coming, and what is happening today, is beyond even our wildest dreams.

Not even construction jobs will be the same. Such as this example of building a complex wave-like wall structure in less than a day with perfect placement of each brick.

Fologram Talks: Holographic Brickwork from Fologram on Vimeo.

Fologram combines computer-aided design with the holographic capabilities of Microsoft’s HoloLens headset to help in assembling even complex objects. The hologram can overlay exactly where each piece of the build should go, as well as an outline of the finished product.

Autonomous tractors, harvestors, and even weeding robots – the end of farming as we know it?

Autonomous tractors, harvestors, and even weeding robots – the end of farming as we know it?

While autonomous cars are getting all the press, there is an even more disruptive side to this technology that is likely far easier and will likely come sooner. Fully autonomous farming.

What about a robot that can patrol fields and kill weeds with pinpoint precision. This would use massively less herbicides. Alternative forms could be developed that fertilize or analyze individual plants or patches of a field for particular problems.

But the really big guns come out below. What if you could replace field work completely and do it all from the comfort of your air conditioned office chair at home?

These are almost certainly going to become realities – probably in our lifetime.

Update 6/14:

The above video was broken, but 1:39 shows the AI vision guided laser/spray weeding.

Backdoor Roth IRA

Backdoor Roth IRA

Getting your backdoor Roth IRA right is very tricky. If done incorrectly, you can find yourself owing a ton of money and more than negating the value of contributions.

Here’s the best/most correct covering of the topic:

Here is a higher-level discussion:

Also look here for much more in-depth information:

Kubrick’s inspiration for 2001

Kubrick’s inspiration for 2001

Kubrick is hailed as a genius, but as Isaac Newton said in 1675, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

In 1960, the National Film Board of Canada produced a film that followed the work of Ontario astronomer Donald MacRae. Universe introduced us to the planets and neighboring heavenly bodies as understood even before John Glenn’s first orbital flight.

Kubrick saw the film and was inspired to do a space movie, which became 2001: A Space Odyssey. He even used the narrator of the documentary, Douglas Rain, as the voice of HAL 9000. 

Give it a watch and see almost shot-for-shot where Kubrick got his camera ideas, pacing, and tone.

Augmented driving – Wayray

Augmented driving – Wayray

At CES, Wayray demonstrated a car mockup loaded with an augmented reality display.
It’s funny, I have a memo to myself from 2014 for almost exactly this idea. Guess I should have jumped on the idea. 🙂

Sentry mode – your car is always watching

Sentry mode – your car is always watching

The end of scuff-n-run parking lot door dings? Car prowling a thing of the past?

Elon Musk says Tesla is working on a “sentry mode” security feature that could let owners record damage and break-ins. The announcement came in response to a customer’s tweet complaining of a dent to his Model 3 and suggesting a “360 dash cam feature while parked.” 

Tesla introduced 360-degree surround camera views for cars with Hardware 2.5 as part of its October software update. The feature lets owners capture dash cam recordings from the car’s front-facing camera, which can be saved to a flash drive that plugs into the vehicle’s USB port. Pressing an icon saves a 10 minute clip, while holding it down pauses recording. The update also taps in to all eight cameras on every Model S, X and 3 to create a surround view of nearby cars

It also raises the probability of unintented side effects. Cars, in our lifetime, will almost certainly become fully autonomous, always wirelessly connected to national networks, and have 360 cameras/sensor packages/etc.

This has really interesting implications for privacy, crime, and social contracts. It’s highly probable that when any kind of crime or incident occurs, there will now be a whole host of cars that will have recorded what happened from every angle. By using this footage, it would be possible to re-trace suspect paths back for possibly hours if not days/weeks.

For example, the Boston bombers could have easily been identified by watching feeds back until they planted the bomb in the trash bin. Then it might be trivial to follow them back, block by block, looking at the footage of every car they passed until they arrive at their home. You might even be able to follow them back for the weeks leading up to the crime – identifyng every store and person they met with. A complete, airtight case might be created – all without a detective leaving his office seat. Spousal cheaters would be turned in by their car. Lawyers might subpeona cloud services for video proof of a suspect/client’s whereabouts during events. Don’t even get me started about surveillance by fully autonomous cars that can follow you wherever you go and trade off every few blocks with other cars so you don’t even know they’re following you.

It also means everything you do next to a street will likely be recorded from many sources – including ones that pass you by and then are gone. All of which likely is immediately uploaded to the cloud and has only the security of those systems to prevent anyone from using that information for whatever purposes they choose. With data breaches becoming a regular occurrence, it’s something that should make us all give pause.

Historically rendered 3D maps by Scott Reinhard

Historically rendered 3D maps by Scott Reinhard

I absolutely love maps and visualizations. I’m always on the lookout for cool new creations.

Scott Reinhard combines contemporary land elevations with historic maps to create three-dimensional environments of a specific region, city, or state. To produce the digital maps, he pulls elevation data from the United States Geological Survey, which he then embeds with location information and merges with the original design of the old maps.

Reinhard was introduced to the methods he uses in his digital maps through Daniel Huffman’s website Something About Maps. You can see more of Reinhard’s digital works on Instagram and buy select high-quality prints, on his website. Check out his Shaded Relief in Blender tutorial (thanks to Dunstan Orchard and Anton van Tetering) or DesignBoom.

Grand Tetons 1899
1903 Acadia
1904 Glacier

Attaching 5.25″ floppies via USB

Attaching 5.25″ floppies via USB

Floppy disks are a relic of the past these days. You can still see the odd 3.5″ floppy – and there are even still companies making 3.5″ USB drives you can plug into your system today. But 5.25″ floppy drives (360k and 1.2 meg variety) are much more scarce. So scarce, in fact, that you’re likely not to find any outside of an old vintage computer. Most modern PC’s since the Pentium don’t even have connectors, interfaces that support them, and I know of no vendors that make USB 5.25″ drives.

So what is one to do if they have old 5.25″ floppies they need to read? Turns out others have had the same problem – so you’re not alone.

Here’s some options:

  1. Find a service that will convert them – Usually for a fee around $5-$25 per disk.
  2. Buy an old vintage Intel pre-Core based computer from eBay that has a working 5.25″ drive.
    This means a 486 or lower computer. Almost all plug-in floppy controllers require a PC who’s motherboard has an ISA interface (not PCI). You must also be careful because older 8-bit ISA floppy controllers (from the XT/AT era) often will NOT work in faster 386/486/Pentium ISA interfaces (even though they are supposed too).
  3. Use a flux-style reader. These allow you to attach a 5.25″ drive to a controller board which then connects to your USB port. The big limitation is that you cannot interact with the disks via DOS or command line options. Instead, you need to read/write whole disk images or operate at the sector level. These readers do this by reading flux data. While this is more complicated, it is the method that archivists are using to backup disks. Reading flux data gives you the ability to read/write disks from almost any platform and in any format – even copy protected disks.
    1. GreaseWeasle V4 [NEW 2022]
      Interfaces with 8″, 5 1/4″, and 3 1/2″ drives. Amazingly, it only costs $31 CAD and seems to get as good reviews as the Kryoflux. Definitely one of the cheapest options on this list. Since it extracts the raw flux transitions from the drive, any diskette format can be captured and analyzed – PC, Amiga, Amstrad, PDP-11, many older electronic musical instruments, and industrial equipment. The Greaseweazle also supports writing to floppy disks. The design is fully open and comes with no license encumberment.
      [UPDATE 10-2022] I just bought one of these and could not be happier. It’s pretty sweet!
    2. Kryoflux
      The Holy Grail of floppy readers, but not cheap at 105€. It is able to read all formats, save as a raw stream, or export to common sector formats like the Acorn Electron, Apple, Amstrad CPC, Archimedes, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, BBC, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, MSX, IBM PC, PC-8801, Sam Coupe, Spectrum, E-MU Emulator & Emulator II, DEC RX01 & RX02 and many others.
    3. Device Side Data’s FC5025
      USB 5.25″ floppy controller plugs into any computer’s USB port and enables you to attach a 5.25″ floppy drive. Even if your computer has no built-in floppy controller, the FC5025 lets you read those old disks. It also understands formats used by Apple, Atari, Commodore, TI, and others.
    4. Supercard Pro
      I don’t know very much about this one, but here’s a review and this page which contains a lot of useful information.
    5. DREM
      DREM is a MFM/RLL hard drive emulator that can read raw dumps of a hard drive. It also allows you to read floppies. More here.
  4. ISA on modern PC’s

Cables/Adapters for connecting 3.5/5.25/8″ floppy drives to your PC:

  • CablesOnline
    CablesOnline has a good selection of universal floppy cables for a very reasonable price.
  • Dbit
    The DBit FDADAP board is a small adapter which adapts 8″ floppy disk drives (Shugart SA800 style bus) to work with the PC 3.5″/5.25″ floppy disk cable pinout. It has 34- and 50-pin connectors which can be connected to the PC floppy controller and the 8″ disk drive using simple straight-through ribbon cables (not included), and a 3.5″ style power connector for the on-board microcontroller

Dead/Discontinued controllers

  • Catweasel
    Discontinued PCI board for connecting to floppies. Like other solutions, it doesn’t make drives show up as a drive letter – but rather lets you read raw formats for all sorts of platforms.

Other resources/discussions:

Crossing the Sahara in the 14th century

Crossing the Sahara in the 14th century

I have been fascinated with early stories of people trying to climb mountains, have early adventures through vast foreign lands, or cross the great unknown and deserted barrens.

Yet no stretch of land is so isolated, bare, and desolate as the Sahara desert. It’s hard for us to imagine the realities of traveling during the early centuries of modern civilization, but fortunately we have some documents from those periods. Some of which have been summarized and collected in a book called ‘The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages‘, by Francois-Xavier Fauvelle.

First off, there were your guides. You had to travel in groups for safety from bandits and injury. Guides at the journey’s port cities had to be purchased to lead you across the desert. Deserts they knew fairly well because when not guiding, they might be the very raiders that would kill you on a different trip. They were often a shady lot that had little patience for the unprepared.

While today’s travelers complain about $4 bottles of water at the airport, the water situation was different for earlier Saharan travelers:

Then there was the problem of water. It would be even better to say the problem of thirst, your constant companion during the crossing. All travelers, all geographers say the same thing: the water is sometimes “fetid and lethal” and, Yaqut al-Hamawi humorously reckons, “has none of the qualities of water other than being liquid.” Such a beverage inevitably generates intestinal pains that make life difficult and sour the memory of the trans-Saharan experience. In good years, when there had been plenty of rain, water filled the rocky gullies, and people could drink and do laundry. In bad years, the burning wind dried out the water in the goatskins; consequently, a camel’s throat had to be cut and its stomach removed. The water it contained was drawn off into a sump and drunk with a straw. In the worst-case scenario, one could kill an addax antelope and follow a similar procedure to extract greenish water from its entrails.

We complain about uncomfortable airline seats for 8 hours while crossing the ocean at 30,000ft. Earlier travelers endured countless days/weeks of far worse inconveniences.

And then there were the small, but numerous and in the end obnoxious, daily inconveniences: the omnipresent fleas, which you would try to drive away by wearing cords soaked in mercury around your neck; the numerous flies everywhere there was a rotting carcass (i.e., precisely around the wells and the camps); and the snakes.

And then there was the ever present danger of dozing off, lack of attention during a stop, or just getting turning around in the maze of dunes to realizing you were separated and probably lost in the desert to die.

The caravan tempers these harsh conditions with strict discipline; it diminishes them through distractions. You will put distance between yourself and the column only at your own risk, the Berber leader must have said. Those who paid for the crossing would amuse themselves hunting addax, letting their dogs run free, and riding a bit ahead of the caravan to let their horses graze and to enjoy the invigorating wait. But the games, the intemperance of the city-dwellers, could cost them dearly. Even though caravans could be made up of hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of camels, one could quickly lose sight of them behind a curtain of dunes. A few centuries later, on the same stretch of desert, but from the opposite direction, a caravan of pilgrims lost two of its members in a row and yet noticed only a day and a night after they disappeared. Nobody dared go back to look for them for fear of being lost themselves. The author of the story concludes philosophically: “But our conscience was clear because we had warned them of the risks they were running by not abiding by the rules of the caravan.”