Author: Ethan Banks

Episode 072 – Understanding High Dynamic Range Video

We’re going to talk about potential uses for that spare Mac mini you have sitting around, how much I hate to love my new phone, solar roof sales are…through the roof (deal with it), Intel and AMD’s new CPU architectures, converting 80 years of film to HDR, I’m not a millionaire, two deathwatch discussions, Today I Learned and more!

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Episode 70 – The Internet Can’t Be Neutral

Today on the menu we’ve got: Net neutrality, Macrophage heart-throbs, Cassini’s crash and burn (for science), is EV market interest really as high as full size pickups?, renewable energy is more appealing in the long term than fossil fuels, CIL, TIL and other complete nonsense.

Net Neutrality

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  • The Internet is not one thing. It’s an interconnected group of networks that meet at peering points.
  • Connections between service providers as well as between service providers and content providers (web companies) are negotiated. In other words, it’s not as simple as plugging in and now it works, yay! What sort of traffic goes through a peering connection at what rates, etc. is something determined when the connection is set up.
    • Google, for example, sets up connections to bring their services closer to the people using them.
    • Those links aren’t there to be used simply as transit links to carry a bunch of other Internet services, although technically they could be. They are there as a part of GOOGLE’s network.
    • One of the things you learn as a network engineer using the BGP routing protocol is how to manipulate what traffic flows through which links under what circumstances. How traffic flows across a network is highly controllable and is manipulated by policy.
  • The bandwidth you buy is a theoretical maximum. A peak delivery service. Networks cannot deliver to every endpoint at their maximum contracted rate at the same time. The Internet backbone won’t handle it.
    • Bandwidth caps.
    • Unlimited usage that is still metered and is constrained after you use a certain amount.
  • “Over the top” providers use the Internet to deliver their content to you. Video streaming services are using huge percentages. I couldn’t find recent percentages, but back in 2013, Netflix alone was consuming about one third of downstream bandwidth. That’s 4 years ago.
    • Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation, SlingTV, YouTube & YouTubeTV.
    • Streaming options increasingly available from traditional channels.
    • But also think about the big web companies. Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc…these are also folks keenly interested in net neutrality.
    • No one wants to pay extra to deliver their content to you, no matter how much bandwidth it takes to do it.
  • Net neutrality is tied into these problems.
  • Many of the Internet network providers have their own content they’d like to prioritize.
  • Or…they feel they should have the right to charge Netflix extra to make sure that Netflix traffic makes it across their network.
  • This isn’t simply a money grab, in that it costs real money to engineer networks to carry all this traffic, and then keep up with demand that never slows down.
    • Building out networks is a very expensive part of being a service provider.
    • If you followed the networking industry, you’d notice a massive trend towards the commoditization of network hardware and software.
    • Also a trend towards simplifying operations.
    • All about driving down costs when massive amounts of bandwidth are required.
  • The question we’re left with is this. Does it make sense for the FCC to be regulating the Internet? If so, in what way? This is actually a complex problem, no easy answers.
    • Ultimately, we want to use the Internet in the way we want to use it.
    • And so far…that’s not been a policy problem as much as it’s been an engineering problem.
    • And hey. I watched HD streaming video on 5Mbps hotel wifi up in the sticks of even more rural New Hampshire than I already live. I don’t think the world is coming to an end anytime soon. There’s a good case to be made that we leave the government out of it until we know there’s a good reason for it to step in.

Immune Cells Helping Heartbeat Regularity

  • Macrophages are critical immune system cells
    • In the late 1800s they were known to defend against pathogens
    • As far as I could find, not much else was known about them beyond that point until 2011
    • 2011: A team of researchers found that macrophages were directly involved in the regulation of thermogenesis in adipose tissue – a.k.a. controlling fat burning.
    • Also 2011: Another team found that macrophages are involved in synaptic pruning, which we discussed a bit in Episode 61 (REM Sleep Pruning Dendritic Spines)
    • In 2016 it was determined that “on-demand erythrocyte disposal and iron recycling requires transient macrophages in the liver.”
  • A new apparent discovery is that they’re critical to the correct electrical delivery to the Atrial Ventricular system (AV)
    • They help deliver electrical signals required for synchronous heart contractions and assist in “recharging” of the cells between beats, allowing the cells to take up charge more readily.
    • So how do we know?
      • Genetically engineered mice, of course!
        • These mice lacked the correct number of macrophages.
        • The experienced irregular heartbeats which would cause pacemakers to be considered in human patients exhibiting the same symptoms.
    • This may lead to advances in the understanding of atrial fibrillation and arrhythmia conditions
    • I’ve heard of folks being told by their doctors “It’s not serious. Some people just have this happen, there’s not much we can do about it.” – this may change that.

Cassini Flying Very Close To Saturn

  • Cassini spacecraft traveled between gas giant Saturn and its innermost rings.
  • Within 3,000km of the Saturn’s uppermost clouds.
  • Within 300km of the innermost edge of Saturn’s ring system. At least, the part that we can see. There was some concern that Cassini wouldn’t survive because no ship has ever flown there before.
  • NASA predicted that if there was something in this zone, it would be the size of smoke particles. Cassini is traveling at 124,000kph, so even tiny particles could damage the vessel.
  • To reduce the risk of particles disabling Cassini, NASA oriented the ship so that the communications dish was aiming directly ahead, acting as a shield.
  • Cassini was out of touch for 20 hours, since the dish wasn’t aimed towards Earth while it was acting as a shield. NASA had to sit and wait while the antenna aimed away, Cassini flew through the zone, and then aimed the dish back.
  • Cassini’s mission is almost done. “Cassini loops Saturn approximately once per week, making a total of 22 dives between the rings and the planet. Data from this first dive will help engineers understand if and how they will need to protect the spacecraft on its future ring-plane crossings. The spacecraft is on a trajectory that will eventually plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere — and end Cassini’s mission — on Sept. 15, 2017.”

Market interest: Full size pickup vs EV.

  • A recent survey from AAA (American Automobile Association) found that interest in electric vehicles amongst consumers in the US now rivals that of full-size pickup trucks.
  • The findings seem a little bit… off, to be honest.
  • 15% of respondents said they were interested in EVs with 16% saying Full sized pickups were their bread and butter.
  • Millennials were higher, with 20% stating they were interested in an EV for their next vehicle.
  • Battle of perception:
    • 69% of respondents said there aren’t enough charging stations
    • 68% said that they were concerned they wouldn’t have enough range to reach their destination
    • Chevy has the Bolt with >230mi range and Tesla’s Model III will have similar range soon(ish)
    • Here is where range-extended EVs can shine. We discuss.
    • There’s also a perception of EVs being slow or boring.
    • Ethan, do you feel that my car is slow or boring?
    • I argue that it really is just a perception issue.

Renewables Trending Cheaper In The Long Term, But It’s Complicated

  • Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) – dividing the cost of an installation by the kilowatt-hours produced over the life of the plant.
    • Looking towards 2022, the most expensive energy sources based on LCOE are…
    • Solar thermal plants at $184.40 per MWh
    • Offshore wind at $145.90 per MWh
    • Coal plants with 30 percent carbon removal capability at $140 per MWh
    • Coal plants with 90 percent carbon removal at $123.20 per MWh
  • For 2022, the least expensive based on LCOE are…
    • Geothermal: $43.30 per MWh
    • Onshore wind: $52.20 per MWh
    • Advanced combined-cycle natural gas-burning plants: $56.50 per MWh
    • Solar PV: $66.80 per MWh
  • For 2022, advanced nuclear is in the middle based on LCOE.
    • Advanced nuclear plants: $99.1 per MWh
  • Levelized Avoided Cost of Energy (LACE) – help make more informed decisions considering aspects of power generation like cost of energy sources being replaced, the fact that solar only operates during the day, or wind energy production varies throughout the year.
    • LCOE isn’t a perfect way to compare the true cost of a plant.
    • LCOE doesn’t compare the cost of these “new” kilowatt-hours with the cost of the “old” kilowatt-hours that the new ones are replacing.
    • “If a resource is displacing power that’s more expensive to run when that first resource would run, that will be reflected in a LACE analysis.”
  • The Energy Information Administration (EIA) writes that the “net difference between LACE and LCOE provides a reasonable point of comparison of first-order economic competitiveness among a wider variety of technologies than is possible using either LCOE or LACE tables individually.”
  • The trend is that as the avoided costs approach levelized costs, the economics make more and more sense.
  • Based on that metric, the 2022 losers are…
    • Coal with 30 percent carbon removal:  -81.3
    • Offshore wind: -88.1
    • Solar thermal: -114.5
  • The only obvious 2022 winner…
    • Geothermal: LACE-LCOE difference of 21.9.
  • The rest are on the fence, served up with a heaping helping of “it depends.”
    • Advanced combined cycle natural gas plants: LACE – LCOE  of 1.7, range between -4.2 and 9.
    • Onshore wind: 1. Range is larger, between -17.4 and 20.9.
    • Solar PV: -2. Range is quite wide, though, between -42.5 and 21.4. In some regions, solar PV will make sense, but in others it will not.
  • A wise green muppet once said, “Always in motion is the future.” That’s especially true here. These predictions are impacted by tax credits and economies of scale. Thus, what really settles in 2022 is a tough call. But it does indeed look promising for certain kinds of renewables. And if you think about it, that seems inevitable. The cost of non-renewables eventually has to go up due to the cost of the fuel. We’ll use it all up at some point.

Content I Like

Nerd shirts

  • Cheap, original designs catering to nerdy folks.
  • Thousands of choices.
  • Wear your odd interests on your chest.
  • Science, gaming, tech, books, puns, offbeat humor, movies.

Steam Calculator – “Get disappointed in your life.”

Enter your steam ID (or that of another person with a public profile) and see all kinds of relevant (or not so relevant) stats about the account in question.

Today I Learned

Vernal pools. “Vernal pools, also called vernal ponds or ephemeral pools, are temporary pools of water that provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals. They are considered to be a distinctive type of wetland usually devoid of fish, and thus allow the safe development of natal amphibian and insect species unable to withstand competition or predation by fish.”

Bog butter. “Bog butter is usually found earthenware pots, wooden containers, animal skins, or wrapped in bark and takes on a pungent, cheesy odor. Looking at over 274 instances of bog butter from the Iron Age to medieval times, Earwood concluded that early Celtic people probably sunk the butter in the bog simply to preserve it or protect from thieves. The cool, low-oxygen, high acid environment of the bog made a perfect natural refrigerator. Seeing as butter was a valuable commodity and was used to pay taxes, saving it for times of drought, famine, or war would have been a good idea.”


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Episode 69 – Retro Computing Special With Paul Hagstrom

Welcome to the Citizens of Tech podcast. Today, we have a special for you. Departing from our normal format, we take a look back at tech of the past with this feature show on retro computing.

Our guest is Paul Hagstrom. Paul, if you would, please introduce yourself to the audience.


  1. Let’s define “retro computing.”
  2. Is there a generally accepted line where it’s no longer retro? As in, 486 is retro, but Pentium class is not, or some such arbitrary distinguisher?
  3. Does vintage silicon from the 80’s still function in the present day?
  4. Finding parts for your retro computer of old.
  5. Old media – floppy disks, cassettes, cartridges. Can you still read these things? All part of the experience.
    1. Preservation.
    2. Jason Scott: (“Floppy Disks: It’s Too Late”)
    3. (“Please help us track down Apple II collections”)
    4. 4am collection:
    5. Kyroflux:
    6. SuperCardPro:
  6. Emulators. Go.
    1. MAME/MESS:
    2. Mini vMac: (68K Mac)
    3. VICE emulator: (Commodore)
    4. AppleWin: (Apple II, Windows)
    5. Virtual II: (Apple II, macOS)
    6. Altirra: (Atari 8-bit, Windows)
    7. Stella: (Atari 2600)
    8. And many many others.
  7. On the retro computing scene, what are the rare, coveted devices that collectors speak of in hushed tones, hoping to get their hands on?
  8. Niches. Are there retro computing specialties people get into? Like…video cards. Or keyboards.
  9. We live in a world today of incredible computing power and retina screens that make the computing scene of 30+ years ago seem almost comical. And yet…there was much productivity to be had. What, surprisingly, is still really useful from the retro computing age?

Getting involved in the retro computing scene


  1. Retrocomputing Roundtable:
  2. Floppy Days:
  3. Retrobits:
  4. History of Personal Computing:
  5. Apple II: Open Apple:
  6. Apple III: Drop III Inches:
  7. Atari 8-bit: ANTIC:
  8. Commodore: Chicken Lips Radio:
  9. TRS-80: TRS-80 Trash Talk:
  10. CoCo: Coco Crew:
  11. Infocom: Eaten By a Grue:


  1. Vintage Computer Festivals, see: 2017 dates.
    1. VCF East (New Jersey, was Mar 31-Apr 2 )
    2. VCF Southeast (Georgia, Apr 29-30)
    3. VCF West (California, Aug 5-6)
    4. VCF Midwest (Chicago, likely September)
    5. VCF Europa (Munich, Apr 29-May 1).
  2. KansasFest: July “18”-23 in Kansas City, MO (Apple II centric)
  3. 26th annual last Chicago CoCoFest: (Chicago, was Apr 22-23)
  4. Retrochallenge:


  1. Terry Stewart (Tezza)’s Classic Computing channel:
  2. Assembly Lines video podcast (Chris Torrence), Apple II focused:
  3. How II video podcast (Charles Mangin), Apple II focused:


  1. VCF forum:
  2. AtariAge:
  3. Applefritter:  
  4. Lemon 64 forum:
  5. ClassicCmp mailing list:
  6. Comp.sys.whatever, I check in on comp.sys.apple2 with some regularity.


There are a million groups, here are a few:

  1. Apple II Enthusiasts:
  2. Vintage Computer Club:
  3. Commodore 64/128:
  4. TI 99ers: software library, top level:


Thanks for listening to Citizens of Tech today. You can follow us on Twitter @citizensoftech, and be sure to visit the /r/citizensoftech sub on Reddit. We post the most interesting stories we find there, and if you upvote them, we’ll talk about them on a future podcast.

Things you want to tell us? Want to share your retro computing story? Did you steal a nuclear football and have to brag about it to someone? Email us –

Episode 68 – Should Automakers Use Android Auto + Apple CarPlay Only?


Welcome to the Citizens of Tech podcast, a dalliance designed to disturb your dutiful day with a delightful distraction. Go to to distinguish the dudes deftly dominating the discourse today.

Eric, what details do we dangle before our devotees in this delivery?

Today on the show we have In-Car Edu-navi-tainment, The USA’s conspicuous lack of space travel, Microsoft Murdering Another of Ethan’s Beloved Apps, Credit cards with your fingerprints stored inside, Uber are a bunch of jerks, CIL and TIL!

Apple CarPlay & Android Auto As An Alternative To Proprietary Head Units

  • My personal CarPlay experience.
    • Had the system for several months.
    • Been through several upgrades.
    • The good.
      • When it works, it’s great.
    • The bad.
      • When it doesn’t work, the main value prop – not interacting with your phone while driving your car – is negated.
    • Audio apps do not consistently work, period.
      • NPR One is a crapshoot. Sometimes, it never gets to a place where you can see the audio stream choices and select something.
      • Spotify is completely unpredictable. It will launch on the phone, but not play in the car. It will think it’s streaming to a remote Spotify system (I have a Gramofon in my office) even though I’m down the road and there’s no wifi, etc. The solution is to use Spotify on the phone itself to get it to play through the car–and then it’s fine.
      • Overcast seems to work okay for the most part.
    • Apple Maps is the best in-car nav I’ve ever used.
      • Usually, I launch it with Siri. “Route me to X destination,” and it happens.
      • Night mode was finally fixed in 10.3, so that the screen is suitably darkened at night.
      • Real-time traffic and re-routing available. It feels like the future.
      • If you fall out of tower range, you start seeing unpopulated grid tiles. You need data. No offline option with Apple Maps that I know of, and Google Maps isn’t an option (yet?).
    • With unlimited data, using live streaming apps, like SomaFM, become a reality. No fear of overusing your data allowance.
    • I like the interface. The iOS 10.3 update to CarPlay added icons in the upper left that allow for fast switching between audio and NAV – a small thing, but very useful.
    • Siri mostly works. Overall, best voice recognition I’ve had, although it’s still wonky at times.
    • I don’t make calls with it, not that I can’t, just not part of my normal comms flow.
    • Text messaging works great, and I use this often.
    • Apps you can use are still strictly limited. For instance, I can’t use Slack messaging via CarPlay, and don’t expect I’ll ever be able to.
  • Should car manufacturers switch to CarPlay and Android Auto and dump their proprietary head unit NAV interfaces?
    • I would.
  • Does it make sense to start moving to the phone as an option for ALL auto system interfaces?
    • This is actually plausible. Plug the car into the phone, and use an app on the phone to control HVAC, etc.
    • Also a viable bridge to the data available via OBD-II. Why not?
    • Use the app on the phone to maintain a database of what’s going on with the car, and use the cloud + big data munging to predict service intervals, diagnose mechanical problems, anticipate failures.
    • Imagine a repair ecosystem where you have a CEL on, or other known malady, and having local garages sending you bids on the work. Or being on a trip, and finding repair shops that can handle the situation for you.
      • Of course…there is presumably some desire for manufacturers to keep repairs within the dealer garages, so perhaps some resistance to this idea?
      • Although, as I understand it, service departments operate as their own business entities. It’s not like the dealer, the service department, and the manufacturer are one big company. They aren’t.
      • So…maybe?

The US Hasn’t Put An Astronaut In Space Since July 21, 2011

  • “This gap has now surpassed the previous longest US spaceflight gap—2,089 days—which occurred between the end of the Apollo program and the first space shuttle mission.”
  • The US puts astronauts in space via Russia’s program to get them to the ISS.
  • This is due largely to underfunding of NASA by US Congress during the Bush and Obama administrations.
  • The big idea is for commercial space flight, though. Been the plan right along. And that’s coming, but just taking a while. SpaceX and Boeing should be able to send humans into space in early 2019. Sierra Nevada Corp and Blue Origin are other possible players.
  • Once the commercial solution is in play, the expectation is that NASA will never be grounded again.

Microsoft Killing Wunderlist for To-Do

  • Ethan is sad and scared.
  • Without gushing too much, Wunderlist has been amazing.
    • Fantastic cross-platform support.
      • iOS support for both iPad and iPhone (iPhone apps running on iPad are awful).
      • Landscape mode on iPad.
      • macOS support.
    • Instantaneous replication of events.
    • Integration with Slack.
  • To-Do is in preview now. TL;DR. It’s not complete yet. Definitely not feature parity with Wunderlist.
    • Wants your Microsoft account.
    • Import available from Wunderlist and Todoist.
    • Clean look, somewhat reminiscent of Wunderlist.
    • No grouping of lists into folder.
    • No subtasks. Subtasks and notes all imported as notes.
    • Attachments are lost in the import completely.
    • You do get recurring events.
    • No assigned tasks to other people.
    • New “My Day” feature. You can add manually whatever you want.
    • New setting of themes per list.
    • Software license terms don’t fit on the iOS screen without manually dragging the oversized document around.
    • No API that came up in Google. Not listed as an integration option in IFTTT. There is with Wunderlist.

Credit Cards With Fingerprint Readers

  • Mastercard proposal.
  • No battery power required, no thicker than regular cards.
  • Power drawn from terminal, and the terminal doesn’t have to be anything new.
  • But…not as sexy as Apple Pay. You have to go to a bank to get your fingerprint read and programmed into the chip on the card.
  • Yes, the fingerprint data is encrypted, but you have to give that data over to the bank to begin with. Not with Apple Pay.
  • TouchID’s mathematical representation of your fingerprint is stored in the Secure Enclave, on the phone, not in iCloud or anywhere else.
  • So, will fingerprint reading cards become more popular than Apple Pay? Doesn’t seem likely.
  • Is there enough of a market gap where people don’t have TouchID capable phones and outlets that don’t support Apple Pay PLUS people who really want fingerprint authentication for purchases that this tech is going to take off?

Privacy Watch

Uber and iOS Fingerprinting

  • Uber was, at some point in the past, fingerprinting iOS devices as a way to track users.
  • This is against Apple app store policies, so Uber went out of their way to make sure Apple didn’t discover the code.
  • They geofenced Cupertino Apple HQ. (!)
  • The point here is to be aware of what apps can do to track you and your behavior. On iOS, you can disable location services for apps that don’t need it, or set location data to only be available when the app is running.

Content I Like

Oddly Satisfying Subreddit

  • Aimed at OCD people.
  • Indeed, much of what I find there IS oddly satisfying.

Today I Learned

IMAX projectors are bright, really, really bright.

Light from the 15,000-watt lamp in an IMAX® projector is so bright that if it were on the moon we could see it from earth with the naked eye.

If a large log were held in front of the light beam from the projector, it would spontaneously combust.

Programming recursion.

A programming function that calls itself to iterate through a problem or computation. I ran into it where a recursive function was used to generate a set of objects that matched a hierarchical model. Each object would match a leaf node in the hierarchical model. I don’t claim to completely get recursion as yet, but I’m fascinated by the concept.


Episode 67 – Garmin Goes After A Patent Troll

Welcome to the Citizens of Tech podcast, show 67. We’re of the nerdy sort. Essentially, we’re IT geeks who plaintively pontificate on perturbations about our passions requiring power. That’s right – tech! Because tech devices need electricity. See what we did there?

Eric, what have we got today?

Solar power, a new EV from Honda, Patent trolls, How Many FPS can the human eye actually see?, Haiku, Nintendo, Content I Like, and Today I Learned.

Solar power hits economies of scale.

  • “In 2002, the International Energy Agency forecast suggested that, by 2020, global solar capacity would still be hovering at around 10GW and still barely register on the global energy markets.”
  • But we’ve done way better than that. The revised forecast is for 400GW by 2020, and even that might be too conservative.
  • The issue about growth is now a money problem. Investment money has got us to this point, but it will take more to ramp up manufacturing volume and to do more research into new solar tech.
  • IF more money comes in, that could result in more efficient and more durable (longer lasting) panels made at a higher volume, which would drive down the cost per megawatt hour of solar overall.
  • So, at the moment, we’re at a spot where solar is still pricey and spiky. Batteries would help with that, though…but again, pricey. However, “by 2030, projections of battery tech and costs, combined with their projections for solar power, would leave solar + batteries competitive with current coal prices.”
  • Grid-aware infrastructure could also help stabilize demand and reduce spikes, making renewables with battery storage a more reasonable supply option as time goes on. For instance, “being able to set your washing machine to start its run once electricity prices drop below a set point, to over-cooling or heating buildings overnight, allowing them to use less power the next day.”

Honda’s Half-Hearted Hybrid Hopes

  • Honda is finally joining the Plug-in Hybrid scene
  • “The Honda Clarity is aimed at accelerating the deployment of advanced electrified powertrain technology and bringing electrified vehicles further into the mainstream. The Clarity series also heralds the advancement of our Honda Electrification Initiative, representing our investment in the full spectrum of electric-vehicle technologies.”
  • Range, range, range
    • 1.5 Litre 4 cylinder range extender engine
    • Total range of 330Mi / 530km
    • That’s just not enough for a $35,000 car, is it?
    • The Honda Clarity is a PHEV with 42 miles (~67 km) of EV range
    • The all EV version is good for around 80mi / 130km
  • Oddly enough the PHEV version of it sounded similar enough in specs to my Volt that I did some digging, and sure enough, GM and Honda recently entered a business arrangement to work together to, according to, “expand the companies’ collaborative efforts beyond fuel cell vehicles to include plug-in hybrids/EREVs.”
  • 105 MPGe – which is slightly behind the Volt, but it is a larger car.

Patent trolling as a business model runs into the Garmin legal machine.

  • Leigh Rothschild has a patent holding company called Rothschild Connected Devices Innovations LLC (RCDI).
  • At least some of his patents are non-specific. Essentially, he creates a patent out of an idea and generic diagram. Nothing specific enough to merit patent treatment.
  • RCDI initiated a lawsuit against Garmin, citing his “customized mixed beverages” patent.
  • Early settlement offer of $75K. Keep it out of court by paying a fee that’s small to Garmin, big to RCDI if enough people would go for it.
  • Garmin didn’t go for it, instead pointing out that his generic patent is in violation of Section 101 of US Patent Law, which means you have to be specific.
  • Drop the lawsuit, or Garmin would file a motion that the patent be invalidated.
  • Garmin isn’t done. They are going after RCDI for legal fees, and questioning company residency, as there is some confusion about where the company, patents, business owner, and legal address are, a mix of Florida and Texas addresses. A technicality, but legally enforceable one.
  • “One of the two patents asserted against Garmin was featured in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Stupid Patent of the Month” series, in which EFF lawyer Daniel Nazer noted that the patent amounted to nothing more than an “Internet drink mixer.” In its lawsuit against Garmin, RCDI says that Garmin activity trackers like the Vivoactive device infringe its claims on a “personalized consumer product.” RCDI has used the same patent to sue Toshiba (PDF), seeking a royalty over the remote operation of cameras. It also sued Sharp (PDF) for sending scanned documents to a mobile device.”
  • This guy is a clown that should be stopped. Making money from bogus patents stifles innovation. I hope Garmin has some success here.

And now, a nerd haiku.

Vlad The Tech Support

  • Working the nightshift
    No calls, no sun, no people.
    Vampire tech support.

Content I Like

Zelda on Nintendo Switch

  • Is the game all that? The one that is going to drive sales of the Switch?Eric, proud Switch owner, tells all.
  • Related. How stupid is Nintendo for cancelling the NES Classic in North America?

Content I Hope To Like

MST3K Reboot On Netflix

  • Kickstarter raised millions.
  • Netflix picked it up.
  • Big names tied to it. Patton Oswalt, Felicia Day. Wil Wheaton shows up.
  • Not 100% the same if you’re used to the old format, but pretty close.
  • I don’t get Netflix, but I’m thinking about getting it for a month so I can binge.

Today I Learned

The setup–high refresh rate TVs and the “soap opera” effect. Now to the question. How many frames per second can the human eye actually perceive?

10 to 12 images per second look like individual images. Higher than this looks like motion. But the human eye is analog. It doesn’t perceive in FPS. The question is really, ”At what point does is the human eye no longer able to see a difference in increased frame rate?” And anecdotally, that answer is somewhere between 60 and 120 FPS.

Lake Nyos disaster

“The Lake Nyos disaster occurred on 21 August 1986, when a limnic eruption at Lake Nyos, in northwestern Cameroon, produced a large cloud of carbon dioxide (CO2), which descended onto nearby villages, killing 1,746 people and 3,500 livestock.

The eruption triggered the sudden release of about 100,000–300,000 tons[1] (some sources state as much as 1.6 million tons) of CO2. This gas cloud rose at nearly 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph) andspilled over the northern lip of the lake. It then rushed down two valleys, branching off to the north, displacing all the air and suffocating people and livestock within 25 kilometres (16 mi) of the lake.[4]

A degassing system has since been installed at the lake, with the aim of reducing the concentration of CO2 in deep waters and therefore the risk of further eruptions.

It is not known what triggered the catastrophic outgassing. Most geologists suspect a landslide, but some believe that a small volcanic eruption may have occurred on the bed of the lake. A third possibility is that cool rainwater falling on one side of the lake triggered the overturn. Others still believe there was a small earthquake, but as witnesses did not report feeling any tremors on the morning of the disaster, this hypothesis is unlikely. Whatever the cause, the event resulted in the supersaturated deep water rapidly mixing with the upper layers of the lake, where the reduced pressure allowed the stored CO2 to effervesce out of solution.[citation needed]

It is believed that about 1.2 cubic kilometres (0.29 cu mi) of gas was released.[6] The normally blue waters of the lake turned a deep red after the outgassing, due to iron-rich water from the deep rising to the surface and being oxidised by the air. The level of the lake dropped by about a meter and trees near the lake were knocked down.”

Scientists Running For Office – Episode 66

Citizens of Tech episode 66 proves that, like Schrodinger’s cat, we can be both here and gone at the same time. Now that Eric and I have found compatible calendar space, we have cleverly cornered in canny cohesion the craftiest conversation starters we could connect with.

So Sutphen, slap down the stories we’re subjecting our citizens to today…

I was into typing before it was cool!

  • Retro styled bluetooth keyboard for your phone / tablet / other bluetooth type-y-tappy device.
  • Form over function? Probably, to some extent.
  • However you control the hipster-factor with configurations and options
  • Cherry switches
  • Diamond keycap – 3 years of R&D to enhance typing accuracy and comfort despite typing angle / technique.
  • Chrome keycaps – Full retro – mode. Look really cool. Probably terrible to type on if you’re doing more than light wordsmithery.
  • Macro Bar
    • Flip it up and start pecking at the keys
    • Return to “normal” position when you’re done recording
    • Tap it down to execute order 66… I mean, execute the macro you just recorded.
  • Bluetooth 4.2 – enabling low power mode – 6 months of idle time on 2 AA batteries
  • Pair with up to 5 devices
  • Windows / Android / Mac / iOS / Linux (pretty much anything that supports bluetooth
    • Switchable key layout for Win / iOS
    • Switchable key layout for US, UK, FR, DE
  • Hipster pouch (additional purchase)

GPS isn’t accurate enough for self-driving cars. NEED MOAR HD MAPZ.

  • GPS accuracy is a math problem. You need more numbers for the most accurate calculation. Terrain can get in the way, reducing GPS accuracy. Think hills, valleys, cityscapes.
  • And even then…
  • Autonomous vehicles deserve better.
  • “Fully aware of this need, car makers like BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Ford have been voting with their wallets. They’re investing in companies like Here and Civil Maps that are building the platforms and gathering the data required. The end result will be a high-definition 3D map of our road networks—and everything within a few meters of them—that’s constantly updated by vehicles as they drive along.”
  • Better maps starts with 96 megapixel camera arrays, plus a 32-beam LIDAR array to provide a 3D scan of the road .
  • Aiming for 2020 use.
  • 2 way information. Data comes from the scans, but cars have cameras and sensors that will be used to update the database in real-time. Machine learning (so called) to make sense of it all and apply it back to the maps.
  • nVidia GPUs will be powering the ML algorithms.

Fight the sySTEM

  • The article leads off talking about Tracy Van Houten, a Systems Engineer at NASA JPL
  • She’s been with NASA for 13 years and has worked on the Mars Curiosity Rover among other amazing projects.
  • She’s looking at walking away from her dream job to try to push anti-intellectualism out of Washington
  • She’s looking at running for 34th Congressional District of California, but she’s one of over 20 considering a run for it, so the campaign will be tough.
  • That’s really where the article heads, because it talks about how Tracy is not alone, there has been an upswing in the number of highly educated, STEM employed folks looking at getting into the political world; and how they have no idea how to run a campaign.
  • Enter – the 314 is a reference to… 3.14 – The short version of Pi.
    • “We are members of the STEM Community, grassroots supporters, and political activists committed to bring innovation to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, aggressively advocate for real solutions to climate change and elect more STEM-trained candidates to public office.”
    • Under The Scope: Our mission is to put members of Congress who are anti-science under the scope. By scrutinizing their actions and voting record that go against the facts and data, we will bring attention to practices and policies that are decidedly anti-science. It is no longer the time to sit idly by as partisan motives are promoted in direct opposition to leading scientific consensus on topics such as climate change, clean energy and evolution. 314 Action is committed to holding these members accountable for their actions and their votes.
    • They’re offering support and training for STEM folks in running a campaign for local and national offices.

Privacy Watch

Your Internet data can’t be bundled up and sold.

  • Popular notion lately that ISP’s can sell off your Internet usage to anyone that wants it. Not how that works.
  • There are many ways to track browsing behavior. For example, cookies.
  • But it is somewhat difficult to tie that behavior to a specific individual, especially for an ISP.
    • NAT, CG-NAT (less prevalent over time with IPv6, especially mobile/LTE networks)
    • As you move from place to place, you’re hiding behind a different IP.
    • Limited ability to store data.
    • Encryption.
  • We’re not saying impossible. But we are saying that there is no database in your ISP’s data center when they can say, “Susan Smith surfed these sites for this long and clicked on these things. And then she logged in at her bank. And then…”
  • So what’s really going on?
    • “When ISPs or online services have your data and “sell” it, it doesn’t mean that you can go to, say, AT&T and offer to buy “all of Louis Gohmert’s browsing history.” Instead, what happens is that these companies collect that data for themselves and then sell targeting. That is, when Gohmert goes to visit his favorite publication, that website will cast out to various marketplaces for bids on what ads to show. Thanks to information tracking, it may throw up some demographic and interest data to the marketplace. So, it may say that it has a page being viewed by a male from Texas, who was recently visiting webpages about boardgames and cow farming (to randomly choose some items). Then, from that marketplace, some advertisers’ computerized algorithms will more or less say “well, I’m selling boardgames about cows in Texas, and therefore, this person’s attention is worth 1/10th of a penny more to me than some other company that’s selling boardgames about moose.” And then the webpage will display the ad about cow boardgames. All this happens in a split second, before the page has fully loaded.
    • At no point does the ad exchange or any of the advertisers know that this is “Louis Gohmert, Congressional Rep.” Nor do they get any other info. They just know that if they are willing to spend the required amount to get the ad shown via the marketplace bidding mechanism, it will show up in front of someone who is somewhat more likely to be interested in the content.
    • That’s it.”
  • I will totally VPN all the things.
    • ORLY? That will not help. Just moves your piece to a different part of the board.
    • Obfuscate you personally a little more? Not with cookies.
    • Just means your browsing happens on someone else’s network that can do the same sort of tracking your local ISP was doing.
    • Only now, your performance is slower.
    • And maybe your VPN provider, where your traffic is de-encrypted, isn’t trustworth.
  • Use Ghostery that can help with some of the tracking, if you’re that paranoid.
    • Note that some sites just won’t work if you do. So if they are important sites to you, you might need to “trust” them in Ghostery.

Content I Like

Ghost In The Shell (2017 live action movie)

  • Been years since I saw the anime. Remember largely as this big impression it left on my brain with the word “awesome.”
  • The movie was good. It was not awesome.
  • The complex issues of robot sentience and related morality concerns were mostly not addressed.
  • The cyberpunk/online aspect was desperately underplayed.
  • The visuals were utterly stunning.
  • It was not endless, mind-numbing action.
  • It was not too long.
  • Surprisingly PG-13.

Into The Mind

  • “Sherpas Cinema creates a brain-melting, genre-blurring film that combines next-level skiing and riding with a story about the constant struggle between risk and reward. With this stunning cinematography, freeriding has never looked better.”

Today I Learned

TIL that there is a scientific measurement for the ‘risk of death’ of any action: the micromort. If an activity is rated as one micromort, you would have a one in a million chance of dying while doing it. Running a marathon is ~7 micromorts, sky diving 10, and climbing Mount Everest 40,000!

According to Wikipedia, “Vantablack is a substance made of vertically aligned carbon nanotube arrays and is the blackest artificial substance known, absorbing up to 99.965% of radiation in the visible spectrum.”

Episode 65 – Robots Wearing Your Skin

The Citizens of Tech explore growing human tissue over analog metal skeletons, solid state batteries, AMD’s Ryzen CPU, the Nokia 3310 retro phone, YouTube TV, PBS’s City In The Sky series, along with Privacy Watch and Today I Learned.

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Privacy On Deathwatch – Episode 63

On this the 63rd episode of Citizens of Tech, the citizens have spoken. They have upvoted by the light of the tent, Enhance! Enhance! Enhance!, Tesla’s new power distribution buddy, mesh backhaul, and then we’ve thrown in some content we like, today we learned, plus a brand new deathwatch!

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Brain-Computer Interfaces For The Locked-In – Episode 62

Today we’ve got Tesla getting push-back from legislators, unlocking brains, the most reliable hard drives, the Chevy Bolt reviewed, a Hackintosh Dell-enstein, and of course Content I Like and Today I Learned.


Welcome to Citizens of Tech, episode 62. Things you should know about the number 62.

  • It’s not prime, but it is a semi-prime. A semi-prime is the product of 2 prime numbers, and in this case, 62 is the product of prime 2 and prime 31. Since 62 is not a perfect square, it is also a discrete semi-prime.
  • 62 happens to be the atomic number of Samarium, discovered in 1879.
  • 62 is the direct-dial prefix for international calls to Indonesia.
  • And, oddly enough, it seems Sigmund Freud had a fear of the number 62.

And what are you getting in this, the 62nd episode of Citizens of Tech? Oh, our usual nerdery. But hey, if you don’t like what we talk about, you can go to the /r/citizensoftech subreddit, and upvote or downvote the stories there. We use your input to help us decide what to talk about as we feed the content we’re thinking about into the sub each week.

I am Ethan Banks @ecbanks, and Eric Sutphen is, as always, here as well. You can give him a tweet-hug @zutfen.

Eric, what’s on our semi-prime show today?

Today we’ve got Tesla getting pushback from legislators, unlocking brains, the most reliable hard drives, the Chevy Bolt reviewed, a Hackintosh Dell-enstein, and of course Content I Like and Today I Learned.

Let’s dive in with Tesla getting pushback from lawmakers.

Tesla’s Direct Sales Model Getting Pushback (link is a little old, data might not be 100%) (thanks /u/Mocedon!)

  • Number one upvoted story on Reddit this week.
  • Buying through a dealership is a law in many states. You can’t buy directly from the manufacturer.
  • This impacts Tesla, who’d like to sell to you directly.
  • I went up to, and verified. You can spec a car, and pay for it right there if you want.
  • “State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, has filed the House Bill 1592 that bans manufacturers of “all-electric vehicles” from selling directly to consumers.”
  • The whole idea originally was to prevent franchises from having to compete with automakers, who in theory could sell at a cheaper cost by cutting out the middleman.
  • Tesla is fighting this battle in other states as well.

Unlocking the Locked-In Brain

  • What is “Lock-In”? The obvious example is Dr. Stephen Hawking, who suffers from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
    • ALS is a degenerative which causes the deterioration of the neurons used for voluntary movement.
    • Dr. Hawking has a means of communicating with the outside world using eye-tracking software and a specialized computer mounted to his wheelchair.
  • Then there’s “Complete Lock-In” which, to me, sounded like one of the most terrifying things I can imagine
  • No speech, no moving appendages, no eye movement, no… anything.
  • The reality is that there are people in this world who have perfectly normal, functioning brains that simply can’t move or communicate in any way shape, or form. While we have no metrics to quantify it, it can be presumed that some of these people are wrongly assumed to be in a vegetative state and are removed from life sustaining services and allowed to pass.
  • Enter the scientists!
  • More specifically, enter the BCI… a BCI is a brain-computer-interface and is generally embedded into the brain of the recipient.
  • Non-invasive BCIs have been developed before, but usually these use EEG technology which has proven ineffective in “locked in” individuals.
  • A team in Geneva, Switzerland developed a non-invasive BCI
  • The new system tracks blood flow changes in the brain using Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)
  • This  allowed them to test with 4 patients over a period of weeks in 20-46 sessions.
  • They would ask open and closed questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no” responses.
  • They set a baseline for blood oxygen levels for “Yes” and “No” and were able to correlate the results to a reasonable degree of accuracy.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, the patients all seemed generally content with their lives – they made sure to ask them many times over the weeks and the response was largely the same each time.
  • Closed questions: “Is your husband’s name Joachim?” seem to be communicated correctly about 70% of the time.
  • Niels Birbaumer, the lead author said, “We were initially surprised at the positive responses when we questioned the four completely locked-in participants about their quality of life. All four had accepted artificial ventilation in order to sustain their life when breathing became impossible so, in a sense, they had already chosen to live. What we observed was, as long as they received satisfactory care at home, they found their quality of life acceptable. It is for this reason, if we could make this technique widely clinically available, it would have a huge impact on the day-to-day life of people with complete locked-in syndrome.”
  • The article goes on to posit that maybe the contented nature of their existence is due to an almost zen-like meditative state of mindfulness. In fact the EEG and fNIRS scans of people during meditation and a locked-in state display many similarities.
  • At the end of the day this has many applications for improving the quality of life for many locked-in individuals and in some cases, may help identify lucid, cognitive patients which will ultimately save their lives.
  • As BCIs advance, there may come a day in the not so distant future where locked-in people may no longer be locked in at all.

The Quest For The Most Reliable HDD Has 2 Winners

  • This was our number three upvoted story on Reddit this week.
  • Whenever I am assembling a new system and considering a hard drive, I look at failure rates in the comments.
  • At least, I try to get a vibe for just how many people are pissed because their drive was DOA or fried after a few weeks.
  • Some drives seem to have a higher-than-average failure rate, and that’s a part of the buying decision, along with price, capacity, and performance.
  • Backblaze is a service that backs up your data in the cloud, only their cloud is made up actual hardware. Disk drive and stuff. And they keep tabs on how well the disk they buy performs, and publish their data in reliability reports.
  • “The standout finding: three 45-disk pods using 4TB Toshiba disks, and one 45-disk pod using 8TB HGST disks, went a full year without a single spindle failing.”
  • Sort of…hmm. There wasn’t a very high count of these disks in use, so would have been nice to see a larger sample set before getting too excited. I think the HGST model with 7K drives and a 0.40% fail rate is a more interesting statistic.

Electrek Reviews The Chevy Bolt

  • This was our second most upvoted story on Reddit this week.
  • What is the Bolt? It’s an EV.
  • Four door hatchback form factor. Reads “Chevy” to me – similar body style to other Chevies I see on the road.
  • 200+ horsepower. 268 foot pounds of torque. 0.60 in ~6.5 seconds. Notable in that it’s NOT trying to set a speed trap record, but it’s still darn quick. All that electric motor torque. Quick 50-70 highway passing.
  • They say the interior is “huge” due in part to the battery packaging.
  • 238 mile range.
  • Front wheel drive.
  • High seating position, since you’re sitting on top of the 60kW battery.
  • 10.2” display with CarPlay and Android Auto.
  • One foot driving – regen.
    • Eric is not a fan of one foot driving, generally… special situations, like bumper to bumper traffic.
  • “I think everyone was a bit surprised when Chevy announced its EPA rating of 238 miles from its 60kWh battery pack. That is a lot of range for a $30K car (after incentives) and it will serve 99.x% of daily drives incredibly well. By the time we were done with our day of driving around San Francisco, we still had 100 miles left on the battery, even with the hills and acceleration tests.”
  • Comes with Level 1 charger – gets you 50 miles of range a night. But the inverter can handle 7.7kW (240V X 32A), which would get you full range every night. But you need the AeroVironment charger, which is a little more each month on your lease.
  • Probably not a road trip car. Charging infrastructure doesn’t seem to be there yet.
  • Will you be able to get one? Hard to say. Production isn’t likely to equal demand. Estimates are for 30-35K production for the 2017 model year.

Current Mac Laptop Pricing Got You Down? How About A Dell Hackintosh?

  • I am an Apple fan. It’s sort of embarrassing, really. I like the hardware, but I’m getting pretty sick of paying the Apple tax, maybe the biggest reason I didn’t order the new ho-hum MacBook Pros that came out a while ago.
  • I did run into a friend running Windows 10 on a Dell XPS 13. Gorgeous little machine. Well spec’ed for less than $1K. Not a powerhouse, but for portability, decent battery life, okay screen, it was a nice little on-the-go machine.
  • But Windows. UGH. I am spoiled by macOS. I am really dialed into it. But that Apple hardware price. UGH.
  • Possible solution? There’s a Github project that’s just about got macOS running on a Dell XPS13, aka the 9350 model. Not 100% perfect. Project is still being worked on. But pretty close.
  • That would mate my favorite desktop OS with a decent laptop chassis that’s more affordable than Apple hardware.
  • OTOH, you KNOW it’s gonna be a challenge to keep this thing running over time.
  • Not 100% clear which flavor of macOS is supported, or whether iMessage or FaceTime are working, as they don’t always do so well on Hackintoshes.
  • C’mon Apple. Legalize it. I mean…make macOS something that runs a little easier on more generic hardware. Or is that a bad idea? Part of the Windows experience is endless driver updates and crap breaking over time.

Content I Like

TED Radio Hour Series on Screentime

  • Impact of screens on us, our kids, etc.
  • Interesting science and studies.
  • Haven’t even finished part 1 yet, but it’s good, thought-provoking stuff.

Today I Learned

A strand of spider silk long enough to circle the Earth would weigh less than 500 grams


“In geometry, the rhombicosidodecahedron, or small rhombicosidodecahedron, is an Archimedean solid, one of thirteen convex isogonal nonprismatic solids constructed of two or more types of regular polygon faces.

It has 20 regular triangular faces, 30 square faces, 12 regular pentagonal faces, 60 vertices and 120 edges.

The name rhombicosidodecahedron refers to the fact that the 30 square faces lie in the same planes as the 30 faces of the rhombic triacontahedron which is dual to the icosidodecahedron.”


Until next week, you can stalk us and support us. Please do both!