Category: Podcast

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!

Lake Michigan’s Underwater Stonehenge – Episode 61


Today on the show: Star Trek Discovery, a HUD for your (current) car, ASUS starting a Pi fight, star dust on your roof, REM is good for your brain, Deathwatch, Content I Like, and Today I Learned!

Update on CBS’s Star Trek Discovery

  • The show is delayed until further notice. Not canceled, but no ship date. Originally, was supposed to be now — January 2017. Then it went to May 2017. Now maybe Decembruary two-thousand-and-never.
  • Also, in case you missed it the first time around, the show is going to be limited to CBS All-Access, the $6 a month streaming service, which means they aren’t married to a launch date. They can release whenevs.
  • We’ll see if this happens. They are still casting people, so that’s promising. At the same time, there’s been staff turnover.
  • Seems, overall, troubled and doomed to obscurity even if it runs. Unless they release it all at once so that I can binge on it for $6.

Your car wants a HUD!

  • HUDs are a more common feature on premium vehicles, but it’s hardly commonplace yet.
  • Navdy is a HUD that projects compatible information from your phone onto your windshield
  • Gesture controls
  • Audio controls
  • A click-wheel that mounts to your steering wheel
  • Offline map data for “dead zones”
  • $749 or $31/mo through their site.
  • Not for everyone, but a killer device for some folks.

Asus tinkers with a piece of the Pi.

  • Asus 90MB0QY1-M0EAY0 Tinker Board
  • The specs.
    • Quad core 1.8GHz ARM Cortex-A17 CPU
    • 2GB Dual channel LPDDR3 memory
    • Gigabit LAN and Bluetooth 4.0 + EDR connectivity
    • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
    • 4x USB 2.0 ports
    • 40-pin Internal header with 28 GPIO pins
    • Contact points for PWM and S/PDIF signals
    • 1x 3.5mm Audio jack connection
    • CSI port for camera connection
    • DSI port supporting HD resolution
    • 1x HDMI 2.0 port to support 4K resolution
    • Micro SD port supports UHS-I
    • Supports Debian OS with KODI
    • Power supply: 5V/ 2A Micro USB (not included)
  • Asus is creating its own OS for the Tinker Board, based on Debian.
  • Available soon. Retailer CPC, a Farnell company in the UK, claims to have 59 in stock as of this writing.

Stardust turns out to be more than a song lyric.

  • Long thought that amateur astronomers that dust on their rooftops could contain extraterrestrial dust. That is, some of the dust fell from the stars.
  • Most scientists didn’t take this seriously over the decades, but Project Stardust decided to.
  • Jon Larsen, a Norwegian musician and artist, convinced many residents in Oslo to collect the debris from their roof gutters so that it could be sifted through.
  • He got 300 kilograms of material, including one oddball sample from Paris.
  • They sifted the debris by shape and with magnets.
  • The result was about 500 tiny, round micrometeorites just a few hundred micrometers across. They picked 48 for closer analysis, and all of them turned out to be winners.
  • The micrometeorites are made of the seven elements found in chondrites, the sort of junk you find floating in between planets.
    • They also have olivine, which forms during atmospheric entry and subsequent heating.
    • The lack sodium which usually boils away during the heat of atmospheric descent.
  • Probably, this happens all over the earth…but not at a high density. Says Ars, “every square meter of the Earth gets hit about twice a year.”
  • You could sift through your roof debris as well, but realize that Project Stardust sorted through about a kilogram of stuff to find a micrometeorite about 300 micrometers in size.
  • You should be able to see such a small object. A human hair is roughly in the 100 micrometer range — it varies widely according to the wisdom of the Internet. The human eye can see down to something between roughly 6 and 29 micrometers, also according to the wisdom of the Internet.

REM is maintenance mode for your brain’s neural connections

  • We’ve known for years that REM is critical for memory
  • Until now we haven’t really known why
  • First a little anatomy lesson: the anatomy of a neuron
    • Dendrites are the chemical receptors of a neuron
    • Dendritic spines are small outgrowths from the dendrites that cause stronger signal reception between neurons and cause links between neurons to be more solid.
    • This is critical for the forming and solidification of new and existing neural networks, respectively.
  • Dendritic spines are not permanent – they can be grown and “pruned” as the brain forms new connections, which is done while learning and forming memories.
  • Researchers trained mice on a treadmill style task
  • Then deprived some of the mice of REM sleep and studied the differences.
  • The dendritic spines formed on the neurons of those with proper REM sleep were found to be larger and stronger than those without REM sleep, indicating neural connections which were stronger.
  • In layman’s terms the brain performs pruning of less valuable dendritic spines and reinforces the more valuable dendritic spines during REM sleep.
  • This sheds light on why REM sleep is so critical to childhood development and learning in adults
  • A friend of mine once called sleep “brain defragging” …. It turns out he wasn’t that far off.
  • This is really interesting to me because I’ve often noted that when starting a new job, hobby, or sport where there’s a firehose of information for a sustained period of time, I feel exhausted until that firehose effect starts to scale back. I sleep more than usual, etc.


Update on Deathwatch favorite – TIDAL!

  • Deal was for $200M.
  • Not exclusive. As in, you won’t have to be a Sprint customer to get access to Tidal, at least not that it seems.
  • But does seem like access to Tidal in some way will be a special thing for Sprint users, although in what way is not clear, either. Not free, from what it appears so far.
  • Sort of like NFL for Verizon subscribers?
  • Maybe we should put Sprint on deathwatch if this is what they think is a wise investment. Because ain’t nobody switching to Sprint to get special access to Tidal.

Content I Like

Futurism’s “This Week In Science”

  • Weekly image with top headlines from the science world
  • Generally actual science headlines, not conjecture. Generally.

001 Trolling The Movie

  • Looks like it’s gonna be interesting in May 2017 when it comes out.

Today I Learned

TIL That there is a Stonehenge like structure at the bottom of Lake Michigan with a possible Petroglyph of a Mastodon on one of the boulders.

Stealing Fingerprints From Photos – Episode 60

Today on the show: a block-chain social network, China driving down the price of solar power, Nintendo’s Switch issues,  EV owners avoiding taxes, Faraday Future’s FF91 sticker shock, giving away bio-data with a simple photo, measuring infinity with Verizon math, Content We Like and Today I Learned!

Steem. Blockchain cryptocurrency earnings for social media curators & contributors.

    • Rewarding people who contribute or curate with cryptocurrency.
    • System has careful governance in place to make sure the currency is stable. Explained in their whitepaper as a balance between Steem Power, which you can eventually convert into Steem Dollars, and the Steem Dollars themselves.
    • Your ability to reward other with Steem is limited. Once you’ve upvoted, it takes a bit of time before you can upvote again.
    • Would be hard to game the system. Lots of checks and balances.
    • From what I can tell, the system is insular.
      • I don’t see a way I could have readers of my blog reward me with Steem, at least not directly.
      • You’d have to be on
    • But…who wants this? What’s the point?
      • The big ideas are noble ones.
      • Principle 1. If you contribute to a platform, you should get something back.
      • Principle 2. All forms of capital are equal. Time has similar value to money, for example.
      • Principle 3. Products are produced for the community. (Reinforcing my point about Steem being insular.)
    • “The Steem community provides the following services to its members:
      • 1. A source of curated news and commentary.
      • 2. A means to get high quality answers to personalized questions.
      • 3. A stable cryptocurrency pegged to the U.S. dollar.
      • 4. Free payments.
      • 5. Jobs providing above services to other members.”
  • Will this go anywhere? Lots of issues with Steem…
    • The rewards aren’t valuable enough to put up with the lack of audience.
    • The competition for attention is brutal.
    • Monetization schemes with similar or better real-dollar rewards already exist in the form of ad revenue. Yeah, ads suck especially when done badly. But it’s a proven system that rewards creators for their content in direct relation to their quality. The better the content, the greater the audience. And audience numbers, to a degree, correlate to ad revenue. Thus, creators are already incentivized to make strong content.
    • Being rewarded in a new cryptocurrency seems like an intangible rewards, bordering on getting coupons.
    • Might it work? Yes. Are the ideas noble? I think so. Will Steem gather any steam? I don’t see it.

Chinese driving down the price of solar.

  • $360 Billion (with a “B”) in renewable energy
  • By 2020… that’s 3 years away
  • Estimates 3 Million new jobs to be created
  • Wind, hydro, solar and nuclear power (nuclear isn’t exactly “renewable”)
  • They’re scrapping 80-odd planned or in-progress Coal power plants
  • China is the #1 carbon emitting country, releasing roughly 2x the carbon of the United States
  • However, China became the world’s top solar generator in 2016
  • The cost of solar installation has dropped 40% since 2010

Is the Nintendo Switch purely a portable?

  • The Nintendo Switch is an impressive portable gaming system
    • 6.2” (15.75 cm) screen
    • 1280×720 resolution
    • Nvidia Tegra SOC
    • 32GB Internal storage
    • Expandable with SDXC
    • Two speakers (and a headphone jack, because they lack courage)
    • 6+ hours of battery life (depending on what you’re doing, the new Zelda tops out around 3 Hours)
    • It charges via a USB-C port – so you could even bring a portable power bank with you to charge it.
  • This article posits that its biggest “feature” the ability to “Switch” from handheld to home console is its largest detraction point.
  • I am actually inclined to agree. I don’t think it’s necessarily a fatal flaw, but the logic works.
  • The Switch is only slightly more powerful than the failed and cancelled Wii U, but as a mobile device that’s actually just fine. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a beautiful looking game.
  • When you dock the Switch to play on your TV it actually gets slightly more powerful, because there is more power available and it does some sort of “turbo mode” apparently, slightly overclocking the SOC.
  • The biggest use case for this is to play games wherever, whenever. I love this idea, and rarely take the time to sit down in front of a TV to play video games.
  • The switch does not compete in power with a PS4 or Xbox One (let alone the new Pro and S models, respectively)
  • Why does it need to have a dedicated docking system to add complexity and cost to the package?
  • $299 is the launch price and some quick tallying on the part of the Ars author estimates that the launch price could have been lowered to $229 or $249 – making it more price competitive with Sony and Microsoft’s consoles.
  • With that said, this is a “hardcore” system. Just not the way “hardcore gaming” usually is used… this system is, at least at this point, targeted at hardcore Nintendo fans. Zelda and Mario and Splatoon and Xenoblade fans.
  • I really, really want one. I could take or leave a PS4 or Xbox One, (though there are some games coming out for the PS4 that may change that). This is right in my wheelhouse: the right genres of games, the right game franchises, portability, it really hits a sweet spot for me.
  • I gotta say, $299 is pretty steep for it though. $199 or even $249 certainly would be a lot more palatable.

EV fees vs. lost gas taxes

  • The freeloading EV argument. Hey, they use the road, but aren’t paying much (any?) in gas taxes.
  • Solution? An EV fee to balance it out.
  • But are these fees fair? Article argues no, not even close. Their arguments are…
    • Little EVs don’t trash the road like large gas-burning semis do.
    • Fossil fuels are damaging the world more than road damage done by EVs.
    • Not many EVs on the road, so the fees don’t amount to much.
    • EVs fees tend to cost more than taxes enacted on a gas vehicle.
  • These arguments seem mostly specious to us.

Faraday Future FF91 price comes in…

  • Discussed in a recent episode (Episode 58) estimated “At least $100k”
  • Eric: I admit I was wrong.
  • I was waaaaaaay low!
  • “Under $300k” according to the CEO.
  • Estimates from $100-200k abounded, but it looks like it’ll be significantly more.
  • So now there’s an EV for the folks who just can’t be seen in a $100k Tesla.
  • The FF91 is a step in the right direction while simultaneously a big step in the wrong direction.

Giving away your biodata in hi-res pictures.

  • Japan’s National Institute of Infomatics is warning people about the peace sign coupled with digital photography.
  • “The NII researchers were able to copy fingerprints based on photos taken by a digital camera three metres (nine feet) away from the subject.”
  • To prevent fingerprint theft, there’s an NII-developed coating containing titanium oxide that can be worn to prevent theft via photo, while still allowing your fingerprints to function normally for traditional means of identification. But it won’t be ready for a couple of years.

Verizon joins in on the unlimited data threats, too. Not just AT&T.

  • Grandfathered Unlimited data users without a contract
  • Specifically users on Month to month plans for which a comparable plan no longer exists
  • If you are one of these users and consume over 200GB, Verizon will terminate your service.
  • Done. Gone. No more bits to your handset.

Content I Like

The Grand Tour‎

  • First few episodes were…? Not confidence inspiring.
  • Last few have been great. Actual LOLs.

Today I Learned

Rolling coal is the practice of modifying your diesel engine so that it emits lots of sooty exhaust. You might roll coal in front of a Prius. Probably an illegal modification.

TIL the term “genuine leather” isn’t reassuring you that the item is made of real leather, it as an actual distinct grade of leather and is the second lowest quality of leather there is.

  • Full Grain
  • Top Grain
  • Suede
  • Genuine
  • Bonded

Booze Makes You Think You’re Starving – Episode 59

AT&T changing the rules for unlimited data plan holders.

  • In March 2017, the old AT&T data plan is going up another $5 to $40 a month.
  • In February 2016, it had gone up from $30 to $35.
  • It’s unlimited data, but not in the sense you think of it. It’s unlimited and unthrottled until you use 22GB. Then it’s throttled if you’re connected to a congested tower.
  • I suspect most towers are somewhat congested, at least at certain times of the day, particularly in metro areas with a high density of users.
  • Then again, 22GB is sort of a lot if you’re on wifi most of the time.
  • Oh, and by the way…rumor is that net neutrality is going away as FCC staffing changes under the Trump administration.

Filling tooth cavities without fillings.

  • Research team at King’s College in London have found that they can initiate teeth self-healing small cavities
  • They did this using biodegradable sponges soaked in a drug called Tideglusib, which is beginning to be used in Alzheimer’s patients and Autism spectrum patients.
  • The sponges were placed inside the cavity and then covered with a dental sealant.
  • “They discovered… heightened the activity of stem cells in the dental pulp so they could repair 0.13mm holes in the teeth of mice.”
  • As the sponge broke down it was replaced by dentine, healing the tooth.
  • They’re moving on to research on repairing larger cavities.
  • How soon to market?
    • Says project lead Prof Paul Sharpe, “I don’t think it’s massively long term, it’s quite low-hanging fruit in regenerative medicine and hopeful in a three-to-five year period this would be commercially available.”

This is your brain on booze.

  • Mice were given the equivalent of a bottle and a half of wine.
  • That level of alcohol caused AGRP neurons to fire. They do this when the body is experiencing starvation. (I think my AGRP neurons might be broken. Apparently, I’m starving all the time.)
  • This is presumed to explain why some people get hungry after having a drink.
  • Alcohol does other things to your brain as well. (Risky Drinking documentary statistics.)
    • 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. is a binge drinker.

    • Binge drinking accounts for more than half of the alcohol consumed by adults in the U.S.


    • Less than 20% of people with an alcohol use disorder receive treatment.


    • About 80% of people with an alcohol use disorder will relapse within the first year of sobriety.


    • Although more men than women have alcohol use disorder, the gap is quickly narrowing.


    • Blackouts are episodes of amnesia that disrupt the ability to form new memories while intoxicated.

    • One in six women will develop an alcohol related health problem including cancer, heart disease and liver damage.

    • Chronic alcohol use can cause an overall reduction in brain function and size.


    • Nearly one third of adults in the U.S. engage in problem drinking at some point in their lives. 

    • The majority of people who receive treatment for an alcohol use disorder will recover.

Signal others. Secretly.

  • Signal is an Android and iOS app for secure communications
  • Voice, Video, SMS & MMS
  • Free (apart from data network charges)
  • All communications are end to end encrypted. (Stored on the devices, not Signal’s servers)
  • Built in mechanisms to ensure no man-in-the-middle attacks are happening
    • For calls, Signal displays two words on the screen. If the words match on both ends of the call, the call is secure.
    • For messages, users can compare key fingerprints (or scan QR codes) out-of-band.]
    • The app employs a trust on first use mechanism in order to notify the user if a correspondent’s key changes.
    • For messages, Signal users can compare key fingerprints (or scan QR codes) out-of-band.
    • The app employs a trust on first use mechanism in order to notify the user if a correspondent’s key changes.
    • Scheduled message removal – deletes messages from both sending and receiving devices at a scheduled time
    • Encrypted local message store
    • Android users can choose to make it their default SMS application, which I’ve done. It’s lightweight, fast, and has some great UX tweaks over the stock messaging app on my Samsung S7
  • Servers – this has to be facilitated by servers at some point, right?
    • In addition to routing Signal’s messages and calls, the servers also facilitate the discovery of contacts who are also registered Signal users and the automatic exchange of users’ public keys.
    • Signal’s privacy policy states that these identifiers are only kept on the servers as long as necessary in order to place each call or transmit each message.
    • Because it’s end to end encrypted though, they can report that communication was initiated between end points, but nothing about the content of said communications.
  • Code Auditing and you

Forcing Mac gaming to not suck.

  • GeForce NOW – Their game streaming service, currently supports Shield set top boxes and tablets.
  • They’ve just announced PC & Mac streaming at CES, which should launch in March of this year (2017)
  • GeForce NOW streaming quality automatically adjusts to the speed of your broadband connection.
  • 10 Megabits per second – Required broadband connection speed
  • 20 Megabits per second – Recommended for 720p 60 FPS quality
  • 50 Megabits per second – Recommended for 1080p 60 FPS quality
  • < 60ms ping time to one of six NVIDIA datacenters world-wide
  • Pricing: When gamers register for GeForce NOW, they can play for free for 8 hours on a GeForce GTX 1060 PC or 4 hours on a GeForce GTX 1080 PC. For an additional $25, gamers can play for 20 hours on a GTX 1060 PC or 10 hours on a GTX 1080 PC. Early access to the new GeForce NOW service is scheduled for March in the continental United States, with full commercial service slated for the spring.



  • Verizon is buying Yahoo for $4.8 billion, with a B.
  • It’s not the entire portfolio of company assets. Alibaba is not part of the sale, for example.
  • What is bought is going to be turned into an investment company called Altaba.
  • Marissa Mayer’s future is in doubt. It doesn’t look like she’ll be involved in Altaba financial portfolio management. And it doesn’t look like she’s going to Verizon, either. Worst case, they fire her, and she ends up with $55 million. With an M.

Content I Like

Songfacts Music Blog

  • Songwriter Interviews – Go behind the music with some of the world’s best songwriters
  • Song Writing – Musical musings from journalists, authors and members of the Songfacts community
  • Fact or Fiction – Sorting Myth from Reality in the Musical Realm
  • They’re Playing My Song – Bruce Pollock asks artists about the one song they wrote or sang that most influenced their career.
  • Music Quiz – Lyric Quizzes and Next Generation Music Trivia
  • Songfacts Pages – Songfacts pages explaining who we are, what we do, and our policies.

Today I Learned

Africa is bifurcating.

  • There is a rift down the east side of the African continent that is, over the next few million years, going to fill in with ocean.
  • The eastern rift is termed the Somali plate.
  • “In north-eastern Africa’s Afar Triangle, which cuts across Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, hundreds of crevices are reported as splitting the desert floor and the ground has slumped by as much as 100m.”

When can you call yourself a cyborg? – Episode 58

The Citizens of Tech podcast opens 2017 with a look at the tech devices affecting us either right now or very soon along with today we learned and content we like.

Alexa, turn on the lights.

For example, Amazon’s Alexa is poised as the device of choice for the home. Amazon has been smart about making Echo devices affordable and available anywhere. Now, we can ask Alexa to order things for us, and she does. But Alexa can integrate with third party tools, not just Amazon online. That means Alexa is useful for home automation. We think that’s a low-friction way to drive home automation engagement. “Alexa, set the media room to movie mode.”

Faraday Future’s FF91…apparently, they aren’t faking it.

Tesla has few serious rivals in the EV market, but there are many coming. Soon. Faraday Future has gotten quite a bit of press, as they have been in the middle of several controversies. Controversy aside, they brought the FF91 an early pre-production to CES 2017 — stress “early.” The vehicle is looking good, and has excellent performance numbers in testing. But does the FF91 make any sort of sense, such that Faraday Future is going to survive?

Cyanogen is dead. Long live LineageOS.

We take a look at LineageOS, the survivor built on the ashes of Cyanogen. LineageOS is what you run on your Android-compatible device when you want a truly open source platform that lets you do whatever you like without vendor-modded Android tying your hands.

Thanks for nothing, Kaby Lake.

We ponder when good enough is good enough by comparing the non-upgrade that is the move from Intel Skylake to Kaby Lake CPUs. It’s the struggle of 14nm fab moving to 10nm fab while we’re stuck in the interim. And where’s AMD in all of this? Still mired in mediocrity?

North Sense does not make you a cyborg.

And finally…when can you call yourself a cyborg? North Sense things if you pierce yourself to attach a sensor, then yes…you’re a cyborg. We fervently disagree, and explain why. Hey, nothing wrong with attaching a sensor that vibrates when you’re facing north, but we don’t think that makes you a cyborg in any meaningful sense.

Today I learned…

The technosphere weighs 30 trillion tons.

Content I like…

Ethan and Eric discuss the latest movie entrant into the Star Wars canon, Rogue One. You know, it was…um…okay?

Shining Light on Antimatter – Episode 57


Today on Citizens of Tech, Rogue One spoilers all the way down! Nothing but spoilers. Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers…

Just kidding!

Flow Machines Project – making creation easier through deep learning.

    • “The key idea of the Flow Machines project is to relate the notion of creativity to the notion of “style”.”
    • “The Flow Machines project takes a computer science perspective on style: how can a machine understand style and turn it into a computational object? An object that users can manipulate to create new objects with their own constraints.”
    • “Technically we have made substantial progress in developing efficient Markov Constraints algorithms that can apply many types of constraints to arbitrary Markov models.”
      • Tricky, because music is tricky. How to place constraints using a Markov model that results in something listenable or fitting within a particular length of time?
    • “Conceptually we are starting to build authoring tools in musical composition and text writing that enable people to generate content by manipulating the style of an existing author, possibly themselves.”
      • You want to create a song in the style of a preferred composer.
      • You start with a framework. Some notes and a rhythm that feels right to you.
      • You ask the system to fill in the blanks.
      • You listen to the result.
      • If you like it, great. If not, have the system try again.
    • “This fascinating and challenging project is just starting and our ambition is high: Invent the next generation of authoring tools that will help people manipulate the styles of their preferred authors, in music and text. These applications should be fun to use, should create Flow states, should push users to experiment with new ideas, and eventually create their own style. Stay tuned.”
    • “We developed a model of polyphonic music generation, which learns to compose chorales in the style of Bach.”
      • “This model is capable of producing convincing chorales, even if it is trained with no other data that the 400 chorale sheets by Bach.”
      • “A key feature is that we are able to constrain the generated chorales in many ways: we can for instance impose the melody, the bass, the rhythm but also the cadences (when the musical phrases end).”
      • “With this, we can for instance reharmonize in the style of Bach chorales well-known melodies.”

Shining Light on Antimatter.

  • How much do you know about antimatter?
  • Antimatter is essentially “opposite matter”
  • The theory has long been that for every bit of matter there is a corresponding opposite.
    • For example: electrons (negative charge, miniscule mass) have Positrons (equal positive charge, same miniscule mass)
    • This works for full atoms as well, so Hydrogen is made up of a Proton and an Electron; whereas antihydrogen is made up of an antiproton and and a positron.
    • When antimatter and matter meet they cancel out and generate light
  • This all sounds really cool – but it’s ridiculously unlikely to be able to study this in nature because the antimatter is outnumbered by matter in our universe.
  • Come to think of it why is antimatter outnumbered by matter in our universe…?
  • The current model of the Big Bang indicates that an equal amount of particles and antiparticles should have been generated, so how is there anything… wouldn’t it all have just cancelled out?
  • Theoretical Physicist Jeffrey Hangst from CERN said “Something happened, some small asymmetry that led some of the matter to survive, and we simply have no good idea that explains that right now,”
  • But that ignorance could be about to disappear. (Knowledge is the anti-ignorance)
  • The team working on this at CERN has been developing the technology to create meaningful numbers of Antihydrogen atoms for 20 years.
  • They’ve come up with a way to create 25,000 antihydrogen atoms every 15 minutes and they can trap 14 of them long enough to fire a laser at one and observe what happens.
    • Previous methods only allowed trapping 1.2 antihydrogen atoms every 15 minutes
  • So what’s the big deal here?
    • The team has conclusively determined that exciting the positrons in antihydrogen emits the exact same light signature as when the electrons in regular hydrogen atoms change from a higher level of “excitement” to a lower state.
    • This confirms that antihydrogen is the exact mirror of regular hydrogen and behaves exactly how theorized.
    • Tim Tharp at CERN said “It’s long been thought that antimatter is an exact reflection of matter, and we are gathering evidence to show that is indeed true,”
    • This is a step toward confirming that Special Relativity does, indeed hold up to the deepest scrutiny.
  • This is a stepping stone on the way to determining what that small asymmetry was that prevented the Universe from simply have self annihilated shortly after its beginning.
  • For a little perspective: It’s been 111 years since Einstein proposed the theory of Special Relativity which was several years before General Relativity. The fact that we are still finding new confirmations of his brilliant theories is simply staggering.

A bit about Ceres.

  • We’re constantly on the lookout for planets that might have harbored life.
  • Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
    • “Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Its diameter is approximately 945 kilometers (587 miles), making it the largest of the minor planets within the orbit of Neptune. The 33rd-largest known body in the Solar System, it is the only dwarf planet within the orbit of Neptune. Composed of rock and ice, Ceres is estimated to comprise approximately one third of the mass of the entire asteroid belt.”
  • It’s a “dwarf planet.”
  • The Dawn spacecraft has been surveying Ceres in great detail since 2015.
    • “Since Dawn reached it in early 2015, the spacecraft has returned 54,000 images, 16 million visible spectra, and 21 million infrared spectra. It mapped out the dwarf planet’s gravity field in great deal. Additionally, Dawn carries a detector to study the collision of neutrons with the surface of Ceres.”
  • One of the things discovered is hydrogen.
    • “Based upon the energy of gamma rays produced by such collisions, the spacecraft can detect various elements at the surface and to a depth of about one meter. In the last two years Dawn has found a lot of hydrogen.”
  • It appears that much of this surface hydrogen can be explained by water ice. Why? There’s more at the poles, and less at the equator. The poles stay a bit colder because of their angle to the sun, and some of the polar crater basins are in permanent shadow.
    • “Ice can persist in such craters on an airless world over billions of years because temperatures are very cold, about 110 Kelvin. Dawn also found ice at the edge of a shadowed crater in the bright, small Oxo crater near Ceres’ north pole. Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator of the Dawn mission, said this unstable ice was likely recently exposed by a landslide in the crater wall.”
  • Scientists believe there was an interior ocean at one time.
    • “Dawn scientists said all of the new evidence points convincingly toward the existence of an interior ocean in the dwarf planet’s distant past.”
  • It’s possible some remnant of ocean remains inside.
    • “Today, some liquid water likely remains inside, although it is very briny, Raymond said, with a much lower freezing point than less salty water. It’s likely this briny water is a source of material for Ahuna Mons, the tallest mountain on Ceres at 4km high and a suspected cryovolcano.”

Spun silk is stronger with graphene.

  • Feed silkworms graphene and carbon-nanotubes (made from graphene).
  • The silk produced is about 50% stronger than regular silk.
  • How do you get a silkworm to eat graphene? You spray their food with a liquid containing 0.2% graphene or carbon nanotubes by weight.
  • The subtext is that the silk conducts electricity, so there’s a use-case for conductive fabrics. But wait…the conductivity test was done after heating the super silk to over 1,000C, nearly 2,000F.
  • So…is that useful? Unsure. Maybe if the heated super silk is woven into a cloth with other fibers?
  • And hey…who are we kidding anyway? As Reddit put it, “Graphene does everything except leave the lab.”

Solar is a big deal. (Even if we talk about it too much.)

  • 2016 in the US: Solar represented 9.5 GW of Industrial and another 4.5 GW of distributed
  • Solar represented 31% of new power generation
  • In 2010 the US had 2GW of solar generation
  • At the end of 2016 we have 39 GW – a 19-fold increase in 6 years
  • 30 year service life with minimal maintenance (yay solid state electronics!) and no fuel to buy, ship, handle, burn, have I ever mentioned I love solar power?



  • Evernote is using machine learning to mine notes so you can have a better experience.
  • The latest privacy issue cropped up where Evernote employees could read your notes to make sure the ML algorithm was working properly.
  • Not new. Evernote has said employees can read your notes under certain circumstances anyway.
  • Evernote backed off, and now you have to opt-in.
  • But who cares? DIAF.
  • Let’s be clear…any service that’s free is mining your data, and probably reserves the right to use your images, etc.
  • But still, Evernote. Geez. The stuff I put in there is important.


  • “California wants the company to stop testing its self-driving vehicles without the state’s permission.”
  • “The company lost $800 million in Q3 2016 on revenues of $1.7 billion.”
  • “That number doesn’t include anything the company lost in China, a market in which Uber has been spending heavily of late”
  • “Set to lose more than $3 billion this year.”
  • “2016’s losses may well wipe out almost all of the gigantic cash injection Uber received from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund back in June.”
  • “The company settled a lawsuit with drivers from Massachusetts and California”
  • “Settled a second lawsuit from customers alleging sexual assault by their drivers”
  • “Settled a third lawsuit over misleading claims about background checks for drivers”
  • “Lost a legal battle in the UK to prevent its drivers from being classified as employees”
  • “Got fined by the French courts for operating an illegal taxi service”
  • “Told California where it could stick its self-driving permits”
  • “It even hired people to pretend to be journalists to aid another lawsuit.”
  • “Uber faces ever more competition, not only from Lyft but also GM’s Maven.”
  • So…what do they spend their money on?
    • Marketing. There’s lots of competition, especially when considering global markets. The barrier to admission isn’t overly high to get into this market.
    • Competing on price / racing to the bottom.
    • Hard to attract customers and drivers. Not getting enough customers, and not paying enough to drivers yet. So they market heavily to get the riders, so that they can pay the drivers better and keep them happy. Hard to win.

Today I Learned

Songslapping. “The act of singing a part of a song in order to get it stuck in the head of the recipient of the slap.”


No, but seriously. We’re going to see Rogue One.

The Tesla Of Trash – Episode 56


Welcome to episode 56 of the Citizens of Tech podcast. This show is about all things science and tech, cuz we’re into that sort of thing and presumably you are too.

You can check out all our back episodes on, comment and discuss the show on the subreddit, and of course support the show by becoming a Patreon patron or just by shopping Amazon through our affiliate link.

This week on the show we dive into Bluetooth 5, Phones on a Plane, dinosaur feathers in amber, the Tesla of Trash, cooling off the globe with aerosols, along with Content We Like and Today I Learned.

Bluetooth 5 is out.

  • “Key feature updates include four times range, two times speed, and eight times broadcast message capacity.”
  • “Longer range powers whole home and building coverage, for more robust and reliable connections.”
  • “Higher speed enables more responsive, high-performance devices. Increased broadcast message size increases the data sent for improved and more context relevant solutions.”

WiFi Phone Calls – Coming to a plane near you.

  • Cell calling is banned still
  • WiFi service is becoming more common on flights
  • Many mobile phones can make calls over WiFi now
  • US Govt. is about to weigh in
  • Pros / Cons
  • Who’s who:
    • Continental said it would “carefully evaluate the views of our customers and crew members on this topic.” Delta and JetBlue have said they would continue to prohibit calls no matter what the Department of Transportation decides, according to The Wall Street Journal. American Airlines offers first and business class passengers onboard satellite phone service. United said it bars VoIP calling, as does Southwest.

Dino feathers in amber.

  • “Geoscientist Lida Xing was shopping at an amber market in Myitkyina, Myanmar in 2015 when he saw an unusual piece of amber.”
  • “Xing had discovered eight fully preserved vertebrae from a young, non-avian dinosaur called a coelurosaur. As an adult it would have been about the size of an ostrich, but this juvenile was still tiny enough to get trapped in tree sap and never escape. Feathers covered its tail, but at the tip they fluffed out in a pattern that suggested this animal may have had a fan-shaped tail.”
  • “Modern bird feathers have a thick central quill called a rachis, and from that branch barbs covered in the soft barbules provide the feather with color and a structure that enables flight. This young coelurosaur’s tail has barbs and barbules only, though one central barb is in the same position that a rachis would be on a modern bird.”
  • “What this means is that feathers appear to have started out as what some paleontologists call “dinofuzz,” a soft, downy covering for warmth.”

The Tesla of Trash

  • Ian Wright assisted with engineering on the Tesla Roadster
  • Went on to make his own performance EV, the X1 ( 0-60 in 2.9 seconds)
  • His new plan: Electric Trash Trucks
  • The most impact as quickly as possible
  • Trash trucks can burn 14,000 Gallons of fuel a year – approximately 3 MPG
  • 400HP Electric motors
  • 20 Miles of charge on a full charge
  • Turbine Engine Range Extender (Like a really big Chevy Volt or BMW i3)
    • Weighs only 250lbs – ~ 1/10 the engine weight
    • Diesel or Natural Gas
  • ~70% less fuel consumed, and turbine engines burn much cleaner than straight 6 engines
  • Significantly quieter than existing trash trucks
  • Retrofit kit or they’ll build to suit, apparently.
  • Estimated 10,000 hours between maintenance, which in the diesel world is a lot.
  • Retrofitted Mack LR Garbage Truck has shipped, estimated cost $200,000

Aerosols to cool the planet. What could possibly go wrong?

  • “One drastic idea is solar geoengineering — injecting light-reflecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to cool the planet. Researchers know that large amounts of aerosols can significantly cool the planet; the effect has been observed after large volcanic eruptions.”
  • “But these sulfate aerosols also carry significant risks. The biggest known risk is that they produce sulfuric acid in the stratosphere, which damages ozone. Since the ozone layer absorbs ultraviolet light from the sun, its depletion can lead to increased rates of skin cancer, eye damage, and other adverse consequences.”
  • “Through extensive modeling of stratospheric chemistry, the team found that calcite, a constituent of limestone, could counter ozone loss by neutralizing emissions-borne acids in the atmosphere, while also reflecting light and cooling the planet.”
  • Risky. Not well understood yet. Solar geoengineering could increase ozone while at the same time making the ozone hole at the poles bigger.
  • Not a solution. “Like taking painkillers.”
  • Oh, and…Snowpiercer. ““Snowpiercer’s” premise is that the only surviving humans live on the train because the world has been frozen over by a botched attempt by big business to geo-engineer the planet and rescue it from global warming.“

Content I Like

Webkay – See what your web browser reveals about your system.

  • Location
  • Browser & Plugins
  • OS
  • CPU / GPU / RAM
  • Battery Status, whether charging, discharging, percentage
  • Public & Private IP, ISP, Bandwidth,
  • Gyro data
  • What social networks you’re signed into
  • Clickjacking you may be subject to
  • And so on.

Today I Learned

There was a large city in the area of southern Illinois east of St. Louis about 1,000 years ago. We don’t know it’s name. We refer to it by its culture, known as “Mississippian.”


Ethan talks about Arrival, a first contact scifi movie featuring Amy Adams. He gushes effusively.

See you next week!