Tag: nasa

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 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 CitizensOfTech.com 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.