Tag Archives: technology

World’s largest jet engine makes first test flight

The world’s largest jet engine, built by GE Aviation for Boeing’s next generation wide body passenger jet, made its first test flight last week.

The GE9X is a monster compared to its predecessors. Due to the extensive use of composites in building the fan blades and the fan case, 3D-printed nozzles, new light- and heat-resistant ceramics, and reducing the number of fan blades from 22 to 16, GE was able to lighten the engine and expand its size so that its fan is now 134-inches (341 cm) across and the entire engine is as wide as a Boeing 737 fuselage. In addition, it can push 100,000 lb of thrust and is 10 percent more efficient than the GE90 engine used on the current generation of 777s.

The engine was attached to a 747 test plane for the flight, and the images at the link truly illustrate how large this engine is. The 747 still had its two outer normal engines attached, and the size difference is gob-smacking. When I first looked at the pictures I was convinced it was fake and that they had photoshopped this giant engine onto the 747. They didn’t.

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Linux beats Windows and Apple for security

Another reason I use Linux: A survey of computer security experts confirms that they generally consider Linux superior to either the Windows or Apple operating systems when it comes to security.

Obviously, if you are used to Windows or Apple, making the switch seems daunting. It isn’t, as I know from experience, having been a Linux user now for almost a dozen years. And if you want to try out Linux, all you really need is a spare laptop or desktop, one or two years old, that you aren’t using any more, and to then follow the instructions provided here on Behind the Black by reader James Stephens for Getting and Installing Linux:

Put a flavor of Linux on that old computer, and begin playing with it. Before long you will find that you don’t need Microsoft or Apple anymore.

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Driverless shuttle crashes on first day

Only hours after initiating service, a driverless shuttle in Las Vegas crashed.

No one was hurt, nor is the accident described in any detail at the link. However, I think this incident highlights a reality about driverless cars: Either every vehicle on the road must be one, or none of the vehicles on the road can be one. It will be almost impossible to program a driverless car to handle the unpredictability of human drivers. If we want to leave the driving to computers (which I don’t), we will have to ban humans from driving.

Such a ban will be a terrible loss of freedom. And not surprisingly, I think the whole a push for driverless vehicles is a push in that direction.

I found a second article that describes the incident as caused by a truck driver backing into the shuttle, thus blaming the human driver (who was given a ticket by the way) and using the incident to argue against human drivers.

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United flies its last 747

United yesterday completed its last scheduled 747 passenger flight, ending a period lasting almost a half century since the first 747 took off.

The flight had a 1970s theme, with the crew in vintage uniforms and the passengers dressing in costumes invoking that time period.

The article does a nice job of recounting the 747’s history, as well as why it is being replaced. It also noted this:

[T]he aircraft would go on to defy all expectations. Boeing anticipated it would become obsolete before the Nineties, believing that supersonic jets would overtake conventional aircraft.

In fact the 747 is still in production with current orders placed by a number of developing countries which will potentially see it serving into 2030. While the aircraft’s life is limited in the US – with Delta the only airline still flying the craft and due to retire it later this year – other major carriers will continue operating it well into the next decade. British Airways, which now operates 36 of the aircraft, more than any other airline, has confirmed it will be phasing it out – but will not part ways with it entirely until 2024.

Even once it has disappeared from passenger routes, it is expected the 747 will go on to serve many more years as a cargo plane.

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Users blocked from files by Google Docs

Reason 4,320,333 why I do not use Google: Some users of Google Docs yesterday were blocked by the company from their files because of “terms of service violations.”

In response to some of these reports, a Google employee tweeted that the team handling Google Docs was looking into the matter. Later Tuesday, Google said in a statement that it had “made a code push that incorrectly flagged a small percentage of Google Docs as abusive, which caused those documents to be automatically blocked. A fix is in place and all users should have full access to their docs.”

Although the error appeared to be a technical glitch, the fact that Google is capable of identifying “bad” Google Docs at all is a reminder: Much of what you upload, receive or type to Google is monitored. While many people may be aware that Gmail scans your emails — for instance, so that its smart-reply feature can figure out what responses to suggest — this policy extends to other Google products, too.

Here’s what this story reveals: Google monitors the content of the files that people store on Google Docs. Google has also developed software that can decide if some of that content is acceptable or unacceptable, to Google. Google can then block access to those supposedly private files, thus giving it the power to silence the work of anyone the company doesn’t like.

Sounds peachy-keen, doesn’t it?

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Saudi Arabia gives robot citizenship

As part of a publicity stunt to encourage investment, Saudi Arabia has given citizenship to a new robot, designed to show human emotions by facial expressions.

A humanoid robot took the stage at the Future Investment Initiative yesterday and had an amusing exchange with the host to the delight of hundreds of delegates. Smartphones were held aloft as Sophia, a robot designed by Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics, gave a presentation that demonstrated her capacity for human expression.

Sophia made global headlines when she was granted Saudi citizenship, making the kingdom the first country in the world to offer its citizenship to a robot.

Below the fold I have embedded the video of Sophia’s conversation with the host. It is obvious that most of the conversation was scripted. It is also obvious that robots still have a long way to go before their facial expressions appear natural to the human eye.

Posted north of Phoenix as we climb up onto the Colorado Plateau. Just saw the last saguaro in the cacti’s northern range limits.
» Read more

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3D printing and how it will change what things look like

Link here. The article not only outlines some of the newer developments in 3D printing, it gives a nice look at how that technology is literally going to change what the things it builds look like.

Simple shapes are popular in human designs because they’re easy. Easy to design, especially with CAD, and easy to manufacture in a world where manufacturing means taking a big block or sheet of something, and machining a shape out of it, or pouring metals into a mold.

But manufacturing is starting to undergo a revolutionary change as 3D printing moves toward commercially competitive speeds and costs. And where traditional manufacturing incentivizes the simplest shapes, additive manufacturing is at its fastest and cheapest when you use the least possible material for the job. That’s a really difficult way for a human to design – but fairly easy, as it turns out, for a computer. And super easy for a giant network of computers.

The result: a stronger object, less weight, and less cost.

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Some Amazon Echo speakers can be hacked to spy on you

Some of Amazon’s Echo speakers, designed to listen and record conversations if so commanded, can be hacked to record everything and transmit those recordings remotely.

First of all, you have to have actual access to the device to mess with its hardware. Then, you have to make sure it’s either a 2015 or 2016 model, as brand new Echo versions can’t be hacked similarly.

But if these conditions are met, then a hacker can quickly take the Echo’s base apart and load on it custom firmware that will instruct it to record everything spoken around it. That data can then be sent out to a remote server. That’s what Barnes did in his security tests. Hacking a home speaker may be the best way to spy on certain targets, even if this implies infiltrating their homes to actually mess with the hardware.

This is why I want nothing to do with smart machines. The dumber the machine, the better. I see no reason for my speakers, my washing machine, my car, or my stove, to be connected the internet. All such capability provides is a way to cause problems.

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The city of the future will watch you all the time

New computer software is making it possible for computers to quickly analyze the data provided by surveillance cameras, which in turn will allow businesses and government to track and identify city dwellers all the time.

Through partner businesses, Nvidia’s technology is set to take things even further, enabling autonomous aerial systems streaming video back from the sky, security robots driving themselves around looking for trouble spots, and ultra high resolution, super-wide panoramic cameras that capture a whole scene instead of needing to track and follow objects.

And instead of just recording and storing footage, every camera’s output would be constantly analyzed and crunched into useful data points. We’re talking facial recognition, vehicle recognition, and pattern tracking in road and pedestrian traffic.

Clearly this will be useful in a law enforcement and security sense, and several Nvidia partners are working along these lines. BriefCam, for example, is demonstrating technology that tracks individuals and vehicles through security footage, then produces super-quick review videos in which all events in a given time frame can be made to happen in a condensed format where a bunch of them are on screen at once.

It seems to me that this new technology fits very well with the urban leftist culture that runs most American cities these days. These fascist communities, run almost exclusively by Democrats, will cheer this surveillance as a way to protect themselves from bad things, including people with opinions they don’t like. Consider how useful this would have been to Berkeley, for instance, during its recent struggle to keep conservative speakers out of town.

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Making a Linux laptop

Yesterday while I was sitting at my desk working on my Linux desktop computer, I got a phone call from someone from “Windows Technical Support.” The man on the line said to me, quite nicely, that they had noticed a problem with my computer and wanted to help me fix it.

I said, “You are talking about my Windows desktop computer, the one I am working right now, correct?”

The man said sweetly, “Yes, sir. That’s the computer we have seen a problem with.”

I answered sweetly, “I just want to be sure, so let me ask again. You are referring to the Windows computer in front of me, the one on my desk?”

He responded, “Yes sir. Could you press your start menu please and go to settings?”

Unfortunately, I had too much work to do, and couldn’t spend more time with him. I would have liked to have lead him along for as long as possible, but simple didn’t have the time. Instead, I said, “Um, I can’t really go to my Windows settings because my desktop is a Linux computer, and has been for a decade. Have you heard of Linux?”

Instantly the phone went dead.

I tell this tale because it is only one more reason I abandoned Windows back in 2006. With Linux I have no viruses to worry about, and scammers like this can’t do me any harm.

Anyway, this post really isn’t about Windows scammers. Instead, I want to relate my experience this past week in setting up my first Linux laptop, following the step-by-step instructions provided by James Stephens and posted here on Behind the Black last year in the following series:
» Read more

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DARPA tests anti-terrorist radiation detection network

In an experiment testing a technology designed to detect the radiation from a terrorist-deployed small nuclear bomb, DARPA in October deployed more than a thousand volunteers in Washington DC to test a detector that can be carried in a backpack.

Recently, a geneticist was mysteriously abducted in Washington DC, leading to the US government deploying a small army of detectives to foil a dirty bomb plot. At least, that was the fictional scenario of a DARPA field test that saw a thousand volunteers equipped with smartphone-sized radiation detectors fan out over the National Mall in a radioactive scavenger hunt to test the progress of the agency’s SIGMA project, which is tasked with developing technology to combat nuclear terrorism.

Nuclear terrorism is one of the top nightmares of security services. Not only is the prospect of a dirty bomb involving radioactive materials dispersed by conventional explosives alarming, but tracking down illegal nuclear materials in an urban setting requires covering far too large an area for fixed sensors. Since 2014, DARPA has been working on how to produce a portable sensor array based on low-cost, high-efficiency, radiation sensors networked by smartphone networks to detect gamma and neutron radiation and evaluate the information in real time

According to DARPA, the SIGMA array was first tested in New York and New Jersey using 100 sensors. For the Washington test, 1,000 sensors were carried in backpacks by hundreds of ROTC cadets from the universities in the National Capital Region, midshipmen from the US Naval Academy, and DARPA personnel coordinated by the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).

Developing technology that can find and catch a terrorist who is trying to deploy a nuclear bomb in an urban area is certainly a good thing. I can’t help worry, however, about some larger philosophical concerns. Putting aside the specific technology being tested, the infrastructure being developed here that will make it easy for the government to deploy thousands of volunteers to hunt down an individual makes me a bit uncomfortable.

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First computer music recording restored

Engineers have restored the first recording of computer-generated music from 1951.

The oldest recording of computer music was made in late 1951 by a BBC outside broadcast unit at the University of Manchester for the BBC Home Service program Children’s Hour. The rough two-minute recording is of the Ferranti Mark I computer playing “God Save the King”, “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, and the popular swing-band hit “In the Mood.” The recording was made on mobile recording equipment and etched into a 12-inch, single-sided acetate disc, as was normal for the time.

The restoration determined that the record, one of only two in existence, played the music at the wrong speed. To make it sound correct, “it had to be sped up, extraneous noise filtered out, and digitally pitch-corrected to remove wobbles.”

You should definitely listen to it. Quite fascinating, especially since it includes the candid commentary of the technicians as they tried to get the computer to play.

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Hackers devise method to take over wireless keyboards/mouses

Your modern wireless computer is not safe: Hackers have devised an attack that is capable of not only recording the keystrokes and mouse actions of wireless devices, it can also take over the computer, and it can do it from hundreds of feet away.

On Tuesday Bastille’s research team revealed a new set of wireless keyboard attacks they’re calling Keysniffer. The technique, which they’re planning to detail at the Defcon hacker conference in two weeks, allows any hacker with a $12 radio device to intercept the connection between any of eight wireless keyboards and a computer from 250 feet away. What’s more, it gives the hacker the ability to both type keystrokes on the victim machine and silently record the target’s typing.

The keyboards’ vulnerability, according to Bastille’s chief research officer Ivan O’Sullivan, comes from the fact that they all transmit keystrokes entirely without encryption. The manufacturers’ only plan against attackers spoofing or eavesdropping on their devices’ communications is to depend on the obscurity of the radio protocols used. “We were stunned,” says O’Sullivan. “We had no expectation that in 2016 these companies would be selling keyboards with no encryption.”

In other words, if you use a wireless keyboard or mouse, your system is very vulnerable and exposed.

I find this story amusing in a sense, since my friends constantly make fun of me for not upgrading to these devises. I however see no reason to spend money on a new keyboard when the old wired one I have works fine. Now I have good reason, when I do upgrade, to avoid the wireless route.

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Swedish engineer test flies human-carrying drone

A Swedish engineer, in his garage, has built a flying vehicle using drones and gasoline engines.

You have to see the thing to understand how insanely simple, crazy, and cool this is. For example, the whole thing is essentially nothing more than a seat surrounded by eight drones, their spinning propellers rotating only about two feet from the passenger.

But it appears to work, though the design is without doubt not quite finalized. I have embedded a video of one of his test flights below the fold. This was fortunately an unmanned flight, because about three minutes in the vehicle goes out of control and crashes.
» Read more

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Getting and Installing Linux – Part 5

Running Windows programs on Linux:

An overview of WINE and Virtual Machine

by James Stephens

In addition to all the software available for Linux, Linux also possesses the ability to run Windows software using either WINE or in a virtual machine. This can be valuable in many ways, from running legacy software to running Windows and Linux on the same machine at the same time.

WINE is the open source implementation of CrossOver, which Apple users may already be familiar. It is essentially a translator: WINE sits between a Windows application and the Linux system, presenting what appears to be a Windows system to an application and generating Linux instructions for processing. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s pretty good. It’s fast and efficient, requiring little more resources then the application itself, making it suitable for older machines. When properly configured, Windows applications install as if in Windows and run on Linux like any other application. The backward compatibility of WINE is actually better then that of Windows itself. So if you have beloved but outdated software you can run it again with WINE. In my case that is a Windows 3.1 controlled audio mixing console. A lot of people like to play the old Windows 95 games. For more information including a list of compatible Windows software and performance assessments go to www.winehq.org
» Read more

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Flyboard Air company purchased

The company that designed the Flyboard Air jet hoverboard, featured here only two days ago in the Evening Pause, has been purchased by Implant Sciences, a company whose primary focus until now was explosive detection technology for the Homeland Security.

Implant Sciences is currently looking into the possibility of selling its explosives detection business, and the purchase of Zapata is subject to shareholder approval. Overall though, it seems pretty confident that the move could lead to big things. “We are beyond excited to have visionaries like Franky Zapata and his team on board and we are thrilled to allow for shareholders to benefit from the many breakthrough products he has already invented and the new innovations he will be unveiling in coming months and years.” said Implant Sciences president Robert Liscouski.

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EPA’s gasoline efficiency tests are garbage

Our government in action: The tests the EPA uses to establish the fuel efficiency of cars are unreliable, and likely provide no valid information at all about the fuel efficiency of the cars tested.

The law requiring cars to meet these fuel efficiency tests was written in the 1970s, and specifically sets standards based on the technology then. Worse,

[T]he EPA doesn’t know exactly how its CAFE testing correlates with actual results, because it has never done a comprehensive study of real-world fuel economy. Nor does anyone else. The best available data comes from consumers who report it to the DOT—hardly a scientific sampling.

Other than that, everything is fine. Companies are forced to spend billions on this regulation, the costs of which they immediately pass on to consumers, all based on fantasy and a badly-written law. Gee, I’m sure glad we never tried this with healthcare!

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Getting and Installing Linux – Part 4

The Software Manager

by James Stephens

A computer is nothing more than a toy unless it has the tools you need to get your work done, and Linux has a great set of tools. Most distributions come loaded with the tools most people use every day, a full office suite, graphics and media packages and so on. If you want more, a world of software awaits at your fingertips via the Software Manager. Think of it as the app store for your distribution, with tens of thousands of official titles vetted and available for download, most free of charge. No longer are you left to the wilds of the Internet to find what you need.

Most Linux Software is functionally equivalent to that of Apple or Windows. Most open source titles are ported to all platforms including Linux. So if you use an open source title such as Audacity or VLC media player, just type its name into the Linux Software Manager search bar and you will find it. For propitiatory titles such as Photoshop just define what it does, image manipulation for example, and the Software Manager will suggest Linux equivalents like GIMP or KRITA. In addition Photoshop and some other Windows software run great on Linux using WINE – the Windows compatibility layer. More about that later.
» Read more

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Breakthrough on battery life?

New research might have discovered engineering that could significantly increase the efficiency of the batteries we use.

This is where Mya Le Thai’s magic gel comes in. Typically, a Lithium Ion battery can go through between 5000 and 7000 recharge cycles before it dies and will also gradually lose its energy storage capacity over time. When researchers applied Thai’s plexiglass-like gel to gold nanowires in a manganese dioxiode shell, it increased that number to over 200,000 and the battery didn’t lose any of its power or storage capacity over a period of three months.

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Getting and Installing Linux – Part 3

UEFI and booting Linux on Win 8.1 & 10 machines

by James Stephens

Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is intended to be a modern alternative to BIOS. Ideally UEFI-(Secure Boot) blocks malware from being loaded when the computer is booted by using digital keys which software must possess in order to be booted onto the computer. UEFI supplants the traditional BIOS and it’s post screen, appreciably shortening boot times but sometimes adding a few more steps to set up a computer to boot into Linux. If necessary UEFI-(Secure Boot) may be disabled to allow access to the BIOS and the booting of non-UEFI complaint operating systems, such as 32 bit Linux or legacy Windows, and set up the computer to boot into Linux as I described in the previous post. But I recommend using UEFI if at all possible.
» Read more

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Why I use Linux, part 3,453,333

A woman has won $10,000 in damages from Microsoft for its attempt to upgrade her computers to Windows 10, without her permission.

I suppose one could argue that this is a reason to keep Windows, as you’d have a chance to win a jackpot from them in court. I prefer to be able to do the work I want to do, without harrassment.

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