An evening pause: An American car before Robert McNamara introduced built-in obsolescence.
Hat tip Cotour.
An evening pause: An American car before Robert McNamara introduced built-in obsolescence.
Hat tip Cotour.
Tractors manufactured in the late 1970s and 1980s are some of the hottest items in farm auctions across the Midwest these days — and it’s not because they’re antiques. Cost-conscious farmers are looking for bargains, and tractors from that era are well-built and totally functional, and aren’t as complicated or expensive to repair as more recent models that run on sophisticated software.
“It’s a trend that’s been building. It’s been interesting in the last couple years, which have been difficult for ag, to see the trend accelerate,” said Greg Peterson, the founder of Machinery Pete, a farm equipment data company in Rochester with a website and TV show. “There’s an affinity factor if you grew up around these tractors, but it goes way beyond that,” Peterson said. “These things, they’re basically bulletproof. You can put 15,000 hours on it and if something breaks you can just replace it.”
Because of the computer software built into the new machines, a farmer can no longer fix it himself. He must call in a service truck, at high cost with long wait times. This extra cost is on top of the high cost to buy the new tractor, which cost a lot more than the used machines.
I predict that the cost for used tractors is going to continue to rise, until some smart entrepreneur realizes the market possibilities, and begins making new tractors without the bells and whistles.
Buy dumb! According to a December 17, 2019 news story, modern cars automatically collect a vast amount of incredibly private information about their owners, especially if the owner uses the installed blue tooth phone and GPS.
[The reporter] discovered that the car was recording details about where the car was driven and parked, call logs, identification information for his phone and contact information from his phone, “right down to people’s address, emails and even photos.” In another example, Fowler bought a Chevy infotainment computer on eBay and was able to extract private information from it about whoever owned it before him, including pictures of the person the previous owner called “Sweetie.”
While GM was the subject of Fowler’s experiments, it’s not the only company collecting data on its drivers. In 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office looked at automakers and their data privacy policies and found that the 13 car companies it looked at are not exactly using best practices. For example, while the automakers say they obtain “explicit consumer consent before collecting data,” the GAO says they “offered few options besides opting out of all connected vehicle services to consumers who did not want to share their data.”
There is no justified ethical reason for any car company to collect and keep this information, especially without asking the owner permission to gather it. It simply does not belong to them, under any reasonable definition.
As I said, buy dumb. Better to get a used car without these invasive tools, or disable them if the car has them.
Boeing today fired its CEO Dennis Muilenburg, citing the need to “restore confidence in the company.”
The company has had a very bad year, with the grounding of its 737-Max airplane, the cost overruns and delays in its NASA Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and the failure of its Starliner manned capsule to dock with ISS this past weekend.
Whether this change will accomplish anything is hard to say. The problems above appear very deeply embedded within the company’s culture, and might require the kind of wholesale changes that big bloated corporations like Boeing are generally loath to impose.
An evening pause: Another example of someone who decides he wants to do something, and then goes out and does it. This STOL (short take-off and landing) home-built plane, dubbed Draco, was apparently a big hit in the small plane community. Sadly, in September the plane was totaled (no injuries) during a take-off with strong cross winds (video here).
Hat tip Cotour.
An evening pause: They call this an off-grid house, but that really isn’t true. Though he isn’t linked to either an electric or water utility, pay close attention to the amount of technology he uses to make the house and living there functional and practical.
Nonetheless, it is fascinating and educational to see some of the tricks that people will do to live as they wish.
Hat tip Cotour.
The used “dumb” machine we
paid $285 for that actually
cleans our clothes.
The “smart” machine that we
paid $923 for and sold for $40.
Two years ago our old Kenmore Series 80 washing machine broke down. The repair guy said it would be so expensive to fix that he recommended it was time to buy something new.
So off we went to Sears, where we ended up buying one of today’s modern “smart” machines for a mere $923. As the LG website proudly exclaims,
A Smarter Way to Wash: 6Motion™ Technology uses up to 6 different wash motions to provide a smart cleaning experience that is gentle on clothes and maximizes washing performance.
The problem was the machine never got any of our clothes clean. It also refused to provide enough water. The way it worked was to sense the weight of the clothes you put inside, and determine the needed amount based on this. Routinely, it wasn’t enough, so Diane did web searches to discover numerous owners faking out the machine’s brains by pouring several buckets of water on top of the clothes before turning on the machine, making them weigh more.
The machine also did not have an agitator, the new in-thing among washing machine manufacturers two years ago, probably forced on them by new federal regulations. And though the tub itself did shake, it did it so gently that the clothes hardly moved.
There were also other issues with the machine’s smart technology that frustrated Diane. The machine was boss, and would not allow for any flexibility to its predetermined wash and rinse cycles, even when they made no sense.
Last week Diane had had enough. She did some research, found a local used appliance store in Tucson, Rosano’s & Sons Appliances. Not only did they have a comparable washing machine to our old Kenmore, they gave their workmanship a six month warranty, and would buy our “smart” machine for $40. They wouldn’t pay more, because they explained that no one really wanted these new “smart” machines. The demand was for the older ones, the ones that while “dumb” worked.
And yes, they were right. Since getting the “new” used machine installed it’s like the good ol’ days, when washing machines were washing machines, and the dirty clothes you put in came out clean. Wonder of wonders!
The moral to this story is this: Buy dumb! The modern obsession with adding computer technology to what should be a very simple machine is not necessarily a good thing. Moreover, the regulations imposed by the federal government in the past decade to make many of our appliances “more efficient” and “environmentally friendly” has only served to make them useless.
So, if any of your old appliances break, and there is any possibility of fixing them, do it. It is worth the cost. The used Kenmore Series 70 we just bought cost less than a third of the LG “smart” machine, and does a better job. We would have saved money and had clean clothes for the past two years had we simply fixed the old machine. And if you can’t get the old machine fixed, find a used appliance place and buy used. It will also save you money, and you will also get an appliance that will do the job.
An evening pause: A quick review, with images, of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Like them, I was tickled by the gigantic scale of technological improvement that took place in this field in such a relatively short time.
Hat tip Ben K.
An evening pause: This is a set of two commercials. I have no idea what the product is that they are selling, nor do I care. They are hilarious, and speak well to the modern childish obsession of adopting hi-tech where no hi-tech is really needed.
Hat tip Edward Thelen.
Link here. The introduction:
A short list of the most transformative products of the past century and a half would include the lightbulb, Ford’s Model T—and the IBM System/360. This mainframe series forever changed the computer industry and revolutionized how businesses and governments worked, enhancing productivity and making countless new tasks possible.
In the years leading up to its 7 April 1964 launch, however, the 360 was one of the scariest dramas in American business. It took a nearly fanatical commitment at all levels of IBM to bring forth this remarkable collection of machines and software. While the technological innovations that went into the S/360 were important, how they were created and deployed bordered on disaster. The company experienced what science policy expert Keith Pavitt called “tribal warfare”: people clashing and collaborating in a rapidly growing company with unstable, and in some instances unknown, technologies, as uncertainty and ambiguity dogged all the protagonists.
Ultimately, IBM was big and diverse enough in talent, staffing, financing, and materiel to succeed. In an almost entrepreneurial fashion, it took advantage of emerging technologies, no matter where they were located within the enterprise. In hindsight, it seemed a sloppy and ill-advised endeavor, chaotic in execution and yet brilliantly successful. We live in an age that celebrates innovation, so examining cases of how innovation is done can only illuminate our understanding of the process.
Read it all. The story is fascinating, especially in how intellectual honesty made it a success. In one case two computer managers were competing directly against each other for the lead in how the product would be developed. The man that was picked immediately asked the loser to help him build his proposal, a level of honesty that certainly made this company work in the 1960s.
The story also has one bit of real irony. The 360 was a big success because it was compatible with IBM’s previous computer line, and was designed to be compatible across the board.
In the 1980s, IBM lost its entire dominance in the personal computer field when it introduced its second generation PC, the PS/2, which was NOT compatible with their first PC line. Customers fled to independent companies making computers compatible to IBMs first PC, and this loss of business ended up killing IBM entirely.
You would have thought they would have known better.
Hat tip Thomas Biggar.
A new study has found that parent-child interactions are more enhanced when parents read to them using printed books rather than ebooks.
The results were starkly clear, with verbal interactions between parent and child decreasing when using either form of e-book. The study revealed e-books and enhanced e-books altered both the activity of the parent and the child’s response to the experience. Parents using enhanced e-books, for example, asked fewer prompting questions to a child while reading, and what conversation there was tended to more frequently be about the device and the technology, instead of the story and characters.
“Parents strengthen their children’s ability to acquire knowledge by relating new content to their children’s lived experiences,” says lead author in the study Tiffany Munzer. “Research tells us that parent-led conversations are especially important for toddlers because they learn and retain new information better from in-person interactions than from digital media.”
The study is not an outright condemnation of ebooks. It is instead a first guidepost for reworking the electronic medium to make it function better, in all cases.
An evening pause: This video is even more interesting than my title above, in that the guy making it used his electron microscope to make an animation showing what it looks like when a record needle is running through the tracks of a record. Most cool.
And since vinyl appears to actually be making a comeback, I think that even the younger members of my readership will know what a record is.
Hat tip Thomas Biggar.
Older GPS and those that have not recently updated their firmware might not work properly after April 6, 2019.
GPS signals from satellites include a timestamp, needed in part to calculate one’s location, that stores the week number using ten binary bits. That means the week number can have 210 or 1,024 integer values, counting from zero to 1,023 in this case. Every 1,024 weeks, or roughly every 20 years, the counter rolls over from 1,023 to zero.
The first Saturday in April will mark the end of the 1,024th week, after which the counter will spill over from 1,023 to zero. The last time the week number overflowed like this was in 1999, nearly two decades on from the first epoch in January 1980.
You can see where this is going. If devices in use today are not designed or patched to handle this latest rollover, they will revert to an earlier year after that 1,024th week in April, causing attempts to calculate position to potentially fail. System and navigation data could even be corrupted, we’re warned.
Devices after 2010 should be all right, but it is advised to update the firmware to the latest version. Earlier devices might not fare so well.
The issue here is not so much handheld outdoor GPS units, but the GPS in smartphones as well as elsewhere. If you think a device you own uses GPS in any aspect, it is probably wise to update its firmware. The world is not going to end if you don’t, but you will guarantee that you will avoid some annoying inconvenience by doing so.
Scientists have developed and tested a 3D printing technique that quickly creates entire objects as a unit, rather than building them by layers.
Here’s how it works. First, the researchers use a computer-controlled digital light projector to cast a series of 2D images through a rotating vial containing a photosensitive gel. As the vial rotates, photons entering from different angles meet at selected spots in the gel. Where they meet, their combined energy solidifies the gel. Where that meetup doesn’t occur, the photons simply pass through without altering the photosensitive material.
The approach is fast, able to create complex objects, such as a centimeter-size copy of Rodin’s famous sculpture of The Thinker in just minutes, the researchers report today in Science. It can also make 3D plastic parts around existing objects, such as a plastic handle around a metallic screwdriver shaft. The approach could also be useful for encapsulating sensitive electronics, the authors write.
I think I have reported on this process previously, but this new paper shows a significant advance. Nonetheless, this engineering here is still very preliminary.
A new technique that allows metals to mimic the internal structure of wood could make nickel, and other metals, far far strong.
Led by James Pikul, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at Penn Engineering, the new study looked at new ways to take metal and give it the porous structure that gives wood its strength. In the past, this has been done by finding ways to turn molten metal into foam, or using 3D printing with hundred-nanometer precision to build up wood-like metal bit by bit. The problem is that metal foam is crude by modern engineering standards, while the 3D printing process is slow and very hard to scale up from lab-bench scales.
“The reason we call it metallic wood is not just its density, which is about that of wood, but its cellular nature,” Pikul says. “Cellular materials are porous; if you look at wood grain, that’s what you’re seeing – parts that are thick and dense and made to hold the structure, and parts that are porous and made to support biological functions, like transport to and from cells. Our structure is similar. We have areas that are thick and dense with strong metal struts, and areas that are porous with air gaps. We’re just operating at the length scales where the strength of struts approaches the theoretical maximum.”
According to the researchers, the key was to go to much smaller scales to produce much greater increases in strength. They manage this by suspending plastic spheres a few hundred nanometers wide in water, which is allowed to evaporate. As the water disappears, the spheres drop into a neat geometrical, crystalline pattern. This is then electroplated with a thin layer of chrome and the spaces between the spheres are filled with nickel. The plastic is then dissolved, and what’s left behind is an open network of metallic struts with 70 percent empty space – making it light enough to float in water.
The process is however very expensive, and so far has only produced some very small samples.
An evening pause: This is hard to explain, other than to say that sometimes style and beauty is hidden in plain sight.
Hat tip Jeff Poplin.
The Big Green government: Manufacturers of electric cars design the cars so that they routinely transmit information about the car’s status and position to the Chinese government.
More than 200 manufacturers, including Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Mitsubishi and U.S.-listed electric vehicle start-up NIO, transmit position information and dozens of other data points to government-backed [Chinese] monitoring centers, The Associated Press has found. Generally, it happens without car owners’ knowledge.
The automakers say they are merely complying with local laws, which apply only to alternative energy vehicles. Chinese officials say the data is used for analytics to improve public safety, facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning, and to prevent fraud in subsidy programs.
Outside of China the information is also gathered, but by private companies. Car owners can opt out, but that seems to me to be the unethical way to arrange this. Owners should instead be asked if they want to opt in.
In fact, the gathering of this data, privately or by governments, without the permission of the car owner, is entirely unethical and immoral. That these companies and their managers see nothing wrong with this is another illustration of the abandonment of morality in modern culture. It is also another reason why I want my hi-tech equipment to be as dumb as possible. Above all, I do not want it linked electronically beyond itself.
An evening pause: This footage was taken from 1896 to 1900 in Paris, and has been cleaned up and shown here at the correct speed with sound added to match the visuals. What you will see:
0:08 – Notre-Dame Cathedral (1896)
0:58 – Alma Bridge (1900)
1:37 – Avenue des Champs-Élysées (1899)
2:33 – Place de la Concorde (1897)
3:24 – Passing of a fire brigade (1897)
3:58 – Tuileries Garden (1896)
4:48 – Moving walkway at the Paris Exposition (1900)
5:24 – The Eiffel Tower from the Rives de la Seine à Paris (1897)
What strikes me is the dignified behavior and dress of the people. We are of course mostly looking at Paris’s high class streets, but nonetheless there is something in the culture that requires them to behave as civilized as they can.
The Perlan-2 glider yesterday set a new altitude record, reaching an altitude of more than fourteen miles.
Then on September 2, Perlan pilots Jim Payne and Tim Gardner strapped themselves in and rode the glider to an altitude of 76,000 ft (23,000 m), setting a new flight record. This is higher than Lockheed Martin’s jet-powered U2 spy plane flown by the CIA, which reached 73,700 ft (22,475 m), and places it amongst a handful of manned aircraft to sustain flight at such as altitude.
Implied but unstated in the article at the link is the military value of this technology, once combined with drone technology.
An evening pause: I would not be surprised if some of the younger readers of Behind the Black would need the instructions in this silent film in order to properly use a rotary phone.
Introducing any new technology requires instruction. This was strange stuff to homeowners in 1927, but a great improvement over party line phones that required an operator to do the dialing. And this was cutting edge then, and a symbol of the future.
Hat tip Jim Mallamace.
An evening pause: The youtube page explains:
Norwegian cruise ship “Braemar” was literally split in half. Carried out at the shipyard in Hamburg operation was aimed at extending the hull by 30 feet. Between the two separated parts inserted third. The ship was repainted and with a new name – “Balmoral” – went on another tour.
Hat tip Edward Thelen.
An evening pause: A little dense for non-engineers, but just clear enough to be educational for all.
Hat tip Edward Thelen.
As always, I am in need of suggestions for evening pauses. If you’ve seen something you think will fit, place a comment here, in this post, but don’t post a link to your suggestions. I will contact you so that you can send it to me direct and I can then schedule it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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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.