Residents of Cape Town recorded a record low water usage of 505 million litres (133 million US gals) for the city per day for last week. Still, the target is 450 million litres per day (50 litres/ 13 US gallons per person per day).
Day Zero (no water for faucets) continues to be pushed out, and the winter rainy season has started – but it is still uncertain how much rain it will bring.
Check out this interview that Mathias Döpfner had with Jeff Bezos in Berlin. They cover a lot of ground, and towards the end (skip ahead to 38:00), Jeff reveals why it is so important that humans (eventually) colonize other planets.
In a nutshell: as the animals that we are, our bodies burn energy at a rate of a 100W (of which 60W is for our brains). So: we need 100 W just to be alive. But a modern, civilized human – living in a climate-controlled house, and traveling, and working – easily burns 10 times that 100W, in terms of his or her energy usage. On Earth, the number of humans will keep increasing, as will their energy needs, as civilization progresses. We have become more efficient at harnessing resources from Earth and our sun for energy, but it will not be enough. We have to find extraterrestrial resources to harness, and to generate energy from, to ensure that humans can survive another 1,000 years and more.
Tomorrow is Earth Day. Let’s all pledge to 1. make more use of public transport where possible, and 2. to make our next car an electric one. Electric cars still make up less than 1% of global sales. Yikes.
I spotted a Knightscope security robot today, in a shopping mall parking lot in Bellevue. These are autonomous 6-ft high, 400-lb machines, filled with sensors. The robot scans the environment around it to create 3D images, and to check for unusual situations. I am sure they can already capture car registration numbers. Hmm .. and eventually, recognize the ‘FBI’s Most Wanted’ humans through face recognition?
I am not deleting my Facebook account, but they have lost my trust. Facebook will do almost anything for money. A sample: they enabled Russians to buy fake news ads (and pay in rubles) for the 2016 US Presidential election scandal, they enabled hate speechers to find target audiences on Facebook; allowed third parties to extract personal data, and then failed to follow up to make sure the data is deleted (the Cambridge Analytica scandal); scanned images and links sent from Messenger.
So now I go in every other day into my Facebook settings, and I am systematically deleting anything that they can use to sell me stuff. No more favorite movies or books, deleting my interests, do not enable just anyone to view my profile, do not enable face recognition in my photos, delete all connections to other apps. Sending money with Facebook? (yes, it can be done). Never.
We spotted a Tesla Model 3 across the street while we were having a beer and a bite at Elysian Capitol Hill Brewery on Saturday night. It’s amazing how much smaller in size, just 11 inches in length can make a car look (185″ long vs. 196″ for the Model S). I liked the styling and the lines on the Model 3 a lot.
BloombergBusinessweek calls the Spectre and Meltdown security vulnerabilities in billions of Intel & Apple computers all over the world, that became public early this January, ‘staggering security flaws’. (Intel is getting most of the flak. Ninety percent of the world’s computers, and 99% of servers, run on Intel chips).
So .. is there a somewhat straightforward explanation of these two types of attacks? And what is a poor sap such as me to do with his computers and devices (besides taking up a life in the woods and refrain from using them)?
It turns out almost all the big tech companies (Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others) have worked together since June 2017 to create software patches so that hackers would not exploit the flaws. But fixing the problem for all platform and hardware combinations still has a long way to go.
As always, users should update their Linux, Windows, Apple MacOS or Apple iOS device operating systems, as soon as upgrades and fixes become available. Use proper passwords (and change them from time to time). Never click on links in suspicious e-mails (or: ‘don’t run someone else’s code on your machine’). Consider installing a Java script blocker such as uBlock Origin for browsers.
The problem is that the patches are causing PCs to freeze up or slow down, among other issues. Linux inventor Linus Torvalds called Intel out and says some of the proposed fixes are ‘complete and utter garbage’.
There was a cute report in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal about millions of Indian smartphone newbies. They just love to use WhatsApp to send sappy ‘Good Morning’ pictures to all their family and friends. And so after a year or so, many users would find their phone storage completely clogged up with ‘Good Morning’ pictures.
Google researchers half a world away, thought at first that there might be a problem with the Android operating system (making the phones freeze up). But when they found the cause was simply a phone filled to the brim with pictures, they posted an Android App that would search for, and clear out, these ‘Good Morning’ pictures by the thousand. Since December there were more than 10 million downloads of the app, and the problem is solved for now.
The Amazon Go store here in downtown Seattle opened today to the public (required for entry: an Amazon account and a phone with the Amazon Go app). I still have to go and check it out.
The main store concept is that there are no check-out lines. There are hundreds of cameras in the ceiling, sensors on the shelves, and bluetooth beacons in the store, to track and update what is taken as the shopper goes through the store. As far as I can tell there are no physical carts that one pushes through the store (I don’t see any in pictures from inside the store). The shopper brings a carry bag/ shoulder bag to put items directly into. So this is smaller volume and higher-end grocery shopping than at say, one’s traditional grocery store.
I decided I’m still not ready to spring for a new iPhone 8 or iPhone X. So I went to the Apple store here in Seattle, to inquire about a replacement battery for my old iPhone 6s. (Apple has a special offer of $29 for battery replacements for certain older phones. Normally they charge $79).
Well – it turned out that I’m going to get the battery for free. The analysis they ran at the store showed that the battery in my phone has gone through 533 charging cycles, and its capacity is now down to 80%. It is also from a batch of batteries that had since been marked as slightly flawed – hence its free replacement.
At 8.10 am on Saturday, more than a million Hawaiians were jolted with an ominous text message: ‘Ballistic missile threat inbound, seek immediate shelter’.
The message was generated by accident by someone during the shift change-over at the Hawaii Emergency Response Management Agency. It took 38 minutes to send a correction text. Governor David Ige announced later that the early warning system was suspended ‘until further notice’, and that the procedure will be changed to require two people to activate the alert*. The White House shrugged. ‘Merely a state exercise’ said deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters, and that President Trump had been informed.
*It’s just mind-boggling that this was not done to start with – and quite incredulous that the designers of the system’s messaging had created no follow-up options of ‘Cancel Alert’ or ‘Threat Over’ or ‘Safe Now’.
Sunday morning: Front Page of the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
I replaced just about all the light bulbs inside my house with light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs this year. It’s amazing: a tungsten-filament bulb that used to run at 60 Watt, can now be replaced with one that run only at 9 W! This is much better still, than the 13 W for compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. General Electric is now stopping production of domestic CFL lamps in favor of LEDs.
So for Christmas lights, many home-owners can now install strings of LED lights as well. Yes, these cost more to purchase, but a lot less to operate. (Every year we see reports of home-owners that set up displays with 100,000 bulbs or more, and that ‘borrow’ electricity from their neighbors to power it all up). LEDs also last longer than traditional incandescent glass lights, and are a safer light source since the bulbs do not get as hot, and are made of epoxy, not glass.
A self-driving shuttle got into an accident on its first day of service in Las Vegas. Aw – but it was a human driver’s fault, actually (or – of course? Can I take the side of the machine even though I am a human?). A large delivery truck operated by its human driver, pulled out into the street from a loading bay. The shuttle came to an abrupt stop, but the truck grazed the front of the shuttle bus. Fortunately, none of the eight passengers, nor the truck driver, were injured.
A coulee is a kind of valley or drainage zone. The Grand Coulee is an ancient river bed in north-central Washington State. And the Grand Coulee Dam is a massive concrete gravity dam on the Columbia River, built to produce hydroelectric power and to provide irrigation water. Only the Three Gorges dam in the Yangtze River in Hubei province, China, is a bigger dam in terms of concrete used for the dam wall and construction.
The original dam was constructed from 1933 to 1940 at a cost of $300 million. The Third Power Plant, constructed from 1967 to 1980, cost $700 million. If the dam were constructed today, it would cost $8.26 billion. The dam today generates some 20 billion kW-hrs of electricity every year, distributed to 11 states.
I watched Apple’s webcast today, of its annual product announcement, beamed from the new Apple ‘spaceship’ headquarters in Cupertino. It’s been ten years since the iPhone took the world by storm in 2007, and today the ‘one more thing’ (as Steve Jobs used to say) was the iPhone X (say ‘ten’, not ‘X’).
Apple ‘haters’ (they hate the ‘fanboys’) were quick to point out that many of the ‘new’ features have been available in Android phones for some time. (Yes .. but it’s new in an iPhone).
I don’t think of myself as an Apple ‘fanboy’! – but I will probably upgrade my iPhone 6 to the iPhone X early next year. It’s all about the camera for me, and the new 12 MP cameras come with nifty software settings and photo options. The new phone can take beautiful portrait pictures with the background filtered out to black, for example. I’d better start putting my money aside: $999 for the 64 GB model and $1,150 for the 256 GB model. That’s the price of a full-blown new notebook computer, since that’s what these phones are: super-mini-tablet computer-cameras-in-our-pockets.
My new notebook computer landed on my doorstep on Friday, and my first impressions are very favorable. It’s light, and very similar to my Lenovo notebooks from work that I had used for 8, 10 hours a day for a very long time. I did consider a MacBook and others, but my fingers are so, so used to the Lenovo keyboard. A new notebook with a different keyboard layout and feel can bring a lot of frustration, and be hard to get used to again (sort of like a rental car with the levers for the wipers and turn signal switched from one’s own car).
It did take a little patience to get the machine set up. There was a massive 4 Gigabyte Windows 10 update needed to what was already loaded on the machine.
Then, when I downloaded and attempted to install Google Chrome (as browser instead of Microsoft’s Edge), the infamous blue screen of death came up. Aargh. Microsoft calls it a ‘stop screen’ – and these days the blue screen is not a dead stop requiring a hard reboot. Electing to re-install the very large OS update did the trick.
I have a number of old PCs, notebook computers and external hard drives that I have mothballed, but that I had not yet taken to the recycle shop here in Seattle. Although I had deleted all the files from them*, the drives still need to be scrubbed. (Yes, I could physically destroy the drives with a hammer, but that is messy and I wanted to avoid it).
*Deleting files just change some of the pointer information on it. It does not remove the file from the drive.
I finally found a solution: a military grade drive erase program called Darin’s Boot and Nuke program (DBAN). It’s open source software and free for personal use, but it does take a little work to set up and use. (Here’s a review).
First, download a program and use it to burn a boot file onto a DVD. Then set up the computer with drives to be erased, to boot from this DVD (not from its hard drive). The program then lets the user select the hard drive or external drive that should be obliterated (overwritten). OK, time to pay attention. Verify twice, erase once (along the lines of the tailor’s motto ‘Measure twice, cut once’). The warning says ‘This program irrecoverably destroys data’ . Yes. That is what I want.
The Hydrogen Council* was announced in Davos this January – a global initiative to provide a united vision and long-term solution for using hydrogen instead of fossil fuels for transportation and as a renewable energy source generally. (Their proposition is here). Hydrogen fuel cell cars have a formidable future competitor in electric battery cars.
*The member companies are : Air Liquide, Alstom, Anglo American, BMW group, Daimler, Engie, Honda, Hyundai, Kawasaki, Royal Dutch Shell, Linde Group, Total and Toyota.
Hydrogen as a fuel can be generated in a true zero emission fashion, though.
> Plenty of free sunlight + abundant water + electrolysis = hydrogen.
> Use hydrogen as a fuel; water is the by-product.
> NO carbon involved or CO2 produced anywhere. Yay!
.. is the proposition.
So what else is going on? Well – Toyota’s $57,500 hydrogen fuel cell car, the Mirai, is off to a slow start (about 400 sold in California so far), but there are other companies jumping into the fray as well. A start-up company called Nikola (not to be confused with Elon Musk’s Tesla) announced the Nikola One in December, a hydrogen fuel cell truck that will be available in 2020. Nikola is going for 100% vertical integration, which means they will build solar-cell power stations to generate electricity for the electrolysis of water to generate hydrogen for its trucks. You lease the truck and Nikola provides the hydrogen and the hydrogen refueling stations needed for it.
There was a great documentary by Japanese national broadcaster NHK on TV on Saturday, about the advances made to create self-driving cars. NHK mentioned four levels of sophistication, but I see Wired magazine uses five levels (credit to Wired magazine for the Level 0 to Level 5 pictures). Google is going for the making the software, and will sell it to car makers, much like it is selling Android software to mobile phone makers. Car makers are partnering with technology companies for the hardware and software that is needed for these cars. Other vendor companies to car makers are retooling and scrambling not to be left out, for the day when items such as rear-view mirrors for the driver, will be obsolete. NHK had a rear-view mirror manufacturer on that is rapidly transitioning to mirrors that show an image generated by a camera, instead of just being a mirror (presumably the rear-view mirror’s image is just part of the bigger all-around image that the car ‘sees’). Anyway, check out those levels of self-driving cars. Everyone wants a Level 5 car, of course!
It’s time to jump on Amazon and order new smoke alarm devices for my house, I decided. The ones I have are 14 years old, and each has the very annoying habit of starting to chirp when the battery inside starts to lose its voltage.
A good rule of thumb here in the United States is to just change out the smoke alarm batteries when the Daylight Savings Time ends in November – which I did not do. ‘My bad’, as the (North American slang) saying goes. And sure enough, this Friday, just as I was talking on a conference call for work, the alarm right by me started chirping noisily. (It gives out a chirp once every minute). Sometimes I would come home from a trip, and one of the three alarms in the house would chirp – making me wonder if I annoyed the neighbors.