Saturday/ the new stations on Berlin’s U5

Here’s another reason for me to go to Berlin again some time (first reason is the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport): the expansion of the U5 U-bahn* line that had started in 2010, is now complete.

*Short for Untergrundbahn, ‘underground railway’.

I took this picture of the Rotes Rathaus (‘red town hall’, opened in 1869) on Rathaus-straße near Alexanderplatz in 2015. Construction of the U-5 line extension and stations were already well underway.
Here is the ‘Bärlinde’ tunnel boring machine they deployed. It is somewhat similar to the Bertha boring machine (dia. 57.5 ft/ 17.5 m) that was used in Seattle for the SR-99 tunnel, but this one is not nearly as big (dia. 22 ft/ 6.7 m).
The new part of the U5 line dips down from the Brandenburg gate to the station called Museum Insel (museum island, an island in the Spree River), and then goes up again to Alexanderplatz.
Inside the brand new Rotes Rathaus station on the U5 extension. [Picture credit: Der Tagesspiegel/ Annette Riegel]
“The U-5 crackles with History”  Come in! With 50,000 people that will be able to change between lines 5 and 6 in the new Unter Den Linden station, according to BVG, the city’s mayor hopes for a revitalization aboveground. He imagines concerts on Museum Island with fewer cars that are driven, and people can converse undisturbed.
Here is the history of the U5 line that now stretches back almost a century, to 1927. [Graphic from Der Tagesspiegel]

Monday/ better late than never

Two items in the ‘Better Late Than Never’ category, in the fight against the pandemic, were in the news today.
1.  Dr. Scott Atlas, Trump’s coronavirus adviser resigned.  (His ‘expert advice’ appalled public health experts).
2.  Washingtonians can finally activate or download the Coronavirus Exposure Notification app.  (In Western Washington, the number of new daily cases jumped six-fold just from September to November). The diagram below shows how this works.

Here’s how the Exposure Notification smartphone app, developed by Apple & Google, works. (Technical question: Bluetooth signals work up to 30 ft/ 10 m away. Does that mean I will get a notification if I had been as much as 30 ft away from a person that had tested positive for COVID-19 the last 14 days? I guess so! The fourth panel does say it needs to be ‘a significant amount of time’ – 15 mins, I would guess – that the phones had been in close proximity). [Graphic from the Washington State Dept. of Health website]

Saturday/ ‘your mesh connection is great’

‘A mesh network is a group of devices that act as a single Wi-Fi network; so there are multiple sources of Wi-Fi around your house, instead of just a single router. These additional Wi-Fi sources are called points or nodes’.
– definition from

My Wi-Fi signal downstairs was too weak for my new smart TV, so I opted for a mesh network to get a better signal downstairs — instead of adding a Wi-Fi extender to my existing network. Per my limited understanding, Wi-Fi extenders repeat the signal and thereby slows down its speed. Many times extenders broadcast a new network name, which could be a hassle for a user moving around a lot in the space.

I went with Google Nest Wi-Fi. For a small apartment, one node will do, but for a bigger space two nodes or more can be used.

Once I had the issues with my old Wi-Fi-enabled modem-router resolved (aka throwing it out and replacing it altogether with just a simple cable modem!), the set-up of the Google Nest Wifi mesh network was straightforward.

These little orbs (officially ‘Google Nest Wifi routers’) are the nodes in the mesh network. One of them is connected to the modem via an Ethernet cable (connector plugs are hidden on the bottom). All the other identical nodes are simply plugged in to a power outlet (not further apart than two rooms or so from any other). My node by the modem is upstairs in the study, with one more node downstairs in the living room.
Here’s what the walkthrough on the Google Home app looks like.
‘Your mesh connection is great’ .. music to the ears after the slog I had to replace the modem (50 mins on the phone with the ISP’s tech support only to conclude the old modem was not cutting it, and that I needed a new one!).

Wednesday/ my TV is now smart

My Samsung TV was 10 years old, and at long last it was time to upgrade to a smart 4K* TV.  I picked a Samsung again, and was planning to replace my 55″ screen with a similar size .. and then at the last minute in the store, opted for one with a 65″ screen.

I paid  $1,899 in 2010 dollars for the old TV (that’s $2,264 in 2020 dollars). The new one was all of $529, practically given away for free. (Alright, so not completely free).

*Smart= the TV can connect to the internet and offer all kinds of online content from providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and others.
4K= the screen resolution is 3840 x 2160; a fourfold increase over Full HD (1920×1080 pixels).

The 2020 French Open is underway in Paris. The silly American networks are VERY STINGY with their coverage. I should sign up for Tennis Channel’s content (it’s $100 per year).
YouTube posts highlights of the matches every day. My wifi signal is poor in the corner of my living room where the TV is, so what I did here is connect my laptop computer to the TV with an HDMI cable to get the tennis on the big screen. I’m still trying to find out why the laptop can pick up the wifi signal OK but the TV cannot! Anyway, here is the King of Clay (Spaniard Rafael Nadal, 34 yrs, nearside in the turquoise and pink!) in the second round against American Mackenzie McDonald, 25). Nadal won easily, but it was a triumph for McDonald just to be able to play. He tore his hamstring tendon last year in May and could not walk for two months after the operation to mend it.

Sunday/ the Model Y

Here’s a black Tesla Model Y that I found here on 17th Ave. It has a range of 315 miles, and sports a very sleek look.

‘While the introduction of the Model Y wasn’t as groundbreaking as the hoopla around Models 3, S, and X, it’s clear it is going to be big. SUV and crossover sales continue to dwarf sedan sales in the United States, and the Model X is probably a bit too radical and expensive for most potential EV* buyers, so the Model Y appears to hit the sweet spot buyers are looking for: an EV with plenty of cargo space and a high sitting position’.
– From a review on

*Electrical vehicle

Black is beautiful, but man! it shows dirt very quickly. If one gets the black paint, one should probably spring for the black wheels as well, instead of the silver.

Saturday/ go Slow


The Slow Mo 02 with its Apple-esque square face, all silver stainless steel, with a black dial, $300.
How to read the time. Love that last one .. would it be drama if ‘12.23’ is actually 12.24?



Is this the perfect watch for the pandemic? It’s a Swiss-made watch with one hand that rolls around the dial once every 24 hours. 12 noon at the top, of course, and midnight at the bottom.


Sunday 2 a.m./ a very witching time of night

‘Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on.
-From William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ (written 1599-1601), Act 3, Scene 2.

At 2 a.m. Sunday morning local time here in the United States, it was that silly moment of the year again. Clocks were made to ‘spring forward’ by one hour (adjusted to Daylight Saving Time).

Of course, only some clocks spring forward by themselves.
The others all have to be adjusted manually.

Clockwise from top left: my Dream Machine alarm clock, bathroom clock, wrist watch, kitchen clock, iPhone clock, coffee machine clock, landline phone clock, desktop PC clock, digital camera clock, TV clock, microwave oven clock, oven clock, Toyota Camry car clock. Only the iPhone, TV and PC have smart clocks.

Monday/ tally-ing up the inventory

I ran into Tally the inventory robot in the grocery store last night. I think it’s a good thing — letting a robot do the labor-intensive and repetitive process of physical inventory checking.

‘Yes, but does the store not have a count of the SKUs* on the shelf in its database, anyway? one might ask.  The store does, but human shoppers take items off the shelf and misplace it when putting it back, or – rarely, I hope – steal it. Or employees could unpack items in the wrong location, or forget to remove sale prices, and so on.  So there are always discrepancies between the SKU count in the database and the physical count on the shelf.

*Stock keeping unit

Tally the robot can read RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags, and she can also use AI-powered image recognition to identify different products on the shelf.

Sunday/ my big film scanning project

Two weeks ago, I discovered an entire shoe box of my old ’80s and ’90s film negatives (35 mm) and slides in my brother’s house.

We promptly went out and bought a cheap flatbed scanner (Epson perfection v370) that can scan slides and film, and I have been patiently feeding the scanner reams of 35 mm film.

The plan is to upload all the pictures to Google Photos, but only after I had date-stamped and geo-tagged them as well.

That way the Google photo engine will be able to search for, and group all the faces for me, put them on a timeline sequence, and also on a world map by location: very nice.

‘Nothing escapes Agfa’ was a tagline long used for Agfa’s 35 mm film. This colorful print envelope from 1998 could accommodate panoramic prints and must have been a high point in the consumer film development and printing age. Alas, digital cameras made its film obsolete, and 2004, Agfa-Gevaert withdrew its products from the consumer market, including photographic film, cameras and other photographic equipment.
Check it out: no squinting at your 35 mm negatives, there is an index printed on the inside of the envelope. And that date printed at the top of the printed index could prove to be very valuable later. I have to engage in some serious sleuthing to put even a accurate YEAR on some of my 35 mm negatives that are undated.

Tuesday/ the internet was almost the ‘cat-enet’

It was 50 years ago, to the day, that the first remote login from one terminal to another was done, on what was then called Arpanet. And so the internet was born, say the pundits.

Just in time for Halloween: Meihejia Funny Cowboy Jacket Suit, available on Amazon for US$16.

Research papers into the late 70’s referred to these linked terminals as the ‘catenet model’ (concatenated terminals). It was only in the early 80’s with the arrival of the Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) protocol that the term ‘internet’ was settled on.

And it would be until the mid-90’s, before the public-at-large would get drawn into the internet — by the likes of America Online and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Amazon (1997*), Netflix (2002), Google (2004), Facebook (2012) and Twitter (2013) would follow.

*The years the companies went public.

Friday/ dogs & cats, on Tik Tok

Young people are now flocking to the social media app called Tik Tok. (It is used to create video clips set to snappy music: clowning for the camera, falling down on your skateboard, shooting hoops, driving golf carts, stuff like that).

Trouble is, the servers are based in China, and regulators fear that the app could pose a national security risk (used to spy on American citizens, used in political influence campaigns, or even used by ISIS terrorists for propaganda).

Anyway – let’s see what the fuss is about, I thought.  My initial take: yes, as easy as YouTube to waste a lot of time on it. I stumbled onto a few cute animal videos (stills below), and I like those the best.

Cutie pie doggos. They evidently have a HUGE following, with 375,000 likes (the little heart icon on the right).
Stryker The Cat is a serval (Afr. tierboskat), a wild cat native to sub-Saharan Africa. In the video, Stryker appeared in the doorway, and spotted the chicken on the carpet (carpet with leopard spots, and on the balloon! LOL). It hissed loudly, and pounced on the chicken, growling as it sank its fangs into it. I trust Stryker is more than 50% domesticated!
Here’s one more. If looks could kill: Puma the mountain lion, facing off with the poor Sphynx cat, that does not even have a coat to protect itself from scratches and bites. 
Hiss-ss! Fang-gss for you! And then the Puma turned and walked away around the sofa.


Sunday/ take me to the Space ‘Neevle’

I spotted the Apple Maps car on Sunday here on Capitol Hill, presumably upgrading its survey of my neighborhood.

I see (online) that Apple Maps has improved vastly in recent years, and is ready to challenge Google Maps. Hmm. I have them both on my phone, so maybe if one leads me into a dead end somewhere in a new country or city, I can switch to the other app, and give it another try.

Just for fun, I asked for directions to the Space Needle on Apple Maps, and it really, really sounds as if the voice says Starting Route to Space Neevle. Proceed to .. ‘. That’s OK, though. Space Neevle/ Space Needle – close enough.

Here is the little Apple Maps car with its high-definition 360° cameras in the white dome, and that must be the LIDAR equipment (Light Detection and Ranging), in the gray cylinders below. The radars scan a terrain up to 80m all around, and collect a detailed cloud of points at some 700 000 points per second.

Tuesday/ reviving my iPhone

My iPhone (not even a year old, Xs) died all of a sudden today, even though it was about 75% charged.
I finally revived it by trying the Device Firmware Update button sequence several times:
Press & release Volume Up button;
Press & release Volume Down button;
Press and hold the Sleep/Wake button ..
.. and then the Apple logo came on and it came back to life.

Who knows what constellation of firmware, software and hardware settings was to blame for the system ‘s black-out .. but from now on, I’m going to close all open screens and turn the phone completely off & on again, at least once a week.

Maybe I take too many pictures with my phone, more than it can handle. This picture is the downtown Barnes & Noble Bookstore dinosaur figurine display. They were all jumbled up, and I straightened out the two Carnotauruses (orange, foreground) and Velociraptors at the back. These both roamed around on Earth some 72 million years ago.

July 20, 1969 .. + 50

July 20, 1969: Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the Moon. Neil Armstrong was first to step out of Apollo 11’s Eagle landing module, though – leaving the first human footprints on the moon.

Thursday/ about that drone that was shot down

Wow .. that drone shot down by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was not a garden-variety drone.
It was a Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Here are some of its attributes:
Wingspan: 130.9 ft / 39.9 m (wider than that of the Boeing 737)
Range: 14,000 miles / 22 500 km
Speed: 357 mph/ 574 kph
Ceiling: 60,000 ft/ 18 288 m
Endurance: 34 hrs
Cost: $200 million

So what will Trump do now?
He talks tough, but on Thursday called the incident ‘a big mistake’, meaning the Corps made a miscalculation and was not following orders from President Hassan Rouhani.

At this perilous time the United States has no Secretary of Defense (has not had one for more than 6 months, for the first time ever).
And now Trump seems to be the one that has to push back against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton. Both seem to be itching to start a war with Iran.

Not a good situation at all.

The RQ-4 Block 20 Global Hawk is the most advanced known High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft system in the world.

Wednesday/ geotagging photos – it’s fun!

Geotagging* a (digital) photograph is the recording of its geographical location, by assigning at least a latitude and longitude to the image. Sometimes other fields such as altitude and compass bearing could also be included.
The old film pictures I had scanned in for my iPhone and iPad photo albums have no geotag information, and so I geotagged them manually.

I have been very fortunate to be able to travel to many places in the world.
Check out some of the more unusual geotags that I had added to my pictures, below.

*Geotagging is done automatically by today’s smartphones, and by GPS-enabled digital cameras. The method I am using for scanned pictures, is to use an obsolete picture editor from Google called Picasa. Inside Picasa, one can call up a desktop version of Google Earth, that allows searches for places all over the globe, and the geotagging of their coordinates onto the picture.

This sandstone rock formation near Asab in Namibia was called Mukurob (‘The Finger of God’). That’s my dad’s truck, and the year is 1987 as we stopped there for a picture or two. Barely a year later, in 1988, the rock fell over (reasons unknown). So it is there no more.
Another picture from that 1987 trip shows my brother and I and mom and dad on the pier at Swakopmund in Namibia. So great to see the pier on Google Earth and go ding! tagged it! .. that’s where this picture is from!
Here’s a picture taken on a ferry in New York harbor, with the Twin Towers at the back. The year is 1995, shortly after my arrival in the United States. The company I had started to work for, had offices in Port Washington on the north shores of Long Island.
Here’s a very, very special place in Africa: a tiny island called Coetzer’s Island in Botswana. It is part of a game reserve, and named after my grandfather. The island is at the confluence of the Limpopo river (below) and Shasi river (sandy river bed at the top). That’s also where South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet. I have been there a dozen times, but not recently. The picture is from 1997.
Finally, of course – the one and only Space Needle in Seattle. The souvenir picture shows me and my older brother, visiting in 2004, and had no geotag before I tagged it in Google Earth.

Wednesday/ upgrade the bitrate, or not?

One can generate beautiful rainbow colors by reflecting sunlight off a CD’s silver surface. This CD in my collection has such awful scratches on, that some songs could not be read properly by my PC’s optical disk drive anymore. Man! WHAT did you do with it, to scratch it like this?, I wondered.

I remembered another unresolved issue with my iTunes music collection: the bitrate of the .mp3 version of the songs I had originally transferred into iTunes from CD, was as low as 160 kbps. This was oh, some ten years ago.

Nowadays, there is an ‘Apple Lossless’ option which will replicate the original CD in iTunes (bit rates of 900 kbps or more). The enormous storage capacity available on smartphones these days makes it possible to transfer and carry all of one’s CDs as-is in iTunes .. but is it worth it? The files would be up to 6 times larger than the original 160 kbps ones.

So my strategy is to upgrade only my very favorite CDs, say up to 30 out of the 300, that I now have in iTunes.

Saturday/ tuning up my iTunes

The Sony Walkman cassette player was a sensation when it came out in 1979, and I got one just a year or two later. It was a lot of money to spend at the time, but I loved it.

I’m still doggedly maintaining my iTunes library of music, even though music purveyors like Apple and Amazon are trying hard to make me let go and subscribe to their online music. For about $10 a month, one can get access to a vast library of old and new music (50 million songs), as well as curated playlists from music buffs.

But if one has listened to recorded music for several decades (me), and have bought music CDs in places all over the world*, it’s really hard to let go of all that. Why not keep the music on CDs AND upload it into a searchable collection of 2,000 songs to carry on your smartphone? It

*I left my vinyl collection behind in South Africa in 1995; gave it all to a friend .. but have replaced some of them with CDs, since.

There are heavy metal, rock, pop, Afrikaans, K-pop, classical music and many more albums in my collection. iTunes does not always pick up the artwork automatically when one imports it, but there is a way to upload artwork into iTunes. I found that ‘Jessica Jones’ picture on the far right online, and popped it in. The search for filling out the other gray boxes is ongoing.

Sunday/ Denny substation update

I went down to check on the construction of Seattle’s sleek new $209 million substation in South Lake Union today. Its construction has been three years in the making – and its planning much longer than that. Seattle City Light purchased the site from the Greyhound bus company in October 2008.

The work inside the substation is basically done, and the equipment has been energized. The walkways on its perimeter and the little public park are not yet open, though. There is also ongoing work done for building out an underground distribution network, scheduled to be completed in 2020.

Here’s a diagram that shows the incoming transmission lines (green), as well as the power distribution lines (lime green and orange). As substations go, this one is a decent size in terms of capacity, but not as big as a national grid substation. For now its capacity is 50 MVA (Megavolt-Ampere), but this could be increased up to 405 MVA to meet future power demands. The gas-insulated switchgear allowed for a smaller footprint for the substation.
Here’s the ground view from John St, looking toward Denny Way. I believe there is still some artwork that will be installed in the little public park: a 110 ft tall transmission tower-morphed-into-a-tree!
‘Seattle City Light Denny Substation’ says the lettering. This is looking west along John St. Space Needle on the right edge of the picture. The two trucks are parked in front of garage doors that allow maintenance vehicles to go into the substation.
And this will be the entrance to the information kiosk on Denny Way.