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"Murphy was an optimist!"

Autonomous cars are so close to reality April 2, 2015 9:03 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Robotics, Technology, Transportation, Travel
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When I declared automated cars to be on our roads within 5 years and highly adopted in 10 years with private transportation becoming obsolete in 15-20 years, my friends looked at me like I was nuts and an overoptimistic technologist.

Mark my words, a transportation revolution is happening and most people are completely unaware how fast it is coming.

Telsa has joined the ranks of autonomous vehicles: Tesla Testing Software For Autopilot Trips Between Seattle & San Francisco

Elon Musk’s promise to deliver a fully functional self-driving car within the near future appears to have some truth to it — it seems to have not been an exaggeration, in other words (despite his habit of overstating things). The company has reportedly begun testing software that will allow the Model S to “drive itself” all the way from San Francisco to Seattle.

[Source, Clean Technica]

I so welcome it. The ramifications of autonomous vehicles is huge! Think of the infrastructure changes alone:

So many possibilities!

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Power tools under used (mostly to look at pictures of cats) April 1, 2015 9:04 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Daily Life, Technology
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Q: If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about life today?

A: I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man.
I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers. (by user nuseramed)

[Source, Reddit, AskReddit]

I purchased the Omnigroup tools to get my professional (and personal) life in order. I am now heavily using Omnifocus and loving it! One of my favorite features of Omnifocus is the location based reminders. I can set a reminder for the Office so that when I arrive at work, the reminder pops up on my phone (and in turn on my Pebble watch). Now wait, doesn’t the iPhone have this same functionality in its built-in Reminders app? Yes it does! But I’ve never used it. Omnifocus differs from Reminders in functionality. Apparently the iPhone Reminders app has a tighter radius on the location awareness. Back to function. Reminders is simply a reminders list. Omnifocus is adaptable to whichever productivity management style you have. It was written primarily with Getting Things Done in mind but will work well with Covey’s First Things First and many of the other productivity structures out there.

I find myself leaving my Narrative camera at the office frequently. Today I decided to setup a location aware reminder in the iPhone Reminders app to warn me when leaving the office with a daily reminder "Got Narrative?"

Why did I choose Reminders over Omnifocus? Simply because when I look at my list of daily todos, I do not want it cluttered with a recurring reminder to do simple things. However, I want that daily reminder to do simple things and this is a fantastic use of Reminders. I will be using this heavily now. I will use the location aware contexts of Omnifocus for important reminders that do not regularly recur such as "Drop child’s lunch check off at the elementary school" which would pop up as I drove by the school on the way to work.

We have these amazing tools for enhancing our lives but rarely exploit a fraction of their full potential. I bet your DSLR has a manual’s worth of menus and settings you’ve never even thought to explore. When I speak of smart homes, automation, and a technological society, these simple tools like the iPhone’s Reminders program are much of what I am referring to.

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Confessions of a programmer March 19, 2015 11:46 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Confessions of a programmer, Daily Life, Philosophy, Programming, Technology
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My job does not pay me enough to afford the quantity of alcohol required to do my job. #coap

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Take my money now! December 11, 2014 6:29 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Of Interest, Technology
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Dear Santa, I want this:

See more here.

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RIP Nabaztag aka Karotz November 10, 2014 7:46 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Gadgets, Technology
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NO! One of my favorite Internet devices, and one of the first Internet of Things, and MY personal (technically my daughter Sarah’s) first Internet appliance, the Nabaztag later renamed Karotz, is dead.

Karotz was the predecessor to Jibo, Philips Hue lighting, and the Amazon Echo doing such feats as reading text messages aloud to you, reading RSS feeds, indicating the weather through color changing LEDs, allowing your connected friends to interact with you by manipulating your rabbit via sounds, spinning ears, spoken words, and flashing lights.

Thank you Philip, the Blue Sloth, for introducing me to the Nabaztag, and for the fun interactions we had from house to house. Two strangers in real life, friends in a virtual world, who met through blogging, and sent spontaneous spoken messages to each other through an electronic rabbit. That connection was severed when support ended for Nabaztag v1. Our digital world has an innate ability to conquer physical, emotional, political, religious, socioeconomic, and other divides. This rabbit did just that.

"Originally launched on the market in 2005 under the name of Nabaztag, Karotz has been a pioneer in the field of connected and communicating devices.
The very active community around this rabbit has widely contributed to make it so popular.

Today, nearly 10 years after its first appearance, Karotz is facing a very strong technological competition: the connected devices are now 4G, mobile and evolutionary. Karotz and its users have not only helped establish connected devices; they have paved the way. New products make a stronger match to market needs, marking the end of Karotz’s great story.

To keep on offering you innovative and endearing companions, Aldebaran is refocusing on our core business: humanoid robots.

Therefore Karotz’s servers and customer service will be stopped on February 18th, 2015.

Bruno Maisonnier,
Aldebaran CEO"



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Why did I buy a Macbook Pro? November 9, 2014 10:34 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Hardware, Technology
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I bought a Macbook Pro because in the time it took my Windows laptop to install 3 updates and reboot I used the Macbook Pro to install a security certificate, troubleshoot a malfunctioning website, create a test database and remove that test database, and a bit more. Is the PC laptop old? In all fairness, it is 4 years old so it is at the end of its life. None-the-less, this Macbook Pro kicks butt!

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Missed moments November 4, 2014 7:25 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Daily Life, Family, Of Being Dad, Software, Technology
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Children grow too fast. And we have too much to do in too little time. I see things on the Internet and I am deeply moved. Often, I am moved to sadness. For instance, this video (h/t Victor Agreda Jr) is a fantastic means to explain an open API to someone. As I watch it, I feel a giddiness over the explanation and the hopes of using it to explain APIs to my children, and I feel a heaviness in my chest, for I have never played War, or many card games, with my children.

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NASA was not responsible for the Antares rocket explosion October 28, 2014 9:45 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Technology
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For everyone about to declare that NASA needs to hand space launches over to private industry like Space X because of the Antares rocket explosion, please make yourself aware that the Antares rocket was built by a private corporation and the launch was staffed by that same private corporation.
“NASA didn’t build it, or launch it. The entire thing was handled by the commercial company Orbital Sciences Corporation.”


See also: http://www.nasa.gov/mission…/…/structure/launch/orbital.html

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Reflector vs AirServer vs ?? October 26, 2014 10:17 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Software, Technology
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So many different ways to share screens on the Mac. I was using Reflector on my PC. Now I need something for the Macbook. I like Reflector because I can record demos of my iPhone apps. Apparently you can do the same with AirServer but I would need QuickTime Pro (which I probably need anyway). I also think that Yosemite has similar functionality built-in. What do you use to share an iPhone or iPad to your laptop screen?

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My foray into the Cult of Jobs October 26, 2014 10:11 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Hardware, Software, Technology
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When I moved daughter to New York City for college, a client needed something and I had not brought my wife’s netbook with us. At the time, I still worked on a desktop. I walked into Staples, and they had a 17″ full-sized keyboard with number pad Windows HP laptop on sale for $450. It was an i5 processor (maybe i7) with 4 gb of ram that I later updated to 8gb. Had HDMI out and so more ports than I ever used. It was a remarkable laptop. Over time, it slowed. It became problematic. A 5 minute task could turn into 30 minutes or an hour after troubleshooting. I’d get to bill my clients 5 minutes while losing an hour of my life. Eventually I opened it and replaced the CPU fan which was filled with animal dander and dust. The machine ran a little better but not enough. The time had come for a new machine. Laptops in the personal world probably have a 5 year livespan. In the business world, 2-3 years is typical.

I purchase a 15″ Macbook Pro Retina with 16gb ram and a 500gb ssd hard drive. My only regret may be that I did not shell out the extra money for a terabyte hard drive. This machine is remarkable. None-the-less, issues arise. Like when I attempted my first Garage Band project:

Could not find layout General Audio 10

A quick Google search found the solution. Simply look under the Garage Band menu, select "Restore Sound Library" then "Update Sound Library" and about 15gb laters, you’ll be functioning.

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What advice do you have for a new Macbook Pro owner? October 6, 2014 1:59 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Hardware, Software, Technology
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Let’s say I went Full Jobs and dove head first into the Cult of Mac. As a programmer who develops web applications and wants to develop iOS and Android apps as well as play with many of the interesting APIs out in the wild, what you be your advice for programs to install, tweaks to apply, and other hacks that should be done to said hypothetical Macbook Pro?

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Good light show coming…you just won’t be able to talk about it September 11, 2014 9:05 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Announcements, Of Interest, Science, Space, Technology
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Watch for some fascinating Northern Lights coming this Friday.

Satellites have just detected a powerful X1.6-class solar flare. The source was active sunspot AR2158, which is directly facing Earth. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the extreme ultraviolet flash. Ionizing radiation from the flare could cause HF radio blackouts and other communications disturbances, especially on the day-lit side of Earth. In the next few hours, when coronagraph data from SOHO and STEREO become available, we will see if a coronal mass ejection (CME) emerges from the blast site. If so, the cloud would likely be aimed directly at Earth and could reach our planet in 2 to 3 days.

[Source, Slashdot, X-Class Solar Flare Coming Friday]

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Out of Electrons August 3, 2014 11:18 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Daily Life, Family, Of Being Dad, Technology, Transportation, Travel
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[n.b. This first draft is riddled with typos.]

The first statement everyone makes when you tell them you drive an electric car (an ev) is "I could never drive one of those. They don’t go far enough." The truth of the matter is they do go far enough and once you start driving one range anxiety is laughable. The next thing out of their mouths is the question "how long does that take to charge?" I answer with the 120V numbers of trickle charging 11-22 hours, 220V recommended charging is 2-4 hours, and 440V charging gets a full charge in 30-40 minutes. They respond, "I can gas up in 5 minutes and gas is everywhere." The 220V chargers are fairly prolific but you have to know what you are looking for and that’s where I made my mistake last night. I drove past the charger.

The naysayers of electric vehicles really are just making excuses. It’s a comfort zone thing. They are used to having their internal combustion engines and gas stations. Truth of the matter is we have all run out of gas before. Or been down to fumes praying the next exit on the interstate has a gas station that is open. We’ve all borrowed a can of gas to make it to the gas station. I was in the car with a friend whose car ran out of fuel in a dangerous curve. A policeman pulled up, opened his hood, picked a coke bottle up off the ground, fished a tube out of the engine and put 40 ounces of fuel in the car so my friend could get to the gas station. Until then, I didn’t know that feature was built into a police cruiser.

What happened?

I have not gone to the expense of installing a 220V charger at the house so we trickle charge over night. We get about an 88 mile range on the car which is great for daily commuting and most of the things we do in our lives. We’ve even taken our Nissan Leaf to the entrance of the Smokey’s so we could go tubing in Townsend with no problem. Next year, Nissan will release a new EV with a 200 mile range and Telsa will release a less expensive version of their car with a 300 mile range. Those ranges are comparable to any ICE (internal combustion engine) and when you factor in the power of those direct drive motors, the lack of maintenance (all I have to do is rotate tires and change break pads…that’s it!), the quiet of the car, the lack of a fuel bill, and the pleasure of driving them, we will see more and more EVs on the road. Since we trickle charge, after a day of heavy use, we might wake to an incomplete charge. Yesterday, we began with a 50 mile range and a long list of errands.

I begin heavy driving days by looking at the map of chargers. This is not dissimilar to planning a road trip in the 70s. Yesterday, I knew we would be near the Cracker Barrel with a 440V charger and thought we might take a 30 minute snack break there but we didn’t. When our errands were done, we had not hit any chargers and I said to the wife, "We need to go to Calhouns and have appetizers or drinks for half an hour before going to the in-laws." We didn’t. I said, "We have enough charge to make it to the in-laws but we will have to plug in at their house." I looked for an extension cord only to find it being used in the boys’ room. I said, "Shut down your computers and give me the extension cord." The boys whined. The wife said, "Granddaddy will have an extension cord." We drive to the in-laws and I as my son, the 18 year old who starts college next week, to plug in the car. A bit later I decide to check on it only to find it not charging. After 15 minutes of fiddling and manual reading, I decide to plug into a different outlet. Upon unplugging the extension cord, I find the ground plug has been broken off. Of course the car circuitry will not attempt a charge on a non-grounded system. My disbelief that my son who wants to study physics and chemistry doesn’t know better leaves me feeling like a failure of a father. I see another extension cord and they are all broken. My choices? Have someone follow me to Cracker Barrel (4.1 miles away with 3 miles on the battery) or I could drive to Home Depot and buy an extension cord (this, I should have done!). Granddaddy insists on fixing his cord and steals the 18 year old away. Light begins to fade and I decide to leave the 18 year old but he shows up just as we were pulling away…good thing, I ended up needing him to push the car.

I had a plan: Go shopping. While shopping, get some juice.
I had a backup plan: Charge the car over drinks.
I had a backup backup plan: Charge the car at the grandparent’s house.
I had a backup backup backup plan: Charge the car at Victor Ashe Park.
I had a Hail Mary: Charge the car at Cracker Barrel (taking the wife and two bashful adult boys into the neighboring Hooters for half an hour would have been amusing).

My first plan of charging while shopping failed and I had not really counted on it anyway. Most businesses have not yet caught onto the fact that providing charging to customers will pull customers in. We went to Costco yesterday to inquire about membership. The salesperson repeated proudly, "and you get discounted gas" over and over. I wanted to say, "I don’t care about your gas. Why don’t you have an electric charger?" Thursday, when Cathy and I went to see the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy, we didn’t need a charge but I paid Calhouns $3 to use their charger to top off the car while we watched the movie…because it was convenient. Right now I split my grocery shopping between Fresh Market, Earthfare, Kroger, and Publix. The first one of those businesses that realizes they should provide a charger will probably win the lion’s share of my grocery shopping. EVs en masse are coming rapidly and businesses are completely missing the boat as they install more gas stations. Petrol stations are going the way of the dinosaur. I truly can’t remember the last time I pumped gas. Businesses need to install electric charging stations and they need to do it in parking spaces closest to the entrance. Mark my words!

My backup plan was to have drinks at Calhouns but we dillydallied at the house. Nonetheless, we still stopped at West Hills Park and took a 15 minute charge. We should have made it a 30 minute charge as planned. Hindsight.

The backup backup plan was to charge at the grandparents. Haven’t relented on taking my own extension cord, we arrived, as described above, only to find no available extension cords. Acting against my gut once again, I did not take the car to a charging station nor did I go buy an extension cord. Can you guess why I’m buying and leaving in the spare tire compartment? Yes, a very long extension cord dedicated to the Leaf!

The car now reported 3 miles on the batter. Cracker Barrel was 4.1 miles away so it was the Hail Mary. Had I gone straight there, I think we could have charged at Cracker Barrel while having drinks at Hooters and giggling as the boys struggled to look and not look at the waitresses. That didn’t happen of course. The backup backup backup plan ended up being Victor Ashe Park. We made it! The park was open. The two chargers glowed like lighthouses in the night. One was flashing out of order. The other looked like it was going to work but when I plugged in it declared "Electrical fault: Charging station will reset in 15 minutes." I pressed the button on the steering wheel to locate nearby charging stations and Copper Cellar popped up 1.1 miles away. Where was a Copper Cellar 1.1 miles from Victor Ashe Park? My curiosity piqued and my hopes rose.

The new backup backup backup backup plan became the Copper Cellar (still could have drinks!). With three dashes where numbers usually tell me how many miles I have left and Hal chanting loudly, "You aren’t going to make it Dave" but in a woman’s voice using the words, "Extremely low battery charge. Find a charging station now." I drove off into what quickly became an industrial park of offices in chain length fence. I knew exactly where I was. I hidden treasure trove of Knoxville’s restaurant industry’s corporate offices and supplies houses (you can get some killer kitchenware here). I panicked. I presumed the chargers were behind a fence for employees. I failed to read my app that said the charging stations were available 24/7 for Blink customers. As I rounded a corner I looked down at the dashboard map and compared it to my phone to calculate the most direct route to Cracker Barrel. Looking down, I failed to see the two available charging stations glowing brightly like beacons in the light. Angels sang. Daylight penetrated the night illuminating the stations. And we drove right past them. The director looked dejected. Coughed. Signaled the angels to stop their chorus. Apologized the the crew and asked them to reset the set in hopes that some other moron in an electric car would come by within the next year. Three tenths of a mile later, a turtle appeared on the dashboard. A message said, "Motor power limited." And the car died. The Holy Grail of Cracker Barrel and Hooters was a mere 2.3 miles away. The boys pushed the car onto a busy road and I rapid costed away from them to park in Hell on Earth…the Weigel’s at Pleasant Ridge Rd and Wilson Rd. They offered the plug by the ice machine as long as I didn’t unplug their ice machine. I unplugged their ice machine and 40 minutes later gave up and called a tow truck.

I learned several things in the next hour of my life.

  1. Statefarm roadside assistance doesn’t know what an electric car is.
  2. Nissan doesn’t list the number for their roadside assistance anywhere but once you find it the NoGas roadside assistant is awesome!
  3. Cracker Barrel turns off their chargers when they close.
  4. Apparently I should be carrying a gun.

I got towed twice last night. Something I had assured myself I would never allow to happen once. As an evangelist for electric cars, I’m embarrassed. As someone who made choices against his gut feelings, I’m irritated. As a moron who drove right past his salvation, I’m angry at myself. Overall, it made a great story and I am laughing at it. Plus I’m motivated to install a 220V charger at the house now.

While trying to arrange a tow with Statefarm, my phone announces its low battery. I pull my Energizer portable battery out of my Scottevest and it is dead too. Can this evening get more ironic?! I tell the boys to get their uncle to pick them up and Statefarm arranges to send a tow truck at no expense within the hour. My son hugs me and I’m left to enjoy the heavy bass, tire squeals, wafts of cigarette smoke, and overhear talks of drug deals, and prostitution arrangements. Okay, perhaps I embellish slightly.

Cathy has left her phone with a better charge with me and I eventually find Nissan’s Roadside Assistance number. They check my vin and tell me of a wealth of benefits I am entitled including towing me to the nearest charger (plus 50 miles…which means the house) at no charge to me. Is this a one time deal? No. Whenever I need it. But the Statefarm tow driver arrives with his flatbed as I am speaking to Nissan so I tell them, "next time."

The tow driver quirks his head, "Can you get it in neutral?" We discuss options: 1) My house with the difficult driveway 2) the mystery charger three tenths a mile away or 3) Cracker Barrel next door to boobies and beer. He says that is close to his house and he is on his last run. We arrive at Cracker Barrel and unload the car only to find that the chargers are inactive. They don’t operate from 11pm-6am (only during Cracker Barrel’s business hours) WHY?! We stare at the map and decide to try the industrial park. Sure enough, there they are…and working. The driver unloads the car. Wishes me well. They turns and asks, "Are you carrying protection?" He meant a gun. I answered, "No." He replies, "You really should carry protection." I play the game, "I don’t have my permit yet." He answers, "It’s really not hard to get. You gonna be okay?" "Yes." He looks east, "I think they’ve gated it but I’d get out of here as quickly as possible if I were you.&quot And he drove away.

I spend 40 minutes charging my car, my phone and myself (with a little chanting), and I played a lot of World of Tanks Blitz because I’d left my book, I Am Pilgram, at home by mistake. I am a pilgram in the electric vehicle world. I’m an early adopter. I understand the risks and I embrace the adventure! No regrets.


I welcome our robotic overlords! July 30, 2014 3:20 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Robotics, Technology, Transportation, Travel
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Remember when I said that within 5 years (10 at the worst) we would see driverless vehicles on the road and the decline of private transportation? The side affects will be narrower roads, no traffic lights, no signage, interstates without barriers and numbers of lanes determined by need, and best of all no more parking lots.

My estimate of 5 years was a little conservative. Try 5 months.

The UK government has announced that driverless cars will be allowed on public roads from January next year.

[Source, BBC, News Technology

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Sourcing my lab July 26, 2014 1:27 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Daily Life, Science, Technology
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From a book I purchased for $3.95 when I was about twelve years old.

Fill a small pitcher full of water and dissolve a small amount of ferric ammonium sulphate in the water. Then make up a small amount of sodium salicylate solution. …

Other recipes include permanganate of potash, sulphuric acid, solution of sodium hyposulphite, sodium carbonate, phenolthalein solution, tartaric acid solution and the list goes on.
Time to start sourcing chemicals for my lab.

My full shopping list can be found at http://www.scribd.com/doc/235165417/Lab-Shopping-List. Anyone want to help me source this?

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