Kinlyn’s Comet Vacation

Kinlyn’s Comet Vacation (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 6-25-15)

On November 12, 2014, The European Space Agency (ESA) Philae lander touched-down on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  This event marked the first time that man-made object soft landed on a comet.  As is common for such spectacular firsts, everything did not go as planned.  The Philae lander took a hard bounce on the initial touch and veered significantly off-course.  The lander eventually settled on the comet surface, but the actual location remains unknown.  Based on pictures sent back from the lander, another problem was discovered.  The lander landed either in a ditch or up against a cliff wall.  While this location is suitable for someone trying to find shade during a hot Georgia afternoon, the location is far from optimal when the only available electricity originates from solar power.  On November 15, the lander dropped into hibernation mode as the last of its energy was exhausted.

On June 19, 2015, the Philae lander re-established contact with the Rosetta orbiter.  ESA Mission leaders indicate that as the comet moves closer to the sun, an increase in sunlight levels allowed the batteries to recharge.  The truth turns out to be something completely different…

“Now what was I doing,” thought Kinlyn as she looked across the patch.  To her, this whole episode was disturbing.  For several turns, she searched for the perfect place to soak in the sun.  The thoughts began to snowball.

“Honestly, is there any better place to vacation than a comet as it goes through perigee?  Of course not!  The interstellar dust mixed with traces of water vapor…it’s cleaning to the body and soul.  And you can’t forget the spectacular views.  So many think that a comet is beautiful from afar, but to see its brilliance up-close is unimaginable.”

“Of course, nowadays you have to find the right comet.  So many comets have over-built or over-commercialized.  Don’t get me wrong…I love being able to hop over to the grab-a-snack, but have you seen the number of high rises they’ve build on Haley’s?  It used to be the best, but now the dust cleansing…it just doesn’t seem any different than getting sand in your eyes.  Ugh…It’s nearly as bad as Mars.”

Finally, Kinlyn found the right place on 67P.  It’s virtually uninhabited, excepting a couple space monkeys live on the far side.  (The monkeys are never a problem.)  The timing was also good.  The comet still had nine months before perigee, more than enough time to settle in for a good cleansing.  Kinlyn set up camp and began to prepare for comet’s perigee.  As she was marking off the ground, Kinlyn looked up and saw a three-legged object slowly falling from the sky.

“Oh my goodness, what is that doing here?”

Kinlyn immediately recognized it as something from Earth.  “Those Earth-doofus-heads!  It’s bad enough that they junk up their own planet!  Now they’re exporting junk to the rest of the worlds?!?  Somebody needs to do something!”

It’s really unfortunate that Philae caught Kinlyn in a bad mood.  Kinlyn really isn’t a bad Jovian.  Yes, she has somewhat of a temper.  But by Earth standards, all Jovians are a bit short fused.  It has to do with their upbringing.  Being from Jupiter, the entire Jovian race lives under a great deal of pressure.

Spoiling a Jovian vacation is not a smart thing either.  Jupiter’s gravity is approximately 2.5 times stronger than Earth’s.  Quite literally, the Jovians have a very difficult time getting away.  So when they are able to finally separate themselves from their everyday life, the Jovians can get a little cranky if something goes wrong.  For instance, if an Earth man-made piece of space junk lands in the middle of a cleansing patch a few months before perigee.

“This thing has got to go!”  Kinlyn allowed the lander to bounce.  On the rebound, she wanted to give it a little extra push.  Not enough of a push to send it back to space, but just enough to move the lander away from this place.  Unfortunately, she pushed too hard.  Kinlyn was quite surprised with her strength.  Even with the reduced gravity, that lander went much higher and much further than expected.  Kinlyn smiled.

“Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

The lander came to rest next to a cliff and shaded from the sun.  After a few days, the batteries drained completely.  Philae sat in the dark.  Cold.  Lifeless.  Abandoned.  Well, not quite abandoned.  On the top of the ridge lived a community of space monkeys.  The space monkey is a precious creature.  And very curious.  At first, the community was startled by the alien craft crashing into the ground.  They quickly became fascinated with the whirling gears and blinking lights.  When Philae stopped moving, the monkeys became sad.  Had the craft become too cold?  Maybe if they just move it back into the sun…

Until next time@gregory_a_ baker

Everything That Has a Motor

Everything That Has a Motor (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 6-18-15)

As the summer temperatures warm up, so does the drudgery of yard work.  Every weekend, the Do-It-Yourself crowd heads out into the yard in a futile attempt to keep the spring gardens blooming.   But as the calendar moves into late-June, and the temperature starts hitting 90 well before noon, the enthusiasm wanes.  The cost-benefit analysis regarding any type of manual labor weighs heavily toward air conditioning and a frosty cold one.  Technology, however, provides a response to the yard work-induced farmer’s tan.  Well, it might not do much to help the tan, but there’s no reason to hand shovel a French drain when it’s hot enough outside to bake quiche.

Have you not heard the saying, Everything that has a handle needs a motor?

Even if you haven’t heard it, I’m sure you’ve lived it.  You’d be hard pressed to find a simple tool of any kind that doesn’t have a powered equivalent.  Shovel, axe, screwdriver…it’s all been done to one degree or another.  Of course, the form and function is better today, but that’s not the point of this article.  The entire handle-and-motor thing is really so last millennia.  It’s something for the baby boomers to tell their grandkids about.  Our generation is much more concerned with the 21st Century upgrade.

Everything that has a motor needs Wi-Fi.

Attaching a motor to a device to achieve mechanical automation is a good achievement.  However, mechanical automation suffers from one glaring weakness.  An operator is still required to manually manage the device.  That means, while the ditch witch is still better than the shovel, someone still has to stand out in the 100-degree heat to make the darn thing work.  I think it’s pretty clear by now that the goal of this generation is to spend more time at the beach.  The Internet of Things is going to make that a reality.

If you haven’t heard about it, the Internet of Things is the next big buzz.  In reality, it’s just an evolution of the Cloud.  We’ve spent the last two decades putting all of our information and applications into the Cloud.  Now, we want the Cloud to do more than Farmville and Facebook.  Keeping up with the Caitlyn is nice, but we really want to know if the grass is cut.  So how do we make this happen?  The formula is very simple.

First, identify an object that has either a handle or a motor (preferably both).  Second, add Wi-Fi.  Third, identify a set of actions the object can perform.  Lastly, create a Kickstarter account.

You’re halfway to being a zillionaire.  Wasn’t that easy?

I suspect that a few folks out there might need some help getting the creativity flowing.  Let’s go through a couple of examples, and see if that helps.

For our first example, I’m going to suggest a garden hose.  While the garden hose doesn’t have a handle per se, the garden hose caddy certainly does.  Let’s install the Wi-Fi on the hose caddy.  With regards to actions, of course, we will want to turn the water flow on and off.  That’s easy.  We should also be able to drive the caddy around the yard and detect dry patches.  These dry patches will be geo-located and sent over to the lawn irrigation system and update the sprinkler distribution.  Other sensors on the hose caddy will measure water quality and send you an alert if the chlorine or other additives reach harmful levels.  Finally, the hose caddy always has the capability to inject nutrients into the water flow in order to feed hungry lawns.

How was that?  Not convinced, you say.  Let’s try another example…

This one seems obvious, but we would all benefit from Wi-Fi enabled toilets.  The automated urine tests for medical conditions would greatly speed diagnosis.  Similarly, you would always know if and when your kids/spouse/friends/parents were smoking dope.  Integration with other fixtures provides advantages well beyond these simple tests.  The flush trigger would indicate use.  Alerts would be sent if the sink faucet were not activated within a few seconds.  Sensors would track water and soap usage.  If usage did not meet requirements, additional alarms would sound, and the individual would be cautioned not to leave the area prior to completing all personal sanitary actions.

Unfortunately, the actual implementation of Internet of Things probably won’t be so simple.  Some folks will probably complain about a perceived invasion of privacy.  Don’t they know that the machines don’t even know what privacy is?  Other folks will worry about the loss of human control.  Come ‘on…can you ever think of a time when you were actually in control?  The continuous march of technology is taking us to a place where we can sit back and let the machines do all the work.  Our best choice is to stand back and let it happen.

In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be at the beach.

Until next time@gregory_a_baker



Keeping Up

Keeping Up (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 6-11-15)

Every Monday morning, our team starts the day with a quick stand-up meeting.  The purpose of this meeting is to provide team members the opportunity to give shout-outs, call-outs or watch-outs to the rest of the team.  On occasion, I also take this time to talk about the team’s direction.  The direction of our team is greatly influenced by the development of technology, which of course, is always changing.

The speed of changing technology…honestly, we’ve heard that phase so much that it’s become cliché.  Even so, many people continue to talk about changing technology as if it’s a big mystery.  Well, here’s a clue.  In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore made his first comments regarding the growth of processing power.  These comments evolved into what became known as Moore’s Law.  Moore’s Law commonly states that processing power doubles every 18 months.  For the last 50 years, technology has dutifully followed its path.

So what does that mean?  Well, it means that if you think technology is moving fast, then…well, how should I say this…you’re old.  To everyone born in the last 25 years, Moore’s Law reflects the normal condition.  Every year, we expect to receive an excess of new features and gizmos coming out of WWDC, CES or any of the other product showcases.  Why?  Because deep down in our soul, we want the new stuff will do all the things that the old stuff just couldn’t do.

Be honest with yourself.  As much as you love your smart phone, you could probably rattle off the top three things that it just can’t do.  Here’s my list – Can’t edit documents, can’t edit pictures and remote desktop is not usable.  Now some of you trolls will argue that I can do these things; the functionality is there.  Fine.  Go ahead and let out your hot air.  In the end, there’s only one person that gets to judge whether something is usable – And that’s me.

So in the mist of all the new features being released at a blazing pace, revolutionary changes do occur, and they are spectacular.  The PC, the Internet, the Cloud – these are all revolutionary changes that occurred in our lifetime.  An underlying growth in raw technology (i.e., Moore’s Law) facilitates this evolution.  But there’s an underlying need that shapes its instantiation – self-reliance.

Every revolutionary change in technology enables a greater IT self-sufficiency.  The PC brought raw computer power to the individual.  The Internet brought the universe of information to our fingertips.  The Cloud enables freedom of movement.  Prior to the PC, we required a team of experts to perform simple calculations.  Now we can deploy our own IT resources anytime and anywhere to do anything.

Revolutionary changes present an interesting challenge to the technology professional.  On one hand, the commoditization of IT resources is great for the consumer.  No longer are folks dependent on us to do simple tasks, e.g., no more midnight calls to reset a password.  On the other hand, technical knowledge becomes irrelevant over time.  The skills needed to perform a job today will not be same set of skills needed in the future.  There’s no time to relax.  Constant self-study is required to stay relevant.

So do you want to have a career in IT or some other technical field?  I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really great engineers and technicians, and the secret to success comes down to three things.

  • First of all, you must possess the skills.  Oftentimes, human interactions are limited to answering the question, “Does it work?”  You better have the skills to make it happen.
  • Secondly, you must be willing to put in the effort.  Most of the time, the people requesting your help ask you to work after they’ve gone home.  In addition, you still have to find time to understand the latest gizmos.  If you’re not willing to put in the time, don’t expect to stay relevant.
  • Finally, a positive attitude goes a long way.  Negative feelings creep in when stuff doesn’t work.  A bad attitude slows down troubleshooting and harms the relationship with your users.  Maintaining a can-do attitude keeps progress moving in the right direction.

Technology is going to change, that’s a given, but change also brings opportunity.  If you are looking for a new opportunity, something that never gets boring, think about doing something with technology.  Why not?  Give it a shot.  If it doesn’t work, you can always change.

Until next time@gregory_a_baker



The X Factor

The X Factor (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 6-4-15)

For as long as anyone can remember, the number 10 has been synonymous with greatness.  Why that would be, I don’t know.  On its surface, 10 is just another number, the one that comes between 9 and 11.  Sure it might have a few neat qualities.  It’s the first 2-digit number in the base 10 system.  Also, ten is the smallest semiprime that is the sum of all the distinct prime numbers from its lower factor through its higher factor.  But for some reason, we’ve decided that 10 stands for the best.  Perhaps it was the Romans that started the trend by designating the character X to represent the number 10.  We all know that X marks the spot.  It’s the place where you find your treasure.  It’s the place where you attain greatness.

So it stands to reason that software makers would want their products to attain the magical 10.  For the record, Apple got there first – the Mac operating system OS X has been around since 1999.  In the years since, Apple has released 10 new versions of the operating system.  They are now at OS X 10.10.  Double greatness or greatness squared?  This is a question for another time.

In two short months, Microsoft hopes to be struggling with similar questions.  Last year, they announced that they were forsaking the naughty nasty mean-ole’ number 9 in favor of Windows 10.  The Windows 10 preview has been available since January.  Microsoft announced this week that the new Windows 10 would be released on July 29.  Will it be greatness?  Too soon to tell, but we do know for certain that the charms bar is gone, and the Start Menu is back!

Let’s just be honest for a second.  It was the lack of a Start Menu that really killed Windows 8.  The change was very well intentioned, and actually quite visionary.  Microsoft needed desperately to break out of a traditional desktop mode that was deeply ingrained in their culture.   While Windows 8 wasn’t a commercial success, it did something probably more important.  Microsoft is now thinking about the cloud in the right way.

And, yes, the Start Menu is back!  In addition, Microsoft decided to jazz it up a little bit.  When you click on the Start button, you view the traditional Start menu on the left and a set of live tiles on the right.  Of course, the Start menu and the tiles may be personalized.  The format is a nice way to get the benefits of both user interface approaches.

Windows 10 has a couple of other new features.  The exalted Internet Explorer has been retired.  As one writer spoke of ID, “Internet Explorer has long been my favorite browser to download other browsers with.”  A new browser called Edge is being introduced in Windows 10.  The new browser drops support for a number of legacy features in IE, ActiveX and VBScript, for example.  The resulting browser provides a much zippier experience, no doubt thanks to the elimination of over 200,000 lines of code.  The Edge browser also provides support to 3rd party extensions, a capability that has long been available in competing browsers such as Chrome.

Another feature that has long been available in both Mac and Linux operating systems is the use of multiple desktops.  Prior to the advent of multiple monitors, Mac and Linux users could utilize different desktop spaces to organize applications.  Users can then swap between these virtual desktops.  This is a feature that is about 20 years overdue, but you know what they say about planting a tree – The first best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The second best time is right now.

A number of other features will be available in Windows 10.  A virtual assistant named Cortana will provide helpful information when requested.  A new photo app is delivered as part of the base operating system.  A Quick Access library is built into File Explorer to help users access commonly used files.  Some of these features will be fully functional.  Others will be delivered incrementally as part of Microsoft’s new strategy of “Windows as a Service.”

Microsoft desires to consolidate its offerings across all devices, desktop and mobile, under the Windows 10 operating system.  All Windows 10 machines will receive updates and upgrade over the lifetime of the device.  No longer will you be required to pay for software upgrades.  To kick off the process, Microsoft is offering Windows 10 as a free upgrade to all users of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1.  The free upgrade will be available for one year after the release of Windows 10.  In order to receive the upgrade, you need to register your system.  To register your system, ensure that Windows KB3035583 is installed, and then right click on a new Windows icon in the task bar.  From there it’s simply following the instructions.

Until next time… @gregory_a_baker