Saturday, March 31, 2018

Tesla - SpaceX - Elon Musk

Tesla, Inc. (stylized as T☰SLA, formerly Tesla Motors) is an US-American company located in Silicon Valley, California, designing, manufacturing and selling electric cars, such as the Tesla Roadster 2, components for the propulsion of electric vehicles and battery storage systems. The CEO and founder of Tesla is Elon Musk.

The core of the company is in the engineering of the propulsion system of the electric vehicle that includes battery packs, motors, power electronics, gearboxes and control software, allowing all components to form one system. The modular design allows to reuse components in different models of Tesla and other manufacturers. The system is very compact and contains far fewer moving parts than a heat engine. Tesla Motors uses three phase induction motors that incorporate a copper rotor and copper windings optimized to reduce resistance and loss of energy. Tesla developed fundamental patents for its manufacture.

Tesla vehicles contain many processors to control safety and power functions. Tesla Motors builds the firmware of many processors with algorithms that control traction, vehicle stability, acceleration, regenerative braking, the state of charge of each cell of the battery pack and security systems.


SpaceX (or Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) is an American company working in the field of astronautics and spaceflight. Founded on May 6, 2002 by the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, it is one of two private contractors to whom NASA has awarded a freight contract to the International Space Station.

SpaceX designs, builds and markets Falcon 9 launchers, the Merlin engines that propel them, and the Dragon cargo ship and its manned version. The Falcon 1 launcher was the first launcher of the company is no longer in service. After three failures in 2006, 2007 and 2008, the first successful Falcon 1 launcher was launched on September 28, 2008, which then put the Malaysian observation satellite RazakSAT into orbit on its fifth flight on July 13, 2009. The space cargo ship Dragon launched by a rocket Falcon 9 is part of the supply program of the International Space Station. SpaceX employs more than 4,000 people primarily in California, also has two launch facilities on the Cape Canaveral base (the SLC-40 and 39A pads), one at Vandenberg Air Force Base (the SLC pad -4E) and another is under construction in South Texas at Boca Chica. SpaceX also has a test bench for its engines in Texas.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Canada plastic bag ban

The City of Montreal is banning thin plastic bags. The law was put in place on January 1st 2018, but merchants were given time until June 5th of the same year to actually follow it. After that harsh penalties would rain down on those ignoring it. Interestingly after the whole of Canada discussed this plan in 2016 only Montreal emerged as the only city enforcing it. I suppose not even her suburbs do, let alone other cities in Quebec.

But does this make sense? Of these bags, the conventional plastic bag banned in Montreal is the one that has the least impact in the category of disposable bags, while the thicker plastic bags and Paper bags ar always allowed, are overall more polluting.

Let's not forget food wrapped in plastic. Like bread, cookies. You might need one plastic bag to carry 5 to 10 articles usually wrapped in plastic from your grocery store. Thus a plastic bag ban only reduced the waste by about 10%. Many bags you take from the cashier are bio degradable. Suppose that means in the landfill they just degrade without harming the environment. If so, why ban them?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Stephen Hawking 1942-2018

Stephen William Hawking, born January 8 1942 in Oxford, died March 14 2018 in Cambridge, was a British theoretical physicist and cosmologist.

Stephen Hawking was a mathematics teacher at the University of Cambridge from 1980 to 2009, member of Gonville and Caius College and researcher distinguished from Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. He is known for his contributions in the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. His success is also linked to his popular science books in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general, such as the bestseller A Brief History of Time, which remained on the list of Sunday Times bestselling records for 237 consecutive weeks.

Illness and continuation of this work

As soon as he arrived in Cambridge, he began to develop the symptoms of early amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease that almost took away any neuromuscular control. During his first two years in Cambridge, he did not stand out, but after stabilizing his illness and with the help of his doctoral tutor, William Dennis Sciama, he is pursuing his doctoral thesis. He reveals that he did not see much interest in obtaining a doctorate if he were to die soon. Hawking later said that the real turning point was his marriage to Jane Wilde in 1965, a linguistics student. After completing his PhD, Stephen became a researcher at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge. The study of singularities, a recent physical and astronomical concept, allows the researcher to develop different theories, which will later lead him from the Big Bang to black holes.

Private life

Jane Wilde Hawking, Hawking's first wife, took care of him until 1991, when the couple split up. They had three children: Robert (1967), Lucy (1969), and Timothy (1979). 1999 Jane Hawking published a memoir, Music to Move the Stars, detailing her own long-term relationship with a family friend with whom she will later marry. Hawking's daughter, Lucy, is a novelist. Their eldest son, Robert, emigrated to the United States where he is married, and had a child, George Edward Hawking. In 1995 Hawking married to his nurse, Elaine Mason, who had already been married to David Mason, the designer of the first version of Hawking's talking computer. In 2004, several reports are published. reports involving Elaine in mistreatment cases against her. In October 2006, Hawking filed for divorce from his second wife.


Hawking's main areas of research were cosmology and quantum gravity. In the late 1960s, he and his friend and colleague from Cambridge, Roger Penrose, applied a new complex mathematical model, which they created upon Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity. This led Hawking to prove in 1970 the first of many theorems on singularities, such as theorems capable of providing a set of sufficient conditions for the existence of a singularity in space-time. This work has shown that, far from being a mathematical curiosity that only appears in particular cases, the singularities are rather generic in general relativity.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Lucifer - Let the pinhead sing

As with the episode before we hear music classic close or at the climax of the episodes. Last time it was Yahoo - or Yaz for the audience in the USA - performing Only You while in Let the pinhead sing Tom Ellis and Skye Townsend perform "I will survive" by Gloria Gaynor. According to some sources I found Tom Ellis loves to sing.

Computer generated alien intoning Gloria Gaynor's "I will survive"

Now while there is nothing wrong in my opinion to reproduce or just play some classic tunes it should not be overdone. I'd say if this happens in the next two episode The Last Heartbreak and Orange Is the New Maze. But if they continue this this with Orange Is the New Maze I might think the show ran out of ideas to fill the 45 minutes run time with content.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The usefulness of Daylight Savings

The usefulness of Daylight Savings

Twice a year it's Daylight Savings time. Well once you advanced the clocks by one hour, months later clocks are set back. Luckily in our automated world there are rarely any clocks left you have to set. NTP (network time protocol) or radio signals do this for us. But do we need Daylight Savings?

Different countries have adopted Daylight Savings in different years, handle them differently, some countries ignore them completely. The USA used Daylight Savings inconsistent between 1916 and 1966. But only in 1966 a federal law was established to regulate the proper use. During the oil crisis 1973 a year-round experiment was conducted to extend DST. 1976 the National Bureau of Standards found no significant energy savings or differences in traffic fatalities. Still DST was observed until today.

Benefits and drawbacks

Longer summer evenings

The daylight phase is at a later time. This is perceived by many people as an extension of the daylight time. Let's assume the time of sunrise at the beginning of summer is 4:30 am summer time instead of 3:30 pm standard time. Accordingly, the time of the sunset moves from about 9:00 pm normal time to 10:00 pm summer time. As the majority of people sleep at 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning, but not at 10 o'clock in the evening, and since today's society is based more on the time of day than the actual time of day, the wake-up phase of most people shifts more in the bright phase of the day. Thus, the leisure activities in the afternoon and evening are longer in daylight and pleasant outside temperatures possible; In contrast, daylight and temperature can be felt as disturbing at night.

Energy consumption

One of the official reasons for the introduction of summer time was already at the beginning of the 20th century the saving of energy. This argument has been controversial for most of the time. Because compared to other influences, the effect of the time shift on the energy consumption is negligible.

Although it was clear very early on that summer time could not have a decisive influence on energy consumption, this argument persisted in public awareness. However, in particular with the reintroduction of summer time in the Central European countries between 1976 and 1981, a possible energy saving - if at all - played only a minor role compared to the argument of a world wide standardization of times.

Summer time can have regionally adverse effects on energy consumption. In parts of Indiana, for example, it increased by about one percent after the 2006 summer season, which compares the electricity consumption of nearly 224,000 households. The originally pursued goal of energy saving could not be achieved. Rather, the energy balance was unfavorable, as "slight savings in the spring opposed an even greater power consumption in late summer and autumn". In particular, an increased need for heating in the early morning hours and a greater use of air conditioning in the longer afternoons and warm summer evenings increased overall energy consumption, for which the inhabitants of the examined parts of Indiana paid about 8.6 million US dollars per year more. The authors also calculated the cost of more pollution for society at $ 1.6 million to $ 5.3 million annually.

The data of this study, however, referred only to private households. Industrial plants and other economic sectors were not included. However, the authors suspect that most companies stick to normal working hours in daylight and are therefore less affected by the summer time change than private households.

The Federal Environmental Agency also found no positive energy-saving effects, since the saving in electricity for lighting is "overcompensated" by the additional consumption of heating energy due to the advance of the main heating time. The increasing use of energy-saving lamps would further increase this effect in the future.

Human nature

Advocates of summer time argue that it is beneficial for people to be able to spend more time in the evening in daylight hours, which increases their productivity. Opponents argue that adapting to the new daily rhythm takes at least several days, is harmful to health and reduces productivity during the changeover phase. Physiological studies suggest that some circadian fluctuating hormone levels, similar to those of stress hormones, may take up to four and a half months to fully adapt to new circumstances. Otherwise, "natural" direction when deferred to normal time, this adjustment would take only about two weeks. Whether these hormone level fluctuations already promote disease, but is not proven.

Technical effort

All watches have to be changed twice a year. More and more clocks are automatically set today via a radio signal, only few have to be changed manually, especially in private households. Computer clocks can also be set automatically via a function of the operating system. However, there are computer programs with real-time function, which do not use the operating system function for daylight saving time conversion and must be manually reconfigured. The same problem also exists with leap seconds.

Why we don't abandon Daylight Savings?

Suppose because in our interconnected world one country cannot just get rid of DST. Might cause too many problems negotiating around these obstacles. The United Kingdom BREXIT is not much of a help since countries from continental Europe are still her biggest trade partner. On the other hand if we tried hard enough to get rid of it everybody should benefit from it in the long term.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

History of wordprocessors and spread sheets

Word processors, spreadsheets and databases are everywhere today. Modern economy would break down otherwise if going back to pencil and paper. Makes one wonder how economy was able to exist before the event of computer programs doing the tedious work for us. Here's the short but incomplete history of how it all began. More, how so often not the first software of its kind made the big money but these being improved, or just clever advertised.

It's the 1970s and computers were found only in large companies and universities. Enthusiasts had virtually no change to get their hands on one unless being in one of these universities or large firm. In offices you had typewriters, if lucky an IBM Selectric. While there was Tipex and other methods to correct already printed text it was tedious and cost time. A good typist could probably type 100 letters in the time needed to correct the mistake. To have an electronic word processor would be nice, but that only existed in large companies. Otherwise you had line editors. Early programs such as ed would actually only show one line.

The ground for electronic word processors was laid 1975 when MITS pushed the Altair 8800 on the market. Even though it was merely a box filled with electronics but without keyboard or monitor computer nerds went nuts being able to finally own their personal computer.

Two years later the first real home computers entered the market and kicked off the home computer revolution. Named 1977  Trinity by the BYTE magazine, the Radioshack Tandy TRS-80, the Commodore PET and the Apple 2, all of which came with a keyboard and monitor or could be attached to one. Now software companies saw huge potential and wrote many application for the various machines including word processors. It also produced the world's first Killer App when VisiCalc, one of the first electronic spreadsheets, entered the market. People and small offices who never used computers before bought an Apple ][ to be able to use VisiCalc.

The next leap happened 1981 when the Osborne Computer Corporation sold the first portable computer going by the name of Osborne 1. Well "e;portable" if one had strong arms to carry the some 30 pounds heavy box around. But you could do this if you wanted, put it into a plane to visit a company branch or attend a meeting. The hardware was not that amazing but the fact it was portable. May be more interesting was the office suite coming with it. The price for the software if bought separately would be almost as much what the Osborne 1 with it cost.

The software consisted of the WordStar word processor, the spreadsheet SuperCalc and databases, the program language BASIC and even a few games. While neither WordStar nor SuperCalc were the first of their kind. These were the already mentioned VisiCalc for the spreadsheet and Electric Pencil is widely regarded to be the first electronic word processor for home computers. The idea of bundling single software application into one suite and offer it with the hardware made this computer a runaway success.

Running WordStar on an Osborne 1 via emulator

While Microsoft focused since the mid 70s on selling their BASIC, which was shipped with almost every home computer from back of the day and in the 80s in creating MS DOS for the IBM PC it took them until 1990 to see the potential of bundled office software, although their word processor, spreadsheet and other components of the later Microsoft Office were available as separate products before that.

Running SuperCalc on an Osborne 1 via emulator

Note that I unfortunately do not own an Osborne I or other vintage hardware. Thus I emulate them with the M.A.M.E. emulator which not only allows to emulate long faded to obscurity hardware, but also most of the video arcade games in existence since 1975, when the first games ran on a CPU microprocessor.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams and Black Mirror

If you crave for more Black Mirror episodes while they are in hiatus between seasons you are in luck.

I recently discovered the series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams developed by Ronald D. Moore, who already wrote a lot of Star Trek episodes across all recent franchises, and Michael Dinner. It initially aied on Amazon Video. First I almost missed it. Watching only the first episode and not reading up on Wikipedia I expected that all episodes will be like this first episode which I hated, so gave up. It wasn't until a pal asked "Hey did you watch the episode XYZ of Electric Dreams?" that I read more about the series and figured out that no episode has any relation to any other episode. Just like with Black Mirror.

It's another anthology dystopian show, although not as dark as Black Mirror. Some episodes play in an alternate universe, or just create this because of a character making a mistake. Some play in space, others much closer home. For me, like for Black Mirror already, there is always a scene or two making me think "Wait, what?!".

In my opinion, although quite similar to Black Mirror, Electric Dreams doesn't want to be a clone. It's just the story telling of Philip K. Dick which might people think otherwise.