Category: Technology

Note to carmakers: let geeks design connectivity not your interior designers

Historically, cars and smartphones developed in parallel on wildly different timescales. In the smartphone revolution’s formative years, Apple and Samsung reinvented their devices every twelve months like clockwork; the automotive industry, meanwhile, spent half a decade or more designing a new model, having it certified by regulatory bodies around the world, scaling up production and releasing it.

This mismatch in pacing put these industries on a collision course: As automakers rushed to put navigation systems and concierge services in their cars that were outdated by the time they rolled off the assembly line, smartphone and mobile data use exploded, often covering the same ground (Google Maps, Yelp, the list goes on). While iOS and Android — and the apps they offered — improved immeasurably over the span of half a decade, the systems in our cars barely moved. Even the most forward-thinking in-car systems like Ford’s SYNC were panned for being slow, finicky and complex. And unlike a phone, it’s much more difficult to swap out your car every year or two.

The introduction of Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto were designed to solve this conflict. By supporting these systems and ceding control of entertainment and navigation systems to Google and Apple, automakers could bring the world of mobile apps and familiar and beloved user experiences to consumers. Automakers also could stop plowing resources into unfamiliar areas and focus on what they do best — making cars — while iOS and Android would finally have a way to integrate cleanly without a suction-cup mount on the windshield…

The glacial pacing of the auto industry relative to the consumer electronics industry is at least partly to blame, but it’s not the only culprit; after all, GM now offers CarPlay on a majority of the vehicles that it sells. A deeper issue, I believe, is pride — a sense that automakers are at risk of losing their identities by ceding control of the dashboard to Silicon Valley. The companies that have not committed to offering CarPlay or Android Auto are often quick to mention that they’re only acting in the best interest of their customers and trying to deliver the best experience possible.

But here’s the thing: They have proven time and again that they are not able to deliver the best experience possible. It’s not their fault, really — the cards stacked against them are manifold: The slower development cycle, the learning curve of a UI entirely different from that of our smartphones, the inability to achieve scale with a proprietary in-car app platform. But while this plays out, customers — everyday car buyers – are the pawns in a global tug-of-war. No one wins…

The generation of vehicles that’s rolling off assembly lines today is likely the last one where buyers won’t consider excellent smartphone integration a basic, must-have feature. Over the next several years, automakers will come to understand this, one negative customer interaction at a time. Eventually, CarPlay support will be a universally standard feature, no different from air conditioning or power windows.

Often, carmakers need a boot in the butt to adopt technology they weren’t instrumental in developing. The world of hotrodders – in every nation that has folks who want to go a little faster, whether it’s in a straight line or around a bunch of corners – have given us everything from extractive exhaust systems to aerodynamics. And it hasn’t always been speed as the target. Technical efficiency works as well for economy as power. Turbocharging has proven that.

Time to let the geeks loose, folks.

Air travel seating you can look, um, forward to

Forget complaining about not enough legroom on an airliner and be thankful that there’s still headroom. A new patent filed by European aviation giant Airbus takes advantage of that little-used space above where people sit to offer a flying experience that’s somewhat akin to summer camp bunk beds, only at hundreds of miles per hour and surrounded by grown-up strangers.

Named, very technically, “Passenger Seat Arrangement For A Vehicle” the patent features not just rows but layers of seats. While primarily designed for airplanes, the patent helpfully notes that it is suitable for other means of passenger transport, like buses or trains.

While most airplanes are already densely packed, the patent observes that wide-body airplanes (think Boeing Jumbo Jets or the Airbus 330 family) aren’t utilized to their full economic potential. From the patent:

In order to still more efficiently use the space in a passenger cabin of an aircraft, [this patent] proposes to position an elevated deck structure on a main deck floor in the passenger cabin of a wide-body aircraft for providing a mezzanine seating area in a substantially unused upper lobe of the aircraft fuselage.


With the advent of Homeland Insecurity and the TSA, my decisions about travel were made simple. I will only travel to destinations I can reach driving my old Dodge pickup.

No harm, no foul, eh?

Chinese company breaks ground on rail car factory in Massachusetts

Chinese-owned CRRC USA Rail Corp., a subsidiary of the world’s largest manufacturer of railroad cars and locomotives, broke ground Thursday on a $95 million subway car factory here officials say will put people in Springfield to work and help people in Boston get to work…

Last year CRRC, then known as CNR Changchun Railway Vehicles, received a $566 million contract from the state and MBTA to build new subway cars. The state went without federal funding on the project in order to require that the cars be at least assembled in the state. The idea was to develop a transit-car industry in Massachusetts, a business that thrived here in Springfield with the Wason Manufacturing Co. from 1845 to the Great Depression.

Chanhe Zhou said the plant is not just for the fulfillment of the MBTA contract, but to give CRRC a foothold in the North American market for transit cars and railroad passenger coaches. He said he’d like to build subway cars for other MBTA lines, for high-speed service from Springfield to Boston and other projects across North America.

The plant will have a permanent staff of 150 people, with a minimum salary of $66,000 a year, starting in 2017…

The cars will replace an outdated fleet in service since the 1970s, state transportation secretary Stephanie Pollack said.

Pollack said the new cars will be more comfortable with modern air conditioning and LED lighting.

“They will be more reliable and cheaper to operate…”

Richard Sullivan, CEO of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, said he’s already introduced CRRC to potential suppliers and subcontractors in the region from Greenfield to Springfield. They include machine shops, fabricators and others.

Glad they managed to keep Congress and the White House out of the way. I can see the headlines in the Washington Post, NY Times. Chinese hackers will use railroad wifi to steal American secrets about how to build crappy railroads.

CRRC, by the way, was just formed in a merger of China’s two largest rail companies. Both were capable of providing turnkey rail lines from right-of-way to track to trains. The merger made all the sense in the world for the many occasions when they ended up bidding against each other on the same jobs – in China and around the world.

Political hacks whine about ISIS driving Toyota trucks

Here’s a militia convoy in Libya – with armament captured from Gaddafi’s army

Toyota has been put on the spot by the U.S. government, which has asked the Japanese car maker to explain just how Islamic State has got hold of hundreds of its four-wheel-drive vehicles.

The Toyota Hilux pickup — a model similar to the Toyota Tacoma that’s sold in the U.S. — and Toyota Land Cruisers have become fixtures in the terror group’s propaganda videos…

“Regrettably, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Hilux have effectively become almost part of the ISIS brand,” said one former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Mark Wallace….

This crap article doesn’t quote any official government complaint – just whining from news-as-entertainment sources and one out-of-work political appointee.

Wallace is currently chief executive for the Counter Extremism Project, which aims to expose terrorists’ financial networks. “I don’t think Toyota’s trying to intentionally profit from it, but they are on notice now and they should do more,” Wallace added.

The Counter extremism Project was founded by a group of unemployed Bush hacks mostly well-known as pimps for Israel’s apartheid Netanyahu government. Starring former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman.

Questions about ISIS’s use of the vehicles have circulated for years, with the terror group believed to have repurposed older Toyota trucks as well as acquiring hundreds of new vehicles. In a recent ISIS parade, more than two-thirds of the vehicles were white Toyotas with black emblems, and there also were small numbers of other brands such as Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Isuzu…

Tracking who buys and sells used trucks and cars in the Middle East is a farce that could only be thought up by the American flavor of right-wing creep.

The fact is the Toyota HiLux is the most popular pickup truck in the world. Reliable and durable, they last for years. Most of what you see on the tube are diesel-powered, produced by Toyota in Thailand. Bought, stolen or volunteered to serve just about every insurgency and counter-insurgency. They satisfy the needs of most folks in the Middle East regardless of end use. Pretty much everyone in desert country buys white cars and trucks.

Once in a while you see a repainted Chevy – a present from American taxpayers to the Iraq Army – abandoned by soldiers running as fast as possible in the opposite direction from ISIS.

Glider ready to fly higher than the U2 spy plane

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The Perlan Mission II glider, which is designed to fly higher than the U-2 spy plane and SR-71 Blackbird, has made its maiden flight. The aircraft separated from its towplane at an altitude of 5,000 feet (1,524 m) above Roberts Field at Redmond Municipal Airport in Oregon, but is expected to go much higher next year when it makes a world altitude record attempt to the edge of space.

Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock piloted the aircraft on its first flight, gliding back to the ground on wings with a span of 84 ft and surface area of 263 sq ft. The 5,000-ft altitude of the maiden flight is a baby step for the aircraft, which is expected to reach 90,000 ft next year when it will attempt to soar to the edge of space over Argentina.

If successful, this will not only smash the current glider world record altitude of 50,727 ft set by Perlan II’s predecessor, Perlan Mission I, in 2006 with Steve Fossett and Einar Enevoldson at the controls, but it will also beat the SR-71’s current record-holding altitude of 85,069 ft. Although a number of aircraft have exceeded this altitude in zoom climbs, the SR-71 retains the “absolute altitude record” for sustained flight.

While the SR-71 achieved the record drawing power from two Pratt & Whitney J58 axial-flow turbo-jet engines, Perlan II will look to reach these dizzying heights by riding air currents over certain mountainous regions near the north and south poles that can reach into the stratosphere.

The Perlan team isn’t looking to go to the edge of space just because it is there, but to aid in research into high-altitude flight, climate change and space exploration. Since the aircraft is engineless, it will reach high altitudes without polluting the atmosphere it will study in an effort to shed more light on how the stratosphere impacts global weather, the health of the ozone layer, and to collect data to improve climate models for more accurate climate change predictions.


Utility-scale solar costs diminished by half in the last five years



Click to enlargeApple

Lawrence Berkeley National Labs has released a report on the state of utility-scale solar installations in the US. Just about everything in the report is remarkable for anyone who’s followed the solar market closely. Over the past five years, prices have dropped by half, while the capacity factors are approaching that of wind. As a result, the most recent installations are offering power at prices that are competitive with natural gas—not the cost of the plant and fuel, but the fuel alone…

One of the issues with utility-scale solar has been that some of the earlier plants were built outside the Southwest. This has meant less overall generation and a lower capacity factor, meaning that the panels are only producing power at a fraction of their maximal rate. Both of these raise the cost of the electricity generated. But installations in the Southwest have boomed to over 90 percent of the total installed hardware. This has capacity factors up and costs down. More recently, large projects have been getting more popular in the Southeast, which may change this dynamic in the future.

For now, the total capacity factor is about 27.5 percent of what the panels are rated for. But the best projects see capacity factors of 35 percent—similar to a typical windfarm in the US…

Regardless of the cause, the low costs have allowed power purchase agreements (PPAs) in the Southwest to reach unheard of levels: “Some of the most-recent PPAs in the Southwest have levelized PPA prices as low as (or even lower than) $40/MWh (in real 2014 dollars). At these low levels—which appear to be robust, given the strong response to recent utility solicitations—PV compares favorably to just the fuel costs (i.e., ignoring fixed capital costs) of natural gas-fired generation.”

For a technology that was recently one of the most expensive forms of electricity generation on the market, it’s a remarkable turnaround.

Two questions remain for consumers. (1) Who’s keeping an eye on the price-fiddling fixed in the DNA of most public utilities. Here in New Mexico, the crooks in charge of oversight and regulation – of fellow crooks – don’t provide much confidence in equitable pricing. (2) Rooftop solar will probably grow just as quickly as utility-scale solar. Or better. Those two classes of crooks mentioned in (1) will try to screw consumers with an added tax for the maintenance and infrastructure expansion they’ve previously taxed us for – over decades.

What smells like Tuberculosis?

“Smell technology” might improve the diagnosis of pulmonary and extrapulmonary tuberculosis (TB) around the world…

A device that detects a pattern of chemicals in the breath was both sensitive and specific for TB in a small pilot study, according to Amandip Sahota, MD, of the University Hospitals of Leicester in England.

In the study, the device was able to detect both pulmonary and extrapulmonary forms of the disease, Sahota reported at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC).

The idea of using breath samples to detect disease is not new, Sahota noted, but his study employed a technology — Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometry (FAIMS) — — that has the potential to be cheaper, faster, and more widely available than earlier methods…

In the U.S., TB incidence continues to fall…but worldwide, the disease still exacts a stunning toll — about 9 million new cases and 1.5 million deaths a year.

Despite the advent of new technologies, Sahota said, most TB diagnosis worldwide is still done using culture methods, which are time-consuming and require significant expertise. A simple rapid point-of-care test would speed treatment, he said…

Shruthi Ravimohan, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania commented…”The longer patients wait for their results…the more likely is it that they will be lost to follow-up or the test results will be lost in the meantime.”

As well, she noted, delayed treatment is likely to have other adverse consequences, including advancing illness…

…The sensitivity of the test was 93% and the specificity was 94%.

Importantly, Sahota said, the 25 patients had varying forms of TB, with only 11 having pulmonary disease. Also, six had lymph node disease, four had spinal involvement or psoas abscess, two had joint disease, and one patient each had testicular and skin TB.

The method “is not limited to the lung,” he said.

Every little step forward helps the health of the world. Battlefield expedients may result in more lives saved in the developing world. OK with me.

Apple products get more personal – and private – and piss off the NSA

Fire up the new Apple News service for the first time on your iPhone, and it’ll ask for your favorite topics and news outlets. Use it over time, and you’ll find that it is behaving like your personal news recommendation engine.

Read a lot about gardening, and you’ll see more stories about hardy perennials. Click on every story about the Red Sox? Get ready for more bullpen analysis. But eventually you may start to wonder — just how much does this app know about me?

You may think you know the answer, given that we live in a world where our every click and scroll is obsessively tracked by tech companies eager to sell us personalized ads. Apple, too, has been employing a small amount of targeted advertising since at least 2010.

But in a revamped privacy policy Web site, a copy of which was reviewed by The Washington Post, Apple on Tuesday attempts to lay out how its philosophy on data collection distinguishes itself from its tech industry rivals.

In essence, the company is telling customers it is not interested in their personal data, even as it must use more of that data to deliver personalized products…

Apple News, which can deliver a stream of headlines right onto one of the home screens of the iPhone, launched this month into a crowded space. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have long been using algorithms to serve piping hot headlines from the Web to consumers while using their reading habits to enhance the vast trove of data the companies keep on every user.

Apple’s offering is different in that its stories are also curated by a small team of journalists. And the company clearly hopes a selling point will be its pledges on privacy protection.

“We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers,” chief executive Tim Cook wrote in a letter that introduced its privacy Web site last year. “We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud.”

Apple made substantial updates last fall to its privacy policies and the revamped Web site launching Tuesday offers new details and language on several topics. It is broken down into several sections — such as how it handles information requests from the authorities including the National Security Agency, instructions on how to secure devices from, say, third parties which may be interested in tracking behavior, and how some of Apple’s services work…

A new section on the Apple News app states that it collects data on what each user is reading so it can offer personalized headlines and ads. But the service does not tie reading habits to an Apple account and uses a unique identifier — which functions only within the News app — to send you targeted ads. Readers can also remove a record of their reading history from their device.

It works just like Apple Pay – which is why we love Apple Pay. No chance of anyone from a checkout clerk to the NSA accessing any personal info about the transaction.

In a separate section, the company laid out new language on encrpytion. Last year, Apple made it impossible for the company to turn over data from a customer’s iPhones or iPads — even when authorities have a search warrant — if users turn off automatic back-ups to the company’s servers. The policy has generated protests from police departments and Obama administration officials.

The new language doesn’t mention law enforcement, but the debate over Apple’s decision last fall motivated the company to spell out its thinking on encryption…“Encryption protects trillions of online transactions every day. Whether you’re shopping or paying a bill, you’re using encryption. It turns your data into indecipherable text that can only be read by the right key… And we can’t unlock your device for anyone because you hold the key — your unique password. We’re committed to using powerful encryption because you should know that the data on your device and the information you share with others is protected.”

There’s an interesting discussion at the end of this article about educated consumers coming down on the side of privacy. Hopefully, such questions will make a difference to voters, as well.

EU court advances privacy rights vs social networks, NSA and all

Max SchremsGetty Images

A privacy campaigner has scored a legal victory that could bolster his attempts to prevent Facebook from being able to pass EU citizens’ data to the US authorities.

An opinion issued by the European Court of Justice says that current data-sharing rules between the 28-nation bloc and the US are “invalid”.

The decision could affect other tech firms’ abilities to send Europeans’ information to US data centres.

However, it is not a final judgement.

Although the EU’s highest court tends to follow the opinions of its legal adviser, the 15 judges involved have yet to issue a conclusive ruling of their own on the matter.

Even so, Max Schrems – the activist who prompted the case – suggests there could be far-reaching consequences.

“Companies that participate in US mass surveillance and provide, for example, cloud services within the EU and rely on data centres in the US may now have to invest in secure data centres within the European Union,” he said…”

The origins of Mr Schrems’ dispute with Facebook can be traced back to whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks about US cyberspies’ activities.

In 2013, Snowden released details about a surveillance scheme operated by the NSA called Prism, which provided officials with ways to scrutinise data held by US tech firms about Europeans and other foreign citizens.

Mr Schrems alleged that, in light of the revelations, EU citizens had no protection against US surveillance efforts once their data had been transferred.

He targeted Facebook in particular because of the wide range of data it gathered and the number of people using it.

However, when he took the case to Ireland – where Facebook’s European headquarters are based – it was initially rejected.

The Irish data watchdog said the Safe Harbour agreement between the US and EU prevented it from intervening…

The EU forbids the transfer of personal data to other parts of the world that do not provide “adequate” privacy protections.

RTFA for lots more detail. Living in the belly of a lying beast has to make me smile – or rant – every time our government accuses anyone else on the planet of cyber spying. No other nation has invested so much in the cause of technology designed for the sole purpose of spying on every individual on this wee blue marble in the Milky Way galaxy.