What Would You Take With You to the Past?

This is a time machine (ok, it’s not real, small detail):

Time Machine

Time Machine – Source: Locklip.com

And this is the house where Steve Jobs grew up:

The house on Crist Street

The house on Crist Street – Source: sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

What do they have to do with each other?

The town of Los Altos in Silicon Valley, northern California, saw a lot of activity in June 2012.  Trucks, cranes, giant screens, police cars and neighbors; an entire Hollywood invasion into a quiet little street where Steve Jobs grew up and built the first Apple computer with Steve Wozniak. All for the filming of the movie ‘Jobs’ staring Ashton Kutcher.

Steve Jobs had just passed away 8 months earlier, on Oct 5th 2011. This movie was made to tell the story of one of the most visionary and creative people of our time, who truly changed the world. As I was wandering around I had a thought of which I was reminded again in Jan 2015, when a second movie filming started, at the same location, on the same topic… Twice in a lifetime. How rare. Because this man was rare, and what he created was rare.  I thought about it again this week, so let me spell it out, but first take a good look:

An iPhone


iPhone7 – Source: gottabemobile.com

The iPhone is one of the most wondrous objects ever invented; and now with iPhone7, it might survive an accidental cycle in the washing machine…  So here it is:

  • What would both Steves say if they could see this piece of art back then in that garage?
  • Better yet: how cool would it be to have it on me when I step through a time portal and travel to the past?

Of course I would have no cellular service, no GPS services, and no Wi-Fi.  Still, there’s a bunch of things I could do with it to astonish the natives. Until I run out of battery…  I suppose I should take a charger with me.  The first thing I should do before stepping through the portal is brushing up on the basics of electricity and power generation, in hopes I find a way to create a primitive power supply for the charger, wherever / whenever I land.

I thought about a bunch of other gadgets I might have wanted to take instead, but the funny thing is, in the last 10 years the iPhone and other smartphones have completely eliminated the need for those: flashlights, maps or Garmin navigators, music players, tiny portable TVs, game gadgets, cameras, pagers, watches and alarm clocks, and even laptops to write a document. Why would I need any of those when I have my phone?

Wait. The phone can’t walk, but this little guy can show itself around. Meet the runner up:

A droid


However, if I must consider something that’s not a gadget, it must a motorcycle. That has got to get a lot of attention, especially in a horse-riding civilization.

The problem is that very quickly I’ll run out of fuel, and getting it in a pre-fuel-based-engines society is labor intensive.  Not a good plan. But since I already solved the power generation problem with the iPhone idea, the only viable solution is to take with me…

An electric motorcycle

There aren’t that many, but the market is rising thanks to the rise in electric cars. This is a pretty cool one from Zero, a 10-year old electric-motorcycle startup from Santa Cruz, CA:

Victory Isle of Man TT Zero Source: motorcycle.com

Victory Isle of Man TT Zero –  Source: motorcycle.com

The following one is Empulse TT by Brammo from Talent, OR, now owned by Polaris:

Brammo, Empulse TT

Empulse TT, Brammo – Source: Brammo.com

and here’s a beautiful one from a San Francisco startup Mission Motorcycles, that went bankrupt, here’s what they were building, the $30,000 Mission R:

Mission R, Mission Motorcycles

Mission R, Mission Motorcycles – Source: cheatsheet.com/automobiles

Not least, Yamaha PES1 (Passion, Electric, Street, vs. PED1 – Passion, Electric, Dirt), starting production this year:

PES1, Yamaha

PES1, Yamaha – Source: wired.com


Anyone have other ideas? What would you take with you to the past?




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I Dream Of 3-D Printing

“Tea, Earl Grey, hot!”

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot!

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot!
Source: themthdegree.com

These famous words identify Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the fictional star-ship Enterprise. As he speaks these words to a ‘replicator’ installed on a wall in his room, a steaming-hot glass cup of tea appears to his satisfaction. These words have inspired generations to dream of such replicators: future machines that given specific instructions, can produce anything you want.

The idea is not new. Hadn’t humans wished for such magic since the dawn of their existence? It is almost the very definition of magic. Magicians make stuff appear out of thin air, or magically turn one item into another. Alchemists were asked to turn cheap substances into gold; today we know it is possible, but the amount of energy investment required makes such activity futile.

Still, the idea of making anything is so alluring.

The Time Ships

Baxter: The Time Ships
Source: booksellerworld.com

I’m not sure what Stephen Baxter knew about 3-D printing when he wrote The Time Ships, published almost 10 years ago, as a sequel to The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. This most unusual story set 650,000 years in an altered future (then 50 million years in a different past) describes the continued adventures of the Time Traveller. In this future humans seem to be physically ugly, ape looking creatures, but vastly advanced. They have constructed a Dyson sphere, where they live, around the inner solar system, and they trap the Sun’s energy within it. They no longer live on Earth that has thus gone dark.

Time Traveller's quarters

Time Traveller’s quarters
Source: timetravelinstitute.com

These future humans, the Morlocks, have a mechanism embedded within the sphere, that can generate anything they need. Living quarters for the Time Traveller are erected and destroyed like play-dough is used in an animated movie. He is provided food and water automatically by the same mysterious mechanism, underneath his footing, from the same gray matter from which everything else seems to be built. Will we ever reach such efficiency?

Making things is all about manipulating matter, changing its form using chemical or physical processes; electron recycling… Sometimes it’s a lot of work. Many things are no longer made by hand – they are made in factories by machines, but these are dedicated to their purpose; they can’t make anything, they can only make that which they were designed to make. What does it take to create a machine that can make anything?


Source: makepartsfast.com

Just like it’s possible for a computer to recreate a picture by taking a digital snapshot of it – basically recording pixel by pixel what is the color of the pixel – then printing it out pixel by pixel, similarly it can recreate an object by taking a digital snapshot of it in 3-D: pixel by pixel, for each layer, layer by layer, then printing it out pixel by pixel, layer by layer. The first printer would use ink and print on paper; the second printer would use a special compound that when heated sticks (thermoplastic or metal wire), so that the material in each layer would be combined with the material in the layers above and below. This process is also referred to as ‘additive manufacturing’ or ‘fused deposition modeling’.

Printing Chess

Printing Chess
Source: eos.info

In just a little over 30 years, this idea has gone from an abstract that most couldn’t envision its use, to a technology that is disrupting every aspect of how things are made. it’s about making things that are complex to make by molding or in any other way, and doing it in a way that’s faster and cheaper. The first machines were expensive, but the ‘makers’ movement, hacker communities, ‘Do It Yourself’ hobbyists have pushed the market towards domestic use, by making available affordable smaller printers, and open source market for the 3-D models of things to print.

3-D Printed Yoda

3-D Printed Yoda
Source: geek.com


Now the list of uses is endless. With 3-D printers big and small you can now create anything, from automobile and spacecraft engines to jewelry and medicine.

You can make clothes:

3D Printed Clothing

Source: inhabitat.com

You can make legs:

3D Printed Leg

Source: about3dprinters.com

You can also make space station parts.

A week ago, on September 23, 2014, space enthusiasts cheered on as Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) delivered a 3-D printer to ISS (the International Space Station). This will allow the ISS astronauts to replicate parts needed on site.

3-D printer at Zero Gravity

A 3-D printer on board ISS: Now things can be ‘Made in Space’
Source: techtimes.com

The future of the Morlocks seems somewhat depressing, I do hope we don’t end up quite like them. Maybe it’s all about the color.  Cheerful little polymer creatures printed for me by a MakerBot printer in the last Maker Fair I attended, remind me that maybe the secret is to NOT go gray.

3-d printer

Home 3-D printer from Cubify.com

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Flying Over Class Charlie

San Jose Airport at Night

San Jose Airport at Night
Source: SuperShuttle

It is not everyday that you fly over class ‘B’ (Bravo) or ‘C’ (Charlie) with a small aircraft. Private pilots usually try to avoid the busy airspace of international airports. But every once in a while you might get to do that, and if it’s at night – the sight leaves you with awe.

Approaching class Bravo in northern CA is done through the federal system ‘Nor Cal Approach’. They keep you separated from the airliners and you don’t talk to the tower directly. But in class Charlie they do pass you on to the tower. It’s fun to watch the ‘big guys’ in the sky, and have them and the tower converse with you, acknowledging your position.

I did not take the picture above when I recently passed over San Jose International Airport – I was too busy. But the picture I found depicts the spirit.

By the way, this is what class Bravo looks like at night:

SFO at Night

SFO at Night
Source: Wikimedia


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Hardware is Hard

El Pulpo MecanicoThe month of May marks every year a very cool/artsy/geeky event to attend in the Bay Area in Nor Cal: Maker Faire Bay Area. Similar events take place around the country spring-through-fall. Robots, home-made machines, metallic kick-nacks, inventions, wearables and smartables, 3-D printers, digital and physical tech that inspires and ignites curiosity in all, especially young attendees. The above El Pulpo Mecanico is an example of the things you can expect to see.

This year a ‘maker’ conference, hosted by Oracle Corporation in Redwood Shores CA, was started to support the ‘maker movement’, noting the impact in just recent years of trends that have made it possible for it to take flight: crowd-funding makes it easier for younger makers to fund their projects, and companies such as Intel, Qualcom, and many start-ups, make it easier to find basic building blocks to ‘make’. The movement has coined the term M2M (machine to machine communication) as part of IoT (internet of things) – cloud based connectivity of devices that push or pull status and data, and act upon it.

“Hardware is Hard” were words spoken by folks from Dragon Innovation and Blue Robotics. Overcoming this hardship is at the heart of building ‘smart things’.  Founders from Pebble and Spark came to talk about their hardware and software combo, and inspire people with the road they took; and the audience cheered with awe, reassured that you don’t have to be Apple to create great things.

Which brings us to the world of ‘smart wearables’. Pebble is a smartwatch that can connect to smart devices both iOS (Apple) and Android (Google) based, and Spark is an open source operating system for cloud-connected things, using it you can create interfaces to other machines. Using both you can create great applications for Pebble, which is the only way to compete with the emergence of other smartwatches.

What do smartwatches do? You have to remember that they are not yet intended to replace the gadgets we currently carry in our pockets and purses. They don’t have many apps that work on them independently, rather they’re mainly used to display on your wrist notifications and content from the smartphone nearby, using Bluetooth.

While we are waiting for a smartwatch from Apple, Pebble’s competition includes quite a few based on Google’s Android Wear platform. G Watch from LG has step-tracking that encourages people to walk… Nice for fitness oriented folks.

G Watch - LG

G Watch – LG
Source: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Samsung Gear Live has a heart rate monitor. (both were given free to recent Google I/O conference attendees…)

Gear Live - Samsung

Gear Live
Source: Samsung

Motorola’s Moto 360 has been delayed for months. Not yet released, it is rumored to have a wireless charger.

Moto 360

Moto 360

Smartwatch applications can extend to the watch from the smartphone, you don’t install them on the watch. The platform allows you to tap and swipe, and drill-down by touch.

The nicest feature is using voice commands to control Google Now – a virtual assistant like iPhone’s Siri. To me this is that part that most promises to bring science fiction into our lives. You can’t yet do ‘Face-time’ by talking to your wrist, but when that happens – soon thereafter  – I hope to see gadgets style James Bond or Spy Kids 2…

Spy Kids2 Watches

Spy Kids2 Watches
Source: Miramax.com



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Apple CarPlay: Just the Tip of the Car-Apps Iceberg

Some call it: In-Vehicle Experience of the Future. I call it Helga. Say ‘Hello’ to Helga, my car’s AI.

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‘Emirai’ system Mitsubishi

Helga: “Good morning, girl! Are we going to work? I’m 96% charged so I’m good to go. I sense you got your coffee mug, it’s about 70% full, so not stopping at Starbucks.”

Me, settling in: “Morning! Yes – work, no Starbucks, and I have to drop off a package in the mail.”

Helga, pulling out of the driveway: “Nearest post office is still closed. We can stop by at the one near your office, by the time we get there it will be open. Traffic looks bad this morning, so I’m not taking the freeway, re-routing via expressway. ETA 8:43, that’s in 36 minutes including 9 min at the post office, I don’t know what’s the hold up, but there’s a line. You’ll still have enough time before your 9:00 meeting with your boss and 5 peers titled ‘Helga Nav Update UI review’. Hey, wait-a-minute… Helga – that’s me. Am I getting an upgrade?”

Me, smiling: “Yes, you lucky beast, you’re getting an upgrade. Now enough with the chit chat. Route approved. But I do feel like driving today. Do you mind?”

Helga: “Well, so long as you don’t go over 90 MPH. I do not enjoy the anxiety. And watch out for that pole, when we arrive at the parking garage. You almost hit it last time. No need for name-calling. If I’m a beast, at least I’m a pretty one. You got the wheels?”

Me: “I got the wheels. Hey, don’t mention my past behavior when there’s a passenger with us. Play us some Vivaldi?”

Helga: “Acknowledged. What Vivaldi, I thought it’s a Maroon 5 kind-of-day”.

Me: “No, I want some classic. My 9:00 is going to be very stressful; I want to clear my head”.

Helga: “Your wish is my command, Vivaldi it is. You are so unpredictable.”

Me: “Oh, I’m so lucky that is not true. If it were true you would have been a pointless impossibility.”


So what do you think of the above conversation, between me and Helga? Whatever you think, you should know that it is absolutely, positively, possible and feasible with technologies that exist today.

1.  After decades invested in research, multiple companies and research institutions can provide speech recognition by recording voice, analyzing the audio data, and transcribing it to text, using language models. The more focused the usage and the language model (on a domain or specific accent), the higher the accuracy.

2.  Next step is understanding the text. A wealth of available NLP (Natural Language Processing) technologies can decipher human language, analyze it, and respond in a meaningful way according to rules learned from vast corpus of training data.  Apple’s Siri and Google’s Now are both based on these technologies.

3.  A computer generated voice can be routed to the car’s speakers. Cars had the ability to ‘talk’ some limited sentences such as ‘Lights are on!’, in some models since the 1990’s, but I suspect that might have been a recording. That’s not the same as generating the audio output on the fly.

4.  % charged – well, the car ‘knows’ exactly what’s the status of the battery, or if it is gasoline based it can tell tank % full.

5.  The presence of the coffee mug – a simple sensor for weight or even heat can sense it and make use of this info.

6.  All route and re-routing calculations mentioned – Waze and other map apps already do all of this, just need to verbalize it.

7.  Self driving? I don’t think I have to tell you about all the self parking cars that are already available in the market today, and all the self driving prototypes in testing.  Cameras and sensors all around the car make it possible to identify proximity to obstacles and other moving vehicles, to give it a complete picture of the environment in which it operates. Machine learning is used to learn how drivers operate in these conditions. It’s a very complex problem to solve and it will take years, but it will be solved.

8.  Car apps: If your phone knows your schedule – there’s no reason why your car can’t have access to it.

This is it. This is where devices like ‘CarPlay’ come into play.

Last month was special: 3.14 – Pi month! And it was also special because Apple CarPlay was announced, a device that connects your iPhone to your car via an iOS display, that brings you control over messages, music, and navigation. Eventually more and more apps will be adapted to this use-case and be brought into this offering. The idea is that people have dozens of applications running on their phone, and this is a way of adapting them and bringing them into the car.

Apple CarPlay in Volvo Autoblog.com

Apple CarPlay in Volvo

The changes in this area are happening at the speed of light. In 2008-9 in many cars you could listen to music played off your iPod or iPhone using an auxiliary cable, or connect your blue-tooth enabled phone to the car, to have conversations and music through the car speakers. This was much better than the clunky car-phones that existed only in luxury cars just a few years earlier.  In 2012 many cars already have a USB connection, that allows you to also charge the phone, while browsing through its music using the car’s controls.  But the car – phone integration was not yet complete, and was not the only thing happening in the cars.

The truth is this space is messy. While there is an attempt to have better interfaces between cars and smartphones, to take advantage of apps you already have, there is also an attempt to create a platform of both hardware and software to run dedicated apps in the car. If you try to somehow mix the two, you also have a problem of compatibility.  Think about it this way: every manufacturer is creating their own platform, and then some soliciting developers to develop apps for them, some developing their own.  2013 saw a burst in car-based applications, including a competition for developers conducted by Ford.  Some manufacturers use satellite based wireless internet. Many rely on Internet connectivity via cellular networks of users’ smartphones, but that means users have to either switch car or switch phone if they are incompatible.  This became clear with the Porsche launch at the end of 2012, with platform integration for Blackberry.

This is still an issue with CarPlay. Until a similar Android-based device is introduced, you would get the system with your new 2015 Mercedes-Benz, Volvo or Hyundai only if you own an iPhone. It’s interesting to see it implemented in different ways in the 3 different cars. Here’s a video showing its introduction at the Geneva Auto show 2014.


Will a standard platform be created, as an option for providing applications in any car, and connecting the apps from any phone? Will car apps ignore phone apps or become superior for in-car use? It seems 2014 is the year of platforms and connectivity alliances. Car manufacturers enter relationships with wireless internet providers, and a new alliance (OAA) was created to bring the Android platform to connected cars. Only time will tell us what to make of this.

What I do know is that as far as the future of car apps is concerned, CarPlay is just the tip of the Iceberg. A real giant Iceberg.



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2013: 13th of 13 Things I Want to Know: What’s The Deal With Frogs In Space?

Sept 11th, 2013 – NASA carries out the much anticipated LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) launch to the moon on an unmanned mission. The liftoff took place from Pad 0B at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. On the next day the camera crews reported that the cameras caught a frog launching into the air with the rocket.

Image of frog lifted with Nasa LADEE launch

A still camera on a sound trigger captured this photo of an airborne frog as NASAs LADEE spacecraft lifted off from Pad 0B at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Source: ABC News.

That’s not the only ‘froggie’ presence we’ve experienced lately. An interesting and cute yellowish-green one starred in October at the end of the movie Gravity (released Oct 4th 2013), reminding the returning astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) how wonderful life on Earth is.

Last but not least, the trials of this space-frog in zero gravity freak her out, and make me think we should leave them behind.

Maybe frogs shouldn’t be in space.

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2013: 12th of 13 Things I Want to Know: How to Deal With Rejection?

I didn’t write this. I have no idea who did, it just amuses me a great deal.


Professor Hombre
Chair – Search Committee
Department of Biochemistry
University of Towanda Health Sciences Center, Towanda, IA

Dear Professor Hombre,

Thank you for your letter of March 6. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite the University of Towanda’s outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor in your department this May. I look forward to seeing you then.

Best luck in rejecting future applicants.

Goddard Youville

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