Archive for the ‘Technology’ category

Jet Propulsion Labratory

October 10, 2015

JPL CampusLast week our son Mike told us that JPL would be holding an open house this weekend (Saturday and Sunday). So we thought that sounds like fun. Maybe we should take a ride up to Pasadena and see what’s happening at JPL. So I checked out JPL’s web site for directions and information. It was a straight shot up the 110 to Pasadena.

The web site recommended to get an early start as parking would be a challenge. Well we didn’t get much of an early start. We finally got going at about 10 AM.

It turns out that not only was JPL having a big event, there was a big soccer game between USA and Mexico at the Rose bowl. Not good.

So we got into the JPL neighborhood and found a traffic jam of biblical proportions. Cars parked on side streets. One gate was closed to traffic. Signage was poor. So after about an hour of poking around the Pasadena neighborhood, we decided to give up. The rent was due on the morning’s coffee and no bathrooms in sight.

So JPL can put hardware onto Mars and send spacecraft to Pluto, but has trouble managing traffic. So we turned around and reprogrammed our GPS for home with intermediate stops at the Happy Diner in San Pedro and Trader Joe’s supermarket.

So, in lieu of a personal account of the open house. Here a few facts and pictures culled from Wikipedia and JPL’s web site.

First, here is the Wikipedia entry for JPL. And here is the link to JPL’s web site. Go check them out. There are a lot of neat pictures.

Curiosity Rover

Curiosity Rover

JPL has been responsible for several projects related to Mars. One of the recent projects was a launched in 2011 and landed on Mars in 2012. This picture is Rover’s selfie. Here’s the wiki link.

While I’m thinking about it, go see Matt Damon’s new film titled “The Martian”. I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about the book. Here’s the link to the IMDB entry.

So that’s about it. Maybe we’ll get up there next year, Pasadena that is not Mars.

COIN

July 5, 2015

  About 18 months ago, I paid $50 to join a crowd source funding for a new product called “COIN”. COIN is supposed to be a credit card replacement that could dynamically change the data on the credit card magnetic stripe. One would be able to store a total of 8 different credit cards on the device. The idea is/was to reduce one’s credit card bloat in your wallet.

It seemed like a good idea to me. I typically have about 6-7 credit cards including ATM cards, credit cards and the like. The developer was promising delivery during the summer of 2014. I guess the early beta didn’t go as well as they hoped. So last summer they scheduled a second expanded beta with expanded beta units going to those who signed on early in the funding process.

Everyone else would have to wait until full production ramped up this summer. Those who didn’t want to wait could get a refund. So a couple of weeks ago I finally received my unit. Better late than never.

Here’s how it works, You need to install the COIN app on your smart phone (in my case an iPhone 6 plus). The COIN comes with a plug in credit card reader. First you have to pair your phone with the COIN. The COIN uses Blue-Tooth to communicate with the app.

One loads the credit cards into the app by swiping the card on the card reader. Then the app prompts you to add the security code on the back of the card. Once you are finished loading credit cards onto the app you then sync the credit cards with the COIN, So far so good. Works as advertised.

The COIN is the exact same size as a credit card. It has a small display that shows the card type (AMEX, Visa, etc) and last four digits of the card number. You can load credit/debit cards, gift cards and some id cards that have a magnetic stripe (though I can’t see how much use that would be.) There is button that you press to wake up the card and select the card that one wants to use.

Supposedly the COIN is compatible with most credit card readers and ATM’s. Here is where the rubber hits the road (or not). I haven’t tried it on any ATM’s yet. I don’t need to go to ATM’s very much. I usually get cash back while I am at the supermarket.

I have tried to use the device about a half dozen time. This is certainly a very limited sample size to be sure. I have attempted and been rejected at two different restaurants. I have successfully used it at a grocery store and the Starbucks at the grocery store.

It does have some neat security features though. The COIN won’t work if you lose connection to your phone. And the app will warn you that your COIN has gone away. It shuts off after about seven minutes and you will need a pass code to turn it back on or be paired with your phone.

So I wouldn’t use at it the regular Starbucks. They have an iPhone App for that and it works quite well.

Much of my shopping is done online and this device is of no use for that type of shopping.

My end goal is to have Apple-Pay become more widely accepted. Then I could ditch the credit cards all together. As it stands right now, I have only seen Apple-Pay in use at one merchant establishment (Panera Restaurant).

If you are interested in learning more about the device from the developer’s web site, Go to onlycoin.com. As for me, I’m not quite ready to leave my credit cards at home (at least not yet.) The support pages has a list of merchants that accept COIN and a list that have been reported as rejecting it.

If I Read it on the Internet, It Must Be True

March 4, 2015

snopeslogoSo listen up ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Everything that you read on the internet is not necessarily fact. Alas, it is true.

It seems that almost every day one of my FB friends share a post from one of their BFF’s, an article of great importance that is utterly and completely false.

So how do I tell whether or not the post is fact? First clue, is it outrageous? Have I seen it on a reputable news site like the NY Times or LA Times? Journalists are expected to do due diligence when they write a story.

Was the post from a friend of a friend of a friend? In other words can I discern where it came from?

There is a really good web site for Internet rumors and myths called “Snopes.Com“. Here are some of the latest rumors that are trending on Snopes: (note: all of the rumors listed here are false, except for the last one.)

There you have it, some of the current rumors and news for today. So do me (and all of your FB BFF’s) check the post out before you send it on.

Endeavour

September 27, 2014

Our son (Neil) is in town to visit for a few days. We were looking for things to do besides eat and drink. We decided to go visit the space shuttle Endeavour up at the California Science Center in downtown LA.
 
 The Endeavour was moved to the California Science Center in October 2012. It was quite an event watching the ship move through the streets of LA from LAX to Science Center in downton LA. Here is the Wikipedia Link. Here is a picture of Endeavour on the launch pad.
 

 Currently the Endeavour is on display in a hangar-sized building at the Science Center. There are plans in place to move it outside and display in launch configuration with booster rockets and fuel tank.
 
 Here are some of the pictures that I took.
 


I was impressed on how worn the shuttle looked. High mileage indeed.
 


On the wall in the hangar are posted brief descriptions of all space shuttle missions.
 


The mounting of the space shuttle is on four massive pylons with earthquake resistant disks.
 


The engines have been removed from Endeavour and replaced with nacelles. This is a model of one of the engines.
 
 


Here’s a picture of the space shuttle toilet. There was a video explaining how it was used.
 


Mock up of NASA command center.
 


Where the rubber hits the road (or runway).
 

 – Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Los Angeles, CA

Coin

August 29, 2014

Maybe you’ve heard of a device called “Coin” or maybe not. “Coin” is a device being developed by some folks in San Francisco. The concept is the device that will save account information of up to eight credit or debit cards and can be used like a credit or debit card at any Point of Sale credit card terminal or ATM. It works in conjunction with a mobile app to load the credit card information including account number, expiration date, security code and account owner’s name and so forth. Here’s the link to the “Coin” web site. And here is a picture of the device.

Coin-640x353

Okay, so far so good. I get it. I can carry one card instead of eight. Lightens up the amount of plastic I carry in my pocket. Sounds like a laudable goal.

So when I heard about it last fall, I bit the bullet and signed up. The company is partially funded by crowd source funding. Never heard of “Crowd Source Funding”? Click here for the wikipedia entry. That is, I send them my $50, and they promise to send one of the devices some time in the future. So a lot of people signed up. The company hasn’t said how much money was raised, but I believe it was significant.

So are there any drawbacks to the design? Two big ones that I can think of. First, it has a battery inside. Batteries go dead after a while. Coin website says the battery lasts for two years. Then you have to buy a new coin. By that time there ought to be a Coin 2.0 available. Perhaps it will support loading more cards, chip and pin, longer battery life? Who knows.

Second, the credit card technology used in the US is called “Chip and Signature”. The technology rapidly being adopted is called “Chip and Pin”. This technology is considered more secure. The “Coin” does not support “Chip and Pin”. So don’t expect it to work in Europe. Maybe some day it will be supported but not now

So back in November (November 15 to be exact) I forked over $50. The company said that the device would start shipping by the summer of 2014. Every once and a while, I would get an email with current status of development. So the summer has pretty much come and gone. The IOS app appeared as scheduled on 8/28. (The Android version is scheduled for 9/25) So I downloaded the app.  Actually it took a while to find. When you do a search for “Coin” you get about a couple of thousand hits. But never no mind.

I guess I should have known, when someone is vague about delivery dates using terms like spring or summer. I of course was hoping for June. Coin was obviously thinking end of summer. 

Recent emails from coin, have been telling me that delivery will be delayed as well as a second beta for 15,000 devices, with production quality devices shipping in Spring of 2015. Perhaps their idea of Spring is next September. I am not holding my breath. 

So the 2nd beta is for 15,000 devices going to the first 15,000 folks who signed up. The IOS app was to tell you when your device would ship (ie. are you in the beta or not?) The app says my coin would ship Spring 2015. I am not happy about that. And I fear that their scheduling is overly optimistic. I would not be surprise that additional delays could happen.

I could ask for my money back. My suspicion that would take quite a while. Besides, the money is already spent. I might as well settle down and wait.

One more thing. If after reading all of the above and you are still interested in pre-ordering one, use the following link to order. I get a $5 referral bonus credit. 

Kindle Unlimited Isn’t

August 23, 2014

I wrote a few weeks ago about Amazon’s “Kindle Unlimited” subscription service for books. Well, yesterday I discovered a limitation of the service. It seems that you can only download 10 books at a time. When you try to download book number 11, Amazon tells you to delete one of the previous ten books.
 
 Now this limit is probably buried in the fine print of the terms and conditions document that you accepted and if you are anything like me didn’t bother to read.
 
 Also, my guess is that when you cancel, Amazon will reach into your Kindle or Kindle App on your iPad and delete all of the free books. I’ll find out when I cancel later after I finish the book about Ernest Shackleton’s adventure at the South Pole.
 
 The service is just not worth it. The book selection just sucks. in the two or three weeks I have had the service, I haven’t seen any improvement. Most of the books would normally be selling for under $5, some under $3. Just not worth it.
 
 
 – Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Amazon Unlimited

July 25, 2014

So last week, Amazon announced a new product called “Amazon Unlimited” whereby for the monthly price of $9.95 one could down load Kindle books for free. If you read a lot (as I do), you might say “wow, pretty good deal”? Well, not so fast bucko. As always, the devil is in the details.

This announcement comes a couple of months after a similar product called “Oyster” appeared on the Internet. Same price, $9.95 a month, unlimited down loads.

One major difference between Oyster and Kindle Unlimited is that Oyster has it’s own app. Where Kindle Unlimited is integrated with existing Kindle apps and devices. So if you have a real Kindle, Oyster won’t work for you.

I tried Oyster for the four week trial period and then cancelled. The content was just not worth the money. No “A-List” or even “B-List” authors. There is no app for reading on PC or MAC.

So Kindle Unlimited works nicely with the existing Kindle devices and apps. No need to load an additional app.

So what about content. It’s a little tricky to find the titles that classified as “Kindle Unlimited”. Certainly, none of the A-List authors or books on the various best seller lists are available for Kindle Unlimited. Perhaps that might change, but I kind of doubt it.

So to look at it another way, if a book is selling north of $10, it is unlikely to appear on Kindle Unlimited. It’s seems that many of the books on Kindle Unlimited are by unknown authors. Here is search results for “Kindle Unlimited Books“. There seems to be a few bestsellers from years gone by. (eg. Life of Pi, or Water for Elephants). In looking at the list there is a lot of junk. Books that aren’t likely to sell for $3 or less.

Some current best sellers are on Kindle Unlimited, but it’s tough to tell from the Best Seller screen. Here is a screen shot of the best seller list:

ku

Two books in the top six are on Kindle Unlimited. You can’t tell without clicking through to the book info. A clue is that the price is under $5.

It is not clear what publishers are participating in Kindle Unlimited. Perhaps more will get on board. My brother Richard Bowker (the author) has books on Kindle but his publisher is not doing Kindle Unlimited (yet). Okay, shameless plug: Go check out Richard’s books on Amazon. All good stuff. Most of his books are in the $3-$5 range.

So as time goes by, I expect that Amazon will sign up more publishers to participate in Amazon Unlimited. Time will tell. I am board for now.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad