New drone

So, for Christmas this year I got a drone.  A nice DJI Phantom 3.  Its pretty awesome. It is much easier to fly, even with controls set to manual, than any of the little toy drones.  The larger they are the more stable, and more dangerous.

I did need to register with the FAA to comply with the law.  I also need to notify local airports when I fly.  That becomes kind of a pain depending on where I’m flying.  At this point most of my flights have been well below treetops, but I definitely see the issue at higher altitudes.

The primary focus of my flying to date has been getting used to flying it, understanding the modes of operation and how the camera works.  Framing the shots and how to fly to get a smooth shot is interesting.  Its really different from hand holding a camera and much smoother generally.

Getting fun shots of the kids on vacation and interesting landscapes will be pretty awesome this summer.  By the time that rolls around I’m hoping to be pretty good at flying and more comfortable that I’m not going to lose the drone.

One thing that I would like to see from the FAA is to mandate electronic notification.  If I fly at home I need to notify 6 or 7 operators because of the local airport and heliports associated with news stations and hospitals.  Because I’m doing a notification and not asking for permission that should be a reasonable request.  Or eliminate the need for notification by defining a flight envelope that is exempt.  If I’m flying within 20 feet of treetops or below the level of the highest building I should not be interacting with any aircraft.

Overall I’m pretty happy with it.  I can’t wait until I can use all of the capabilities.


Why education is critical to keeping America Great

Yesterday’s post talked about follow-on technologies from military spending, the space program and basic scientific research.  What made this all possible?  Education.

Making young people excited about science and engineering during the 50s & 60s created a huge demand for education in STEM fields, only it wasn’t called STEM back then.  This continued through the 70s but started to diminish because there wasn’t the “new and exciting” stuff like the space program to encourage people to go into those fields.  Engineering students peaked in the 80s, and has dropped back to alarmingly low levels.

The percentage of students going into education has been declining over the last 50 years.  This is disappointing because more than ever we need to make sure we have a well educated work force.

Students going to health related fields is steadily rising.  There are going to be more jobs necessary to take care of the aging population.  There is also a perception that doctors make a lot of money.

Mathematics degrees are down, law enforcement is up,  fitness studies is up significantly, physical sciences are down.  Something that is truly disturbing is we have nearly as many people getting performance arts degrees as education or engineering and significantly more than math or physical sciences.

We seem to be valuing education and science less an business and artistic expression more.  Which of these results in long-term value creation?

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is absolutely a place for lawyers, artists and business people.  We do however need to refocus on things that create new things, push the boundaries and teach our youth how to think.  We are valuing these things less and I fear that we are going to be in a bad place as our current great scientific and engineering minds start to retire.

We are losing our momentum and need to find it again.

What made America Great, another perspective…

I spoke earlier how government spending on public works, military equipment, etc spurred the US economy during the 20th century.  What are some of the things that came out of this free spending that could not have been foreseen before hand?

The Internet: it is well known that the basis for the Internet or at least the underlying technologies TCP/IP, were developed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).  They were working on a robust communications method to ensure that communication lines remained open in the event of a nuclear exchange.  It could not have been foreseen at the time that the biggest user of this technology would be the public and private industry.  This underlying protocol along with HTML and the world wide web, developed by scientists at CERN to share research, paved the way for huge industry at the end of the 20th century and on into the 21st.

Batteries for everything: the Apollo program, another huge government spending program, resulted in a lot of technologies but I want to stick to portable battery solutions.  Our current battery technology for hand tools, cell phones, laptops, cars, etc. started with Apollo.  They had a need for small, portable batteries for tools in space.  This was funded by the public and exploited by industry to give us the world we have today.  How long would we have needed to wait if we hadn’t had this program?

GPS: its easy to forget that at one time if you wanted to know where you were on Earth you needed to know how to use a map, a compass and maybe an astrolabe.  Now we carry around maps and automatic directions in our pockets.  This was developed, not by private industry, but by a military need for accurate navigation for soldiers and vehicles.  Without recognizing the need, from a military standpoint, the expense would have been too great for private industry to develop and deploy because of the huge infrastructure needs.  The availability of this technology has helped businesses by improving logistics among other uses.

Ready to eat foods:  The need for portable, edible foods for soldiers created a need for packaged, shelf stable foods that could be transported and eaten anywhere.  This helped the packaged food industry and gave us better food options across the board.

Big data innovations: The work at CERN on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) created a need for a means to process large amounts of data quickly and cheaply.  A lot of the work on big data platforms stemmed from needs at CERN.

Modern electronics: the research into quantum physics and elementary particles resulted in the knowledge necessary to build our current technological base.  Modern microchips and integrated circuits would not have been possible without this basic research.  If you asked the scientists working on the explanation for the building blocks of the universe what would come of it, I doubt any of them would have foreseen the application in everything that makes the modern world possible.  There would be no microwaves, cell phones, computers, etc.

Digital Cameras: spy satellites and space telescopes innovated and created the modern digital sensor for all of the cameras in use today.  It was much better to be able to send a digital file down from orbit instead of getting film back.

tampons and pads: women should be happy that the military was looking for a better bandage for field dressings for injured soldiers.  As a result of this research they developed and were able to market the modern feminine hygiene product by as a follow-on once the factories were created to make the basic components.

EpiPens: this delivery technology was originally developed to help soldiers administer antidotes for nerve agents/chemical warfare agents in a battlefield environment.  This is a good thing for everyone that counts on it for allergic reactions.

more NASA spin-off technologies can be found here

How many of these technologies would have been developed without a military or basic science need?  How much later would they have been created?  What would things look like today without them?

We drive so much of our modern lives with government funded/developed technology yet we think that its private industry that comes up with the innovation.  The innovation by private industry is driven by the enabling technologies from military and scientific research/needs.  Cutting funding to basic science will stop a vital input into our economy.  This is often lost on those wanting to cut basic science funding which is a tiny part of our government funding.

Concrete example of civil liberties erosion

Local and Federal authorities are asking for backdoor encryption access for phones, again.  This is bad for everyone, not just the terrorists.  The problem here is a misunderstanding about how computer security works by the general public and an over reach by the government.

Even when you are designing a system that does not have a backdoor, it is not unusual to find a bug that results in the ability to break security.  By examining the code and/or trying different things to exploit the software things are found all of the time.  This is one of the big reasons why your software is updated so frequently; bugs are found and fixed.

Apple has done the right thing for all of us by enabling security by default and making it so they cannot get into your device.  Just think back to the iCloud problem that resulted in the theft of so many celebrity nudes.  This was with no backdoors in place and things got out.  Some of us keep lots of information on our phones that we wouldn’t want others to have; passwords, pictures, financial information, private thoughts, etc.

Now think about a situation where there is a backdoor, purposely put in.  If exploits are regularly found with no backdoor there, think about a world where there is one.  Now there is a target to get in or around.  If there is a defined way to circumvent security it will be found.  This is bad for all of us.  The “if you have nothing to hide, its not a problem” excuse doesn’t work because its not law enforcement getting in, its the bad guys.

This doesn’t even address the problems with law enforcement having this ability.  I am a law abiding citizen.  I do my best to avoid breaking laws because I believe that in a civil society there is a social contract to play by the rules.  This doesn’t mean that I want everyone looking at every detail of my life.  By having the expectation that anyone could look at anything at any time, it has the effect of influencing what I do, illegal or not, and stifles free thought or expression of ideas.  All of us have things that we wouldn’t want to have public even if they are completely legal and ethical.

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. – Benjamin Franklin

We are regularly giving up our freedoms.  Whether its giving the ability for anything we do online to be examined at anytime, often without our knowledge, or something like stop and frisk, where there is no crime except walking down the street, in the hope of finding a criminal.  We have let fear dictate what we think is ok, and its not.  The people that fought to give us a free country would be appalled at what we’ve freely given up.

Science, Education and Politics

Science is one of those wonderful tools that man has developed in order to determine how things work and put structure around how we expand our base of knowledge. It is a tool, a method if you will. It is not political, sort of. It is a way of determining facts and theories in the search for truth. It has the built in feature of having to change the way we thing about things as more is learned. If it isn’t changing, then it really isn’t science. This is fundamentally different from learning via dogma or other authoritarian means. Because it is always changing it can be threatening to those “in charge”.

Let’s review what the scientific method consists of:

  1. observe a phenomenon
  2. develop a hypothesis as to the cause
  3. make a prediction based on the hypothesis
  4. perform a controlled experiment to test the prediction
  5. analyze the data and compare to results predicted by hypothesis
    1. if the results match, the hypothesis can be promoted to a working theory
    2. if the results do not match, revise the hypothesis and return to #2

A problem that I have with the politicization of science is that it co-opts a method of learning things, and in doing so often gets away from learning about truth. This often results in starting with #4 and working backwards towards #2, or fitting the experimental results to fit the desired result. This is no longer science.

Science should determine facts and theories that match the evidence; what politicians do with that information is outside of science. If there is a good reason to go against the truth as determined by science, that may be a reasonable course of action, depending on the circumstances. What I find abhorrent is when the science is manipulated to fit a political agenda. This diminishes the value of science by creating confusion about what we know and how we know it.

Let me use an example: peak oil. When the oil that we are dependent upon will run out is a very political topic for obvious reasons. There are legitimate scientific means to develop estimates with regard to how much oil is available, where this oil is located, estimates on how much it will cost to recover the oil based on where it is located, etc. All of this information could be agreed upon. The question then becomes what to do with that information: do we develop alternate means of generating energy? do we drill for oil in ANWR? do we drill in the Gulf of Mexico? All of these questions are political, the answers should be based in part on the scientific information, but not entirely. The emotional and political factors must also be taken into account, but the science should be agreed upon facts. We should not use the politics or emotion to alter what the science says. There will still be disputes and competing theories as to the actual scientific data, but there are processes built into the scientific method to develop the best theory and modify this theory as more data becomes available.

What does this have to do with education? Everything. We are teaching our children in our schools about the scientific method. If we confuse them about what is science and how science works, then we are doing them and our country a great disservice. If we teach our children that science is arbitrary and can be manipulated to change the truth then we are not teaching them science, we are teaching them politics. We owe much of the progress over the past two centuries directly to science and the scientific method. We cannot expect to maintain our dominance in science and engineering if we are not teaching our children the right things.

First World Problems – iPhone edition

As I write this, I am sitting at the Apple Genius Bar reloading my information onto a new iPhone.  My old phone’s GPS stopped working with any reliability.

The biggest problem is reloading 256Gb worth of stuff onto the phone.  With my music library, apps, etc it ends up taking 2 days to get everything back on it.  Then there is the necessary re-pair of the Apple Watch which also takes a half hour.

I recognize that this is not one of the world’s great problems by any stretch.  Its just annoying.