Category Archives: Techie

Communications: California loses cell phone service in power cut offs

Up to 1,000 or so cell sites went off line due to the extended power shut down in northern California:

Even as California burns, the cell phones of many residents have gone mute, preventing them from giving or getting emergency information.

Source: Kincade Fire: Why you can’t make cell calls in this emergency

Most cell sites are configured with battery backups to keep running during short term outages but are unable to continue running without power for days. Some also have generators but due to the power shut down and wild land fires, they were unable to be serviced with additional fuel.

Some have thought that with communications becoming a commodity, we would no longer need distributed emergency communications from ham radio. Instead, the more communications we’ve built and the more it has been used, the larger the impact of its loss. Amateur Radio emergency communications remains a vitally important component of emergency planning and service delivery.

#Intel intros new notebook processors, high performance, lower power, integrated 802.11ac

From the spec sheet, the new CPUs provide high performance at low battery power consumption, and integrated Gigabit Wi-Fi (802.11).

See Intel’s page on the new processors for more information.

Meltdown and Spectre are the names given to a security vulnerability that takes advantage of speculative branch execution to capture the side effect of cached data, thereby revealing protected data. However, just one of the two new processors addresses Meltdown while the other does not. Neither addresses Spectre.

Intel launched new eighth-generation processors slated for laptops this week: Ultra-low power 15-watt Whiskey Lake U-series chips and extremely low power five-watt Amber Lake Y-series chips. After the launch, Intel was asked if these two processor families include hardware fixes for Meltdown and Spectre.

Source: Intel’s New ‘Whiskey Lake’ CPUs Have a Hardware Fix for Meltdown | Digital Trends

University of Washington: upcoming Internet accessible lecture on #IoT #Wearables Technology

Next Thursday at UW CSE or view remotely:

Computer Science and Engineering

SPEAKER:   David Kotz, Dartmouth College

TITLE:     Amulet: An Energy-Efficient, Multi-Application Wearable

DATE:      Thursday, December 1, 2016
TIME:      3:30pm
PLACE:     EEB-105
HOST:      Tadayoshi Kohno

Wearable technology enables a range of exciting new applications in
health, commerce, and beyond. For many important applications, wearables
must have battery life measured in weeks or months, not hours and days as
in most current devices. Our vision of wearable platforms aims for long
battery life but with the flexibility and security to support multiple
applications. To achieve long battery life with a workload comprising apps
from multiple developers, these platforms must have robust mechanisms for
app isolation and developer tools for optimizing resource usage.

We introduce the Amulet Platform for constrained wearable devices, which
includes an ultra-low-power hardware architecture and a companion software
framework, including a highly efficient event-driven programming model,
low-power operating system, and developer tools for profiling
ultra-low-power applications at compile time. We present the design and
evaluation of our prototype Amulet hardware and software, and show how the
framework enables developers to write energy-efficient applications. Our
prototype has battery lifetime lasting weeks or even months, depending on
the application, and our interactive resource-profiling tool predicts
battery lifetime within 6-10% of the measured lifetime.

(Featured image: Seattle photo from University of Washington web site at

Continue reading University of Washington: upcoming Internet accessible lecture on #IoT #Wearables Technology

Zigbee low power wireless for the Internet of Things #IoT

Most everyone is familiar with Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11 standards) and most are likely also familiar with Bluetooth wireless. Far fewer are familiar with some of the standard wireless technologies used for Internet of Things applications. These technologies include Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE), Zigbee and others.

This post is about Zigbee.

Zigbee is a low power, very short range wireless technology that has been around for more than a decade, although it has continually evolved to support new requirements. Zigbee 3.0 is the current version of the specification.


Source – Zigbee standards group.

Zigbee is a set of protocols that sit on top of the IEEE 802.15.4 specification. 802.15.4 specifies a short range (less than 10 meters), low speed (up to 250 kbps maximum) wireless link operating in the 2.4 Ghz band (or alternatively the 868 Mhz band in Europe and the 902-928 Mhz band in North America and potentially in other forms including Ultra Wide Band).

While used for peer to peer communications, protocols add support for mesh networking, where nodes in the network can forward packets on to others in the network. In this way, a message can be delivered over a much greater distance than the few meters of a specific link. Zigbee specifies how devices join the network, plus how security is implemented.

Key to Zigbee is its design for extreme low power operation. This means a device can be powered by a small battery for very long periods of time (such as a year or many years) or the device can even use “energy harvesting” to obtain sufficient energy from a wireless field (similar to how RFID works). A Zigbee device might operate on 1/100,000 to 1/1,000,000 the power required for a typical WiFi connection.

Zigbee’s design is oriented towards applications of Zigbee, such as a switch remote controlling a light bulb, or a dimmer controlling a light. Zigbee devices are intended to be easily installed “plug and play”. Contrast that with setting up an Internet connection just a few years ago – where end users had to enter router and DNS addresses and possibly specify a subnet mask. The complexity was absurd in terms of the the end consumer. The consumer just wants to purchase a solution, plug it in, and it works.

The device should automatically discover its surrounding support network, plus, automatically adapt in the event the environment changes. In other words, each device may be part of a mesh network that forwards packets – but if devices within the mesh go offline or are blocked, a new path can be automatically identified.

As you can see, Zigbee is a low power, wireless communications standard that is designed for a world of small, battery powered, Internet of Things devices. Zigbee is not the only standard available – but it is certainly an important one.


Hacking embedded systems: Camera hacking the Canon PowerShots

Source: CHDK Wiki | Fandom powered by Wikia

If you have a Canon PowerShot camera, a great and fun software hack is available – for free – called the Canon Hack Development Kit or just CHDK.

CHDK is software that runs on your Canon PowerShot camera to add additional features and capabilities; which features are supported depends on which PowerShot camera is used.

When I had a Canon PowerShot SX1, I used CHDK especially for its motion detection feature. This hack added a feature to detect motion in a scene and then fire the shutter – which was perfect for photographing lightning. Yes, its detection is so fast that you could use it to photograph lightning bolts.

In addition to a set of features added by CHDK to the PowerShot cameras, CHDK also adds “scripting”. This is a feature that let’s you write a set of commands (similar to writing a program) to use and operate various camera features.

The hack is installed by copying files to a specially prepared mini SD card. When the camera is turned on, the hack software is pre-loaded, together with the camera’s own, original software.

I sold my SX1 (a great camera for macro shots due to its macro feature and small sensor size). Since then, I have missed being able to play with CHDK. I am thinking about buying a used Powershot with a larger 1/1.7″ sensor so I can play with CHDK again 🙂

What do we call someone who creates software?

Sample titles used:

  • Computer scientist
  • Software developer
  • Software engineer
  • Engineer
  • Computer Engineer
  • Development engineer
  • Web developer
  • Mobile applications developer (and specialties like Android apps or iOS apps developer)
  • Front end developer
  • Back end developer
  • Full stack developer
  • Devops engineer
  • Programmer
  • Computer programmer
  • Coder
  • Systems analyst
  • Information systems technician
  • Analyst/programmer
  • Database administrator (some are expected to developer database applications)
  • Software architect
  • Principal engineer
  • Senior engineer
  • Junior developer
  • Junior engineer
  • Data architect
  • Software consultant
  • Software craftsman

You can almost take a large set of nouns used in any business title and pair up with any of “engineer”, “developer”, “scientist”, “architect” and so on. The number of potential titles is huge.

Continue reading What do we call someone who creates software?

McDonald’s installs 7,000 self-order entry systems in Europe

As the cost of labor increases, investing in fixed cost capital improvements like robotics and self order systems becomes an easy decision for those hiring low skilled work forces:

McDonald’s hires 7,000 touch-screen cashiers – CNET.

Grocery stores, bank ATMS, even Home Depot, have replaced cashiers and clerks with self checkout systems. The McDonald’s systems use debit and credit cards only – making it all the more easy for your activities to be monitored.

The difference between software engineering and computer science

Computing Now | Putting the Engineering into Software Engineering Education.

(I have an undergrad degree in computer science and one of my graduate degrees is in software engineering. They are related but not the same thing. Legally, however, it is generally against the law in many states for anyone to call themselves a software engineer unless they are a licensed Professional Engineer – or they work for a company and their state permits an industrial exemption for titles given to internal employees. The first PE exam for software engineering is to be offered in April of 2013; licensure in most states may require passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam covering topics such as chemistry, physics, mathematics, structures and what not.)

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RailsInstaller: Use it


I am just starting to learn Ruby on Rails, the web development software and tools. I started with Michael Hartl’s book Ruby on Rails Tutorial: Learn Web Development with Rails, Second ed. This is supposed to be the #1 book on the subject – I sure hope the subsequent chapters are better than the installation chapter!

His book walks the newbie through the torturous process of setting up Ruby, Rails, Git, and Heroku access by downloading, installing and configuring every component (more than those listed here). The only word for the install is “torture” as many others have commented about it online. Perhaps another might be “stupid”. A lot of stuff didn’t work and required frequent digging online and finding everyone else having the same problems as we all battled through the installation process.

A far simpler way is to go to and download and run the all-in-one installer.

I spent hours yesterday undergoing the Ruby on Rails installation on Mac OS X (equivalent to a root canal without pain killer) from his book. Finally got the first_app demo to load and run off of Heroku. Only to find that when I went to the second app, the Mac OS X installation no longer worked. Hours later, I discovered the online RailsInstaller – gave up on Mac, went over to my Windows desktop and had Ruby on Rails on Heroku up and running in 15-20 minutes.

Word of advice: Use RailsInstaller – ignore Hartl’s installation instructions.

Update: Chapter 2 onward is going much better 🙂

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