School System’s HVAC’s Run by Commodore Amiga

Amiga LogoMy first ever family computer was a Commodore 64. I still remember how excited I was when my dad brought one home for Christmas, 1984. We spent hours putting that machine thru its paces. Which really means, we used it to play video games. Lots and lots of video games. And sometimes, we’d take a break from those games to do something more computer-y like make a database or manually input some code (probably for a game!) from one of the day’s prevalent computer magazines.

A few years later, we replaced that C-64 with a shiny new Amiga 500. And while we lost all of those great games, we gained 16-bit color and sound as well as the ability to add things like hard drives and other I/O. Around this time, I was able to take a media production course thru a vocational school. The school had a small lab of the A500’s bigger brother, the Amiga 2000. This is where I was first introduced to things like the Newtek Video Toaster as well as digital audio production. Oh, how I lusted after one of those Amiga 2000’s (or for that matter, the Amiga 3000 and 4000!). I desperately wanted to own one but alas, it never happened.

All of those memories came flooding back to me when I recently came across this article about a school district in Michigan that’s still using an Amiga 2000 to control its HVAC systems. I’m unsure if this is a testament to the reliability and quality of Commodore products or a sad statement on the nature of public school funding. Regardless, the Grand Rapids Public School District is using an Amiga 2000 working in concert with a 1200-bit modem and a radio system that sends signals to the school district’s buildings, turning on/off heaters and air conditioners as needed.

Apparently, the wireless frequency used by this system overlaps with the same radio frequency used by district maintenance, which sometimes creates problems. Maintenance crews have to maintain radio silence for periods of up to 20 minutes whenever one of these communication problems arises.

If voters approve an upcoming bond measure, the school district should be able to raise enough funds to replace the vintage computer system. If the bond does pass, I hope there’s a museum or something that can house that Amiga 2000. After nearly 30 years of venerable service, it deserves more than to just be sent to the recycler.

Ray Kurzweil’s Predictions for the Next 25 Years

Kurzweil2029

Ray Kurzweil has a pretty good track record when it comes to predicting where tech is going. In the past he predicted a computer would defeat a chess champion, that computers would be online wirelessly, and voice commands to computers, among many others.

Here are a few he has for the next 25 years:
By the late 2010s, glasses will beam images directly onto the retina. Ten terabytes of computing power (roughly the same as the human brain) will cost about $1,000.

By the 2020s, most diseases will go away as nanobots become smarter than current medical technology. Normal human eating can be replaced by nanosystems. The Turing test begins to be passable. Self-driving cars begin to take over the roads, and people won’t be allowed to drive on highways.

By the 2030s, virtual reality will begin to feel 100% real. We will be able to upload our mind/consciousness by the end of the decade.

By the 2040s, non-biological intelligence will be a billion times more capable than biological intelligence (a.k.a. us). Nanotech foglets will be able to make food out of thin air and create any object in physical world at a whim.

By 2045, we will multiply our intelligence a billionfold by linking wirelessly from our neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud.

Via Singularity Hub

Still no word on those hoverboards though. Damn.

Digital Cookie Lets You Buy Girl Scout Cookies Online

Girl Scouts logoThe Girl Scouts have made it even easier for you to buy your favorite kinds of Girl Scout cookies. They have launched something called Digital Cookie. he majority of the 112 Girl Scout councils nationwide are participating in the Digital Cookie 2014 – 2015 cookie season. More are expected to join by the end of 2015 (when Digital Cookie 2.0 will be ready). The Digital Cookie program will start nationally in January of 2015.

Individual Girl Scouts can have their own cookie website. Customers can gain access to it only if the Girl Scout sends them an emailed invitation. No identifying information about the Girl Scout will be publicly visible. This makes things safer for the girls who get to control which customers they want to work with. It is also possible to purchase cookies through the Official Girl Scout Cookie Finder app.

One of the coolest things about this new program is that it allows people to buy Girl Scout cookies from any Girl Scout who markets her business to them. In other words, you can buy cookies from your niece or granddaughter who is a Girl Scout and who lives across the country from you. Those cookies will be shipped to your door.

Obviously, the cookie sales are a fundraiser. The sales also are very useful to teach important lessons. The process of selling cookies teaches girls 5 essential skills: goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. Digital Cookie will expand girls’ knowledge of and hands-on experience with online marketing, app use, website customization and e-commerce.

TEDxBelfast 2012

TEDxBelfastAt TEDxBelfast last night I was inspired by the stories of individuals who passionately believed in an idea and then made that idea a reality. From working with autistic children to building a new arts centre, these people all made a difference. Presented in Titanic Belfast in front of the replica of the famous staircase, it was an unforgettable evening.

Titanic Staircase

As with all TED conferences, the presentations will be posted on-line but that will take a week or two before they are ready. In  the meantime, these are the speakers, their stories and how they made a difference.

David Maxwell of Tyrone Timberframes presented his work with Habitat for Humanity in building highly energy-efficient homes that have no central heating. The significant cost of fossil fuel-based energy can be a big factor in poverty and these homes can save the inhabitants over £1000 per year.

Maureen Murphy, Director of Aurion Learning, grabbed attention with the headline that 70% of training was wasted and proposed an innovative way of providing effective training using the acronym ASSAULT. One of the best bits was that of story-based approach that hooked the learner and got them more emotionally involved.

Fransuer Makula grew up in the slums of Kenya but is now a teacher in a prestigious school in Northern Ireland. Describing the harsh reality of existence as a street child, where death is commonplace, he related how the children dared to dream big. In the midst of utter poverty, these children wanted to grow up as doctors, nurses and lawyers. Fransuer established “Jengana” to help orphans, street children and schools in West Kenya.

Colleen Hardwick, billed as an urban geographer and serial entrepreneur from Vancouver, laid out the loss of personal engagement in democracy. The statistics she presented on the fall of voter turnout over the past few decades were shocking. To counteract the anonymous global nature of the web, she’s developed PlaceSpeak, a community-based website that lets local people be authenticated as stakeholders in local issues without necessarily giving up that anonymity.

Next was an absolute gem…acoustic guitar duo Declan McKerr and Andy Toman, aka Gypsy’s Wish, serenaded TEDxBelfast, equipped with a brand-new George Lowden guitar. His guitars are world-famous with owners such as Eric Clapton and Mike Oldfield. Sublime.

Following a musical theme, Chris Blake, Principal Horn with the Ulster Orchestra, talked about the work he’d done with autistic children and the therapeutic value of music. The results were truly ground-breaking, increasing the evidence between autism and musicality.

Dr Nigel Hart took us all on a trip to the peaks and Mt Everest in particular in his talk on Mountains, Medicine and Mantras. Clearly a keen mountaineer, he combined his medical training with his passion to investigate the effects of hypoxia on humans at altitude. During his climb to the top of the world, he had to rescue another climber who had collapsed. Apt for many shared endeavours, his response to the famous climbing question was not, “Because it’s there” but rather, “It’s not the height or the distance, it’s the people you travel with.”

Anne McReynolds, CEO of the Belfast Metropolitan Arts Centre, had TEDxBelfast captivated by her struggle to get a world-class arts centre built in Belfast. Starting in 1996 and finally opening in 2012, it’s an amazing story of architects and artists (“good clients get good buildings”), buildings and space. If you want to build an arts centre, Anne should be the first person you talk to.

Colin Williams of Sixteen South tackled the “Can’t Do” attitude that has often afflicted Northern Ireland with a great story of “Can Do” success. It’s likely that you’ll never have heard of Sixteen South, a children’s TV production company but if you have kids under five you’ll have heard of Sesame Tree, Big City Park, Pajanimals, and Big & Small. Working with the BBC and The Jim Henson Company, Sixteen South produces these great TV programmes here in Northern Ireland. Fantastic.
Colin’s business plan was pretty clever too. “Do some good, make some money, have some fun.” Good advice for anyone.

Chris Horn completed the speaker line-up with his inspiration for Dublin’s Science Gallery, an exhibition space that takes a creative and artistic approach to the presentation of science and related issues. By taking the traditional remit of a science museum and combining it with the changing presentation of an art gallery, the Science Gallery is an innovation in itself that has proved tremendously successful. So much so that Google recently awarded the Science Gallery $1m to setup other Galleries around the world.

Overall, it was a great evening, with inspirational speakers in a fantastic setting. Thanks also to Davy Sims and Gary Burnett and Mark Finlay for organising #TEDxBelfast.

Proof That All HDMI Cables Are Created Equal

Turns out that higher price doesn’t really equal higher quality with HDMI cables. They are all equally awesome.

An experiment with HDMI cables is being touted as showing definitive proof that expensive HDMI cables perform no better than cheaper competitors.

Posted to Expert Reviews, the study compared HDMI cables – from relatively cheap (just a few dollars) to painfully expensive (a couple hundred dollars). What sets this experiment apart is the thoroughness employed to make sure as many variables as possible were controlled – essentially creating a conclusion that it would be nearly impossible to refute.

Focusing on the output from the HDMI cables led author Tom Morgan used a PC to output a Blu-ray version of an open-source film called Sintel and recorded the output on capture card. That allowed him to look at raw, un-corrected frames of this film.

Utilizing identical screenshots (those on the PC and those on the capture card), he compared the before and after using programs that identify individual pixel variations, as well as documenting the “digital fingerprint” of the frame on each end of the HDMI cable.

The result?  “What’s clear from our tests is that we got no errors on any of the cables, and more expensive cables did not improve image quality at all. Given our results, we’d definitely buy cheaper HDMI-certified cables.”

In other words – the higher price on some HDMI cables appears to be hype. Unless you subscribe to the “I just got new sneakers and I can run faster and jump higher” school of thought, don’t waste your money on pricey HDMI cables when the cheap ones work just as well.

Photo Credit: HDMI Cable from Big Stock Photo

Touchscreens Get Physical

Dynamic touch screen technology. Deformable tactile surface. Haptic user interface.

Whatever you want to call it, Tactus Technology is poised to change the way you think about what has become near-ubiquitous touch-screen technology. Imagine a touch screen that rises to meet your fingers – keyboard configurations that physically pop up from the screen. That’s what Tactus says it will bring to market in 2013.

TG Daily reported yesterday that Tactus Technology “uses microfluidic technology to create physical buttons that rise from the touchscreen to give users the experience or feeling of operating a physical keyboard. When no longer needed, the buttons recede back into the touchscreen, leaving no trace of their presence.”

Tactus expects its new tactile touch technology could be implemented across all modern touch screen devices – from smart phones and handheld gaming to readers and in-dash auto screens.

The Future of Touch Technology…From Disney?

As ubiquitous as touch screens have become over the past decade or so, the future of touch technology is right around the bend. Actually, it seems to be in Pittsburgh, PA, of all places. Even less expectedly, it can be found at the Disney Research facility there.

The new technology is a complex touch and gesture sensing technology called “Touché” that uses a Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing technique. This technique essentially allows for sensors to read a range of actions, touches or gestures, rather than the conventional, binary approach we see now with touch screens (basically, touch or no-touch).

In addition to reading complex touch actions over a range of objects far beyond our current touch screens (think doorknobs, furniture, appliances), Touché can also be implemented to read gestures.

As usual, seeing this new technology in action does far more justice than simple explanation.  Some of the examples are pretty impressive – controlling the music player on your phone or device through customized hand gestures. Some are just plain weird – teaching children how to eat cereal by sounding a buzzer when they use the wrong utensil (seriously, who came up with that one? That’s some old-school psychological conditioning right there).

The practical implications of this technology are fascinating. With the sensors used to capture gesticulations and touch interactions with virtually any object, this type of technology widely implemented could fundamentally change entire environments. Your door handle “learns” your touch. Your couch learns your entertainment habits and adjusts ambiance based on your posture. Heck, this stuff even works underwater.

Pretty impressive stuff from the folks that typically bring us cartoons and kid’s programming.

Tech Bubble? There’s An App For That.

Courtesy Facebook

Whether he knows it or not, Mark Zuckerberg fired the starter’s pistol when he reportedly single-handedly spent more than $1 billion on photo-sharing app Instagram earlier this month. The Facebook CEO apparently cut his board of directors out of the picture and decided unilaterally to purchase the relatively small Instagram for a universally huge sum of $1 billion-plus.

Nearly two weeks later, we find out that Facebook dropped another half-billion dollars on a patent buy from Microsoft – who had purchased that chunk of patents and more from AOL for a billion bucks around the same time Facebook bought Instagram.

Courtesy LinkedIn

That might qualify as a spending spree. And when one social media giant whips out its checkbook like that, you can bet a handful of other players start to wriggle a bit in their office chairs. On the other side of things, when one of those checks gets delivered to the owners of an app, you can bet the sea of app developers starts to roil and swell with the “next big thing” hoping to emerge from the churn and become overnight gazillionaires. [Read more…]

Google’s Project Glass Parodies Better Than Actual Glasses

Criticism and mockery of Google’s newly announced Project Glass – the Internet giant’s recent foray into tech in the form of augmented reality eye glasses – flourished almost as soon as the announcement was made.

At this point, taking shots at Google and anything they do is sport, so the eruption of criticism over Project Glass has made getting a quality analysis of this new future-product a bit daunting. However, PCWorld has put together a fairly level-headed piece on the pros and cons of Google’s  “hybrid glasses that act as a miniaturized smartphone wired with hands-free access to a micro display, cameras, microphone, Web browser, and speech recognition” – minus the hysteria and outrage I’ve been seeing across the Web over the past couple of days.

Fodder on these new augmented reality glasses has mainly been aimed at the video Google released to show the new glasses in action:

It’s hard to admit that doesn’t look pretty neat. However, the industry as a whole has pegged Google as a tech-company-turned-advertising-company because of their knack for gathering data and putting ads in front of every user at every possible opportunity. With that in mind, here is probably a more realistic look at what Project Glass will end up looking like:

I mean – c’mon. It’s Google. It would be weird to NOT see ads.

 

VESA and DisplayPort

VESA LogoVESA, the Video Electronics Standards Association has been responsible for defining many video-related standards, starting with SVGA in the late 80s. More recently VESA has been defining and promoting DisplayPort, the latest video interconnect. Andy and Dave chat to Craig Wiley, VESA Chairman, to understand the technology.

Display Port LogoIn developing DisplayPort, VESA has worked to ensure that the standard meets the needs of the modern user. The standard allows for multiple screens at high resolutions and the aim is to replace VGA, DVI and HDMI with a single connector. Cleverly, DisplayPort has backwards compatibility with the legacy devices as the DisplayPort itself is powered, so cable adaptors can be used to convert the signals to an older connection types.

Moving forwards, the basic DisplayPort can drive a 4096 x 2048 display with 30 bit colour depth at 60 Hz. Other resolutions and bit depths are possible but there’s a trade off between resolution and bit depth as it’s the overall bandwidth that’s the constraining factor. DisplayPort v1.2 also supports the daisy chaining of video displays, which is pretty cool.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net, and Dave Lee from Waves of Tech.

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