Category Archives: Technology

Is Your Subaru a Self-Starter?

Subaru logoCars that suddenly start themselves might sound like something out of a novel by Stephen King. Its a creepy concept! Your car, a man made object that definitely is not sentient, somehow develops the ability to start itself and run its engine via unknown means. This is the type of thing one expects to see in scary movies, not in real life.

Yet, that is exactly what has happened. Subaru is recalling 47,419 vehicles in the United States that have become “self-starters”. The recall affects some Legacy and Outback cars from the model years 2010 through 2013. It also affects Impreza sedans from 2012 through 2013 and XV Crosstrek crossover vehicles from 2013. This information comes to me from Reuters, who got it from documents filed from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

How are these vehicles able to start themselves? The answer has nothing to do with magic or the supernatural. Instead, it is due to an unexpected quirk in the remote starter key fob. Dropping the key fob can result the vehicle’s engine starting – even if the ignition button on the fob was not pressed. The engine can then run for up to 15 minutes. It is also reported that the vehicle can continue to start, and stop, all by itself until either the battery in the key fob dies or the vehicle finally runs out of gas.

If you are the owner of one of these creepy vehicles that has gained the ability to start itself, you should be getting a letter from Subaru shortly. They will replace the remote starter fob at no charge. The recall only affects vehicles in which Subaru of America remote starter accessory kits have been installed. The recall will begin in April.

When I think about the key fobs that let drivers start their vehicles remotely, it makes me think of convenience. It lets a person warm up his or her car before they have to get in and drive to work. After learning about the Subaru recall, I’m going to be wondering how many “zombie” vehicles were out there, spontaneously starting themselves, in the wee hours of the night.

Hyundai’s Technology BlueLink and More

Bluelink Hyundai showed off a lot of technology at CES 2013, BlueLink, haptic control, gesture control, face recognitions, advance heads up display and connectivity with your smart device. The infrared motion sensor, senses distance, motion and proximity. It allows you to change things with just hand gestures.  You can even reconfigure your gear cluster. They are also working on eye tracking software that can warn the driver if they are falling the asleep. They are developing face recognition software that would prevent the car from being stolen plus make things better for the driver.  When you buy a car a profile is set up for you and anyone else that is going to drive the car. When a person gets in the driver seat if the car recognizes that person (they have a profile) it will adjust the seat position, audio and climate control to the person’s preference based on their profile. If someone tries to steal the car and the car doesn’t recognize the person the car will not start or do anything.

It uses MHL Protocol to connect to your smart phone. Everything is in real-time. Navigation is projected on the windshield, so the driver can see the directions without ever having to take their eyes off the road. BlueLink Telematic System allows things to be  reconfigured remotely from an app, the web or using the in-car system. You can reconfigure heating, air conditioning, gage cluster, fan position and power. It keeps track of the health of the car and whether it needs maintenance. It can even tell you where your car is located when you lose your car in the parking lot of a mall. It is like putting remote start on steroid.

You can find more information about BlueLink and other Hyundai technology at the BlueLink website and the Hyundai website.

Interview by Allante Sparks of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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N. Joseph Woodland Died at Age 91

bigstock-Barcode-18830351You might not immediately recognize the name of Norman Joseph Woodland, but it is safe to say that you are very familiar with his work. He was one of the inventors of the bar code, the zebra-like series of lines that is on most, if not all, product packaging. It is the code that the cashier scans whenever you make a purchase.

The concept of using a series of lines and spaces came to him one day as he was on a beach in Miami, Florida. He used his fingers to draw four lines into the sand, and realized that he could use bars of different thickness and thinness instead of dots and dashes.

He was a graduate student at the time and was working with a classmate named Bernard Silver, (who died in 1963). In 1949, the two submitted their patent for a code that had concentric circles and resembled a bull’s eye. The patent was issued in 1952.

The technology for the now familiar bar code didn’t exist until the 1970’s. A team at IBM’s Research Triangle Park, in North Carolina, were the ones to develop a barcode-reading laser scanner system. N. Joseph Woodland was part of that team. The decision to create it was to satisfy a demand from grocers who were seeking a way to automate and speed up checkout (while, at the same time, cutting down on product handling and inventory management costs).

Norman Joseph Woodland, the man behind the “beeps” you hear when you are watching the cashier scan your purchase, died at the age of 91. You may not have known his name, but you saw his invention every day.

Image Stock Photo Barcode by BigStock

GigaPan Shows You Every Face in the Crowd

GigaPan brings you Gigapan images that you can explore by zooming in, zooming out, and moving the image around. This is a whole new way to look at photography, and it combines very nicely with social media.

What’s a Gigapan? Gigapans are gigapixel panoramas. They are digital images that have billions of pixels. They have a clarity that other photos simply do not, and they do not get “fuzzy” even when you zoom in to pick out the faces in the crowd.

They have several galleries for you to browse through. One gallery has images from Hurricane Sandy. Others let you explore celestial images, cityscapes, or underwater. This is definitely a website that a person can go to “just for a minute” and end spending much longer than a minute exploring.

The most interesting gallery, at least to me, is the one called “Capture the Crowd”. It has Gigapan images of several different sporting events. I’m not big on sports, so the part that captured my attention was the fact that you really can zoom into the Gigapan image in order to see individual people who were in the stands watching that game.

It’s a little weird to think about. On the one hand, these people all knew that they were in a public place, and probably realized that a television camera might pick up their image. One might assume that they consented to having their photo taken under these circumstances. If you attending a particular sporting event or concert, you could search for yourself in the crowd and then tag yourself.

On the other hand, I doubt very many of the people who went to the events know that there could be a Gigapan image of the event they attended. The incredibly clear image, and the ability to literally scan the entire crowd for someone, could make some people feel as though their privacy has been violated.

Oh, and there is the potential that your friend who went to the event with you could decided to tag you as well as himself. Those tags will connect to both of your Facebook pages, and anyone who wants to can easily find exactly where you were seated at the event.

This might not be so great for people who faked a sick day in order to get out of work so they could go watch the game. However, it is really awesome for people who want to have a unique memento that proves that they really were there!

The Korg MicroStation Does it All

Korg has something that I think every musician can use. It’s called the MicroStation. It solves a lot of the problems that many musicians face when they are trying to create and record music at home, (or outside of a professional music studio).

The MicroStation has a compact 61-key Natural Touch Mini-Keyboard that is way more portable than a standard sized keyboard could ever be. The proportion of black keys and white keys has been adjusted in a way that makes chords more comfortable to play. The smaller size is nice for musicians who do not have a dedicated studio to keep all of their equipment in.

It has an intuitive onboard sequencer for recording. New features include Loop Recording and Visual Grid Sequencing. It also has several hundred sounds that include a variety of drum kits and audition riffs.

This is useful if you want to add some drums or other percussion into a song, but don’t have access to a full drum kit to play it on, or knowledge about how to properly record a drum kit. It also allows you to drop a riff or a drum track into your song, and test it out. If you don’t like what you selected, you can easily remove it.

There are four real-time control knobs that can be used for convenient sound editing or for performing with the arpeggiator. Turn the External switch on, and the knobs can be used to control a MIDI device. It even comes with a joystick for more expressive potential.

The MicroStation is also bundled with helpful software: the “MicroStation Editor” and the “MicroStation Plug-In Editor”. The MicroStation also provides an SD card slot that you can save your Programs onto. You can also save the Combinations you selected and song data directly onto an SD/SDHC card.

It also comes with a nice price. The Korg MicroStation is available at a variety of retailers in the United States for $399. That’s a great price for a drum kit, a keyboard, and recording and editing software, all in one package.

Image by Korg

Using Technology in the Classroom

Two teachers who live halfway around the world from each other figured out a really interesting way to get students engaged in learning something new. They are incorporating technology into their classroom in order to utilize the technology in “real world” scenarios.

St. Patrick’s Catholic School, in Arroyo Grande, California, used Skype to connect with another classroom. The fifth-graders from California had no idea where the students in the other classroom were located.

They had to ask the other students yes/no questions in order to gather enough information to be able to make an educated guess about where in the world the other students were located. It turned out that the other classroom was located in Fairfield West Primary School in Fairfield, (which is a suburb of Sydney), Australia.

The American students used their school iPads to create a short autobiography which they will share with the Australian students. The kids are learning that the iPad can be used for more than playing games and reading ebooks. The students are also going to be working in groups of four, (two from the US and two from AU) in a project where they will explore ways to conserve the ocean.

I think this is awesome! These kids are learning that Skype can be used to talk to someone who is in another country. They are going to learn how to work on a project with people who are not in the same room with them.

These are skills that the students are going to need to use in “real world” situations in the future. It sounds like they are getting the basic idea about how to have an online meeting and how to work on a project with co-workers who are at a different location from where they are. Imagine what the fifth-graders that learned in school how to do a collaborative online project with students from around the world will be able to do when they become adults!

Learn How to Code with the Bright Eyes Kit

As a former teacher, I know that the best way to encourage people to learn something new is to make it fun! That’s why The Bright Eyes Kit on Kickstarter got my attention. It is a DIY kit that is designed to encourage people to learn programing.

The Bright Eyes Kit comes with a pair of glasses that have 174 LEDs and a micro SD card. The first thing you need to do is put the glasses together. The video describes this process as being easier than IKEA. Once you have the glasses put together, it is time to learn how to program the LEDs.

The kit talks you through the process in a way that will encourage people who have never done programming before to give it a try. Ultimately, you will learn how to program the lights on your glasses to flash in a specific way.

Make the lights respond to graphics, animations, or whatever else sounds fun to you. Connect your glasses to your Twitter account and let the LEDs flash to your Tweets. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and interest in learning how to make it work.

They recently added a microphone that you can use to program your Bright Eyes glasses to respond to sound. If that doesn’t interest you, perhaps you would prefer to play around with an ambient light sensor that you can attach to the glasses instead.

The Bright Eyes glasses look really cool and are attention getters. I could see Elton John, or Lady Gaga, wearing them. Code them, wear them out in public, and you are certain to have someone start a conversation with you about your Bright Eyes glasses. All of the code will be open source and freely available. Learn to code, and have some fun doing it!

For more information, check out this video from the Bright Eyes Kit on Kickstarter.

Biodegradable Server Chassis

No matter how much we would like them to, the truth is that servers do not last forever. They last for a few years, and then it is time to replace them with a newer one. What do you do with the old one? Many people recycle them. This is better than throwing them into the trash, but recycling still uses energy and creates waste.

There could be a better solution. Perdue’s College of Technology has a new entrepreneurship program called Tech Ventures. It has teamed up with Open Compute, which was founded by Facebook. They have created an interesting competition. Teams of up to three students can register to enter a challenge to make a server chassis that is biodegradable.

Ultimately, the hope is that the winning design for a biodegradable server chassis will result the creation of more computer parts that can be composted instead of recycled. Imagine being able to put your old computer into your compost bin where it will break down naturally! This concept, of course, has a very long way to go before it can become reality. The first step towards a greener type of server chassis is through the Open Compute Challenge.

Each team that competes in this challenge will get a server to use. The team that creates the winning design will get a trip to attend the Open Compute Summit where they will be able to present the winning design to information technology industry leaders. Perdue will help the winning team to create a prototype of their design for a biodegradable server chassis.

Image: Stock Vector Images by BigStock

Pumpktris Combines Tetris and Pumpkin Carving

Here is the most awesome pumpkin that I have seen this Halloween! Nathan at the HaHaBird blog has created Pumpktris.The result is a pumpkin that you can actually play a modified version of the classic video game Tetris on. It involves LED lights that are connected on a matrix, some soldering, lots of wire cutting, drilling holes for the LED lights, and a whole lot of dedication and skill.

Many people have played Tetris, but few have played it on an pumpkin that has been “upgraded” to become a unique form of video game console! The stem of the pumpkin functions as the controller. Move it around to maneuver the Tetris “blocks” as they fall. From a player standpoint, it appears to be as simple to play Pumpktris as it was to play the classic Tetris game. I am so impressed by the amount of planning and work that went into the creation of Pumpktris!

There is an excellent step-by-step tutorial on how to create your own Pumpktris on the HaHaBird blog. I’m not sure if you will have time to attempt this for Halloween this year, unless you have today and tomorrow off of work, and no specific plans for celebrating. If not, then you have a whole year’s worth of time to plan it out for next Halloween.

The FTC Wants You to Battle Robocallers

Are you tired of those annoying calls that are nothing more than a recorded sales pitch? Could you use $50,000? Are you good at creating technical solutions to problems? If so, then you should consider entering the FTC Robocall Challenge.

Robocalls can be described as a recorded message that is played as soon as (or sometimes, even before), a person picks up the phone. They are automatically dialed, and the audio quality is often very poor. People who receive these unwanted phone calls immediately realize that there isn’t an actual human on the other end of the line. A robot called them. The person then hangs up the phone, and grumbles about having his or her dinner interrupted.

The Federal Trade Commission is interested in battling robocallers for several reasons, (and not simply because they are annoying). These types of calls often consist of a sales pitch that is intentionally deceptive. The majority of robocalls are illegal because they break the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule. A person has to have given the commercial robocaller advance written permission to call them. If that permission has not been granted, then the telemarketer, (robotic or not) should not be calling.

The FTC Robocall Challenge can be entered for free. It is open to the public. Entries will be accepted as soon as October 25, 2012, and they will continue to be accepted until January 17, 2013. The FTC wants innovators to create solutions that will block illegal robocalls.

Your solution needs to block robocalls on both landlines and mobile phones. It must be able to operate on a proprietary or nonproprietary device or platform. You can enter the contest with a proposed technical solution, a functional solution, or proof of concept.

The individual, team, or small corporation (that employs less than 10 people), with the Best Overall Solution will win $50,000 in cash and a trip to Washington D.C to present the solution. Others will receive a Federal Trade Commission Technology Achievement Award. This is an honorary award that does not come with a cash prize.

Judging will be based on three criteria. Does it work? 50% of the score will be based on the answer to that question. Is it easy to use? That’s another 25%. The remaining 25% is based on another question. Can it be rolled out? Humanity’s battle against the robots is about to begin!

Image: A Fun Group Of Robot Toys by BigStock