Archive for the 'Technology' Category

HD Goggle Camera

September 30th, 2009 | Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

OK.  I predicted that people would wander around with video cameras attached at all times, but I didn’t expect this great small camera now. 1080P!

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The Troops Want iPhones

September 30th, 2009 | Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

This is cool.

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Technology Saves Lives

September 18th, 2009 | Category: Academic Skills, General, Technology

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I like old cars and I hate to see an irreplaceable ‘59 Chevy destroyed.  It does illustrate what may seem counter-intuitive to some, though.  Crumple zones make cars safe.  Good, solid, stiff metal simply transfers the impact to the passenger compartment.

As you may have learned in high school physics, the time of a collision is very import to the force of the impact.  Intelligent engineering makes cars much safer with crumple zones and airbags which ’slow down’ the negative acceleration. Crumple zones are explained here. The money quote from that article is this:

Cutting the deceleration in half cuts the force in half. Therefore, changing the deceleration time from .2 seconds to .8 seconds will result in a 75 percent reduction in total force.

I have been hectoring my kids about this for years. There is a good physics discussion here.  If you read and truly understand the equation, you will never ride a motorcycle again.

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Amazon Response - Late But Appreciated

September 04th, 2009 | Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

In my farewell to the Kindle, Down the Memory Hole, I complained about Amazon deleting Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from my iPhone Kindle app.  Turning it into an ‘unbook’ was ‘doubleplus ungood.’ The deletion occurred in July and they are finally getting around to cleaning up the mess.  I had already been reimbursed for the very small purchase.  Today I received an email which repeated Jeff Bezos’ apology and offered the following:

As you were one of the customers impacted by the removal of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” from your Kindle device in July of this year, we would like to offer you the option to have us re-deliver this book to your Kindle along with any annotations you made.  You will not be charged for the book.  If you do not wish to have us re-deliver the book to your Kindle, you can instead choose to receive an electronic gift certificate or check for $30.

That seems more than fair, although I don’t feel any more inclined to buy a Kindle.

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The Thin Line Between Love and Hate

September 01st, 2009 | Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

I’ve had my iPhone 3G and the accompanying onerous data plan for about five months. I needed email and calendar access 24/7 and the iPhone provided that in the slickest package. I like the iPhone interface, and most of the irritations that I did have with it were fixed when OS 3.0 was installed. The technology in the phone fulfills the promise of usefulness in a way that the old “PDA” technology never quite achieved.

I expected to dislike the way AT&T does business. I’ve been using their service since it was Cingular because of superior coverage in my area. What I did not expect to find is that I really dislike Apple – not the products but the company. I feel the Apple noose tightening around me and my phone. That control mentality will get them in trouble if they continue to take share in the digital music and smart phone spaces.

Every other memory device I have ever attached to my computer via USB allowed me some access to the file system. Apple only allows iTunes and some extra-cost apps that still don’t give real access to the directory. Apple ties their app store, their music store, their email application, and their browser tightly to the device in a way that would have caused Steve Ballmer to blush when Microsoft was at its monopolistic apogee. That alleged corporate miscreant always allowed other browsers in Windows even as they promoted Internet Explorer. Apple does not allow ANY applications that duplicate ‘core phone functionality’ such as browsing and email. Where are the legions of anti-IE complainers now?

A good example of this behavior can be seen in the recent rejection of the Google Voice application. Apple says:

The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.

It’s my phone. If I want to replace something Apple put in there I should be able to do so. Apple is just afraid of losing control.

In March of this year, it was reported that iPhone browsing had reached 50% of all smart phone web traffic. If they reach the 60% - 70% market share of Internet Explorer, will we see anti-monopoly action against Apple? I’m a Firefox user on my PC and enjoy having alternatives. There is no doubt that browser application makers would quickly put alternatives in the store if they were allowed, but Apple doesn’t want us to have choice. I do want to test alternatives to Safari and I can remember when tying a browser into an operating system was evil itself.

Apple iTunes already has an 87% market share of the legal music download space, and the company is making it hard to load that music into any non-Apple device. As soon as Palm announced that the Pre had iTunes connectivity, Apple scrambled to ‘update’ the software and kill that access. Doesn’t allowing other devices to load content from iTunes help Apple sell even more music? Yes, but it also makes it easier for an Apple customer to switch to another device.

Apple gets a pass on lying, obfuscating, cheating, and poor customer service. The press does not pile on. Apple product users give blank stares if such bad behavior is even suggested. Internet posts on these subjects tend to attract lots of filthy frothing Apple fan comments. I provided the links above so that interested parties could see the evidence.  There is much more, but that is not the crux of this article. My point is that Apple has its best interests at heart, and not yours or mine. If we allow them to have unusual levels of control because they are not Microsoft and therefore somehow sinless, they will use that power to help themselves and not us. I hope that when it is time to renew my commitment,  Google’s more open Android or even Microsoft’s more open Windows Mobile will have improved and be ready to accept iPhone lovers who are not so fond of Apple.

NOTE: For an interesting take on Apple’s disturbing tactics, please see Apple’s Animal Farm at the Fortune Magazine Big Tech blog.

Update: More than 60 applications won’t run or have functionality issues on Snow Leopard.  This rates as a serious issue on a percentage of apps basis. If this had been Windows, would it be reported as an epic FAIL?

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What is GIS?

Follow this link for a video explanation from TSTC’s GIS expert Lee Hilliard.

GIS is a very cool and underexposed area of study.  A lot of great jobs are available in the public and private sectors.  In my waning days of teaching database management courses I loved my GIS majors.  I had several distance and hybrid delivery students who were active in the field.  They turned in fascinating projects.

For more information on GIS, start here.  For more on GIS at TSTC, check out this link.

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Popular Mechanics on SpaceX

August 29th, 2009 | Category: Technology

A great article at the magazine site with a whiteboard talk on the Merlin engine by propulsion engineer Tom Mueller…

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Down the Memory Hole

July 24th, 2009 | Category: Geek Stuff, Instructional Technology, Technology

I have to agree with this editorial by Michael Gartenberg - two strikes is out for the Kindle.  I have the Kindle App on my iPhone and I was one of the users who had my copy of Orwell’s ‘1984′ deleted from my device without notification.  It was the only book I actually purchased for the app.  All my other content consists of sample chapters for books I was considering for Dead Tree format. I read ‘1984′ on my iPhone as an experiment.  Now the book is gone.

My other strike involved getting my hands on a Kindle DX.  I just wasn’t that impressed.  The Kindle DX is bulky, has a clunky interface, and doesn’t have the color to make many educational graphs and illustrations usable. It was easy on the eyes for reading, but so is paper.

I think that there is a future for ebooks, but that future is multi-platform and doesn’t involve getting your materials deleted without permission or notice. When the world goes into electronic textbooks in a bigger way, we shouldn’t lock anyone into a particular device.

UPDATE: The New Yorker takes on the Kindle and the future of reading in this article.  Nicholson Baker doesn’t like the Kindle either.

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A Visit to the Future of Spaceflight

I recently went with a number of my colleagues from TSTC on a visit to the SpaceX rocket test and development center in McGregor, Texas (about 30 miles from TSTC). SpaceX is arguably the leader in commercial space development and having them in our area is quite an honor. As I have mentioned before SpaceX has also hired some of our graduates.

SpaceX chose the McGregor site because it has 14,000 acres that was once a Naval Ordinance site, then a private/military missile test and development site. The acreage and the infrastructure couldn’t be recreated anywhere else economically. For example, the tripod pictured below was built for rocket engine static testing.


My memory is that we were told it had the capacity for up to six million pounds of thrust. I’m not so sure that I heard right. The first state of the Saturn V had a little over seven and a half million pounds of thrust. Since the SpaceX Merlin engine makes around 100,000 pounds of thrust, and their biggest rocket has nine Merlins in the first stage, they should have plenty of room for error!

This tripod was used to test the Merlin 9 last November. It caused quite a stir in the area because it happened after dark and could be heard and felt for many miles. The tripod and tower on top can clearly be seen in the YouTube video of that test:

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Other useful ‘leftovers’ at the site include this bunker, now filled with computers (running Windows and National Instruments Labview) to monitor testing.


We also got to look at this airframe stress tester.


I wasn’t sure about snapping the picture. We had been told not to take pictures of things “that looked like they might fly” (especially the engines). Our guide pointed out, though, that this test stand was right next to the road! The rocket is filled with inert liquid nitrogen to test the strength of the whole system. It seems like a good idea not to use the actual liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene for this test.

Speaking of liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen, it should come as no surprise that SpaceX has a lot of cryo tanks around the property:


All SpaceX engines are built in California and shipped by truck to Texas. They are tested and assembled into vehicles at the McGregor site. They are sent out from there to the launch sites (like Omelek Island in the Pacific or Cape Canaveral).

Conclusions about technicians from our visit:

  • SpaceX has a great need for technicians electrical, mechanical, and aircraft technicians with good computer skills.
  • We currently teach almost everything needed for a well-rounded aerospace technician, but we need to rearrange and combine some curriculum.
  • These folks work hard long hours. If a test takes 16 hours, they work through it. Dedication and work ethic are very important.

Having been privileged to visit NASA in Houston a couple of times with higher-level status (we got to sit in the REAL shuttle simulator and meet astronauts), I was struck by the difference at SpaceX. Their “Vehicle Assembly Building” is a steel building that looks like any commercial building or barn. They are doing on a shoestring what NASA did with billions. (The picture below came from the Wikipedia article on SpaceX):


Despite the relative lack of resources, we were told that Mars was their ultimate goal. Satellite launches and International Space Station resupply missions are just steps toward that goal. I hope I live to see them make it!


Toyota Camry Reaches 208 mph!

May 24th, 2009 | Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

I’ve been using an iPhone 3G for the last couple of months (I intend to do a full review soon). I downloaded the MotionX GPS app from the app store and found it to be a lot of fun. I decided to use the GPS “Stopwatch” feature on my trip home from work. As you can see from the picture below, it took me nearly 36 minutes to travel 33.6 miles at an average speed of 56.6 mph. The surprising thing is that my 4-cylinder 5-speed Camry was able to reach a top speed of 208.3 mph!

GPS is very time-dependent, and I am assuming it was time error. I’m just glad the highway patrol wasn’t monitoring this. The fine for going 208 in a 70 mph zone must be huge.


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A “Far-Fetched” Idea

March 08th, 2009 | Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

In 1981 (when they estimated 2000-3000 home computer users in the San Francisco Bay area) this seemed like a far-off dream:

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I find it interesting that it cost $5.00 to download a $0.20 paper in 1981.  The San Francisco Examiner (print and online) is now free.  Meanwhile the San Francisco Chronicle is in serious trouble.

Twenty-eight years from now, at a continually accelerating pace of change, what far-fetched things will be reality?

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“Green Collar” Jobs and CTE at the Capitol

February 21st, 2009 | Category: Environmental Tech, Technical Education Awareness, Technology


There is a great article in the Austin American-Statesman about training for green jobs. A conference at the capitol included a visit from Texas State Technical College wind and solar experts (including TSTC Waco’s own Sidney Bolfing). Also highlighted was Austin Community Colleges solar panel assembly program. Here is an exceprt:

Last summer, with only $700 to his name and his dream of a sustainable farming ministry looking increasingly unlikely, 34-year-old Austinite Aron Brackeen cast around for his next job. He had long been interested in alternative energy, and soon after a phone call to an admissions officer at Texas State Technical College, he struck out for West Texas.

By November he found himself atop a towering wind turbine as part of a “climb test” designed to make sure the students had the intestinal fortitude for high-up work.

“I was willing to follow the wind,” said Brackeen, who expects to graduate in April 2010 and hopes to land a job on a Texas wind farm.

Read the whole thing.

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UT Austin creates world’s highest resolution tiled display

November 26th, 2008 | Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

“Stallion” has 220 million pixels to display visualizations created by supercomputers at TACC.  We missed seeing this wonder on our last visit to TACC because it was having new software installed.

Maybe next time!

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Overclocker’s Update

November 13th, 2008 | Category: Geek Stuff, Technical Education Awareness, Technology

Our TSTC team 5G (one teacher and two students) went to Los Angeles as a part of the Tom’s Hardware Worldwide Overclocking Championship 2008. Although they didn’t win first, they put in a respectable showing and will probably compete again (and they got an all-expense paid trip to LA, as well).

Congratulations Team 5G!!!

Video Here

Previous references to TSTC’s overclocking enthusiasts here and here.

P.S. If you are unclear on the “overclocking” thing, check it out here.

UPDATE:  Complete coverage of day 2 here.

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Overclocking Supercomputer Students on TV

October 25th, 2008 | Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

The TSTC computer networking teachers and students I blogged about here have been interviewed on TV (web video here). The reporter wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it all, but it is still enjoyable.

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Texas’ Own Armadillo Aerospace Does It!

October 25th, 2008 | Category: Technology

Armadillo Aerospace, having come so close before, has finally won the level one X PRIZE Lunar Lander Challenge is going for the next level.

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Private space development still has the power to unlock our engineering power, creativity, and entreprenurial zeal. Congratulations, Armadillo Aerospace!

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Technology Students as Overclocking Enthusiasts

October 21st, 2008 | Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

Some of our computer networking students recently traveled to the Maker Faire in Austin to show off the super overclocked computer they built. The one they are working with now is cooled with water, but their next version will be using liquid nitrogen.

Here is the picture they sent me of them and their machine in Austin:


Here is another picture of their really cool design:


This team will be traveling to Los Angeles in a few weeks to compete in an PC performance competition sponsored by Tom’s Hardware Guide. Check back here for updates.

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Texas Teen Builds Electric Car for Ten Grand

A 17 year-old Texas high school student built his own usable electric car for around $10,000. It sounds like the project taught him a lot of technical skills, too.

“I showed him how to use a grinder, a SawzAll and a drill and stuff like that,” says the father, who owns River City Hydraulics Inc., a hydraulics maintenance and repair company near downtown San Antonio. “He just went to town on it.”

Update: A picture!

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Keeping the Machinery of Civilization Going…

October 07th, 2008 | Category: Skills in Demand, Technical Education Awareness, Technology

That is what technicians do! This online comic is about the infrastructure that people don’t acknowledge.  The message rings true with me, as I have noted before here and here.

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Model T Technology after 100 Years

September 29th, 2008 | Category: General, Technology

1908 Ford Model T ad from Oct. 1, 1908 Life magazine

1908 Ford Model T ad from Oct. 1, 1908 Life magazine

The Ford Model T is 100 years old.  Popular Mechanics has an interesting piece on the top ten tech innovations included in the car.  You may be surprised.  I certainly didn’t know that the flivver “pioneered the use of a removable cylinder head, and cylinders that were cast integrally with the engine block.”

If you’re into automotive tech or just technology in general, I think that you will find it interesting.  Too many things about the 1908 models are still very familiar in 2008.  The shift in the energy market is about to change that for good.

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Video of TACC Trip

September 22nd, 2008 | Category: Geek Stuff, Research, Skills in Demand, Technology

My four-part video of the TSTC IT student trip to the Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT Austin is now edited and uploaded.  The original post on the trip is here.

Part 1 - Leaving, Arriving, and introduction to Ranger

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Part 2 - Introduction to graphic representation of data

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Part 3 - Demonstration of graphic representation of data using ParaView

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Part 4 - More supercomputers including Lonestar

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Texas Advanced Computing Center - Petascale and Petacool!

September 20th, 2008 | Category: Geek Stuff, Research, Skills in Demand, Technology

Last week I went with TSTC supercomputing guru Walton Yantis and a group of IT students to the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at the University of Texas J.J. Pickle Research Campus.  We were met there by their Education Coordinator Brad Armosky.  He gave us the $5.00 tour and really focused on teaching the students as we went.  Since most of the students on the trip are enrolled in a class where they are building small parallel systems (mini-supercomputers), they were definitely fascinated and inspired.

The main attraction for the day was Ranger, one of the fastest in the world and the first to make large-scale use of Sun’s new Constellation architecture.  The system operates at nearly 580 TeraFLOPS peak performance (after a recent processor upgrade - all 15,744 processors with 62,976 cores) and was heavily involved in modeling Hurricane Ike (the Austin American-Statesman has an article about it here).

Here is a great video on Sun’s Constellation switches and system:

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Along with Ranger, the students saw a demonstration of graphic presentation for large data sets.  They were delighted to see the software they use in class being used at TACC (ParaView).  We finished with a tour of the older computer room at TACC which contains a number of older but still awesome systems.

I learned a lot from the tour, including the incredible growth of parallel computing.  There is going to be a demand for programmers who can handle the challenges involved in programming jobs across a lot of processors.  When you take this graph into account and realize that three more computers to dwarf Ranger are in the works, you will know that we have reached a High Performance Computing “tipping point.”

HPC Graph from Austin American-Statesman

HPC Graph from Austin American-Statesman

Look at the complete interactive presentation here.

I made video of the trip which I will link to as soon as it is edited and uploaded to YouTube.

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50 Years of Integrated Circuits

September 13th, 2008 | Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

I’m just sitting here surfing the web while enjoying the wind and the rain from the outer bands of Ike.  Surfing led me to this nice little slideshow up on Wired.

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July 30th, 2008 | Category: Accreditation, Technology

So why did eLearning Pundit post the story about TSTC in Second Life first?  I have been traveling!  Last week I went to Florence-Darlington Technical College in Florence, SC.  We visited the new Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SiMT).  It is a truly awesome facility.  Please visit the link.

For the last five days I have been in Orlando at the SACS COC Summer Institute.  It was very informative and has helped me get a handle on the requirements I wrote about as an even newer administrator in December (here and here)

I will posting more about both of these soon.

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Great Video on Texas Wind Power

NO! I’m not talking about our legendary propensity for ‘big talk.’  “Forecast Earth” has a great video on wind power in Sweetwater - the location of the main campus of TSTC West Texas.  TSTC, the big growth in jobs, the economics of wind power, and the earlier referenced T. Boone Pickens plan for a massive wind farm are all discussed.

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