Tech Smorgasbord Archives - 26
These items are an archive of past Topical Smorgasbord items that have appeared on the RF Cafe homepage. In keeping with the "cafe" genre, these tidbits of information are truly a smorgasbord of topics. They all pertain to topics that are related to the general engineering and science theme of RF Cafe.
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Please send me an e-mail if you have a good subject.
That the computing power of space-borne platforms pales in comparison to what is available on earth is not news. Apollo 11 computers had less processing power than the first pocket calculator (HP-35). It was not so long ago that the Intel 80386 was the most power space-qualified microprocessor. Now, NASA and private companies are experimenting with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components for small, inexpensive satellites. Contrary to mainstream media opinion, however, NASA is not just wasting money on current projects; space is an extremely hostile environment and so is the process of getting there. In a year's time, gazillions of different subatomic particles and micrometeorites bombard everything. G-forces and vibration during launch are immense. iPhone 4 antenna problems are trivial compared to cosmic rays flipping bits and a 0.1 micron chunk of un-accreted planet matter striking at 20 kmph. Still, necessity is the mother of invention, so I have no doubt that eventually solutions will be found. "A journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step," say the saying goes.
If it has been a while since you last checked your Internet connection speed, you might be surprised to find that is has likely improved. Average speeds are going up worldwide as new technologies are introduced and fiber is replacing a lot of the legacy copper interconnects. "Last mile" fiber connections to your home or office are still a long way off, but progress is being made. SpeedNet.net is a much-heralded free service that collects data on and ranks connection speeds. N. Korea, of course, still ranks #1 (32.20 Mbps), while the U.S. lags at #28 (9.73 Mbps). Even the Republic of Maldova beats us (#7, 19.68 Mbps). RF Cafe stats from Erie, PA: Download = 6.80 Mbps, Upload = 0.49 Mbps. Results are the same for IE 8, Chrome 5, Firefox 4 beta.
The government of Mexico has surgically implanted RFID chips, the size of a grain of rice, in the upper arms of staff at the attorney general’s office in Mexico City. When read by scanners at the entrance, they allow or deny access to a secure building, hoping to prevent trespassing by vengeful drug lords. Amal Graafstra's hands, pictured here, contain self-inflicted RFID capsules. Techno-futurists like Amal embrace the technology as a means of staying connected with society and government; techno-phobes shun it as a means of staying connected with society and government. It is an excellent way to keep the CIA from offing you in a case of mistaken identity, but if you're a marked man, well...
Is that a cool banner or what? It belongs to the Marine Radio Historical Society (MRHS), which per their website, "is a small group of dedicated individuals who share the goals of documenting, preserving and restoring the artifacts of maritime radio history. Our area of specialization is the coast stations, ships and companies of the west coast of the United States. But anything to do with maritime radio anywhere in the world is of interest to us. Our projects are aimed at the restoration and actual operation of historic artifacts ." The MRHS Needs Your Help! WRC-12 plans may put KSM off the air. Public comments in support of KSM are needed immediately. Please take a moment to follow these simple steps. Time is of the essence. Here is what I wrote to the FCC.
Thanks to Gary S. for the alert.
Forbes recently released its 2010 list of the world's billionaires. It appears once again that the evil capitalist systems served some communist societies as handily as it did representative republics (one of those groups claims to despise capitalism). Of the 1112 billionaires, 16 are new arrivals. #1 is telecom magnate Carlos Helú of Mexico (home country of our illegal population). Fortunes were made on everything from concrete to high finance. Much is inherited wealth. Here are some of the other notable top techie billionaires.
Time was that having a job that exploited a degree mathematics was about as profitable as a degree in renaissance poetry. Not anymore. As evidenced by the huge successes of the creators of Google's PageRank system, stock market analysis algorithms, electronic device modeling, and consumer behavioral patterns, in assessing and then modifying human behavior, there are enormous monetary rewards to be had for the right mathematical skills. Information theory is at the root of much of the realm, including the ability to precisely model semiconductors. The often crippling expense of not achieving first-pass success on a major IC design is proof of the critical need for the capability. Quite often the people developing the math behind those engines are mathematicians and physicists, not engineers.
It probably comes as no surprise that the greatest concentration of graduate degrees in the U.S. are in the northeast and in the Silicon Valley areas. #1 is the D.C. metropolitan region with 22% having graduate degrees (lawyers, not engineers). Bridgeport, CT, Santa Clara, CA, and Boston, MA run a close 2nd, 3rd and 4th at about 19%. Not coincidentally, salary levels tend to be highest in those areas as well. If you then view the proportions with a HS diploma or above, Silicon Valley drops precipitously, while the NE gets even darker blue. All of California gets suddenly light blue. Any theories on that? I've got my own. It is perplexing that the U.S. Dept. of Labor just announced that retraining is a waste of time (maybe not so surprising).
Honestly, I had never heard the term conflict minerals until recently when headlines about all the graft in the new financial reform bill hit news wires. "The passage, tucked into the bill's Miscellaneous Provisions, will require thousands of U.S. companies to disclose what steps they are taking to ensure that their products, including laptops, cellphones and medical devices, don't contain conflict minerals from the Congo." The end result is raising the cost of products. This is another 2,000+ page bill that neither lawmakers nor president has read before passing. Like with the 2,000+ page health care reform bill, they had to "pass the bill so you can find out what's in it" (Pelosi). This is why politicians rate lower than lawyers on every poll. BTW, the Fannie / Freddie real estate disaster is not even addressed in the bill, but hey, it's only the largest financial overhaul since WWII.
Remember in the Star Trek V movie when Capt. Kirk asked the question, "What does God need with a spaceship?" It just didn't pass the smell test with Jim. Now I ask, what does Fannie Mae need with a receptacle lockout cover patent? I'm sure it is just a coincidence, but they also own a patent on the carbon trade scheme that the U.S. government and possibly the world will implement through the DOE's $10T/yr Cap & Trade (cap & tax) plan. The CCX, heir apparent to implementing and managing the system, is surprisingly based in Chicago (the first "C" in CCX). Do some investigation into the key players of this whole scheme and a lot of familiar names crop up - Goldman Sachs, Al Gore, Franklin Raines, George Soros... This doesn't pass anyone's smell test.
Where does yours rank?Forbes just published their list of the nation's top colleges. "Our list of more than 600 undergraduate institutions is based on the quality of the education they provide, the experiences of the students and how much they achieve." It includes liberal arts and engineering colleges. Princeton took the lead for tech schools while snatching #2 overall. Military colleges - West Point, Naval Academy, etc., ranked honorably. Here are a few of the most notable tech colleges. My alma matter, Univ. of VT, an engineering school, came in at a dismal 329.
Electronic Design magazine just published the results of their survey to determine the best employers in 2009, based on a somewhat nebulously defined grading method. An extensive report on Boeing occupies about 1/3 of the article's text, though Boeing rated only at #16. Overall employee growth vs. 2008 was -5.5%, sales growth was -8.3%, R&D was -3.7%. Not rosy.
There is a dedicated coterie of collectors for just about everything imaginable, from carnival glass goblets to... antique personal computers. Labeling a PC as "antique" is kind of a stretch, though, since the word usually pertains to items at least 50 years old, an usually 100 years old or more. The Altair 8800 shown here was sold in 1975, a mere 35 years ago. It was based on the Intel 8080 CPU. The Altair was the computer on which Bill Gates and Paul Allen initially developed MS-DOS, and one in like-new condition fetches a fair price. Other early PCs like the Sinclair (remember the membrane keyboard?) and the Commodore 64 are collectible, but are not as valuable. eBay is the standard venue to trade such things, whether old computers, radios, test equipment, or carnival glass goblets.