Old stuff from May, 2014, with linkbacks all the way to October, 2008, is here
September 25, 2014: My hand is back!
Keywords: Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Seiki 4K LED Ultra-HD, 2160p, NASA, SpaceX, Elon Musk, Boeing, ISS, Mars
Remembering the last time I used Dragon NaturallySpeaking, using dictation meant you wrote a lot more than was comfortable to read in a blog. In other words, you can go on talking, dictating, whining, until you see blue in the face and dictation software will faithfully render it into your computer, by the bucketful. The latter, at least the way I look at it, is not pleasant for the reader, who I believe wants to read a paragraph or so, and then be able to choose whether to go on to the next paragraph, or to someplace else. So, at the present time, this is working well, and I can be writing decent text as the mood strikes me. I am at the present time sat in my room and the microphone has been set for mono sound, which is probably what I did wrong before. This headset, while cheap, certainly works well with Skype, and there is no reason why it would not function well with Dragon.
Of course, when I last dictated a paragraph I turned the microphone off and saved the file without making corrections, which prevents Dragon from learning what it got wrong and what the correct words were utterances might have been. That is, even for this older version of Dragon (I purchased this package in 2010) one of the really amazing capabilities of the software, that it will learn how you speak and express yourself, and then applies the corrections you make. That also means that using Dragon is a time-consuming affair because you have to allow it to get used to the way you speak and the way you form your sentences and the way you use grammar and language in general. But then it is nice to have a way of getting to a semblance of perfection, which makes it easier and quicker to dictate later on. So let me say this, make the necessary corrections and then go to Facebook to see if I can dictate into the Facebook comment box since I still need to reply to someone.
Waaa. The cast is off my left hand - in one form or another, it was on there since August 10. The hand is not working well, as of yet, but that is only to be expected, I am getting physicial therapy, even. But I have two hands to type with, so I can write this blog again. Teehee.
The picture at the top shows my new 39" 4K LED screen, one I discovered at Fred Meyer, recently. I salivated over it, at $399 before tax, but as I (and most everybody) don't have equipment that can output 3840x2160, 2160p, or four times the resolution of your living room HDTV, there didn't seem much point in buying it. Having said that, this set was barely more expensive than its 1080p equivalent, but when I went back, after two weeks of salivation, they'd run out. Except - they had a no-box return, for $359.99. Woof. I caved. I still don't have 2160p equipment, but I suppose I will, at some point. And the quality of this display is something else, never owned a monitor (I use it on my laptop) you can't see the pixels of.
After the recent announcement by the Federal Government that Elon Musk's SpaceX as well as Boeing will be given contracts to build the next generation of spacecraft to get to the ISS, speculation has begun about travel to Mars. To me, that's a joke. There is nothing on Mars that we need people, or should I say, “boots on the ground”, to do, we have robot technology that currently is driving around on that planet, and pretty soon we should be able to send robots that could bring stuff back if we want to do that. In terms of analysis, we seem to be doing a pretty good job of putting entire automated laboratories onto the planet. So, other than the understandable curiosity about putting people onto another planet, which in fact we have already done with the moon missions, I'm not seeing that this is a logical next step in terms of the development of space travel, and the interests of space exploration. Every time I look at the orbital station we have, what I see is an actual spacecraft, one that could travel to far away regions. Yes, it would require further development of the platform, we would need facilities to grow food, a fully equipped hospital on board, as well as a repair station, but those are not major concerns, we would need to build the prototypes, test and use them in a weightless environment, and then we would basically be ready. To me, vastly more interesting than sending a couple of guys in overpriced and otherwise useless spacesuits to Mars.
There is another factor, however. Since the distances we must traverse to get to the outer planets and beyond are vast, we would need families on board of a spacecraft, and we haven't even begun to think about how we would achieve that, let alone do the research and the trials. We don't have, as of yet, little spacesuits for the kids, and we seem to be sending older people up, rather than younger, and we certainly haven't put couples into space, let alone families. In order to advance mankind, and our knowledge, and push the envelope of scientific endeavour, this would be the next thing to do, scientifically vadtly more interesting than sending men to Mars. This is about people, survival, breaking new barriers. We have already been to another planet, we've already walked around on it, we have robots that can do that type of exploring for us, and none of that requires any physical input beyond that which already exists. But sending people "way out there", wouldn't that fascinate you?
August 19, 2014: That hurt!
Keywords: accident, dog attack, collapsed lung, hand fracture, ER, Swedish Medical Center
Yep, that is me in the ER - dog lunged at me, lost my footing, hit the kerb - collapsed lung, facial injuries, compound hand fracture, the works. Brutal. With my left hand out of action, one hand typing makes updating this blog a pain, I'll see if I can find my dictation software. I am on the mend, so not to worry....
A new installation of Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a necessity, since my left hand is out of action. I need some way to write my blog, do website updates, and write letters, and am hoping the software can be made to work reliably. I do have some background noise from the window fan, it is after all summer, and am hoping that will be manageable. This actually does not look too bad, I'm going to have to do some more testing and make the necessary corrections, so that the software will understand my diction better, but it looks like things are going reasonably well, considering I originally couldn't get his microphone to work at all. I am currently working on an older Sony VAIO desktop, since this version of Dragon will not install under Windows 8, so I cannot run it on my Lenovo laptop any more. The VAIO runs Windows 7, which it seems to be happier with than Windows 8, which I backed out of it after a couple of weeks of trying.
So where does this Ukraine problem come from? It comes from our (the West) failure to push back on Putin when he took the Crimea. We decided that Putin could make a case for taking back the Crimea, that the place was full of "ethnic Russians" anyway (what the heck are those?), and so we let him push the Ukranians out of their own province.
You give a dog a bone, and he is going to remember where that came from. The dog will then come back for more. A dog, with wolf in its ancestry, is a dangerous animal, and because he thinks he is domesticated he can pretend to be a nice trustworthy animal. But kids, open the dog's mouth, and look at his teeth. Those were never intended for caressing, and they didn't get there by accident, and they have far less difficulty with rare steak than our choppers do. So this thing is our mistake, our stupidity, and there is presently no longer anything we can do to stop the dog, we invited him into the living room, and he has tasted blood. We know what to do with killer animals that have tasted blood, but there isn't the political will to do that with Putin - for the most part, politicians don't want to even acknowledge he is a carnivore (maybe that, too, is our own fault: store bought dog food commonly, stupidly, has vegetables in it - ever seen a dog hunt corn on the cob, or arugula?). So we're digging ourselves in deeper and deeper, and when even losing an entire civilian airplane doesn't galvanize us into action, and Putin's only response is to crave more blood, we're in for a heck of a ride. It is time to send Merkelchen to Moscow to discuss returning the Crimea to Ukraine - after all, she speaks Russisch. We now know why Snowden is in Russia, and why there are live missile batteries on the Russian border - the dog wants more. Let's feed him his own bones.
Next week: Monkeys
So: the problem I was having with Google Contacts and my new Blackberry Z10 had nothing to do with Blackberry or the Playbook or the Z10 or Moi. Because: I have not made any changes (other than reloading the Gmail account, which made no difference) but today, several weeks and posts (!!) later, it all suddenly works as advertised, Google Contacts sync automagically to the Z10's address book, and vice versa, this without there being BIS nor BES on my T-Mobile account. I do have an IP connection with RIM, but that is an optional thing, although it has networking benefits I would not want to do without. So: all sorted. And if you have problems with anything involving a Google product for heaven's sake blog about it, because they do read yer stuff. I've noticed this before with their products - Device tracker, notably, was all broken until I wrote about it. Which reminds me.. sheesh, Android Devicemanager now works from Microsoft Internet Explorer again! Woohoo! The Word is Blogmagic *grin*
Ah, now I understand. A month or so ago, when I was talking to T-Mobile technical support about the Google problems above, I mentioned wanting to unlock the new Blackberry - all of my phones are unlocked, I like having a phone with a local SIM when I travel abroad, next to my T-Mobile issue handset. The rep walked me through a check, and that indicated the handset was unlocked already. Yeehoo, and superduper, but the rep would request an unlock code anyway, just to make sure.
That apparently didn't happen, and then a couple of days ago my friends returned from Thailand, and brough me a spanking new micro-SIM for the Blackberry - that does not take regular SIMs, and so I had no way to test, or indeed to unlock, which you can only do after TMO provides a code, and you insert a "foreign" SIM. Sure enough, the handset wasn't unlocked - the rep had had me test against the TMO SIM, and that will show unlocked, since it is native. Go figure. Anyway, I called again, friendly helpful tech support person Paul apologized, said he'd get on it, and sure enough, two hours (that's a record!) later I had the unlock code, and the Z10 unlocked. Teehee. I mean, I bought the thing outright, so it should be unlocked, under the new Federal guidelines.
Something I can't recommend is changing your contact lens prescription yourself. But the other day, when I went into my contact lens provider's website, I noticed that British CooperVision had the same lens I always use, with an 8.6 curvature, for half the price they charge for my "normal" Ciba Air Optix Night&Day, extended wear lenses, I sleep in 'em, and take them out and put them in the cleaning soup once a week, after having a nassty experience when I used to wear them for a month at a time. Anyway: CooperVision has the same lens, for much less $$s, but not with the correct diameter - my prescription says 13.8(mm), and CooperVision only has a 14.0(mm) lens. Now if the diameter is 0.2mm larger, that's 0.1mm either side of your iris, is that really a significant difference? And then you check on the internet and people say that the larger diameter isn't good because it has a different curvature. That, of course, is bullshit - curvature is curvature, and if the lens had a 10 inch, 25 cm, diameter, it would still have the same curvature. The eyeball is curved perfectly itself, so the diamater is to do with the space between the eyelids - if the edge of the lens is permanently under an eyelid it will no longer move and rotate on the eyeball, which it has to be able to do for your eyeball to moisten and breathe.
Long story short, I decided 0.2mm in diameter is a really small differential (like 0.00078 inches), so I tried it. I got the CooperVision lenses at the end of May, it is now the end of July, and my eyes are happy, and my wallet is too - 2x6 Coopervision lenses cost exactly what 6 Ciba lenses would have cost. There is more to the story, but I'll save that until after I have seen my eye doctor. And remember: this is completely unsupported by any expert (then again, I have been wearing extended wear lenses since before I moved from Amsterdam to London, which was in 1979, so I have a little experience) so don't try it until my eye doctor tells me what's what. I am writing this on my laptop, so I can still see my screen *grin*.
Hmm. Next day. Weedwhacker fixed, hot water tank drained and its air intake fixed - no idea the insulation was obstructing that. Put a 500GB Western Digital drive in the Vaio, not the one I intended, it turned out there was a 5" drive in the thing, and I did not feel like getting a upsize caddy for the 2.5" drive I had available. Impatient. So I ripped the drive out of the Tivo enclosure I wasn't using for the Tivo anyway, and that works fine, actually very silent and seems to run at the same response time as the old one. Having said that, the Tivo won't boot off the new drive, so I bought drive creation software off the internet, but now I have a hard time getting the software to talk to the Linux drive designators. That shouldn't be a major issue, but I've never run UNIX on this Lenovo, so... maybe I'll disassemble the Vaio again, put the Tivo drive in there, and see if I can get that to act like a UNIX box. The Lenovo, with its SATA ports and other "stuff", is a headache in that respect. The Vaio, whose architecture is simpler, could be easier. Fingers crossed. You can see its innards on the picture here, not really easy to open up, but what the hey, I think the Tivo is not broken, just something went wrong with the original drive - which, on a Tivo, runs 24/7, in this case since 2009, and its cooling isn't brilliant. More to follow..
I have been using the CaroProo Android application for a while now, to record car engine performance via an OBDII Bluetooth dongle, while recording dahscam video at the same time. Last year, that went sour when their update would no longer provide legible MPG - in their quest to add functionality for high end Galaxys, CaroProo ruined their app for lower end Galaxys. They provided me with an older version of the software that works well - obviously, auto-update is off... Recently, they released a new version that did everything correctly, so I was really pleased. But then, occasionally, my Galaxy handset, which normally functions as my vahicle locator in case of theft, would drain its battery overnight - normally, it uses only 10% of battery or so, in 24 hours on standby. So, I investigatered. Turns out that CaroProo - even the older version - autostarts, even if you have autostart turned off in its menu. And the new version does something in your phone that eats battery. People in their Facebook forum complain about battery drain already, but as it turns out that combines with "standby" battery drain when there should not be any. I've now told Google, and the developers say they'll fix it. It is a real problem with applications, many run and collect data when they should not. #asinine
I am using a few apps for various different purposes, on various different handsets, under various different operating systems. In doing that, it has increasingly become unclear to me why anybody would consider "BYOD" schemes. A mobile phone is not a reliable computing environment, you have little or no control over what various applications do, the majority of application developers mine personal information they have no need to use, etc. It is truly amazing - the very first thing the LinkedIn app does is import your entire address book, without asking, and run that against its own database. While that brings up all of the LinkedIn IDs for your contacts, LinkedIn copies it into its cloud, and uses your contacts to make connection suggestions to other members, without any kind of permission. And that is just one app. Just don't think there are reputable companies any more, whether LinkedIn or Comcast, the majority will help themselves to information they've not asked permission to use.
So anyway. Finally, I've got the pesky Device Manager error message in Windows 7 64 on my Vaio gone, although it is unclear to me why it keeps "happening". I know it is an Intel motherboard driver, but why the driver for this board doesn't clear the error, and the driver for another Vaio will... Last time I cleared it I took no notes, then when I reinstalled the system I couldn't remember what to do, and this time it took me something like six months to (intermittently) troubleshoot it. Owell, it's fixed. I don't know how long this 2009 Vaio will still last, it is running fine, but I think I do need to take it to pieces and blow out its innards, which isn't easy, but I've seen it done once before, even have some shots from when a service technician swapped out its motherboard. While I am in there, I may even swap out the 320GB hard disk for a 500 I have lying around - and, if I can, replace the dead motherboard battery.
I must say I find the little T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Exhibit 4G I have in the car an ideal piece of gear, serving as it does as a vehicle locator when I am not using it to monitor the engine while playing dashcam. Ideal, in that running it costs me $10 a month, in my T-Mobile package deal, and the thing itself only cost $125. I am unlikely to ever use it for anything else, considering the amount of information Google gets out of your using an Android device. Think about it - Google knows your address book, lock stock and barrel, and it knows when you go visit which friend - if you go to Denver, CO, call up a local GPS map, and you call your local friends there, Google knows where you are, and who you are with, maybe even which restaurant y'all are having lunch at, what hotel you're staying at, or that you're with your in-laws - and please understand Google knows they're your in-laws. I don't know about you, but that is a bit much to exchange for a phone you actually have to pay for. This doesn't help you, it provides Google with marketing data they don't pay you for. I think it is crazy. Read about the Facebook experiment with posting emotions and you can see how far these folks think they can go - especially considering they don't have a good understanding of what they're doing.
So I am going to try and put together some lectures, now that I have found the University of Washington has an "experimental college" that anyone can teach at. I've been wanting to teach, but I don't have the academic credentials. My landlord mentioned the Experimental College to me, the other day, I had no idea that existed. No requirements, put it together, go through an approval, for the most part for UW to establish it does not compete with what they're offering, and Bob's your uncle. This is, for me, a very good exercise. I realized that, in order to submit an outline, I simply have to write and exercise the entire lecture - and I do want to do this as a class, I don't know that an audience is best served by listening without participation. That, in turn, means I have to do all of the research, in anticipation of what questions might be asked. That is a good body of work - and I just realized I should have someone look over the paper - thankfully I have some excellent scientists among my circle of friends and former colleagues.
Last but not least, I finished adjusting the new air intake on my Durango, and as luck would have it, we're in the midddle of a heatwave, here in the Northwest. I am emphasizing this because this entire saga began with me coming cross-continent in a heatwave, in a badly overheating Durango. It took me a while to figure out what the problems were, but I think I can safely say the work I did on it last summer, combined with the rest of the maintenance I did this year, certainly fixed the overheating, and as it turns out the cold air intake I installed gave me that extra little bit of power that really makes the engine "happy and smooth". Running the car with the A/C on high, in 90s temperatures, the engine not only doesn't run hot, with the A/C condensor fan kicked in the coolant temperature actually comes down, and the compressor cycles - IOW, the heat exchanger is getting plenty of cooling, even in high heat and full sun. That makes me really happy. An engine with more power will generate less heat for the same work effort, and that is clearly the case here. The coolant temperature is visibly lower, when driving around in the summer heat, even to the point the auxiliary electrical fan, which kicks in when the A/C comes on, as well as when the coolant temperature gets above 120° Fahrenheit, has not been needed, in regular urban driving.
It isn't just because I have been thinking about heading South, to warmer climes, but simply because I've learned so much about the types of engine, and about the multitude of remedies that can be applied when things aren't broken. I mean, the A/C compressor was broken, but after replacement the engine needed a lot of other TLC, and it was, in the final analysis, not hugely expensive, if you just ignore the amount of time I spent. One thing I could not do was test my fixes in the heat, and Mother Nature has now solved that problem handily - actually, I can do some more testing, because this heatwave will continue into next week, and I have plenty of mountains here to do some driving in thin air, it'll be in the 100's in the foothills, inland... So, cool, pardon the pun.
June 21, 2014: Everything works if you want it to
Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, CarDav, Red Dwarf, Android, Google, Powertrain Control Module
Wotabitch. Once I had the Blackberry Z10 all installed and behaving itself (which means automatic connection to my laptop over the internet, even remotely, I am psyched) I found that when I tried to sync in my Blackberry Playbook, it wiped out my Google Contacts. As in, permanently, Google replicated an empty database into its own using CarDav. Asinine. And try as I might - I have my full contacts database in the Z10, copied from my Torch 9810 - I couldn't get the Z10 to replicate back to Google.
The T-Mobile Blackberry support folks in Albuquerque, NM, were beyond helpful, spending hours on the phone with me trying to find solutions, eventually turning BIS back on for another mobile number, which let me try to put the Torch back online, the new Blackberry 10 series does not use BIS. But even that did not work, Google would not synchronize into its database, whatever I tried. Eventually, one of the support people suggested something I really didn't want to get into, fixing a 917 record comma delimited backup file, which Google wouldn't "eat" either. And, of course, thank you T-Mobile, I found one large record I'd put in the phone so I could have my passwords in one place where nobody would look, a record that had only a note, and that was the problem. So now the Google database is back in place, although I am still testing whether I can now replicate to it, and I'll have to then go in and fix some stuff the Blackberry screwed up. Jeez. I would have never thought you could spend as much time fixing things in mobile phones as you do in PCs and laptops.
Ahhh... "Yes, Prime Minister" is back on the Beeb. Heaven. And.... OMG... is this true? Red Dwarf!!!
I cannot believe locating your Android phone via Android Devicemanager using Microsoft Internet Explorer is no longer possible. This can't have been what the gummint had in mind when it said we'd encourage competiton. Especially where Google just said it would install a "kill switch" in Android. It is there. Today. Google just has disabled it for many users, because they want you to use Chrome. It's not something we have not seen before, but please don't make announcements that make no sense. Google is no longer your everyman search engine.
Before BIS gets turned off again, I guess I'd better try to synchronize my Contacts database to the Playbook again, since I am, for now, able to replicate the Torch back to Google. Hop - this time it works. WTF.... I'll never really know how that database got wiped. And I haven't been able to restore it to full functionality where Google is concerned, I may have to manually go through the 917 or so records. $%^##*!!. Owell. At least I had a backup or two. As always. Now - better back up the Playbook....
Wallander... So how do the Scandinavians suddenly make such superb television? I would have to think it is the technological abilities we've developed, we no longer need a lot of artificial lighting (except when shooting for HD) and a camera capturing a person or persons can literally be anywhere, and be relatively unobtrusive. I've come away very impressed with Wallander, although developing Alzheimer's in three episodes is a bit much, well done though it is. And it is a lot better than the crap the American networks throw at their viewers, although some of it continues to be wildly popular. Just dunno why.
The Durango air intake is stabilizing, it is interesting to see how the engine is apparently adjusting since I reset the PCM, a.k.a. the ECU. Why the Engine Control Unit had its name changed to Powertrain Control Module is a bit beyond me, I guess the PCM controls the automatic gearbox as well. At any rate, the engine is stabilizing, which, amongst others, means it is getting noisier, which the internet boards seem to think is normal with a straight-in-and-out air intake. The roar when I put my foot down on the highway is rather fun, I suppose, that's new. I've not yet gotten a meaningful reading for the engine's efficiency, although a long run on 405 seems to indicate a mileage improvement, but it is too early to make a definite diagnosis. Another week or so, I think, fill 'er up, and then I'll do another week with the OBDScope software.
Couple weeks, I'll be housesitting again, and later in the year likely another stint in Thailand. I've not written that up in a trip report, as yet, as it involves a friend, and I have never involved other people in my blogs. I could ask approval, and have 'em vet the copy, but I've never done that. Only last week, an ex told me she worried about my using the photography and video I have of her, and that made me laugh - if I've not done that in the past decade, why would I suddenly start? Truth is, it is so easy to screw somebody up, or over, but I don't see how you get anything out of that. No, vindictive I am not, somebody screws me up I'll get right back to them, and that is it, off you go. Besides... anyway, never mind.
June 10, 2014: Roaring down Route 99
Keywords: Blackberry Z10, Blackberry Link, Nokia C7, Dodge Durango, OBD II, air intake, cooling
A bit of light at the end of the tunnel.. I am still working on the air intake, as it is a bit of a DIY unit without much of a manual, but I think I am just about there. As I mentioned, I wanted to make sure I could capture engine readings, and eventually managed to get OBDScope running reliably on a Nokia C7. While I bought that new, this proves that you can buy a used cellphone and use it for a particular piece of software, because running engine diagnostics on a cellphone that you use for everyday functionality like taking calls, email and perhaps navigation is not a good idea, if not a downright headache. This works brilliantly - I normally use the C7 as my home phone, and on the road for navigation, but I have found the navigation app on my new Blackberry Z10 is a worthy substitute. And after a fair amount of detail work, rerunning hoses and leads, and verifying everything is where it needs to be, the air intake is working well. I had to make some adjustments to install the air temperature gauge, which gets pulled back out of the intake if you leave the wiring the way it was installed at the factory, and I found the plastic vacuum hose that came with the intake is cheap crap, it kinks within hours, but Prestone makes a perfect fit sturdy rubber hose you can pull off the rack at your auto parts store.
Apart from a finicky Bluetooth connection on the Nokia I am using for diagnostics, I think I am more or less done with the air intake. I need to make a few more miles before filling up the tank and establishing the MPG rating, but this morning I reset the PCM (Powertrain Control Module, the "brains" of the engine), which is now learning about the new air ratios and temperature and stuff. She runs nicely, I do notice a loud roar when accelerating on the highway, but that is as it is supposed to be. Other than that, the engine is quiet and runs smoothly, slightly louder than before. I do notice that the coolant temperature is slightly higher, but with less fluctuation - and that could mean I have more horsepower, which means less "strain" on the engine. The diagnostics tell me that when I accelerate up to highway speeds, the air intake temperature drops some 15 degrees, which is what a "cold air" intake is all about, I suppose. The whole "cold air" story is a bit of a misnomer. In the olden days, the air would be preheated in the carburetor, by a warm coolant line from the cooling system, as carburetors were prone to freezing - but those days are long gone, fuel injected engines don't have the type of fuel evaporation carbureted engines did.
Anyway, I'll tell you more once I've done some miles with the new intake, especially once I fill her up 'll be able to tell if there is a significant difference. Two things I know are very different: the engine can "breathe easier", gets more air; and I think there is more vacuum being drawn, and I don't know what the effect of that will be, I don't even really know what the vacuum is for - although, having replaced the PCV valve, I know vacuum lines suck a mixture of combustion gas and exhaust that "leaks" past the pistons into the crankcase and mixes with oil vapour back into the combustion zone. Kinda fun stuff, I am learning how modern engines work. Look at the new and the original air intake, above, and you'll see how large the difference is. All that extra plastic is there to reduce engine noise; amazingly, the nozzle that serves as the actual air intake faces a hole in the fender wall that has no connection to the outside. I do think that removing all that plastic will allow the cooling to run more efficiently, the passenger side of the engine was rather tightly packed...
Then, I almost accidentally looked at a share function on my new Blackberry Z10 - and found that, using Blackberry Link, I can access stuff on my laptop from the handset over the mobile network, using Blackberry's own secure network. Totally cool. While I understand Android and iOS have the capability too, the Z10 offers to install the link software the moment you connect the handset to a PC, it initially behaves like a USB drive, and once you've told it to go ahead the process is transparent, fetches the latest update during the install, and from that point on you can back up the handset to the PC, copy your pictures and videos over, and store or access anything you need on the handset. I keep forgetting to run a full test, I'll make a note for Monday, when I am the other side of Lake Washington.
June 4, 2014: Is the NSA listening to my Durango?
Keywords: Edward Snowden, NSA, Glenn Greenwald, Blackberry Z10, Nokia C7, Dodge Durango, OBD II, air intake, cooling
Before I move on to more mundane matters, Edward Snowden's defense of his actions sounds very much like a contrived and well rehearsed story to me, the kind of stuff Putin is known for, too. Snowden took off from his Hawaii station without even telling his girlfriend, holed up in Hong Kong, part of the PRC, where he knew the US government would not be able to even talk to him, and then headed for Moscow, where it looks like emperor Putin thought it was a good idea to put one over on the Americans. In the interim, Glenn Greenwald, a former Washington D.C. attourney living in Brazil, working for the Guardian, was recruited to interview him, even going so far as having his Brazilian boyfriend act as a clandestine information carrier. None of that boils down to being a patriot. Yes, it would have been hard to "spill the beans", but many of us know what the American security services get up to, and know that it isn't always kosher, and there are careful and safe folk working for the Washington Post or the New York Times Mr. Snowden could have spoken to with minimal risk. I fully assume that Snowden and Greenwald have been handsomely maintained by the Guardian, nothing wrong with that, and Greenwald's new blockbuster book, and speaking fees, will have certainly taken good care of both of them. There is little in Mr. Greenwald's background that could have provided him with informed insight in the workings of the security services, and with his US dollar journalistic work, and his boyfriend's income, Brazil is a very cheap place to live. I even am inclined to think Snowden didn't have that much "inside information" - he wasn't at the CIA for long enough, and folks like Snowden who have secret clearance become contractors to parlay their position and clearance into a lot more money than a civil service position would have paid. It is all a boringly common scenario.
I am still struggling with cellphones, to a large extent - the Blackberry Z10 somehow wiped out my Gmail contacts database, thankfully I had transferred the database from the BB Torch, and this is when you find out Google has made it as hard as possible to restore address books without losing half the data. Then, I find that only a Finnish application running on the Nokia C7 does a reasonable job of downloading engine data from the car's Powertrain Control Module, formerly known as ECU. But it keeps losing the Bluetooth connection, and I've been working for days on figuring out the correct settings, given that the C7 doesn't have that much of a processor.
Three days later - a Monday - I have finally gotten the Nokia OBD app to work properly, two full captures, one to Bellevue, one from there. Perfect. As it turns out it makes the Bluetooth talk to the OBDII dongle and a Nokia GPS antenna at the same time, which means it gets a location - even altitude - reading with every record. Impressive. The amount of information the OBD port retrieves from the ECU is stunning, and having it in a spreadsheet format, rather than something customized, is brilliant. So - I've done a full (60-ish mile) measuring run, and I've finally got all of the bits I needed - the Intake Manifold Air Temperature Sensor fits nicely in the air intake, they've done a reasonable job, the rest - mount, vacuum tube - I can't really test until the existing air intake is out, what with the sunny weather I'll likely start on that tomorrow. The way it is now set up I can put the old air intake right back, if something doesn't work, and because I have the manifold pressure and air temperature readings I can do a more or less immediate comparison. On one of the Dodge boards, an "expert" wrote that all these intakes do is make more noise, and that may well be the case, but when I see the air volume is restricted by the baffles, and the intake air temperature goes quite high, perhaps... Something quite clear is that the existing air intake completely obstructs cooling air over the top of the engine, and that is made even worse by a sealant strip at the top of the hood. There should be a lot more airflow once all that stuff is removed. What the designers clearly haven't realized is that if you restrict the airflow over the top of the engine, and remove any air exits behind and above the engine, you restrict the amount of air the engine gets to breathe. I have noticed the firewall, A/C ducts and even the instrument panel get quite warm during normal operation, and I can only assume that is because there isn't cooling air coming to the top or the back of the engine, it all goes down. I should soon be able to see if I have that right, anyway.
Why all the fuss? As I was fixing my engine, last year, I got interested in the design process of engines - so many bits appear to have been bolted on as new technologies or new regulations happen. My old Camaro had a mechanism in the gear change that made it automatically go from first to third gear - it was explained to me this was to make the car comply with emissions regulations. Weirdly, you could bypass this if you went high into the RPMs, which, in my book, would have been non-compliance, but apparently the Fed thought that was fine. Similarly, I've found the 4.7 litre V8 in the Durango is designed to run very hot, this to get to a combustion that is as complete as possible. The consequence, as you can see in the Dodge forums, and as I experienced driving cross-country with a trailer, is that the car overheats easily as it gets older, and gunk builds up in the cooling system and the oil pan - oil plays an important part in engine cooling, though more so in European engines than in American engines. So I am working on trying to control that a bit better, using some engineering tricks, just because I like to tinker. The DOT attendant told me last year that my engine was running cleaner (actually, so much cleaner he did a double take and then complimented me, which was really cool, given I knew little about car engines) than the year before, this being after I did the repairs, so I should have some margin. Ah yes, and the PCV valve, I will replace that, now that I know what, and where, it is.
May 28, 2014: It is all about security
Keywords: Blackberry, Z10, Dodge, Durango, OBD II, OBDScope, air intake
So far, so good... The Blackberry Z10 is working fine, batteries are all run in - takes about a week per battery - only UMA (Wi-Fi Calling) gave me some problems, but T-Mobile's technical support person Don sorted that out by uploading some code, without my even having to do anything to the phone, just one reboot. Magic. And I have to unfortunately say that technical support from Albuquerque, NM, beats that from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, by a mile. There's no two ways about it - people from a different culture who don't own a car or a broadband connected computer and live in what we would call a slum without running water or inside toilets cannot meaningfully converse about tethering or UMA, however well they're trained.
I must apologize for getting all excited about some of the Z10's features, as I have no way of knowing whether or not those features have been around in the Android- and iOS spheres since 1885. They're just new to me, by comparison with relatively recent Nokia and Blackberry phones, and I don't see them on my Android Samsung either, but then that does not run the latest version. I am talking about the encrypted Bluetooth VPN, and the Ethernet/WiFi networking the phone does with PCs running Blackberry Link on the same subnet. Those are, to a network nerd like myself, brilliant new tools, tools that provide a type of security not built into iOS and Android. iOS is all about the "closed shop" Apple wants, while Android concentrates more on collecting the user's personal information, which Google then sells to third parties. Even my Blackberry Playbook tablet does not need to use public internet in Starbucks - it will tether to the Z10 over Bluetooth, providing a secure, safe internet connection your average hacker doesn't even know to look for.
The Blackberry, to me, is all about security - even the Z10 fits in a holster on my hip, where it is reasonably impervious to both phone snatchers and getting dropped, and less susceptible to being put on a restaurant table, where it can be forgotten or stolen. Then, Blackberry's networking is built around data security - even the new smartphones use Blackberry's own secure network to manage the data connection the phone uses. The risk inherent to corporate and institutional use of the internet is such that I do hope enough IT folk continue building secure solutions around Blackberrys. Especially the ability to connect tablets and laptops via a secure encrypted Blackberry VPN is the best thing since sliced bread to me. BYOD? I don't think so. There is no rationale for putting everybody's toy on your corporate network. None.
On a different note....
Snags and delays abound with the Durango air intake manifold replacement - I haven't been able to get my diagnostics software to work reliably, and it looks like the intake manifold temperature sensor needs to come out of the throttle body. As I think that could damage it, I am ordering a replacement, so I don't get stuck with a dud engine - I noticed the local parts stores don't stock them, kind of brilliant you can check these things at their websites, these days. Always make sure you can put the original parts back in the car - for the air intake setup, if the new air intake affects the emissions, I may have to put the old intake back to keep the State of Washington happy - amazingly, the vehicle test center is within walking distance - and so I'd rather have that in one "plug-in" state. This way, I can leave the temperature sensor where it is.
I did find OBD II engine monitoring software that does seem to work, surprisingly, for my older Nokia C7 mobile phone - a device I normally use as a GPS unit, due to Nokia's excellent worldwide maps and free guidance software. The monitoring app, OBDScope, outputs the data from all PIDs it can see, 24 in the case of my Durango, to a comma delimited file, so it is easy to look at the entire run in a spreadsheet, afterwards. Rather than averages, I've gotten it to output two readings per second, pretty good for a relatively slow processor, the averaging I can do in the spreadsheet, although it does provide an MPG calculation online I have yet to set up.
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