Monthly Archives: December 2017

New Tech Allows Researchers to Simulate

Tabletop role-playing games are about making strategic movements within an imagined environment, where small game pieces signify players and points that can be moved across a space to different outcomes. Think the kids in Stranger Things playing D&D in Mike’s basement.

But these games can help solve real-world problems, too. Open-source modeling software called Tangible Landscape, for example, allows landscape architects to combine augmented reality and spatial data to create and modify a simulated section of land, something researchers have used to control diseases like sudden oak death.Tangible Landscape was developed at North Carolina State University by landscape architect Brendan Harmon, associate director of geovisualization Helena Mitasova, and statistician and geographic information system (GIS) programmer Francisco Tonini.

Using current map data and — in some cases — drones to create new map data, the system produces a CNC-cut miniature replica of an area researchers plan to study. A projector overlays data on top of the replica, and might include spatial data about tree density, water flow or past wildfire paths. Small wooden pegs placed on top of the replica can represent waymarks or new areas of development.If a researcher is curious about changes in tree density, for example, they can use gestures on the replica to instantly create values that are sent back to the simulation program to model. While the models aren’t yet 100 percent accurate for future predictions, the layers of geospatial data gives a very close guess.

“The accuracy depends on how well the model has been validated against empirical data,” Tonini says.
Modeling the spread of disease, for example, requires accurate spatio-temporal empirical data to ensure its validity. “Sudden oak death was particularly hard because the symptoms do not show immediately on trees and that can bias the validation process. However, we built our work on a previously peer-review modeling framework that had a good amount of validation already tested on it.”In a recent application, Tonini and the team role-played as a forest manager, a landowner and a conservationist who were concerned about a section of oak trees within Sonoma Valley, Calif., that might be susceptible to sudden oak death. The team mapped out the locations of bay laurel trees, which are a known host to the disease, and began simulating their removal. Factors like money, time and spread of disease were then generated once the trees were removed from the area. One wrong move can derail a campaign, requiring costly fixes.

Android Takes Backseat to Machine Learning

Google I/O is ostensibly about the future of Android, but that changed in 2016 when CEO Sundar Pichai put the AI-powered Google Assistant and machine learning at the forefront, a trend that continued at this year’s show.

At I/O 2017, the phrase “going from mobile first to AI first,” was repeated throughout the opening sessions and definitely set the tone.

In addition to adding to its collection of open-source neural net technology, Google also introduced a more advanced Tensor Flow Unit (TCU), a piece of hardware designed specifically for running and training neural nets. This technology has been made available to developers and researchers on the cloud, and Google doubled down with 1,000 units available for research organizations.The average consumer, however, will likely experience Google’s machine-learning efforts via the Google Assistant. Developers can now build special Actions for this super-powered chatbot, which expands what the Assistant can do. Google unveiled new tools to make interactions like purchases seamless, opening the door for the Assistant to become a money-making platform for developers.

In addition to the ascendance of the Assistant, it was interesting to see all the places where mobile phones were absent. A new Android-based, in-car control system highlighted the Assistant, but doesn’t require a phone. Google Home is getting a slew of updates, but voice calls don’t require a phone; Home will now simply call numbers, for free. It’s a startling move, partly because of its convenience but especially because this is exactly the context where we would expect to see crossover with Android devices.

Popular Google platform iPhone
One noticable point was the number of times the iPhone was mentioned during the series of keynotes at Google I/O. These weren’t offered as points of comparison to show Android’s superiority. Instead, Google treated the iPhone almost as if it were another platform for its developers.
It started when the Google Assistant debuted in the less-than-popular chat app Allo, which launched simultaneously on iPhone and Android. The Assistant next appeared exclusive in the Pixel and Pixel XL phones, but now the Assistant will be everywhere: in cars, in TVs and, yes, in the iPhone. Now that developers can write Actions for the Assistant, it effectively turns the iPhone into an extension of Google’s existing platforms.

The pieces of Android
Android isn’t going away, clearly. Sessions focusing on the changes coming in Android O highlighted new tools and efforts to make developing for Android easier. But there was also a sense of tension as Google starts to take back more and more control of the Android platform. If developers want to target their apps for the new Android O, they have to use the OS’s new notification channels. If not, developers were told in a session, notifications will be dropped.
Android is also popping up in more places beyond the phone. A stripped-down, hardened version of Android will power Google’s IoT platform called Android Things. Several of the changes coming to O regarding power and processor use are also coming to Android Wear, with additional restrictions.
The real question is not what the future of Android will be. With 2 billion active monthly users on Android, it’s clearly a major player in the Googleverse. Rather, Google is pushing hard to turn Android developers into Google Assistant developers, Google Home Actions developers and web developers using the latest tools available in Chrome. That transition is going to be key toward Google becoming an AI first company.

A Different Kind of Space Race

Since its inception in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has affected consumers’ everyday lives without many of us knowing. In fact, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 ensured this quiet influence by including the stipulation “that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.”

Developments in space travel remain crucial to the technological advances we enjoy daily. Long-distance communications, solar energy, artificial limbs, memory foam and household smoke detectors all were first used in space. The smartphones we carry in our pockets are up to a million times more powerful than all of NASA’s computers combined in 1969. Imagine what we’ll hold in our hands 20 years from now.

New horizons, new challenges.
All this advancement brings a different set of challenges. Among these: overheating. It’s a critical operations problem for electronic devices because it can lead to poor performance and — in some cases — dangerous situations.

Samsung made the unprecedented decision to recall all Galaxy 7 phones after 35 of them overheated. Some exploded, rupturing their cases. The number of overheating incidents reported quadrupled after Samsung announced the recal

Opportunities within change.
KULR Technology is among the companies looking to leverage what it’s learned in space and apply those lessons to innovations here on Earth. Michael Mo and Timothy Knowles cofounded KULR (pronounced “cooler”) in 2013. Their basic premise: solve the challenges to keep electronics cooler, lighter and safer in an ethical and environmentally sustainable manner.
KULR’s technology traces its beginnings to the high-performance aerospace industry. The San Diego-based firm has won more than 500 contracts with agencies and companies including NASA, Raytheon, Boeing and JPL. KULR also provided the carbon-fiber-based thermal-management solutions used in the International Space Station, Mars Rover and Mercury Messenger.

Increased demand for computing power.
On a larger scale, the advances made during the past decade require tremendous computing power. Over the next 5, 10 and 15 years, these and other emerging technologies will change how we live.

Focus on performance and sustainability.
Over time, these technologies will increase in consumer base — and consumers will focus more and more on performance. As a device’s number of transistors multiplies, its computing power increases exponentially. In turn, its form factors shrink. But increased density of transistors on a chip has led to performance issues including overheating. That can cause slowed or even broken-down connections.The cycle feeds the need for continued evolution. KULR’s proprietary carbon-fiber-based architecture replaces older aluminum- and copper-based head spreaders and exchanges that were the standard for years. Unfortunately, those earlier particle-based thermal-interface materials are inefficient as well as energy-intensive and less environmentally friendly to produce.

Every Small Business

As business owners, we all know that in one form or another, at least one of our company computers is either going to completely crash, be lost/stolen or will fall victim to virus problems. When most people think of data loss, they think of a crashed hard drive. I did a little digging into hard drive failure rate. Credible and easy to understand research was surprisingly hard to find. But, I did find a self-study conducted by Backblaze. Backblaze is the company I choose to utilize for online backup storage. (Note: I do not receive any compensation for this mention. I just found them to be the best.) The summary from their study is that hard drive failure rate grows to more than 50 percent after 4 years.But what about laptop loss, dropping a computer, getting hacked and/or held hostage or falling victim to virus problems? These events happen on a daily basis. Having an ongoing and easy to manage computer backup plan is critical. Imagine what would happen if your data suddenly became inaccessible for even a whole day, much less multiple days. Your strategy should be to prevent — not fix — an issue.

Here are seven easy to implement tips to prevent a computer crash crisis.
1. Keep critical files on a cloud-based hard drive.
This will create and almost real-time offsite backup for your critical files. I prefer DropBox because I feel they don’t profit as much as Google from indexing and sending advertisements based on personal data. Have you ever tried to store an encrypted file on GoogleDrive? It rejects it. This is because Google makes money reading your data. I spend the $99 for DropBox. It’s easy to use, and I feel more private.
2. Have a local computer backup solution.
On the Mac, this is a no brainer. Buy an external hard drive, plug it in, and use Apple’s built in Time Machine solution. This works amazingly well. If you’re on a Windows 10 machine, have a look at Windows File History and Windows Backup and Restore solutions. These are bare-boned and basic, but they also work very well. For Windows users, take a look at an article by LifeHacker that walks you through it.
3. Have an offsite computer backup solution.
What happens if your computer and external hard drives are stolen, burned or something similar. You’ve still lost all your data because the computer and backup drive are in the same location. This is why you should have an offsite backup solution. I personally use BackBlaze. I tested the various solutions and found them to be the best. They have awesome customers service too.
4. You should have virus protection on both your Mac and your PC.
I use Sophos Personal for my personal machines and Sophos Business for my company computers. It works very quietly in the background. It’s also free for personal machines. I pay for my work machines and no, I’m not receiving any payments for promotion. I never really know this is working, and it never gets in my way. Once in a while, it will give an alert about suspicious activity, but it’s very rare.
5. Ensure you have a modern router and all your firmware is up-to-date.
This is very important. Most people install their routers and just forget about them. It’s nice not to think about them, I get it. But, once a month or once a quarter, log into your router, and ensure you have the latest firmware/software updates. In most cases, these updates will add security features and increase performance. It takes just a couple minutes and is usually a breeze to complete.