Thursday, August 6, 2015

Lexus Shows Us a Hoverboard. For real.

Hey McFly! What’s with the defying of gravity?

Ever since the movie Back to the Future II, in which several characters float over pavement (but not water?) on “hoverboards,” people have wondered whether that technology would ever reach reality – whether we’d some day be riding hoverboards around our neighborhoods. Lexus may not have gotten us all the way there, but a very real proof of concept has been created and it seems to me that it could have practical implications beyond recreation. Could this technology eventually lead to practical inventions that could be used for moving equipment or people over defined paths, such as in transportation, warehouses or airports?

Here’s one of the the movies Lexus has been showing:

The hoverboard in the video above works through something called "flux pinning" in which ceramic tiles are super-cooled with liquid nitrogen. The tiles and a magnetic track can then interact to create a field in which the board can hover, at least while the ceramic is in the proper temperature range. So there are some real limiting factors here including the ability to cool the ceramic and maintain temperature, and the fact that this only works above the magnetic track, so unlike a skateboard, it cannot just go wherever the rider wants. But it does appear to really achieve hover, and people have now ridden this board. Hard to deny the cool factor in that!

Admittedly, this may not be a generalized and practical hoverboard that achieves what Biff and Marty were riding in the movies, but it does seem like a nice demonstration of one approach to the challenge, and again, it could conceivably have applications outside of the skatepark.

What do you think? Would you ride this board? Does it seem like a step towards something useful or interesting? Leave a comment and let us know.


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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Are You Ready for Prime Day?

Amazon creates its own shopping holiday

For 24 hours on July 15th, the 20th anniversary of its launch, is taking it's Prime service to the next level by actually attempting to create its own shopping holiday. Some deals will last all day, others will be added as often as every 10 minutes throughout the day and be available for limited times.

According to Amazon:
Prime Day is a one-day shopping event on July 15, 2015, with more deals than Black Friday. Prime members can shop exclusive deals from electronics, toys, video games, movies, clothing, patio, lawn and garden, sports and outdoor items and more.

Meanwhile, Walmart has announced a competing sale to take place starting on Wednesday. Their sale will include exclusive online price "rollbacks" meant to compete directly with Amazon and to show that Walmart is a major online player. The discounted items, including electronics and home items, will last up to 90 days. Walmart will also be promoting a competing free shipping service at a lower cost.

Is all of this really different in any way than past sales by major retailers? The sales figures will tell that story later this week. Can Amazon actually create a shopping holiday that for them is bigger than Black Friday? Will you be shopping on Prime Day? I can't say whether I'll be buying, but I'll certainly be browsing. Please leave a comment and let us know whether Prime Day turns out to be a big shopping day for you.


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Saturday, June 27, 2015


Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to visit Copenhagen, Denmark. My wife needed to travel there for business and I convinced her to let me tag along. We added a day on each side of her business trip and got the chance to explore a great European city.

The land of Carlsberg beer and Hans Christian Anderson turned out to be a great place to visit. Copenhagen is easy to navigate on foot or bike. In fact, there were so many bikes, everywhere we went, that I started to look nervously around whenever I walked. I began to worry that bikes would run us down, but that never happened of course. The city also has a handy metro and bus system, and between mass transit, walking and biking, there is a wealth of easy to get to sights for tourists like us.

We decided to get the "Copenhagen Card" for 72 hours. It cost us 150 euro for the two cards and got us unlimited access to the metro (including to and from the airport), the buses, free access to a broad range of tourist sites, boat tours, and some discounts on food. It was money well spent for us, not only because of the discounts, but because for our short visit it helped us to plan our time. There was even an associated smartphone app, which helped us to organize our visits and see the locations and directions on a map.

Among the sites we visited were the National Museum and the National Gallery, the sculpture collections at the Carlsberg Glyptotek, the Christiansborg Palace and Rosenborg Castle, the Roundtower, and the Hans Christian Anderson exhibit (Thumbelina, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Little Mermaid, and more). We spent time in Nyhavn, a historic district with colorful buildings along a canal, and where modern tattooing appears to have been born. We visited open air markets and heard live music, and we spent time in Tivoli, a large amusement park with beautiful gardens, an aquarium, many restaurants, and live music every night.

What follows are some of the many photos I took during our short stay. I hope they help to give you a flavor of this great city.
Around Copenhagen
The Gallery
Around Copenhagen
Around Copenhagen

The Canals
The Canals
The Canals
Street Festival
Traditional Danish Hats
Walking Copenhagen
Around Copenhagen
Around Copenhagen
Around Copenhagen
Tivoli at night
Tivoli at night
Tivoli at night


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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Memorial Day, and Helping Other Boaters

Memorial Day in the United States is a day for remembering those who served in the armed forces and gave their lives for their country. We are profoundly grateful for their service and their sacrifice.

In years past, Memorial Day weekend often had me blogging about the start of the boating and fishing season in the North East United States. I've observed that my neighbors and I will walk up and down the waterway that passes through our back yard, visiting one another and talking about new boats or new boating equipment and our plans for the coming season. It's a time of hope and optimism.

Memorial Day weekend 2015 is here and there's some of that going on. I myself have a new boat this year and my neighbors have dropped by to admire it, talk about it, get a ride. We have even been out for a some fishing, though the weekend has been a little colder and windier than any of us likes.

This year, though, I noticed something else and decided it was worth mentioning here. Over the last two days I saw several boaters that were experiencing early season engine problems and required help from another boater, usually in the form of a tow back to the dock. When a boat has a serious problem, a commercial towing service like Sea Tow or Tow Boat US is the right call. But in simpler circumstances, such as a stalled engine or an empty gas tank, within a mile or so of the dock, a helping hand and a tow-line from a neighboring boater can be a great help. Boaters help each other often. It's part of our culture.

This weekend I've already seen three boats getting local towing help from neighbors – and the weekend is not over. One was a neighbor across the lagoon, who used his larger boat to tow his own smaller boat in. Another was a local boat whose owner I don't know. The third  though, was me towing a boat I sold earlier this season! Unfortunately, my old boat developed what looks like a simple and fairly easy to address fuel line problem, but the new owners are relatively new to boating and I spent some time with them today trying to resolve it and then towing them home. I'll help them to get it addressed and get them back up and running soon.

Also in the spirit of safety and help, there's the Coast Guard. This weekend, the Coast Guard boarded both of my power boats out in the bay and did basic safety checks. Both passed without a problem. The fact that there are few boats out on the water (early season and cold weather) meant the Coast Guard didn't have lots of boats to pick from, so I won the lottery. Twice. I didn't mind. They were serious and professional and maybe a little bit intimidating with their all-black outfits, dark sunglasses, bullet proof vests, and visible side-arms, but they were respectful and I know that they have a job to do. And I remembered what weekend it is.

As you celebrate Memorial Day with loved ones this weekend, be sure to give thanks to those who have served and sacrificed. And to you boaters out there, be sure to help a fellow boater who needs it if you can do so safely.


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Sunday, April 12, 2015

I Don’t Want an Apple Watch

... but I’d be glad to hear all about yours.

A few days ago, the new Apple Watch became available for pre-order, with first product delivery scheduled for April 24th.

Smartwatches, like the Apple Watch, are wrist-wearable computing and communications devices with a touch screen interface. They tend to have independent capabilities and also capabilities to act as an extension of your smart phone. There are several popular smartwatches that came to market before the Apple Watch, such as the Pebblethe Moto 360and the Samsung Gear S.

Do you need a watch of any kind? Many people gave them up a few years ago and started to count on their mobile phones as a handy source of accurate time.

XKCD Watch Comic

I decided not to order an Apple Watch. While I use many Apple products, and while I do think that wearable technology has a very important future, I often pass on first generation products and that’s what I’ve decided to do here.

The Apple Watch appears to be more advanced than any of the early entries in the smartwatch market in terms of functionality, interface, and apps. Apple did what it often does – it waited to enter an established space and brought great new thinking to design and usability. But let's not forget, this is a 1st-generation product. There are early reports of the watch feeling sluggish and it wouldn't be at all surprising to me to find that the Apple Watch would benefit greatly from some improvements in later versions.

I think that it's reasonable to assume that Apple will learn quickly from their first generation product and produce a 2nd-generation product that's thinner, faster, more ergonomic and that has better battery life. I also think that a healthy selection of apps is what will make a smartwatch indispensable, just as happened with smartphones. The phones became more valuable to us as the app economy grew. I'll gladly wait a year for all of that to happen.

What about you? Are you getting an Apple Watch? (and if so, can I try it on?)


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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Lifelong Learning With MOOCs

I just completed an open online course on classical music from Yale and Professor Craig Wright. The course took 8 weeks and required a few hours a week of my time. I learned new things and reinforced things I had only partially understood before. Over the weeks I took 74 short quizzes with a total of over 300 questions, and I scored in the low 90s overall. Most of all, I had a good time. 
Have you taken a Massive Open Online Course (a "MOOC")? Completed one? Coursera and edX offer a great catalog of interesting courses. You can take them at no cost, or for a very small cost you can "register" for a verified certificate in which case a passing grade gets you an online badge or certificate of completion. If you enjoy learning by reading or watching documentaries, this can be a fun and interactive new way for you to continue to learn.


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Monday, March 2, 2015

FCC Stands Up for Net Neutrality

Part 3 in the RapidGroove Net Neutrality Series

Graphic credit:
Back in March 2014 Net Neutrality was discussed in two RapidGroove blog posts (“Net Neutrality as Fighting Words and “Net Neutrality, Part 2). At the time, I wrote that if the situation continued to develop, there might be a third post in the future. A year later, that time has come.

To review, Net Neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic of a given type should have equal footing when moving through the network, without some traffic being highly prioritized and other traffic being blocked or slowed down. For example, an ISP would not be permitted to artificially slow down the traffic of one streaming video service in order to make another streaming video service (such as one that it operates or has financial interest in) appear to perform better to their broadband service subscribers.

(Disclaimer: From here on, I'm wading into telecom law and policy that I'm really not qualified to interpret. But this is a blog, and the topic is of real interest to me, so I'll carry on with my best understanding. And I'll gladly accept corrections from those who know better!)

Consumer advocates and Internet services companies such as Netflix and Google have generally been supporters of strong Net Neutrality, while major carriers and broadband providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are interested in retaining more control. The latter group of companies is not necessarily against an Open Internet, but has been concerned about burdensome regulation and possible revenue impact. They have been particularly opposed to one of the measures voted upon last week – that broadband Internet Service Providers would be subject to Title II of the Communications Act as “Common Carriers.”

Over the past year, a great deal of public attention has been paid to what really is a complex regulatory issue, thanks in part to high profile treatment by the likes of JohnOliver on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” and significant attention fromSenator Al Franken of Minnesota. Recently, President Barak Obama has openly showedsupport for Net Neutrality.

This attention seems to have fueled a tidal wave of public comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during 2014. So many comments were submitted that FCC Chairman Wheeler needed to extend the comment period and the timeframe for announcing proposed rules. By early 2015 it began to become clear that Chairman Wheeler would seek to provide the “strongest legal foundation for the Open Internet rules” based upon Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

FCC on Title II

As the February 26th vote approached, the FCC described a set of “bright line rules” that Title II would enable. For example, the FCC would prohibit network traffic blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization while still allowing control by ISPs primarily intended for network management.

Among the additional elements of Title II that the FCC proposes to apply are protections of consumer privacy and fair access to poles and conduits for broadband ISPs.

The FCC also promises some specific restraint in order to reassure broadband ISPs. The FCC would achieve this restraint through an established process called “forbearance” in which the FCC makes known the areas in which it would not regulate. Here, the FCC is prepared to reassure broadband ISPs that the FCC will not become heavily involved in rate setting or rate approvals or “other forms of utility regulation” for broadband ISPs.

FCC on Section 706

Section 706 requires the FCC to determine whether high-speed broadband access to the Internet is being made available to all Americans in a “timely fashion.” If not, according to section 706, the FCC is responsible for taking action to "accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

The FCC pursued this issue in the February 26th vote by intervening in two states (Tennessee and North Carolina) that had limited the expansion and availability of Internet access operated by cities. The FCC acted to remove those limits, allowing the expansion of city operated Internet access. If this action is not overturned when challenged later this year, the way may be cleared for more city-operated broadband Internet access rollouts, which could increase the availability of high-speed broadband access to the Internet in some geographic regions and add to the choices available to consumers in others. Many (myself included) believe that increased competition is really the heart of the matter.
(once again, a reminder that I am not a lawyer and I don't play one on the Internet)

What next?

It’s widely anticipated that once the rules reach final adoption stage later this year, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will file legal challenges. It could be quite some time before any impacts of last week’s votes are seen in action by consumers.

What’s your opinion? Will the FCC’s recent moves help fuel competition for consumer business and promote a healthy, competitive space for future network services? Please leave a comment and join the discussion.

Related Reading:

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