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More on that “STEM Shortage”

I seem to have a lot of readers in STEM fields, so when I came across this article from earlier in the year, noting that Electrical Engineering lost 35,000 jobs last year, I thought I’d share it. I think Electrical Engineering job losses are largely because we’re too productive for our own good. Currently I’ve been doing more electrical engineering work, mostly with micro controllers, and I have to say it’s a hell of a lot easier these days than it was years ago. The chips do more, they are faster, and boards can be a lot simpler. Hell, a Raspberry Pi is more powerful than my workstation was in college. I would have believed you then that you could fit a 700MHz RISC computer with 512MB RAM and 32GB of storage in the palm of your hand, and run Linux on it, but it would have then and still kind of stuns me. And the Pi is really just meant to be a teaching tool!

Peer Reviewed

You can’t argue with science, or the peer-review process, except when it’s been demonstrated repeatedly that the process is horribly broken, as represented by the fact that many prestigious peer reviewed journals are having to remove papers that are automatically generated gibberish.

Over the past two years, computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, has catalogued computer-generated papers that made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013. Sixteen appeared in publications by Springer, which is headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, and more than 100 were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), based in New York. Both publishers, which were privately informed by Labbé, say that they are now removing the papers.

These were people trying to game the system, but it’s been done deliberately to expose weakness:

There is a long history of journalists and researchers getting spoof papers accepted in conferences or by journals to reveal weaknesses in academic quality controls — from a fake paper published by physicist Alan Sokal of New York University in the journal Social Text in 1996, to a sting operation by US reporter John Bohannon published in Science in 2013, in which he got more than 150 open-access journals to accept a deliberately flawed study for publication.

Someone quick, send them a Turbo Encabulator!

Surf’s Up, Dude!

Apple is now run out of cat names with which to brand Mac OS releases, so now it’s being named after all things California. The first is the famous surfing location The Mavericks. I will look forward to future OS X releases 10.10 “Overtaxed,” and 10.11 “This Mac OS X release contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

I never used to sweat Apple releases at .0 level, but since Lion, their rollouts have been less than smooth. Nonetheless, since I have to support other people who might upgrade, I figured I should take the plunge early. I installed Mavericks on two of my machines this weekend. Had some issues with Mail hogging the CPU on my laptop for a while, and had to blow away my mail configuration and redo it. The other machine did not have that problem. Mail 7 seems to have serious issues other than that, so if you use Apple Mail, this new version sucks, just to warn you.

People with multiple displays will notice Mavericks handles this differently. It now treats each monitor as a sort of independent display. If you use full screen apps, you’ll probably like this. I don’t use many apps in full screen mode. The downside to the new multi-display regime is that you can’t have a window straddling the two displays. Apple does a little effect when you drag a window between displays so that it looks like it’s moving in between, but once you release the window it has to be on one screen or the, just cutting off the part of the window that overhangs the display.

If you’re thinking about upgrading, I’d wait. While not nearly as troubled as Lion (so far), there’s no real compelling reason to switch to Mavericks. There is no “must have” feature. I use a multi-headed workstation, and for me the new functionality rates a finger twirl; it’s just not all that cool and it has a downside. The new Maps application uses Apple Maps, which is worse than useless, and does anyone actually use iBook over Kindle? I’d wait until at least 10.9.1, possibly 10.9.2 if you’re thinking about doing the upgrade.

I have a real concern Apple is headed into trouble without Steve Jobs. Being an Apple customer in the early-to-mid 90s was depressing, and I fear they may be returning to that state of things.

UPDATE: More concerns about Apple.

For Those in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast

NASA is going to be launching a pretty impressive rocket on Friday for launching out of the Wallops facility in Virginia. It is the LADEE mission. See here. Should be a good view for those of us in the Mid-Atlantic states. See this view of what it will look like from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Normally they launch sounding rockets out of the Wallops facility, but the Minotaur V is capable of delivering 960lbs on a trans-lunar trajectory, which is what it will be doing in this case. We normally don’t get to see this kind of thing up our way. Views should be great from the Jersey, Delaware or Maryland shores.

Gauss Gun Theory

Last week SayUncle, in the daily Gun Porn, pointed to this fully automatic gauss gun. I have looked into the possibility of building such a device, but I’m troubled by the implications of some of the theory. At least if I’m understanding it correctly. From that, it would seem that a gauss gun that uses conventional non-superconducting electromagnets can never really perform as well as even compressed air, at least no without having impractically huge coils. I don’t know as much about this field (no pun intended) as I should, so if anyone who remembers electromagnetism wants to opine, I’m all ears.

Sorry for the Lack of Posting Today

Things at work are busy. In addition to the main project I’ve been working on coming to a header in the next few weeks, as we get closer to final delivery, on the side I’ve been busy layering my wookie suit. I’ve started a Bitcoin mining pool based on a half-baked suggestion from our CEO.

Bitcoin mining is actually quite like real prospecting, only digitally. They are looking for rare hashes; ones with a certain number of runs of zeros (determined by the network), which is unusual mathematically. The network can adjust the required difficulty up and down, depending on how quickly new Bitcoins are being discovered. This is algorithmic, so there’s no “central bank” so to speak, controlling the supply of the “currency.” This is what makes Bitcoins so attractive to the wookie suited among us.

Prospecting involves running through a lot of SHA256 hashes looking for the “valuable” ones. Turns out GPUs are quite adept at doing SHA256 hashing, and since we have quite a bit of GPU processing power hanging around not doing a whole lot, it seemed like a potentially fun experiment, to try to find some of those rare and valuable hashes. I have no idea whether this can earn real cash, or what we could actually buy with Bitcoins, but our company encourages side projects, and this seemed worth learning a bit about (no pun intended).

Fortunately for you guys, the blog server was absolutely pitiful at mining Bitcoins. It has CPU power (which sucks at prospecting) rather than GPU power (which excels at it), so I decided using the blog server’s spare CPU cycles was never going to be worth the electricity it consumed. My workstation is also not so good at mining, even though it has a decent GPU, partly because I think Apple’s OpenCL implementation is craptastic. But a Linux machine with a mid-range ATI Radeon card in it? All your hashes are belong to us.

Division of Government

One key theme of Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster speeches was that the filibuster was about reinforcing the advise and consent function of the Senate against the Executive. There was quite a bit of discussion going on in my social media corners about how Congress should stand up to the President more – regardless of who is in power. In general, it got people talking about the limitations of government and how government should be effectively run. It was all rather refreshing to watch.

But that got me thinking about another nomination process issue that has been overlooked. The last couple of weeks, folks have been talking about the fact that unlocking your cell phone is now a felony with a penalty of up to 5 years in jail. Yes, 5 years in jail for wanting switch cell phone carriers. Who the hell made that decision? Well, the Librarian of Congress, James Hadley Billington, is ultimately charged with the task.

That got me looking up just who the hell the Librarian of Congress thinks he is if he is ultimately tasked with making regulatory decisions that make people who want to switch cell phone companies into felons. He was nominated in 1987, more than 10 years before the DMCA would even become law and leave such decisions up to the Library of Congress. He was approved on a voice vote, and the issue of his nomination has never been revisited again as far as I can tell in a few searches of Thomas. I would argue that once a man is given such power, it would probably be wise to haul him in for questions about how he plans to do with his new authority to make Americans using common technology into felons, and maybe revisit who should have this role.

Of course, some might argue that because I was using a pretty handy tool of the Library of Congress to do some digging on the Librarian of Congress, maybe the Library just stepped out of bounds on this one issue. Well, as Reason highlighted this week, a retired guy with just a high school diploma and some computers has created a database of historic newspapers with 22 million newspaper pages with just the expense of some equipment he bought himself and an internet connection. Meanwhile, the project to do the very same thing that Billington has created costs taxpayers $3 a page and only managed to archive 5 million newspaper pages. Even with the credibility of the Library of Congress behind it, Billington’s historic newspaper project sees less than half of the traffic of the archive of an amateur.

I guess with all of the enthusiasm that accompanied Rand Paul’s reminder of Senate checks and balances, I wonder if questioning past appointments who haven’t faced nomination scrutiny in more than a quarter of a century will ever be on the table. In the case of the Library of Congress, there are clearly questions about their copyright policies if Americans can become felons for wanting to unlock the cell phones they legally purchased and there are also clearly some questions about smart spending of resources. Maybe it’s time to again question the authority of someone who has been in power with little oversight for 26 years.

New Hobby Bleg

OK, so I’m starting out learning to fly very cheap and simple RC helicopters. My current one is showing here. A basic v911 fixed-pitch heli which can be flown indoors or outdoors in light wind:


I am looking to upgrade, at some point in the not so distant future, to a collective-pitch model. I am looking at the Blade mCPX v2, or debating whether I want to jump to something bigger. If I’m careful, the wind isn’t too bad, and don’t hot dog very much, I can avoid crashing.

My eventual goal is to work up to a larger bird, capable of lofting a video camera, transmitter, and possibly flying autonomously if necessary. I’m not sure how much bird I’d need to loft that much gear, but that’s more in the distant future. My sometimes co-blogger Jason (owner of the CNC and 3d Printing hardware) was working on a quad-rotor design a bit back with more advanced capabilities than typical RC helis, so at some point I might talk to him about reviving that, but for now I am just enjoying learning to operate these things and harassing the neighborhood bird population.

So any transmitter advice anyone can offer would be appreciated. I’m probably thinking a six channel, like the Spektrum DSX6i, and if anyone has any experience with the Blade mCPX as a beginner collective-pitch heli, I’d be happy to have advice or warning there too.

Clayon on SSRIs

Interesting thoughts here. I think there are a few things we’ll look back on in 50 years with horror. One of them is drugging an entire generation of jittery boys with amphetamines instead of dealing with the problem through proper discipline, and the other is over-prescribing of anti-depressants. I think these drugs can help some people, but these days doctors I think are too keen on making problems go away with drugs than with taking the time to deal with the underlying problem a patient might be having. I don’t blame them, because family doctors aren’t therapists. But the idea that SSRIs don’t come with any downside I think is a fanciful. Clayton’s observation is interesting:

In addition, the warning information on SSRI antidepressants now includes the very real hazard that a person who is severely depressed, once taking the antidepressant, may now have enough energy to plan and carry out a suicide.

Could be. We don’t really know a whole lot about how the brain works, which is why I’m skeptical about tinkering with brain chemicals in new ways and expecting that every issue is going to come out in clinical trials. It’s a lot more complicated than treating other well-defined medical problems.

Is This Thing On?

On Thursday evening the motherboard on my workstation died a horrible death. On Friday morning I went on to Amazon, and ordered a new one with Prime’s $3.99 next day shipping, and it arrived today. Given that I’ve ordered a grill, a hot water heater, and a portable air conditioner all using Prime this year, and considering saved my butt during this computing emergency, I think I can safely say I’ve gotten my 70 dollars worth out of it.

The new board is an Intel Gigabyte GA-Q77-D2H, replacing my Gigabyte GA-Z68MA-D2H-B3 that ate itself. Fortunately the CPU seems to be fine (given the socket was damaged when I removed it, I had worried that the failure may have fried the CPU too.) But all is well, and this new board actually works much better than the old board for my purposes. I am hoping this will be the end of my crashes. At this point the only thing I haven’t replaced is the power supply and CPU.

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