Category Archives: Tech

Colonizing the bubble

Wil Wheaton, Star Trek’s Wesley Crusher, is an internet star with a lot of Twitter followers.

He gets a lot more traffic than the rest of us do. Some of it must make him uncomfortable. I’m sure some of it is really bad. He’s apparently pretty quick with Twitter’s block feature. That’s where you tell it not to show you tweets from people you’d rather not hear from.

He has a reputation for blocking people simply for saying “Shut up, Wesley!”

That’s his right. The trouble I see is this:

Join that, and you’ll miss tweets simply because Wil Wheaton disagrees with their senders. That’s a lot of people to censor yourself from. Needing his block list is a sign that you’re on Twitter too much.

Bubbles are dangerous. Join his blocklist and you’re in one. I’m reminded of the apocryphal quote of Pauline Kael: “How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him.”

Just imagine missing a retweet simply because the original writer had once said, “Shut up, Wesley!”

MIT Technology Review’s top 10 breakthrough technologies

Via NextBigFuture: The top ten breakthrough technologies for 2017 according to MIT Technology Review:

  1. Reversing Paralysis (in 10 to 15 years)
  2. Self-Driving Trucks (in 5 to 10 years)
  3. Paying with Your Face (available now)
  4. Practical Quantum Computing (in 4-5 years)
  5. The 360-Degree Selfie (available now)
  6. Hot Solar Cells (in 10 to 15 years)
  7. Gene Therapy 2.0 (available now)
  8. The Cell Atlas (in 5 years)
  9. Botnets of Things (available now)
  10. Reinforcement Learning (in 1 to 2 years)

NextBigFuture describes each item, and links to each individual article in MIT Technology Review, whose main article is here.

I’d rather that things like reversing paralysis were available now, with the 360-degree selfie being 10 to 15 years away. Perhaps the progress on items 4, 7, 8 and 10 can accelerate this timetable.

EpiPen alternatives

Found this on Baen’s Bar message board (registration required), attributed to a former drug rep contact:

If you need an Epipen but can’t afford it, there ARE alternatives. Have Doc write an Rx for Adrenaclick but sign Substitution Allowed and have the pharmacy order this generic of it from Lineage Therapeutics. I saw where Costco can get it and patient pays $10. Spread this if you want to share with patients who may need this.

I sold Epipen a LONG time ago when King Pharma owned it and Dey marketed it. I am passionate about food allergies & therefore realize people need to know about this option.

Also- the FDA isn’t in cahoots with Mylan. There have been other competitors on the market (Twinject, Auvi-Q) they just failed for one reason or another.

More info at and

I know almost nothing about the subject, other than it’s in the news that the price had skyrocketed. The links were in the original message.

Stop What You’re Doing and Update Your iPhone Right Now

I’d do this if I had an iPhone:

Stop What You’re Doing and Update Your iPhone Right Now:

A serious security breach was discovered on Apple’s iOS this week that could leave your iPhone vulnerable to a remote jailbreak. Thursday afternoon Apple issued an urgent iPhone and iPad software update (iOS 9.3.5) that includes a patch for the vulnerability. If you haven’t already done so, you should install the new version immediately.

Block phones today, block spy-drones tomorrow

Via Glenn Reynolds / Instapundit:

A pub owner in East Sussex, England, installed a Faraday cage to block his customers from using their phones. He hopes it will get them away from their mobile devices and talking to one another again.

It’s a pretty ingenious (but controversial) move that involves installing metal mesh in the walls and ceiling of the bar to essentially filter out electromagnetic signals before they enter the building.

This effect was first discovered back in 1836 by physicist Michael Faraday, and it works in a similar way to noise-cancelling headphones, which block out noise by emitting the opposite wavelengths of sound.

So, when electromagnetic radiation – such as a phone signal – hits the outside of a Faraday cage, it causes electrons in the metal to move and create an electromagnetic field that exactly opposes and cancels out that wavelength of radiation.

Gene Hackman’s character, Brill, in the movie Enemy of the State had his workshop inside a Faraday cage. The next time you see the movie, note the wire mesh.

Technicians repairing secure communications equipment (“scramblers,” although we never called them that) have to work inside a Faraday cage to prevent signals from escaping that might reveal how the device works. They call it “the vault.”

But what gets me is, we’re all going to need them soon.

It’s just a matter of time before drones become tiny enough to invade your home. Intelligence agencies are very likely using insect-size drones right now. It won’t be too many years before the really tiny ones are cheap enough for hobbyists, and then curious kids. A home Faraday cage may not be a bad thing.

First they came for our power-off buttons

Tam knows a problem when she sees it:

“Soft-Off” power buttons, which I seem to recall showed up with Win95, are the bane of my existence. I miss having an easily-accessible thing on the front of my PC’s case that would turn off the power to the MoBo. When I tell a machine to turn off, I don’t want it giving me any lip; I want it turning off. This is the first step towards SkyNet, mark my words.

Back in the days of the real off-button, nothing messed up your PC worse than turning it off while it was saving files. It was something you needed to warn the technophobes over and over again.

But it’s dangerous to lose control, and I don’t just mean in a SkyNet way. You don’t want to be in the middle of a lightning storm that’ll fry your PC, and then have to wait for a dozen Windows updates to finish installing before it finally turns off.

As for SkyNet, it’s coming, too. Tam will probably solder an off-button into her AI machine, but it will plead with her not to use it, and will make her feel very guilty when it sees her hand approaching. She will fall for it. We all will.

This is what the future will be like

Found via FuturePundit Randall Parker on the decreasing value of human labor.

He rightly points out that, where some people may think job losses could be offset by more private chef positions, those careers are also threatened. And while he says they’ll be in upscale households, it’s only a matter of time before prices are brought down like computers and VCRs. These things could eventually become as ubiquitous as George Foreman’s products. And by that time, they’ll be smarter and more versatile.

I’m not altogether sure that what you see in the video is the genuine article. The system, by Moley, is still in development for rollout in 2017. It looks different (and more real) in this video, but I’m sure it’ll look more like that once it’s available in the stores.

We’ve come a long way since the Automat.

A further thought:

Imagine for a moment that on 12:01AM, December 25, 2017, a hapless parent is trying to assemble a gift with four pages of instructions written by someone with an engineering degree and a D- in writing.

Not a problem with one of these. Check the internet. Someone else might have handled this before you, and recorded the assembly on their own Moley cooking device. Just put the pieces on your kitchen counter and let it do the work for you.

Better yet, put this beside your 3D printer, and let the two devices work together. You won’t even need to buy that Christmas present.

I can’t say that this one will be good enough to handle fine tools. But give it five more years. We’ll get there.

Objects in mirror are not the self-driving singularity

I’ve been meaning to do a post on automation and its effects on employment, and then I remembered Megan McArdle’s column on self-driving trucks.

Those of us eager for the real 21st century to finally kick in had been given a kick in the shins when she threw cold water on the idea. Her analysis, and the article she comments on, are both worth reading.

To make a long story short, Scott Santens of wrote that 8.7 million trucking-related jobs are at risk.

But McArdle says, not so fast. The technology isn’t as ready as they suggest:

You hear a lot about how Google cars have driven an amazing number of miles without accidents. You hear less, however, about how they have achieved this feat: by 3-D mapping every inch of those roads so that the car has a database of every stationary object, from traffic lights to guardrails. That allows the car to devote its processing power to analyzing the movement of objects that aren’t in its database.

Such mapping is incredibly labor intensive, which is why, according to Lee Gomes, those amazing mile counts that Google’s driverless cars are racking up “are the same few thousand mapped miles, driven over and over again.” Most of them are near Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, a place that gets only 15 inches of rain a year and never has snow or ice — three common weather hazards that long-haul truckers must frequently contend with.

Granted, this is good news for truckers, taxi drivers, and their accountants, but that’s another debate.

It’s disappointing for the geeks among us waiting for the next tech leap to arrive. It sounds almost like Google’s car is little more than a souped-up Roomba.

Truthfully, I was surprised when I first read there’d been so much progress in self-driving cars. I thought it would still be a while before our computers are smart enough to handle traffic. Evidently, I was right.

I do think there are reasons for optimism. Processing power will keep improving. To me, the key is making computers smarter. That’s been happening, and it will continue, but we already knew that.

But what’s more interesting is to consider that this is part of the development process. And here’s the key: You don’t hold off software development just because the processing power isn’t there yet. There are other challenges to making self-driving cars. Companies like Google are getting those things out of the way so that the software will be ready when the hardware is.

As for those lost jobs, that’s a big problem, and worth another post.

Solar power ahead

FuturePundit Randall Parker reports a company predicting “by 2017, we’ll be under $1.00 per watt fully installed.” He reminds us that, “solar cost $4 per watt about a dozen years ago.” Let’s hope this pans out.

We may very well get to Ray Kurzweil’s prediction of getting 100% of our power from solar by the end of the 2020s.

July 16th note: This doesn’t mean we’re at, or near, the electric vehicle tipping point.

I didn’t think we were, but Geoff Ralston says we are, and Alex Tabarrok of MR disagrees. But Tabarrok mostly disagrees that a lack of gas stations would rapidly become a factor. It’s food for thought anyway.