Drone Hysteria

By now anyone reading the news will know that a drone sighting shut down a major metropolitan airport just days before Christmas. London’s Gatwick airport was intermittently closed to arrivals and departures during the busiest travel season of the year, leaving up to 140,000 travelers stranded and scrambling to make alternate travel arrangements.

Waiting to Board
Waiting to board an Alaskan Airlines flight in Seattle

What you may not have heard is that there may never have been a drone involved. This may have stemmed from one bad sighting and a classic case of mass hysteria leading to further drone sightings.

Even worse, authorities looking for anyone to blame arrested and detained an innocent couple for 36 hours. They were eventually released after no evidence was found and an alibi verified. During that time the couple was vilified by name in some major media outlets. The only saving grace here is that the couple is now likely to receive a substantial sum from those newspapers under British libel laws.

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Do you own what you buy?

In this ever complex world in which we live the rules are always changing, and usually getting more complex. A modern, information society has many rules that govern who owns what. Copy a photograph from the web and you are probably breaking the laws concerning copyrights. There is a complex and sometimes contradictory set of laws that governs all manner of ownership in this technological age.

Hay Baler Engine
The engine on a hay baler offers a view of mechanical paraphernalia
Do you know the rules?

Buy a CD with your favorite tunes… Can you copy the tracks onto your phone? Can you create a video with the music and post it to YouTube? What about that expensive photo software package? Can you put it on your laptop and desktop? The rules are often complex, and often the answer is not clear cut.

Increasingly we do not actually own what we buy. At least that is what many corporations will tell us.

You would think that the answer is easier if the thing we are talking about is a physical object. If you buy a car, can you re-paint it, install a new stereo, or ignition system. Of course you can do that. Can you? Sometimes the answer is no.

Increasingly corporations attempt to maintain control of a product after the sale. They use many tools to do this. One is intellectual property, copyrights and copy protection on the software that is now embedded into many of the things we buy.

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Sodium Light

The golden yellow glow that has dominated the night for generations is disappearing.

Tenakee Docks at Night
Fishing boats under sodium lamps haunt the Tenakee docks
Low pressure sodium has been the standard technology for outdoor lighting for generations. the soft yellow glow is familiar to anyone who has lived in any urban area, coloring lives and countless photographs of the night.

The yellow glow of sodium light has been both celebrated and reviled. While the glow can be attractive in night scenery it also creates inhuman tones in faces and photos of people. Movies have been shot under sodium lights, songs reference the golden glow. Astronomers both professional and amateur prefer the lights as the light can be easily filtered from view.

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A Phone Book… Really?

A phonebook? Really?
The 2013 Hawaiian Telecom phonebook.
A phone book? Really? It was deposited on the lanai this weekend. It sat there for a while before we even deigned to pick it up. In this day of websites and smart phones why does a phone book still get printed. How many people actually make any use of a phone book? Can the huge amount of energy and paper used to print and distribute a phone book actually be justified? Do the advertisers who pay for the publication reasonably expect a payback?

I am old enough to remember when a phone book was actually useful. It was the way to locate businesses and the phone numbers of friends. That was a long time ago. At this point I can not remember when I last opened a phone book to accomplish anything useful, an internet search is faster and more informative. A search provides so much more than a phone number…. Business hours, a map to the location with directions if needed, reviews and more. Not to mention that the information is up to date, not printed once a year, a business can update their website as details change. Need to see tonight’s menu?

Phone books are an anachronism from another time, one that belongs in the past. As with any business there is a certain inertia, they will not die quickly. While it does appear that the white pages have properly died, someone needs to put a stake into the yellow pages.

For this household? It is straight into the recycle bin with the book. Unused, unlamented, existing only long enough to inspire a rant.

STEMpede at Parker

Take two old scanners, two VCR’s, a stereo amplifier and tape deck. Place on a table with an ample supply of screwdrivers, wire cutters and other tools. Mix in a dozen middle school kids and observe the results!

As you might expect a little chaos appears. Chaos is good… Embrace the chaos! Use the result to have a little fun while learning.

Electronic Sacrifices
A few electronic sacrifices await the arrival of the students.
The event is STEMpede, a day filled with science, technology, engineering and math at the Parker School here in Waimea. With Keck Observatory essentially right next door, it makes sense that our engineers and astronomers can put on quite a day for the kids.We were joined by one of the engineers from Liquid Robotics and a couple local physicians and paramedics for a variety of activities and talks.

I was not going to simply talk, I have always believed learning is best done by hand. Some of the gear was from my own garage, some off the electronics disposal pallet at work. A lineup of old electronics greeted the kids, then I opened the tool-bag!

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