High Definition TV 4

Three years ago we bought a forty-seven inch high definition LCD screen television for our den. We love it, and cannot imagine watching standard NTSC television.

Do you remember all the hoopla over the previous decade about the government forcing the termination of regular television signals? I was among the many people griping and bitching about this overbearing move.  However, it never had an affect on my television watching as I was a cable tv customer, and they did all the conversion for me.

We still had an old fashioned, seventeen inch CRT type television in our bedroom. The ATT Uverse box converted the digital signals to analog to satisfy the ancient little television.

picture of high definition televisionLast week we decided that it was time to upgrade the bedroom tv, and bought an off-brand television from Brandsmart for less than $250.00. It is a thirty-two inch high definition television with 720p HDTV format and an LED screen. Note that most thirty-two inch sets came with 720p, not the desired 1080p. The LED screen is brighter than the bigger LCD screen downstairs, and the picture is beautiful. It was made in China.

The good news is that now, we have a nice high definition television in our bedroom for late night and early morning viewing.

The bad news is that we, the United States of America, invented high definition television and have to buy devices made in Asia to enjoy our labors.

Yeah. I know that this story is repeated many times with pretty much any consumer grade electronic device. We don’t manufacture much of anything, anymore. The base problem is that the American worker (if you can find one) will not work for a wage that is competitive around the world. It is getting to the point that we will have to start outsourcing our defense manufacturing. I sure hope that statement is wrong.

Right now, life is good with cheap televisions from China, along with Apple iPads, iPods, and Apple computers coming from the same place.

So, what is left for us to do in the world economy? Any ideas? Anybody?

Fracking Is Good! 2

Sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns and look something up, or study a technology to learn the truth. I had to do this with global warming, and I am having to do it with natural gas fracking, technically known as hydraulic fracturing.

I have known that this process existed in the drilling of oil wells since we lived in Houston in the 1970’s. A simple Google search will tell you that fracking in oil wells has been done since the 1940’s. There are over 840,000 oil and gas wells in the United States, and about 1.2 million wells world wide. In most of these wells some form of hydraulic fracturing was used.

Here’s my reference:

Hydraulic Fracturing 101: What Every Representative, Environmentalist, Regulator, Reporter, Investor, University Researcher, Neighbor and Engineer Should Know About Estimating Frac Risk and Improving Frac Performance in Unconventional Gas and Oil Wells

This is a paper written for the Society of Petroleum Engineers International, the professional society of engineers engaged in the petroleum industry. As such, their members have generated reams of technical studies about hydraulic fracturing. There have been over 550 papers on shale fracturing, and there are over 3,000 papers on all aspects of horizontal wells. This is one of the most studied and researched technical areas in science.

Whenever an oil or gas well is drilled, a risk matrix is constructed for that well and field by the company. Those guys have been at it for so long, and have done this so many times that these estimates of risk are pretty much everyday things. They know how to do this.

Here are some of the salient points of the paper.

1. Polluted ground water is not caused by hydraulic fracturing. Fracking in and of itself cannot pollute ground water because the fracking takes place over a mile under the surface. It is usually a well construction problem, and that is a problem easily mitigated. Most often, ground water pollution is caused by water well drilling, and the water seeping up through the well has come through a coal seam, and is already polluted. This is a well known problem, especially in New York and Pennsylvania. If you remember the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859. They didn’t drill to discover oil because it was laying all over the ground. There are thousands of places where oil seeps to the surface and contaminates ground water, naturally.

2. Risk of earthquakes is extremely over-stated. Earthquakes can be caused by hydraulic fracturing, but very few will be felt at the surface. We are not talking about San Francisco scale earthquakes, here. The quakes caused by hydraulic fracturing are usually micro-quakes, and very few reach the intensity high enough to be felt on the surface.

3. General surface pollution can be caused by other processes. There are many sources of pollution around drilling sites. Thousands of gallons of drilling mud are used there, along with the water used in the fracking process. Pollution can result from accidental spills, or from the transport of those fluids to the drilling site. Care has to be taken in these areas.

In the introduction the author makes the following statement:

“The spectacular increase in North American natural gas reserves created by shale gas development makes shale gas a disruptive technology, threatening profitability and continued development of other energy sources.”

Yep! Natural gas from shale takes money out of the pockets of coal companies, solar companies, and wind turbine companies. Natural gas from shale fracking is so cheap that everybody is against it except the consumer.

Now, you know why there is so much press against fracking in natural gas wells. There is no evidence that it will pollute the environment, or that is can poison an entire region’s water supply. There is no reason to panic, unless you are invested in solar and wind power.

Follow the money!

The Engineer’s Burden Reply

Yep. I am an engineer.

I have to put up with all sorts of abuse like bad jokes and questioning looks from liberal arts majors whenever I make an indisputable point. For your future reference, whenever an engineer makes a point in a discussion, it is always indisputable. That’s the way we roll.

picture of the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower, A Great Engineering Achievement

Things have gotten so bad that even my good friend, Nick, is sending me those tasteless jokes that tend to circulate on the internet. Here are a couple of those insults.

1. Two engineering students were biking across a university campus when one said, “Where did you get such a great bike?” The second engineer replied, “Well, I was walking along yesterday, minding my own business, when a beautiful woman rode up on this bike, threw it to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, “Take what you want.” The first engineer nodded approvingly and said, “Good choice: The clothes probably wouldn’t have fit you anyway.”

2. To the optimist, the glass is half-full. To the pessimist, the glass is half-empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

OK. You get the message. Just why are people promoting these obviously false, and sick views of one of the most upstanding professions in modern civilization?

Easy-Peazy.  Others are envious of our knowledge and power over their lives.

An engineer’s education is exacting. As engineers, we had to master the collective academic areas of physics, mechanics (static and dynamic), electricity, electric field theory, magnetism, mathematics, materials science, quantum physics,  thermodynamics, and fluid mechanics.

Mathematics is our basic tool, and logic is our guide.

No other academic major in the university had such a demanding, and rigorous set of requirements. Others, lacking the intellectual ability to become engineers, went on to majors in medicine, law, art, and business with a heavy dose of recreational drugs and beer. While liberal arts people were playing cards in the student center, we were in labs, busting our butts to keep our heads above water academically.

Here’s another one of those insults.

Normal people believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Engineers believe that if it ain’t broke, it doesn’t have enough features.

 Do you see what I mean? People are jealous. They just can’t stand it!

Now, if you translate all that to the blogosphere, you can see that when an engineer comments on a subject, he has already thought it through, and is presenting the best solution or criticism available. It is possible that he can be a bit off base when he doesn’t use Google to check his historical references.

Although I have not been a practicing engineer in many years, the education lives on, and on, and on. Once an engineer, always an engineer. Many times engineers have graduate degrees in business. So, be careful when arguing with that combination.

Engineers have made the technological world what is is. Think of the internet, cellular phones, HDTV, radio, airplanes, automobiles, smart phones, computers, push-up braziers, and silly putty. Well, maybe not the push-up bra, but if an engineer was not involved in that one, he should have been.

All these things make up our modern world, and the modern world expects more from us, every day.

There is a burden to being an engineer. It is difficult to be more knowledgable than your neighbors without telling them. It is even tougher to keep one’s mouth shut on the job when you know infiinitely more than your boss. We are learning that our burden is to build a better world, and not emabarass all the lack-luster players in the process. After all, we need others to say, “Do you want fries with that?”

Engineers rule!

Let’s Tag The Buggers 4

picture of rfid device next to a grain of rice for size comparison

RFID Device Compared To Grain Of Rice

Every now and then, somebody takes a bad idea and turns it into something that can benefit all. Some San Antonio, schools are losing money because they don’t know whether or not all the students show up at school. Now, you would think that a simple roll call would solve that problem. But, nooooo… Not in today’s America.

You see, high school students may or may not be in home room. They may be taking their last smoke before class, thereby keeping their nicotine and thc levels up to par. Or, maybe they are running late, not having spent the last of their lunch money in the poker machines down at the corner convenience store. Students can be unreliable when it comes to showing up on time.

Now, that causes problems with the school’s cash flow because most states partially fund the school systems based on attendance. Ouch! If the kids don’t show up everyday, the school systems can lose money.

Enter the RFID tag. This means Radio Frequency Identification tag, a technology that has been used on railroad freight cars for decades, and in other industries. The schools will put RFID tags into the students identification cards, and an RF sweep of the classroom will make it easy to take the attendance roll. I don’t know how they are going to get the ID’s of the kids still smoking at the Seven Eleven.

This brings me to make a modest suggestion. If the RFID in the student’s ID card is a good idea, why not go all the way and just put it on or in their bodies, somewhere? Well, why not? The little turkey’s will forget to bring their ID’s, anyway. Then, somebody will start paying other students to carry their ID to class, thereby being counted as present. Believe me, if the system can be cracked, a bunch of high school students will do it.

In the last few years we have seen a terrible surge in kidnapping of small and school age children. My little idea of putting an RFID tag on or in their bodies seems pretty sound to me. I know, some people will rebel on the grounds that their kid’s privacy will be invaded. There would be a trade-off between privacy considerations and safety.

Maybe the RFID system will not work well for my proposal. Maybe there are other technologies out there. One of the weaker features is that the RFID tag has no inherent power. It is triggered by local microwave transmissions remote from the tag. The tag re-emits a very low power microwave signal dependent on the strength of its received signal, and that would make it hard for a police helicopter search, for example.

However, with hearing-aide and pace-maker battery technology, you can launch a low power, but much stronger signal.

My heart breaks every time I hear of a four-year old child being abducted, or a seventeen year-old girl being dragged into a car, raped, and her body being dumped by the roadside. Will we ever be able to harness technology to fight these senseless crimes?

I think a simple RFID tag for each child would be beneficial. Let me know what you think.

High Profile Profiling 11

As I was on the way to my next appointment, I coasted up behind a new Mini-Cooper convertible at the light by Bank of America, Wachovia Bank, Burger King, Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, Publix, Starbucks, and Walgreens. OK. There were not that many corners, but you know the intersection I am talking about.

Lots of expensive cars show themselves in that intersection, everyday. After all, there is the local high school traffic, the Catholic High school traffic, and the Christian High School traffic, with scads of Mercedes and BMW SUV’s, Lexus, and now, one Mini-Cooper convertible. In my neighborhood we have an absolute surplus of rich soccer moms to drive those SUV’s, and a few not so rich dirty old men.

What is a Mini-Cooper? It is an effort at building a starter BMW, and, indeed, the Mini’s are sold at BMW dealerships, everywhere. This car would be cool, but it has a damaged reputation. Once upon a time, Mini-Coopers were cool rally and race cars. They were formidable little buggers, and the drivers were no-nonsense suicide jockeys, afraid of nothing. Hence, the tough reputation. The present day Mini is now known as a “chick car”. Yup! No red-blooded American male would be caught in one of those egg-shells on wheels.

As I pulled up behind the Mini convertible, three bumper stickers shouted their messages loud and clear. Let’s see if you can break the code on the basic identity of the driver.

The stickers were, from left to right:

1. An Apple logo.
2. An NPR (National Public Radio) sticker.
3. An Obama/Biden sticker (new)

Consider the Apple sticker. Apple is on of the largest computer companies in the world. They didn’t get that way with their computers, it was the iPods and iPads that made them big. Apple is a marketing company, not a technology company. People who use Apple computers can be teachers, technology challenged individuals, rich kids, old-people, or people who move their lips when they read. Apple products are supposed to be cool, and easy to use.

NPR  listeners tend to be richer, older, and more educated than the population at large. However, this does not make them smarter. It makes them liberal. Most listeners are male, and part of the baby-boomer generation. The second largest group of listeners are in the 18 to 24 year-old category. NPR is considered to be government news for the socialist.

Obama election stickers get stuck on the back of the cars of people who want to send a message. Many Obama voters are young, many are black, and all respond to feelings rather than logic. Obama voters think they are cool. Time Magazine says that Barack Obama is our first gay president.

No black person would be caught dead in a beige Mini-Cooper convertible. Since I sold cars for a while, I can tell you that black females are all about appearances and value. The Cooper is not much value of a car. Black females would rather have a used Lexus than a new Mini-Cooper. Forget the idea of a black male driving a Mini. No heterosexual black or white male would even look at a Mini.

The Mini costs in the neighborhood of $25,000. It was probably all the driver could afford. The car is cute, stylish, moderately popular, and was probably leased.

Finally, I have to question the intelligence of anybody who puts bumper stickers on their cars, no matter what year and model. You see this, occasionally, as you drive around town. When someone pastes bumper stickers on their car advertising how they will vote, what they listen to, and that their personal computer is the technological equivalent of a Fisher – Price toy, that’s stupid, and not cool.

Putting together all the clues, I can make a fairly certain statement that the driver of the car was female, white, about thirty years old, financially insecure, and technology challenged. The driver is not very intelligent, in spite of an assumed college degree.

The driver was probably gay.

Listen To The Music, Ladies Reply

Picture of Samsung Galaxy Note

Samsung Galaxy Note

This article is for my lady blogger friends who have yet to enter the twenty-first century, which is a great mystery to me. You see, these outstanding network nannies (Leticia, and Z) do not have smart phones, iPods, or even a cheap MP3 music player.

So, ladies, here’s my pitch for your technological redemption and explanation of what smart phones are all about.

Let’s take a look at what happens with my smart phone. It can do almost anything my computer can do.

1. Address Rolodex – All my email and phone contacts are in my Google mail (gmail) account, and I have my phone sync to gmail for phone contacts, email addresses, and Google calendar. Most smart phones will sync up with Microsoft Outlook, too. The smart phone is your portable address book, calendar, and birthday list if you wish. I have Google calendar send me a short text message to remind me of every appointment, prior to the appointment. This is the ultimate cool for forgetful old men, like me.

2. Music – My entire collection of music CD’s have been transferred to Apple iTunes, and from there to the iPhone. Since I got rid of my iPhone I have transferred all the music to my  new Android phone. All my music is with me, where ever I go, and I can listen to it anytime I want.

3. Books – My entire library of Kindle edition books (e-books) is available on my smart phone. I take my library with me, everywhere, and can read my current book anytime, anywhere. Not only do I have print books, but I also carry my Audible.com books, listening to them while I drive, and before I go to sleep.

4. Important Notes – With the note taking function in my smart phone, I have made list of my prescription medications. Also, I have my extensive list of pin numbers, passwords and usernames for my countless internet accounts. I have password protected my smart phone to keep busy fingers away from this information.

5. Google – Yes. I take Google with me. I can even talk to Google, and it will understand my search. Several times I have been lost, or could not find an address, and would speak that address into the Google search application. The result would be links and map references. Cool, huh? Now, us guys don’t need directions. They are always in our pockets.

6. Bank  – I use my Bank of America application to check my bank balance, move funds, and to find an ATM or bank branch. Everybody needs this one. There is probably an app for your bank, too.

7. Movies – I can stream movies over the internet to my smart phone. The small screen is not very satisfying, but if I really feel the need to see the Magnificent Seven, again, it can happen.

8. Text Messaging – You might think that texting is just for teenagers. Not true, girls. I used my smart phone last night to cast my American Idol votes for Skylar Lane a couple of dozen times. I voted for two others, also, many times. With a smart phone, you have a tiny little virtual keyboard that is touch sensitive, and you can actually get used to using it.

9. Camera – With my smart phone, I have a good camera with me all the time. My Samsung Galaxy Smartphone has two cameras built-in, one in front, and one in back. The eight megapixel camera in back is almost as good as my Nikon Koolpix camera for which I paid over $100. The pictures are about as good, and I can upload them to my computer via USB connection.

10. Picture Gallery – I have my grand children’s pictures on my smart phone. I do not carry pictures in my wallet. Pictures can be taken by the smart phone itself, or just downloaded from my computer.

11. Cell Phone – I take my telephone with me, everywhere. This feature was saved for the last because I wanted to enumerate many of other features, first.

There are two main types of smart phones, the Apple iPhone, and the Google Android phones. Several major manufacturers make the Android phones including Motorola, Samsung, LG, HTC, and many others. Android phones have been selling faster than iPhones, and they all do about the same things. Neither has an advantage over the other.

Microsoft Windows is late to the smart phone lineup. The first Windows Phones were recently introduced, and there are only a couple of manufacturers signed up to make them. Even at that, AT&T sells the Nokia Lumia series of Windows Phone, and has found it to be a great sales success. The Windows Phone does not offer any advantage over any other smart phone.

You can see that the primary benefit of a smart phone is that it is an all-in-one entertainment device. I always have something to do while waiting, driving, or walking, or even in bed before sleeping. Last night, I listened to one of my Audible books until I went to sleep.

If the features listed above don’t sell you on smart phones, I can’t help you. Maybe you are dead, and haven’t realized it, yet.

May The Blogosphere Forgive Me 4

Oh yea, oh yea, let it be known that the proprietor of this here blog has lied to the entire blogosphere. The much read and acclaimed blog about the new Windows Phone 7 should be struck down, and assigned to the circular file marked, Microsoft.

Yes, I did it. I took the new Nokia Lumia 900 Windows phone back to the AT&T store. After using the phone for almost a week, I decided it would not be adequate for my usage. The only problem I found was the battery charge did not last long, at all. A full charge was not lasting even 24 hours, and I am not a big user of talk time, either. After all the praise heaped on the device, I should have known that there was a problem, somewhere.

On the positive side, the phone is a very nice device, and the screen is dazzling. The AMOLED technology is very nice, but it does cause a heavy drain on the battery. The Windows phone is probably the simplest smart phone to use on the market, and Nokia has done a great job in the styling.But, even with all the usual battery saving moves, the battery appears to be a problem.

My replacement for the Nokia is the biggest, ugliest, most expensive and difficult to use smart phone currently on the market. I have bought the Samsung Galaxy Note.

The Note has a 5.3 inch diagonal screen, about an inch diagonal more than other phones. Plus, it comes with a stylus and the appropriate applications to use the stylus to write or draw. Since the screen is bigger, the virtual keyboard is bigger, making it more usable for a guy like me with big hands and fingers.

The downside, so far, is that the thing is big. I mean, BIG. How do you carry it? Can you put it in your pocket? It becomes a bit cumbersome to carry, but I was willing to try to work out those details.

Oh, the battery seems to last a bit longer. It was down to about 50% charge last night as I went to bed, and this morning the charge level had hardly changed, at all.

So, I hope this phone’s battery will last longer on a charge. I will get a charge out of figuring out how to  use it.

The Windows Smart Phone Is Here! 2

I bought one. Yep! I bought the Nokia Lumia 900 smart phone, one of the first new Windows Phones from Nokia.

Picture of the Noki Lumia 900 Windows Phone

Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone

You remember Nokia, don’ t you ? At one time Nokia had the very best cell phones on the market. Their fall from smart phone grace had to do with bad management decisions, and staying with the Symbian cell phone operating system, which never took hold in the US. Nokia’s new CEO, Stephen Elop , a former Microsoft Executive, decided to pitch Nokia’s future with the new Microsoft Windows Phone system. It looks like it may work.

The Nokia Lumia 900 is a great phone. I decided to replace my iPhone 4 with the new Windows phone because I didn’t see any real progress from Apple in their product. Nokia has done their normal great design job with the phone with the buttons in the right places.

In my opinion the Lumia 900 is easier to learn to use than the Apple iPhone. The Windows phone uses tiles to run an application instead of icons. The system is reliable, and the screen is fantastic, using a technology called AMOLED, active-matrix organic light emitting diode. The screen resolution is not as much as some other phones, but AMOLED gives you a bright, colorful, and easy to read display. The Lumia 900 has a large 4.3 inch diagonal screen as opposed to Apple’s 3.5 inch screen.

The smart phone world is light years ahead of last year at this time. Apple is fading on sales of the iPhone in the market, while Android phone sales are really heating up. And, they should. Pretty much all the Android phones have larger screens than the current iPhone, and you are not held hostage by Apple’s iTunes.

There aren’t as many apps for the Windows Phones as for iPhone and Android. That will change. There is one app I really like for the iPhone and Android phones, and that is the Audible.com book application. There is not one in the Windows Phone library, but one is under development at the present. Applications are being added to the Microsoft Windows Phone library at a high rate.

I could have bought an Android phone, and there were lots of great Android phones on the market. But, I wanted to take the chance to try something  new. So far, I do not regret my decision.

iPad Update 1

picture of ipad


Now that I have had the new iPad for a few days, I am starting to really like the device. Since receiving it, I have  gotten a Bluetooth keyboard, and am using the combination to write this blog.

As assumed, the iPad is a great device for surfing the web, and reading pretty much anything you can find. The screen is only a little over ten inches in the diagonal measurement, and that in itself is a limitation in what you can do with the device. Right now, I am sitting up close to the screen, and have the iPad mounted on a book rest. The print  is very small, and can be a chore to read.  The position you use when typing because of the tiny screen is uncomfortable.

The Kindle reader application works just fine, and gives you a two column display, as opposed to a single column display on a laptop or desktop. There is a built-in reader function that will reformat a web browser article to single column, readable text.

Would I recommend buying an iPad? Yes. The iPad is a high quality device with many uses. However, if you want a good writing instrument, I suggest that you consider a laptop or desktop computer. Adding external options to a tablet computer can get expensive, and not always satisfactory.

Why Get An iPad? 2

We waited, breathlessly, for our new iPad to be delivered. The iPad was a gift for my wife who is retiring from her public school teaching career this year. Our daughter has an iPad, and my wife really loves to play with it.

picture of ipad

New iPad

Around six o’clock on March 16, a big, brown truck pulled up in front of the house. Our iPad had arrived. Strangely, the delivery man was not our regular guy. Did UPS reorganize their fleet to handle the millions of iPad’s they would have to deliver on March 16?

When I opened the box, I had the same feeling I get every time I pick up an iPad.


I have been an iPhone user for about four years, and the iPad screen is EXACTLY like the iPhone screen, only bigger. However, the iPad doesn’t have a cell phone built-in. The iPad doesn’t have a keyboard, either. So, why should anybody spend upwards of a thousand dollars to buy a computer that is missing essential components?

Oh, wait. There is a wireless keyboard for the iPad that costs $69.00. Plus, you can get a dock for the iPad for #$29.00 to keep the iPad upright while banging away on the keyboard. Hmmm… That’s OK. It is beautiful thing that you don’t have to use a mouse. The touchscreen is wonderful for navigation.

Including the 4G cellular coverage feature, the new iPad weighs in at 1.46 pounds (662 g). Nice! It is about half the weight of one of those ultra-light laptop computers.

When using the iPad to read my books, it is OK. In our  house we have two Amazon Kindle’s, one of which is the new Kindle Fire. The Fire has a 7 inch diagonal screen as compared to the iPad’s more than 10 inches. However, the Kindle Fire does as good a job as the iPad when it comes to reading a book. It costs less than half as much, and weighs about half as much as the iPad.

picture of Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire

When working means using a computer, I would rather have a regular PC with my 24 inch screen and full-sized keyboard. For reading books, I prefer the Amazon Kindle format. For entertainment, the iPad takes the prize for streaming video, playing games, and just plain leisure surfing.

There is more to come in the computer world. Much maligned Microsoft has improved their operating systems greatly since the VISTA disaster. Indeed, Microsoft 7 is a real winner, and has done lots to repair a damaged Microsoft reputation.

Windows 8 will be a game changer in the computing world. Operating systems are evolving into more usable interfaces between people and machines. Windows 8 makes use of touch screen technology, and extends the use of mouse and stylus interfaces. Laptops and desktops will be particularly blessed, and Windows 8 will drive the market for traditional computers for a long time.

picture of Windows 8 start menu

Windows 8

Look for some really decent laptops competing feature for feature with the Apple Macbook Air, and tablet computers running Windows 8. The new Microsoft system is more powerful than IOS5 which Apple uses for iPhones and iPads. Microsoft is not dead.

This gives us three viable systems for tablet computers and smart phones. The Google Android system is fantastic, and Apple has done a credible job with IOS5. Windows 8 will drive prices down, and feature content up.

We live in exciting times.

If you decide to get an iPad, you are not making a mistake. You will get a useful, high quality piece of hardware and software. If you cannot afford an iPad, there are plenty other devices out there, and in the future the device world just gets richer.