Minor quote in insideunmannedsystems

UGV’s Gaining Ground

Minor quote from me on robotics in mining applications.

Podcast spotlight

Intelligent Autonomous Robots with Ilia Baranov

Got a great interview in with This Week in Machine Learning and AI.

Check it out!

Audio jack – A love letter. Why Apple is removing audio jacks

Apple’s removal of the 3.5mm audio jack. This topic may have been done to death already, but there are a few technological and social issues people are not really considering.

By doing this, Apple is directly exposing their clients to this market of crap.

Audio Jack Loss – Social Issues

Cost

It is much more expensive to get Bluetooth headphones than wired headphones, plain and simple. From crappy headphone vs. crappy Bluetooth, to high end devices, in each case adding Bluetooth means adding batteries, charge management, and processing/communication circuitry. With cell phone costs already very high, adding a second expensive accessory seems unnecessary. This leads directly to the second issue:

Consumer choice

There are thousands or even millions of earbuds and headphones. However, there are only a  few hundred Bluetooth ones. Headphones made in the 1970s would still (with a simple jack adapter) work with a modern cell phone. However, the same cannot be said of Bluetooth headsets, with the current spec already up to V4, there is no guarantee of backwards compatibility. Therefore, there is a good chance that 10 years down the line, your nice Bluetooth headphones will not be usable anymore. This is not even considering the fact that the built-in batteries will die within 3 years, necessitating expensive replacement or DIY efforts.

Also, if I buy cheap, crappy earbuds currently, I just get tinny, scratchy sound. However, trying the same thing with Bluetooth headphones could result in dropped signals, little battery life, and a host of other quality issues. By doing this, Apple is directly exposing their clients to this market of crap.

Security

This is more of a minor issue, but broadcasting data over the fairly insecure Bluetooth standard is not the best idea. Though even wired headphones radiate EM that could be intercepted, they are orders of magnitude quieter than Bluetooth signals. This is not a huge deal in most cases, but confidential conversations and especially financial transactions (like Square does with the audio jack currently) are at risk. Bluetooth does have some encryption and countermeasures to surveillance, but they are not really designed to be robust.

DRM integration

 

What happens when a torrent of user complaints come in about dropped Bluetooth signals? Apple will announce a “partner program” where companies can get “Apple Certified” Bluetooth headsets approved. This opens the door to further restrict how and when users can listen to their music and content. This also locks out vendors unwilling to pay (what has historically been) high licensing fees to use Apple’s technology. Before you think that this is just scare mongering on my part, let me remind you that Apple is no stranger to proprietary formats and locked down content; they have done this before.

Hackability

Audio jacks have been used for lots of secondary devices; payment processing, children’s games, etc. This is one of the last, easy to use input/output ports on modern cellphones. Making something work with the audio jack takes a little copper wire, a magnet, and some patience. With Bluetooth, the question becomes a lot harder, and loses a lot of its education immediacy.

Secondary markets

Image result for Ipad POSEver notice how most small cafes now use an Ipad for a checkout register? This is a revolution, mostly started by Square, but now there are hundreds of companies that provide Point of Sales (POS) systems built around an Ipad. They are cheap, durable and easy to program. Most of these systems use the audio jack to input and receive data from the Ipad, because trying to get USB hosting working is (yet another) proprietary nightmare. Here is another avenue that Apple is eventually looking to cut off by removing the audio jack.

Audio Jack Loss – Technological Issues

These issues have been touched on elsewhere in this post, but the essentials are:

  • Bluetooth is more complex, and thus more expensive than simple wires.
  • Bluetooth has backwards compatibility issues, and eliminates a huge amount of very good, old headphones and speakers.
  • Wires are just more reliable than Bluetooth. (I just had Bluetooth audio issues with my car for more than 4 months. I just had to wait for an update. Without the audio jack I would have been totally stuck!)bluetooth
  • The RF spectrum is not infinitely large, with more RF devices, interference and so called “spectrum crunch” will start to play a role. I am willing to bet that if everyone on a crowded subway car tried to use Bluetooth at the same time, everyone would get audio drops and issues.
  • Batteries built into headphones means they last for a maximum of 3-4 years. After that, Li-ion batteries are toast. We will no longer have beautiful, old-school headphones passed down through families.

Audio Jack Loss – Benefits

Well, we have listed the large amount of downsides to losing the audio jack, but there must be some reason to lose it… right?

From the consumer and user standpoint, a *very slightly* thinner phone, is ultimately the only benefit. Users that claim frustration with tangled cords already had the option to use Bluetooth headsets, there is no difference.

From Apple’s standpoint, all of the negatives listed above are potential positives. Greater control over the market is the prime way any media distribution company has of wringing more profit.

apple Waka

Especially with Apple Pay competing with Square in a similar space, the incentive to physically block out their competitor is high.

For the opposite view (totally wrong of course…) see here:

Death To The 3.5mm Audio Jack, Long Live Wireless

Canadian Space Agency Astronaut – My Letter

Hello world,

This year, I had submitted my candidacy to the Canadian space agency for their 2016 recruitment drive. I had worked at the St.Hubert headquarters, and quite liked the environment and experience. Though I was not accepted (and had very little chance anyway 😉 ) I wanted to put up my cover letter. Here it is in its entirety.

To the Canadian Space Agency

I strongly believe that space exploration and its peaceful use are essential to the long term success of Canada. Living and working in space is not a goal in and of itself, it is instead the path towards better work and life for all Canadians. This can be seen not only from the economic benefits that space brings, but also from social and environmental benefits. Technologies developed for space exploitation are seen everywhere, from GPS in cell phones to remote monitoring of forestry. Space exploration has also been a driving force for improving the study of software and robotics, two technical fields that are revolutionizing modern industry. However, the societal impacts of our space program are just as important; they introduce the next generation of students to STEM fields. For Canada to remain competitive internationally, future generations must develop new technologies and entirely new disciplines. Lastly, development of space industries is an environmental responsibility; it allows for clean energy, efficient mining and agriculture research. Solar technologies, battery storage, efficient communication systems: these were all developed for space applications, and now contribute to reducing our carbon footprint.

Ever since reading The Norby Chronicles as a child, I have been fascinated with two things in life: robotics and space exploration. From building Lego as a child, to launching model rockets and making small walking robots, I have always had a passion for exploration and technology. My parents immigrated to Canada from Moscow in the early 1990s, looking for more opportunities in scientific research. Since my arrival in Canada, I have studied French and English, and spoken Russian at home. Bilingualism has been invaluable to me; on my first Co-op term from Waterloo University, I was given the chance to work with the satellite communications department at the St. Hubert station of the Canadian Space Agency. I spent my first term developing satellite tracking software for the CSA that is still in use today. In my second term, I assisted with the launch of an ESA satellite. Both experiences were amazing opportunities, showing the immense talent and co-operation of the CSA. My favourite part of each day at the CSA was walking by the control centre and seeing a team of highly talented people working together to accomplish a goal. The experience I gained there has been a great help in my robotics career since.

I have always thrived under pressure, working best under tight timelines and difficult goals. My passion for my work comes across in presentations, talks to the public, as well as open source projects I contribute to. In University, I often simultaneously worked with several start-up companies, completed my full course load, and found time to help student robotics teams. I have also won awards for technical speaking and presentations, a goal I set for myself to improve my public speaking. Lastly, in starting to manage engineering teams, I have had to take on leadership roles and responsibilities. This is new territory for me, however my department has received the highest personal satisfaction ratings in the company. I mention these characteristics purely to show that I am an excellent candidate for the position, as Canadian modesty and team spirit is something I take to heart.

The future of space exploration, and of manufacturing in Canada, will undoubtedly involve robotics. Employing my expertise will prove of great benefit to the Canadian Space Agency. I thank you for the opportunity to apply to be Canada’s next astronaut.

Best wishes,
Ilia Baranov

If you want to know more, check out

http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/astronauts/how-to-become-an-astronaut

Interview with CBC – The National

Had my 15 seconds of fame in an interview with CBC – The National

Check it out here: Automating Jobs

What should Google do with robots?

A very interesting article here:

http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-hardware/what-google-should-do-with-its-robots

In my hopefully incorrect view, Google is making the same mistake that Microsoft made; it is purchasing companies only to stifle them. This has now happened with a number of promising companies, with a notable local example: BufferBox.

James Kuffner joins Toyota from Google Robotics – Business Insider

After the division’s tumultuous year, a cofounder of Google Robotics just left to work at Toyota.

Source: James Kuffner joins Toyota from Google Robotics – Business Insider

Sadly it looks like Google (or Alphabet now) has bitten off more than it can chew with its robotics division. Multiple leaders of the group have moved on, and so far no large public project has been shown. Please Google, PLEASE learn the lessons that Microsoft had to learn the hard way in the 90-00s.

 

Hosting Providers – You get what you pay for.

A tale of two hosting providers

I had to change away from my old hosting provider, cloudatcost. They were not keeping up with their promised service, and lots of user have complained about them. Despite 4 support tickets and 5 months of complaints, service is unchanged (more on that later). Due to this, I have switched over to RamNode (ramnode.com), and so far the difference is night and day (or perhaps 3G and gigabit).


Apples to Oranges

Always a good idea to say more than just “it’s better”, hard numbers help make decisions in a price/performance market. A great place to start is Serverbear.com. You can download and run a standardized set of Linux tests on any server, and automatically see the results online. Below we can see that although CloudatCost provides just slightly higher benchmark performance, it suffers by 2 orders of magnitude or more in all other categories. This test was done several times, and we can see that CloudatCost is consistently under-provisioning both the network hardware and the disk resources of their instances. On one of the support tickets I had with them, they claimed a “faulty router in the network”, but no improvements were ever seen.

SVZ - Hosting Providers

Cloudpro - Hosting Providers

Raw performance stats in a snapshot are ok to start, but how do you test reliability of service? pingdom.com. Though pingdom has recently cut back on the services they offer for free (gotta make a living), they still offer a very good way to track server outages and issues. Here we can compare historic data to see how often a service goes down, how fast it responds, etc:

cloudatcost uptime of 96%, outages every week. - Hosting Providers
cloudatcost uptime of 96%, outages a few times every week.

And here is a zoomed in view of the last few days:

Notice a Difference? - Hosting Providers
Notice a Difference?

Looking at the second graph, if you had to guess, when did I switch over providers? Fairly obvious, when the response time became smooth and fast, and the outages stopped.

One more quick note, a good online tool to hammer your website with simulated load to test for issues: loadimpact.com

Self Regulation (sorta…)

After more than 5 months of support tickets and public complaints, nothing changed. Cloud at cost never hit advertised up times, speeds or performance, though they do have a (mostly working…) online interface, so that is nice….

Here in Canada, we have the Better Business Bureau, a group dedicated to helping customers and business establish and report on breaches of trust. I submitted a formal complaint to them about the lack of service. This is what I got back after a little while:

Complaint Case: 1329069
Business Name: Cloud at Cost

BBB has made several attempts to contact the business regarding the above referenced complaint. We regret to inform you that we have not received a response from the company. The case has been closed as will be reported as UNANSWERED.

Despite all this, cloud at cost continually run “80% off sale” “Black Friday Sale” (all emailed to my account) and get new customer sign ups.

As much as I love to support local businesses, their service at this point is essentially a scam, as they deliver a fraction of the promised service.

DO NOT USE!

 

  • Disclaimer: I have not been paid by anyone, nor received any benefit from this info. This is just my own info gathering, done using my personal funds.

Featured in SICK blog

Most collaborative robots are stationary. But what if you need it to move items from one location to another? See how to make collaborative robots mobile!

Source: Video: Making Collaborative Robots Mobile – SICKUSA Blog