Show of 12-31-2011

Best of Tech Talk Edition

  • Segments taken from previous shows.

Email and Forum Questions

  • Letter from Alan: Dear Tech Talk, I would like to start an IT career. What do you advise? I can’t get a job without experience and I can’t get experience without a job. Thanks, Alan.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Starting a new career in Information Technology is not as difficult as you might expect.
  • First understand where the field is going by reading industry magazines or “rags.” Most of these publications are free and give you something interesting to talk about during the interview.
  • Second, get the competencies demanded by the industry, either through self-study or through an educational institution, like Stratford University.
  • Third, learn the standards and procedures that support your industry in order to demonstrate that you will be in a position to make valid technical decisions.
  • Fourth, package yourself with a well written resume that emphasizes where you are going rather than where you have been (particularly if you are making a radical career change).
  • Fifth, network by joining user groups and trade associations (and don’t make the mistake of asking for a job at these meetings!). You will uncover opportunities and make many friends through this process.
  • Survey employers to find out where they are going. Research each firm you visit and send thank you notes after you the complete informational interview. This process normally leads to a “lucky” discovery. Remember, you can’t find a gold coin in the grass unless you are walking around the lawn.
  • Finally, start doing technical projects at home. You don’t need paid experience. Install Linux, MySQL, build a cluster using Beowolf, make a website.
  • And, if you are a woman, don’t forget to tap the Women in IT support groups. They are excellent.

Profile in IT: Nolan Kay Bushnell

  • Bushnell is father of the video game industry and founder of Atari.
  • Nolan K. Bushnell was born in February 5, 1943 in Clearfield, Utah
  • Bushnell received a BSEE from the University of Utah in 1968.
  • Bushnell would sneak into the computer labs between 1 and 4 in the morning to play Space War and Fox and Geese on the university’s $7 million mainframes.
  • He moved to Santa Clara, CA in 1968. He built his first computer game in a spare bedroom, a knockoff of Space War called Computer Space.
  • At age 27 he founded Atari with $250 of his own money and another $250 from business partner Ted Dabney. The original name of the company was Syzygy.
  • Bushnell conceived Pong, what would become the world’s first commercial video game, and in 1972 Atari’s first full-time employee, Al Alcorn, built it.
  • Atari had revenues of $11M in 1973. Two years later, revenues were $36M.
  • Using parts from Atari, having the main PCB printed up by Atari employees Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, created their own computer and offered it to Atari.
  • He sold Atari to Warner Communications in 1976 for $28M. He stayed on as a consultant for another two years.
  • First Atari took on the coin-operated video-game market and soon dominated it.
  • Atari started producing home game systems and Sears promised to buy them all.
  • By 1982, Atari had $2 billion in annual sales.
  • Atari introduced the 800 computer, which at the time contained superior technology to the Apple II and the IBM PC, with the exception of memory management.
  • Warner’s was slow at accommodating Dan Bricklin’s spreadsheet program, VisiCalc. Apple got it first because the Atari machine wasn’t ready.
  • After a half-billion-dollar operating loss, Atari was fire-sold by Warner in 1984.
  • Bushnell had left the Atari in 1978 to turn his attention to his next Big Idea.
  • The first Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater opened in San Jose in 1978.
  • The company went public in 1981 and pushed Bushnell’s net worth to $70 million.
  • By 1983, Pizza Time Theater has 200 restaurants operating internationally.
  • He started a business incubator called Catalyst Technologies, where he would invest $500,000 a pop in a portfolio of startups, including Etak and Androbot.
  • Etak, which made electronic maps for autos and other navigation uses. It was ultimately purchased by a Rupert Murdoch firm for $50 million.
  • Androbot was developing personal robots Bob and Topo.
  • To finance the Androbots marketing and R&D costs, he took out personal loans from Merrill Lynch Private Capital Inc. (ML), secured by Pizza Time stock.
  • ML has announced to the public that it intended to take Androbot public in 1983.
  • ML reneged on the Androbot IPO after Bushnell had more than $5 million invested.
  • Pizza Time lost money in 1983 and Bushnell’s worth dropped from $23M to $9M.
  • In 1984, with Bushnell having racked up $22.8 million in debt financing Androbot and other ventures, Pizza Time filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11.
  • He started paying Merrill Lynch back. By 1990, Bushnell had paid $27.5 million. In 1997, he was forced to sell his home to make the final payment to ML.
  • His newest venture is Uwink.com. He plans to develop coin-operated game machines, networked over the Internet and placed in public places like bars and restaurants.

Fermilab’s CDF Result Sparks Rumors of New Physics

  • Fermilab’s CDF (Collider Detector) has observed unusual muon-muon observations could point to physics beyond the Standard Model.
  • When observing decay events that produce a b meson and anti-meson (b-bbar) pair, which has a lifetime of about a picosecond, physicists found something unexpected in the background.
  • When further investigating the background, the physicists were surprised.
    • The production of an anomalously high number of muon pairs.
    • The exciting possibility here is that a new, relatively long-lived particle has been observed.
  • The observation and its implications are so puzzling that only about two-thirds of the 600 CDF physicists chose to attach their names to the publication.
  • A second publication, authored by seven CDF physicists, offers a possible explanation.
  • Whether or not this particular result proves to lead toward something new, it offers some unexpected excitement while the new LHC undergoes repair until next spring.

Scientists Turn Tequila into Diamonds

  • A team of Mexican scientists found that the heated vapor from 80-proof (40% alcohol) tequila blanco, when deposited on a silicon or stainless steel substrate, can form diamond films.
  • The key to the surprising discovery is tequila’s ratio of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, which lies within the “diamond growth region.”
  • Originally, the scientists were experimenting with creating diamonds from organic solutions such as acetone, ethanol, and methanol.
  • They found that diluting ethanol in water resulted in high quality diamond films. The scientists then noticed that the ideal compound of 40 percent ethanol and 60 percent water was similar to the proportion used in tequila.
  • The scientists duplicated the results using cheap white tequila. The results were the same as with the ethanol and water compound. The final diamond film was hard and heat-resistant.
  • These films could be used to make ties coatings for cutting tools, high-power semiconductors, radiation detectors and optical-electronic devices.
  • Scientists are continuing to test different tequilas´ abilities to produce diamonds.

Multiple Social Networks Can Reveal Secrets?

  • Researchers at Google caution in a paper (pdf) that by becoming entangled in ever more social networks online, people are building up revealing data.
  • And as more websites gain social features, even the things users strive to keep private won’t necessarily stay that way.
  • As a hypothetical example, combining public information on, say, the business social network LinkedIn with that on another like MySpace could reveal to much about your social life.
  • That approach is dubbed “merging social graphs” by the researchers.
  • In fact, it has already been used to identify some users of the DVD rental site Netflix, from a supposedly anonymised dataset released by the company.
  • The identities were revealed by combining the Netflix data with user activity on movie database site IMDb.
    • The Google team’s proposed solution is a kind of privacy warning system. When you sign up for a new online service, it would take a look on the internet and let you know if there’s a risk that the new information you are uploading could be used to make connections about you.
    • In 2007 computer scientists at Palo Alto Research Center, California, and the University of Waterloo, Ontario, built a similar warning system.
    • It calculates whether data about to be released – for example medical records sent to insurers – could be combined with publically available information – for example wikipedia articles on health conditions – to reveal diagnoses purposefully removed from the original data.
    • The Google team’s paper (Under)mining privacy in social networks (pdf) will be presented at the Web 2.0 Security and Privacy 2009 meeting in May.

Trivia of the Week: Meaning of Lorem ipsum filler text?

  • Lorem ipsum is the beginning of a pseudo-Latin passage commonly used as placeholder text when a graphic designer dummies up a page layout.
  • It’s intended to show how the type will look before the copy is available.
  • The text continues lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, etc.
  • In the graphic design business, nonsense filler like this is known, somewhat incongruously, as “greeking,” presumably because “it’s Greek to me.”
  • Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, figured out the source.
  • Lorem ipsum was part of a passage from Cicero. The original reads, Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit.
  • It means: There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain.
  • This text has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since some printer in the 1500s took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.
  • It has survived not only four centuries of letter-by-letter resetting but even the leap into electronic typesetting, essentially unchanged.

Food Science: Freezing Meats

  • Freezing Duration
    • Frozen meats can be safely frozen indefinitely as long as your freezer maintains a temperature of 0°F or lower.
    • At this temperature, bacteria, yeasts, and molds are inactive (not destroyed). Freezing meat simply stops the clock when microbes are concerned.
    • Enzymes are not stopped by freezing, but merely slowed down, so the quality of the food may diminish over time. This is not a safety issue, but a food quality concern.
  • Freezer Burn
    • An avoidable quality detractor is freezer burn. Freezer burn occurs when air comes in contact with the surface of the food. Frozen water on the surface or just under the surface sublimates (like evaporation except going from solid The meat is still safe to eat, but the freezer burned sections won’t taste good.
    • The risk of freezer burn can be minimized by good packaging.
  • Packaging Meat For Freezing
    • Here’s how I freeze individual pieces of meat:
    • First place the a portion of meat onto a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Create a double seal by folding overlaps.
    • After all the meat has been wrapped, label a plastic freezer bag and place foil wrapped meat inside. Squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag and seal.
    • Plastic bags that are not rated for freezing may be gas permeable and may result in freezer burn if frozen for longer than two months.
    • Wrapping the meat in aluminum foil first keeps portions separate, seals each piece of meat, and allows me to selectively thaw or refreeze portions.
  • Thawing
    • There are a few safe methods of thawing meat, but only one way that allows you to refreeze the meat if you don’t use it. Thawed meat inside the refrigerator is safe to be refrozen as long as the refrigerator maintains a temperature of 40°F or less.
    • Refrigerator – Takes a long time to thaw (one or two days for modest sized meats, 5 hours per pound for large meats like whole chicken or turkey). Can be frozen after thawing.
    • Cold Water Bath – Place the meat in a leak proof bag and submerge in cold water until defrosted. Change the water every 30 minutes to an hour for the duration of the thaw. Cook the meat immediately. Do not refreeze.
    • Microwave Oven – Follow the directions provided with your microwave oven when defrosting. Meat usually comes out unevenly defrosted, so some parts may be warm (a prime breeding ground for microbes). Cook immediately. Do not refreeze. Not recommended.

Food Science: Mushrooms

  • Food historians tell us prehistoric peoples most likely consumed fungi and mushrooms. These foods were easy to forage and incorporate into meals. The Ancient Romans appreciated the taste and grew mushrooms. Modern cultivation commenced around the 16th century.
  • Mushrooms are a subset of the larger plant world of fungus:
    • Fungus means any group of plants which include mushrooms, yeasts, and moulds.
    • Unlike more advanced plants, fungi lack chlorophyll and so can only grown as sprophytes (from dead plants or animals); or as parasites (on living plants); or in a mycorrhizal relationship (symbiosis between fungi and the roots of trees).
  • Mushrooms and other large varieties of fungus have been eaten since earliest times.
    • Traces of puffballs in the prehistoric lake dwellings of Switzerland, Germany, and Austria.
    • In classical times both Greeks and Romans grew the small mushrooms on on slices of a poplar trunk.
    • The Chinese and Japanese may have been growing chitake on rotting logs for even longer.
  • The word mushroom, first recorded in the early fifteenth century, has been traced back to a late Latin mussirio, a word of unknown origin.
  • Mushrooms entered America in the late nineteenth century. In the 1890s, a fungus frenzy was sweeping America. Mushrooms were the latest fad and health food. Mushrooming clubs, were forager swapped tips, spring up quickly.
  • The first professional information on mushroom cultivation in America was disseminated on a large scale in the 1890s, through the efforts of William Falconer
  • Two of the most well known varieties of mushrooms are: Truffles and Portobello
  • Truffles
    • A number of fleshy subterranean fungi of the genus Tuber are called truffles.
    • Truffles were known to the Babylonians and the Romans and that truffles were secured from the Arabian Desert in ancient times, just as today some of the richest truffle mines known are located in the Kalahari Desert.
  • Portobello
    • This meaty mushroom is an American invention with Italian roots (spores, actually) made popular by clever marketing in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
    • Both cremini and portobello mushrooms are first mentioned in the New York Times during the mid 1980s.
    • The name “portobello” began to be used in the 1980s as a brilliant marketing ploy to popularize an unglamorous mushroom that, more often than not, had to be disposed of because growers couldn’t sell them.

New Twitter Application: Fast Food Truck

  • Twitter recently became the communiqué of choice for the almost popular Kogi BBQ trucks, a taco vendor in LA.
    • Kogi uses Twitter to alert customers of its location.
    • The trend is spreading to other wheel meals as more food are using the social networking site to draw customers.
    • While it’s not clear which truck Tweeted first, the Kogi folks have shown themselves to be the most effective at turning tweets into effective marketing.
    • “Kogi special at the trucks and the Alibi! Grilled asparagus with Yellow Nectarines and Sesame Seeds!” read one recent Kogi Tweet.
    • Since Kogi’s launch in November, hungry herds of have been following the pair of white trucks that rove the city selling tacos, burritos and other gourmet tidbits steeped in traditional Korean flavors.
    • In short order, the Kogi name has become recognizable to foodies around the country.
    • No small accomplishment for a pair of taco trucks all due to Twitter.
    • And she thinks the success of food truck Tweets likely will inspire a broader use of Twitter across the food world.
    • “Chefs will be Tweeting from the farmers market about the mushrooms they just picked up and will be part of their mushroom pasta that evening,” she says.

Food Science: Champagne Bubbles

  • The bubble patterns evolve as the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide changes in the glass. They start out as strings of bubbles that rise in pairs, then gradually transition to bubbles in groups of threes, and finally settle down in a clockwork pattern of regularly spaced individual bubbles.
  • The researchers observed the carbon dioxide bubbles in a champagne glass as they rise from nucleation points on the glass wall. The nucleation points are small defects in the glass that trap tiny vibrating pockets of carbon dioxide. Dissolved gas in the champagne gradually collects in a vibrating bubble inside the defect, causing it to grow and soon expel gas from the defect, forming another bubble that sticks to the outside of the defect. That bubble, in turn, grows as more dissolved carbon dioxide collects inside it and it eventually breaks free of the defect to rise through the champagne. Then the process begins again with a new bubble expelled from the defect, forming rising strings of tiny bubbles.