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  • Preserving Your Old Photos

    Posted on May 9th, 2012 Lee Devlin No comments
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    As you may have noticed by reading this blog and checking out my other web pages, I am the VP of Engineering at Simplified IT Products, LLC the company that makes the Picture Keeper. It’s the easiest way I know of to protect your digital pictures. The people at AM Northwest recently ran a segment with organizing expert Krista Colvin that talks about the Picture Keeper along with several other tips for managing your digital photo collection. If you are concerned with the security of your digital photo collection, the video linked above is well worth watching.

    To summarize it, Krista recommends getting all of your photos stored in one place. The Picture Keeper is excellent for pulling all your photos from multiple computers and putting them in one location. Then make a backup of that collection. But even befor you do that that she recommends sorting your old printed photos into 3 categories, A-List, B-List, and C-List which would work like this:

    A-List: I love this photo and really want to keep it.

    B-List: This is a nice photo that I want to keep, or it may be an A-List photo for someone else. If so, give it to them.

    C-List: The photo is flawed, for example has a finger blocking the shutter or is otherwise unimportant, you should throw those away.

    She then talks about scanning all of your photos with a product called Flip-Pal, which I have reviewed here. The flip pal is an excellent way to digitize old photos, particularly if you don’t already have a scanner or if you need the convenience of a scanner that you can take to the photos, instead of bringing the photos to the scanner. And there’s also the option of taking the photos to a scanning service.

    Getting all of your old photos scanned an stored on your computer and backed up gives you a lot more options on what you can do with them. The most popular reason for having a digital copy, other than preservation, is to share with others who might be interested in them. People love looking at old pictures and if you really want to brighten someone’s day, send them a copy of a photo that is bound to bring back some fond memories.

  • The LightSquared Debacle in Layman’s Terms

    Posted on October 13th, 2011 Lee Devlin 6 comments
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    I’ve been reading about the LightSquared debacle for months. My aviation-related sources have been covering the GPS industry’s objection to LightSquared and how it would be disastrous for the GPS receivers, essentially causing a loss of satellite lock or at minimum causing accuracy issues that could lead to disaster. The story received a boost in interest when it was found that there was some political chicanery associated with the White House administration pressuring a reversal in the testimony of an Air Force general. It’s hard to ferret out the underlying reason how this problem got this far, with so much money being invested in a technology that LightSquared should have known would hit a wall during its deployment, namely when it produced interference with a critical service like GPS that is adjacent to its bandwidth allocations. So I decided to do some research and summarize it here.

    The problem of radio interference isn’t new. The FCC and similar organizations in other countries were created primarily to help prevent interference problems by licensing radio spectrum and settling disputes among the radio spectrum’s users. All radio transmitters generate some amount of radio frequency (RF) energy on adjacent bands. All receivers are influenced by signals that are in adjacent bands because there is no such thing as a perfect filter to ignore nearby signals. So one must ask the question, is this an interference problem on the part of LightSquared, or a susceptibility problem for the GPS manufacturers? And since there is no such thing as a perfect filtering technique, how much can it help to apply filters to GPS receivers? Can the problem be solved with a 5-cent change to GPS receivers as suggested by LightSquared, a solution promptly dismissed as absurd by the GPS industry? I can tell you one thing that does not work, and that is to expect an industry to accept a problem introduced by some third party AFTER its products have already shipped and are in the hands of its customers. Sure, you can ask for a change to future products, assuming the change actually produces the desired result and isn’t too costly, but if an industry is entrenched, and I think that after 2 decades of shipping millions of products, GPS can be categorized as such, you can’t expect them to accept a problem that wasn’t a problem until your service came along.

    Nor can you expect all existing customers to ‘upgrade’ their equipment just to solve some newly introduced interference issue. Yet this is apparently what LightSquared was expecting. And I find that attitude arrogant and ridiculous. Anyone whose money is invested in a technology that expected such a system to work should expect to see his investment lost by those who dismissed or talked around these issues when they were first brought up.

    One might tend to lay the blame on LightSquared and its naivete, but I think the FCC is just as culpable. The FCC needed to realize that any service that occupied frequencies adjacent to GPS must necessarily be compatible with it. GPS satellites transmit signals from a distance of about 12,500 miles above the earth. Because of this vast distance, the signals are at a very low level once they arrive on earth, about -130 dBm (which is about 180 x 10^^-18 Watts). The land-based LightSquared 4G transmitters can use as much as 70 dBm (10,000 Watts). So you can see that there is a vast difference of roughly 2 x 10^^20 in signal strength between the two services. The low signal strength is one of the reasons why most Space-to-Earth signals require dishes or other types of high gain antennas pointed at the satellites to amplify only those signals and simultaneously ignore any signals originating from other directions. But GPS receivers cannot do that. First of all, the constellation of 24 satellites is in constant orbiting motion, and secondly, a GPS receiver needs an antenna that can receive from several satellites at once in order for it to do its job so it cannot use a directional antenna. A GPS receiver has none of the amplification and signal isolation benefits provided by a directional antenna. This means that the signals that a GPS receiver has to deal with are extremely weak, and are actually below the noise floor, and must be dug out of this noise floor using sophisticated signal processing techniques.

    GPS and LightSquared satellite allocations

    As shown in the graphic above, (source) the bands adjacent to the GPS spectrum were intended to be used for similar purposes, that is to send signals from space to earth or earth to space, and based on what I’ve been reading about LightSquared, this was how they intended to use the spectrum initially. But most broadband solutions that depend on satellites are not very compelling due to the 44,000 mile round trip the signals they need to make to the geosynchronous satellites. This trip adds about a half second delay which is too high a latency to provide a satisfactory experience compared with terrestrial broadband solutions, especially with modern Internet applications some of which cannot tolerate that kind of latency. People tend to use satellite broadband only when there are no terrestrial broadband offerings in their area.

    In 2004, presumably to make its service more financially attractive, LightSquared’s predecessor lobbied for and received authorization by the FCC to deploy thousands of land-based transmitters in the same frequency range as their satellite-to-earth band. I think that this authorization from the FCC is where things went awry. LightSquared, when it was a space-based wireless service that could hypothetically offer 100% coverage over the U.S. had a formidable calling card, namely that it could provide mobile wireless service to previously under-served rural areas. Telling a government bureaucrat that you’re going to provide ‘service to rural and the under-served’ is tantamount to telling them you’re going to cure world hunger or help the blind to see. Everyone knows there is little or no profit in serving the under-served, it just makes for a good story to soften up government bureaucrats so they’ll grant you favors. Indeed, earlier this year, the FCC allowed LightSquared to offer devices with just the terrestrial capability, making them nothing more than just another mobile wireless provider, which might be viewed as a clever bait-and-switch maneuver since those devices would no longer have the large size and expense of a hybrid phone. This would allow them to rake in some real profits by taking business away from the incumbents of lucrative mobile wireless services rather than being just some quirky satellite phone and data service.

    So more than any other factor, it was the decision to take its space-based frequency allocation and have the FCC re-authorize it for terrestrial transmitters that made it incompatible with GPS receivers. Even a very low-power transmitter that is in close proximity to a receiver will have signal strength that is many orders of magnitude stronger than one that is located 22,000 miles away. But if you can influence politicians by explaining away the problem, and hoping that the GPS industry looks upon it as an opportunity to force their customers to purchase new receivers that deal with the interference, then it would be a win-win for all parties, except those who have to buy new GPS receivers, namely consumers, who have no lobbyists to protect them. But it appears that all the hand waving about potential technical solutions may not make the GPS interference problem go away. There may be no filtering technique available at any cost that would fix it and still allow a GPS receiver to maintain the accuracy customers rely on. And so, in order for a company and its investors to enrich themselves, they appear to have no qualms about completely destroying another much larger industry that provides an invaluable service to many sectors of the economy. Some might think of this as free market capitalism. I think of it as sociopathic behavior so extreme that it makes me ashamed for the company and the politicians who did the company’s bidding.

    I have to wonder whether it’s even possible to provide an economical hybrid mobile wireless device that can be used with geosynchronous satellites and land-based cells. Iridium provides mobile phone service based on satellites, although that service nearly went broke and was only revived when its multi-billion dollar investment in satellites was picked up for pennies on the dollar. But Iridium is a completely different technology since its satellites are in low earth orbit, just 485 miles above the earth, and so the distance is about 2% as far from the earth as a geosynchronous satellite thereby requiring much less power from the mobile device to establish a connection. But these phones and service are very expensive compared with standard mobile phones. The phones tend to be large and bulky and cost upward of $1200. The service is metered at $1.30/min or more in addition to a $50 monthly fee. Compared with standard mobile phones this would not be a competitive offering, so getting the go-ahead from the FCC to have terrestrial transmitters was a key win for LightSquared because a phone that communicated with geostationary satellites would be very large, power hungry, and costly.

    The amount of power and antenna you’d need to communicate with a geosynchronous satellite would be difficult to implement in a handheld device that fits in one’s pocket, if it could be done at all, unless they intended for it to go through some form of a roof-mounted gateway. But then it wouldn’t really a true hybrid mobile device as this service had been promoted. And you couldn’t use a satellite handset from inside a car or house without a roof-mounted antenna and transceiver due to blockage of the satellite signals, making the service appear like something that may feel like a throwback to 1980’s technology.

    Hughes has offered a satellite/terrestrial mobile phone solution called GMR1-3G for some time. The hardware looks like something you’d need if you were deployed to some remote corner of the earth. In fact, LightSquared initially had planned to use that service before switching to something called EGAL which stands for Earth Geostationary Air Link from Qualcomm. EGAL appears to be some new hypothetical hardware/service that has yet to be deployed. Interestingly, Qualcomm is the company that came up with the estimate of 5 cents for the filter that would fix the GPS issue.

    It is usually not a good sign when a company gathering large sums from investors is basing its future success on a yet-to-be proven technology while simultaneously ramrodding its agenda by forcing a government agency to grant approval and thumbing its nose at its spectrum neighbors. These folks need a wake-up call. Maybe the sound of a few billion dollars of their investment swirling around a drain will provide that wake up call for Lightsquared and its investors and anyone foolish enough to embark on a similar venture in the future.

    UPDATE (2011-11-11) If you would like to know more about the testing that was done that showed the significant interference on GPS receivers, the Coalition to Save our GPS has a complete list of test reports on their website. The summary is that during these tests, nearly all GPS devices tested couldn’t receive a signal when they were within a few miles from the tower, even though the LightSquared transmitter was operating at 10% of the power they would be permitted to use. In addition, LightSquared claimed that if they simply moved their signals to the first 10Mhz of their allocated bandwidth, then 99% of the GPS receivers would not have been affected, even though there is not a single shred of evidence from this test that would support that claim.

  • Solar Powered Air Conditioning?

    Posted on June 24th, 2010 Lee Devlin No comments
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    LG is getting a lot of media coverage for its Solar Hybrid Air Conditioner (model F-Q232LASS) but so far, no one has bothered to do any technical analysis on it. Most blog articles have nothing but enthusiastic praise for it. So, please allow me to provide an alternate viewpoint.

    LG Solar Air Conditioner

    I think this is a product intended just for PR purposes. Some people may look at it and think it is a solar powered air conditioner. Much of the news coverage uses the unrelated logic of how much CO2 it saves or, even more curiously, how it’s like ‘planting 780 pine trees’. As a side note, when someone starts describing an energy benefit with the lifetime CO2 savings and avoids discussing actual costs, be aware that you’re about to be bamboozled. The solar panel on top of the air conditioning unit produces a small amount of energy; according to LG it’s 70 watts. In case you’re curious, that amounts to about $12 of electricity per year, assuming a cost per kW-h of $.10 and average capacity factor of solar panels. That also assumes the electricity it generates can be used by other appliances when the A/C unit is not running and I’m not sure if that’s the case or not.

    The air conditioning unit is rated at 28,000 BTU/hr. Assuming a SEER of 13, that translates to a 2800 watt draw, not including the fan the circulates the air through the evaporator and the house, which can add another 900 watts or so. That would mean that there’s a 52:1 difference between the air conditioner’s energy draw and energy produced by the solar panel. I am assuming that there is a grid-tie inverter that puts the energy generated when the air conditioner is not running into your home to offset other energy consumption. If not, then the solar panel output would only be used when the A/C was actually running and that would reduce the $12/year of annual power generated considerably. Also of note is that most residential air conditioning loads occur from around 4-6 p.m. when people return home from work. At that time the sun is much lower in the sky and solar output is about 20% of a solar panel’s maximum rating.

    An air conditioner needs to get rid of the condenser’s heat and so it’s best placed in the shade. In this case, however, the condenser would need to be placed in direct sunlight, which counteracts what it’s trying to do, namely to get rid of heat, so that would negatively affect its efficiency. In addition, the condenser needs unimpeded forced air flow which is generally done with a fan that blows air from bottom to top to get the added benefit of natural convection since heat rises, but this unit’s fan has to blow air from side-to-side because the solar panel on top would block bottom-to-top air flow. I should also mention that solar panels work best when they are cool so attaching them to a hot condenser doesn’t help their efficiency either.

    You’d be better off with having a solar system that is completely independent of the air conditioning unit because it introduces too many compromises in each of the respective systems’ design goals.

    Nice try LG, but this product is no better than one of those solar powered attic fans which is another idea masquerading as a solution to a problem that it doesn’t solve.

    I should mention that I am a big fan of solar energy. We use a solar array to power our home and it is a net energy producer, generating more electricity than we use on an annual basis. I hope to someday use the excess for a plug-in hybrid car. The reason I felt compelled to write about this topic is because I just get tired of rip-offs and scams that prey on people’s trust (and ignorance) when it comes to energy savings schemes so I have to call them out.

  • Barnstorming and other Adventures

    Posted on December 10th, 2009 Lee Devlin No comments
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    1929 Travel Air

    1929 Travel Air


    I once shared a hangar with this beautiful 1929 Travel Air. About 20 years ago I learned to fly at the New Garden Airport in southeastern PA. Shortly after getting my license, I purchased a 1961 Piper Colt. Not long after I purchased it, this amazing aircraft showed up in the adjacent hangar. The plane had been purchased by a young lady who quit a secure job and started a barnstorming business with a business partner giving rides in an open cockpit biplane. I was amazed to think that someone would leave a secure job and start a business like that. Later on when I was exposed to Richard Bach’s books I felt like his stories might have inspired the couple to throw caution to the wind and start that business.

     

    While reading the Slashdot feed yesterday I saw a reference to a site that was exposing the Internet get-rich-quick schemes that are so prevalent these days. The article referenced a website called undress4success.com. Despite the attention-getting title, I learned that it was dedicated to providing useful information to people who are working from home. It provides resources to help people who like the idea of a 2-second commute and the site’s owners regularly gave the low-down on scams that prey on those hoping to make a living working from home. The most recent article was related to the ‘Work for Google’ scams that are being actively pursued by Google’s legal team, since they are not endorsed or supported by Google. The scammers are just trying to profiteer from pretending to have an association with the Internet search giant.

    I like to expose scammers. Seeing unscrupulous charlatans abuse the goodwill and trust of others is just one of those behaviors that I can’t sit by and idly watch. Several of my most popular blog articles are related to exposing scams like the Amish Heat Surge miracle heater, the Arctic Cool Surge (yes, same company), and exposing the unworkable mathematics of all MLM schemes.

    biplane_ride_san_vicente

    I was reading through the website and I started to realize that the couple running it had a very familiar-sounding story. They mentioned that they had started a Barnstorming business in Pennsylvania in the early 1990’s, moved it to San Diego, and then grew it to 7 aircraft and 25 pilots before selling it and starting this new website and promoting their book entitled Undress for Success: The Naked Truth about Making Money at Home which is about how to work from home. It was Kate and Tom, the same couple I had met at New Garden Airport, all these years later! It’s certainly a very small world.

    I had been working on my own article about people who make money by selling others on the idea of how to make money on the Internet. The funny thing is that many of these sites are all writing about the same thing, which usually involves selling ‘secrets’ or starting an endless cycle of recruitment for information products. It sounds a lot like an abusive MLM business. The kingpins in the worst MLMs don’t actually make their money selling products, they make their money selling high-margin ‘educational materials’ and ‘tools’ to unsuspecting recruits month after month. This is precisely what these get rich quick membership sites (who generally want a direct line to make a monthly withdrawal from your bank account) are up to. When it’s all said and done, they sell you on a business that is nothing more than a recursive cycle for you to try to write and sell the same kind of information on the Internet. But who wants to buy from you when they can go right to the source, i.e., the guy holding up an image of his big earnings check on every one of his pages? They augment this income with a other questionable affiliates all who have something to sell you that sounds like it will teach you to get rich quick. Or, if not that, then information on how to get flat abs, or get ripped like Arnold Schwartzeneggar in 4 weeks.

    I just purchased the book based on the positive reviews I’ve read on Amazon. Websites that educate people on the perils of scams tend to restore my faith in humanity and I always feel good when I come across one.

    And if you can’t live without a ride in the vintage Travel Air, you can find it at Barnstorming Adventures (phone: 800-759-5667) located at Montgomery Field Airport in San Diego flying under the new ownership of another couple who no doubt purchased the business as an insurance policy… an insurance policy against a boring life. 🙂

    Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and on the Internet, that goes double.