Archive for the Category ◊ Engineering ◊

Is Anything Else Happening in the World?
Wednesday, March 18th, 2020 | Author:

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am weary from the overwhelming focus on the coronavirus… Frankly, people are behaving as if it’s the black plague with everyone catching skin lesions and a 50% fatality rate.

My executive summary of the situation: the combination of medical uncertainty (what is the true rate of transmission, rate of mortality, etc.) and unprecedented global visibility (worldwide access to internet news, Twitter, etc.) has resulted in the reaction that we have now.  That is, this combination has resulted in politicians taking the path most logical for them — being extremely risk averse without regard to cost/benefit.  The political “cover your rear” position is one of demonstrating to constituents that you are doing everything possible to save every life.  This enables the politician to exclaim “It would have been even worse if I wasn’t in charge”.

Now, for a little more detail (Please note that I’m an engineer acting as an amateur epidemiologist in describing the nature of potential viral epidemics).  It appears that the quantitative factors listed below are the best predictors of the virulence of coronavirus (or any pathogen for that matter).  You’ll note that I made ease of transmission (airborne versus contact) and level of mutability (virus changes structure as it multiplies) as sub-factors of the rate of transmission.

1. The rate of transmission
1a. The ease of transmission
1b. The level of mutability
2. The mortality rate

From reading recent papers in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the few takeaways that I have are:

  • The most common manifestation or correlation from a biological test is leukopenia (low white blood cells).
  • The costly CT exam has been the second most useful predictor of the presence of coronavirus (presence of glassy areas in the lungs).
  • It appears that there has been the lack of any reliable and quick diagnostic methods

I haven’t seen any reliable or statistically significant quantitative data about these set of factors that I listed above.  Based on the NEJM articles, I am assuming that most of the data is just now being generated and analyzed, and the greatest fears are the unknowns around 1a and 1b above, along with the absence of any reliable diagnostic testing.

Thus, here we are… “sheltering in place”, and waiting for the 21st century version of the black plague to come and get us… the mob mentality survives.

Origins Of Stereotypes
Thursday, February 13th, 2020 | Author:

Source: Top 10 Origins Of Controversial Stereotypes – Listverse

10 The Dumb Blonde

9 Asians Can’t Drive

8 Irish People = Potato-Eaters

7 The French Are Cowards

6 Men Are Better Workers Than Women

5 Black People Love Fried Chicken & Watermelon

4 Jews Are Cheap

3 Mexicans Are Lazy

2 The Angry Black Woman

1 All Muslims Are Terrorists

Does AI Mean ‘Augmented Intelligence’?
Saturday, January 04th, 2020 | Author:


A recent article in Kaiser Health News about the overblown claims of AI in healthcare:

Early experiments in AI provide a reason for caution, said Mildred Cho, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford’s Center for Biomedical Ethics… In one case, AI software incorrectly concluded that people with pneumonia were less likely to die if they had asthma ― an error that could have led doctors to deprive asthma patients of the extra care they need….

Medical AI, which pulled in $1.6 billion in venture capital funding in the third quarter alone, is “nearly at the peak of inflated expectations,” concluded a July report from the research company Gartner. “As the reality gets tested, there will likely be a rough slide into the trough of disillusionment.”

It’s important to remember that what many people are claiming as ‘artificial intelligence’ is hardly that… In reality, it’s predominantly algorithms leveraging large amounts of data.   As I’ve previously mentioned, I feel that I’m reliving the ballyhooed AI claims of the 1980s all over again.


June 29, 2019

Well, here is Joe from Forbes trying to steal my thunder in using ‘Augmented’ instead if ‘Artificial’:

Perhaps “artificial” is too artificial of a word for the AI equation. Augmented intelligence describes the essence of the technology in a more elegant and accurate way.

Not much more interesting in the article…


April 16, 2019

Here is another example of the underwhelming performance of technology mistakenly referred to “artificial intelligence”.  In this case, Google’s DeepMind tool was used to take a high school math test;

The algorithm was trained on the sorts of algebra, calculus, and other types of math questions that would appear on a 16-year-old’s math exam… But artificial intelligence is quite literally built to pore over data, scanning for patterns and analyzing them…. In that regard, the results of the test — on which the algorithm scored a 14 out of 40 — aren’t reassuring.


April 3, 2019

This is a very good article in the reputable IEEE Spectrum.  It explains some of the massive over-promising and under-delivering associated with the IBM Watson initiatives in the medical industry (note: I am an IBM stockholder):

Experts in computer science and medicine alike agree that AI has the potential to transform the health care industry. Yet so far, that potential has primarily been demonstrated in carefully controlled experiments… Today, IBM’s leaders talk about the Watson Health effort as “a journey” down a road with many twists and turns. “It’s a difficult task to inject AI into health care, and it’s a challenge. But we’re doing it.”

AI systems can’t understand ambiguity and don’t pick up on subtle clues that a human doctor would notice… no AI built so far can match a human doctor’s comprehension and insight… a fundamental mismatch between the promise of machine learning and the reality of medical care—between “real AI” and the requirements of a functional product for today’s doctors.

It’s been 50 years since the folks at Stanford first created the Mycin ‘expert system’ for identifying infections, and there is still a long-way to go.  That is one reason that I continue to refer to AI as “augmented intelligence”.


February 18, 2019

A recent article in Electrical Engineering Times, proclaims that the latest incarnation of AI represents a lot of “pretending”:

In fact, modern AI (i.e. Siri, IBM’s Watson, etc.) is not capable of “reading” (a sentence, situation, an expression) or “understanding” same. AI, however, is great at pretending as though it understands what someone just asked, by doing a lot of “searching” and “optimizing.”

You might have heard of Japan’s Fifth Generation Computer System, a massive government-industry collaboration launched in 1982. The goal was a computer “using massively parallel computing and processing” to provide a platform for future developments in “artificial intelligence.” Reading through what was stated then, I know I’m not the only one feeling a twinge of “Déjà vu.”…  

Big companies like IBM and Google “quickly abandoned the idea of developing AI around logic programming. They shifted their efforts to developing a statistical method in designing AI for Google translation, or IBM’s Watson,” she explained in her book. Modern AI thrives on the power of statistics and probability.


February 16, 2019

I’ve had lengthy discussions with a famous neurologist/computer scientist about the man-made creation of synthetic intelligence, which I contend is constrained by the lack of the normative model of the brain (i.e., an understanding at the biochemical level of brain processes such the formation of memories).  I’ve been telling him for the last 10 years that our current knowledge of the brain is similar to the medical knowledge reflected in the 17th century Rembrandt painting that depicts early medical practitioners performing a vivisection on the human body (and likely remarking “hey, what’s that?”).

Well, I finally found a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins that exclaims that science needs the equivalent of the periodic table of elements to provide a framework for brain functions:

Gül Dölen, assistant professor of neuroscience at the Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins, thinks that neuroscientists might need take a step back in order to better understand this organ… Slicing a few brains apart or taking a few MRIs won’t be enough… neuroscientists can’t even agree on the brain’s most basic information-carrying unit… 

The impact could be extraordinary, from revolutionizing AI to curing brain diseases.


November 14, 2018

It’s similar to the old retort for those who can’t believe the truth: don’t ask me about my opinion on the latest rendition of AI, just ask this executive at Google:

AI is currently very, very stupid,” said Andrew Moore, a Google vice president. “It is really good at doing certain things which our brains can’t handle, but it’s not something we could press to do general-purpose reasoning involving things like analogies or creative thinking or jumping outside the box.”


July 28, 2018

Here are some words from a venture capital investor that has had similar experiences to my own when it comes to (currently) unrealistic expectations from artificial intelligence (AI):

Last year AI companies attracted more than $10.8 billion in funding from venture capitalists like me. AI has the ability to enable smarter decision-making. It allows entrepreneurs and innovators to create products of great value to the customer. So why don’t I don’t focus on investing in AI?

During the AI boom of the 1980s, the field also enjoyed a great deal of hype and rapid investment. Rather than considering the value of individual startups’ ideas, investors were looking for interesting technologies to fund. This is why most of the first generation of AI companies have already disappeared. Companies like Symbolics, Intellicorp, and Gensym — AI companies founded in the ’80s — have all transformed or gone defunct.

And here we are again, nearly 40 years later, facing the same issues.

Though the technology is more sophisticated today, one fundamental truth remains: AI does not intrinsically create consumer value. This is why I don’t invest in AI or “deep tech.” Instead, I invest in deep value.


April 22, 2018

It’s interesting that so many famous prognosticators, such Hawking, Musk, et al., are acting like the Luddites of the 19th century.  That is, they make dire predictions that new technology is harboring the end of the world.  Elon Musk has gone on record stating that artificial intelligence will bring human extinction.

Fortunately, there are more pragmatic scientists, such as Nathan Myhrvold, that understand the real nature of technology adoption.  He uses the history of mathematics to articulate a pertinent analogy as well as justify his skepticism.

This situation is a classic example of something that the innovation doomsayers routinely forget: in almost all areas where we have deployed computers, the more capable the computers have become, the wider the range of uses we have found for them. It takes a lot of human effort and jobs to satisfy that rising demand.


March 21, 2018

One of the reasons that I still have not bought-into true synthetic/artificial intelligence is the fact that we still lack a normative model that explains the operation of the human brain.  In contrast, many of the other physiological systems can be analogized by engineering systems — the cardiovascular system is a hydraulic pumping system; the excretory system is a fluid filtering system; the skeletal system is a structural support system; and so on.

One of my regular tennis partners is an anesthesiologist who has shared with me that the medical practitioners don’t really know what causes changes in consciousness.  This implies that anesthesia is still based on ‘Edisonian’ science (i.e., based predominantly on trial and error without the benefit of understanding the deterministic cause & effects).  This highlights the fact that the model for what constitutes brain states and functions is still incomplete.  Thus, it’s difficult to create an ‘artificial’ version of that extremely complex neurological system.


March 17, 2018

A great summary description of the current situation from Vivek Wadhwa:

Artificial intelligence is like teenage sex: “Everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.” Even though AI systems can now learn a game and beat champions within hours, they are hard to apply to business applications.


March 6, 2018

It’s interesting how this recent article about AI starts: “I took an Uber to an artificial intelligence conference… “  In my case, it was late 1988 and I took a taxi to an artificial intelligence conference in Philadelphia.  AI then was filled with all these fanciful promises, and frankly the attendance at the conference felt like a feeding frenzy.  It reminded me of the Jerry Lewis movie “Who’s Minding the Store” with all of the attendees pushing each other to get inside the convention hall.

Of course, AI didn’t take over the world then and I don’t expect it to now.  However, with advances in technology over the last 30 years, I do see the adoption of a different AI — ‘augmented intelligence’ –becoming more of a mainstay.  One reason (which is typically associated with the ‘internet of things’) is sensors cost next to nothing and they are much more effective – i.e., recognizing voice commands; recognizing images & shapes; determining current locations; and so on.  This provides much more human-like sensing that augments people in ways we have not yet totally imagined (e.g. food and voice recognition to support blind people).

On the flip side, there are many AI-related technologies that are really based more on the availability of large amounts of data and raw computing power.  These are often referred to with esoteric names such as neural networks and machine learning.  While these do not truly represent synthetic intelligence, they have the basis for making vast improvements in analyses.  For example, we’re working with a company to accumulate data on all the details of everything that they make to enable them to rapidly understand the true drivers of what makes a good part versus a bad part.  This is enabled by the combination of the sensors described above along with the advanced computing techniques.

The marketing people in industry have adopted the use of the phrase ‘digital transformation’ to describe the opportunities and necessities that exist with the latest technology.  For me, I just view it as the latest generation of computer hardware and software that is enabling another great wave —  If futurist Alvin Toffler were alive today, he’d likely be calling it the ‘fourth wave’.

Category: Business, Engineering  | 4 Comments
Aircraft Bone Yard in Tucson
Monday, December 02nd, 2019 | Author:


To demonstrate that there is actually strategic value in mothballing the old aircraft, the Air Force has gone to the bone yard to resurrect a B-52 that was moved to long-term storage back in 2008. It took a team at Davis-Monthan four months to prepare the 60 year-old bomber for flight after its decade-long storage in the Arizona desert.

A B-52 Stratofortress, nicknamed


July 2, 2019

It’s been awhile, but it appears that there have been some new additions to the Air Force Boneyard in Tucson.  The Navy, which retired the wings of the famous F-14 fighters a few years ago, has now started retiring the early models of the FA-18.

You can check out more at the Aviationist…


October 25, 2018

A YouTube video about the Bone Yard:


August 8, 2013

There’s a decent article at Jalopnik entitled “Why Aircraft Bone Yards Exist in the First Place



January 13, 2012

You’ve probably seen photos of the airplanes stored at Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson… A few nice aerial photos from Joe Knecht.


The first photo on the left (click the thumbnails for larger image) shows F-4, F-15, and F-14.  The middle photo shows B-52, while the photo at the right shows A-7 and some helicopters.

Many of these aircraft are on display at the nearby Pima Air & Space Museum.  I captured some photos in the posting here.

As you’ve probably seen in other growing cities, the urban sprawl has started to surround Davis Monthan.  You can drive from the Tucson Airport to parts north of the city on a major thoroughfare such as Kolb Rd, and get a chance to view the “ghost air wing” (click on the image below to go to Google Maps version).


Here’s another photo snapped from satellite (from GeoEye), as well as a shot of some C-130s on the ground during one of my drives…


Update Oct 4, 2010

I’ve discovered photographs of a Soviet version of the aircraft bone yard (much smaller scale).  You can check here at this photo-oriented web site.


Update Jan 9, 2009

I was back in Tucson for business and I stopped by the old stomping ground to capture a few more photos…  you can see me standing by the outer fence near the C-130s, as well as a close-up of one of the signs warning about the “active” dog teams.


Category: Engineering  | 3 Comments
Cracked Bicycle Rims… and Derailleur… and Chain
Saturday, October 05th, 2019 | Author:


Let’s see.  I think I’m replacing my Cannondale R700 a piece at a time…  It was my rear rim in 2015, my front derailleur in 2018, and now in 2019, I snapped my chain while riding up a steep hill.   Attempting to walk 10 miles back home with my chainless bike would have taken quite a while.  Fortunately, I had my “training director” (my wife, Missy) drive out to pick me up along with my disabled bicycle.


August 18, 2018

I was riding up a hill at Englewood Reserve, and after shifting into what I thought was 10th gear, I pondered, “Wow, I must be getting old. This is more difficult than I remember”.  That’s when I looked down at my Shimano 105 front derailleur and discovered a broken spring.  I was actually in 20th gear going up the hill.

Oh well, another part to replace on my Cannondale (this model has 3 sprockets up front and 9 in back).  I suppose the one consolation is that I’m still a spry young man on my bike.


July 5, 2015

I’ve been noted to be pretty harsh on mechanical devices that I own (I used to break the frames of my motorcycles during my motocross days), but I never expected to have multiple cracks in the rear rim on my Cannondale bicycle.    These Mavic rims are not cheapies, but in the second photo below you can see one of six cracks in the holes for the spokes.

Fortunately, my trusty bicycle service center at Troy Family Bike Shop got me fixed up with new rims and a tuneup.

Mavic Rims

Cracks in Rim

Category: Engineering, Sports  | 2 Comments
Are Engineers Writing the Articles at Engineering Sites?
Monday, September 23rd, 2019 | Author:

As an engineer, one of the sites that I visit via my Feedly reader is Interesting Engineering.    It typically covers topics pertinent to the practice of mechanical, industrial, and electrical engineering.  Since engineers have been trained to focus on objectivity, we usually prefer reading articles from fellow engineers.   While I’ve enjoyed many of the articles at Interesting Engineering, I’ve recently noticed that many of the topics have started trending toward the presentation of political positions.  This is manifested by the nature of the content.  In particular, when the site publishes articles about climate theory and evolution, the writing comes off as very sophomoric and better suited for People magazine.

Before removing Interesting Engineering from my feeds, I decided to check out the credentials of one of the authors via LinkedIn… and this background provided ample explanation:

Degree in English Literature and Hispanic Studies with modules in Journalism Studies.

He appears to be a writer auditioning for a “persuasion” role at the Washington Post or New York Times.


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Asteroids vs Climate Change
Friday, July 26th, 2019 | Author:

Evidently a city-crushing asteroid came very close to the planet that we call ‘home’:

The last-minute detection is yet another sign of how much remains unknown about space and a sobering reminder of the very real threat asteroids can pose… “It should worry us all, quite frankly,” he said. “It’s not a Hollywood movie. It is a clear and present danger.”

What do you suppose poses a greater threat to mankind?  Climate change or natural disasters (asteroids, sun spots, earthquakes, volcanos, etc.)?

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Gardening Progress 2019
Monday, July 08th, 2019 | Author:

A few snapshots of my plants (mostly grown from seeds or tubers).  The first is my grape plant, the second is a snap pea plant (that is growing like crazy), and the third is a photo of one of my over-sized Asiatic Lilly flowers.


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Knee High by Fourth of July
Saturday, July 06th, 2019 | Author:

It’s a common phrase in the corn-growing Midwestern States: “Knee High by Fourth of July“.  It’s a reference to the height of the corn stalks in the growing season.

In reality, the hybrid corn grown in Ohio has often been chest high by Independence Day… except for this year.  There has been so much rain that the farmers couldn’t get the seeds in the ground.  The photo below is a shot I took on my way to tennis a couple of days ago.  There isn’t a height reference in the photo, but this is one of the better fields and the corn is likely just “ankle high”.

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Devastation in Dayton?
Wednesday, July 03rd, 2019 | Author:

It’s now more than a month since the destructive tornado winds passed through Southwest Ohio — and as evidenced by a photo that I took today of a home in the Trotwood area (see below) — there are still many areas that need major reconstruction.


May 29, 2019

It was an interesting weekend in Dayton, Ohio.  Of course, the news organizations certainly blew the events out of proportion:  First it was 9 members of the Indiana KKK in Dayton with the national news forecasting the end-of-the-world; and then it was a major tornado that touched down in my vicinity with the media claiming ‘devastation’…

The challenge with tornadoes is that they are very unpredictable.  Weather radar and cloud formations are not necessarily reliable indicators of potential touchdowns and damage.

You can see a photo below that I snapped on Tuesday morning of a tree hanging over the electrical lines, a common occurrence with windy summer weather.  The second photo is of my old stomping grounds during my ice hockey days, Hara Arena.  It looks like someone has started demolition of the old eyesore.

Fortunately, other than sheltering in the basement Monday night and being without electricity on Tuesday and Wednesday, we’re doing fine.

Of course, I had to fire-up our 5KW gasoline-powered electrical generator to keep the refrigerator/freezer running (as well as provide some lighting and recharging capability).

The image below shows the paths of the multiple tornadoes (purple lines) as well as the areas of major damage (yellow triangles) .   Since these ran near both my home and my businesses, we were pretty lucky to come out fairly unscathed.


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