Monday, 19 February 2018

Metalhead's dogs are creeper than Boston Dynamics


Last week's The Last Leg tv show referenced a meme of a robot dog opening a door.

To me, the striking thing about the sequence wasn't its creepiness, but it was how similar the robot looked to the ones in the Metalhead episode of Black Mirror. maybe if I'd seen this first I would have thought it creepier, but somehow the Charlie Brooker ones win.

Ironically, the main robot in the Metalhead story was three-legged, something which The Last Leg didn't mention. I wonder if there's a whole licensing/copying thing lurking in the background?

The manufacturers of the real SpotMini robot are Boston Dynamics, and they have a whole slew of others, right the way up to a RoboCop sized device, although I don't think they have been fitted with guns (yet).

The original BigDog model was developed for the US Army/DARPA as a pack mule to traverse difficult terrain. Although it could carry 150lbs, it needed a 2 stroke petrol engine to operate and was deemed unsuitable for service.

Boston Dynamics has an interesting history, including spending part of its life owned by Alphabet/Google. It has made a whole array of robotic prototypes, including an earlier dog that famously was almost impossible to kick over.

The company was sold on in 2017, to the cuddly-named Japanese Softbank.

Some of the original robots have since been -er- canned, and the latest consumer variant to is nothing to be sneezed at.

Although, I can't help thinking its more like a mannequin holding an iPad. But maybe the friendly looking one is there as a placeholder whilst they get the 6 foot tall Atlas series ready. And yes, that's a real picture of the prototype. I have a feeling it will take more than the 80 Watts continuous that the average human requires to operate.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

select gear and pedal


The Garmin is once more functional on my bike, and Fitbit is again logging step counts. Curiously, the Fitbit logs a considerably lower step count than an equivalent Vivofit, but I'll stick with what I know.

Maybe it is a case of 'this is my truth, give me yours' or something like that? Appropriate to health measurement as well as a chance to slip in a Nye Bevan quote as a nod to the health service.

However I look at it, both my step count and my cycling history show a lengthy period of underwhelming activity. The cycling has the long gap caused by the locked away bicycles.

It's along the lines of the last 90 days (and longer) with zero activity and then a recent faltering restart.

The late January interrupted restart included getting the bikes sorted out, then getting the little sensor things re-aligned as well as getting the bike(s) to once more automatically blog what they had been up to.

Next, I'll need to set some belated 2018 targets.

Friday, 16 February 2018

дезинформация? безусловно не *


Now that 13 Russians are under indictment related to US vote manipulation accusations, we are either at the start of a protracted process, or about to see a team of investigators deposed.

As I've previously noted, much of the material about these matters has been circulating for many months.

The clever move has been to denounce much of what is out there as 'Fake News' or, as the Russians would prefer to think of it, as дезинформация / dezinformatsiya. Brilliantly, they have had their own troll farms to pump out whatever stories they liked for many years. It's pretty much the continuation of the systems started during the Cold War.

There's also a US embarrassment, because even after the FBI's NorthernLights operation to track some of the disinformation providers prior to the US election, there was a senior US belief that it was impregnable to such influence capers.

Brrrp.


So a small team of Russians in a company owned by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin -ahem- "Putin's cook" and originally described as the Internet Research Agency (nowadays Glavset) could inexpensively create mayhem via well-targeted messaging. Yes, that's billionaire Yevgeny serving Vladimir a salad.

Meanwhile the US was less concerned about countermeasures instead fumbling to create its own equivalence.

It also makes the whole Trump involvement question quite slippery. Trump may have had form in Russia, with Miss Universe contests and Trump Tower licensing. It almost didn't matter to the Russians who Trump actually knew, he could simply be targeted as a stooge to Russian destabilisation plans.

Notwithstanding the well-documented cases around misogyny, mendacity, racism, narcissm and sociopathy, we still have the questions around hard factual crimes to examine. Some might infer that a Trump owned building that housed money launderers, mafia style enforcers and casino interests might have some links back to the various activities? Or are they just trumped up suspicions?

We shall probably never know, because of the labyrinthine way that most of the topics are handled and the huge misdirections that permit one form of lamentable act to take place whilst everyone is looking at something else.

* disinformation? surely not.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

zero she flies

kraken garmin
Now I have the bicycles working again, I'm also keen to get the electronics working that provide progress monitoring. Unfortunately, the Edge 810 handlebar unit I've used for since 2013 has died, with a combination of a battery problem and a switch problem. Unusable and regrettably binned.

I've temporarily tried reverting to an older 2010 Edge 800 unit which seems to hold a (short) battery charge, and although it will clock up metrics, it doesn't want to upload them. I've tried all the recommended resets and deletes, but it doesn't seem to make any difference.

I think it is time to get a reliable replacement unit.

My TrainingPeaks statistics go back to 2011 so I'd much rather get it all working again. It's almost annoying now when I use the tracker but it doesn't work reliably.

All of this means that right now I'm back at less than zero on all my main statistics, so it will be interesting to see if I can reclaim some of the fitness.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

not watched over by machines of loving grace


I see that some of the people that were betting on the indexation of volatility came unstuck last week. Not forgetting that many regular equity investors also lost money.

Credit Suisse handled one of the exchange traded products central to what happened and which was once worth $2.2bn, although last week it lost 96% of its value during the equities sell off, before being declared defunct. Nomura had a similar product which they also shut down.

Neither bank will have been directly affected by this, being merely the facilitators of the products and consequently only accepting their 'that'll do nicely' margin on all of the transactions involved.

It reminds me of that movie, The Big Short, where complex bundling was used to hide dodgy products, until it all unwound. I suppose it illustrates that the slippy money just gets moved around to the next big scam whilst the real effects of the losses drift through into pension funds originally designed to support average working folk.

The guy who wrote the original book of The Big Short (Michael Lewis) also wrote Flash Boys, which is the one about High Frequency Traders. It describes the people who trade in the microseconds of volatility during share disruptions using ultra fast computers on fast links close to the main exchanges. The principal is like that rigged betting used in the movie The Sting, only this version is legal.

Now there's an ironic twist as the listed values of these HFTs are themselves rising. Companies like Virtu and Flow Traders are seeing short term gains in their own listings. A kind of 'meta cubed' level of redirection. Betting on the companies that trade on the volatility of the markets created by exchange traded products failing.

Something else trips into view with all of this. The volatility index (Vix) which was another catalyst in the week's big sell off. More than it being a lagging indicator, there's allegations that trading firms with sophisticated algorithms could manipulate the Vix up or down by posting quotes on S&P options. If true, they wouldn't even need to trade or deploy capital but could cash in on shorts against the falling equities.

But its all quite sophisticated stuff, muddied further by machines running much of the buying and selling. We are still some way from Richard Brautigan's
cybernetic forest filled with pines and electronics where deer stroll peacefully past computers as if they were flowers with spinning blossoms.

Monday, 12 February 2018

a hack from a handsaw


I still use and am even fairly loyal to Garmin products, but I've recently had another one croak on me. This time it was a combination of failing battery and then the switch on the side of the unit stopped working.

I can remember from other Garmin units that when they die, they really die and there's no economical way to repair them. I experienced it with an earlier Edge unit and a couple of their watches. I suppose they do get bashed about a bit in all conditions, but it seems to be quite small things that eventually make them stop working.

Another Garmin device used a small 2032 battery which, once removed, lost all the settings forever and wouldn't allow the unit to be restarted.

And now I see that the latest Apple gadget may be following a similar route.

Even the iFixit team couldn't get inside the new HomePod without using a hacksaw. They also noticed that the circuit boards have been flooded with glue to keep the components in place and to stop rattles. That'll stop home adaptations of the units too.

Maybe the intention is that this will be a 'buy once, lasts forever' kind of purchase, which certainly was true in the days of component hi-fi, but less so in these digital times.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

air


My earlier photos of the slopes made it look fairly deserted. Naturally, around the ski stations there's plenty of people. The wide range of feeder cable car routes make this inevitable. Although it looks like a free-for-all it is really quite orderly as people go through the Oyster card style gates to get onto the individual gondolas. I reckon the queue time was only a matter of two or three minutes.

The alternative to using the main slopes is to walk to one of the freestyle areas, ideally carrying a snowboard, to enable some proper air action.

And anyway, once down a slope, there's plenty of spots to pause, maybe to drink in some sunshine, maybe something else as well.

But let's don the Volcom and go take a look over the edge.

There's various ways to get started...

But what goes up must surely come down...

Sometimes moving the show around just a little bit.

Or, just throw some snow around. It still looks dramatic.

Those snow machines will soon put it all back in the right place.

And here's another one of a wider area, to show that there's something for everyone.

So, choose your style and pursue it with vigour.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Kaprun construction

Top of Kitzsteinhorn
Our base is in the Austrian ski resort area of Kaprun, a small town a few kilometres from Zell-am-See and about 100 kilometres south-west of Salzburg. Nowadays it has adapted to the tourism associated with skiing, having some of the higher mountains close by and a glacier which can provide a snow experience throughout the whole year.

See Kaprun at the bottom of the valley, from my picture taken on the mountainside.

Right now Kaprun is part way through building two new gondola lifts from the centre of town which will link onto the route to the glacier. This significant civil engineering requires both a new cablecar system and also new roads and feeder infrastructure.

My diagram shows the planned new piece of infrastructure, which links right to the Langwied Mountain Station at around 1976 metres. Currently the way to get there involves a 6 km route out of Kaprun before reaching a base station at around 900 metres. Then it is separate routes at 1976m, then 2450m and finally 3029m to get to the top. The new route will go directly to the intermediate 1976m station and presumably will create a big new opportunity for the once farming village of Kaprun.

But these old pictures only tell a partial story of a village that came under Hermann Göring's rule as part of a German propaganda initiative.

In 1938, the Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg had been bullied by Hitler into agreeing a greater Nazi presence within Austria. Schuschnigg hoped that agreeing to Hitler’s demands would prevent a German invasion. Instead, German foreign minister Göring faked a "plea" for German assistance from inside the Austrian government. Then German troops marched into Austria and Hitler announced his Anschluss (the so called Union of Austria and Germany).

Göring staged the start of construction of Kaprun Dams in 1938, as part of plans for a "Tauernkraftwerk" mountain hydro electricity power plant. There were no plans so he simply used a field and some men with shovels to create the propaganda.

Despite the lack of plans, forced labourers (i.e. slaves) were used to begin the construction in horrendous conditions. As the war started, prisoners including Polish, French and Soviet POWs, Italians, people from the territories of the Soviet Union (‘Ostarbeiter’) and Jews were used to continue the work on power station and on the dam above it in the valley.

By the end of 1944, work on the site had come to a halt, but not before a crude barrage had been constructed out of any materials available at the mountain camp in a desperate attempt to produce some electricity. The propaganda value of this Kaprun Hauptstufe was considerable, even though the amount of power generated was negligible.

After the war the construction of the original Kaprun dams stopped. Then, in 1947, it was started up again and advanced quickly, albeit with still extremely challenging conditions.

Initially, the revised projects were led by the Americans, and the still tough working environment deployed local Austrians and added a few features like the working camp cinema, as was to try to improve morale for this second wave of the project.

Quite quickly, in 1951, the 120 metre high Limberg wall was finished and one year later the main power plant started to operate. Also, in 1950, the construction of the second Kaprun Oberstufe Dam started. Finished five years later, the two dams are connected through a 12 kilometre tunnel.

We found out most of this from a small museum in Kaprun and subsequently I noticed this Austrian movie dramatisation of the second wave of construction. Incidentally, notice the 'Sound of Music' moment in this movie (0:50-ish), ten years before the actual Sound of Music was made.

Friday, 9 February 2018

summit

Kitzsteinhorn
I said I'd get around to posting some pictures from on the mountains. Above is my iPhone snap of the walk up - or down - with one of the numerous cablecars to the side. From the base station the first choice of cablecars are the Panorama or Gletscherjet (Glacierjet) which climb the first 1000 metres or so. Then there's a couple more to get to the 3000 metre summit.
Looking towards a few other peaks
My picture above is from the intermediate level, which already provides a pretty good panoramic view of the mountains. Then to the very top which stands at around 3000 metres. There's also about 3 metres (10 feet) of snow at this level, so the exact heights are slightly debatable.
Glacier at Kitzsteinhorn
My picture from officially 3029 metres looks down onto the glacier, where there's some signs of skiing activity. I'll put together a ski-slopes based post separately, because despite the apparent lack of people there's about 50 in the picture. You'll need to click through and magnify to see most of them although around the corner at the various cafes, restaurants and easier ski runs there's thousands more.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

chiller


Another chilly day, temperatures dipping below -10C up top. So far our slightly technical clothing and layering is keeping us toasty, although the use of a sauna back at base is also quite handy.

Below is a quick late afternoon picture from half way up illustrating that the clouds are like a sandwich layer between the lower level and the peaks at the moment.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

chill

Icicles
We've seen quite a few of the signs saying, 'beware of the roof avalanches', although I'm wondering if we should also see some for the icicles, some of which are one a metre long.

The roof avalanche on our own balcony wasn't too bad and has since had its further light covering of snow.

I'm typing this on the balcony, but my fingers are cold from the Macbook's metal surface in -2C temperatures. Still, it's -7C up top at the moment.
P2070702.jpg

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Apfelstrudel


My other pictures are still in the camera, so this iPhone snap of Apfelstrudel from mid-afternoon will have to suffice until I can catch up.

I can see how it is sort of evocative of the Alps.

I accompanied it with hot chocolate with whipped cream (Heisse Schoko mit Schlag), so I can feel a little bit guilty now.

But not very. Particularly when I notice that the Austrians still have cigarette machines on street corners and ashtrays in bars.

But then, they also stage skier street races like tonight's through the shopping district.