Tag Archives: IT

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a candidate right out of a Philip K Dick Novel

Melenchon hologram
In France, politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon plans to be in seven places at once using  something similar to a hologram. According to Le Parisien:

Strictly speaking, these are not holograms. Jean-Luc Mélenchon will be present in seven different places thanks to … an optical illusion discovered for the first time half a century ago by an Italian physicist

Virtual Mélenchon reminds me of the politician Yance in Philip K Dick’s novel, The Penultimate Truth. We may not be far off where we get virtual candidate that look like people but behind the scenes we have AI or some combination of AI and people.

For more on the technology, see the article in Le Parisien. For more on Dick’s novel, see Wikipedia. Read up now: I think we can expect to see more of this technology in use soon.


How to get a Raspberry Pi working with a TV with composite/component input (as opposed to HDMI)

I had an old Raspberry Pi 1 Model A, with an HDMI port and a standard RCA composite video port for older displays and I also had an old Toshiba TV (pictured above) and I wanted to get them working together. Here’s what I did and here’s some things I learned.

First things first, I had to get a the Raspberry Pi functional. To do that, I mostly followed the steps here: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2598363/how-to-set-up-raspberry-pi-the-little-computer-you-can-cook-into-diy-tech-projects.html. I say mostly because I was using a Mac, so I used SDFormatter to format the SD card. If you have a Mac, you can get SDFormatter here.

Basic steps to set up the Pi were:

  1. Download Raspbian
  2. Download SDFormatter
  3. Put the SD Card in my Mac (you want at least an 8 GB SD card).
  4. Format the SD Card using SDFormatter
  5. Unzip Raspbian
  6. Take the files in the unzipped Raspbian folder and copy them onto the SD Card (which should appear on your desktop)

All that is pretty straightforward in terms of setting up the Pi. If you don’t care for the instructions from PCWorld, Google “Raspberry Pi setup Mac” (or Windows or whatever your operating system) and you will likely find a site that is helpful.

Now, once the files are copied on to the SD Card, modify the config.txt file on the SD card. This is a key thing I had to do. Before I did it, I could plug my Pi into the TV but nothing appeared on the screen. After modifying the config.txt file (and it took some hacking around), I was able to get it to work.

Why do you have to do this? It seems that Raspbian assume you will be using HDMI and will not recognize a non-HDMI output device unless you modify the file. So modify it you must.

Note! Before I edited the file and replaced the text in it, I selected all of the text in that file and copied and pasted it into a file on my Mac as a backup. I recommend you do the same. Then I made the changes to the file, saved it, then ejected the SD card and put it in my Raspberry Pi. If you want to see my version of the file, you can see it here.

It was a process of trial and error to figure out which lines in the the config.txt to change. I was fortunate that I could start with this page which had details on how he got it working. Unfortunately his config.txt and the one I needed were slightly different, so I kept at it until I figured out how it should work. (With his file, the text was unstable: it kept rolling up the screen. With my file, the text did not roll.)

In my config.txt, I have colour burst disabled, rendering everything in black and white. Enable it if you want colour. I disabled it because I thought it would improve resolution but it did not.

Other things to note:

  • I had trouble determining which part of the composite cable should go into the TV. I had one end plugged into the Raspberry Pi, but it took me trial and error until I figured out where to plug the other end into the TV.
  • It will take up to a minute or longer before the Raspberry Pi sends video to my TV. If you don’t see output right away, be patient.
  • Most newer TVs also have composite/component ports. I used them for some testing.
  • Is it worth doing this if you can hook up to HDMI? I’d say no. I wanted to make use of the old Toshiba TV but if I had an old monitor with an HDMI port, I’d get an HDMI cable from the dollar store and connect up the Raspberry Pi that way.
  • When is it worth doing? I’d say if you had simple output to display, and the only ports available on your TV were the component ports, than give it a shot. I actually wrote a simple Twitter client in Python that polls Twitter every 5 minutes and displays my feed in text form. For simple text output like that, this set up is perfect. (You can see the output above: it looks weird due to the refresh rate and my phone: to the eye, it looks ok.)
  • Is it component or composite? I see the words “component” and “composite” used  and I am not sure which is correct.  In my case, all I know is I have one cable to connect the Pi’s video output to the TV’s input port. The Pi has only one video port to plug into, so that’s easy. Most TVs will have more than one port to accept video input: you need to experiment to get the right one.

I hope you found this useful.

P.S. The other thing I like about doing this is: my TV now  looks like the TV between Leon and Holden in Blade Runner. 🙂

Want to send a fax without a fax machine? Now you can!

How? By using: Free Fax • Free Internet Faxing. I haven’t used it, but you can send free faxes to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada, apparently.

If you are dealing with organizations that refuse email as a valid way to receive information and insist on a fax, this could save your day.


Thoughts on automation, from the WSJ (and me, someone who specialized in automation)

Christopher Mims has a good piece here that touches on many of the recent arguments concerning automation, here: Automation Can Actually Create More Jobs (WSJ). Well worth reading.

For my own perspective, early in my career my job was automating many of the systems operations tasks in my part of IBM. In one year I automated essentially the work of 10 people. No one lost their job as result, because while it was good to have these activities automated, the activities were not valuable enough to justify hiring people to do the work. Essentially the automation improved the quality of our work. Automation using IT to improve the quality of work is a good use of automation, be that automation be a lowly shell script or very expensive robot with A.I. Quality aside, how the automation affects staff depends on the culture and the makeup of an organization.

There is talk of places like McDonald’s replacing workers with kiosks as a result of a drive by some for a higher minimum wage. First off, McDonald’s are rolling out those kiosks in Canada, too, which makes me think they are going to deploy them regardless of what the minimum wage is. Second, I have used the kiosks a number of times, and they are of a limited benefit to a McDonald’s customer. The kiosks are good if there is a long line for a person to take your order: they kiosks are bad if there is a small line or no line. They are bad because it will take you many more minutes to place your order, due to the kiosk’s user interface. (Try one and you will see.) The kiosks some time will fail to print out your receipt: if you don’t remember your order number, then you have to go in line, tell them what you ordered, and then get your number. Overall the kiosks are not bad: they are especially good if you like to special order. But if the lines aren’t long and your order is standard, skip them and go in line.

Besides that, McDonald’s will still have plenty of staff and likely will for the future. Kiosks can’t cook, can’t pack your order, and can’t clean the restaurant. If you think robots can do that and do it cheaply, you need to learn more about robotics. I can see why McDonald’s and other fast food places need automation: they are constantly trying to retain people while trying to keep costs down. But the notion they are automating to spite people looking for a higher wage is ridiculous. McDonald’s is not going to become a glorified vending machine and they should not try to be. People go to restaurants and coffee shops to socialize and to come in contact with other people, and automation will provide less of that, not more.

As well, smart fast food places will learn that human contact makes for better business (see Starbucks). There are many ways to be successful as a fast food business, and a positive experience in dealing with staff is one of those ways.

Automation changes work. However, how it changes work is complex. It is tempting to assume that it will eliminate all work, but that is too simplistic. In addition, we need to think about work, income, and why we do what we do. Automation can help us do that, and that is one clear benefit of automation.

(Image: link to image.freepik.com)

How IBM Watson helped Time magazine narrow its search for Person of the Year 

Interesting article: How IBM Watson helped Time magazine narrow its search for Person of the Year (IT Business)

From a technology point of view, it is also interesting that the IBM partner was using IBM’s Watson and Bluemix technologies.

I am biased here, as someone who works for IBM and believes in these technology, but I do think that if you think A.I. and cognitive doesn’t have a place in your business, you should read this. In the next two years, expect all your competitors to adopt these new technologies to compete with you.

My mixed bag of IT links for December

Like previous collections of IT links, this collection reflects things I am interested in or found useful recently:

  1. If you want to get started using APIs, I recommend this: Most Popular APIs Used at Hackathons | ProgrammableWeb
  2. If you want to build that web site, consider Using Twitter Bootstrap with Node.js, Express and Jade – Andrea Grandi, and this Building a Website from Scratch with ExpressJS and Bootstrap | Codementor. Also Mastering MEAN: Introducing the MEAN stack and Bluemix Mobile, Part 1: Creating a Store Catalog application – Bluemix Blog
  3. Or develop a mobile app like this: Create Swift mobile apps with IBM Watson services – developerWorks Courses
  4. I am a fan of Bluemix and Eclipse. This article ties them nicely together: IBM Bluemix – Eclipse Package Download – Neon release.
  5. I am also a fan of IoT these days. For fellow IoT fans, these links are good: Intro to Hardware Hacking on the Arduino — Julia H Grace and $10 DIY Wifi Smart Button | SimpleIOThings.
  6. Speaking of IoT, if you have been doing some work with Arduinos, you might be interested in the ESP8266. Some good info on it here ESP8266 Thing Hookup Guide – learn.sparkfun.com and a good thing to do with it, here: SimpleIOThings | Simple Do-It-Yourself Internet-of-Things Projects
  7. More good links related to software and application development work here Migrate an app from Heroku to Bluemix and here A Concise Introduction To Prolog, plus Building without an Ounce of Code – Part 2 – Apps Without Code Blog and this Turning a form element into JSON and submiting it via jQuery – Developer Drive
  8. Some interesting links pertaining to Minecraft: Can Minecraft teach kids how to code? – Safari Blog and Minecraft and Bluemix, Part 1: Running Minecraft servers within Docker.
  9. There’s lots of talk about AI these days, the  Economist explains why artificial intelligence is enjoying a renaissance
  10. If you are interesting in working in IT, you might like this: How to Get a Job In Deep Learning or this: An Unconventional Guide for Getting a Software Engineering Job — Julia H Grace
  11. Or maybe you want start a start-up. If so, check this out: A Free Course from Y Combinator Taught at Stanford | Open Culture
  12. Finally, here are just a number of interesting but mostly unrelated links:
    1. IBM Blockchain 101: Quick-start guide for developers
    2. Building three-tier architectures with security groups | AWS Blog
    3. Performance Tuning Apache and MySQL for Drupal
    4. How to secure an Ubuntu 16.04 LTS server 
    5. Clean Your System and Free Disk Space | BleachBit
    6. Use an iPad as a Raspberry Pi display — Kano OS – YouTube
    7. (Software iSCSI) Configuring SAN boot on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 or 6 series


Two additions to my github repositories: one for IBM Watson, one for monitoring Linux systems

I’ve recently added two repos to my github account:

The first one is some proof of concept code I wrote to demonstrate how to work with IBM Watson’s Tradeoff Analytics service using node.js

The second one is some sample code I have had for some time that does simple server monitoring of a Linux server.

There is no intellectual property involved in these repos: it is simple code based on documented code samples found in many places on the web.

For more details, see my Github landing page, here: blm849 (Bernie Michalik)