Tech Savvy Talks will return from a winter break on Wednesday August 8th, meeting at 9.15 am in the car park for an excursion to GOTAFE’s Innovation Hub in Wangaratta.
Then on Thursday August 23rd the ‘Tech Savvy Talkers’ will meet at ‘The Northo’ at 3pm to catch up on items and issues of interest.
Our last meeting consisted of a short talk about the origins of coffee from about the 15th century onwards. Some surprising facts were that it is the most traded agricultural commodity in the world and the second most traded after petroleum. The industry employs over 100 million people worldwide mainly in the production of green beans in developing countries. Other interesting facts are that it spread across the world quite rapidly after an Islam mystic Brother Baba Budan smuggled seven seeds into Yemen and grew the Coffea Arabica bushes. We also looked at the development of roasting and grinding methods which are now quite sophisticated. The evolution of brewing machines started around the beginning of the 20th century with the first true espresso machine being produced in 1947. Technological improvements followed quite rapidly and today’s machines, both home and commercial take full advantage of today’s technologies. The presentation closed with a short video of a café latte complete with latte art being produced robotically using the latest machines.
Brian Howard showed us some of the model heat engines that he has produced with his great skill. One works simply on hot water while a second was a miniature steam engine.
Bev lead a discussion on podcasting, which was new to most members. There is a huge range of podcasts available both audio and video based on a great variety of topics and music. Very useful when driving or at night if sleep isn’t coming so easily. We will look into this further next semester.
Speaking of next semester we discussed greater involvement by the members of the group and decided that for next semester it might be better if I lead the first hour of a session and others might be able finish the second half with topics of interest to them personally. Because of the absence of a number of members in July it was agreed to have a break that month and start in August with a possible excursion as the first meeting.
Photograph - Malcolm Sanders
Seeing that the instigator of quantum computing, Richard Feynman, would have been be 100 years old this month and our Australian of the year Michelle Simmons, is a whiz on quantum computing, quantum computing was the focus of our May session. As part of a most informative session presented by Les, we watched a presentation by Richard Feynman ‘Probability & Uncertainty – the Quantum Mechanical View of Nature’ on You Tube, followed by a video segment Women in Science - Michelle Simmons.
Throughout May there have been many emails between members about next steps in terms of the NBN, with some members now choosing from available plans, receiving new routers, being connected, monitoring internet speeds and comparing them with what they have been used to.
NBN and related topics were also shared at a most convivial ‘Tech Savvy Talkers at the Northo’ session in late May.
Members are asked to put their thinking hats on then contact Les on 5762 7600 with a technology/science related topic of interest they could add to the agenda for 15 minutes at our session on 13th June. It could be a 'show and tell'; a book review; Ted Talk, documentary of interest or a presentation on a topic about which you are intrigued or have a passion. This isn't compulsory, but a great opportunity to give Les a break if you have a topic you'd like to present.
Bev Lee and Les Rodgers
'Digital Assistants’ have been on the agenda at a recent Thursday afternoon coffee meeting and at our regular session this month. There are four main alternatives, which are Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft. Of these Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ appears to be the most innovative, with an enhanced voice recognition algorithm able to recognize individual account owner’s voices and proposed use of the owner’s voice as a password for access to the account. Up to ten different voices can be recorded.
We watched a short video clip demonstrating how to set up Alexa with the latest version of the digital assistant. The video also demonstrated how Alexa would only recognize the account owner’s voice and rejected others. However it also showed how it could be foiled by a recording of the owner’s voice. Since Amazon is also considering developing a finance capacity similar to PayPal using Alexa, further enhancement of the security will be needed.
Our Ted Talk this time was by Scott Galloway, a Professor of marketing from NYU. The talk was entitled “How Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google manipulate our emotions.”The combined market capitalization of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google is now greater than the GDP of India (and Australia).
In this spectacular and controversial rant, Scott Galloway shared insights and eye-opening stats about their dominance and motivation. Some interesting discussion followed the video..
We also followed up on the 5G mobile demonstration by Telstra at the Gold Coast during the Commonwealth Games using some cutting edge technology. We noted the evolution of Telstra from a telephone company to a data services company which will involve the “shuttering” of 2500 local telephone exchanges and converting the remainder to distributed data centres. There will also be additional data centres located between the major data centres and the local facilities. This is needed for edge computing vis a vis cloud computing where fast acting low latence transmission is required for the IOT. Fifty percent of mobile traffic is still expected to go over the 4G network.
This month we had the second part of a two part series about Artificial Intelligence.
Firstly we listened to a Ted Talk by Zeynep Tufekci about the impact of the use of AI by the big software houses Facebook, Google and Amazon. The strategy of these businesses is to keep internet users glued to their respective sites to sell advertising and products. These organizations collect and process enormous amounts of personal data and use AI to greatly increase this data and categorise people into various groups which can be individually targeted by users and unscrupulous users, including political and government.
This was followed by two short videos from the Wall Street Journal about the revolution in robotics leading to the unemployment of large numbers of people worldwide, even including China. This is likely to have a society altering impact which must be addressed by governments over the next ten years. “The next ten years will be either the best or the worst in human history” according to an MIT professor.
Finally we looked at a couple of short segments from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie 2001-A Space Odyssey, showing what a super intelligent computer could do if it had no moral or ethical alignment with human values. This was followed by Ted Talks opposed to and in favour of the idea of an Existential Threat to humanity from Artificial Super Intelligence.
Zeynep Tufekci, Ted Talk
Wall St Journal Moving Up series
2001- A Space Odyssey video clips
Garry Booch Ted Talk
Nick Bostrom Ted Talk
Post script: Change of venue: Next month’s ‘Tech Savvy Talkers’ discussion group will be at ‘the Northo’ (North Eastern Hotel), 3 to 4pm on Thursday April 26th.
Artficial Intelligence has become a hot topic in recent times. It was an agenda item at the World Economic Forum at Davos earlier this year. It was also a major item for discussion at the recent World Government Summit in Dubai, where it was addressed under the title of Human Augmentation.
The Talk Savvy Talks meeting this month had an in-depth look at what Artificial Intelligence is and found that it is now considered to consist of several parts:
A(NI) is very much in use at the present time and has the capacity to take over high level repetitive tasks currently carried out by humans, which is why it is a topic of conversation at World Forums. It can have a major impact on society and is considered by some to be as significant as was the Industrial Revolution.
We looked at several relevant videos, including ‘What is Artifical Intelligence – for People in a Hurry’;‘Google’s Deep Mind Explained’ and an interview with educator and entrepreneur Sebastian Thrun, ‘What AI is -- and isn’t’, which highlights the way in which the new generation of computers is programming itself (subtitles/closed captions available) (link to transcript).
Next month we will consider the impact and potential future impact of AI.
We were fortunate to have Martin Nichol from Sun Real to speak to our group in November.
Sun Real completed the installation of a 100 percent renewable off grid micro hydroelectric system at Mt Stirling to service the Telephone Box Junction café, ski-shop and office, as contracted by the Mt Buller/Mt Stirling Resort Management Board. This was to replace the hydro system destroyed by fire during the bushfires of 2006-7 which was temporarily replaced by a diesel powered generator. The project by all accounts was a very challenging one due to the difficult terrain and the need to install a weir with 350 metres of 110 mm diameter poly pipe to deliver water to the AC ‘turbine’ with 80 metres of vertical drop. Around 6 to 7 kW power is produced by the 3 phase alternator. This is converted to DC and then converted back to AC by associated inverters to provide 3 phase grid quality power.
To get the power from the turbine to Telephone Box Junction several hundred metres of aluminium cable was also installed. 650 metres is underground down the Mt Stirling Rd and 200 metres in steel conduit through bush country in accordance with the environmental requirements of the State Government and Energy Safe Victoria.
Also installed was a large lead acid battery bank costing around $30,000 and associated inverters. This provides 70 kW hours of storage to boost power production when required.
Martin explained some of the difficulties and problems which arose with the project. The system has been operational since July this year and is working well according to reports.
Martin also imparted a good deal of information about roof top solar systems generally and responded to many questions from interested participants regarding the latest types of panels available, micro inverters, power optimizers and battery back up. Martin also showed us some very interesting monitor displays of working solar systems. The information available from these displays shows how well the system is performing and how much power is being used at any time and how much is fed back to the grid.
Everybody present found it a most interesting and informative session.
At our October meeting we considered pumped hydro schemes as an alternative option for baseload energy. After a vigorous discussion about the complex nature of decision making about alternative energy sources we watched a recent Lateline program in which Bob Katter took Anthony Albanese on a renewable energy ‘power trip’ to see a range of renewable energy projects in his rural electorate. It was refreshing to see two MPs from different political backgrounds engaging constructively in discussions about options for renewable energy during the trip, which included a visit to a pumped hydro scheme. We then watched another video segment which explained the nature of pumped hydro schemes in greater detail (links are available on the Tech Savvy Talks web page).
After the break we moved on to advanced robotics, watching an absorbing documentary in which cameras followed the almost completely ‘roboticized’ BMW assembly line from go to whoa during the production of its 2018 model. The comparison with the assembly line when David Hall worked at Ford c 1977 and when Bev’s Economics students attended excursions to see assembly lines operating at Ford and Holden during the 70s and 80s was stark.
Our next session will feature a guest speaker from local renewable energy business ‘Sun Real’. Sun Real’s recent projects have included a small hydro installation at Mount Sterling. We had initially planned to go on an excursion with Martin from Sun Real to Mt Sterling in November, but after a ‘reality check’ decided most of our legs wouldn’t manage the walk in from the road!
Our ‘Tech Savvy Talkers’ discussion group continues to meet at Rustik café on the fourth Thursday at 3 pm. At the next meeting they will be farewelling Peter Simpson, who is moving to Shepparton. We will miss you Peter!
Something to add to our discussions regarding electric vehicles...
September - Marcus Bolger on the role of Patent Attorneys and Chris Urmson's TED Talk on Driverless Cars
At our September Meeting Marcus Bolger gave an excellent presentation to the group about his work as a Patents Attorney. There was no shortage of questions for Marcus from class members, many with backgrounds in science, technology and engineering. Thank you for a most informative presentation, Marcus!
Tech Savvy Talks sessions usually incorporate a TED Talk on a technology related topic. TED talks are video podcasts of the best talks and performances from TED Conferences around the world in which the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). There are talks on science, technology, entertainment, design, business, global issues, the arts and much more. This month Les recommended a particularly thought provoking and informative TED Talk ‘How a Driverless Car Sees the Road’ by Chris Urmson, a roboticist and until recently head of Google's self driving car project. You can view it below along with some articles for further reading.
Driverless or autonomous cars are very different from cars with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems which are now readily available. They are not something in the distant future and in fact a number of manufacturers expect to have level 4 cars available for sale by 2020. Level 4 means that the car can drive autonomously but may hand control back to a driver under some circumstances. Therefore controls such as steering wheels accelerator and brake controls will still be present. Level 5 autonomous cars will have no controls or steering wheel in the car. A major benefit from autonomous cars is the reduction in loss of life from motor accidents currently at over a million per year worldwide at present.
Our next TED TALK will be in similar vein, but about advanced robots, as presented at this years TED TALKS conference.
Unfortunately there wasn’t time at our regular meeting in September to continue with the series about cells so the next part will be shown in our meeting room at 2.00 pm prior to our next 'Coffee at Rustik' get together.
Follow up reading -
Recent article relating to Chris Urmson in Forbes -- https://www.forbes.com/sites/chunkamui/2017/05/08/urmson-on-driverless-cars/#356681bf47c9
'Perspectives on Driverless Cars' Lecture in April 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtgBySRrN0Q
This month Tech Savvy members began by sharing topics including driverless cars; the growing use of artificial intelligence; use of smart phones when travelling; the coding error and money laundering crisis facing the Commonwealth Bank; driveable helicopters and the world’s first floating wind farm. Les and Wendi shared frustrating episodes of problem solving with IT, with applause for Les on his eventual victory.
On a different note, Len reported on using a lathe for the first time in his current pastime of restoring ‘kangaroo’ chairs. David Hall then became an impromptu guest speaker as we drew him out about the superbly crafted wooden box he had with him. David spoke about the woods he uses in his work, including the wood from pellets; woods available in the North East; integrating computer related design skills from his engineering background when he works and the work he will be exhibiting in October at the Manningham Gallery.
After the break, we watched first of a three part series about cells, the basis of all life on earth. The video was a visually stunning high definition blue ray video produced by the BBC and presented by Dr. Adam Rutherford. The first part showed the fascinating story of the progress of the study of cells from when a Dutch producer and seller of napkins and also an amateur scientist, first found life in a sample of water. He invented a simple tiny microscope of far greater power than the renowned scientists in the Royal Society in England had seen before. This enabled him to see and describe the “little animals” in the water which the English scientists were unable to reproduce at first. The story continued of the many people and groundbreaking discoveries that lead to the realization that all life on earth, plant and animal came from similar cells with a nucleus. The story will continue and eventually bring us up to modern times so that we can explore “what happened after Dolly the sheep”.
This represents a change from our almost exclusive focus on electronic technologies to a wider field just as interesting and challenging.
Our next discussion group at Rustik café is on Thursday August 24th at 3pm.
Les Rodgers and Bev Lee
Following up two of this year's themes... road/air vehicles...and alternative options for baseload energy...
.'Coding' is currently in the news, with a push to have more young people learn coding to empower them to create sites, programs and apps. Another form of coding, and code breaking, became an imperative during World War II, when Dr Alan Turing and his team at Bletchley Park in the UK sought to understand and break Germany’s 'enigma' code and developed a machine to counter it. We watched the excellent movie 'The Imitation Game' which follows the story of mathematician, cryptanalyst, war hero and pioneer of modern-day computing Turing as he and his team sought to break the Enigma Code. All considered ‘The Imitation Game’ worth viewing - it is available on loan from the Benalla Library.
Items raised by this month’s Rustik discussion group included Facetime (Les); a 256 USB flash drive which connects to standard USB and phones (Terry); the NBN (Peter) and the interconnector to South Australia (Len).
Facetime, which is used by a number of U3A Benalla members, can only be used between two Macs of one form or another. Either WIFI or the mobile network can be used but using the mobile network would incur a charge depending on how long the call was and the users plan and how much data was left on the plan. For example, a one-hour call would use approximately 150 MB of data. If the call triggered the need for more data capacity then worst case for Telstra, $10 would be required for 1GB. This compares with $60 being required for a mobile voice call for one hour. Skype, Duo or Messenger would give similar results. WIFI is generally of much greater capacity and 150 MB would not impact it very much if at all and would be virtually free.
Regarding the interconnector to South Australia, many of us envisage lattice steel towers with wires on them which might fall over in the wind. Actually, there are 180 kilometres of two high voltage DC cables from Red Cliffs in Victoria to Berri in South Australia, very securely buried in the ground and completely safe from all the bad weather that could be thrown at them. (Note - for more reading about the interconnector, check out the Len's links on the Murraylink high voltage direct current electricity transmission link here.)
Bev Lee & Les Rodgers
'Coding' is currently in the news, with a push to have more young people learn how to code to empower them to create sites, programs and apps. Our July session considered an earlier period in which coding - and code breaking - became an imperative, the period in which the impact of the coding based 'enigma' machine and the development of a machine to counter this by Dr Alan Turing and his team at Bletchley Park during World War II. Instead of a talk we watched the movie 'The Imitation Game' based on the Enigma machine and Dr Alan Turing's involvement with it. We all felt it was worth viewing, It is available on loan from the Benalla Library.
Some reading: 'The Enigma Machine - How Alan Turing Helped to Break the Unbreakable Nazi Code'.
This month's talk moved back to IT, but this time with a family history focus. A TED talk by Al Jacobs on a major geneological project set the scene for the day's topic 'Family History, A Tech Savvy Perspective'.
Before beginning her own presentation, Bev asked class members who had worked on their family trees to talk about the ways in which they conducted their research and for a highlight in their quest. Methods varied from the use of telephones and postal services 30 years ago to state of the art internet based programs today. High points included finding out the true story behind an 'unknown' grandfather and a range of exciting break throughs.
Bev then presented on using the internet in her quest to resolve family mysteries and secrets.
Lots of contributions were made by class members well versed in family history research, their was further sharing of experiences over the coffee break, and a number of people commented that they felt inspired to begin or resume work on their family tree.
We finished with Les leading a short activity on the untangling the mystery of how shoelaces come untied which was thoughtprovoking & engaging - and of particular appeal to our engineers
The Rustik discussion group made the transition to the new time to avoid a clash with Wine Appreciation, meeting on the fourth Thursday at 3 pm for coffee and discussion of topics of interest. Topics included the Grattan report into the difficulties facing the National Energy Marketing Organisation with the currently unworkable arrangements of state governments doing their own thing and the commonwealth making ad hoc decisions about building more taxpayer funded generating capacity all with no coherent policy. Peter shared an interesting article on tyre pressure monitoring which would be very useful for those with expensive tyres as Les found out recently. (You can also check out their reports on the 'Tech Savvies' page)
Funding has been approved for two short courses 'Facebook for Mentors'. The first two session court course targets the mentors for Tech Savvy Beginners, but there is to be a second group which interested Tech Savvy Talks and Plus participants who are not mentors can put their names down for.
The Tech Savvy Talks group has been working through our list of topics for Semester I, moving on in May to looking at ‘alternatives to baseload energy’. Brian demonstrated his models of Sterling engines to start the conversation and Richard Morton from Sunreal has been booked for a future session.
We considered news of an educational initiative in our region introducing children to technological innovations including 3D printing, following this by viewing a Ted Talk by Mitch Resnick of ‘Scratch’ titled ‘Let’s Teach Kids to Code’.
Les Rodgers then provided an informative update on the rolling out of the NBN in Benalla. Les could give us some indication from the NBN website as to whether we might receive NBN to the kerb. It appears seems some areas of Benalla will receive this (preferable) option because of the age of existing conduits. Les did stress that the information appears to be changing.
Clare, Peter, David and Les met for coffee and conversation at Rustik on Wednesday 26th April. Les facilitated a discussion about LTE Broadcasting which early adopter Telstra has been trialling and which will be rolled out nation wide next year. It is basically aimed at high quality video or multimedia services for mobile devices capable of receiving 4G LTE-B transmissions although obviously the content could be cast to a TV receiver from mobiles using a Chromecast or similar device. The content to be provided is not fully decided but could range from sporting events to first release movies. Both Telstra and Optus appear to be looking ahead for new products and services to replace existing ones in life after NBN.
Please note - The coffee catch up date has changed from the fourth Wednesday to 10.30 am on the fourth Thursday at 3 pm at Rustik to enable tech savvy wine afficionados to attend Wine Appreciation activities as a less cerebral endeavour!
About 'Tech Savvy Talks'
Are you reasonably ‘Tech Savvy’ and keen to continue developing your knowledge base? Then this ‘Tech Savvy’ discussion group may be of interest. Monthly sessions include viewing of topical ‘TED Talks’; presentations on topics of interest by class members or guest speakers; shared news of developments across a range of technologies such as 'robotics'; 'alternative options to baseload energy'; 'driverless cars'; 'alternative vehicles' and more. Topics discussed include developments in science as well as technology. An optional reading and discussion group meet at the Northo for coffee and cake on the 4th Thursday at 3 pm—contact Les on 5762 7600.
Note: No sessions in August.
U3A Meeting Room
10 am to 12 midday
Fourth Thursday- 'Tech Savvy Talkers' chat at 'The Northo' - 3 to 4 pm
Resources from Ian McLeod's 'Making the Most of the Internet' course which preceded Tech Savvy:
Links and references