Category Archives: technology

MacWorld 2008

img_5622.JPGMacWorld is probably the coolest of the geeky events I’ve attended so far this year. Harriet and I spent a day and a half (January 17 and 18) checking out how the (for me) other half (8% more precisely) lives.

We’re a mixed family: Harriet is an Apple disciple and I’m a member of the PC Priesthood. However, I admire the Mac’s style, I love my iTouch, and I envy every photo book my Mac-Ninja neighbors casually produce from iWhatever. So, it is with a distinct lack of snark (okay, maybe a little) that I visit MacWorld each year and anxiously await Steve Job’s BIG ANNOUNCEMENT.

img_5613.JPGBy now, most of you know that this year’s talisman was the MacBook Air. And yeah, it’s cool. It’s thin: really thin. And light. And surprisingly full featured with a comfortable keyboard and a great display. I’m not going to do a review of it here since there are a lot of good reviews available on the inter-tubes, and they include descriptions of the device’s limitations. But damn it’s cool. And they looked impressive on that wire, hanging like a mobile (we didn’t try the ones on on the wires since Apple had a lot of them set up on counters for us all to play with).

MacWorld has been getting a little bit smaller from year to year. But this year it was about the same size as last year, and it was laid out much better. It wasn’t just iPod World, and Harriet had a good time checking out the cool accessories, as well as sitting in on some Photoshop and InDesign tutorials.

Plus, there is a mighty fine dim sum restaurant right next to the Moscone Center.

We stayed at the best B&B in San Francisco. The Herzfeld has been recently renovated and now boasts the finest dining facilities in the city. And their fruit salad is to die for. Pretty reasonable rates, too: a bowl and a dreidel and they treat you like family (and yeah, this paragraph has a lot of inside references – sorry).

SPIE Symposium

spie_symposium.gifLast week I was in Orlando, FL attending a work-related conference. If you typically try to ignore the defense related nature of my work (i.e. Harriet), you might want to skip this posting. I’m going to limit my discussion of this trip to one entry, and keep in mind that I (Alan) am the one writing this “travel” post, not Harriet.

img_0115-1.JPGThis annual trek always takes place the week after Easter (I typically fly on Easter Sunday), and this year Denver had snow. I don’t typically travel in this sort of weather, so I was fascinated (disturbed) by the de-icing equipment. We didn’t have any problems going through Denver on the way to Orlando, so I suppose this is all pretty routine for them.

img_0130-1.JPGThis is the one conference where Santa Barbara Infrared, Inc (SBIR) has a significant presence. We go all out with a large booth, and several of us presenting papers. Here, we are building part of the booth, with Greg W., Steve, and Greg M. assembling our banner.

img_0136-1.JPGThis is another view of the show area as several companies are assembling their booths. We’re looking across our booth to the Indigo booth, and the car on the right is a new BMW. It has an infrared (IR) camera installed as a high end option. The camera was built by Indigo, but we built the equipment used to test and align the camera for production.

I don’t often talk about my work, and I realize that my friends and family have a hard time describing (or understanding) what I do. The company that I work for – SBIR – builds and develops instrumentation for testing infrared cameras. We don’t build the cameras that see in the dark; we build the equipment that’s used to make sure those cameras work properly. We also build equipment for testing multi-sensor platforms, but that just gets us into severely geeky territory. Nowadays, my job is the lead architect and developer of a program that automates the testing process, and it is cleverly named IRWindows (yes, the standard abbreviation is IRWin and I was the instigator for the name). It’s used all over the world, in a variety of production facilities, laboratories, and testing facilities – both military and civilian.

img_0154-1.JPGBack to the symposium, and here is a shot that I took at a presentation before I realized that photography was banned in the conferences. Yes, the presentations are really this exciting. Next year, I’ll probably be chairing on of these sessions. The fun just doesn’t stop.

spie_logo.gifThis symposium is put on by SPIE- The International Society for Optical Engineering. SPIE originally stood for Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers, but was renamed in 1981 and is not really an acronym anymore. The organization is very international, and I attended papers presented by scientists and engineers from England, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Egypt, India, Israel, and many others. But keep in mind, this just means we’re all world class geeks. We pretty much define the Geek Olympics.

img_0158-1.JPGJust to further illustrate the hedonistic nature of this conference, here’s the no holds barred party atmosphere on the first night. Whooeee!

And yes, there are women at the conference. There’s even a Women in Optics group who had their own luncheon. You can tell from the pictures that they’re a little hard to find.

img_0174-1.JPGSo, here’s the annual IRWindows user’s group. There were 19 of us at a very nice restaurant in Orlando (Jeffery’s). The bill ended up being about $2500, all paid by SBIR. As I said, this is a very high end application program. And, once again, note all the women in that group. If you count the three waitresses from the restaurant, there was a total of three women in the room.

img_0178-1.JPGThis is our booth just before the doors opened on the third day. There’s a variety of equipment on display, and the IRWindows station is in the middle, towards the back. I don’t want to go into why it says IRWindows 2005, but this shot really is from a week ago. On th table at the right is a giant bowl of M&M’s. They’re special ordered to just be black and red. Could you tell that those are our colors? Subtle is not valued in the harsh world of photonics.

img_0192-1.JPGAnd what would a booth be without a special give away. We had a drawing for a couple of iPods. You had to find a special word hidden in our signs to be eligible for entry, but if you look at that bowl you can see that your chances were pretty darn good. I think we all agreed that it’s time for a new game. Pictured here are two of our three Gregs: Greg M. and Greg W.

I flew back on Friday, coming through Denver again. The weather reports made it looked like there would be trouble, so we were all ready to find alternate flights. But, I ended up having pretty smooth flights. Dallas ended up being the travel nightmare for that day.

It was a very good symposium for us, and I’m actually glad that I went. This sort of event serves as a nice alternative to my usual daily grind, so even though the days are very long, it almost feels like a vacation.


Wi-Fi Blocking Paint

paint_bucket.jpgHow about a paint that will make a room secure against Wi-Fi? Basically, the idea would be to keep your Wi-Fi signals (think cell phone or wireless internet) from getting out where anyone could eavesdrop on them.

EM-SEC Technologies, a company in North Carolina, has developed the paint and has successfully tested it. I don’t have info on pricing, but it’s currently available and meets National Security Administration’s (NSA) TEMPEST (Telecommunications Electronics Material Protected from Emanating Spurious Transmissions) requirements. Since it’s intended for corporate and government security, my bet is that it’s pretty pricey.

However, the article where I originally saw this ( suggested that it could be used to jam cell phone calls in a movie theater. Just put on fresh coat of paint!

Teenager Achieves Nuclear Fusion at Home

fusion-device.jpgOkay, what’s up with teens nowadays? Hot on the heels of the home spectrograph, I now find that another teen has been able to achieve nuclear fusion at his home. Using spare parts he bought from eBay, from hardware stores, and from just scrounging around he built his aparatus in his basement and actually achieved nuclear fusion. Nothing dangerous or commercially valuable, but quite an achievement.

Good lord, I was a smart kid but I was happy to read and tinker with some electronics. What are Jory and Monica going to come up with? And is Artemis going to transform time and space?