Wednesday, August 14, 2019

He's Back to Blogging

After a very long hiatus, I want to get back to blogging.  In the last few years I have spent considerable time using the following tools which I plan to blog about over the next few weeks.

Amazon Alexa
Amazon Camera
Amazon Fire Tablet
Google Fi mobile service
Google Wifi
LED Garden Lights
Motorola G7 Power
Nest Camera

Some of these tools are amazing and already key parts of my daily routine.  Others have some promise but with flaws that need to be overcome.  I will share some practical examples and hopefully give some nuggets of information to help you make a decision.

Monday, February 8, 2016


Editor: In this post, the focus is on Content Management Systems. To help with the analysis I turn the floor over to my guest author, Claudettehoss26. 

Technology has evolved over the years and has given birth to new entity such as the content management system (CMS).  More and more people are becoming aware of its existence, but are not very knowledgeable about this system.  Therefore, questions arise as to the use of this software in the business world, and the type that would best suit their needs.  In this article, I will try to explain such reason(s) as simply as possible.

What is a Content Management System?

       Content Management System has become extremely popular within the web development industry because of its benefits.  This software is a web interface that allows one to do all administrative tasks without the use of web programming.  It is best to decide upon the type that best suits your needs, since there is quite a variety to choose from.

        Another way to define this design is,  this architectural design, in question, is an application tool that allows a user to edit, create and publish content. Early CMS software was used to manage great volume of documents, such as images, videos, text and other form of data.  CMS is now virtualized to manage contents on the website.

This unique design is developed to allow users to interface naturally with the application by building and enhancing webpage content.  This software also permit “on-line publishing” features, where content can be published on the internet, which include creating and uploading websites, updating webpages and posting blog on line.  In order to publish content on the website, three things are needed and these may include:

  • Web development software
  • Web server
  • Internet connection 

  •         Web publishing tools are provided by content management system that allows users to be able to publish updates live on the web.  The editing component of the software is the content management application (CMA).  The publishing tools may be referred to as the content delivery application (CDA).  These two components are combined together in a content management system, so as to facilitate the web development process. 

            Content management system software are available installable programs and web-based user interfaces.  The older version of CMS programs such as the Adobe contribute are now being replaced by web-based content management systems. It is observed that most people prefer a web interface because it simplifies the website updating process.  Many of these software may be updated automatically in order to ensure that all users are able to manage their content with the most modern application tools.  Here is a litany of the most popular content management systems:

    • Joomla - is quite a flexible tool for publishing and supports custom database and extensions
    • Weekly - a web based platform for creating personal and business website
    • Wix  - This entails a collection of web processing tools, suitable for creating a highly customizable website
    • Word Press – a free web software designed for creating template-based websites or blog
    • Blogger – Google’s blogging tools designed for maintaining a blog
    • Drupel – an open sourced platform often used for developing community based sites

    Things to Bear In Mind When Choosing a CMS

    All your effort would be futile without a content management system tool of supreme quality to control or manage your content.  That is the bottom line.  How do you fine tune your search to ensure that you are making a rational choice of a product that meets all your requirement(s) in the long run?  
    This brief outline serves to provide an insight of the key things to bear in mind when selecting a content management system product.  This software has become increasingly popular world-wide and making the right selection can be a tedious task.  A product may work quite differently in relation to the organizational environment; therefore, selecting a product that best suits the requirement of the individual or organization would be extremely wise.

    What to Look for in a CSM

    Each situation or requirement differs in various ways and looking for a solution to fill most (if not all) the requirements, may be a wise move, depending on your application’s demand, such as, technical support, cost, and the task requirements for your content management system product.  A WordPress may be the best choice for a simple blog.  Joomla, Adobe CQ, and many more (to name a few), may be suitable for something not so complex and SharePoint may be equally the best choice for a more complexed, customized site that may require scalability and complex content organization.  Here are some guidelines to the matter:

      Product Strategy:  All vendors have future goals for their career in business and this is to promote and market their wares.  It is suggested that purchasers culture and display the same attitude towards purchasing items such as content management systems or other selections.

    Cost:  One gets carried away quite easily while observing the features and capabilities of a variety of products.  But the outcome of selecting the wrong system can be severe.  See how the product compare within your budget and be sure to think about the total cost of ownership (TCO) in relation to the licensing cost.  Also bear in mind the ongoing annual fees with the additional cost of product updates.

    Targeting Audience:  If you decide to create a website for product comparison, you may need to give some consideration as to whether the product is focused on business users or developers.  The web content management (WCM) system should be a suitable choice for business users who are able to change products as their marketing demands unfold.

    Specialization:  Many products may offer lots of capabilities, but not all may apply in your case.  Working with a vendor who specializes in your area may be your best bet.

    Technical Support:  Determine whether or not the content management system product is capable of running multiple websites from the same installation.  The ability to integrate with the other system may be a matter of concern if this quality is lacking.  Select products that are compatible with your existing design that is already in use.  The security aspect of the product, the ability to make upgrades and performance are some of the factors to bear in mind.   In the event of a technical issue, there is dire need for support.  You may face problems in share hosting because of shared space.   In this situation, Technical support plays an important role. Round –the-clock full support is available from the service provider to those in need, once the necessary contact is made.

    Deployment:  How will you get the content onto the production, once it is created?  You need to look at the product’s deployment capabilities.  Does the product provide control over  multi-sites/multi-stage deployment, and how does publishing workflow operate?

    Security: Hackers tend to roam the internet and the content management system in order to execute their cyber- attack against unsuspecting users.  Not all users practice security measures and this negligence exposes them to cyber security risks, such as compromise and denial of service.  It is mandatory to secure content management systems according to manufacturer’s guidelines, and limit their exposure to intruders.   The implementation of strict security measures, for major applications, is a requirement for safeguarding against future security breaches.

    Advantages and Disadvantages of CMS

    • User friendly as it is easy for a novice to operate
    • It facilitates multiple users
    • It improves site maintenance
    • It streamlines scheduling
    • Design changes are simple
    • Assists in organizing and managing contents
    • You are in control 
    • Can be cost effective
    • May be costly with inadequate knowledge of budgeting
    • Needs to be upgraded with constant changes in software
    • Hosting is expensive
    • Maintenance can be extremely costly
    • The question of renting or buying a CMS is being debated

    (This chart depicts the various aspects of a CMS in a nutshell)


    Here, I have carefully researched and summarized the facts on the topic mentioned above.  I hope this will guide you towards making a wise choice on the matter because not all products and facilities are ideally perfect.  They all have their ‘pros’ and ‘cons’.  While I trust that you find this presentation enlightening, it is suggested that you make a diligent analysis of the facts shared and make the choice that best suits your need.

    Friday, January 2, 2015

    Ten things to maximize your iPhone and iPad battery life

    A common complaint I hear is that iOS batteries run out of juice far too frequently.  Even with normal use, most people have to charge their iPhones every night and might carry a spare battery as well as keep chargers at home, at work and in the car. I've been focused on battery life ever since I got my Iphone in 2007 and have come up with a list of tweaks.  I'm happy to tell you that you can increase the battery life you currently get with some inconveniences.

    Before we move on let us recap the two devices I will discuss and what you should be getting.  If you already experience these metrics then this blog post may not apply to you.

    Iphone 5 iPad (Wifi only)
    Advertised battery life 8 hours of talk time 10 hours
    What to expect 6 to 7 hours. Charge every two days. 10 hours
    What the average user experiences 3 to 4 hours. Charge daily. 7-8 hours

    A clue that your device is using too much power is that it feels warm or even hot to the touch. If you aren't getting ten hours of usage please immediately make some or all of the following changes.  I have included notes on the impact of making each change. 

    1. Turn off auto date.  Your iOS device continually checks to see where you are.  While this is great for travellers, most of us remain in the same time zone 99% of the time.

    2. Turn off the location finder.  This feature is great for maps and to see where you are, but it eats the battery.  Turn it on only when you need to use this feature.  I use Waze daily and turn it on only during my commute.

    3. Turn off the background data refresh for all apps. In my opinion this the most important of all.  It means that if an app is not being used it won't try and fetch data.  This feature was only added in iOS 8.

    4. Turn off which apps can use cellular data.  Certain apps consume huge amounts of data causing lesser battery life as well as eating up your data plan.  Skype is probably the worst offender I have come across.  To check how much data is being used you can scroll down on the Setttings--Cellular page.  If you don't want to turn it off completely, then select which apps you want to give the access to.  My rule of thumb is the more data you see, the more power is being consumed.

    5. Turn off LTE.  LTE gives you faster connectivity but it such up more data.  Turn it off so that it uses 3G by default.  

    6. Turn off Bluetooth.  Most of us hardly use bluetooth.  I use it mostly when I am in my car for handsfree but keep it turned off most of the day.  Again, I understand that what I am suggesting is not the most convenient.


    7. Turn off Wifi and/or Cellular Data completely.  This will not apply to most people but if you don't used data a lot and want maximize your phone talk time, then turn off WiFi and Cellular data completely so that the device isn't continuously looking to connect.

    8. Turn down the brightness.  Yes, we all like a nice bright screen but the fact is that setting the brightness to a lower level can really make a big impact.  I only have it at maximum brightness when I am checking the phone in sunlight. 

    9. Turn off any vibrate ringers unless needed.  An audio alert consumes less power than vibrating the device.  You can also turn off notifications that aren't needed.

    10. If your device is several years old it might be that the battery is shot. You can easily find places that replace batteries. But note that I still get about eight hours of usage on my five year old iPad 1 that is chugging along. You can find a recommended place easily by searching for "iphone repair" on Yelp.

    That's about it.  Make some of these changes and decide for yourself how much convenience you want to trade off for battery life.  Also, please forward any suggestions you have come up with and I'll update this post. I would also love to hear your before and after times if my advice makes a difference. 

    Thursday, April 24, 2014

    How to Lower the Cost of Printing at your Home or Small Office

    So its about time I stop speculating about the locations of missing airplanes and return to consumer products. Today I take on how to get the biggest bang for your buck printing at home. If you're like me, you are sick of how much you spend on printing supplies. In this age of Murphy's Law where we spend less and less on technology for more and more features, desktop printing is the notable exception. I spend far more today than I did in the 1990s. I don't print a lot; I would guess somewhere around 50 pages per month with the majority related to my kids' school projects. I researched the choices out there and found that the best option is to ditch your color inkjet printer and buy a solid monochrome laser printer with an affordable toner cartridge. The $99 Brother HL-2270DW Compact Laser Printer provides the best combination of features, dependability and value of any printer out there.

    How printer manufacturers make money:

    Inkjet printer companies borrowed heavily from the loss leader marketing plan made famous by Gillette in the 1920s. Gillette gave away its handle for free and made their money on the consumable razors. Similarly you can pick up a color inkjet printer at dirt cheap prices and then pay a lot for replacement cartridges. I purchased my last inkjet printer for $49 and with refills costing $60. I was only able to print 300 to 400 pages per refill making my cost between $0.16 and $0.20 per page. 

    To artificially keep the costs of replacement cartridges high inkjet manufacturers do the following:
    1. Modify the dimensions of the cartridge for every new printer so that its harder for 3rd parties to copy them. Seriously the US Treasury has nothing on the guys who design these cartridges. Have you been to Costco or Staples and seen the amount of printer cartridges?   
    2. Then they implant a microchip such that the "replace toner cartridge" message does not go away if you buy a third party cartridge or refill the ink yourself.
    3. Lastly they threaten to void the warranty if you use third party cartridges. 
    "I have to be able to print in color" and other myths
    1. I need a color printer so I can print out photographs.  Ask yourself when you last printed a color photo?  I did this last in 2008 or 2009.
    2. My kids need to print in color for their school projects. Not true. They have options to print in color at school, can print in monochrome and color with crayon or felt, or they can simply print the job at a local Fedex Kinko's or other store. 24 hour printing facilities let you print from home and then you can pick it up at your convenience.
    3. Laser printers are too big and expensive for the home. It turns out that manufacturers have significantly reduced both price and size and you can buy laser printers for as little as $100.
    My Search:

    I started by looking up HP LaserJet 4 printers from yesteryear.  I remember them as workhorse printers that needed minimal maintainence and printed thousands of pages per cartridge. You can still buy them but I soon realized that I need a modern feature set.  So I came up with the following requirements:

    1. Monochrome laser printer
    2. Let's me print from both PCs and Macs.
    3. WiFi printing.
    4. iOS printing for my iPhone and iPad.
    5. Printer cost of less than $200
    6. Replacement toner costs of less than $40

    Searching far and wide, I find that the Brother HL-2200 line of home printers to be the ideal blend of form, functionality and cost that met all my requirements and be picked up at Amazon for less than $100. It prints via USB or wireless; 27 pages per minute; no issues connecting to it from my Windows, Mac and iPhone devices; perfect.  One note is that the iOS printing capability is via a Brother app; it is isn't perfect but I find I can use it to print quite easily. As far as toner it can print a thousand plus pages on one cartridge and has widely available and cheap replacement cartridges. A high capacity TN450 replacement cartridges for this model prints out 2,600 pages and can be purchased for $40 from Brother or for as little as $10 for a generic. This means that your cost per page printing is down to less than half a penny per page if you use a generic cartridge replacement*.

    Note that it's not a brand new model; it was released in 2011 and has established a track record of performance and reliability.  Brother has released newer models but I found the 2270DW reviews to be the highest on average.
    Best Value: Brother HL 2270DW Laser Printer

    Options to save money if you want to stick with your color inkjet
    1. Even if your life depends on it, do not purchase a printer that requires four separate ink cartridges.
    2. Costco has an ink refill program but its not so great; ink quality is not as sharp. These cartridges are built to not last forever so refilling results in diminishing quality.  Secondly many of these cartridges have to be reset which sometimes the Costco guys forget to do. So you end having to go back every so often.  
    3. Thinking about refilling cartridges yourself? Forgetaboutit! Refilling a cartridge requires the precision of a jeweler and the patience of a monk.
    In summary consider how important it is for you to print in color at home, explore online printing solutions and seriously think about ditching your inkjet for a laser.

    *Update June, 2014

    Changing the toner using a generic cartridge proved to be difficult.  I kept getting a "Replace Toner" message when using the new generic toner. You have to reset the Toner Sensor to get it to work.
    1. Open the front cover and leave open.
    2. Turn the printer off.
    3. Press the 'GO' button while turning the printer on until the lights come on. (On mine three out of four came on).
    4. Release the 'GO' button.
    5. Press the 'GO' button two times.
    6. Wait for a couple of seconds.
    7. Press the 'GO' button 5 times. The toner light should be off and the paper light should be on or flashing.
    8. Close cover. The ready light should be the only light on.

    Saturday, March 22, 2014

    Missing Malaysian Airlines MH370: Howdunit?

    Editor (3/21/14): ITuesday's post, I predicted where the missing plane might be found, southwest of Australia. Then guest columnist, Mike H., gave us his character portrayal theory on who did it and and why. Today Mike and I go with "howdunit". There has been one common theme throughout this series; the most likely scenario is pilot suicide where the person piloting did not want the wreckage found. In recent days the search has focused on the area southwest of Australia on two pieces seen in satellite imagery. Based on our prediction, we feel that the search is in an area a bit north of where the plane is located. It is also possible that the debris will turn out to be unrelated to the missing plane. 

    This article is purely the opinion of two people. But we strongly feel that this is the mostly likely theory, explains ALL the evidence made public so far and it closely matches our hypothesis on the motivation. We invite you to submit any thoughts you have on contradictions. 

    Undisputed sequence of events (as of end of day 3/21/14)
    • 12:36am to 119am Co-pilot speaks to the air traffic controllers from taxiing until take off. Pilot does not say a word (based on transcript released today).
    • 109am ACARS system located at the back of the plane is turned off.
    • 119am Co-pilot signs off with "all right, good night".
    • 121am Two transponders accessible from the cockpit are turned off
    • Soon after, radar shows a turn and climb.
    • Radar shows rapid descent to 20K feet
    • Plane is tracked in one of two common passenger routes
    • Eight hours later, final ping is sent by plane.
    Initial actions

    Suicides are rarely planned by more than one person. The fact that the circuit breaker in the back of the plane was turned off while the co-pilot was talking to tower strongly suggests that we can rule him out. Since the cockpit door is locked, we strongly feel it was the captain or the flight engineer responsible. After the co-pilot finished his final sign off with ground control, he and the other person not responsible, left the cockpit for one of two reasons.
    1. A restroom break or other normal activity.
    2. They were told by the person flying to do something; get a glass of water, go to the back to check on the ACARS circuit breakers or other. 
    At that point the cockpit door was locked and no one else except the person responsible would ever gain entry to that area. The pilot then returned to his seat and turned off the two transponders. Records show that the transponder was turned off two minutes after the final sign off. So things happened quite quickly, but there was enough time.

    The murder

    Radar records show that the plane then turned abruptly and started gaining altitude to 45,000 feet. There has been some speculation that this initial turn and climb was to avoid radar. We agree that the turn was due to avoid entering Vietnamese airspace and also to get to the final destination which will be discussed later. Also climbing to 45,000 feet would have minimized the odds of anyone using a cell phone to call for help. But the sudden gain in altitude was more sinister and diabolical in nature. If the two flight crew who left returned to the cockpit to find it locked they would have quickly found a way to use a satellite phone, turn the ACARS circuits back on the in the tail or find another way to alert authorities. Following our hypothesis of suicide with no trace, this gain in altitude was to quickly kill everyone on board. To do that the pilot would had to do the following:
    1. Depressurize the plane (yes, a pilot can do this for reasons such as if the oxygen supply system became noxious).
    2. Depressurize the plane. This would release oxygen masks for everyone including inside the cockpit; depressurizing the plane depressurizes the cockpit.
    3. Put on his oxygen mask. 
    4. Gain altitude rapidly. Passenger oxygen masks only have a fifteen minute supply of oxygen. At 45,000 feet the air is not breathable and a person without oxygen would be dead in less than a minute. 
    The person piloting would have more than 15 minutes in his oxygen supply but would also have access to the two other oxygen masks in the cockpit, so would have been alright for up to 45 minutes to an hour. The standard 15 minute supply is designed to give the pilot the time necessary to descend to below 20,000 feet where the air is easily breathable.

    It is also possible that someone in the main cabin was able to use more than one oxygen masks, but it was a fairly full flight with 239 seats taken. Plus one is not mobile when tied to an oxygen mask. Trying to break down the fortified cockpit door or go to the back of the plane without oxygen would have been impossible. After some time at 45,000 feet, the pilot would have descended to below 20,000 feet as radar records have shown it did. 

    At this point he continue to fly west following standard flight paths. This step was important because he was still close to Malaysia and military radar would have paid less attention to a radar screen blip that was flying in a typical passenger flight pattern. There was a Singapore Airlines plane flying in a similar direction and it is possible the pilot shadowed this plan for a period.

    Flying to the remote

    Once he knew he was safely out of range of Malaysian radar, he started flying south and set the speed and altitude to levels to maximize the distance plan could fly. The ocean SW of Australia and North of the Antarctic is as foreboding and remote as it gets. No land, extremely cold, high waves, strong ocean currents, limited shipping and deep water. There is no better place on earth which is more remote or where it would be harder to mount a salvage and recovery option.

    It is possible that during this time the person flying might have gone into the cabin to disable emergency beacons and equipment. But it is unlikely he would risk the chance of opening the cockpit door just in case someone was still alive. Also the thought of calmly walking through a plane full of dead people is so horrifying and morbid, it is beyond our comprehension.


    Once he got as far south as possible and the plane was running on fumes, the pilot would have landed as gently as possible. There was no reason to crash into the water at high speed leaving debris strewn everywhere where it would be spotted by plane or satellite. Also by having everyone on board dead, there was no chance of emergency doors being opened or life rafts being deployed. An intact passenger jet would have floated for 30 to 60 minutes before sinking. By flying until his fuel practically ran out he also minimized any chance of oil slick. The plane sank into the sea and the captain went down with his ship. It is possible that wings or other large parts of the plane broke off as it settled and that would explain the large pieces of debris seen by the satellite. 

    Final thoughts

    Whoever was responsible planned well. He picked a fairly full flight which was important to limit how long passengers would survive and an overnight flight where people would have been sleeping, chose the perfect time within the flight when the cockpit would be quiet, and the time of day with radar crews paying less attention and limiting the likelihood of ground or ship based witnesses seeing the plane.

    Thursday, March 20, 2014

    Whodunit? Whydunit? Why Captain Shah is likely responsible for the missing Flight MH370

    Editor: In Tuesday's post, we focused on where the plane might be found. Based on the news today that wreckage might have been spotted southwest of Australia, the prediction appears to be correct. Today we go from "wheredunit" to "whodunit" and "whydunit". Tomorrow we end the trifecta with "howdunit" (view article). To help with the analysis I turn the floor over to my guest author and fellow armchair criminologist, Mike H. 

    Why Captain Shah is likely responsible for the missing Flight MH370

    --by Mike H. (guest author)

    ‘‘...sacrifice is necessary to achieve the goal of free democracy.’’ - 2013 Facebook Post by Zaharie Ahmed Shah, Captain MH 370

    In this thought experiment, we examine the likely possibility that a pilot, specifically Zaharie Ahmad Shah, is the "mastermind" of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370. It is important to point out obviously, that all judgments should be reserved until a final determination is made by authorities. We simply conclude that this is likely a politically motivated crime pointing to Shah as the prime suspect. We cannot yet conclude whether or not he acted alone. However, signs point to him as architect of the plot. Here's why.
    Much speculation and worry has been expended as to the fate of the missing Malaysian airline. There are few facts, but many theories circulating. Let's try to convince you that at this time evidence strongly points to the plane's captain, Shah, conclusively as having the motivation and the personality profile to carry out this crime. This analysis will use a principle of parsimony, meaning that if there are many hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be chosen. It's most likely that Shah acted alone and that his cockpit seniority and work habits would allow him the greatest ease to accomplish this of any of the other passengers or crew. However, plausible scenarios also exist where he could have had collaboration from a sympathizer onboard the plane making it easier to secure control and subdue passengers as well as provide some technical support for the complicated flight. 

    Personality Profile

    It has been suggested that Shah is a loyal employee, a caring community citizen, a good friend, and a good father. Certainly, looking into the eyes of the man, we can see a definite kindness. His online postings indicate a thoughtful, secular man, personally invested in supporting a positive future for Malaysians through positive democratic action. Nobody would call this guy a zealot; in fact Slate magazine suggested his support of Malaysian opposition political leader Anwar Ibrahim indicated he was a rationalist, possibly even atheistic. This guy's no terrorist, and in fact he's quite the western-culture buff, and loves stuff like comedians Louis CK and Eddie Izzard. That said, rationalists are by no means universally kindhearted as the Slate article implies. I would argue that rationalists have a tendency to weigh the many over the few, especially when it comes to political causes; and I would suggest also (importantly I think), that while quite hilarious, many mainstream comedians are unarguably some of the most rational, yet misanthropic folks out there. 
    We see a smart guy with a high degree of career achievement and distinction who loved assembling complex home computers, building even more complex flight simulators, tinkering with machines and efficiency, and preparing elaborate meals of carefully prepped ingredients and final colorful products for his friends and family. He loved building things, engineering, and understanding how they worked. This shows his personality is a "systems thinker" or "mastermind" type of individual. This crime has all the hallmarks of a carefully constructed plan, much like Shah's flight simulator, or his delicious meals. None of these things paint him as a killer, but he is the type of person with a mental "blueprint" capable of crafting a multi-layered plot such as this. 

    Possible Motivations

    1. Dissatisfaction with Malaysian government and retaliation over the conviction and imprisonment of Ibrahim. It has been widely reported that Shah's Facebook page contained numerous critical references towards the Malaysian government in regards to the treatment of Ibrahim. In addition there are conflicting reports that indicate he attended the trial and sentencing of Ibrahim right before the flight. It has also been reported that Shah and Ibrahim are distant relatives, but there seems to be consensus they did not know one another. What is clear and not in dispute is that Shah was a supporter of Ibrahim's politics and saw the Malaysian power elite's treatment of him as unjust and hypocritical. There is considerable evidence to support the notion that he closely identified with the politics of Ibrahim and was happy to make public testimony to that effect.
    2. Alleged marital discord and potential separation from spouse with multiple news sites suggested that Shah's wife had left him in the days preceding the fated flight. Without a family support structure at home, Shah was more likely to engage in fatalistic behaviors. At the very least, a spouse leaving a home may be indicative of a declining mental state or other instability. In any case, this is a motivation because it cuts his social "safety net" to some extent. It is also a motivation for him to have carried this act out with no suicide note or other telltale admission so that his family is not vilified in the media and may further be eligible for financial compensation if he cannot be proven at fault. 
    3. For a career aviator; to be a part of a great mystery in the vein of Amelia Earheart is somewhat of a romantic notion to get carried away with. No doubt, this is already one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time today. 
    Other Suspects

    It's quite possible that Shah acted alone. However, at this time it is not possible to rule out co-conspirators that could point to a more conspiratorial plot. Too little is known to make a judgment about what exactly happened inside the plane, and that is speculation for a future "Howdunit" article. 

    To minimize the length of this article the full personality profiles of the two others in the cockpit are not included.  In summary:

    Co-Pilot Abdul Hamid: Hamid has had the most suspicion cast on him because he was the last person to speak with air traffic control and the transponders in the cockpit were turned off only two minutes later.  This is still plenty of time for him to leave the cockpit and be locked out by Shah. And his personality profile does not suggest he had the planning experience needed to pull off something this complicated. He was a young guy and we hear nothing of his hobbies, other than trying to pick up hot girls. While a skilled aviator himself, apparently led a more domestic life with fewer notable extracurricular activities of this nature.
    Flight Engineer Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat: I will be surprised if the flight engineer is involved. He has a new wife, child, and good job. He is considered an "excellent employee" by his manager. His ten year experience is not in Boeing aircraft, but smaller jets like Learjet. I don't think the flight engineer had the capability to act on his own because os a lack of piloting skills. followed by him collaborating with the co-pilot, I feel a larger conspiracy is unlikely. However Malaysian authorities are currently investigating any role Selamat may have played.

    The Aftermath

    In the wake of the disappearance, one thing has been without question. The Malaysian government is under fire for their perceived haphazard, and blundering response to the crisis. The Chinese public and government have expressed continued great displeasure; and the patience of the world is wearing thin. The crisis has cast a bright light onto the nature of Malaysian politics and it has not necessarily portrayed the institutions favorably. Tensions have escalated recently with neighbors including Indonesia too. The Malaysian government is really in the hot seat right now.  This is a position they have never been in more than 50 years in power. One might wonder if this is exactly what Shah had hoped for; that his knowledge of the Malaysian emergency response and lax control procedures pointed to the chaos that would ensue if a plane leaving Malaysia were never found. Especially one loaded with the citizens of a powerful global player like China. In this sense, everyone has been wondering on motive, but it seems the motive is pretty clear based on the cause and effect here... 

    Logical Argument why this is a "plot" and not a "co-incidence": 
    To be fair, we are perhaps poorer armchair chaos theory buffs than we are armchair criminologists. However, please consider this expansion on the thought experiment we are conducting for a moment:
    Chaos vs Synergy: 
    The Malaysian Airlines mystery reeks of synergy and careful planning as opposed to the chaotic series of events that define most accidental air disasters. Chaos is random, fractal, non-linear -- a fire randomly happening here, an engine failing there... rarely do "accidents" happen so sequentially so as to provide the scant evidence and information that is available about the flight. For several communications systems to fail, for the plane to stop reporting location, for it to change location, to climb so many feet above operating specifications, for it to report pings ranging across Asia and into the deep Indian Ocean, under such reportedly expert flying mechanics -- this is a linear, organized sequence of event and it is beyond reason to assume that these things may happen as an accident. It's also unreasonable to assume given what we know that any other terror element had anything to gain from killing of so many except someone with strong left-leaning political views. Look at the consequences of this carefully planned mystery on the Malaysian government. It's just not probable that anyone but a pilot -- and a Malaysian one at that -- is responsible for this.  
    Back to chaos vs synergy. In  regards to this case, as we know, rarely does nature create perfect shapes or geometrically precise patterns. If we look at chaos from its fractal perspective, lets consider that synergy might exist as a geometrically precise shape captured in that fractal. It must be a closed loop like an excellent machine or a master plan. If we consider synergy and chaos in this way, lets also assume that synergy is therefore an unnatural, artificial creation of intelligence, while chaos is the natural and unbounded way nature works.
    Considering the Malaysia disaster -- it has such a synergy to it -- the construction of a perfect plan with many parts working together to deliver a closed loop outcome. It is a set of circumstances unlikely to have happened chaotically. Clearly it is the product of man's construction, and the evidence points to the pilot or pilots as being responsible, and again signs point to Shah as a motivated systems thinker capable of crafting a well-oiled plot like this.  


    Of all possible scenarios suggested and possible suspects, only Shah had the combination of technical skill, personal motivation, and mental schema needed to plan and execute an act of this magnitude without venturing beyond parsimony. The disappearance has achieved a plausible political goal already which is being widely reported in the news media (though it is not being connected directly as an intentional side effect of this disappearance). 

    Editor 3/24/14: It was reported today that the FBI is now focusing their investigation on Shah and his complex personal life and has found nothing suspicious in Hamid's background.  

    Editor 3/21/14: Please see the new article on how exactly the sequence of events transpired matching all evidence presented to date.


    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    Where to Search for the Missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 Plane

    Like most of us I spent the last week closely following the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 jet. Crazy theories abound; UFOs, Bin Laden loyalists, selling the plane for its resale value of $40 million and kidnap ransoms. All those seem really unlikely; there are easier ways to make $40 million than kidnapping 250 people.  And if someone really wanted to steal a plane why not commandeer a cargo plane where there are few people on board.

    To come up with my theory I dismissed the possibility of catastrophic failure which has been ruled out and looked at the following key facts:

    1. The plane flew 8 hours.  If the pilot wanted to just kill himself, why not just make it quick and get it over with. 
    2. India and Pakistan say the plane didn't go that way.  Both nations swear that no airplane crossed their coverage.  Have to take this with a grain of salt, because neither would admit holes in their radar coverage. But Afghanistan is in the vicinity and I have to believe that the US military keep track of mosquitoes flying anywhere near that area.
    3. Serious piloting skills were necessary. Multiple screens of the passenger manifest has ruled them out. And let's also rule out the idea that Steven Seagal's twin brother was hiding out in the luggage compartment.
    4. Black boxes transmit for 30 daysAfter 30 days they stop transmitting and the likelihood of finding plane starts dropping.
    5. Meticulous planning was required. Whoever piloted the plane made evasive maneuvers to go undetected.

    So drawing upon Occam's Razor "most likely scenario" thinking, it had to be pilot suicide.  One of the pilots, and I don't really care which one, decided that he wanted to go out in a way that would make the plane extremely hard to find.  Hard to find would be important for one of three reasons:

    1. Following the money trail, he wanted his next of kin to cash out on some life insurance policy or death benefit, but knew that they wouldn't get anything if the plane and those pesky black boxes were ever found.
    2. Suicide and taking the lives of innocent folks would bring dishonor to his clan.
    3. He wanted to join Amelia Earhart in folklore.  

    How would he do it?

    Scenario 1In February/March, the Antarctic ice sheet is at the thinnest.  It is at the maximum width in September.  So if he could crash the plane where the ice had retreated, it would soon be covered up until a year from now. After six months of fruitless searching, the plane would be very hard to find. There is no radar down there, no cities, few ships, a moving ice field that would make salvage operations very difficult.  But there's one huge hole with this theory; the plane didn't have enough gas.  Experts are saying the plane had a 5,000 mile range since it flew 7-8 hours; and would have to had to fly 7,000 miles or 11-12 hours to get there. 
    Antarctic Ice

    Scenario 2. Okay, so he couldn't make it to the Antarctic, but perhaps he decided to go with the next best option.  In the diagram below we see major ocean currents with the surface current, denoted in red. The one that flows left to right right above Antarctica is of the most interest to me.  If he flew straight down for eight hours he could have made it there. Crashing the plane in that area would result in evidence drifting east in an area that few ships ply.  Eventually debris would show up in South America but by then the black boxes would have long stopped working. 

    Global Ocean Currents
    Where to Look?

    So using scenario #2 I would fly planes directly over the current and have ships sail in the middle of the current to detect the black box signal.  If debris was spotted, determining the speed of the current and multiplying by the amount of days since the crash would give you a rough idea of where the wreckage lay.

    So that's it; a plausible scenario that matches all the data points I am aware of. Please let me know of any holes you see.

    Editor 3/21/14: Please see today's article on how the sequence of events might have transpired based on all evidence presented to date.

    Monday, November 25, 2013

    How the NFL Should Embrace Technology, Increase Viewer Participation and Make More Money

    I spend way too much time drawing up trick football plays and offensive schemes that have little chance of success. So when I suggested an offensive scheme where the offensive tackle reports as tackle eligible on every single play - the idea being to lull the defense to sleep before striking - my friend, Vik, gently told me to perhaps focus on other areas of the game. So I decided to take my radical thinking and dream up how my NFL viewing experience could be greatly improved. And I came up with a way where the offensive and defensive play calls could be shared with viewers in real-time. Here's how it would work:

    1. The NFL would require all teams to submit their offensive and defensive playbook to the broadcast networks in this format:

    Offensive Play In layman's terms
    Red-44-Blue-ZebraDeep pass over the middle to a wide receiver
    Charlie-Tango-Alpha-23                          Halfback run up the middle
    Z-99-XYZFake punt

    Defensive playIn layman's terms
    Cover-Cover-Zebra-52Cover 2 Zone
    Foxtrot-Alpha-MichaelMan to man, bump and run coverage
    Tango-Overly-Complex-Playcall-44All out blitz

    2. As the play is transmitted to the QB and the defense, it is simultaneously transmitted to the broadcast network.

    3. As the offense breaks the huddle and lines up, the network transmits both the offensive play and defensive formation to viewers in layman's terms.

    Why this works:

    1. It would generate tremendous interest in the pre-snap formations and increase anticipation. Let's face it; NFL football watching is all about the five seconds of live action followed by 40 seconds of waiting around; I'm trying to reduce that second number.

    2. Viewers would have immediate insight into what plays were called and whether the QB totally missed his read, should have audibled, or it was just a dumb play call by the offensive coordinator.

    3. You get to second guess the play calls and decisions all day Monday. Heck, this might lead to second guessing on Tuesday and Wednesday as well.

    Why you might think this doesn't work and how I would make it work:

    Q. If you are broadcasting the play pre-snap, couldn't the offense and defense simply have someone watching the broadcast and signal their team about what was coming up?

    A. Absolutely. But note that there is a a transmission delay of five seconds, so chances are that TV viewers would see the play after the ball was snapped.

    Q. Won't other teams be able to look at previous TV broadcasts and see what was called and come up with new information on what kinds of plays teams like to run?

    A1. Yup. But the fact is that these days you have hundreds of ex-players coming out of the woodwork on multiple channels analyzing every play, tendency and weakness of each team. I can't turn on NFL Network or ESPN without being bombarded by never ending analyses. 

    A2. Teams today spend way too much time watching film and most NFL teams would be better served spending more time practicing blocking and tackling.

    Okay, so this is pretty wacky but tell me about how the NFL can increase audience participation and make more money. That's the only reason I'm still reading.

    Well, here's where it gets interesting. If we have the above translation table why not allow for a fan to call a play? Say its a huge blowout and the home team is up by 25 points with five minutes to go. Well a team could hit a switch and fans could go onto some web portal where there could be a live auction to call offensive or defensive plays. So its 4th down, I pay my $1,000, or whatever, call in "fake punt" and that get's relayed to the coordinators as "Z-99-XYZ" using the table above. The money could go to charity or to NFL owner coffers. Can you imagine fulfilling football fan's fantasies this way?

    Why this works:

    1. There is nothing worse than watching garbage time of an NFL. For sure this would liven things up. 

    2. Coaches would have someone to blame for running up scores. "Hey Coach, so why did you call the Hail Mary on the last play when you were up by 30 points?" "Well there is this kid from Make-A-Wish who really wanted to call a play and..."

    3. Even if their plays weren't used, fans could prove or disprove that their play-calling was better than their team's offensive coordinator. "Hey Greg Roman, on that 4th down on the Baltimore five yard line when you threw the ball, 90% of your fans called for a run." (Yeah, I'm still bitter about the Superbowl.)

    4. There are all kinds of gaming opportunities where participants could score points based on pre-snap predictions.

    Why this doesn't work and how to make it work:

    Q. Wouldn't gamblers who were more interested in point spreads than the actual game bid up to try and call in plays that tilted the point spread in their favor? Heck they might double down and call both the offensive and defensive plays; for instance have the offensive team throw a Hail Mary and on the same play have the defense play man to man.

    A1. Ban audience participation for Nevada residents??

    A2. Give the offensive/defensive coordinators first right of refusal.

    In closing:

    Technology and real-time interaction is pervasive. Asking the next generation of kids (raised on video games, web sites and individualism) to sit there and watch a three hour broadcast is unrealistic. I'm not going to be sitting by my phone awaiting a call from Roger Goodell. But heck every season it seems that he's watering down and wimpifiying the game more and more. Isn't it time he give something back to the fans?  

    Saturday, November 9, 2013

    Windows 8.1 Upgrade: Long, Difficult and with Data Loss

    Upgrading from Windows 8.1 beta to the official Windows 8.1 release has been a terrible experience. I've been running on Windows 8 for a year and I like the operating system.  Yes, its a bit quirky as far as trying to create one user experience for desktops, tablets and mobile which was overly ambitious and fell short of the mark.   However it was stable, quick and usable and that's enough for me.  

    Over the summer Microsoft release a beta of 8.1 with the following features:

    1. Snap - the feature that lets you quickly have two windows open side by side.
    2. Start button
    3. Boot up in desktop mode.

    It is worth noting that these were all in Windows 7 but removed from Windows 8.  While my upgrade to the Windows 8.1 beta required some time and several reboots, it was relatively painless. So you can imagine my shock and anger when I upgraded to the 8.1 official release this week and realized that all my installed software had been wiped out and required hours and hours to re-install everything. Not only that but some of my spreadsheets and other documents were also missing!

    I had to re-install Office, Chrome, Acrobat, Skype and every other software I use. Then more time digging through backups for copies of my documents. Windows 8.1
     didn't even recognize my one year old Canon printer that was running perfectly under Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 Preview.  I had to search the Canon site for drivers - the way we did it in the 1990s - and install my printer again. Aren't we a little too far along to have ridiculous upgrade experiences like this?? And even if we did, why wasn't there a huge warning upfront that all apps are about to be wiped out? It turns out that only those running Windows 8.1 Preview have the app and data loss issues.

    In summary, here is my advice about who should upgrade to Windows 8.1:

    Your Current Operating SystemMy Advice 
    Windows 7 or earlier Don't bother.  Windows 7 is a stable, solid operating system.
    Windows 8 Go for it.  You can get all those features back that you liked in Windows 7.  Yippee!
    Windows 8.1 Preview Definitely not.  Unless you have hours to kill and enjoy swearing and pounding your desk with your fist.

    Below is the marketing video from Microsoft highlighting the new features of Windows 8.1.  It's safe to say that Microsoft is completely confused.  The video shows a person with a desktop PC yet every single featured demoed in the video is done by touch.  How many people use touch sensitive screens on their desktop?  Also none of the three features listed above are noted even though these are the top three requested improvements when Windows 8 was released.