Saturday, January 27, 2018

Apple Pay – How Printed Store Receipts are Handled

Diane and I had an interesting couple of transactions. Around the holidays, Diane and I went to one of the big box retail stores and bought her Mom a couple of boxes of disposable heating pads for a sore shoulder. I used the Apple Pay app on my watch to pay for the pads. Last week her Mom let us know she did not need the second box so Diane brought that box back today with the original receipt.

There was some confusion at the store about the credit card number on the original receipt because it did not match either of the two cards Diane and I have. We were concerned the original transaction may have gone on someone else’s card and, with us returning the heating pads and getting credit on one of our cards, we may have gotten ourselves in some kind of trouble.

When Diane got home we looked at our credit card detail and sure enough – the $77.85 we spent on December 27 was listed. So, why was the last four unknown (to us) digits wrong on the original receipt? A little more digging found similar receipts with the same unknown four digit number for Apple Pay purchases.

With a little investigating, we were able to figure out what happened.  When you use Apple pay the card number on the receipt reflects your device ID, not the last 4 digits of your credit card. There is also no name on the receipt – it will be listed as “Contactless”. This way if you drop a receipt and someone picks it up there is no way you can be identified. It has no personal information on it. If you use Apple Pay check it out the next time you buy something using it.

Not having to take may card out of my wallet, no Personally Identifiable Information (PII) on the receipt...... added privacy and security – good stuff!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Should I Buy Another Chevy?

Likely, at least in part, due to the 1973-74 oil embargo (I turned 16 in 1973) followed shortly by the second oil crisis in 1979 (the year I graduated from college) I’ve always had a passion for small economical cars.  My first new car purchase in 1980 was a Chevy Chevette (remember those?) that I babied and coddled – always Mobile 1 synthetic, washed, waxed…….. until the motor blew up in 1982 on Route 128 in Massachusetts one morning during rush hour……. I can still picture the motor parts in the rear view mirror...... I had the motor replaced (Chevy was great about that) but I continued to have problems – the car was so poorly designed and built it was literally falling apart. Swearing off American cars for life it was Japanese autos after that – a couple of Datsun (now Nissan) vehicles, a Honda and then a couple of Toyota products.

Well, these days nothing lasts forever and I’ve actually been looking at couple of Chevy electrics – the Volt and the Bolt. I’m especially impressed with the Bolt, the car General Motors has been using the past few years as its primary autonomous-driving testbed. Last week GM unveiled the latest version of the Bolt, with an EPA-rated 238-mile range and a base price of $37,495. 

Looking at older autonomous model Bolts - the lidar units were mounted on roof mounted rods and the car had sensors stuffed into drilled and cut holes in the body. The new autonomous Bolt has sensors hidden in the bumpers and fenders and the lidar unit is hidden in the roof rack. The new model appears to be a huge step up.

How did GM move so fast? The company acquired San Francisco startup Cruise Automation last year for $581 million. Cruise Automation was started by Kyle Vogt and he came along with the acquisition to head up GM’s automation efforts. Vogt has an interesting background, having  cofounded Twitch, a streaming service used by video gamers to watch others play video gamesAmazon bought Twitch in 2014 for $1.1 billion and Vogt was on to his next big idea, originally thinking his new company would develop portable driverless software that could be attached to almost any vehicle. First experimenting with Audis and Nissan Leafs, he realized it would be much easier to build the technology directly into a car’s onboard controls and the Bolt was the only car suitable to do that.

Cruise Automation headquarters remains in San Francisco and, with GM backing, Vogt has grown the company from 40 software and mechanical engineers to over 400. He’s also bought lidar maker Strobe, claiming this will cut spending on laser gear 99 percent.

GM has big plans for the Bolt, intending to use them as the backbone of a robo-taxi business it plans to start in 2019.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Automobile USB Phone Charging

It's nice day for a ride to the beach. You grab your stuff jump and in the car. Ooops - last night you forgot to charge your phone and you've only got about 30% but...... No worries, the beach is a 90 minute drive away which should be more than enough time for your phone to charge.

Fast forward - phone GPS running and some tunes along the way. Park the car, grab your phone and...... #$%@* only 25% charged??  It was plugged in for the entire drive?! You checked it when you plugged it in and the phone was properly connected.

You've been Auto USB'd!

What Happened?
 If your car has a USB port built in - that port is most likely low power, only delivering around .5 Amps. This is considerably less than your phone charging capacity and because you were using the phone GPS, playing some tunes, etc...... well, you get the idea. And if you were using one of those cheapo cigarette lighter adaptor chargers, it is also probably only delivering only around .5 Amps of charging current. The cheap plug ins can get even worse - if you've got one of them with  two USB ports and have a couple of phones plugged in, that .5 Amps total gets split to .25 Amps on each port.

How Much Do You Need?
How much current do you need to get full charging capacity for most phones these days? It depends on the device. Let's use the iPhone as an example - those white chargers that come with the phone are rated at 1 Amp. So, on your drive with GPS running, Bluetooth - and maybe you forgot to switch WiFi off when in the car - your USB adapter .5 Amps of charging current could not keep up with what the phone was drawing, never mind charge it.

What's The Solution? 
To get a quick charge on your phone with a low current adapter probably the best thing to do is to power the phone off when charging. That may not be an option though.

Some of the auto manufactures are putting higher capacity USB ports in cars but that does not help most of us driving older cars. 

If you want to charge your phone and do not want to buy a new car you can purchase a higher current plug in USB charger. Wirecutter has a nice review of some of these chargers here. A little searching on Amazon brings up a bunch of them too - be sure to check the output current per USB port and compare it to what your phone needs. They're a little more expensive than the $2 ones you see in the supermarket checkout line but worth it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Future of Wireless is Fiber

Cactus Cell Tower
(Image source:
I wrote this on Monday for the National Center for Optics and Photonics August 2017 Newsletter:

In the next few years wireless providers are planning the broad deployment of 5G wireless services. Here’s some details:
  • Current International Telecommunication Union (ITU) specifications for 5G specify a total download capacity of at least 20Gbps and 10Gbps uplink per mobile base station.
  • In contrast, the peak data rate for current LTE cells is about 1Gbps.
  • Under ideal circumstances, 5G networks will offer users a maximum latency of just 4ms, down from about 20ms on LTE 4G networks.
  • The 5G specification also calls for a latency of just 1ms for a stepped up service called ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC).
In support of the Internet of Things, 5G must also support at least 1 million connected devices per square kilometer (0.38 square miles). This may seem like a lot but when every traffic light, parking space, and vehicle is 5G-enabled, we'll easily start to hit that kind of connection density and will see 5G towers on places like major highways every 100 feet or so.

How is connectivity delivered these days to wireless towers, and how will it be delivered in the future? Fiber! 

5G networks will be predominantly fiber-based due to the combination of tower capacity and distance requirements. We will see limited microwave antennas used in niche cases when fiber is not an option. Technicians will need to have a good understanding of fiber characterization testing and troubleshooting as these super-fast high capacity networks roll out. In addition, skills in troubleshooting dirty or damaged connectors, tight fiber bends, faulty fiber splices, Optical Time Domain Reflectometry (OTDR), attenuation, and chromatic and polarization mode dispersion will become even more critical. 

Fiber to the tower is a critical enabler of 5G wireless services including The Internet of Things. 

For more information see Preparing the Transport Network for 5G: The Future Is Fiber and check out the rest of the OP-TEC August 2017 edition and previous monthly newsletters here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wisconsin and Taiwan's Foxconn

There is currently a lot of chatter about the Wisconsin / Taiwan Foxconn deal. Here’s some information on the company:
  • Foxconn is a Taiwanese multinational electronics contract manufacturing company headquartered in Tucheng, New Taipei, Taiwan.
  • Foxconn currently has 12 factories in nine Chinese cities along with factories in Asia, Brazil, Europe, and Mexico.
  • The company is the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer by revenue that, as of 2012, produced approximately 40 percent of all consumer electronics products sold.
  • Foxconn is the largest private employer in China and one of the largest employers worldwide.
  • Major customers comprise all the biggies including Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Amazon, Google, and Dell.
  • In reaction to a spate of worker suicides in which 14 people died in 2010, a report from 20 Chinese universities described Foxconn factories as labor camps and detailed widespread worker abuse and illegal overtime. The company claims these issues have been resolved.
And here’s a quick summary of the deal as it currently stands based on what I’m reading:
  • The complex will be located at a 1,000-acre site in southeastern Wisconsin.
  • This will be the first liquid crystal display manufacturing facility in North America and that has environmentalists a little freaked out.
  • It will take four years to build and will employ up to 10,000 construction workers over those four years.
  • The factory floor area will cover 20 million square feet.
  • Up to 13,000 workers could eventually be employed and paid an average of $53,875 a year, plus benefits.
  • Will generate estimated $181 million in state and local tax revenue annually, including $60 million in local property taxes.
  • Wisconsin will kick in $3 billion in state incentives over 15 years.
  • Wisconsin is not projected to break even on the incentive package for at least 25 years (that's 2042).
These projections factor in the maximum of 13,000 workers along with thousands of indirect jobs associated with the project, which Wisconsin officials have said will solidify the Foxconn project as a net win. Foxconn also say they are planning a research and development facility for autonomous vehicle components in Michigan.


Monday, May 2, 2016

STEM Studies: The Future of Engineering

Lauren Wilson,  Director of Admissions at Florida Polytechnic University offered the following as a guest post. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks Lauren!

New developments in the field of engineering owe a large debt to engineers with degrees from the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). These developments are making huge strides for organizations across the board, but the environmental, medical and manufacturing industries in particular. Here are four examples.

3D Printing
Prototypes are a key part of turning a concept into a final product, but creating one was labor-intensive before the advent of 3D printing. 3D printing allows mechanical engineers to put their imaginations to the test and build 3D visual representations much faster than physical prototypes. In addition to speed, 3D printing is also more cost-efficient and easier to use than physical prototyping.

Nanotechnology is changing the way mechanical engineers work by opening up the possibility of manufacturing devices on the molecular and atomic level for custom applications. These devices, which are designed to reduce weight, volume and power demands, carry the added benefit of greater sustainability.

For example, a nanotechnology engineer may work in the environmental industry testing different pollutants in the world’s food supply on the cellular level. Successful research would reduce these pollutants on a nanoscale and lay the groundwork for a more sustainable future.

STEM-focused curriculums provide an advantage in nanotechnology, because students work with cutting-edge technology to find solutions for real-world challenges. STEM universities also quickly adapt to industry changes to ensure best practices are taught for creating these materials.

Grid Decentralization
Electrical engineers focus primarily on up-and-coming fields in the engineering industry, including grid decentralization. Grid decentralization is gaining popularity from Colorado to Denmark as a way to reduce the environmental impact created by its communities. Unlike conventional power stations, grid decentralization technology uses renewable energy sources like solar and wind to create power. STEM studies have helped cities and countries transform the way they collect power by thoroughly covering topics ranging from micro-grids to “smart” grids. More importantly, these studies put creative power directly into the hands of students with hands-on projects, internships and real-world challenges. 

Lean Manufacturing
Lean manufacturing has dramatically reshaped the roles of industrial engineers over the past decade. Driven by STEM studies, lean manufacturing is focuses on eliminating waste from production processes to create a more agile system. With a primary focus on making systems more sustainable, faster and cost-effective, industrial engineers developed this principle based on studies in STEM subjects including: multifunctional materials, nanotechnology, supply chain logistics, Six Sigma and system analysis. 

Universities offering industrial engineering degree programs take a pragmatic approach to learning in the classroom. Students can expect to concentrate on applying the principles of design, analysis and manufacturing to real-world challenges to improve mechanical systems.

Artificial Organs
Biomedical engineering fuses engineering principles with biology to build life-saving medical technologies such as artificial organs. Although biomedical engineering has had a long history, the most recent groundbreaking technologies are a result of advanced education in STEM subjects. Artificial hearts and iPills, for example, are two biomedical engineering breakthroughs that have restored hope for critically ill patients. Biomedical engineering students in STEM learn how to develop and maintain improved medical systems, and perform research on artificial organs, implanted devices, prosthetics and radiation therapy.

STEM focuses solely on the four subjects used most frequently by engineers, and it essentially guarantees that more breakthroughs and improvements are to come. With the help of a STEM education, engineers can apply best practices for reducing energy consumption, minimizing environmental impact and increasing efficiency. From 3D printing to nanotechnology, there’s no denying the future of engineering is bright and full of potential.

Lauren Willison

As the Director of Admissions at Florida Polytechnic University, Lauren Willison is responsible for supporting the Vice Provost of Enrollment in managing recruitment efforts. She develops and coordinates on- and off-campus events, as well as manages the campus visit experience.

Friday, November 20, 2015

SUNY Poly Utica Computer Chip Commercialization Center (Quad-C)

Yesterday before a meeting at SUNY Poly Utica I had the chance to go on a tour of the almost completed Computer Chip Commercialization Center (Quad-C) building located on campus. Here's a few specs on the facility:

  • 253,000 sq. ft. including 56,000 sq. ft. of Class 100 and Class 1000 capable cleanroom space.
  • Will host phase one public-private partnerships highlighted by a consortium spearheaded by SUNY Poly CNSE that includes leading technology companies such as Advanced Nanotechnology Solutions Incorporated (ANS), SEMATECH, Atotech and CNSE partners, including IBM, Lam Research and Tokyo Electron. 
  • Annual operating budget to exceed $500 million
  • Projected to result in the creation of 1,500 high-tech jobs, groundbreaking academic programs, and cutting-edge workforce training opportunities.
  • The cleanrooms are stacked - not something you see much of outside of highly populated places like Singapore.
Here's a few pics I took on the tour.

Shot of the new building between Library and Admin Buildings

Flexible space - could be used for cubicles, walled offices, etc or configured as cleanroom extension

Above each cleanroom air handlers, sprinkler system etc. These systems can be maintained, upgraded etc with contaminating cleanroom

One of the huge cleanrooms and yes those little specs are people doing a final cleaning

Workers adding the CNSE sign to the building

Those 1,500 new jobs will have an average annual salary of $91,000, and an estimated annual payroll of more than $136 million once full-scale production is achieved. I am a strong believer in public-private partnerships and the SUNY Poly CNSE effort is one of the most successful I've had the opportunity to see.