Fascinating people, advanced technology, Artificial Intelligence

Daniel J. Foley

Brand New! Alexa in Your Car

A few months ago I saw on Amazon that they would be introducing an Echo product that would reside in my automobile which got my attention. I have four active Amazon Echo products in my home. In my living room I have an Echo Fire TV Cube for my Samsung 4K Smart TV, in my office I have a Second-Generation Echo with Alexa, and in my bedroom I have an Echo Show, and on my Samsung Galaxy S8 I have the Amazon Alexa Application which makes it a part of that intelligent group and is the intelligent app to drive that group.


To continue,  I learned that I could opt in to receive an invitation from Amazon to be one of the first people to buy and get the Echo Auto. Four days ago I got an email from Amazon saying I was selected to buy the new Echo Auto and because I was part of that select group it was offered to me at a significant discount. I think that was pretty cool. But, as excited as I was, I didn’t jump in immediately.


This is because between the time that they brought up there being a new product coming and my getting an invitation, I experimented with using the Amazon on my phone by interfacing with my car system. In January, I leased a brand-new 2018 Mazda 3 Sport Hatchback. It has an intelligent control panel and system including navigation, analog radio, FM radio, High Definition (HD 1 and HD 2) radio, Bluetooth access to my phone, and hands-free calling which also has my contact list from my phone. As part of that I had learned that it actually uses my phones Alexa App to perform quite a few Alexa applications but not as many as I would like. Additionally, I have stored on my phone thousands of songs that I bought from Amazon either from direct download and/or CDs and can play those on my car system.


There was one more potential deal killer. The Echo Auto sits on the dashboard in a position where I can talk to it and thus do all the other neat Amazon echo things I can do at home. It sits, however, on a molded piece made exactly for the Echo Auto that has an adhesive bottom to attach it to the dashboard. My concern was if I wanted to remove the holder for the Echo would I damage the dashboard? I called Amazon and they put me in touch with the group that is responsible for that device and I talked with a really helpful lady named Taylor who let me know that any residue that was left on the dashboard could easily be removed with a Clorox wipe.


I thanked her and let her know that as soon as our call was finished I would be ordering the new Echo which I did. Happily, I received it the next day. I waited until yesterday to install my Echo Auto and with little difficulty got it running beautifully. Just for kicks, from my car I asked Alexa what the temperature was in my home and Alexa told me. Is that neat or what?


Other things I can do from my car include:

  • set the temperature in my house
  • turn the lights on and off
  • see  who is at the door
  • record a TV show and/or a movie
  • whatever I can imagine.


I definitely recommend getting Amazon Echo Auto. It’s like living in the sci-fi world I could only read about, only it’s not sci-fi anymore.

The Geek Squad is One of My Prized Assets



I made the decision two or three years ago to add a solid-state drive to my computer as my C//: drive in order for my computer to process information faster. I bought a 256 GB  Solid State Drive (SSD) and thought that would be as large as I would ever need. In the last year or so I discovered that it seemed my SSD drive was beginning to develop and I was beginning to try to find ways of getting rid of information on it.


In the last 90 days I was struggling with that and last week I finally gave in and called my IT department (i.e. the Geek Squad) to see if they could help me. I got Agent Bradley who was a great choice. I had seen some things on the web that indicated I could move applications from a C:// Drive to my hard drive to free up my drive. The Windows 10 set up is such that the C:// Drive contains the Windows operating system and my programs.


Prior to calling the Geek Squad, I did research about moving those programs over to hard drive in videos about being able to do it but it appeared a little sketchy to me. Hence my calling the Geek Squad to find out if that could be done. Agent Bradley understood what I was asking him and was able to explain why that is not a good idea in as much as moving the wrong files could mess up Windows. I’m pretty techy but by no means an expert on the Windows 10 operating system.


What Agent Bradley did was run a proprietary Geek Squad application and go through my SSD and identify files that can be safely moved to the hard drive. I have a friend so there’s a lot of room on it for expansion. He went over with me, section by section, which files could be moved without impacting Windows and causing a disruption or breakage. It was like watching a maestro at work and discussing with him how he’s does what he does. Continue reading

NASA and SpaceX Launch First Dragon Test Flight on March 2

The nine-day period between near the end of February and the first part of March was a busy period for NASA and for SpaceX. On February 21 SpaceX launched three satellites. The first launch was an Indonesian Nusantra Satu communications satellite, a small experimental satellite for the United States Air Force, and the Israeli Beresheet Lunar Lander.



On March 2, the Crew Dragon, also known as Dragon 2, was launched to meet and dock with the International Space Station. This was the first test in the evolution of the Dragon supply vessel to a manned vessel capable carrying seven people. It is America’s return to carrying its own people to space since July 8, 2011.


When the Dragon 2 passes its abort test it will be qualified to carry astronauts from earth to the International Space Station. It is built to carry seven people and can be used for carrying supplies to the ISS on future missions. Two of the improvements over previous Dragon models  are the solar panels are mounted on the outside of the trunk and the nosecone can now be opened to access the spacecraft stacking port.


Dragon 2 also incorporates eight SuperDraco thrusters which are hypergolic propellant liquid rocket engines designed and made by SpaceX. In a configuration of eight SuperDraco engines fault-tolerant propulsion provides redundancy as a launch escape system and propulsive landing thrust for the Dragon 2.


SuperDracos power the Dragon 2 spacecraft’s evolutionary launch escape system which is the first of its kind. If an emergency occurs during launch, eight SuperDraco engines built into the Dragon sidewalls will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety.


According to SpaceX, SuperDraco rocket engines utilize storable (non-cryogenic) propellant which allows his engines to be fired many months after viewing and launch. Draco is a family of hypergolic liquid rocket engines designed and built by SpaceX. The original Draco is a small rocket engine for use on the Dragon spacecraft. SuperDraco is derived from Draco but is over 100 times larger in terms of delivered thrust. In addition, the SuperDraco engines can be restarted many times and be precisely controlled during propulsive landing of the Dragon capsule although SpaceX has announced that they will not be using propulsive landing on the Dragon 2.


When Elon Musk builds a SpaceX product, his goal is to build the very best of class at a lower cost, often at a much lower cost, and his competitors. He does this by bringing the product design, testing, and manufacturing in-house we SpaceX as total control of the process. He continually proves that he is right about this. In order to meet these goals musk ascertained that SpaceX needed to utilize 3D printing. In 2013, SpaceX successfully fired a SuperDraco engine at full thrust using a 3D printed engine chamber evolved entirely in-house.


To quote SpaceX, ” The chamber is regeneratively cooled and printed in Inconel, a high performance superalloy. Printing the chamber resulted in an order of magnitude reduction in lead-time compared with traditional machining – the path from the initial concept to the first hotfire was just over three months. 


During the hotfire test, which took place at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas, the SuperDraco engine was fired in both a launch escape profile and a landing burn profile, successfully throttling between 20% and 100% thrust levels. To date the chamber has been fired more than 80 times, with more than 300 seconds of hot fire.


The Dragon Version 2 spacecraft represents a leap forward in spacecraft technology across the board from its Version 1 predecessor. When SuperDracos are flown on a demonstration of Dragon’s launch escape system later this year, it will be the first time in history that a printed thrust chamber has ever been used in a crewed space program.”


The success of the Dragon 2 space vehicle is an important milestone in immediate and future space travel. Elon Musk will tell you that he was one launch short of giving up on the whole business and thus his lifelong dream of putting mankind on different planets throughout the galaxy. SpaceX is proving that it can do better than giant corporations and governments i.e. United States, Russia, and China and put a man into space sooner and at a lower cost than they thought could be done.


In the future people will look back and say “Damn! You people were lucky to have been there to see that really cool stuff happen!”


Israel has a new Lunar Lander on its way to the Moon


On February 21, 2018, a SpaceX Falcon 9 carried three satellites into orbit. The most significant one was the launch of the Beresheet (“In the beginning”) Moon Lander scheduled to land on the moon in April. It is the result of a nonprofit group named SpaceIL and as Yonatan Weintraub stated it is “going to be the first private inter-planetary mission that is going to go to the moon.”


So, instead of a superpower (United States) or the two secondary powers (Russia and China) landing a spacecraft on the moon it will be Israel and Israeli investors.


Who are these investors? Beresheet was paid for by the Israel Space Agency and SpaceIL started by billionaire Morris Kahn, who like Elon Musk, was born in South Africa, Sylvan Adams, and Sheldon and Miriam Adelson as well as other investors.


SpaceIL is an example of an exceptional institution founded and staffed by 200 members with 95% of them being volunteers. It has grown to nearly 250,000 pupils all over Israel. The Beresheet lunar Lander was built by Israel Aerospace Industries I expect to provide more information about SpaceIL as time goes on.


Morris Kahn


Morris Kahn and his family moved from South Africa to Israel in 1956. Kahn made his own fortune primarily with Amdocs one of Israel’s largest and established high-tech companies with 26,000 employees worldwide. He also is the founder of Coral World which has underwater observatories around the world. In 2017 he gave $1 million to the Genesis Prize Award Fund which was presented to actress Natalie Portman who regifted it announcing that it would be granted to programs focusing on advancing women’s equality in all aspects of human behavior.



                                                        Philanthropist Morris Kahn,  Genesis Prize Laureate Natalie Portman, and Co-Founder and Chairmann Of the Genesis Project Prize Foundation Stan Polovets


Coincidentally, another name for the Moon Lander is Genesis.


Sylvan Adams


Another large contributor is billionaire Sylvan Adams who in the last couple of years moved from Montréal Canada to the luxury apartment overlooking Tel Aviv beachfront property. His father, Marcel Adams, a Holocaust survivor began the family’s real estate empire and Sylvan grew it to the size it is today. His son Josh now heads Iberville Development (the real estate business).


Adams has always had a passion for sports and physical abilities. He is a co-owner of the Israel Cycling Academy. As a cyclist himself he has won international competitive awards in the sport. Margaret and Sylvan established the Margaret and Sylvan Adams Family Foundation for the support of educational and medical projects in Israel and in Canada. He donated $80 million for the purpose of bringing the Giro d’Italia to Israel.


Adams has always had a love for the Jewish people. He made a substantial financial and time commitment to the Young Men’s – Young Women’s Hebrew Association YM-YWHA which is now called the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA. To quote their press release:


As Mr. Adams stated, “The Jewish people are a gift to the world, having provided the foundational principles which shape our modern Western culture.  In order for the Jewish people to continue to make positive, disproportionate contributions to the societies where we live, we need to keep our institutions strong. Since the Y is an integral part of the Montreal Jewish Community, it is my greatest pleasure to provide support in any way I can.”


Andrea Rosenbloom, President at the Y, stated that the Y’s Board of Director is completely aligned with Mr. Adams’s philosophy.  “Our vision is securing Jewish continuity and now with Mr. Adams’ magnanimous gift, not only will our beloved Y survive, it will also thrive for future generations to come!”



Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson


Sheldon Adelson was born in 1933 in Boston Massachusetts into a low-income family. He now lives in Las Vegas Nevada and is 85 years old. It is currently worth around $36 billion.


Adelson is quoted as saying “an entrepreneur is born with the mentality to take risks though there are several important characteristics: courage, faith in yourself, and above all, even when you fail, to learn from failure get up and try again.”

It is a born entrepreneur having started a business at the age of 12 when he borrowed $200 from his uncle and purchased a license to sell newspapers in Boston. At age 16 he borrowed $10,000 from his uncle to start a candy vending machine business he attended city College of New York, did not graduate and joined the Army by his mid-30s he had built and lost a fortune twice and over the course of his career is created almost 50 businesses of his own.


In the 1970s, Adelson and others developed COMDEX which became the top computer tradeshow of the 1980s and 1990s. In 1995 he and the others sold COMDEX in the related businesses to Softbank Corporation of Japan. Adelson made more than $500 million in the deal.


In 1988 Adelson and his group purchased the Sands Hotel and Casino of Las Vegas. The Sands is going on to build casinos and resorts around the world. The Singapore Marina Bay Sands includes the third most expensive building in the world. The Marina Bay Sands which opened in 2010 is said to have cost $5.5 billion.


For a couple of decades Sheldon has been involved in supporting politicians and was a major contributor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He tends to support Republicans because they align more closely to his love of business and of Israel. Sheldon and his wife Miriam gave, according to the press, $24 million toward the Beresheet Lander.


Dr. Miriam Adelson was born in Tel Aviv in 1945 after her parents had fled to Poland in 1945. As a young woman she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology and genetics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and then her medical degree at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Medical School. From there she became the chief internist in the emergency room at Rokach Hospital in Tel Aviv.


She married Ariel Ochshorn a physician and had two children with him. They were divorced in the 1980s.


In 1986 as part of an exchange program, she went to Rockefeller University in which he specialized in the medical aspects of drug addiction. While there she met Sheldon Adelson who became her husband in 1991. She founded a substance abuse center and research clinic and they opened the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G Adelson Research Clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada.


On November 16, 2018 Dr. Miriam Adelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her generous financial and humanitarian support.


Back to the launch. On Monday the 25th, Beresheet missed a planned maneuver. The spacecraft’s computer unexpectedly went into reset causing a maneuver to be automatically canceled. The ground control launch team went into fix-it mode and provided Beresheet with corrective measures and performed the maneuver putting the Lander back on track for landing which is now expected to occur on April 11.


In the meantime, the spacecraft will do a series of  “phasing loops” that will raise the orbit until Beresheet can be captured by Lunar gravity. So for the next four weeks we will patiently anticipate a great event.






We just might want to keep an eye on this robot

In July I wrote a post “NASA has Launched a sort of HAL-like Robot to help an Astronaut on the ISS” about the cool new floating robot the European Space Agency (ESA) sent to the ISS. Its name is CIMON (pronounced Sigh Mon) and it was fun to watch and speculate about how it would help astronauts in the future.


It has now been six months and there has been a potentially disconcerting change as CIMON matures. According to the Quartz publication’s Nicholas Rivero, CIMON has gotten a little testy for what is supposed to be a friendly helping assistant. Astronaut Alexander Gerst asked CIMON to play some of Gerst’s favorite music. Instead CIMON played a song called “The Man-Machine” which annoyed Gerst and he asked the robot to please stop playing.


What followed seemed to be a tug of wills. It became reminiscent of HAL 9000. It may not be quite as creepy but I’m just sayin’.


The Pentagon’s Project Maven

Project Maven is an Artificial Intelligence system that assists human operators in finding objects of interest to the military. It is based on Machine Learning algorithms from very large databases of information. It is what the Department of Defense calls a “Pathfinder” meaning that is the beginning of a significant direction that the Pentagon has determined to go.


An example of a Project Maven user is the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). There are thousands of hours of video and pictures stored of information for their zones of operation. Commandos need specific information about their operations they can greatly be enhanced by the use of Artificial Intelligence. The Project Maven machine learning algorithm can be used to spot a specific kind of anomaly a huge database of information. Much of that requires visual recognition.


In September 2018 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced it will invest up to $2 billion over the next five years. That announcement was made by DARPA director Stephen Walker saying that the agency was to explore “how machines can acquire humanlike communication and reasoning capabilities.” I first became familiar with DARPA in 1980 when it was known as ARPA when I was a regional manager for Research Inc. managing the Eastern United States for its computer terminal sales to universities and businesses. I became most familiar with ARPA when I became the North Central sales representative for GTE Telenet selling their X.25 product from Bolt Beraneck and Newman which was directly active with ARPA in its development. That was the direct forerunner to the Internet.


DARPA has said that the $2 billion with fund projects over and above the 20 AI projects the Pentagon has going now. (Google, the primary contractor for Project Maven has said they are pulling out of the program. Thousands of Google employees signed the petition for Google to get out of the project and top management caved in to that demand.) According to Peter Highnam, the deputy director of DARPA, “hundreds if not thousands” of schools and companies have bid “aggressively” on these programs.


There is a good chance that Microsoft and Nvidia, and maybe Amazon, will go after this business. Google’s AI software – Tensorflow – is being used by the US military drone program. Fortunately for everyone, Google made Tensorflow open source.


As of December 2018 the DOD who oversaw Project Maven leads its new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) which will coordinate AI research across the Department, government labs, and private companies. The goal of this is to speed up the process of getting AI tools to the war fighters.


There is a sense of urgency to this. China does not operate with the same legal constraints that the US has, and they can mandate that companies such as Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent must comply with the Communist Party’s wishes. We also don’t know how much technology has been transferred to the Chinese by American companies doing business in China. Russia is not a leader in Artificial Intelligence but it has a large base of students could be conscripted to train fairly fast.