Kitchen knives

Any knife that is sharp is better than the best branded dull knife. 

As consultant, I’ve either been at clients or worked at home. Because I used to spend 35+ weeks a year on the road, eating out wasn’t special. Plus I grew up with mom and dad who believed you needed to be able to take care of yourself including fix a flat, mow the lawn, mend a shirt, cook a decent meal, etc. I enjoyed the cooking, married a wife who loved to cook, and raised a family that thought a good day was going to market, making big meal, and discussing the world over a home prepared meal and several bottles of wine with friends.

In addition, I like fixing and making things. I like the tools that help you make things, too. Knives the single most important tool in the kitchen. The best one is the one that is highly effective for you. Bad technic, wrong shape, or dull knives will be produce poor results, be frustrating, and can be dangerous. As your skills improve, you may find a “better” knife will up your game. The general rule is take care of your knives (tools) and your knives (tools) will take care of you.

Any knife that is sharp is better than the best branded dull knife. 

Either send your knives out once a year for most home chefs or buy a good diamond sharpener or equivalent. If you are going to sharpen your own knives, it is as skill that must be learned.  Plan on spending $100-$200 unless you want to go manual with traditional wet stones. I haven’t tried the pendulum style sharpeners, but they do help guide the wet stones, so they look promising. The only problem is that the bevel will be flat instead of the ideal convex of a belt sharpener or proper use of wet stone. 

I keep looking for the ideal home sharpening system. I probably have half dozen knife sharpeners in the shed I don’t like. The NY Times Cord Cutter recommends the powered Chef’s Choice Tri-razor. I am disappointed on manual version especially on smaller knives. In a follow up comment, they say use it only on inexpensive knives, so what good is it. I was also really disappointed by the Global Manual sharpeners. I’ve got a few wet stones that work better, but not without a lot effort. I just got a Worksharp Ken Onion sharpener. Other than making a lot of dust, it does put an amazing edge on my knives. I am waiting a few months to see how they wear.

Every cook needs to buy a steel of steel or ceramic. You can keep your knives in good cutting shape using a steel made of steel or ceramic. Ceramic is preferable as it will remove less material. You don’t sharpen with steel, but you straighten the cutting edge and it will keep a knife cutting for a long, long time. Here’s a short video with Alton Brown on the topic (https://youtu.be/lRUYAgrsoLw). When the steel no longer gives you a good edge, you need to sharpen the knives. You try avoid sharpening because it removes material and eventually will wear the knife out. A steel just straightens the blade so far less material is removed.

When cutting, be sure to use a cutting board. Cutting on your counter probably won’t hurt your counter, but it will quickly wear your knife. A good cutting board is religious debate equal to the topic of which knife is best, so I won’t go into it today. I use both food grade nylon and hard, non-porous, non-toxic wood boards (mostly maple).  I’m mixed on bamboo. I love teak and have added to boards I’ve made (https://www.bobvila.com/articles/best-wood-for-cutting-board/) as few to date (see knife pictures). It is great skill builder for wood workers and you’ll have friends for life. If you are buying, Boos is the best known high quality wood cutting board maker. They are not cheap, but they will last a lifetime for most home cooks. Using a good grade cutting board oil on it every year or so will make it look better and last longer. 

Learning good cutting technics are also critical. Some things like using your knuckles and keeping your fingers curled back will feel awkward at first (“the claw”). There are some great YouTubes, classes, simply watch any of the 100’s of cooking shows. I’ve got a half century in the kitchen with a knife and I’m still learning.

Please never ever put your kitchen knives in the dishwasher. The dishwasher soap especially at high temperatures is corrosive. It will etch the blade and destroy the cutting edge. In addition, if you have wood handles, you’ll destroy them (makes me cry). Woodworkers are sensitive about ruining good wood.

For safety’s sake, keep your knives separate from your dishes. Don’t throw them into sink full of dishes or soap water. You’ll reach in to wash a cup and lose a finger. I recommend washing them with soap and water, rinse with warm water and either gently dry them or place them aside where they will dry.

Do not put them back in the knife block unless they are dry. Even stainless will pit, rust, or grow mold from the dust in the air (mostly your dry skin particles in a home – another story).  Who wants to have their food prepared with rusted, dull, stained, moldy knives? Please take care of your knives and treat them with respect. 

You need at least 5 knives. You probably only need these knives or their equivalent.

  • Chef knife for slicing, chopping, mincing and splitting a spaghetti squash typically 8 – 10″, but can be 12″ – 14″. Buying a small Chef or Santoku (see below) is a great way to see if you like brand, blade, and handle. If you have a good Chef knife, you will grab it 75% of the time. 
  • Medium prep knife for everything you don’t use your chef knife on – typically about 5″ blade and not as thick at top.
  • Paring knife for peeling and cutting toward yourself, mostly – typically 3″ blade. 
  • Serrated bread knife mostly for bread typically 8-10″, but go 10-12″ if you like those giant loves of round bread.
  • Slicing knife for long slicing cuts typical in carving meat – thinner and 10-14″. These are often boudsght in a set with carving fork. Usually the knife and fork looks great great on the table. I don’t carve at the table, so I just have ugly forks I use with good knives in the kitchen and use the pretty set to serve the food.

Every knife after that is extra, but can be useful, but tends to be a variation of theme above. In addition, the Japanese or Asian style knife sets are slightly different. My wife prefers these styles partially because they are lighter blades and the handles tend to be slightly smaller, too.

  • Santoku knife is a thinner blade designed for more slicing and less chopping. The tip is rounder, too. Rachael Ray has been a big fan of these over a traditional chef’s knife and they are workhorse knives.
  • Vegetable (Nakari) knife is designed to allow you to slice and chop vegetables. Unlike the medium prep knife, the height of the knife allows you to use your knuckles more effectively. 
  • Lots of variations on the theme with boning, cleavers, breaking, bird beak paring , etc.
Misen Paring & Chef, and Global Santoku & Vegetable

Every knife has cutting edge angle. All German style knives used to have 20 or 25 degree edges. Most Japanese and Asian knives were 17.5 or 15 degree edges. Now almost all kitchen knives except cleavers are 17.5 or 15 degree edges. The sharper angle does make for a sharper blade, but it also wears much faster. The compensation is  harder materials which I find makes it harder to use a steel or sharpen. 

Every knife has a balance point. The experts tell you that the ideal point is right where the blade and handle meet. Larger knife blades have larger handles up to a point. Cleavers are blade heavy. Paring knives are handle heavy. The exact balance point is a really a personal choice.  For a chef’s knife, the key is when you use chef’s control grip (thumb and finger on the blade), the knife should be balanced and rock almost effortlessly.

Every knife is attached to the handle. The tang, the unsharp part of the blade, extends into the handle. Partial tangs do not extend the full width and length of the handle. Full tangs do. In general, full tangs are considered better as they lessen the chance the blade will pull out, counter balance the blade, provide direct leverage on the blade, and I believe allow you to better feel blade cutting. A full tang yields better control. 

I have owned numerous kitchen knives including Global, Henkel, Misen, Wusthoff, Victorinox, and bunch of knock offs.

I haven’t tried a ceramic knife, but I would like to do so. If you go this way, I’d start Kyocera who invented the blades and are well known for ceramic materials. They are brittle and can break.  They are sharp, very sterile, and non-oxidative. Using metal to cut vegetables can oxidize the edges which is why you tear lettuce rather than chop it unless you are going to eat it the next 30 minutes.

Victorinox  are inexpensive. You can get a good set for about $100. The fibrox (plastic) handles clean easily and you can throw them in bleach water every day and they’ll stay in good shape. The blades are stamped, thin and light. The come sharp and stay reasonably sharp. I especially love their bread knives. I tend to throw away my serrated knives every 10 years since they don’t sharpen well. They also work well as small paring knives. They won’t tire you out.  If you use them long enough, you’ll eventually want a better knife. They have a partial tang so they are light, out of balance, and in my opinion will always make them good, but never great. They are wonderful for a cabin, a boat, or to give as a wedding gift to entry level cook. I’d hate to give someone a $600 forged knife set to hear through the grapevine they aren’t working too well after they ran them through the dishwasher and cut with them on the granite counters.

Two bread knives

Japanese knives are personal taste as is Scotch, Bourbon, Rum and Vodka – so no judgment.  They are scary sharp out of the box. My wife loves our Global knives. The balance is perfect. I find them proportionally slightly light and the handles a bit small for my hands. For medium and paring, I like them and use them for very delicate work. For chopping and heavy slicing, I find the back of the knife too thin and it wears on my thumb from pressing down. I do like the seamless design from handle to blade which keeps the knives spotless. Japanese knives stay sharp, but are hard to sharpen because the thinner blade angle requires harder steel to avoid wearing out too fast. Most people send them out to someone who knows how to do sharpen them. In some cases the factory will sharpen them for free. If you do a lot vegetables, the santoku and vegetable (nakari) knives are terrific additions. 

Misen and Global Paring knives – notice the much smaller, flatter handle

Shun knives are common amongst professional chefs and I’d love to try them.  The wavy unique patterns emulating Damascus Steel looks terrific. On my list of knives to try out. The wavy, hammered effect, or hollow grounds on any knife are supposed help food fall away from the knife after slicing by breaking the suction. I’ve heard and seen mixed results. I do know thin slices of tomato or cucumbers do tend to stick to the blade.

Misen is recent Internet only cookware site. They try to provide semi-pro products at consumer prices. I have chef, medium, and paring knife I use almost daily. They sharpen easily, stay reasonably sharp, and have larger handles that are easy to grab and hold. I don’t like that the knife will lay on its back with the blade aimed up. This is a safety concern especially if you are cooking with others (e.g. kids). For the price, just a bit more than Victorinox, you get a full tang robust near professional grade knives. I use their chef knife daily and I only sharpened after 18 months.

Henkel and Wusthoff are great German steel knives. They dominated professional cooks and semi-pro kitchens until the early 2000’s when Japanese knives became popular. German knives did use slightly softer stainless steel than Japanese knives had 20 degree angles. In the last decade, German knives have improved their steel and shifted to 17.5 or 15 degree angle. These are great traditional style knives. I think the Wusthoff are getting a little better press right now. I used older Henkels up until the late 90’s when we switched to Global. I might go back to Henkel or Wusthoff now that they’ve emulated the Japanese styles. 

Honestly, any good brand of knife with a sharp edge will cut well. The real key is comfort of the handle and balance of the blade. The only real way to know is try it out. A good set of knives is a decade or more purchase. I’d advise its worth trip to department or specialty store to put your hands on them.

You can read the NY Times Cord-cutter review on build your own knife set (https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/lists/build-your-own-knife-set/). I find I don’t always agree with their best pick, but it is usually in the top 3 or so. Sometimes when I read the discussion of the competition, I find another I like better such as we thought it was too big of a handle or would have been our first pick, but it was more expensive and the other was almost as good. It is worth a read. 

If you really want to go off the deep end, check out Jay Fisher. He’s dedicated to building the best knives in the world and he really, really likes to write about it. The net of his discussion is new stainless steel is better than old carbon steel blade http://www.jayfisher.com/Blades.htm#Carbon_Steel_vs._Stainless_Steel so ditch grandma’s old knives. He does have knives for sale but they start at $2000 per knife. I’m sure they are awesome, but not my idea of how to spend a few grand.

Based on reviews, I’d also look at MAC and Dalstrong.  Dalstrong has good aesthetics, great Amazon reviews, and has good stats on hardness, etc; however, I’ve yet to see anyone run it through its paces. MAC has been around. Unless you know the knife or have a very liberal return policy and warranty, you might spend a few dollars more and buy at a store until you find a line you like.

Two medium knives – notice the handle difference
Same medium knives – very different handle shapes

Knives in the kitchen are very personal. In the end, it will be what you and your family likes the best. You may find that it varies between individuals in your household. It’s part of the adventure of good food. Enjoy the journey.

It’s been too long…

To benefit my thought process, and hopefully for the benefit of at least a few others, I am going to start writing this blog again.

Maybe you didn’t notice, but I quit regularly writing this blog a few years ago with a few dribbles in-between. More than one person told me it was a shame and they missed it. I know I missed writing it. The blog forced me to organize my thoughts and prioritize my ideas. If I could come up with cogent idea on paper, it might be worth pursuing.

To benefit my thought process, and hopefully for the benefit of at least a few others who honor me with their time, I am going to start writing this blog again. I will try to put out 40 blogs in 2021 aiming for 1 per week with a few weeks of non-productivity.

For topics, I’ll stay mostly focused on science and technology. SAP will still show up, but not as prominently. I may stray a little bit into some of the policies and politics around technology. I’ll commit to telling you when it is fact and when it is an opinion.

My opinion is that the year of 2020 has sucked, stinks, been horrible, etc. for almost everyone. At the same time, not all of us have suffered as much. For those of you who have suffered, I hope you are able to move on quickly. If you’ve lost someone close to you, all I can offer is my condolences. If you were fortunate, and really haven’t suffered substantial setbacks other, please consider helping those less fortunate with your money or your time. People who have never asked for anything are hungry.

If you’re giving money, please make it count. There are some horrible charities out there that only seek to enrich those that run them. I find Charity Navigator a good source of information. A charity with 3 or more stars out of 4 is effective. You might want to reconsider if your thinking about giving to charity with less than 3 stars. If your charity is not listed that doesn’t mean don’t give, but you will have to make sure you are not being grifted.

A source for evaluating the effectiveness of your donations of your hard earned cash.

2020 has been tough. Please be generous if you can.

Be well.

Simple Coronavirus COVID-19 facts

Every statement in this blog came from a reasonable source. None of the information is unique. I hope it helpful.

Coronavirus is the disease. COVID-19 is the name of the virus. 

Viruses are basically living chemicals. They are strips of RNA which get into our bodies and force our DNA to replicate the virus. This happens over and over building up more and more active viruses in your body.

The test for COVID-19 is nasal swab, like a flu test, and testing for the replication. It is only effective if you have enough of the virus in your system that they virus can infect a DNA sample and force replication which is the sign of the disease. Generally, you don’t have enough if you are NOT showing symptoms. There is NO antibody test to date which would show your body has been exposed and has some level of resistance.

COVID-19 is *NOT* an airborne virus. Yes, you can get it from mist of cough or sneeze, but it doesn’t live in the air. When it’s in that “mist”, it’s living on droplets, not the air. This is why it’s important to cover up (blocks the mist) and why sick people in public must wear a mask.

COVID-19 can live on surfaces. Smoother ones seem to let it live longer – up to 48 hours. Rough ones like paper and cardboard less so – a few hours. This is why it important to disinfect surfaces. If the surface is warmer, it they tend to die/denature dfaster.

COVID-19 can be killed with exposure to heat. Viruses are mostly proteins and especially the active part – RNA. Heat denatures (breaks the bonds and links) of the protein and effectively kills it. It is one of the reasons we cook our food – think pressure cooker.

Wash your hands. Washing your hands for 20 seconds or more in plain soap and water frequently can greatly reduce your chances of getting virus. The most common path is you pick up the virus on your hands and rub your face, eyes, mouth, nose, etc. and place the virus where it can enter your body. If you got to rub your face, wash first, then its ok, but still don’t pick your nose in public. 

Will warmer weather will end Coronavirus. This is an extrapolation of the lab data. COVID-19 is related to cold viruses which don’t die back in summer. Viruses are remarkably resistant. Even if it dies back, it might come back even worse in the fall.

Optional medical procedures are being canceled. Hospitals are overwhelmed either with Coronavirus or preparing for it. If that hospital is treating Coronavirus, you are better off not being in the building being exposed while in a weakened state. Truly urgent patients are being treated. The other danger is medical treatments place us in close proximity to others (doctors, nurses, other patients) which is to be avoided, too.

Social distancing works by preventing the spread. The virus depends on humans spreading it via fluid contact (sneeze, cough, contaminated surface, etc.). If we don’t come in contact with each other, COVID-19 has no way to reproduce and spread. Coronavirus will be stopped if we don’t cheat.

Naming of the disease – 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease. There was an active effort by the WHO and others to avoid confusion by calling it SARS (accurate) or flu (inaccurate) or demonize a group of people (Chinese). The disease has been called Novel coronavirus pneumonia, Wuhan pneumonia, Wuhan coronavirus or just “Coronavirus”. The gene bank labeled it SARS-CoV-2. Calling in Chinese Flu is about as helpful as calling it “meat eaters pneumonia” or “wild game eaters disease”. This wouldn’t have happened if everyone was vegetarian or vegan so say my vegan and vegetarian friends. Let’s agree to keep racial prejudice and conspiracy theories out of medicine and science.

While I haven’t put a source with each entry, each came from reputable source and can be verified as of time of publication. Many of these are covered in World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) myth busters.

Sources:

Why soap works courtesy of Alton Brown:

Good information and data analysis:

https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus

Informative presentation from Dr. Michael Lin.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DqfSnlaW6N3GBc5YKyBOCGPfdqOsqk1G/view

#flattenthecurve – work from home tips

The virus, Corona Virus, or COVID-19, is not going to be quick based on what we’ve seen from other countries. If you are fortunate, you are one of the people who can work from home and get paid. Keep in mind a lot of people can’t, so be a little extra patient when out in public for one of your limited errands. Remember, we are not stopping the virus. We are simply slowing the transmission (#flattenthecurve) so we don’t overwhelm the healthcare system. Keep in mind the sun will come up tomorrow, too.

Why we need to do social distancing and what it does and doesn’t do.

I’ve read a lot of great entries on working from home. I’ll put the links at the end of this post. I have my take on it. I’ve spent most of 30+ years working from home when not at client sites or gathering at an office to do proposal work.

  1. Get a good chair. Most of us grab any chair, but you when you spend about 8+ hours a day sitting, a good chair is necessary. I have Herman-Miller Aeron which drooled over at most high tech companies. I found one on e-bay almost brand new.
  2. Avoid your chair. Find ways to not be in the chair. If you are just listening, consider taking your conference calls while walking.
  3. Get a good headset. I use Apple products, so my AirPods work great for me. They aren’t so tight in my ear that it goes numb. The Jabra’s have great ratings if you like. If you have noise canceling, please don’t wear them when you are walking (see #2). The headset will keep your family / roommates from killing you, too, as they listen to all that boring work monologues.
  4. Continue or start Exercising. Your gym closed down but there are lots of solo alternatives. You can try the 6-minute workout, 7-minute workout (lots of apps for this), weights (order if not owned), pull-up bar, or isometrics (bands – low tech, ActiveBody Activ5 – high tech) are just a few options.
  5. Set your work hours. For me, it’s an approximate time to start and stop my day along with a total number of hours for the week. If you have more of 9-5 job then keep those hours. Bottom line, don’t start working 100 hours just because you are not going to the office. A Do Not Disturb sign on the door of even a post-it note can be as effective, too. Just don’t expect others to read your mind.
  6. Cable Modem and Internet Speed. Get as much speed / bandwidth as you can comfortably afford. If you are renting your cable modem, see how much it sets you back because a good one is usually <$100 and buying your own might break you even with the faster speeds. All of the cable modems use a DOCSIS standard, so they can be swapped out.
  7. Router & WiFi. If you haven’t applied the latest software / patches, do so now. If you haven’t physically updated your Router & WiFi in 2 or 3 years, it is probably worth buying another one especially if you have large house. The mesh WiFi routers do a great job of giving you seamless coverage as you walk around your house and maybe even yard. Most management is done via smartphone app. Nest is great value if you don’t mind Google. Eero comes up strong and easy to use. NetGear’s Orbi is a top performer requires a browser to access the advanced functions.
  8. Indicate you are working. Try to get a separate work space. Make it very clear that you are working especially if you are on calls and video calls. Having your roommate / spouse / visitor / child parade across you video conference inappropriately dressed (use your imagination) or you might become an international sensation (see Professor Robert Kelly). A door is great if you have your own room. I also have an “On Air” sign that I use different colors to indicate (voice call or watching video / training, voice call with client, webcam call, webcam call with client).
  9. Desk. I try to get a leaf blower and clear mine, but I confess, I’m not good at the clean desk scenario. Try to do your best tidy up each day. I did purchase an adjustable height desk and I sometimes raise it to stand and take calls. I prefer to avoid the desk and take a walk (see # 2).
  10. Conference calls and WebCam chats. Learn to use the features of your ZOOM, Webex, FaceTime, or other tools. Mute when not speaking. Turn off the camera if you need to do something distracting including stepping away. Wear solid colors and avoid small patterns and checks if using video (makes your image appear fuzzy). If you are mediator, learn how to mute a persons line, mute everyone, and eject someone from the session.
  11. Be kind to others. People are stressed out of their minds due to fear of the unknown. Keep this in mind when you react to your family, friends, co-workers and clients. Take a deep breath and then respond. If it is an e-mail that can wait, let it sit in draft for a few hours. Try to take out all the trigger and emotional words in your note. Also be as brief as possible. If the topic is loaded with subtleties, pick up the phone or do a 1:1 WebCam chat where you can better understand the non-verbal part of the discussion.

Where I usually go for advice on gear:

The Wire Cutter

CNET

If you’ve got kids, try to recognize they are just kids and they look to you to support. If you’re nervous, they’ll see it. Keep them busy. Scholastic also put together free resources for school age kids. Use this as time to educate your kids on some life skills like changing the oil, a tire, pruning a bush, deep cleaning and organizing, and cooking and sharing great meals. In my family, we cook together. Whatever you do, share, keep positive, have patience, and make sure the activity is age appropriate.

Scholastic Daily Class for free

One of many cooking with kids

Cincinnati Zoo Facebook Live feeds including Fiona the Hippo

Another great blogger with a great list:

As one of the memes going around said, “Your grandparents went to war to save the world. You’re only being asked to sit on your couch.” Take walk, be kind to yourself, close friends, and family, and the sun will come up tomorrow.

Computer Security

No one would dare drive a car with a rope tied around their lap, but you’d access your life’s savings with 4-digit PIN. Neither action makes sense. Good passwords are a minimum requirement.

A recent article, How Biometrics Is Becoming the Security of the Future, made me think about digital security. While biometrics are convenient, they are really just an access method and doesn’t invalidate the use of a good password. I don’t know of single biometric tool that isn’t tied to password. So if your password is “p@ssw0rd”, you still have poor security even though your face or fingerprint is unique.

My rules for passwords are simple.

Lock your devices with solid passwords. Your smartphone and your PC are your digital twin and probably have access to your entire financial world. Why would you leave them wide open for someone to grab and gain access to almost everything about you?

Use a password locker. A password locker enables you to have a master password that access your other passwords. Why is this so important, because then you can use really good individual password such as 15 characters or more with lots of non-standard characters for your passwords for every account. There are free ones, but I think it might be worth the price of a couple of latte’s month to protect yourself and gain the integration features found in the paid versions.

Use two-factor authentication. I have 2-factor on all my important accounts or require it when I make major changes to account such as updating passwords, addresses, or transfer funds. I use an authentication application on my smartphone to provide me the 6 digit code where it’s allowed. In other cases, I just have the system text me the 6 digit code. Two-factor proves you have control of the device.

Use strong passwords. Strong passwords are not that hard to come up with. If you are using a password locker, most have strong password generators. I set mine so the characters are password characters are easy to read. So it avoids putting “1’s” next to “l’s” or “0’s” next to “O’s”. I know I’ve spent 5 minutes trying get serial numbers entered when I have a lot of similar looking characters. Another great trick is us longer passwords that are phrases. I find song titles from my youth relatively easy to remember.

Use shared passwords via a password locker. This is probably controversial, but we provide support for some older relatives. I also share access to household accounts like utilities, drug stores, and groceries with my spouse. In the case of the relative, they write the password on a post-it stuck to the refrigerator where anyone coming in sees it. Even then, they get stuck. Having secure access to the account and password, we can help them. In the case of shared household activities, it means we can back each other up and don’t end up texting passwords to each other. Where there is a family feature, we do use it, but until all accounts have family sharing, we’ll be using shared passwords.

Change the passwords. Change is hard. About the time I get comfortable with a password, it seems it’s time to change it. I’m less hard core about this requirement, but if you even suspect something is going on, be sure to change your password.

Lock your accounts down. If you can, lock up the features of your accounts that can rob you or take control of your accounts. I’m not old enough to use my 401k, so they are locked for withdraws. Most other accounts, don’t allow significant changes without additional confirmation. Also, the change in law lets you lock your credit reporting accounts so no one can open loan or charge without you unlocking them. They can still report on you, but it protects you. Spend some time getting to know the features of your major accounts.

Audit everything. While you are in locking, you should turn on your audit features. For example, I get get an email or text if someone makes a foreign charge or charges over $500 on my credit card. It takes 5 seconds to read and delete if it is OK. If it’s not, I can contact the credit card company in seconds to stop the problem before it becomes my problem. The only draw back, it is really hard to buy a gift for my spouse when traveling because she gets the alerts. I can live with it.

No matter what anyone tells you or how great your biometrics are, you still need good passwords. I think a password locker is helpful and certainly better than pad of paper, post-it notes, or Excel spreadsheet. After that, it is up to you to use it, set good passwords, and monitor your account statuses. Access anywhere is a great super power and with great power comes the responsibility to use it with care.

Using a DJI Drone to record house build

Using waypoints to make amazing drone videos.

Drones provide an inexpensive, easy way to record from high above and far away with little or no training. There is no pilot’s license required for small but competent drones, but you do have to avoid no fly zones such as airports, certain municipalities, or harassing individuals. As a person who builds and fixes computing systems (technology, process, people) for a living and a person who tinkers with everything from computers to IoT to cars and boats to houses for fun, it was always my desire to build a house. I’ve been using my DJI Phantom 3 SE (no longer manufactured) drone to thoroughly document the build process.

Modern drones are relatively easy to fly. That doesn’t mean the pictures, especially video, will look any good. I took lot of ugly video at first. There always is the thrill of being aloft, which you can observe from your phone. The DJI Phantom 3 SE (my older drone) and newer drones use GPS or GPS+GLONASS, typically fly for about 20 to 30 mins, range 1/2 to 1 mile, record at 720p or 1080p, hover within 0.5 to 0.1m if you just let go of everything even in a stiff breeze, newer ones avoid objects, and fly at up to about 50 MPH.

I prefer a dedicated controller, but many can be flown from just a smartphone. Many  have advanced abilities to follow-you or at least the controller, circle a known point, do special effects, respond to hand gestures, or fly a pre-assigned flight path made up of waypoints.

Waypoints are your friend when making a video. The best way I’ve found to get a good video, excluding editing (not covered here), is to set a flight path via waypoints, save the mission, and then run the mission.  There are numerous youtube videos out that illustrate the process. I’ve included a video from DJI below to illustrate the process using my DJI drone, but other drones and drone manufacturers have similar abilities.

The real trick is when you run your mission is to set the “Head to:” setting to “FREE”. In head to mode FREE, you control where the camera points. So now you know the drone will fly the mission, not crash, and you can focus on pointing the camera. Shots always are more dramatic if you can move the camera on 3-axis. You already have motion, but you tilt up and down and pan side to side. You’ll get a pretty decent video without editing.

In addition, you can repeat the mission since it saved for you. By flying the same mission, you can see changes over time. In the case of my house build, I have flown around the home site in each stage of the build. I now have a video library I can check to see the house slowly being built.

Enough people have expressed interest in my house build in Florida that I am going to write a new blog on it. Once I get enough content, I’ll post the new WordPress site here.

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Looking at Salesforce & dreaming big

SalesForce (SFDC), more than any other SaaS company, has paved the way for SaaS as model for selling a business service underpinned by technology. SFDC understood before most that SaaS was not a new way to pay for software and software implementations, but a way to swiftly create value. No business wants to buy software, hardware, networks, computers, data centers, and IT people (gag! cough! expensive!). Businesses want buy solutions to their problems and enable more revenue and profit. All that other “stuff” which I personally care a lot about, is not the core of business.

I saw the following article in TechCrunch. It looks at what is right, wrong, and what are the ongoing trends base on SFDC.
There are a lot of important messages. I think older IT businesses found before the iPhone fail to understand or take advantage of the “the consumerization of IT” or the fact that “compute is very inexpensive”. On the other hand, a more established providers do understand need for  “enhanced security due to increased exposure” and “computing is location agnostic” (hybrid cloud). A lot of compute will grow outside of corporate data centers, but I don’t think corporate data centers will entirely disappear in the near term.
Under computing is cheap, I saw this little snippet.
“By comparison, at the same time that Salesforce was founded, Google was running on its first data center—with combined total compute and RAM comparable to that of a single iPhone X. That is not a joke.”  And 11 years before that I was in class with professor lamenting they paid more for 256 bytes of memory than we were paying for 256 kbytes of memory.
Around the same time (1988), I was reading an article that has stuck with me for 30+ years which I can’t find. It basically stated that at the time “X Windows System”  was developed, it ran so slow it was impossible to use (minutes to paint a scree), but that developers had confidence that the CPU, Networks, and Graphics would catch up – and they did. We’ll see this same pattern with AI, VR, Blockchain, etc. today.
The real lesson is go BIG when you are innovating. The computing, often driven by IBM (see Summit – worlds fastest computer with whole new architecture), has an amazing history of catching up and passing our wildest dreams.
So dream big and go innovate. There are whole new technologies being built to meet the challenge.
 

GitHub purchase by Microsoft

From my view, Microsoft bought GitHub for 2 major reasons – access and information. Access is the first reason and it enables an extension of their own tools and cloud. My assumption is GitHub will soon find the first option for tools and for cloud to be Microsoft’s unique line up. Why would a developer publish to AWS, Oracle, Google, or IBM if a single button press got you the latest features and tightest integration by going to Azure. They won’t eliminate or block the others, they’ll just make Microsoft the default.

I don’t think Microsoft is buying GitHub to bury it or ruin it. Microsoft is not exactly the biggest promotor of open source, but they are an active player. This is not like Gillette buying the stainless steel razor blade patent so they could drag their feet on producing one and get more money out of their existing products. If Microsoft blocked GitHub, I think the world would just develop an alt-GitHub or shift to competitor.

The second is probably the more important: information. GitHub is where developers, programmers, and coders dream. They put snippets of code which are glimmers of the future. Simply understanding what libraries, language, databases, tools, and clouds are being used, frequency, and in what combinations will yield bright headlights into the near future. If you release a new library, you can now easily see its uptake in the community. Put more money into it if it’s yours, alter yours to look more like the winner, partner where you can’t win, or buy it up if it’s a good investment.

As long as Microsoft uses a respectful hand and doesn’t become the evil overlord, I think the purchase of GitHub will yield a bounty of information by which they can steer their own development of tools and products. For a company that has jumped in late on the Internet, Open Software, and Cloud, they sure do an impressive about faces.

 

Digital Twin: the 2018 agile wind tunnel with quantum future

Digital Twins enable testing of real world testing of complex systems. The concept of living test lab has been dream for testers. Digital Twins are not static, but allow for constant new input based on the real world from IoT sensors. Digital Twins make use of AI, Machine Learning, and IoT to simulate complex system behaviors. IBM is working in our labs and with our clients to find exciting new ways to use and create digital twins.

When flight first started, a man had to risk his life to test each innovation. An innovation had a high threshold since the bet was a human life. Eventually, engineers built wind tunnels where they could simulate the effect of the air flow over the plane. While it no longer was risking a life, it had limitations on size (can’t fit an entire 747 in wind tunnel), was artificial, and was costly.  Also how do you simulate more complex events like sudden down drafts, lightening strikes, rough landings, wear and tear over years (metal fatigue, corrosion)? Now with digital twin, you can test the effect of changes to the digital twin of the airplane. We can run 100’s or 1,000’s of changes and combinations of changes to identify the impacts. Only the best of these changes will be put into use.

The while the changes put into use could be small, similar to agile built software application, they would add up to significant impacts. The feedback from the IoT devices in the real world will then update the digital twin allowing new sets of changes to be developed, deployed, and tested before the best combinations are rolled out in rapid succession. As most planes are now fly by wire and highly digital, incremental changes are possible to many of the systems. Today it might not be possible to reshape physical parts like wings, fuselage and rudders, but maybe in the future technologies could reshape the surface to change physical parts of the plane. Clearly there would need to be progression from test bed, to unmanned, to test flights before it went into passenger aircraft, but the rate of innovation in safety related industry goes up by orders magnitude and the risk and costs come down proportionally, too.

The ability to try millions and even billions of combinations in each digital twin is not yet possible as it would overwhelm the compute power of traditional binary computers. The rapidly evolving Quantum Computer may provide the power required to make machine learning nearly unlimited in capacity enabling deep learning and unlimited numbers of combinations of factors in our digital twins. You can even try out quantum for yourself in IBM’s DevOp environment – bluemix.

Benefits of digital twins can apply to almost any machine, group of machines, or ecosystem of lots of groups of machines. I wonder if in the future, a quantum digital twin could be more complex and subtle in its simulation than the real world. As of today, our models of reality pale in complexity to the real world. Below is simply mind map machine systems with a focus on transportation machines. It shows how digital twins can use data from other digital twins. It is model composed of multiple models.

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A network of machine ecosystems that can become digital twins

How could a digital twin help your industry? How can you take advantage of a digital twin to improve the quality of life and leverage the vast amount of data pouring out from mushrooming number of IoT sensors? It is an exciting problem to explore with real business implications.

Blockchain – enabling true digital transformation

Blockchain will significantly change how we hold and transmit items of value. The business process can finally be designed from the ground up as a digital process – truly transformed. The record of choice for the last 100+ years has been paper. Even when you scan a record, if the paper exist, it is the legal record.

We have birth and death certificates, laws, deeds, bank statements and even money (bills) on paper. The problem is we are becoming a digital society and paper is hugely inefficient. In addition, the processes for handling paper have stayed in place even with digital systems and are highly error prone. How likely is it that an error occurs upon copying or reading a document. Blockchain offers the opportunity for  processes to become 100% digital, secure, and low friction from birth to destruction.

The simplest definition of a blockchain is a digital ledger that is not terribly different from an old fashioned paper accounting ledger. A well implemented blockchain has 3+1 key characteristics. It is immutable meaning once a transaction is entered, it can’t be removed or altered. It is sequential in that each transaction is tied to the one before it and after it. It has consensus based peer nodes that can be distributed. I’ll add a fourth for a “well implemented” blockchain, that it has inherent security with multiple levels and is highly resistant to attack.

A blockchain is not Bitcoin or any single crypto-currency. Crypto-currencies like Bitcoin do run on blockchain technology. The data entered in the ledger for crypto-currency are financial transactions representing value. What fascinates me, and is the subject of this blog, is what else can you do with a Blockchain.

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In 3 recent experiences with obtaining a mortgages, I’ve had a 10%, 50%, and 90% paper based process. I’ll exclude the closing process which is still done on paper thanks to the government being nearly 100% paper based.

Bank 1 was 90% paper based. Everything went to the branch office as paper which they put in a box and shipped to the home office where it was processesed. Only the communication via e-mail was electronic.

Bank 2 was about 50% paper based. They allowed us to submit our documents via an upload, most documents were e-signed, and a few that presumably the government required wet-ink signed, we’d print, sign, and then upload them.

Bank 3, actually a mortgage service, never gave us a piece of paper, but I’d argue it was still only 90% digital. Someone was still transcribing from the uploaded images into the lender’s databases. Even if all of the paper was eliminated, Bank 3 still was working workflow designed for paper. It took limited advantage of the fact that everything was now digitized.

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Blockchain will change the above mortgage process. There will be no transcription and therefore less chances of error. Hypothetically, you’ll upload your information from a digital store on blockchain of IDs which will include multiple biometric authentication methods to confirm it’s really you. You’ll permission your lender to do research on your credit worthiness in various financial blockchains. It may even eliminate the need for the credit scores and credit bureaus as credit data can be gathered directly and relatively quickly (more on that later). At the same time, they will review your deed and other documents with the government making sure you are lien free.

All of the approvals, audits, and additional documents will be kept in the lending agency’s blockchain, but can link with permissions to other blockchain’s or simply make copies with reference to the source. Finally, your signatures will cause the down payment to be transferred along with the signatures of everyone involved from the bank, regulators, attorneys, auditors, county and state tax authorities, county court records, insurance agencies, buyers, and sellers. In theory, from discussion of the mortgage to the completion of the mortgage a day or few day process.

The biggest issue with blockchains, besides they are new and we are just starting to build applications for them, is that they are slow in terms of computer transactions. The slowness is mostly due to the consensus element. For all the nodes (computers) to agree it is valid entry, it can take up to a few minutes. While this is huge leap forward in terms of recording a legal records which can now take weeks or months, it far is too slow for sub-second transactions like purchasing on the internet or recording an entry at help desk. So for now, it is best applied to large block type transactions of higher value which fit the characteristics of blockchains.

Here are a few areas where blockchains are a natural:

  • Medical records (individual, hospital, doctor, etc.)
  • Government documents (deeds, judgments, laws, titles, licenses, etc.)
  • Financial documents (bank ledgers, investments, statements, etc.)
  • Supply Chains (farm to fork, inspections, transportation, etc.)

Where else might blockchains fit? What other technologies like AI might be integrated?

If you like to learn more about how you can build on the blockchain, IBM provides FREE tutorials on the Hyperledger, an open sourced blockchain.