Terrafugia flying car

Another company has joined the development effort to produce the elusive flying car.  As I mentioned in a previous post, this isn’t a new concept, and there have been several attempts over the years to address this market.  The “Transition” by Terrafugia is probably one of the better looking and more interesting ones though.


The wings unfold at the push of a button in less than 30 seconds.  You do your preflight and redirect the engine’s power to the pusher prop instead of the wheels, and you are ready to take off.  Here is a video of the prototype’s first flight:

In contrast, one of the early and better known original flying cars is the Taylor Aerocar.  This vehicle (below) has a “pod” which attaches to the back of the car containing the wings and propeller assembly.  This pod is manually detached and left at the airport when the car is converted to road use.  This conversion reportedly took 30 minutes.  Clearly, pushing a button and staying in the comfort of the cab is much more convenient, especially in inclement weather.

The Taylor Aerocar

The Fulton Airphibian AF-3-101 had a similar design:

File:Fulton Airphibian FA-3-101.jpg

The Maverick (the subject of my earlier post) flying car is interesting, but as it’s basically a ram-air parachute wing attached to a rather goofy looking sand buggy, it doesn’t win style awards in my book.  Also, conversion takes time:

File:Maverick Flying Car.jpg

The only other variant I am aware of is the PD-1 Roadable Glasair being developed by Plane Driven.  This one has an engine pod below the center of the fuselage which is slid on rails toward the tail of the plane, then the wings are manually folded against the sides for road use.  The conversion is more manual, but doesn’t seem to awkward.

Of course, I’m not forgetting about Moller’s Skycar (see my posting here).  That vehicle is a radically different design due to it’s VTOL capabilities.  It’s quite pricy, but very swoopy looking:


There are many others, of course. Check out the Wikipedia article.  I chose the ones above to talk about because they seemed the most practical and actually affordable.  There are several interesting units being developed, but their pricing is ludicrous.  Take the Urban Aeronautics’ X-Hawk for example.  This has a projected price of $3 million.  Maybe that’s OK for government search & rescue use, but it is obviously not useful to the general public.

Light Field Camera photography – Lytro

A company named Lytro is developing some amazing stuff.  This all came out of research at Stanford.  One of the students, Ren Ng, decided to form a company to create publicly available devices, and bring the technology from lab to life.  One offshoot of this research is the Stanford CityBlock project.  Google’s StreetView grew out of that project. 

This is some truly amazing technology which could revolutionize the way we capture images.  You don’t focus the camera, you just shoot.  You do your focusing later!  Also, if you share an image with somebody, they can refocus and zoom at will.  Amazing stuff!

Play with one of the images from Lytro's photo gallery here!  There are more images to view and play with on Lytro's site.

You can double-click to zoom, and single-click to change focus to a certain area of the picture:

Skycar Manufacturer Moller International Announces Scheduled Test Flight

DAVIS, CA — (Marketwire) — 04/18/11 — Moller International (OTCBB: MLER) ("The Company") is pleased to announce that they have scheduled a demonstration flight of its ethanol-fueled M400 Skycar volantor. This invitation-only media event is scheduled to take place on October 11, 2011 in Vacaville, CA. Over 250 members of the domestic and international press have already indicated an interest in attending this historic flight.

I really need one of these.  Forget about all the other toys I have said that about, I’m serious about this one.  Really.


Actually, if I can’t have one of those, then their hobbled (it is limited by computer to 10ft max ground clearance) Neuera (pronounced “new-era”) would be fun, but not quite as practical for commuting:


Rocket Belt

Ok, maybe the water powered jet-pack wasn’t what you need.  Maybe you need to travel away from the water.  Finally – a company is producing these things.  Of course, it isn’t in our overly litigious United States (perish the thought!).  The big problem with these things is flight time – 20-30 seconds maximum, so if you are planning on using one of these to commute to work, it’d better be a short commute, and you’d better hurry!


Here’s a video of Isabel Lozano flying one of these new rocket belts: Windows Media 1.24 MB

Here’s her first flight (first woman to fly one of these!):

A flying car? Yes, and a new take on an old problem

There have been several different “flying cars” throughout the years, and it’s always been a dream of many people.  However, there have always been problems with the designs.  Usually, while they do fly, they are terrible on the road.  As a pilot, this sort of thing holds a particular fascination for me.

These guys decided to design a vehicle that was good on the road first, and then make it fly.  They use a ram-air parachute for the wing, and have created a really unique and clever vehicle.  Check out the video on their website.  Amazing stuff!


Keeping your passwords safe, but accessible – LastPass

I have been using a freeware product called “password safe”, and it was OK, but using it at work and at home meant I had to keep two databases up to date, which was a pain.

However, thanks to a tip from my friend Jeff, I just switched all my stuff (home and work) to LastPass (www.lastpass.com)

Why did I do that, and why would I tell the world where all my passwords are?  Well, it’s a really great system, and ULTRA secure.

In a nutshell, it stores your stuff in the cloud, but in encrypted form. Encryption happens on your computer, so they never have your unencrypted information, and have no way of getting it either! They also never store your personal information, or userid, or password in unencrypted form. So their system only contains encrypted blobs which are useless to anybody without the decryption key (your userID and password). So, they can cooperate fully with the FBI or foreign governments, and give them all the data they want. It’s still useless. There isn’t even any way of knowing who owns which blobs of encrypted data. How cool is that!  Well OK, so it’s probably only really cool to security geeks like me.

Anyway, you can store passwords & sites, and it will auto-fill for you when you go to log in with your browser (if you want – you can decide on a site by site basis). In addition, you can store personal info and credit card info on there and it can form-fill for you when you are at a checkout form on a website. You can also store notes of arbitrary text data, for any purpose you want. It generates passwords for you.

What! Put my credit card data out there? Are you nuts?  Well possibly, yes, but that’s another subject.  But yes, it’s secure enough to do that.  Once you "get” the security model, it’s clear that anything you store in this “vault” is accessible only by you, and so go ahead and use it for any bits of information, not just websites and passwords!

I mentioned that the system can generate passwords for you.  Here’s why that’s useful:  Most people tend to use 1 or 2 passwords for everything they do.  That means that if somebody learns, or guesses your password, they have access to a TON of stuff.  This is what we in the security business call “bad”.  If you use the system to generate a password for you when you sign up to access a website, it generates a nice secure password that is really hard to hack, and you would never remember it; but you don’t have to!  The password is stored with the site information, and when you go to that website, it automatically logs you in.  You never really even have to SEE that password.  You can view it if you want, but it’s not necessary. 

If you do this, not only are you creating logins for websites with a GOOD password (instead of the lame ones most of us use because they are easy to remember), but each site is different.  So in the unlikely event that somebody manages to get one of your passwords (no idea how that would be possible, but maybe a key logger on a public coffee-shop computer or something – work with me on this), then they only have access to one website because all the other websites you access have different passwords.

Another distinction is that since your information is stored “in the cloud”, you can access it from anywhere.  So, even if your computer dies in a fire, your important information is still out there.  If you use multiple computers, like I do, then this is really convenient because you don’t have to worry about keeping multiple databases of passwords up to date.  Any bit of information you store on one computer is available to you on any other computer.  Handy!

In addition to just storing stuff, you can share your passwords or notes selectively with other people. For instance, if I have a website with my personal login, and I want to give you access to it, I can either share the whole entry with you, allowing you to see the password, or I can share however much of it I want. This lets you use it by double-clicking (it then launches a browser, goes to that webpage, and logs in for you), but doesn’t let you see my password. Also, I can revoke the share any time I want.  This would be great for an employer to give an employee access to some business site (the company bank account, for instance), but without giving the employee the password.  They can do their job, but if they leave the company, there are no worries about having to run around and change the password – you simply revoke the share to that person!

They have a “premium” mode which is $12/yr which allows you to access all this from a mobile device too, and from a browser without installing their plugin, and also allows you to sync shares. So, if I’ve shared a login with you, and I change the password on my side, yours gets automatically updated.

If you want even MORE security, you can go for “two-factor authentication”. http://www.yubico.com/yubikey is inexpensive ($25 each, quantity 1), and works like an RSA token, but is actually a bit more secure because there is no LCD readout, and you never see the digits. If you buy a yubikey, they have a bundle where you can get a key and a year’s premium lastpass subscription for $30 (I wish I’d seen that before I sent my $12 in – LOL)

Anyhow, its very cool technology, and I have yet to read anything about this that’s negative.


Digitizing vinyl records: how do I do it?

I’ve had a couple of people ask me about digitizing old vinyl LPs, and so I thought I’d put my experiences down in writing here for your edification and enjoyment.

So you have a stack of old LPs, and you want to get them into iTunes so you can listen to them more conveniently?  There are a couple of things you should know before you run out and buy hardware and software, and spend hours doing this.

First, in case you were kidding yourself, this whole process is a royal pain.  It’s fiddly, time-consuming, and frustrating.  So, you should go through your albums and eliminate as many from the stack as you can.  How do you do this?  First, if you have a CD copy, then obviously don’t bother with the LP.  Next, look on-line to see if anybody else has a digitized MP3 version of this album.  Don’t worry about copyright or legality issues; you already own the LP (and the music on it), so getting it in another form for free is perfectly acceptable.

The easiest way I have found to look for such things is using bit-torrent.  Go to www.vuze.com and download their free client.  It’s really quite good and easy to use.  Put in the album name in question, and it will search 4 or 5 torrent sites for this.  You’ll get a bunch of results, some of which are not applicable.  You can use the filter on the right hand side to select just “Music” entries.  Browse through the results and pick one.  Important: LOOK AT THE COMMENTS!  People post comments on the torrent sites, and if you see comments like “fake: don’t download”, then skip that one.  It’s probably a virus or some scam to make money.  When you find something that looks decent (really not that hard once you do it a couple of times), download it.  This could take a short or a very long time depending on how many sources for this album are out on the net.  Be patient!

Of course, you could use this same procedure to download albums you don’t already own, or movies you don’t already own, but that would be illegal, so don’t do that.

You can’t find your album on the net anywhere?  Well, then put it in the “digitizing” pile, and continue your process of culling through your albums.

Once you have a smaller pile of albums to digitize, here’s how you do it!  There are several companies who sell “USB turntables” these days.  These may or may not be a good deal for you.  If you already own a decent turntable, then it’s better to invest in an interface box than to buy a cheezy turntable with an interface box built in.  Trust me, these USB turntables are inexpensive, and you get what you pay for – no audiophile turntable here!

I already owned a good turntable, so I bought Artcessories “USB Phono Plus”.  This box hooks up to your turntable, and has a USB plug for your computer.  The software that came with it was pretty horrible, so I ended up purchasing VinylStudio from AlpineSoft.  One thing this software does is to break up the tracks for you.  So, you put the needle down at the beginning of the record, digitize that entire side, and then the software takes care of it for you.  This is a HUGE timesaver.  If you had to do it track by track, it would take much longer, and I’d have even less hair.  The other neat thing is for a lot of the records I tried, the software will pull the track names from the internet.  This reduces your typing chore, though I do recommend proof-reading, as I did find errors sometimes.

If you don’t already own a turntable, then one of the USB turntables out there is probably a good bet for you.  Frequently there is software bundled, but try out the freebie version of VinylStudio as it may be worth the investment over the included software.