Automatic for the people

Automatic Adapter plugs into the OBD-II port in your car.

Automatic Adapter plugs into the OBD-II port in your car.

Vehicles manufactured after 1996 have an OBD-II (on-board diagnostic) port. Wikipedia has a great explanation about the connector. The port, usually found near the steering wheel, is used by mechanics to diagnose car trouble. In addition to troubleshooting, many consumers use the OBD-II port to tune their vehicle’s performance and keep track of teenage drivers.

I’ve been using a OBD-II gizmo called Automatic ($99) for more than a year.  The device plugs into the OBD-II port and pairs via bluetooth to a smartphone. A companion app collects trip data from the vehicle, including location, distance, mileage, time. It’s like a black box for the car. This data is displayed on a map in the app and an online dashboard. One nice feature about Automatic is that it determines the dollar cost and efficiency of each trip. It’s pretty spot on, too. My previous car — a Sonata Hybrid — was always scoring high. My current Hyundai Tucson scores well, but not as as good as the hybrid.

Here’s an demo example of how data is displayed:

The dashboard for the Automatic service displays trip data.

The dashboard for the Automatic service displays trip data.

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Why your fitness plan may be a losing game

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Employers are pushing fitness plans to lower insurance costs. Mine is no exception. Last year, I was invited to “invest in my health” by implementing a plan with a website that set health goals and recorded fitness activity.

I did so, and received an $1,000 discount off my family health insurance policy for achieving my goals.

This year, I’ve had to learn a new system. It has been a frustrating experience.

The trend in the health industry is to “gamify” fitness. That’s a good method to get people motivated, but this means implementation of arbitrary rules. Game theorists (i.e. a four-year old child) will tell you that arbitrary rules can be negative reinforcement to game participation.

This is what I am currently experiencing with this year’s effort.

Example: One goal is to “gradually lose weight.” I have lost 19 pounds. The standard for awarding points for the goal (set by the website) was to lose 20 pounds by a specific date. Unfortunately, nineteen pounds wasn’t good enough. There is no partial credit. There are no points awarded for the attempt. Once goals are set, they cannot be adjusted.

To truly be a fair game, the system should have awarded 95 percent of the total point value for the goal. 

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Awakening: Thawing out the themes of Buck Rogers

Opening sequence to Buck Rogers featuring NASA footage of Apollo missions.

Opening sequence to Buck Rogers featuring NASA footage of Apollo missions.

Universal Studios originally planned Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as a series of TV movies. After the Battlestar Galactica TV pilot became a hit movie overseas, the studio chose to launch Buck into space with a theatrical version. The movie was successful and made about $21 million in North America, according to Wikipedia. Networks took notice, and soon Buck Rogers made the jump to a weekly TV series on NBC.

To start the series off, the studio fleshed out the theatrical  version into a two-part pilot episode, Awakening. The differences are minor, however, and the same themes are woven throughout both stories.

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Davis on DVD: Buck Rogers In The 25th Century

Nicely done fan wallpaper art from George Spigot's blog captures the essence of the series.

Nicely done fan wallpaper art from George Spigot’s blog captures the essence of the series. More can be found at https://georgespigot.wordpress.com/tag/buck-rogers-in-the-25th-century/.

The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William “Buck” Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems, and returns Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later.

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century is a favorite TV series of my childhood. The show, starring Gil Gerard and Erin Gray, lasted two seasons from 1979-1981.

Fortunately, the series is on DVD. I snagged the complete series a few years ago. Universal has recently released each season separately. Even if you have the original box set, Buck fans may want to buy the second season for a special Easter Egg. More on that in another blog post later.

The series is often dismissed has 70s and 80s kitsch because of wacky costumes, cheesy sets, silly humor, disco music, stunt casting, and scenery-chewing guest stars.

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Slower traffic keep right

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Indiana legislators passed a law this year to allow the police to ticket drivers for camping out in the left lane.

Drive anywhere in this state and you will soon realize such a law is needed. Many have forgotten about “slower traffic keep right.” It’s a law that’s been on the books for years and covered in the state driver’s manual. Here’s Indiana Code 9-21-8-2(b).

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Some legislative ideas for government

I’ve often thought about running for office. I like public service, but not politics. I still believe government can have a positive impact on our lives. I’ve written to my legislators about the following ideas:

  1. I see many utility companies trimming and removing trees from power lines right-of-way. I don’t fault them for that. It must be done. I think it would be very neighborly of them, though, to do an equal replacement of trees in public spaces. Communities are strapped for cash, so often time tree planting doesn’t make the budget. I’ve contacted my state legislators to see if a state law could be written. Ideally, the utility companies should volunteer. I suspect many do, but you don’t hear about those efforts. Donating trees to be planted in a local park would be great PR for utilities companies.
  2. The Columbus Day federal holiday is a bit antiquated. Columbus didn’t discover America and it certainly didn’t end well for Native Americans. I propose turning Columbus Day into Explorer Day. Americans should celebrate our sea, land, air and space explorations. Let’s honor Earhart, Ballard, Armstrong, etc. Discovery didn’t start with Columbus and it hasn’t ended with him.

If you find validity in these ideas, I encourage you to make your voice heard to your legislators and governments.

There’s more to NASA than rocket launches

xploration Flight Test-1.

An artist’s impression of the first Orion spacecraft in orbit attached to a Delta IV Upper Stage during Exploration Flight Test-1. Image Credit: NASA

Many are excited for the test launch of the Orion spacecraft this December.  More than 3,000 people applied to be NASA guests at the Kennedy Space Center as a part of the Orion NASA Social. I wasn’t selected, but I congratulate those that were and will follow their experiences on social media.

There’s still time to apply for the NASA socials being held concurrently at the different centers around the nation. I encourage anyone to apply.  The deadline is 5 p.m. Nov. 2. Link: http://www.nasa.gov/social-orion-multicenter/#.VFZmLb7fY0s. Good luck!

UPDATE: Registration is now closed. Good luck to all that applied!

NASA hosts these meetings of social media users this in order to further communicate with the public. It’s an unique solution of bypassing a jaded professional media that doesn’t cover space issues.

I’ve been fortunate enough to witness two rocket launches as a part of a NASA social: the Juno Jupiter space probe from Cape Canaveral and the replacement Landsat from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The launches were amazing.

Living in the midwest, it can be tough to make arrangements to see a rocket launch. For this reason, and because I have already observed two launches, I don’t apply to many of the launch-based NASA socials.

NASA is a big organization and has different missions at its nation-wide centers (listing), ranging from life sciences to aeronautic research. Like my headline mentions, NASA does more than just launch rockets from Florida.

My visits to the centers have been phenomenal. I enjoyed getting a behind the scenes look at the labs, workshops and training facilities. My two favorites have been the Goldstone Deep Space Network Complex, and the Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center. The Great Moonbuggy Race at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center was a blast, too. In all cases, I enjoyed talking with the staff, scientists, and seeing demonstrations and technology up close. None of them had rocket launches on the schedule.

Some are of the opinion that once you attend an NASA social event, you should not apply again in order to increase the odds that others will be selected. I understand the sentiment. I add that if you have only witnessed a rocket launch and consider yourself done, you may be missing a bigger picture.

Keep in mind that an application doesn’t mean you will be selected. I’m pretty sure NASA attempts to diversify its audience reach, and they should. Sure, I’ve been disappointed at times but never upset or … gosh forbid … angry. I realize I am not entitled a spot and I’m always honored when selected.

Bottom line, I know that if I am not attending, I’m delighted that someone else is learning about NASA wonders.  You could be that person. For future NASA socials, keep a eye on the web page or follow along on Twitter at twitter.com/nasasocial.

 

 

 

 

 

Binge watch: Survivors

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If you are looking for something to binge watch on Netflix, I recommend Survivors, a 2008 BBC TV series. Both Seasons 1 and 2 are available and short enough to conquer on a wintry weekend. Also available on DVD.

The series is about survivors of a flu pandemic which kills most of the world’s population. At times the show can be rather soap-ish, but more often it explores deeper issues such as security versus freedom, reliance on technology, and how people make connections and form societies after an apocalyptic event.  No zombies here, though, most everyone just catches the “European Flu” and dies rather quickly.

The 2008 series is actually a remake of a 1975-77 BBC series written by Terry Nation, of Doctor Who and Daleks fame. The original series (and Nation’s book that followed) was bleak but fondly remembered. For the 2008 series, head writer Adrian Hodges updated the original with a more diversified cast and included topical issues such as disease outbreaks and increasing reliance on technology. Unlike The Walking Dead, the lead character in Survivors is a mother looking for her son. I found all the characters to be well fleshed-out. There is a low gore factor.

The first episode, at 90 minutes, drags on a bit, but stick with it. Season Two is a winner. Unfortunately, it ends with some unanswered questions. There was no season three. BBC canceled the series because of low ratings. Even so, a worthy watch. There is enough closure to justify the time.

For some time, the series was one of the most popular on Netflix. There were discussions about Netflix producing a continuation, but nothing has materialized so far. Instead, we are treated a new audio series from Big Finish Audio. Set in the same era at the 1975 series, it features some new characters dealing with the same apocalypse. I’m on the first CD. I’m disappointed  that it is not set during the 2008  series, for it would seem more relevant.