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It’s been a tough week for Detroit, with the president yapping at US automakers to produce ventilators, shields, and masks faster. Now the date-shifted North American International Auto Show is kaput for 2020. Last held in January 2019 and slated this year for June 2020, the show organizers called it off when it became likely the downtown convention center, TCF Arena, would be requisitioned for use as a FEMA field hospital to support hospitals overtaxed treating coronavirus patients over the summer.
The show has now been reset for June 2021 as a convention-center auto show, plus rites-of-spring outdoor events along the Detroit River.
Detroit’s convention center, Cobo Hall, in 2018, now called TCF Center, after the frozen yogurt company. Sorry, we meant bank. TCF has 300 branches, about 10 times as many as TCBY has flavors.
Auto Shows in Free-Fall Before the Pandemic
It has been a tough year and a half for auto shows. How tough?
Detroit, the North American International Auto Show, was most recently held in January 2018. Where it’s cold and snows. A couple of times in the past two decades, auto execs and press people were stranded in Detroit because Detroit Metro Airport was snowed in. Journos had nothing to do … except write snarky articles. The show was reset for June 2020, a 17-month gap, and now it’s off until 2021.
It is obvious so let’s say it explicitly: The #IAA2019 is a huge fail. It’s just a sad shadow of what it used to be. There will not be an #IAA2021. End of story. KTN
The world’s most important show, Frankfurt (IAA), saw attendance fall at the odd-years-only September 2019 show from 931,700 in 2015 to 810,000 in 2017 to just 561,000. Opel board member Karl-Thomas Neumann called it a “huge fail.” (Isn’t it nice when businessmen speak their minds, even if it annoys the Frankfurt Convention Bureau?) Sponsors put the 2021 show’s location out for bid. The commercial vehicles show continues in Hannover in September 2020. For the auto show, Munich won over Berlin, Hamburg, and three others for the next show in the fall of 2021.
The Los Angeles Auto Show went off in November 2019 and generally did well, in part because of its heavy emphasis on alternative-energy vehicles. Also, LA is a nice place for auto execs and the media to be heading into winter. LA is the de facto auto capital of the Americas because of design and tech centers in SoCal and Silicon Valley, plus the number of international automakers with US headquarters there. Unlike in Detroit, there’s no hometown bias in the media coverage. LA took on a life of its own when it gave up its early January date in 2006 for November/December. For now, the 2020 show is still on, Nov. 18-29. LA’s biggest problem is the convention center is small and cut into two halls that are a five-minute walk apart.
The Chicago Auto Show, the fourth of the three major US auto shows, went off Feb. 13-21, 2020 and was the last major or mid-major auto show to be held. For impact, Chicago ranks just behind the three international US shows – Detroit, New York, LA – but is the envy of the others for the best show facility, McCormick Place. It’s the one US site that can handle a million visitors. Should that many people show up for an auto exposition in the near future.
The Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS) was slated for March 2-15, just as the expanse of the coronavirus epidemic in China became evident. Automakers had been pulling their top execs back from the show, and days before the Swiss government banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people, which ended the show. Geneva is considered one of the Big Five auto shows of the world – Frankfurt, Geneva, Detroit, Paris, Tokyo – but its attendance slipped in previous years. Non-participants included Cadillac, Ford, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot, Citroen, Opel, Vauxhall, Subaru, Tata, Tesla, and Volvo. But the show went on, online: Virtually every automaker with a major introduction live-streamed the rollout from headquarters.
The New York International Auto Show (NYIAS), scheduled every year starting the Wednesday before Easter (April 8) and running a week and a half, postponed the show to one of the least desirable times of the year, the week and a half leading up to Labor Day weekend. Press days are Aug. 26-27, with public days through Sept. 6. Greater New York is one of three sales hotspots for luxury cars along with SoCal and Miami, but Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz said they’ll skip the show.
The Paris Motor Show, Oct. 1-11, just announced the main part of the show has been canceled. For now, off-site events are planned: Movin’On and Smart City.
The Tokyo Motor Show, Oct. 22-Nov. 2, has made no announcement of plans for this year.
Happier days: Steve McQueen’s exuberant granddaughter Molly McQueen, in 2018 at the rollout of the new Ford Bullitt Mustang, done in the same Dark Highland Green as in the 1968 movie.
Detroit’s Tough-Luck Story Gets Tougher
Detroit 2018 press days: Selfies against the Detroit River next to Cobo Hall with (we’re not sure) clouds reflected in the water. Or ice floes.
It has been a difficult week for the auto show, Michigan-based automakers, and the state’s economy. Detroit will now be going almost two and a half years between shows. More than any other city and show, the automakers and auto dealers have used NAIAS to remind themselves of past glory: when US automakers sold half the cars in the US and when GM alone sold half the cars (1962).
Even as market share shifted away from the Big Three – GM, Ford, and the Chrysler-Ram-Dodge part of FCA – Michigan remains the auto engineering capital of the Americas. When the automakers shed employees in the past 20 years, many of them went to work for big US suppliers such as Magna or Lear, or international suppliers with big presences: Bosch, Denso, Continental, ZF, Aisin, Hyundai and the like. At the same time, the era of Rust Belt assembly line jobs paying $30 an hour is gone and will never come back. Manufacturing growth, with factory workers making $15-$20 an hour to start, is in the new south: the Carolinas, Georgia Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. Plus Tesla in California using a former Toyota/GM plant to build a small-scale EV company in one with the largest market value outside Toyota.
A GM technician setting up and testing machinery to produce Level 1 face masks in Warren, Michigan. GM will ramp to 50,000 masks per day within two weeks, and later to 100,000 if there’s need. (Probably will be.)
Meanwhile, POTUS Blasts GM
This should have been a good-news story week about automakers pitching in to help fight coronavirus (as have many industries). Ford, GM, and Chrysler (FCA) are recalling employees to build masks, face shields, and even respirators. At the same time, the White House has been praising and then criticizing the automakers for not being in production already.
Friday President Trump castigated GM and CEO Mary Barra for slow-walking production plans to build ventilators. This was the event where the president said both “General Motors” and “General Electric” in the same extended sentence and described the federal relief package as “$2.2 billion …. $2.2 trillion.” GE does make ventilators through its healthcare unit. GM is partnering with Ventec Life Systems. Insiders at GM and Ventec said the past week was not GM stalling, but cutting red tape and expediting parts ordering, finding the best-skilled workers, and getting plants ready. According to a story in Tuesday’s New York Times:
President Trump on Friday accused G.M. and its chief executive, Mary T. Barra, of dragging their feet on the project and directed his administration to force the company to make ventilators under a 1950s law. But accounts from five people with knowledge of the automaker’s plans depict an attempt by G.M. and its partner, Ventec Life Systems, a small maker of ventilators, to accelerate production of the devices.
With deaths surging as cases snowball, the two companies have moved urgently to find parts, place orders and deploy workers, the people said. Tasks that normally would take weeks or months have been completed in days. The companies expect production to begin in three weeks and the first ventilators to ship before the end of April.
Why automakers? They have big assembly lines that are the opposite of clean rooms. But they also have smaller, cleaner prototype rooms and rapid-development assembly areas that can, and will be, repurposed. One of the things automakers do well is source parts from third parties.
In the making of a car, we’re almost a century removed from the Ford River Rouge plant, where freighters docked at the 900-acre factory with iron ore and a finished Model A came out the other end. Instead, an automaker may produce the highest-value items itself, typically engines, and outsource tires, wheels, transmissions, infotainment, and driver-assist electronics, sometimes even body panels.
I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the “borders” from China – against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!
Some outside the administration allege that the executive branch is pressing GM, and many others, to light a fire now in order to make up for lost time responding in January. Multiple reports say the CDC and national security advisors in January described the coronavirus as out of control and on the way to being a pandemic – an epidemic that reaches much of the world.
Regardless, protective equipment and ventilators will begin flowing soon from automaker factories and other sources. At the same time, doctors, nurses, and hospital staff are stuck reusing old masks or creating makeshift protection until the so-called “arsenal of health” starts flowing. And with no end in sight for people suffering from Covid-19, there won’t be many auto shows, large or small, in the near future.
NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is finally taking shape. The rover finally has a name — Perseverance, and engineers have wrapped up testing on the rover’s flying companion. The Mars Helicopter just spun its blades on Earth for the last time. When next it spins up, it’ll be on the red planet.
NASA did not design the Mars 2020 mission or Perseverance rover around the Mars Helicopter, but it’s making the trip nonetheless. The helicopter is a technology demonstration, not an integral part of the mission. However, it could pave the way for future flying endeavors on Mars. The team has already confirmed that the helicopter should be able to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere thanks to its ultra-light design and the planet’s lower gravity.
The last flight test took place about a year ago (see below), and the helicopter still hasn’t lifted off again — it’s tuned for the Martian atmosphere, so any flights on Earth require extensive preparation to avoid damaging the machinery. However, the team did conduct one more vital test of the rotors last week in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility.
Engineers ran the Mars Helicopter rotors at 50 RPM on a static test stand, which is much slower than they’ll rotate on Mars. The planet’s thin atmosphere means even a light craft like the four-pound helicopter needs a very high rate of rotation to generate lift. The design allows for up to 2,800 revolutions per minute, but it should be able to lift off at around 1,900 RPM. The JPL test confirms the motor is working as intended, and the helicopter is ready to be mounted on the underside of the Perseverance rover.
Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, NASA has worked to keep the Mars 2020 mission on-schedule. Work has stopped on the James Webb Space Telescope for now, but the clock is ticking for the rover. If it doesn’t launch as planned this summer, NASA will have to wait another two years for Earth and Mars to be aligned again.
If all goes as planned, Perseverance will touch down on Mars in February 2021. It will deploy the helicopter, which has its own solar power system and camera. It will communicate with Perseverance wirelessly via the ZigBee radio protocol. Image data from the helicopter might help Perseverance navigate the challenging terrain of Mars, but future flying drones could be much more integral to exploring Mars.
Not everyone obsesses about their home energy use. But as rates climb and concern over the impact using electricity from the grid has on climate change, it is becoming increasingly popular to try to get a handle on what you’re using, which devices or appliances are using it, and whether there is anything practical you can do about it. In particular, for anyone thinking of investing in solar, each watt is real dollars, and reducing consumption — at least up to a point — can be a more cost-effective place to start.
That’s where the Sense home energy monitor ($299) comes in. The core of the Sense is a wireless current and voltage meter that installs into your electrical box and reads out how much power you are consuming at any given time. So far, that’s a pretty standard piece of gear. Where the interesting part comes in is that Sense will attempt to figure out the load created by specific appliances, allow you to label them as you figure out what they are, and then provide reports on the consumption from each device and estimated running cost. I’ve had one installed for just over a month, and have lots of findings to report.
Installing the Sense meter
The Sense is actually pretty easy to install. It does need to be wired to a 240-volt breaker, either dedicated or shared. Its sensors are the traditional “clamp” type current meters that can simply be placed around each leg supplying electricity to your house. If your panel has an easily accessible main breaker to shut it off, and you’re comfortable messing with circuit breakers, none of this is super-hard. But if you’re in any doubt, a licensed electrician should be able to do it in 30 minutes or less. Ideally, you’ll mount the Sense inside the electrical box, if there’s room, and run its antenna cable out through one of the punch outs. In our case, there wasn’t room in the box, so we used the provided mounting bracket to attach the Sense to the wall and ran the sensor wires into the box, as you can see from the attached photo.
If you have solar, then you can get an optional ($50) additional pair of current sensors to monitor your solar production. In our case, Sense helped us use one of those to monitor a third electrical leg instead since our house has a separate sub-panel for solar loads. Then you complete setting it up by doing the typical IoT drill of downloading an app, connecting to the meter directly, teaching it about your Wi-Fi, and then setting up an account with Sense that you can access from the app or the web.
Using the Sense App
The Sense mobile and web apps both allow you to look at a chart of your power consumption over time. They also feature graphs of power consumption by device — once Sense has identified a device — and a cute bubble chart of your largest power consumers currently. You can export data, add details for devices Sense has found, and see a list of devices alongside their current consumption.
Sense Is a Slow, but Patient, Learner
Sense learns about devices in your home or office by patiently watching power consumption, and looking for patterns in power usage. It combines your data with its database of devices found by other users to try to guess when it has found an identifiable power load. Once it does, it will attempt to put it in a category like “Light” or “Heat” and ask you if you recognize it and want to label it further.
Because Sense requires a lot of power cycles to identify devices, it can take days, weeks, or even months for it to sort out devices that don’t turn on and off all the time. In fact, it doesn’t have a clue about devices that are always on and lumps them into an “Always On” category. In our case, it found our refrigerator, oven, and microwave within a couple of weeks, although it seems to have lumped our Dishwasher and Instant Pot cooker together into a single appliance for some reason.
Using Sense to Isolate Power Hogs Manually
In our case, since we both run businesses from our house (all the time, not just now), a lot of our power consumption is computers, servers, and networking equipment. I was hopeful that Sense could learn to identify some of that and give us an idea of which ones were power hogs. Unfortunately, even after a month, it couldn’t. However, it did let us do a much more effective job of measuring them manually than we used to. Previously we had to either plug each device in turn into a portable power meter and let it run, or have someone with a radio out at our electric meter watching the change in power consumption when it was turned off and then back on. Now it was easy to stand by the electrical box and watch power consumption on the app as breakers were flipped off and back on (note that first, we made sure sensitive devices were on UPS backups, so they didn’t lose power, they just stopped drawing it from the box). That was helpful, but not entirely fulfilling. Fortunately, the folks at Sense showed me there is a better approach.
Smart Plugs Are Pretty Important
Sense has integrated with a variety of smart plugs and power strips. Once you activate one of those, not only can you see the load in the devices’s app, but the plug is automatically discovered by Sense and added to your device inventory. For a power strip, each plug appears separately. We tried this out with a Kasa Smart Plug Power Strip ($79.97) that provides six measured outlets along with 3 USB charging ports. By placing it in our “machine room” we were able to easily label our NAS devices and network equipment into the Sense app. Eventually, I’ll probably get some single smart plugs for our desktop computers and cable box. You can also control devices that are connected to a smart strip or plug, so if you find some that are power hogs, you can set up schedules for them that way.
Here’s What We Learned That We Didn’t Know Before
We’ve been pretty obsessive about trying to quantify our electricity usage for a while — especially since we spent a lot on a solar installation 20 years ago, and upgraded it again recently, keeping our cost per KWh top of mind. So we already had a good handle on the easy stuff, but we’ve still learned plenty. First, it was a relief to find out that our 30-year-old refrigerator is actually fairly energy efficient, so we could stop worrying about whether we needed to replace it. Second, it was very helpful to start to get a handle on the 24 x 7 load of some of the NAS units that we mostly use to store backups. I realized that by time-shifting when we ran backups and the power schedules of those servers, we could save some power. It also makes clear when one of our servers or desktops isn’t falling asleep as scheduled (a problem I’ve had frequently with Windows), so that we knew to debug the issue. It can even alert you when a particular device powers on or off, although we haven’t really used that feature yet.
Adding a Sense to your home probably won’t change your life, and if you’re not already curious enough about your energy usage to be trying to figure it out on your own, it is unlikely to turn you into an energy sleuth. But if you are curious about where your power goes, and whether there are steps you can take to reduce your electricity demand, then it is a unique and helpful tool.
It’s been almost exactly a month since I published my last Deep Space Nine report, where I showed how different AI software could upscale the show to something approaching HD quality. Despite the ongoing pandemic, I’ve kept the Cascade Lake testbed and RTX 2080 crunching busily away, testing various permutations. Some folks have contacted me to express interest in working together, and I’ve learned some interesting things along the way.
I haven’t been able to find my DVDs, so I bought Season 6 brand-new and started working with that source. I chose Season 6 because it has some of the best space-combat scenes, including the largest battle ever staged in the Star Trek universe in the episode “Sacrifice of Angels.” SoA was the obvious episode to work with and the Defiant image above is from an upscaled encode. Here’s the full shot.
I had hoped that the DVD source would offer a better upscaling alternative than using already-encoded MKVs. I still believe it does, but guys, I have to tell you — the baseline DS9 source sucks.
I watched this show when it was broadcast on cable, on a new 24-inch TV my parents had just bought. It’s one of my all-time favorite shows, and watching it on DVD looks nothing like watching it on TV did 25 years ago. Obviously the base resolution is low, but that’s not the problem. The video is noisy, it’s much darker than I remember, there’s a clearly visible 3:2 pulldown/telecine effect, and distant vessels are often heavily aliased (meaning they crawl with jagged lines). The credits are particularly bad as far as image quality. If the rest of the show looked as bad as the credits, I’d never want to watch it. I may upload a few videos just to show how rough they are.
Click to enlarge
This is what 3:2 pulldown looks like. You’re literally seeing half a frame of information, which is why every other line is blank. There are a number of these moments in any given episode, and while they don’t prevent anyone from enjoying the show, they can be annoying.
Nana Visitor’s reaction to the DVD source quality… or a very lucky pause on my part. You be the judge.
What I’ve Been Working On (and Learned)
Here’s the honest truth: You can get a pretty good looking video if you just rip the DVD without deinterlacing or detelecine via Handbrake (use the H.264 Production Max preset) and then upscale it. While the half-frame transitions are noticeable and annoying, upscaling this way actually cleans up some areas that are otherwise quite jagged and “crawly” at specific points in the show. If you want a one-and-done solution and you aren’t bothered by the occasional half-frame, it’s a great option and I recommend it. The result is 70-80 percent of what I think is likely possible, best-case. If you rip the DVD using Handbrake’s detelecine option, it will solve the half-frame flicker, but at the cost of introducing additional aliasing that wasn’t present before. In my opinion, the telecined upscaled DVD looks better, on the whole, than the detelecined Handbrake output post-upscale.
My long-term goal with this project is to create a guide using as much free software as is possible (Topaz VEAI is obviously a paid purchase). I’m working with a reader who has done some incredible color balance changes, and I’m excited about what that might mean for the project.
What I’ve done for the past month? About 600GB of renders at 3-8GB each. I’ve been examining color grading with DaVinci Resolve, rescaling in that same application, various AviSynth filters for antialiasing, detelecine, and deinterlacing using algorithms like QTGMC. The truth is, I could accelerate the process if I focused on smaller clips, but I prefer to upscale the entire episode. That way, I can check any trouble spot or problem area in one area of an encode against all the previous settings I’ve tested, to see how that particular area was handled.
Another thing I’ve learned? The best version of Deep Space Nine would be constructed clip by clip, using optimized video processing settings for each. I have no intention of slicing and dicing episodes up by hand, but if there was an episode you truly loved, you could achieve some truly impressive results that way.
I want to show you a short clip from “Sacrifice of Angels.” First, the DVD source and second, the upscaled output with QTGMC applied. QTGMC is a deinterlacing filter, not a detelecine filter, and it works by creating additional frames. The final output does not have the hypersmooth look of interpolated sports video, but I’ve had trouble matching audio to the clip. There’s a lot of hands-on learning involved in this kind of project because ultimately, each video benefits from a different set of filters. For best quality, change both videos to top available playback source.
This is the original DVD source. Note how the nacelles on the Miranda-class starship (the two ships in the opening frames) shimmer. This is telecined output, which means they look much better in this video than they do if I detelecine the source using Handbrake. There’s a lot of noise in certain frames and some visible compression artifacts in others.
This is the upscaled video after I applied QTGMC deinterlacing to it via a buggy and difficult-to-parse application named StaxRip. It’s been incredibly useful to me in certain respects, but if I’m being honest, I’m trying to find an alternative because this app is rather ornery and difficult to use. It also only seems to output H.265. Figuring out how to use applications like AviSynth (current user level: Bad) is part of the experience. One of our readers, Shortstick, has contacted me to show off some of his own color grading work on DS9, with impressive results:
We are looking into how to combine efforts and further improve the show.
Why I’m Doing This
If you watched Deep Space Nine on TV growing up as I did, I have news for you: You never actually saw the work that VFX designers put into those battle scenes. Watching “Sacrifice of Angels” in upscale on a much larger display, I was struck by how incredible the shots were. The space battle in Insurrection may have had more expensive special effects and a few more years of CGI advances, but it didn’t involve half as many ships or as many complex maneuvers.
Until I started working on this episode, I never thought about how space combat evolved from Star Trek: The Next Generation to DS9. On TNG, battle is almost stately, with large ships firing at each other from static positions. The exception to this is stern chases, where the Enterprise is pursued by an opponent.
DS9 changed all that. The decision to introduce the Defiant and to make it a small ship completely changed the rhythm and flow of space combat. The Defiant wasn’t made for stately, sweeping broadsides — it’s an antimatter-powered flying gun that can absorb significant amounts of damage while it blows your ass into next week. Above all, the Defiant is fast, and Jadzia Dax is one hell of a pilot.
The entire battle “language” of Star Trek changed dramatically between TNG and DS9, largely on the backs of the VFX artists who were tasked with doing the work. DS9 didn’t just add more ships; it showed those ships doing more things, with background battles often as dramatic as the foreground shots. True, some people disliked the look and preferred the idea of a more spread-out fleet engagement, but I’m not one of them. I’m watching a show in which aliens with no concept of time live inside a stable wormhole. I don’t need the starships to stay far away from each other to enjoy the battle scenes.
Speaking of wormholes…
Watching this episode in standard DVD quality is like looking at a da Vinci painting with 500 years of grime on it. You can recognize the mastery of the work, but there’s a lot of schmutz between you and it. Thanks to advances in AI processing, we’re finally seeing consumer tools that can wipe the grime away — and not just for DS9, but for any number of additional shows. The artists that worked on these episodes deserve to have their work seen in something approaching the way it could have looked.
I’m never going to be able to make these old DVDs look as good as what Paramount could do. Heck, I’m never going to improve them as much as a professional video editor could do. But Paramount has no plans to upgrade DS9 itself, and that means the only way to restore the TV show to some semblance of how it could look is with a lot of elbow grease, filter testing, and one exhausted RTX 2080. I think the work deserves to be done, even if Paramount disagrees.
Interested in helping? Give me an email or sound off below. Got ideas or tips for using AviSynth? Get in touch.