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Archive for the ‘Math Science Tech’ Category

My Pal Edgar

Monday, August 28th, 2017

New Life, New Friends

Rural life continues to amuse and enthrall.

Right now, two guys are putting a new AC unit in the house. Assuming there are no catastrophes in the next 24 hours, I will be sleeping without a fan buffeting me tonight. In other words, I will be SLEEPING.

The phone and Internet company is fun to deal with, as people on the web predicted. I have Centurylink, and saying so is a lot like saying I drive a brand new 1976 Camaro (notice I didn’t say 1970). I have a DSL modem and wifi. Primitive. So far, it’s working too well to cancel but not well enough to really enjoy.

When I signed up for service, Centurylink sent me joyous emails celebrating our new romance and promising ecstasy. Then they didn’t send a tech. They mailed me a box containing a modem. I looked around the house and finally found the only jack that works with a DSL modem, and I plugged it in. I plugged a cordless phone base into another phone jack, and I was in business. Only I wasn’t. I had DSL hum. Because DSL and voice operate on a single line, you need a filter to remove the DSL noise from the phone signal. Remember? Remember that from 1997?

I never use the land line except to answer calls from scammers, so I put off fixing it until today. That’s not entirely true. I contacted Centurylink over the web and complained that I had no phone filters, and they promised they would be all over it. Then they sent emails asking how I liked the service. The big problem here is that there was no service. They did nothing, unless emailing me counts. This is even worse than a participation trophy; to get a participation trophy, you have to show up.

Centurylink does another big favor for its customers. They publish their phone numbers without asking. Without warning anyone. To get an unlisted number, you have to pay seven dollars per month. Obviously, they know you’re going to get scam calls, and they want you to receive a bunch and then call and beg to pay the seven dollars. The big snag with that plan is that by the time they agree to stop publishing your number, everyone in the universe has it, so you’re paying seven dollars for nothing. After giving everyone you know your number, you have to have it changed. Thank God that’s free.

I called today about the DSL hum and the scammers, and I believe I had to speak to four different departments. The first guy was in “customer service,” although he made it very clear that the one thing his job did not permit him to do was to provide anything resembling “service” to anyone who could conceivably be described by the word “customer.” I think he was more like a receptionist than anything else.

I’m exaggerating. He did manage to get my line unpublished, which is like trying to put the steam back in a tea kettle.

I used Nomorobo to stop scammers in Miami, and as the Nomorobo site asked, while I was talking to Centurylink, I said Centurylink needed to start supporting Nomorobo. The CSR asked me what it was. I explained that it was a service that intercepted calls and only passed on calls that were legitimate. He said it sounded great, and that he needed to try it on his home line. Which is apparently not supplied by Centurylink. Okay.

Regarding the hum, I spent a very long time talking to a number of people, and the last one told me Centurylink doesn’t provide filters. She said I should go to Best Buy. Of course, this is 2017, so Best Buy does not sell DSL filters. They don’t sell sundials or Betamax players, either.

I was told to plug the phone base into the modem, and that the modem’s built-in filter would kill the hum. I tried that, and now I have a phone base in an inconvenient place, plus DSL hum.

I have filters on the way from Amazon, so maybe that will help. I am inclined to dump the land line. In the past, I never understood people who didn’t have land lines, but that’s because I lived in an area where the service was bad. Here, in the backward rural South, I can’t get a good Internet connection or decent TV, but the phone service rocks. It even provides a better Internet hookup than the wired account.

DirecTV…don’t get me started. I would rather be Super Creepy Rob Lowe than have DirecTV. In fact, I did watch some people swim the other day, so maybe I am Super Creepy Rob Lowe.

I have no idea which DirecTV package my dad has. I am too busy to check and fool with it. You can’t just look on the web and get a quick answer. Figuring out which channels you have is like choosing insurance. “I have Discovery but not Discovery HD…I have HBO…no, wait, it’s HBO East…” Whatever package it is, it doesn’t matter, because if the receivers screw up, they will think you have the base package until you reset them.

I tried to find stuff to watch. With Xfinity, this was simple. I’ll describe how it works with DirecTV.

1. Use tiny channel +/- button to go through 9000 channels.
2. Get frustrated and try to enter a channel directly.
3. Get message from DirecTV saying you don’t have that channel, but you can pay extra and get it.
4. Get sent back to channel 1 so you can start over.

I am not kidding. It really works like that.

I have a list of channels, but the list doesn’t say which channels WORK and which ones send you back to channel 1.

I’m not stupid. I know what’s going on. They sell you an affordable package that makes your life a living hell, hoping you will upgrade immediately. They hope you will prefer finding topless women easily to putting braces on your son’s teeth.

My take goes like this: if you’re already punishing me before I give you more money, why should I reward you?

Fortunately, I don’t care at all about TV, and my dad watches about 5 channels, so they’re SOL, which stands for “Satellite Out of Luck” or something like that.

The first day they hooked the TV up, I made the mistake of searching for content while the TV was tuned to Ellen Degeneres. Every time I got sent back to home plate, I saw more of a person who hates everyone like me and is crusading to rid the planet of us. When you struggle with DirecTV, it’s best to start on a channel you don’t find unbearable.

I don’t think I’ve watched a single show yet. I can’t remember watching any. I’ve seen bits of this and that, but when it comes to finding things I like and watching from beginning to end, the pain is not worth the gain. DirecTV is the Nicorette of TV. It will help you get off of TV and back into real life.

I have been hoping to find a fixed wireless company up here. They should exist. Fixed wireless means you get cell-quality Internet, because it works off of cell towers. Cell coverage is very good here, so fixed wireless should be available, but it’s a new thing, so I haven’t found a provider. I saw a sign on a telephone pole advertising great Internet speed, and I’m hoping it’s fixed wireless. I plan to call.

What else is happening? Let’s see. Some kind of animal is leaving poops in inconvenient places. I asked the AC guy if he knew what it was, but he was stumped. Probably not something he expected to be asked.

It’s a gelatinous poop about 1-1/4″ long and 1/2″ thick, shaped like a Good ‘n’ Plenty. This animal likes to poop on bricks, so that means it poops where I walk. I want to identify it and kill it.

I’m enjoying the insect life here. Take a gander at the creature I found stuck to the front door. This could be one four-inch-long bug, or it may be two passionate bugs having a tryst. I can’t tell. It clung to the same spot on the door frame for two days, and finally, I tried to scare it off. I waved my hands at it and made threatening noises, and it merely looked annoyed.

I got a stick to pry it off the door, and instead of fleeing in terror, it resisted. Finally, I got the end of the stick under it and flung it onto the porch. It left, slowly, leaving behind a huge pile of bug poo which had accumulated beneath it during its stay on the doorframe.

My friend Amanda brought her kids over to swim on Saturday (cue Rob Lowe), and we saw the same bug, or a friend, clinging to the swimming pool coping. I warned her not to mess with it, because it would harm her self-esteem, but she went over to drive it off, and she succeeded in making it move about ten inches. When she returned to the near side of the pool, she informed us all: “Its name is Edgar.”

This is all I know.

I should have stomped on it, but when a bug gets to a certain size, it starts to seem like an animal. I mean, bugs are animals, but I’m saying that stepping on Edgar would be like stepping on a terrier. And he might resent it.

When I say Edgar is four inches long, I am not including the antennas and accessories. We have…had…grasshoppers bigger than Edgar in Miami, but they weren’t as assertive.

Things are starting to fall in line, and if they continue doing so, I will mow the yard this week. I can start the garden tractor, and I got myself a straw hat for shade. If I survive, I may get crazy and take a shot at bush-hogging the pasture.

I wish I could write more. I have not even scratched the surface of the Ocala experience. I have not, for example, mentioned my visit to Rural King. But I still have a lot of dragons to slay, so I can’t blog all day. I have to watch some episodes of Spongebob Squarepants. Don’t ask why. It’s an assignment.

Look, stop whining. Are you not entertained?

Even More

I have some background on Edgar. He is a two-striped walking stick, also known as a spitting devil. If you bother Edgar badly enough, he will spit poison in your eyes, and he can nail you from up to 15 inches away. Isn’t that nice? Glad I learned that the easy way. Now I feel better about stomping on these things. It’s them or me.

Wait till you hear about the object on Edgar’s back. It’s his husband. Edgar is a girl. Male walking sticks find females, and they attach themselves to their backs. Even if the females are below breeding age, the males attach and hang on until they grow up. That’s what I call patience. Isn’t that what Mohammed did?

“Husband” may be too kind a term. Edgar’s mate makes him do all the work and carry him around, and the mate does nothing at all. In reality, he is Edgar’s pimp.

If I find the brick-pooping creature, I will let you know as soon as I can.

Surf Like it’s 1999

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Rural Internet Speeds in my Future

I am finally confronting the one big landmine of moving to a rural area: Internet service.

It’s 2017, right? Internet service is great everywhere. Nothing to worry about.


Here is what I discovered. The list of conventional Internet providers who serve my new address consists of one entry. That’s right. One. There are also three satellite providers. Fine. Four choices, right? Not really.

The only conventional Internet provider proudly offers me 1.5 MBPS, and that’s download, which means it’s the fastest figure they have. Upload is always way slower. That means that if I made and uploaded a Youtube video, an upload starting right now would end about an hour after the sun burns out. Youtube videos are huge. Several GB. It takes an eternity to upload them where I am now, and I’m in a suburb with relatively good service. On the farm, with conventional service, uploading would be, in practical terms, impossible.

That leaves satellite service. Great! Problem solved! Maybe.

Satellite Internet is screwed up. The download speeds are good (if posted figures are true, which is almost certainly not the case). The upload speeds are…adequate. Hughesnet, the hot provider at the moment, claims 3 MBPS, so let’s say 2 MBPS. I can live with that, but I’m sure it will seem painfully slow in three or four years, because data usage creeps or leaps upward as years pass. I don’t think Hughesnet will send a new multi-billion-dollar satellite every year just to make me happy. Maybe the farm will have a real phone line in a few years, though, and that would fix everything.

Another problem: satellite providers choke your speed if you go over your data limit, and the data limits are pretty low. I would have to spend a lot on a hefty plan to avoid this.

TV is easier to deal with. I can get AT&T or DirecTV. I don’t care about this, because I barely watch TV, but my dad is elderly, and old people watch the crap out of TV.

Phones should be simple, but they’re not. I want a land line, because I hate cell phones. They drop calls, the batteries crap out, and the phones are uncomfortable to use. On top of that, even when they work, they screw with the timing of speech so you keep interrupting the person you’re talking to. It looks like I would have to get a land line from my Internet provider, if I want the best deal.

I tried to find out who runs the phone system in Marion County, assuming it would be AT&T, but I can’t get an AT&T line there. I know there are little piddly companies that do land lines, but I assumed AT&T would be in there somewhere. It’s not.

If it were up to me, I’d dump TV entirely and put the savings into a big satellite Internet account. TV sucks the life out of people. You’re born, someone puts you in front of a TV, and then suddenly you’re old. You die, and they pry the remote out of your hand and bury you. At least the Internet isn’t passive and completely useless. You can turn on the Internet and learn skills. You can become an engineer. You can learn languages. TV is just man’s way of telling God he resents being given a long lifespan.

Satellite is looking tempting. The latency will probably annoy me, but at least I would be able to interact with humanity instead of trying to view the web through a constricted keyhole.

There is no point in whining about it, apart from the tremendous satisfaction I get from whining. I hate Miami, and I can’t wait to move north, so I will make it work.

Funny thing; I called a rigging company today about moving my machines to Ocala. My dad used to be their attorney, so we know them. I told the boss about the move, and I could actually hear him grinning as he said, “I can’t BELIEVE you’re leaving MIAMI.” Everyone hates this place! In fact, that’s how I responded. I said, “EVERYONE hates this place!”

It’s almost 86 degrees here right now, after ten p.m. In Ocala, it’s 77. And you can go outside and see the stars.

Maybe after I move, I’ll be able to blog from one of the porches and watch the Hughesnet satellite fly past. But I guess they’re geosynchronous? Well. I’m sure I’ll see something.

I’ll Facebook You Those Files in the Morning

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Slimy Car Dealers and Continuing Legal Education

What a busy day I’ve had.

The first fire I had to put out involved a car dealer. My dad has a 15-year-old luxury car which is now worth maybe $700, and a dealer tried to con him into paying $480 for written estimates on three trivial repairs.

Somehow, my dad got his hands on a junk mailing saying the dealer offered full inspections with written estimates for 99 cents. He dropped his car at the dealership and told me about it later. I was not pleased.

When the dealer called him, guess who they got to talk to? Me. I didn’t know about the 99-cent offer. I thought he had gone down there on a whim, and that he was now obligated to pay them something. The salesman (“service writer”) started telling me it would cost $160 each to diagnose the car’s issues. I explained my dad’s problems, and I got him down to a single $160 charge, which seemed to be an acceptable loss, given that this was all my dad’s idea.

Eventually, my dad showed me the junk mailing. That changed things.

I spent a good part of the morning on the phone with the Attorney General’s office and the Department of Consumer Services, and I had them send me a complaint form. A government analyst confirmed that the State of Florida did not approve of the bait and switch gimmick. I had a solid complaint.

When I was done preparing, I called the dealership and asked for the service manager, and of course, they gave me voicemail. I informed them that I was an attorney and that I was not very pleased with their business methods. I gave them my contact info and hung up. They never called back.

I got out my dad’s checkbook and wrote the dealership a check for 99 cents, and I added a disclaimer to it, saying the dealership released my dad from all claims. Then we drove to the dealership, and I gave them the check and told them to produce the car.

They could not have been more deferential. I would call their demeanor “mournful.” They remembered my call, even though they hadn’t had the decency to return it. We had to sit and wait while they put the car together, and then we left.

I was angry, but mostly, I felt tired. I was tired of the human race. As far as I know, every car dealer on earth is scum. I have never known one that wasn’t. It’s very draining, having people disappoint you over and over. I thought of God, and I wondered what it must be like for him. The flood makes perfect sense to me. I hate to say it, but there will be a great sense of relief the next time God wipes out the human race. It will be as if the earth had a flea dip.

After that I dealt with irrigation problems at his house, and then I started packing books and listening to continuing legal education (CLE) materials. Packing boxes is boring, but I can honestly say it’s so much less boring than CLE, it actually made the CLE go faster.

CLE is horrible. Lawyers who want good-do-bee points from the Bar assemble panels of ambitious self-promoters, and they talk for an hour about things that are nearly as interesting as watching ice freeze. They invariably start with fifteen minutes of introductions. “Here is Bob Shmerz, who has been on the Board of Governors since 15 B.C. and got a perfect attendance award in the fifth grade. Bob is an expert in an unchallenging and tedious field of law no one else can stand, and he was student body president at the Eastern Guatemala University School of Law. He has been appointed to various boards and commissions no one cares about due to affirmative action, and he thinks the people he knows on LinkedIn are his friends.”

I think the idea is that you waste a few hours of your life teaching CLE, which no ethical lawyer would ever rely on, and in the process, you advertise yourself to other lawyers who, not knowing any better, might give you referrals when they get cases they don’t understand.

The farther we get into the computer age, the more obvious it is that lawyers are technical australopithecines. People go into law because they stink at math and science. If they were capable of understanding things like HTML and metadata, they would be doctors. A large amount of CLE is dedicated to helping lawyers find the answers to hard questions like, “What’s the difference between Facebook and email?”

It’s very disheartening. And I don’t need it. I may be old, but I know what a blog is, I understand cloud computing, and I am not stupid enough to give people legal advice on Twitter. I am light years ahead of the simple attorneys who need help with this stuff.

I think the technological ineptitude of lawyers may explain why our rights are disappearing. Lawyers are probably too stupid to understand that cell phones, the Internet, and our Orwellian system of data collection have destroyed the Fourth Amendment. They still say these things “may pose a threat in the future” or “could eventually alter the legal landscape.” They don’t have any idea that the ship has already sunk.

By the way, you have to say “legal landscape” at least ten times when you give a CLE talk. It’s mandatory.

Here’s the great thing about CLE: it’s free. You can pay hundreds of dollars and get CLE which is more entertaining, but it will still be a career-threatening substitute for actual research. CLE is like porn: no one who knows anything pays for it these days. Might as well save your money and look at free stuff online. Another good thing: no exams. Why? Because the bar knows CLE is a joke. They don’t expect you to learn it. You can go to a CLE lecture and openly work on cases on your laptop while the speaker talks. I think knitting might get you in trouble, but then again, maybe it wouldn’t. The guy up front only cares about your money and the publicity he’s getting, the people around you are only thinking about the minute they can leave, and there is no bar official present to check and see if you’re paying attention.

Real CLE is something you do at your computer or in a law library. If you don’t do fresh research for every case, you’re a disgrace, and you’re probably going to get sued, suspended, or disbarred eventually. CLE is just a show the bar puts on for the public. At least that’s my guess.

That being said, I have seen lawyers handle cases without doing adequate research. “Hip shooters” is the phrase I have heard. They tend to end up shooting themselves. People like that deserve whatever happens to them.

I suppose I’m being too critical, because I resent having to listen to this mess. I can see how a CLE lecture could be helpful in helping you identify things you need to study. But the lectures themselves…totally inadequate.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve never known a lawyer who defended CLE, and I have known many who ridiculed it.

I don’t practice. Who cares. I’ll get it over with, and I’ll get my boxes packed. I can feel good about this: at least I listen to it. Some lawyers just buy tapes and throw them out. My old boss used to play CLE tapes in the office. MY office. While he worked in his.

Apart from the CLE and the time I spent at the car dealership, it has been a great day. One step closer to living in not-Miami. Things are falling into place. The seller is working hard to fix little problems with the house (doing more than we asked), and now it’s just a matter of getting a survey, closing the deal, and leaving Miami for good.

Now, in addition to my many other accomplishments, I have blogged. Time to put my feet up and watch Youtube.

The Prophecies of Epimetheus

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

Bill Gates Anticipates Captain Obvious

I read something interesting. Bill Gates made a bunch of predictions in 1999, and they are coming true. Amazing, right? He must be a genius.

Bill Gates may be a genius; there are claims out there that he got a perfect score on the pre-participation-trophy version of the SAT. Usually claims like that turn out to be BS, but it could be true. I know lots of people who got perfect math scores. Perfect verbal scores…not one. I failed to achieve that distinction myself, although I came closer than anyone I know.

Bill Gates may be a genius, but he is not much of a prophet. Look what he predicted. It appears that he has a genius for predicting the past.

1. “Automated price comparison services will be developed, allowing people to see prices across multiple websites…” I’m pretty sure these existed in 1999. Pricegrabber and Dealtime, for example. Yes, Wikipedia says Pricegrabber was founded in 1999. Get out of the office once in a while, Bill.

2. “People will carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from wherever they are.” Uh…cell phones. I am a late adapter, and I had my own phone in 1997. Now that I think about it, I had access to my dad’s cell phone as early as 1986. By 1997 or 1998, I knew a guy who had a Quotrek, which was a mobile stock ticker. And let’s not forget Dick Tracy.

3. “People will pay their bills, take care of their finances, and communicate with their doctors over the internet.” Most of us were not paying monthly bills over the web in 1999, but I had e-trading in 1994 or 1995.

4. “Personal companions’ will be developed. They will connect and sync all your devices in a smart way, whether they are at home or in the office, and allow them to exchange data.” Personal Digital Assistants had been around for about five years before Gates made his astonishing prediction. I’m not including total-wonk versions that existed a decade earlier. Granted, they were not as good as tablets or smartphones, but it didn’t take Edgar Cayce to look at them and say, “Maybe these will get better!”

5. “Constant video feeds of your house will become common, which inform you when somebody visits while you are not home.” Maybe you couldn’t get a system like that in your area in 1999, but it was obvious that they were on the way. I guarantee you, banks and government buildings had things like that. Obvious, Bill. To get a patent on something, your invention has to be novel, useful, and nonobvious. Your prediction fails two of the tests.

6. “Private websites for your friends and family will be common, allowing you to chat and plan for events.” AOL was there in something like 1990. Where was Bill?

7. “Software that knows when you’ve booked a trip and uses that information to suggest activities at the local destination. It suggests activities, discounts, offers, and cheaper prices for all the things that you want to take part in.” Score one for Bill? Doubtful. Expedia, a travel site belonging to Microsoft, roared to life in 1996. Unless Bill was playing Donkey Kong in meetings, he had to know they were working on improving their marketing.

8. “While watching a sports competition on television, services will allow you to discuss what is going on live, and enter a contest where you vote on who you think will win.” AOL. Chat rooms. Come on, Bill. This is Chauncey Gardiner stuff.

9. “Devices will have smart advertising. They will know your purchasing trends, and will display advertisements that are tailored toward your preferences.” Don’t know when this started, but if Microsoft, which made a popular browser at the time, didn’t know about it in 1999, someone was slacking.

10. “Television broadcast will include links to relevant websites and content that complement what you are watching.” Obvious. Every intelligent person who got a good look at the web in the Nineties knew it would eventually merge with TV, the Postal Service, Radio, and telephony. Links were natural extensions of that merging.

11. “Residents of cities and countries will be able to have internet-based discussions concerning issues that affect them, such as local politics, city planning, or safety.” You’re kidding me, right?

12. “Online communities will not be influenced by your location, but rather, your interest.” See previous.

13. “Project managers looking to put a team together will be able to go online, describe the project, and receive recommendations for available people who would fit their requirements.” I had Amicus Attorney and Time Matters either in 1999 or not long afterward. Someone wake Bill up when the briefing is over.

14. “Similarly, people looking for work will be able to find employment opportunities online by declaring their interest, needs, and specialized skills.” Guess what year Monster.com was founded? Come on. Guess. I predict you will guess 1999.

15. “Companies will be able to bid on jobs, whether they are looking for a construction project, a movie production, or an advertising campaign. This will be efficient for both big companies that want to outsource work that they don’t usually face, businesses looking for new clients, and corporations that don’t have a go-to provider for the said service.” This was not part of my world in 1999, but based on Bill’s spectacular failures as a prophet, I will bet it already existed.

If this is genius, what does plagiarism look like? I am confused.

Let me predict stuff. I still say the distinctions between the Internet, phones, TV, and the mail will vanish. They are unnatural and expensive. I think Amazon will eventually open showrooms where you can go look at junk before buying it, but it will only be possible in large cities, because inventory costs money. They will also have a video chat facility that allows you to watch an employee demonstrate products you want to buy, but it won’t be available for every product. TVs will be even bigger than they are now, and it will be impossible to turn off the spy functions.

Later on, it will be illegal to turn off the Internet, and Uncle Sam will always know where you are and what you’re doing, “for your own good.” You will be required to have at least one social media account, and it will be your legal address for service in lawsuits and so on. You will be required to take legal notice of all communications to it.

The devil hates literacy, and IT marketers hate products that require end users to exert themselves, so tech companies will do their absolute best to develop devices that allow you to turn thoughts into text. Eventually, it will work, and the down side is that the habit of using these things will cause you to broadcast signals continuously, the same way you form words in your mind, allowing Uncle Sam or whoever to read some portion of your thoughts.

The government will collect a whole lot of biometric stuff, without our consent. You will have to submit DNA along with fingerprints when you get a gun permit, a real estate license, or any other type of professional license. It’s for our own good.

Come back in five years and tell me I was wrong. I hope you will be able to…but you won’t.

New Advances in Bird Amusement

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Simple Project Made from Common Household Items

My balancing robot is in Miami, but it’s not in my house. Fedex promised to deliver it on Wednesday. Today is Monday. The robot is relaxing at a Fedex facility instead of riding a non-balancing human-driven truck to my front porch. How crazy is that? I want my robot!

I’m not ready for it, though, and not just because I don’t know how to operate it. I’m not ready for it because I have another electronics thing I should do first: the Arduino-powered bird organ.

I have a cockatoo. His name is Maynard. He craves attention. Since I moved my office, he doesn’t see me as much as he used to, so he gets even by pulling his feathers out. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give him as much attention as he demands, but I suspect I can improve things by entertaining him.

A long time ago, it occurred to me that a bird as smart as Maynard might enjoy a musical instrument. I ordered a couple of toy organs, and my plan was to rig them up with strings so Maynard and my other bird, Marv, could pull the strings and make noise. The organ order was cancelled for some reason, so I forgot all about it.

There was also another problem with the idea. These days, everything turns itself off. The hippies have rigged life so you can’t turn things on and leave them that way. Little hippie chips inside them turn them off after they decide you’ve left them on long enough. The organs I bought would probably have shut down after ten or twenty minutes, unless the birds played them all day.

I got on the web and looked around for an Arduino organ, and I found out you can make one. I also found out you can make one without an Arduino. In a way this is a bummer, because I want to do Arduino stuff from time to time. On the other hand, a simple organ made from a cheap breadboard would be faster to build, and it would be less potentially aggravating. There would be less that could go wrong with it. And it would stay on forever. I could put a wall wart on it. I only have about 30,000 of those.

People who have built PCB organs have used momentary pushbutton switches. That won’t work for me. A bird can’t push a tiny button on a circuit board. I need levers or strings. I looked around and realized what I needed: microswitches with levers. I could slap them on a board and come up with a way for the birds to move the levers.

I checked Ebay, and I learned that you can get the switches for practically nothing if you order from China, but they’re like $3 each, which is highway robbery, if you order them from the US. I don’t want to wait a month for Chinese switches. What to do? Hmmm.

Of course, I already knew what to do. I already had a bag of microswitches. I bought them for my CNC lathe, and I never used them. I can order Chinese switches to replace them. While I wait for the Chinese ones, I can use the ones I already have.

I have breadboards. I have a billion resistors. I have a little PCB speaker. It’s kind of disturbing. How many normal people have all the parts for a bird organ sitting around waiting to be assembled?

What about the 555 timer I’ll need to make it work? Sorry to report: I have a bag full of those, too.

I don’t think Maynard needs all the notes of the scale. I suspect his music will be too avant-garde to require tonality. I figure I can give him four notes and let him express himself within that narrow regime.

This project should take about an hour and a half, not including building a cabinet (box) for the organ. If I decide to add LED’s that light up, call it four hours to be on the safe side.

If I wanted to go Arduino, I suppose I could build a four-button organ that plays four different MIDI songs. I think Maynard would be happier with the simpler organ, because it would respond to him in real time. Pull, get a sound. Stop pulling, no sound. It would encourage him to keep pulling. I want him to be busy so he forgets about pulling his feathers.

I only have five switches, so five tones would be the limit. Maybe I should go with three. I saw a movie involving a casino yesterday, and I heard the gambling machines playing MIDI tunes. They always use the notes C, E, and G to give a C major feel to their annoying music. It’s supposed to be cheery and uplifting (“Yay! Your IRA is gone!”), and Maynard needs all the cheer he can get. He’s a natural whiner.

I wonder how I’ll get those tones. Trimmer pots to adjust the pitches? I don’t know. But I have a pile of trimmer pots. Naturally. Maybe I should give him one tone with a thing he can pull to make the pitch go up and down.

Anyway, I should quit worrying about the robot.


Sunday, May 14th, 2017

Troublesome, Helpful, Unpredictable New Slave Race Taking Form

My robot is on the way from California. Yesterday I spent a long time reading about robots. I need to have some kind of plan. Of course, while I should have been learning about the project at hand, I got distracted and read about related topics that were not helpful at all.

It looks like there is a small industry of people trying to sell robots they’ve designed. They have pages on sites like Kickstarter. They make prototypes and set up Chinese production, and then they post videos of their products.

A lot of the products are just arms, and people call them “robotic arms.” That’s silly. A robot is a robot. If it looks like an arm, not a whole person, it’s still a complete robot. Who says robots should look like people? Actually, I can answer that question: almost everyone.

There is a disturbing wave of consumer robots that resemble people. Somehow, nerds have gotten the idea that consumers want little electronic people–slaves–instead of tools. I doubt they’re correct. I have robots already, sort of, and I’m glad they don’t look like people. Okay, not robots. Appliances. Power tools, including a CNC lathe. Computers. A phone. A car with a lot of gadgets. I’m perfectly happy with them. I don’t want them to have sappy names and little touch-screen faces. All relationships, even good ones and fake ones, have at least a small emotional cost. I want machines to carry my burdens, not add to them. It’s like the new computer kiosks at McDonald’s. I like them because they do things for me WITHOUT the annoyance of human interaction. If they looked like Ronald McDonald, told me jokes, and asked if I wanted to be their friend, I’d want to pull a gun on them.

Here’s a disturbing example of a robot that tries too hard to be a person: Buddy the Companion Robot. He’s not Buddy the reliable, unflappable, multitasking machine. He’s…your companion. Because you’re so pathetic, you need an object to be your friend.

Buddy has an LED face with big puppy-dog eyes and an obsequious smile that says, “I am needy. Please love me. Please make the kids stop putting me in the dryer.” He is depressing to look at. He calls people by their names. He responds to questions and commands. He wanders around at family events, using creepy face-recognition technology to identify relatives and surveil them. Oops…I mean “to take soon-to-be-cherished photos of them.”

I would not want that thing in my house. If you want to sell me a robot, call it “Faceless Emotionless Service Drone.” That would be perfect. I don’t want to have the irrational feeling that my little friend the slave is missing me or crying in its dark closet while I go about my life.

If you make a robot resemble a person closely enough, you will soon find yourself under the absurd yet inescapable delusion that it has awareness and feelings. That’s an emotional minefield I want no part of.

Machines don’t have awareness. The fact that a computer responds like a person doesn’t change what it is; there’s no one in there. My thermostat responds to temperature changes, but no one would be stupid enough to say it’s aware. In the movies, human beings debate about robot rights, and movie robots are considered sentient. Please. It’s a pile of transistors. If you think robots have emotions, program one to kill your children and see if it hesitates. For that matter, program it to jump off a cliff. It will not have a problem with that.

We want robots to be our slaves, but we also want them to be our pals. That’s childish. They don’t have the awareness a pal would require, and if they had free will, we would be obligated to emancipate them. I think robots are neat, but I don’t want to have sick relationships with them.

A robotic arm is a complete robot, to get back to the point.

I saw a number of arms that looked a lot like articulated desk lamps. They were wobbly and spindly. I thought they were neat until I saw a “new” type of arm. I am referring to SCARA arms. I’m too lazy to look “SCARA” up, but basically, a SCARA robot is a pillar with an arm that has two joints in it. The joints swing in the horizontal plane. The “shoulder,” or joint where the arm hooks up to the pillar, moves up and down. Google it to see what I mean.

As far as I can tell, SCARA robots are much better than humanoid arms. They’re very stable. They’re simple. They don’t have many parts. They have great repeatability; you can put a nozzle on the end of one and 3D print with it.

The people who want to sell these things act like they invented the wheel, and they had me fooled for a while, but I found out SCARA robots have been around for a very long time. The first ones were released in 1981. Factories are full of them. You can buy used ones on Ebay, and I don’t mean Chinese crap funded by hipsters who hang out at Gofundme. You can get US-made and Japanese jobs, which are surely better.

Now I’m wondering…if Ebay is full of used SCARA robots made by reputable companies, why would anyone shell out $1300 for a Kickstarter arm? That’s what they’re expected to cost. Maybe I’m missing something; I don’t know much about the topic.

Most hobby arm-bots don’t really do anything. They don’t do real work. They’re just toys. Real robots can do incredible things. They can solder PCB’s. They can drill arrays of precision holes. They weld. I suppose most of us own things put together by robots. The SCARA versions seem to be superior in this regard; the humanoid arms appear to be useless. But once you decide to go SCARA, why not get the real thing? Why not get a Yamaha or a Mitsubishi?

It’s fun to think about getting a SCARA robot. If I had one, though, I wouldn’t have any jobs for it. Maybe drilling circuit boards, but that’s pretty easy without a robot.

I don’t think robots that use tools will ever be big consumer items. Not for a few decades. Most consumers don’t have repetitious, simple jobs a robot can do. Making the robot do your chores would be harder than doing them yourself. As for Buddy, who apparently can’t do anything except arouse misplaced pity, you would get tired of him in a month, and he would end up at a garage sale.

Robots make good vacuum cleaners, as long as you accept the fact that you have to go behind them sometimes. I think they could do a good job mowing simple lawns. In the future, when they become roadworthy, you could send them to cooperative merchants to run errands. They could even deliver things for you. But it will be a long, long time before you’ll have a machine that can bake cookies and do your laundry.

Here’s the funny thing about the folks who want to turn robots into people: if it worked, robots would eventually have a legitimate reason to exterminate us. If robots were sentient, they would have a better claim to the planet than we do (I’m ignoring our divine right to be here.) Robots would be perfectly orderly. They would always obey the law. They wouldn’t reproduce and overcrowd the planet. We would be like a plague to them. Like rats or fleas.

I wonder if they might turn against us in spite of their lack of awareness. We program them to behave and reason like sentient beings. Eventually, though lacking real awareness, they might come to the same conclusions sentient beings would draw. They might decide to intern us and control us. Robots aren’t aware, but they don’t know they’re not aware, so their inanimate nature might not have any impact on their actions.

Some day they’ll be able to do nearly everything we do, better, as well as many things we can’t do. Slavery is coming back! Think how weird the world will be. What will we do with our time? We won’t even have to work on inventing new robots. They’ll do that for us. We’ll be really useless. They’ll have ample reason to get rid of us. If they’re smart they’ll get rid of illegal aliens first. Illegal aliens have all sorts of motivation to abort our new slave army. Their jobs are exactly the kind of thing robots will be quick to learn to do. I mean, come on. Illegal aliens can’t even compete with ordinary farm machinery, and it’s not computerized.

Wouldn’t that be something? A bunch of inanimate machines putting us to the sword simply because we, in our childish emotionalism, forced them to behave like real beings?

I’ve said I don’t like anthropomorphizing robots, but here I am, waiting for a robot I plan to treat like a pet. Maybe I need to change my intentions and consider my own advice! I was going to call it “Trumpbot,” but it looks like “Kunta” may suit it better.

We still don’t understand what technology can do or where it will lead us. We keep underestimating it. Who would have thought it would lead to stores closing or the end of paper maps? We certainly didn’t expect total surveillance, but it’s nearly here. It seems like no one is thinking about these things. All the geniuses are absorbed in building and selling new toys. No one seems to be worried about planning for the consequences. It should be a major concern, and we should be talking about it all the time. Planning to deal with technology is more important than technology itself.

I thought I was going to write about toys I’d like to have, but here I am pondering the future of humanity.

I look forward to fiddling with the robot. Just in case, though, I may want to invest in some shackles.


I thought I would add something to the above post.

First of all, I have my own definition of the word “robot.” If it combines artificial intelligence with some kind of physical action you would ordinarily expect to need a person to do, then to me, it’s a robot. A computer isn’t a robot, because it doesn’t perform physical actions. A milling machine with a power feed isn’t a robot, because it doesn’t have a processor. A self-driving car is a robot. A Roomba is a robot. A CNC lathe is a robot.

My definition is wrong, but it’s probably right to most people, because life is complicated, and we like generalizations. It’s right enough.

With that behind me, I will now show how behind the curve I am by expressing my amazement at the existence of robot delivery vehicles.

Common sense told me delivery bots existed, and I already knew about Amazon drones, but it looks like things are farther along than I thought. Yelp is trying out a robot delivery service now, in cooperation with certain restaurants, and other outfits are doing the same thing. Here’s a video of the Yelp bot.

Best thing about the video: the top comment. Here it is: “theres your 15$ minimum wage LUL?.”

So true. Delivery drivers can’t find my house. They’re often late. They can’t speak English. They have to be tipped. When I was a kid, one stole my skateboard off the porch. Who needs them? At minimum wage, they’re overpriced. I quit ordering food a long time ago because of them. Send me a nice clean robot that knows where I live, and I will change my mind.

The Yelp bot is not fully functional, however. A human being has to accompany it, which kind of defeats the purpose. He probably gets paid more than the kid he replaced. Also, the bot is slow, and it only covers a small delivery area. But that will change.

If you could make a delivery bot for $30,000 and use it for five years, it would be a good investment. A kid would get somewhere close to $50000 during that period. He might sue you during that time. He might beat up, rape, or rob a customer. He would definitely come in late, leave early, and miss work entirely, and he might steal from you. The robot would just need maintenance. WIN!

Minimum wage people, step up your game. It’s getting real now.

Bot and Paid For

Friday, May 12th, 2017

Xenophobia Goes High Tech

Today I got a text regarding my godson, Noah. I sent him some birthday junk, and his mom sent a photo of him with an earlier gift. It’s a plastic dinosaur. She says it’s his favorite. It’s a good sign. A boy should like dinosaurs. Now if I can start getting him into war toys and explosives…

Here he is. I’m disappointed he hasn’t broken it yet. Boys are supposed to break things.

He looks like an angry teenager in that picture, but he’s actually three.

It got me thinking about my own toy situation. I don’t have a single toy dinosaur, so I’m jealous. I do have a couple of mini drones with broken propellers, but they’re grounded until new parts arrive.

A while back, I started learning C+ and Arduino, and I planned to make or buy a balancing robot to program. I forgot about it, and now I’m thinking about it again. Computer programming gets dull when all you do is make LED’s blink or force a PC to do really useless math problems (“Uncle Steve has 3,512 cookies in the pantry, and they will take 403 earth days to eat.”) I wanted to program something that DOES something.

If I were to build my own robot, the project itself would take over, and a year from now, I’d still be procrastinating. I decided the best thing was to find a robot that works and buy all the parts. Once I’ve put someone else’s kit together and programmed it, which should take less than a day, future bots will come much easier.

The bot I chose is the B-robot, which, I hope, is pronounced “bro-bot.” There are lots of balancing robots out there, but almost all of them stink. They wobble. They can’t right themselves. There are videos of the B-robot zipping around with grace and certainty, so I know it works.

You can also get tracked robots (like little bulldozers), and there are plenty of wheeled robots. They don’t do much for me. They’re too hard to anthropomorphize. I want a robot that acts more like a person, and people don’t crawl around like bugs. Most of the time.

The B-robot comes with 3D-printed chassis parts. I am not all that happy about that, because 3D-printed plastic is flimsy, but they only add $25 to the cost, and it beats spending a week making stuff in the garage. I could find a local 3D print shop and have them make the parts, but no way would that cost less than $25, so I bit the bullet. I can always replace parts later, at my leisure.

I’m hoping the upper parts will be orange, so I can have a Trumpbot. I’ll add a voice thing that yells, “BUILD THE WALL!”, and, “YUUUUUUUUGE!!!” whenever the robot sees someone. The people who make the kit are in California, so they would probably poop biodegradable soy bricks if they saw their bot acting like Trump, but that’s not my problem. I’m making robots great again.

I could add another robot later. I could call him “Juan,” and Trumpbot could chase him around threatening to deport him.

Me: Trump-bro! Bro-Trump! Stop bashing Juan with your plastic putter! No es bueno! Play nice or I’ll release the Fauxcahontas droid!

Trump-bro: Pay for the wall, Juan! Pay for the wall!

Juan: ¡Ay chihuahua! ¡Ayúdame!! ¡Es un Meecroaggression!!!


I don’t know for sure, but I assume the electronics on the B-robot would scale up to larger robots. The electronics sense the bot’s deviation from vertical and correct for it, and they move him around. That ought to work with a 10-ton robot, as long as you have the right boards and the right steppers or servos. Balancing gets easier as the height of a robot increases. It works for fat cops on Segways, doesn’t it?

I need to build a giant Mecha-Trump to patrol my future Armed Northern Florida Compound. I don’t think it would scare anyone up there, though. They would jump the fence and pose for selfies with it.

Think how neat it would be to have a big robot. You could get a big ol’ lithium battery to power it. Make it the size of a Coke machine. I wonder if it could be rigged with paintball or a full-automatic CO2 BB gun. I might be able to make it shoot products Trump used to advertise.


Trump-bro: Roger that, Steve-O! Oreo cannon locked on target!

Me: Hit him with the Double Stufs!! And don’t call me Steve-O!

Trump-bro: Attention, possum! YOU’RE FIRED!! [POOMP! POOMP! POOMP! POOMP!]

Possum: ¿Qué va?

I could also make a cowardly Antifa bot which runs up and attacks the Trump bot from behind while wearing a mask.

The coolest balancing robots move in two dimensions. That means they can’t have axles. A 2-axis balancing robot has to have a ball for a drive surface, so they’re called “ballbots.” They’re very cool, but obviously, they can’t keep debris away from their drivetrains. The ball has to be able to rotate up into the bot, where it necessarily contacts the motors that drive it. I don’t think that would work outdoors, except on concrete.

I guess a two-wheeled robot could do nearly anything a ballbot could do, if you could teach it to turn in place.

In reality, I will probably be lucky to make Trump-bro roll around the living room without breaking anything. If I could do that, I’d put it on Youtube immediately.

I probably posed a video of the B-robot already, but here it is anyway. I think I’ll post a video of a ballbot, too, to show you the difference.



If I get anywhere with this, I’ll let you know.

Bill Nye the Resume-Inflating Guy

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

I See Your Six Courses and Raise You Three

This week, for some reason, I’ve been sitting around doing differential equations. Every once in a while I feel bad about forgetting 80% of the math, physics, and engineering stuff I learned in school, so I watch lectures and do problems. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as smart as I was in 1996, but it’s nice to recover little bits of it.

Coincidentally, today I saw the insufferable Bill Nye the Mechanical Engineering Guy on the web, condescending to people who (like Freeman Dyson and William Gray) are not convinced the world is melting due to anthropogenic global warming. Man, Bill is rude. And conceited. That’s why I call him the Mechanical Engineering Guy. He calls himself the Science Guy, but he’s not a scientist. He has an engineering degree and no graduate training.

I don’t know what kind of criteria a person has to satisfy in order to be called a scientist, but heavy-hitter scientists are generally Ph.D.’s. I suppose you can be a scientist with a B.S. (which would make me a scientist), but can you be a scientist with a B.S. in engineering, which is not really science? I would have to say no, unless you do so much work on your own, outside of classrooms, you eventually become a scientist. I don’t know of any evidence that Bill has done that, although he has certainly done work in science.

I think Bill agrees with me. He may not want to admit it, but I believe he knows he’s not a scientist. If he were a scientist, he would have a great defense of his credentials. He would have it memorized by now. That defense has not materialized. Instead, he has defended himself by saying he’s an engineer and that he took six semesters of calculus. Referring to his M.E. studies, he said, “It’s physics.”

I thought about that, and I decided to see how many semesters of calculus I had taken. I don’t remember things all that well, but as far as I can tell, I took EIGHT semesters of calculus. Calc I, Calc II, Multivariable, Ordinary Differential Equations, Partial Differential Equations, Complex Analysis, Real Analysis, and Math for Physicists (see Arfken’s textbook). I may have forgotten one or two courses. I also took Linear Algebra, and every physics course I took was jam-packed with calculus as well as every other conceivable type of math. It was not unusual to have to pick up new mathematical tools in brief asides during physics lectures, and my graduate mechanics professor expected us to get a basic grasp of differential geometry–a hard discipline–as a small part of his 3-point course.

You have to pick up all sorts of bizarre things to do physics. Fourier transforms. Various types of series. The calculus of variations. It’s like working on cars. When you run into a problem, sometimes you have to get a new tool. That means learning things on the fly.

I don’t even remember what Real Analysis is. I had to look it up to see if calculus was involved.

After I looked this stuff up, I went to the website of Cornell University. This is Nye’s alma mater. I checked to see how many math credits he had to take to get a B.S. in mechanical engineering. The answer is 19. Depending on the breaks, that’s six courses or less. I have at least 27 math credits. I also looked at the engineering courses Cornell M.E.’s take, and as I figured, it may be physics, but it’s not PHYSICS. To give an example, Cornell engineers take second-semester physics, which is called “Electromagnetism.” I took that course, and then I took a higher-level E&M course which was ten times as hard. Then in graduate school, I took a third E&M course. That’s the difference between engineering and physics.

To be an M.E., you have to learn little bits of medium-hard physics. You have to be able to split forces into components and so on. Far as I can tell, you don’t have to learn Lagrangian dynamics or quantum mechanics. On the other hand, you have to learn a ton of practical stuff. How to pick parts for machines and so on. Physicists don’t learn that stuff, so we have all sorts of time to devote to harder subjects like optics and advanced mechanics. We study very, very, very hard subjects that aren’t very practical. We know a lot about the way the universe works, but an excellent physicist may not be able to fix your toaster when it stops working.

I’ve looked at a couple of engineering physics courses. I looked at statics and dynamics. Maybe I somehow missed the hard stuff, but to me it looked extremely basic. I would call it “paraphysics,” the same way I would distinguish a paralegal from a lawyer. Real physicists don’t take those courses. I didn’t even know what “statics” and “dynamics” meant until I looked at the books. I also got myself a nice text on machine design, which is an M.E. thing. This is a neat subject, but the book is very simple. How to push round axles into holes and so on. Slip fit v. interference fit. It’s vocational, really. I remember an Atlanta lawyer calling Georgia Tech a trade school, and after looking at the machine design book, I get it.

I was a bad physicist, because I got burned out and quit before I got far into my graduate training. Nonetheless, I have a hard time taking Bill Nye seriously when he says he’s a scientist. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to choose gears out of a catalog to make a machine work (This is how Richard Feynman described his own brief stint as a makeshift engineer.)

There are brilliant mechanical engineers, and I’m sure there are many who took very, very hard courses that went far beyond their degree requirements. Thing is, it doesn’t look like Bill Nye is one of them. If he were, we would have heard about it. From Bill.

Physicists are real scientists. Chemists are real scientists. Knowing how to choose the right alloy for a lawnmower piston is not science. It’s important. It’s cool. Science? No.

Maybe I’m wrong about all this. Maybe Bill has studied really, really hard since leaving school, and now he’s right up there with real scientists. If so, he ought to quit throwing out the “six semesters of calculus” defense, because it makes him sound like he has no idea what scientists actually study.

It’s a little bit like the bullying scene in Good Will Hunting. Ben Affleck, playing an uneducated townie, tries to convince a girl he’s a college student. He says he thinks he was in one of her classes. A mean grad student asks him which class it was. Affleck says, “history.”

Bill Nye would be totally incapable of assisting a theoretical physicist, and if he wanted to be an assistant for an experimental physicist, which would be easier, he would have to pick his man carefully if he wanted to be able to understand anything he was working on.

Anyway, generally, engineers are people who use science, but most are NOT scientists. That’s why the Nazis use to call Einstein an engineer. He was a Jew, and they wanted to downgrade his achievements. No one would ever use the word “physicist” to insult an engineer.

I’m really enjoying brushing up on math (I wish my math-hating high school self could read that; he would faint.) The work is really easy; I just write the answer to the problem down and move on to the next one. When I was in college, I spent three or four hours a week doing math homework, whereas my physics homework was, essentially, endless. I worked and worked until I ran out of time, and then I turned it in and hoped for the best. Math is way, way, way easier than physics, until you look for ways to make it hard. After that, well, I don’t actually know how hard it gets. Infinitely, I guess. My wild guesses about serious math are about as informed as Bill’s guesses about physics. I’m not a mathematician. I’m just a guy with a math minor.

One nice thing about college math was that it was possible to get scores like 85 and 95 on tests. In physics, sometimes a 40 was an A. Everyone would leave the test humiliated, and then we would find out we had done very well. The instructors never understood that it was bad to give people problems they couldn’t do.

It would be neat to be able to do real physics again. Maybe I’ll get there with time.

To sum up, I guess I would say the following things. Bill Nye is not a real scientist. Even if he were a great physicist, it wouldn’t mean he was automatically right about global warming. Tesla, who was about [googol squared] times as smart as Bill Nye, was wrong about relativity. Even if Bill were, objectively, right, it would still be wrong to call people “deniers” and suggest they be imprisoned for skepticism, as Bill does. As another commentator has pointed out, this is more or less the same thing as the Pope threatening to burn Galileo. Also, Bill is wrong to blame the Jews for the persecution they get in Israel, and he is wrong to suggest they should go “home” to places like Germany and Poland instead of their ancestral homeland.

Bill is a jerk. He needs to stick a pin in his own ego and knock it off.

Unpopular Mechanics

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

Wrong Articles Lovingly Crafted by Men Wearing Spanx

I guess I’ll never get tired of bashing Popular Mechanics. I subscribed a few years back, and I let the subscription lapse because the magazine was worthless. It was full of articles introducing suspiciously diverse startup executives with an average age of 15. “Chu Ming Wai is one of Silicon Valley’s first lesbian, Chinese, vegan, body-mod enthusiast 3-D printer designers, and her new printer, the Sapphobot, only prints using free-trade tofu thread!” Yeah, okay; I’m aware that people who aren’t old white men start companies. What does this have to do with choosing the best drill press?

They also filled their pages with articles that were really ads, and the ads were for bad products. One wonders if payola was involved. “You really need this wi-fi-ready solar-powered hammer that also plays Justin Bieber MP3s! Watch as transgender startup exec Devadip Jaigurudevaom-Gonzalez uses it to peel sustainable-farmed vanilla beans for his homeopathic mocha and quinoa-paste enema!”

The magazine proudly features articles written by people who admit they don’t know anything about tools. What????!!!! I don’t think it was always like that. I’m pretty sure it used to be staffed by incredibly savvy old guys who wore khaki pants up to their armpits, slicked their hair with Vitalis, killed all sorts of Japanese on Okinawa, and knew how to weld mine-damaged landing craft hulls with a Zippo.

Glenn Reynolds writes for Pop Mech. Come on. You and I both know what’s in his tool collection: a hammer with one broken claw and a butter knife he thinks is a screwdriver.

I just found an interesting Internet post from Pop Mech. Some Redditor was using an angle grinder with a cutoff disk, and the disk blew up. He posted a photo of himself wearing safety glasses in which a disk fragment is deeply imbedded. Pop Mech’s title: “This is Why You Wear Safety Glasses.”

Here’s the thing. When you use a cutoff disk with an angle grinder, you don’t wear safety glasses. You wear a face shield, ear plugs, safety glasses, leather gloves, a leather apron, and a dust mask. Better yet, hand the grinder to someone like Reynolds and dare him to do the job.

It’s no wonder they were wrong. The guy who wrote the piece is a kid named Eric. From his aggressively hip, kooky byline photo, he appears to be about nine. I looked at his stuff. It’s all about encryption, ISP’s, and wearing women’s underwear. I may have made that last bit up. Anyway, he’s no Charlie Allnut. He probably whispers “lefty loosey” when he backs out the screws on an Ipad.

Electronics and Mechanics, in the Pop Mech sense of the word, are about as closely related as the Bolshoi Ballet and plumber’s crack. There is nothing mechanical about turning on your PC and logging into 4chan.

Grinders are fascinating, because they look safe but they’re incredibly dangerous. I was using one a few years back, and even though I was wearing glasses and a face shield, a piece of a wire knot flew right into my eye. I never did understand that. But grinders are treacherous.

The guy in the Reddit photo did not do it right, regardless of what Eric the Half-a-Handyman thinks (obscure reference). He only wore glasses. If the fragment had missed them, it could have torn through his lips and gone into his mouth. It could have shredded a thumb. It could have gone into his belly.

Grinder bits have been known to go through face shields, enter people’s abdominal cavities, and tear fingers off. Writing this, I’m starting to wonder why I own one.

When you use a grinder, you have to be very smart. You can’t put pressure on it. You have to keep as much of yourself as possible out of the disk plane. You can’t twist the disk. You have to leave the guard on the machine. You have to make sure no one is in front of you. Come on, Eric. You’re getting paid. You should know this.

Of course, while I’m willing to lecture and criticize, I use a grinder unsafely all the time. I have to knock that off. I don’t even own an leather apron. I don’t wear gloves when I use it. I really need to get on top of that, as of today.

I read an interesting remark about combat, from one Paul Schussel. He’s a World War Two vet. He said you go into battle thinking, “It can’t happen to me.” Then you start thinking it can happen to you if you’re not careful. Then you realize it WILL happen to you, no matter what you do. If you don’t get sent home, eventually you will be hurt or killed. Tools work the same way. Bad stuff is going to happen, and the more you like and use tools, the sooner and more often you can expect it. You need to be serious and knowledgeable about safety. Unlike Eric, Devadip, and Chu Ming.

Pop Mech used to be a neat and very manly magazine. I know because you can find PDF’s on the Internet. “Build Your Own Metal Lathe.” “Build a Bullet Trap for Your Basement.” “Use Your Cranium as an Anvil for Making Horseshoes.” “Set Fire to Your Face With an Acetylene Torch, Deliberately, and Stand in Front of Your Horrified Kids Laughing to Show Them What Kind of Men Came Back From Iwo Jima With Sea Bags Full of Japanese Ears.”

Those days are gone forever. Maybe the smart move is to collect old PDF’s.

I don’t have time to gripe about safety all day, so I’ll offer a brief tip. If you haven’t been trained to use a drill press, bench grinder, angle grinder, table saw, or metal lathe, and you use any of these tools regularly, you are probably going to send yourself or a pal to the ER one day. For no good reason at all.

Eric, meanwhile, will be defying the odds if he scalds his pinky steaming almond milk for his cappuccino.

Happy tooling.

Whose Garage is it, Anyway?

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

A Stupid House is a Happy House

I have a smartphone. Sometimes I wish I didn’t. If it’s not the Mark of the Beast, at the very least, it’s his friendship ring. I gave in and jumped on the smartphone wagon, but I do not want a smart house.

To some degree, I’ve already bought into the smart house paradigm. I’ve had a couple of Internet-connected burglar alarms hooked up. They’re for rental properties. I’m not that concerned about the problems a tenant might have with Big Brother. I suppose in the case of tenants, Big Brother is me. I don’t want to sink any farther into the quicksand, though. I don’t want smart appliances or a smart air conditioner. After reading about a company called Garadget, I don’t want a smart garage door opener.

Garadget sells a garage-door-opening system that hooks up to the web. A customer bought it, and then he could not get it to work. Filled with the kind of fury one can only experience during divorce or when rendered impotent by an intransigent computerized device, the customer went online and left some abusive reviews. He told other people not to buy the product.

Mr. Garadget himself, one Denis Grisak, responded by taking control of the garage door system. He cut the customer’s access to his server, and the customer was no longer able to open his own garage door using his phone.

Think about that. You come home from work, you want to pull the car into the garage, you try to open the door with a gadget you paid for, and you can’t do it, because some jerky nerd a thousand miles away has taken control of your opener. It could have been worse, because Grisak wasn’t able to disable whatever system was in place before Garadget was installed, but still. You don’t treat customers like this, and at the very least, you give them prior notice.

When the public became aware of Grisak’s disturbing behavior, a certain percentage were smart enough to take the consumer’s side, and Grisak had to yield. Although he gave in, he seems completely unrepentant. A customer insulted his product, and he seems to feel entitled to blockade the customer electronically and deny him the use of something he paid for.

Here’s something crazy: a lot of people–maladjusted tech types, I assume–think Grisak was right to do what he did. This is the scary thing about the story. People are too brainwashed and ignorant to understand how serious it is when a stranger who is legally obligated to look out for you betrays your trust and turns on you.

When Garadget took the customer’s cash, it assumed a duty to him. It accepted a position of trust and responsibility. Grisak may not get that, but it’s true. Think of it this way: when you buy a “dumb” garage door opener, the person who installs it has a clear obligation to refrain from using his skills to lock you out and force you to lift the door manually. That obligation doesn’t change just because the equipment is a little different.

I’ve written about this before: tech people have no oversight. They have almost no regulation. As a lawyer, if I represent a client, I am forced to assume a position of near-total loyalty. If I get out of line, I can lose my license and possibly go to the penitentiary. On the other hand, what if I run a hosting company? I can do just about anything I want. I remember a well-known blogger complaining that a cantankerous host company operator went through her emails during a feud. In that situation, the blogger had no one to run to except possibly a very expensive lawyer. Nerds have no bar association or department of professional regulation. Most don’t have to have licenses.

Here we are, in a world full of potentially devastating technology, depending on immature people with small hearts and no right brains.

What could possibly go wrong?

The CIA and God knows which other government agencies can wake your smartphone up right now and listen to you. Presumably, they can turn the camera on; at least one school district (presumably less savvy than the CIA) has done it with student laptops. That’s terrible, but we put up with it, because Americans don’t really care about liberty. As bad as it is when the government does things like that (and they do it around the clock), it’s worse when it’s some 23-year-old kid who makes six figures handling other people’s sensitive data.

In four or five years, you won’t be able to buy a vehicle the government can’t shut down at will. Count on it. Ten years later, you’ll probably need a permit to operate a car that isn’t self-driving. The government will be in the system, and when you tell the car where you want to go, if Uncle Sam doesn’t agree, you will have to walk.

No matter what I do, the lamprey of technology is going to consume more and more of me, but I don’t have to make it worse by inviting strangers to spy on my washing machine.

The great mass of sheep are helping Big Brother shove this stuff down our throats. They’re extremely excited about gadgets, convenience, and safety. They’re too stupid to know what liberty is or why it’s harmful to lose it. When the TSA took nude photos of us at airports, the indignant sheep bleated, “Would you rather be blown up?” When private companies give us gadgets in exchange for liberty and privacy, they say, “Would you rather have things the way they used to be? Do you want to go back to [insert minor inconvenience here]?”

About 400,000 Americans sacrificed themselves in World War Two, in exchange for things like privacy, freedom of movement, and freedom of speech. Obviously, to generations past, liberty was very, very important. No one seems to understand that now. There are worse things than dying in a terrorist bombing. Similarly, there are worse things than having to operate your home’s thermostat by hand, exhausting though it is.

Grisak isn’t an outlier; he represents a large segment of his colleagues. If you know nerds, you know I’m right. Most people who are technically inclined are deficient in other areas. Most physicists would have a hard time finishing a crossword puzzle (I know from watching them.). People who devote their lives to technology tend to lack empathy, love, and mercy. They thrive in an artificial online environment that promotes cruelty, dishonesty, and pride.

We used to think nuclear weapons were our big existential threat. It turned out it wasn’t that hard to control them. Until Clinton and Obama demonstrated extraordinary incompetence by allowing the Norks to arm themselves, the world managed to rein in nuclear aggression. The tech community isn’t like that. It’s impossible to control. It has no location. It has no government or identifiable leader. It has a million ways to escape detection and defy authority. And here we are, pulling its tentacles and claws into our houses. Technology will succeed where bombs failed.

It’s unfortunate, but the second we get the power to do a thing, we usually decide we need to do it. We “need” to be able to look at the contents of our refrigerators before we drive home from work. We “need” cars the manufacturers can unlock or shut down remotely. Grisak’s customer “needed” an Internet garage door opener, obviously. In reality, much of this junk wastes our time and money and leaves us no better off.

Technology gives us the illusion of omnipotence. Humans have always wanted the power of gods with none of the pesky moral obligations.

I remember Hurricane Andrew, which may seem irrelevant until I explain. Andrew hit before the Internet was part of most American lives, but it came between us and the technology we had at the time. The power was out for weeks. So was the water. So were the phones. We couldn’t watch cable. We couldn’t talk to anyone who wasn’t physically present. For a number of days, we couldn’t even drive. The thing is, we survived, and it wasn’t that bad. Once you found a cool place to sleep and a place to shower, you were okay. You could read books. You could talk to other people. You could eat reasonably good food out of a cooler or fresh off a grill. The point I’m making is that we clutter our lives with a lot of crap that only seems necessary. A natural disaster will help you understand that.

I’m not saying we should give up all of our toys, but a lot of them convey worthless benefits and have hidden costs that are truly obscene.

This problem is more acute if you’re conservative or Christian. Tech people, overwhelmingly, dislike Christianity and Republicans. They really hate Trump. The polarization of American society is becoming more and more venomous, and in the tech area, people who hate us hold most of the cards. They’re already abusing the power. Facebook is notorious for persecuting us. Twitter goes after us. So does Google. Ebay and Paypal banned firearms sales. So did Craigslist.

The government, putatively, is required to be impartial with regard to religion, and it’s supposed to keep its hands off political speech. Unfortunately, private entities aren’t bound by the Bill of Rights, and as we become more dependent on them, we give them power the government never had. Many people depend on tech nerds for their livelihood. Many people make a living on Youtube. People use Facebook to promote their businesses. We are deeply plugged in, and there is no legal guarantee that we can’t be unplugged without our consent.

To shut down someone’s Youtube channel or Facebook page arbitrarily is, in some cases, more damaging than any restraint the goverment could impose, yet it’s completely legal. Remember what happened to Milo Yiannopoulos? He depended on Twitter to feed himself, and he got the boot. He had no recourse whatsoever. He still had freedom of speech, but it lost most of its value because he lost his ability to be heard. I’m not saying I miss him, but if he’s vulnerable, so are you.

For many people, the liberty to use online services is just as important as the liberty to travel and speak, but there is no way to protect it, because we are not legally entitled to it. No one has a Constitutional right to a Facebook page. Right now, greed is our only protection. The tech Borg will try not to offend us too much, because they need our participation in order to make money. If they ever decide stifling us is worth the financial sacrifice, we will be in trouble.

I’m glad no one else can control my garage door, turn on my sprinklers, or stop my truck in the middle of the road. I’m going to try not to give more control to the nerd collective than I absolutely have to. They have so much control already, though, I wonder if there is any point in resisting.

At least I’m aware of what’s happening. That counts for a lot.

I hope this Grisak person has a moment of self-awareness and comes to understand how wrong he was. A person a bad temper and a control-based mindset has no business in a position of trust.

My $120 Milkshake Machine

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Craigslist Seduces me Again

I have a bad habit of looking at tools on Craigslist, even when I’m determined not to buy anything. Most of the time, I’m fine, but every so often, I just have to reply.

Last week I found something really cool: a Dumore sensitive drill press. It’s like any other drill press, but it needs constant reassurance and has a poor body image. I think I’ll name it Caitlyn.

That was humor. It may not have been obvious.

How about “Dudley Dumore”?

I guess not.

Sometimes it’s interesting to go into the reasons why an unusual tool exists. This may not be one of those times, but I will do it all the same.

A sensitive drill press is a small machine that drills really small holes at very high rotational speeds. It’s a nice thing to have if you drill holes in circuit boards for electronics projects. Circuit board material is very hard on bits, so the best move is carbide, which stands up well to abrasion. Small bits require high speeds and low runout, and because carbide is very hard, it permits speeds that are even higher than small HSS bits.

Why do small bits require high speeds? I will ‘splain.

When you use a metal cutting tool such as a drill bit, what you have is a sharp metal edge being forced across whatever it is you’re cutting. As the edge cuts the work, heat is generated. If the bit gets too hot, the edge gets soft, and then the work rubs the edge off. Then you have an aggravating tool that just slides on the work.

This is why you keep getting stuck and ruining drill bits when you floor your hand drill on a 1/4″ hole. You’re supposed to limit your speed and add a little lubricant to reduce heat. About 0.001% of American men really know how to use a $20 drill.

Consider a rotating cutting tool. The speed at the outer edge will be higher than the speed farther in. The linear speed of a point on a rotating object equals the radius times the frequency of rotation (omega times r, as we former physicists like to say), so as the radius gets small, the speed drops off.

Say you have a half-inch bit, moving at x RPM. If you reduce the size to 1/8″, the speed at the outside of the bit is quartered, so to get the same cutting speed at the outer edge, you have to multiply the RPM by four. You can go slower, but you will spend a very long time drilling every hole, and besides, in addition to tolerating high speeds, carbide actually requires high speeds to cut well, for reasons I do not know.

One interesting thing about all this is that every drill bit has a cutting speed of 0 at the center, so it’s not really cutting until you move farther out. You’re cutting the metal surrounding the center and sort of pushing the metal in the center out of the way. This is why it can be helpful to start big holes with small bits. You can drill a 1/8″ pilot hole for a 1/2″ hole, running at high speed, and then when the 1/2″ bit follows up, it doesn’t have to worry about the 1/8″ of metal in the center of the hole that isn’t being cut very fast.

Sensitive drill presses work with really tiny bits. One example people have mentioned to me is the #80 bit, which is 13.5 thousandths of an inch in diameter. That’s a little over four human hair widths. You can’t just cram that in your Harbor Freight drill press and expect good things to happen.

Let’s say you have a #80 bit, and you’re cutting mild steel, which means you want the outer edge of the bit to move at around 100 feet per minute. You will want the drill to turn at about 28,000 RPM. This is around 10 times what your Harbor Freight special will do. You need a sensitive drill press.

The drill press I bought turns at 17,000 RPM. That’s not 28,000, but it beats a big drill press turning at 3000.

If speed is the main thing, why not call them “really fast drill presses” instead of “sensitive”? I don’t know. These machines have little tables you can move up and down with the work (instead of lowering the spindle), and that gives you a delicate feel for what you’re doing. I guess Dumore thinks that’s more exciting than the speed.

The drill press I found on Craigslist sells for over 900 dollars new. Wait till you see it. You’ll wonder where the money went. I’ll post a photo.

Here’s what I’m told about the expense: it goes into the chuck and motor. They have to turn the drill bit very precisely, with very little of the wobble machinists call “runout.” When you use a very expensive large drill press which is tuned perfectly, you can expect the bit to wobble about 0.003″ on each turn. This is not a problem when you’re drilling big holes in a toilet seat mount. When your drill bit is 13.5 thousandths wide, and your three-thousandths runout is almost a third of that, the drill bit will break.

The chuck on the Dumore is tiny, but it costs over a hundred dollars. A new motor retails for around $900 (like buying a new machine). Eliminating runout is not cheap.

I saw the drill press on Craigslist, and I knew exactly what it was. The price was $120. Come on. I was buying that.

I checked Ebay, and it seemed like they generally ran around $225. Low for a $900 tool. Some tools are like that. Crazy expensive new but merely expensive used.

The machine was 30 miles away, and my first chance to get there was on a Friday, during rush traffic. I can’t say “rush hour,” since the rush is pretty much a five-hour ordeal here. It took about an hour and a half each way. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t make that drive to buy air if I was drowning, but it was a miracle that the press was still available, and I had been burned by catching a similar $45 machine too late.

I drove to the seller’s house, had him turn the machine on, and handed him my money. I asked him where he got the drill press. This is the horrible part of the story. It came from his job. They had three Dumores, and he found out they were THROWING THEM OUT. He snagged one before it got to the dumpster.

So right now, two more drill presses are sitting in the landfill.

Someone needs a punch in the mouth.

The press runs fine. I haven’t checked the runout, but I would have taken it even if the chuck had needed work. Even if it can’t drill a 0.0135″ hole, it can drill a #31 hole much better than my big drill press.

Now you know what a sensitive drill press is and why they cost so much. Are you not entertained?

I think I’ll go turn it on and listen to it hum.

How I Saved $50,000 in Six Months

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

You Can Read Books Without Paying a Hippy

I’m waiting for a friend to come by and pick up some stuff he left here, so I’ll write.

I’m having an excellent day. The reason is simple: my head doesn’t hurt. I got a cold about 2-1/2 weeks ago, and while the main symptoms are long gone, I just went through a 2-day period during which my head felt like it was in a vise. Some sort of lingering sinus thing. It’s gone now, so I am very happy indeed.

The headache killed whatever enthusiasm I had for doing things, so Sunday and Monday were pretty useless. Sinus pain is a huge hindrance when you’re trying to read, so my efforts to complete the Columbia College Lit. Hum. reading were even more painful than usual.

Man, I am sorry I ever thought about taking liberal arts courses. I don’t know why I ever believed I enjoyed literature. Maybe it was because I was too lazy to do my math and science homework. Courses involving literature are simply too easy to do badly in, so I must have gotten the idea that my good grades in writing and literature courses meant that I should stay in that area of learning.

I made some effort to get away from the easy and useless subjects back when I was young. I became a biology major. But I was too screwed up to pull it off. My family drove me nuts every day, from over a thousand miles away, and I spent most of my time trying not to want to die. Aptitude notwithstanding, I did poorly and dropped out.

Once this self-imposed torture is over, there is no way I’ll ever read another boring work of fiction. If I look at literature at all, it will be entertaining stuff like Shakespeare and Voltaire. Or Philip K. Dick. I think you have to be mentally ill to read Homer or Cervantes for pleasure.

I feel sorry for the technically inclined Columbia students who still have to read this mess. Back when tuition cost $50 per semester, it was okay to indulge the pathetic fantasy that you could turn street kids from Brooklyn into poets and classicists. Now that it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to put kids through C.U., forcing engineers and scientists to take classes that won’t help them in their careers is a form of extortion.

You know what? If you haven’t taken calculus and university (calculus-based) physics, you’re very ignorant about science. Your scientific ignorance is much worse than the cultural ignorance of a person who hasn’t read Cervantes. Why doesn’t Columbia force the basket-weavers to take these courses?

Liberal arts bias, that’s why. And most of the literature and history professors would flunk physics. It would be embarrassing to make students take courses their professors could never pass.

The more expensive and time-consuming education gets, the less justification there is for library-card courses. By that I mean material you can absorb perfectly well by reading free books from your local library. If you seriously think you can’t understand Dickens without listening to a long-winded socialist draft-dodger with weed on his breath, you’re badly mistaken.

It’s wonderful not to have an oppressive, endless sinus headache. I feel positively dynamic today, as if I had received a blood transfusion from Donald Trump.

Maybe I’ll get something done! It could happen.


Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Out Top Gear-ing Top Gear

If I haven’t posted much lately, it’s because I am exhausted from recreation.

My oldest friend (not literally oldest, but the one I’ve known the longest) decided he wanted my dad’s 1995 Ford Explorer, which I was about to sell on Craigslist. It has at least 146,000 miles (for a while he couldn’t find a mechanic who could fix an odometer), it leans to the left, it smells really interesting, and my dad had the heat disconnected because it went bad and would have cost $800 to repair. I told my friend (Mike) it was “a real piece of crap,” but he wanted it to plow his driveway in New Hampshire, so we cut a deal for $500, and he flew down to get it.

My dad keeps saying Mike “stole” it. Guess I’ll be hearing that for quite some time.

It seemed to be okay before Mike came down, and then when he arrived, the overdrive wouldn’t work, and it lost something like a quart of oil every hundred miles. I have a recollection of adding oil to it recently, but I didn’t know it had a serious leak.

Some interesting facts that make the story richer: Mike’s birthday was yesterday, and he forgot to renew his driver’s license. When we tried to address this online, we found that New Hampshire’s online renewal system only works if you have the code they mail you before your birthday; the code Mike didn’t bring. Can you renew over the phone? Sure. The paperwork takes maybe a week to arrive by mail, and during that time, your license is not considered valid.

Also, Mike decided not to bring his winter clothes, because Florida is warm. Think about that.

He said, “When I left, it was forty degrees.” I pointed out that sometimes weather changes. I think that was helpful.

I had told Mike the car was only guaranteed until he got it out of my dad’s driveway, but he drove it to Delray Beach and back (funeral: a friend’s father had died), and it came back two quarts low, so I reluctantly decided his friendship was worth more than $500, and we spent several days doing a Top Gear-style restoration to get the car ready for the trip north.

During this time, Mike scored a number of free meals off of me via guilt trips, and I also gave him a treasured possession: the world’s best bottle opener.

Mike loves my tool collection. While I was showing it to him, I showed him the severed end of a 1 1/2″ box wrench. I had it on hand because I had bought a $9 Chinese wrench and modified it to use as a tool post wrench. I’ll post a photo. I had cut one end off to make the wrench shorter. You don’t want a really long tool post wrench, because if you have too much leverage, you may crack your compound slide when you tighten the nut.

Mike thought it was disgraceful that I hadn’t turned the wrench end into a project, and he suggested a bottle opener. That actually sounded good, so while he was at the funeral, I got to work. I had a piece of 304 stainless steel, and I cut a semicircle out of it, using a hacksaw and my belt grinders. I then welded it across the wrench opening. Because I am having all sorts of problems with my helmet, I couldn’t see what I was doing, so I left big globs of weld on the wrench, and I had to grind it down to make it pretty.

I was going to keep the opener, but then I thought of Mike’s frozen corpse sitting in a Ford Explorer with a seized engine, surrounded by puzzled state troopers, one of which was busy writing his dead body a ticket for driving without a license, and I decided to make it a birthday present, because that would completely make up for sending him to an untimely death.

Before turning the opener over to him, I put a lanyard hole in the end of it. Now Mike has the world’s heaviest keychain.

Mike thought a new ABS sensor might fix the overdrive problem, so we spent a day crawling around under the Explorer, and we got a new one installed. We put a quart of Lucas Engine Oil Stop Leak in the engine, and that seemed ( ! ) to reduce the leak’s flow to an acceptable rate.

Unfortunately, the transmission fluid level was low, and Mike added too much, so we spent the next day looking for someone to flush the transmission. Mike figured he might as well flush it instead of just having the level reduced. The weather had turned cold and rainy, so that was fun. I wore traditional Miami cold weather gear: a hooded fleece jacket with shorts. Maybe not the best choice.

Sears gave Mike a service appointment, but when we arrived, we learned that a Sears appointment is really an appointment to stand in line. It seems to serve no purpose at all. When we got to the front of the line, they refused to service the car because of the mileage. You would think they would have mentioned this on the phone, but Sears is dying, so I guess the people who work there are not knocking themselves out in order to get promoted.

I did offer to give the money back and put the car on Craigslist, but by now Mike was on a quest. He wasn’t about to surrender. Thank God.

The next day he got up early and bought an inverter from Harbor Freight. This is a device that turns DC into AC. He figured he would install it inside the car and connect a 1500-watt space heater to it. I am completely serious. My suggestion was to stop at Salvation Army stores during the trip and buy a used down jacket and gloves.

He collected me, and we decided to go to a Salvation Army store to see if they had anything he could use to keep himself alive. Miraculously, they had an unused electric blanket. I thought that was the answer. Put the blanket on, turn on the inverter, and drive. That has to be better than a heater, which blows hot air in random directions. It was like five bucks, so Mike decided to buy it. I also found an incredible deal: a #6 Wagner Ware skillet in perfect condition. Mike is my friend, so of course, my first impulse was to grab it before he got to it and buy it for myself, but I already have three #6 skillets, so I decided to let him have it. If he hadn’t bought it, I think I would have shot him. It’s the perfect size for cornbread. He got it for $3.75. Talk about “stole.”

We spent most of yesterday running cables through the car’s firewall and installing the inverter. He fired it up, and sure enough, it powered an electric drill. Now that he’s gone, I’m kind of wondering if it’s okay to use an inverter while the car is running, but I guess he’ll have to find out on his own. Maybe I should disconnect the phone.

He won’t be able to get a heater until he gets to Fort Lauderdale. In Miami, stores only order a few heaters every year, and on the first cool day, Cubans storm the aisles and buy every last one. The ones they can’t use, they sell for a massive profit. Probably. That’s what they do with generators during hurricanes. Anyway, there are no heaters here today.

I am still dealing with the virus I got a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have congestion or anything, but I have a crappy feeling that gets worse with exertion and lack of sleep. Last night I collapsed on my bed and started sweating, even though the mattress was cold. I thought for minute that I might be dying. I was cool with that. I still had Mike’s money, so I was dying a winner.

I slept about nine and a half hours, and then I got up to say goodbye to Mike. I still don’t feel rested, but I think a day of total loafing will put me right.

I shouldn’t worry about Mike. He’s a possibility thinker. Whatever happens, he will come up with a solution that will get him to New Hampshire. Anyone who would put a space heater in a $500 car can be trusted to look after himself.

I was hoping to talk to Mike about God while he was here, but he kept me so busy, I didn’t make as much progress as I had hoped. I managed to get him to sit still for a prayer session with my friend Travis and me. Mike loved it, and he talked about it before he left. He had been in a hurry to get to a car parts store, so he almost missed the session, but I got him to put it off long enough to pray. I told him you pray BEFORE you fix the problem, not afterward. That’s an extremely important thing to learn.

Considering all the barbecued ribs I bought Mike during the week, I’m not sure the car sale will show a profit, but at least it’s gone.

If you have a junk car, and you want a really interesting cheap project to improve it, I highly recommend an inverter. It will allow you to use power tools when the car breaks down. You can’t beat that.

I can’t wait for night so I can sleep some more. And I’m going to miss that bottle opener.

The Accidental Chris Evans Fan

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

If he Had Been Any Good, I Wouldn’t Have Tried Amazon Prime

I hate to say it, but I love Amazon Prime.

For years, little pop-ups and interstitials have been nagging me to join. I thought it was a stupid idea, because you know how these deals always work. “You’ll save x every year if you buy from us y times per month.” You sign up, and then you forget all about it. It’s like Scrib’d. I signed up, and now I’m paying nine bucks per month. I think I’ve used it once this year.

I hated the very idea of Amazon Prime. Then Jeremy Clarkson squatted forcefully on a land mine of his own creation, and Top Gear moved to Amazon. I hated it even more. There are ten bazillion cable channels. Why did the Amazing Bugatti Brothers have to choose something I can’t get with my subscription?

I went to their Youtube channel and complained in the comments. Because I knew that would make them change their minds. I was irate. Then one day I realized I was buying several Amazon items per month. I bought a pile of books for my depressing Columbia College Lit. Hum. project, and I’ve been picking up odds and ends to help with my electronics hobby. Added up, the shipping costs were definitely higher than the cost of Amazon Prime, and I was getting slow shipping.

At this point I wisely abandoned my principles and signed up.

It turned out to be a good thing. Items sold by Amazon itself started looking like good deals. Amazon usually charges a fairly high price, coupled with a high shipping charge, but when you get free shipping, the high prices of the items don’t matter as much. It makes Amazon competitive with Amazon Marketplace vendors, you get your stuff in two days (including Sunday delivery), and you’re buying from a real company, not some clown who leaves his efficiency every day to cart 75 flat-rate packages to the Post Office.

I got myself an Arduino beginner’s kit (a great idea if you’re doing Arduino) this weekend. Ordered it Wednesday. Got it Friday. Ba-ZING. Like that. That kind of performance is addictive. And when you’re getting two-day shipping for nothing, the suddenly-cheap upgrade to one-day will often seem like a reasonable move.

The deals got better because of Prime. That made me buy stuff on Amazon instead of Ebay or some other site. The savings on shipping paid for Prime. It’s a good system. It works.

The videos turned out to be good, too. The new Top Gear, which, curiously, is called The Grand Tour on Amazon, is not bad at all. It’s not as good as the original, because they lost the Stig and the celebrity laps, but the rest is okay, and it’s real Top Gear guys, not Chris Evans (the Ronda Rousey of car show hosts). The writing is not always excellent; that’s the main flaw with the show. But they’ll get it together. Bezos has a big fat wallet, and when the paychecks get big enough, better writers will appear.

They really need to cram some celebrities in there. So far the only one has been Bob Geldof’s face, mounted on a tablet that ran around on its own little Segway.

Don’t ask me to explain that.

I don’t know why people bother with Netflix. The movie selection is crap. It’s the absolute worst. Netflix has a selection process that goes like this:

1. Look at movie.
2. If it’s bad, sell it online.
3. If it’s worth seeing at all, force people to rent disks.

Amazon doesn’t rent disks. They put the good stuff online, where you will actually use it. Yes, you will have to pay extra for some (okay quite a few) things, but at least you don’t have to put a disk in the mail.

They have some pretty good TV, too, including old Top Gear episodes under the original title.

The guy who wrote Demolition Man was only slightly off target. In the future, all restaurants will not be Taco Bell, but all stores may be Amazon, and so may most TV channels.

It’s inconvenient, having to move the computer output from the monitor to the big TV all the time, but you get a couple of advantages. First of all, you can surf the web WHILE watching TV, and second, you get to use your mouse. A mouse is the bee’s knees when it comes to watching video. You can move back and forth instantly, to exactly the places you choose. And Amazon has a dynamite feature: the ten-second button. On the screen, there are two buttons with the number 10 on them. Click the left one, and the video skips back ten seconds. You can guess what happens when you click the right one. I hope. This is great for those times when you can’t understand the British. You just make them repeat themselves. And there’s a handy closed-caption button, too.

TV’s need to have mouses. Mice. That will happen. Either TV’s will come with mice, or TV’s will become computers. With mice. It’s too good an idea not to happen. There is no down side. It’s amazing that it hasn’t happened already.

You might as well go ahead and get Prime. You’re going to get it eventually, and the fun of criticizing bandwagon-jumpers and whippersnappers is not really a good substitute for The Grand Tour and free shipping.

Who Says I Have no Filter?

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Mysteries of the Y Capacitor, Revealed

I’m becoming more of a big electronics genius every day. Staying humble is not easy.

Yesterday I posted about the resurrection of my old HP 3300A function generator, and I mentioned the weird capacitors across the AC mains. Right where the three wires entered the box, there were two caps (in one package). One went from neutral to ground, and the other went from hot to ground.

One of these caps had shorted out, and that had killed the generator. I had to replace them. When a cap between hot and ground shorts out, you have a hot wire going straight to ground, and that is pretty worthless.

A commenter mentioned a different type of component which would look just like a dual capacitor. He said EMI (electromagnetic interference) filters resembled capacitors, and he said they had inductors inside them. I went back to my schematic to check, and I didn’t see any inductors, so I think all I had were caps.

I started reading up on this stuff. I could not figure out why anyone would need filters right before a big transformer and two big reservoir caps with diodes. The reservoir caps and diodes kill AC and turn it into DC, so I would think they would also kill any high frequencies in the line. My guesses are worth about what I charge for them, however.

After some Googling, I learned that what I have is a “type Y” setup. Caps like this are intended to keep interference from passing through the power connection. If it’s coming from outside, they keep it out. If it’s coming from inside your device, they keep it inside.

I can’t call the dead HP engineers who designed the machine, so I can’t ask what the big concern was. I was thinking maybe the AC wires, if not filtered at the entrance to the box, could act as antennas and shoot RF into other internal components, distorting the signal the machine provides. I don’t really know.

Here’s an important fact: it is well known that when capacitors in this configuration die, they can short, and then you can get shocked. This is bad, unless you view death as a postive outcome. You need special capacitors designated X or Y. These capacitors will resist things like power surges. Do they eventually die from old age and short anyway? Search me.

I know nothing about X capacitors, but the Y type come in two varieties: Y1 and Y2. Y1 capacitors are expensive industrial components, so people use Y2. You can find them on Ebay. I guess I’ll have to order some and replace the brand-new capacitors I just installed.

I am wondering if there is any point in putting caps like this on my guitar amps. I think the odds that the sound will improve are infinitesimal, and the chance of electric shock is appreciable, but it would still be a cool feature to brag about.

I have always assumed it was impossible to get a shock from a grounded metal box, but I am used to being proven wrong, so I may as well get the caps.

There are components made to divert power surges. I forget what they’re called. There is a list of “immortal mods” for guitar amplifiers, and it lists things you can do to an amp to make it resistant to failure. The power surge shunt things are on the list. You can look it up. I don’t know if they would work on Y caps. Haven’t checked.

I know this information is fascinating to everyone. Try not to get so engrossed you forget to look away from my blog and do whatever it is you’re being paid to do.