All Energy Is Solar Energy

August 25, 2012 at 11:06 am (Alternative Energy, Cool Tech, Entertainment, The Economy) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Long time since the last post, I know. This has been another busy year. So I’ll try to make this interesting.

I was visiting my father recently, and having a nice chat, as we often do. We got to discussing cars, and then electric cars. It’s an open secret that I’d like to build one someday. (After all, gasoline is not going to get any cheaper, now is it?) I mentioned that an actor – Robert Llewellyn – who had a role in one of my favorite TV shows ever (“Red Dwarf”) now has a very cool show on YouTube, called Fully Charged. In this series, he reviews electric cars, and discusses other issues & events related to electric vehicles and energy in general. Fun and funny. Here’s a recent episode, as an example:

Mr. Llewellyn does a marvelous job of covering some of the details and advances that are under-reported in the American main-stream media. In short, there is a lot more going on these days than you might think, especially in Europe, where energy costs have historically been much higher than in the USA.

But back to the discussion I was having with my dad. I pointed out to him that ultimately, all energy is solar energy. This caused dad to give me that look. The one that I remember from my youth. (You may know that look too!) The one that says, “What the hell are you talking about, kid?” So I explained what I meant.

I began by asking where the oil and coal came from. Of course, they are composed of old plant and animal material that got buried and transformed into coal or petroleum. And what caused those plants to grow? Sunlight. Solar energy.

And what about nuclear? Where does the uranium come from? Yes, out of the ground. But before that? In fact, where do all the elements come from, that make up our planet Earth? From other suns! Yup. All elements, aside from hydrogen, were fused together in the hearts of ancient suns – suns which eventually used up their hydrogen, and exploded, scattering their star-stuff throughout the galaxy. That stuff re-condensed into our Earth, our moon, and the rest of our solar system. And here we are – we’re made of stardust.

Any other energy you care to mention – wind, tidal, even geothermal – all of it can be traced back to the energy from our sun, or from ancient suns which burned billions of years ago. Think it through. It’s another inconvenient truth. And it’s why I like renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and so on. It cuts out the middleman.

Feel free to refute me, below. More soon, fellow Netizens!

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In A Windowless Room

April 4, 2012 at 11:38 pm (Cool Tech, Internet tech, Rent Me) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Hey, bloggy-types and Internet trolls! I’m back again, making a bit of an effort to “feed” the blog. (And hoping to drive my traffic back up!) But in this installment, the content isn’t quite as poetic as the title might lead you to believe…

A recent post on e-week caught my eye. “Microsoft: 10 Fascinating Facts About Windows, Other Products”. I’ve got Fascinating Fact #11, kids. I am successfully and happily living my life without any of those products. Okay, without most of them. We’ll come back to that in a few paragraphs.

To begin – I’m not using Windows much any more. (My Windows machine is down, but when it runs, it’s running XP.) I’ve been on Linux almost exclusively (something like 99% of the time) for the past year or so, and very seldom do I run into an issue with it. I do have a couple apps that can only run on Windows, but – I’m getting along just fine, thanks. It’s surprising just how much work you can do on Ubuntu Linux, loaded on a second-hand Acer netbook. (Good-natured Bronx cheer, Mac and Windows adherents.)

As for Windows 8, (mentioned early in the e-week slideshow) I wonder how that new approach to the user interface will work out. People tend to resist change, even if it’s “good” change. The Redmond Rat Pack may have shot themselves in the foot here. I read a recent article to the effect that Windows may have one foot in the grave already, and if Win 8 goes over as well as Vista did, well – it’s not going to be pretty. Though – as a veteran Computer Tutor – it may mean more work for me. I can’t tell you how many thousands of dollars I have earned because Microsoft’s OS is such a P-O-S. Maybe I should send a “Thank You” card to Bill Gates.

Gaming – the X-Box is also featured in the slideshow… Since we are talking about my lifestyle here, bluntly, I have so little time to play games that an X-Box is about as much use to me as a skateboard is to a duck. I can just about manage a few games of Klondike before I fall asleep at night. Beyond that, gaming is an undiscovered country. A bit like me and any sports, to be frank. But I hear the X-Box is a well-regarded gaming system, though they do seem to die rather often and unexpectedly.

Bing – don’t get me started. Seriously? A search engine whose name is an acronym for “But It’s Not Google”? Nah. I’ve been Googling almost since there was a Google. So are 76% of the world’s Internet search engine users, as of Feb. 2012. Sorry, Bill. Nice try.

Zune. Yeah. (Trying not to laugh.) Another “me-too” product conceived in Apple’s shadow. I’ve had 3 or 4 MP3 players, none of them a Microsoft product. (No iPods, either. Overpriced, IMHO.) I’ve carelessly managed to kill all of them, sadly. There are times when I really miss them. Like when I am shopping during the holidays, and wherever I go, there seems to be some truly dreadful Christmas music playing on the store’s PA. “Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum” indeed. I’ll have to see if I can get a replacement before Hallowe’en this year…

Phones. Windows Mobile / Windows Phone? Not a chance this year. Or next. Currently, I don’t even have a smart phone. In fact, my phone couldn’t be any dumber, unless it was a rock. But in the future, given that there options such as the iPhone iOS, or the Linux-based Android, what do you suspect I would choose? Good guess.

Finally, we come to slide #10. Skype. Well, you got me, Microsoft. Guilty of being a Skype user. But only because I’ve been using Skype for personal and business calls since 2007. Microsoft bought Skype in 2011, mostly to keep it out of Google’s hands. Redmond only wins that one by default. And hey – Skype works fine on Linux! (I love this slide, below. Ballmer looks like some sort of gnomish version of a guy you might encounter in the waiting room of the oil-change place, getting fresh fluids poured into his Lexus. Big thumbs up there, Steve. Oh, and I will readily admit that I’m no beauty queen myself. In fact, I look increasingly like the comic book store guy on The Simpsons. Sigh. What ya gonna do, eh?)

We’re now at the end of the slideshow, and I’ll have to be done taking snarky pot-shots at Microsoft. Although, e-week didn’t mention Office Live (soon to be replaced by SkyDrive), the MS version of Google Docs. Or MSN. Or Hotmail. Maybe that’s because they are more or less invisible in the marketplace.

Nor did they mention Internet Explorer. Yet another “Billy-come-lately” product, and the stuff of which antitrust lawsuits were made. If IE didn’t come bundled with Windows, I kind of doubt it could hold its own in the browser marketplace. In fact, one startup recently took the audacious step of dropping all support for Internet Explorer. And it saved them over $100K, plus countless hours of development time. Pretty gutsy move, but one that I understand completely, as a webmaster. IE is a pain in the neck, because Microsoft insists on implementing Java, CSS, and HTML in their own special way, even though standards exist that they can follow. They simply choose not to. (Heh heh, you thought I was done being snotty, didn’t you? Okay, I’ll quit now. Rant over.)

Not sure what I’ll post next time. There’s a fair number of things rattling around in my old fat head. Come back soon, and see what fell out first. And don’t forget to comment below, if you are so moved. Thanks for reading!

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Printed Circuits – Then and Now – and Again

October 27, 2010 at 8:48 pm (Buy My Stuff, Cool Tech, General) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Hey, netizens!

Yes, I know it’s been forever and a summer day since I posted last. Things are not getting any less busy, so – there’s just not as much time as I would really like to spend on my personal blog. (And a warning – there is heavy duty electro-geekiness ahead, so if you’d as soon skip it, I understand. But if you are of an inquiring (and geeky) mind, by all means, press on…)

That being said, I ran across an article online recently entitled “Recent Developments In Electronics” which reminded me of an article I wrote back in about 1998 and posted on my old personal web site. I had to take the site down about a year ago, mostly because I couldn’t really afford to keep it online. Before I did, I saved everything.

So I got to thinking, hey – I have all this old content on my hard drive… why not update it and share it? Here then, is my article on Printed Circuit Design…

What is a Printed Circuit Board?

Printed circuit boards (PCBs for short) have made our modern miracles possible – cellular phones, computers, headset stereos, pagers, all would be impossible without something like a printed circuit board. Even televisions and radios would be very different without them. Printed circuits allow manufacturers to connect together all the parts that make up, say, a calculator, very quickly and at a low cost.

Back in the old days, before the circuit board, lots of people worked on assembly lines to hand-wire components together, to make things like TV sets and radios. Eventually, someone decided there must be a better way.

A flat piece of reinforced plastic was coated on one side with a thin layer of copper. Holes were drilled in the plastic, and patterns of conductors (circuits) were printed on the copper. Then the whole thing was put into an acid bath. Wherever the patterns were printed, the copper was protected from the acid. Wherever there was no pattern, copper would be etched away by the acid. The result was a pattern of electrically isolated conductors, on a flat “board”, on which parts could be mounted and soldered.

Turned out to be a big time saver. Eventually, machines were designed to do the work of putting the parts on the boards, and soldering them as well. Fewer people were needed, and labor costs went down, reducing the price of the TV set or radio. Soon, parts started getting smaller and smaller, and so did the finished products. Nowadays, a hand-held TV set is no big deal, but in 1955, you would have needed a very big hand.

Before long, the printed circuit board began to evolve. Conductors on both sides, instead of just one side. Then conductors were buried inside the circuit board. Conductors got smaller, and closer together.

Then someone thought, “why drill a lot of holes and shove little wires through, when we can make parts without wires on the ends, and solder them right onto the board?” This is the basis of surface mount technology, which led to the level of miniaturization we have today – cell phones, pocket-sized CD players, and digital watches.

Printed Circuit Board Designing

Not an altogether bad career choice. Beats the heck out of digging ditches. The working conditions are generally good, and will vary depending on the company (pretty much like any office job). A PCB Designer will usually be found working in a clean, comfortable room, (because the computers need to be kept clean and cool), and often with other circuit board designers, or CAD drafters. (Note: a good chair is essential.)

A PCB Designer needs, of course, to know a few things, too. Basic to intermediate electronic knowledge is helpful. It is good to know how to read electronic schematics, and basic computer skills are pretty much a prerequisite. (Wintel / WindowsNT systems predominate in the market, followed by UNIX and Mac platforms). Some drafting education will help, and anything you can do to sharpen your communications skills will be a definite plus. (Determining and meeting the engineer’s needs is what it’s all about!)

A whole slew of disciplines come together to make up a successful PCB designer. Electronic, mechanical, and aesthetic considerations are all taken into account when designing a PC board. Where will the connectors and switches go? How much room do I have in the case? What kinds of tolerances must I work with? How easy will it be to manufacture the PC board, and how can I make it easier? PCB design is mostly rules-driven. You have to design within the rules, or the board just plain won’t work, or worse still, can’t even be manufactured. Very embarrassing. Trust me. Voice of experience.

PCB designers often need to be self-starters, detail-oriented, and willing to work long hours, under deadline pressures. (It is often the designer who gets squeezed between the engineer, who wants a little extra time to make sure it’s right, and marketing, who are anxious to get out there and sell the thing, before the competition beats them to market.)

PCB design can become a somewhat lonely endeavor, thrashing away hour after hour in a darkened room, headphones clamped to the head, connecting the dots. It is important to create a little balance, therefore, because it can be way too easy to focus on the tasks at hand, and ignore personal lives, exercise, and diet.

A lot of stuff to know. And until recently, there were very few places where you could take classes at the college level, to learn the art of PCB design. It used to be a sort of “fraternity”, in which more experienced designers mentored new designers, and taught them how the job was done. That is beginning to change. Because of the rapid growth of the electronics industry, there has been an increased need for qualified designers. There is now an initiative to put into place training and certification programs for PCB designers. Ideally, this will lead to better designers, and better designs.

Salary ranges are anywhere from $18K for a newbie, to $40K and up for a lead designer with lots of experience. Positions can be found in manufacturing companies, and in service bureaus, which provide their design services to client companies. (Note: remember I wrote this in 1998. Your mileage may vary.)

The Future

The future of PCB design can be summed up thusly: faster, denser, more complex, and more competitive. As chip speeds climb, the need for high-frequency performance increases as well. Designers who are capable of designing these high-speed boards will be highly sought after, and will earn nice, fat salaries.

PCBs will be more jam-packed with parts, and some integrated circuit chips (ICs) are already being mounted directly to the board (chip on board), without the need for a case (package) of its own. More features and functions will be packed into new products, meaning new challenges for packing more circuitry into less space.

And in an increasingly global economy, some American and European PCB designers are finding that they are in almost direct competition with their counterparts in Asia, where wages are very much lower. This is especially true in the area of consumer electronics, where the Asian Dragon is eating our lunch. (Note: even in 1998, when I wrote this, the handwriting was on the wall.)

Design automation will also increase productivity, and may eliminate jobs. Software tools such as autoplacement (the automated placement of part outlines, by the design software, rather than being manually placed by the human designer) and autorouting (automated layout of the connecting trace patterns, again by the software, rather than a manual process invloving the designer) engines may displace some designers, but at present, there are still many aspects of PCB design that can only be done by a skilled human designer.

The successful designer will need to stay abreast of new technologies and trends in order to remain successful. Designers who are able to offer the most value to the companies which employ their services, will command the highest wages, and the highest respect.

Well, as you might have noticed, some things have changed since 1998. PCB designing was pretty good to me from the mid-’80s to 2002, but since then, not so much. Most of the PCB design jobs are now in China, Taiwan, and other spots overseas. Tens of thousands of high-tech manufacturing jobs have left the USA, perhaps never to return. Not everything I foresaw for the future has come to pass – at least here in the states.

Personally, I did not stay abreast of the latest technologies. I got sidetracked for a few years doing some very specialized layout work, and that experience didn’t translate well to the marketplace in 2003. And to be frank, I had moved on a bit, too. I had gotten kind of tired of getting laid off every few years. High-tech in the Portland, Oregon area has always been like that.

The pace of change has accelerated over the years, and I have decided to go in a different direction. I am now working from home, doing web design, software sales, and press release promotion. Can’t say I miss the long commutes from East Vancouver to Beaverton, or some of the complete tools I used to work with. Not all of them were big pains in the butt, but – they know who they are. And raspberries to them.

As for me, my evening commute is about 15 feet. Top that.

More again soon. Er, I hope.

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Google Bailing Out of China?

January 13, 2010 at 2:37 am (Cool Tech, Internet tech, Politics) (, , , , , , , , )

Wow. I did not see that one coming.  This is the biggest news since the Internet’s 40th Birthday last year.

Google has had an uneasy relationship with China for several years.  The search engine mega-corp (up until now) has been working with the Chinese government to censor and limit the search results returned to Google users in China.  Apparently, when users in China search for things like “Tiananmen Square” there are no results.  (Not so here in the US, of course.  Today.)

But now, it appears that the gloves are off, and the search company whose motto is “Don’t Be Evil” is prepared to stand up to Beijing.  Why? Reports are that G-Mail web-mail accounts belonging to Chinese dissidents (and others) are being hack-attacked by cyber-forces within China.  And Google doesn’t like that very much.  Sort of the last straw for the boys at Google.

So, will there be no more kow-towing to the Great Firewall of China?  It’s a bit early to tell, but I think we’re looking at a “irresistible force vs. immovable object” situation here.  And it’s a safe bet that the US State Department will get involved at some point in this new cyber-brouhaha.  Trade agreements, loans from China to the US, Chinese imports, most favored nation status… there are so many factors that tie America to China at this point, that any disruptions could cause significant and unforeseen consequences.

Potentially, this is a good opportunity for China’s home-grown search engine industry to get a leg up. has been mentioned in some reports as a possible beneficiary of the cyber-snottiness.

The Internets - TWO Series of Tubes?One possible result: two Internets.  BusinessWeek is reporting Bloomberg expects some serious tussles between the Western World and China over the shape of the Internet.  The two visions – China’s desire for a controlled, stable, sanitary web, versus the American / European insistence on a democratic, open, accessible Internet – are going to be hard to reconcile.

Personally, I’d rather see China either open, or have their own bloody-minded, locked down Internet.  I sure don’t want to see the rest of the world following the Chinese model.

Feel free to disagree.  There’s space, just below.  Go for it, and enjoy our open Internet, and the freedom of discourse.

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Oh, Those UFOs!

December 21, 2009 at 12:57 pm (Cool Tech, General, Media, UFO) (, , , , , )

More UFO news last week.  Yeah, I know.  I should have mentioned it last week, when it was still actually news.  (It’s been busy here at Maison D’Lock – sorry.)  But if some of you have missed it, since the mainstream media have the attention span of a stunned guppy, let’s take a quick look.

First off, parts of Norway were treated to an amazing visual spectacle in the form of a spiraling blue light show in the sky, early on the morning of December 10th.

Looks pretty amazing!  Many news services now seem to think the spiral light formation was the result of a Russian missile test launch, which failed in the upper atmosphere, going out of control.  Check out the video – you can actually see the spiral rotating.

The very next day, news agencies and bloggers began reporting on the discovery of an “alien graveyard” in Rwanda, of all places. Claims of more than 200 bodies, in a 500 year old mass grave, are circulating on the ‘net.

But, given that the source seems to be the World Weekly News – home of Bat Boy, this may be more coprolite than fossil remains.

More soon, kids.  Christmas approaches like a freight train on a downhill, with no brakes.  I need to either get running, or get out of the way.

Peace and a happy season to you all.

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Happy Birthday, Internet!

October 29, 2009 at 4:04 am (Cool Tech, Internet tech, Politics) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

40th-birthday-cake-internetSo.  The Internet turns 40 years old today! The very first interconnection between two remotely located computer systems took place on October 29th, 1969.

Warning: GEEK ALERT! This post is going to be excessively nerdy.  If you find your eyes beginning to glaze over, you might want to read one of my most popular posts ever, “They Call This A Jeep?

Now, back to the Internet’s Birthday… It was 1969.  The first man had walked on the moon only a few months before, it was the Summer of Love, and Woodstock, the US Army was still in Vietnam, and the military’s research arm – DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – had been working for years towards the goal of a massive computer network.

(Today, it’s become something that we take almost for granted, but even 15 years ago, most people weren’t online, and many people didn’t even have home computers.  That’s a lot of change for such a short time.)

Getting back to 1969, it may have been a remarkable event, but it was little noted at the time.  To quote Leonard Kleinrock, one of the people who invented the hardware and software that make the Internet work:

…on October 29, 1969, at 10:30 in the evening, you will find in a log, a notebook log that I have in my office at U.C.L.A., an entry which says, “Talked to SRI [Stanford Research Institute] host to host.” If you want to be, shall I say, poetic about it, the September event was when the infant Internet took its first breath.

Here’s Leonard Kleinrock himself, in a short talk about the event.

(And for more geeky fun, here’s the story of the first e-mail.)

This infant network went on to become ARPANET, the first wide-area network of computers that could “talk” to one another.  And ARPANET was eventually opened to the public in 1990, when Tim Berners Lee created the “World Wide Web” – a way of “linking” documents (or pages) to one another on the network.  (Click here for a complete timeline of the Internet’s development.)

From there, the changes have been rapid, not to say amazing.  The amount of data that can be carried on the Internet has been radically increased, allowing users to watch videos, chat with other people anywhere in the world, and send messages, pictures, and documents to any computer on the planet.  Or in orbit.  Wow, huh?

There are, of course, a few problems.  First are the unintended consequences such as economic disruption, and the social implications.  The Internet has certainly changed dating and relationships for lots of people.

And there’s the issue of Network Neutrality.  That’s the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, no matter who originated it – little old you or me, or Fox News.  A lot of people want to keep the playing field level, and allow small companies to compete with bigger concerns.  Big companies with deep pockets could buy up all the bandwidth, crowding out the smaller competition.  Not fair.  Alaska Senator Ted Stevens tried to explain it, resulting in one of the favorite Internet quotes of all time:

The Internet is a series of TUBES!

So, now we’re more or less up to date, seeing where the Internet is at 40.

What’s in the future for the Internet?

As the Internet enters its fifth decade, one of the possibilities is something called the Semantic Web, another invention of Tim Berners Lee.  The Semantic Web will rely upon the meaning and weight that visitors give to web pages, to establish their value and relevance.  The social media phenomenon – Twitter, MySpace, Facebook – is the first step in that direction.

The Internet also has the capability of connecting to – and communicating with – virtually anything, anywhere.  You might have an Internet-connected refrigerator that orders more bread and veggies when you run out, or an Internet-connected thermostat and Venetian blinds, allowing you to control the environment of your home from your laptop or iPhone.

Another interesting development: this week, President Obama announced $3.4 billion to be put towards modernizing America’s power grid. That will include making it “smarter” and more resilient to interruptions and attack, using some of these new Internet technologies.

Not to be outdone, DARPA and the military are getting in the act, developing a new, “hardened” military network protocol, intended to keep our fighting men and women connected under the worst of circumstances.

All of these developments in connectivity could usher in a new era of peace and freedom, or a new era of oppression and slavery.  It’s up to us how they get used.  A hammer can be used to build a house, or crack a skull.  Tools are amoral.  Humans can make a choice.

If you’d like to learn more about our options for the future, you can listen to the podcasts from Media Monarchy and The Corbett Report, and then examine the resources they offer.  There is also Adam Greenfield’s Everyware site, for information on Ubiquitous Computing.

That’s the beauty of the Internet.  You can use it to learn about anything, including the Internet itself.

The future of the Internet at 40 is exciting, and possibly scary.  So is the future of humanity.  I wonder where we will find ourselves in the year 2049?

UPDATE: 10/31/09 I can’t believe I forgot to include this.  ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) this week chose to allow non-Latin characters for Internet domain names. According to Rod Beckstrom, ICANN’s President and CEO:

“This is only the first step, but it is an incredibly big one and an historic move toward the internationalization of the Internet. The first countries that participate will not only be providing valuable information of the operation of IDNs in the domain name system, they are also going to help to bring the first of billions more people online – people who never use Roman characters in their daily lives.”

This will supposedly save lots of keystrokes for Asian, Russian, and Arabic Internet users.  And the beat goes on.

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Back To My Roots

December 13, 2008 at 1:59 am (Cool Tech, General) (, , , , , , , , )

mai_tubeBefore I was dragged by circumstances into the world of Web 2.0, I started my geek life as a hobbyist. And I am terribly, terribly ancient; when I started being an electronic hobbyist, there were no “software” hobbyists. I was totally hardware. Soldering iron, screwdriver, and pliers, baby.

So last weekend, feeling a bit of a lack in my life, I decided to get away from the keyboard for a bit, and take up tools to craft a charger for my MP3 players. I find it tiresome to have to charge them off my PCs, and since I have all these parts lying about in my junk boxes and in the shed, why not build my own USB charger?

Let us begin…

…with an empty Altoids tin. This lovely, inexpensive steel box is easily drilled and cut, provides mechanical protection, electrical shielding, and heat dissipation, all in one. Plus a curiously strong minty freshness for the project.

Here you see the pile of parts I collected for the project, including the aforementioned Altoids tin, a USB connector salvaged from an old PC motherboard, a cheap cell phone charger, a solid state 5 volt regulator, a socket for the regulator (that’s the green & silver whatsit), a red LED for the little pilot light (letting me know it’s on and functioning), a couple capacitors (to smooth the voltage a bit), and a couple parts I didn’t use – a rectifier and a smaller 5 volt regulator. I included them in the pic for reference. Click here for a complete parts list. And click here for a schematic.

I started building up 2 of these USB chargers. The 2nd one isn’t finished yet. My engineering and design is done “on the fly” and I had to change course a little as I went. This photo shows the regulators mounted with their sockets in the Altoids tins.

The next image shows the mounting of the USB connectors. Using a utility knife, I was able to cut a rectangular hole in the sheet metal, in a sort of sideways “H” pattern. This left me with two tabs I could bend back into the tin, which I could use to attach the USB connector. You’ll see how in a subsequent shot.


Now, with the cover open, you can see the major parts installed. On the left, a small power jack – same size as a headphone jack on an MP3 player. To the right of that, you see the regulator and socket, and on the right, the USB connector, soldered to the tabs I mentioned. Nice and sturdy!


Sharp-eyed visitors will note that there seems to be something funny with the “input / output” labels. They look Photoshopped, and that’s because… they are. When I first used my Sharpie to mark the terminals, I got them swapped because the data sheet I downloaded was a little unclear. I got it sorted out later. But the ground symbol was on the correct terminal all along! 1 out of 3 ain’t bad. Same average I am currently running with “Sex, drugs, and rock & roll”. You figure out which one. Here’s a hint – the radio is on.

usbcharger7thumbnailAnd here it is – the finished project! The cell phone charger was replaced by the wall bug from an old answering machine. The cell charger didn’t have enough voltage or current to “git ‘er done”, so – course correction. On the left side of the box, you can see the plug-in jack for the adapter, and on the bottom of the box, you can kinda see the pilot light peeking out.

Next pic shows the final project, cover open, adapter connected. You can see the capacitors in place, all the wiring, the LED pilot light, and its 270 ohm dropping resistor, connected to the 5 volt output. Looks simple, huh? Well, try this at home – I dare you! Don’t burn your fingers with the soldering iron. I generally pick it up by the “cord end”, sort of thing.

This final image shows the unit under power. The pilot light is glowing merrily and a laptop light is plugged into the USB jack, to demonstrate that the unit is, in fact, delivering a well-regulated 5 volts to the USB device plugged into it. You can also see the regulator mounted to the outside of the tin.


And there you have it! The project gave me about 4 hours of very enjoyable hobby time overall, not including some time hacking on the little cell charger, trying unsuccessfully to get more “oomph” out of it.

No uneaten Altoids were harmed in the creation of this project.

altoidsthumbdrivethumbnailAnd it makes a nice companion to my Altoids USB thumb drive. I had a nifty little USB MP3 player which I accidentally fried during another hardware project, but the flash drive part was still working. So I stripped off the display and its PC board, and wrapped the memory stick part in electrician’s tape. But that’s not a very sturdy solution.

Eventually, I decided to use an Altoids gum tin as an enclosure. First, I cut a slot at one end for the USB connector. Then some double-stick foam tape and hot melt glue mounted the thumb drive circuit board to the box, and we’re good to go.


I marked the capacity inside the lid, and as you can see, there is still room left over for some Post-It flags and a place to store the protective cap from the connector.

Altoids style, my friends! Go thou now, and do likewise. Make a project with an Altoids tin, or some similar metal box, for yourself or a loved one. It’s a lot of fun, and it can take you back to your creative roots.

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What Happens To Your Brain When You’re In Love?

July 24, 2008 at 11:52 pm (Cool Tech, General, Mind & Body) (, , , , , , )

Brain = Rice Pudding. Any Questions?

Yeah, what the heck happens, anyhow? The rose-colored glasses drop down over our eyes, and we become stupid. We forgive the major character flaws of our beloved as just “endearing quirks”.

What’s up with that?

What’s wrong with my messed-up monkey brain?

My day job – ThoughtOfficeposted a blog this week that tries to answer those questions, and more. We posted a video featuring TEDTalks speaker Helen Fisher, as she tries to explain the chemistry of love.

Glad somebody’s still trying. I haven’t decided yet; whether to give up on figuring out the whole “love” thing, or keep trying. The idea of love – theoretically – still has a lot of attraction. That wonderful, mad feeling of caring so deeply about someone else, longing for her touch and aching to see her face, to hear her voice and slowly, gently kiss her lips… is still captivating. But as you probably know from bitter personal experience, dear reader, the reality can rapidly change from a blissful dream to a horrific nightmare. Disappointment, betrayal, or just plain boredom – all can be fatal to love.

It’s confusing stuff, this love business. Perhaps The Rutles summed it up best.

Enjoy the video. I’m off to bed. Alone. For tonight, at least.

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Attention, Alternative Energy Enthusiasts!

July 13, 2008 at 9:56 pm (Alternative Energy, Cars & Trucks, Cool Tech, General, Media, Politics, The Economy, The Environment) (, , , , )

Friends, neighbors, and fellow geeks – this is the most exciting news I’ve heard all year. The legendary oil man T. Boone Pickens has started an online effort to help get America off imported oil, and onto renewable domestic energy. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Quite a small one, in fact. Here’s a video that explains why the plan is needed:

So – go right now to his web site – it’s free to join. It’s a social / Web 2.0 sort of site, with all sorts of options for participation. I’ve only had time to explore a small part of the site, but I was so impressed and excited, I had to get to blogging about it.

Not to toot my own horn, but he’s saying some of the same things I have been trying to communicate for years. That there is no way to drill our way out of this mess. That we need to move on to other energy sources, and lose the petroleum habit.

National Geographic cover - Peak Oil

Pickens has also acknowledged that the peak of world oil production (known as peak oil) occurred in 2005, and from here on, it’s going to be more expensive and more scarce. For more information on peak oil, and the petroleum crisis, check out a film called Crude Impact. Ask me, and I can loan you my copy. It’s an important documentary, and extremely serious. I want as many people as possible to see it.

It’s kind of nice to be vindicated, to be sure. But it’s truly exciting to know that there are some smart, well-regarded people willing to stand up and put their names & fortunes on the line for a future where America isn’t sending all its money out of the country, impoverishing ourselves for no good reason.

Now – let’s do this. The stakes are too high to just sit back and wait for the hammer to fall, because when it does, it’s going to fall hard.

View my page on PickensPlan

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More wireless fun

June 1, 2008 at 10:02 pm (Cool Tech, Internet tech) (, , , , , )

It’s been a busy few weeks since my last post. The sound quit working on my Linux-powered laptop, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to try Ubuntu 8.04 in place of Mint. Well, to quote an Alka-Seltzer ad from my youth, “So I tried it. Didn’t like it.”

Linux Mint Screen ShotWent ahead and downloaded the latest version of Linux Mint and plonked it back on the hard drive. Happy days! Back to where we were, with sound and all. Not sure what happened to the noises. Perhaps it got tangled up when I installed Skype. Ah, well. I’m back to running Mint, a familiar distro, and I’m a happy litle geek, but still a Linux newbie.

It took some time to get the wireless card (D-Link G650) working again, too. Not sure what I was doing wrong, but somehow, through multiple makes, it’s working too!

So, I betook myself to the local pub, one McMenamin’s in East Vancouver (WA, not the one in BC). I had a very tasty Reuben, and actually got some work done, too. Amazing. I’m gonna have to do more of this mobile thing. The off-duty baristas from the Starbuck’s across the parking lot made the place a little noisy for a while, but they went off to karaoke or something, apparently.

It’s closing time, dear reader. Back home and to bed for me.

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