Archive for December, 2008

The State of the Bondy, 2008.

December 23, 2008

I just read a seasonal letter from relatives, and feel like reciprocation is the only reasonable form of retaliation that a compassionate person can condone…

This year, three important people died. Well, I guess there was George Carlin, so that makes four, but three whom I knew and cared about personally.

A long-time friend and technologist, Jeanette Symons, died when a jet she was piloting crashed shortly after takeoff. Jeanette was an experienced pilot, and an intelligent woman, so I will always be confused about exactly what happened, even as I await the predictable conclusions that she did something wrong. I can’t believe it was that simple. She was the most brilliant person I’ve ever met. She helped create a company that grew to be worth $20 billion, before it was purchased. And she fell asleep in front of my wood stove, on the stone floor, in her blue jeans. Lacking pretense, but full of compassion, energy, and innovation, her death in her 40s was tragic. I think of Jeanette often.

My uncle Dick decided to stop eating this summer, when his health deteriorated to the point where he could no longer do the things that he loved. He died fairly quickly and painlessly, which has made me wonder why Kevorkian had to resort to such dramatic means. Dick was a quirky and passionate man, with a bright mind. He was afraid of no one, and would cheerfully poke at you in conversations so as to stir you up, and get to the bottom of your prejudices or misunderstandings. His passion for sports of all kinds lasted throughout his live, as did his inability to suffer fools silently. I wonder if we were related. Sadly, we were not, at least not genetically. I think of Dick often.

Just a few weeks ago, another uncle, Gene, died of a heart attack. His health had been problematic for years, but he remained cheerful, almost beyond all reason. He was an erudite, educated man, who had traveled the world many times over. There were few topics on which he could not converse. He wrote a book about his life which revealed a lot of his history about which I was unaware. It is hard to believe that we will have a Christmas celebration in his home in a few days, and that he will not be there.

Well. I suppose I can slip in one more dead guy. He died just over a year ago, at the age of 100. Alan Tompkins, Sr, was another amazing human being. A fine artist all of his life, he painted until just a few months before his death, attending his centenary exhibition in the summer before his death. He remained prolific to the end, often producing a new painting every month. I recall walking the halls of his retirement community when he was 95, barely able to keep up with him. And he beat me at pool to the point where he was no longer interested in playing. His sense of what was essential about art allowed him the luxury of never adopting a single style. It was all art to him, even though our in depth discussions usually went over my head.

It is the time in my life when the older generation is leaving us. This could have been predicted decades ago, so there are no surprises, but the experience differs from the anticipation. I never married and never had kids (that I know of!), so this onslaught of deaths is not compensated with the sounds of kids running around the house, or returning from college. I live alone and work at home. I find myself more preoccupied with these events than might be the case for others in my generation. I knew I would die alone, but did not think about how watching others die might feel. It is all very sad.

Turning away from that preoccupation, my parents are both alive, and doing quite well. My father, who had warned me that he would probably be dead by 70 from emphysema, just turned 91, and looks like he’s 80. He is as bright as he ever was, or he is a darned good actor. My mother is younger, so her health is not so surprising. My parents live in a retirement community, so they have lots of friends, and will have good care when the time comes that they need it. I guess they have won the lottery, in many senses.

I built a new house, into which I moved almost 3 years ago. I did my best to predict revenue from the sale of my old house, and the cost of the new, but I did not see the magnitude of the additional expenses until the dust had settled. The result is that I now owe real money for the first time in 15 years. That, plus a change in the way that my primary customer is paying me, has resulted in me scrambling for the past few years.

I treasure my independence, and find it hard to imagine going back to being a “mere” employee at a 9-5 job. Like Dick, I do not suffer fools silently, and wearing a gag in public is too distracting to others. I am considering getting an honest job, but I’m struggling to find a way to avoid it.

During the past few years, I have been hired to re-design, test, assemble, document, and ship a line of Stirling engines that are used in high school and university physics labs to demonstrate gas laws. I wrote the software that acquires the data in real-time, graphs it, and then computes things like power and torque. A lot of fun, and interesting, but only a marginal money maker for me.

About 18 months ago, I identified a need for a niche-market guitar part (a tuner/bridge for a headless guitar), and set about to design and fabricate the bridges. Then I was asked to make bass bridges. Then 12-string guitar bridges. Then piezo guitar saddles. Then I bought out another guy’s guitar business, so that I am now able to offer carbon graphite composite electric guitars (which are stunningly light, very strong, ergonomic, and configurable). I have always been a designer and technologist; never a business man. I have to figure out how to sell these puppies. Learning the CAD was fun, and an off-shoot of the 50 or so 3D models I had made of my house prior to building it. I now have all of the requirements of a small business (inventory control, lead times, market prediction, cost/benefit analysis), but in a microcosm. See if you’re curious.

I have always found that I do things poorly the first time, fairly well the second, brilliantly the third, and not so well the fourth. I get distracted when something is routine and has become boring. Finding a way to remain engaged in a routine task has been difficult. And, so, performing the fabrication tasks has been challenging in a variety of ways. I try to take it on as a personal challenge, but the best approach has been to limit the hours in each day when I perform these tasks, and alternate them with more intellectually challenging work. Variety seems to be important to me. Another reason to avoid a “real” job.

I am now sold on a new (to me!) electric guitar paradigm. Most electric guitars produce a single signal as output, but I am now hooked on guitars that send a separate signal for each string (a so-called hexaphonic guitar). With the string signals separated, it is possible to do signal processing on each string. This allows you to do things that border on the magical, like re-tuning the guitar in real-time, turning it into an acoustic sound, a 12-string sound, a sitar, a banjo, even an organ. Virtual (simulated) guitar bodies, pickups, tunings, sound effects, amplifiers, and speakers give you a level of flexibility that is almost beyond the comprehension of all but the most talented. If you’re curious, Google Roland’s Virtual Guitar technology. I have a VG-99.

My livestock continue to be both a blessing and a curse. The parrots are fun, but they can be so loud at times that I have to banish them to the bathroom in order to not kill them. Rodney, one of my cats, developed near-megacolon this year, resulting in about $3,500 in treatments. He is holding his own right now. Whether the cat acupuncture is really helping is beyond me. If he were miserable, I’d have him killed, but he’s very happy-go-lucky, and affectionate, so I can’t bring myself to do that. My financial advisor says “kill him!”, but my heart says “no!’ And it’s not like someone appeared at the door and said “give me $3,500 or I kill the cat!” Rather, it’s been an endless stream of $50 and $100 bills. Death (or lack of death) by a thousand cuts.

I had a girlfriend, Heather, for most of a year, which is [sadly] a record for me, but that ended in August. No drama. Just things not working out. The result has been emotional turmoil. Sometimes it’s better not knowing what you’re missing. I remain isolated and lonely, and am not sure exactly how to solve those problems. My social anxieties, combined with my inability to suffer fools silently, do not help. A life of not reaching out to others is coming back to bite me in the ass. Strange how the consequences of some actions are not always apparent. And strange how I managed to make it this far without this being an issue for me. Perhaps all of the deaths have made my mortality more real. Or maybe I evolved. I’m not sure.

The house remains both a triumph and an annoyance. When Heather was spending a lot of time here, it became clear that I had not designed the house with her in mind. On the other hand, the presentation of the pond and the cliff, the wildlife that appear regularly, and the tranquility are all a wonder. Everyone who sees the house is impressed by its uniqueness and style. Now if I only had a few less windows and a few more blank walls, I could display some of the dozens of pieces of art that now lie in storage.

I continue to try to be creative. Without that, what is the point?

I hope the HollowDaze give you joy, and that the New Year treats you properly.

Stop Using Internet Explorer!

December 17, 2008

If you’re still using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, you really need to stop. Not only does it not work correctly with my main web site,, but it is dangerous. Read the following article (the meat of which starts about 1/3 of the way down the page).

Etymotic Research is AMAZING!

December 12, 2008

Well. You all know what a curmudgeon I am. So I figured I should throw in a little sunshine beaming out of my ass, just so that you don’t think that I’m a totally negative jerk. Even if I am.

I purchased a set of ER61 ear buds from Etymotic Research perhaps 3 years ago for about $80. These are specialty items, which insert inside your ear canal, provide extreme noise isolation (so that you can listen to music in high noise environments [like my machine shop]), and provide high quality audio.

My first problem with them occurred when one of the channels began to cut out. It turns out that these devices come with small screens that prevent ear wax from getting into the drivers, and when the screens get full of gunk (and they do, no matter how often you clean the buds and your ears), you have to replace the screens. Problem solved.

Recently, I discovered that I was replacing the screens way too often: perhaps every week or so. They are not cheap, and I was concerned. I called up ER, and they asked that I send the buds in for inspection. I actually sent in two sets, because I owned three. Two of them had been used to death; the other was unused.

I just received the buds back from ER. They evaluated them, decided that they were not working properly, and sent me two new sets of buds. For free. Out of warranty. Without my having to bitch.

Why do I think that Microsoft, Dell, and Best Buy suck? Because ER is so great. It is possible to provide outstanding, even stunning customer service. ER does. Microsoft, Dell, and Best Buy have chosen not to.

Like I said, they suck.

There. Now you know I’m not totally negative!

Microsoft Sucks. Dell Sucks. Best Buy Sucks

December 12, 2008

Well. I suppose the title is a bit over-the-top. But hear me out.

A friend of mine asked for help, because his copy of Internet Explorer was no longer working properly. When I got to his computer, I saw that the Files, Send, Link menu entry was grayed out.

A laborious web search revealed a few articles about how to cure this, but none of those efforts worked. The situation was complicated because of all of the different versions of IE and Vista [yetch!].

On one of the web pages, I saw a phone number to call for Microsoft support. I was a bit suspicious, since I’ve NEVER gotten ANY support out of Microsoft, but I called the number.

As soon as I explained that this was a Dell computer, the guy from Microsoft could not get rid of me fast enough. He gave me a number for Dell Tech Support. That number was wrong.

I then called Dell on the phone. When they discovered that the computer had been purchased at Best Buy, they could not get me off the phone fast enough. They gave me a number for Best Buy.

When I spoke with the technician from Best Buy, as soon as I explained the problem, she hung up the phone on me. When I called back to complain, I was told that they would try to solve my problem, but only after I’d paid them $40.

I hung up on them.

I can understand how each of these companies cannot afford to provide support for their products indefinitely. But I don’t see why everyone on the planet should pony up $40 to solve a problem that should be explained and solved on a web site.

A word to the wise. There is no such thing as a bargain. When you buy a computer from Dell, you give up any support that Microsoft might have provided; and when you buy that “Dell” computer from Best Buy, you gave up all of your Dell support.

Anyway. IE still does not work. Like I said, they all suck.

fascinating geek fest

December 4, 2008

This guy shows how a PDF infected with malware actually contains a blow-by-blow history of how the malware was created. Highly technical, but also interesting.