$1B spent, and we are still unsafe?!?

September 15, 2014

This article explains how we spent $1B on technology that did not work, and this fact was not revealed until after the technology was obsolete.  If the folks who keep the secrets in our government can’t do a better job, then we need to change something.  This is scary, and embarrassing.  And it is not protecting us.  Why would they approve technology that does not protect us?  Is this all about Big Business selling crap to make money?  The cynic in me tries to find a different explanation, and fails.

http://www.wired.com/2014/08/study-shows-how-easily-weapons-can-be-smuggled-past-tsas-x-ray-body-scanners/

Peter Bacon Hales

August 28, 2014

A good friend from college days died on Tuesday.

Peter was an extraordinary person: historian, raconteur, musician.  His ability to assemble enormous amounts of historical information, and connect all of the pieces, was always beyond my ability to digest.  His stories, always entertaining.  But it was as a musician that we connected the most.

While I have dabbled with music most of my life, Peter created bands and played gigs for much of his life.  He was as proficient on acoustic guitar as electric, and played a mean pedal steel, but it was as a slide guitar player that he really shined.  He brought not only his versatility to our band, but also his organization, broad recollections of styles and pieces, and good taste.  We are fortunate in that we played together just 2 weeks ago.  It is hard to imagine our band continuing on without him.  It certainly will be savagely altered.

Peter traveled the country, photographing and experiencing the US in a way that few of my other friends seem to have done.  And he did not just let those experiences wash over him: he correlated and integrated and synthesized. He offered his observations for others to consider.  He was actively engaged in life, on many levels.

A chain smoker in college, he abandoned that in his 20s and started bicycling competitively.  He thought nothing of a 1 or 2 hour bike ride, just about every day, and was strong and fit.  It is ironic that he was killed when a car hit him from behind.  He never made it to the hospital.

He had just retired, had purchased some land with his wife, and was in the middle of creating a long-term sustainable farm.  This is a stunning loss to us all, but most of all to Mo, his wife.  They had decades of happy living ahead of them.  What a crushing blow.

I am at the age where it is clear that I will either start to lose friends, or they will lose me.  That reality seemed distant until yesterday morning.  Words cannot express how sad and devastated I feel.  Moments like this focus one on the fact that life is precious, that each person is unique and irreplaceable, and that one must live life now, and not defer it to some vague moment in the future.

I will remember Peter, fondly and with great admiration, as long as I live.

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Classic Peter, with guitar, white tee, and ripped jeans

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Peter smiling nicely for the camera, while I try to act the curmudgeon.

I play those guitars, too…

July 12, 2014

Those of you who have checked out my web site (www.jonbondy.com) know that I have built some guitars over the years.  I got together with friends from college and we played a dance last month.  You can check it out here: http://www.jonbondy.com/Tammany%202014.htm

Makerbot must be stopped!

June 6, 2014

Seems as if MakerBot is trying to patent techniques that have been present in open source products for years.

http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2014/0120196.html

I don’t know how we can stop this, but it must be stopped.  If we allow large companies to acquire open source designs as their private and protected intellectual property, then the Patent system is all screwed up.  I wish I had more optimism about that process.  I explored how to protest this, but the procedures are so complex and arduous that I gave up.  This is what I received from the Patent Office:

Thank you for contacting the USPTO Contact Center.

It appears as if you may be attempting to file a protest or perhaps a third-party preissuance submission against a pending patent application.  Please note:  the USPTO transacts business in writing.  See 37 CFR 1.2.  Official correspondence may not be submitted via email.  If it is your intent to file a protest, please see 37 CFR 1.291 and the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP) chapter 1900 for more information.  Here is a link:  http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/mpep-1900.html

If you wish to file a third-party preissuance submission, please see the information relating to the submission, here:  http://www.uspto.gov/aia_implementation/patents.jsp#heading-7

If you have any further questions or if you require additional information, please call the USPTO Contact Center at 1-800-786-9199 or (571) 272-1000

BitCoin

April 1, 2014

One of the best discussions I’ve heard about BitCoin:

http://surprisinglyfree.com/2014/03/25/garzik/

Ralph Lemnah’s Alpha Stirling

April 1, 2014

Ralph Lemnah and I worked on some Gamma Stirling engines a while back.  They would run on my wood stove, on a gas kitchen stove, or on an alcohol burner.  We used a Coleman “globe” for the displacer chamber, so that one can watch the displacer motion.  I used foam core for the propeller blades, making them much safer than engines with metal blades.  This is what they looked like:

Gamma One From Angle

Gamma One From Left

We also built a few Ringboms:

Coleman One From Back

Coleman Two From Angle

Tuning the Ringboms for performance required attention to the spring that keeps the displacer piston hanging in a neutral position.

We put all of the design information onto a CD, which is available at a nominal cost for people who wish to expand on our designs.

My interests turned to other things (3D printing) but Ralph has now come up with an Alpha Stirling that works quite well:

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20140315_111832a

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Features include adjustable displacer and piston throws and an optional gravity fed water cooling system for the cold end.  Ralph hopes to display this at the Champlain Maker Fair in October of 2014

Is it Dell, or is it Windows 8?!?

March 23, 2014

I create projects that use Arduinos, and in order to burn some firmware into one of those Arduinos (actually a JeeNode), I purchased an FTDI serial interface device.  You plug the FTDI device into a USB port on your computer, and then plug the FTDI device into the JeeNode, and this enables you to download the firmware into the JeeNode.  The FTDI device looks like a serial port to the Windows computer.

I purchased a Dell laptop back in September.  I now have four computers running Windows 8; one of them is that laptop.

When I plug the FTDI device into the laptop, I get the following error:

USB Error

When I plug the FTDI device into any of the other computers, I get no such error.  That is, the FTDI device is not malfunctioning.

The normal reaction to the insertion of a USB device is that Windows recognizes the device and tries to find a driver for the device.  This happens on other other computers, but not on the laptop. It is as if the FTDI device cannot identify itself properly, but only on one of my computers.

In addition, if I plug other devices into the laptop, they sometimes show that error and sometimes do not.  At one point, after using a Wacom tablet with the laptop for 15 minutes, that error popped up, as if the tablet had suddenly malfunctioned.  When I moved the tablet to another USB device on the laptop, it was fine.

I researched the error on the web, and tried about half a dozen different “sure fixes”, none of which have worked.  This included powering down the laptop, removing the battery, and waiting for 30 minutes.  Numerous reboots.  Numerous removals of the offending device.  Numerous re-installation of the drivers.

Dell was nice enough to replace the mother board and one of the USB daughter boards, after which none of the symptoms changed.  Dell has now offered to let me return the laptop to the “Depot” so that they can “fix” it properly.

If I do send it in, they will almost certainly wipe my Win 8 installation.  I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  Perhaps the intermittent problem is in Win 8.  But reloading all of my software is a pain in the neck.

If I do send it in, and they test it with just about any other USB device, it probably will work.  So, I am concerned that the most likely scenario is that Dell “fixes” it, returns it, and nothing at all has changed (because they could not see the error, because they did not use the FTDI device).

And Dell does not want me to send the FTDI device into the Depot.

So.  Seems like this situation is a total loss.  Not sure what to do. Perhaps life has just become too complex for technology to succeed.

Luckily, I can use the other computers to run the FTDI device.  But the failure of the Wacom tablet makes me fear that this computer will remain unreliable as long as I own it.  Intermittent problems are a bitch.

The American Police State

March 11, 2014

Have I gone around the bend, or over the top?  I do not think so.

It is important that everyone listen to the following podcast:

http://www.onthemedia.org/story/on-the-media-2014-02-28/

The unrelenting and unrepentant abuses of power that are occurring both at and near our borders are scary and shocking.  Our tax dollars are being used to abuse people, and to cover up that abuse. Even members of congress are unable to acquire information about these abuses.  It seems that the Department of Homeland Security has become autonomous, and now has to answer to no one.  Did you know that Border Patrol personnel can stop you if you are within 100 miles of an international border, whether you have crossed, or intend to cross, that border, or not?  Did you know that you can be detained, taken to a hospital, have invasive procedures performed on you, and then be handed the bill to pay for that abuse?

Sound as if I have lost it?  Listen to the podcast.  Judge for yourself.

The only solution to this problem is for you to care enough to listen to the podcast and then contact your representatives in the Federal government. Spread the word.

Miracle Foot Cream

March 2, 2014

Well!  I imagine you never thought you would see me blogging about this!

As one ages, one’s body changes, and not often in ways that make one smile.  For the last 10 years, the skin on my heels has become increasingly thick and cracked and dry, like a very poor grade of leather.  I took to using a specialized cheese grater to remove the growths, and muttered about the increased maintenance.  And reaching my feet has become increasingly difficult.  It is as if they are growing ever farther from the rest of my body.  I suppose a little yoga might bring them nearer, but I never seem to have the time.

Then I encountered, by chance, Burt’s Bees Coconut Foot Cream.  I now use it once a week, and I no longer have any of the above symptoms.

And, no, my account has not been hijacked.  It simply is a good product that works.

Arbitrary Physician Protocols

February 20, 2014

My mother broke her hip last week.  When she fell, she bumped her head, so the trauma team that collected her put a cervical collar around her neck, “just in case”.

The protocol at Yale New Haven Hospital is that a patient in this situation must be evaluated within 72 hours to determine whether ligament damage occurred.  Damaged ligaments, if not allowed to heal, or repaired, can lead to neck instability and the possibility of paralysis. The evaluation can be done either by asking the patient to move their head, and determining whether symptoms arise (pain, numbness, tingling), or an MRI can be performed.  If the evaluation is not done within 72 hours, I was told that my mother would  “have to” wear the collar for another six weeks.

My mother has dementia, and also was receiving pain medication, so the former style of evaluation was not successful.  She could neither obey orders/requests reliably, nor report her observed feelings reliably.  It took 24 hours to arrange for hip joint replacement surgery, and then another 24 hours for her to recover a bit.  And then she was in pain.  Moving her for the MRI seemed to be quite an imposition.  We were repeatedly told, in urgent terms, that we were running out of time.

This all seemed out of proportion to the evidence, since my mother seemed to be quite comfortable, hip and surgical pain aside.  I began to push back.  It seemed to me that one could remove the collar and simply observe my mother for 10 or 15 minutes.  Visitors could enter the room to cause her to turn her head in curiosity.  People could see whether she winced or seemed comfortable.

Then I was told that there was no evidence at all that any aspect of this protocol was correct or useful to the patient.  Useful to the Hospital?  Yes.  It might reduce the chance of a law suit.  But necessary, or even reasonable?  Fears, yes.  Concerns, yes.  But no evidence, no studies.

I also pointed out that while they could recommend that my mother wear the collar for six weeks, and explain the possible consequences of not doing that, they could not require that she do so.  Their use of the phrase “have to” was really inappropriate.

Lessons learned?  When a doctor tells you that something must be done, often they are over-stating the case, either to cover their ass, or their attorney’s asses.  And while they often use words like “must” they almost never mean what they say.  They should be offering information and making recommendations.

Ask questions.  Push back.  Do not let the creators of protocols push you thoughtlessly in an uncomfortable or expensive direction.