Getting Caught Up With Stuff

Water Tower Stuff

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They’re working on the water tower here in town. As someone who gets nervous standing on a step ladder, I can’t imagine how those guys up there do this job. I know they have safety equipment and all that, but still, hanging from a rope a hundred feet up like that? No way I could ever do something like that.

New Computer Stuff

IMG_0566The new computer is up and running beautifully. Very fast, slick computer, but the Nvidia 1050 TI card was damaged in shipment so I’ve been using the motherboard’s onboard Intel graphics. That works, until I do anything that demands any kind of high resolution, high frame rate video, and then everything falls apart real fast. I’ve tried playing Skyrim on it and while it works, the graphics are terrible and the only way to get the frame rate up to acceptable level is to turn the draw distance down so far I can’t even see enemies attacking me from just a couple of hundred feet away. Sigh. Second Life is even worse. Complex scenes with a large variety of different textures don’t render at all, probably because the graphics card doesn’t have enough memory to deal with all of it. The replacement video card is in, but it’s at my eldest son’s house, and he’s gone up north for the weekend, so it’s going to be Monday evening before I can really see what this thing can do.

ES was telling me he had trouble getting the 1050 card, and a quick scrounge around Amazon reinforced that. Every vendor I found on Amazon had disclaimers that the item was out of stock and wouldn’t be in stock for 3, 4 or more days. And that date kept shifting even farther into the future during the past week.

Gardening Stuff

The gardens have been doing pretty good this year, with the occasional glitch. I mentioned we have a fungus attacking the tomatoes because of the very damp summer we’ve had. We aren’t the only one. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has the same problem with their tomatoes this year. One group of pepper plants got pushed over when we had high winds roll through a few weeks ago, and they never recovered very well, alas. Some are doing okay, but others just barely survived. Not a bad thing because we planted way too many pepper plants this year, but still disappointing. Heard the other day that this summer is one of the wettest on record, which doesn’t surprise me at all.

Tomatoes: We messed up, and Building Computers

IMG_0551We messed up with the tomatoes this year. It’s partly our own fault, partly the fault of the weather this year. They’ve developed a kind of fungus that’s slowly working it’s way up the plant from the bottom, taking out the leaves. Not exactly pretty. We’re getting fruit, but we won’t get anywhere near as much as we should because of it.

Tomatoes can be a bit fragile. Depending on which variety you plant, there are all sorts of diseases the plants can get. In this case a combination of factors, the overly wet weather we’ve had this summer along with our planting the tomatoes way too close together, created an environment that permitted fungus to develop and thrive in the damp, warm conditions.

This is at least partly our own fault. We badly overcrowded the plants. There are twice as many in there as there really should be. Spreading the plants out more would certainly have helped. And there are commercial fungicides that can help with this.

We’ve been talking about putting in two more raised beds this size and perhaps this will finally get me to stop procrastinating and actually do it. We definitely need more space if we’re going to keep growing this many tomatoes.

IMG_0556Computer stuff: My gaming computer, a really really nice Razor Blade laptop, decided it didn’t like me any more, got so hot the case burned my hands, and then died. I suspect the graphics card went bad, but we’re not really sure. In any case, it’s well outside of the warranty period and would probably cost more than the computer is worth to try to get it fixed. And it was pointed out to me that I could build a computer with much better specs than any gaming laptop had, for half the cost, if I went with a desktop system. So Saturday we were sitting here looking at the box full of stuff you see there on the left.

Now the last computer I built with my own hands was a 486, so that ought to give you some idea how long it’s been. I could probably have put one together myself, but Eldest Son builds this kind of stuff all the time so I let him spec out the system, select the parts and actually put the thing together. ES figures that if anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing not only to excess, but ridiculously over the top. So what IMG_0566I ended up with is this over on the right.

What we ended up with was a transparent case to show off all the fancy bits inside, and enough strobing, glowing, swirling interior lighting to put a 1970s disco to shame. All it needs is a spinning disco mirror ball hanging inside to complete the look. Sheesh…

Of course absolutely none of that has anything to do with how it actually works as a computer. So, how does it work as an actual computer? Holy s**t it’s fast! The latest Core i7 processor clocked at 4.7 Ghz, high speed Samsung SSD, threaded this and hyper that. The thing has a liquid cooling system and 8 (???) fans, 8 USB3 ports, 3 Thunderbolt ports.

And I have absolutely no idea how well it works for gaming because the video card was DOA.

Sigh… We suspect it was damaged in transit because it looks like one of the shields on the card was pushed into one of the circuit boards, so ES took it off to get a replacement. It runs, but only using the motherboard’s built in Intel video.

The interesting thing is that it seems no one has Nvidia graphics cards. It took ES almost two weeks to get this one in, and a quick browse around Amazon indicates that pretty much no one has them in stock right now. Every single listing for the Nvidia 1050 or 1080 card shows “Not available until August 10”. What’s going on? I have no idea.

So until we can get the Nvidia card replace, I won’t really know how well it will work as an actual gaming machine.

Oh, I also switched off almost all of the interior lights on the thing. It looks really neat. For about 30 seconds, then the strobing and swirling and lighting effects become seriously annoying.

Stuff: New Photo Printer and the Bad Old Days

I’m a serious photographer and have been for something like 40 years. I’m not a professional, but I try to turn out photographs that are as good as I can make them. One of the problems photographers have always had is making good prints of the images they make, especially making prints that are larger than the usual snapshot sized print.

There are a lot of inkjet printers on the market that claim they are “photo printers”, a lot of them are really cheap, well under $100. But let’s face it, most of them aren’t very good, especially when you’re trying to make larger sized prints. The biggest size they can handle is the standard 8X10 or 8X11 sized papers, and the images they crank out aren’t that good when scaled up to that size, and all too often the inks and pigments used fade quickly when exposed to light.

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 6.05.49 AMSo I finally broke down and got a professional grade photo printer, the Cannon Pixma 100. It’s at the low end of the professional level printer. It retails for around $500, and can handle paper up to 13 X 19 in size, which is big enough for my purposes. It uses dyes rather than pigments. There is a big argument going on between the dye proponents and the pigment proponents about quality of the images, their long term stability, color, etc. and I’m just not going to get into that nonsense. As far as I can tell, the two different techniques are about equal when it comes to overall quality and the lifespan of the images.

Now there are a lot of printing services out there that will take your images and make larger format prints for you, and they do a decent job. But if you want to print a lot of images, it doesn’t take long before you realize that it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to do it yourself.

There was a bit of a learning curve as I figured out how to get the most out of the printer, but now that I’ve discovered the right papers to use (stick with the Cannon Luster line of paper, that seems to work best), the right settings, and how to properly tweak an image for printing, I’m more than satisfied with the results. Some of the ads I’ve seen for the Pixma line of printers claim “gallery ready prints” and they aren’t far off the mark on that claim.

All of this got me thinking about how photography has evolved in the last 40 years or so, and the advances in technology have been mind boggling when I stop and think about it.

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 6.43.14 AMWhen I first got interested in photography on a serious basis, a good 35mm camera would set you back about $350 for just the camera body. The lens was usually sold separately, and a good one could set you back more than what the camera itself cost. The first good 35mm camera we had was a Minolta XGM, an almost but not quite professional 35mm SLR camera. That cost me $345 back in 1981. By the time I got a decent lens, filters and everything else I needed, I think the grand total was about $800 for the whole package. And that’s in 1980 dollars. Adjusted for inflation I suspect that would come to around $2,000 today.

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 6.56.24 AMIt was, for it’s day, a very good camera, especially when compared to the crappy pocket cameras like the Kodak Instamatic with it’s even worse film loaded into those dopy cartridges which was the most popular mass market photography system at the time. They were horrible. The photos and negatives they turned out were even worse, thanks in part to poor manufacturing, poor materials, bad lenses, and the cheapest, nastiest film you could imagine. While it was good enough for a small, wallet sized image, if you wanted to blow it up to a larger size, forget about it. The film was so grainy the images were totally unacceptable if you tried to blow them up to anything larger than a 4X5 print.

While I’m on the subject of film, let’s continue along that line.

Ah, film — The good old days of 35mm film. Well, no, they weren’t all that good, the film days. In fact, they were bloody horrible, the film days. The photographers who wax poetic about the “good old days” of film and how wonderful they were probably never had to actually work with the stuff.

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 7.16.03 AMMost people bought film in small canisters like the one shown here. The body was generally made of metal and the end caps were plastic. Film was wound on a spool inside of the canister. You can see where the film comes out of the can on the right side of the cartridge, it’s that little brown flap. That’s the leader. A couple of inches of film stuck out.

You’d open the camera, drop the canister into a space in the camera, pull a few inches of film out of the cartridge, across the shutter opening, onto a take-up spool on the other side, thread the film onto that spool. Then close the camera up and wind several inches of film through to make sure the take-up spool had latched onto it. Oh, and there were slots in the edges of the film that had to fit onto small gears in the camera to pull the film through when you turned the film advance knob or lever. And hope like hell the those holes lined up right and didn’t strip out, because if they did, you’re film wouldn’t advance and you’d lose the entire roll of film.

Film was not cheap. It wasn’t wildly expensive, all things considered, but it wasn’t exactly cheap, either, and most photographers gave careful thought to what they were shooting because you couldn’t afford to waste film or processing. And you only had a very limited number of images per roll, usually 24-36 images.

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 7.17.12 AMPeople who did a lot of photography often bought film in bulk and loaded the canisters themselves using gadgets like the one here. This is a bulk film loader. Your roll of bulk film would go in the big end, and then you’d use the crank to wind it into your film canisters. It was a pain in the neck, but it did work, and it did help cut costs a bit. I used to do this and it worked fairly good most of the time. Well, sometimes. Maybe.

Oh, and I should point out that whenever you were working with film before it had been processed into negatives you had to do it in total darkness. And I mean total darkness. Any stray light at all would fog the film and ruin it.

Then there was the question of what kind of film to get. There were dozens of different kinds, some intended for general use, some intended for special purposes. There was slide film. There was print film. There was B&W and color. Films came in different grains, different speeds… The list goes on and on.

The most important was probably film speed. That’s what that big “400” is on the canister above, the ISO rating of the film. To keep things simple, ISO was a rating of how sensitive the film was to light, basically how quickly the film could capture enough light, so to speak, to make a usable image. Generally speaking, the bigger that number, the “faster” the film was, i.e. the more sensitive it was to light. The faster the film, the less time the shutter had to be open to allow the film to capture enough light to make a usable image. ISO 100 was the most common in use for hobby photographers, but it was considered a “daylight” film, in that it needed bright lighting conditions or use of a flash or strobe. Otherwise the shutter had to be open so long that you needed a tripod to keep the camera stable so the image wouldn’t be blurred.

ISO 400 was a much faster film that permitted faster shutter speeds, reducing blur, and reducing the need to use a flash or strobe in lower light conditions. But there are always trade offs. ISO 400 films were not as fine grained, didn’t give as good detail in the final image as the slower speed films did. It was also a bit more expensive. In the 1980s the technology and chemistry improved to the point where some ISO 400 films were almost as good as the ISO 100 films when it came to grain size and image quality and for general use most people had switched to the 400 speed films.

ISO ratings ran from about 30, a very, very slow film, up to about 1,600, if I remember right. And then there were tricks you could do to “push” film to a faster ISO rating through processing back in the darkroom. Some films could be push processed with some success, some couldn’t. And again there were tradeoffs. Image quality degraded rapidly when you push-processed film in most cases. I experimented with push processing, pushing 400 film up as high as 1600 or more for night photography, but the results were not very good.

Now, you’ve got the camera, you’ve got the lens, you’ve got the film. You’ve taken some photos, now, let’s take a look at them, shall we? Uh, well, no. Not yet. If you open up that camera at that point, all you’ll do is ruin the film and all of the photos you took.

Remember that canister, and the takeup spool and the gears and all that stuff inside the camera? Once you reach the end of the spool of film, now you have to wind all of it back into the canister before you can even open up the camera. You’d turn a little crank or knob on the camera to wind it back into the can. Once you did that you could take out the canister safely.

You now have to get the film processed into negatives and made into prints. Most people took them to a store where you’d stick it into an envelope with your name and address on it and it would be shipped off to a lab somewhere, and in a week or so you’d get your film back in the form of negatives, and a set of snapshots, small prints of the images you’d made. And the results were, well, terms like “generic” come to mind because all of that film was fed through massive developing and printing machines that used standard processing and exposure times for everything that was shoved through them. If al you were taking were snapshots of the family vacation, they were fine. But if you were a serious photographer and were making images that were in any way outside of the norm, well, forget it. That kind of thing meant shipping it off to a custom processing lab, which was expensive, or you did it yourself as I did.

First you had to get the film out of the canister. You’d pop the end off, pull the film out, and then…

Oh, did I mention that you have to do this in complete darkness? Yeah, you do…

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 7.19.13 AMYou then put the film on a special spool that fits inside of a developing tank. Once you get the spool in the tank and get it closed, you can turn the lights back on because the tanks were light proof.

Now comes developing. You mix up a witch’s brew of developing chemicals. Exactly what you used depended on the kind of film you were using. Pour it in the tank, then gently agitate the tank for the specified amount of time. Then you rinse it with clean water, take out the spool, and bingo, you have negatives. They have to hang up and dry, then you generally cute the long strip into shorter lengths with about four to six images per strip.

And you aren’t done yet. Now you have to take those negatives and make actual prints of them on special photographic paper.

And just as there were many different types of film, there were many, many different types of papers, and which one you used depended on the kind of film you were using, what kind of prints you wanted, what kind of surface you wanted the finished print to have… There were dozens of different kinds of papers for color and black and white.

Oh, and the paper has to be kept in totally light proof boxes, and can only be used in total darkness. Those “safety lights” you’d sometimes see in darkrooms that allegedly let you see what you were doing without damaging the paper? Uh, about those… They only worked with a very limited number of paper types, and even then, they had to be kept so dim they were virtually useless or the paper would be ruined. So most of us worked in complete darkness.

Now, to make a print, you need still more special equipment. You need an enlarger, a timer, and a laboratory that looks like it came straight out of the Mad Scientist’s Handbook.

Let’s look at enlargers first. Why do you need one in the first place? The reason is that 35mm film yields 35mm negatives. Which is why they call it 35mm film in the first place. Duh… Now you could make a print by just laying the negative on the paper and shining a light on it. But that will give you a 35mm print, and that’s just, well, silly, okay? You want something larger, like an 8X10.

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 6.24.54 AMSo, here’s an enlarger. I had a Durst enlarger back in the day. Mine was considerably more elaborate (and expensive) than the one in this ad.

How they work is the negative is placed in a frame that is inserted in the head. There is a lamp in the head which shines the light down through the negative, through a special lens, down onto the paper placed on the bed below. Enlargers could get as complicated and expensive as you cared to make them. Probably the most important part of the enlarger was the lens, because that determines the quality of the image that is projected onto the photo paper.

Now you also needed a timer, because that image had to be projected onto the paper for a specific period of time. Too short and the image would be pale and ghostly. Too long and you’d end up with a print that looked like it was taken at midnight or even completely black. Exactly how long you exposed the paper depended on a variety of factors; the film, the film density, how bright or dark you wanted the print, the kind of paper you were using. Proper exposure could take just a few seconds, or it could take many minutes depending on what you were doing and the materials you were using.

Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 6.26.53 AMOnce you have the photo paper exposed with the enlarger you’re still not done. Now you have to develop the paper using a variety of different chemicals. You need several trays big enough to hold the paper, a dark room, timers, a sink, a water supply, and lots and lots of yummy chemicals.

The paper has to be soaked in various chemical solutions – developer, fixer, etc. for varying lengths of time until the image appears on the paper. Then it has to be washed in clean water and hung up to dry. Oh, and most of that has to be done in complete darkness as well. That photo up there is red because they’re using safety lights. But about 99% of the time you were working with film and papers that could only be handled in total darkness, and even the dim safety lights would ruin them.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 7.07.58 AMNow the lab up there looks pretty good, it’s probably a professional or semi-pro lab. Most home darkrooms looked more like this because they were squeezed into basements, large closets, even special built rooms in spare bedrooms or wherever they could be crammed in. They were messy, smelly, nasty, and you were working with some pretty hairy chemicals sometimes, many of which were poisonous.

And this was just for B&W photography, by the way. If you wanted to do color, it required a whole different setup, with much more complex and expensive enlargers, processing tanks, timers, heaters…

Now I admit that every once in a while I feel a bit of nostalgia for the “good old days” of film photography. But then I take and aspirin, have a little lay down and I feel better and remember that the “good old days” were bloody awful. And I have gladly, even gleefully traded all of that for digital cameras and computers and modern photo printers.

Miscellaneous Stuff & Retired?

IMG_0375Cactus

I think Mr. Spiny the cactus is about to bloom! The cactus has been doing really well out there tucked up against the side of the house but it hasn’t blossomed in two years. It is currently loaded with new pads, but I noticed some of the new buds looked different, and may be flowers, not pads. I really hope so. The flowers on this plant are absolutely spectacular.

Whitefish Dunes State Park has become one of my favorite places. It has about 880 acres of shoreline along Lake Michigan up in Door County, and it’s well worth the price of admission. I’m not sure what the cost is because I get a yearly pass as part of my conservation patron license, but I think it’s about $8 for a day pass.

It’s hard to pick out a single photo from the park that is representative of how beautiful it is, but perhaps this one will do:

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People seem to think Wisconsin is a rather dull place, with flat land, corn, cows and football. But we have more than 14,000 lakes, plus Lake Michigan. We have cliffs, rivers, forests, water falls… Well, you get the idea.

Alas, I’m not sure how long the state park system is going to continue to exist, though. The current administration down in Madison has cut off all state funding for the park system. It’s only funding now is what it can generate from entrance and camping fees.

Lichen

I continue to be fascinated with lichen for some reason. If I’d ever actually gone to the botany class I signed up for in college I might actually know something about it. But I find the colors, the forms, and everything about it fascinating, and if you’d look through my photo library you’d find a lot of images of lichen and mosses. Most people find the photos rather dull, without the splashy colors of my flower photos, but I think lichen has it’s own unique beauty. Like this, for example

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The subtle shadings of greens and yellows and browns, the amazing shapes. Like I said, I’m fascinated with it.

Storms

We’ve been getting a lot of them of late. We’ve had severe thunderstorms roll through here two or three days in a row now, and we’re getting a bit tired of it. Here at the house we’ve avoided the worst of it, but there have been trees taken down, power outages, minor flooding and building damage all over the area with every one of these. It’s kept the SkyWarn people busy, as well as the utility crews trying to keep up with the damage.

I was really glad we had the backup generator yesterday. Power was out for about 45 minutes and if I hadn’t been able to use the generator we’d have ended up with about a foot of water in the basement because of the heavy rains. We got over an inch and a half of rain in about half an hour here. The sump pump was kicking in every 2-3 minutes all the while.

We actually have 2 generators. One is a little 2KW Yamaha inverter that was originally intended just to run the radio equipment for field day or in emergencies for ARES operations. The other is a big Generac 9KW that was intended to power most of the house. The intention originally was to put a big connector on the outside of the house going to the Generac and using it to run the whole house. As long as we don’t use the ovens, turn on every light in the house, etc., it would have enough capacity to keep everything going. But we never got around to installing the bypass switches and connectors necessary. And when we do have a power failure, the little Yamaha can keep the sump pumps going as well as the radios and a few lights. It’s also much, much easier to move around and get started. It also uses a hell of a lot less gas and is much, much quieter.

IMG_0377Roses! The first roses of the season have popped open at last. I’m not a huge rose fan. I like them, but generally I find them a bit fussy and fiddly to deal with. The one we have in the front of the house takes care of itself pretty much. It just keeps coming back year after year, surviving drought, wet, cold, heat…

That’s my kind of plant – just stick it in the ground and ignore it and it takes care of itself.

Oh, and while I’m on the subject of plants, we found this incredible tree up in Door County as well when we were up there on Monday. Neither of us had ever seen anything quite like it before. Covered with these beautiful red, white and yellow flowers.. Absolutely breathtaking. I don’t know what it is. Have been too busy (i.e. lazy) to actually do research to look it up.

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Retired

I turned in my resignation at work last week and I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I am unemployed. Willingly unemployed. It doesn’t seem right somehow.

Well, it isn’t like I was putting in a lot of hours at the job anyway, to be honest. The position I’ve been in for the last two years or so was part time, and more or less on an “as needed” basis. I worked for events at the theater, filled in when one of the day guys was out sick, or there was a situation that required extra help, that kind of thing. A lot of weeks I didn’t work at all and it was rare for me to put in more than 20 – 30 hours a month.

Still, not having a job? It feels — strange. Feels, oh, not right somehow.

 

Changes… And New Toy… And My Mind Wanders. Again

IMG_0167This is my new toy, a Raspberry Pi 3. If you want to experiment with building evil robotic minions to help you to take over the world, this is a good place to start. It has a 64 bit, quad core ARM A53 processor running at 1.2 GHZ, a gig of RAM, 4 USB ports, an HDMI port, LAN port, WiFi, reasonably good graphics and sound, and runs a version of LINUX. It can connect to the outside world to enable the computer to hook up to sensors, relays and controllers to make evil robots to allow you to take over the world, control devices, record data from sensors and all sorts of fun things.

And it costs a whopping $35. Less than what it would cost me to get a good meal at that fancy restaurant a couple of blocks from here. Hell, less than what just a bottle of wine would cost over there.

Now this, on the other hand… Well, not on the other hand because you couldn’t pick it up with one hand, but you get the idea. This is the first computer I ever owned. It is a Ohio Scientific C2-8P, and if you’ve 2ecd9544af30be5a0d4d8f7926065484never heard of it, I don’t blame you. Ohio Scientific is just one of many, many computer makers that tried to get into the home and small business market back in the late 1970s through the mid 1980s, and failed. It did better than a lot of them did, but eventually it failed, along with Atari, Commodore, Apricot, Coleco, Exidy, Franklin, Panasonic, Radio Shack/Tandy, Sinclair, Texas Instruments… Well, the list goes on and on.

Mine wasn’t even as good as the one in the photo over there. Mine was an early version that didn’t have the fancy paint and logo on the front. And it was nasty. It was about the size of a microwave oven, packed solid with circuit boards the size of a sheet of paper, each of those stuffed with chips of various types, all hooked together with miles of ribbon cables and wiring.

Mine was kind of odd. Kind of? Ha! It was seriously odd. I’d never seen anything like it before or since. I suspect it was an experimental unit that had been heavily modified. According to the photocopied documentation I got with it, it could support three different processors, a 6502, 6800 or 8080. Or maybe a Z80. Don’t remember. It was a long time ago. They were selected via a rotary switch on the back???? Really? Seriously? I never knew for sure. There was only one CPU board in it when I got it. There was a big rotary switch on the back but it wasn’t wired to anything. I think they had some kind of scheme where the switch would select one of 3 CPU boards connected to the backplane, but since there was only one CPU board and the switching system wasn’t connected I have no idea what the hell they were trying to do.

Why 3 different CPUs? I suspect they intended to use it as some kind of development and/or testing system for different types peripherals. The documentation I had was originally typewritten, with hand written notes in the margins, and then had been photocopied. It was interesting, that’s for sure. Large parts of the machine were wire wrapped and hand soldered so someone had been in there fiddling around. A lot.

It came with a whopping 4K of RAM. I spent hours hand soldering chips to the memory board to bring it up to 8K. The company I bought it from found an extra 8K RAM board for it and gave that to me. It was, of course, unpopulated, so I spent many more hours hand soldering RAM chips to the extra board.

Data storage was on a cassette tape. It read/wrote data to a cassette tape at a whopping 300 baud using the Kansas City Standard (if you know what that is, you really, really need to get out more and get a life). That’s 300 bits per second… Oooo, the excitement! To load the editor/assembler program so I could program in assembly language took 20 minutes. Video was black and white, text only, going to an old Panasonic B&W TV set that I had to re-wire to handle the video input from the computer. The company I bought it from offered to give me a “real deal” on the matching 8 inch floppy drive system for it. I passed because I could have bought a pretty good car for what they wanted for the thing.

What did it all cost? By the time I got it up and working (sort of) I probably had well over a grand invested in the thing.

In a way it was completely worthless, that computer. I never actually did anything genuinely useful with it. But on the other hand, if you count the intangibles it was worth every penny because I taught myself programming in BASIC and assembly language on that beastie. I learned how to solder IC chips to circuit boards. I learned how to hunt down failed components (capacitors failed all over the place on that thing for some reason). I learned why storing data on cassette tape is very, very nasty. Trying to get that thing running and keeping it running taught me more about the technology than all the computer science classes I took in college.

And I learned how to make my own Faraday cage because it put out so much RFI it screwed up every TV and AM radio in the area when I turned it on and had build one around it just so I could use it.

Now, where was I? How did I get off on this? Sheesh, I was going to talk about changes in technology, make pithy remarks about how almost no one back then foresaw how computer technology would evolve, morph into what it is today where computers are literally everywhere, in every aspect of our lives.

Instead I end up doing this ramble down memory lane babbling about a relatively minor player in the early computer market… Sigh.

Damn, I hated that computer. Wish I still had it.

 

 

Internet of Spies

If you’ve followed my blogs for any length of time you’ve probably heard me making disparaging remarks about the so called “Internet of Things”, this idea that one day everything will be networked to everything else, and oh, the fun we’ll have!

Your refrigerator will order your food when it gets low. Your cupboard will order food when you get low on staples. Your toilet will monitor your health and report the data to your doctor. Your bed will monitor your sleep habits. You can turn the lights on and off in  your house with your phone. You’ll be able to control the heat and cooling in your home from your cell phone. Your counter top will nag you “Are you sure you really need that cookie? Hmm? Mr. Scale tells me you’ve put on a few pounds…”

Now if you are one of the people who think this is the best thing ever, I have a question for you: Have you actually stopped to think about any of this nonsense?

Let’s have a little chat about the IOT, shall we? Let’s start with this little tidbit:

Bundesnetzagentur removes children’s doll “Cayla” from the market

Now, if you clickety click that link, you’ll find that the Bundeswhatever, a German regulatory agency, banned a children’s doll, declaring it to be little more than a concealed surveillance device because, well, because it pretty much is. Designed to interact with children, it uses an internet connection to monitor everything being said around it, sending it off to some server somewhere. It has little or no security, you don’t know where the information being gathered is being sent or what is being done with it. But you can be sure that someone, somewhere, is probably making money off it by selling the data.

And in case you think this is an isolated incident, it isn’t. Similar complaints have been made about an interactive Barbie doll. Security investigators found that it was a simple matter to use the doll to steal WiFi passwords, login information, files from computers linked to the home network… Fortunately the company that made the software was good about fixing the problems. But legally nothing is being done about what the company actually does with the data because here in the US our government’s policy is that privacy is a wonderful thing, but if someone can make money off violating your privacy so that money can to be used to buy politicians, well, where’s the harm in that, right?

Vizio was just fined $2.2 million for “smart” televisions that were spying on people. The company had installed tracking software in its televisions that tracked everything the owners watched, without telling the buyers of the sets it was doing it. There was a case a few years ago where an internet connected toy in the UK was serving up sexually explicit ads on the toy.

Now consider devices that are even smarter than that, that collect data about your eating habits, what you’re buying at the store, your physical health. There are dozens, hundreds of companies that would love to get their hands on that data to directly market things to you, that would benefit from knowing what your health is like, etc.

Even if the device isn’t actively spying on you, they can be troublesome. If we’ve learned anything about the Internet over the years it’s that it is not a safe place to play in. If a device can possibly be hacked, it will. If not for profit, than just for the sheer pleasure of vandalizing something.

You come home from work and find your garage door open and the garage cleaned out of anything of value because someone hacked your cell phone enabled garage door opener. Your house was emptied too because someone hacked your IOT enabled security system. Oh, and to make things even more fun, they hacked your heating controls and turned your furnace off in January and your house is frozen, the water pipes burst. And just to rub it in, your IOT enabled lights are flashing obscene messages in morse code.

I know this is getting a bit on the long side, but let me babble on here for a while longer before I wrap this up.

Now I readily admit that some of this technology is genuinely useful, especially for someone who is disabled or otherwise challenged. But a lot of it, even most of it, just isn’t. I don’t need to have an app on my cell phone to run my furnace. I have a device hanging on the wall that is connected to nothing but the furnace itself that does it for me. If I want to turn the AC on before I get home from work I can use a non-connected programmable timer that costs less and isn’t hackable.

The same is true of most of this stuff. I don’t need it, you don’t need it. Oh, it may be convenient, but is the convenience of being able to unlock your door with a cell phone worth the security risk? Not really.

It’s all marketing. Most of the convenience, security and safety issues being promoted by the developers of IOT technologies is illusory. The fake fears, the phony convenience, all standard marketing techniques to try to convince you that you really, really need this stuff.


Addendum: Then there is the deliberate outright spying… Like this case in Pennsylvania.

If you can’t be bothered to follow the link to the Wikipedia entry on the case, here’s a run down. A school in Pennsylvania loaded the laptops of all of it’s students with spyware that was capable of monitoring everything the students did for “security” reasons.

Including surreptitiously turning on the cameras in the laptops and recording videos and still images of everything. Including the students in their own homes, in their own rooms, in their own beds. They found over 700 still images that had been captured of one single student, even of him in bed sleeping and changing clothes. And those images were given to other employees of the school district. Since the cameras were active in the bedrooms and homes of other children who had the computers, one can assume that videos and images of them changing clothes, in the nude, etc were also captured. The school turned out to be doing this not just to students, but to teachers as well.

Radio Stuff. Emphasis on Stuff.

So let’s talk amateur radio for a while. Especially about stuff. As in where the hell did all this stuff come from, anyway?

I semi-retired a year or two ago. I generally have my summers off and only work for special events in the theater, fill in if someone calls in sick, deal with emergencies and things like that. Which means I should have lots and lots of spare time to fiddle with radios and stuff like that, right?

Yeah, right…

This morning was the first time in probably a month or more than I had all the equipment

img_0951

Damn, that’s a terrible picture

turned on and actually used it. Much to my surprise it actually all worked. I didn’t have anything start on fire, no smoke, no cats came leaping out from under the desk with all their fur standing on end. I didn’t even have to resort to strong language. Amazing.

I finally put a decent cable on the iambic paddle to replace the cobbled together POS I’d thrown together so I could test it when I first got it.

Then I remembered I don’t do CW in the first place. So how in the world did I end up with not one but two Vibroplex CW keys?

It’s like a lot of other stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. I just — just have it for some reason. There’s a 500 foot long spool of LMR-400 coax sitting in the basement. I just ran across a bag of 50 very good quality PL-259 connectors in a drawer the other day. Right after I’d just bought a bag of 25 of them because I needed one and didn’t think I had any. Under that bag was a VOM I don’t remember ever buying. Which is okay. Can’t have too many VOMs, right? Maybe? I mean, everybody needs six or seven volt ohm meters, right?

Eldest son stayed over night a couple of weeks ago and found a new, never used GAP Titan vertical antenna in the box under the bed in the spare room upstairs. Oh, that’s right, I picked that up about three years ago and never got around to putting it up because it was easier to just string up a dipole. Then I stumbled over a DX-Engineering vertical with the complete mounting kit and all the accessories down in the basement. All still in the boxes. Which I bought because I forgot I had the GAP antenna sitting upstairs.

Where did all this stuff come from? How did I end up with two HF amplifiers? Suppose I could sell one of them, but how the hell do you ship a delicate, 100 pound amplifier full of vacuum tubes and a power supply as big as my head?

Some of the stuff I do need. The big dummy load I use for testing, the big antenna tuner. The oscilloscope comes in damned handy sometimes.

But how did I end up with 200 Anderson Power Pole connectors?

I’m convinced people are breaking into the house late at night and instead of stealing stuff, they’re shoveling more stuff in here.

Granted, some of the stuff is genuinely useful. I picked up some LED light panels intended to replace the dome lights in cars. Got those for about $2 each and they’re great for undercounter lighting. Especially if you already have 12V power supplies running to power other equipment like I do here.

But what in the world am I going to do with all those relays I salvaged from the old boiler controllers when we installed the new heating system at work?

And where in the world did that bloody great IBM mainframe tape drive come from? Okay, so it’s really neat to watch it thread the tape through itself using puffs of air to guide the tape, but come on… I suspect eldest son snuck that into the basement when I wasn’t looking. He’s even worse than I am when it comes to snagging stuff like that.

I was looking for the cable cutter the other day, opened the drawer, and there were six laser tubes rolling around along with front surfaced mirrors and other associated stuff. Found my weight set that I used when I serviced, tested and certified scales. Don’t know why I have that either. Get rid of it? Well, what if I ever need to test a scale, hmm?

 

I need to get rid of some of this — this stuff.

But not my collection of M&M dispensers. No sir… And I really do need six volt ohm meters. And I’d like to hang onto that extra transceiver just in case. And, well, you never know, maybe I’ll actually use that whole drawer full of PL-259 connectors. And the laser tubes…

I’m doomed, aren’t I?