The Experiment Part Two: Doing it

When we last saw our intrepid and not at all even remotely intoxicated college students, it had been decided that the experiment would consist of phony psychic readings done with the assistance of Tarot cards.

Now, according to tradition, the Tarot cards are rich in symbolism and that they date back to the time of ancient Egypt, with vague references to Egyptian gods and esoteric knowledge and all the usual trappings of that kind of thing.

And like a lot of traditions, it’s pretty much all pure, unadulterated bull shit.

I’m sorry if you’re a fan of Tarot and that offended you, but it just, well, it just is, all right? Pretty much everything about this “ancient, mystic, ancient Egyptian” linked method of divination was completely made up out of whole cloth in the late 1700s by someone who couldn’t even read ancient Egyptian for the very good reason that no one could at the time because Egyptian hieroglyphics wouldn’t even be deciphered for another three or four decades when he wrote the book that is widely considered to be the start of all of this..

So all that ‘ancient and mystical’ stuff? It’s all pretty much bunk. Sorry.

Oh, Tarot goes back a long way, but it was a card game. Period. End of story. It was a game that went back several hundred years and had absolutely no mystical origins at all. Taking Tarot and making it into some kind of ancient and mystical method of divination would sort of like taking oh, Battle Ship and making up an utterly ridiculous and totally bogus backstory to turn it into some kind allegory for life.

But not knowing stuff hasn’t ever stopped anyone from taking advantage of it. The lack of any real historical references doesn’t deter them in the slightest. They just make it up knowing that no one is going to bother checking.

Now there are certain expected procedures and interpretations of the cards based on how they’re laid out, reading symbolism into the cards and all that. It’s useful for the beginner, sets a suitably semi-spooky mood, casts the whole thing in a kind of appropriately mystical atmosphere. A lot of the decks of cards some with books or at least some kind of pamphlet that gives a brief outline of how the whole thing works.

So we practiced for a while and tried to figure out who’d do the readings and who’d do the observing. And since we all agreed that the person doing the readings had to A) be reasonably sober, and B) somehow manage to keep from giggling, laughing and/or snickering during the whole thing, and C) be able to look and act trustworthy enough so our intended victims didn’t run screaming…

To make a long story short (ah, like that ever happens with anything I write), they ended up picking me.

Oh, goodie,  said I with heavy sarcasm.

So we had our observers (if we could keep them sober). We had our method (Tarot). We had our con artist (me). We had our intended victims (anyone we could talk into sitting still long enough). Location wasn’t a problem. The props consisted of a deck of rather badly drawn cards and nothing else, so we could do it anywhere, any time.

So I practiced doing ‘readings’ on other members of our little group and quickly discovered one rather annoying fact.

It didn’t really work very well.

If I stuck to the ‘script’, that is, the guidelines provided in the book we’d got with the cards, nothing made any sense at all. It came out either utterly ridiculous or self contradictory, or glaringly just plain wrong. It was starting to look like this just wasn’t going to work.

Finally I said screw this,  threw the book away and just winged it. And thanks to a mis-spent youth spending way too much time watching really, really bad late night horror movies on television, I managed to pull off something that they agreed was suitably spooky, seemed to make sense, and was only mildly silly. And I almost never giggled during the readings. Ooo, bonus points…

So we launched our ridiculous little experiment, and the first few ‘readings’ went about as well as you might expect. Badly. They were awkward, forced, contradictory, odd…

But we noticed something very, very odd from the very beginning: People wanted to believe. A lot of them, anyway. They wanted to believe so much that they tended to ignore inconsistencies, forgot that what I was telling them contradicted what I’d said earlier.

The other, even more peculiar thing about it was this: I got good at it. I mean seriously scary good.

I could sit down with someone and within the space of a half hour or so pretty much outline their entire past life, every significant even they’d ever experienced, tell them what their hopes and dreams were, what their deepest fears were. I could tell them what their love life was like, tell them about traumatic childhood experiences…

It got very, very strange. It got to the point where even some of the people who were in on it were beginning to wonder just what the hell was happening here.

When things got to that point, I stopped doing it. It had been going on long enough and things were, as I said, getting more than a little weird.

So, you ask, what the hell happened? How did I do it? Was I really some kind of psychic? Was there really some kind of power in those Tarot cards?

Don’t be silly. Of course not. All will be revealed in The Experiment Part Three!

Stay tuned…

The Experiment Part One: How it started

I was in college in the early 1970s, and it was a decidedly odd time to be around. It wasn’t just the whole ‘sexual revolution’ nonsense, a trend created almost entirely out of whole cloth by the media, or the anti war movement. It was everything, including a resurgence in all things supernatural or ‘fringe science’.

The whole ‘alien astronaut’ nonsense was still at it’s height, sparked by the utterly ridiculous claims of people like Eric von Daniken in his Chariots of the Gods book that came out in the late 60s. The equally ridiculous Bermuda Triangle was being hyped up around that time, launching it’s own sub-industry of nonsense. Astrology was going through a resurgence as well. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people who should have known better were tramping through the woods in search of Bigfoot or Sasquatch or whatever you want to call it…

It was, as one of my friends at the time put it, ‘Crazy Season”.

And we, being a) bored, b) broke, c) curious, and d) broke (or did I mention that already?) So we spent way too much time sitting around drinking cheap coffee in the student union talking about — stuff.

One day someone showed up with yet another in what was apparently a never ending string of paperback books claiming ancient aliens built, well, everything because our ancestors were even stupider than we are and were utterly incapable of stacking one rock on top of another, and it sparked a conversation about the gullibility of the human race in general, and why people believe things that are just plain, well, stupid. 

One of our professors was with us that day because he was a) bored, b) broke… Well, you get the idea. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even remember which one it was. It was, after all, about 45 years ago. But the general tone of the discussion changed from idle speculation, into how we could try to figure out how this all worked. I.e. why people believe things that are pretty much ridiculous.

We should, said he, run an experiment to gather information because that is, said he, what people in university did: run experiments. Well, that and drink a lot, but the less said about that the better.

We pointed out that there were some problems with this, the first being that we didn’t know what the hell we were doing.

He reminded us that neither did anyone else. That’s why you did those experiment thingies and all that, because you didn’t know what the hell you were doing. If you did know what the hell you were doing, you wouldn’t need to run the experiment in the first place.

Overwhelmed by the brilliance of his logic, we decided to go see if they still had 5 cent beers at the local pubs in the early afternoon so we could be blitzed before we had to go to our Russian Literature class and help numb the pain.

But he persisted, and eventually convinced us that this was, as they say, A Good Idea. So the question now, was experiment on what, who, why and how.

Well, we were interested in why people believe dumb things, so the experiment had to look at, well, people believing dumb things, right? he said.

Okay, that kinda made sense. So, how? And even more important, was this going to cost us money? Because what little money we did have was being reserved for the aforementioned 5 cent beers.

One of our little group regularly read the horoscope in the local paper. There really was something to it! he would tell us on a regular basis, despite the fact we mocked him, also on a regular basis, for believing that nonsense. So we considered  something like a fake astrology thing, but that would have required resources we didn’t have, like how the hell do you publish the thing, for example. The campus had a newspaper, allegedly. No one had ever actually seen the newspaper, but the administration said we had one.

We finally figured that the cheapest option was some kind of fortune telling scam. You didn’t need a heck of a lot of equipment, it wouldn’t be that hard to do, wouldn’t require a lot of setup. All you needed was a fortune teller, some kind of prop to distract the subjects, and observers hidden around to watch what happened and break up any potential physical assaults.

Props… what would we do for props… Crystal balls were out. You have any idea what those things cost? And while Sandy offered the use of a snow globe she had, it didn’t seem really appropriate.

Finally someone came up with the idea of Tarot cards. There had been a resurgence of that in the last couple of years as well as all the rest. It was sufficiently mystical and spooky and all that fun stuff, and because no one really knew what the hell it was all about anyway, we didn’t need to do a heck of a lot of research and thus cut into valuable drinking time. All we had to do was make it up as we went along.

What about subjects/victims? We’d do what researchers had been doing for generations, use unsuspecting college students without their knowledge.

Great fun would be had by all.

We even came up with a budget: $3.97. Oh, goodie…

I was volunteered to get me hence to the local head shop to pick up a deck of these Tarot card thingies. And among the bongs, roach clips, water pipes, sex toys, over behind the copies of “Naughty Nurses” and “Slippery Stewardesses”, I found one and scurried off before someone saw me.

Now, dear friends, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting bored with this already. This is already too long, and it’s only going to get worse, so let’s take a break, and you can keep reading this in The Great Experiment Part Two.

Making Something Useful For A Change

One of the things you believe when you get a 3D printer is that you can justify the cost by making useful things with it. Well, generally speaking you quickly forget about that idea, because A) it means you have to learn how to use a CAD program and you don’t have the time or ambition to do it because you’re as lazy as I am, and B) There isn’t much out there in pre-existing .STL files that’s of any practical use for the average person. So you end up printing cute little ornaments, weird statues, and lots and lots of pencil holders…

But I finally had a chance to make a real part for a real thing!

Eldest son has, I’m afraid, inherited my fondness for ridiculousness, and has been playing around with laser cutters of late, and needed a peculiar type of nozzle for some kind of air handling system of his laser engraver. So we came up with this…IMG 0343

The nozzles came out about as close to perfect as you can get, except for the one on the far right, which is a result of the filament breaking for some reason about 75% into the print run.

Damn thing actually fits. Amazing…

 

Art and stuff

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I’ve always been something of a frustrated artist. Such ‘frivolous’ activities were discouraged when I was a kid. As far as the family and teachers were concerned, if you had time to waste paper by doodling like that, you had time to do real work. For whatever reason, an interest in sketching began to emerge again some years ago. I think it’s linked with my fascination for the old buildings I find when I’m traveling around the country.

I picked up a Wacom Cintiq a couple of years ago and while it’s been frustrating trying to adapt from pen or pencil on paper to drawing on an LCD screen, I think I’m finally starting to adapt.

Drawing is, in a way, like meditation for me. I find myself doing it when I’m stressed, frustrated, angry, sad. I think that’s why I focus on buildings… Clean lines, arches, logic. Simple yet complex.

The Future of Tumblr

You may not be aware of it, but I’ve had a blog over at Tumblr for years now, and I’m far more active over there than I am here for a variety of reasons. But that is probably going to be changing in the near future.

Tumblr was bought up by Yahoo a while back, and they have not exactly been kind to their new toy. They’ve made a number of questionable decisions that have seriously annoyed many of it’s long time users. Advertising has become far more intrusive, paid, commercial blogs are being injected into our feeds over there. They’ve tampered with the user interface, adding features that no one seems to want, while removing features that people liked.

A few months ago they removed the “Reply” function, replacing it with some kind of messaging function so you can send a message to the author of the blog, but not make a public comment. They really hyped up the message function. And hype was exactly what it was. We always could send messages to the author of a blog if we wished to. It was already part of the system. All their “new” version did was add an icon to the bottom of each post to make it easier to do.

Meanwhile, the Reply function, which was widely used and widely liked, was eliminated, causing such a storm of protest that they’ve been promising to bring it back RSN (Real Soon Now).

The biggest problem with Tumblr, though, is it’s parent company, Yahoo. Yahoo hasn’t had a very good track record. It’s been losing money for years. It’s only really profitable venture is Alibaba, and there is ever increasing pressure on the company to reorganize itself, shed it’s unprofitable ventures and try to become something it hasn’t been in a long, long time, a profitable business. It’s CEO is under fire constantly, with increasing pressure to either resign, or attempts to force the board of directors to fire her. There is even pressure now from some of the bigger stockholders to fire the entire board. And to be perfectly honest, there seems to be considerable justification for both of those actions.

Shortly after buying Tumblr, Yahoo announced some sweeping changes. There would be new terms of service which would regulate what content could be posted to try to eliminate ‘offensive’ material in an effort to make the service more attractive to advertisers. Censorship/filtering software to weed out ‘unsuitable’ content would be installed. Advertising would be injected into people’s dashboards. Paid blogs would be injected into people’s dashboards. Etc. etc. etc…

There was such an enormous outrage over these new policies that they were forced to back off. While the injection of advertising into the service did take place, they backed off on the threats of censorship and other types of content restrictions. I won’t go into all of the other attempts they’ve made to “improve” the service that have irritated and alienated it’s users. While they’ve backed off on some of the more potentially destructive changes they wanted to make, they’ve continued to do things that have irritated it’s users.

But to return to Yahoo and it’s problems…

Right now Yahoo has announced it’s drastically cutting staff, firing people left and right. It’s trying to either sell off or spin off different units of the company in order to shed it’s unprofitable ventures. One of the ideas the CEO put forward was that they’d spin off everything except Alibaba. Basically Yahoo would become Alibaba, and everything else would be dumped into a company that would immediately go bankrupt because all of Yahoo’s less than successful ventures would be rolled up into that new business.

That plan got shot down. Now they’re trying to sell off various parts of the business. If they can find buyers for the stuff. In any case, the handwriting is on the wall. Yahoo, as it is known today, is not going to exist for much longer. 

What’s going to happen to Tumblr? I have no idea. Tumblr isn’t all that profitable, to be honest. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to monetize it to the extent they would like because doing so would drive away the people who create the content that draws viewers to the site in the first place, as Yahoo quickly discovered when it took over the service.

I think it’s highly likely that Tumblr will not remain the property of Yahoo for much longer. Whether they sell the service or spin it off into an independent company is something I don’t know. (Frankly, from what I’ve been reading in the financial press, I don’t think anyone at Yahoo knows what the hell they’re doing.)

My dissatisfaction with what’s going on at Tumblr and the uncertainty about the future of the service means I’m going to try to move more content over to grouchyfarmer.com in the future. Over here I don’t have to worry about injected advertising, dealing with the ridiculous way they keep changing the user interface, etc. 

2017 Bolt EV: All-Electric Vehicle | Chevrolet

Introducing the 2017 Bolt EV: an affordable all-electric vehicle with over 200 miles per charge. Learn more about Bolt EV at Chevrolet.com.

Source: 2017 Bolt EV: All-Electric Vehicle | Chevrolet

It looks like Tesla is finally going to get some serious competition in the electric vehicle market. GM’s Bolt is going to get about the same driving range and be in the same price category as the Tesla III which is supposed to be coming real soon now.

But I look at all of this hype as being just that — hype. The numbers both companies are putting out are based on ideal conditions, not on real world driving.

Right now it’s about 6 degrees outside with a -15 degree wind chill. I’d be curious to see how the Bolt, or the Tesla, for that matter, would react. All of these range tests are done under ideal conditions, in warm weather. In the cold that much of the US experiences during winter, what will these things do? Just heating the cabin of the vehicle up to a bearable temperature is going to be a significant drain on the electrical system. Add to that the fact that in extreme cold battery efficiency drops, electronics begin to have problems, etc, struggling through 5 inches of wet slushy snow… I’d be willing to bet that the 200 mile range rather rapidly drops to 100 or less.

Forget about taking it on a long trip, not with it requiring nine hours to recharge, even with the optional 240 volt charging station.

And you can forget about that $31,000 price tag right away. The actual cost is about $37,000 for the base unit. The extra $7K comes from ‘tax credits’ which you may or may not qualify for. Eliminate the tax credit, add in all of the options, the “optional” 240 volt charging station and all the rest, and the real price of this car is approaching $50K.

Old vs. New: The Descent of Publications Into Mediocrity

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I’ve had the good fortune of obtaining, over the years, a few choice issues of old magazines and other publications, and it is irresistible to compare the modern version of those publications with their descendants. Some of these more technically oriented publications like QST and CQ have been around for a long time indeed, with QST going back around 100 years, and CQ having been around for fifty or more.

One thing that becomes glaringly obvious as soon as you open one of these old magazines is just how incredibly bad their descendants have become, at least from a technicians point of view.

Open a QST or CQ magazine from the 1960s, and you’ll find yourself quickly overwhelmed with circuit diagrams, schematics, mathematics, construction articles… If you had a basic knowledge of electronics, could read a schematic and follow instructions, you could build yourself one hell of a nice set of communications equipment just from the articles in the magazines. Not just transmitters and receivers, but linear amplifiers, antenna tuners, a wide variety of essential testing equipment… Just from reading the magazines you could build all of it if you had the ambition to do so.

There were articles about improving commercially made equipment, fixing quirks in existing equipment, modifying it to get better performance. Articles about converting military surplus equipment for ham use.

When’s the last time you saw an article in CQ or QST showing you how to build a complete receiver, a complete transmitter? A full blown linear amplifier? 

The list goes on, and on, and on… Articles explaining everything from basic radio theory for novices to material that would challenge the experts. It was all there…

Now… 

QST is, frankly, hardly worth the effort to open. It seems to be devoted almost entirely to “radio sports” (now there’s one of the most ridiculous uses of the term ‘sport’ I’ve ever heard), DX expeditions begging for money to fund a half million dollar trip to an island so small it only exists at low tide, and the ARRL’s attempt to turn amateur radio into a division of FEMA. About the only thing I read is The Doctor Is In column and the advertising.

CQ is a bit better, but not by much. At least it isn’t under the delusion that ARES is the only thing keeping the country from descending into chaos.

It’s sad to say, but I’ve learned more about electronics and radio from publications dating back to pre-World War II than I ever have from their descendants. 

It works… Sort of

Finally got around to testing the FlashForge 3D printer after replacing the thermocouples.

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Yes, it’s a TARDIS… Yes, I’m a geek…

Results weren’t horrible, but not as good as they should have been.

I’m not sure why but It’s been having issues with prints not sticking to the bed for some reason. It didn’t do that before. I replaced the kaptan tape, double checked the temperatures… nothing seems to help. If you look close at the model above you’ll see that on the far left corner it’s lifted up a bit where it began to release from the bed during the print run.

I also seem to be having extruder problems. I haven’t changed any of the settings. Temperature, feed rates and everything are the same as before. Going to need to do a bit of investigating. I tried two other test prints. One curled so bad I had to abort the print. The other was a rather complex object, a rendering of two people embracing, and the print quality was so bad I aborted that to

I’m not really sure what’s going on with the print temperature settings. I use ReplicatorG to generate the files and the temperatures I set in the program aren’t changing the temps on the printer. Even worse, it doesn’t allow me to change the print bed temperature at all. I’ve even tried changing it on the printer before printing, but no matter what I do it always reverts to the old settings of 220C for the extruder temp and 100C for the bed.

Fix It Day Part II

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In part two of Fix It Day, I finally got the FlashForge working again with assistance from eldest son. The thermocouple monitors the heat of the right extruder went bad, and the one n the left side seemed to be intermittent. I’ve had two new ones sitting on the shelf for two or three weeks now and we finally got it back together.

And, of course, we managed to reverse the polarity of the thermocouple wiring so it indicated temperatures were going down instead of up, so we had to re-wire that. Then we reversed them so left was right, etc. Had to re-wire that…

Handy hint! Label stuff! Would have saved us a good half hour of time if we’d bothered to label everything as we took it off when we disassembled it.

I really need to replace the kaptan tape on the plate, too, but I’ve been putting that off because it’s a royal pain in the neck. Everyone tells me it’s no big deal but I’ve tried everything, looked at videos, etc. Nothing works. Always end up getting air bubbles all over the thing.

Anyway, seems to be working, so I’m happy. 

It’s Fix It Day!

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Putting the MC-60 back together. Finally got around to tinkering with it. It started having intermittent issues a couple of months ago so I was using the Heil headset, which I prefer anyway so I was in no big rush to get this fixed. How the heck does something that’s been working fine for two and a half years suddenly develop a bad solder connection? You’d think it would have started acting up long before this.

Never know, though. Had to take apart the relay box on the remote control system we use to turn the outside Christmas lights on and off. We had that for two years and had no problems, now a capacitor on the circuit board had somehow worked itself loose enough to just fall off the board entirely… I suppose the solder joints were bad to begin with but just good enough to hang on and thermal stress finally forced them to let go.