Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mustache March

Mustache

The military has many traditions – some that are just for fun. The Air Force celebrates “Mustache March.” Apparently a fighter ace during Vietnam was in some out of the way location and decided that since no one was around to criticize him, he’d grow a mustache. He was actually a “triple ace” between service in World War II and Vietnam. The Colonel – later Brigadier General – Robin Olds’ tradition caught on. March 1st all the participants have to be clean shaven, and judging occurs on the last day of the month.

Now I had a mustache for most of my life. Before I joined the Navy I also had a goatee – but that’s another story. I “temporarily” removed my mustache when I came off active duty and was job hunting. My intention was to grow it back as soon as I had a civilian job, but after hearing everybody (and I mean EVERYBODY) tell me I looked 20 years younger without it, I decided to leave it off

In a fit of camaraderie, I joined in.nowak

Bottom line is I won the “Sam Elliot” category. Of course since all of those in uniform had to maintain regulations, with the mustache more-or-less not extending past the upper lip, it was an unfair advantage.

Good fun, but tomorrow morning I will attempt to look 20 years younger again.

 

 

Neither Rain, Nor Snow…

It’s a bit rainy here.SONY DSC

This might seem like a reason to put off setting up the grill. Not for me. My grill goes year-round.

Winter’s early sunsets are easily overcome with a stand-mounted set of halogen lamps.

Snow and cold weather just mean that cooking time has to be adjusted.

And rain? No problem.SONY DSC

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

 

Looking Back at Looking Forward

spockSONY DSC

When I think back to growing up in the 1960’s, many of the things we see today are really not that much of a surprise.

Thanks to Star Trek, ubiquitous computers, communicators (smartphones), and tricorders (tablets) were actually fairly predictable.

James Bond and Mission Impossible taught us to expect someone to listen in on phone calls – after all, Barney from the Impossible Mission Force always knew which wire to connect (or in the case of a bomb, which one to cut.)

It might have been a little bit of a stretch, but of all the “British Invasion” rock and roll groups, the Rolling Stones would be the ones to still be around.

On the other hand, I never would have expected that one day there would be theme songs and jingles for lawyers’ television commercials.

Hey, 1980s!

shack

I’ve been thinking about Radio Shack’s Super Bowl commercial, in which the clerk answers the phone and tells a co-worker that the 1980s called and they want their store back.

Radio Shack goes back to the beginning of the 20th century when it was aimed at ham radio operators. The term “radio shack” (vice the trademark) refers to the location of a two way radio station; in the early days of “wireless” the radio shack was a separate structure built on the deck of a ship. Since radios utilized a spark gap, it was deemed wise to keep the sparks away from flammable cargo.

To this day, ham radio operators still call their operating position the radio shack, or just the shack.

I thought back to the 1980s. Radio Shack had one of the best lines of computers. They sold pocket sized computers (I even wrote a book about how to use them). They had lots of electronics parts. You could buy antenna cable by the foot from a large spool. They had their own brand of ham radios.

My father used to worry that I’d spend all my money at Radio Shack.

Today, with a few exceptions (such as “Make” items and Arduino microcontrollers) almost everything you see at Radio Shack, you can find at other stores like Best Buy or even Walmart. I used to stop at Radio Shack, just to see what they had, and invariably bought something. I still do, but my stops occur every other month rather than every other week.

So how’s that working out for them?

In the late 1980s Radio Shack I believe was profitable. Its stock sold for $8.00 a share – not its highest, but certainly better than today’s $2.26 a share.

Maybe they should have kept the old business model.

 

 

Writing In the Dust

Jewsus

I picked up a copy of National Geographic’s special publication about Jesus. I’m always trying to learn just a little bit more about Him.

I learned something that I didn’t expect.

They pointed out how He left behind no writings or other historical evidence. We know He wrote, but it was in the dust.

He may not have left anything tangible behind, but what He did leave behind was powerful.

Salvation. The fact that God loves us. A new relationship with God.

Jesus wasn’t about Himself – He was about the message.

Sorry, Customer Service Department Closed

closed

There’s a Yin-Yang pendulum that describes customer service. It seems that when the economy is bumpy, customer service improves, but as the economy gets better, service suffers.

Is it because businesses are more cognizant of their customers? Or maybe it’s because when the economy takes a nose dive, the people working the jobs that deal with customers have been displaced from better positions and are: a) more mature; b) painfully aware that without the customer, there is no business; c) accept that sometimes having a job – any job – is a wonderful thing. (I know, I’ve been there. It may have been a very long time ago, but the lesson is still vivid.)

The economy isn’t improving that much, but lately customer service seems to have been sinking.

Note that I’m not complaining.

I’m just saying that if you have a business and are looking for an advantage over your competition, now might be a good time to reach out and offer to go that little bit extra for your customers. Start with the regulars – the casual customers come and go, but the regulars are not only your bread and butter but also your link to new long term customers.

And if you do – I hope I’m one of your regulars.

WANTED: Dead AND Alive

I was having a metaphysical moment.

I crawled into the box with Schrodinger’s cat* because I wanted to see what it’s like to be both alive and dead at the same time.

It didn’t feel any different, and now I’m covered with cat hair, I smell funny and I have several flea bites.

*

Schrödinger’s cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.

Courtesy wikipedia.org

Better Than Real

 

Boris Karloff THE Frankenstein Monster!

Boris Karloff
THE Frankenstein Monster!

Sometimes what we think things are are better than they really are.

(Wow! That’s a lot of “ares” in one sentence…)

For example, when we think of Frankenstein, we envision the monster – not Dr. Frankenstein.

We like to believe that Rick said, “Play it again, Sam.”

That Spock, in the original series said, “There are always possibilities.”

And, of course, that Darth Vader said, “Luke, I’m your father.”

You can have my misconceptions when you peel them from my cold, dead fingers!

St. Patrick’s Day

Chris Hadfield, Canadian Astronaut, St. Patrick's Day 2013 - International Space Station (Amateur Radio Call VA3OOG)

Chris Hadfield, Canadian Astronaut, St. Patrick’s Day 2013 – International Space Station (Amateur Radio Call VA3OOG)

Forget about the green beer for a moment.

St. Patrick’s Day is a marvelous holiday for one very special reason. Everyone gets to be Irish for that day.

So what?

So many clusters of people spend their time and effort to exclude others, but today, everyone is Irish, so everyone is included.

“Faith and begorrah! Doncha know, tis a fine, fine thing.”

Nowak’s Theorem of Transplantation

Many phenomena are neither inherently good nor bad.

We read of invasive species like zebra mussels, pythons and snakehead fish that overtake an area when they are transplanted with harmful consequences. This is usually attributes to a lack of natural predators.

While I do not refute this, I think there is at least one other dynamic at work that applies – especially to people.

Ellis Island Immingrants archives.gov

Ellis Island Immingrants
archives.gov

As a country of immigrants, America has long been seen as a land of opportunity. People who pack up everything (or next to nothing in some cases) tend to be motivated, so there is some self-selection. However, sometimes the event of being removed from one environment and placed in another has its own effects effects.

Every society has its own challenges – both real and perceived. We all are far too familiar with the shortcomings of where we grow up, and this can predispose us to certain expectation of success or failure. In a new environment, however, since the challenges are unknown, they must be viewed more objectively to be overcome and old biases may not be as overwhelming.

We read of many foreign born Americans who succeed in a wide range of undertakings from advanced academia to small business. Perhaps the change in environment plays a part.

So, my theorem is – “When motivated people move from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar environment they tend to view challenges more objectively allowing them to overcome them and succeed.”

Better Thought Than Money

http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/14/health/aquarium-pump-breathing/index.html?hpt=hp_c3

Check the link to CNN for the story and more pictures

Check the link to CNN for the story and more pictures

Check out this great article in CNN about a device designed by students at Rice University that provides lifesaving help to babies in developing countries.

Many times we believe that twenty-first century solutions must be purchased at great cost. After all, haven’t all the easy things been discovered, invented and perfected by big business, big pharmaceuticals and big academia?

Add to that the fact that in large organizations, doing something expensive tends to give you more money and therefore more power. Coming up with an elegantly simple answer provides us with neither prestige nor power.

Remember this – God gave us a brain; He did not give us money.

Now, doesn’t it inspire you to see what new, wonderful and good things people can do with more brain and less money?

WWW 25 Years

Google tells me that the web is 25 years old, today. Wow!

What I learned computing on, and YES! I did own one.

What I learned computing on, and YES! I did own one.

I remember somewhere in the early ’90’s connecting via phone to “Freenet,” which was an early link to the internet through Cleveland State University. They had less than 100 lines – for a metropolitan area of several million people. Yes – you did get busy signals from time to time, but there weren’t that many people interested in connecting.

Quite a difference today. We now take connectivity for granted.

So to Sir Tim Berners-Lee (gotta love “Sir Tim” as in “Some call me —– Tim” from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”) we say well done!

The Good Old Days

cfrodeo.com

cfrodeo.com

I lived, for a while, in Cheyenne, Wyoming where “Cowboy up!” was a normal part of the conversation.

I loved Frontier Days, the last week in July with parades on Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and, of course, the “Daddy of All Rodeos.”

Cowboy life – how dramatic and inviting – at least until you think about the reality back in the 19th century.

As they say, don’t squat with your spurs on – and on the trail there were no roadside rest stops with clean restrooms.

Coffee made by throwing a handful of grounds into a metal coffee pot full of creek water.

The smell that comes after herding a couple hundred head (and therefore rears) of cattle. “Cow pies” (yep, that’s what I’m talking about) are even nastier than the “road apples” produce by the horses.

Bathing? Shaving? Clean clothes? Not so much.

So, my (real-honest-to-goodness cowboy) hat is off to those who paved the way.

But I’ll take my twenty-first century comforts, thank you.

Hold On! Wait a Minute, I Mean an Hour!

This the picture I'm using.

Daylight savings time. Fall back. Spring forward.

Tonight’s the night to spring forward.

But wait! It’s not spring yet! According to the “Old Farmers’ Almanac”, In 2014, spring begins with the vernal equinox on March 20 at 12:57 P.M. EDT.

They’re stealing an hour of my sleep, and it isn’t even spring yet.

Where’s Doc Brown when we need him?

Brown

Back to the Future….

Building an FM transmitter with a Raspberry Pi

Since I’m fascinated with electronics and experimenting, how about this MAKE project?

Ham Radio Blog PD0AC

Depending on the power output it might not be legal, but interesting for sure. (via Makezine.com)

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What’s Really Important?

Reading the headlines – the war in Crimea, political buffoonery in Washington, global warming, Snowmageddon, etc. can be intimidating.

What’s really important? What really matters?

I’ve given it much thought and I decided.

Of all the laundry, I like the towels best.

Brotex.com

Brotex.com

They’re easy to fold, AND you can fold a whole dryer load in a matter of minutes.

They’re easy to match than socks.

None of them need to go on hangers.

And nothing beats a warm towel after a shower on a winter’s day.

Anonymity or Identification?

One of the problems with the internet and the World Wide Web is that anyone can say anything about anything.

Anonymously.

Courtesy disappears completely when people can hide behind “squirrelbrain321.” It makes the cable news talk shows seem downright civil by comparison.

American Radio Relay League - 100 years of Service www.arrl.org

American Radio Relay League – 100 years of Service http://www.arrl.org

My son asked me the other day why I liked talking with people via ham radio when it’s possible to connect to people all over the world via the internet.

I originally said because hams tend to have more in common – a technical and science orientation. Some degree of intelligence – at least enough to pass the license examination. Oh, and at least a common interest in radio communications.

Later I realized that another reason is that most hams try to interact in a friendly and collegial way. There are always a few jerks in any group, but they are in the minority.

Why do hams interact this way? Because each of us has a unique identifier – a call sign, that we’re required to transmit every ten minutes and at the end of every radio conversation. If you don’t have a call sign, no one will talk to you. If you make up a call sign, you get discovered pretty quickly. Break the rules and you can lose your license (and end up with a hefty fine.)

Oh, and the Federal Communications Commission can isolate where a signal is coming from quickly and accurately if you decide not to play by the rules.

Since hams have to identify themselves and have something to lose, it’s in their best interest to play well with others. Best of all, nobody seems to mind. It’s not a burden to be polite.

I understand that there are many good reasons to protect anonymity on the internet, however, enabling people to be abusive jerks isn’t one of them.

Russian Spokesman Comment

 

Russian spokesman Vlad “The Explainer”

With apologies to Matt Groenig

With apologies to Matt Groenig

“Those aren’t my troops!

Nobody saw me!

You can’t prove a thing!”

Thoughts on Getting Older

Photo - Forbes.com Even John D. Rockefeller got old!

Photo – Forbes.com
Even John D. Rockefeller got old!

As I get older, I find I tire more easily. At times, this frustrates me, but if I stop and think, it actually works out.

My daughter wanted her bedroom painted. In my younger days, in order to make sure it was done “right,” I would have insisted that I be the prime contractor, quality control, lead painter, more quality control, etc. Now, not so much.

My daughter started the project on her own, and with some help from her brother, got most of it done.

Today, she was a little frustrated because it wasn’t compete. Most of it was the “cutting in” around the door and windows that had to be done with a brush rather than a roller. I was able to finish that part in less than an hour.

Bottom line – she learned how to paint and now appreciates what it takes. She made fewer mistakes than I would have, and I got to come in at the end, like the cavalry in the old movies, and be the hero.

Beats painting a room by myself.

Learning from history

Santayana was sooooo right,

Sacred Silicon

Or not.

history

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