Making: A $20 Parts-Meter & How to Use It

If you’re into robotics, computers, electronic circuit design, fiddling, or you’re a ham radio hobbyist wanting to spend more time on the boss end of a soldering iron, my friend Jeff at the local ham club turned me on to something called an “M-Meter, parts meter and assorted other names.”

What makes this a useful tool is it answers one of the more troubling problems face by newcomers to electronics;  which is “Just what it this damn part I’m looking at?

Pretty cool, too,” I was assured. Just plug a part in and it will tell you what you’ve got!”  Given the number of eye operations I’ve been through, anything that lightens the load on the eyes is “all good.”  Besides, the Parts or M-Meters are dirt cheap – about $11-bucks on eBay for the working board and I splurged for an $8 acrylic specially-made box to put it in.

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The first step in assembly is to lay out the case parts to get an idea of how things to together.  There’s a QR code on some of the packaging.  But, while the Chinese may believe all American’s own iPhones, there are those of us on slow circuits and out of cell-range in the woods.  I already warned you some tablets – like my new Kindle HD 10 will not focus close on small QR’s, right?  Still, it’s an enclosure for crying out loud — how tough could it be?

Essentially, you get two big pieces of clear acrylic.  The one with the plentiful screw holes is the bottom, while the one with the cutout for the component test-bed goes on top.  Not hard stuff.

Just remember that on the two long side pieces, there’s one with a cut-out and this is placed adjacent to the top where the test socket (and lever) are located.  The side cut-out lets the lever move to the locked position.

There are four long screws and nuts;  also four screws that are short with nuts.  The short one are used with small plastic stand-offs to hold the CPU/ display board off the case.  Eventually (since rocket science is what we do around here, yeah?) I figured the four long screws with nuts would clamp the case together.

After using those untrimmed fingernails (no one who actually makes things trims their nails, I tell yah) the paper is off the plastic parts (they look water-jetted) and you’re ready to, er, screw.

The standoffs go under the printed circuit board (PCB) and they will only fit one way with the holes lined up…

If you look closely, you will see that Ure’s truly has spread out a micro fiber cloth to work on.  Several reasons for this:  Acrylic scratches if you so much as look at it crooked.  I buy large packs of the micro fiber towels from Amazon.

Micro fiber clothes are cheap:  $10-bucks for 25: S&T Bulk Microfiber Kitchen, House, & Car Cleaning Cloths – 25 Pack, 11.5″ x 11.5″. These come in multiple colors.  Which I use for different projects.  Yellow and green are for electronics, other colors are for automotive and milling and metals.  Adds to my delusion that my shop is orderly and organized…

While getting fingerprints of hot vacuum tubes (which can cause hot-spots on high power tubes) these micro fiber god-sends are perfect finger-print getter-offer for all things plastic.  A quirt of Plexus Plastic cleaner ($19, but great to have on hand for all things plastic) and it will look like new.

Did I mention that the dropped tiny screws are easier to find when you drop them on a yellow micro-f shop towel? (Gotta do something about my floor, lol.)

Just before the top cover goes on the parts meter, don’t forget to toss in a really fresh 9-volt battery.  Although the unit is simple enough to hold together (after you’ve gone through the dropping curve to hold the case together while putting in screws and nuts one-handed because you’re too lazy to get the masking tape to help…) this is not something you want to plan as a centerpiece when entertaining.  Repeat after me: PITA. Get the masking tape to hold things together and then remove.

How Does It Work?

Cool!

In Ure’s Lab, all the pill bottles I’ve ever handled live in some semblance of order.  So, I was able to quickly pick some difficult projects for the parts meter.  I wanted to see just how good it with do with this and that:

Can we bring out our first candidate, please?

If you squint at the lower corner of the meter, you will see it is 10.13 nano farads which is what the part is labeled in my (surprisingly neat) parts collection.

You just need to remember on capacitors there are conversions to get from micro farads to nano farads, to pico farads, which is newspeak for micro-micro farads which is redundant redundant!

It’s just that there are three ways to state something like capacitor value on older schematics of radios, robots, and whatever:  In this case, the choices are 0.01uF / MFD,  the 10nF nano farads, or the 10000pF (MMFD) where MMFD really means uuf (now pico farads) if you’re a grown up.

Doe it work on all values tried?  No.

Had something of an issue with small capacitors like 47 uuf,  (47 pf).  BUT it got the small chokes (inductors) about right – and that’s what it will be used for.  Inductors, also called “coils” or “chokes” have a color coding system 300-feet past stupid when your eyes are sub-Optimus Prime.

Come to think of it, lots of components are little Decepticons.  What the hell is a capacitor vale (disk ceramic) of “103???”

A dandy article over at Robotoid here goes into this occult other-earthly capacitor language.  Or, you plug the part into the meter like this just-assembled parts meter  and out pops the answer.

Is it the be-all, end-all?

Far from it, eventually you will end up with a sizeable meter collection that will eat up most of your bench space if you don’t keep them locked up and prevented from reproducing.

Left to right:

The first meter is the new parts meter.  This will take a stab at playing “Name that component.

Second one is an Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR) meter.  This will take a whack at capacitors including (with a dozen asterisks) in-circuit caps with 50 asterisks.  One of which is that table on the front of it which requires a magnifier for older techs like, uh…you know!.

Meter #3 is used when you don’t believe the ESR meter.  It’s a pure capacitor meter, BUT it will go wonky on some capacitors (big broadcast silver-micas don’t read well, for example).  Unsolder one end of the capacitor you’re wondering about because it doesn’t do in-circuit well..

The last meter is a simple transistor and IC checker.

“How Many Meters Do You Need?”

Dang!  That is a toughie.  If you are doing “simple” robotics, then a “grown-up” meter with a current clamp, probes, holster, and all that makes sense.  Take out $235 and get a Fluke 117/323 KIT Multimeter and Clamp Meter Combo Kit.  But, what about inductance?  Try the on-sale for $11 Digital Multimeter, HOLDPEAK 4070L Manual-Ranging Multi Tester for Measuring Resistance?Capacitance, Inductance, Transistor, hFE of 2000 Count (Blue).

When people ask me “why so many” I use the water analogy to electricity.  Voltage is like the water pressure.  Current is like the cubic volume of water flowing.    The “pressure” (volts) times the “amount of current flow” (amps) gives you the amount of “work being done” (in Watts).

Ergo, voltmeters, ammeters, and watt-meters.  This “parts meter” is really an inexpensive subset of LCR (inductance, capacitance, resistance) meters.  There are lots of them available with the main feature change being whether the unit is auto-ranging or if you have to spin a switch to find a reasonable reading.

Measuring Alternating Current (AC) Voltages

When messing about making things, we have Alternating Current (AC) as well as Direct Current (DC).

It’s not so simple as you’d think:  Alternating current (AC) has two major ways of being measured:  One way is “peak-to-peak.”  This is from the top of one cycle to the bottom of it.  Assuming symmetry…another longish debate,  Peak-to-Peak reading.

Unfortunately, while it’s true that Peak Volts and Peak Amps will multiply into a number giving Watts (instantaneous work done), the REAL number in the power world is called RMS – stands for root-mean-square).  You use RMS to get to average work done,.

DON’T USE THE PARTS-METER in today’s project to test AC lines!!!  Use a real meter – Fluke 117.  Insulation matters!

So, if you (CAREFULLY WITH EXPERIENCED SUPERVISION) stick a peak-reading AC volt meter into a dryer plug you might find peak to peak is 339 volts.  To convert this to RMS, you multiply times 0.707 and THAT is what the power company will bill you on.

EXCEPT even THAT refined number is not really a pure one.  Because of something called “power factor.

Regulators (does the term “lying lazy pieces of crap” come to mind here?) have been sold the idea that utilities should bill everyone on the basis of a power factor of 1.

What this means, without going into the engineering side too deeply, is that it the power company is allowed to ASSUME that peak current and peak voltage arrive at your appliances at the same time.

They don’t – not in the real world.  When the peak current shows up at a different time than peak voltage, you may pay for one kilowatt-hour of work and only really get 0.80 kilowatt hours!

Think about this closely. If the current and voltage are totally out of phase:  Peak voltage arrives when there is ZERO current, so no work will be done.  Since 240 volts times ZERO amps in this worst case nightmare is zero amps, the dryer won’t dry clothes well.

Same thing other way around:  If peak current arrives with zero volts….

Back to the robotics angle:  This power-factor discussion is not academic.  Because in robotics the easiest way to control power is using pulse width modulation.  PWM.

Instead of nice, smooth sine waves like come out of your wall, PWM robotics controllers slice or chop Direct Current on and off.  For light loads, it’s a paper thin slice of voltage.  For a heavy loads a bigger ‘slice of power’ is used.  Think of PWM as different thicknesses of sliced breads.  Thin slices give you less energy..

For complex power (PWM) you won’t use a parts meter or even an LCR (unless looking for a faulty component).  the right tool for complex wave forms is an oscilloscope.

That’s beyond the discussion in this week’s making oof stuff, but the point is, you need as many meters as you’re planning to mess about with.

If you cover from DC to AC daylight?  OMG.  Not only will you need volt and current (and capacitor and component) (LCR) meters, but you will need precision voltage sources to test and calibrate things. And an oscilloscope.

At the end of the day only simple questions remain:  How much precision and over what kind of range?

The ultimate limiting factor – though seldom stated – is “How much are you willing to afford?“”  There’s always like any other hobby, if you have the money, someone’s got something really cool to sell you.

Test equipment for messing about is no different.

Now, off to play with the ham radio: Computer: turn on the tunafish!”  (See the Coping section on voice automation hell this week….got it worked out, lol.)

Write when you get rich,

George@ure.net

Coping: With the Voice-Controlled Home

[Adult language alert!] So, you think this is funny, do yah? A few months back, I posted a rather negative review on the whole notion of the “smart home” as embodied by the app-crazed marketers of the world.

The product involved was TP-Link HS100 Smart Plug (2-Pack), No Hub Required, Wi-Fi, Works with Alexa and Google Assistant, Control Your Devices from anywhere (HS100 KIT) – basically 2 “smart switches” that cost your $45.

As much as I worry about unauthorized access to anything, this may seem a confusing and contradictory move.  But, since the Post Office is dropping scans of everything in my FedFile – that master database on each of us that the Provos and such now track (see Total Information Awareness) that there was relatively little personal risk from riding this new (and odd) wave of tech.

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How It Works

This is a hoot:  So you have either an Amazon Dot ($39) or that Google thing (next on my install list if time permits).

Learning the basics of Alexa voice commands is simple:  “Alexa play iHeart Radio WOAI” will bring up Charlie Parker and the morning crew down in San Antonio over breakfast, for example.  The streaming is OK and considering we live out of range of all but local religious and country stations, we get our money’s worth from that.

But that’s ONLY the voice of Amazon.  When you get an Alexa (I have the small “Dot” in my office) there’s half a dozen steps of monkey-motion to dance through, but eventually it works.

Since I also bought one of the All-New Fire HD 10 Tablet with Alexa Hands-Free, 10.1″ 1080p Full HD Display, 64 GB, Marine Blue – with Special Offers ($190) – and I have no idea what the “special offers” are – I now had a way to FINALLY program the “smart switches.”  Birthday gift to me.

If you remember our last go-round:  I could not set-up the “smart switch”p from the Alexa app (voice side) and the PC side didn’t do it either.  I had to download something called TP-Link KASA.  Go figure.

Seemed easy enough.  Well, was it?  Hell no!  It was a major PITA.

The theory is you flash the QR card on the TP-Link set up doc.  No.

Fire 10 HD doesn’t auto-focus that close.  Looks good at arm’s length – sucksabunch up close.  Get the cam close enough to read the QR and everything is fuzzy-out all to shit and it won’t read.

Hmmm…next idea, genius?

Well, I will just flip over to Google Play and download TP-Link Kasa from there, right?

Hell no.

This time the Google software didn’t want to install.  After a one-hour session of joyful longshoreman-talk, I finally get Google Play working.

NO.  No…strike that…

It won’t download the Kasa app I need because my new Kindle 10 is not “linked” to my Google account.  Never did get that to work.  (shit)

Finally gave up on Google and since I don’t like their lefterly politics that much, oh well.

I still had one more option:  I could look (Bing) for the KASA .apk.  Which, if you’ve never tapped your way into this part of the digital asylum, means the ready to install compressed application.

Which eventually I get downloaded (100 MB so there goes part of my resource) and at last…does it load?

NO.

It TRIED to load, but due to the security settings on the Fire 10, here comes three minutes looking for “How safe to use this properly sourced .APK?

Turns out, there is a drop-down on the Kindle settings that let’s you hold off the security gestapo long enough to install the app.

Done?  Well no.

Now I had KASA downloaded.  BUT, it would not let me go search for the damn devices until I first “SET UP AN ACCOUNT.”

Do I need an account to control a “smart switch?” I’m staring at in my hand and there’s a soft voice between my ears saying “What kind of bullshit is tech leading us into?”

FMTT – I set up the stupid account.

But NOW it STILL won’t let me log in without first answering a confirming email.

Ure shitting me right?  I’ve been goring through imap hell this week.  Email working?

NO.  Thinks my verification is a phish.

I had to whitelist the source on my first filtering mail server because I use staged forwarders.  (This means if you send an email to George@ure.net, it  goes through one set of filters and then forwards to the next route here and other filters  are applied and then it forwards to another ISP (more filters) and if everything is working well, all is peace and harmony.

No crap, now spam, no fish.  Until this week when it turned into no mail.

BUT I solved that one.

See: ever since the earth station for Exede/Viasat  changed (part of the time) to Phoenix or out in BFE or wherever (from Virginia) I had been through a different two-hour adventure with some very patient Amazon support folks on THAT adventure.  As it turned out, fixing THAT left me with a recent memory of how to turn off the front-end email server’s forward and use it’s webmail face to get that dam “verification code” from TP-Link,

With me on this so far?  You get a Microsoft gold star if you follow.

OK, I get the KASA app running and it seems to work.  I name one switch “Printer” and the other one “Radio.”  Radio turns on the tube type ham radio gear (from another Echo box in the house) so the tube gear can warm up while I’m having coffee and visiting the throne room on Sunday morning.  Yeah.,..diss is dah digital life, bro.

I get everything working and then come into the office yesterday morning.

“Alexa, turn printer on!”

“OK” and the printer comes on at the other end of the room.

“Alexa: turn printer off.”

Another soft click and she says “OK.”

God this was cool…as the fits of sweating and swearing and tears of the previous day rode into the sunset of memories…

“Alexa: Ham radio on.”

“Getting 103 Rock Station from iHeart Radio…”

WTF floody buck?????   @#$%^&*()_(*&^%!!!  It worked two hours earlier!

Oh, I forgot to mention that the Kindle Fire 10 has Alexa voice built in.  BUT until the software is updated, it will not let me change the wake-up word on the Fire.  (I think Amazon should let us use the word Fire as a wake-up word, but then my sense of humor at the prospect of hearing people in a crowded office yelling “Fire! Fire!” may be different than the sense of human (if any) enjoyed by Amazon’s legal department,

Because of this name-game, whenever I tried to do something on the Dot, both the Dot and the Kindle 10 would answer.  Both being named Alexa.

I was wandering around cursing a blue streak – and I’m convinced it keeps me from stroking out and then the answer came to me:

The Dot now answers to “Computer” for its wake-up call.  And later on this morning I’ll make  a pass at naming the radio power switch something else.

How does “Computer: Tunafish!” sound?  (Turns out this is not a skill yet…by I’m sure I’ll be sued by some IP shysters anyway.  It’s how this sick planet works now.)

I was approaching things like a logical human might — but it’s becoming clear to me that human’s no longer really develop computers.

Like Zeus the Cat, the smart office is now training us.

As the Zeus the Cat explained it:  “See stupid upright ape?  They are able to call it a Smart Home because it’s obviously smarter than you…”

Tunafish, cat?

Write when you get rich.  “Computer Publish!”

George@ure.net

Coping: Prepping Paranoid – the Short Course

I assume by now you know that every single piece of mail that is delivered to your home is photographed by the US Postal Service and is shoved into a database which features an entry for every American, right? You did know that, right?

What you are looking at in the photograph is the email sent to me yesterday by the Postal Service, which contained a photograph of every piece of mail that I would receive later in the day from my local carrier. They do not get all the packages properly scanned, but all of the envelopes are.

Obviously this is not a bad thing: because people from far away, foreign places, who may indeed mean harm to the United States, leave a written and photographic copy of their foreign correspondence on file ready for any bureaucrat to discover.

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This is not designed to make you paranoid, although it may, but it is worth knowing that every single piece of mail delivered to your home is being photographed by the Postal Service and is being placed in a database (accessible by Homeland Security and whoever else!),  So that if you are somehow out of line, or one of your neighbors is piston calls in a falsified report about you, there is a paper trail that can force additional information from you.

this was brought to my attention by our consigliere recently.  He is a very upstanding, loyal officer of the court.  But, he was quite appalled to find out that he and his law firm could sign up in advance (free) to see what mail would be delivered to the firm later in the day. He suggested that we sign up for the service as well.

It did not take him long to piece together that this is why there is a huge NSA installation in Provo, Utah: this information is all placed in your personal record.

Now I have to ask you the simple question:  If you are a law abiding private citizen, should you be worried about this kind of unannounced and unobtrusive surveillance by your government of activities in your private life?

There is an old concept in American jurisprudence, suggesting that people have a reasonable right to expect privacy in their “personal papers and letters.”  But this has been screwed up horribly by the courts.  They have held that your cell phone contents, including your call history, is not as sacrosanct as you might have otherwise believed.

Which sort of flies in the face of the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Naturlich, the Stasi Lite would argue that they are not intruding into your letters specifically; only taking a photograph of the letters exterior, much as anybody getting into your mailbox could find the same information.

I am not particularly worried about personal loss of liberty due to the mail arriving an hour mailbox, but upon reflection I am a bit concerned that some of my eBay purchases might look a bit strange to people who do not understand Mr. Ure’s ham radio hobby.

For example, I recently obtained some “doorknob capacitors” from Bulgaria.  This is a very normal transaction among ham radio enthusiasts because in Bulgaria, many of the parts that cost 3 to 4 times as much in America today are still available on the surplus market since the former Soviet Union was not especially efficient at paring down production for unneeded parts.

And, what about power overseas people not.com subscribers?  It may surprise you to know that some of the actual financial gnomes of Switzerland read our modest financial outlooks

Mail is not the only thing wrong in America today.

Few people realize that there are military tanks tanks in the American South that are still subject to massive purchases of parts even though they have been removed from service before the outbreak of World War II.  This is because America’s governmental acquisition system is not any more efficient than the former Soviet Union’s.  Welcome to  E. Germany.

But, I need to say for the record that despite my receiving envelopes from Bulgaria.  I am not an agent of the Communist Party and, more to the point, my only sins against humanity is usually committed at the idiot end of a soldering iron or keyboard.

Honestly, I do not think this will help.  We live in a crazy world where one can be a left-wing educator and be protected by the full power of the government while polluting the minds of America’s young, while simply buying parts from an area once dominated by the former Soviet Union might make make someone a suspect in whatever the government wants to imagine.

Psst!  Want some 4700 pF capacitors?

If you would like to sign up for this latest marvel of the police state/nanny state/ultrahigh tech mail delivery service, please visit the following website:

https://informeddelivery.usps.com/box/pages/intro/start.action

I have found so far that it has relieved some of the midday urgency to run out to the mailbox.  Is this a great country or what?him

Dashing Through the Snow

A couple of items from a conversation with my son this week will be of interest to anyone who has studied the fine art of escape and evasion under winter conditions.

It seems that my son recently found himself in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state going on a late night/early morning hike through the wilderness some miles from a friend’s cabin.

After walking around for several hours in the very, very dark.  My son and his companion decided they were not 100% sure of their location.

In order not to make a bad situation worse, my son suggested they take out their survival gear, scoop up some snow, melt it, and have a cup of tea and think about their situation.  Which they did.

A couple of options came were reviewed: one of them was to use the GPS facility in their cell phones to get a fix on where the home cabin was, but that that was not an especially good choice because they had no cell signals in this rather remote area.  It is a fair distance from Leavenworth, Washington.

After the tea settled in, they decided the smartest course of action would be to walk back up the ridge that they had descended and see if they could either get cell phone coverage from that vantage point or if they could see faraway lights such as the freeway (US-2) or any buildings or cabins in the area.

As it turned out, they were indeed able to see something upon cresting the ridge: my son had earlier had the presence of mind to lay out chem lights every thousand feet or so. Just in case, blizzard conditions and what-not.

Not only did he lay them out in alternating colors (red and green), but he took pains to ensure that they were oriented pointing back to the point of origin for this hike.

Dude! That is some serious outdoorsmanship,” George’s friend told him after picking up the sightlines on the lights.  Within a thousand feet feet of the cabin, they transitions to dark.  Sneak-ups are fun.

Still,  my son got a thorough but chewing-out from his old man because he had failed one of the main rules of back-country survival: failure to adequately prepare.

He made it back okay and there was no need to call in search and rescue at 0200 hrs.  However, given that he had a cell phone with GPS, part of dad’s lecture was about “trusting your instruments.”  Along with never leaving sight of those “stars you steer by.”

Those of course being the buildings with lights on in the ski resort area.

He did not need to fire up his iridium sat phone, but I am sure the thought crossed his mind while they were having tea.

A lot of people think that they are well-versed in survival skills, and yet when taken outside at night and given an assortment of night operations equipment, there is a natural tendency to light up 1000 lm of daylight white.  Fortunately, George II had the good sense to turn off the high powered white light and switch to the more trail – friendly low-level red lights.

All’s well that ends well, except if you are going to be thoroughly prepared to bug-out under all conditions, there is no substitute for running practice jaunts at night so that you can find your way, not break a leg, and navigate with greater confidence.

Anything else is the stuff of storybook websites.  There’s Walter Mitty and then there’s us.

By the way:  Back country woo-woo in this item?

Skier Lost in New York Has No Idea How He Ended Up in California.

Small side wager:  Alien abduction.

Right when you get rich,

george@ure.net

Coping: With 10-Year News Futures

There’s a report this morning that a leading voice in the newspapering business figures print will be dead in just 10-years. The problem with the forecast? That’s not all that will be vastly different. This morning, how to think like a prepper at the detail level.

A good start is to read the article about the future of the New York Times which is already 60% online-dependent.

The interesting part of this – from the standpoint of being an “old-time radio news reporter – is to observe the hidden aspects of this story.

(Continues below)

 

One of the “hiddens” is that the NY Times and other media outfits have laid some of the groundwork for their own demise.  For example (going from memory here) wasn’t it the Times that was one of the early-adopters of automated news “re-writing software?”

If you’re outside the field, you may not appreciate the depth of this change and its impact on journalism, but let’s go back to the Association Press Bureau in Seattle in 1975.

It was there that a dear friend “Big Al, the broadcaster’s pal” was on the radio / Northwest desk most mornings taking impossibly long A.P. newspaper stories and cutting ’em down to size.  Handling called in reports from stringer (like me) and always having a ready quip and a twinkle in his writing. Great writer.

But Al would not likely survive as a great writer in today’s world, at least at the levels he reached.  Because, not unlike me, he was what I call a “production writer” – a label I wear myself.

It’s not a slur by any stretch.  It means that you can crank out great ‘copy’  with blazing speed and impossible deadlines.  To be sure, that’s not the stuff of Pulitzers.  The latter are handed out mainly for ‘big stories’ and generally to the first reporters either one the scene or with the inclination to go really deep into something.  Woodward and Bernstein types.

But the production writer is measured as much  by their volume of copy which holds nearly equal weight with the quality of it.

When you can crank out 20,000 (and more) words per week, you enter the real of Production Writing.  It’s a familiar haunt to me and I learned a great deal from Al.

By the mid 1980’s the changing demand for production writers was beginning to change.  Al left “news” and went off to head-hunt.  Another honorable trade but again, one with a “limited shelf life ahead.”

One has only to look at onliners like www.zipredcruiter.com to consider that machine-hiring is the pending future.

The end of “production writing” in media  is being driven by content rewriting software.  Take a look at  http://www.spinnerchief.com/ and you will begin to get a sense of it.  A further glimpse may be seen at https://wordai.com which promises as follows:

“WordAi uses artificial intelligence to understand text and is able to automatically rewrite your article with the same readability as a human writer! Sign up now and get unlimited human quality content at your fingertips!”

Now let me flip back to the moans from the NYT CEO:  I seem to recall that the NY Times Wire – which resold (and may still resell) rewritten NYT content to regional newspapers.

The path into our communications future is therefore a big bleak, even if the Times story doesn’t get that deep.   I have some colleagues in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists who write only 5,000 words per week.  They are either gifted, or they are holdovers from the “good old days” which ended a dozen, or so, years back when auto-rewrite came along.

How “The Future” Kills the Future

There’s much to be learned in this past 60-years from watching evolutionary change.

As a boy, my father was always taking me on field trips. I had forgotten them mostly, until just now.  Even by class in junior high school went on field trips.  One of the most memorable class adventures was going to the Weyerhaeuser mill in Everett, WA. where we saw high-pressure water rip the bark off massive old-growth trees.

It was a taste of the future, though.  Today, what few old-growth trees are left are most likely to be on conservancy lands, or so impossibly remote so as to be uneconomic to exploit.  Oh, and that high-pressure bark removal?  That likely has something to do with the roots of what is today the high pressure “water-jet” cutting industry.

What?  You think it’s a coincidence that Flow Waterjet Systems is in Kent, Washington?

On one of our father-son adventures, pappy took me down to visit a Linotype setting operation of South Dearborn Street in Seattle.  This was when steam engines will still transiting the King Street station.

I could have stood there for hours:  Hot lead being turned into type and set so as to be press-ready.  Bet you’ve never heard of:

The Mergenthaler Linotype Company is a corporation founded in the United States in 1886 to market the Linotype machine (/?la?n??ta?p, -no?-/), a system to cast metal type in lines (linecaster) invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler. It became the world’s leading manufacturer of book and newspaper typesetting equipment; outside North America, its only serious challenger for book production was the Anglo-American Monotype Corporation. It also offered phototypesetting and digital products before being taken over by Monotype Imaging in 2006.”

Yes, even on the typesetting side of newspapers, change was in the air.  The Seattle Times run a Sunday section in those days called the “rotogravure” section.  It was a special printing process that enabled color printing on a mass circulation basis:

“Rotogravure (roto or gravure for short) is a type of intaglio printing process, which involves engraving the image onto an image carrier. In gravure printing, the image is engraved onto a cylinder because, like offset printing and flexography, it uses a rotary printing press. Once a staple of newspaper photo features, the rotogravure process is still used for commercial printing of magazines, postcards, and corrugated (cardboard) and other product packaging.”

Passed through several colors (CMYK sound familiar?) the Seattle Times pictorials allowed us to see stunning black and while as well as a few color pictures that were inspiring.  This was in an age prior to GoPro’s and YouTube…but less than a lifetime ago.


The humans are coming out of the loop in the information world.  Even our small “news and comment” operation here in East Texas enjoys access to most of the leading news sources.  Whether it’s the President’s Twitter remarks, press releases on economic affairs from government agencies, or highly organized press release distribution channels.  It has all served to kill the once lofty power positions once enjoyed by the (liberal) Northeast media.

Change is not coming in 10-years.  It is already here.

We have no illusions, though:  We know that with most news going “news-source direct to the public” that it will be only a matter of time before “The Citizen Video Network” – that’s our private code for an internet-based, anyone can contribute – video processing website.

YouTube of “breaking news” here is stepping in that direction.

Will there still be a place for an “old-style production writer?”  Yes, I think so, but only with contexting and historical references for those are much harder to reduce to rewriting algorithms.

For now, then, we will persist; happy to understand the changing information topology that spans from the newsroom to the printing floor to distribution and even tree-farming.

I would have though the Times would have it a little more clearly understood by now.

Oh well.

Reminder:

VD is tomorrow.  Valentines Day (not venereal disease, unless you are uselessly careless!).

Get something for someone.

For, it is written in the Great Book of Ure:

It is better to get the wrong gift, than no gift at all.

Write when you get rich,

George@ure.net

Coping: Is Life an “Escape Room?”

Woo-Woo: A reader was wondering what I thought of this idea.  Of course, you need to know what an “escape room” is, if you don’t already know.

“An escape room is a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints and strategy to complete the objectives at hand. Players are given a set time limit to unveil the secret plot which is hidden within the rooms. Escape rooms are inspired by “escape-the-room“–style video games. Games are set in a variety of fictional locations, such as prison cells, dungeons and space stations, and usually the various puzzles and riddles themselves follow the theme of the room.”

Here lately, escape rooms are evolving into interesting “mixed rooms” – some of which include a murder mystery as well as food, drinks, and who knows where the evolution will end.

(Continue below)

 

But, the point is, the “escape room” is a neat metaphor for where the world is.

Think of it this way:  We are all “in the room” – that’s clear since the furthest we have gotten so far (if you believe the escape room narrative) is “the moon.”

Even those few who escaped that far had to return to the “room” here on Earth to get fresh food, water, and air.  Side of gravity with that, too, please.

Like the “escape room” there’s something – likely in plain sight – that most people miss.

Moreover, it is likely something cultural because when you study escape rooms, you’ll find there are certain mindsets, ways of seeing, thinking, and following logical pathing that work better than others.

In fact, the logical pathing most of the civilized world is trained in now involves looking at a screen 20-inches from your nose and doing things like swipe this and tap that.

Here’s a shocker (and seriously, this isn’t apparent to a lot of people- impossible as it sounds):  Tapping and Swiping is NOT going to get us out of the present Room (Earth).  It probably won’t even HELP.

That’s because whether you call it Great Evil, the Nahkash, Devil, Azazel, dungeon master, PTB, Elites, Banksters, or Rothschilds…everyone has a model… it’s NOT IN A PHONE OR DROID.

This isn’t a HUGE thought for this hour on a Monday, but it’s something better to think about today than the same-old same-o.

Organizing a Search Party

If you’;; acquiesce to the idea  “OK, so Earth is an Escape Room…” the next step is to come up with “How to Solve for an Exit” before game time is up.

(Game time is up when you die, and to keep the room exciting, everyone’s time’s up will happen at unpredictable moments.)

Since I’ve been reading on mudras again – the Indian discipline of finger power signing, which purports to be Reality slightly through hand signals –  the topic came up around 3 AM Saturday morning as either one of us could sleep.

Do you think it’s possible that some big breakthrough is just waiting to be found – hidden on some part of our bodies?

I mean think of it!  What if you could touch the little toe of your left foot to your right elbow!  That’s something that would almost certainly never happen, right?  But maybe – and this is just a far out idea sure – maybe when that Religious Fellow was off wandering around the desert for 40-days a couple of thousand years ago he got bored and connected two unlike parts of his body!  Can you see how that could complete a circuit at some cosmic level and then bring forth this outpouring of all that followed in his life after that?  Amazing thought, huh?”

“…go back to sleep…”

Then think of all the breakthroughs that could happen between humans.  I’ve been thinking about that, too.

Take you and me.  We’re simpatico…so what keeps us from doing something like the Vulcan mind-meld from StarTrek?  What is it about the nervous system that let’s consciousness level the brain – travel down your arm to – let’s say your hand – and then back up to the brain again?  Hit your hand with a hammer…and you’ll feel it…your CONSCIOUSNESS moves to the pain.  So why can’t it move further?

Is it possible that there are different body parts – ones that aren’t usually connected, even between consenting adults – which are build so that consciousness can flow from one person – into another and back again?

Think how long we’ve been alive – almost 150 years between the two of us – and never in all that time have I heard a word of research on this.  Not one!

Maybe it’s hidden in some non-obvious way.  Like the little toe to the right elbow…you know…statistically improbable, right?

When was the last time, for example, that you put your left kneecap behind my left earlobe, for example?  Or, have I ever placed you big toe on my L-4/L-5 spinal segment?  See what I mean?

Why, telepathy could be right there waiting to be discovered!”

Would telepathy wake me up?…Leave me out of this.  Go back to sleep…”

OK, so the conversation was maybe a bit onesided.  But, and this is weird, like the book I just wrote on the lack of continuous broad-spectrum wave interaction research from DC to daylight, is it possible that because of curious cultural blinders we have missed actually doing a computer-generated COMPLETE inter-human connectivity study?

The idea is, if nothing else, novel.

And given how we will all be watching the silly numbers run our net worth up and down this week, it seems like it’s a useful question to keep handy in case some mental-processor clicks come up free, with nothing to keep them busy.

I’ll get to work on the algorithm for this right away.

Hmmm…Test #739:  Place right ring finger in left nostril.  Test #740:  Place right pinky finger in left nostril.

This could take a while.  But if I get swept up in a cloud and get tempted, I’ll try and get some pictures.

Meanwhile, enjoy your time in the other escape room (work) today and…

Write when you get rich,

George@ure.net

OOPS.  Almost forgot.  Time for Test #741:  Remove tongue from cheek.

Coping: Pre-Crash Checklist Time

Guess we know what the disturbance in “the force” was Monday, huh?  On to Prepping:  It’s easy to say but much harder to do.

Here lately, seems like the whole prepping movement has sort of run out of steam, but there are plenty of good reasons why.

For one, when we read the latest books on point, we find that “forgotten secrets” to prepping are largely irrelevant today.  The tools our grandparents used to raise their families in the aftermath of the Great Depression just don’t apply, anymore.

(Continues below)

 

The Ure family, I suppose, was typical.  My grandfather, which for my kinds would be the great-grandfather, had come out west in the early 1920’s to drive a Dodge PowerWagon around the hills of the Pacific Northwest for what used to be Puget Power and what’s now Puget Sound Energy, if memory serves.

The first thing the family did on arriving in Seattle was to buy a house at the bottom of 3rd West on the north side of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle.  The house was paid off as quickly as possible.  There was a sense the boom wouldn’t last.

Still, grandpa drove his truck and was a Teamster.  He’d leaned up on them from uncle Bill, who drove mule trains up the Fraser River Canyon in British Columbia.  When you talk about family heritage things, the Alaska Gold Rush, wasn’t really that long ago.

Grandpa’s wife worked hard.  She had an amazing garden which was still feeding not only the family, but the grandchildren as well in the 1950’s.  She’d become expert on rhubarb, for one, and there’s few things in life as good as a still-warm rhubarb pie and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Vegetables were not real plentiful in the Depression, so neighbors traded this or that – depending on the season.

Grandma also raised cats.  Siamese purebreds, to be exact.  Seems like in every mania on the financial side, there is a “pet mania” of some sort.  If Siamese were the Depression animal last time, seems to me the pit bulls will be the breed this time.  But that’s not really the case.

And article over here (2017) says the Rottweiler’s, German Shepard’s, and the Labradors are tops.  Unless you need someone eaten, of course.

People in the Depression worked, too.  My dad would get up and deliver about 100 newspapers before school.  At high school, he was working part time in odd jobs, and once 18, he started working at a cigar store in downtown Seattle.

Everyone worked in the family – long and hard, but work wasn’t always plentiful.

The economy kept itself together, prices came way down, and as they fell, so did wages.  That’s how a viscous economic cycle works:  Bad begets worse.  Worse begets terrible.  Terrible begets democrats, technocrats, communists, socialists, and anyone else who can jingo their way to the public’s attention.

Und, zo?

If you’re asking yourself “How does any of this mean anything to ME?” there’s a real lack of caffeine in your life.  My family lived through the Great Depression and we learned about it when we were young.  Most people alive today either never dug into their family’s history – and learned coping skills – or they never took the time to generalize and update to reflect the current conditions in the world.

Read any good history of “hard times” though, and you will see there are signposts everywhere.  You just need to be able to read them.

Housing and Food.  

These were key in the Ure family making it through OK.  The house payments were small, but that was largely because people didn’t have big mortgages at the time.

There are some simple calculations we can “back of the envelope” on this matter.  In the West (Seattle is), the average value of a home in 1920 was about $4,277.  And the average mortgage debt owed was on the order of $1,769 and the typical rate was 6.8% interest.

Please note that while this sounds tall by today’s rates, you are living in a classic economic long wave bottom.  In 1890, 30-years earlier, the average interest rate was 8.6%. (Comprehensive source data.) And one other historical note: When I bought my first new home (1973) the interest rate was 7-1/4%.

So we look at the debt to equity ratio of that $4,277, we see that with a $1,769 mortgage,, the equity position was $2,508, or 58.64 percent.

Now let’s consider someone in Seattle.  This is one of the hottest markets in the country,  According to Zillow (source) the median home price in Seattle is presently $718,700. In order to have the same kind of equity position enjoyed by people in 1920, Seattle homeowners have a median equity of $421,445.

I’m pretty sure almost no one does.

The reasons are manifold: The homes have been flipped as Seattle became a “hot market” and who among the young wave could avoid the temptation to re-fi and pull out “free” home equity?

The point to be made here is to have a back-up housing plan that you can run with minimal (or no) income.  Almost no one has that.  But, with the possibility of hard times ahead, we look at the data and say “What would we do IF….” And then you work out options now, while there are the luxuries of time and money on your side.

Once you figure out where to live if jobs go away in large numbers, then  the next question is how to fix the food picture.

While laying back and rotating a supply of canned goods is logical, when it comes to fresh foods and veggies, there’s not much sharing down inside city limits of most towns.

If you are lucky enough to live in a city that allows a few family chickens, I would be all over that one.  Aged and worked with compost chicken poo is dandy fertilizer for gardens.  But it’s “hot” and tends to burn, so it needs to be mixed in with other things.  Still, in a solid depression,  a few eggs and high quality fertilizer isn’t a bad thing to have.  Also with a protein source at the end of it all.

Other Income

The point of grandma’s Siamese is still there:  Dogs and large pets make sense when times are good.  Vet bills will come down, as people won’t have as much disposable income.

Cat interest may rebound, or people (especially in apartments) may decide to become “pet free” for economic reasons.  People (like my children) don’t like it when I say “You want money?  Do you have a pet?  There’s $50-$100 per month you could be saving.

Look for a massive increase in abandoned pets and overflowing shelters.

Oppressive Regulations

In the Depression, where there were pop-up vegetable stands, they operated mostly unhindered.

It won’t be like that this time around.  Government, you understand, has become an “unworking class” in the sense that they are collecting more than ever as their “take” for “managing” We the People.

Consider JUST FEDERAL workers:

At first blush, it SEEMS like the growth of government has been somewhat contained, at least in the period since 2002.  But that is a lie – a carefully constructed lie, but lie, nevertheless.

The way this has been pulled off is by job shifting and that accompanied revenue sharing.  So money get’s collected by the FedGov, their vig is taken off, and then some goes back to cities, states, and counties.  First thing you know, when you look at ALL government, the growth of bureaucracy has been unimpeded in the long-run:

Now let’s have some fun:  The US population in 1940 was 132.1 million people.  4.1 million government workers.  That’s ONE government worker for every 32,22 citizens.

326.767 million people in America today.  And about 22-million working in government.  That’s one government employee for each 14.86 citizens.

Put another way:  in the Great Depression, it took ONE government worker to serve and protect 33 people.  Hardest times we’ve ever seen, war domestically (Prohibition) and building up for the Second World War.  One government, 33 people.

Now?  It’s already One government worker for 14.86, but since government like nothing better than more government, we’re confident that there will be massive government hiring – just as there was before.

I don’t need to remind you of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corp from the Great Depression, of course, but most people are too dumb to see that AmeriCorp of today is the pre-packaged reworked concept ready to be press-button expanded on demand.

The statistical fact is that government  has not become more efficient in serving its country.  The data says its productivity is less than half of what it was in 1940.

How?

Political correctness police, a welfare catastrophe that STILL doesn’t work and keep families together, and a swamp that keeps moving forth a socialist agenda so that maybe at the end of the next World War, the global meltdown will result  in global governance.

Because that is the agenda.  First, multinational corporations.  They, in turn buy up regional governments.  And secondly, the real definition of fascism (corporate-government merger) is rolled out and the Totalitarian Ever-After is here.

Orwell called it in 1984.  Yet here we are: 34-years later and it’s more real than Orwell could have imagined.

Even Soylent Meal Replacement Drink is here, although we’re assured it’s not the same as in Soylent Green.

No, of course not.  But, Depressions, droughts, and famines do change everything.  Just wait.

Write when you get rich,

George@ure.net

Coping: Should Companies do Customer IQ Testing?

Prepping:  No, this is not a joke.

But, for the record, I have heard the question raised by the heads of tech support of every company I have ever worked for that had a tech support section.

It also comes up from sales managers as well.  I can’t count the times I’ve heard “Boy, do we HAVE to sell to that customer?  They are so STUPID….”

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Of course, I would tell the sales people to “stop thinking” and “get back to selling” but the tech support side of things haunts me to this day.

A couple of examples to make the case.

Last week, we had a new Peoplenomics subscriber sign up.  They were sent the username and password – as the system automatically does.  Then they cancelled the subscription and we refunded the money because “You didn’t have a logon page.

This customer was so ready to fail that they couldn’t see the link on  every posting “More for subscribers” which does appear on every single posting.

The question “Should customers take IQ tests?” even comes back to Ure’s truly.

I recently bought some Alexa controlled electrical switches for the office.

Then, when I found that they didn’t work – the set-up software app was all Android or Mac- I posted a snotty review (what, anti-Windows?) and printed out the return crap.

But – after the use-case failing customer – I got to wondering “Is Ure one of them, too???

So now my plans for the day will consist of trying to find the best, free, Android emulator for the PC and THEN try the gawd-awful set-up program, again.

Problem is:  I come back in ALL these cases to the fundamental question:  Should the customer take an IQ test before buying?

This one has me stumped.

If I get the Android virtual machine to fly under Win10/1709 then get my printer to turn on and off, I will give myself a HUGE green star for passing the tech IQ test.

Or, will I have passed?  The time to download the Andy/VM and then download the app (again) and then run through the set-up…well NOW I’ve spent as much time as I was planning to save at least through the date of the Second Coming or my earthly departure date.  No hints on which will happen first.

Point is, even if I win, I lose so yeah, I may have to put a logon page at the top of the menu on Peoplenomics so people trained by a zillion use-cases won’t panic.

And I will have a fine opportunity to once again abuse my super computer by asking it to run an emulator in addition to the DesktopServer LAMP stack plus Nostracodeus plus downloading gigabytes the whole time over a threadbare one-notch-up-from dial-up version of HDSL.

Sheesh!

For now, the answer to the question “Should Customers have to pass IQ tests?” is…

YES!  (As long as I don’t have to take ’em…)

Inquiring Minds

One of our readers sent in a pretty good “planning for the ‘pocalypse” question following yesterday’s longish rant on antennas…

“I was hoping to get a discussion of how to build a suitable antenna system for the FM Radio bands. I live in the boonies and can only receive a few FM stations.”

We have two answers, either or both is acceptable.

For FM, pick-up a good FM/TV antenna – OUTDOOR FM ANTENNA FOUR ELEMENT DIRECTIONAL about $60 bucks with shipping – and get it up as high as possible.  Then you might need a rotator.  No guarantees, though.

Another radio option would be to go to the Free to Air TV article (somewhere in the Peoplenomics archives.  Set up a FTA receiver on Galaxy 19 and hit the radio stations there.  All kinds of stuff.

Next?

OK, Another Antenna Note

From a knowledgeable reader:

George,

I would not suggest using railroad tracks for a ground, since there is localized AC voltage on the track which trigger the crossing gates by shorting the 2 tracks together. Also, they aren’t intentionally grounded.  If one track is grounded, and you hook your ground connection to the track with a potential above ground, you radio may not survive the potential difference.

For mobile grounding use, I would suggest using road markers/ mile markers with their steel supports driven into the ground.  Great local grounds that can give you several dB boosts and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Cheers!

Good point… I usually pick a place out of visual range of a crossing, so maybe just lucky so far…shocking thought!

I can tell you long chain link fences are marvelous grounds…  Next?

Antenna Tuners?

Here’s another good comment:

Great discussion and well worth the wait. But you didn’t touch on antenna tuners at all.  In my case I’m looking at putting an OCFD for 40 and 20m on an old TenTec Scout 555 without a tuner, so SWR has to 2.0:1 or below.  Which is what got me looking at the OCF’s to begin with.

Since I’ll only be driving 50 watts max, I was thinking 14AWG if I can find some cheap.

First, you need to spend some deep time reading Maxwell Reflections II: Transmission Lines & Antennas, because SWR is not EVERYTHING. Maxwell was Engineer. Chief of Space Center Antenna Laboratory and Test Range, Astro-Electronics Division, RCA Corporation, Princeton, N.J.  He may know of what he writes.

In the K6MHE collection of articles here, for example, Maxwell straightens out some of the myths:

“These include such gems of intuitive logic as (1) always requiring a perfect match between the feed line and antenna; (2) evaluating antenna performance or radiating efficiency only on the basis of feed line SWR – the lower the better; (3) pruning a dipole to exact resonance at the operating (single) frequency and feeding with an exact multiple of a halfwavelength coax – no other length will do; (4) adjusting the height – perhaps just lowering the ends into an inverted V – to make the resistive component equal to the line impedance; or (5) subtracting percent reflected power from 100 to determine usable percentage of transmitter output power (nomographs have even been published for this erroneous method).

For these reasons (and others) I like to have an antenna that is 3:1 (or better) not so much as to match the transmission line, but rather to prevent the radio from operating to a point where the SWR fold-back circuit kicks in and limits transmit power.

Hams forget that while tuners may reduce some of the transmitter burden, all additional circuitry inserted between the transmitter output and the antenna itself brings insertion loss with it.

One of the best tools for tuning up a transmitter is a simple field strength meter and MFJ Enterprises just came out with one for $35-bucks list and about $25 bucks at GigaParts.com.  When you pick a band, and don’t mess with the meter settings, then make adjustments to the antenna,  it will help you figure out not just where the “SWR sweet spot” (of any antenna analyzer) but you will often find that max field strength for a given antenna is offset from the SWR low and represents the REAL antenna length.  YMMV from day to day…but a tuner may not improve ERP (effective radiated power) which is why the field strength meter does matter…

That said, #14 wire would be fine. We still hold to bigger is better based on capture area, and all that. Whew!

About the Thunderbolt

Reader rocketmike was wondering how we were faring on the Johnson Thunderbolt amplifier project.  Here’s a summary of that:

I got it on the air on CW and it was working so-so.  500 W out on CW.  One of the problems it may have is weak final tubes, though that was expected.

What at first seemed like a cat hair causing that explosive sound turned out to be a capacitor failing on the power-supply side of the RF choke in the B+ circuit.  This, in turn, may be a symptom of a parasitic oscillations if the cut-off biasing is wrong.  Not something to do on the main bench, so we need to get (OM2’s son) to heft it out onto the Big Bench for more work.  The Big Bench has been a bit cold lately…so when the parts get here is fine…

At the same time, we will be replacing the two 500pf/0.0005uuf caps in the tank circuit (two in parallel there) with 10 KV/ 8kw-rated.  We’ll also replace the RF choke bypass cap and test the parasitic suppressors and filter caps in the screen and bias supplies.

Meanwhile, the bending around of the main transmit-receive relay (mangled in shipping) was a “known kluge.” Hopefully the upgraded with socket-mounted relays on their way from somewhere in China will arrive in time for the bench work session.  Yes, the top two contacts are supposed to be normally closed.

A Note from Our Indonesia Bureau

Loved this:

Subject: Delamat Ulang Tahun!

Hiya chief!

Wishing you a very Happy Birthday and many happy returns! Another ring on the trunk, which continues to expand apace.

Cheers! Bernard”

Yes, those “age rings” around the middle are a continuing nuisance!  Thanks (uppity bureau chief!) for pointing them out…

Write when you get rich,

George@ure.net