Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Mini phone plug, it's not you, it's me

Last Wednesday morning I got an email:
"Everyone seems to agree the 7 will come without a headphone jack, which renders it useless for a large segment of the population including me. No interest in heavy or expensive bluetooth ear buds; they are crappy for the gym or running. Nor am I interested in buds that use Apple's proprietary connectors." 
Renders it useless? How!? It will stop functioning as a radio with a computer and a damn good camera inside it? It has speakers in it. What do headphones even have to do with anything? But I put aside those ranty thoughts and responded as a former electronics engineer who developed products that had mini phone jacks. That connector is a disaster. First of all it's terrible for making your speakers pop if you plug it in hot. The one on my Mac mini that connects my computer to the amplifier crackles when I wiggle it. I cringe to think what is happening inside the computer when that happens. As a component it's completely out of scale with electronics today. When you stick a 1/2" long by 1/8" wide metal rod into a right angle connector on a circuit board it must subject the solder joints to a lot of torque. Although it's probably glued in there, another irritating manufacturing step. A mini phone jack is just not in keeping with the rest of the product to me. It's as out of place as a cast iron pitcher pump in a modern kitchen. So I responded to the email thus:
"Yes, today is the day. I have an alarm set to tune in to the live stream of the event.
I'm perfectly ok with them getting rid of an audio connector that was invented for women to poke either ends of a jumper into holes in a panel to connect two telephone sets. Limiting the advance of $800 worth of today's technology because people want to be able to plug in their $10 worth of last century's technology is obviously illogical.
Eliminating that connector allows them to easily implement waterproofing. And reduce the size and weight. I think a dongle to let you connect your old wired headphones is a perfectly acceptable compromise to have a phone that won't be damaged if you get caught in a rain storm."

Then I watched the live stream on my iPad. I laughed when this happened.

Right after that is when Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller said losing the analog jack is about "the courage to move on, do something new, that betters all of us." Well, I thought it was dumb when he said it. Betters all of us? Really? It betters the iPhone. Own up to who it helps. And what's so courageous about common sense? Then I watched dumbfounded as the vitriol boiled online from people who act like they didn't live through the death of floppy drives, the transition from analog to digital television broadcasts, phasing out high power incandescent lightbulbs, and every other advance of technology. I see what he means now. Courageous because he expected people to be furious at him. I feel bad for him now.

I am a hermit so I don't communicate with many people directly. One of them weighed in early that losing that jack was a deal breaker and that surprised me. I was relieved when the second person I typed to that day was on my side. Good riddance, he said. Let's move on. But then the third person I communicated with was also mad about it and thought it was a terrible idea. And all over my Twitter feed men were raging. (I will note that so far I have not seen a woman complain about this. I don't count this as significant because I haven't got any data on the diversity of my sample.) I got more and more puzzled. I started to question why I thought it was a good idea. I assumed anybody with an audio electronics background would automatically come to the same conclusion I did without even requiring research. But then I questioned that too. I decided I should ask my acoustics professor what he thought. But first I looked up the specs on the lightning port so I could share with him what is going to be used instead. There's a lot about it I didn't know. From the iPhone wiki: (Bold faced by me)
  • Lightning is adaptive.
  • All 8 pins are used for signals, and all or most can be switched to be used for power.
  • The outer plug shell is used as ground reference and connected to the device shell.
  • At least one (probably at most two) of the pins is used for detecting what sort of plug is plugged in.
  • All plugs have to contain a controller/driver chip to implement the “adaptive” thing.
  • The device watches for a momentary short on all pins (by the leading edge of the plug) to detect plug insertion/removal.
  • The pins on the plug are deactivated until after the plug is fully inserted, when a wake-up signal on one of the pins cues the chip inside the plug. This avoids any shorting hazard while the plug isn’t inside the connector.
  • The controller/driver chip tells the device what type it is, and for cases like the Lightning-to-USB cable whether a charger (that sends power) or a device (that needs power) is on the other end.
  • The device can then switch the other pins between the SoC’s data lines or the power circuitry, as needed in each case.
  • Once everything is properly set up, the controller/driver chip gets digital signals from the SoC and converts them – via serial/parallel, ADC/DAC, differential drivers or whatever – to whatever is needed by the interface on the other end of the adapter or cable. It could even re-encode these signals to some other format to use fewer wires, gain noise-immunity or whatever, and re-decode them on the other end; it’s all flexible. It could even convert to optical.
This is pretty neat stuff. Of course it's also proprietary and you have to pay Apple a fee to make stuff that use that connector. People that are unhappy with that, but I say welcome to a capitalist society. If you change the laws so making money for the stockholders is not the first duty of a corporation then maybe you'd get something for nothing. But this is not that time.

I typed an email to Dr. Patronis, my major professor from college and retired Professor Emeritus, to see how he reacts to change. (I will note that his sound system at home is unchanged since about 1965.) He didn't even hesitate. "Your explanation of the new Apple technology is right on and Apple has made it possible for those neanderthals who want to use their antique headphones to still do so. As you remark, they are mostly the social media crowd for whom I have a vanishingly low regard." 
I was so relieved that I was at least correct in my assertion that this is the right move for technology as I was taught it. But I was still confused why people feel so betrayed by this engineering decision. 

Here's a sample from Twitter. I guess condescension is a fair cop since my major professor just called him a neanderthal for whom he has a vanishingly low regard. But I am still trying to wrap my head around this person's perspective, which is just one of a dozen who said the same thing. This one just said it the best.

He's mad because it affects the way HE PERSONALLY uses his phone. When they changed from analog to digital TV broadcasts maybe it made a good TV obsolete, but iPhones have become much more a part of people's lives than TVs ever were. Hell, they replaced TVs for a lot of people. They replaced books for my nieces who read their whole summer reading list on their phones. They replaced the radio for my mother. People who are mad about the analog jack are not thinking of the people who build the phones in the factory. They don't give a fuck about the engineers who are trying to innovate and come up with new things who get a big opportunity when they eliminate a giant tube of air from their high density device. They're not thinking of people who drop their phones in the water (which is almost everybody I know, including myself. Although when I dropped my phone in Barton Creek it was over a meter deep and even the iPhone 7 can't handle that even though I did get it out in under 30 minutes. That story is on this blog somewhere so I won't go into it.)

Let's step back and think about this. An iPhone has become so important to this person he gets emotional when his interface to it is tampered with. If iPhones are so important why doesn't he want them to evolve and improve in the best way they can? Do we not let our puppies grow into dogs and rejoice when they stop peeing on the carpet? Things that we are emotionally attached to change all the time. We deal with that. And we can deal with the iPhone changes too.

I thought about this a lot and tried to wrap my head around the other point of view. I stopped myself from yelling at Twitter "It's a PHONE! Why are you trying to have the optimum audio experience with YOUR PHONE!?!" Because I didn't want to be condescending. Just like these people will eventually accept that the mini phone plug is no longer the connector they need I have to accept that the audio experience has become one of convenience, not quality. 

I took the full range speakers out of my mother's living room today. I removed the amplifier hooked up to them. She thought it would look nicer. Now she listens to the NPR app on her phone with a battery powered bluetooth speaker. She decided the living room would look better without audio equipment. I didn't argue with her. I just took down down the brackets and spackled the holes in the wall. 

Then I went straight to my friend's office who thinks getting rid of an outdated hole in a phone is a good idea. Now he has full range speakers next to the TV in his conference room for playing movies when he's working late. Because like me he works alone. And neither one of us get the big deal with headphones. I actually just bought a new pair for $9 that fit better in my tiny earholes. I use them under my noise reduction ear muffs so I can listen to podcasts when I mow. The ones that came with my phone hurt when I use them that way. But this purchase in no way affects what I think of a phone that costs two orders of magnitude more than that.

I feel bad for people who are upset by this change. I have empathy even when I don't have understanding. I soothe myself by projecting ahead a year. I think time is all these people need to get past this affront, this personal blow they feel has been dealt them by a company they trusted. I get how they take this personally. I think it's selfish of them to not want it to be nicer for the engineers and factory workers at Apple, but what's new? People are selfish. But people also gradually change their mind in the course of time. I decided to write this blog tonight so I can refer back to it in a year. When they introduce the iPhone 7S I expect everybody will have forgotten how upset they were over the lost jack.

For future reference, here's a good interview on Buzzfeed with Apple VP Greg Joswiak:
“The audio connector is more than 100 years old,” Joswiak says. “It had its last big innovation about 50 years ago. You know what that was? They made it smaller. It hasn’t been touched since then. It’s a dinosaur. It’s time to move on.”
This article addresses a lot of the same issues most people on social media bring up. What I like about it is the perspective from the design engineers.
For Dan Riccio, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering, the iPhone’s 3.5-millimeter audio jack has felt something like the last months of an ill-fated if amicable relationship: familiar and comfortable, but ultimately an impediment to a better life ahead. “We’ve got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it’s just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space,” he says.
I feel ya, Dan. But you lose me on this part about people with cables hanging out of their ears. I'll take your word for it. That's just not how people do in my world. I did mention I'm a hermit though, right?
Riccio has been at Apple since 1998, and he has had a hand in most all of the company’s marquee hardware. He’s fully on board with the company’s wireless narrative, as well: “In a world of mobile and cellular connectivity, the one wired vestige out there is this cable hanging from people’s ears to their phones — why?” he asks. But he’s far more interested in the ripple effect of advancements the removal of the audio jack set off in the iPhone.
“It was holding us back from a number of things we wanted to put into the iPhone,” Riccio says. “It was fighting for space with camera technologies and processors and battery life. And frankly, when there’s a better, modern solution available, it’s crazy to keep it around.”
I can't really speak to this wireless headphone thing. I will be curious how that takes off. I do see some interesting possibilities with the AirPods that are better at connecting to the device you want to use. I can visualize apps that make it so people can communicate throughout a facility like they did on Stargate Atlantis. Just say the person's name you want to talk to and get just them and not everybody on an open channel. Whenever they did that on the TV show I rolled my eyes. That's just not at thing you can do. Start talking and that tiny boom mic coming out of your ear magically lets you talk to only the person you want. But it could be coming soon to any group of people who all have an iPhone in their pocket and an AirPod in their ear.

That's enough predictions for today. I'll just leave this here and come back next September. I hope I'm right in predicting that people will get over their hurt feelings. I hope I wasn't too condescending.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Repurposing: Knitting Needle Holder from an old Mac Mini

My media computer broke last Friday. It was a 2007 era Mac Mini core2 duo with 4 GB of memory. It worked great to play video on my TV. Then in the middle of playing Stargate SG1 from an external hard drive it just went off. No power. Rats. A while ago my brother asked me what he should do with the old Mac Mini his kids used when they were little. I said to give it to me next time he came to visit. I emailed him to see if he still had it. He did. He said he'd mail it to me. It arrived yesterday. I tested my mini with his power supply, just in case. No luck. Apparently not the power supply. I took both computers apart and cleaned out a disturbing amount of dust. I reseated the connector of the wireless card that came loose in shipping and tested it on my TV again. I'm all set to knit in bed while I watch movies and TV shows from my hard drive. I tried everything I could think of to fix the broken one. I ended up taking it completely apart, setting aside the hard drive and bagging up the electronics.
I can't fix you
Now what to do with the good looking case? It would be a cute purse, but it's a little heavy. I decided to make a knitting needle holder. Would also work for kitchen utensils. Here's how I did it:

First disassemble the bottom plate of the computer all the way down to plastic. To get the connectors off the back panel pry the shielding back and pull on it really hard until the plastic dots fly off. Wear glasses.

Next get out a Dremel tool and a cutting wheel. I do this stuff outside because I don't like the mess and burned plastic smell in my lab.

Bare bottom/back panel. Power switch can stay on
This is the part to cut off
I clamped mine in a bench vise in a gap in
the latching ears
Here's the rough cut
There are little metal tabs backing up the plastic between the connectors. I just cut the plastic and left the tabs. Then in the cleaning-up step I cut off all the small ones. I left the big piece of metal surround from the video connector so they can be part of the dividers I'm going to add. Clean up the cut with the flat side of the Dremel cut off wheel. Be sure to wear safety glasses. My whole bit flew out of the chuck and bounced off my hat. It didn't break the wheel though, so I picked it up off the ground, tightened it back in the chuck, and finished the job.

Then I brought it inside and washed off all the plastic dust. I finished smoothing all the edges with a foam nail file.

Foam nail file is good for plastic
I have some closed cell foam scraps left over from redoing the roof vents in my lab so I used that to trim out the inside of the enclosure. One of those gardening knee pads might be a good source for foam if you don't have a stash.

Cut dividers long enough to stick out the top
I cut some dividers 1 7/8" wide (by trial and error. Too small doesn't work.) They are long enough to stick out the opening. I cut more rectangles to go between the bottom end of the divider to hold them in the right spacing and to give the needle tips some nice foam to rest on. Then I pushed the bottom onto the top. Line up the metal tabs left behind with the foam so they push into it.

Cut excess off with scissors
I cut the extra off with scissors. Then I poked the edges down into the enclosure.
It works with my 8 1/2" straight needles. 6" DPNs are a little too short for it.
Ended up using it for loose needles
I decided I liked the Mini for my loose needles. I got those long aluminum needles for doing tubular cast ons. I don't use them that much. They are so long they tended to tip over the lucite cup I was keeping them in. This is better.

*** This blog is cross posted from my knitting blog  ****

Monday, May 30, 2016

What was great about America of old?

I recently found some old currency in a book. I put it there about twenty years ago. I remember getting the 1934 $5 bill as change at an antique store in Atlanta, which is funny. The $10 bill is from 1950. I think I got it as change from a Wendy's drive through in Tampa, Florida. They caught my eye because of the extra disclaimers on the front "WILL PAY TO THE BEARER ON DEMAND." And there is a long bit of small print explaining how you can take this to the bank and exchange it for lawful money, which at the time meant silver. Apparently Federal Reserve Notes took a while to catch on.

What I didn't notice until now though, is that on the back the older notes are missing the motto "IN GOD WE TRUST."

I just set up a copy stand so I took pictures of these bills with the new version for comparison. I think if you click on them you should get high resolution versions you can zoom.

I did a bit of research and found out that IN GOD WE TRUST was made the United States motto in 1956 as some kind of reactionary measure based on fear of communism. Somehow conservatives at the time equated atheism with loss of freedom? This makes no sense to me in 2016. I equate RELIGION with loss of freedom.

Apparently the Federal Reserve started printing IN GOD WE TRUST on its Notes in 1964 or 1966 depending on denomination. It seems so recent! Only a few years before I was born! And now any argument saying it is offensive are waved off with the argument "it's meaningless because it's been around for so long. Nobody takes it seriously." Uh huh, yeah. I know how it feels.

Laudable Longleaf

Before picture from my front porch toward the lab, Tuesday morning
My mother and aunts and I did a summer burn on my hill on Tuesday.

During, lighting along the footpath between the house and the lab
After, from the same spot on the front porch, Tuesday evening.
Since Tuesday several stobs and stump holes have been burning continuously. On Day 6 after the burn there were still enough stumps and stobs burning to make a noticeable smoke haze on the highway early in the morning when I drove to pick blueberries at my aunt's house.

I've been particularly interested in one amazing stob at the bottom of my hill all week. This tree and two near it were struck by lightning about 6 years ago. I heard it strike and I also heard my uninterruptible power supply make a loud pop from the surge. I went to look at the UPS and saw smoke from the window. I went down the hill where the lightning struck the trees and put out the fire with a rake while it was just small. They have been standing there since that event, dead. They still had bark and managed to not catch fire the last time we burned the hill about 3 years ago. But this time all three of them caught fire. Two of them fell over after about 3 days and kept burning on the ground. But one tree stood as a symbol of why about 90 million acres of longleaf forests were promptly cut down by early settlers leaving less than 5% of the pre-settlement forests. Longleaf pine is unbelievably strong as a structural lumber. Unbelievably.
Longleaf stob on Friday, still burning 4 days after burning off
What happens is the sap wood burns off and leaves the heart behind. Longleaf heartwood is saturated with resin. It forms a layer of soot and puts itself out. I'm not really clear on the physics of how it works. But the sap wood must be porous enough that air can get in and it keeps burning and burning. It ends up looking like you took a mechanical pencil and extended the lead out all the way and held it up that way. The big heavy part on the top and the lead holding the whole thing up. 
Same tree on Saturday
Saturday closeup
Monday morning zoom photo from the top of the hill of the burning interface of sapwood and heartwood 
Zoomed out to show the distance from the ground to the sapwood. Tree
is in the center of the photo, leaning to the left.
Black at the bottom, light at the top, and smoking
How is that tree still standing up?! That's amazing. It is so far off center and the thin black heart pine base is barely bending.

After I took these pictures I went in the lab and uploaded them onto the computer and started reading about wood ducks. That's the reason I went out there in the first place with my bird camera. A wood duck came out of a woodpecker hole in a tree between my house and the lab and she was perching in trees, calling, working her way toward the pond. I wondered what she was doing. Cornell Ornithology Lab hinted that is what they do to help their babies find their way to water but I didn't see any babies. I want to see wood ducklings!

HA! sez me,  I knew that thing couldn't stand there like that forever! I rushed out with my iPhone to see how it fell.

Monday, 9:10 am
Dang! It just buned up until the area of the heartwood post was small enough it couldn't handle the stress and that's where it broke off! Neat!

Here's the top part. There is still a lot of top. And it is still on fire.
Here's a piece that flew off the breaking place. It was still warm.
Also not as heavy as I thought it would be.
Top of tree from the other end a little later in the day
I went back with a tape measure. There are about 3 pieces of the top broken apart into 4' and 5' pieces. The long piece on the ground is 25' long. I estimate 43' of tree fell down and 25' is still standing.

Select structural longleaf has the highest maximum allowable stress and compressive strength of any lumber species in the 5th edition of Ramsey and Sleeper’s Architectural Graphic Standards of 1956.  

According to this table, a longleaf post 9 1/2" square and 12' long can support 136,250 pounds. I think that means straight down though, not leaning off center. The diameter of the bottom of the stob is about 9" now that all the sapwood has burned off.

Diameter of heart of tree ~9"
Diameter of whole tree including sapwood above where it broke off about 11"
Here's some pine tar oozing out of the extremely hard wood
Only living tissue gives off the sticky pine tar in normal circumstances, like when red cockaded woodpeckers drill holes to make the entrance to their holes all sticky. But if you heat up dead heart wood enough the sap will come out. The drops beading up on the ceiling of my lab are further proof. 

I was interested to look at the woodpecker holes in this hard-hearted tree. I didn't see any nesting cavities in it, but there was one cavity big enough to stick my iPhone in it. They just worked around the heart. Not really good for a nesting cavity. Why'd they make that big cavity? Were they finding bugs in there? I see some little holes in the wood at the end. Maybe there was a little infestation of powder post beetles right there?
Here's a woodpecker cavity with an opening big enough for me to stick my iPhone inside.
This is looking toward the tree top.
Near the tree I've been watching there is another tree that was killed by the same bolt of lightning some 6 years ago. It fell down Thursday. The stump is short enough I could get a tape measure to the top and measure it in the simplest way possible.
Another tree killed by the same bolt of lightning
This one broke off short enough for me to measure it, about 13' above the ground.
This tree has almost completely burned up. It's still smoking a bit on the 7th day since the burn.
A white line of ashes and some resinous chunks are all that remain
I wonder what makes some trees burn all the way up and some put themselves out and stay stobs forever? How did the sawmill operators choose what would be called Structural Select lumber with the highest rating? How many tests did they perform to come up with the numbers in those tables? I wonder if they have stopped using that kind of lumber designation altogether now they they make engineered glue laminated beams?

I Googled it. There is a new set of tables from tests done in 2013.
More than 7,400 full-size samples of commercially-produced Southern Pine were destructively tested in a two-step process, resulting in more than 300,000 data points
I studied it and couldn't really understand how to compare the units with the old book. They didn't separate the data by species anymore. Loblolly, slash, shortleaf, and longleaf are all lumped into Southern Pine now. I think longleaf is so rare now you have to go to a specialty sawmill that doesn't do anything else.

Reading about nest cavities in snags was more interesting. I found a study done near here in the '90s to see how many wood ducks use old red cockaded woodpecker holes. They only found 6 active nests, 5 in live trees, one in a stob. They estimated the average age of the longleaf trees with wood duck suitable cavities at 100-150 years. 22% of suitable wood duck cavities were enlarged red cockaded woodpecker holes. My wood ducks use the same nest cavity as a pileated woodpecker. I think they're taking turns. I see them both going in and out of there. I assume it is an enlarged red cockaded woodpecker hole, based on the fact that there is an aluminum number nailed to that tree. Not sure which ornithologist nailed it on there or when. That hole has a west entrance and a north entrance. It has been there my whole life. I can remember seeing ducks go in there when I was just a little girl some 40 years ago. And I have never seen a baby duck jump out. But I'm going to keep watching.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 Was a Very Small Year

I didn't write much in 2015. I was busy knitting. I have 145 items in my iPad database of designs. I didn't really keep track of how many finished objects I made. I don't derive my satisfaction from running totals. I started out the year wondering if constant counting and calculating would improve my dexterity with numbers, but I think I have proven I have a bona fide brain deficit and no amount of practice is ever going to make me flawless. It still makes me sad to hear about people who "hate math." I'm grateful my innumeracy never turned into loathing.

I didn't go anywhere in 2015. My car stayed in my home county and two adjacent ones in Georgia and Florida.

Nothing awesome happened to me in 2015.

My house sank, but I fixed it. A duck dented my car, but I fixed it. I felt like crap all year, and I couldn't fix that. When I take my car to the mechanic they keep replacing parts until it works better. If doctors did anything like that I might go to them for help. I did not see a doctor in 2015.

I had no drama in my life in 2015. Nobody told me what to do, I never raised my voice in anger at anyone. I woke up every day and did exactly what I felt like doing.

I think I was the best hermit I could be in 2015.

I am a little worried about money though. I don't see how my mother and aunts can keep buying the stuff I knit at the same rate. I looked online at job openings near my brother's new house since he has an extra bedroom now. I tried to imagine myself going to a job interview. Tried to imagine driving down the turnpike in South Florida to go sit at a Windows computer applying styles to Microsoft Word documents. It was about the same feeling I have when I think about making a doctor's appointment. Despair, hopelessness, dark misery.

The chirpy little job descriptions caused a rising background hum of cynical growling on top of the constant ringing in my ears.
Excellent technical writing skills for environmental consulting applications are required as are outstanding engineering/scientific problem-solving abilities. The selected candidate will demonstrate passion for the business of environmental consulting, technical excellence and quality, leadership potential, a commitment to lifelong learning and growth, and the desire to build a long and rewarding career with the Firm.
I feel so much negativity for "passion for the business," "leadership potential" and "desire to build a long and rewarding career with the Firm." I just want some fucking health insurance. Why do I have to buy into this Tony Robbins bullshit?

I actually do like working with teams of engineering consultants. I like making people stop fucking up the environment. I just don't give a damn about the business of it. To me the whole point of working in a big company is division of apathy. Lots of people don't give a damn about a stylesheets and passive voice. I will handle that, they can handle making a profit. I do not expect the head of accounts receivable to be passionate about illegal sea walls, don't ask me to be passionate about time sheets.

Does anybody read that paragraph and feel inspired and motivated? Are they coasting along on the delusional wave of normal behavior? Career, children, pets, crippling debt? Do I really want to hang out with them 40 hours a week? I don't know. It would be fine I guess. I would adapt. But how many of them would be happy with a year like I just had? I probably spent less than 40 hours TOTAL FOR THE YEAR in the company of at least one other person. And I liked it. Isn't it a shame to waste that aptitude?

It's very difficult to stop doing nothing, of course. Reduce, Reuse, Recluse, Repeat. Here's the first video I ever uploaded to Vimeo. I made it with Keynote. I miss Graham Chapman.

I Didn't Speak Dressed as a Carrot from Barbara Tomlinson on Vimeo.