Saturday, January 7, 2017

Reuse Project: Domestic Archeology

The week before Christmas I bought a fabric remnant because I liked the colors. I tried to sew a case for an iPhone 7+ out of it for my mother based on dimensions online, but when snuck over to her house and tried to fit her phone in it on Christmas Eve it didn't fit because of her bulky case. So instead of sewing the strap on the case I just wrapped it up and gave it to my aunt as a glasses case. She loved the fabric so much she made me go back to the store to buy a whole yard of it so she could put it on this chair. She got it at an antique store because she thought it was a lovely chair, but she hated the needlepoint seat. She thought it was too bulky for such a delicate chair. After I left the fabric at her house she emailed me photos of the chair and admitted she didn't know how to redo the covering.
Chair photo my aunt sent me
How did they wrap that around those legs so neatly?


Looks like ordinary brass tacks in the bottom. I have some of those
She brought the chair to my house and I set up to work on it on my bench outside. It would be useful to be able to get to both sides of the chair. We pulled all the tacks out of the black gimp covering the bottom first. The best tool for this was a 5-in-1 tool and some wire cutters. Then we decided to pull all the tacks out of the needlepoint cover too. What we got down to was two more layers of fabric.
This is more like it

My aunt was excited at this point to see that the original fabric was so much like the stuff she picked out. She knew a shiny stripe was what this chair needed. We decided to keep removing stuff because the stitching on that original stuff was rotten and fell apart when we tugged on it. When we got down to the original fabric it was so delicate and destroyed we were amazed. We imagined Victorian thighs wearing away at the fabric.
I wonder if this is silk? It looks like silk
We did a burn test on the fabric to see if it was silk. It was
From an online burn test chart:
Silk is a protein fiber which burns slowly and curls away from the flame. It leaves a dark bead which can be easily crushed. It is self-extinguishing and leaves ash that is a dark, gritty, fine powder. It smells like burned hair or charred meat. It gives out little or no smoke and the fume has no hazard.
Original chair cover, intermediate, most recent
We also got a bit of yarn from the needlepoint and did a burn test on that. It was wool.
Wool is a protein fiber which burns slowly. It sizzles and curls away from flame and may curl back onto fingernail. It leaves beads that are brittle, dark, and easily crushed. It is self-extinguishing and leaves harsh ash from crushed bead. It gives out a strong odor of burning hair or feathers. It gives out dark smoke and moderate fume.
Underneath the silk and some cotton batting was more black gimp. This was not totally rotten, but the thread sewing it to the strapping was pretty bad off.

We cleaned all the cotton remnants off and cut a new piece of black cotton duck using the non-disintegrated middle piece of fabric as a pattern. We put a piece of craft foam underneath the new fabric to try to muffle the loud rustling of the horsehair stuffing. Then my aunt settled down with a curved needle and some waxed thread from my Speedy Stitcher and she sewed the fabric to the webbing. While she did that I searched my lab for cotton batting. I found it before she finished sewing. We wrapped the black fabric with the batting and then started tacking on the final fabric. We used the hemostat to hold the tacks and hammered them in with a small hammer. I failed to take photos of this step. 

But I did take a photo of the tools I found useful for tucking the fabric around the legs of the chair. I got these dental spatulas at the same place online where I got the hemostats. Very handy and only $5 for a set of 4. 


Here's how the chair turned out.


Reuse Project: Antique Folding Rulers

I've been buying old folding rulers on ebay. They can be valuable collectibles worth hundreds of dollars. Cleaning one of these aggressively would ruin their value if they were in good collectible condition. I look for the ones that are really darkened with filth and cost less than $10, then I go to work on them.

Stanley Quad Fold 24 inch ruler, before photo
The inside is a bit cleaner and lighter, You can actually read the numbers
Is there even a 1 there? What is that grossness on the brass tip?
The hinge looks pretty good, just dirty


The brass wraps all the sides and is one piece in the hinges. Nice piece of hardware, really
Here is my secret ingredient. Bar Keepers Friend contains feldspar, surfactants, and oxalic acid.

Oxalic acid, C2H204, is a simple organic acid. In the realm of everyday household cleaners it is a stronger acid than vinegar. It's not toxic in low quantities. Oxalic acid is even in lots of foods, notably spinach and Brussels sprouts. Bar Keepers Friend has a faint funky metallic bouquet which I don't find objectionable. Prolonged skin contact is bad for you, so wear gloves. I find it discolors the gloves immediately so I'm always glad I have them on.
One swipe on the outside of the ruler gets off this much filth and it already looks a lot better
Right before I put on my gloves I hit play on my audiobook and started a stopwatch. I scrubbed this ruler for 24 minutes. Then I rinsed it, dried it with a towel and left it overnight to get completely dry.
Clean and dry
Much lighter than before. I can see the numbers
The next step is to oil the hinges and the wood.
I used what I have on hand.
After applying mineral oil to the wood
I have a Lufkin 386 12 inch ruler with caliper that I cleaned last week.
I use hard paraffin wax from the canning section
at the grocery store to lubricate the wooden grooves

I love these old rulers. I want more of the ones that fold down to 3", preferably without the caliper. Decreases the weight. They would be neat accessories for a knitting kit.

In addition to mineral oil I have also polished these with paraffin wax. I rub some on in solid form and buff it off the brass and wood. I imagine it might slow corrosion. I think if you rubbed a lot of solid wax on one then carried it in your pocket for a day it would work even better.

For a quick touch up for the caliper you can buff the metal bit with waxed paper. I keep some around my lab to polish my wooden knitting needles.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016 Was the Smallest Year

Last January I wrote a blog post wrapping up 2015.
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 decided to try to make 2016 even smaller. I drove my car to the coast in July, so I added two counties to my range. But this year I decided to go the whole year without seeing the mechanic. I bought my car new in 1996. Seemed like 2016 was a good year to test what I get for doing consistent maintenance throughout its life. My speedometer stopped working about halfway through the year, and the odometer too. So I don't know exactly how far I went. But I do know I only bought one tank of gas a month so I probably went around 3600 miles.

My house was fine this year. No sinking. I had a double Decora light switch break. I bought a new one. It cost $11. My refrigerator won't go below 44°F anymore. I got a quote for $125 to get it recharged with refrigerant. I didn't do it. It still keeps Romaine lettuce fresh for weeks. I had milk go bad way before the expiration date. But only $3 worth of milk which is a long way from $125, so....

I did not see a doctor in 2016. I felt like crap most of the time. I still can't be on my feet very long. Lots of migraines and abdominal pain. Hands hurt a lot. But I managed my tasks so I was able to be productive 12 or more hours a day.

I went to the coast for a week in July with my mother, brother, my three nieces, an aunt and some of her grandkids. If it weren't for my brother disputing the statement "People have been living in space for 15 years" I might have made it the whole year without raising my voice in an argument with a live person. Alas, this was not to be.

In 2016 I discovered that
inflatable full body suits
make great haircut capes
I also did not get a professional haircut in 2016. I figured out how to cut my hair myself from YouTube videos. I now shave the back and sides with clippers and then hold up the top part and cut it with scissors. Then the top part falls down over the shaved part and it looks kinda like a normal haircut. I let my 13 year old niece establish the setup while we were at the coast. Then I let her paint the hair on top with food coloring for cake icing. I wear a hat most to the time anyway.

I was a pretty good hermit in 2016. Not as good as 2015 because I spent that week around relatives, but pretty good. I didn't leave the country for Thanksgiving or Christmas so that's pretty solid hermit behavior.

I think 2016 is my new baseline minimum cost year. I also think I have hit minimum bookkeeping. I just used my online banking access to categorize every expenditure I made in the whole year and it took less than an hour. I am not going to bother doing real bookkeeping because I can tell just by looking at my checking account that I definitely had gross earnings less than $10,350. That's the 2016 threshold for single individuals to file a tax return. Which, I have to tell you, is an egregiously low number.


The majority of my cash flow was business expenses. People ask me to make things for them and I have to buy materials. Then they pay me back afterwards. I have an aunt that emails me lists of used books she wants and I find them and order them. I find it amusing that I'm the poorest person I know and people treat me like a bank. I'm pretty sure this is a vestige of privilege. In 2016 Cost of Goods Sold and other business expenses were 31% of my cashflow.

If I eliminate the business expenses and just look at what I lived on in 2016 it comes to less than $6500. That'd be my gross earnings. I spent 47% at the grocery store, 36% for utilities, 6% for gas in my car, 7% for Car Insurance, and 2% for ad valorem taxes on my car and my lab.

It's kind of funny that I paid more to insure my 20 year old car in 2016 than I paid for gas to go places in it.

Life is expensive. If any little thing had gone wrong it would have been unmanageable for me. If I had needed new clothes or shoes it would have been out of reach. The only piece of tech I had to buy this year was a $42 Thunderbolt cable because my monitor was acting up. The new cable fixed my problem. Fortunately my 2014 Mac mini is still the newest thing. My iPhone 5S is cracked but functional. My iPad Air is sluggish, but also functional. If I didn't already have that stuff, which I need to do my work, I wouldn't be able to support myself.

The other tools I relied on this year: my chop saw, air compressor, jig saw, power planer, sheet metal cutter, circular saw, finish nailer, angle grinder, two drills and an impact driver. Also a big pile of scrap lumber was critical to being able to complete jobs. Similarly a large stash of yarn and complete set of knitting needles is crucial. I got two old sewing machines this year too, and did a lot of sewing work to cover the expense. I also have a shed for the lumber and carpentry tools and a lab for the sewing and knitting. It is blatant privilege to have tools and materials readily available. I do not know how other people without my advantages can live below the poverty line. Only because I started out above it can I now live below it.

My experiment with indigence is never going to allow me to truly understand what it's like to be poor. Sure, I went all year without having my car worked on and it was nerve wracking to look at that check engine light for the last 6 months. But it never let me down! I'm graced with the good fortune of making a good decision 20 years ago to buy a $30,000 reliable car and having the means to keep it maintained for 20 years. What if I hadn't been able to buy that car back then? What if I had to drive to town more than once a week? It would be unmanageable. What if I was a lead foot and went over the speed limit in my car with a broken speedometer and got a speeding ticket? It would ruin me. What if I wasn't grandfathered into free checking for life with a handy online tool to analyze my spending to verify I made less than the threshold for filing a tax return? Privilege! Being able to deposit a check with my phone is crucial to my existence. I've heard there are people who pay their utility bill in person with cash. I can't wrap my head around that.

I've spent a lot of time in 2016 trying to examine my privilege and try to imagine what it must be like for the people who had such a terrible time in 2016 — black people, immigrants, people who identify as LGBT, women. I don't even have any first hand experience with the women's issues since birth control and abortions fall outside the hermit experience. So it was a mental exercise to imagine what those barriers must be like. I would not like to be them. It would be bad. My conclusion? White men need to check themselves. They do not deserve their advantages and all those other people do not deserve the hardships. I want it to stop. Stop it right now. Be nice to each other already. Damn.

My instinct with the current political situation is to keep my head down and get even smaller. I could let my car insurance lapse, cancel my tag, and try to beat last year's record. But I'm not going to. I'm going the other way. I'm going to put myself out there a little more, put more project photos on Ravelry, sell stuff on Etsy, be an entrepreneur. I should see if there is a community that will accept me so I can participate in the concept of strength in numbers. Even if it's just online. The world is going to hell and I'm not ok with that. I don't want to make the world a better place. I despise that meaningless line. But I do feel obligated to participate in damage control when the world has gone open loop. I would not hesitate to jump up on stage and grab a microphone away from somebody standing in front of a speaker puzzled by the loud squealing noise.

Next week I'm going to take my car to the shop. I'm going to let them work on it until the Check Engine light goes out. I probably still won't go anywhere. But I can if I need to.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Borg could have stopped him

Captain's Log, Stardate 94459.6: There was no line at my polling place yesterday. I was in and out before the tire smell from the fire truck made me miserable. After I voted I vowed to avoid the news for the rest of the day rather than experience the roller coaster of election coverage emotions. I went to Tallahassee to upload another knitting video to YouTube. After I started the upload I checked the movie times and saw I could make the 4:30 showing of Doctor Strange at the Challenger Learning Center. I challenged my migraine to polarized 3D and full range sound and it was painful, but immersive. I got a lot of ideas for things to knit -- fingerless gloves, hooded capes. After that I watched my friend Steve play Skyrim while I knit a hat. We stopped each other from reaching for our phones out of habit. About 1 am I drove home with my phone powered down. I had a bath, got in bed and started up the episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation, that I'd started watching earlier when I was eating lunch.

It went like this. (Season 7, Episode 1, Descent, Part 2 time stamp 18:50 to 21:17, if you have the DVD)


Riker: Hugh?!

Hugh: Why are you here Commander Riker? Hasn't the crew of the Enterprise caused enough damage already?

Worf: So, you blame us for what has happened to the Borg?

Hugh: YOU gave me a sense of individuality! Changed me then sent me back to the collective. You must have known that change would be passed on to others.

Riker: We considered it. We knew it was a possibility.

Hugh: Then you made it possible for Lore to dominate us.

Worf: I cannot accept that. Lore is only one. The Borg could have stopped him.

Hugh: You don't know the condition we were in when he found us. Before my experience on the Enterprise the Borg were a single-minded collective. The voices in our heads were smooth and flowing. But after I returned, those voices began to change. They became uneven, discordant. For the first time individual Borg had differing ideas about how to proceed. Couldn't function. Some Borg fought each other, others simply shut themselves down, many starved to death.

Riker: And then Lore came along.

Hugh: You probably cannot imagine what it is like to be so lost and frightened that you will listen to any voice that promises change.

Worf: Even if that voice insists on controlling you?

Hugh: That's what we wanted. Someone to show us a way out of confusion. Lore promised clarity and purpose.

In the beginning he seemed like a savior. The promise of becoming a superior race, of becoming fully artificial, was compelling. We gladly did everything he asked of us.

But after a while it became clear that Lore had no idea how to keep his promise. That's when he started talking about the need for us to make sacrifices. Before we realized it, this was the result.

Riker: What happened to them?

Hugh: Lore began to experiment. Trying to remake us in his image. This is the result of my encounter with the Enterprise, Commander. So you can see I don't particularly welcome your presence here.



I thought, "Foreshadowing? No, do not think of that possibility. Focus on the positive. Try to get some sleep. Find out tomorrow."

I didn't look at my phone until 6:30 this morning. I started with Patton Oswalt's Twitter feed. His last post was "Update: Driving to Barstow and paying a trucker to punch me unconscious." That sounds bad. I had an email from my step-sister sent at 3:30 am. She referenced the R.E.M. song It's the End of the World as we Know it. She pasted in a chart. But it's not to that line in the middle yet. It could still be ok, right?!

I googled NPR election results to see if something magical new occurred since the email. I still couldn't believe it. What does this mean? And a Republican House and Senate? WTF?! 

I went through several stages of grief. Thinking of what this means for me personally. No health coverage. No chance of ever working again. Even more motivation to avoid everybody who lives within 800 miles of here. It is very hostile in the Deep South for a childfree woman atheist scientist who likes gay people and has a lesbian haircut.

Then I imagined religious black men, white gay men, every single woman, and probably every person under 25 and my empathetic angst intensified and I began to weep. I decided to reach out to more people to see if they were ok. No, we're not ok. But we're going to get through the day. My step-sister says even her dog senses the intense anxiety and is behaving strangely. Her small children saw straight through her facade when she tried to reassure them with upbeat lies. I decided to start doing some work to try to be productive. I put a sweater I'm working on in the washer. By about 8:30 I was able to text my mother to see if she was ok. She said she was OK, "but very interested and scared." This is my mother who's been wearing a shirt with the NASA logo changed to say NASTY for the last two weeks.

I checked in with my brother. 


He went on to express disappointment in the news media and our education system and our rural people. He is appalled by how truth has lost all societal value. I pointed out that media answers to the shareholders, not society. As long as they are making money they are fulfilling their role, according to capitalism. He replied, "Society is supposed to exact a heavy price on those it catches lying or cheating. So honesty, reliability and good service should be more profitable."

By this time I had advanced through the stages of grief to bitter cynicism and I pointed out that if those traits had as much value as being a white man then I wouldn't be unemployed right now, I'd be in charge of stopping rich people building whatever the fuck they want on sandy beaches. He signed off.

I should have restricted my use of social media at that point. I was crabby and no getting around it. Any reference to women in science set me off, even one of my favorite Twitter people bragging about their young daughter doing well on a biology test, "STEM really needs young women" -- that got a loud "FUCK YOU!" And a more passively worded typed twitter reply about middle aged women in STEM being invisible.

The Oatmeal posted a link to his plane comic that made me come right out to the lab to write this journal entry.

It's about Gene Roddenberry and why he got into television. And it reminded me of that scene in Star Trek I watched last night. I tried to figure out how to rip it to embed the video in my blog. I couldn't get the audio to work. And it would have violated copyright laws anyway. So I typed it.

"Some Borg fought each other, others simply shut themselves down, many starved to death."

I shut myself down years ago. How long have I been doing small years? A lot. This year is so small. It's the smallest. I weigh exactly the same as when I got my drivers license at 16, so I guess I'm not starving yet. We'll see. I set a goal to go the whole year without having my car serviced. The odometer only works about 1 mile in 3. This enhances the smallness of the year artificially, but I believe that's the theme for 2016. I was hoping to ramp back up in 2017. 2016 was meant to be bottom. I was hoping I'd get health coverage and get to see a doctor, I was hoping to sell a lot of my knitting and sewing for Christmas so I'd have money for car repairs. All kinds of hope. These hopes are dashed. Now my goal is just to knit the yarn I've got, sew the fabric at hand. And then we'll see. Doctor Strange worked through issues of fear of failure. I have no issue with failure. I have ideas and I try them. Sometimes they fail, sometimes they work out great. I try not to get too caught up in any one goal. There's always another idea.

"You probably cannot imagine what it is like to be so lost and frightened that you will listen to any voice that promises change."

No, I really can't imagine that. I would rather be a liberal atheist hermit with a metaphasic force field in the corona of a conservative religious zealot sun than listen to that kind of change. I can only tolerate the incoherent word salad when it is interpreted through Peter Serafinowicz. (Rationalizing: Now Peter Serafinowicz won't have to stop making these videos. I hope.)



I read an article last week that scared the shit out of me. It's by Katy Waldman and it's called "Trump’s Tower of Babble: It may sound like gibberish, but there’s an accidental brilliance to Trump’s style of speech". It explained why some people like Trump. It made sense and it scared me. With reason apparently.
For some of us, Trump’s language is incendiary garbage. It’s not just that the ideas he wants to communicate are awful but that they come out as Saturnine gibberish or lewd smearing or racist gobbledygook. The man has never met a clause he couldn’t embellish forever and then promptly forget about. He uses adjectives as cudgels. You and I view his word casserole as not just incoherent but representative of the evil at his heart. 
But it works. Vast swaths of Americans find themselves in Trump’s verbal thrall, nodding along as his mind empties its baleful, inchoate contents out through his mouth and into the world. In a business in which what you say holds incredible sway with those who are going to decide whether to hire you, this rambling weirdo has overachieved to the point of being a Clinton scandal away from the presidency. 
She breaks it down:
  1. simple component parts
  2. weaponized unintelligibility
  3. dark innuendo
  4. power signifiers
About an hour ago I started writing this blog by transcribing the dialog from Star Trek. It took me under 8 minutes. I know because I sent an email to a friend right before I started it and replied to his reply with the transcript pasted in 8 minutes later. (I am the smart people. Email has time stamps) It was easy to remember whole phrases, the punctuation was obvious. If I had to transcribe anything Von Clownstick says it would take twice as long. It's not even sentences! That's #2, weaponized unintelligibility. 

Hear that Serafinowicz video. Smart people. Not intelligent people. One syllable words. That's #1.

It just gets worse and worse.
Ironically, because Trump relies so heavily on footnotes, false starts, and flights of association, and because his digressions rarely hook back up with the main thought, the emotional terms take on added power. They become rays of clarity in an incoherent verbal miasma. Think about that: If Trump were a more traditionally talented orator, if he just made more sense, the surface meaning of his phrases would likely overshadow the buried connotations of each individual word. As is, to listen to Trump fit language together is to swim in an eddy of confusion punctuated by sharp stabs of dread. Which happens to be exactly the sensation he wants to evoke in order to make us nervous enough to vote for him.
But what is missing from Katy's analysis is why do some of us see this speaking style as an anxiety trigger when other people love it? I'm going to cite myself here and refer to a blog post from 2010 about anosognosia, smart-blind, to use one-cent words. 



Since I'm a problem solver I suggested this 6 years ago:
Smart-blind blow-hards need to be dealt with. I don't have any idea how to do this. The best I can figure is that children should be exposed to smart people, namely scientists, as role models from an early age. Give Phil Plait a TV show, good idea. Neil DeGrasse Tyson on a sit-com, excellent.... Hopefully these smart people will have an influence on people who don't have any cultural exposure to brilliance.
Now I saw demographic data that shows young people overwhelmingly supported the candidate with actual knowledge, skills, and experience for the job. So maybe they did see smart people on TV in their formative years. Maybe they made them watch NASA TV at school. But the aging population has been watching Fox News, filling their heads with misinformation, as explained by John Green here.

I'm in a transcribing mood so here's the golden nugget:

"I spoke with hundreds of undecided voters in the days before the election and what struck me most was how different our information was.

In many cases we had the same concerns — the environment, or healthcare, or tax policy — but we were working with completely different data sets."


John makes the point that a baby born this year is better off than one born before the civil rights movement. But is a baby born now better off than me? When I went to undergraduate school in the '80s women earned 37% of the computer science degrees. Now only 18% of computer scientists are women. Women have been pushed out of a whole branch of science IN MY OWN LIFETIME. This is appalling. Programming with punch cards started out as women's work, then it started getting high pay and men decided they needed those jobs instead. That's some privileged bullshit right there.

So here we are, thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, completely different data sets, weaponized unintelligibility, and people who hear discordant voices in their heads willing to become completely artificial for an entity who claims he can make it all better.

"But after a while it became clear that Lore had no idea how to keep his promise. That's when he started talking about the need for us to make sacrifices.... Trying to remake us in his image."


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.