Thursday, April 3, 2014

Get your dose of science fiction by ear

Audio science fiction podcasts are available at If you think life is too harried and your reading time is cut beyond belief, then this podcast blog might be the answer, if you have an MP3 player or phone that will play back MP3 files.

One of particular note is "The Vicar of Mars" by Gwyneth Jones. You can find it on this site, read by the author.

Isn't modern life cool?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Austin move

  Since moving back to Austin in the summer of 2013, there have been many differences in our lives. While down on the Texas Gulf coastal plain, we had a strict weekly schedule of events, we now have more ability to modify our plans. For instance, we now have a good-sized garden plot with some plants already coming up by equinox day. On that same day, we became a larger group of live creatures on the lot by gaining six pullets. Two are Production Rhode Island Reds and four are Dominique. They are about nine weeks old. This will entail a major life change in daily routines.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day 2012

In this Labor Day pictorial essay, I believe I felt most like image #5 in my daily work before retirement.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Adam Savage's Maker Faire 2012 Talk: Why We Make

I like the MAKE: movement. This is a video of this season's keynote address.
I'm not so much interested in the magazine (I've tried it), but the blog
has a level of consistently interesting posts. I share some of them. Others
do not seem to rise to the level of things my friends would enjoy seeing.

I got caught up in the ham radio/electronics projects from PopTronics/
little radios/larger transmitters/Electronics Specialty Explorer Post
that was sponsored by General Telephone HQ engineers in San Angelo/
Air Force MARS meetings where they FORCED you to take old radio equipment
home to tear up and reuse/Saturday mornings in good weather as a teen,
riding the city bus across town, tool box in hand, hat on head to tear
up old technology from telephone gear, military, car radios, household
radios, etc. to scavenge parts.

I want today's kids to find that: In the MAKE: movement, I believe they have.
They are the excitement that will lead to tomorrow's engineers and another
surge in technology design creativity.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Software Defined Radio Receiver: DC to 1,700 MHz!

Modern electronics is really capable of being tiny. If you look at the projects outlined here, equipment that used to be mounted in 19"-wide metal rack panels for the military when I was in the Navy in the mid-1960s is now able to fit on a thumb-drive-sized "dongle" that plugs into your USB computer port on almost any modern computer! And the abilities of this equipment to do things the older stuff couldn't do are near boundless. When I used the specialized receivers in small communications vans or containers similar to today's shipping containers for overseas commerce, I never expected this degree of reduction in size.
Here are some links to look at this equipment, if you are interested:
A UK project for SDR:
About page:
And an option for HF:

It may be old news to you, but I thought I'd share this.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ending incandescent bulb production: Are LED bulbs the answer?

 ∙ ∙ ∙

I got an email today from a non-tech friend with this link in it.

It gave me the opportunity to think about and compose an answer for that audience about my own major doubts about the state of LED bulb production as a successor for the ubiquitous incandescent illumination bulb. U.S. law caused the "phasing out" of all production of standard household incandescent bulbs beginning 1/1/2012.

Here is my reply to him...and to you:
Thanks for bringing that up. I first have a quote for you:
Quite a bit of the GeoBulb’s light is directional. It’s very bright directly underneath it, but if you move far off to the side, it’s not producing nearly as much incidental light as the incandescent bulb. For many situations, this isn’t a problem at all – recessed lights and lamps won’t skip a beat. However, for other uses (such as a single bulb that lights a small room), you may want to wait for next generation LEDs.

That is exactly the problem with LED bulbs. The physical function of how LEDs GENERATE light is behind the problem. Incandescent bulb filaments squirt out light as if from a point source. (Imagine a point in space that emits the same light as a 100W bulb in all THREE dimensions.) You can see the shape of the light intensity in this diagram. It is the large set of lines...just extend them all the rest of the way around the bulb.

The way an LED works is that the light is instead generated out from the SURFACE of the "semiconductor junction" that creates it. So, in the same mental state, imagine the light of a 100W bulb squirting out instead from the SURFACE of a tabletop straight up from it with some spread, but mainly only UP. Now think about how many tiny LEDs it would take to accomplish sending light in all the directions we use light from a generic home light bulb to illuminate! Being drastically efficient at squirting light out of a tiny hole (too simple, I know) is NOT the same as sending it effortlessly in all directions.

Part two of the problem is that in order to WORK, incandescent bulbs have to incandesce or get hot enough to glow white hot. So heat is part of what makes 'em work and the distribution and dissipation of that has been solved over the last 120+ years. But the heat generated by the LED function is the BANE of their existence. And dissipating it is one of the major problems standing in their way of being successful. The hotter they get, the WORSE they work. That is why the bottom part of most of the LED bulbs is a metal heat radiator. Having that metal all over the base is also one of the things that means they eat up lots of resources (metal production and crafting of the heat sink) to create. See the image below. That may be partially done away with by the top developmental quote where a company has new bulbs with liquid cooling.

In order partially overcome the part one above, the makers put many, many LEDs inside the bulb to attempt to squirt light out in several directions. But it takes a whole lot of "several" to equal "all", so they compromise by only squirting light vaguely less than that above some horizontal plane surface. That is the part of the quote about not having light off to the side of straight out the end of the bulb. This is shown by the 60º beam angle shown below where the light has already dropped off to only half what it is straight out the end of the bulb. This makes the bulbs seem more like spotlights instead of general light bulbs. If you are viewing really wide items, you might have to move the item you're viewing around to stay in the bright part of the light pattern. I do not like this.

Part three of the problem is that there are several common methods out there for powering LED's. Why all the fuss? It boils down to this:
1) LED's are very sensitive to the voltage used to power them (ie, the current changes a lot with a small change in voltage)
2) The required voltage changes a bit when the LED is put in hot or cold air, and also depending on the color of the LED, and manufacturing details.
Incandescent bulbs work over a fairly wide range, but their target brightness and effective color temperature is only achieved in a few volt range of the 120 volts we have from household power. But the above numbered statements say we can't power the LED bulb the same if it is in a 140º attic as we can when it is dangling outside in -10º blizzard. The circuits have to be very careful how they arrange this, which means NO direct application of the household power: there have to be electronic control circuits containing many components built into the base of the bulbs, thus adding complexity and room for failure of one of the tiny parts to ruin your whole $30-40 bulb, as there is no replacing parts inside the bulbs. They are manufactured so the parts are NOT replaceable by the consumer.

See how hard it is to explain the idea of what the makers of the WONDER LED BULBS gloss over in their gushing rush to get ya to buy their bulbs? These makers are trying really hard to get you to buy these darned bulbs at $30-40 a pop, but THIS EE is not havin' any o' dat. They have to get mucho better-o before I bite. And they darned well better get a heap cheaper.

Hope I didn't lose you in the discussion. I tried hard to keep it on a non-EE-level basis. But feel free to ask comment.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New use for mini-copters

This National Geographic assignment was just called to my attention. They are being used on the Serengeti to enable new views of lions and other wildlife there. There are a series of posts at the linked page that detail the photographer's assignment and the ways he has chosen to get around obstacles to achieve the best photos possible. It is worth a read.

Comments are welcomed.