Sunday, January 22, 2012

Philway board house fire. One year later.

One year ago this week, Jan/19/2011, the board house Philway burned to the ground. Philway was the oldest continually operating board house in the US. It was also my preferred PCB vendor, sharp people and good quality for the rugged environments I deal with.

At the time Philway burned down, they were not sure if they were going to rebuild. Over the last year I'd kept in touch with Doug Clark at Philway. Seemed the biggest hold up was that their insurance company, which he never named, would not let them back on the grounds for almost four months! So its time for all of us to go check with our insurance agents what kind of treatment we'd get in a similar situation.

As time passed, Doug stopped answer emails, then stopped answering the phone, and in the end the phone was disconnected.

Last week my curiosity drove me to contact Evan S. at the Ashland Area Council for Economic Development, to see what happened. Seems the owner of Philway now lives in Akron and did not want to rebuild in Ashland, despite generous tax rebates etc. and did not want to commute to Ashland anymore. The owner also indicated that they could not find "good managers" in Ashland. I took that more to mean people with good technical management backgrounds from the context of our conversation. A new board house may arise like a Phoenix in Akron someday, but it won't be the same Philway without the same institutional knowledge that made it a great place to do business with.

The lesson here for all of us, is disasters do happen to good places and good people at any time. Do you have a workable recovery plan in place in case one hits you and yours? Will your insurance company help you out, or help you go under faster?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Development has become the game. Whats your Potty Mouth Score today?

To be clear I'm not talking about developing a game, I'm talking about development being the game. This week Microsoft released their Visual Studio Achievements plug-in. The plug in 'scores' a number of things such as the number of curse words in a file, and goes down hill from there.

I do not believe that competition belongs in the development process, it should remain in the arena of sports (Being the classic Nerd, I don't think there should be sports, but that is a topic for an other time...). In my view any manager that promotes composition between teams or people, is doing a disservice to everyone from the people competing to the shareholders. How is it a good use of energy and resources?

I find this concept so abhorrent to the development of quality bug free systems, delivered on time, that I don't even know what to say about it. What are your thoughts? Here are a couple of mine:

If you score bug fixes, does someone that fixes ten simple bugs (why are they there at all if they are simple? Put deliberately so they could be 'found' to raise their score??), do they get a higher score than some one that fixed the single bug that has been there since the beginning of time that no one else could find?

What do you put down on your Time-Card for the time you spent "playing" development?

Is "Reached Level 256 in Visual Studio Achievements" really going to be a good thing on a resume?

In a different, but related mater, what I'd like to know is when did IDEs switched from being tools to improve productivity, to crutches that people do not how to program without using? For example you ask someone what "compiler are you using?" and they reply Code::Blocks.

The best 10xers in productivity are going to develop their own tools, frequently, and not be part of the herd worrying about out scoring anyone in a commodity IDE.

Most of these problems come down to our broken concept of education, and that many places already consider developers and engineers nothing but replaceable bags of meat. Companies try to get their proprietary development environments inflicted on the young and impressionable, with a bit of interest to learn, to capitalize on the Baby Duck Syndrome (You'll like environments that are similar to your first, and dislike others).

To much time is spent teaching the tools and language of the day, rather than teaching concepts and how to learn. Someone with a good understanding of the fundamentals can pickup any language quickly, from 'BF' (this is a family friendly blog), the hardest language I every toyed with, to Zonnon, in the list for 428 computer languages.

I don't know what the full solution to creating better embedded systems might be, however I'm sure it is not making it in to a game with scores...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Earth's Temporal War Leaps to 2015, one Leap Second at a time

Back in August of 2011 I covered The current Temporal War on planet Earth. Which documented the factions that wanted to keep Leap Seconds as used today, and those that wanted to abolish Leap Seconds.

In our current methodology of keeping time, an extra second is inserted or removed in the Clock-On-The-Wall-Time to keep it in sync with the Look-Out-The-Window-At-The-Sun-Dial-Time (the distinction between Synodic, Solar, Sidereal, Stardates, UTC, UT1 and the myriad of other time scales would make for a much longer blog entry). Those against Leap Seconds say they are to hard to deal with over long spans of time where accuracy and precision are required. The people on the other side of the temporal war want to look out the window and have the clock-on-the-wall agree with what they see out the window. You see that if Leap Seconds are removed the two time scales drift apart. Someday High-Noon Wall-Clock-Time, would be the middle of the night Sun-Dial-Time.

This week the body that governs the time scales was set to vote on keeping or eliminating Leap Seconds. Seems there is no agreement on how to 'fix' the Leap Second 'problem' so the vote has been moved to 2015:

ITU Radiocommunication Assembly defers decision to eliminate the leap second

Geneva, 19 January 2012 – The ITU Radiocommunication Assembly has reached an important decision to defer the development of a continuous time standard in order to address the concerns of countries that use the current system of the leap second in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

The decision has been reached to ensure that all the technical options have been fully addressed in further studies related to the issue. These studies will involve further discussions within the ITU membership and with other organizations that have an interest in this matter and will be referred to the next Radiocommunication Assembly and World Radiocommunication Conference scheduled for 2015.

Adjustments made in one second steps, known as ‘leap seconds’, have been implemented since 1972 to compensate for variations in the speed of the earth’s rotation within the framework of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

UTC is defined by ITU’s Radiocommunication Sector and is maintained by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in cooperation with the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS). Measurements from timing centres around the world are used in the determination of UTC, which is adjusted to within 0.9 seconds of Earth rotation time (UT1) by IERS-determined values of the Earth’s rotation.

The suppression of the leap second would make continuous time scale available for all the modern electronic navigation and computerized systems to operate with and eliminate the need for specialized ad hoc time systems. This however may have social and legal consequences when the accumulated difference between UT1 – Earth rotation time – would reach a perceivable level (2 to 3 minutes in 2100 and about 30 minutes in 2700).

ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré considered the decision taken by the Radiocommunication Assembly will ensure that all stakeholders have been adequately associated with a step which will clearly influence our future.

So we tick on with the Status Quo in our Embedded Systems...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

NASA's video on LENR AKA Cold Fusion.

A video was uncovered a few days ago on NASA's Technology Gateway that seems to be supporting "Cold Fusion": NASA's Method for a Clean Nuclear Energy For Your Power Operated Technology, (which I covered last year: Will Cold Fusion or the solar powered bikini, the iKini, power your next embedded system?). Today Cold Fusion goes by the moniker of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions or Chemically Assisted Nuclear Reaction, or simply LENR-CANR, to get away from the political baggage the term Cold Fusion brings. Best to snag a copy of the site before 'They' wake-up...

Actually what I find of most interest is the picture shown at time mark 1:55 from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center. SPAWAR's first papers on Cold Fusion have been listed on my, long neglected, Unusual Research site since 2002. Makes you wonder what does the Navy and NASA really have after ten years of research? It has not been a question of 'if' Cold Fusion works for years, but a question of 'how' it works... Pick up a set of back issues of, the out of print, Wayne Green's Cold Fusion Journal to see where we've been and where we might be headed....

Anyone want to sponsor my trip to the The 17th International Conference on Cold Fusion being held August 12 - 17, 2012, in Daejeon, Korea? :-)

GroupThink: Do you like being part of the herded? Me either.

Susan Cain has written an interesting piece for the New York Times: The Rise of the New Groupthink. That backs up what many of us know instinctively, we are more creative when we work alone, and not forced into Anti-Productivity-Pods, better know as Cubicle Farms or Open Work Spaces.

Ms. Cain's article updates, and reinforces, what we have known since DeMarco and Lister published their book Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition) in 1999. Thirteen years on most companies have not learned the advice from Picasso and Steve Wozniak, that creativity and productivity require solitude.

Solitude does not necessary mean you are you are working alone all of the time. We've all been stuck staring at a problem for longer than we should, not seeing the obvious. We ask a colleague to take a look over our shoulder, when it is of no interruption to them, and they immediately say "Why did you do *that*?". Each person has their strengths and it is important to capitalize on them, then leave them alone to get the job done.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

'Saftey Valve' to disable your Cell Phone?

John Fischer wrote an interesting article "Two Years Gone, Two Million More Accidents...When Will We Realize Cell Phones Need Safety Valves?" over at the Injury Board. Mr. Fischer explains why bans don't work, due to a Cell Phone causing a neuro-chemical addiction in the brain [1]. The above article then leads us to his own site Try Safety First, where we find a more data on how bans don't work, well worth your time to read, then purposes a solution.

The purposed solution is to standardize a protocol that disables the cell phone when it receives a transmission from a local low power transmitter. Such transmitters are placed in class rooms, prisons, automobiles etc. The publicly available "White Paper" marked "CONFIDENTIAL", seems rather odd to me, describes the bases of the system. No link here, because after all the paper is marked "CONFIDENTIAL"...

Personally, what seems disingenuous to me is that the "White Paper" wants to charge a dollar per Cell Phone per month for this "safety" function. Not clear where this money actually goes, tho the web site does have a section seeking "investors". They also claim to have filled 17 patents on this technology. My altruistic view of the world would not lock up safety functions behind patents and fees.

I'm sure you have been in places where you wish Cell Phones were not allowed, just as I have. Alas Cell Phone Jammers are illegal. The above proposed protocol does mention security being important to prevent the technology from being circumvented. What I didn't see was anything that said there was something that prevented the local transmitter from being overridden, other than laws, so the Cell Phone would not be able to receive the lockout protocol message...

[1] What I find interesting was the drawing Ben Tannenbaum, The Value of Mobile Phones and the Uberconnected Individual had on his site. We've now come exactly to the point predicted by futurist Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book Future Shock :

I've covered various distractions before:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

DigiKey's new "Scheme-it" on line schematic capture tool.

Anyone tried this new Scheme-it thing on DigiKey?:

"Scheme-it is an online schematic and diagramming tool that allows anyone to design and share electronic circuit diagrams. The tool includes a comprehensive electronic symbol library and an integrated Digi-Key component catalog that allows for a wide range of circuit designs. Additionally, a built-in bill of materials manager is provided to keep track of parts used in a design. Once a schematic drawing is complete, users can export it to an image file or share it via email with others. Scheme-it works natively in all major web browsers without requiring the use of any plugins. Only users registered at are able to share and save designs."

What would make it awesome would be the ability to export a netlist that could be used for PCB layout, and symbols that have a friendly license, to use in other CAD packages.

Is the Dollar Dead? Bank of England says so.

I suspect deliberately lost is the hectic holiday activities was the release of the Bank of England's Report #13: Reform of the International Monetary and Financial System (An unlucky number for the superstitious). See also the Financial Stability Papers. Perhaps I'm to cynical, however I would translate that title and reports in to "you and I are about to be screwed".

One of the new objectives of the new system (pg. 4) is: "Internal balance - the IMFS should enable countries to use macroeconomic policies to achieve non-inflationary growth." The current Dollar system requires inflation to work, which I've tried to explain a couple of times in the past:

More background on the issue:

To sum those up 'They' want the World to return to a Gold Standard based system. Sounds good in theory, however the same people that are creating the financial mess already own most of the worlds gold. Some banks are known to have bought large quantities of gold. Makes you wonder why does it?

When the Dollar does finally die, the regime that is in power at the time will give you and I say, five to ten days to exchange a token amount of the current Dollars, say $5,000 to $10,000 for the new script. Any amount you have above that, well that is just to bad, the Plutocracy doesn't care...

So the next time you go to buy some components for your Embedded Widget and the prices seem a lot higher, you'll be one of the few that understand they haven't go up, but the value of your money has gone down.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

NASA's new Open Source Code Portal

NASA has opened a new portal: Code, that is meant to unify and expand NASA's Open Source activities.

I wonder if they will be following their Software Safety Guide Lines?

[January 4th, 2012] we are launching, the latest member of the open NASA web family. Through this website, we will continue, unify, and expand NASA’s open source activities. The site will serve to surface existing projects, provide a forum for discussing projects and processes, and guide internal and external groups in open development, release, and contribution.

In our initial release, we are focusing on providing a home for the current state of open source at the Agency. This includes guidance on how to engage the open source process, points of contact, and a directory of existing projects. By elucidating the process, we hope to lower the barriers to building open technology in partnership with the public.

Phase two will concentrate on providing a robust forum for ongoing discussion of open source concepts, policies, and projects at the Agency. In our third phase, we will turn to the tools and mechanisms development projects generally need to be successful, such as distributed version control, issue tracking, continuous integration, documentation, communication, and planning/management. During this phase, we will create and host a tool, service, and process chain to further lower the burden to going open.

Ultimately, our goal is to create a highly visible community hub that will imbue open concepts into the formulation stages of new hardware and software projects, and help existing projects transition to open modes of development and operation. We are going to need your help to get there! Please use “Share your Ideas,” comment on this post, or email us at to let us know how code can help you, where you would like to see the site go, and how we might best fulfill our purpose.

We believe that tomorrow’s space and science systems will be built in the open, and that will play a big part in getting us there. Will your code someday escape our solar system or land on an alien planet? We’re working to make it happen, and with your help, it will.

More "Coming Soon" than anything else, but still looks like it will be a fun place to watch, and learn. Especially when the Forum comes on line.