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Archive for June 2011

Take a Video Tour of Apex Surplus Electronics

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Need surplus electronics?  Next time I travel to California I’m going to stop by to see this place for myself.
Definitely better than a hamfest, flea market, and better than e-bay.
Need a rocket?  They have that too.

This only thing I’ve seen that comes close to Apex is this guy’s  home –

Check out this episode of the EEVBlog  (Links to this vblog and others on the right side bar — > )

Check out the web site –

Written by frrl

June 30, 2011 at 3:03 am

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The Principal-Agency Problem

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The Agency Problem is all around us.  Can you recognize it?  What is the Principal-Agency Problem?

Here is a simple definition

A conflict arising when people (the agents) entrusted to look after the interests of others (the principals) use the authority or power for their own benefit instead.

It is a pervasive problem and exists in practically every organization whether a business, church, club, or government. Organizations try to solve it by instituting measures such as tough screening processes, incentives for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior, watchdog bodies, and so on but no organization can remedy it completely because the costs of doing so sooner or later outweigh the worth of the results. Also called principal-agent problem or principal-agency problem.

So, think of any context where owners (principals) are separated from managers.  The owners entrust the agents (managers, executives, politicians, etc) to act (be an agent) in the best interest of the principals.  It’s a perfect world.

What could possibly go wrong?

In Politics

From the news today… Rod Blagojevich is found guilty on 17 of 20 counts.  Rod will  be the fourth Illinois governor thrown in prison. Democrats Otto Kerner, Dan Walker and Republican George Ryan all found their way behind bars. Ryan is still serving time in federal prison.  Rod is about to join the club.

From the nywebtimes:

Reached by The Times, Roth added Blagojevich’s conviction is not enough for the harm he has caused to Illinois. “He has long been an embarrassment to our state,” said Roth. “We need more reforms to correct the problems he created, such as campaign financial caps, special elections and the ability to recall elected officials.”

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, said in a media release, “Rod Blagojevich never seemed to understand the difference between serving the public and serving his personal self interests. The evidence presented and verdict confirms that he was found guilty of 17 of the 20 counts including wire fraud, attempted extortion and attempting to sell President Obama’s old Senate seat, but far worse, he abused and shattered public trust. The shame and national embarrassment Blagojevich cast onto our state has only created further financial bearing.”

So, what is the solution proposed above?  More reforms, more rules, more regulations.  Do you really think you can legislate ethics?  Such approaches treat the symptom and not the cause of poor ethical behavior.

The agency problem in the business world

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Written by frrl

June 28, 2011 at 4:05 am

Fire Bottles: The 1928 RCA Radiola 18 and the Tuned Radio Frequency Design

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 So, what are some of the historic events of 1928?

  • February 25 – Charles Jenkins Laboratories of Washington, D.C. becomes the first holder of a television license from the Federal Radio Commission.
  • March 21 – Charles Lindbergh is presented the Medal of Honor for his first trans– Atlantic flight. 
  • April 12–April 14 – The first ever east–west transatlantic aeroplane flight takes place from Dublin, Ireland, to Greenly Island, Canada, using German Junkers W33 Bremen.
  • June 17 – Aviator Amelia Earhart starts her attempt to become the first woman to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean (she succeeds the next day). Wilmer Stultz was the pilot.
  • September 25 – Paul Galvin and his brother Joseph incorporate the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation (now known as Motorola).
  • September 11 – Kenmore’s WMAK station starts broadcasting in Buffalo, New York.
  • November 18 – Mickey Mouse appears in Steamboat Willie, the third Mickey Mouse cartoon released, but the first sound film.
  • December 21 – The U.S. Congress approves the construction of Boulder Dam, later renamed Hoover Dam.

Oh yes, and the RCA Corporation built and sold the RCA Radiola 18 Tuned Radio Frequency Receiver

Were you around in 1928?  Probably not.  But the antique radio I just acquired was there to hear it all.  You can just imagine a family, “watching the radio”, as they listened to the news of Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Boulder Dam, and of course Mickey Mouse.  1928 was just a few years after the first radio broadcasts.  You an imagine that radio broadcasting was as exciting and full of possibilities as was the beginning of the public Internet in the mid 1990′s.

If you own one of these older radio’s you have at least three things.  First, you have a piece of history.  Second, you have an example of early radio receiver design that is not around any more.  And third, you have a usable radio that you can use everyday.  The AM broadcast spectrum has not changed much since 1928 so your vintage radio will still be able to receive the AM broadcast band as it exists today.

What people are willing to pay for these radio’s… well… depends on how much you value history.  There is a link below of a mint condition RCA Radiola 18 for sale for $450.  Lucky for me, I was able to get my fully restored and working RCA Radiola 18 and matching speaker for just $50.

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Written by frrl

June 23, 2011 at 2:00 am

Check it out – Electronics Engineering Video Blog

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Check out this blog –

David L. Jones is an electronics design engineer based in Sydney Australia.

In this blog he shares some of his 20 years experience in the electronics design industry in his unique non-scripted naturally overly enthusiastic and passionate style.

Dave started out in hobby electronics over 30 years ago and since then has worked in such diverse areas as design engineering, production engineering, test engineering, electro-mechanical engineering, that wacky ISO quality stuff, field service, concept design, underwater acoustics, ceramic sensors, military sonar systems, red tape, endless paperwork trails, environmental testing, embedded firmware and software application design, PCB design (he’s CID certified), power distribution systems, ultra low noise and low power design, high speed digital design, telemetry systems, and too much other stuff he usually doesn’t talk about.

He has been published in various magazines including: Electronic Today International, Electronics Australia, Silicon Chip, Elektor, Everyday Practical Electronics (EPE), Make, and ReNew.

Few people know Dave is also a world renowned expert and author on Internet Dating, a qualified fitness instructor, geocacher, canyoner, and environmentalist.



Written by frrl

June 19, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Mac Envy – OSx86: Creating a Hackintosh

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So you want the Mac experience without buying a Mac.  Is that possible?

In a way the answer is yes, but really the answer is no.

There are two components of the Mac experience.  First, there is the Mac operating system.  The Mac OS, is OS X based on a derivative of UNIX (UNIX with a friendly face).  The second component is the Mac hardware.  That’s the iMac, the MacBook (Laptop), or the Mac-Mini. It’s the hardware platform.

If you haven’t noticed, the Mac (Apple) hardware is very expensive.  Take the cost of a Windows-based machine, double or triple it, and that is the price of the Mac near-equivalent.  For example, for a MacBook Pro with 17in screen and i7 processor you are going to have to shell out about $2,300.  The least costly Mac desktop is a Mac Mini at $664 with 2GB RAM.  Up that to a comfortable 8GB and we are at about $750.  Oh yes, for the Mac Mini, BYOKMM (Bring Your Own Keyboard, Mouse, and Monitor)

Can I run the Mac OS on my existing WinTel laptop or desktop?

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Written by frrl

June 19, 2011 at 1:53 am

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To be something or to do something

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I caught this from Roger Ailes, President of Fox News Channel

There is a big difference between those who want to be something and those who want to do something.  About 95 percent of America is made up of people who want to be something, and they cause all the problems that have to be solved by the 5 percent who want to do something.

You can learn a lot from reading someones resume – perhaps even your own.

Does the resume read like a laundry list of positions held and nothing more?  Or, does it include a record of measurable accomplishments and results?  This may be the difference between those people who want to be something ( a job title, a role, a position) versus those who want to do something (results).

Jack Welch sees the whole picture

Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.

The “relentlessly drive it to completion” as execution is the differentiator between those who “want to be” and those who “do”.  Next time you update your resume, keep this in mind.  Corporations hire and reward measurable result – not a series of previous job titles.  Focus on results in your resume and you could become the 5 percent that land the great jobs and continue to be employed even in the toughest economic times.

Written by frrl

June 16, 2011 at 5:04 am

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The risk of competency

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If you are a marketing person, executive, business owner, or entrepreneur  and you are not reading Seth Godin’s blog then you are missing out on a lot.

What is Competency?

Everyone knows what “competency” is – until you take the time to put some precision around the meaning.  Seth wrote about competency a while back.  The impetus was some construction work that was being done on his home.  Seth hired a competent architect and a competent contractor but didn’t get what he wanted.  So why couldn’t these competent people produce the results that Seth expected?  Simple answer, they were too competent in their work.  (Read Seth’s story at the end of this posting)

From Seth’s perspective, here is the upshot on competency.

1. Competent people can be a liability.  If competency is defined in terms of standard processes, repeatability, reliability, and predictable outcomes then competent people can become your worst nightmare.  Why?  Competent people resist change.  Competent people resist change because changing things takes away from exactly what competent people are known for – producing predictable outcomes in reliable, standard, and repeatable ways.  If there is a high rate of change then there is uncertainty and risk.  If there is uncertainty and risk then producing, reliable, standard outcomes is in jeopardy.

2. The confusion of speed and velocity.  To understand what Seth is getting at here you need to remember some high school physics.  Velocity is multi-dimensional.  That is, it has a component of direction and speed.  Speed, in the sense that Seth is using it lacks this dimensionality and rate of change of direction.  That being said, competent people confuse velocity with speed in that they simply “go fast” without adapting to changing circumstances.  Another way to understand “changing circumstances” is the idea of  marketplace innovation by competitors and changing consumer demand.  To compete you need speed as well as direction.  Competent people don’t like changing direction; it upsets the standard way of doing things repeated over and over again that has led to success in the past.

3. Lack of brute force “will to change” by competent people.  Again, another theme on change and the inability of  folks to deal with change; they lack the will to take the risk to embrace change that would make them and their company more successful.  It is easier and safer to continue to do things the way that has worked in the past.  But not having the will to adapt at the required rate of change will lead to failure.  (Think of Block Buster and Netflix or Borders Books and Amazon.  Block Buster and Borders were incumbents in the industry; they did things they way they always did things even  into the age of disruption caused by the Internet.  Amazon and Netflix seized the opportunity and took away their customers by embracing a change to the traditional bookseller and video rental business model.)

You can read an excerpt from Seth’s thoughts on Competency at the end of this posting

Here are a few things to think about when you read it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by frrl

June 12, 2011 at 8:55 am

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What is this… Status Anxiety… ?

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Today I was listening to the Rush Limbaugh show in the background while doing something else.  So, not paying real chose attention – just listening for something interesting.

One of the segments was on why women dislike Sarah Palin.  Why would women – especially women - dislike Sarah Palin?  It would seem to me, on first pass, that Sarah would be a positive role model.  What is there to dislike about her as a role model?

One caller spelled it out.  She (Sarah) is:  too pretty; too successful; she is a good mother; she loves camping; she can hike up a mountain; she can be mom to a special needs child; she is wealthy; she has a regular segment on Fox News; she can hunt and fish and she can field dress a moose.  In short, she can “do it all”.

As the caller said, “What is not to dislike about her?”

Status Anxiety

So the bottom line is that some women dislike Sarah Palin because of her success.  The following segment on Limbaugh was on Status Anxiety.  Folks who are jealous of other people’s success.  I think this book may have been mentioned on the show.  (Sorry, was not listening that close)

This is a book about an almost universal anxiety that rarely gets mentioned directly: an anxiety about what others think of us; about whether we’re judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser. This is a book about status anxiety.

We care about our status for a simple reason: because most people tend to be nice to us according to the amount of status we have (it is no coincidence that the first question we tend to be asked by new acquaintances is ‘ What do you do?’). With the help of philosophers, artists and writers, the book examines the origins of status anxiety (ranging from the consequences of the French Revolution to our secret dismay at the success of our friends), before revealing ingenious ways in which people have learnt to overcome their worries in their search for happiness. It aims not only to be entertaining, but wise and helpful as well.

Isn’t it interesting – people who are jealous of other people’s success.  Why?  Didn’t we all start out – when we were born – with “nothing”?  Isn’t it the case that we are the product of every decision we ever made?

If we all start out with nothing and if we are all the product of every decision we ever made then why should anyone be jealous of anyone else without the concomitant understanding that we are responsible for our own success or failure?

If anything, successful people can be role models.  How did they become successful?  What did they do to become successful and how is this different from people who are not successful?  Successful people – rather than people to be derided – can provide an aspirational vision.  That is why we have heroes – people we desire to emulate.  Where would we be without aspirational vision and those successful people that model the way for us?  To be jealous of successful people and dismiss them is to throw away the proven templates of success.

Dealing with Status Anxiety

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Written by frrl

June 10, 2011 at 1:56 am

Government transparency – Salaries of every City of Chicago employee posted online

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Folks in the City of Chicago can now see the detail of how some of their tax dollars are spent.

Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, has published the salaries of every City of Chicago employee

Best of all, you can search it, sort it, filter it, slice it, dice it, and chart it.  Take a look.
How does your  non-government salary compare with these City workers?

And here is, “the rest of the story” – City of Chicago Data Portal

Written by frrl

June 9, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Sarah Palin on Paul Revere – Why some people can’t admit mistakes and the damage it does

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From Yahoo News… Sarah Palin’s Version of Paul Revere’s Famous Ride.

You might have learned that Paul Revere warned colonists “the British are coming,” but according to Sarah Palin, Revere warned the Brits too. On her East Coast bus tour, Palin said that Revere, “warned the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms by ringing those bells.”

The video has gotten almost 2 million views on YouTube (watch it). But since Revere didn’t warn the British and didn’t use bells, Palin is taking a lot of heat for her account of history. On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Palin, “You realize that you messed up about Paul Revere, don’t you?” Palin responded, “I didn’t mess up about Paul Revere. … Part of his ride was to warn the British that were already there. That, hey, you’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms,” she explained. “He did warn the British.”

Many of Palin’s supporters agree with her, and some are trying to create a new revised version of Paul Revere’s midnight ride on Wikipedia.

Here Palin had an unplanned opportunity at two different points in time.  She had an opportunity to: 1) provide, in an informal public setting, what she knows about american history.  2) a few days later confront a historical mistake that she made.  What did she implicitly tell us about her knowledge and character in these opportunities?

The real key here is, “I didn’t mess up about Paul Revere..”.  She shows herself to be one of those that “can’t be wrong” along with the follow-on of denial and “finding a way to be right”.  In some cases, the path for people caught in a lie or mistake is denial followed by contrition.  At the time of this writing Palin is in denial.  Only time will tell if this will lead to contrition (I’m sorry, I made a mistake).  Another path is commitment to her position and irrational behavior.  If she takes this later route then we will learn even more about her character and judgement.

Why can’t people admit when they are wrong?  In some cases, it’s a lack of self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, the inability to accept criticism, and any combination of the above.  The inability to take criticism, learn from mistakes, move on and become better takes a toll on one’s career.  Worst of all these folks lose the trust of friends, colleagues, or followers.  They do damage to the organizations, companies, or nations they lead or influence.

Why the inability to admit mistakes matters in organizations and nations.

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Written by frrl

June 7, 2011 at 12:26 am

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uBeam – a new take on Wireless Electricity. Tesla 100 years later

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“Instead of depending on electrodynamic induction at a distance to light the tube . . . [the] ideal way of lighting a hall or room would . . . be to produce such a condition in it that an illuminating device could be moved and put anywhere, and that it is lighted, no matter where it is put and without being electrically connected to anything.

I have been able to produce such a condition by creating in the room a powerful, rapidly alternating electrostatic field. For this purpose I suspend a sheet of metal a distance from the ceiling on insulating cords and connect it to one terminal of the induction coil, the other terminal being preferably connected to the ground. Or else I suspend two sheets . . . each sheet being connected with one of the terminals of the coil, and their size being carefully determined. An exhausted tube may then be carried in the hand anywhere between the sheets or placed anywhere, even a certain distance beyond them; it remains always luminous.” – Nikola Tesla

Wireless electricity.  Wouldn’t that be great?  You could put a lamp anyplace in the room without having to plug it in the wall.

How about charging a cell phone just by placing it anywhere in a room.   Another use for wireless electricity.

How about wireless electricity at public places?  Starbucks, for example  Suppose that just by being inside the Starbucks store you could charge your laptop, cell phone, tablet, or other  device that you just happened to lay on a table or chair?

Nikola Tesla had the vision of this capability more than 100 years ago.

So a couple of recent women graduates (undergrads) from University of Pennsylvania  came up with a proof of concept of how this could work and become a commercial product.

But, as you will see, these gals came up with a novel approach.  While Tesla tried to do wireless electricity through the “direct route” these undergrads took sort of a detour making use of something that is hidden in plain sight to assist with the transmission.  But, the end result is the same – delivering electricity over a distance without wires.

Take a look at the video showing the proof of concept of uBeam


Bonus – Schematic diagrams included.  Build at your own risk!
Spending too much money on natural gas to heat your home?  From General Electric Research 1934

Previous research at MIT

Written by frrl

June 5, 2011 at 8:49 pm

QR Codes: The new artwork of digital information encoding

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So what are those two-dimensional squares that look like art work?  Some fan mail from some flounder?

They are QR (Quick Response) codes. One of these squares can embed a lot of information. In fact, you can encode about 4,000 alphanumeric characters in one of these squares. The information can be a URL, a business card, an e-mail address, or any text you want – even a resume. Imagine that, your curriculum vitae in a square on your business card.  How about the next generation of tombstone markers?  Suppose we etch the story of your life in stone as a QR code that anyone with a mobile device could read as they walked through the cemetery?

QR codes are very easy to generate using software for a PC.  Just about anyone with a smart phone that has a camera and application capability can read the messages and information in these artistic squares.  If the content of the message is well-formed, a smart device can take an action.  For example, open a URL, create a business contact in an address book, send e-mail, or any other action of which the device is capable and can be linked to a directive in the message.  Pretty cool.  No license required to generate or use these codes.

Check out the video below of one New Yorker as she hunts down and reads QR codes posted in public places

The Wikipedia –

Create your own QR codes of Text, URL, Contact info, SMS, or Business Card

QR codes trending in Google Searches

The advantages and disadvantages of QR codes

Written by frrl

June 5, 2011 at 5:12 am

Some thoughts on Apple and average products for average people

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I’ve had my Mac Mini for 1 day. But seeing it sitting there on my desk next to my PC I thought of something Steve Jobs said in an interview back in the 1990′s when he was CEO of NeXT.

The only problem with Microsoft is that they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste and what that means is – and I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way – in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas and they don’t bring much culture into their product… Why is that important?  Proportionately spaced fonts comes from typesetting and beautiful books – that’s where one gets the idea.  If it weren’t for the Mac they [Microsoft] would never have that.  I am saddened not by Microsoft’s success – I have no problem with their success; they have earned their success for the most part. I have a problem with the fact they make really third-rate products. – Steve Jobs

The Mac mini, a single piece of sculpted aluminum 7.7-inches square and 1.4-inches tall, is sitting next to my behemoth PC.  The PC’s case was made by forcing a sheet of cheap steel into a rectangular box.  I remember the NeXT Cube that I had on my desk in the early 1990′s.  The case was a cube of magnesium and inside was the NeXT Step operating system based on the Mach Kernel.  The GUI was clean and crisp based on display postscript.  One cable brought power and video to the monitor from the cube.

What do consumer products really tell you?

I collect old radios.  I recently acquired a Hallicrafters WR600.  It’s a 4 band shortwave receiver.  The WR600′s were produced between 1961 and 1964.   What do these radio’s represent?

On first pass, these radio’s represent something of the history of radio.  The WR600 is a tube radio (fire bottles).  For as long as there are RF radio broadcasts these radios are both collectible and usable every day.

On second pass, and thinking of the quote above from Jobs, take a look at the radio (links below).  Take a look at the cabinet.  This is another example of someone bashing out a piece of sheet metal and forming it into a rectangular box.

The real icing on the cake of the Hallicrafters WR600 is that someone at Hallicrafters decided it would be a good idea to apply a wood grain to the sheet metal cabinet.  So, you have a radio that has an obvious sheet metal case covered with a picture of perfect wood grain.  Is anyone being fooled by this?

Add to this the fact that the Hallicrafters WR600 has no power transformer.  This means that one side of the power cord is soldered to the metal case.  It also has a non-polarized plug.  So, plug the radio in and you might end up with the chassis and case at 110 volts.  Touch the radio and something at ground potential at the same time and you will find the value of cutting corners by not using a power transformer – at your expense.  Shocking!

Take a look around you for mediocre products.  How many pieces of furniture do you see made out of particle board covered with a veneer?

What do consumer products tell you about manufacturers, the buyer, and the culture?

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Written by frrl

June 1, 2011 at 5:17 am


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