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Archive for October 2010

Malleus Maleficarum: The Hammer of Witches

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Have you believed or have you shared a superstition to which some wicked women claim to have given themselves, instruments of Satan, fooled by diabolical phantasms?  During the night, with Diana, the pagan goddess, in the company of a crowd of other women, they ride the backs of animals, traversing great distances during the silence of the deep night, obeying Diana’s orders as their mistress and putting themselves at her service during certain specified nights.  If only these sorceresses could die in their impiety without dragging many others into their loss. Fooled into error, many people believe that these rides of Diana really exist. Thus they leave the true faith and fall into pagan error in believing that a god or goddess can exist besides the only God.  — Canon Episcopi ca 906 AD

Some Historical Perspective on Witches and Witchcraft

Halloween is a couple of days from now.  Before you send your daughter out dressed as a Witch be aware that at a certain point in history being suspected as a Witch was some pretty serious business.  The document quoted in part above is one of the earliest references to Witches that exist as part of the history of the Christian church.

The Hammer of Witches

Things really got going in the later medieval period with a fairly comprehensive text called Malleus Maleficarum.  Translated from Latin meaning “The Hammer of Witches”  This text written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, is a sort of handbook of the late medieval period defending the reality of witchcraft, describing the power of witchcraft, and giving step by step instructions on how to conduct a witch trial replete with a description of cases.

But by what authority could these trials and inquisitions be done.  Another pivotal point in history was December 5, 1484 when Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull ( Summis desiderantes affectibus )

Papal Bull of Pope Innocent VIII on December 5, 1484

This papal bull written in response to the request of Dominican Inquisitor Heinrich Kramer for explicit authority to prosecute witchcraft in Germany, after he was refused assistance by the local ecclesiastical authorities.  ( Read more here )

Here it is in part

… It has recently come to our ears, not without great pain to us, that in some parts of upper Germany, as well as in the provinces, cities, territories, regions, and dioceses of Mainz, Ko1n, Trier, Salzburg, and Bremen, many persons of both sexes, heedless of their own salvation and forsaking the catholic faith, give themselves over to devils male and female, and by their incantations, charms, and conjurings, and by other abominable superstitions and sortileges, offences, crimes, and misdeeds, ruin and cause to perish the offspring of women, the foal of animals, the products of the earth, the grapes of vines, and the fruits of trees, as well as men and women, cattle and flocks and herds and animals of every kind, vineyards also and orchards, meadows, pastures, harvests, grains and other fruits of the earth; …

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October 30, 2010 at 12:16 am

Review of the TI-84 Calculator – Part I

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How to impress a kid

After playing with a virtual TI-84 calculator (read the posting) and with Xmas coming up I thought that a (real) TI-84 calculator would make a fine gift for a kid who will be going to college next year.  You can pick up a TI-84 Plus Silver Edition calculator for $115 on – no tax and free shipping.

I often wonder about the quality control of these calculators.  So as not to disappoint the recipient of this gift I decided to do a little QA testing.  Using an X-Acto knife you can carefully cut around 3 of the 4 sides of the blister pack that hermetically seals this calculator.  The blister pack is a clam shell once you get the welded plastic cut free.  If you are careful, you an put all the contents back, seal the clam shell  and no one will ever know.  Especially, in the heat of the Xmas gift-opening battle.

The by-product of QA testing is that you can become quite knowledgeable of the product.  Won’t that teen or pre-teen kid be impressed with the knowlege an adult has of these new fangled calculators?  “Here, let me show you how it work’s”.

What you get

Well, you get everything you see above.  You get the calculator, 4 decent AAA batteries (Duracell), two USB cables for file transfer, a CD full of software, and a Quick Start Guide.  Two USB cables are provided – one for connecting two calculators and the other for connecting the calculator to a PC.


I have not bought anything more than a $12 calculator over the past 20 years.  So, if you have fallen behind – as I have – on modern calculator technology, here is what’s new over the past 20 years and the advantage of these modern calculators over the $12 Wal-Mart special.

  1. Flashable Operating Systems.  The OS on the TI-84 and similar model calculators have an upgradable operating systems.  This means that once you have the underlying physical hardware (the physical calculator) you can layer on the factory operating system plus any upgrades to the OS that the vendor provides.
  2. Replaceable face plate to redefine keys for upgraded OS.  Each key on the calculator has about three functions.  The two additional functions other than what is stenciled on the key, accessed by pressing the 2nd key or the ALPHA key, gets you more functions.  The two additional functions are on the removable face plate.  This means that a new faceplate can be provided along with a new OS.  That is, if the OS provides new function the vendor can provide you the new OS plus a new faceplate that redefines any of the keys consistent with the new OS.  So, this strategy preserves, in some sense, your investment IF the vendor continues to upgrade and enhance the operating system over time.
  3. Real CPU’s.  The TI-84 is based on the Zilog Z80 chip.  This is a 8-bit processor similar to the Motorola 6502 that dates way back to the late 1970’s.  Believe it or not, this chip is still in wide use.  You can read more about the Z80 here.
  4. It’s programmable in BASIC and Z80 Assembler.  So, what you have in this modern calculator is an execution platform for running programs written in TI-BASIC and Z80 assembler language in addition to the native functionality of the base calculator.  There is plenty of support for software development from Texas Instruments as well as the TI Hacker community.  Using a PC-based TI-84 emulator and a development system you can write BASIC and Assembler plus debug it on a PC before you even load it on to a real calculator.  Some of the available emulators have decent debuggers where you can single step and watch Z80 assembler code run and inspect registers, memory as you go.
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Written by frrl

October 29, 2010 at 3:08 am

Quotable: My Presidency is ordained by God

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Remember that God ordained that I should be the next president of the United States. Neither you nor any other mortal or mortals could have prevented this.  — President Woodrow Wilson,

Quoted by Sigmund Freud in Woodrow Wilson : A Psychological Study

Read more on Woodrow Wilson

Written by frrl

October 28, 2010 at 4:47 am

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Notable: Being Steve Jobs’ Boss

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Steve, from the moment I met him, always loved beautiful products, especially hardware. He came to my house, and he was fascinated, because I had special hinges and locks designed for doors. I had studied as an industrial designer, and the thing that connected Steve and me was industrial design. It wasn’t computing…

Steve had this perspective that always started with the user’s experience; and that industrial design was an incredibly important part of that user impression…

An anecdotal story: A friend of mine was at meetings at Apple and Microsoft on the same day. And this was in the last year, so this was recently. He went into the Apple meeting (he’s a vendor for Apple), and as soon as the designers walked in the room, everyone stopped talking, because the designers are the most respected people in the organization. Everyone knows the designers speak for Steve because they have direct reporting to him. It is only at Apple where design reports directly to the CEO.

Later in the day he was at Microsoft. When he went into the Microsoft meeting, everybody was talking and then the meeting starts and no designers ever walk into the room. All the technical people are sitting there trying to add their ideas of what ought to be in the design. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Everyone around him knows he beats to a different drummer. He sets standards that are entirely different than any other CEO would set.

Read the full story from Bloomberg –

Written by frrl

October 26, 2010 at 6:55 am

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A couple of models for team membership assessment

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Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.   –Vince Lombardi

Companies are only as good as their leaders and leaders are only as good as the teams they create.  Some team gel and some teams don’t.  A collection of clever individuals does not necessary make a high performance clever team.  If fact, sometimes the opposite is true.  An assembly of clever people may be less clever than any single team member individually due to mis-matched personalities and the inability to get along and collaborate.  In many cases, a diverse set of complementary-skilled clevers is what is needed along with a clever leader that can orchestrate the collaboration to produce measurable results against a clarity of vision, mission, and goals.  It also requires the clever team leader to make changes to team membership as needed – without gettting caught in work avoidance (read What Makes Men)

Here is a start on making an assessment of each individual team member.  Many folks never take the time to make an objective, and perhaps brutal, assessment of who they have as team members and make adjustments as needed.  If you never do this, and wonder why the team or organization under performs against similar organizations, an industry benchmark, or some other criteria  then the answer could be as close as the composition of the team that you lead.

The model below is based on the work of  Howard M. Guttman. 

The Questions

Take a look around you and see who is on your team.  Ask yourself these two questions

  1. To what degree does the individual agree with the teams mission and/or what you are trying to accomplish?
  2. To what extent will this person support you as the leader and the other team members on the accomplishment of the teams mission and goals?

For each of these questions rank each team member on a scale  from 0-10.  Zero is low (or none) and 10 is high.

The Assessment

Based on your assessment, the individuals will fall into these categories along the dimensions of agreement and support.  Obviously, low agreement and low support – why do you have them on your team?  High agreement and high support – these are keepers.  But what about those who don’t fall at these extremes?  How would you describe or classify these team members?  What action do you need to take to ensure the mission and goals of the team, group, or organization are successful?  A team leaders, you take the blame for failure and share the rewards for success.

Double-dealer.  These folks agree with the team’s mission and goals but, for whatever reason, will not support you or the effort.  Don’t waste your time explaining the goals to these folks – they are already converted.  The key challenge is to win their support.  What are their concerns? Listen carefully.  Listen to what they do not say as well as to what they do say.  Look for hidden agendas.  As a team leader, this person will not advance your goals or the mission or goals of the team or organization that you represent unless you can gain their committment and support.

Foe.  Treat them as immovable forces in the work environment.  They neither agree with your goals, nor will they support you.  These folks, like the Double-dealer will not advance your goals or the mission or goals of the team or organization that you represent.  These folks might even try to actively undermine you or the teams efforts.  The diagram to the upper left does not show negative values but it’s possible – watch out.

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Written by frrl

October 25, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Quotable: Robert Moog on Ideas

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I can feel what’s going on inside a piece of electronic equipment.  I have this sense that I know, and to some extent, have control over what is going on inside the transistors and inside the resistors.  When I am thinking about how to solve a particular problem I can think about it for days and weeks and nothing will happen.  And, some day,  when I am cutting the grass, or having a hamburger, or I wake up in the middle of the night, the idea will be there.  I think it would be egotistical of me to say, “I thought of it”.  What happened, is I opened my mind up and the idea came through and into my head.  These ideas, I don’t have to dig up anything.  Sometime I don’t even have to be thinking of them  – and there they are.  It’s something between discovering and witnessing.

Robert Moog (Moog Foundation, Watch a Minimoog demo – It’s all Analog, kids)
Inventory/Creator of the Moog Synthesiser

Written by frrl

October 24, 2010 at 2:58 pm

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The World of Calculator Emulation – things to see and try

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Did you know that you can buy a brand new HP-12C calculator for $58?  The HP-12C.  If you were around back in the 1980’s you might know about the HP-12C.  Yes, Virginia, the HP-12C – the great RPN financial calculator in 2010 is the same HP-12C of 1981.  Nearly 30 years and this calculator remains, essentially, unchanged.  How can this be?  What’s the magic?  (Note: click any of the images to enlarge)


So what’s the big deal?  I don’t know.  I didn’t have a HP-12C back in the 1980’s.  But, through the magic of modern emulation we can find out about the magical HP-12C.  I checked the internet and in fact, there are quite a few HP-12C emulators out there that you can get for free.

Amazingly, I found a Windows 7 Gadget and a stand-alone application that emulates a HP-12C.  This is what the gadget looks like on the desktop along with some other gadgets.

On the web site where you can get this emulated HP-12C (see links below) it says that this is a toy.  Well, is it?    I spent about 30 minutes playing with this emulated calculator trying various financial calculations related to TVM (Time Value of Money), IRR (Internal Rate of Return), cash flow calculations, loan  payments, and a few more financial calculations.  The real HP-12C is programmable.  I did some simple programming on this emulated HP-12C and that works as well.  Also note, this is a RPN (Reverse Polish Notation) calculator.  So, if you have never done some basic arithmetic using RPN, well, here is your chance.

You can get the HP-12C Gadget and the HP-12C manual at these links

For Win 7, Mac OS, Stand-alone and Win 7 Gadget –
And you will need the manual from HP –

The World of Calculator Emulation

Now I was on a roll.  What other calculators can I emulate?  What about a high-end calculator like the Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus Silver Edition Graphing Calculator?  Feast your  eyes.  Here it is running on my Windows 7 machine.

I gave this calculator quite a workout including programming this emulated calculator in TI-BASIC.  The real version of this calculator can also be programmed in Z80 assembler language.  The real calculator has a USB interface allowing you to exchange programs between the calculator and a personal computer.  The emulated TI-84 to the left does not seen capable of this data transfer.  If it was, I would have tried some Z80 assembler code which I was able to snag on the Internet.

Someone put quite a bit of effort into writing this emulator.  In fact, the TI-84 is only one of a number of TI calculators that the underlying emulator can emulate.

What is questionable is that, it would seem, the ROM that the emulator needs to work would be Texas Instruments IP (Intellectual Property).

When installing the this emulator you have the option of getting the ROM from a real TI calculator or “Create a ROM image using open source software”.

You really need to use your own judgement on this.

You can get eveything you need to play “hands-on” with the emulator here – Read the rest of this entry »

Written by frrl

October 23, 2010 at 7:27 am

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Quotable: On the interchangeability of Leaders and Followers

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“There goes the mob, and I must follow them,  for I am their leader”Comte de Mirabeau

What might emerge from the riots in France and the UK over the economic crisis?   (read about it)

Some observations from  Joseph S. Nye, Jr. (Harvard Kennedy School of Government)

In times of social crisis, such as war or economic depression, temporarily overwhelmed followers may hand over power to leaders that they later find difficult to retrieve.  Hitler came to power by elections in Germany in 1933, and then used coercion to consolidate his power.  But he also used the soft power of attraction, constructing narratives that turned Jews into scapegoats, glorified the past, and promised a thousand-year Reich as a vision of the future.  Followers also helped to create Hitler.  As Albert Speer put it, “Of course Goebbels and Hitler know how to penetrate through to the instincts of their audience; but in a deeper sense they derived their whole existence from the audience.  Certainly the masses roared to the beat set by Hitler and Goebbels’ baton; yet they were not the true conductors.  The mob determined the theme.”

One can think of Hitler’s followers in terms of concentric circles, with true believers like Goebbels, Goering, and Speer as an inner core; they are followed by a next circle of “good soldiers” like the Hamburg Reserve Police Battalion 101, who willingly executed Jews and Poles out of “crushing conformity;” an outer circle of complicit bystanders who knowingly acquiesced; and a further circle of passive bystanders who made no effort to know what was behind the myths and propaganda. Beyond them were those who refused to follow and resisted, many of whom were destroyed or coerced into silence.

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Written by frrl

October 22, 2010 at 5:15 pm

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The Political Debate and the Nature of Wicked Problems

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It’s October and the 2010 midterm elections are upon us.  All media is filled with political debate.  Questions and answers.  Questions and answers – and then follow-up questions and more answers.

When I hear the informed electorate asking questions of politicians at these town-hall style debates it seems that the electorate think there is an easy, correct, or definitive answer  to many of these public policy questions.  Are public and social policy problems somehow a different class of problem than what citizens are used to, familiar with, and solve on an everyday basis?

Here is something to consider.  Many, if not the majority of public and social policy problems, are properly in the category of what has been classified as Wicked Problems.  Here is a brief definition from “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”

The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, because of the nature of these problems. They are “wicked” problems, whereas science has developed to deal with “tame” problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about “optimal solutions” to social problems unless severe qualifications are imposed first. Even worse, there are no “solutions” in the sense of definitive and objective answers.

Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning
HORST W. J. RITTEL – Professor of the Science of Design, University of California, Berkeley
MELVIN M. WEBBER – Professor of City Planning, University of California, Berkeley


Want an example of a wicked problem?  Should we stop trying to teach the unteachable?

How about this Wicked Problem and candidate solution by Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven.
The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty

When it comes down to it, these are the 10 characteristics of a Wicked Problem

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan Read the rest of this entry »

Leading Techie Teams

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This is a follow-up on our posting Four Challenges of Techie Teams.  Those four challenges (among others) came from research done by Rob Goffee & Gareth Jones from London Business School (Wikipedia)

But how does an organization meet these challenges?  How do you lead and manage “Techie Teams” in the face of these challenges?  Do managers and leaders need to learn a different skill set to get the best out of techies?

Here are some suggestions from Gofee and Jones.  In the excerpts below, the techie folks are referred to as “clevers”.

The growing importance of clevers in the knowledge economy poses a huge challenge for organizations. Our research suggests that leading clever people requires a very different style of leadership from that traditionally seen in many organizations. In our experience, getting the best from clevers requires many of the traditional leadership virtues, such as excellent communications skills and authenticity. But it also requires leaders to demonstrate some additional qualities.

Communicating with clevers is always a challenge because they are totally absorbed by their own agendas. Engaging with them in a way that means they see the leader as being on their side is vital.

Help them understand their interdependence with others and the big picture

The close association between what they do and who they are also means that clever people often see themselves as not being dependent on others. The leader must, therefore, start by acknowledging their independence and difference.  If leaders do not do this, they fail at first base.  But, and it is an important caveat, the leader’s job is to make them understand their interdependence.  Recognizing the symbiotic nature of the relationship is critical to both the individual and the organization.

It can be a hard sell. Interdependence only goes so far.  Clever people are so focused on their professional passion that the bigger picture can be immaterial to them. Clever people tend to be extraordinarily interested in whatever they are clever in. This can mean that if you try to explain where their part fits into the overall picture—of how the users are going to use it—they say, that’s interesting, but why are you bothering me with it?  The leader can end up constantly checking that people aren’t creating incredibly elegant … [ solutions] … that are of little or no use to the … [ customer ].  With clevers, their own sense of beauty can become a money-consuming beast.  They start off designing a cup, and you end up with a tea set. “Creeping elegance!” snorted one CEO we talked with.

Set Limits, have an iron will to act – for the good of the organization

“Clevers need to know where the limits are,” one leader told us. “Otherwise, there will be anarchy—and that is not good for anyone.” Leaders were also clear that once the line was crossed, they had to take swift and uncompromising action. Not for them the knee-jerk reaction to having their authority challenged. Rather, the iron will to act in the best interests of the organization.

Provide structure, discipline, timescale, and sense of process

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Written by frrl

October 19, 2010 at 4:25 am

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Quotable: On Profit & Pleasing Customers

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Profit is vital to human well-being. Profit is the payment to entrepreneurs just as wages are payments to labor, interest to capital and rent to land.  In order to earn profits in free markets, entrepreneurs must identify and satisfy human wants and do so in a way that economizes on society’s scarce resources.

Here’s a little test. Which entities produce greater customer satisfaction: for-profit enterprises such as supermarkets, computer makers and clothing stores, or nonprofit entities such as public schools, post offices and motor vehicle departments?  I’m guessing you’ll answer the former. Their survival depends on pleasing customers. Nonprofits, such as public schools, post offices and motor vehicle departments, survival depends mostly on pleasing politicians.

When a firm fails to please its customers and thereby fails to earn a profit, it goes bankrupt, making those resources available to another who might do better.  That’s unless government steps in to bail it out.  Bailouts permit a business to continue doing a poor job of pleasing customers and husbanding resources.  Government-owned nonprofit entities are immune to the ruthless market discipline of being forced to please customers.  The same can be said of businesses that receive government handouts.

It’s this ruthlessness of market discipline that forces firms to please customers, economize on resources and thereby earn profits or go out of business and goes a long way toward explaining hostility toward free market capitalism

Walter E. Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University

Written by frrl

October 18, 2010 at 7:37 pm

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Digital Frequency Display for your Collins, Drake, Hammarlund, Swan, Kenwood, Heath, Yaesu, Atlas, and other Radios

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Looking for a digital display for your older radio?

Then check out this site – Almost All Digital Electronics

On that site you will find plug-and-play digital frequency displays for: Collins, Kenwood Hybrid, Drake, Hammarlund, Swan, Yaesu, and Atlas.

Have a radio that you want to add a digital frequency display that is not listed above?  Then get the Universal kit and probe.  This will even work on simple AA5 (All American Five) Air Capacitor Gang-tuned receivers. 

Don’t want to use that method?  Then use the tube shield that goes over the local oscillator / mixer to sample the frequency?  Still not general enough for your exotic radio?  Then use the programmable kit to jigger the calculation to determine the correct frequency for your particular radio based on the location of the sampling probe.  Slick! ( see it here , pictures of specific installations  )

These digital frequency displays are reasonably priced and come as kits to build yourself or pre-built if you want to use OPL (Other Peoples Labor)

For you fans of the Kenwood TS-820S Hybrid that have a failing digital display, well, here you will find a replacement.  If you have a Kenwood TS-520S then its plug-and-play using connections already provided on the back of the radio.

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Written by frrl

October 14, 2010 at 4:46 am

Four Challenges of Techie Teams

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Some insights from a couple of guys (Rob Goffee & Gareth Jones) from London Business School based on research of numerous companies.  Read our related set of articles – (here)


Once the preserve of high-tech companies, today techie teams are everywhere. They include computer game designers at Electronic Arts, software programmers at Microsoft, and the inevitable Googlets. But techie teams also occur in financial services companies, such as ING and Deutsche Bank, where technology increasingly resides in the organizational engine room. Indeed, IT and operations have moved from being support services in global banks to being at the heart of the business. For example, Deutsche Bank’s expertise at processing foreign exchange has given the bank a real competitive advantage.

Techie teams are prone to four distinct challenges.

First, clever techies have a tendency to be overly specialized. They are recognized as experts in their own field, and their clever status often rests on this. They have no wish to be led elsewhere.

Here is the consultant Paul Glen, drawing directly on his own work experience:

In general, geeks are rather ambivalent about joining groups. As introverts, they’re most comfortable working alone, concentrating on problems small enough to be attacked by only one person . . . The most common problem is the team that’s comprised solely of people who are strong at individual task skills and lack even a basic awareness of the other (relationship, team-work, process) skills.

Jonathan Neale acutely observes the following about the technically skilled engineers at the core of McLaren’s success. He describes the tension between shared mission and freedom to act:

The engineers like to be led by people who are authentic and gifted. The challenges are being able to give the technical team a sense of ownership about the mission. This has to be articulated in a language that describes their degrees of freedom to act and, simultaneously, the constraint or obligation to come back and report on it. So, they all want light-touch management, and they all want more funds and say, just trust us, it will be all right on the night. We don’t work like that. They’re accountable too.

This leads to a second, related problem: individual team members are typically obsessed by their own particular specialty, which can work to the detriment of the overall team objective.

If each team member focuses on their particular part of the jigsaw puzzle, they may never put all the pieces together to see the bigger picture. Two plus two does not necessarily add up.

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Written by frrl

October 13, 2010 at 5:56 am

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Radio Archeology: The Story of Bill Halligan and Hallicrafters

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What’s around in the basement?  There they are – my Hallicrafters radios.  An S-38, S-40B, and a SX-130.  The SX-130 is loose and making the rounds in the main part of my home.  The other radios in the basement are waiting their moment of glory.  The radio above is an SX-130 that I picked up, in excellent working condition, for $80.

Note: When I look around the internet, it seems that my basement full of radios is nothing compared to some other folks that I stumbled upon.  So, its good that folks are keeping these radios, repairing them, learning from them, using them, and keeping them alive to pass on to future generations.  Don’t forget to check out the links at the end of this posting.

We have a few postings on this site dedicated to older Heathkits (here) and Kenwood Ham Radios (here).  This one is on Hallicrafters.

The history of people, not things

Hallicrafters, like other radio manufacturers, has a story.  And please realize, that the story of radio is really the story of the people who made this all possible.  It’s about people who have a passion, take risks, build companies, and make something for the world.

The story of Hallicrafters is the story of Bill Halligan –

Hallicrafters – Young Engineer does good…

William (Bill) J. Halligan, founder of Hallicrafters, was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1899.  He got his first ham license as a teenager.  Even at that age he considered himself a radio experimenter and built an early spark-gap transmitter.  Bill’s first job, at age 16, was as a wireless operator on excursion ships between Boston and other coastal cities.  

When World War I began, he put his skills to good use by serving his country as a wireless radio operator on the battleship Illinois.  After the war was over he attended engineering school at Tufts College and West Point, but left when he married in 1922.  He took a job as a newspaper reporter, and then left journalism in 1924 to sell radio parts.  In 1928 he decided to start his own company, and moved to Chicago, Illinois.  This salesman had ideas for improving the short-wave radios he had been selling. It was a brave venture, with almost no capital, manufacturing license problems and then the depression, but in 1933 Bill founded the Hallicrafters company that made him a legend. 

Hallicrafters built handcrafted receivers with state-of-the-art features at an affordable price.  By 1938, Hallicrafters was considered one of the “Big Three” manufacturers of amateur receivers (Hallicrafters, National and Hammarlund) and was selling not only in the U.S. but 89 other countries.  He had 23 different models of transceivers and was ready to start producing transmitters, beginning with the HT-1.  Instead of putting a lot into expensive cabinets, Halligan believed in providing every nickel’s worth into the performance of the chassis and the latest in circuit design.  His greatest salesmen were those who used his equipment and praised it to others over the air.

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Written by frrl

October 9, 2010 at 4:05 am

The Role of Amateur Radio in the New Century

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Another good snag off the internet from the FCC website.

This was written a decade ago by Dale N. Hatfield —  Chief, Office on Engineering and Technology at the FCC

Here are a couple of excerpts.  You can find a PDF copy of the full remarks at the bottom of this posting

Growing Demand for Spectrum

The management of the radio spectrum resource is an extremely important part of telecommunications policy and regulation. As you all know so well, radio spectrum is an increasingly scarce natural resource. We simply do not have enough spectrum to give everyone all they want. This increasing demand is being propelled by a host of developments:

 the growing shift of our economy towards the service sector,
 the increasing mobility of our workforce,
 the convenience and increased efficiency produced by mobile/portable communications
 the increasing performance and falling cost of wireless devices
 the increasing requirements for public safety and for national defense systems, and
 the dramatically growing interest in accessing the Internet on a wireless basis.

Hence, the allocation of spectrum for particular uses and the development of specific technical and service rules governing those allocations is a crucial determinant of telecommunications industry structure and performance. Even more importantly, it is critical to the performance of our public institutions that are devoted to certain scientific pursuits, such as radio astronomy, to the safety of life and property, and to the national defense.

In the past, the amateur service has justified its spectrum allocations by, among other ways, (1) engaging in experimentation that has advanced the radio state-of-the-art, (2) providing emergency communications in times of natural or man-made disasters, (3) providing trained radio operators in times of national emergencies, (4) encouraging international cooperation and goodwill by allowing direct communications between and among people on an international basis and (5) as in my case, providing an important educational outlet for people interested in the more technical aspects of radio communications.

While the relative importance of some of these ways has obviously changed because of marketplace, technological and other developments, they remain valid today.

The important thing is that they actually be carried out. Or, to use a bit of slang, it seems to me that it will be even more important for all segments of the amateur community to “walk the walk” not just “talk the talk.”

Read the entire paper from June 17,2000 below –

Written by frrl

October 8, 2010 at 4:43 pm

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Quandary: Career Advancement of Technical Engineers Part IV

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It was about a month ago when I was able to witness, at an all-hands meeting, an employee ask a Vice President what the company goals has to do with him.  You can come up to speed by going back to here.

Now it happened again – at a different company.  (paraphrase) “What am I doing here?”  ‘Why are you asking me to contribute?  I am already doing my job as a tiny cog in a giant machine – leave me alone.”

The Scenario

This particular company, a global company with $30 billion in annual revenue, created a “collaboration space” for its employees available from its internal corporate network.  Waves of business units, divisions, and  functional units were added to the collaboration space over time. The collaboration space includes forums, document sharing, blogs, events calendars, and other capability that serves as a social collaboration and meeting space among employees across the globe.

One functional area consisting of  about 350 people was added a few days ago.  Employees in that functional area got an e-mail message with a URL  inviting them to come visit the space and contribute.  One employee, let’s call him “Daniel”, has a question.

Daniel has a question

It seems that Daniel looked to see who his colleagues where in this collaboration space and found a bunch of executives including himself and others.  Should he be in the same group with a bunch of corporate executives?  Was it a mistake?

In the message below, Daniel refers to the executives as the “upper floors” and refers to himself as “in the basement” doing work “stoking boilers”.  Why an I here?  What does this have to do with me?  Daniel, as does every employee, has a picture on file that is included with his posting in the collaboration space.  Daniel looks to be about 50 years old.

The message below from Daniel is original.  Places where you see brackets [ ] is where I had to edit out specific company information for the purposes of posting this.  Daniel wrote to Susan.  Susan is the company “Communications and Analyst Relations Manager”

Hi Susan,

I really have a basic question — Is there value for [ this company ] or me to be in this group? I’m a [ legacy systems ] programmer working on the [ project in ] Los Angeles.  Seems like most of the folks that are in this group are in the upper floors in our “building”, and our [] team is one of those groups that is kind of in the basement,  stoking the boilers.  What kind of work roles within [ this company ] do you expect to see for the people in this group?

Thanks, Daniel

Susan’s reply
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Written by frrl

October 7, 2010 at 1:29 am

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Quotable: CEO John Chambers on Credibility & Learning from Mistakes

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John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, often asks prospective employees about results.

I never get hard work confused with success. So I walk you through your successes, and what you did right. I also ask you to tell me about your failures. And that’s when people make a tremendous mistake. All of us have had mistakes and failures, yet it’s surprising how many people say, ‘Well, I can’t think of one.’ That person immediately loses credibility with me. It’s an important ability to be very candid on what mistakes they’ve made, and then the question is, what would you do differently this time?

Written by frrl

October 6, 2010 at 7:16 pm

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SolderSmoke – Global Adventures in Wireless Electronics

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Another good stumbled-upon and the power of serendipity combined with the global internet.

I ran across a couple of guys who started SolderSmoke.  This is a really great site, blog, and huge collection of audio podcasts where all sorts of subjects relevant to electronics, homebrew, and radio are discussed in a very high level of technical detail and professionally done.  So, you might want to take a listen to their extensive collection of technical mp3’s – all free to listen and download.

You can find the site here:
Scroll down for the Podcasts along with a content listing of each.

This is some really great listening for the more technical folks

The SolderSmoke blog is here:

There is also a book that is available on LuLu –—-global-adventures-in-wireless-electronics-%28european-edition%29/10898038

Here is a description of the book

SolderSmoke is the story of a secret, round-the-world, after-hours life in electronics. Bill Meara started out as a normal kid, but around the age of 12 he got interested in radio… To make matters worse, when he got older he became a diplomat. In all of the places he has lived, his hobby caused him to seek out like-minded radio fiends, to stay up late into the night working on strange projects, and to build embarrassingly large antennas above innocent foreign neighborhoods. SolderSmoke takes you into the world of an expatriate geek. It is a technical memoir filled with funny stories and with serious descriptions of Bill’s struggles to truly understand the theory behind the equipment that he built.

You can also preview a few pages from the book at the lulu site above.

Excellent website, blog, and podcasts from a European perspective.

This is probably the best collection of radio-related Podcasts I have found over the past year.

Written by frrl

October 3, 2010 at 5:46 pm

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Radio Archeology: Heathkit GR-54 General Coverage Communications Receiver

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Note: 03 Oct 2010 –
The eBay auction for an un-built kit of the radio pictured above ended with a winning bid of $1,378.57
(see it, and read more below)

Whenever I want to play with a new radio I look around the basement and see what’s down there.  With my recent acquisition of the Heathkit BR-2 Broadcast Receiver I wondered what else I had in the way of Heathkit receiver kits.  There is was – my Heathkit GR-54 General Coverage Communications Receiver.

The GR-54 was produced between 1966 and 1971.  It is all mode (AM/LSB/USB) single conversion Superheterodyne consisting of 6 tubes (6BH6 RF Amp, 6EA8 Osc Mixer, 6BA6 IF Amp, 6BA6 IF Amp, 12AT7 BFO Product Detector, 6HF8 AF Amp and diodes).  The price when this kit was produced was $85-$135.

I got a real deal on this one.  I paid $25 for it in good working condition.  And that included the manual.

Turns out, at the time of this writing, there is an original unbuilt Heathkit GR-54 on eBay – the bidding is now at $709.  Got that?  That is not a typo.  An unbuilt Heathkit is bid up to $709 with 16 hours remaining in the auction.  Don’t belive me?  Here, look.

Note: Click any picture on this page to enlarge

The seller posted some pictures of what is in the box.  I snagged these as I know that by the time some folks read this posting this item will be gone and it may be interesting to some to see what was in these kits.  You can get your own “unboxing” experience by proxy – maybe not.  The images are in the gallery at the bottom of this posting. 

The Value of Un-built Heath Kits – The value of History

I have seen unbuilt Heatkits going for $2,400 on eBay.  There is a ham radio operator that posts on that is in a state of utter amazement that these unbuilt Heathkits are going for so much money. 

For some, “history” is not worth much.  To others, history is valuable.  The ham radio operator in the state of amazement suggested that one should disassemble existing Heathkits and sell them as collections of parts.  Some people don’t get it – and there is no way you can ever explain it to them. 

The 25 people who bid up this unbuilt Heathkit GR-54 to $709 have a sort of appreciation for things that will ensure that the history of radio is remembered valued, and passed on to future generations.  I can only suspect that other people view history, perhaps, as a sequence of discrete events with no event, product, or idea with no more value than the next and all to be discarded when the moment passes.  (The more academic folks reading this posting can find out more about the the idea and value of history here, here, and read about the seminal work, The Idea of History by R. G. Collingwood)

Enough of that.  Back the GR-54 General Coverage Communications Receiver.  Mine at least – the one I bought for $25 – not the one that has been bid up to $700+ on Ebay.  ( I wonder what the winning bid will be?)

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Written by frrl

October 3, 2010 at 9:00 am

Uniden Home Patrol – A new era in radio scanning

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Well, it’s a new era in radio scanning

It used to be the case that you bought a scanner – from Radio Shack or some other outlet – then got a frequency guide (if you could find one for your area), then learned how to program the radio, then carefully punched in via a keypad all those frequencies and assigned them to memory channels in memory banks.  Then finally, chose the frequencies and banks you wanted to listen to – and listened  That was a lot of work.

Early scanners had 12 channels, then 100, then thousands.  Still you have to get those frequencies into those radios either through manual key presses on the radio or through software and an interface cable – if the radio had that capability.

Welcome to the evolution

Now the world is different.

The Uniden Home Patrol scanner is now available.  All the dirty work described above is done for you.

Take a look at the evolution (or revolution)

You can go to this website and see a demo of how it works

Interactive demo at –

Or go here, type in your zip code, and discover what this pre-programmed scanner will pick up in your area

It also works with an optional GPS unit so you can take it mobile and it will unload and load new groups of frequencies as you drive.
It can record audio
It has updatable firmware
and updatable internal frequency database… of every known assigned frequency in the Universe
It slices and dices…

Good for you, Uniden.  Innovation counts!  The Uniden Home Patrol scanner will set a new standard for ease of use.  The Uniden Home Patrol may bring new people into the scanning hobby – or bring former scanner enthusiasts back – for which programming digital modes such as APCO-25 was just too complex and burdensome.  This scanner will make those folks with scanners that have dedicated multi-function keypads think that are living in the middle ages.  Again, Uniden, good for you.  Uniden Home Patrol is a game changer.

Here is the manual for the Uniden Home Patrol Scanner –

Detailed Techical Summary and Features

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Written by frrl

October 2, 2010 at 4:18 pm

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