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Archive for March 2012

The Answers: Why pay $1,300 for an unbuilt Heathkit? Why be a Broadcast Engineer?

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The Human side of Technology

Behind those people who have a passion for what they do – be that engineering or otherwise – there is sometimes a very human story. It’s too bad that education in electronics and engineering do not tell any human stories of the people behind engineering.

You can find these stories but they are not in the books that engineers typically read or the education that is provided in formal engineering courses.

Why would anyone pay $1300 for an un-built Heathkit GR-54 General Coverage Communications Receiver ?

So, on my perusal of e-bay one day I saw that someone bid in excess of $700 for a un-built Heathkit radio. Up for bid was a Heathkit GR-54 General Coverage Communications Receiver. I picked up that same radio for $25. Why would anyone bid $700+ for a 40+ year old box parts?

Well, the e-bay auction closed with a winning bid of $1,378.57.

I posted an article about the auction on this site. The winning bidder of the Heathkit GR-54 found us.

So, do you want to know why someone would pay $1,300+ for a box of parts?

Here is the explanation of the winning bidder, Mark Grandy WD8RJJ, on why he bought the radio. It’s a great story

I am surprised to find comments regarding the GR-54 which I purchased a few years ago. Yes, I’m the guy who paid almost $1400.00 for a box of parts…. I thought you’d like to know why.

Read the entire article and Mark’s story here

Why be a Broadcast Engineer?

That question was posed to me this afternoon by a coworker. It is, indeed, a good question. Certainly, broadcast engineering is more of a vocation than a career, especially where it concerns radio stations. Why would anyone work for low wages, long hours, little or no recognition, 24/7 on call, and or unappreciative management.

Further, in this risk adverse, zero defect, micromanaged environment, what is the upside to being a radio, RF or broadcast engineer?

Another great question.  And, another great answer from Paul Thurst

Read Paul’s reason  here and visit his excellent website here:

Too bad books on electronics engineering do not tell the human side of technology. Too bad many engineers don’t seek out these stories and preserve them.  Too bad that executives as well as society and media sometimes casts engineering into the stereotype of geek and nerds (read) (read)

What could be learned if more engineers could tell stories like Mark and Paul?  There is more to engineering than a passion for technology and this is the reason that certain people persist in vocations, careers, and jobs even, in some cases, as Paul puts it “[they work for] low wages, long hours, little or no recognition, 24/7 on call, and or unappreciative management.  Or, even as Mark demonstrated, they pay $1300+ for an old box of parts.  For Mark the Heathkit which he bought has far more value as emotion and remembrance than simply a box of parts from a once great company.  The value, in non-technical terms, is the difference between what he paid ($1,300) and the salvage value of the parts, perhaps $25.

Where are the rest of these stories of passion, dedication, and a drive for excellence?

Written by frrl

March 31, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Making Kindle Fire Speak: Kindle Fire ebook reader text to speech capability

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( How to make iBooks on Apple iPad read a full book to you – here )

My huge disappointment with the Kindle Fire was its inability to read aloud a book.  That is, text to speech.  This is a feature I use constantly on my Kindle e-ink  reader.  If you are like me, you can multi-task.  Do one thing and listen to a book in the background.  Or, for some books that require a bit of concentration, sit back and just listen attentively while Kindle e-ink  reader reads to you.

Let Kindle Fire Speak !!

There is a free Open Source Android book reader application that uses the internal TTS (Text to Speech) capability of the Kindle Fire to read a book

You can read the blog article here –

and you can get the software here –


The application, Cool Reader, is not delivered by the Amazon App Store.  You must install it manually – which took all of about 15 seconds.  I downloaded the application from the web browser on the Kindle. (Click the link above if you are reading this posting on the Kindle Fire).  The file is about 3MB.  After download I navigated to the Kindle downloads folder and then tapped on the installer package.  The installer started and asked to confirm the  install the application.  A few seconds later, Cool Reader was installed.

Please realize that getting apps in this way you are bypassing the Amazon App Store and any application vetting and security screening Amazon might do before applications are placed there for distribution.

The Take

My Kindle Fire suffered no ill effects from the manual installation of the Android application (so far, that I know of)

Cool Reader’s ability to pronounce words is not as crisp and clear as the Amazon Kindle e-ink e-book  readers… but it does work.

Enjoy your Kindle Fire’s new ability to read a book to you.

Read other articles on the Kindle fire on this site –

Written by frrl

March 26, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Russia through photography

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I stumbled across this site through a serendipitous encounter.

This site has thousands of photographs of Russia in about 20 categories (Automotive, Business, Culture, Russian army, Russian people, science, society, technology, etc.)  Certainly, words are no match for the media of photography,

Engage  Russia through photography –

Written by frrl

March 22, 2012 at 5:02 am

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Content creators, aggregators and distributors: Forces Transforming the Content Landscape

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Bain recently issued a report associated the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012 at Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, January 2012. In this issue of Bain Insights they write about the forces transforming the content landscape. Caught in the middle of this transformation are three types of businesses locked in both a synergy and competition.  They are: Content Creators, Content Aggregators, and Content Distributors.

As the Bain report puts it:

For content creators, aggregators and distributors, it is a time for concern as well as joy, as the landscape shifts beneath their feet. An innovation in one part of the ecosystem may reduce costs or improve the customer experience, but it might also disrupt a content creator’s business model, reduce an aggregator’s market share or diminish a distributor’s value proposition.

In this report, we profile the forces transforming the content landscape in which creators, aggregators and distributors interact with one another and with the consumer. These forces are fundamentally altering the content ecosystem with implications for users, businesses and policy professionals.

What caught my attention in Bain’s report is the section on the next level of Personalization. Companies are using technology and a number of sources to build a personal profile of you and then deliver “the most relevant content”.  Bain’s take on this is that it can rescue you from “data overload”.

Bain recognizes that micro-segmentation based on your personal habits (what sites you visit, what you search for, what you buy, what you post on Facebook, what you look at on Amazon, and probably a hundred more sources – it will only get better) may need to be balanced with a respect for privacy.

But what is not mentioned are the downsides of this “next level of personalization” or “over personalization”. You could call this aggressive personalization as “a reality of one” where content is so well “personalized” that you only see what you want to see.

The tension between protecting you from “data overload” and doing something that undermines society is well illustrated by two differing views by two men separated by 10o years of history.  One is John Dewey a philosopher and educator.  The other is Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google

Everything which bars freedom and fullness of communication sets up barriers that divide human beings into sects and cliques, into antagonistic sects and factions, and thereby undermines the democratic way of life – John Dewey

The technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them – Eric Schmidt, Google CEO

You can read my previous posting here: A web for one.  The danger of agressive personalization

When a company or a government controls what you see and what you don’t see…

Read an article about Cass Sunstein, Choice Architecture, and White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

When Nugde comes to Push and Shove

Below are a few snips from the Bain article. You can read the full content of the Bain report here

Personalisation: The next level

Key takeaways
• Consumers want relevant, personalised experiences that grab their attention and rescue them from data overload
• Companies are using micro-segmentation technologies to capture personal and contextual characteristics to create and deliver the most appropriate content
• Business operators, however, must delicately balance the consumer demand for personalised experiences with the need for respect and privacy of personal data

Key questions
• Content creators: To what extent do you let your audience dictate the direction of your content?
• Content aggregators: How do you balance personalisation with protection of each user’s privacy? To what degree must your process be transparent?
• Content distributors: How can you best incorporate micro-segmentation technologies when delivering customised content to users?

In conclusion…

Bain’s business is business.  And so they think about the changing business landscape and those challenges that are immediate – that is, personalization and the (immediate) tension with privacy.  But what they don’t think about (it’s not their mission or expertise) is the longer term effect on society.

Similar with McKinsey.  Do we really want management consultants messing with higher education ( read )?  In a McKinsey report they talk about “increasing productivity” of colleges and the reduction of “unnecessary credits”.  If the output of college is a well crafted cog to fit in the giant machine of business is that the same individual crafted for society?  Is cultural literacy an input to business – or is this an “uncessary credit”?

Bain, McKinsey, and Boston Consulting Group may be the biggest, baddest business strategy and management consultants on the block.  But beware. They tell only part of the story.  There is more to society and culture than the narrow-focused success of business enterprises.

Written by frrl

March 21, 2012 at 4:40 pm

If you think we should, we can

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Some of my favorite words of wisdom embedded in simple sayings are these

If You Think You Can, or You Think You Can’t – You’re Right. 

Don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions.

It’s about attitude and initiative.

Recently, I heard another one

If you think we should, we can.

This latter piece of wisdom was said to a group of about 25 people trying to solve some difficult organizational problems.  It was simply a reminder to ‘think out of the box” and to not be constrained by the way things are done now.  So many organizations get trapped into organizational structures and processes that simply are no longer effective, no longer work, and struggle to produce the desired outcomes.  The challenge in organizational change  is fear, uncertainty, and leaving a comfort zone.  To not confront organizations problems head on and acknowledge the need for change and a strategy for change is the death of stagnation.  These organizations will lose out to those organizations that can embrace the chaos and see it as an opportunity.

What is true of organizations is also true of individuals.  Some are fearful, avoid change, don’t  leave their comfort zone, and they avoid risk.  The reason for this may be a lack of self-confidence, and perhaps the inability to identify opportunity when it arises.  How many people do you know that, after 10,20 or 30 years, have essentially the same job they got when the got out of high school or college?  Some like to quote the number of years of experience they have.  Is that 20 years of experience really 1 years experience 20 times over?  Or is that 20 years of progressive responsibility, challenging the process, taking risks, failing forward, and learning from all of it?  This is much different from spending 20 years hiding out in a job you know so well and is free of risk, fear – and opportunity – until that job is obsolete, irrelevant, or simply that management thinks you are too old to hold such a position.  How many people actively manage their career vs those who sit and wait for a promotion – and never get it?  Perhaps the boss thinks they lack initiative – and that would be correct.

It’s amazing what groups of individuals are capable of when they are simply freed of their self-imposed constraints.  For some of the group of 25 mentioned above, “If you think we should, we can”, put them in a new frame of reference.  Other ground rules for this group of 25 was that they could “say anything”.  This was to work as a corrective to “going along to get along” and “consensus thinking” (read more).

Perhaps these self-imposed constraints are the result of the current “Industrial age education” system in which many of us grew up in and still prevalent in our school system today ( read about it).  According to Seth Godin, it has essentially created a culture of compliant factory workers who: show up on time; do their job – and only their job; wait for orders; don’t challenge the boss or the process or way things are done; “go along to get along”; and generally have no ideas – an attribute that would make Henry Ford proud: “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, a brain comes attached?”  In a global economy and global competition can America compete when these are what we churn out of schools and find in corporate america?

It’s amazing how people differentiate themselves. 

Sometimes it’s not so much to do about  talent but attitude that holds talent back and undermines it.

Written by frrl

March 20, 2012 at 9:35 pm

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A Picture is worth…. The danger of representation

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It is said that, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

That is all well and good.  But, pictures mean different things to different people.  And, people pick up different clues depending on what parts of the picture they focus on.

Pictures are an interpretation.  So, in some cases, a picture may be a very dangerous representation of an idea, concept, direction, strategy, architecture, or whatever someone is trying to communicate.

A picture is, “worth a thousand words”, but when used for communication they are not your words – they are the words (in the minds) of the interpretation – and you have lost control of your message.

To make the point, look at the picture below.  Is the image moving?  Is that your interpretation?  Cover part of the picture and look at the moving section again.

Is seeing believing?  If you see parts of the image moving, and you believe that they are, then you are wrong.  The image below in not an animated image.  Although the picture below is an obvious optical illusion there are some images, pictures, and representations that are much more subtle and less obvious of their potential ambiguous message – these are the dangerous landmines of communication.  (Read about a recent example in Chicago here )

See more optical illusions here –

How Complexity leads to simplicity

Watch a TED video on the value of simple visualization tools and interpreting a diagram of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

Written by frrl

March 18, 2012 at 4:06 pm

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The Technology behind Netflix & the Chaos Monkey

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Innovative companies think different…

Suppose you heard that executives at a company like Netflix told their employees to go around and try to break the underlying  technology that delivers its services to millions of customers.

The basic philosophy of this directive being…

The best way to avoid failure is to fail constantly.

Sounds crazy. But is it? Here is a bit of more conventional wisdom

If we aren’t constantly testing our ability to succeed despite failure, then it isn’t likely to work when it matters

Nextflix created some software called the Chaos Monkey that goes around breaking parts of the infrastructure that delivers its services. The idea is to substitute resiliency for a dependence on reliability.  Is it easier to make things reliable or resilient?

You can read what others think about the philosophy of the Netflix Chaos Monkey here

Read about the Chaos Monkey…

And the underlying technology of Netflix…

Related posting.  Did you miss our article on the Technical Architecture Behind Facebook?

Written by frrl

March 9, 2012 at 7:24 pm

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