2023 posts

It's not all bad news. 12.30.2023

Current times seem bleak, with multiple internecine wars, authoritarianism on the march (led by the orange guy and his minions), and global climate catastrophe just around the corner. But in 2023, as with nearly every year in recent history, there is lots of good news. Nick Kristof points out reasons for optimism in his annual column about the regression of various nasty diseases and the reduction of poverty around the world. And Angus Hervey at Future Crunch lists 66 good news stories from the year.

Both are worthwhile reads as we take a deep breath and get ready to plunge into 2024.

Things Kottke learned. 12.26.2023

Jason Kottke has his own list of 52 things he learned in 2023.

Some of his factoids that I liked:

52 Rules for Flying. 12.15.2023

Mostly common sense, but sometimes people seem to go a little crazy when they get to the airport.

December shooting stars. 12.10.2023

The Geminid meteor shower is coming up. The peak nights should be Dec. 13th and 14th. They may be more visible than usual, since it will be extra dark due to the new moon. Hopefully, it won't be cloudy. If you are inclined to watch, bundle up and try to find a dark place to observe for an hour — you will probably see at least a few meteors.

How to ruin a health-care system. 12.09.2023

Short video explainer describing the demise of Great Britain's National Health Service. The story is a bit light on details, but it gives the basic gist of the story and it is pretty much what we have come to expect in the 21st century — idiot politicians mess up something good.

Alan Taylors best photos of 2023. 12.04.2023

Another end-of-year photo compilation — this one is by Alan Taylor of The Atlantic. Looking at these confirms the notion that 2023 has not gone well.

Climbing's newest power thruple 12.01.2023

Three American climbers recently scaled the north face of Mount Jannu in the Himalayas. This may be the "greatest climb ever".

Portugal vs. U.S. 10.19.2023

Portugal has the kind of health care system that we could have here, if we chose to focus on people and their health outcomes rather corporate profits.

Nikon Photomicrogaphy Competition. 10.18.2023

Beautiful images of tiny things.

Fall Foliage Map. 10.11.2023

If you are planning a leaf-peeping road trip this fall, this interactive map can help you steer in the right direction.

Buy everybody a battery. 10.09.2023

Green Mountain Power in Vermont is taking a novel approach to improving grid reliability — they propase to pay to have big batteries installed into most homes. The company says that this would be cheaper than building more power plants and stringing up more wires.

All Electronics is going out of business. 09.11.2023

How sad. They were in business for over 50 years, but it looks like they are retiring. I bought many parts from them over the years. They specialized in reselling parts — buying up unused lots of random things and selling them at a discount. So, they were never like DigiKey or Mouser, in that they didn't try to stock everything. They had what they had, and if you wanted one of what they had, you could get it at a good price.

I did a fair amount of business at All Electronics. I sent them many dollars over the years, but in the end I came out ahead. Through circumstances that I won't try to describe here, I once found a box filled with about 3000 new PCB-mount relays, similar to these, in a dumpster. Looking up the price of these relays on DigiKey suggested that they were worth about $7000 retail. I'd struck it rich! I called up All Electronics (and a couple of other places) to see what they would give me for these relays. All Electronics won the deal by offering me $700. That's how they rolled, by paying about ten cents on the dollar for their stock. I took the deal and still considered myself lucky.

All Electronics is closing their web site for good tomorrow (Tuesday) at the end of the day. If you hurry, you can probably pick up some DC wall supplies, or a handful of bridge rectifiers, or a bag of LEDs for cheap.

Top programming languages. 09.07.2023

IEEE Spectrum is out with their annual ranking of programming. It is a complete mystery as to what the numbers actually mean, but the general ordering "seems" about right.

Python is at the top by a large margin. Anyone wanting to learn programming should probably start with Python, especially EEs. The usual suspects, Java, C++, C, and JavaScript, make strong showings . PHP, which I used to make all the practice problem scripts, comes in at #13. (PHP should be put out to pasture.) Amazingly, ancient languages like BASIC (in the form of Visual Basic), FORTRAN, and COBOL still register on the list.

Super blue moon. 08.30.2023

The full moon tonight is a "super blue moon". It sounds impressive, but really not that big of a deal. It's definitely not blue — the designation is a vagary of the particular calendar we use. And it is hardly super — the moon is a bit closer to the earth and so appears to be slightly bigger and brighter than "normal". However, a full moon coming over the horizon is still an awesome sight and worth of few minutes of watching time. (Maybe werewolves have bigger and sharper teeth or howl louder during a super blue moon. πŸΊπŸ€·πŸ»β€)

John Warnock has died. 08.22.2023

With Charles Geschke, he developed postscript and pdf and founded Adobe.

We have too many honeybees! 08.21.2023

Apparently, we've been hornswoggled again. For years, environmentalists were sounding the alarm that honeybees were on the verge of extinction. It was true that the massive quantities of honeybees were dying every year due to a variety of suspected causes that were collectively known as colony collapse disorder. This annual die-off has been going on for several decades. However, honeybees are a managed agricultural resource — essentially livestock. Professional beekeepers have been able to compensate for the losses. There was no real danger of honeybees going extinct.

Over the last 10 years or so, amateur beekeepers, spurred on by the dire warnings, have been building new hives like nobody's business, to the point that there may be more honeybees than can be supported by the available pollinator plants. The knock-on effect is that the over-supply of honeybees is stressing the vast array of truly native bees. So maybe it is time to stop with the honeybee mania.

The article suggests a new and simpler formula for wanna-be bee-keepers — plant some flowers and let the bees come to you. Below are two photos that I took in our garden today — a giant bumblebee working over a zinnia bloom and some smaller bees busy on allium flower heads. (Allium is a regular bee magnet.)

Bumble bee on a zinnia flower. Bumble bees on allium.

On a side note, the main interviewee in the article is a beekeeper from Slovenia. Slovenia is one of my all-time favorite small countries. If I ever get kicked out of the U.S. — seeming more likely every day — Slovenia would be high on my list of places to spend my exile. And it's a nice place to visit, since it's not (yet) overrun by tourist mobs.

Flight of the ibis. 08.18.2023

An amazing story. It is good to be reminded that there are people dedicating their lives to improving the natural world, even though they seem to be out-numbered 1000 to 1 by the opposite types.

Bird-spike nests. 07.14.2023

Another example of Mother Nature's sense of humor: birds using anti-bird spikes to build their nests.

Oh no! — we've lost Pee Wee. 07.31.2023

Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) has died. We used to watch Pee Wee's Playhouse with our kids when they very small. It was one of their favorite shows. And before that was Pee Wee's Big Adventure, which was basically a long series of ridiculous sight gags. We still use the punch lines in appropriate situations — one of my favorites: "I meant to do that." The line works well right after blowing up a capacitor or smoking a transistor.

You are probably recycling plastic wrong. 07.31.2023

Another in the seemingly continuous stream of articles about how recycling in the U.S. is screwed up, focusing on plastics in this case. The practical rules are really pretty simple — if the item is labeled 1 or 2, rinse it and recycle it. Otherwise, don't. The plastics industry could help by simplifying the labeling — a simple "yes or no" recycling designation be less confusing than the "1 through 7" system used now. Of course, corporations don't exist to make things simpler for consumers.

Sometimes you gotta use chemicals. 06.30.2023

Dana Milbank — who typically uses his column to skewer politicians — talks about the unfortunate necessity of using nasty chemicals to fight invasive species. Both for his backyard renovation and for the bigger effort to save national parks from being overrun.

This is the way. 06.20.2023

The Ukrainian army is employing a secret weapon to use against the Russians.

New ending to "Raiders of the Lost Ark". 06.10.2023

No comment needed.

Canadian fires. 06.07.2023

The linked tweet (Yes, I know. Twitter...) has a graph showing the how much faster Canada is burning compared to previous years. It is a bit frightening. We may all need to get used to orange skies this summer.

Mr. Bean is wrong. 06.06.2023

Apparently, Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) thinks that electric cars are a flash in the pan, and that we should all stick with internal-combustion engines until some even better technology comes along. (He's a bit fuzzy about what will be better than EVs.) Of course, Mr. Bean is wrong, as Michael Coren patiently explains in the linked article.

A surprising fact learned from the article is that Mr. Bean has a degree in electrical engineering. Not sure how I feel about that.

Eagle Go-Pro. 05.18.2023

I hadn't seen this video before, but it is further evidence of why being reincarnated as an eagle would be awesome.

Less crowded. 05.17.2023

New York, London, Paris, Orlando, Yellowstone — all these places are too crowded in summer. This article lists a few alternatives. Another alternative: Don't travel to those busy places between Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you are able to travel in spring or fall, most places, even the "biggies" are much less crowded. And the weather can be better, too.

80% EV. 05.09.2023

80% of new car sales in Norway are electric. This is what the U.S. will look like in about 10 years.

Time-traveling rescue. 05.05.2023

A modern sailboat somehow lost its rudder off the coast of France, and the crew had to call for help. They were rescued by the Gotheborg, a three-masted merchant ship from the 1700s. Kinda crazy.

Petrofuture Gallery. 04.12.2023

Beautiful and frightening. These are nicely done renditions of the old-style maps that were produced by oil companies and provided as a form of advertising at gas stations. Before GPS these were standard tools for vacation navigation. But the maps have all been modified to show where shorelines would be if ocean levels rose by 66 meters, which is the upper limit of projections about the effect of melting ice polar ice sheets. It is fascinating to see what the U.S. might look like if climate change turns out to be really bad. No Florida. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco — all underwater. The central valley of California becomes an inland sea. The southern end of the Mississippi River is a huge bay.

Bill McKibben's math. 04.08.2023

Writing in Rolling Stone, Bill McKibben lays out some simple math that helps explain the climate crises. A few numbers from the article:

He has more numbers, too, but they all reinforce a message than has been quite clear for a while: There are tremendous "economic reasons" (i.e. greed) for oil companies to try to keep selling fossil fuels for as long as possible. But, eventually, they will be overwhelmed by the simple economics that there are cheaper methods for producing the needed energy. The question is whether that transition will come before or after the earth is on fire.

Gordon Moore. 03.24.2023

Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and semiconductor law-giver, has died at age 94. It is hard to overstate the importance of Moore's Law in the development of modern technology. His paper describing the observations that led to the "law" is something that every EE/CprE should read: Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits.

50 years of Pong. 03.18.2023

A great story at SFGate.com about the early days of Atari and their first hit video game.

SVB peril. 03.11.2023

The Silicon Valley Bank failure casts many small tech start-ups into perilous waters. Some might well fail as a consequence. Here's a Bloomberg article that has a good explanation of how a bank can be solvent one day and bust the next. It will be interesting to see how this mess is cleaned up.

Agrivoltaics. 03.09.2023

More examples that setting up solar panels over farm land can lead to the non-intuitive result of increased food production.

"Solar power can be a land-hungry competitor to farming. But deployed in the right way, solar installations can boost crop yields, save water, and protect biodiversity."

Arduino Club. 03.06.2023

The first Arduino club meeting will be held on Mar 6 at 6:30 p.m. in Coover 3043. The meeting will last about an hour.

We will have a brief introduction to the club, go over some of the basic aspects of the Arduino platform, and look at a simple first project — a digital thermometer.

Anyone who is interested in using Arduinos and building embedded systems is welcome to attend.

Arduino Club is the companion to Audio Club

Ford is cooler than Tesla. 03.05.2023

Ezra Dyer (of Car and Drive magazine) argues that, as a company, Ford is more progressive, more worker friendly, and more honest with their customers than Tesla. Who'd a thunk it?

Certainly something for new engineering grads to consider when looking for a job.

ISU leaving 19th century. 03.03.2023

Finally, the ISU power plant has transitioned away from burning coal to generate electricity for campus. Using natural gas is marginally better, but it would nice to see some 21st century solutions. For instance, solar arrays over all parking lots? And maybe with electric car chargers attached?

Audio Club / Arduino Club 02.16.2023

Here's some news: We are going to start up the Audio and Arduino Clubs again. The first meeting will be on Monday, Feb. 20 at 6:30 p.m. in 3043 Coover. We will start with an Audio Club meeting and alternate between the two topics in future weeks. For this first meeting, we will have a brief introduction to the club, a short description of the engineering aspects of audio systems, and then we will describe a simple headphone amp that can be built as a project.

Anyone interested in audio electronics is welcome to attend.

gtuttle.net 02.15.2023

In what might seem to be budding game of "URL whack-a-mole", I have, for a variety of reasons, decided to switch to a different domain name for this little operation. The new domain is "gtuttle.net", which I plan to use for the long haul. (However long that haul may be.) This is a secure server, although security is not really a big concern for a web site that collects absolutely no user information. The other URLs that I had set up earlier (garytuttle.com and garytuttle.ee) will still work — they direct to the exact same location. The old server (tuttle.merc.iastate.edu) is still on line, but it doesn't really do anything other than re-direct to gtuttle.net. The old server will shut down eventually — probably after the next power outage knocks it offline.