Archive for the 'Historical' Category

A Chip Off the Old Stack

I recently dropped the memory card for my camera, and it split apart into 4 pieces. Two of them form the shell, the part most people are aware of. The tiny slider that allows a device to write to the card vanished; I scavenged one from an inferior card to replace it when I fixed this card, but that is not the point.

My Object at Hand today is that little circuit card, the actual memory for my fancy camera. I bought it a couple of years ago, making sure it was rated U3 (fast enough to record 4K video or a continuous stream of 20Mp jpgs at the rate of 60 per second). But this was not my point, either.

When I saw that little circuit board, the wrapper for the tinier chip of silicon inside, I had a personal memory flash of how many floppy disks it represented. Back before flash memory, some early digital cameras stored to a floppy disk.

My little 32GB card holds the same amount of data as a stack of about 88,000 5-1/4″ double sided, double density diskettes. These ruled through the early 1980’s, when the floppies actually seemed floppy.

If you aren’t old enough to remember those, you could picture it as a stack of about 22,700 3-1/2″ rigid “floppies” that took over in the later 1980’s. I managed to barely miss the era of 8″ floppies (some of which held almost as much data as the later 3-1/2″ floppies). Those were mainly used on pre-desktop computers.

After that, came optical media. This SD card could be copied onto only 44 CDR’s; those cost about $20 each when I first was using them in the early 90’s. Then came the DVD-R, of which only 7 would be needed.

And this is no longer considered a big SD card. As of today, one can buy a 2TB (2,000GB) card at most electronics outlets. My main computer hard disk is only 1TB (although I am thinking of upgrading).

So this was just a “back in my day, dadgummit” post.

Well Read Journey

Today’s Object At Hand is a book, Henry Reed’s Journey. I’ve probably read this book more often than any other (starting as a child). There is irony behind that: I was usually car sick as a child, thus hated actual travel. So, why would I so regularly read a book about an epic trans-American car trip?

Well, I first read this book in entirety when I was ten, and had discovered recreational reading and a nearby public library. Before that summer, reading was just something I did for information, or for school requirements.

The first time I read this book (selected pretty much at random), I recognized one chapter in it from when I had to read aloud in a group in third grade. Back then, kids were divided up into small groups based on reading skill, from brown, red, green, etc. up through silver and (my group) gold. The teacher used an anthology text, chapters from various sources. In this case, we third graders were reading stories (like this) meant for 12 year olds. But once we were reading at Junior High level, the reading circles ended. Fine with me; my mouth could never keep up with my reading speed. I was probably an unintelligible orator.

Anyway, there is a whole series of these Henry Reed books, and this is the second in the series. Once I discovered them at age 10, I re-read them each summer until I was old enough to feel foolish going up to the children’s section of the library.

So in the new millennium, well into my second marriage, and with many cross country road trips under my belt, I had a yen to read this book again. I got this copy on eBay and have resumed my childhood habit of reading it once each summer.

I still enjoy it. But now more for the nostalgia for the road trip world of the 1960’s than for the potential adventure it had evoked when I was young.

Quality Depends on Good Communication

Well, I had to hire a contractor to do a job that was a bit too big for me, even when I am well. When that was done, he asked if there was anything else he could do. The exterior basement door was sticking because of some settling and the hinge screws getting loose in the wood after 125 years. I showed him the door and figured he would understand what was needed. Clearly, fill the holes with structural filler and adjust the shims. After all, he was a professional.

Oops.

I had to take a call from work and do a quick fix for them. Less than an hour later, I returned to find he’d smashed off (not unscrewed) the antique cast iron steam-age hinges and put some modern, thinner, plated, light weight hinges in the original mortises! He was about to shave off some of the wrong side of the door when I intercepted him. He left for lunch.

Aarghh! Had he checked with me, I would have explained that the hinges themselves were not the problem. And clearly he has no idea what the market is for genuine steam-age hardware in usable condition to restorers, collectors, and steam punk folks. So rather than just cry about split milk, I thought I’d fume about it here, and share a snapshot of the piece that I was able to pull out of the trash.

The Object at Hand is therefore the remains of this hinge from 1890.

Circumventing Darwin

I picked up a free flashlight from a cheap tool import shop. This handy, hand held Object at Hand is a flashlight, with a  warning label. 😀

To prevent serious Injury:

  1. Wear ANSI-approved safety goggles during use.
  2. People with pacemakers should consult their physican(s) before use. Electromagnetic fields in close
    proximity to heart pacemaker could cause pacemaker interference or pacemaker failure.
  3. Position batteries in Proper polarity and do not install batteries of different types, charge levels, or capacities together
  4. The brass components of this product contain lead a Chemical known to the State of California
    to cause cancer and and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Let’s set aside that I went to Harbor Freight; I do know the quality of their tools. I’ve been mail ordering from them since they only had an outlet in California, over a decade before the Web.

But here we have a hand held flashlight that uses significantly less power than the old EverReady flashlights that we got for free with a two-pack of “D” batteries back when I was a kid. I’m old enough to have gotten the ribbed metal flashlights, before the orange plastic. Those rusted away when a battery leaked.

But the point is not about the flashlight, but about the silly warning label. Sure, I’ve seen the toaster oven warning not to use it in the tub. But these warnings are even more absurd:

Let’s begin with, safety goggles to use a flashlight? Really? This is not a laser pointer, nor does it have the capability to explode. The alkaline batteries that one would find in here cannot be made to explode unless you throw them in a pretty hot fire. Maybe the flexible plastic hook that swings out from the back could do eye damage during roughhousing?

Pacemakers? Granted, they probably use a switching power supply to boost the voltage for the LED matrix. That is, this device probably does produce a barely detectable electromagnetic field. Probably orders of magnitude less powerful than a cell phone. But technically it does produce some radio noise, and by law that means it must need a warning. I suppose.

Then there are several warnings about how to use batteries that I would have thought most kids old enough to read would already know. But what they don’t tell you is, What Kind of Batteries does it need?

And finally, because of California, a warning about the minute trace of lead one finds in brass. Brass is the group of copper alloys with 55-75% copper with most of the rest being zinc. As with any metal outside of the semi-conductor industry, it will have small traces of other elements, including lead. The (WAG) gram of brass in this flashlight would have up to about 0.004 grams of lead. (Here’s an actual analysis of some unspecified brass alloy). But that trace of lead is in there because the extreme chemical processes used to purify the copper and zinc were unable to get the lead out. What are the odds that anything you could do would extract any measurable amount of it?

IMHO, this warning label is somewhere between specious and laughable. Yet apparently required by law in California. Good luck to those members of our species who may need it.

In the Thick of it

Embossed Card

How many of you remember those old, carbon-paper credit card receipt machines? Revel in the solid “Ka-chunk chunk” sound as the cashier strained to run the slider back and forth, and the waste can full of booklets of carbon paper pulled from the right side of the sandwich of receipts. As a kid I was allowed to take some of those carbons home from stores, to play with fingerprints, and to use for stenciling. Back then, folks didn’t worry so much about identity theft.

But have you even seen one of those machines in the last decade?

Today’s Object at Hand is a new debit card, complete not only with a magnetic strip (tech from the 1970’s) but also a somewhat secure chip (based on the late 1990’s tech now considered obsolete in Europe). And, what is this? It still has the 1950’s legacy support of embossed information! Why, you may well ask, do I make a point of this?

I like a thin wallet. The embossing increases the thickness of each card by 50%, and the friction to drag it out of a wallet pocket by noticeably more than that. It wears out the pocket or adjacent cards faster, as well as frustrating the user when too many get packed in there. And it serves no (expletive) purpose. Well, little potential purpose.

Had I a flat card, and needed to purchase from some Luddite (who also does not take cash, or checks, and has neither the free stripe reader or the cheap chip reader available to anyone with a smart phone), they would be forced to hand write my name and card number on their multi-part receipt form. I’d happily do it for them.

Fortunately, I could walk in to my bank and get a flat version of the card this morning. All the same information at 66% of the thickness. Happy ending 🙂

Socket To Me

Or: All Your Base Are Belong to Edison

As I was putting up lights for the Solstice/Yule/Christmas season this year, I found that my porch light would not work right. I had unscrewed the bulb to screw in an outlet to power the porch-hung wreath, and could not make it work. I had replaced a (CFL) bulb a month earlier, and suspected that the fixture rather than the bulb was at fault. Now, I was sure of it. So I used an alternate source for the season.

P1060115But then we had a warm day in January, so I set up a ladder and took down the light. Yes, I first identified the right breaker (that took a few tries) and shut off the power.

The fixture seems to be from the 1940’s or 50’s.

IMG_0649I had put a dusk-to-dawn sensor on it in 1990. Birds had nested upon it, and insects apparently made themselves at home behind it.

So down it came, and I worked out how to disassemble it. The screws were rusty, but functional. It needed a good cleaning.

But as I took it apart, it became apparent that the problem was not the wobbly nature of the light socket, but rather that a tubular rivet in the interior of the socket had fatigued away, failed. This was the critical problem. Here you can see the two rivet positions for the Edison base shell, one without a rivet. The missing side is the one to which the neutral power line connects. So the light worked if I pushed it in to touch the rivet, and only then.

IMG_0656

So what to do? I hate to replace something that can be fixed. Fortunately, I am a bit of a hoarder. I had saved the light fixtures from a burned out, water damaged ceiling fan a decade ago. I found this remnant and pulled out its socket. See what the rivets are supposed to look like:

IMG_0676

The iffy news is that the wires on the “new” 1980’s socket are a bit corroded. But my experience as a tinker and my degree in electrical engineering led me to think this was not a real issue. With CFL’s and LED’s it will never be carrying as much power as it was designed to.

The good news is that the holes, indents, and threads of the 1980’s socket matched the mid-century light fixture. A perfect fit.

IMG_0675

So the true Object at Hand is the late 1800’s designed electrical screw-socket to mount light bulbs (generically known as an Edison Base) that are still made from ceramic and brass.

Looking Back

Rear View Mirror

On reflection, today’s object is an intro to one of my hobbies.

I was slowly walking home from breakfast at the corner when I spied today’s Object at Hand in the street. A plastic rear view mirror from some toy vehicle that had come loose and been run over a time or two.

I was walking slowly because of a lingering disease. Adult onset mono that had been misdiagnosed by a series of doctors who never considered that an old dude like me would come down with such a stereotypical adolescent ailment. Anyway, a couple of months after the symptoms got acute, I could walk to the corner.

As soon as I saw this bit of plastic with its evocative printed decal, I flashed on a lifetime of travels. I began a travel blog back before most people knew the word “blog,” and wrote the code using Notepad. Before the blog, I would send emails to a list of friends with daily reports. Here is My Travel Page.

I didn’t always love travel. As a child, I was always car sick. Back then we didn’t have air conditioning. During my tween and teen years, we didn’t even have rear windows in the car! So it was an ordeal for myself and my parents to go on the few road trips they dared: Once to Orlando (not including Disney, but backstage at Cape Kennedy as Apollo 13 was on the pad) and once up to Michigan to visit a great aunt. Plus an annual jaunt of 8 hours (back in those pre-interstate days) down to the Ozarks. Specifically Bull Shoals Lake just over the Arkansas border. Nope, not Silver Dollar City. I didn’t get to an amusement park until I was in my 30’s.

But once I had a car of my own, we did drive. In our current sedan we have recreationally visited every contiguous state except Rhode Island and Wisconsin. We often travel the lesser roads, state and local highways. It takes longer to get to our nominal destination, but we really get to see America.