What's New...

January 4 2021: Since this stupid virus thing - or more precisely, the careless government overreaction to the stupid virus thing - has killed some of Tucson's prime restaurants, businesses, and attractions, I had to update the Arizona Page. A couple of promising additions. I left Old Tucson on the list in the hopes that Pima County will allow/help it to continue operating.

December 5 2020: Cool stuff!

RGB Nixie ClockFor the past several years, one of the more popular and interesting display technologies, at least for clocks, is the Nixie tube. I like Nixie tubes, but nobody makes them commercially anymore (they're vacuum tubes, after all) except for maybe one amateur fellow out there. We have also all seen those 3-D transparent cubes with the image etched inside that is illuminated by its LED stand. Someone has figured out how to put the two together - plastic sheets with a Nixie-style numeral etched into it with an RGB LED in the base to illuminate it. No high voltages. No vacuum. Very low cost. Even the 0-9 numeral display is unitized just like a Nixie tube. It just cries for use in some other application, but I can't think of anything but a clock (frequency counters and voltmeters used to be equipped with Nixies, but just seven-segment LED displays are so much more practical).

From PlaysDom Outlets Store, but you can bet I will now be on the lookout for the same sort of thing on the hobby circuit - like so many Nixie tube clock kits and projects!

FreeDOS Boot RecordI'm very familiar with loading programs into the TI from a cassette tape - converting audio signals to digital signals. Some enterprising characters have done the same thing with a peecee and a record player to boot FreeDOS.

Practical? Not at all. Amazing? Most certainly!

November 27 2020:Family Travels in Colorado

Family at Gold MineFamily vacation trip taken in September and October of this wretched year, a bright spot in an otherwise miserable time. See our travelogue of our visit to Colorado, the Mollie Kathleen gold mine, and Bishop's Castle!

April 2 2020:It's finally happened.

Big TripJerri and I took a mongo trip mid-last year to the Pacific Northwest. Now that my little Bluetooth job at Marcus Engineering is (sort of) done, I've had time to finish the (large) travelogue.

Now available on the Family Page. For your Wu Flu isolation viewing pleasure!

February 13 2020: My boss is part of the local technology business development and promotion scene in Tucson. One of his friends is trying to start up a tech forum, whatnxt?, and with the partnership of the University of Arizona and a number of other Tucson-based tech business enablers, he arranged for a "summit" conference featuring Vint CerfDr. Vint Cerf. Because he is his friend, my boss was allowed to invite his employees to the conference with complementary tickets, so last Monday, I got to be in the new Health Sciences Innovation Building, in the large forum or lecture facility, listening to the last surviving "Father of the Internet". It was quite interesting; he recounted his experience of developing ARPANET and the Internet Protocol and the Transfer Control Protocol and managing the first big demonstration of the practicality of the Internet. He went on to describe his work on the Interplanetary Network which was used (in an unanticipated prototype fashion) to transmit data from Mars landers to Earth stations via the companion orbiters. He is the "chief evangelist" for Google and is working to extend Internet coverage to remote areas - such as the Indian tribal areas in Arizona.

Three things of especial interest about this experience. Aside from me getting to see Vint Cerf (and actually sit right behind him, looking down at his bald head, as he waited for his turn to stand and take the mic):

  • I was apparently the only one in our office who knew who Vint Cerf was. The boss didn't. The smart young fellows didn't. Only one other employee (the oldest of the 5 young employees) took advantage of the opportunity. They are technically smart, but not really aware of the technical heritage they take for granted.
  • Dr. Cerf is 77 years old, but he is still sharp and active and engaged in technology work. He is a model and source of encouragement for us older geeks as well as the younger generations.
  • These technology business promotion organizations are finding it hard to attract the attention of the University and Raytheon, the big tech powerhouses in the Tucson area. The boss talked with me about the difficulty of engaging with Raytheon in the office before the lecture. And then, while I was sitting in the stands before the second lecture (there were two; the first on "technology, where we've been and where we're going" and the second on "social aspects of technology" (which should have been better than how it turned out, oh, well)), the boss was sitting in the row ahead of me, about 15 feet away, talking with another buddy of his about how difficult it was to engage with Raytheon, and I heard him say, "Yeah, Raytheon is a different world; in fact, I've got a fellow working for me who is a Raytheon retiree, and he's really smart and capable and all that, but he's so slow..."

Well. I guess I know where I stand, then. Like I said, this was a great opportunity to hear and see an Internet legend and learn new things. Some things I might have not wanted to learn.

October 19 2019: Union Pacific is celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad by driving its Heritage Train all around their network. It stopped in Tucson briefly at the Depot on Friday and for most of the day at the UP switchyard on Saturday. The defining feature of the train is the giant historical steam engine operated by UP, the "Big Boy.

To park on a weekday, I figured I would drop my car on one of the vacant lots on 5th Street and 6th Avenue. I was somewhat surprised to find a massive crowd there already, but was lucky in finding a slot. The crowd was waiting for the train to approach from the west. I stood there with the crowd north of the tracks for a long while with the growing concern that the train was going to approach from the east (I didn't have better information at the time). It was late, of course; it's the railroad. Then a l_o_n_g freight train started passing by on the north track westbound. Sure enough, when it was 3/4 past, I see a column of smoke on the other side of the train, and the moaning of a steam whistle! Darn, if only I had been on the south side of the tracks! Laughing at the dumb luck of an unfortunate circumstance, I walk with the crowd down Toole to the Depot to see the train there.

It is an impressive locomotive!

Big Boy at Tucson Depot

Big Boy and Depot CrowdI am surprised that there are this many train buffs in Tucson. The crowd is so big that the UP cops have to chase people off the roof of the old passenger subway. But I haven't seen anything yet!

Saturday, Jerri can go with me to where the train is on display at the switchyard. I figured we could ditch the car on Silverlake by the Goodwill place and walk in (again, not having better information). There was an amazing line of cars! We went on down the road and got onto Fairlane to come in from the south. Another long line of cars! So we just stayed in line and eventually were admitted to the yard and parked among an unbelievable crowd.

Whistlestop PlatformThe last car has a platform where three presidents have given speeches at the "whistlestops".

Big Boy Business EndHere's the front end of the Big Boy locomotive. Built in 1941, the engine was designed to pull freights over the western mountains. It's 4-8-8-4, with two articulated trucks for managing bends. More stats and a great video at UP's 4014 site.

August 11 2019: Found a pretty good Southern Arizona activities and attractions site: AZ Weekend. Also, last year at Modernism Week, we visited the very cool Ignite Sign Art Museum. Don't know why it didn't occur to me that this would be a great addition to my list of Tucson attractions.

Also in the category of "things that would be a great addition to the list but didn't occur to me yet but has now been added": The Gaslight Theatre.

Both added to the AZ Page.

August 10 2019: Last month we returned from a 5-week vacation tour of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Utah, looking at lighthouses, national parks, and state capitols. Working on the travelogue, hope to have it up soon. We expected it to be rainy while we were there, but it never really did. However, we returned to Tucson on a Saturday in a blinding Monsoon downpour - Second Saturday, and as we rolled slowly through downtown, we noticed that the Second Saturday Downtown activities had got rained out.

Today is Second Saturday, and it is raining again. Hopefully, they didn't get rained out today. While I was looking at the website to see if there was anything interesting, I found a list of downtown dining places, and bumped it agains mine. As a result, the AZ Page got updated a bit.

I also discovered a few other useful things recently:

  • Sweeties in Mesa is an amazing off-brand and nostalgia candy company. Locally, Fuzziwig's at Park Mall is a very small place with the same objective. It seems there is a new-ish place on 22nd Street - Purple Penguin Candy Emporium, with an unusual (and growing) candy selection and working antiques.
  • Near where we live is the El Sur restaurant. Also on 22nd. They have a companion place just a few blocks away on 29th that has now morphed from "El Sur #2" into El Taquito King, with street tacos and Sonoran Dogs.
  • The El Charro empire is now expanding into the Casas Adobes Center - Charrovida. "Mediterranean, European, and Sonoran". Looks like fancy stuff with a vegetarian leaning. I just keep hoping Flores Junior doesn't over-extend and jeopardize the original El Charro Cafe.

June 1 2019: Robert A. Heinlein was probably the Rocket Ship Galileo science fiction author who influenced me into that direction. I read a few of his "adult" novels, but it was the spectacular "juvenile" novels like Rocket Ship Galileo and Space Cadet and Red Planet that I really appreciated (and devoured).

I've found a site dedicated to Heinlein's works. Including a (pricey) graphic novel adaptation of Have Spacesuit Will Travel.

May 19 2019: Way back in March, we did a quick family vacation to Denver, as our final attempt to see the U.S. Mint, but also to stay in the fancy and historic Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver. Faith and Charity both took off Friday so they could participate in the hotel experience, at least. I finally wrote up the official record at our experience for the family page.

March 8 2019: Last weekend was the annual home tour of the Tucson Garden Railway Society. Most of the sites we had seen on previous tours. They still do not fail to amaze.

The Eagle Mountain Railroad is about the largest. Occupies the entirety of the lot outside the home. Elaborate concrete butte models, many automated vignettes with pushbuttons for visitors, a lengthy river springing from the fake mountains. Wow.

Eagle Mountain Railroad

An elaborate setup at a home near Agua Caliente Park on the far east side. The owners also operate a Bed and Breakfast with the "bed" part inside an old Southern Pacific caboose. They are getting pretty old, and I can't help thinking how much of their lives have been poured into their train set, and what will become of it when they're gone.

B&B near Agua Caliente

Also learned on the home tour:

  • Next weekend, March 16, is the celebration of the 139th anniversary of the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Tucson sponsored by the Historic Depot (apparently a division of the Old Pueblo Trolley organization).
  • I'd forgotten about the Tucson model railroad club - the Gadsden Pacific Division.

I also was reminded through Tucsontopia that Tucson has an old car museum, the Franklin Auto Museum, dedicated to the Franklin company that went belly-up in the Great Depression. Funny that this sort of thing would be in Tucson. There's a Franklin Car Club, and another, apparently more elaborate museum, the Gilmore Car Museum at Hickory Corners, Michigan, with a sizeable collection of Franklin autos.

Links for the Tucson attractions have been added to the Arizona Page.

February 10 2019: PC GEOS is one of a few honest-to-goodness GUI environments for DOS. According to this site, PC GEOS has been released as Open Source, apparently as Apache 2.0.

However, it seems that there is a problem with building it, and while it would be a great addition to the upcoming FreeDOS 1.3 release, it cannot be included until built as an Open Source binary.

This "Virtually Fun" site seems fairly interesting. Here's another cool entry with a C versus OO parody video. Pretty silly.

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Tarzan Tee Shirt GraphicGalaxion is (was) a pretty good webcomic that looked promising, but it appears to have been abandoned. So it's off my list. Replaced with the Official Edgar Rice Burroughs site, which even though it's by paid subscription is well worth it.

February 6 2019: Got a tip pointing me to a stock of second-source TMS9900 processors! Looks like Excess Solutions (San Jose - Silicon Valley) might be a good one to add to my Surplus list.

February 2 2019: I got to attend the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with the Marcus Engineering team a few weeks ago, and to also see some of Las Vegas with them. I finally finished my travelog, here.

January 30 2019: MIPS goes open-source.

I found a link found in a Microchip forum about whether the MIPS-based PIC32 line would at some point be discontinued in favor of the ARM-based SAM series inherited from Atmel. I wondered this myself when I was learning embedded Linux techniques on Atmel SAMxxx at the Microchip Masters last year.

I don't mind ARM, but I am leery of another monoculture like x86. I'm kind of looking forward to RISC-V. But I've always cheered for the underdog, and MIPS is it (being practical, not counting large-scale PowerPC or Sparc).

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I found this article about why young people are hanging up on Christianity. The summary: Apologetics and Creationism are not being taught in our churches and families. Which is exactly what Answers in Genesis discovered.

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Updated the AZ page by adding the Mercado to the list of Shopping districts, and Last Fridays and Second SundAZe to the downtown events. Also added the newest addition to the El Charro family of downtown restaurants - Charro Del Rey, which appears to be oriented at seafood.

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I was puttering around on the southwest side this Wednesday, taking Valencia to its end (at Ryan Field) and back on Ajo (State Route 86). I discovered another Centennial sign on Ajo near La Cholla, which I have added to my collection.

November 26 2018: I've updated the Arizona page, fixing links, removing/adding some minor things, and also adding

  • a barbeque section in the Tucson restaurants,
  • an Arts and Culture section for Tucson, and
  • a Wickenburg section to the Arizona Cities

Of significant note is the addition of Monsoon Chocolate. I haven't actually been there, but it has been successful as Tucson's chocolatier for more than a year, so I have high hopes. They seem to be more narrowly focused on the "artisanal", so I suspect they aren't going to get Cerreta's big.

October 26 2018: I came across (via KVOI) an editorial by Dennis Prager about the lack of passion in young people. I don't think he was considering political or social activist passion which younger people seem to exhibit (or at least the news media seems to portray), but rather professional passion. Ambition.

I have had the honor of working with four younger men who are most definitely filled with electronics and engineering passion, and I have been amazed at what they can do when they are enabled and encouraged to apply that passion, both in a work and hobby settings. Therefore, I know it isn't just "young people" who are perhaps "coddled by parents and by society", as Prager puts it, or recipients of participation trophies. I am not familiar with the family patterns or upbringing of my young co-workers to a great extent. I only see what they are doing now.

By way of counterpoint, however, this Road and Track article explains why passion may not be so important in selling cars. Sales jobs are fairly menial, and potential customers of sales people usually come to the market with a good notion of what they want and don't need to be sold on the features of the product. But engineering is not sales, and passion is important, perhaps indispensable.

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I've played with SQLite some. I am also aware of the trend nowadays for open-source projects to have "Codes of Conduct" (COC) to regulate the interactions of the developers on a project. It was funny to learn that the SQLite founder, when he was expected/required to include a COC to the project, picked the Rule of St. Benedict. No, he doesn't appear to be religious. But there was a Social Justice Warrior reaction of religious fervor that he hadn't given special consideration to "marginalized people".

October 21 2018: It seems that there is a group in Tucson intent on bringing back the drive-in movie theatre. They are fundraising by having drive-in movies using an inflatable screen, but the intent is to secure land and put up a real screen and concession stand.

Cactus Drive-In

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Unsurprisingly, NASA puts a lot of emphasis on careful, professional software development. A friend discovered that their software process documentation is on-line:

SW Engineering Handbook

Software Safety Guidebook

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The IPCC has seized the spotlight with the latest horrifying prediction of irreversible global doom unless we grant governments the power to destroy our economies and standard of living in order to stifle global warming-inducing carbon dioxide emission. That's the point of this FEE article that underscores the danger of entrusting "intellectuals" with the power to "save the planet". We've seen that before. It hasn't worked yet.

That's my problem with the whole global warming thing. To reiterate:

  • Maybe there's global warming going on. With all the cherry-picked data and scientific scandal going on and the government grant money being grabbed at, it's hard to tell what the honest story is.
  • Maybe human industry contributes. With the inclination to disregard, even denounce any counter-theories (like solar action) as being "anti-science" or "denialist", again, it's hard to make a balanced assessment.
  • Maybe the results of global warming would be catastrophic. Or maybe they would be beneficial, like they were during the Medieval Warm period. The hair-on-fire projections are being made with unvalidated computer simulations. I deal in computer simulations. You can't just trust what they say, and even what they say has to be interpreted.
  • But even if there is global warming going on, and humans are causing it, and it will have terrible effects on the world, expecting governments to fix it is insane. Every. Single. Time. Governments try to fix something, they never fix the problem, and they always introduce unanticipated side effects that are always worse than the problem was they were trying to fix.

October 3 2018: Updates on the AZ page. A bunch of new restaurants downtown. Downtown is hopping, and it's a pleasure to drive through it every morning and evening to and from the job.

August 27 2018: Gervase Markham has died (via LWN). He was a prominent developer for Mozilla and well-respected by his peers and the Free Software community. He was also a Christian Geek. I corresponded briefly with Gervase on the subject of Christian faith and found him both orthodox and reasonable. Of course, some other hackers were not so pleased with his positions.

I've known some Christian professionals who made a pest of themselves by making their faith positions very public and/or taking to extremes the usual evangelical imperative for "soul-winning". Some have gotten fired for it, and I can't help but think that they asked for it. Hard to be sympathetic with brothers like that. I don't know if Gervase was like that. But I also know that, any more, it doesn't take much at all of making your faith position known to draw the displeasure, even the hatred, of those who are more appropriately aligned with the spirit of the age.

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June 27 2018: Last October, we (as usual) enjoyed Modernism Week. This time, we actually did the Trailer Tour: several camping trailer enthusiasts had set up their vintage trailers for guests to inspect. Bowlus Road Chief Big small-apartment trailers. Little "campstove on the back" trailers (cute). Tent trailers (like my family had when we camped in such places as Buffalo, NY, and Needles, CA (fun, fun, biting marsh flies, fun)). And a beautiful 1935 Bowlus Road Chief. The Bowlus trailers were the antecedent to the famous Airstream, even though only a very small number was made.

Turns out that some outfit is making a NEW Bowlus Road Chief! Updating the chassis and interior appointments to 21st Century standards while retaining the 1930s look-and-feel. At $137,000, it's a bit pricey, though.

Nice Road Chief website with lots of photos.

June 24 2018: I've been playing with some system-on-board devices as alternatives to the Raspberry Pi. One that I really like, that is not unusably microscopic but has a nicer footprint and more I/O and built-in flash memory is the $9 iC.H.I.P.. Unfortunately, it seems that NextThing overextended themselves with their $9 basic model, let alone the $16 Pro model, and may have gone under. Since the C.H.I.P. is Open Hardware, it is possible yet that some enterprising hacker(s) may produce them on their own - won't be $9, but they may be available. Hope springs eternal.

NextThing was really pushing the C.H.I.P.-powered PocketCHIP handheld computer. I got one. I'm not really impressed; it seems to have emphasized its emulation of 8-bit video games, and I'm not that much into video games. But it seems that with the demise of C.H.I.P., and therefore PocketCHIP, a raft of Raspberry Pi-based handheld computers has appeared:

RasPad RasPad : Fully-assembled unit based on Raspberry Pi 3B+. Looks to be larger than a "handheld computer", but preserves access to all SOB ports. Still a Indiegogo startup project, so not actually available yet.

Noodle Pi Noodle Pi : Actually, the housing for a do-it-yourself project along with instructions for obtaining the parts. Based on the Pi Zero. The developer appears to live in Canada and accepts only transfers or Bitcoin.

Poco Zero Poco Zero : Finished product by a UK hacker. Based on Pi Zero (obviously). Very small, very much oriented to video games (like the PocketCHIP). No I/O other than USB.

The Ark (back) Ark : Based on Raspberri Pi Compute Module. Open Hardware, and not a kit or finished product; looks like it's a circuit board fab project, and no mention of a case. Not sure it's quite there - probably the PocketCHIP has a better shot. It seems to be pushed toward "democratic" (leftist?) political activism (but nobody profits from it, so it's just a tool for anything).

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Via our city councilman's newsletter, I came across the news that a development firm is planning a multi-purpose building to replace the run-down apartment building on the northwest corner of Speedway and Campbell.

Speedway/Campbell Tower

This is fine by me. The replacement of the Rondstadt Transit Center downtown is fine by me. I'm not so thrilled with all the high-rise student housing going up, especially what's planned around the Benedictine Convent on Country Club or on Fourth Avenue (although THAT one would make the trolley people happy). Although, probably, the "residence" part of this tower would almost certainly be students, the literature doesn't say it's intended for that purpose.

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On the Arizona page, updated the restaurants lists (downtown, Tucson Originals) for places added, dropped, or we (at least I) have been to. I'll have to say, as someone who appreciates barbeque (a taste enhanced by many visits to Huntsville and Dallas), Brother John's on Stone doesn't stack up on barbeque to a place like Red Desert (about as close to my workplace on Grant as Brother John's is).