What's New...

July 30 2021:Gearing up to put some more of my "Thoughts" about Christianity and the church on the long-neglected page. Prior to that, I've cleaned up and updated a number (well, all) of the Christian pages:

July 28 2021:This year, under the impression that the City had cancelled the firework show over "A" Mountain, Jerri and I took a weekend trip to Colorado.

  • Loveland and its sculpture gardens
  • Fort Collins' historic trolley
  • Fireworks over Lake Windsor

See the Family Page for the whole story!

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Once again, the concept of setting up a passenger train route between Tucson and Phoenix is back on the table.

I know I would ride it. Imagine packing an overnight bag (imagine Jerri being able to operate out of an overnight bag) and zipping up to the Big City for a day or two, catching the Metro at Sky Harbor and going to the usual haunts on Central. It would be better if the train were fixed to carry your automobile, but Amtrak doesn't do that.

I'm sure we couldn't do much more than an overnight bag. Looks like the Amtrak station at Sky Harbor doesn't deal with checked bags. Although interestingly enough, both Tucson and Flagstaff do, but I guess Tucson and Flagstaff are on big-name routes and the Capital City is not.

Also interesting, Phoenix is listed as a destination on the Sunset Limited line, but the train doesn't actually go through Phoenix, but rather the smallish town of Maricopa, 30 miles south of Phoenix and way off I-10. Obviously, Maricopa was more of a thing than "Pumpkinville" when the Southern Pacific built the line around 1880. Also, Phoenix is served by the Santa Fe line, same as Flagstaff, so you would think it would be easier to run a passenger route on BNSF tracks; however, the Amtrak page for Phoenix says the connection to the Flagstaff station is by van. I guess if Phoenix-Tucson is a hard sell, how much more Phoenix-Flagstaff?

I may be waiting a while, though. Amtrak being a federal government monopoly, it seems Congress has to allocate the funds. I suppose the way the current Congress is throwing money around with wild abandon, it isn't too much of a stretch to hope for this. And then it would be at least three years afer that to make it happen. Considering the pace of roadwork in Pima County, building a railroad would almost certainly be more than that.

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RasPadAs I was clearing out old stuff on this "What's New" page, I noticed a few Raspberry Pi-based notepad systems. It would seem one of them, the RasPad has made it out of the Kickstarter phase pretty well and has a product ready to ship. It's a kit, not a finished item, and the kit appears to lack the actual Pi board itself, but it looks like you can put whatever Pi model you want (so it's likely upgradeable as RasbPi produceds new models). I can't say I'm thrilled with the thickness, or the wedge shape, but I guess that would make it a convenient "digital picture frame" (although I'm still holding out hope for a successful passive color display technology rather than the ubiquitous "shine the blue light into your eyes" active display). Quite a few complaints about the noisy fan, too; I find it a bit disconcerting that a tablet or notepad even has a fan. The $219 price is okay.

We'll see. Lots of stuff to do and toys to play with right now.

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Raspberry Pi PicoAlso, while looking at the Raspberry Pi site, I noticed that in addition to the Linux-based single-board computers for which they are famously successful, they have introduced a custom-designed integrated circuit, the RP2040, a dual-core ARM-based microcontroller, and a platform to showcase it, the Pico. It's similar to the Microchip Curiosity dev boards I've been playing with in that it can present itself to a host computer as a USB Mass Storage device, and you can just copy the executable file to it, and upon reset, the file gets burned into program flash and executed. Lots of I/O and integrated ARM-style peripherals. And... It's $4.00!!.

The U.S. vendors, Sparkfun and Adafruit are out of stock, so it's clearly a hit. Both companies have also released versions of their own microcontroller platforms using the RP2040. Looks like this one is a winner.

July 18 2021:I have recently finished a quick-turn project: a thermostat controller for the evaporative cooler I've now had installed on my backyard workshop. 95% junkbox parts.

Cooler Controller boardPart of doing this projecxt was to brush up on the current gEDA and PCB (geda-project.org) and try out DK Red, the budget printed circuit board service provided by Digi-Key.

Finished project, mounted on the wall above my bench (so I can see the temperature) and connected to the high-voltage wiring with 3/4" conduit:

Finished controller, interiorFinished controller, exterior

I've also made the project available on the Microcontrollers page and its own Cooler Controller page, which has more details.

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.