What's New...

April 26 2016: Several updates to the Arizona Page:

  • The Firefighter Chili Cookoff and the Pima County Fair are not downtown events. So I moved them to a new Tucson Events section.
  • Barrio Cuisine is gone (didn't figure it would last). El Charro Cafe is starting an El Charro Steakhouse in that property.
  • Two other new dining establishments are Elvira's (an expansion to downtown Tucson of the landmark Tubac restaurant) and the Carriage House, which is really a Janos Wilder cooking school, but serves a Dim Sum Sunday Brunch. Dim Sum in this case being much, much more than Chinese.
  • El Con "Mall" has recovered to the point that it actually has a website.

April 17 2016: A recent EDN article about free PCB design tools features KiCAD and the gEDA PCB tool, as well as free Web or "Cloud"-based tools and several cut-down versions of popular commercial packages. I favor PCB, even though the article claims it is more of a "philosophy" than a practical tool like KiCAD. I don't really like the movement toward the "Cloud", and exposing your data to the vagaries of the Internet. While I am kindly disposed toward free (as in beer) tools provided by professional commercial tool makers, I think I will stick with and promote the free (as in liberty) Open Source programs.

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Per another EDN article, I picked up a tip about inductive switch detection. The rage right now, in the light of smartphone technology, is capacitive switch detection. Inductive PCBMany processor makers, including Texas Instruments, are incorporating capacitive switch peripherals. However, the tables in the article compare mechanical, capacitive, and inductive switches and point out that capacitive is very environment-sensitive (including people wearing gloves), whereas inductive is not (so much). TI makes a part that senses the separation between a metal panel structure and a printed-circuit coil and outputs a binary signal.

This is pretty cool, except that the capacitive methods include mapping a rectangular region (a la cellphone screen) and sliders and such, but inductive switches are pretty much just switches. Maybe; looks like (TI's inductive sensing site) there's other things you can do with them. There are four parts in the family, each one has an inexpensive evaluation kit, and because the device generates a measurement read by a processor via I2C, the eval board includes an MSP430 controller.

Available from Mouser (and probably others), but at $7-$9 per device, I think I will wait until it matures a bit. $29 for an eval kit to play with may not be too bad.

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I found another fine free-book site: pagebypagebooks.com. Lots of authors - although some of them are presidents (whose inaugural speeches are captured), and of the more well-known, only a selection of their works. The worst part is the text fills the width of the browser, so the best way to enjoy them is to resize the browser to the size of a book page. BUT, the books are not downloadable to be read off-line; they have to be read in the browser while connected.

My favorite author G. K. Chesterton is included in the list, with a fair number of books, some of which I haven't found anywhere else in paper or electronic formats:


20 essays attacking various writers and flawed thinking, as well as defending institutions he favors.

The Innocence of Father Brown

A priest who solves crimes by knowing more about the criminals than they know about themselves. He imagines himself inside their mind to understand their motives.


The Man Who Knew Too Much


The Club of Queer Trades

Chesterton's first mystery about a club who's membership requirement is to create a brand-new profession.

The Trees of Pride

The Man Who Was Thursday

A Wild, Mad, Hilarious And Profoundly Moving Tale. It is possible to say that it is a gripping adventure story of murderous criminals and brilliant policemen; but it was to be expected that the author of the Father Brown stories should tell a detective story like no-one else.

April 4 2016: From this EE Times gallery of Raspberry Pi projects, this great LEGOs plus Automation site - a city built of LEGOs with a train and building controls and feedback systems. Built by a talented Londoner. And it keeps growing!


The Raspberry Pi series also includes a nifty project for a smart wall calendar, which uses a dead laptop's LCD screen as a monitor. I've got a couple of dead laptops. The subproject to turn a dead laptop screen into a monitor requires the use of a off-the-shelf controller board.

March 31 2016: TMX1795I knew TI was the first with a 16-bit microprocessor, the TMS9900. Here's a well-researched article making the argument that TI was the first with a microprocessor. The honor is usually given to Intel for the 4004, and granted the 4004 actually was made available commercially, and there is some evidence that TI cheated and used improperly-provided documentation from Intel to develop theirs, but it does look like the TMX1795 was first by maybe a few weeks.

Ken Shirriff's blog is pretty good in it's own right. He does a lot of teardowns and reverse engineering, and visits other topics like cellular biology, although with no stated evolutionist or creationist perspective. It's what my site would aspire to (but with a stated creationist perspective) if I had the time and energy and brainpower to devote to it.

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At the March 2016 Pima County lecture of the Arizona Origin Science Association (AZOSA), we had an interesting speaker, Spike Psarris of CreationAstronomy.com. Most of his lecture was about shortcomings of the Big Bang model and criticisms of Multiverse Theory. At one point, he brought up something I had never heard of before - the Boltzmann Brain paradox: Statistically speaking, it is far more probable that a brain, with false memories of a personal history and education and false sensory perceptions of an external universe with stars and galaxies and other people, to have popped into reality than for the actual universe of stars and galaxies and other people to have popped into reality (via the Big Bang and evolution). Mr. Psarris mentioned that the Boltzmann Brain Paradox is still a tough nut which naturalists chew over, and the brief look at Google shows he's right.

(Plus, Spike Psarris is an engineer, not a "scientist", so he wins my vote!)

JB9 by Jetpack AviationMarch 8 2016: It's getting closer: the Personal Jetpack. The JB9 by Jetpack Aviation can fly up to 100MPH for ten minutes. That's pretty good - and it's a work in progress.

RocketeerOf course, some of us know that Howard Hughes invented the practical personal jetpack in the '30s. Well, that's the story from one of my favorite movies...

February 25 2016: Another example of how anthropological assumptions and traditions can be wrong, until overthrown by objective empirical archaelology. Were the inhabitants of Easter Island really decimated by warfare?

(Think "Mormonism and steel weapons in North America". But Biblical accounts always seem to be vindicated by objective archaeology.)

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From EE Times, a mechanical engineer who just wants to get things done provides his ideas of the Top Ten Best Single-Board Computers in 2016. There's a guidance and controls engineer I work with who is smitten with Arduino. Looks like the article's author is strongly pro-Raspberry Pi.

Pi ZeroFor instance, the Pi Zero, actually produced by the Raspberry Pi outfit. Teeny Raspberry Pi for $5. Beats out C.H.I.P. Yes, really from Adafruit for $5. Except that they're out of stock. To get the micro HDMI and micro USB, may want to spring for the Starter Kit for $60.

Nano Pi 2And the Nano Pi 2, which is a teensy Pi variant (like the Zero) but with built-in Wifi and Bluetooth, and two SD card slots. No Ethernet (maybe with Wifi, you don't care so much). $32, about the price of a regular Pi, but much smaller.

Then there's the Orange Pi - A family of boards with a range of memory sizes and peripherals, both Ethernet and Wifi, and a corresponding range of prices.

  • Orange Pi One : 512M RAM, no on-board flash, no Wifi, no audio, no IR 4 USB. 69x48mm. $10
  • Orange Pi PC : 1G RAM, no on-board flash, no Wifi, audio in/out, IR, 5 USB. 85x55mm. $15
  • Orange Pi Mini 2 : 1G RAM, no on-board flash, Wifi, audio in/out, IR, 5 USB. 93x60mm. $26
  • Orange Pi 2 : 1G RAM, no on-board flash, Wifi, audio in/out, IR, 5USB. 93x60mm. $37
  • Orange Pi Plus : 1G RAM, 8G on-board flash, Wifi, audio in/out, IR, 5 USB. 108x60mm. $39
  • Orange Pi Plus 2 : 2G RAM, 16G on-board flash, Wifi, audio in/out, IR, 5 USB. 108x67mm. $48

All of them have MMC memory card slots, Ethernet, and HDMI.

February 20 2016: I came across an interesting website, io9, with lots of futuristic art and film commentary. What brought me here was a link about Chesley Bonestell, an artist (and amateur astromoner) who did tremendous paintings, even matte paintings used in famous science fiction movies such as Destination Moon, War of the Worlds, and When Worlds Collide. But particularly he illustrated Wernher von Braun's ideas of rocket ships and space stations in popular magazines.

Bonestell Art

But this page linked to an article about the "first" space artist, Lucien Rudaux, a French artist (and amateur astronomer).

Rudaux Art

McCall ArtAnd how can a decent science fiction art site not have something about Robert McCall?

February 19 2016: News from Product Design and Development: A Texas company has bought the DeLorean name and is going to manufacture the famed automobile.

DeLoreanNow if GM would just start importing Opel again. Easier to import an existing car that building one from scratch. Harder for a big company to do innovative things than a small company. I would buy a new Opel...

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Interesting parts from Texas Instruments - Single "gate" devices in six-pin packages that can be "strapped" to perform a number of logic functions:

  • SN74LVC1G57 - AND, OR, NAND, NOR, XNOR, NOT, and buffer
  • SN74LVC1G58 - AND, OR, NAND, NOR, XOR, NOT, and buffer


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From this Linux Weekly News article, I have learned about Tiny Core Linux, a small-footprint distribution intended for older systems. TCL is advertised as being capable of running on a 486. I got a few of those.

I had been following Basic Linux, but that community seems to have fallen apart. TCL inherits from Damn Small Linux, another small distro I was looking at for old peecees that might be useful for autonomous control functions. Either Linux or FreeDOS!

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Tucsontopia LogoSomewheres, probably from the Southern Arizona Guide, I learn about Tucsontopia, a site apparently geared to residents (or potential residents) of my native city. I'm not positive how well kept-up it is, since some of the headline articles are pre-Christmas. I will watch it for a while before I add it to my Arizona page. All the same, I really appreciate their 45 Reasons to Move to Tucson!

February 11 2016: Via yet more links on the EDN site, I learned about this fellow in the Czech Republic, who has a master's degree and has studied software engineering, but who is now making and selling Nixie tubes of his own design.

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Wow! From this ECN article, I learn that Steve Wozniak is spearheading an effort to put together the Silicon Valley ComiCon, which mixes the pop culture silliness we've seen ourselves at the Phoenix ComiCon (which we are already signed up for this June) with exhibits of the technology for which San Jose is famous. At the San Jose Convention Center (at which one of the last TI-99/4A FestWest conventions was held).

February 5 2016: Courtesy of this Planet Analog article about disruption of society by EMP, this fascinating story of an astronomical event just before the Civil War: the Carrington Event, in which a massive solar flare caused world-wide auroras and had interesting effects on telegraph equipment.

January 16 2016: Disney / Santa Monica / Long Beach / San Diego trip is still in work, should be done tomorrow. For today, I've got a description of our visit to the Mystery Castle in Phoenix on the Family Page.

January 15 2016: This is cool. I watched the Apollo missions on the television, including the views of the control room with all the consoles and the screens and the people monitoring the activities. Now, here is a detailed description of the control room, what all the stations were for and who manned them.

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Slightly updated the Greater Tucson Attractions section - it is the Valley of the Moon's anniversary of being designated a historic landmark, and their page included a nice logo image.

January 7 2016: Pretty good writeup in this EE Times article about RISC-V: An open-source microprocessor core being actively developed by a variety of companies and universities. Better than x86, ARM, and MIPS that are all proprietary. Maybe better than TMS9900, which I keep hearing has some clean-room open-source cores floating around out there...

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Updates to the Arizona Page:

  • Dillinger Days is coming up. It's always in January, so it's always at Hotel Congress' January Events page. So I added the link.
  • Restaurants come and go from the Tucson Originals. One new addition is the Oink Cafe, with quite the variety of bacon-inspired dishes. We've been there. This place might survive at Broadway and Kolb. It's that good!
  • Also the Guadalajara Fiesta Grill, which is right across Broadway about a block from where we live. Most of us like it, but it is "Guadalajara" cuisine, not Sonoran, so no tacos, enchiladas, tostadas like Jerri is used to. Also rather loud inside, hard to carry on a conversation. Still, pretty good. Replaces the TGIF that went out of business two years ago.

January 3 2016: Got some thoughts about the influence of Christendom and Enlightenment cultural paradigms on the church, and how these thingies get Scriptural justification.

December 28 2015: Christmas presents!

ESP2866 moduleThe ESP8266 is a tiny computer SBC with built-in WiFi and a few I/O pins. It appears to be a family of different modules, and this one is the smallest. It can be programmed with Arduino tools, it can accept serial "AT" commands, and there is probably a native development toolchain.

ESP8266 Dev ThingBut I also got a ESP8266 Dev "Thing" by Sparkfun, with more I/O and a USB connection to make things easier. And presumably, being from Sparkfun, there are development tutorials and help docs and such that might be easier to figure out than the ESP8266 module itself (being made in China, and all that goes with that).

Fun times ahead. I'm going to have to set up a wireless network in my home, of course, and set up the old Slackware machine to be a gateway... to my dial-up Internet connection!

And I'm going to need more time for it...

December 27 2015: From this article about Ada Lovelace, I picked up a few tips about other famous engineers.

  • I K BrunelIsambard Kingdom Brunel - Incredibly influential Victorian English engineer, worked especially in railroads and shipbuilding, but who is not so well known nowadays, at least in America. I've seen his famout picture of him standing at the chains of the Great Easter at its launching, the largest ship in the world at the time.
  • Tommy FlowersTommy Flowers - Developed the electronic computer "Colossus", used for codebreaking at Bletchley Park. We all have heard about Alan Turing, but Flowers was a real computer pioneer in his own right.
  • Konrad ZuseKonrad Zuse - First digital computer and first commercially-viable computer sold in Europe. Of course, he did his inventing and best work for the Nazis. Also, apparently the first high-level programming language.
  • John AtanasoffJohn Atanasoff - First modern-style digital computer
  • Presper Eckert and John Mauchly - first general purpose computer (ENIAC) and successful commercial programmable computer (UNIVAC). And contenders for the patent honors with John Von Neumann and John Atanasoff.

I know Ada gets a lot of credit for being the "first computer programmer" for her notes on the Babbage Analytic Engine. I don't know how much this is just feminism looking for a heroine. Like Jack Ganssle (author of the Embedded article) points out, Babbage and Lovelace didn't really have any influence on the actual development of computers; it was almost entirely an intellectual hobby exercise. I'd say a woman like Grace Hopper is much more deserving of note - she invented the practical high-level language compiler, and later developed this into COBOL - and wrote real working programs that ran on real (non-imaginary) computing engines.

December 9 2015: When we went to Disneyland last month (yeah, I know, I promised a travelogue), we came back through Yuma. Caught another Centennial sign. Also got a better shot of the sign heading westbound into Kingman. Centennial Sign Collection updated.

December 7 2015: From a comment in a silly EDN "gifts for engineers" page: this picture, which I tracked down to this design site. Beyond the silliness, is it just me, or does this look like a lawsuit in the making?

Electrical Mains Plug Ring

December 6 2015: Yet another tiny mocrocontroller board: the Adafruit Trinket.Adafruit Trinket Uses an ATTiny AVR microcontroller. Lots of features, including being able to talk to it from the Arduino IDE, even though it is obviously not even close to an Arduino. What throws me is how you can talk to a teensy ATTiny via USB without any intervening USB interface circuitry - there's a bootloader running on it, so I guess it "bitbangs" the USB (which, if true, would be amazing that USB can be "bitbanged" like more traditional serial).

In addition to the introductory video (from which I learn that Adafruit is based in Manhattan; interesting), there is a "guided tour" of how to get up and running with the Arduino IDE or AVRDude (flash programmer, an addition to GNU tools to develop programs for the AVR). Looks Linux-friendly (even, Linux is the default or reference platform).

Finally, very enticing price: $6.95!

The Trinket pages are festooned with howtos and project ideas using the Trinket, to appeal to the Makers and other semi-techs or not-so-techs. This looks to be a winner.

(Discovered via the last page of the EDN 25 gifts for engineers series.)

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Earlier this year, I noted a MIPS small-board computer that compares favorably, feature-wise, to the Raspberry Pi - the Creator CI20. It seems there is a new one:

Old MIPS CI20 Board

New MIPS CI20 Board

Nicer, smaller. Same features. Same $65 price. From Imagination

And Open; the eLinux page has useful links (not so clear on the Imagination site).

New MIPS Creator Ci40Aha! I see from the Creator Community Site that there is a new member of the family: the Imagination Ci40! Apparently still a Kickstarter project. I note this new board has a new feature! In addition to having the same Raspberry Pi B+ I/O connector, there are two slots for the Microelektronika "mikroBUS" "Click" boards that I see advertised in Nuts & Volts. The Kickstarter project kit includes three of these.

December 2 2015: Several years ago, Texas Instruments introduced the LaunchPad eval board concept for their processors, starting with the MSP430. I got a couple of those little boards (for $7!) and started right in trying to figure out how to use them in a purely Linux environment. It became pretty clear that it wasn't ready.

I'm getting back into it, and have discovered that the situation is much better. For one thing, TI appears to be embracing Open Source. Not their own tools (although I note that Code Composer - with limitations - is available for free download), but they are hosting the GCC cross-compiler for MSP430. It isn't quite clear to me how the "community" thing works, and how non-TI employee developers can submit patches, but it does seem to be there.

Some useful links (which will find their way to the Microcontroller page, or a dedicated MSP430 page):

I have to say, looking at the schemos for the LaunchPad I've got, it's pretty weird that the target device is a "Value Line" low-end 14- or 20-pin DIP package (rather like an 8-bit PIC)... but the FET on the same board uses a more-advanced MSP430 device in a 44-pin flatpack. It's like the tail is wagging the dog...

But maybe I can use it as a FET or a BSL port for future projects in which a MSP430 is embedded!

November 30 2015: No immediate use for it myself, but there is a service for transferring LARGE files, too big to mail. Free (apparently, although there is a for-pay upgraded service). WeTransfer. (Similar to a "safe site" we use at Raytheon to securely transfer large files to/from our Army customer.)

November 21 2015: We went to Disneyland last week. Travelogue in progress. But while there, we went on the submarine ride. Used to be better before it got polluted with Disney media "Little Nemo" stuff. We also went to Catalina Island from Long Beach. While there, we took the submarine to see the fishies. Much better than the famous "glass-bottom boat".

Those were, of course, fake submarines, or semi-submersibles. At least the one at Catalina Island was an actual vehicle, and not a toy riding on a track. But this one is a REAL submarine. Not as many passengers as the other semi-subs. A bit pricier, too ($15M).

DeepFlight Dragon

October 10 2015: From the TI OLUG Jeff White posted a link to a pretty good history of the 4A and "Black Friday". Now linked on the TI page.

Rearranged the computers & electronics page with the internal links on the nav bar, for consistency.

Current pictures of my home lab, showing that, yes, I am playing with my Raspberry Pi.

October 2 2015:Interesting new eval board for a Xilinx Artix-7 FPGA, via this ECN announcementARTY eval board. For a hundred bucks, you get this eval board and a Vivado design studio from Xilinx. Of course, the Vivado is crippled so it only builds for the Artix-7. The board is sold by Avnet, and the page has a "Support Files and Downloads" button that takes you (after you register with Avnet) to a list of available files. The "Quick Start Card" describes a USB UART port at J10, which is visible in the photos (connected to a FTDI chip), so apparently there is no need for a JTAG pod; however, the schematic on the same site has a JTAG header and no J10 connector. I have to conclude that the schematic doesn't really match the hardware, and there is no need for a JTAG pod which is not included in the eval board kit.

It's a Digilent board, and Digilent has a page for it, but the link on the page for reference and tutorial material doesn't work. Just like the link on Avnet's "Quick Start Card" promises a more extensive "Getting Started Guide" which doesn't seem to exist.

Probably the crippled Vivado version that comes with the kit supports Linux, and probably the Linux version can talk to the board via USB. The Artix-7 device, in addition to the usual DDR3 memory interface and PCIe comm ports, has DSP math blocks and analog-digital converters. In addition to the usual LEDs and buttons and switches, the eval board includes an Ethernet port (and presumably the IP blocks in the crippled Vivado to use it), connectors for Arduino shields, and some ports for these cute Pmod ("peripheral module") gadgets available from Digilent, Analog Devices, and Maxim (I note that Pmods are intended for use with FPGA eval boards, but there's no reason they can't be used directly with microcontrollers).

Seems to be a pretty good way for Linux geeks to get their feet wet with programmable logic and FPGAs. Won't be me, though, at least not yet; I still haven't played with the Coolrunner CPLD toy I got for last Christmas!

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This article about the Kim Davis case asks "On which hill do we die on, then?". It makes the point I agree with, that while we can fight in the courts and the legislatures over marriage and religious liberty issues, it is at best a delaying tactic that cannot ultimately win the battle. We need to see national revival and return to Truth and Character, and in the mean time, do what we can to strengthen things and set an example for society. This means, at a minimum, churches taking marriage and parenting seriously, quit handing the job off to para-church ministries like Focus on the Family, and stop thinking that preaching sermons and singing religious songs is somehow going to make a difference.

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The Arizona Page has been updated: the Main Gate Square has been added to "Shopping", and Gospel Rescue Mission has been added to "Ministries and Charities"

September 27 2015: Somehow, my birthday fell on the same day as a rare supermoon total eclipse!

I'm sure this is significant somehow...

Supermoon Eclipse

(Photo by Sean Parker, a Tucson-based artist who specializes in astrophotography and time-lapse.)

September 19 2015: Added another "blog" to my thoughts page which starts as a review of Living in God's Two Kingdoms and ends with my recognition that the Church is larger than the church. Includes a pretty good plug for 4Tucson.

Which inspired me to add a new section to my Arizona page in the Tucson section: Ministries and Charities. 4Tucson is the first one in. I will be adding to this section!

September 3 2015: Goodyear is replacing their iconic blimp with an iconic dirigible. Bigger, better performance. Still filled with expensive and rare helium, though.

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Cool nixie-tube clock kit, smallish, not too expensive. From Adafruit.

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NAU started Monday. We took Faith up to her last year at school, and took some time to finish looking at the Wupatki indian ruins. I also saw another Arizona Centennial sign on AZ Highway 89, coming south back to Flagstaff. Centennial Sign collection updated.

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Jack Kilby, inventor of the integrated circuit at Texas Instruments, was born today (per this EDN article).

Actually, there are lots of candidates for "inventor of the integrated circuit", and the runner-up (as decided by lawsuits instigated by TI) was Robert Noyce of Fairchild (who was working in silicon, while Kilby did his in germanium), and is regarded as a "co-inventor". Kilby won a Nobel prize, because by then, Noyce was already dead.

TI's history page

Kilby was a Kansas native, and Kansas is proud of him

Young Jack KilbyJack Kilby is usually portrayed as an older bald man with thick-rim glasses, probably taken after he was "famous", even though he was 35 years old when he created his ugly prototype IC. This is his high-school picture.

Kilby and TI-99/4AAn even better picture is Jack Kilby holding his handheld digital calculator (which he invented as a commercial vehicle for his integrated circuit) and other Texas Instruments IC-based products - including the TI-99/4A!