Energy and Economics

11 January 2018

I wanted to get started on this topic. I may go back and amplify this later.

Balance Sheet for Planet Earth
Years ago I read an article about a man who was attempting to create a “balance sheet” for the planet. I should have kept a copy of this article, but so far have not found it. As I recall, he felt he needed to use some sort of energy unit, or perhaps arbitrary unit, to express values in this balance sheet, as there is no agreed-upon planet-wide currency. I was intrigued. I believe I was doing bookkeeping work when I ran into this, so I found it an interesting concept.

Systems
In science and engineering, we have the concept of a “system.” Scientists and engineers have long dealt primarily with mechanical or only-physical systems. Sociologists, on the other hand, have been interested mostly in human (or animal) systems. It eventually became clearer that these two fields actually overlap, often extensively. The problem was really one of analysis. Our primary way to model a system for analysis is through using mathematics. However, the mathematics involved for a complex system (where there may be hundreds of interrelated actions) were too cumbersome until the advent of computer-based modeling.

Economics
The word “economics” shares its root with “ecology” and similar words, where “eco” comes from a Greek word meaning “house” or “household.” Obviously the sense of the original meaning has been broadened, so that these subjects can be applied to almost any system, but still somewhat using the analogy of a system to a house. Obviously, it is people who run an economy. So that places economics in the social sciences. “Natural” systems, even if living, are seen as self-governing, and – by most researchers – as self-created for that matter, but research in other directions has demonstrated that this is not totally true. Even in purely physical systems, the fact that someone (the researcher) is observing the system seems to have a subtle influence on how the system behaves. This opens the door to treating systems formerly thought of as merely physical to something a little closer to alive.

Permaculture
As I have been looking into the subject called “permaculture” for a while now, it is worth mentioning that this is a good example of an attempt to create a design philosophy – if not a rigorous mathematical model – for a human-built “natural” system. Because the creators of permaculture sought to keep the subject simple and teachable, this is one good way to get a feel for how to approach the problem of applying both physics and economics to a system.

Money is Energy
However, before I was introduced to permaculture, I was introduced by L. Ron Hubbard to the idea that money can be thought of as a type of energy, or as a way to measure energy flows.

When I was trying to re-locate the article I had seen about a planetary balance sheet I ran across several school lessons (an interesting resource that often appears in searches) with the name “Earth’s Energy Budget” or similar terms. These lessons were mainly written to help students wrap their heads around the “greenhouse effect” climate theories. The fact is that without an atmosphere around Earth – including a portion of CO2 – surface temperatures would be much more crazy than they are now, and the planet would be barely livable.

In these lessons, we have an example of a living system that is relatively stable, or in balance. So I thought I’d go through it briefly as an example. The system (as modeled for analysis) has just one input, sunlight. Though this may not be strictly speaking totally accurate, that one input dominates by many orders of magnitude any other physical input into this system. Most of these lessons start with 100 “units” of energy into the Earth system. Basic theory of a balanced system predicts that 100 units of energy should exit the system (be measurable as outputs). Again, this might not be strictly accurate, but in this system, that’s what we see. The measured outputs are:

  • 30 units reflected light.
  • 49 units atmospheric heat lost to space.
  • 9 units water vapor heat lost to space.
  • 12 units surface heat lost to space.

You will see that these numbers add up to 100, confirming that the system is in balance.

The atmosphere and the planet surface convert 70 percent of incoming sunlight to heat. After that the interaction between surface and atmosphere becomes extremely important, with about 100 energy units constantly cycling through that part of the system.

In the lesson I took these figures from, the students are asked to stack pennies on a diagram illustrating these various energy exchanges in order to visualize the size of these different flows. I have not yet come up with an adequate visualization for the system I am more interested in.

A Model for the Economy of Earth

The amount of energy used by the humans of Earth – or even the entire biosphere – is only a fraction of a “penny” in the energy system illustrated above. Yet we humans are quite sensitive to relatively small fluctuations in the flows of our systems. Beyond that, there is no doubt that we, as the most sentient beings on the planet, must take responsibility for the natural systems we interact with. But we have only been able to really monitor those systems for the last 100 years or so. We are babies in the game of managing planets; and our lack of experience is obvious!

Balance sheets concentrate on reporting assets versus liabilities. An imbalance in favor of assets suggests the enterprise being reported on is doing well. An imbalance in favor of liabilities suggests it is in trouble. In business, these reports are made every year, or sometimes even every three months. While it would be good to keep track of the entire planet on a similar time frame, that might not be practical. But the way things are currently playing out, we should know where we stand at least every five years. And we could probably figure out how to reduce the reporting period down to a year or less once a working system was established.

In physical systems, assets – or pools of potential energy – are relatively unimportant. In the above example, the heat generated by the Earth itself can be totally ignored. Similarly, “liabilities” is basically a human concept. So physical systems are mostly about flows, or only look at the energy storage structures that could directly influence those flows.

In fact, even in human systems, “assets” and “liabilities” are actually not that easy to evaluate. Many things counted as assets loose value over time due to wear and tear, etc., but that’s usually only roughly accounted for. The most important long-term asset is land. Probably the least important is cash. Yet both of these have volatile prices. In business – as in physical systems – the more important measures of health are its flows; is it making more than it’s spending?

The daily flow of energy received from the sun is estimated to be about 11,000 exajoules, an enormous number. Humanity needs only about 2 exajoules a day. It takes most of this energy from “fossil fuels” as well as other carbon sources. It is hard to imagine at this point how things would change if we got all the energy we needed by converting solar radiation. Plants perform this conversion every day, yet that mechanism is insufficient to do the job, as we need to leave most of the plants where they are to perform other functions. In any case, energy input is really not the problem for our world balance sheet. It seems to be more a problem of human behavior, which is classically thought of to be governed by “policy” but more often governed by other factors that most managers seem confused about.

How limited are resources?

What ecologists call “resources” is what economists might call “assets.” Yet planetary resources do not appear on the balance sheets of most businesses unless they have direct control over them and are actively exploiting them, such as in mining. Even then, the land might be valued by its cost of purchase, and that purchase might be seen by the company as little more than one of the costs of production.

Yet, obviously, planetary resources are limited. The most obvious example of this is land area. The only way to get around that is to build skyscrapers and huge basements. The air and its quality is also a limiting factor, as are sources of fresh water. With sufficient energy inputs most limits listed so far could possibly be overcome. This might well be true of all important resources.

Thus, we are looking at a “balance sheet” where “assets” could be valued near infinity. Why, then, do so many people feel so “poor?”

Our ability to handle energy flows

It appears, then, that our basic problem must have something to do with our ability to handle large energy flows. Indeed, people who have the ability to handle energy flows sufficient to operate an organization that does billions of dollars of business a year are considered so rare and valuable that they can garner huge wages all out of proportion the the economic needs of even a large and wealthy household.

The ability to arrange for the energy flows that would be necessary to make this planet work well for all life forms currently using it as their home is probably a key limiting factor to our economic progress. Even given all the criminal enterprises that drain energy out of the system, or waste it, or use it to damage people or property, we could probably do well anyway if there were enough of us that could conceive of and implement systems that could handle energy (and money) flows sufficient to do the job.

And so we see the situation focusing down to a psychological (and behind that, spiritual) problem that too many people share. L. Ron Hubbard once expressed it as an inability to “think big” enough to solve the problem at hand. One benefit of his technology is that it helps people improve greatly in this ability. I think we need more people like that!

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Oak Park Sacramento

7 January 2018

Taking a visit to the Sacramento neighborhoods of Oak Park seemed like a good way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon. Guided by listings sent to me by a local realtor, I visited some houses in this area that have recently been for sale. I was on my bicycle, and took my time, seeing what these neighborhoods are like.

oak park sign

Palm trees grace a median strip housing a sign welcoming us to Oak Park.

From what I’ve been told, there is a definite push in this area to find new young buyers for houses in this older suburb just a little south of downtown.

And I’ve seen two main ways houses in this area are marketed: 1) Appeal directly to the end user, in which case the house will usually be totally cleaned up inside and remodeled (and cost more); 2) Sell to investors (also known as “flippers”) in which case the house will usually be sold as-is, and for less.

I saw some real dumps (not pictured). But most of the houses, though well-used, seemed to be proudly owned.

3343 32nd Ave

Typical small house in Oak Park.

This typical home was built in 1936. It is less than 1,000 square feet on a lot less than .1 acre. It has 3 bedrooms and one bathroom. The “garage” is detached and towards the rear. There are thousands of houses like this in Sacramento. Even those built in the 1950s or later follow this basic pattern. They were quite commonly built with no particular attention to heating and cooling, and were typically retrofitted with some sort of system later in their lifespans. It is also typical for there to be no basement; the house built on a slab or with some sort of crawl space underneath.

A house like this in those days might have cost $2,500 to build and $5,000 to purchase. Per inflation data online, it should cost $50-100,000 today, but other factors have made housing (mostly land) prices increase more than the average.

3629 9th

Orange tree graces one of the more attractive Oak Park homes.

I have seen many fruit trees in Sacramento gardens and parks. Today I even saw a tree with quite large fruit that could have been a pomelo or breadfruit. I have never seen any of these trees harvested (which is why they were planted). Why is that? Perhaps people don’t want to be bothered with picking fruit from a real tree. Seems a shame.

3839 13th

This house sits sideways on its lot.

I usually only see sideways houses on corner lots, but here’s an example. I can only imagine it was done on the builder’s whim.

3615 23rd

Charm of old-style long front porch marred by chain link fence.

One can tell by wandering around this area that security is a concern to many residents. And if you can’t afford a nice “permanent” fence you might go for chain-link. I would be embarrassed, though, to have this on my property. I would at least try to hide it behind shrubbery.

3531 24th

Front-facing brick fireplace is unusual for this neighborhood.

As a sort of test or experiment, I looked up this last home in Sacramento County’s Parcel Viewer application online. It tells me this house was built in 1941 and the land and house together are valued at $100,000. Asking price is more that two times that.

Issues

This little trip through Oak Park brings up several issues that I have become aware of over the years.

What is happening in our cities?

The most obvious answer to this is that someone decided they didn’t want to pay organized labor their negotiated wages any more, so found ways to get their products built in other places where labor costs are lower.

Even if a blue-collar worker retrains to run automated equipment in a yogurt plant (or something), the automation is likewise serving to keep labor costs down, which basically means fewer people employed. So we find people unable to keep their homes or forced to move to cheaper homes. And the land that working-class people used to live on is being recycled into business uses, retiree apartments, and “cool” housing for those who have survived the various crashes and work in banking, government, marketing, or tech jobs located close to that housing. The new residents can then feel good about saving energy on their commute, while the less fortunate serve them food, cut their hair, or take away their garbage, but drive to work from more distant locations.

This could be solved, but not by using the same assumptions and social structures that created the problem. The problem almost certainly has to do with our basic sense of competence. When workers organized, and the manufacturing managers of the modern world were forced to pay them better, things actually got better for everybody. But we didn’t change the fact that the managers preferred to deal with workers who were totally predictable, never talked back, and would do whatever they were told to do. Robots. So they busily set about creating such robots, and they are beginning to succeed. If you told them that they were selling out the human race, they’d tell you they didn’t care. They know how to manage workers who are totally obedient and just need oil and electricity. They don’t really know how to manage real people. People who do know how to manage real people – especially those who enjoy it – are the more successful (and happier) people on this planet. But, unless they know Scientology, they don’t know how to train other managers to operate the way they do.

The fact is, to be successful today requires a level of confront and creativity that fewer and fewer people can easily attain. And that is, as far as I can tell, the more basic technical reason why things are falling apart. There is also an ethics reason for our problems, but if we could handle this technical factor with enough people, the ethics problem would diminish if not vanish entirely.

What is going on with housing prices?

People like Catherine Austin Fitts can tell you more about the details of this than I can. While the basic problem is discussed above, what sees to be happening in the case of housing is that some people saw the decline coming and indulged in unethical actions to benefit from it at the expense of others.

This trend was already rolling forward after the crash of the early 1900s that resulted in the various “New Deal” arrangements to encourage lenders to let more “ordinary” people into the mortgage market. This was basically done using government guarantees to protect the lenders from too many losses. The creation of a “secondary market” also freed up more cash to make loans with.

The market, however, responded to this cash infusion by increasing housing prices (the same thing that has happened to college tuitions as a result of student loans). This gave lenders more income and borrowers more risk. The big problem, of course, comes back to reduced employment. If people can’t keep working, they can’t pay off their loans.

While working at HUD, Catherine spotted operations designed to deliberately trash neighborhoods (by injecting crime like meth labs into them), lowering property values and forcing good people to leave. The operators (criminals) could then buy up the land more cheaply. Revelations like this is what give Mankind such a bad name in this universe. I don’t think most people are involved in operations like this. Just enough to make it hurt.

Sustainability

I have listened to various people tell us that according to certain computer models, society can’t continue with its “usual” economic behavior much longer. It will become impossible to increase prices to keep pace with the costs of producing certain materials, especially fuel. They say we have just lived through a period where the profit margins were pretty good, but that can’t continue indefinitely. Production won’t crash because we run out of resources, but because the cost of production will rise too high.

I hadn’t heard this argument before. But it and related arguments are leading some to attempt to “exit the system.” Most people I know are not taking this approach. They think we can make it through by increasing competences and creative ability. They may be right. Meanwhile, others are learning to live in “houses” that measure maybe 20 by 20 feet, are made from soil (adobe) and other recycled materials for something like $500, and require almost no energy to heat and cool. On top of this, systems are being developed to sequester water in soil so that little or no irrigation of gardens or even grazing fields is needed. That harkens back to an earlier way of living, but the people who are choosing it could survive in relative comfort while others are starving or freezing. Maybe.

I know that the kind of houses Sacramento is full of would not be livable in the winter months without heating. You could get by in the summer without cooling, but not without a refrigerator. However, there is enough land in Sacramento to probably sustain everyone living here now if they just practiced permaculture and stopped driving to work. Of course, the banks would not be able to make money on home loans, government as we know it would probably stop operating, and so might industry as we know it.

So one fear is that the cities would become lawless. They already are, but most of us are protected from the worst of it. I’m not sure how this would actually work out. Certainly there will still be beings who are unwilling to be honest and contribute real help to their community. Beings that know only fear of others and thus feel compelled to lie continuously. Would an economic collapse empower them more or shut them out? I’d rather not find out!

Will there really be radical changes in the near future?

Many people are operating on the assumption that things the way they are now can hold together indefinitely. They aren’t preparing for the future in any way, unless they have an extra money flow that they can save or invest. And that money may not be enough to protect them.

But it’s really hard for me to say. There are a lot of people alive who don’t want it to get worse and are very actively working on various strategies to prevent that. Most of them aren’t saying much or promising much. I don’t think they are sure their ideas will work. But I know they are out there trying. I sometimes wish I could be working with them more closely.

Love is Love

27 December 2017

love is love yard sign

The sign in my neighbors’ yard.


The sign
Pictured above is the sign that serves as a jumping-off point for this little article.

This one is the only one I have seen in my neighborhood, however, when I walked through the Land Park neighborhood (an affluent area just south of downtown built in the early 1900s) I saw several of them.

The Sacramento Bee ran an article concerning this sign sometime back, reporting that someone had gotten in trouble with their neighborhood association for posting this sign (and then getting more so other neighbors could put them in their yards) on the basis that it made the yards look “cluttered” and therefore could be a threat to local land values. This was a specious (deceptive) argument, to say the least.

The sign itself, of course, is a reaction to the perceived threat of a reactionary US President and the beliefs of those who brought him into office. But due to the need for visibility and limited space, the “liberal” concepts it tries to convey are delivered in oversimplified phrases that have very little literal meaning.

Most of these sentiments are stated as logical tautologies, or equivalences if you were speaking mathematically, by using the word “is” or “are.” In Dianetics, such phrases – if taken seriously – would be considered “identity thinking.” In identity thinking, “road” could equal “rode” could equal “rowed” because they are all pronounced the same. To state such a thing in writing, however, would be an obvious mistake, or taken as a joke.

Let’s go through these sentiments one at a time:

All People are Equal

Though, literally, this is obviously untrue (it would be truer to say, “all people are different”), it is of course meant to convey the idea that people should all be treated equally by our public institutions, such as police, courts, schools, even businesses.

This is a common liberal idea and is widely agreed to, yet obviously not well-complied with. Furthermore, propaganda meant to be divisive (as in “divide and conquer”) exploits the many obvious differences between people to weaken or break community bonds that tend to form normally as people live and work together. The huge question is: Who has been forwarding such divisive propaganda, and to what ends? It has been going on for centuries, and even though we have established equal rights for all in the legal arena, this seems to have very little effect on the divisive ideas spewing from…where?

Though the legal arena was an obvious target that needed to be corrected, it should be clear by now that it was not the source of these ideas, but simply used by some to enforce inequalities. Most liberals have nothing to say about this. They simply don’t know where the divisiveness is coming from.

Love is Love

Though totally meaningless at a superficial level, this I assume is meant to convey that we should not judge others based on who or what they love. It is a grand and sweeping concept, but rarely practiced with any rigor. What liberal, for instance, would welcome Scientology into their lives (though its concepts would assist them greatly in many ways)? The intellectual world has been so riddled with lies and half-truths (perhaps it has always been this way) that many cannot really decide what to believe, but tend to believe what they are told by individuals or institutions that are thought to align with their way of thinking.

Black Lives Matter

This is a restatement of the first sentiment for the case of race in particular. Black Lives Matter originated as an organization in 2013 after the Trayvon Martin shooting, when the killer was let off on the argument that he thought his life was in danger. It is only one of many historical attempts to deal with the obvious targeting of dark-skinned people, and particularly the people of Africa or African descent, for “inferior” treatment, if not outright extermination.

This was an issue when I was in junior high school (late 1960s) and there were concerted attempts to teach white children about black history even back then. It is obvious to me that this issue goes beyond the realm of ordinary human empathy and understanding and is being fueled by people who desperately want to keep it alive, don’t care about either whites or blacks or anyone in between, and have inserted themselves into society – largely undetected – in positions where they can continue to fan the flames of race hatred. I am sure those persons are hoping that race hatred will never die and that they will always have it in their arsenal of methods for weakening or destroying human communities.

Psychologically, such people are “criminally insane,” and our only hope on this issue is to identify them and shut down their operations. The average liberal, however, would not be able to think in these terms. That is why I – and many others – believe that liberalism itself has been subverted by some very slick operators who knew just what strings to pull.

Immigrants and Refugees are Welcome

I very much sympathize with this point of view, yet it is much easier said than done. The average local American community today is already overwhelmed by crime problems and/or economic problems. Local managers failed to notice or understand the takeovers they were experiencing, or let themselves be recruited into those operations on the promise of financial rewards.

Local communities should be able to expand to take on new residents and integrate them into the local economy. This has happened to various degrees in many places. Yet the same attitudes and knowledge gaps that allowed the general situation to deteriorate to the point it has impedes us in this effort as well.

And of course, most modern migration pressures have been caused by war, which is one of the biggest human failings of history and one of the most intractable. With what I have learned about this subject, I don’t think the human race will be successful in handling the subject of war unless it advances considerably in spiritual awareness. The subject has that much complexity associated with it.

Science is Real

Here again we have a sentiment rendered superficially meaningless through oversimplification of expression. I assume that what it is really referring to is the fact that the scientific community has long been warning about the ultimate consequences of our headlong march towards a high-tech planet.

An early example of this was the Ozone Hole. Certain man-made gasses were getting into the stratosphere where they were causing depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer, particularly at the poles. This was noticed in the 1970s, the link to CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons – freon) was proven, and steps were taken internationally to reduce airborne CFCs. Observations indicate that the “holes” discovered are now reducing. The ozone layer helps shield the planet from excessive ultraviolet light, which is damaging to life forms.

An odd back story on the ozone issue is that Billy Meier claims that his efforts contributed to the mobilization of the scientific community on this issue, and that his data came from his contacts, who were ostensibly ET (extra-terrestrial). Though there are many who don’t believe Meier at all, I do not share such a low opinion of him, and think his story is quite plausible.

The two above paragraphs taken together illustrate how “science,” or more properly the scientific community, actually behaves. One of the great scientists of earlier years, Gregor Mendel (genetics), though well-schooled, lived as the friar of a monastery for much of his adult life, and also worked as a teacher. All he needed for his work was time and a garden where he could grow his peas. His discoveries were significant, though not really recognized as such until after his death. Modern scientists often work with very complex and expensive machinery, for which they must convince corporate sponsors to provide large research grants. This leaves the sponsors, to some significant measure, in control of what science studies. Scientists have also been employed by governments to develop new weapons systems. The most significant modern example of this was the development of the atom bomb in the 1940s.

It is said that many scientists today are employed in secret programs. There are also many employed by a variety of companies for the purpose of developing ideas or materials that those companies can then use to enhance their profitability. The most scientific freedom is considered to exist at universities, yet I would guess that “garage scientists” have the most freedom today, limited though by their financial resources.

John E. Mack is an example of a tenured professor who got into trouble with his school administration (Harvard Medical School) due to his abiding interest in “alien abduction” experiences. Though he was vindicated, it is also noted that he had some very influential backers such as Laurence Rockefeller.

One might ask, then: What is real? This is what most people – and true liberals should be among the first to take a closer look at this – are having trouble with today. Various sectors of society have skipped ahead of the mainstream, and are exploring in areas that are considered quite “unreal” to most people. Those involved is such subjects are very aware of their reality, yet forces exist in society – as mentioned above – that would prefer the majority of the population not be exposed to such data yet, if ever.

A recent unusual event in this regard was the New York Times coverage of a story about a “secret” Pentagon program known as the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program. The story then spread to other mainstream news outlets. This exposed mainstream audiences to the idea that UFOs are real, and that some possibly pose a military threat to Earth.

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Though superficially this is simply a restatement of the earlier affirmation that “all people are equal,” I am guessing this refers in particular to “reproductive rights” which also intersects with the moral issue of sexual behavior.

This is a very touchy area. Everyone understands the need for sex as the way to perpetuate our species. But very few understand why they often feel compelled to indulge in sexual conduct regardless of their marital status or need, desire, or ability to nurture children. There is a disconnect there that few are able to fathom. On the one hand, the data I have indicate that it is wiser to err in the direction of celibacy. This somewhat supports the “Right” who want to keep sex “in the family.” But they don’t have my data and are usually operating under moral imperatives taught by their religions. I could say that in this case, those teachings were onto something. But where is the rest of the data, that would tie the whole thing together and give it some sense?

Look: If you are basically an immortal spiritual being, then – basically – there is no reason for sex to be important to you. But no one is talking about that angle of the issue. The result is an argument that could go on forever – and probably will.

Just to restate the data I have relating to abortion: The embryo is of course a living animal, on the order of a fish or a chicken. We consider it OK to kill fish or chickens, yet that is because we use them for food. Thus, the killing of an embryo is an otherwise pointless killing of an animal. The being – the personality, you could say – usually attaches to the body around the time of birth. At that point you are dealing with a full human being who should ideally have full human rights. Part of recognizing those rights, however, relies on recognizing what that human being really is and why it came here to live on Earth. Most people have no idea about this.

People and Planet are valued over Profit

This is the ideological link to various anti-capitalist ideologies that liberals have always been sympathetic to but never felt they needed to support 100 percent. This sentiment opens the door to wiping out big business. Yet, even though we all see that something is wrong in this sector of life, and has been for ages and ages, what exactly that is has never really been pinned down. Supporters of capitalism, and in particular of the idea of free markets have some very strong arguments. Yet they show no real superior understanding of the situation. Society’s charge towards a high-tech future, alluded to earlier, has been led by big corporations. Why should we trust our future to their leadership? I don’t think we should. But what the current situation is telling us is that those big companies know more about this subject than we do. And this is probably correct. So, if we can’t find some way to catch up, those new leaders become our de facto leaders. Right now, there’s just no one else out there wearing those boots. I don’t like it, but I know I don’t have the resources to replace them with more enlightened personnel.

Where I last worked, our company founder used to tell us that “risk is the moral justification for profit.” The implication was that profit (you could call it usury) would otherwise have no moral justification. However, the most basic economic concept of profit is embedded in the life cycle of our species. It is most obvious at the front end, when the being is growing its body, the body not yet big enough or strong enough to be fully productive. Someone who is fully productive has to be willing to share a portion of the wealth (or energy) it has earned with the younger ones who are not ready yet. Thus, he must make a “profit.” Profit for its own sake amounts to little more than a sort of PR or propaganda: “I am better than you are,” it says. Well, this might be true in some ways, but anyone who basically understood the situation would not indulge in such foolishness. My point is that profit per se is not our problem. Profit for its own sake can be a problem, and profits obtained by unethical (criminal) means is criminal profit and should be so treated.

According to higher ethical principles, when a being or group acts to enrich only itself at the expense of the other dynamics, they are not being ethical enough. This is probably what this line on the yard sign is really trying to convey.

Diversity is Celebrated

In contrast to the notion that “all people are equal” we are going to celebrate diversity. Well, this is a nice phrase. I’m not sure how it should be implemented, and you can see the irony in it, juxtaposed with the first phrase. But, what if you went ahead to say: Nonconformity is celebrated? This brings this issue out a little more sharply.

Compared to many places and cultures on this planet, the United States remains a quite liberal place and culture. Yet, something has changed. How was Communism able to retain its position as a “left wing” ideology even after abuses under Stalin and Mao clearly indicated is was operating closer to a totalitarianism? How did liberalism come to embrace atheism, even to the extent of rejecting the work of L. Ron Hubbard, as well as its more tradition-oriented relative, the New Age Movement? Why are most liberals so sure the Creationists are wrong?

In short: We have been played (fooled, as in a con game). A criminal element took advantage of our uncertainties, our insecurities, and our lack of really excellent memory to pull us into a game that we find very much less than ideal, and certainly not in good alignment with our own ideals.

We were on the verge, in the 1960s, of beginning to discover what the rest of our universe – starting with our own moon – was really all about. And certain individuals, certain groups, did not want this to occur. So they began on a course of establishing a wall of fake knowledge to keep us away from higher truths that would have been inconvenient for us to learn. A few found out anyway, and they were marginalized (like LRH was) or eliminated (like JFK was) as seemed suitable to that new enforcement group. The rest who know are either part of that group, are too afraid of them to speak out, or are considered too unimportant to warrant much attention.

As was briefly mentioned above, there seems to be some change in this situation in very recent times. It remains to be seen how far-reaching that change will be. Certainly, my church continues to forge ahead. Yet it is still encountering strong opposition in some quarters. More “whistle blowers” are coming forward. Yet what they have to share does not seem that revelatory at this point.

But all this could change. For one thing, LRH’s work has been on the planet for over 60 years now, longer than I have been alive. People are studying and applying those materials. For most who are so exposed, there is no turning back. Like the people who have out-of-body experiences. The impression it has on them is just too strong to ignore. And beyond that, the UFO sightings just won’t go away. They are a constant reminder – almost to the point of nagging – that we need to get smart as a species and quick.

I for one cannot predict a time in the near future when things will get quiet and peaceful here on Earth the way they used to be before the Industrial Revolution. I am aware that we are faced with choices, choices that most don’t even fully understand. There seem to be basically two: “progress” and “sustainability.” “Progress” leads us into an era of Space Opera. At this point, most of us don’t realize that we have all lived through Space Opera probably multiple times before. So it is being successfully promoted as a step forward in our evolution as a species. That’s a lie, and the current managers seem to be afraid we will remember our own pasts and realize this. The other choice involves a retreat from Space Opera into a time of ecological balance and spiritual improvement. Those promoting this are wonderful people, very idealistic. But they really have no idea what they are up against. They will end up with the best karma, but it is unclear what else they will end up with.

A third choice exists. It involves getting smart very quick, and then choosing a more workable path than either of the two main paths currently being offered to us. That would be a great adventure. The potential for great wins is enormous. And I suppose so is the potential for great losses. But if you factor in the knowledge that a being is basically unkillable and always at cause, I think the potential for win is greater, as these are immutable truths that no one can really take from us, no matter how hard they try.

As we approach a new year, I wish all who read this a great and most remarkable future.

UFO History and Other News

15 December 2017

I listened to an LRH lecture recently that I think is worth quoting at length:

But what about the society at large? Do you realize that if tomorrow an invasion of Earth were threatened by some other planet, that you wouldn’t have talk about international or inter-nation-al activity like war? Nobody would be worrying about war between Bulgaria and Fulgaria. Nobody would be worrying about war, because another game was sitting there. Everybody would get a lot smarter. The incidence of psychosis and neurosis would drop most alarmingly. See what I mean?

If all of a sudden some of these flying saucers that occasionally flick around here and cause the army so much upset —they found a couple of them crashed, you know, and they say “Eek!” They’ve got molecular sealing construction plates so you can’t find any seam and when you try to go into them with a torch, why, you get cohesion of its seams. And then they can’t get it open. And they take X—rays of the machinery through the metal, you know, to get pictures to find out what’s in there because obviously nobody…They’ve had lot of fun. Terrific amount of sport they’ve engaged in this way. They’ve found some of these things, but they haven’t found enough of them and it’s not comprehensible enough to really upset anybody.

If you had a saucer suddenly pull in over Chicago and say, “Your money or your life. People of Earth, we don’t come in peace…” At-at-at-at-at! Earth would mobilize. We’re not quite sure what it would mobilize, BB guns or something, but it would mobilize. And you certainly wouldn’t have any more international war.

But after you’ve got this interplanetary war going, what would you do then? I mean, that’s going and they’ve finally settled peace and we’ve got this particular end of the galaxy all straightened out. And war is sporadic and occasional, but we have a police force engaged.

I guess this system would have to go to war with another system in order to make enough fight. And then when that was all straightened out, then this galaxy would have to go to war with another galaxy in order to get it all straightened out. And I guess this universe, then, eventually would have to go to war with another universe to get it all straightened out.

Or instead of such a silly route, we could just get down to work and process the groups of people so that they would be willing to let others live and live themselves. Now, there really is no choice, in other fields, than these two. We either put Man into a condition where he can extrovert and play a game here on Earth as himself, as individuals and as groups, or we go off and find ourselves a hot saucer and go at—at-at—at-at—at! over Chicago. There’s these two solutions. There isn’t much other solution. Now, we have a saucer rescue squad ready…[laughter]

We have—all joking aside, I’m joking, you see. We have, actually, many ways we could prevent an atomic bombing occurring here on Earth—many ways. Atomic bombing, however, is not the sole enemy which we would face. Several things are definitely preventive in the direction of atomic fission, if they are done. And I told you the other day the wrong thing to do was nothing.

Several things could be done in this particular direction. The education of the peoples of Earth, however, is the first and foremost thing that should be done. And they might be taught that they can solve each other’s games, that they can play each other’s games, that there is somebody else alive here and that Earth can be an interesting place to be and that something can happen to these things which we today call civilization, that they can go on upwards. Somebody doesn’t have to blink ’em out.

Now, wherever we look across the world, we see that Man has very, very little hope that anything could be done about anything. The measure of a civilization would be the measure of the expectancy of win by the individuals or groups of that civilization. If they have an expectancy to win, they can play the game. If they have no expectancy of winning, they want to get out of the game and start another game or they start playing games with their thumbs behind their backs—which is goofiness.

LRH – from lecture “Pan-Determinism” of 31 Dec 1954.

He was talking to a crowd in Phoenix, Arizona. I was a few months old at the time, living in Berkeley, California. Steven Greer has told us that an engineer familiar with advanced technology development programs told him that they had successfully implemented a back-engineered anti-gravity propulsion system by about October of 1954 (when I was born).

How did LRH know that the military had been playing around with flying saucers? I don’t think he’s ever said. But he had lots of friends in interesting places.

Current Events

The information war continues between those who want to paint a picture of troubled normalcy and those who want the population to “wake up” for various different reasons.

We have very little data about what is really going on, but loads of good data revealing that we are being lied to on a regular basis. On subjects as diverse as spiritual realities, ET realities, basic physics, and what causes terrorism, the mainstream media outlets continue to lie and entertain, while the alternative media outlets tell a wide range of stories from the sublime to the ridiculous – but many much more factual than the mainstream stories.

There is a persistent expectation that the world’s population will receive another “wake-up call” before too long (such as LRH’s fancied space invasion – per insiders a scenario that has been seriously considered). But so far nothing seems to materialize. Every significant event that occurs has at least two slants given to it by different sources, keeping most of us in a state of mild confusion, if not worse.

My Projects

As of today I have joined the ranks of “poor” people who are paying for medical insurance programs with the assistance of the Federal Government. Until this year, I had no real idea that this is what “Obamacare” was really all about. It wasn’t about getting the U.S. population more healthy (which is what “health care” implies, doesn’t it?), but simply to get everyone insured, so that doctors, clinics, and hospitals would get paid for every single service they deliver – successful or not – regardless of the income level of the patient.

Beyond this basic fact lies other interesting details, such as what sorts of treatment must be covered by an “acceptable” insurance program and what treatments can be ignored. Basically, anything you get from a non-MD you’ll have to pay for yourself, regardless of how effective that treatment is. It’s just a way of protecting a professional monopoly. Even psychoactive drugs – some of the least effective, most damaging treatments on the market today – must be covered because they are prescribed by psychiatrists, who are MDs.

Another ongoing project has been to salvage whatever electronic junk that I brought with me from Pullman that seems appropriate to salvage, and throw away the rest. This project was started in Pullman, but continues here in Sacramento. I have built a little “Tower of Junk” containing all my favorite older projects that were previously dismantled. It’s a little 12-inch by 12-inch by 18-inch high box, and it’s now full, with most of the “junk” included in it up and running.

With that task out of the way, I can dive into my electronic art with both feet. The main list of projects involves light (Light Emitting Diode – LED) displays that react to various environmental factors. Getting environmental sounds included has been the biggest challenge, as building good microphone amplifiers is a bit of an art. But I have a test rig up and running, and the basic idea seems promising.

I also have a code-writing project restarted after a long hiatus. This is aimed to allow the user to inspect and search large amounts of data in ways that are visually interesting and informative. I am using my own electronic library (about 150,000 files) as the test data, as it is structured but highly diverse. This data is organized according to LRH’s dynamics, and I plan to use other Scientology basics in this software.

Scientology

I continue my study of the Basic Lectures. One of these is the one quoted above. That series ended with that lecture, so I have finished that series and will soon move onto another one.

The church downtown continues to put on various events. The most recent was in observance of Human Rights Day (10 December) and featured a presentation by a local Sikh human rights activist who has been working for many years to improve awareness of religious diversity – which is part of the Sikh teaching – in California. We also watched a documentary about the aftermath of the shootings at the Sikh temple near Milwaukee in 2012.

The mainstream sees such events as “hate crimes” against minorities who are misunderstood, or confused with other groups (such as Sikhs being confused with Muslims). My Scientology training tells me that this is a very shallow explanation for such events. Whenever violence occurs the Third Party Law must be taken into account. This data has been around for 50 years, but most don’t know about it or don’t use it. That needs to change!

We have a Christmas party coming up, then a New Years event, which is always full of news.

And after that, the sun will start coming North again. Right now, it’s too cold with not enough daylight for my liking.

Houses

7 December 2017

This post is to introduce a new category into this blog that may get some attention now and then. “Home and Garden” is meant to echo the vibe of the long-time and very popular magazine, Better Homes and Gardens. This has been the fourth best-selling magazine in America per Wikipedia and epitomizes the old American ideal of a privately-owned homestead for raising one’s family and enjoying one’s ample leisure hours.

As I haven’t been a part of that whole scene for most of my adult life, I have a hard time taking it seriously. But there are about 76 million owner-occupied homes in the United states (the statistic has been flat for over ten years), which is one house for every 4 and a half people or so. So it’s a pretty big deal in this country.

And now that I am winding down a bit, the idea of living in a house instead of a room or an apartment has resurfaced in my awareness. And so, this new category.

Permaculture

My discovery of Permaculture came out of my interest in food forests, which is one way that some suburbanites have made urban life more sustainable.

This lead to my interest in the work of Alosha Lynov, who has aligned himself with the work of Michael Tellinger (Contributionism, a moneyless society). They are both living in South Africa, and are into New Age ideas. But Alosha is from Russia. He is young and very gung-ho about Permaculture and building curvy houses out of special cements. He has made lots of videos, including some about his less-than-optimum financial situation. These videos show you how to clean your waste water, create catch basins on your land, and stuff like that. The pics below are from his commercial website.

domed house

A different style of house.

Alosha and Michael

Alosha Lynov and Michael Reynolds.

Michael Reynolds

Michael Reynolds is an architect who has developed a passive solar home design. Most of his designs are for single-story buildings. His emphasis is on reuse of waste for building materials. But his “earthship” design also makes effective use of passive heating and cooling techniques.

Thermal Mass

I had to study thermal mass for a project I’m working on. Certain materials can absorb and retain heat much better than others. Use of these materials inside buildings reduces temperature swings, putting less peak demand on heating and cooling systems. For best effect, the material must be in direct contact with the air in the room, or via a thermally conductive material, like a metal. It also helps for the mass to have contact with the ground. Most ground and soils have pretty good thermal mass. Water also has great thermal mass.

Think of an example of an early human house: A cave. That’s also an example of the use of thermal mass. “Rich” people of old could afford stone houses. Stone is a good building material when you want thermal mass. So are brick and concrete and other stone substitutes. The big problem with bricks and concrete is the energy required to produce them. Reynold’s earthships use dirt pounded into old tires, stacked like big bricks.

Interesting Sacramento House

This house has been listed for sale for some weeks now. It’s on Academy Way, which is north of downtown, but very near a light rail station. I went over to take some pictures of it recently.

house on Academy Way

House on Academy Way in Sacramento.

Note that is is faced with stone and brick. This sort of facing makes a house “look rich.” But if it doesn’t go all the way through to the inside of the house, it won’t contribute much to the thermal mass of the house (only to its mass!).

This is a largish house on a corner lot. It is listed for less than $200,000. Why hasn’t it sold? I can’t fully evaluate without knowing more about the house than is obvious from the outside. I know from observation and the listing that it needs maintenance. Depending on how deep one goes, this could cost a new owner anywhere from 10 to 50 thousand dollars. Thus, a house that looks new can be sold for that amount more than one that doesn’t. There is also the factor that this is not considered a desirable neighborhood. You’d think being close to a light rail station would increase the value of the property. But perhaps in some cases it has the opposite effect.

Permaculture and passive solar design are not happening things in Sacramento right now. But if we want to stay alive on this planet much longer, these ideas will need to become household words.

I plan to explore these topics further in the not-too-distant future.

Richard Stallman and Freedom

15 November 2017

Today (Wednesday, 15th Nov 2017) I went to see Richard Stallman give a presentation on Free Software.

He was being hosted by a California State project to re-write the Child Welfare website (including backend) using Free Software. Most of the attendees were state employees involved in the project. I was there because I had gotten an email about the event from the Free Software Foundation. Though rain clouds threatened, I went ahead and made the approximately 10 mile bike ride over to Natomas where the state government has a bunch of buildings in a nice industrial park.

Richard is about 1-1/2 years older than me. He was born in New York City (per Wikipedia) and acts like it. He became proficient in writing computer programs while in high school, and was working as a programmer even as he continued his education.

In his early years, he worked at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence laboratory, then funded largely through DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

As software and computing became more popular, Richard noticed that most companies were keeping their code (the higher-language representation of the program) secret. He objected to this on the grounds that in a free society, code should be published like other forms of literature, so it could be studied and learned from.

He started integrating his ideas into a coherent ideology with the birth of the GNU project in 1983. The NU in GNU stands for “not Unix” which was meant to emphasize that the GNU system was all Free Software, though it functioned a lot like Unix. Beyond that, the gnu is a native name for the African wildebeest, which is used as the project’s mascot.

At the presentation today, Richard went through his basic philosophy about Free Software and gave some examples of how proprietary software has been used against the higher cause of freedom in society.

Is it really all about profit?

Richard thinks that the existence of non-free or anti-freedom software can be explained by profit motive. This has been a common argument from “progressive” circles concerning many political and economic weaknesses. I think this is not an intellectually rigorous explanation.

I don’t say that because I’m so smart. I am simply aware of research that points to other factors.

But I will say this about profit:
In a political-economic context, profit is seen as necessary in order to retain investors. Who would invest in an activity that couldn’t repay the investment, with interest? Beyond the fact that this itself is a weak argument, I also see it as unnecessarily complex.

What a business has to do first to pay a profit to shareholders is to have more income than expenses. But that is just common sense. In a world of machines – and biological entities are a type of machine – you need to put more energy into the system than you will get out as work. The remainder is waste energy, which is used by biology but “dumped” by most machine systems.

If you can make more than you spend, you can pay investors a profit. Or on the scale of a single human being, you can save for a child’s education, or for old age. And by the way, did you include raising a family in your list of expenses? So, we have pressures on the producers in an economy to “make a profit” whether it’s their stockholders or their children that they are responsible to.

I believe this basically evaporates the argument of “profit motive.”

Criminality

What we have left, though, is something very obvious that the “progressives” don’t talk much about: Criminality.

As I am “musing” in this article I will opine on why the “progressives” have this problem. My theory – and not just mine, nor my origination particularly – is that an approach to life commonly referred to as “psychology” has infiltrated its way into American life, and the “progressive” movement in particular. It is not that there is something wrong with the study of the mind. It is only that the history of this particular brand of psychology we are seeing on Earth suggests it was financed and supported, if not actually created, by persons who wished to develop a sort of intellectual framework, or propaganda mechanism, that would serve to explain or justify “bad” behavior anywhere from mildly rude to morally reprehensible.

What has arisen from this effort is a jumble of loosely-related ideas, including concepts like Moral Relativism, and Situational Ethics. The bulk of these concepts are confused and under-developed, but when paired up with Psychology as our best attempt to understand human thought and behavior, they can establish a basis to justify almost any action, no matter how evil.

In short, the criminal – especially one in government or business – has a problem: How can I harm those around me while maintaining my supposedly legitimate position in society? And I am saying that one answer he has reached for was: Use Psychology.

In this wise, a criminal is explained as a person in a “bad” situation, or someone who was brought up wrong. In a company it could be someone being forced to make a profit, resulting in his making very bad choices. The answer is to be kind to everybody and make sure everyone has enough to eat, spend etc. This argument is warm and fuzzy, but I think demonstrably unworkable.

If the criminal is really a type of personality, like the psychopath of classic psychiatry (now called “psychodynamic theory”), then being kind to him will not change his behavior. He has a compulsive urge to harm secretly. Thus, my theory that modern “psychology” was produced by and for criminals, as it fails miserably to solve the problem of crime (when it addresses it directly at all).

Modern “psychology” totally ignores past lives and their influence on present-life behavior, even though this has been the most productive research avenue during the previous century that yielded new understandings about human behavior.

Self-correction?

A very major segment of the people I have been exposed to who are out there communicating ideas seem to believe that to make a person aware of a sub-standard behavior will lead to correction.

I don’t know why this idea remains so strong in people, as I see almost no support for it in the extreme cases where self-correction has been most needed and most lacking.

One example of this type of thinking is gun control. What gun control advocates seem to be saying is that if we make certain types of guns illegal or difficult to obtain, a person who wishes he could go out and blow everybody’s head off will become aware that this is wrong behavior and self-correct into some more acceptable approach. This idea is totally ridiculous.

Yet a progressive-oriented person like Richard Stallman, as fine and upstanding as his ideas are, thinks that if we just make Free Software more popular, those using anti-free software will eventually self-correct and see the error of their ways. If that were to really happen, purveyors of anti-free software might give in, simply on the basis that they could no longer sell their products to anyone. But what I am suggesting is that the criminals among them would not self-correct. They would just find alternative methods to perform criminal acts and protect their secrets.

What anti-free is really all about

Mr. Stallman, as well as many on the “right” who argue for more freedom, are not aware of the research I am aware of, I am quite sure. And while I may not be able to explain that research with total clarity here, I do think it is worth our while to at least be aware of it.

LRH began to speak of it in the 1950s, and continued to mention it now and again into the 1960’s. His famous training lecture “The Free Being” dates from 1963.

A free being is a being that doesn’t need a body to operate through. And such beings, unfortunately, have a history of acting somewhat inconsiderately towards people walking around in bodies. The free being didn’t realize these people were basically the same order of being as he was, except trapped in their bodies. So these societies of beings in bodies learned how to trap free beings. They saw it as a survival point. Aptitude in this activity was something to be proud of. And the free beings of this universe finally all became trapped in bodies, like everyone else, and being “free” the way free beings were became totally unacceptable. This was hammered into the populations by their managers as a primary rule of life! Free beings had caused them so many problems; nobody stopped to think that they might be spiritual brothers.

But there were always some in every society who insisted on working to be “more free.” Were these the ones who used to be free, their memories of past happy days leaking through the various mental trapping mechanisms? Perhaps. But what was important was that those societies couldn’t tolerate such people. And they would go out on programs to scoop them up and dump them someplace where they could do no harm to anyone, like Earth.

It seems this dumping operation was rather hit-and-miss. Perhaps it was carried out mostly as a PR campaign to impress populations. Because we sure have a jumble of different personalities and approaches on this planet now!

The point is that “psychology” never figured all this out. The ideas and methodologies that did figure it out have been around for over 50 years. They were rejected by psychology. Why? Probably because they could lead to greater freedom! But also because psychology was being influenced by criminals, who are extremely afraid of freedom. Not just mentally dull about it; VERY afraid of it. A free being – though it has some historic outpoints – can also see through any secret, rendering a criminal helpless. This may be the bigger reason that criminals are involved in anti-free technologies, software being just one of them.

It was good to see Richard Stallman. I had heard a lot about him over the years. His heart is in a good place, but I don’t think his solutions will get society where he’d like it to go. He needs to understand it better first. Anti-free is more deeply entrenched in the minds of men – and particularly managers – than he realizes. The solutions exist at a deeper level than he is currently aware of. That they exist in any form at all is a minor miracle.

Motors Demo

25 October 2017

motors-demo-20171025-2-cropped

I don’t use motors much in my projects, but they are everywhere now on our very mechanical world. So I am always running into them, and had a bunch set aside mostly from tearing down old printers. I have been particularly interested in stepper motors, as I had read about them a long time ago, and they are used a lot in industry.

Stepper Motors

This isn’t going to be a huge technical article, but: Stepper motors are used for positioning in all sorts of equipment, computer printers just being one example. They are designed to be moved an exact rotational amount (by counting the step signals sent to the motor) and to hold that position while energized.

The ordinary stepper motor is driven by two overlapping signals, as mentioned in my recent post about SerDes design. Finding new data about how these motors are driven inspired me to take another shot at creating a working driver. My previous attempt, based on sine waves amplified by audio amps, had not been successful.

Design by Numbers

Here is a rear view of my project, with numbers added to match the discussion below:

motors-demo-20171025-4-cropped-annotated

  1. AC terminals and connectors. I like to run my projects off AC-powered supplies. I get them cheap from thrift stores. Usually they are “wall warts” or otherwise portable / external power supplies, and I remove the plastic cover and use the board inside. Sometimes I keep half the cover if it helps for mounting purposes.The funny thing about all modern power supplies is that the first thing they do is convert your AC power to DC. Then they step down the DC (about 120V in the US, about twice that in many other places) to the power supply voltage. Most of these modules provide good regulation, because that’s built into the controller electronics, and it helps protect people and equipment.
  2. I stacked the two power supplies I used. The top one runs my control electronics. Most of it is 5V, but I also have some 12V relays.
  3. I used a 9 volt 3-1/2 amp module to run the motors. These are a little hard to find, so when I run across one I grab it for later use. 5V supplies are ubiquitous, as they are used now for phone chargers (phones generally have 4V batteries). But other voltages and power levels can be more scarce.
  4. Next in line is a board that monitors the motor supply for voltage and current output. You can buy panel meters with these features built in, but I built my own, as it’s not too hard. It then feeds generic panel meters. The hardest part to get right on this board was the current shunt. I used a bunch of SMT (surface mount) resistors in parallel.
  5. The motor driver module was purchased online from China. This particular one had some problems, and I basically had to repair it before I could use it. That sometimes happens with cheap stuff from China. They had installed the wrong part to function as a 5V auxiliary supply. It was supposed to be a fixed-voltage part and an adjustable-voltage part was installed. So I had to lift the adjustment pin off the board and add some components to get my 5V output.One of the drivers was also poorly soldered, so I went over the solder joints and added more solder as needed.

    The board uses a part that has been around for a long time (LM298). It is designed to drive stepper motors. It has four logic-level inputs (plus enable) and four power outputs. It can work up to 48V. I had planned to add a second higher-voltage motor driver supply to the project, but all the motors worked fine with 9V, so I left it out.

    You have to feed the driver the correct signals, and I made two more boards to do that. One board provides the four steps needed to generate the “quadrature” drive pattern and a pulse-width-modulated (PWM) signal to vary the amount of drive. The other board converts these signals to those needed to feed to the driver board.

  6. Another board just gets all the connections right.
  7. I used a four-position rotary switch to select between four different motors. Only one is a stepper motor. The ordinary DC motors are very easy to power on; you just apply power. You can modify their speed somewhat by changing the drive voltage or using a PWM signal which essentially does the same thing. I used one driver IC on the driver board to power the DC motors. I paired up the four drivers to make two. I can run the load in forward, reverse or braking mode.
  8. Here are the front panel controls for stepper speed, PWM, and forward – brake – reverse.
  9. Cheap panel meters from China indicate the drive voltage and total current being used. They have a nice auto-ranging feature which makes them usable up to about 50 volts input. Their electronics run on 5 volts. These digital meters only have three decimal places, but that was enough for this application.

Closing Comments

The biggest problem with motors is having them stall out due to mechanical overload, which can ruin both the motor and the drive electronics. As these motors are running no-load, that’s not a problem. You can grab the motor shaft with your fingers if you want to, and see what mechanical loading does to the current draw. But for real use, the electronics should include overcurrent protection to turn the power off if the motor stalls. Many industrial motor drivers also monitor motor temperature, which is another way to tell that something is going wrong with your motor.

I am very happy that I was finally able to get my stepper motor to run (both forwards and reverse!) and at a variety of different speeds. It turns out steppers are a bit sensitive to what speed you drive them at. Try to go too fast and they just won’t run. Go too slow and they use too much power (though there are ways around this). Most steppers have an optimum speed, and in most applications, you will see them operated at a constant speed, or maybe two, high and low (like in a scanner).

The driver module was designed for robotics hobbyists. It’s a neat design, but not well-documented. I had to look up the datasheets for the various parts used to get details. This is par for the course in hobby electronics.

It rains!

20 October 2017

I never thought I’d do a post just on account of some rain.
But per the records I’ve been able to find, it hasn’t rained in Sacramento since April. That’s six months with no rain! I didn’t even notice any foggy mornings.

But last night, as the weather guys predicted, we heard the soft pitter-patter of rain drops on the roof and in the yard. And this morning it was wet outside.

roses after a rain

Of course, people and other biological forms survive under conditions like this because of ground water and stored water upstream behind dams. Our garden stayed well-watered. Those who decided to continue the water conservation effort got very dry and brown lawns. However, most trees and even bushes did OK because of water in the soil.

We could leave even more water in the soil if we didn’t flush roof runoff into the drain system, but flushed it onto the soil instead. (That’s the permaculture way.)

When I took a photo of droplets in an old web under our pine tree, I found something interesting. Can you tell from the photo?

old web under pine tree

There is also sap (what amber is made out of) falling out of the tree and collecting on this web. The one darker blob is really obvious. This sap is quite messy. I got some on my fingers; it’s hard to get off.

In search of a better SerDes

17 October 2017

Oh no! Another dry technical article! True, true. Just pass it by if you’re not interested.

Serdes sounds like a Greek word, but it isn’t really. There are some people with the name Serdes, but it is uncommon. I learned it as an engineering acronym thus (lightly edited):

A Serializer/Deserializer (SerDes) – usually pronounced “sir-deez” – is a pair of functional blocks commonly used in high speed communications to compensate for limited input/output. These blocks convert data between serial data and parallel interfaces in each direction. The term “SerDes” generically refers to interfaces used in various technologies and applications. The primary use of a SerDes is to provide data transmission over a single/differential line in order to minimize the number of I/O pins and interconnects.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SerDes

Electronic Art

I am trying to work out some cool things to do with LED arrays that would respond to environmental or observer inputs. There are many pieces to such a system. This includes the possibility that the display itself may be some distance from the electronics that collects the input signals and decides what the display should do. The same way a computer monitor can be separate from the computer. And in this case, the two are connected with a cable.

Some of us remember the old printer cables. They were thick, had up to 25 separate wires in them, and couldn’t be much longer than 15 feet. I could probably use such a cable in my projects. But that’s a lot of bulk, and it comes with many limitations. Those cables connected a parallel port on the computer to a parallel port on the printer. There were usually 8 data lines plus a bunch of handshaking signals to make it so the computer would not send data faster than the printer could print it out. If you wanted to get a lot of data back from the printer, you could add another 8 data lines going in the opposite direction.

8 bits can encode into 256 different numbers (0 to 255). That’s enough for an alphabet – both upper and lower case – and a bunch of other symbols. Each symbol has a number “code” that stands for that symbol. Both ends of the line have to use the same code system.

An 8 bit parallel system could go pretty fast; millions of symbols per second. But try pushing parallel data through a long cable that fast and you will quickly run into problems. You would need to shield the cable so external signals won’t interfere with it, and so it won’t radiate signals into external equipment. And the wires in the cable, when they get quite long, resist fast signals going through them in at least three different ways (resistance, inductance and capacitance). So if you want to send data fast through a long cable, you have a whole hardware design challenge on your hands.

SerDes concept

Illustration of the SerDes concept. Original graphic by Grégoire Surrel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The solutions to these problems usually involve reducing the number of wires carrying signals (ideally just one pair would be enough) and creating special hardware interfaces that alter the signals so that they will make it through the cable successfully, even though the cable presents various barriers to proper transmission.

A standard solution for many years was the “RS-232” serial cable. In this system the signal is amplified to make it more resistant to interference and cable attenuation. And the signal is “serialized” so it only has to use one pair of wires. That means each symbol of 7 or 8 bits would be transmitted as a sequence of bits that would have to be reassembled into 7 or 8 parallel bits at the receiving end. That was an early SerDes system. But we didn’t call it that in the old days. The acronym only came into wide use after the internet and its various forms of information exchange came into wide use. The term commonly refers to high speed data transmissions, but the basic concepts are the same regardless of data rate. My projects use quite low data rates just to make sure I don’t run into too many design problems and can use cheap parts.

The RS-232 standard could probably work for me, but I wanted to try another more modern data transmission standard, TIA-485. (RS = Recommended Standard, as published by the EIA, Electronics Industries Alliance, but now taken over by the TIA, Telecommunications Industry Association). This standard uses two wires for each signal plus a third wire used as a ground (zero volts) reference. The signal is transmitted in an attenuated form, differentially. That means a “zero” would be transmitted by putting maybe 3-1/2 volts on one wire and 1 volt on the other. And a “one” would be transmitted by reversing those. Smaller signals in a cable create less external interference and are easier to pass through longer cable lengths.

I have a connector that is used for MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) that has five pins, which means it can carry two differential serial signals (or 4 RS-232 signals) plus a ground reference wire. I wanted to use this connector and a 5-wire cable, but there was one problem:

SerDes Timing

Just as in the old parallel printer cables, where handshaking signals were necessary to tell the printer when a symbol to print was put onto the connecting cable, and tell the computer when the printer was busy, serial systems also need a way of at least telling the receiver when the transmitted data is good, how fast it is going, and when an entire symbol has been sent. This requires, minimum, clock and end-of-symbol signals for data rate and data synchronization. In the RS-232 system, the data rate had to be set at both ends in advance. And the end-of-symbol signal was coded into the data stream. It takes a computer to figure out how to decode this data stream, but if you send all three signals separately, you don’t need any computing at the receiving end. Deserialization can be done with one piece of hardware called a shift register.

But I can’t transmit three signals over a five-wire TIA-485 cable, only two. So I thought I’d figure out how to combine the three signals into two so that my system could work with the hardware I have. I devised a rather simple system to do this, and built an initial working system several years ago for my “Christmas” project (Christmas because it used strings of holiday lights for the visual display). Recently I have built two more systems that use this method.

Glitches

I like to re-design systems each time I build them. This is partly because I might not have the same parts available that I used in an earlier design. Or it might be just to explore different ways the problem could be solved. All the heavy work in my SerDes system is on the transmitting site. The receiver is very easy to make. And for this transmitter design I wanted to use counters to run ICs (integrated circuits, now often known as “chips”) called multiplexers. You put parallel data on the 8 inputs of a multiplexer, then tell it which input to put on the output using a counter. And if the counter repeats a regular pattern (as most do) then the parallel data at the inputs will come out of the output in a predictable serial sequence. And so you have achieved serialization.

In my first design I was getting “glitches” at the outputs of some of my multiplexers. This is because I was using “ripple” counters. In this type of counter, the counting outputs don’t all change at exactly the same time. They might be a little off (usually much less than a microsecond, but that’s enough time to cause trouble). In other words, when changing from count 1 to count 2 for instance, the ones bit has to change from one to zero, while the twos bit has to change from zero to one. If the twos bit lagged a little, both outputs might be zero for a split second, telling the multiplexer to go to the wrong input. Such glitches can be filtered out, which is what I did in the first design. But in the second design I decided to try a different counting scheme, where only one counting bit would change at any one time. This should make counting glitches impossible (it does). But it means the count is no longer in number sequence. In other words to do this with a 4-count pattern, you have to use the pattern 0-2-3-1 (or 0-1-3-2) to get a glitchless count. This different sequence is not a problem when using a multiplexer, though it is more confusing to design if you are used to using ripple counters that count 0-1-2-3 (etc.).

I looked at the waveforms associated with this kind of counting, and they were just two square waves offset by one count. I found a PDF online that describes how to implement this kind of counter. It’s called a “quadrature” counter, and it’s pretty simple to do. Getting a similar sequence of 8 is a little more tricky, but basically just interleaves a quadrature signal with a square wave. I built my second system this way and it works fine (though I had to scratch my head a bit to get the input sequence right, as it is sensitive to the place value given to the various counting signals).

quadrature waveform illustration

A four-count pattern implemented using a quadrature counter.

What form should the data take?

So I now have a hardware system that can be used with either 2 TIA-485 signals over quite long distances (if the cables are made well) or with 4 RS-232 signals (but not the RS-232 encoding system). The RS-232 version is much easier to build, but does have distance and speed limitations compared to the TIA-485 system.

The original intention of the system was to enable transmission of 8-bit-wide signals that would be used to control an array of LEDs. But it could also be used to transmit serial control streams of any bit length. This means a wide variety of displays could be controlled, as long as they didn’t have to change at a very fast rate. In other words, we’re not talking about full-motion video, like TV, but that’s not the sort of display I’m working with. My average display contains less than 100 LEDs, while a modern TV screen contains millions.

I have also tried transmitting analog data using digital serial techniques by using pulse-width encoding, which is very simple to implement in hardware. This gives me the option of using digital data transmission instead of long analog signal lines. This may come in handy in some of my projects.

To the Stars

13 October 2017

In 1950 L. Ron Hubbard wrote a short novel for John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction entitled “To the Stars.”

The story was in the Space Opera genre and concerned the exploits of the spaceship Hound of Heaven which was rigged to travel near light speeds. For every hop the crew made around the universe, the people on the ground aged 100 years or more, leading to some very difficult circumstances.

In 2004 there was an attempt to turn the story into a film. The book was re-released (first released as a book in 1954) and Chic Corea recorded an album of the same name with some very kick-ass (and difficult to play) music on it.

“To the Stars” is a well-used phrase in the world today, but this article concerns the newest appearance of the term that I am aware of. Here is a screenshot of the new website related to this development:

to the stars home page

Tom DeLonge is a rock musician and UFO researcher born in California about 41 years ago.

He had considerable success with his band Blink-182 but by 2015 had become preoccupied with his other work and left the band. He released an album entitled To the Stars shortly thereafter. He also formed an independent publishing company of the same name.

Two days ago, DeLonge recorded and released a video announcing his latest venture: To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science. This venture is incorporated as a Public Benefit Corporation. It is for-profit but committed to serving the public good.

The venture’s mission, as stated on its website is:

To The Stars Academy strives to be a powerful vehicle for change by creating a consortium among science, aerospace and entertainment that will work collectively to allow gifted researchers the freedom to explore exotic science and technologies with the infrastructure and resources to rapidly transition them to products that can change the world.

They are focusing on science, aerospace and entertainment.
Subjects to be researched include: consciousness, telepathy and Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. They want to independently develop an “electrogravitic” propulsion system. And they want to produce feature films, as well as many other media forms.

The core group of this venture is comprised of:

  • Tom DeLonge, President.
  • Jim Semivan, VP Operations. Jim is retired CIA.
  • Hal Puthoff, VP Science and Technology. Hal is a laser scientist who was involved in Remote Viewing research in the 1970s.
  • Steve Justice, Director Aerospace Division. Steve worked at Lockheed’s Skunk Works for 31 years.
  • Luis Elizondo, Director of Global Security and Special Programs. Luis is a former U.S. intelligence officer. He was trained in microbiology and related fields and holds several patents.
  • Chris Mellon, National Security Affairs Advisor. Mr. Mellon has a varied government and private background including intelligence work and investing. He did his MA at Yale.

Consultants include: Dr. Garry Nolan, Genetics Technology; Dr. Paul Rapp, Brain Function and Consciousness; Dr. Norm Kahn, National Security and Program Management; Dr. Colm Kelleher, Biotechnologies; Dr. Adele Gilpin, Biomedicine and Law (licensed attorney).

Highlights of the 11 October video include:

In Mr. Mellon’s opening remarks, he told the story of a 2004 (14 November) encounter that the USS Nimitz had with a UFO. Our planes were unable to follow this craft. It did not communicate with the ship in any way, but was simply visible in the sky (and on radar) for some time.

Luis Elizondo remarked:

…by far the most interesting effort I was involved with was the topic of advanced aerial threats. For nearly the last decade, I ran a sensitive aerospace threat identification program focusing on unidentified aerial technologies. It was in this position I learned that the phenomenon is indeed real.

…We are also planning to provide never before released footage from real U.S. government systems, not blurry amateur photos but real data and real videos. And we’re inviting our government colleagues and friends in Defense to participate regularly with their own findings.

Steve Justice announced:

…one of the things I want to do is figure out what those technologies are in this observed vehicle and I want to build that.

I think this is a remarkable development in this whole field. It may seem limited to some, but they are obviously trying to creat something that will work with the general public, not just a few UFO nuts.

Friday the 13th

On this date in 1307 the king of France had hundreds of Knights Templar arrested, and later killed many of them and disbanded their organization in France. He had borrowed heavily from them and could not repay the loans. Here is an example of a senior government official – unable or unwilling to properly govern – committing crimes simply to protect his position and his own interests. That king died only 7 years later, at the age of 46.

That he acted on Friday the 13th may have been an attempt to lend supernatural legitimacy to his crime. However, the idea that Fridays that occur on the 13th day of the month are unlucky is not mentioned in any contemporaneous literature (per those who study such things). The thought does not seem to appear in literature until the late 1800s, a period during which many Europeans were reacquainting themselves with the original Asian origins of many of the world’s religious and spiritual systems of thought.