Archive for the ‘Life Force Learning Center’ Category

Patterns caused by different frequencies

21 January 2018

interference pattern
The above photo (which I have colorized and cropped) from Wikimedia Commons illustrates how two similar wave patterns can interfere with each other.

I have been working with this basic phenomenon as a possible way to create interesting patterns in LED displays that could be configured to interact with the environment.

My simpler prototype uses 12 yellow LEDs in a circle. The illustrations below show them in rows. This made it much easier to draw the illustrations.

Two Signals

The basic idea is to compare two different signals in a way that is interesting.

This design uses voltage-controlled oscillators to create a pair of square waves.

Each wave is then applied to a circuit that turns it into a repeating pattern with twelve parts. The corresponding outputs are then compared, and an LED is turned on or off depending on the result of that comparison.

The comparison logic I used for my first prototype turns the LEDs on only when both outputs being compared are “on” (about +5 volts in this case). There are other types of logic possible. This particular one gives the lowest current usage from the power supply.

So there are 12 LEDs, and each LED can only be on for one-twelfth of the time it takes for the pattern to repeat. But they will all fully light during their time slot only if the two signals being compared are exactly the same.

Otherwise, the LEDs will turn on and off in a pattern based on how different the two signals are. Here I have illustrated a few possible patterns. The yellow strip is the “reference” frequency, and the light blue strip is the other frequency. The lime green bands depict which LEDs will turn on, and for how long, based on my chosen comparison logic.

If the two signals are close but not exactly the same, the circle of LEDs will dim and brighten as the signals slowly go in and out of alignment. This is similar to how two musical notes that are close to each other will “beat” (get louder and softer).

two similar frequencies

If the two signals are a lot different, but related mathematically, they will produce a pattern of light and dark in the display.

As it is almost impossible to adjust the two oscillators to exact frequency multiples, the actual result is a fast or slow rotation of the pattern, depending on how far off they are.

Oddly, a 3 times difference in frequency produces a 2-node pattern.

frequencies different by factor of three

And a 4 times difference in frequency produces a 3-node pattern.

frequencies different by factor of four

Here is an image of my prototype – doctored to remove most of the distracting details of wiring and so forth on the circuit boards – showing a 3-node pattern that is slowly rotating. Here, three LEDs are much brighter, and three others are just beginning to turn on as the pattern slowly rotates.

3 nodes in circle

Three node pattern with LEDs in a circle.

Other Designs

I also made a display that uses my “signature” pattern of 8 concentric circles, starting with one having only three LEDs in it, and ending with one that has ten LEDs. This is a more interesting display to watch, but the results are more difficult to interpret. It is also more difficult to make. So I will likely continue to work with simpler designs as I develop this idea.

Software

These designs don’t use any software; totally hard-wired, as they say. My experience with software that runs on controllers that I can afford is that it doesn’t run fast enough to provide a smooth display that doesn’t blink. So, though I plan to use controllers in some of these designs, I prefer designs where they are not needed and we are dealing totally with the real-time interactions of signals.

Advertisements

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 lose 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!

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.

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.

Electronics Design Case Study – ADSR

23 September 2017

ADSR module homemade

This is a technical article and if you have no particular interest in electronics design feel free to skip it. It will get into some terminology that won’t all be explained in the text…

Music Synthesis

My interest in synthesizers goes back to my early days studying electronics. I always wanted to make my own synth.

But by 1983, MIDI had come out, and I was in the Sea Org.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Musical instruments were an early target for embedded controllers (software-controlled electronic circuits) for many reasons. This ended (mostly) the era when synthesizers were controlled by analog (continuous) signals. Voltage sources were terrible when it came to keeping all the electronic instruments in an ensemble in tune with each other. So tuning was an obvious feature to turn over to the digital world, where crystal-controlled oscillators could stabilize pitch to within a few parts in a million.

The advent of digital signal processing meant things like voltage-controlled filters and unusual effects like ring modulation could be implemented with algorithms instead of hardware.

Voltage-controlled amplitude, however, is so straightforward in the hardware realm that it remains somewhat popular. A basic part of synthesizing a real-world note or sound is approximating its amplitude envelope. This envelope has long been analyzed by acoustics engineers into four parts: Attack; Decay; Sustain and Release. If you play a note on a stringed instrument you can easily see each of these parts in action. How hard and fast you hit (or pluck) the string determines the initial attack and to some extent how that attack decays. Then if you don’t damp the string it will continue to ring until it is damped or played over. This is sustain. And when it is damped, the sound will die out, which is the release phase.

There are many many possible ways to imitate this amplitude envelope with electronics. The most common methods use parts that I had run out of (1 Meg-ohm potentiometers) so I decided to try an alternative design of my own creation.

Design Requirements

Most traditional ADSRs take a “gate” signal from a keyboard which tells the electronics how long the key is being held down (“note on” in MIDI). My electronic art projects use sensors, not keyboards, so I couldn’t rely on a gate signal to determine how much sustain the sound would have. I also kind of wanted a circuit that could be adapted so that each part of the envelope could be controlled by a separate sensor. That means it couldn’t just use pots, like the super-simple designs do. I also wanted to try straight-line segments rather than the traditional curved segments you get using just resistors and capacitors, even though this is less “realistic” for decay slopes.

I had a front panel I was reusing from an earlier project, and originally loaded it with just three pots – all that seemed to fit – which is two less than you need to control the five main parameters of the envelope. But I thought I could skip setting a sustain level, and use one pot to control both decay and release slopes. This panel had to fit into a eurorack-style chassis I had put together earlier, with power coming in the front.

The unit was also to include the voltage-controlled amplifiers, using an IC I had never worked with before.

First Try

I decided to use an op amp integrator at the core of the design, as it would give straight-line slopes and could be dependably controlled. However, I wasn’t sure how to set up my 100K pots to imitate a wider range of resistance. I used three comparators and a couple of flip-flops to detect voltage levels and turn the various slopes on and off.

Mounted at the bottom of the front panel was a backplane board that has become standard in most of my designs. Circuit boards then plug into this backplane, which ideally handles all the interconnects. Front panel parts that could not be mounted directly on the backplane board would be wired down to the backplane using jumpers.

I made the envelope generator board first and then the VCA board. The VCA datasheet was confusing at first, but by wiring an actual circuit I was able to figure out what was going on. This VCA could accept a wide range of control voltages (0 to 30 roughly), but they were referenced to the negative voltage rail! So I needed both an amplifier and offset for my envelope, as it would go from 0 to 5V only, my standard range for control voltages. I realized at this point that I would need a sound source to test this with, and it would also be nice to monitor the envelope waveform on an analog meter. I then spent about a day creating an oscillator and a meter for these purposes.

An incomplete design with too many questions about “will it work this way?” resulted in my running out of room on my envelope module. To solve this I piggybacked an extra module onto the main one. I got some sort of envelope out of this design, but the pots worked only over an extremely narrow range of their total rotation. I had to decide whether to stick with these pots and basic design, or start over.

Second Try

I looked around at what my alternatives were. I had a nice set of six quite small 5K pots from an old piece of audio equipment. They would all fit into the panel if I drilled new holes for them. So I decided to go for it. Five of these pots went onto a new backplane board. I modified this board to hold circuitry and figured the majority of my new design would fit on this board, with the rest put on a new plug-in module on the original backplane.

Now that I was beginning to recognize that this was a challenging project, I went to a build a section and test it approach to my work. 5K pots could only yield 1:100 output variations (comparable to using a 1Meg pot in series with a 10K resistor) by using the turn-on “knee” of transistors to stretch out the transfer curve. I have used this before so didn’t bother to work it out in complete detail, or plot the curves graphically, but below gives you a graphical idea of what I’m referring to:

transistor turn-on graph

Using a curve found on the internet, note that a 0.1 change in input voltage produces a ten-fold change in output current. Extend this input range a little more and you can squeeze out a 1:100 input/output ratio, or even more.

I built my current sources and sinks using discrete transistors. This gives worse consistency and stability than using matched pairs or some specialized IC, but usable for my purposes. I built one and tested it. I gave me a range of 50 to roughly 1500 microamps. This was good enough. I put the rest on the board, then added a dual timer (LM556) and some inverters and connected it up to run continuously (astable mode). I powered up and checked with my oscilloscope. This part of the design worked fine. The timers have two comparators and a flip-flop inside each of them, so this decreased my parts count.

I thought that I could get the timers to stop after just one cycle using some sort of edge detection scheme. But it didn’t work. I was using two timers so that the attack-decay and sustain-release cycles were separate and could be put in sequence. But my difficulties in making the circuit cycle just once and stop caused me to rethink this approach.

The next day I rewired the timers for one-shot (monostable mode) operation. Now the timers could be triggered by my sensor, fire – producing the envelope waveforms – and would then stop, waiting for a new trigger. I used two control flip-flops with NAND gates (CD4093B) to lock out new trigger signals until the current envelope had finished. I really needed only one flip-flop, but the package (CD4013B) has two in it, so I used one for each of the timers.

Next I had to get all the analog levels of the envelope right. I put this circuitry on the new module board. I only needed 8 wires to connect the new envelope module to this analog module. It has six opamps and a comparator. The comparator detects when the envelope signal goes to zero, and resets the flip-flops so they can allow in another trigger signal. This circuit wasn’t working at first. What was wrong? The envelope waveforms were only going down to 0.5 volts, not to ground. I had the comparator set below this, so it was never firing. I was powering my envelope generator with only ground and +12V. The current sinks (set up as mirrors for my current sources) could only pull the load capacitors down to 1/2 a volt. I compensated for this by adding some offset to my summing opamp. I set the output to go a little below ground so the comparator would for sure fire. I had to find a missing wire on the envelope board before I got the unit totally working. It’s not perfect, but it now works as it was designed to work, and will serve it purpose in helping me develop electronic art that uses sounds.

American River Parkway Introduction

7 September 2017
american river parkway map

Parkway on-site map

The American River is the waterway that flows down from California gold country and joins the Sacramento River at Sacramento.

Due to the fact that flood protection is necessary in these areas, levees have been erected on both sides of the American River. I would guess they are maybe 25 feet high. Anyway, on the river side of the levees you just can’t have houses (not normal ones, anyway) so it is all parkland. There are paved bike trails that extend from the Sacramento River up to Folsom.

I have been spending a lot of time on a particular section of this bike way, as it is on the way to downtown, which I visit often. I get on at Watt Ave, and exit to the north and east at Fair Oaks Blvd. Between Watt and Howe – the next big street before Fair Oaks – is an old oak grove that the trail goes through.

parkway grove evening

Oak grove illuminated by the evening sun.

At first for me this was just a picturesque spot. Then one morning at about 11AM, two deer (bucks with three-point antlers) showed up along the trail, nibbling on underbrush. Later that day I saw them again. The next day I saw a doe with one of them, as well as three turkey hens at another spot. This got me more interested.

These were very tame “wild” animals. Humans don’t bother them that much. A lot of squirrels are the same way. The turkey may even be escapees from a domestic flock. But the point was that these animals were showing up in what otherwise is considered a very urban area.

deer buck

Buck wanders through his temporary home.

I can only guess that the hot weather extending out for many weeks has been pushing some animals towards waterways, and a few ended up in the parkway. So I started looking at this section of the park more closely, as it seemed to be providing adequate shelter for these larger animals as well as countless other smaller ones. I spent most of my time on the north side of the river, where I spotted the deer.

elderberries

Elderberries are seen everywhere along this trail.

The land itself in this area is of some interest. On the north side of the bike trail, undergrowth consists mostly of dry grasses, not counting small trees like elderberry. Something on that side is preventing other plants from taking over there. On the levee itself the grass is being mowed, but not down here. Maybe the soil is just very poor.

forest understory

River-side forest and understory.

On the other side of the trail, the land is “foresting out” as I call it. The grasses that dry as the summer progresses are being replaced by plants that are staying green. It is more or less obvious that the soil is more moist there. Tree cover, presence of mulch and its thickness, understory plants, as well as the structure of the soil layers themselves all contribute to soil water content.

forest floor mulch

Forest floor mulch; this found right by the trail.

In any case, plant diversity and greenness increase as one gets closer to the water, but seeing it so starkly just across the width of a bike trail was a bit unusual for me. Seeing rushes growing is evidence of much wetter soil. I noticed these in only a few places.

parway rushes by trail

Rushes indicate a spot with wetter soil.

The area is also undergoing a “second flowering” at this time (early September) which sometimes happens when the weather has been a bit unusual, and seems to be up to individual plants or even individual buds. I saw a huge lily plant reflowering, plus some of the elderberries – which I know of as spring-only bloomers – and possibly some of the asters, which are known as late summer bloomers (think sunflowers), but I was seeing evidence on some of them for one bloom cycle already done this year.

asters in a field

Aster family plants grow tall in this field; very sun-tolerant.

There are a few other plants in this area that are persistent bloomers, such as the Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) and a few others with very good heat tolerance. Jimsonweed is native to Mexico and is dangerously toxic, though has been used for a long time for medicinal purposes. It is related to tobacco, nightshade, tomatoes and potatoes.

jimsonweed flower

A jimsonweed flower beginning to wilt.

Sharing the canopy with the oaks in this region are the walnuts. California black walnuts are native in this area, but do not produce nuts as edible as the cultivated English walnut. I have also seen some cottonwoods, but not many sycamores, which are widely planted along the streets and in parks.

walnuts fruit and nut

Walnuts look like fruit; the nut is inside the husk.

There are also areas of the park “infested” by grape vines. The grapes seem to the casual observer to be a problem, as they grow over and seem to smother other plants and trees. But ecologists are hesitant to control them as a weed, because they do produce food for the animals. Humans could eat these grapes, too (I tried one), but I don’t think many do.

grapes

Grapes hide under the shade of their leaves.

blackberries

Blackberries dry out quickly in the summer heat.

peas drying in the sun

The weather is too hot and dry for these peas; they bloomed in the spring.

Blackberries are also widely seen in open areas and in the understory, and I even saw some pea vines which came from goodness knows where. So animals that venture here can be quite well fed. I have managed to photograph some of them.

turkey hens

These turkeys seem happy here.

rabbit

I found this rabbit further up the trail.

quail

Quail are more skittish than some of the other animals, so a bit harder to photograph.

rose hips

We know rose hips as a source of vitamin C. I have not seen them eaten much by animals, though.

Though this section of the parkway is an important commute route for me (and for many others), it has also developed into quite a rich habitat that supports a lot of different life forms.

I discover Permaculture

14 August 2017

It all started with this guy…

David Bellamy 2005

David Bellamy, 2005, by Begaoz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61342374


British botanist and educator David Bellamy created an educational TV series “Bellamy on Botany” that I watched on Canadian public television while I was in high school. The point I remembered most about it was how Spain had been overgrazed, which eventually deprived it of tree cover and totally changed its climate and local ecosystems.
Bellamy was just using Spain as an example. This same thing has happened, and is happening, throughout the world. This is sometimes called “desertification.” Though it is more than unlikely that all deserts here on Earth were caused by overgrazing, when you let cattle or sheep graze through a forest, or burn down the forest (as has been done in Brazil) to create grazing land, then you have, at minimum, lost a forest with everything that goes with it.

Thus I became interested in attempts to reforest land of all types, and hoped I could some day try my hand at it.

California

Here in California, there has been a water supply problem for a long time.

In the north, damming of local rivers has provided the more regulated flow needed by modern agriculture, southern California had to reach out of state many years ago to supply its water needs. All across the state, ground water is also used. Though there are many reasons that water supplies can vary from year to year, amount of precipitation is the most obvious. And in Sacramento in the summer, that can get very obvious, as it might not rain at all for two months or more. So every year there is a mini-drought during the summer, and in recent years there has been an overall drought of some magnitude. As a result, residents are asked to conserve water, and have been whenever I have lived here. One way to do this is to plant a drought-resistant garden. We also had a water problem in Pullman, so I have been interested in how one goes about replacing an ordinary lawn with low-water plants. And now I have had a chance to look into this more, and that led me to the subject of permaculture.

Permaculture

Permaculture is a coined word invented by Bill Mollison, an Australian from Tasmania, who in his mid-life studied “bio-geography” at the University of Tasmania. He was nearly 40 and being a university student at about the same time I was being a high school student. The ecology movement was gaining steam at that time. Ecology had been an academic subject since the early 1900s, but turned into a political movement in the mid-1900s as it became more clear that some of our human enterprises were making very poor environmental decisions.

During the 1970s Mollison worked with a graduate student to develop an engineering approach to environmental design which involved water systems, agriculture, architecture and social development which they called “permaculture” in the sense that the systems so designed were meant to be permanent; what is now known as sustainable. This goal was based (roughly) on the premise that if natural systems can survive for thousands of years, then human systems should be able to, too. He believed in taking his lessons from those natural systems and implementing them in his designs. He fostered a whole movement by offering a “Permaculture Design Course” which would result in someone certified to practice or teach permaculture. By this time nearly half a million people have been so certified.

One such certificate holder is Geoff Lawton.

Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton, by Bonnie Freibergs – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47278739

Geoff is almost exactly my age. He’s a Brit who moved to Australia and took up permaculture as his mode of life and his creed. Geoff has crafted many videos – many relatively short – often produced by quite excellent videographers, which communicate his knowledge and excitement regarding this subject.

Oddly, for one of his videos he visited Davis, not too far from here, where a development (Village Homes) using permaculture practices has existed for about 30 years (construction started in 1975). Though this is an upscale subdivision in a university town, the basic fact remains that it grows an incredible amount of food that is available to residents almost year-round, and is a very shady, livable space. Other neighborhoods or communities could follow the design practices used to create Village Homes. And I was very interested in these practices because they are much more sustainable than conventional suburban design, and they create food and shade, as forests do.

Lawton has traveled all over the world spreading his permaculture philosophy and doing consulting work. He has worked in the Middle East and in India, two of the most ancient human areas on the globe, and both desperately in need of more sustainable practices. Unfortunately, current culture and big business agendas favor a restricted-access approach to this technology. Current culture does not expect life on earth to be permanent, and certain big businesses don’t plan for – or even particularly want – a sustainable Earth. Those groups seem to favor the “rape and pillage” approach to planetary life, and apparently are preparing – even as this is being written – to find some new planet to take advantage of once this one has been worn out.

Personally, though, I would very much prefer to leave behind at least a piece of ground – if not an entire planet – that keeps on giving long after I have left.

Links to Scientology Official Sites

23 April 2017

I give you this comment from “José” as a brief post to provide you with good links to vital information:

Hello and thank you for the information.

I would suggest that, if you are going to mention isolated pieces of information from Scientology to the general public, please refer your public to the source materials where they can find the information in sequence with examples, to avoid causing misunderstandings to people that never heard the subject of Scientology.

1.- Please, always refer first to What is Scientology, here the official link:
http://www.scientology.org/what-is-scientology.html#slide7

2.- Second, the subject you are mentioning in your respective blog entry, in this case the Tone Scale, in my opinion this is a good entry point:
http://www.scientologyhandbook.org/tone-scale/sh4_1.htm

3.- Please use references to the Scientology Manual which it is a good introduction to Scientology fundamentals for daily use in every part of life.
http://www.scientologyhandbook.org/

Best regards
José

My favorite site, which I should probably include a link to in every post I make, is the Volunteer Ministers training pages: http://www.volunteerministers.org/training.html

…starting to come together…

1 November 2015
interactive art rack

Equipment rack for interactive art projects.

The idea of making interactive art didn’t occur to me until rather recently. I got into electronics via audio – amplifiers and the like – and then started getting interested in music synthesis. Later I got into measurements, digital control, and computers.

During my Sea Org years I realized that not many people knew about basic electricity and electronics, yet Hubbard was using examples from those subjects in his books and lectures. So that gave me the idea of a learning lab centered around electronics. The Exploratorium in San Francisco is an example of an interactive learning environment. I wanted to do something like that at home.

It was not until 2009, when I had a lot of time on my hands but not much cash, that I started buying used gadgets at Goodwill and re-purposing them at my workbench. It was at this point that I started working on interactive “art” designs – possibly inspired by Halloween.

Making interactive art installations using electronics is certainly not an original idea with me. There are lots of examples out there, from merely cute to ponderously imposing. I was thinking in terms of something someone might have in a room at home, that would sort of “wake up” and start doing things when people came in. The development of such a system, though, was a lot more involved than I originally imagined. I still don’t have a fully interactive “dream” system up and running. But I have lots of pieces of one, and I needed a way to tie them all together.

The numbers of inputs and outputs that would probably be needed to develop such a system was difficult for me to confront. I imagined something like the old MOOG synthesizers – a mass of patch cables. But nothing seemed to come together until I purchased a used Extron video switching system for the aluminum enclosure, and found out what the back panel looked like. More signal connectors on one panel than I’d ever seen before! Finally I started working on a couple such panels to modify them to do what I thought I would need. It was not the easiest project I’ve ever attempted, but it’s beginning to be actually usable.

Technical details

I have chosen the 19-inch rack-mount form factor for my work. It is the most widely-used mounting system for professional equipment. The average rack cabinet, however, is designed for enclosures that are rather deep (more than a foot), while the things I am making are quite shallow (less than 1/2 a foot). But moving beyond the 19-inch equipment rack is another project.

Let’s go through the equipment in the top photo:
1) A row of four voltage-controlled fans, inspired by a TED Talk I saw of a guy who did some amazing things with remote-controlled fans.
2) Example of a piece of used equipment, not yet re-purposed.
3) A system for developing Arduino projects, made from a used enclosure, of course.
4) My matrix of connectors, used to route various control signals to displays or similar devices. You can see that this isn’t finished yet; none of the controls have knobs!

So far I only have a few displays and sensors to experiment with. But several others are just waiting to be finished.

Audio in or audio out?

In another part of the room, my audio rack has been newly re-assembled.

While my interactive art focuses on sound and motion as inputs and light patterns as outputs, on this rack the output is sound. That means it includes two speakers and a stereo amp, effects to be applied to sound inputs, and the beginnings of a synthesizer. Also included is my latest version of my “LED oscilloscope” and tone generator.

audio rack

Equipment rack for audio projects.

Everything is made from used gear re-purposed for what I want it to do. And all these projects are in a constant state of re-development. I keep older gear until I find or make something better to replace it with. The older stuff gets trashed or re-used inside newer projects.

Organize or perish!

The decision to organize better did not come easily. Organizing and rebuilding old equipment takes time, so I can only do so much of it. But it is a rock-solid basic ingredient to making any activity viable. So I’ve been pushing it forward, and wanted to document the current scene.

A Tale of Two Towers

19 April 2015

No, it’s not another 9/11 exposé. For my favorite on that subject see Courtney Brown’s website.

This is a little long-delayed article on making electronic equipment for a hobbyist workbench.

Here’s a view of my two towers:

the two towers on my workbench

Inception

I have designed and built a lot of test equipment for my hobby. I still do.

But a lot of it I end up hardly ever using, or using just once. I had a need. I built something to fill the need. It filled the need. And the need never returned. Or so it seemed.

But some needs kept coming up. A quick source of power. Need to measure a voltage. Need to measure a current, or a resistor, capacitor, sometimes even inductor. I had created a lot of different solutions for these basic needs and usually put them in some sort of horizontal enclosure. This was the standard approach. However, if I put the thing close to me so I could use it, it blocked access to the rest of the bench. And if I put it further away, I never used it, opting instead for something portable that I could put on the bench temporarily then put back somewhere else.

So one day (a year ago?…hard to say when for sure) I got the idea of trying a vertical arrangement. Maybe this was the compromise design that would keep the tools I needed the most close at hand without blocking my access to the rest of the bench.

I started on Tower One. I had a piece of plastic I was going to use for some sort of rack-mount project (19 inches wide) so I just turned it on its end and made a cabinet out of it.

tower one

Tower One

I wanted all the stuff I had put in past designs in this one. A bunch of power supplies, including a variable one. At least one meter. A selectable voltage divider and a bunch of current shunt resistors. And a signal generator. And since I was getting into Arduino, the signal generator would run on software.

I also wanted to include a “patch bay” that I could use to change cable connector types, as this was a constant problem.

And I came up with something.

It worked pretty well.

But after sitting on my bench for six months or so, it was obvious there were parts of it I hardly ever used. The minus supplies were one thing, but didn’t matter that much, as they didn’t take up that much space. The whole top section was not being used, either. The other parts were being used a good deal, but I wished I could monitor voltages and currents easier.

So I decided to build Tower Two.

tower two

Tower Two

I wanted to make this tower half the height of the other. I had a hard time finding a good enclosure, but finally decided to take the front panel of a rack-mount enclosure that I didn’t want and cut it in half. I used both halves, with a hinge between them. One half had the power supplies in it and the other half the rest of the electronics. I expanded my Arduino application to monitor 4 power supply outputs at the same time.

(I didn’t photograph the towers with the displays on because I thought they would just glare and look bad.)

I had to find a little stand to sit this on to get it up to near eye level, and settled on an old plastic speaker cabinet that was the perfect fit.

I simplified the “patch bay” to a few most essential connectors.

Result: I use the new patch bay all the time, but for some reason prefer the power supplies in the other tower. That’s probably because my current metering didn’t work out very well in the new tower.

I still use other tools quite often, including a little Radio Shack multimeter that I modified to work off an AC adapter, and a cute capacitor meter that I found online and installed in a rack-mount enclosure that sits to one side. This capacitor meter is very cool, as I often want to know cap values with more precision than they are marked – or can’t read the markings.

The Bench

This is probably the most productive bench I have ever used.

The Radio Shack temperature-controlled soldering iron is really nice, I have all my hand tools pretty well organized, and I don’t try to make it double as a table to eat at, as I used to with past workbenches in other apartments.

Yet the look of it is not yet that great, wouldn’t you agree? It still looks pretty messy.

Order is defined as a condition in which everything is in its proper place and performs its proper function.
– LRH
HCOPL 14 Feb 1980 Order Versus Disorder

So maybe I don’t totally have order in on my workbench yet. But at least I have some good guidance on what to do about it.

my workbench

Part of my workbench in a unusually cleaned-up state.