Tag Archive for 'Off-topic'

Closing a time loop

Many, many years ago when I was a teenage geek, I was green with envy at the Coil Winding Calculator that an older friend had access to in his university lab. It was an extremely useful device – a cardboard slide chart that allowed you to compute the parameters for winding a coil of a given inductance (trust me, when you homebrew your own ham radio gear, that’s something you really need to do).

So, I went and reverse engineered the thing and cloned it with a Xerox copier and some cardboard and glue. I ended up with a device that was far uglier (in those days copier technology was still pretty poor) but it worked just like the original. It served me for years, then went into my computing device collection. Over the years I forgot the original completely, to the point that I had no idea what color it had been before I recreated it in smudged gray…

So a few weeks ago I had a stroke of serendipity when I ran into the “Allied RF Resonance and Coil Winding Calculator” in the Vintage Instruments online store of Dick Rose – it was the same device! Dick shipped it over, and now I remember: it was indeed orange in color. So now I have the two devices in my collection, side by side; and here you can see them in the photo. Not that I wind any coils these days (though I’m still a happy geek), but it’s nice  to close a loop across the decades and finally have the original device I so coveted back then…

Allied Coil Winding Calculator slide charts

For the full story on the Xeroxed calculator, see here.


Chimney sighting

Here is a striking photo I snapped in Tubingen, in southern Germany, showing a building with a tile roof… bearing a weird pattern:

Building with chimney in Tubingen

Chimney in Tubingen
The cause of the red circle on the roof is unmistakable, the air flows around the chimney… but it is the opposite of what you’d expect, and the details are a bit unclear (considering the darker soot circle around the cleared out area). If you care to speculate, do it in the comments!

The fading memory of arithmetic

Isaac Asimov once wrote a SciFi story named The feeling of Power, in which a future age has become so accustomed to computers that the rediscovery of how to calculate sums with pencil and paper – or in one’s head – is considered a major breakthrough.

That age may be nearer than we think. Recently we went shopping and were told by a pleasant young salesgirl that we’ll get a 10% discount on an item listed at 360 NIS. I figured the final price in my head, while the girl whipped out a rather large desktop calculator and proceeded to pound its keys, displaying the result a few seconds after I’d finished. Not that I claim any arithmetical prowess: it wasn’t like I had to figure 83.45% of 382.44 NIS. Taking 36 from 360 is no big deal.

But I was curious, so I asked the young woman whether she could have figured the result without the calculator; and she admitted she couldn’t have. She didn’t seem embarrassed about it; she sounded as if I’d asked whether she could read cuneiform script, or design a spaceship. Of course she couldn’t; that’s what calculators were for, after all…

Chained skeleton

Was filling up the car at a gas station when I noticed a bicycle chained to a signpost at the corner. Well, part of a bicycle…

Chained Bike Skeleton

As you see, this bike has been there for a long time (enough to develop serious rust), and in the meantime it lost wheels, seat, handlebars and more. Only a bare skeleton remained, as if the bike had been dropped into a river of mechanical Piranhas.

So what? So it suddenly reminded me of the image of a human skeleton chained to a wall, a literary device used all too often in the pulp horror fiction of my childhood, in more recent action movies, and even in some respectable literature. The poor bike had lost all its removable organs, but the predators that did this never bothered to unchain it from the signpost…

Tesseract – an action comic for the ultimate geek

Tesseract Comic panelNew on my Possibly Interesting site: a weird superhero comic spoof that I drew when I was studying Mathematics in College. It follows closely the style of 60’s Superman comics, but it takes place entirely in the domain of geometrical figures (and no, at that time I hadn’t yet read Abbott’s Flatland). Lost for years, it had surfaced in a drawer of old stuff, and I figured I might as well share it: if you, too, were a comics fan, and a geek to boot, you may enjoy this.

You can get the single episode ever drawn here, and you can read a bit of background here.

FameLab again!

Last year I posted about FameLab, the science communication competition organized by the British Council in the Jerusalem Science Museum. Well, here it comes again, and today I’m a judge again. Like before, we get treated to a group of fine young students presenting diverse scientific subjects in only 3 (yes, three!) minutes each. Fascinating!

I also learned an interesting thing: the British Council is working hard to empower the winners to propagate science knowledge. Not only do they receive presentation skills training, they also get to attend international get together where winners from diverse countries meet face to face to exchange views, learn from each other, and figure ways to promote Science education. This is really a wonderful program!

Web site redesign!

My loyal readers know that in addition to this blog I maintain Nathan’s Possibly Interesting Web Site, where I share my history of computing collection, software, and various articles. I built it some years ago as a personal web site, and am happy to have it as just that.

However, now that I am starting into my new career, I faced a problem – you can’t talk business to people and when they Google you they reach a collection of slide rules! I needed a site devoted to my areas of professional expertise and service offerings. So I wrote one. As of this week http://www.nzeldes.com is the professional site, and the Possibly Interesting site links off of it under “Personal site”, or you can bookmark it if you wish at http://www.nzeldes.com/possiblyinteresting.htm. I have every intent to keep it alive and growing at its usual steady rate of one page a month.

You’re also welcome to send in feedback on the new site’s design and content via its contact page; this is a first revision, and will be developed as things progress.

Blast from the Past

Today I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the Computing and Communications museum of the Israel Electric Company. The IEC has been around for almost a century and has kept pace with computing advances since its early days; curator Dlila Shapira did a great job rounding up some lovely vintage pieces from the “big iron” era and later.

No less interesting than the equipment on display were the speeches of some veteran managers of the computing division. One gentleman told us how when he first arrived on board as a programmer his first task was to glue shut holes that had been punched in error onto punched cards; a bottle of the liquid used was on display, and here it is.

Punched Cards and correction fluid

Also on display were storage devices of yesteryear. In the photo below you see a removable hard disk pack from a Prime computer system of the 1980’s; the dozen 12-inch platters together hold 300MB. For comparison, you see on the glass case another removabe storage unit, namely a 2.0 GB – 2000MB – Disk-on-key from today. We’ve come a long way…

300MB Disk Pack from the 80's

New year, new freedom!

First, wishing all readers of this blog a superb new year. May it be far better than the last one, yet worse than the one to follow it.

For my part, this year heralds a new freedom – after 26 years of doing many wonderful and innovative things at Intel, I decided it’s time to do more wonderful things elsewhere. Yesterday was my last day as an Intel employee, and today I started working for myself (the advantage being, me and my new boss are guaranteed to get along splendidly 🙂 )

So, what will I be doing? Helping organizations cope with the challenges posed by today’s intense 24×7 combination of computing, communications, information and a dispersed, overloaded, anytime-anywhere workforce; and improving the software tools involved in all this. Details TBD, but stay tuned… interesting times are ahead.

Meanwhile, and more relevant to the theme of this blog: new job, new tools! Will be blogging my opinion of them as insight materializes (and time permits).

Happy 2009, folks!

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

Had this strange deja vu at an IBM HRL seminar… I met there the CTO of PopTok, a start-up with a product that allows you to use short video clips from your favorite movies, TV shows, and music videos in your online conversations on Facebook or IM chats. So, if you wanted to express anger, you could use a short clip of King Kong throwing a tantrum; and so on. The clips provided come from well known movies that have become a part of our popular culture.

So, this immediately reminded me of the Star Trek TNG episode Darmok, one of the more memorable ones in the series IMHO. There, Captain Jean-Luc Picard has to establish communications with a humanoid alien that seems to speak in riddles, until Picard realizes that the alien’s nation can speak only through allusions to its shared folklore and mythology; so, if they want to denote the establishment of friendship after a struggle, they say “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”, referring to two ancient heroes that underwent such a process at that place; and so on. It’s a weird (and rather dubious, perhaps) linguistic practice – but then, as we used to reassure the kids when they were very young, it’s only a story… and it’s a good one.

Anyhow, expressing oneself by sending representative clips from universally known movie folklore instead of straight text seemed very similar to that alien practice…