Sports Cars

A 1961 advertisements for a Volvo P1800 featured this photo. Call it what you will, the P1800 is nimble, designed for the mountains and winters of Scandinavia, but equally appropriate in British Columbia. One is currently being restored across the bridge in Mosvik, by Arne Ivar Sundseth, the son of the original builder and first owner of Cliff Cottage. Photo: Volvo.

Automotive prejudice is not necessarily against something. Often, it is for a particular nationality, brand or model. Some people appreciate vehicles because they originate in a particular country, or have a perceived status, closely related to the price of the vehicle when new. For others, use or performance measures are more important.

In British Columbia, where I grew up, and in Norway, where I grew old, there was and is, respectively, the odd freeway/ motorway allowing one to drive in a relatively straight line, but on most roads drivers must contend with the geography of mountains and valleys, and snowy road conditions. With few exceptions, an American built car with a large V-8 engine, and a soft suspension, is ill matched to the terrain. One needs something nimble, which is the adjective I use to distinguish sports cars from other vehicles.

Until the term got overworked and degraded, GT (Grand Tourismo = Grand Touring) cars were luxury sports vehicles for the monied classes. The only one that ever made an impact on me was a French Facel Vega, massively powered with a Chrysler V-8 engine. Other vehicles in this class included the German Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gullwing, the Italian Maserati Sebring, the American Studebaker Gran Tourismo Hawk and the English Alvis TD 21.

Slightly below this were less luxurious vehicles, the Jaguar XK-E, (known as the E-type in Britain, and among hard-core North American enthusiasts), the Chevrolet Corvette, the Porsche 356, the Volvo P1800 and the Alfa Romeo Giulia.

The British dominated the mass market sports cars, which also form their own hierarchy. This writer’s subjective ranking placed the Lotus Elite (aka Type 14), and its replacement, the Lotus Elan (aka Type 26) at the top. Immediately below this was the Austin Healey 3000, with its 6-cylinder 3-litre engine. Then came a series of Triumphs which culminated in the TR-4A, closely followed by MGs, ending with the MGB.

At the bottom of the heap were the cheap sports cars, the MG Midget and its sister the Austin Healey Sprite, along with its cousin, the Triumph Spitfire. The Triumph Herald, will not be mentioned, even if a convertible version was owned by John Lennon (1940 – 1980).

While I had an affection for British vehicles, they had cantankerous engines that needed considerable attention, and almost daily adjustment. The British sports car that avoided this best was, in my rather prejudiced opinion, the Sunbeam Alpine, made by Rootes Group. This was the first Bond car, appearing in Dr. No in 1962. It was also Maxwell Smart’s vehicle in the 1960s American comedy series, Get Smart, in its V-8 Sunbeam Tiger variant.

If I were to buy a sports car today it would be as an initial step in an educational project to learn technical skills surrounding vehicle electrification. This would hopefully result in a disposal problem being transformed into a functioning electric vehicle.

The specific vehicle would have to meet at least two of three criteria. First, it should have recycling issues, which should have the added benefit of being cheap. Second, it should come either without an engine (preferred) or with a defective engine. Third, and one potential cause of the recycling issue, it should have a fibreglass body. Yes, the Saab Sonett II and the Lotus Elan are both attractive, fibreglass vehicles, but existing models with functioning engines should be preserved. If for some reason they have engine challenges, they are top candidates.

Fibreglass replica cars, much like fibreglass boats, pose a recycling challenge. Some other people may even regard them as illegitimate. Yet, sports cars have often been considered works in progress by their owners. Thus, readers are encouraged to consider adopting one, to give it new life with an electric drivetrain, and allowing it to become a beloved object, that upcoming generations will yearn to inherit, despite its obvious imperfections.

People interested in undertaking their own conversions, may want to consider purchasing a wrecked electric vehicle, such as a Nissan Leaf, Renault Zöe, or ???

Production parts from Volkswagen’s e-up! can be used with a Kassel single-speed gearbox and Brunswick battery system components. This provides old VW Beetles, and potentially other related products, with 60 kW of power. The battery system can be built into the underbody and consists of up to 14 modules, each with a capacity of 2.6 kWh, providing up to 36.8 kWh. This would give an old beetle a new total weight of about 1 280 kg, allowing an acceleration to 50 km/h in just under four seconds and to 80 km in just over eight seconds. The top speeds is 150 km/h, with a 200 km range. Unfortunately, Volkswagen has misunderstood makers, and wants customers to use conversion specialist eClassics in Renningen, near Stuttgart, Germany.

An alternative for rear engined air-cooled Volkswagens, including Karmann-Ghias, and Porsches, is Zelectric. Once again, they “build to order”, rather than allowing people to undertake the work themselves.

General Motors, however, is offering a GM eCrate kit, although there are serious issues, especially related to the battery pack. It seems to be the drivetrain from a Chevrolet Bolt, slightly repackaged. An even more accessible manufacturer is EV West, which seems to be catering to the DIY market. Note: I have not used any of these products, and cannot comment on their quality or suitability for any purpose.

Rural enterprises

Reine, Lofoten, Norway, a location overwhelmed by Norwegian tourists during the pandemic summer of 2020. (Photo: Jessica Pamp, 2019)

This is a second instalment on ruralization. It has been in development since 2020-07-14. Work on it was paused on 2020-08-11, but resumed again 2020-10-28. It reflects a state of mind de-stabilized (de-socialized?) by a pandemic during the summer of 2020.

With COVID-19 under-employing and unemploying people as well as shuttering businesses temporarily or permanently, faster than almost any time in the past century, it is time to reconsider what can be done to help people secure their well-being.

Well-being means that people will need access to potable water, nutritious food, appropriate clothing, adequate shelter, education and health care. Entertainment and cultural pursuits will also have to be included, but that does not mean supporting personalities and products promoted by an entertainment industry. Similarly, there will undoubtedly be a need for transportation, but not necessarily using cars or mass transit. Walking and cycling may be preferred. Exercise may be part of one’s commute, or a substitute for it, rather than membership in a gym. The office seems to be a casualty of the pandemic. Yet, there are conflicting opinions as to where it is dead, or just crippled.

On 2020-07-14 Ivanka Trump gave millions of recently unemployed Americans new hope, when she said, “Find something new.” So that is what is being presented here, except that it is actually hard work to find something completely new, so this weblog post will cheat, and pretend that survival/ prepping is something new.

Note: the number of unemployed in the US is difficult to ascertain. Many are trying to define out large groups of people, while others are trying to define in similarly large numbers. Danielle Echeverria writing in the San Francisco Chronicle states that the total unemployment claims filed since the beginning of the pandemic have moved up to 51 million (as of 2020-07-17), and the situation is still not optimistic since the complete reopening keeps being postponed.

Survivalism

With large countries such as USA, Brazil and the United Kingdom having failed to serve the needs of their residents, especially keeping them healthy, As this is being written, these and other countries are experiencing a second (or higher) wave of COVID-19 infections. Thus, survivialism has become a key thought in almost everyone’s mind. Part of the challenge, in some countries, has been the outsourcing of vital elements of pandemic health care, such as contact tracing, and the conflict between doing thorough work, and making a profit. Far too frequently, profits and disease transmission prevail at the expense of health and, even, economic well being.

From the Great Depression that started in 1929, through the World War II and the Cold War, people have given consideration to their survival, especially in the event of war. That all stopped in 1990, when the United States and its allies declared themselves the victors of the Cold War. This meant that the preparedness for war (which incorporates preparedness for other emergencies, including pandemics) was gradually discarded.

Many boomers experienced the Great Depression vicariously, by being a child of parents who had lived through it. They lived in homes with reserves of food and other items that were rotated, but never used up. They were there in case of an emergency. While clothing that had been outgrown would be recycled, old clothes that still fit and not worn out were seldom discarded, but saved in case they came in handy at some unspecified time in the future. This vicarious remembrance of the depression and World War II is something that distinguishes boomers from subsequent generations. Is this what has turned them into collectors (and some into savers), traits some find lacking in the younger people?

In contrast, the Cold War was something boomers (and some Gen Xers) experienced more directly. Wikipedia tells us, “The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc, after World War II. The period is generally considered to span the 1947 Truman Doctrine to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.” It was also a period when survivalism/ prepping was accepted practice at every level of society. In the thirty years since the cold war ended, preparation had become a meaningless topic, until the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. Yet, once it hit, survival has been a major focus.

Survivalism, or prepping, means different things to different people. There are a number of different categories listed by Wikipedia: Safety-preparedness with an emphasis on surviving life-threatening situations that can occur at any time and anywhere; Wilderness survival, with scenarios that include plane crashes, shipwrecks, and being lost in the woods, where concerns include thirst, hunger, climate, terrain, health, stress, and fear; Self-defense, with an emphasis on surviving violent encounters, with a need for personal protection and self-defence skills; Natural disaster – brief (typically days to months in duration), with tornados, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes or heavy snowfalls causing problems; Natural disaster – prolonged (2 – 10 years), with an emphasis on weather cycles and crop failures; Natural disaster – indefinite/ multi-generational, potentially caused by global warming or other forms of environmental degradation; Monetary disaster with concerns about the worth of paper money, and a suggestion to replace it with gold and silver; Biblical eschatology, waiting for the return of Christ; Peak-oil doomers, who have much in common with Rawlesians (followers of James Wesley Rawles) who prepare for multiple scenarios with fortified and well-equipped rural survival retreats. Their northern inter-mountain region includes Washington, Oregon and California, the entire states of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, western Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, northern Arizona and north-western New Mexico. They emphasize self-sufficiency and homesteading skills; Legal-continuity, with an emphasis on maintaining some form of legal system and social cohesion. Bio-chemical survivalism, is where the current pandemic would be classified, along with diseases occurring naturally or as part of a weapon system.

The Marmots, not the rodents, but members of a hypothetical family of humans, will be used as examples. Some call Cascadia home, others live in Cooth in eastern Canada, or in Bust Anvil, in the rust-belt in the great state of Forge, a few even live in Ginnunga Gap, where this post is being written.

Jade Marmot – the wrong approach

Jade Marmot doesn’t know much, but that has never stopped him. He carries an assortment of business cards with him, each with a different job title. The one he uses most often describes him as a publicist. He takes facts collected and analysed by other people, mixes them with his own special brand of fiction, then presents them on websites, from which he tries to sell somewhat related products or services. Several of these relate to travel, but when cases of COVID-19 started, visits to these websites declined. In response, he regarded the pandemic as a golden profit-making opportunity. He didn’t have any clear idea of what he would be able to offer. Google is the most obvious place to begin, so that, even if he fails, at least Alphabet Inc (GOOG) will be able to profit from his misadventure. That said, he used the Duckduckgo search engine with a Mozilla Firefox web browser, to find information on survivalism. This led him to the Graywolf Survival website, a typical wilderness survival website, and to its article, Prepping: 10 simple ideas on how to start.

Imagine for a moment, that someone like Jade, with approximately zero prepper experience, no military background, and limited survival skills, tried to set up an alternative website to Graywolf. Jade Marmot Survival, will not become the prepper website of choice, for the pandemic. Wilderness survival is not what most people are seeking. Sensible people who do want wilderness survival tips will stick to Graywolf, because Jade Marmot will be unable to provide the insights they need. Jade’s lack of knowledge about pandemics means that he will be unable to contribute anything of value, to help people cope with an evolving situation. Instead, he will offer them hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug with no documented positive effect on COVID-19.

Is there hope for Jade? A change of attitude can change everything, especially if that change involves a sincere willingness to be of service to others. There are no lost souls.

Honey Marmot

Honey Marmot has been a musician all of her adult life, performing live at clubs, not just in the village of Harmony, but other places near Cooth. Yet, with bars and restaurants closed, opportunities to perform ceased to exist. Unemployed, Honey started to devote more of her time to cooking, and – as spring arrived – to gardening.

She also noticed that with restaurants being closed, many people were having a hard time feeding themselves, choosing to buy junk food rather than making something nutritious.

As a musician, Honey was used to being part of a band. She did her thing, while others did theirs, and in a spirit of co-operation, the collective result was always something bigger and better than any of them could do alone. Contacting a few close friends, they were able in very short time to set up the Harmony Food Collective. It quickly evolved so that some people who had space for a garden, were able to grow crops. Others were able to use the ingredients produced to make nutritious food at a local church, producing 1 500 meals for the needy each week. Yet more people were involved in the distribution process, using an assortment of feet, bikes and cars.

Vernon Marmot

Vernon is a complex person. He grew up in Bust Anvil, in the state of Forge. It was a place where boys aspired to be quarterbacks, and mothers expected daughters to become cheer leaders. Early on, Vernon adopted the name Slime, in order to hide what he described as a peculiar characteristic. While refusing to try out for the football squad, he did attend a trade school, became an automotive mechanic, and started working at T’s Garage.

Yet, under a hyper-masculine exterior, Vernon/ Slime had a secret life. His peculiar characteristic was a passionate interest in fashion. He not only subscribed to GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly), and Dark Beauty Mag, but avidly read the works of DCB Pierre (1961 – ), including the latest, Meanwhile in Dopamine City (2020) a satirical dystopian novel about Lonnie, a widowed sewage worker, struggling to raise two children in a time of unencumbered digital innovation. In order to avoid being seen entering shops at the Fairlane Mall, he bought a Bernina 790 Plus sewing machine so he could make his own clothes.

Starting out with Steampunk fashions, he soon realized that Dieselpunk might be more acceptable in the circles he frequented. Tailoring punk fashions may not be on a freeway to fortune or even fame, but for Vernon/ Slime that is of secondary (or lower) importance. These activities are necessary to help him keep his sanity. In time, he will learn that others appreciate his values, and his blue Hush Puppy shoes.

Repair Cafe

Through the power of imagination, visualize the personas presented living in a small rural community. Import the people mentioned above, and find a few others in the local community with attitude, and a new infrastructure will start to emerge. It is not just what is present in the community that will propel action, but what is missing.

Once something basic, like a food collective, is started, people will notice other needs that are not being met. There is an obvious need for a Repair Cafe. With a use and discard mindset, products get used and discarded, even before their productive life is over. A Repair Cafe encourages consumers to have poorly performing products fixed by community technicians, so that these products will have a longer longevity.

Different people can take on different tasks. Jade actually has some positive attributes. He became obsessed with woodworking. Owning a range of tools, of various types: manual, mains electrical, battery electrical, as well as pneumatic, for different purposes. He is able to help people with their woodworking and basic construction needs. While Honey spends most days growing and cooking food, she finds time to ensure that the Repair Cafe has the ingredients it needs. Since Victor thrives with textiles; weaving, knitting and sewing in particular, he is been able to help people with their clothing related challenges.

Tools are a means to an end. They are less interesting in themselves than the processes used to make and repair things. Both are necessary prerequisites to manufacturing and repurposing products and providing services in rural areas.

While a Repair Cafe, and similar institutions, provide a framework for people to work together, it is not essential. Individuals, working alone, can make an assortment of products, and provide any number of services for themselves, their families and for others.

Activities

In Norway a shed (or similar structure) of up to 15 square meters = 161.4587 square feet can be built without a building permit. This means that it is possible for families to build themselves a greenhouse that could provide much of the food needed for their family. It is also possible to add an additional 15 square meters to an existing house, again, without a building permit. For many families this expansion will be necessary, for two adults (and up to several children) to have sufficient office space to work from home.

Among the more positive benefits of the Internet is that it provides opportunities for people to develop relationships with others who have similar interests, to access knowledge and to learn new skills. Learning how to build sheds, or made additions to a house, or to grow fruit and vegetables in a greenhouse can be provided by videos and other materials found on the Internet. There are also numerous forums where assistance with problems can be found, and insights shared.

These are not perfect resources. Recently, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), had a major story (in Norwegian) about an older, male paedophile using sophisticated technology so that he appeared to be a teenage girl. Unfortunately, there will always be people on the Internet trying to take advance of others. Thus, it is a resource that has to be used cautiously.

In particular, with respect to computing issues, some users focus on telling people what they have done to solve a particular problem, but not why or even how. This is not pedagogically sound. I suspect that these advisors lack the necessary knowledge/ insight/ foundation to give such advice. They are simply offering a formula that could result in a solution, but often doesn’t. “Well, it worked for me.” is not a particularly helpful statement, It does not lead anyone to a better understanding of the situation.

Regardless of the advice being offered, it is useful to fact check it, using up to several sources. The Internet does not offer any guarantees.

Another problematic area involves Facebook. Their business model is based on segmenting and clustering people based on attitudes, which is determined by the posts particular people like, or avoid liking. Clusters are based on sets of mutual likes. Information/ propaganda is presented that reinforces current (prejudicial?) attitudes. Thus, information is presented that closely mirrors the current world view of any particular user. Alternative world views are avoided. To counter this, it is my hope that people will spend less time on Facebook, and more time in forums dedicated to their special interests. To find these one can search with that specific topic, followed by forum and, optionally, a location such as a country, province or state. For example, knitting forum canada. One link provided information on 35 Canadian blogs and websites.

Last minute update: Sea Shanties

Living in a rural community, does not mean that one has to forego the company of like-minded souls. During the pandemic, people – even in the most densely populated of cities – have felt isolated. Thus, it is interesting to see one unexpected trend that has emerged on TikTok, the social media site that Donald Trump attempted to ban. Some attribute Glasgow area postman, Nathan Evans, of starting the trend with, Soon May The Wellerman Come. For information about this project, and more, see this Guardian article.

Others have followed through, such as The Longest Johns, a Mass Choir Community Video Project. Five hundred people submitted their versions of Leave Her Johnny.

End Notes

  1. If some subscribers find an essence of themselves in this weblog post, it is probably not a co-incidence. I have deliberately tried to portray some of the positive work being done by others during the pandemic, while fictionalizing lives. Genders, and other identifying characteristics, have been changed. No prizes will be awarded to anyone for identifying: Cascadia, Cooth, Bust Anvil, Forge or Harmony. Ginnunga Gap is not just Cliff Cottage, but also the workshop (former garage) at Vangshylla, Inderøy, Norway. (63° 50′ 31.08″ N 11° 05′ 26.57″ E)
  2. Not impressed with the humour here? Fortunately, there are two types of people: the many who do not appreciate this humour, and the others, who don’t believe it is humour. Choose one, none or both. We are living through a pandemic, and for better or worse, humour has become a survival mechanism.

Joan Baez: A tidbit

Joan Baez in 1961. Photo: Public domain press photo, published in 1963.

Joan Baez (1941-01-09 – )

One track: Diamonds and Rust (1975)

One quotation: “I think music has the power to transform people, and in doing so, it has the power to transform situations – some large and some small.” Why the Sound Is Still Sweet: Q&A with Joan Baez. Interview with Marlene Kelly, 2009-11-04.

One comment: Baez continues to be relevant. Starting with Charles Albert Tindley’s (1851 – 1933) I’ll Overcome Some Day (1901) that was transformed by Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014) and Guy Carawan (1927 – 2015) into We Shall Overcome (1947), it was sung by Baez at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963-08-28). She appeared at Woodstock (1969-08-15 to 18). Her musical success and activism continuing through the 1970s, and 1980s ending with China (1989), which condemned the violence of the Chinese government in its attack on student protesters. After a 27 year hiatus, she released Nasty Man (2017), about “a man gone wrong”, Donald Trump.

More information.

Note: This is the first of twelve tidbits to be published in 2021 that comment on influential women musicians (mainly singer/ songwriters). While today’s tidbit is being published on Baez’ 80th birthday, others will be published once a month throughout the year. The reason for this is that women in general, and people with non-European backgrounds, are under-represented in my weblog posts. This series is an attempt to compensate for this shortcoming. In 2022 similar posts will feature multicultural women scientists, followed in 2023 with posts about multicultural women writers (mainly novelists), the posts in 2024 will focus on multicultural women artists (mainly painters and sculptors). The series will end in 2025 with 12 posts about women photographers.

As above, at the end of every tidbit, there will be a link to further information, usually from the English edition of Wikipedia. This allows people to link to similar Wikipedia articles in other languages.

This tidbit was inspired by an article in the Norwegian monthly magazine Vi over 60 = We over 60. My dear wife, Trish, gave me a subscription to this magazine when I was still in my 50s, admittedly 59 shortly before I turned 60. I asked her to discontinue it after a year. Instead, she transferred the subscription to her name, so we have been receiving it for the last 12.5 years. Sometimes, she points out an article she thinks I might be interested in. This happened with the 2021-01 edition, when she pointed out an article on Joan Baez titled, Fredens førstedame = The first lady of peace (p. 21).

Many LPs in my Canadian record collection were published by Vanguard. This company was started by Maynard (1930 – 2020, a music producer and later a biographer of classical composers) and Seymour Solomon (1922 – 2002, a music business executive). They specialized in classical music, but then expanded into folk music, then into rock (less successfully). In addition to Baez, my collection included Vanguard records by Linda Ronstadt, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ian & Sylvia (Tyson) and Country Joe and the Fish. None of these LPs moved to Norway, although some were repurchased as CDs. It is now over ten years since the last CD was purchased. Music is now stored on files, in folders, on a server, where it can be accessed by any computer in our house. This system even allows remote access. More importantly, the collection occupies no space. After having bought most of the music I listen to twice (once on LPs and once on CDs), I see no need to rent it in perpetuity from Spotify.

The Charm of Workstations

A Red Pitaya STEMlab attaches to a computer to provide electronic engineers/ technicians/ hobbyists with multiple tools. Compared to separate tools, it is a cost effective approach.

A workstation is a computer that acts as an attachment site for a wide range of tools (software as well as hardware), that a particular operator uses on a regular basis. In this weblog post, the history of computing will be examined, with an emphasis on its gradual expansion into new areas, as new capabilities emerged. This expansion results in the evolution of computers into workstations.

Military purposes came first. Colossus, designed and built starting 1943-02, was delivered to Bletchley Park, 1944[-01-18, and was operational by 1944-02-05. It was the world’s first electronic digital programmable computer It used 1 500 vacuum tubes, had paper-tape input and was capable of being configured to perform a variety of boolean logical operations on data, typically breaking code encrypted by German Enigma machines.

After the second world war, electronic data processing (EDP) became the new buzzword (or more correctly phrase or abbreviation, respectively) between about 1950 and 1970 that referred to automated methods to process data, most often business related. A data processing system consists of four components: hardware, software, procedures and personnel.

Data was prepared by keypunch operators who created punch cards, typically in the IBM card format, introduced in 1928, with rectangular holes, 80 columns, and 12 rows. The card size was ​7 38 by ​3 14 inches (187.325 mm × 82.55 mm). There were about 143 cards to the inch, or 56/ cm. A box provided 2000 cards. These cards were fed into a card reader, that was attached to a mainframe computer. Typical for the era was the IBM System/360 family of computer systems were delivered between 1965 and 1978. The model 195 was the most powerful, and cost between US$ 7 – 12 million.

Mini was another buzzword of the 1960s. It could refer to skirts (and dresses), cars and – for the discussion here – a class of computers, the minimachine. These had their own operating systems and software architectures that distinguished them from mainframes. Minis were designed for control, instrumentation, human interaction, and communication switching as distinct from calculation and record keeping. They also had a two decade long lifetime from 1965 to 1985, although there were almost 100 companies formed, my personal experience was with Digital Equipment Machines VAX-780s, and later with Norsk Data Nord 500 machines.

Workstations were small scientific computers designed to be used interactively by a single person. Perhaps the first workstation was the IBM 1620, launched in 1960. More began to emerge as minimachines became more popular and increasingly available. Most workstations of this early period were minimachines, repurposed for a single user.

With the emergence of microprocessors (in the mid 1970s), and personal computers (in the early 1980s), a more modern version of the workstation began to take shape.

A 3M workstation was an ideal for many computer professionals in the early 1980s. While it was a word play on the 3M = Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing company, it also referred to at least a megabyte of memory, a megapixel display and a million instructions per second (MIPS) processing power. It could be upgraded to a 4M machine if it cost less than a megapenny = US$10 000.

The closest most people could come to a workstation in the mid 1980s, was a Commodore Amiga 2000. It was a bargain machine at less than NOK 20 000. It had a MB of memory, but otherwise failed to meet the 3M criteria. It was more powerful but less expensive than an Apple Macintosh, that had come onto the market in 1984. It was also fitted with two 3.5″ floppy drives, five Zorro II expansion slots, two 16-bit and two 8-bit ISA slots, a CPU upgrade slot, a video slot and a battery-backed real-time clock. It came with an IBM PC Compatible bridgeboard with its own 5.25″ floppy disk drive, which allowed it to run MS-DOS, and compatible programs.

AmigaOS was a single-user operating system. Its firmware was referred to as Kickstart. There was a multitasking kernel, called Exec. Like most modern computers – but unlike many of its contemporaries – this was pre-emptive, allowing interupts to disrupt processing flows. It also provided: a disk operating system, AmigaDOS, a comand-line interface (CLI), AmigaShell; a windowing application program interface (API), Intuition; and a desktop file manager, Workbench.

Starting with AmigaOS 3.1, Workbench referred to what is now called a Desktop. Directories were referred to and depicted as drawers, executable files were tools, data files were projects and GUI widgets were gadgets.

Unfortunately, while there was software for 3D design, it did not extend far enough for that needed for industrial strength computer aided design (CAD) and other engineering tasks. Thus, the machine in some respects failed to live up to its workstation expectations. The Amiga came with a two-button mouse, unlike the Macintosh that had only a single button.

When the Amiga arrived, many people expected it to last into “the next century” by regularly upgrading hardware as well as software. Unfortunately, by the early 1990s, it was out of date, and the promised hardware never arrived.

Today, the computing power of any of the above machines is exceeded by an inexpensive (US$ 5), single board computer, such as a Raspberry Pi Zero W. Even the smallest computer today is a powerful processing machine, compared to those of the past. For example, the slightly more powerful Raspberry Pi 4, can provide 8 GB = 8 000 MB of RAM, and can support two 4k (3840 x 2160 pixels) screens = 16.58 Mpixels, and operate at 8 176 (Dhrystone MIPS).

In terms of operating systems, most versions of Linux are able to match (or exceed) anything and everything offered by an Amiga, or any other operating system from that period. For readers preferring to live in the past, a PiMIGA 1.3 clones the AmigaOS so that works on a Raspberry Pi 4, while AROS (originally Amiga Research Operating System (1995), now AROS Research Operating System) runs on x86 (conventional PC) architectures.

Bill, at the Dronebot Workshop, defines a computer as: “Not a tablet. Not a phone. Not a Chromebook.” This is a good starting point for a definition of a workstation, but in addition there have to be some positive attributes. It is some sort of a container filled with a microprocessor and various forms of memory, it is typically equipped with or attached to input devices, usually a keyboard and mouse, and output devices, such as a display. Other devices may also be plugged into the machine, as required.

Hobby Electronics: An Example

With a massive amount of computing power available in a box 100 x 100 x 50 mm (4″ x 4″ x 2″), there is a decreasing need for electronic hobbyists to buy dedicated hardware. An AMD Ryzen 5/ Intel i5 computer, 16 GB RAM, a 500 GB SSD attached to a Red Pitaya STEMlab = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics laboratory kit, an open-source hardware project intended to be alternative for many expensive laboratory measurement and control instruments. It can act as oscilloscope, signal generator, spectrum analyzer, Bode analyzer, logic analyzer, LCR meter (a type of electronic test equipment used to measure the inductance (L), capacitance (C) and resistance (R) of electronic components) and a vector network analyzer, used to test component and system specifications, to verify designs and to ensure these components and systems work properly together.

Additional software such as KiCad, a computer aided design (CAD) program for electronic design, Thonny, an integrated development environment (IDE) for Python, as well as editors, file management and communication tools, including office tools, transform the computer from something that is nice to have, to an indispensable tool, a workstation.

Many of the tools mentioned above, could be purchased as separate/ independent tools. However, the total cost would be many times the price, as the tools contain multiple iterations of the same component. One other advantage is that this configuration takes up far less desk and shelf space than the seven (or more) tools it replaces.

The Charm of Teenage Engineering

Teenage Engineering OP-1 Photo: Teenage Engineering, 2014

The Stockholm, Sweden consumer electronics manufacturer, Teenage Engineering AB = Aktiebolag = Share company, was founded in 2005. To understand millennial appeal for the OP-1, boomers and gen-x-ers should carefully examine the following photograph of a more mainstream, Eurorack synthesizer.

Patched Eurorack synthesizer. Photo: Robert Verrecchia

While there may be many words to describe it, the first that comes to mind is mess. While sound might emerge from this contraption, it will not do so with any elegance. Boomers seem to have spent so much of their lives protesting, that they have failed to realize that they have become the establishment they are rebelling against. Millennial dissent is inclusive, innovative and harmonious.

For someone who grew up with the functionalist designs of Dieter Rams (1932 – ), Teenage Engineering products are a déjà vu, all over again.

OP-1 (2011)

The OP-1 is referred to as a portable synthesizer, and is the company’s core product, one that has existed since 2011. The OP-1 is minimalist in design, yet famous, at least among synthesizer users. It looks like a toy, but delivers an exceptional sound. Users comment positively on the build-quality. There are high quality components. The display is crisp and bright. The colour-coded multi-function knobs feel precise. In general, its minimalism results in a compact, portable, durable and simple machine, with an understandable interface.

Users are positive to the sounds produced, both in terms of quality and variety. Jean Michel Jarre commented on the machine’s flexibility, but also said that musicians will be still using the OP-1 in 50 years.

There is nothing wrong with an OP-1, if one doesn’t look at its price, which is approaching NOK 15 000 (US$ 1 300). That is almost enough to buy a real synthesizer, or several Eurorack modules. There have been attempts to produce OP-1 clones before, such as the Otto.

Teenage Engineering OP-1 and Oplab Photo: Teenage Engineering

oplab (2012)

Oplab is a musical interface for electronic instruments, that allows them to interconnect with music software. It has evolved over time. Teenage Engineering first referred to it as a Musical Experimental Board. Later, it was described as a Connectivity Module for OP-Z. The Rumble module is a haptic subwoofer allowing people to feel music. it also has a silent metronome mode, designed for live performance.

OD-11 (2014 – with Stig Carlsson Foundation)

An original Stig Carlsson speaker from 1974, and the Teenage Engineering OD-11 clone from 2014. Photo: Teenage Engineering

Conventionally speakers are engineered using an echo-free (anechoic) chamber to provide a flat frequency response curve. Unfortunately, people don’t live in anechoic rooms. Stig Carlsson (1925 – 1997) developed what he referred to as OrthoAcoustic speakers that were optimized for use in a regular residence. He marketed these using OA + a number. Over the years, he changed his approach to determining how an OrthoAcoustic speaker should sound.

OD-11 wireless, stereo speakers claim to follow the principles established by Stig Carlsson. They are upgraded clones that provide what as warm/ relaxed sounds. The audio quality is generally found to be good, but targeting at fashionistas. Thus, they are available in red, black, blue, yellow, walnut and white.

OrthoPlay is the software remote control for OD-11 available as a app for iOS and Android, and as a web application for any platform. For those wanting a more physical relationship, there is the OrthoRemote, a wireless remote control that allows one to adjust the volume, skip tracks and pause from any room, at up to 20 meters away. It has a magnetic back so sticks to any magnetic metal surface, like a fridge.

Pocket Operators (with Cheap Monday)

Pocket Operator units in the 10 and 20 series. Photo: Teenage Engineering.

Cheap Monday was a Swedish clothing brand created by Lars Karlsson, Örjan Andersson and Adam Friberg in 2004. Its main product, jeans, were tight fitting, and associated with indie and emocore music styles. At first, they were sold only in the Weekday store chain, before being distributed to other retailers throughout Europe and the USA. The brand was owned by Fabric Scandiavia, who sold it to Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) who made it part of their Weekday Brands subsidiary. Later, the Cheap Monday brand was used on numerous other clothing products. In late 2018, H&M scrapped the brand.

10-series (2015)

Since 2015, Teenage Engineering has produced the Pocket Operator (PO-10) synthesizer series. The PO-12 rhythm is a drum machine; the PO-14 sub is a bass synthesizer; the PO-16 factory is a lead synthesizer. Each model incorporates a 16-step sequencer. In terms of sound characteristics, they are similar to vintage synthesizers.

20-series (2016)

In 2016, PO-20 series synthesizers were introduced with additional effects. The PO-20 arcade synthesizes and sequences sounds associated with pinball and other entertainment games found in arcades; the PO-24 office is a machine for sounds found in an office environment; the PO-28 robot produces fictional robotic sounds.

30-series (2018)

Then, in 2017, the PO-30 added a drum synthesizer, a sampler, and a voice synthesizer. These have a microphone to record audio samples. The PO-32 Tonic is a drum and percussion synthesizer and sequencer; the PO-33 K.O! is a micro sampler with 40 seconds sample memory; the PO-35 Speak is a voice synthesizer and sequencer.

Impossible i-1 (2016 – for Impossible Project)

The Impossible-Project i-1 instant film camera. Photo: Impossible-Project, now Polaroid.

Impossible Project was the original name of a Dutch photography company founded in 2008, that manufactures instant film for its original cameras, including the Impossible i-1, that was designed by Teenage Engineering, as well as for select Polaroid Corporation instant cameras. In 2017, Polaroid Corporation’s brand and intellectual property were acquired by Impossible Project’s largest shareholder and the company was renamed Polaroid Originals. In March 2020, it rebranded again, changing its name to simply Polaroid.

The Impossible i-1 was the first new camera system in over 20 years that used the original Polaroid photo format. The camera is equipped with a ring flash, for portrait photography. There is an optional i-1 app to connect the i-1 camera to a phone. Photography is essentially an analog/ manual experience. The camera uses Impossible i-type and 600 type instant film.

Raven products (2017 – with Baidu)

Raven H speakers. Photo: Teenage Engineering.

The Raven H

Raven is a startup that Baidu acquired in 2017. The Raven H is functionally similar to other smart speakers, but looks nothing like an Amazon Echo or Google Home. While, it uses the Baidu DuerOS intelligent voice-controlled personal assistant platform, product design is from Teenage Engineering. It consists of a stack of eight metal squares, the top one of which is removable. There is an LED touch screen controller that can be detached from its position at the base of the stack to use as a voice-based remote that connects with Baidu/ Raven’s other home devices.

Teenage Engineering is also working on the Raven R, which is a planned robotic smart speaker with six moveable joints, used to perform simple function and express emotions on an LED display.

OP-Z (2018)

An Oplab connectivity modules waiting to be fitted onto the back of an OP-Z synthesizer. Photo: Teenage Engineering.

The strength of the OP-Z lies in its sequencer. Some may regard it as 3/4 of an OP-1, at half the price. In 2020-12 Teenage Engineering updated the OP-Z app to include many new video functions, especially an update for the Photomatic engine (allowing one to sequence video clips and GIF animations in the photo/video player) and better MIDI compatibility.

Pocket Operator Modules (2019)

Multiple Pocket Operator Module units in three different sizes, the POM-400 in yellow, the POM-170 in red and POM-16. Photo: Teenage Engineering.

These are self-build kits that needs to be bent, snapped and screwed together. These are expensive for Do-It-Yourself (DIY) products.

The POM-400 analog synthesizer came with 3 oscillators, noise, random generator, 2 envelopes, 2 Voltage-Controlled Amplifiers (VCAs), Low-Frequency Oscillator (LFO), filter, mixer, speaker, power supply and a 1-16 step sequencer. The kit featured a yellow powder coated aluminum chassis, 16 modules, 15 patch cables, a screwdriver and an illustrated build guide.

The POM-170 analog monophonic synthesizer with 1 oscillator, built-in programmable sequencer. The kit has a red powder coated aluminum chassis, keyboard, filter, envelope, LFO, VCA, speaker, power supply, 8 patch cables, a screwdriver and an illustrated build guide.

The POM-16 is a stand alone keyboard with individual tuneable keys and a programmable step sequencer.  This unit is designed to send control voltage/ gate (CV/ gate), midi, and Pocket Operator syncronization (PO sync) signals to control a POM-400 or other synthesizer. These control signals do not make sounds. The kit has a maroon powder ocated aluminum chassis. Reviewers have reacted negatively to the keyboard especially. A specialist tool is required to change batteries.

This video shows a PO Modular 400 in operation.

Frekvens (2019 – for IKEA)

Frekvens is a series of limited edition products sold through IKEA that combine light and sound. Perhaps the best way to appreciate these is to watch a video.

The IKEA Frekvens collection. It is no longer available in Norway. Photo: IKEA.

Playdate (2019 – with Panic Inc.)

Playdate. The gray crank on the left side of the machine was designed by Teenage Engineering. Photo: Panic, Inc.

Panic Inc. was founded in 1997, and has its headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Many of its products are exclusively for Apple Mac/ iOS machines, but some are available for Windows and Android. A few even work under Linux.

Playdate is a bright yellow hand-held gaming console/ system with a black and white (400 x 240 pixel 1-bit) screen, a four-way directional pad, two game buttons and a crank, a rotating analogue controller.

Panic stated the Playdate name referred to bundled games being delivered on a schedule of 12 per season, and they were interested in including games by under-represented developers and game makers, as well as stating that in season one, there was at least one game by a woman, as well as games by “queer/trans/enby” developers. It is an open system that allows sideloading of games that are not part of a season, without the need for jailbreaking. Games are created using a Software Development Kit (SDK) that includes a simulator and debugger and which is compatible with both the C and Lua programming languages.

As the timeline for release of Playdate extends into 2021, Teenage Engineering was forced to issue a disclaimer stating “that we were only involved in the crank design of this product …” According to Panic, Teenage Engineering was also involveed in the design of other parts of the physical machine. This certainly looks the case.

Computing: A Summary

The world headquarters of Multicom, in Åmli, in southern Norway. In addition to providing me with about half of my computing equipment, it also provides employment to about 40 local residents. Photo: Multicom.

This series about computing has consisted of 24 parts, published through much of 2020. Its goal was to help people make appropriate choices as they struggle through the maze of computer component/ device/ system acquisition opportunities.

It is my intention in 2021 and beyond to update the posts that constitute this series, at approximately annual intervals, somewhat close to their original date of publication. At the bottom of each updated post, there will be a statement providing a version history, and a summary of content changes. Subscribers will not be notified about these changes.

One person, who I know reasonably well, has never used a computer, and never made the transition to a smartphone, but relies on a clamshell mobile phone, anno 2020. This has serious consequences. For example, it means that common banking services are unavailable, medical appointments have to be made using a living intermediary, and there are no opportunities to buy anything online. One is dependent on a printed newspaper and television/ radio broadcasts for information. Unfortunately, there is very little people can do to help this person enter the digital age.

Today’s weblog post is personal. It looks at the wants, needs and thought processes of a single person. It attempts to show what this person takes into consideration before making an acquisition. Writing this series was an opportunity for me to learn how to make smarter choices when it came to purchasing equipment! It is written through the prism of an older person.

Budgeting: Simple

The world is unfair. In this context it has to do with disposable income and apportioning some of that to buy computing infrastructure related services (web, broadband and cell-phone subscriptions) and products (cell-phones, computers, printers, servers, memory sticks, etc.). Some people can afford a lot, while others will have to consider the relative merits of every proposed expenditure.

At the end of 2020, every adult (and almost every child) needs a smartphone. In Norway these cost between NOK 2 000 and 10 000. They need to be replaced about every three years, although some replace them twice as often. We kept our first smartphones for almost five years. Thus, this expenditure can vary from about NOK 500 a year, to over NOK 5 000. To put it another way, frugality can provide considerable cost savings.

Apart from broadband connections and cell-phone subscriptions, almost all other computer expenditures are voluntary. The most impoverished with a need for a computer should consider buying a five year old laptop, with a price of NOK 1 000, and keep it for another five years. In addition, they may need to install and use an operating system suitable for older equipment, which in most cases means Linux. This machine needs to be augmented with at least one (preferably two) external hard-drives, for backup. Here, I would not compromise, but purchase new equipment. Two of these could cost as little as NOK 1 300, and last five years. Currently, our new external drives are Toshiba Canvio Advance units. Basic level units are cheaper, and have almost the same functionality, except for hardware encryption.

With a minimal solution, there is no need for a printer, or other peripherals. As one ages, there may be increased need for ergonomic peripheral equipment. These will also have to be considered in terms of a budget. Even here, there is a possibility to buy used equipment, and to keep it/ them for many years.

There are people in Norway who have sub-minimal solutions. They have no broadband, and rely on prepaid cards, instead of cell-phone subscriptions. They may only own a clam-shell dumb-phone and nothing more. It is also one reason why I have a low threshold to give away equipment, especially to people who are unemployable or underemployed, or live on minimal disability or old–age pensions.

Budgeting: Complex

Sometimes, it is useful to have a budget that can take the form of an equation. It looks scientific, though it isn’t. However, it might still express a relationship between budget items. I discovered that the following fits gudenuf for the past four years: z = a (x + 1), where z = total budget, a = annual web, internet and telephone subscription costs, and x = the number of people in the household.

At Cliff Cottage broadband costs NOK 619 per month, while our telephone subscriptions cost NOK 118 per month each. The web-related subscriptions cost NOK 1 436 per year. Subscriptions amount to NOK 11 700 per year, in total.

If this budget for subscriptions seems excessive, we have the cheapest broadband rate (50 Mbps) available locally, and the cheapest cell-phone subscriptions (with 5 GB of data) that are available in Norway. Others may have 500 Mbps of broadband, with multiple television channels, and pay almost NOK 1 300 per month. Some pay NOK 1 700 for twice as many channels and 1 000 Mbps = 1 Gbps broadband. Cell phone subscriptions vary up to about NOK 450 for unlimited voice and up to 100 GB of data per month. This would give a monthly cost of NOK 2 600, or NOK 31 200 a year, over twice of what we are paying now.

In this household, x = 2, that is, there are 2 people. Z = the total budget, which amounts to NOK 35 100 per year. Apart from the subscription payments, the other NOK 23 400 goes to pay for computer infrastructure, such as a NAS server components, Ethernet cabling, printers or a house cinema components, not to mention paper and ink/ toner. Then there are personal devices for each resident. Personal devices may consist of laptop/ desktop machines, hand-held devices such as smartphones and tablets, as well as memory sticks, solid-state drives, etc.

The great advantage of having a budget, is that it forces one to think through expenditures and their economic implications. It also shows important people in the household that one actually has a plan, and that plan is being followed. The great disadvantage, is that costs don’t always follow a linear curve.

Replacements

At some point smartphones will have to be replaced. My 3.5mm headphone/ microphone jack has been damaged. I have found a temporary fix, but it will not last forever. So, the frequency of this type of purchase may increase. In addition, I am considering buying a Fairphone 3+, which is almost twice as expensive as my current phone, at about NOK 6 000. This is not a final decision. Fairphones may be easy to repair, but they also seem to need more repairs than many other phones.

Laptops are increasing in price. What used to cost NOK 6 000 in 2016 costs NOK 10 000 in 2020. The most popular laptop in Norway is currently a MacBook Air with an M1 processor, which costs almost NOK 13 000. The most popular non-Apple PC is a Huawei MateBook that costs NOK 20 000. The most popular Asus computer, a Zenbook, costs NOK 23 000. Gaming laptops can cost in excess of NOK 40 000. At some point a five year old Asus Zenbook laptop will have to be replaced. A suitable replacement will cost somewhere between NOK 10 – 12 000.

In the coming year, 2021, I know already that I will have an approximately NOK 4 500 expenditure for the network attached storage (NAS) server, in the form of two Toshiba N300 8 TB drives. This is because the NAS is already 73% full, with its current 4 x 8 TB drives. This figure should never exceed 80%, so something will have to be done. Producing less data, does not seem to be an option. Fortunately, the NAS holds up to 12 drives, so that only half of the drive bays will be occupied with this upgrade. Two additional external 4 TB drives will also be purchased, at a cost of about NOK 2 500. Thus, I expect to spend at least NOK 7 000 on backup, each and every year forward. Once all of the 12 drives on the NAS are filled, the oldest ones will have been in place for 6 years, and probably need replacing. The same is also true of the external drives, that are being stored outside of Cliff Cottage.

Taking these purchases into consideration, an equation that has been useful for several years, may prove to be inadequate in the future.

Operating Systems: An Aside

Computer operating systems are all the same, yet each one is different. A consensus emerges among developers, so that systems start resembling one another. At the same time, developers want to assert their independence.

Since 2016, I have used Linux Mint as my primary operating system (OS), with a Cinnamon desktop environment. This is probably about as close as one can get to an updated version of the Microsoft Windows XP OS. XP was released in 2001, with an end of support life that ended between 2009 and 2019. XP received acclaim for its performance, stability, user interface, hardware support and multimedia capabilities.

At Cliff Cottage, we have used many other OSes. Our first home computer used Amiga OS. Then we had machines with Windows, Macintosh, Linux and even Chrome OS. The other resident at Cliff Cottage used Windows, until 2020-08, when she went over to Linux Mint. She claims that the transition did not involve any significant trauma.

While Linux Mint will probably continue to be the main OS at Cliff Cottage, each machine also allows other OSes to be installed, for experimental or other purposes. This includes Windows 10, if it is needed. Thus, Mageia 8, when it is launched, will be installed on a machine for sentimental reasons.

We have used smartphones since 2011, with iOS as well as Android on them. While I have talked, and written about a de-googlized Android OS from the e foundation, I realize that this will have to await the next purchase of a handheld device.

If I could encourage one change, it is for current Windows 10 users, who are unhappy with their OS, to try a user friendly version of Linux to see if they feel more comfortable with it. One such OS is the latest version of Linux Mint with the Cinnamon desktop. This can be done by making a live version, which means copying a bootable version of it onto a USB flash drive/ memory stick/ thumb drive. By booting up from this drive, Linux will be available. Those who, after this trial, feel uncomfortable using Linux do not have to do anything, except to avoid booting up from the USB drive again. Those that find they prefer Linux can, at some point, install it on their machine, either alone or as part of a dual-boot system with their original OS. The memory stick can then be used to boot Linux on other computers. Linux is particularly well suited for older hardware.

Buying computer equipment

The acquisition of computer equipment faces three major challenges. First, equipment (hardware as well as software) is continuously evolving. Yet, while computing power has increased significantly over the past years, changes are more evolutionary than before. Today, there is a greater emphasis on power per watt, than on raw processing power. This applies to personal machines, as well as servers. While hand-held devices (smartphones and tablets) have become more dominant, there is still a need for personal computers – laptops as well as desktop machines. Servers may be hidden in a cloud, or in an attic/ basement/ closet, but they too are performing more work.

Keyboards and mice are the most important input devices, as they have been since 1984. The screen is the most important output device. It has become thinner, with improved resolution. Broadband, and other forms of communication, increasingly allow large quantities of data to move throughout cyberspace.

Second, people continuously age. This may be seem as something positive in a fifteen year old looking forward to being twenty. It may even be regarded as inevitable by a seventy-five year old contemplating eighty.

Younger people should receive a critical education that allows them to appreciate the value technology brings, but to be wary of its detrimental aspects. Technology is not benign. Gaming is a particularly difficult challenge, because many youth become addicted to it. Thus, it may be necessary to restrict computer access to ensure that people get enough sleep, perhaps by disconnecting WiFi and/ or wired internet access, say from 22:00 or 23:00 to 06:00 or 07:00, respectively.

Older youth could be encouraged to use computers productively for the benefit of themselves and their family. On 2020-11-02, the Raspberry Pi Foundation launched the Raspberry Pi 400 Personal Computer kit, the purchase of such of system at £/ €/ $ 100, and the matching of it to an existing display, would provide an ideal development machine for a young person. Many home automation tasks could be implemented by people in this category.

For those approaching midlife, there is a continual need to adapt, and to learn new technological skills. Society should be concerned when thirty/ forty/ fifty/ sixty-five year olds give up on acquiring/ developing new computing skills, while the world/ computer hardware/ computer software moves onwards. It is important to keep abreast of rising trends, but not to be a slave to them. One particularly damaging trend is for employers to make sideways investments in software. The expectation is that these new programs will add capabilities. However, they often end up doing the same thing, just in a slightly different way, that requires old skills to be relearned. This can be very discouraging.

Adaptability also applies to older people, but in a slightly different way. They have to think about impairments (current and potential). They also have to think long term! They may want to keep equipment longer than younger people, who are more adept at handling change. Older people may prefer to make an evolutionary transition to something a little different, rather than a radical change to something totally new.

Third, prices change erratically, so that what seems inaccessible one day, becomes affordable the next – and vice versa. Price is one of the major determinants of what people buy. This topic will be amplified later in this post, with specific examples.

Eratic pricing

Almost every computer equipment purchaser wants to be portrayed as astute. Everywhere, there are hypothetical bargains that save money! The truth of the matter is that many purchasers are undisciplined, and exceed their budgets. This writer is no exception. At the beginning of 2020 the equipment budget for the reserve/ lab/ electronics/ podcasting computer system was NOK 10 000: computer = 4 000, screen = 2 000, other peripherals = 3 000, miscellaneous = 1 000. In contrast, a RPi 400 would have cost about NOK 1 000, and used an existing screen. However, it would not have been able to use many of the ergonomic peripherals, envisioned.

Yet, a budget challenge arose almost immediately after the pandemic struck. The Benq monitor I had contemplated, an upgraded variant of the model used at the workshop in Straumen, had increased in price from a little over NOK 2 000 to almost NOK 3 000, call it a 40% increase in less than a year. It was time to look for something different. This turned out to be an AOC office display with more than adequate specifications. The AOC display started the year off at NOK 3 000 then gradually increased in price to NOK 3 500. Yet, overnight, it was suddenly NOK 1 200 cheaper, and I purchased it for NOK 2 300, NOK 600 less than the Benq with inferior specifications.

Substitutes are not always available. I had always planned to buy a Logitech MX Vertical mouse, and Logitech ERGO K860 keyboard to experience their ergonomic characteristics. At NOK 1050 and NOK 1200, respectively, neither was cheap. Another peripheral on my purchase list was a headset. Many sites with reviews about headsets for the hearing impaired had suggested assorted version of Audio Technica products, commonly the ATH-M50X at NOK 1 100. However, these are headphones for listening, without a microphone for talking. These could be connected with an Audio Technica ATR3350iS omnidirectional condenser lavalier microphone, that comes with an adapter, allowing it to be used with handheld devices. These cost almost NOK 550, for a total price of almost NOK 1 650. Thus, I started to investigate office and gaming headsets. The Logitech G433 and the Logitech G Pro X also seemed too expensive, at NOK 1 250 and NOK 1 350 respectively. I decided that I could stretch myself to buy a Logitech G Pro at NOK 1 000, as a compromise. However, on the day I decided to buy one, the price of the G Pro X at NOK 900, was lower than either the G Pro or G433. It was purchased.

With the Norwegian Krone (NOK) crashing due to the pandemic, the budget couldn’t hold. The Asus PN50 barebone cost just NOK 4 300, but needed a hard drive (Samsung EVO 970 Plus M.2 500 GB = NOK 1 200) and RAM (G Skill Ripjaws4 16 GB = NOK 800). This puts the price at NOK 6 400, which is more than 50% over budget. Yet, it was purchased because it seemed inexpensive, relative to performance. A month after the purchase, the PN50̈́’s barebone price has increased to NOK 5 900. However, the Samsung SSD is now only NOK 1 000, while the G Skill RAM is the same price, NOK 800, for a total of NOK 7 700, over 90% above the initial budget. Given these prices, a less powerful machine would have been chosen.

Todays prices: The Logitech MX Vertical is NOK 850, the ERGO K860 is NOK 1 370, and the G Pro X headset is NOK 1 300. The ACO screen has also wavered in price. Soon after my purchase it increased to about NOK 3 200, then it fell once again to NOK 2 400.

The used Asus A-i-O Pro 500 from 2015, cost NOK 2 500 plus NOK 150 delivery charges. The new price for a similar machine, but with a more modern and capable processor, is over NOK 10 000.

Local Sources

In general, I try to buy products made and/ or sold by local companies. There are different rings of local. It can mean Inderøy – our municipality, Innherred – our region, Trøndelag – our county, Norway – our country, Norden – Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland officially (and Estonia, for me personally); or Europe – our continent, Beyond this, much of the computer equipment purchased is made by Taiwanese or South-Korean companies. These would be bought from local stores, if they bothered to stock them (which they don’t) which means an increased reliance on online suppliers. The two preferred ones are located in small villages: Multicom, located in Åmli (population 1 836), in the extreme south of Norway, and the municipality’s second largest company; Proshop, actually a Danish company, but located in Bø i Telemark (population 6 101) located about 122 km/ 2 hours drive north-east of Åmli.

The used machines that have been purchased have mainly been sourced locally. That is, in close proximity to where a family member lives, which for the past few years has also included Bergen.

Hobby Budgets

For the past 70+ years, I have tried to perfect an incredulous look. When my name, computers and budget are mashed together in a sentence, this is my cue to display this look. Unfortunately, the person I most often try to impress with it, has become totally unfazed by it.

The term hobby refers to a sluice-gate that allows unknown quantities of cash, and other forms of money, to escape a household. In return, assorted pieces of equipment, usually termed junk by non-believers, miraculously appear.

To see an example of how hobbies can get out-of-hand, one is encouraged to watch one or more episodes of Rust Valley Restorers, on Netflix. Mike Hall, at Tappen, British Columbia, near Shuswap Lake, has 400+ rusting vehicles awaiting restoration.

At some point it is necessary to separate what is part of a household infrastructure, from hobby activity. Superficially, items may look very much the same, and there could be a tendency to disguise a hobby purchase as an infrastructure purchase. People are advised to avoid this and other forms of self-deception.

Thus, some computer related purchases are now being budgeted not under the computing infrastructure budget, but as in the hobby electronics category.

Needs/ Wants

Because I have the opportunity to do so, I prioritize the purchase of computer equipment beyond minimal household needs. While these could be considered (and budgeted) as part of the computing infrastructure, a more honest appropriation is to consider them as hobby electronics expenditures.

There were four areas that I wanted to improve, in 2020.

  • A reserve machine (in case of a breakdown)
  • A dedicated electronics hobby machine
  • An audio/ video editor
  • A soft-synth (computer based synthesizer)

Not all of these were to be used immediately for these purposes, and not all of them required a dedicated machine.

Reserve machine

Normally, a retired computer acts as a reserve, if something should go wrong with an active computer. Towards the end of 2019, the only potential reserve machine had been given away. Thus, throughout most of 2020, I contemplated the purchase of a reserve system, one that could be used by anyone living at or visiting Cliff Cottage.

One thought was to buy a used Asus Zenbook UX305C, identical to one in active use at Cliff Cottage. However, these machines date from 2016, so they are approaching five years old.

If one had waited until after its launch, a RPi 400 (previously mentioned above) would have made an ideal reserve machine. Admittedly, an inferior system to the reserve system that was finally purchased. It also requires a slightly different mind-set to use, since not all programs in daily use (such as Mozilla Firefox) are easily available on the RPi.

Eerie

Happenstance dictated that Eerie, a computer purchased in September/ October, is completely different from the one envisioned earlier in the year. The basic machine is a barebone computer. Wikipedia defines barebone as, “a partially assembled platform or an unassembled kit of computer parts allowing more customization and lower costs than a retail computer system.” It is not an ASRock Beebox (used at the Techno Workshop in Straumen) with an Intel processor, or a Gigabyte Brix with a AMD Richland processor, but an Asus PN50 with a Ryzen 7. The reasons are simple. First, as I approached the age of 72, I decided that I did not want to learn the quirks of a Beebox or a Brix. It is hard enough keeping up with those in the Asus family. Second, the machine has a powerful processor. This makes it useful and durable. Third, the machine is fanless. This makes it silent, useful when recording audio. Fourth, the machine was relatively cheap.

In 2020-09, some of the equipment was ordered, and turned into a functioning system by mid 2020-10. Eerie is not just a reserve machine, it is also being used as a lab Guinea pig, and for podcast recording and editing. In the future, it will also be programmed as a soft-synth. Currently, it is being used to test out ergonomic hardware and software. The name Eerie comes from the Children’s science fiction series in 19 episodes shown in 1992-3.

Eureka

On 2020-12-07, I purchased a used Asus All-in-One Pro computer. It is a computer inside a screen. This will make a better reserve machine than Eerie. It will be used as a tool for practical electronic hobby activities. One specific need is to construct room controllers. These will probably involve Raspberry Pi units, Power over Ethernet, sensors and touch screens.

Eureka is named after the family science fiction series in 77 episodes shown between 2006 and 2012, made in Burnaby, Chilliwack and Ladysmith, British Columbia.

In the future, a control unit for a CNC milling machine in the workshop will be needed. My last day as a construction worker is scheduled for Monday, 2023-10-30. Even though there is still considerable time before a milling machine controller is needed, it is useful to evaluate the Asus All-in-One unit in this role.

YouTube

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a YouTube video can be worth a hundred pictures. The main problem is that some people produce excessively long videos. Fifteen minutes is about all I can take, unless the producer is extremely pedagogical. Here are the top channels that I watch regularly:

In addition to these, younger people may find these of interest:

Final words

Know the characteristics of the equipment you want and – perhaps more importantly – your reasons for wanting it. Then determine an acceptable price you are willing to pay. That way, if a bargain appears at a price below the target price, you can purchase it without hesitation. Regardless of whether the initial price seems high or low, it is the lifespan of the product that is important. An inexpensive device that lasts less than a year, can be a much worse investment than buying something twice as expensive that lasts four years or more.

Nightscout

The Nightscout logo and motto/ hashtag.

Today’s weblog post focuses on Nightscout, a social movement for Type 1 diabetics, and their parents, that enables them to access and work with continuous glucose monitor (CGM) data and open-source tools, so they are better able to manage their condition. They describe themselves as CGM in the Clouds,

In healthy people the pancreas regulates blood sugar. It works continuously without intervention. Diabetics have to take control, and inject insulin using syringes, although in recent years it has become more common to use an insulin pump connected to the body and providing an even base dose. It is difficult for people to adjust insulin levels which have to continuously monitored and adjusted for the rest of the patient’s life.

There are three main types of diabetes mellitus (DM): 1) Type 1 results from the pancreas’s failure to produce enough insulin due to a loss of beta cells; 2) Type 2 begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to respond to insulin properly, but may result in a lack of insulin, as the disease progresses; 3) Gestational diabetes occurs when pregnant women, without a previous history of diabetes, develop high blood sugar levels.

According to the IDF Diabetes Atlas, 9th edition, an estimated 463 million people had DM worldwide (8.8% of the adult population), in 2019, with type 2 making up about 90% of the cases.

Legacy medical equipment companies, much like legacy automotive companies, perpetuate their market share by making it intolerably expensive for new companies to become established. In the automotive world, this is in part because of the extreme cost of setting up manufacturing facilities. With medical equipment, it is the cost of gaining approval in assorted jurisdictions. In the USA, for example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the sale of medical device products. Manufacturers (or their sales agents) must present evidence that the device is reasonably safe and effective for a particular use.

The high cost of market participation, means that legacy manufacturers can avoid/ discourage innovation, which helps improve profit margins, but denies patients access to improved technology. This is what nerds, patients and relatives have now managed to solve with Nightscout, for diabetics. It is a do-it-yourself DM tech community. It first developed data-sharing tools. More recently, an open-source closed loop artificial pancreas system has been developed.

Wikipedia says that Nightscout began in 2013-02 , when the parents of a 4-year-old boy newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes began using a CGM system. When the child was at school there was way to access this data in real time. The boy’s father, John Costik, a software engineer, developed software to access and transfer CGM data to cloud computing infrastructure. Lane Desborough and Ross Naylor added a blood glucose chart display. A community of developers emerged to make the software generally accessible. Because this software amounted to an unlicensed medical device, it was not released immediately as open source code to address legal concerns. After this was done, the combined code was released in 2014 as the Nightscout Project.

In another part of cyberspace, Loop started off as an Apple-only framework and algorithm that runs on an iPhone, worked with older Medtronic insulin pumps and requires a small box, the RileyLink, to communicate between the pump and smartphone. It was created in large part by Pete Schwamb. An unknown number of people use this technology.

OpenAPS

The Open Artificial Pancreas System project (OpenAPS) is an open and transparent effort to make safe and effective basic artificial pancreas system technology widely available. It began in 2013, when Dana M. Lewis and Scott Leibrand became aware of the software created by John Costik. The OpenAPS software can run on a single-board computer, such as a Raspberry Pi.

Lewis, who has a DM Type 1 condition, was dissatisfied with her commercial device, because its hypoglycemic status alarm was too quiet to wake her. To address this, Lewis and Leibrand extended the CGM-in-the-cloud software to create a custom high volume alarm. They then used the same CGM-in-the-cloud software to create Do-It-Yourself Pancreas System (DIYPS) software, which provided a decision assist system for insulin delivery. This become a closed loop system using open-source decoding-carelink software created by Ben West to communicate with Medtronic insulin pumps, enabling data retrieval and issuance of insulin-dosing commands to pumps that support it. With this update, the DIYPS system became OpenAPS.

Its stated aim of OpenAPS is “to more quickly improve and save as many lives as possible and reduce the burden of Type 1 diabetes.” Their website states that “community efforts will be open source and free for use for other people, open source projects, researchers, and non-profits to use, and available on an open and non-discriminatory basis for all commercial manufacturers to use in proprietary products if desired.”

OpenAPS differs from other APS currently in clinical trials in two significant ways: 1, it is designed to use existing approved medical devices, commodity hardware, and open source software, and 2. it is designed primarily for safety, understandability, and interoperability with existing treatment approaches and existing devices. Those concerned about safety issues are encouraged to read this statement of principles.

An aside: In researching this post, one article in particular highlighted the need for professionalism in the production of code. In this case, the anonymous coder was unable to understand contextual issues. Obviously, many of the projects mentioned here have been professionally run. However, it is very common to encounter code written by amateurs, that is unsuitable for real-world use. The advantage of using people with a medical condition is that they have internalized much of the contextual information needed to produce appropriate code, even if they are amateurs.

Closed loop artificial pancreas systems integrate a glucose monitor with an insulin pump, using connecting controller software (such as assorted varieties of Loop). The system’s purpose is to keep blood glucose levels within a specified desired range for as long as possible. This can reduce damage to kidneys, retinas and nerves.

Since Nightscout is Do-It-Yourself (DIY), the onus is on the user to provide and deploy any and all resources needed, such as the MongoDB database, a web host and other software. This can result in many barriers, that prevent potential users from enjoying Nightscout’s benefits.

Recently, on 2020-11-20, Medical Data Systems LLC met with and formally petitioned the FDA for clearance of the service product “T1Pal.com.” T1Pal.com is a hosted Nightscout platform that runs copies of the latest Nightscout software on its servers for the benefit of individual subscribers.T1Pal is a hosted Nightscout platform running the latest version of Nightscout on its servers. It provides subscribers with Nightscout as a Service. This means that Medical Data Systems LLC takes responsibility for maintaining and updating the site. T1Pal was designed by Ben West, a member of the original CGM in the Cloud team and lead core developer for the Nightscout Project. A subscription costs US$ 12/ month and upwards, depending on the services provided.

Tidepool

Originally, this post had intended to focus on Tidepool, a Palo Alto, California based nonprofit company founded by Howard Look in 2013. The company works with medical equipment manufacturers, such as Dexcom and Medtronic, to create interoperable automated insulin pump systems, communicating with iPhone and Android apps.

Tidepool wanted to build a database where people with insulin-dependent diabetes could store and analyse data about their condition. Its iOS and Android apps and web system, allow users to add and view CGM related data to gain better insights into their condition. This data can be shared with health personell.

As stated in the previous weblog post on telemedicine, some equipment and software providers assume they own patient data. These companies have very disturbing privacy policies. Tidepool encouraged equipment manufacturers to develop systems that would work with Tidepool software. They elminated some of the friction, by setting up a (not-for-profit) foundation to administrate collected data.

Tidepool Loop will be its next big step, What I have been unable to discover is wny users would prefer yet another open-source closed loop artificial pancrease system, where the openAPS already seems to feature one, not to mention the RileyLook.

Developing open-source software can be messy. Sometimes, work is duplicated, and at other times, nobody is doing the work at all. The people who have a vested interest in mitigating a health condition, or in the case of Type 1 diabetes, their parents, will develop breakthrough improvements that manufacturers seldom prioritize. Software is cheap to produce, especially if development time is freely given. My expectation is that additional improvements in hardware will also come in the future, as open-hardware, as increasing numbers of people invest in CNC hardware, that can build precise equipment inexpensively.

Some sources:

Off topic: Wyze Watch

This blogger has pre-ordered two Wyze smart watches using a facilitator in the United States, for delivery in 2020-03. This pre-order opportunity is restricted to addresses in USA, and is ending a week after the planned publication of this weblog post, on 2020-12-22. The unit price is about US$ 20, excluding taxes, shipping, non-black watch strap and who knows what else. These two watches will be used initially for experimental purposes.

The Mother of All Demos

The Mother of All Mice. Wooden and with two wheels, first demonstrated publicly 1968-12-08. Image: SRI International.

Fifty-three years ago today, 1968-12-09, is one of several dates that can be regarded as the start of the personal computer age, when a computer demonstration, A research center for augmenting human intellect, retrospectively called The Mother of All Demos, was presented by Douglas Engelbart (1925 – 2013) in the Civic Auditorium, San Francisco. The technical aspects of the presentation were managed by Bill English (1928 – 2020). About one thousand computer professionals attended the event there.

The demo featured a computer system called NLS, oN-Line System. The 90-minute presentation essentially demonstrated almost all the fundamental elements of modern personal computing: collaborative real-time editing, command input, dynamic file linking, graphics, hypertext, a mouse, navigation, revision control, video conferencing, windows and word processing – all in a single system.

The San Francisco terminal was linked to an Eidophor large-format video projection system loaned by the NASA Ames Research Center, so attendees could watch what was happening on the NLS on a 6.7 metres high screen. The terminal was also connected to an SDS 940 computer (designed specifically for time-sharing among multiple users) located at the Augmentation Research Center (ARC) headquarters, 48 km away in Menlo Park using a pair of 1 200 baud-modems. There, a second (but smaller) group of attendees could experience the demo as it was live-streamed.

Engelbart was best known for founding the field of human – computer interaction. He also made notes describing a computer mouse. These were made into a functioning prototype by Bill English in 1963. Thus, both of these two people can be said to have jointly invented the computer mouse.

The demonstration was highly influential, most especially the development of Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) that flourished in the 1970s.

The original demo is available as a video on YouTube. Note: Modern viewers may be disappointed by its low fidelity. New Atlas has an article that provides additional insights, and photographs.

Telemedicine

The Psion Organizer II (1986) was one of the first hand-held devices, later referred to as a personal digital assistant (PDA) when Apple launched the Apple Newton (1992). Other important devices that led to today’s ubiquitous smartphone, include the Nokia 9000 Communicator (1996) and the Palm Pilot (1997) . Throughout this time frame many companies and organizations developed medical content to support the use of these devices in medical situations, including physicians’ offices and hospital wards.

Telemedicine? Telehealth? eHealth? Different people and organizations use different terms to describe the same subject. The World Health Organization (WHO) uses telemedicine to describe all aspects of remote health care including preventive care. In Europe, the more general term is eHealth, which is more than just Internet medicine, but almost everything related to computers and medicine. There is a branch of this referred to as mHealth, with a focus on hand-held devices (smartphones aka – in Europe – mobile phones = cell phones). In USA, the operative term is telehealth which also includes non-clinical services. There, telemedicine refers to remote clinical services. Here, the WHO definition is used.

The purpose of this post is to encourage people to engage in a dialogue about telemedicine, generally, but especially with the appropriate authorities where they live. They should let the world know what telemedicine services they need and want … along with additional insights and information, incorporated in the usual questions: Where? When? Why? and How?

Unfortunately, most people do not know very much about telemedicine. Thus as a first step it may be useful to read the Wikipedia article on it.

The pandemic has shown that many things need to be done differently, including health care. No prospective patients should have to travel to a (crowded?) doctor’s office to have a prescription renewed, or blood pressure measured. The first, could just involve a simple e-mail request, the second – an example of remote monitoring – could involve a patient attaching the cuff of a blood pressure monitor to their upper arm at home, in such a way that the device can measure systolic and diastolic pressure, keep track of the results in a home medical journal, and send them onwards to the appropriate health centre, especially if there is an apparent need to adjust medications or discuss lifestyle changes. In general, the advantages of telemedicine are: greater patient satisfaction and cost-effectiveness, with comparable health outcomes.

At the time of writing, Trøndelag county has the lowest incidence of COVID-19 in Europe, with less than 20 infected people per 100 000. Why? First, there are very few immigrants and other foreigners, which means that almost the entire population understands the relevant rules. There have been problems in other areas of Norway because the Norwegian government has insisted in communicating unilingually in Norwegian, and – until recently – has not made provision for translations. This means that immigrants have not been given information, in a language they understand. Second, and more importantly, people have followed the rules. They may not like them. They may complain. Yet, they follow them. Because they are followed, and the COVID-19 infection rates are reduced, there is a lighter touch in terms of regulations, than in many other areas of the world.

Update: 2020-12-08 11:34 (Less than half an hour before this is scheduled to be published). There has been a new COVID-19 outbreak in Trondheim. Maybe our county is no longer best in Europe, I don’t know. However, the outbreak seems to affect many Eritrean immigrants, and the government specifically asked them to get tested. So, even governments are learning how to do things differently.

Why is USA so different from Trøndelag? The answer may lie with Maggy Thatcher, and her good buddy, Ronny Reagan. “There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families,” Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013) said, as reported in Woman’s Own, 1987-10-31. Libertarians such as Thatcher, Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004), Donald Trump (1946 – ), Boris Johnson (1964 – ) and more, don’t seem to believe in society, social norms, or in following rules. When people fail to follow rules in the middle of a pandemic, bad things happen.

Another problem in the US is that so much of the health care is provided by for-profit businesses, that have their own vested interests and approaches to the pandemic. They are not so much interested in reducing/ eliminating the pandemic, as they are in maximizing their profit, or at least reducing their loses. Even in Norway, there has been privitization in the health sector, that has had negative consequences.

For twenty years, or so, I had B12 injections, every three months. For the first twelve years or so, it was possible to make an appointment for an injection. Thus, I would visit the medical centre, wait perhaps five minutes, receive an injection, then leave. Then, suddenly, about the time the municipal run health service became a privately owned one, appointments for injections were no longer possible. Patients just had to take a chance and meet up. Personally, I didn’t appreciate this new system because the time spent waiting increased significantly. The health service no longer valued my time. Then, one August, I discovered that I had failed to receive an injection in May. I had met up, but the nurse was so overworked that I was asked to come back another day. Unfortunately, I quickly forgot about that, and my calendar showed a B12 shot being given. There had been no follow up from the medical centre alerting me to the missed injection. There is no reason for this lack of follow-up. It is very easy to implement in a data system. In fact, I had worked on this very type of problem earlier.

Back in the late 1980s I had worked with HUNT (Helseundersøkelse i Nord-Trøndelag. Now known in English as the Trøndelag Health Study, after the merger of Nord- and Sør-Trøndelag in 2020) and had made a mock hypertext version of their standard procedures for hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes. This demonstrated how data-mining of a patient journal could be used to collect data about these two conditions, and alert the patient’s doctor (and ultimately, the patient) when anomalies emerged. In 1991, one of my former students received a grant to start a company InfoTech AS, to make a real-world version of this. The major problem was that the privately-owned providers of patient journals regarded patient data as their own personal property, and would not co-operate. This was, in part, because the Norwegian government had not taken privacy concerns about patient data seriously.

Now, in 2020 in the middle of a pandemic, nobody is allowed to just meet up at a medical centre, for an injection, or anything else. Appointments have to be made for everything. When I had my annual check up with my GP, he looked at my chart, and could see immediately my one and only medication. With a new national change in policy away from B12 injections to B12 tablets, he asked me if I wanted to take B12 pills, instead of an injection? There was no doubt in my mind that I would prefer them, and so it was arranged.

What is irritating about this situation is that there should be absolutely no problem alerting everyone with a B12 deficiency problem (or any other medical situation) about tablets being allowed to substitute for injections, or any other improvement. It is simply that the medical profession is living in the past, and is not aware of the potential offered by data-mining, and similar computing techniques.

It is important for people to keep abreast of new developments, and to reflect over their own needs. They also need to contact politicians and others to make changes that will improve society. Health is important.

Dexterity/ Mobility impairment

This weblog post is targeted at older (60+) readers. It examines motor issues, with a focus on dexterity, which Merriam-Webster defines as “skill and ease in using the hands”; and mobility, defined as “ability or capacity to move”. As usual, computers are central to the story presented here.

The two computers, an Asus PN50 (back left) and an Asus VC65 (from 2017, back right) are attached to an Aten Petite CS692 KVM, (from 2013) with dongles for both the Logitech ERGO K860 keyboard and the Logitech MX Vertical mouse. Also attached is a Logitech G Pro X headset. On the left is an unattached AOC Q27P2Q display. The Samsung Syncmaster S27B350 (from 2012) is attached directly to the KVM, and indirectly to the two computers. A button behind the keyboard on its right, is used to transition between the two systems. Equipment without a date indicates an acquisition date in 2020.

Ergonomic Input Devices

Many older people have issues with their hands, making it difficult for them to type or use a mouse. An ergonomic keyboard and mouse may improve the situation. For example, this blogger uses a Logitech MX Vertical mouse and a Logitech ERGO K860 keyboard because of their ergonomic characteristics.

Since ergonomic equipment is expensive, it is appropriate for assorted machines to use the same peripherals. A keyboard-video-mouse (KVM) switch, an Aten Petite CS692 from 2013, reduces desk clutter by allowing two computers to share peripheral equipment: keyboard, display, mouse and headset (or even separate earphones and microphone). Depressing a selector button switches between computers.

Since this particular KVM has resolution issues with a new display, a new KVM is being considered. Instead of cabling directly to the machine, This new system will use Internet Protocol (IP) to connect with machines located anywhere in the world.

Using conventional keyboards with hand-held devices is impractical. Instead, one may use a Bluetooth keyboard. This blogger used a Logitech K380 Bluetooth keyboard for many years, and has found it to be very comfortable and convenient. However, this keyboard lacks a slot to hold handheld devices, which distinguishes it from a Logitech K480 keyboard that does have this capability. Both keyboards allow easy interaction with up to three different devices. It is shown in the photo below.

The Logitech K480 keyboard has a slot to place a hand-held device, such as a smartphone or tablet. The keyboard communicates with the device using Bluetooth. The yellow dial on the upper left allows users to choose between three devices. It can also be used with desktop/ laptop computers, that support Bluetooth. Photo: Logitech

To draw in a program such as Krita, Inkscape or even GIMP, I use a Wacom One (CTF-430) tablet with a stylus. It is a very simple tool, that some claim is available only in Europe and now discontinued. However, it can be still found new in many online stores. It automatically becomes operative whenever the tablet is plugged into a computer running Linux Mint.

Mobility Impairment

Many people have serious mobility issues. The University of Washington operates DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) which is technology and solution oriented. Their video, describes how mobility issues can by addressed by computers, and assistive technology. Most of the people are young. It lasts about 13 minutes.

Some out-takes from the video:

  • Solutions for the mobility impaired are most often unique.
  • It is the user who has to decide if the technology is working or if there is something better.
  • Pay attention to the individual and what (s)he needs, through observation in the operational environment, as well as through consultation.
  • A computer can’t be used if it can’t be accessed, this involves physical access to a building, through it, and at a workstation.
  • Flexibility is needed in terms of keyboards trays, computer screens, desk height
  • Alternatives are built into operating systems, using accessibility control panels. For example, people using a mouth stick or a single finger to type with, would be unable to press two keys simultaneously, unless these were provided for in accessibility options.
  • Auto-correct, can simplify data input. tandard keyboards should be considered
  • Keyguards have holes for each key, and prevents people from typing an unintended key, if their movements are uncontrolled.
  • Mini-keyboards can be useful for people who have a limited range of (hand) motion. There are also one-handed keyboards for both left and right hands, for people with only one hand. There are also keyboards with extra large keys.
  • Virtual keyboards that appear on a computer screen can be activated with a mouse, trackball or alternate pointing system. Some may include alternative layouts, and word-prediction systems.
  • Some input devices are foot activated, others are head controlled with air pressure activated buttons. There are switches that can be activated by different parts of the body. These can involve scanning and/or morse code. Sip and puff switches can be used with morse-code. There are also switches activated by blinking.
  • Speech recognition is another option that allows users to bypass keyboards, but requires a good voice along with breath stamina.
  • Reading systems can translate written text into synthetic speech.

An indulgence

Sometimes humour is the best way to deal with an issue. Two of the people I interact with most, my wife and my son, have a good geographical sense. They seem to know where they are, and can invariably identify the cardinal compass directions. I presume they are truthing when they say this, but I have no real way of knowing, since I have a very limited sense of geographical position. In general, I have to take with me either another person, or a hand-held device with a GPS mapping system, when out in strange places, so that I can return to my point of origin.

In the distant past, in some dis-remembered source, I read that people with a good sense of geography are much more subject to motion sickness than those without it. It is definitely the case, with the three of us. I have never suffered from any form of motion sickness, unlike the other two.

I would not be human if I didn’t try to explain away my inabilities. Fortunately, one is at hand. The streets of New Westminster, where I grew up, run from the south-east to the north-west; avenues from the north-east to the south-west. Yet, they are referred to as running south to north, and east to west, respectively. Unfortunately for my ego, this geographical anomaly has no impact on my geographical inabilities. I would have had similar challenges if I had grown up in Vancouver, where – in most of the residential areas – avenues run east to west.

Thus, I am very thankful that modern hand-held devices, with build-in GPS-receivers, can tell me precisely where I am. In keeping with my open-source policy, I use Open Street Map, more than Google Maps, though both are installed and in use on assorted devices.