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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
Playdate (2019 – with 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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? 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.