Donald Lewes Hings (1907 – 2004)

Don Hings (1942-03-09)

Donald Lewes Hings (1907-11-06 – 2004–02-24) was born in Leicester, England, but moved to western Canada with his parents when he was three. He grew up in Rossland, in the Kootenays, halfway between Vancouver and Calgary, and 10 km north of the Canada/ United States border.

He was a pioneer in the field of telecommunications, and best known for his invention of the Walkie-Talkie. Previously, mobile radios were mounted on vehicles and transmitted in Morse code. Hings’ model, developed in 1937 while working at Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (CM&S) now, Cominco) in Trail, British Columbia, was portable and could transmit the human voice over long distances. He called his invention the packset.

During the Second World War (1940-1945) Hings worked for the National Research Council, on loan from CM&S, working with the Signal Corps to develop military communications, including the military walkie-talkie. From 1946-1985, he worked for Electronic Laboratories of Canada as President & Chief Engineer. The company was started 1942-11-02 as a subsidiary of Electronic Laboratories, Inc. of Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. It was dissolved 1998-09-21.

Between 1975 and 1993, he devoted his time to developing instrumentation for measurements of the causes and effects of long-range air pollution vectors.

In 1946 he was awarded the Member of the British Empire by King George VI. In 2001 he was presented with the Order of Canada by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. In 2006 he was inducted into the Telecommunications Hall of Fame because “his modifications of the two-way radio … which he evolved into the world’s first functional and operational walkie-talkie, saved the lives of thousands of British, Canadian and American troops during the Second World War and helped to usher modern telecommunications technologies into the military”.

Despite being a lifetime member of the Professional Engineers Associations of British Columbia and Ontario, the American Geophysical Union and the Canadian Signal Corps, his professional education was self-taught. He had no university education.

His life work includes a wide-range of antenna, radio technologies and geophysical exploration techniques using electromagnetic instrumentation that he developed. He has more than 55 patents to his name in both Canada and the US.

On 2000-02-13 Roger Chaisson, Bruce Waugh and David Billings were awarded the People’s Choice Award at the Ottawa Winterlude Festival for their 4 m tall ice sculpture dedicated to Don Hings. It depicted a Red Cross soldier in the Second World War, speaking into a C-48 walkie-talkie.

Hings was adept at Morse code, and was an amateur radio operator, with call sign VE7BH. His obituary notes that he talked to “HAM boys” well into his 90s.

Hings lived in Burnaby, a municipality immediately east of Vancouver, at the summit of the 203 m high Capitol Hill, a neighbourhood north of Hastings Street, east of Willingdon Avenue, and west of Fell Avenue, known for its Italian, Portuguese and Croatian immigrant communities. He first saw Capitol Hill on a Scout outing in 1918, and decided then and there that he wanted to live there. He bought ca. 2.5 city blocks of the area, built his house there in the late 1940s. This is where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.

He located his business on a compound at this site. Seven of the staff members that worked for him in Ottawa, relocated to Capitol Hill when the company was established. Ultimately, he sold building lots to a staff of 15 at the same price he had paid for them, so they could live close by their place of work.

In addition to other patents, he has one for an electric piano. It consists of tuned steel bars that set up a moving magnetic field that creates pure tones, minus the harmonics, It is small, compact and never needs to be tuned. In addition it is equipped with a speaker and volume control.

Much of the information for the Weblog post is sourced from the D. L. Hings website.

The C-58 Walkie Talkie is less portable than today’s hand-held devices.


Buffy Saint-Marie: A tidbit

Buffy Sainte- Marie at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission Concert, Ottawa, Canada, 2015-06-15. Photo: Drpeterstockdale/ Wikimedia Commons

Buffy Sainte-Marie (1941-02-21 – )

One track: Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Universal Soldier

One quotation: “Language and culture cannot be separated. Language is vital to understanding our unique cultural perspectives. Language is a tool that is used to explore and experience our cultures and the perspectives that are embedded in our cultures.”

One comment: Today, Buffy Sainte-Marie celebrates her 80th birthday. My appreciation of her is in large part based on one song, The Universal Soldier. It points a finger at each and every person for the perpetration of war. At one time, I also owned a version of this song by the 1960s Wesleyan College folk group, The Highwaymen, on their One More Time (1964) album. Covers of the song have been made in 1965 by both Glen Campbell (1936 – 2017) in as well as Donovan (1946).

Wind turbines in cold weather

The two major and three minor North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) interconnections, and the nine NERC Regional Reliability Councils. The Regional Reliability Councils are: Eastern Interconnection with Florida Reliability Coordinating Council (FRCC); Midwest Reliability Organization (MRO); Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC); ReliabilityFirst Corporation (RFC); SERC Reliability Corporation (SERC); and Southwest Power Pool (SPP). Western Interconnection with Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC). Texas Interconnection with Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Mapwork: Claude Boucher (1964-)

This weblog post started off as a response to several fake news posts in various media, alleging that the recent power outages in Texas were due to wind turbine issues. While some wind turbines have failed, there are other, more important reasons for electrical power supply failures, resulting in the inability of Texas to provide water, food and energy to state residents, during – and after – winter storm Uri. Many of these are related to a toxic political environment, where the standard answer to any political question is privatization, where many other jurisdictions have found more nuanced solutions, often involving government participation.

In addition, the post has expanded into new areas, including the use of electric vehicle batteries and household power-walls to provide emergency power. If power utilities (corporations) cannot provide inexpensive and reliable supplies of energy, people will have to take energy production and storage into their own hands. It is noted, but not further discussed, that spot pricing of electrical power in Texas, has not led to a more equitable distribution, but to price gouging, despite this being illegal during an emergency.

Wikipedia states: “The electrical power grid that powers Northern America is not a single grid, but is instead divided into multiple wide area synchronous grids. The Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection are the largest. Three other regions include the Texas Interconnection, the Quebec Interconnection, and the Alaska Interconnection. Each region delivers power at a nominal 60 Hz frequency. The regions are not usually directly connected or synchronized to each other, but there are some high voltage direct current] HVDC Interconnectors.” Direct current is used to avoid any synchronizing issues between interconnections.

The American federal government regulated electrical power in the Federal Water Power Act of 1920-06-10. Its name was changed to the Federal Power Act in 1935. The content of the act has been changed at irregular intervals over the past century. Expressed less than rigorously, there are three electrical grids in the United States of America: The eastern grid, the western grid and the Texas grid, established so that the Lone-Star state/ Republic of Texas, could avoid regulation by the American federal government.

North American electrical energy production is coordinated by Regional Reliability Councils. These are: Eastern Interconnection with Florida Reliability Coordinating Council (FRCC); Midwest Reliability Organization (MRO); Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC); ReliabilityFirst Corporation (RFC); SERC Reliability Corporation (SERC); and Southwest Power Pool (SPP). Western Interconnection with Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC). Texas Interconnection with Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

Winter Storm Uri, has an official starting date of 2021-02-13, caused temperatures in Texas to drop to -20 C, in some locations. This caused serious water, energy and hunger problems, and a significant loss of human life. Accessing adequate supplies of water, food and gasoline has been difficult/ impossible for many/ some.

In Texas, wrath was initially directed at wind turbines. Many of the people criticising them are staunch members of the Republican party, and fossil fuel supporters. Fortunately, as will be shown below, many of these criticisms were regarded as fake news, resulting in a significant backlash.

Sid Miller, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, stated in a Facebook post 2021-02-16: “We should never build another wind turbine in Texas. The experiment failed big time. Governor Abbott’s Public Utility Commission appointees need to be fired and more gas, coal and oil infrastructure built.”

The same day Governor Greg Abbott told  Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.”

Fortunately, there are wiser voices. Princeton engineering professor Jesse Jenkins tweeted: “Those of you who have heard that frozen wind turbines are to blame for this, think again. The extreme demand and thermal power plant outages are the principle cause.” PolitiFact reported: “Of the power shortfall that hit Texas, over 80% was due to problems at coal- and gas-fired plants.” Daniel Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston, Texas stated: “By far the biggest outages have come from our natural gas plants, a portion were down for scheduled maintenance. Others weren’t designed to operate reliably in extreme cold weather and others haven’t been able to get enough natural gas supply.” Even rapper Bun B (Bernard James Freeman) criticized Texas Governor Greg Abbott for falsely blaming blackouts on renewable energy.

Benjamin Sovacool, University of Sussex, professor of energy policy, stated: “In Northern Europe, wind power operates very reliably in even colder temperatures, including the upper Arctic regions of Finland, Norway, and Sweden. As long as wind turbines are properly maintained and serviced, they can operate reliably in temperatures well below zero [0 F = ca. -18 C]. Humans, to carry out servicing and maintenance and operation, are the most important factor, not the weather.”

Various sources state that the operating temperature range of a wind turbine is between -20 C and +40 C. Admittedly steel alloys suitable for cold-temperature environments are typically used in wind turbines located in colder climates. Lubricants are used that retain appropriate viscosity for the climate where they are operating. Wind turbines are equipped with cold-weather packages that ensure cold-weather operation.

Active anti-icing systems are installed on most Nordic wind turbines. These can fail during a power outage on the grid, because they are dependent on external power sources. In a worst case scenario, cold, ice and older technology could result in a 10 percent reduction in annual energy production. With newer and larger turbines equipped with appropriate anti icing systems this loss would be significantly lower.

Blades without an ice-prevention system installed may need to be stopped temporarily in cold weather because falling ice could present a hazard. However, icing can be managed. Current anti-icing options allow wind turbines to be effective sources of power in cold climates.

It is interesting to see that in Texas, thermal energy sources, including natural gas, coal and nuclear energy did not receive the same criticism. Excuses were made that thermal energy failings were due to frozen instruments. The main culprit had nothing to do with instrumentation, but freeze-off, a situation where liquids inside wells, pipes and valves freeze, forming ice that blocks gas flow, clogging pipes. It disrupts gas production across the US every winter.

Another challenge, not generally cited, was that cold weather increased demand for natural gas for residential heating. There simply wasn’t enough fuel available to power the state’s electricity needs. Natural gas production was halved at the Texas Permian Basin during the storm. It fell from 635 million cubic meters of gas produced per day in 2020-12 to about 300 million cubic meters of gas per day during the storm period. This means that gas production was at a four-year low. It could take several weeks to restore supplies fully, due to equipment damage.

There are pragmatic reasons why a reduction in natural-gas supply could result in a reduction of gas to electrical power plants. Texas Gas Services, a public utility, explained it when requesting help from the public to reduce the number of people who could potentially lose the delivery of gas to residences during these extremely cold conditions. They said that conservation (whatever that is, in this context) is critical to avoid widespread outages. If an outage occurs, it will take time and effort to restore service. In part, because each residence will have to be checked for leaks before gas service can be re-established. If only electricity is lost, gas-furnaces should be turned off. When electrical power is restored, consumers are advised to wait 10 minutes before restarting gas furnaces to allow the natural gas system to adjust to increased demand and to avoid further disruptions. In other words, a residential gas outage could result in weeks of delay in getting service restored, while a residential electrical outage would allow an immediate restoration of power.

Many Texans have expressed relief that their state has few electric vehicles. Plugin Texas states that there were 8 397 EVs registered in the state in 2016. Statista estimates that in 2016, there were a total of 8.3 million registered vehicles in the state, indicating that about 0.1% of vehicles in the state are EVs. About 13 million people live in Texas.

Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) power flows, enhanced with two-way advanced meters, would give power utilities an ability to flexibly manage charging. The combined capacity of EV batteries could dampen demand responses and prevent brownouts = an intentional or unintentional drop in voltage in the grid, or worse, blackouts = a loss of the electrical power network supply.

Normally, there should be limitations placed on the use of smart technologies to manage power consumption. Power utilities are keen to flatten electrical consumption throughout the day, so they want consumers to heat their water, wash their dishes and their clothes at night. Yet, insurance companies are concerned the use of dishwashers, washing machines and other appliances at night may increase the number of residential fires.

A more appropriate response may be to charge EV batteries during off-peak periods, then to use them during peak periods. This may be managed on a household basis, or involve large parts of a grid. This is one way to reduce the need for supplementary power stations. In one study, using power in this way may actually increase the life-span of EV battery packs.

In Europe, the ISO 15118-20 standard, comes into effect this year (2021). The standard covers everything from electric bikes, cars, buses and trucks to ships and airplanes. It can control AC and DC changing, as well as wireless power transfer (WPT) and bi-directional power transfer (BPT).

During exceptional times, such as winter storm Uri, electric vehicle batteries, with appropriate charging technology, can function as emergency power sources. They would turn the energy in their battery packs into alternating current (AC) power to provide emergency backup power.

Most EV manufacturers are now recycling used battery packs into second-life storage devices. One of these is Tesla’s Power Wall, but many others are coming onto the market. Power transistors are becoming much more efficient and compact, which has resulted in more efficient and compact domestic power inverters.

Micro power generation in the form of photovoltaic cells, miniature wind turbines or even concentrated solar (thermal) power units will also help make electrical supply more robust.

Some solutions encourage the prepper in everyone, including do-it-yourself (DIY) manufacturing of powerwalls, suitable for talented amateurs.

An Aside: At Cliff Cottage, we removed our main living room wood-burning stove. At one point we had intended on replacing it with a more modern stove, but this has met with opposition/ procrastination from all of the residents. They comment that every time a new log is put on a fire, smoke/ toxins enter the room. Thus, what we are considering now is a battery pack that will provide electricity when there is a blackout. In addition, it should be able to provide extra power during peak periods, and charge itself off-peak. A related project (Turtle Power) is to build a 1 kW miniature wind turbine, with no visible, unintentionally accessible moving parts, and occupying a volume of less than 1 m3. Anyone wanting further information, or an opportunity to participate, is invited to take contact.

Fossil fuels cause significant environmental and health problems. They are also a non-renewable resource. Relying on them is not a wise long-term energy strategy. Texans, and almost everyone else, will have to learn to do wind energy better, to install micro power generation equipment, and to use battery power at home and on the road.

Panel Vans

A 1961 Hillman Husky panel van in Christchurch, New Zealand. This is an Audax design from Raymond Loewy (1893 – 1986), who also designed vehicles for Studebaker and International Harvester. (Photo: Riley, 2011-10-23)

A panel van is a cargo vehicle with (up to) three distinguishing characteristics. First, it is based on a passenger car chassis. Second, there is typically only one row of seats for a driver and either one or two passengers. The area behind this row is for cargo/ goods/ freight. Third, (optionally,)there are no side windows behind the B-pillar, which is the roof support for the vehicle immediately behind the front doors.

In the past, some panel vans were almost identical to station wagons, but with glass side-windows replaced with steel, and rear seats removed. In the above photo, the windows are still in place, but painted with signage. Others featured a raised cargo area, behind the B-pillar. British panel vans, especially the Hillman Husky and Commer Cob, with their Audax design from 1960 to 1965, by Raymond Loewy (1893 – 1986), appealed most to me in the 1960s.

An aside: In part, this preference for British vehicles came from spending most summers in Kelowna, British Columbia, where my mother grew up. The community seemed to have a split personality: Half of the population drove British cars, the other half American. The first vehicle I ever drove was a Chevrolet pickup, in a farm field. I also spent a lot of time driving to beaches in the back of my aunt’s 1939 Plymouth. However, most of my mother’s friends had their own Austin A40s, Morris Minors, and even a Mini, bought in 1960.

By the 1970s, station wagons such as the Volkswagen Squareback and Volvo Amazon station wagon/ 125 and, later, Volvo 145 were also favourably viewed. This position was overtaken by the Saab 95 panel van in the 1980s and early 1990s. Our landlord in Aukra, Norway, had such a vehicle. Sometimes he would take us into Molde, about 30 km away, with Trish sitting in the passenger seat, while I lounged in the back. At the time, this was all perfectly legal. With the introduction of the Citroën Berlingo and Renault Kangoo in 1996, these two models dominated my thoughts. They no longer featured the front end, and lower seating height of a small car, but had a distinctive cockpit that improved visibility.

Part of the appeal of a panel van is that both sides and, potentially, the back, can be used to display artwork. This is part of their charm, and I have spent considerable time contemplating what I would paint on these surfaces. This characteristic does not extend to the panel van’s passenger vehicle cousin, the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV). Despite their inferiority in displaying artwork, they also have one major advantage. When they aren’t busy carrying cargo, they can also haul up to five, and sometimes even seven people. This group of vehicles also includes the Kia Soul.

Since retirement in 2017, I have been unable to justify buying a panel van. We are reduced to one vehicle in the household. Even if that one vehicle is used mainly by a single person at a time, and sometimes even two people, it has to be capable of carrying at least four people. Unfortunately, the premise of owning a panel van was dependent on having more than one vehicle in the household. Any new vehicle means that it won’t be a panel van, but could be an MPV.

Why an MPV? Apart from driving to the local store, or SpirenTEK, the local hacker space, which could be done with any vehicle, the answer is to transform it into a primitive mini-camper, that could be used to explore Trøndelag/ Norway/ Scandinavia/ Europe at a leisurely pace. There are companies that make removable camper conversions, but it is also something that could be made in almost any woodworking workshop. Thus, the MPV is the most relevant type of vehicle to consider.

There are smaller contenders: a Fiat 500 Giardiniera (if it ever makes it into production, hopefully with a side opening tailgate), a Hyundai Kona, or a Kia e-Niro, all vehicles that have suitable range! If worse comes to worse and price becomes an important consideration, there is always a Dacia Spring, or a Renault Zöe. Renault has also said it will reduce the number of platforms it builds on, which probably means it will discontinue its Renault Twingo EV. They have also said that they will introduce a Renault 5 hatchback EV in 2023 or 2024 (probably a replacement for the Zöe), and a Renault 4 retrostyled mini-SUV EV in 2025. These would both use a new CMF-B EV platform, designed for electric compact vehicles, and be built at the Douai plant near Lille, France. None of these vehicles would make a suitable mini-camper. Apart from power, torque and sufficient battery capacity, which determines range, liquid battery cooling is imperative.

EV variant vans prior to 2021 were better suited to flat, slow moving urban landscapes, than to the mountainous terrain of Norway. Fortunately, both Renault and Citroën have updated their smaller vans. Soon these will be available with improved motors and batteries, so that they provide sufficient range and power. Are they once again fit for purpose? The availability of liquid battery cooling will provide the answer. If not, the Kia Soul EV does.

A 2021 Renault Kangoo, a multi-purpose vehicle, available in ICE and EV (called ZE in Renault-speak) varieties. Buying one is dependent on it coming with liquid cooled batteries. Photo: Renault.

Update: On 2021-02-14 some minor changes were made to improve the text, and to help people better understand locations in Canada and Norway.

Heat

The U.S. consumes about 100 EJ = 100 Exajoules = 100 x 1018 Joules of energy, annually. Americans, being Americans don’t often express energy in Joules. Rather, they prefer to use British Thermal Units (BTUs), where 1 BTU = 1055 J. Another way of expressing this is to say that Americans use about 100 quads of energy, where 1 quad = 1015 BTUs. If one is willing to accept a 5.5% error, one can say that 1 EJ is about equal to 1 quad.

Only about one third of energy consumed is used for productive work. The above Sankey diagram shows energy inputs and outputs, productive work is clumped together as energy services, in a dark gray box. The other 2/3 is wasted as heat, which in the above diagram is referred to as rejected energy, which is clumped together in a light gray box.

Renewable energy comes from solar (1.04 quads), hydro (2.5 quads), winds (2.75 quads) and geothermal (0.21 quads) sources, for a total of 6.5 quads. Thermal energy systems burn fuel or split atoms, and accounted for about 93.5% of American energy inputs in 2019. Most of this fuel come from fossil sources, that is responsible for most of the carbon emissions associated with climate change. Wasted/ rejected energy is a proxy/ surrogate/ substitute for the damage being done to the planet. The exception is the energy provided by nuclear power, although it also has issues of its own. In contrast, renewable energy (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal) capture energy, without creating heat. While there are some transmission loses, most of that energy provides energy services.

A modern electric vehicle (EV) with regenerative braking is about 95% energy effective. Even the most efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, can only achieve about 30% energy efficiency. This means that an EV only needs about 1/3 of the energy inputs that an ICE vehicle needs.

The United States transportation sector uses 28% of the total energy. Of this, cars, light trucks, and motorcycles use about 58%, while 23% is used in heavy duty trucks, 8% is for aircraft, 4% is for boats and ships, 3% is for trains and buses, while the last 4% is for pipelines (according to 2013 figures). This means that road transportation accounts for over 80% of the total. From the Sankey diagram, one can see that the transportation sector has 28.2 quads of input of (mostly) fossil-fuel energy, which means that 22.5 quads are road related. This results in 5.93 quads of transportation services, of which 4.75 quads are road related. These figures show about a 21% efficiency, because transportation related engines are considerably less efficient than other engines, including those used for electrical power generation.

If one uses renewable energy for road transportation, 4.75 quads of transportation services could be produced from about 5.0 quads of renewable (wind/ solar/ hydro/ geothermal) energy. At the same time, 22.5 quads of oil production would be eliminated, without any negative energy-related consequences. In fact, there would be benefits in terms of improved health, and less pressure on the environment.

A shift to renewable sources in other sectors would also have benefits. Natural gas and coal currently make a large contribution to inputs for electricity generation used elsewhere, 11.7 and 10.2 quads each, respectively, for a total of 21.9 quads. However, using the 1/3 service, 2/3 rejected formula, this means that these fossil-fuel inputs only produce 7.3 quads of electrical services. This contribution could be replaced by 7.5 quads of renewable energy.

Gasoline has an energy density of about 45 MJ/kg, which can provide about 15 MJ/kg of energy services, and 30 MJ/kg of rejected energy, as discussed above. A litre of gasoline has a mass of 0.76 kg and produces 2.356 kg of CO2 and 11.4 MJ of energy.

For American readers: The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that “About 19.64 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) are produced from burning a gallon of gasoline that does not contain ethanol. About 22.38 pounds of CO2 are produced by burning a gallon of diesel fuel. U.S. gasoline and diesel fuel consumption for transportation in 2013 resulted in the emission of about 1 095 and 427 million metric tons of CO2 respectively, for a total of 1 522 million metric tons of CO2. This total was equivalent to 83% of total CO2 emissions by the U.S. transportation sector and 28% of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions.Under international agreement, CO2 from the combustion of biomass or biofuels are not included in national greenhouse gas emissions inventories.”

Since 1 MJ = 0.2778 Kilowatt hours (kWh), 11.4 MJ is the equivalent of 3.17 kWh. According to Electric Choice, the average price a residential customer in the United States pays for electricity is 13.31 cents per kWh in December 2020. This means that gasoline would have to sell for 42.19 cents per litre to be cost effective. Since there are 3.785 litres per American gallon, a gallon would have to sell for about $1.60 to provide an equivalent price. According to Global Petrol Prices, the average price of mid-grade/ 95-octane gasoline was $2.752 per gallon, the equivalent of $0.727 per litre, as of 2021-02-01.

In Norway, the price is about NOK 1 per kWh for electricity, but with wide variations. The price of 95-octane gasoline is about NOK 16.33 per litre, once again according to Global Petrol Prices. This helps explain why EVs are so popular. To be price equivalent, gasoline would have to sell for about NOK 3.17 per litre. Currently, Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament, is debating increasing the CO2 tax by NOK 5 per litre, which would bring the price to over NOK 21 per litre. Not all political parties are in agreement, with this proposal.

There is a great deal of discussion about consumption figures for electric vehicles in Norway. In part, this is because the terrain varies greatly. Some people drive in urban landscapes, others out in the country. Some people are flatlanders, while others have more mountainous environments. However many consumers have experienced real-world energy consumption levels of about 15 kWh/100 km for vehicles such as a Hyundai Kona, Kia Soul and Tesla Model 3. This gives a fuel cost of about NOK 15/ 100 km. In American terms, this would be about 24 kWh/ 100 miles, or $3.20/ 100 miles, with the electrical costs noted above.

Fanboy

A badly behaving Apple Macintosh Performa 5200, owned between 1995 and about 2000, was the main reason why I never became a fanboy of Apple. I feel more comfortable with computers made by Asus, with Linux operating systems. Photo: Beavis.

A fanboy is a boy or man who is an extreme or overt enthusiast of someone or something. It very specifically excludes half of the population. Yes, those people who frequently become mothers, and who excel at multi-tasking. If there are complaints about the sexist nature of the title, I will graciously allow fanperson, or even fanchild, to be used. However, I wonder if there is a good reason why this description applies to one gender, and not the other?

Some definitions of fanboy use ardently devoted, or even obsessed. While some restrict this obsession to a more general “single hobby or interest”, another specifies categories and includes comic books, science fiction, video games, music or electronic devices and mentions Apple and the iPhone specifically.

While the number of fanboy sites checked is limited, none of them mentioned vehicles either generally (cars, locomotives and other forms of railcar, aircraft, vessels), or road machines more specifically in the form of motorcycles, muscle cars or sports cars. Here, I admit an unnatural attraction to panel vans and multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), most specifically, the Citroën Berlingo more than any other vehicle, although if Citroën doesn’t soon produce an EV version with a ca. 300 km range, it may be dumped for another E-MPV: a Renault Kangoo or even a Kia Soul.

In terms of clothing, there were a number of products that I purchased because of their fit. These included McGregor Weekend socks and Ecco shoes, especially. Unfortunately, once McGregor started acquiring socks from China, they just didn’t last, so I stopped buying them. Instead, I have relied on Trish to make most of my socks. She also produces all of my shirts and pajamas. Ecco started using narrower lasts, which meant that their shoes no longer fit. Fortunately, my daughter, Shelagh, introduced me to Allbirds, which have now become my preferred shoe brand.

Owning a large number of products produced by the same manufacturer does not make one a fanboy. Take Jula’s Meek range of battery tools. While I own a large number of them, it is primarily because the tools are good enough, and they have battery compatibility. Similarly, the Scheppach woodworking power tools I have were purchased because of their low cost. Some are being replaced with Bosch (and other brand-name) equivalents. I want tools that do the job. I am a hobbyist, not a woodworking professional.

Where I am a fanboy relates to computing equipment, hardware more than software. Yet, because of my education, software is important. In terms of programming languages, I describe myself as a member of the Algol tribe, with Simula the closest to my heart. Unfortunately, it has been 35 years since I last programmed in it. One of the most important clans of the Algol tribe is Pascal. Outside of this tribe there is Smalltalk, which is appreciated more for its origins at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) than its utility. I am also attracted to Forth, Lua, Node-Red, Processing and Prolog, each for specific purposes. Yet, in the real world, if I have to program, I stick to C and C++. More modern languages, such as Python, arrived too late for me to work in, although it is a language I have played with, and recommend younger people to learn.

When it comes to desktop/ laptop operating systems, I will probably stick to Linux Mint with a Cinnamon desktop. This is not because I have mastered it. Rather, it allows me to muddle though. Other operating systems such as LibreELEC, FreeBSD, Robot operating system (ROS) and FreeRTOS = free real-time operating system, will be used to meet specific needs. Yet, I have an emotional attachment to another Linux distribution, Mandrake, the first Linux distribution I used, or at least its descendent, Mageia. The first family computer we owned was an Amiga, with Amiga OS still finding a place in my heart.

Most of the software listed above, is either unavailable (Simula, being the best example) or freely available without cost (most other products). Thus, if there is a specific need, most of the above operating systems can be put on a memory stick, and be running on a computer within a few minutes. Then I can spend an hour or two indulging my (software) desires.

This is not the case with hardware. Most of the time, real money has to be spent buying gear. I have already wasted sufficient money buying computer components that break down far too early. Thus, the primary reason for being a fanboy is to secure reliable products.

In alphabetical order, some products are:.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD): microprocessors, currently Ryzen models

Asus: computers, motherboards

Canon: printers

Logitech: keyboards, mice, headphones

Noctua: fans, cooling systems

Raspberry Pi: single board computers, and peripheral interfaces (HATS)

Wacom: graphic tablets

Some products have almost attained fanboy status. One is Native Instruments for its musical/ sound equipment. A change in status is dependent on support for Linux operating systems, something currently lacking. Similarly, I am awaiting for RISC V reduced instruction set computers (RISC) to arrive at some point in the near future. Hopefully, this open-source microprocessor system will improve security, reliability and durability.

There are a number of products that at one time had fanboy status, but lost it. Western Digital is the best example. Before, almost all hard disk drives (HDD) in use here were made by the company. Now, Toshiba is the most popular brand, although I did purchase a Samsung solid-state drive (SSD) for my latest system. I also buy a number of Kingston products, in the form of memory sticks.

The opposite of a fanboy is a h8er, an adversary of particular products. While others may be h8ers out of prejudice, the term here is restricted to unreliable products. Printers often fall into this category with those provided by HP and Epson particularly notable.

The one other manufacturer that should be commented upon is Apple. Their Macintosh Performa series was a disaster, but countless times they make decisions that negatively impact users. This may be fine for the class of user that can upgrade regularly without thinking of the cost, but Apple products are not for people in the lower echelons of society. I have previously commented on my experiences with Apple products.

Final comment: Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield, in a YouTube video, on her Transport Evolved channel, 2020-11-25 at 20:32, used the term fangirl to describe what she wasn’t. This is the first time, I have been exposed to a gendered variant of the term. Admittedly, I lead a sheltered life.

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 Vernon 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.