Lou Ottens (1926 – 2021)

Phillips EL3300, the world’s first compact cassette recorder, with microphone, cassette tape and tape container launched in 1963. It was developed by Lou Ottens and a team at the Phillips Hasselt factory, in Belgium. Photo: Vintage Music Museum.

Lou Ottens (1926-06-21 – 2021-03-06) was born in Bellingwolde, in the south-east of the Netherlands, near the German border. During World War II, he constructed a radio with a primitive directional antenna to listen to Radio Oranje, a BBC European Service broadcast to the German-occupied Netherlands transmitted from London and lasting about 15 minutes.

Ottens attended Delft University of Technology. After he graduated from mechanical engineering studies in 1952, he was hired by Philips to work in the mechanization department of the Main Industry Group in Eindhoven. In 1957, he transferred to the Hasselt, Belgium, factory that produced audio equipment, such as turntables, tape recorders and loudspeakers.

Meanwhile, in 1958, on the other side of the world, RCA = Radio Corporation of America, proposed a worldwide tape recorder standard for a quick loading cartridge based on two flangeless hubs in a flat box. Flangeless hubs facilitate smaller dimensions because one reel diminishes as the other grows in diameter. It was based on the existing standard tape speed  3 ¾ IPS (inches per second) = 95 mm/sec and reversible utilisation for 2 x 30 minutes in stereo. Unfortunately for RCA, and fortunately for Philips, this proved to be an unsuitable solution. Quick rewinding and winding the tape could lead to jamming, and the power consumption due to the internal friction in the cartridge made it unsuitable for use in battery operated equipment.

In 1960, Ottens became the head of the new product development department and developed the EL 3585 portable tape recorder. One of its goals was to develop a pocket recorder, known today as a portable cassette recorder. It was to be inexpensive, physically small, with low battery consumption but with good, but not great, sound quality. Cassette design started with the cutting a block of wood that could fit into a jacket pocket. This developed into the EL 3300 cassette recorder. A team of ten/ twelve workers with design experience from gramophones and tape recorders were used to develop the cassette and its equipment.

The EL 3300 used a plastic enclosure 113 x 56 x 196 mm that held 5 x 1.5V batteries = 8.5 V power, but with the possibility of powering from the grid using a power jack. There were seven transistors (4 x AC125, 1 x AC126 and 2 x AC128) inside that provided 0.25 W of power to a permanent magnet dynamic loudspeaker with a moving coil) / Ø 2.4 inch = 61 mm.

The product was launched at the Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin = International radio exhibition Berlin = Berlin Radio Show, in 1963-08-30. This cassette was 1/4 the size of existing Fidelipac or Lear cartridges. It featured reversible housing with maximum tape protection allowing 30 or 45 minutes of stereo music per side. Tape speed: 47.6 mm/s. Tape width: 3.81 mm. In the US Philips used the name Norelco. A note for collectors: An original Philips EL3300 is not difficult to buy, but are in average (rather than pristine) condition. Prices vary, but are often US$ 50 to 60. Finding one requires patience.

Ottens made agreements with Sony for the patented Philips cassette mechanism to be a world standard. The triumph of the cassette tape ended only with the appearance of the Compact Disc format, another joint venture between Philips and Sony.

In 1969, Ottens became Director of Philips Hasselt, where it focused primarily on producing Philips cassette systems. Hasselts grew larger, with over 5000 employees.

In 1972 Ottens became director of audio at Philips’ NatLab, where he became involved in the next major music innovation: the CD. A collaboration was entered into with Sony and in 1980 the 120 mm Philips-Sony CD standard was ready for the world.

Ottens told the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, “Nothing can match the sound of the CD, It is absolutely noise and rumble-free. That never worked with tape … I have made a lot of record players and I know that the distortion with vinyl is much higher. I think people mainly hear what they want to hear.” Ottens had little patience with the renewed popularity of the cassette tape and vinyl. More than 100bn cassette tapes and 200bn CDs have been sold. When asked about his regrets, Ottens lamented that Sony had brought out the first Walkman.

Ottens retired from Philips in 1986. He became chairperson of the Dutch Association for Logistics Management in 1988. On 2021-03-06 Ottens died at his home in the village of Duizel in North Brabant, Netherlands.

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.


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.

Max Whirlpool: A tidbit

Max Whirlpool (16) shown immediately after being unplugged, and waiting to be escorted outside of the kitchen, for smoking.

Max Whirlpool (16) has been expelled from the kitchen for smoking. A representative from the kitchen, who wishes to remain anonymous because he is unauthorized to speak on behalf of management, stated: “We practice tough love. There is no discrimination. Any electrical appliance caught smoking will be treated exactly the same way as Whirlpool. It will be removed from service. ” He added that Whirlpool has worked in the kitchen since 2003.

Our next microwave oven will not be a Whirlpool. That is not because of any dissatisfaction with Max, until the smoking incident. It is more related to Whirlpool as a corporation. It does not appear to take the health and safety of consumers seriously. In fact, even when one of its products was clearly to blame for a massive loss of life, 72 people, it attempted to blame others.

Recently, the Guardian reported that the Grenfell fire report “… went further than many expected, as did Moore-Bick’s dismissal of attempts by corporate groups to delay or prevent findings that might count against them, such as the “fanciful” claim by Whirlpool – the manufacturer of the Hotpoint fridge-freezer – that the fire could have been started by a cigarette.”

Earlier, the Guardian had reported on another fire, where MP Andy Slaughter said “… the government should learn from a serious fire in his constituency in 2016, when a faulty Indesit tumble dryer started a blaze in the Shepherds Court tower block in Shepherd’s Bush, west London. Residents escaped with minor injuries. Twenty fire engines and 120 firefighters attended the scene.

The same article cited a letter to UK business secretary Larry Clark, where Slaughter stated “that Whirlpool – which owns both Hotpoint and Indesit brands – had “a poor history of fire safety”.

Wikipedia, in a section titled UK Dryer Fire Risk, in its article about Whirlpool Corporation, writes: “Safety warnings about tumble dryers published on the Indesit and Hotpoint websites in 2015 advised customers that “In some rare cases, excess fluff can come into contact with the heating element and present a risk of fire.” Condensers and vented tumble dryers sold under the brands Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline and manufactured over an 11-year period between April 2004 and September 2015 present a fire risk. An estimated 5.3 million tumble dryers were bought in the UK over the time period. Originally, and even after several fires were confirmed as being caused by faulty devices, Whirlpool advised customers that using such devices was safe provided they were not left unattended but would not issue a product recall. Whirlpool offered to fix faulty machines or replace tumble dryers at a cost of £99 – an offer met with derision with consumer groups and in the press. Parliament discussed widespread difficulties with getting faulty machines fixed or replaced, including long wait times and poor service.”

Max’s replacement Sam, a Samsung MS23K3515AW purchased for NOK 900, has arrived in Inderøy. We have spent some time learning how to operate Sam. We are looking forward to working with him to serve our modest microwaving needs in the coming years: reheating food/ beverages and defrosting. Sam is originally from Malaysia.

Open Source is not Enough

This story from 2017 explains why it is essential that people understand who controls every product they acquire. In this particular case – about garage openers, an open source hardware solution proves to be more problematic than a closed source solution.

An attractive garage door, totally unrelated to the one mentioned in this web-log post. Photo: http://homesfeed.com/unique-garage-doors/

Denis Grisak started Garadget, which makes an open-source Internet-connected garage opener. He promoted his start up on Kickstarter.

This device uses Wi-Fi-based cloud connectivity from Particle to open and close garage doors. The garage door is controlled over the internet by a mobile phone app. It also uses existing garage door hardware. The phone becomes a remote control.

On 2017-04-01, April fools’ day for some, R. Martin, a customer who purchased a Garadget opener on Amazon reported iPhone application control problems, and left the following comment on the Garadget community board: “Just installed and attempting to register a door when the app started doing this. Have uninstalled and reinstalled iphone app, powered phone off/on – wondering what kind of piece of shit I just purchased here…”

Yes, the language cannot be condoned, but one can understand that the customer is feeling frustration. Soon afterwards, not having gotten a response, he left a 1-star review of Garadget on Amazon: “Junk – DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY – iPhone app is a piece of junk, crashes constantly, start-up company that obviously has not performed proper quality assurance tests on their products.”

Grisak then remotely deactivated Martin’s garage opener [sic] and posted the following on the support forum: ” Martin, [NP] The abusive language here and in your negative Amazon review, submitted minutes after experiencing a technical difficulty, only demonstrates your poor impulse control. [NP] I’m happy to provide the technical support to the customers on my Saturday night but I’m not going to tolerate any tantrums. At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036… will be denied server connection.” NP = New Paragraph.

This denial of service breaks the trust that is necessary between a manufacturer/ vendor and its customers. I was surprised to find that the company is still in business. It certainly doesn’t deserve to be. The legality of the server disconnection can be discussed, as could potential criminality, if someone were to be injured or killed because of this disconnection. However, we will not be visiting these subjects today.

Instead, there is a basic lesson to be learned by all consumers, and that is not to place too much trust in suppliers. In particular, it means avoiding technological solutions that give over-riding control of a product to someone other than the end user. In particular, control of communications is important. It does not make any difference if the product is open-source or closed-source, if the someone else controls communication.

In its Kickstarter description, one meets the following: “In its core Garadget uses the Photon module from the great folks at Particle and benefits from all the development tools and support materials created for the module[.]” Particle makes cloud-connected microcontrollers, that are powered by Device OS, a proprietary (closed-source) operating system. Cloud is just a funny name for someone else’s server. That puts consumers at the mercy of companies that have a more direct relationship with Particle. Particle may make it easy for a startup to prototype a product. It might make it easy for that same startup to scale up production, Unfortunately, neither of those are particularly important for consumers.

Some Choices

The main reason for writing this post is not to complain about a manufacturer/ vendor, but a way of life where needs are met exclusively by shopping, and where buying something leads to unintended consequences. In this particular case it is the loss of control.

Unfortunately, not shopping is not an option. Twenty-first century people cannot make everything from scratch. At some point a component has to be bought. The size of that component may vary – It may be a property with multiple buildings, a house, a garage, a garage door, a garage door opener, a microprocessor or a … Somewhere, one has to stop, and buy something.

R. Martin lost control at the garage door opener level, and it is here that a solution can be offered. There are several ways to make a garage door opener, including some that make excellent projects for an adult (including teacher/ parent/ grand-parent) and child (12+) to work on together, at school, home or community workshop.

Raspberry Pi is closed-source, but its products offer high value for their relatively low price. Normally, I have a reluctance to use closed-source products. For example, I use Linux, rather than Windows. In this particular case, I want to show that closed-source may be the appropriate choice, because the end-user retains control.

There are several different models of Raspberry Pi as well as several different generations. These instructions are general, and may be adapted to the specific variant used. Part of my crusade is to encourage people to use compute modules, rather than Model A, Model B or Zero varieties. The reason is simple – in most projects not all of the components supplied are needed. Compute module 3+ was launched 2019-01 and will be available until at least 2026. In terms of computing, future proofing does not get any better.

At the Inderøy Tekno-workshop, one of the projects that will be worked on will be a garage opener. Currently, the idea is to combine two different projects, using the following documentation:

https://github.com/andrewshilliday/garage-door-controller

https://github.com/sp1k3ster/home-assistant/pull/1

This weblog post was originally considerably larger when it was originally written: 2019-02-03 with a time stamp of 17:28:20.

A mechatronic workshop

Some people face more challenges than others. Members of the Afghan all-girls robotics team make adjustments to a team robot in the practice area in Washington D.C. on 2017-07-17. These young Afghan women are renown for their resilience and resolve. Their visas to USA had been rejected twice. Despite this, when they arrived at the last minute, their team came in second place. Later in 2017-11-27, they won first place at the Entrepreneurial Challenge, for the Robotex festival, in Tallinn, Estonia. Their challenge was to showcase a prototype that could solve a real-world problem, and that customers would want to buy. They won with a robot that could use solar energy to support small-scale farmers in their fields. (Photo: Paul J. Richards)

For the past three days I have spent my working hours fighting off a virus while pondering some fundamental concepts related to a community mechatronics workshop, that should be opening soon in Inderøy.

Ideally, this workshop should be all things to all people, or at least, a few different things to a few different groups of people. The challenge is, that one has only NOK 250 000 to equip the workshop, whereas one needs about NOK 1 000 000. The area is 70 square meters, and one room. What one needs is 200 square meters and five different rooms.

Rather than spreading investments over several fields, and ending up with nothing, a decision was taken to focus exclusively on mechatronics. Once this is in place and functioning well, then other areas can be prioritized at some unspecified point in the future.

Then there is the challenge of a name. What might seem like an obvious choice, a seemingly innocent term, such as maker space proves difficult to use in practice. Why? Well, maker is a political term, and is frequently usurped by people with vested interests. John Patrick Leary lists maker as one of his keywords, in his 2018 book, Keywords. Libertarians, in particular, have seized on this title. Other terms, such as hack space, have also been usurped, but by the socialist hoard, political adversaries of libertarians.

Before confronting the socialist hoard hackers, who are theselibertarians and what do they want? A quick, but necessarily incomplete, answer to the question is, followers of Ayn Rand (1905 – 1982). Admittedly there are exceptional libertarians who dislike Rand, but they are in the minority. Rand is known especially for two novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and for a philosophical system she called Objectivism, that has inspired many libertarians. Mother Jones, the San Francisco based investigative magazine, remarked that “Rand’s particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed.” (July-August 2009).

Rand is not noted for anything approaching political correctness. In her biography Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, Jennifer Burns notes how Rand’s position that “Native Americans were savages” and that as a result “European colonists had a right to seize their land because native tribes did not recognize individual rights.” (p. 266) She has offered similar opinions about the Arab populations of the Middle East.

As David Harvey, in A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), argues, Neoliberalization’s primary accomplishment has been to “redistribute, rather than to generate, wealth and income” (p. 159). In particular, he points to privatization and commodification of previously public assets, which he describes as the “Commodification of Everything” in which all things are turned into things with that can have rents extracted from, including intangible ideas like originality, authenticity, and uniqueness, which “were never actually produced as commodities.” (p. 166) .

Much of the libertarian movement could be described as “me first”. It wants to reward the aggressive. At this point it could be appropriate for readers to take a pause, and read Debbie Chachra’s essay, Why I am Not a Maker: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/01/why-i-am-not-a-maker/384767/

The point of the above essay is that a community workshop is not just a workshop for the few. There are a large number of social interactions that have to be facilitated. There are youth present who may be learning new skills, teachers who may be providing instruction, disabled people who may be in need of companionship, people of many genders who may want to create a new and for them, a more appropriate identity. While there may be people who may be making, there may be others who are repairing or repurposing or recycling or just reflecting on life.

I am particularly concerned that calling something a maker space, will in itself create an unintended hierarchy of users. In some maker spaces in Canada, it has been found that white, male youth, from privliged backgrounds, attempted to monopolize maker spaces, by defining themselves as its target group, and defining others as outside of that target group.

Such is the power of a name. I have previously argued for the use of a name that is the Norwegian equivalent of Velocity, a vector quantity that combines speed with direction. More importantly, it does not hint at what can or cannot be done in a workshop. There is no prestige to be lost if the organization changes direction. Velocity might be involved in mechatronics this year, then shift to fashion, cos-play and steampunk next year, before ending up as a videography group focused on rock musicals. It doesn’t make any difference, because the name is flexible.

Now it is time to look at more left-leaning hacker spaces. Left-leaning, but not necessarily egalitarian or diverse.

In V. Kostakis, V. Niaros & C. Giotitsas Production and governance in hackerspaces: A manifestation of Commons-based peer production in the physical realm? (2014) International Journal of Cultural Studies, Hacker space practices supposedly contrast with market-based maker space businesses in that they are more focused on for-benefit rather than for-profit projects but that for-profit motivations are not entirely absent. In this study of 23 semi-structured interviews with a sample of hacker spaces around the world found that money remains a peripheral concept only. Particpants are motivated by the social desire for hackers to have a ‘third place’ for social interaction. This refers to American urban sociologist, Ray Oldenburg (1932 – ) and the importance of informal public gathering places for a functioning civil society, democracy and civic engagement. In addition, there is the altruistic motivation of ‘making the world a better place’ through working on commons-oriented projects. However, it was also found that openness only applied in a limited sense. The barrier is not a door; it is social inclusion. In J. Moilanen Emerging hackerspaces–Peer-production generation Open Source Systems: LongTerm Sustainability (2012) pp. 94-111, 90 percent of respondents were male and 64 percent of respondents had a completed a post-secondary degree. Often hacker spaces are closed to non-members, most days of the week.

Collaboration and sharing were found to be important by six out of
seven participants as evidence of collaboration in the spaces. In addition, some hacker spaces were committed to sharing projects with Commons-based licenses and favored people working on collective projects over personal ones. There was also a wide variety of ‘innovative’ hardware and software produced by hacker spaces and showed the underestimated power of meaningful human cooperation. At the same time there was community accountability, communal validation and autonomy. Participants cited trust and accountability as important pillars of hacker space operation.

A workshop needs legal status and governance. Most are non-profit organizations governed by elected boards, This is one of the first things that has to be put into place. An alternative is to nest the workshop within an existing organization, such a municipal public library. It needs membership fees and/ or funding. Often membership fees serve as the primary income source for a space though different membership levels or sliding-scale pricing. Some spaces receive grants or donations, as is the case with the workshop in Inderøy.

Workshops need physical space and equipment. Most start small but can grow into large spaces. One major challenge is finding adequate and affordable space. There is also a need for a workshop to abide by legal safety and ergonomic standards. Workshops may have issues with building codes, including fire protection and ventilation systems. There is also a need for liability insurance and waiver forms for adult participants.

The creation of a workshop involves much more than a group of
individuals coming together to form a do-ocracy.

One major challenge is the inability for workshops to account/ bookkeep volunteer labour. It is far too frequently treated as a free resource without value. This is inappropriate. Personnel and mentor costs are valid costs. When local government is involved, they need to be efficient in allocating limited resources (even those provided by retired persons). Other underestimated costs have to do with externalities. Noise and physical damage are major concerns, given that workshops have noisier and messier activities. To reduce noise impact, workshops may have to be given insulated spaces and flooring, and by separated physically from other quieter activities.

Stakeholder support is another significant issue. It is important that workshop initiators communicate openly with everyone even remotely influenced by the workshop.

OperationalCulturalCritical
DesignABC
ProduceDEF
InterpretGHI
DisseminateJKL

A: Use a variety of tools, modes, media, and materials to design texts and artefacts. Re-design texts and artefacts.

B: Understand design principles within a specific social and cultural context, bringing their own experiences to bear on the task.

C: Reflect critically on design principles. Choose modes, media, and materials to use for specific purposes (e.g., to entertain,persuade, etc.) and for particular audiences.

D: Use a variety of tools, modes, media,and materials to produce texts and artefacts. Re-use/ re-purpose/ re-mix texts and artefacts effectively.

E: Draw on own social and cultural experiences in the creation of texts and artefacts. Allow feelings and emotions to shape the production experience.

F: Reflect critically on the process of production,to ask questions such as (i) How do I want topresent myself and others in this text or artefact? (ii) What messages do I want to convey?

G: Access and understand modes/ media/ materials used in the production of a text/ artefact. Comprehend meaning, interpret through analysis,reflection, synthesis. Relate text/artefact to own prior understandingand experience. Move beyond a literal to deductive andinferential reading.

H: Draw on own social and cultural experiences in the analysis and interpretation of texts and artefacts. Participate with others in collective reviewand interpretation. Understand texts and artefacts in relation to the social, historical, and cultural contexts in which they were produced. I: Reflect critically on the text or artefact that is being engaged with, to ask questions such as: (i) Who produced this? (ii) What can be discerned of the producer’s intentions? (iii) How has the producer positioned the reader/ viewer/ user? (iv) How do issues of power work in this context?

J: Able to use a variety of tools, modes, media,and avenues to disseminate texts and artefacts.

K: Understand most effective means of disseminating texts and artefacts within the social and cultural context. Reach out effectively to diverse audiences tocommunicate meanings.

L: Reflect critically on modes of dissemination, to ensure most effective use of them.

Marsh, J.; Kumpulainen, K.; Nisha, B.; Velicu, A.; Blum-Ross, A.; Hyatt, D.; Jónsdóttir, S.R.; Levy, R.; Little, S.;Marusteru, G.; et al. (Eds.) Makerspaces in the Early Years: A Literature Review; MakEY Project; University of Sheffield: Sheffield, UK, 2017; pp. 75–79. Available online: http://makeyproject.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Makey_Literature_Review.pdf

To conclude. There are a wide range of issues in workshop governance that can emerge, many of which cannot be found in advance.

In Inderøy a mechatronic workshop may suit the needs of many potential participants. In other parts of the world, this would not be the obvious choice. Many women, especially, choose to work with tradtional textiles, while others feel more comfortable working with robots. Lowriders are a cultural phenomenon involving many American males of Latino background. People have many different interests, and develop many different skill sets.

Domotics: Room Controllers

Controllers for buildings have existed since 1883, when Warren Johnson, a Milwaukee school teacher invented the thermostat. Back then, it was not just a round device on a wall. Rather, when room temperature fell, a light in the boiler room was turned on, indicating that janitors should shovel more coal into the furnace.

You’ve come a long way, Virgil!

In the 135 years since this invention, building controls have improved, and are extensively used in offices, commercial buildings and factories. Most owners of these buildings have deep pockets, and are able to afford integrated solutions vendors provide.

The pockets of the average Joanne, or median resident as statisticians want to refer to her, are not quite so deep, and this weblog post focuses on room controllers that can be used by an extremely average person.

Domotics, or if you prefer terms that people actually understand, house/ home automation, refers to systems used to control: lighting, temperature and humidity (indoor climate), audio and video (entertainment), unauthorized access, smoke/ fire detection (security) and related services, in a residence.

There are three main reasons why I am interested in this field. First, it is a field that combines my studies in computer science and operations research. Second, I like to play with technological toys. Third, I interact with people who have allergy and other indoor environment issues, and have a need for indoor climate control with very fine tolerances.

A potential fourth reason, is that I know people who are aging, and may in the future need assistive devices, for dispensing medication or spoon feeding. As mentioned in a previous post, I certainly don’t want to be spoon fed by another human being; give me a robot any day. I would rather have human contact with another person as an equal, not as a patient requiring help.

At Cliff Cottage, there are plans to install one room controller in most of the rooms of the house.

Power over Ethernet (PoE)

Factoid 1. All devices need power. Some get it from batteries, others get it from wall sockets. PoE devices get it from Ethernet data communication cables.

Factoid 2. Most devices need to communicate. Some communicate wirelessly using Bluetooth or WiFi. However, the number of such devices is limited, and the speed can be slow. Thus, it can be appropriate to connect devices using cables, and Ethernet cables are the most common ones used today.

Factoid 3. A switch is a device that allows multiple other devices in a local area network to be inter-connected. Yes, these connect using Ethernet cables. A typical switch may have up to 48 different cables connected to 48 separate devices.

Factoid 4. PoE eliminates the need to have two different cables. Each device can is provided with power from the switch itself. Voltage levels can be up to 48 volts, and the same cable can be used to send data in both directions.

At Cliff Cottage, we have now invested in two PoE switches. A person was trying to sell five switches for NOK 1 000 (USD 120), or one for NOK 300 (USD 36). They were very inexpensive because businesses won’t buy used equipment, and most other people don’t know what they can be used for. Each of the PoE switches will allow us to connect up to 24 devices, and provide power to them. A cable is connected between a switch and a device through the walls of the house. So these cables are being installed, as the house is being remodelled. We have 305 meters of CAT 6A cable to make these connections. CAT 6A was selected because it is the fastest cable type currently available for Ethernet, allowing for PoE. That means it won’t have to be replaced anytime soon. Hopefully, the cables will last 30 years.

Other cables are not so important, as they are not placed in walls and can be changed easily. The same is true of devices, such as a NAS (network attached server) or a room controller.

Room Controllers

Room controllers, and similar devices, are one of the main categories of devices that need PoE connections. Take, for example, a front-door access controller. It will typically have an infra-red camera, proximity sensor and infra-red light connected to it, that will be activated as someone approaches. Video of each event will be sent to an external location, that could be located anywhere in the world. A room controller may have proximity sensors as well as others to register temperature, CO2, humidity levels and more. Data gained from these sensors and others throughout a house, can be used to activate lights, or heating, display time, temperature and other data on a touch screen. It can even listen and answer using a microphone and speaker.

Controllers need to be placed in the following locations: 1) access control at entrance doors; 2) living room control; 3) dining area control; 4) kitchen control; 5) bedroom control; 6) study, studio and workshop control. Some people may want to have controllers in 7) bathrooms and/or laundry rooms, while others may want to avoid this. In addition, there will be 8) PoE access points for WiFi.

A second switch, without PoE, can be used for other devices dependent on higher power levels. These include: 1) a home theatre connections; 2) a printer and/ or scanner; 3) clothes washer and/ or dryer; 4) dishwasher; 5)  refrigerator and/ or freezer; 6) stove top and/ or oven; 7) microwave oven; 8) kettle; 9) hot water tank; 10) heat exchanger; 11) heat pump or solar thermal controller; 12) greenhouse controller.

The preferred solution uses a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3+. Unlike more conventional Raspberry Pis, the CM is totally flat, but uses the bottom edge for connection. There are five versions of compute modules available with 0 (Lite), 4, 8, 16 or 32 GB of eMMC memory provided. A Compute Module Development Kit is made for developing industrial applications with these and other CM boards. The purpose of a development kit is to provide hardware that allow the use of CM boards in custom systems that avoid unnecessary components.

The Compute Module IO (CMIO) board, is a simple, open-source breakout board into which one can plug a Compute Module. The board hosts 120 GPIO pins, an HDMI port, a USB port, two camera ports, and two display ports.

A Compute Module on a Compute Module Input-Output Board used for development purposes (Photo: Raspberry Pi Foundation)

Not everyone will have the possibility to retrofit their dwellings with Ethernet cable, so one will always have to provide a backstop room controller. In terms of current technology this could be based on a Raspberry Pi Model B 3+, with a Pimoroni Automation HAT for Raspberry Pi. See: https://www.adafruit.com/product/3289

A Pimoroni Automation HAR on top of a Raspberry Pi Model B (Photo: Piomoroni)

Each of the room controllers would have a 7″ touch screen. This is a standard RPi product category, so there is no problem finding these in Norway.

The Invisible

What I can’t show in this weblog post are the plastic fittings, and the printed circuit board populated with electronic components, that I intend to use with this room controller. The reason for this is that they have not yet been designed.

I am waiting to design them until a 3D printer and a PCB printer arrive at the local makerspace. This could be a matter of weeks away. The proposed printer is a Ultimaker 3.

Ultimaker 3 with dual extruders, allowing for 2 materials to be used in the same product (Photo: Utimaker)

While there are many different systems that can be used to make printed circuit boards, the additive process provided in a Voltera V-one has many advantages. Its one drawback is initial cost.

Voltera V-one, a complete tool for the manufacture of printed circuit boards (Photo: Voltera)

A Copy of a Copy

Soon it will be time to end my surfing career, and I have been wondering what to replace it with.

Earlier, on Sunday (2018-07-01), I had read an article in The Independent about Deep Purple and their compelling song Smoke on the Water, which appears to reference the burning down of a casino at Montreux in 1971:  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/deep-purple-montreux-jazz-festival-lake-geneva-1971-a8418926.html

Later, that day I was into YouTube, and in addition to the usual mix of woodworking and computing videos, the second on the list of recommended videos was Rolling Stones time! Riffing on Gimme Shelter with my Bacchus BST-650, by Laura Cox. It had over 300 000 views, and was made 2018-05-26: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy09E1HC7lE

Unlike many people with tinnitus, I restrict the amount of music I listen to. My normal music consumption is somewhere around one track/ song a week.

However, working on Project Retrograde at the time, I wondered why this particular video was included so high up on my recommendation list. My thoughts were, I was reading about another famous guitar riff earlier. Google knows this. Both Google and YouTube are part of Alphabet. Then I wondered, why not the original version? Does their algorithm conclude that I would prefer a cover version by an unknown woman, to the original by a famous rock band?

YouTube’s placement of the video worked. I decided that this 2-minute long video would be the one track I would listen to on Canada Day – and probably the only one for another week. I did play it, but what fascinated me was the guitar. It looked like a Fender Stratocaster. A little searching through the surface web and I  discovered that Bacchus guitars are made in Japan by the Deviser Custom Shop. They are generally well made copies of famous brand names. They are handmade without using CNC equipment.

A Bacchus BST-650 copy of a Fender Stratocaster guitar, in Fiesta Red. (Photo: Deviser)

In an instant, the framework of a new project started to appear, but one that would only begin after: 1)  the house was remodeled, 2) its furniture constructed, 3) the DIY CNC machine completed and 4) the electrically powered, jet surfboard made. Only then would I manufacture an electric guitar, using CNC equipment. No, probably not a Fender Stratocaster copy, but a bespoke design. One can only go so far in copying the works of someone else.

As for the amplifier and speaker system, one source of inspiration is Notes & Volts – Electronics, Guitars & Geekery: https://www.youtube.com/user/NotesAndVolts/videos?disable_polymer=1

The task after that would be to learn to play it!

Smart-home Abuse

Smart-home technology has become a new arena for abusers to harass their victims. It is a new form of domestic guerrilla warfare. Abusers use smartphone apps connected to internet-enabled devices to remotely control everyday objects in the victim’s residence. Some modes of operation are passive, simply allowing the abuser to watch and/or listen. Other modes display power, and are intended to invoke fear. Both forms are a crime against the victim, and cannot be tolerated.

The abuser may or may not be resident, or in or out of an ongoing relationship with the victim. It is particularly in situations where the abuser and the victim are living together, that smart-home devices can be problematic, and difficult to handle. This post is a warning to potential victims, that smart-home devices may not be as innocent as they look.

Google Home, with an Android smartphone, one of a growing number of smart-home devices (Photo: Bence Boros on Unsplash)

Devices acquired by an abuser, and installed in a victim’s residence, often remain controlled by the abuser, even after a relationship has ended. Smart-home devices are weapons of choice for many abusers. There is often asymmetrical insight into these devices in a relationship. Victims typically lack the technological skills necessary to set up, and modify smart-home devices. This asymmetry, gives power to the abuser. Devices that can be used include cameras. loudspeakers, lights, remotely operated doors and thermostats.

Many smart-home devices are inexpensive and easy to install, as long as one knows what one is doing. Typically, only one person in a relationship – often a male – installs and programs, even operates, the technology. This person has an overview of the technology that the other person in the relationship lacks. The abuser may have exclusive knowledge of user names and passwords, which gives that person the power to compromise the other person in the relationship, typically a woman. For example, the abuser may have exclusive use of a controlling app on his telephone.

Domestic abuse is not uncommon. In a 2010 CDC report, one in three women and one in four men have been victims of physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. See: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf

What can be done?

First, both partners should work together and decide which smart-home devices should be installed. If there is no agreement, then it can’t be installed. Once installed, both partners must then have any apps used to control the devices.

Second, all smart-home device installations must be fully documented, and accessible to both partners in the relationship. Part of that documentation includes full discloser as to device names and passwords. However, it should also include wiring and other diagrams.

Third, as part of a legal written agreement between (former) partners, the partner leaving the residence must agree to remove all user names, passwords and other data associated with smart-home devices from all of his devices, including but not limited to phones, computers and tablets.

Fourth, any unusual device behaviour must be assumed to be enemy action, and both parties must agree that it be treated that way. Potential abusive behaviour includes: changing thermostats to uncomfortably high or low temperatures; playing music when the victim is sleeping; flashing lights at inappropriate times or preventing lights to turn on when they are required; posting photos/ videos/ sound recordings on social media, taken by remote cameras/ microphones; inappropriate door locking behaviour, such as preventing the victim from entering the residence, or allowing anyone free access to the residence, including the abuser.

A word of caution

A major problem arises when a victim removes or deactivates smart-home devices. This can result in the victim feeling inadequate and isolated, but may also result in abuse escalation. In most situations, the abuser will have sufficient control over the situation and devices to know if and when a device has been disabled, which can trigger further violence, physical or emotional.

Any course about smart-home devices should be offered either to women alone, or to couples jointly. Users should be able to understand smart-home device documentation. and be able to disable any devices installed in their residence.

Future courses I offer about smart-home devices will require the participation of both couples in a relationship, or signed note from a female domestic partner for permission to attend. This note must also include an acknowledgement that smart-home devices can be used abusively!

Electric Car Charging

Everyone is on familiar terms with the watt, with the possible exception of American muscle car owners addicted to horse power. To help them enter a world free of fossil fuel, all they need to do is make a simple, if slightly inaccurate, calculation: 1 HP = 750 watts.

If one uses 1 watt for 1 second, then the amount of energy used is 1 joule (J). There are many other, but more confusing, ways to explain this energy transfer: the force of 1 (N) newton acting on that object through a distance of 1 (m) metre; (In electrical terms) the energy of 1 (A) ampere passing through a 1 (Ω) ohm resistor, with a voltage drop of 1 (V) volt, for 1 (s) second.

To be true to the SI system, the battery pack on your favourite vehicle should be expressed in joules, in precisely the same way that the power you purchase from your household electrical supplier, should also be expressed in joules. Instead it is expressed in an illegitimate kilowatt hours where 1 kWh = 3600seconds/hour x 1000 W/kW joules or 3.6 (MJ) megajoules.

The standard size of an EV is quickly approaching 60 kWh = 60 x 3.6 = 216 MJ.

The limiting factor in most houses with respect to charging, is the thickness of the electrical wires. In general wiring requires cable with the following characteristics: 10A = 1.5mm2; 16A = 2.5mm2; 20A = 4mm2; 32A = 6mm2; 40A = 10mm2; 50A = 16mm2; 63A = 25mm2. Electrical input to Cliff Cottage uses 230 V, 3-phase, 25mm2 wiring, which provides a maximum of 25 kW of electrical power to be used for everything and anything, including EV charging.

 

Standards

Details about charging EVs are contained in several standards, including IEC 61851 and IEC 62196.

IEC 61851 Electric vehicle conductive charging system specifies general characteristics, including charging modes and connection configurations, and requirements for specific implementations (including safety requirements) of both electric vehicle (EV) and electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) in a charging system.

IEC 62196 Plugs, socket-outlets, vehicle couplers and vehicle inlets – Conductive charging of electric vehicles is based on IEC 61851.

The IEC 62196 Type-2 connector (Mennekes) is used for charging electric cars within Europe. The connector is circular in shape, with a flattened top edge and originally designed for charging at between 3 and 120 kW, using either single-phase or three-phase alternating current (AC), or direct current (DC). In January 2013 it was selected by the European Commission as official charging plug within the European Union. It is also the official charging plug in Norway. There is a transition period until 2020, which will allow other charging plugs to be used.

At the moment there are only three vehicles that use this plug as standard in Norway, Tesla Model S (up to 22 kW), Renault ZOE (up to 43 kW) and Mercedes-Benz B-Klasse (up to 11 kW). Because the requirements are more stringent for these chargers, Renault includes the electrical installation of its residential charging system in the price of the vehicle.

Norwegian requirements for charging of EVs have been specified in the following document (in Norwegian): https://www.dsb.no/lover/elektriske-anlegg-og-elektrisk-utstyr/tema/elbil—lading-og-sikkerhet/

While other makes and models currently use other charging systems. As new models are introduced, they will increasingly use Type-2 charging as standard. However, it is interesting to see that the Hyundai Ioniq and the Opel Ampera-e, both introduced in 2017, both come equipped with Combo CCD (DC) charging cables.

With Type-2 charging, the electronics is in the charging station (Mode 3) instead of in a box attached to the charging cable (Mode 2).  This makes the cable cheaper to  purchase and easier to handle. The contact is more robust, with minimal electrical, heat and fire risks.

Type 2 charger cable (photo: Ståle Frydenlund)

Charging cables are needed in different variants depending on the electric car. At one end of the cable there will be a Type 2 connector to plug into the charging station. The other end has a contact designed for the specific electric car. Type 1 for Nissan, Mitsubishi, Kia, Peugeot and Citroën; Type 2 for BMW, Volkswagen, Tesla and Renault.

Charging Key and Chip

Access to charging stations is restricted, to prevent abuse. Most commonly access is dependent on the use of a standard key, or a chip. At most charging stations in Norway, use is free. Yes, that is correct. Vehicles gets filled up with electricity free of charge.

Because membership is included with most new EV purchases, it is standard practice for Norwegian electric car owners to be members of the Norwegian Electric Car Association (Norsk elbilforeningen) which, in addition to other services, provides members with both  a charging key, as well as a charging chip, to give them access to charging stations throughout the country. While the key is used with most older charging stations, newer ones rely increasingly on a charging chip. Note: the charging chip will not work until it is registered with the individual charging operator!