A 10 MB HDD for USD 3 500 in 1980, was not an excessive price. The 1 MB of RAM on the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) VAX-11/750 mini computers I used cost over NOK 1 000 000 each in 1980. That is about USD 200 000 in 1980, or about USD 620 000 today (2019). The HDD pictured would cost over USD 10 000 today (2019) taking the value of money into account, which would make the cost of 1TB of storage equal to USD 1 000 000 000 today (2019). Yup, that’s one billion dollars!

SSD = Solid State Drive; HDD = Hard Disk Drive.

The Summary:

For daily operations on a desktop or laptop computer, SSDs are better (read: faster, quieter, more energy efficient, potentially more reliable) than HDDs. However, HDDs cost considerably (6.5 times) less than SSDs. Thus, HDDs are still viable for backup storage, and should be able to last at least five years. At the end of that time, it may be appropriate to go over to SSDs, if prices continue to fall.

The Details:

This weblog post is being written as I contemplate buying two more external hard disk drives (HDDs), one white and one blue. These will be yet more supplementary backup disks to duplicate storage on our Network Attached Storage (NAS) server, Mothership, which features 4 x 10 GB Toshiba N300 internal 3.5″ hard drives rotating at 7200 RPM. These were purchased 2018-12-27. While the NAS has its own backup allowing up to two HDDs to fail simultaneously, a fire or other catastrophe would void this backup. Thus, external HDDs are used to store data at a secret, yet secure location away from our residence.

The last time external hard disks were purchased was 2018-09-04. These were Western Digital (WD) My Passport 4TB units, 2.5″ form factor, rotating at 5 400 RPM, with a USB 3.0 contact. One was red (costing NOK 1 228) and the other was yellow (at NOK 1 205). However, we have nine other 2 – 4TB units, some dating from 2012-11-15. Before this we had at least 4 units with storage of 230 GB – 1 TB, dating to 2007-09-01. (We are missing emails before 2006, so this is uncertain territory, although if this information were required, we have paper copies of receipts that date back to 1980).

The price of new WD My Passport HDD 4TB units has fallen to NOK 1 143. New WD My Passport Solid State Drive (SSD) units cost NOK 2 152 for 1TB, or NOK 3 711 for 2TB. That is a TB price of about NOK 1 855, in contrast to about NOK 286 for a HDD. This makes SSDs about 6.5 times more expensive than HDDs.

I am expecting to replace the disks in the NAS, as well as on the external drives, about once every five years. Depending on how fast the price of SSDs sink in relation to HDDs, these proposed external HDDs could be the last ones purchased.

As the price differential narrows, other disk characteristics become more important. Read/write speed is especially important for operational (as distinct to backup) drives. Typically, a 7200 RPM HDD delivers an effective read/write speed of 80-160MB/s, while an SSD will deliver from 200 MB/s to 550 MB/s. Here the SSD is the clear winner, by a factor of about three.

Both SSD drives and HDD’s have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to life span.

While SSDs have no moving parts, they don’t necessarily last longer. Most SSD manufacturers use non-volatile NAND flash memory in the construction of their SSDs. These are cheaper than comparable DRAM units, and retain data even in the absence of electrical power. However, NAND cells degrade with every write (referred to as program, in technical circles). An SSD exposed to fewer writes will last longer than an SSD with more. If a specific block is written to and erased repeatedly, that block would wear out before other blocks used less extensively, prematurely ending the SSD’s life. For this reason, SSD controllers use wear levelling to distribute writes as evenly as possible. This fact was brought home yesterday, with an attempt to install Linux Mint from a memory stick on a new laptop. It turned out that the some areas of the memory stick were worn out, and the devise could not be read as a boot drive. Almost our entire collection of memory sticks will be reformatted, and then recycled, a polite term for trashed!

Flash memory was invented in 1980, and was commercialized by Toshiba in 1987. SanDisk (then SunDisk) patented a flash-memory based SSD in 1989, and started shipping products in 1991. SSDs come in several different varieties, with Triple Level Cells (TLC) = 3 bit cells offering 8 states, and between 500 and 2 000 program/ erase (PE) cycles, currently, the most common variety. Quad Level Cells (QLC) = 4 bit cells offering 16 states, with between 300 and 1 000 PE cycles, are starting to come onto the market. However, there are also Single Level Cells (SLC) = 1 bit cells offering 2 states, with up to 100 000 PE cycles and Multi-Level Cells (MLC) = two level cells with 2 bits, offering 4 states, and up to 3 000 PE cycles. More bits/cell results in reduced speed and durability, but larger storage capacity.

QLC vs TLC Comparisons:

Samsung 860 EVO SSDs use TLCs while Samsung 860 QVO SSDs use QLCs. The 1TB price is NOK 1 645 (EVO) vs 1 253 (QVO), almost a 25% price discount. The EVO offers a 5-year or 600 TBs written (TBW) limited warranty, vs the QVO’s offers 3-years or 360 TBW.

With real-world durability of the QVO at only 60% of the EVO, the EVO offers greater value for money.

It should also be pointed out that both the EVO and QVO have a 42GB cache that allow for exceptionally fast writes up to that limit, but slow down considerably once that limit has been reached.

In contrast to SSDs, HDDs rely on moving parts for the drive to function. Moving parts include one or more platters, a spindle, an read/ write head, an actuator arm, an actuator axis and an actuator. Because of this, an SSD is probably more reliable than an HDD. Yet, HDD data recovery is better, if it is ever needed. Several different data recovery technologies are available.

The Conclusion:

The upcoming purchases of two My Passport 4TB external HDDs may be my last, before going over to SSDs for backup purposes, both on internal as well as external drives. Much will depend on the relative cost of 10TB SSDs vs HDDs in 2023, when it will be time to replace the Toshiba N300 10TB HDDs.

For further information on EVOs and QVOs see Explaining Computers: QLC vs TLC SSDs; Samsung QVO and EVO.

The Charm of Podcasting

A Zoom H6 Handy Recorder at the heart of a future podcasting system. Photo: Zoom

This weblog post is mainly about acquiring podcast equipment (purchasing) and software (downloading). Perhaps the best place to begin is with the generation of sound in and around the mouth. This results in the production of waves in the air that can be sensed by microphones. Here, it is an advantage if a microphone does not have a frequency range exceeding that of a human voice. Recorded noise will only have to be removed during the editing process. It is claimed that a range between 80 and 4 kHz, should be sufficient.

The next question has to do with the number of voices in a podcast. If there is a single voice, and if production takes place in a quiet environment, a single condenser microphone can be used. I have a Røde NT1 that can be used for this purpose. Only a fool would attempt to record more than four voices. These can be recorded separately, using dynamic microphones, for example Samson R21’s. Dynamic microphones require users to speak/ sing/ perform directly into the microphone, because these microphones will fail to pickup sounds, including noise, originating outside of a narrow cone. Condenser microphones should be avoided, because they will pick up everything and anything.

Not all podcasts can/ should be made in a studio. This means using a portable recorder. Computers are subject to software glitchs. In far too many programs, files are only saved at the end of an event. Thus, if a computer crashes prior to someone hitting save, that content is lost forever. This is why it is best to record everything on a recorder, even if the content is fed immediately into a computer.

The Zoom H6 Handy recorder is ideal for the field, powered by 4 x AA (rechargeable) batteries. On top of the recorder, there is space for one of four interchangeable input capsules: X/Y, Mid-side (both of which come with the recorder), shotgun, and a dual XLR/TRS combo input (available as accessories). These will probably be used more by videographers who will place the recorder on their camcorder hotshoe.

Podcasters will focus on the four XLR/TRS combo inputs on the sides of the recorders , each with its own preamp, gain knob, and phantom power switch. At the bottom there is a 2-inch color LCD (320 x 240 pixels) display. The H6 can use an SD card up to 128 GB. It has a USB 2.0 connector, line in and audio (headphone) out using 3.5 mm jacks.

One of the main reasons for acquiring this particular type of recorder is its operational characteristics. Once a channel is record-enabled, the H6 is constantly creating a 2-second buffer. If you hit Record late, it will still capture the 2 seconds prior to this. Clipping is always a potential problem in sound recording. Enabling backup-record duplicates tracks of the L/R inputsat 12dB lower than that set for input gain.

Headphones use drivers (miniature speakers) to create sound waves, that then enter the ear. Headphones used for podcasting should fully surround each ear, to prevent sound leakage. Today’s choice is a Samson SR950 enclosed reference headphone, that effectively insulates sounds. It has 50 mm drivers, reproduces sound both above and below the human hearing range (10Hz-30kHz) has a standard 32 ohm impedance, 2,5 m cable, and a 1/4″ jack adapter.


Audacity is an open-source audio editor. While it has advanced features, such as multi-track editing and support for live recording, the user interface is simple. It supports the WAV and MP3 audio formats used on the Zoom H6.

Audacity allows cut and paste editing, has noise reduction and navigation control features. While I intend to use this on a dedicated Linux workstation, Audacity is available for Mac and Windows machines as well.

LMMS, previously Linux MultiMedia Studio, is another open-source audio editor software, that works on Windows, Mac and Linux machines. It offers a large number of features, including an FX (effects) mixer, automation editor, support for a MIDI keyboard, some in-built audio effects and instruments and compatibility with some popular standards in digital music production and editing. The user interface is more professional than that found on Audacity. It also offers a variety of plug-ins that can improve productivity. It is also better able to integrate music into a podcast, than Audacity is capable of.

The Future

Hopefully, in 2020 interested listeners will be able to enjoy the stories of Brigand Brewer, narrated by Claude Hopper. Somehow, the art work of Billi Sodd will also have to be included, and possibly the music of Wes Honeywell & the Thermostats. Some of the tales will feature Alice Angel, potter, vegetarian and philosopher, and other residents of Beef, Cascadia. These will probably be featured in a new blog, possibly titled:

The Seven Deadly Sins of Project Management

Over-the-fence project management may well have been used at Heaps Engineering, in New Westminster, photographed here in 1946. During the height of the war, the plant employed more than 700 men and women, and turned out giant propeller shafts and underwater fittings for submarine chasers and frigates. Photo by Stride Studios.

This web-log post is about projects, but only those project where a commitment has been made by a board or senior management to start and complete it. It attempts to be general enough that insights can be applied to any industry.

Preliminary work on a project will have to be budgeted. Regardless of its outcome, this expenditure will be a sunk cost = a cost that has been incurred and cannot be recovered. With a go ahead, the entire project will not only have to be budgeted, but in some way financed either using owner equity or debt financing, or a combination of both. Liquidity (cash flow) is critical for any project.

The selection of a project manager is critical to project success. The project manager is responsible for the initiation, planning, execution, validation and evaluation of the project. At a minimum, each of these has to be part of the scope statement, and incorporated into the project plan.

After each of the sins listed below, there is a paragraph long comment on atonement = making amends.

Sin #1: No Budget

There is only one sin worse than having no budget, and that is regarding the budget as a project plan!

Atonement for this sin: Make sure there is an adequate budget that covers the entire project period, that is approved of by the board authorizing the project. Before, any project begins: 1) Make sure there is adequate financing. 2) Make sure there is sufficient liquidity (cash flow) for the project.

Sin #2: Managing a project as a process

In many hierarchical organizations, managers are promoted from lower ranks, so that they have an understanding of the roles required below them in the hierarchy. One of the unique characteristics of a project is that it requires the interaction of professionals possessing different qualities. In addition, tasks are non-repetitive, in contrast to process (or operations) management where repetitive, permanent functional activities are the norm.

Even if a project manager can appreciate a project’s temporary nature, with defined beginning and end points, s/he may fail to understand the implications of time, budget and staff constraints, especially in terms of project goals and objectives.

Atonement for this sin: Ensure that the project manager has the education/ training to manage a project. At a minimum s/he must understand the basics of the Critical Path Method.

Sin #3: No Scope Management

Scope requires the project manager to specify the quantity, quality and variety of tasks to be performed, along with the time and other resources available. A scope statement can then be compiled that specifies what the project is to deliver in detail, and to describe more generally the major objectives for the project. These objectives should include measurable success criteria.

At the most fundamental level, Scope is expressed in a statement that is SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed Upon
  • Realistic
  • Time Bound

Scope involves determining the work that needs to be done to meet stakeholder requirements. Many project managers like to distinguish two types of scope: project scope and product scope. Project scope specifies the the work that needs to be done to deliver a product or service, while product scope specifies the features and functions that characterize that product or service.

Another way of understanding scope, is to separate what has to be done (the functional requirements/ product scope) from how it is to be done (project scope). If requirements cannot be defined and described, then there can be no effective project control, allowing project/ requirement creep to emerge.

Scope creep involves large, unplanned and often irrelevant changes to a project that add costs and/ or development time. Very often these occur because there is no change control built into the project. Change control is a procedure to be included in the scope statement that outlines how changes will be implemented. It must distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable changes. The change control procedure should specify how any change will be implemented.

Atonement for this sin: Make sure there is a SMART scope statement, and make certain that all project participants understand this statement, and its consequences.

Sin #4: No Project Plan

The main purpose of writing a project plan, is for the project manager to define tasks, and to appreciate transitions between them. The fact that there may be disparities between perceived and actual implementation times is of secondary importance. Some projects benefit from the use of software tools, such as MS Project/ LibreProject, or equivalent. In other cases, a simple tempo-plan on paper suffices. Tasks have to have milestones/ way points associated with them, so that everyone knows when a task has been completed. These have to be measurable.

Most projects rely on a critical path, a sequence of tasks that have no leeway in terms of an early or late start. Project slack (also called project float) has to be determined to identify the critical path through the project. Slack can be calculated manually or automatically, using a formula that takes into consideration start and finish times/ dates, durations, predecessor times, task dependencies and constraints. Negative slack indicates that this amount of time must be saved earlier in the project to prevent delay. It is an indication of incorrect finish time for the project.

Tasks outside of the critical path can begin earlier or be delayed, by varying amounts of time. Tasks are placed on a project activity diagram, that shows total slack (the time available for a task to slip before it delays the whole project) and each task’s free slack (the time available before it delays successor tasks).

Atonement for this sin: Except for the smallest of projects, someone assigned to the project must construct a project plan based on the critical path method, make sure the plan is used. Significant deviation from the project plan must be reported to the authority commissioning the project, usually some sort of board. Project managers have a responsibility to communicate with stakeholders, and to ensure everyone understands the project plan, at least in outline, and how it will affect each stakeholder.

Sin #5: No Resource Management

After scope management has been satisfactorily implemented as a project plan, the next phase involves resource management. Some projects, such as building construction, will have materials management as an important component. Other projects, including software projects, will find that materials management is minimal, or even non-existent. Regardless of the type of project, much managerial time will almost always have to be allocated to human resource management, if the project is to run smoothly.

In a building construction project, materials management is seldom a problem because everyone, even the project manager, knows that the building has to be made of something, and probably many different things. A bill of materials (BOM) is produced automatically by almost every Computer-Aided Design (CAD) system. These BOMs are first used for scope management, and after that in conjunction with resource management. Problems emerge with materials management, when they are not properly specified during the scope management phase.

Most of the problems associated with resource management come from a failure to appoint a reference group, or even a project group. These two problems will be treated as separate sins.

Atonement for this sin: Materials management – Ensure that a BOM is used, where it is appropriate. Understand how to use a BOM, and ensure that all members in the project group understand how to use a BOM. Provide training if necessary. Human resources management – see sin #7 – no project group.

Sin #6: No Reference Group

In every project there are a large number of stakeholders. In building construction there will be municipal/ county building authorities, neighbours who live on and/ or own surrounding properties, and potential occupiers/ renters/ owners, at a minimum. In software projects there will be assorted classes of purchasers, who may or may not be users. In projects involving local government there are civil servants, as well as politicians, who may view processes totally differently.

The purpose of a reference group is to ensue that a project meets the needs of different user groups, at the same time that it doesn’t encroach on the rights of non-users, who may be impacted by the project. Without a reference group, the project manager and others in the project will be living in a fantasy world. Thus, one of the first tasks of a project manager is to ensure that there is a process to find stakeholders, and to invite them to be part of a reference group.

Atonement for this sin: Ensure that a reference group is appointed, and that it mirrors the diversity of people affected by the project. Ensure that reference group meetings are scheduled and held. Stakeholders must ensure that someone representing their group is appointed to the reference group, that they are invited to reference group meetings, and report back to stakeholders.

Sin #7: No Project Group

Some project managers think they can run a project alone, without involving people possessing different qualities, who together (but not alone or separately) understand the non-repetitive tasks involved. Normally, they can’t.

This does not mean that members of the project group have to devote significant amounts of time to meetings, or other forms of interaction. Rather, members of the project group spend most of their time working on those parts of the project they are assigned, reporting on the state of milestones/ way points as they occur.

When disruptions occur, or when other events impact project progress, there can be a need for project meetings to discuss alternatives.

Atonement for this sin: Ensure that a project group is appointed, and that it mirrors the diversity of people working on the project. Ensure that project group meetings are scheduled and held. Members of a project group, must schedule and attend regular project group meetings. It is particularly important, that project managers ensure that feedback from the reference group is presented to the project group.

Project management has matured considerably, during the past eighty years, but not noticeably since the first projects I worked on in the 1970s. The only difference I have noted is the use of project management software to replace the calculations I had to perform by hand. This was undoubtedly the result of PERT (Project Evaluation and Review Technique) developed for the Polaris submarine project, and CPM (Critical Path Method) developed by DuPont, in the 1960s.

Before these developments there was (not so) managed chaos. “During the 1940s, line managers used the concept of over-the-fence management to manage projects. Each line manager, wearing the hat of a project manager, would perform the work necessitated by their line organization, and when completed, would throw the “ball” over the fence in hopes that someone would catch it. Once the ball was thrown over the fence, the line managers would wash their hands of any responsibility for the project because the ball was no longer in their yard. If a project failed, blame was placed on whichever line manager had the ball at that time.” Harold Kerzner 2017 Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling, 12th edition, p. 39.

Despite the injustice of this system, it was the users/ customers who suffered the most. Kerzner continues, “The problem with over-the-fence management was that the customer had no single contact point for questions. The filtering of information wasted precious time for both the customer and the contractor. Customers who wanted firsthand information had to seek out the manager in possession of the ball. For small projects, this was easy. But as projects grew in size and complexity, this became more difficult.” (p. 40).

I was very fortunate to have John Reagan as a mentor in 1972 at Habitat Industries, a pre-fabricated housing manufacturer. He kindled in me an interest in project management that continues to this day, even if it was more frequently used in teaching computer science and technology subjects, than in the construction trades.

The Charm of Hell

Hell is a neuter Norwegian noun that translates as “luck”, as in “good fortune.” The opposite, or uhell, translates as “accident.”

It is also the name of a village with railway station, close to the city of Stjørdal, in Trøndelag county. Read everything and more that anyone could ever want to know, here.

On Saturday, 2019-08-24, we decided to take a break from construction and other domestic chores, and do something fun – shopping: for roofing tar and cement. We also decided that we could spend some time walking along the coast towards an island, then – on our return to Stjørdal – eat a salad at a local pizzeria.

Here are some photos from the walk

On the outside wall of a farm utility building is the distance to Jerusalem.
Billetholmen, an island, and its causeway/ breakwater.
A boathouse, on the pathway leading to Billetholmen.
The backside of the boathouse.
Picnic tables and benches at Hellstranda.
Hell Station, built in 1902.
The current train stop at Hell.


One of the major aspects of volunteering is that it should contribute positively to the world. (Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash)

Volunteer activities, such as membership on a board, should, ideally, last five years. During the first year, one is relatively clueless, and contributes little productive. There is a steep, year long learning curve. During the second and third years, one is into an energetic, innovative period. One experiments. Some things actually work in this period, while others fail. The fourth and fifth years represent an optimal period of activity, and leadership. One is actually able to mentor others. Beyond these years, one’s activity level gradually sinks, as one becoming tired of everything, and the activity becomes habitual. It is time to get out and do something new.

It is necessary to create a system so that volunteers can easily scale their commitment. This includes creating a visible exit strategy, that is always available. Commitments need to be at low intervals OR one can commit to a limited period for more intensive activity. This should increase the number of people involved, even if it does result a more arbitrary attendance.

Every activity should have six characteristics. It should be fun, meaningful, an opportunity to learn something new, social, an opportunity to eat food together, and end up with a feeling of mastery. It should also avoid emulating other parts of the regular daily/ weekly/ seasonal/ annual rhythm, especially school, family, sports and other commitment-focused cultural activities.

This entire blog is based on material sent to me by Alasdair McLellan. Thank you, Alasdair.


Alfred Coffee Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills, California, United States of America. (Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash)

Determining priorities is always difficult. It is much easier if someone else decides, such as a boss or a spouse. When one actually makes a choice one also has to take responsibility for it and its consequences.

The antithesis of a priority is a distraction. Some distractions may be harmless fun, other may have serious consequences that could lead to regret. Yet, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a distraction from a priority, because they can look alike. Said another way, one person’s priority, can be another person’s distraction.

There are different forums for priorities, that vary with age. Somewhere in the distant past boatbuilding and photography were priorities, as was reading. This was followed by a phase where activism, and dating young women had priority. Later, in adulthood, priorities shifted to work (where bosses have some influence) and family (ditto spouse). With retirement, and children well into adulthood, new priorities emerge.

Recently I have realized that I have been distracted by something that I thought was a priority.  Now I am working on adjusting my priorities, once again.

On 2017-10-21 I attended bicentennial celebrations of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh (1817 – 1892) in New Westminster, Canada, where I grew up, and where I became a Baha’i. It also inspired me to do something similar, but on a smaller scale, for the bicentennial celebration of the birth of the Báb (1819 – 1850) to be held 2019-10-29/30 in Inderøy, Norway.

This reappraisal of priorities, is encouraging me to work on the bicentennial project. Other priorities include a house renovation process, where I am reconfiguring a house, making it habitable for a couple of old people. While physically tiring, it has other rewards, not the least of which is exercise, important for a longer and healthier life.

Lots of priorities only involve a few minutes a day, each. These include daily prayers and meditations. Some, such as reading and writing, may involve a bit more time. Others do not involve any time at all, such as showing compassion and kindness.

Managing fastenings

Some of the workshop bins for fastenings at Unit One. The large bin at the bottom right holds the type of screw described in detail in this post.

Most workshops worthy of the name face a challenge managing their fastenings. A fastening (British English) or fastener (American English) is a hardware device that mechanically joins/ affixes two or more objects. In general, these create non-permanent joints, that can be removed/ dismantled without damaging the joining components. Examples include: bolts, nails, pins and screws.

Some fastenings are kinder than others. I note that many tradespeople make use of nails, where I instinctively prefer to use screws. Presumably there are others who would regard my choice as reckless, because bolts – with washers and nuts, would be make even more solid, yet removable, joints.


This past week, Unit One, my personal workshop at Cliff Cottage began installing bins to hold fasteners, and other workshop components. There are four sizes of bins in use, although several more sizes exist. Three of them have a width of 115 mm and a height of 75 mm. The three lengths are 113, 162 and 213 mm. In addition, the fourth has a width of 170 mm, a height of 126 mm, and a depth of 240 mm.

Plastic tracks are used with the two smaller sized bins, while metal ones are used with the two larger ones. There are four locations in the workshop where bins can be placed. One of these has been built out, with a second in the process. Both of these hold six rows/ levels of bins, each 100 mm apart, with a length of 980/ 1 000 mm, using two lengths of track – plastic = 490 mm long, or metal = 500 mm long.

One of the locations waiting for bins can accommodate sic rows, like the locations mentioned previously, while the other can only accommodate three rows, in both cases using three lengths of track, for a length of about 1 500 mm. The location with only three rows is located in the workshop annex, which is mainly for the shop compressor and dust extractor, as well as a spray booth for painting/ coating. The bins here are not for fastenings, but for tool spares and other related parts.

Because of the height difference, the largest size bin is designed to be fitted only onto the lowest level of track, and only in locations with six rows of bins.

One of the main advantages of using bins is that each bin can be moved, hopefully to a more appropriate location, either for work or for storage. Today, for example, I was screwing in some Toolflex tool holders, and was able to carry a bin of screws to the work location. On previous occasions I would probably stuff my pockets with screws.


One of the main reasons why Hard Head (HH) bins were purchased, rather than the more common and similarly sized Eurobin, was the ability of the HH bins to hold labels, whereas Eurobins have their own, more expensive solution.

The label for one of my more commonly used screws has the following code; W F 5 x 40 C4 T25. For most people this is meaningless, but for me it contains all of the information I need to know. W = wood screw, the type of fastening; F = flat head, or what some people call counter-sunk, the most common type of wood screw; 5 = 5 mm, the screw diameter; 40 = 40 mm, the screw length; C4 = Corrosion class 4, making it suitable for outdoor use in maritime climates; T25 = Torx 25, the size of bit/ driver used to install/ remove screws.

While there are some fairly common abbreviations regarding fastenings, there is also variation. Thus, I have no guilt inventing my own codes to be used at Unit One.

Fastening types: B = bolt; C = clamp; D = dowel; M = machine screw; N = nail/ spike; P = pin; W = wood screw.

Head types: A = Allen/ hex key; C = carriage; E = eye; F = flat or counter-sunk; H = hexagonal; R = round. For bolts: N = nut; W = washer.

Material classes/ types: C1 – C5 = Corrosion class; EP = electro-plated; G = galvanized; A2 = the most common stainless steel class, with corrosion class 4 characteristics; Al = aluminum; Bs = brass; Bz = bronze.

Torx size: T01 to T100. Torx is the standard drive type at Unit One. It allows for a higher torque to be exerted than a similarly sized head using another type of drive, without damaging either the head and/or the tool. Slotted, Phillips or Pozidriv heads that accompany purchased products are almost always recycled, immediately.

An aside: As a Canadian, I used Robertson screws in my youth, initially when building a Sabot sailboat, when I was 13 – 14. These have a tapered square socket in the screw head and a tapered square protrusion on the drive. The drives are coloured in the following order, from smallest to largest: orange (#00), yellow (#0), green (#1), red (#2), black (#3) and brown (#4). It is from using these, that I developed a distrust of Phillips and an aversion for slotted screws, that has continued to this day. Reluctantly, I have to admit that Torx screws perform better than Robertson screws.

Inventory Control

The Unit One workshop does not have a logistics department, nor does it operate on just-in-time principles. The main challenge is to have a supply of fastenings (and other materials) on hand, that can be used when a problem/ challenge emerges. Thus, the workshop is over-supplied with inventory. Items are purchased on a when-in-town and just-in-case basis. Town here refers to Steinkjer, Trøndelag county seat, about 32 km away with its Biltema, Clas Ohlson and Jula shops, all Swedish chains, typically with an oversupply of male customers.

The following is an example of just-in-case thinking. Woodscrews include the following lengths: 16, 20, 30, 40, 60, 90, 120 and 160 mm. There are also some historic 70 and 80 mm long woodscrews, but these sizes will not be replaced when they are used up. Instead, 90 mm screws will become standard. In addition, there are some woodscrews that are used for specific purposes, such as terrace screws, that would be coded: W F 4.2 x 55 A2 T20. Decoding this is left as an exercise for the interested reader.

Where possible, corrosion class C4 screws are used both indoors and outdoors, for there is no need to have a supply of screws that can only be used indoors. That said, it is difficult to find smaller dimension screws (lengths <= 30 mm) that are corrosion protected.

Wes Honeywell & the Thermostats

Photo by Moja Msanii on Unsplash

Somewhere, in a parallel universe, Wes Honeywell is growing impatient with his current band, Damper-Flapper, led by his old friend Al Butz. There are several problems with Damper-Flapper.

First, most of the sidemen (yes, they are all men), have different motivations. One actually enjoys playing music, a second uses his performance as a magnet for attracting women, a third person meets for his mental health, while the last member attends for the money. The sociopathic bandleader/ music director/ songwriter is solely interested in the band as a means of controlling people.

Second, they can’t agree on a genre. It is an unhealthy combination of blues, country, electro-pop, jazz, industrial rock and surf. They refer to it as fusion, but everyone else calls it noise.

Third, with an average age north of 70, it is becoming harder for band members to remember details like lyrics and chord changes. It is not even possible to introduce new songs, because everyone is stuck in his own personal rut. Illness, both real and fake, is taking its toll at band practice.

Since harmony is not a term that can be applied to Damper-Flapper, Wes has decided to spend less time interacting with this mash and clash of humanity and to spend more time working alone as a musician.

Computers are not high priority for Wes. Fortunately, he knows people who know things, and one of these people in Proton Bletchley. Proton was able to tell Wes, that the heart of every 21st century one-person-band (yes, this applies to the other gender too), is a digital audio workstation (DAW). While laptops are portable, desktop or even rack based machines are preferred. In general, they are faster, run cooler (using less energy and producing less noise), offer greater flexibility such as more RAM, additional drives, and space for better graphic cards (if video is being contemplated).

Wes needs a lot of tracks. His father was a jazz pianist, and played nothing else, but Wes converted early in life to blues. He can perform: (1) lead vocals, (2) backing vocals, (3) lead guitar, (4) rhythm guitar, (5) bass guitar, (6) keyboard, (7) drums, including (8) congas, and (9) saxophone.

Each of these can be laid down as a separate track, while Wes listens to one or more of the tracks that have been laid down previously. The average number of times Wes needs to lay down a track varies with his skill with the instrument: once for congas; fourteen for saxophone, and counting.

The main recording challenge is noise, which may mean that any computer has to be physically separated from studio (a fancy name for Wes’ spare bedroom) pickups and microphones. This is not quite as acute a problem now as it was before, since some fanless (almost silent) computers are able to do vast amounts of processing, compared to earlier machines.

Other hardware considerations had to be taken, but only after some software decisions have been made. One of the first was about which operating system to use, Apple MacOS or Windows? Proton’s standard answer is neither, use Linux. This is because of his support of the Open Source movement.

While Proton is a confirmed open source advocate, he is also a hypocrite. He spends his days extolling the virtues of Open Source software, forgetting some of the serious issues that come with them: the lack of professionalism in Open Source communities, which result in inappropriate products; the lack of resources, financial and otherwise; there are also issues caused by commercial licensing restrictions.

The most notable open source audio products are: Ardour, a hard disk recorder and digital audio workstation application; Audacity, a sound editor more than a digital audio workstation; LMMS (in a previous life, Linux MultiMedia Studio), another digital audio workstation application.

These programs are probably good enough for most musicians. Yet, there can be a temptation to use commercial products, that could be slightly more refined.

This said, Proton discourages people from using Software as a Service. Adobe Audition, for example, now requires people to edit their music in the cloud. That is, the music is stored and manipulated on somebody else’s server. This means that users effectively lose control over their creations and are dependent on Adobe behaving ethically.

At the very least, software should be installed on one’s own machine, with backup in some physically separate place.

If one is going to use commercial software, Chris Barnatt, futurist, author and YouTuber at Explaining Computers, recommends DaVinci Resolve for video (and audio) editing. The free version, is more than good enough for a one person band. More information is available at Black Magic Design.

Wes has downloaded all of the above, and is testing them out to find out which one feels good, for him.

Disruptive Technology: HET Motors

The Linear Labs

Andrew Gordon (1712 – 1751) was a Scottish Benedictine monk, physicist and inventor, who made the first electric motor in the 1740s. It is fully described in Versuch einer Erklarung der Electricitat (1745). Most of the basic research on motors was done in the 19th century, with all the major classes of motors available at the start of the 20th century. The one exception was the linear induction motor, that was developed between 1905 and 1949.

Most of the development work on motors in the 20th century falls into the category refinement or enhancement.

In the 21st century, Linear Labs, a Fort Worth, Texas, USA start-up, has raised US$4.5 million in seed capital to develop and commercialize a new electric motor, the Hunstable Electric Turbine (HET) that it claims reduces size and complexity while increasing efficiency, range and torque. Hunstable is the surname of the motor’s developers, son/ CEO Brad and father/ CTO Fred.

Electric motors typically use single-speed reduction gearboxes designed to let electric motors rotate at high, efficient RPMs while the drive wheels spin slower. These gearboxes are heavy, complex, expensive and unnecessary, according to Linear Labs. Their technology radically simplifies the electric power-train while delivering more efficiency/ torque/ power/ range.

Two important terms used below. Rotor = the moving part of a motor, that turns the shaft to deliver the mechanical power. Stator = the stationary part of the motor, that usually consists of windings or permanent magnets.

The HET is a three-dimensional, circumferential flux, exterior permanent magnet electric motor. What this means is that the motor’s electric field is engineered to create motion or, perhaps more correctly, eliminates many design imperfections that restrict motion efficiency in conventional motors. In addition, there are four rotors where other motors typically run one or two. The stator is fully encapsulated in a four-sided magnetic torque tunnel, each side having the same polarity, ensuring that all magnetic fields are in the direction of motion, and contributing to the torque of the motor. There are no unused ends on the coils, that could – potentially – dissipate energy.

Field weakening is a common technique used to increase more speed, when running at full voltage. In conventional motors this is done by reducing the field flux, by injecting extra current in the opposite direction. Current injection add speed at the expense of torque, and reduces motor efficiency. The HET uses a unique approach to field weakening by rotating one or both of its magnetic end plates out of alignment, meaning that this motor can build extra speed with no efficiency loss. Indeed, overall efficiency increases at higher speeds.

Another challenge with electric vehicles is torque pulsing (cogging) at low speed. This is experienced as jerky acceleration. The HET overlaps power pulses around the stator at low speeds. This provides high, but smooth torque as the motor accelerates. Then, the motor controller changes the motor’s operating patterns by grouping poles together as motor speeds increase. This acts like an electronic transmission, emulating six-phase, three-phase, two-phase or one-phase patterns and allowing the motor to increase speed without changing its frequency, voltage or current levels.

The HET doesn’t cost any more to manufacture than a conventional motor design, or require any specialized tooling – and it can be built without using rare earth metals (if necessary). The stator is easy to cool because liquid can run inside the copper coils.

The resulting HET motor produces two to five times the torque density, at least three times the power density and at least twice the total output of any permanent magnet motor of the same size. It also eliminates the need for DC/DC converters, gearboxes (previously mentioned), which reduces total vehicle cost and weight. Altogether this gives a 10 – 20% range increase, from a given battery pack.

These claims are backed up by comments from independent experts. However, without being an expert in the field one is unable to verify these claims, or to project the path between a disruptive idea its commercialization. Linear Labs says it’s looking to implement the motor in a scooter prototype in 2019, and a car prototype in 2021. The company sees further potential for the motors in other classes of vehicles, as well as multirotor drones, wind power generation and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).

The most interesting aspect of this disruptive technology is to set it in conjunction with that of of the micro-battery from Bothell, Washington, USA startup XNRGI. These batteries claim to offer 3 – 6 times the energy density of current LI-ion batteries. This can be translated into either 3 – 6 time increase in range, or a significant vehicle weight reduction, or some combination of both.

For further information, visit Linear Labs and/ or XNRGI.

Industry 4.0: Update

The Trent and Mersey Canal, at Stoke-on-Trent with narrow boat and pottery kiln. Photo: Geoff Maitland

Wedgwood, located at Barlaston, Staffordshire, England is one of the oldest ceramics companies in the world, established by Josiah Wedgwood (1730 – 1795) in 1759. In 1987, it merged with Waterford Crystal. Their assets were purchased in 2009 by New York based KPS Capital Partners, to become WWRD Holdings Limited, an abbreviation for Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton. The company was acquired by Finnish Fiskars in 2015.

In March 2019, Wedgwood announced that about 145 jobs (out of a total of 440) would be eliminated. Its reasoning for the firings almost seem poetic, as it looks to “reduce complexity across its operations”. Complexity is something that most companies embrace. If something is too simple, then anyone can do it, and there would be no need for that company.

Josiah Wedgwood was one of the great engineering entrepreneurs of the industrial revolution. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, led the industrialization of the ceramics industry, and played a significant role in establishing rail and canal infrastructure.

Why Wedgwood? Yes, he was born into a family of potters, but so were many others, and they did not develop a ceramics industry. One difference was that Wedgwood contracted smallpox as a child. This left him with a permanently weakened knee so that he was unable to operate a potter’s wheel. Because of this he spent his time on the science/ engineering/ design of pottery products and production techniques.

Other ceramics companies have had similar fates. To mention only one recent example, in April 2019, Dudson, also located in Stoke-on-Trent, announced that it would be shutting down its tableware, glassware and fine china business that started in 1800, and all its 390 employees would be made redundant.

This is a reversal of what Phil Tomlinson wrote about in an article titled, How England’s broken ceramics industry put itself back together (2015). Tomlinson comments on the reversal of the ceramics industry, that: “The first factor is global demand, where particularly US and Japanese consumers have become increasingly averse to purchasing premium wares manufactured cheaply in Asia (especially China) but sold under one of the branded names from the English Potteries. With Stoke wares still perceived to be among the highest quality in the world, the “Made in England” back-stamp is an increasingly important marketing tool.”

One of the major difficulties with Tomlinson’s perspective is that wages for the majority in much of the industrialized [sic] world have stagnated the past forty years. Income has been replaced with easy credit, and manufacturing jobs have been increasingly outsourced. Now, more than ten years after the great (financial) recession of 2008, those credit cards are increasingly being maxed out. The majority no longer have the opportunity to buy products “among the highest quality in the world”, but will have to accept that they belong to the “Made in China” class of consumers.

The world is filled with prophets expecting the emergence of a fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 as they prefer to call it. Some have even gone beyond to refer to it now as Industry 5.0. Technologies powering this include the usual components found in mechatronics, but with additional buzz words such as artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing and green tech, perhaps more accurately described as green wash.

These prophets are expecting smart manufacturing, as it is also called, to foster the return of manufacturing activities to advanced/ high-cost economies. They are looking at three areas: servitisation, personalization and makerization.

Servitisation: the symbiosis of traditional manufacturing and services.
Rolls-Royce is the poster child, and exemplifies this with ‘power-by-the-hour’ maintenance packages that replaces maintenance (a service), with maintenance-with-a-fancy-name, which is still a service.

The main point with power-by-the-hour, is that Rolls-Royce, as developer of airplane engines, has a greater understanding of their risk, and can manage it better than airlines, who are – essentially – passive recipients of the technology developed by someone else. American farmers, for example, want a right to repair agricultural equipment because manufacturers, such as John Deere, are placing all of the risk onto farmers, rather than taking upon themselves that risk, despite the fact that it is the equipment manufacturers who have designed the equipment, not the farmers.

The only fair solution to this dilemma is for the equipment manufacturers to lease equipment on an hourly basis, that includes all maintenance costs. This way, farmers can choose a solution, knowing the total costs involved. In other words a ‘power-by-the-hour’ solution for farmers would put the risk associated with agricultural equipment where it belongs, with the equipment manufacturers.

Personalization: Customised products produced in small batches or even as unique pieces which require customers to co-innovate/ co-produce with the manufacturer. The poster child here is Shapeways, which takes control over customer designs, 3D prints them, then uses third party logistics firms to transport products back to the original designer/ consumer.

Makerization involves a situation where local production (a service) is integrated with a global supply chain network to ensure that components (products) are globally available on short notice. To ensure that innovations are diffused, designs and other forms of intellectual property, should be (some would say, have to be) open source. The symbol of makerization is the 3D printer. Originally, this was invented by Chuck Hall (1940 – ) in 1983. He used photopolymers, acrylic-based liquids that instantly solidify when exposed to ultraviolet light. Since then, fused filament fabrication has been the norm, with Makerbot, Ultimaker, Reprap and now Creality becoming the poster children of the 3D era.

For personalization and makerization to work, it is necessary for (potential) consumers to know how to communicate with (potential) manufacturers. This means that they have to know how to draw. Freehand drawing is a minimum. Better still, they should learn how to use Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs, to express their intentions. SketchUp, developed by @Last, bought up by Google, then sold on to Trimble Inc., offers mainstream opportunities, as a web-based application (SketchUp Free), as non-open-source freeware (SketchUp Make), and as a paid version, (SketchUp Pro). The latter two requiring Apple OSX or Microsoft Windows operating systems. Fortunately, the open-source community has both Blender and Free-CAD (along with many other similar products), although both of these mentioned are more difficult to use than Sketchup.

There is also a granularity issue. The product made by one person/ business/ organization, can become the component of another person/ business/ organization. With the use of automated processes, labour costs become less of an issue, and component/ product prices become more standardized. Producers can then choose suppliers nearer to home, but connect with consumers both closer and farther away – at least when they offer a unique product. This offers the prospect of a more efficient form of production, with greater sustainability. See comment, below, about OEMs and tiers.

It is this kind of circular-economy efficiency that presents a real opportunity for advanced economies to pursue more evenly distributed and sustainable socio-economic growth. Enabling manufacturers to access and utilise new technologies in this way will be a key to success. Therefore, developing new industrial policies will be necessary to enable businesses to embrace Industry 4.0. New policies will be needed to bring sectors into the new age, so that they will be able to take advantage of new technologies that are emerging.

Unfortunately, not all sectors are embracing change, equally quickly. The construction industry, especially, is reluctant to modernize. Houses and other building have been 3D-printed, but that information has been ignored, possibly suppressed, by prominent business leaders. Despite this, Building on Demand (BOD) will be part of the future. A weblog post about this topic was written in 2018-07-04. See also:

A comment about OEMs and tiers

OEM stands for original equipment manufacturer. The OEM is the company whose name/ brand appears on the final product: Tesla is an OEM of electric cars, while Asus is an OEM of computers.

An OEM may produce little of the final product. Much of the time they assemble. In addition they design/ brand/ define product scope.

But to manufacture the product they use tier 1 suppliers who deal directly with OEM companies. These are often major companies in their own right. Panasonic supplies batteries to Tesla, AMD supplies microprocessors to Asus.

Tier 2 suppliers deal directly with the tier 1 suppliers, but not OEMs.

There may be additional tiers, depending on product complexity.

At some point there will be a tier 3/ 4/ x supplier that provides raw materials like steel/ wood/ plastic. This marks the end of the supply chain, except when it doesn’t because the raw material has to be grown/ mined/ or in some way extracted.