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Tech Smorgasbord Archives - 32

These items are an archive of past Topical Smorgasbord items that have appeared on the RF Cafe homepage. In keeping with the "cafe" genre, these tidbits of information are truly a smorgasbord of topics. They all pertain to topics that are related to the general engineering and science theme of RF Cafe.

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 |
| 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 |
| 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 |

Please send me an e-mail if you have a good subject.







Soaring College Tuition Costs - RF Cafe SmorgasbordSkyrocketing costs for college tuition have been an issue for a long time. Reports published lately show how the price of a semester of college has exploded in the last few decades. Those same investigations have determined that a big part of the increase has been due to the ease at which school loans can be obtained - very similar to the way housing costs have increased with easy access to mortgage money. As students were more able to pay the rate, supply and demand allowed costs to go up accordingly. For instance, the above chart shows that from 1982 to 2007 the cost of tuition, fees, room, and board increased by an average of about 450%. During the same period the median family income increased 150% and the CPI was up 100%. Even medical care "only" increased by 250%. To illustrate the oblivion nature of far too many students, at the behest of professors and administrators who are themselves part of "the 1%," from an income and privilege standpoint, the students attend Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations to rail against the 1%. Ivory Tower pontificators blasting Capitalism while profiting from it are not limited to universities; their names are in the news on a daily basis.
1/26/2012


Alexander Graham Bell's Audio Recordings Heard 130 Years Later - RF Cafe SmorgasbordIf you had to guess, what would you say this image represents? Part of a printed spiral inductor? How about a printed antenna for near field communications (NFC)? Need a hint? OK, the object is part of a project that Alexander Graham Bell, his cousin Chichester Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter worked on in their Volta Laboratory Associates labs. No, it's not a neatly wound coil of telephone cable. It is a section of an audio recording etched on a glass platter in November of 1884. After being stored at the Smithsonian Museum for 130 years, this and a few other recording media was lent to the scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with hopes that they could apply newly invented noninvasive, non-contact techniques to scan the disc and use software algorithms to recover the data. Thomas Edison had introduced his phonograph to the world in 1877, after which many people attempted to improve on his system both for recording and playback. About 200 of the Volta Lab recordings are in the Smithsonian's collection of around 400 of the earliest recordings ever made on a variety of materials.
Per National Museum of American History curator Carlene Stephens, "These recordings were made using a variety of methods and materials such as rubber, beeswax, glass, tin foil and brass, as the inventors tried to find a material that would hold sound. We don't know what is recorded, except for a few cryptic  <more>
12/15/2011


Gray Market Electronics - Reaping What We've SownGray market electronics components have been a problem for a long time. An extensive article appeared recently in EE Times reporting on a case based on a small operation in south Florida that was importing and re-selling counterfeit parts to military, aerospace, medical, and other product manufacturers. The Feds charged them "with conspiracy, trafficking in counterfeit goods and mail fraud for knowingly importing more than 3,200 shipments of suspected or confirmed counterfeit semiconductors into the United States, marketing some of the products as “military grade” and selling them to customers that included the U.S. Navy and defense contractors." The good news might be that this particular scam operation was caught and stopped, but the bad news is, according to the story, that many more are never prosecuted - largely because of typical bureaucratic SNAFUs in government procedures.
A couple years ago I wrote a short piece on the gray market problem, and surely it has only gotten worse. Much of the blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of our own production equipment vendors, manufacturers (almost a misnomer anymore) and the technology export laws. The U.S. has been shipping know-how and machinery overseas for decades, but in the 1990s, the pace accelerated significantly. Now, in 2011, there are almost no significant restrictions on what kind of intellectual property (IP) or hardware can be sold or given away to other countries. The first time I remember really being alerted to the gravity of the problem was when reading  <more>
11/3/2011
The Devastating Costs of the Amazon Gold Rush - RF Cafe SmorgasbordThe case for domestic exploration and extraction of elements has been documented extensively in the last couple decades. Tragic exploitation of desperately poor people occurs throughout the world for the purpose of providing the "civilized" world with an endless supply of creature comforts. Most of us are aware of the god-awful conditions under which men, women, and children labor to bring us lithium for our iPhone and laptop computer batteries, niobium for super strong magnets in motors and medical imaging machines, phosphor for our curly-Q "green" compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, mercury for those same bulbs and for processing rock ore to extract the metals. Oh, and don't forget about all the precious metals used in jewelry and high-end decorative artifacts The list of applications is extensive, as is the list of human suffering from death, grotesque physical and mental injury, and pathetic living conditions. A little while back, I wrote about our troops providing cover for private company exploration missions in Afghanistan for rare earth metals. As usual, the very people who make the most noise about the... <more>
2/13/2012


Decide.com - RF CafeIt might be a little late to bring this advice to you in time for Christmas presents, but better late than never. In case you don't know, there are websites like Decide.com that attempt to predict when the next model of electronics devices are likely to be released or if prices are due to drop, by tracking retail activity and various "rumors" from industry insiders. News related to the products are available as well. Prognostications are based on educated guesses based on statistical analysis of historical trends. Decide.com claims 77% accuracy on their predictions, and an average savings of $54. retrevo.com provides the same type service. If you are a Mac type, then the Buyer's Guide tab on MacRumors.com might be your best bet. In general, smartphones and tablets are usually updated on roughly a yearly basis. Microprocessors and nextgen computer hardware are on roughly a two-year cycle, as are OSes. One sure sign of a new model appearing on the shelves is a major price drop - like car dealers clearing the lot to make room for next year's models.
12/22/2011


The Best Countries for Starting a Business - RF Cafe SmorgasbordIf you have been thinking about starting your own business, Inc. magazine has some suggestions for where the best place to do that would be. The USA doesn't even make the top 10 list. With a predatory government and accomplices in the media that daily attack successful people and business, it is no wonder. The full force of the government is used to regulate everything from farms to pharmaceuticals to furniture makers out of business. Lawmakers dream up new taxes so fast nobody can keep track of them or mount campaigns against them. Just a few days ago we learned of a new tax on Christmas trees (withdrawn over public outcry). We're always told each one is only the equivalent to a cup of coffee or a Big Mac per week, but pile on hundreds of them and soon it's overwhelming. Business owners are afraid to make investments in capital and personnel because there is no telling what new government mandate might finally break their backs. So where is the #1 spot for starting a business? New Zealand. I'd gladly relocate there if I could afford the move - the glider flying there is famously excellent! #2 is Australia. My neighbor just across Lake Erie, Canada, is #3 (now there's a real possibility depending on next year's election). Rawanda is #8, but I'll leave that to those with a death wish. USA is #13 - quite sad. Here is the World Bank's data used for the report.
11/10/2011
Fast Company's "World's 50 Most Innovative Companies" - RF Cafe SmorgasbordFast Company just released its list of the World's 50 Most Innovative Companies, those whose products and/or services are having the largest impact on all of us. A short explanation is given for the reason. Of course this is just Fast Company's opinion. At first, I thought OK, seems reasonable: Apple at #1, Facebook #2, etc. Then I got to #7, The Occupy Movement. Is that the "movement" left on the police car or one of the many "movements" left on sidewalks? Shouldn't OM have been ranked #2? I figured the list was purely political at that point. Lost on them (or not) is that their own company and all of the companies in their list are part of the "1%" railed against by the OWS'ers. Hypocrites/
Rank Company
1 Apple
2 Facebook
3 Google
4 Amazon
5 Square
6 Twitter
7 Occupy Movement
8 Tencent
9 Life Technologies
10 Solar City
2/17/2012


2011 National Electrical Code Chapter By Chapter - RF Cafe"The National Electric Code (NEC) has its own unique logic. Totally humorless, rigorously honest and forthright, Aristotelian rather than Platonic, it undergoes revision after revision, always looking to keep up with innovations. It is scrupulously aware of its mandate to promote safety and yet not be afraid to spin out into new regions of electronics knowledge." Those are the opening sentences of chapter 3 of a new book by Master Electrician David Herres, titled, "2011 NEC Chapter-by-Chapter." Call me a nerd for actually enjoying a book like this, and call me a highbrow for appreciating the profundity of such insightful prose. I make no apology. Would you normally expect to experience writing like that from an electrician? Not to denigrate electricians or other tradesmen (after all, I began my career as an electrician), but comparisons between Aristotelian and Platonic philosophical bents are the realm of literature students. To that end, I wrote to Mr. Herres to delicately probe his background beyond that of electrical work. In fact, he has a Bachelor's Degree in English literature - no surprise there. Far from what you might expect of a book bearing this title, the text is very readable in its goal of explaining the overall strategy of chapter order and structure, while delving deep into the details as necessary to make notoriously difficult concepts understandable. Far from being a rote regurgitation of chapter and verse, David effectively combines his obvious mastery   <more>
1/5/2012


LED Billboards Not So Green - RF Cafe SmorgasbordSomewhere in the last couple months I saw an advertisement on one the those newfangled LED billboards that was pitching energy conservation. It caused me to wonder just how much power a giant array of LEDs consumed compared to the old world paper type. Paper billboards are not energy-free by any account. They require energy for facilities where the artwork is printed, energy for a truck to transport a crew to the billboard for hanging the new advertisement, and then energy for illumination at night. The average energy consumption for halide lighting the standard paper billboard is around 7,000 kWh (580 kWh per month, my house used 375 kWh last month by comparison). By comparison, a typical 14' x 48' LED billboard that uses around 10,000 "green" LEDs (each using 2-10 watts), lit 24 hours a day, uses about 160 kWh. Less efficient LED billboards can use 300,000 kWh or more. That makes them 20 - 40 times more energy hogging than a paper billboard. One feature in favor of the LED billboards is that they require only a desktop computer for designing the advertisement, and changing the display is done wirelessly via a modem. However, the pollution generated during manufacturing the LEDs, driver electronics, and cooling fans are much greater than for paper billboards. The cost for installing a full-color LED billboard, not including the real estate, is  <more>
11/17/2011
RF Energy Harvesting - RF Cafe SmorgasbordEnergy harvesting is a popular topic these days. We read often about piezo and thermal transducers that convert vibrational and impact mechanical energy to electrical energy in vehicles, machinery, and clothing. The idea is to recover some of the energy lost due to system inefficiencies and byproducts of normal usage. With as chock full of electronics as most of the aforementioned objects are, being able to generate electricity to supplement the line supply or more importantly the battery supply for mobile platforms can make a significant improvement in how long a charge lasts. Designs for military boots that recharge batteries are already in use, and shock absorbers are in the queue. You might be inclined to think that energy harvesting is a new phenom, but thanks to an article provided by Paul A. (W2RIA), we see that it has been around for quite a while, especially for RF energy harvesting. The April 1958 (just 4 months before I was born) edition of Popular Science featured a pieced titled, "New Radio Steals Its Power from the Air." A simple tuned circuit is given that taps the RF energy from a nearby (1 mile away) 500 W AM radio broadcast station to generate "telepower" for powering a simple receiver with the same energy that creates the sound in the earpiece.
3/2/2012


 RF Cafe v2012 - RF Cafe Smorgasbord
RF Cafe began a makeover on January 1st of this year. It is a long way from being complete. Since its inception in 1999, RF Cafe has grown rather explosively, and during that time thousands of pages of content have been added. The task of compiling and presenting all of the information in a useful manner has become daunting, if not impossible. The biggest criticism I get about RF Cafe is the overall clutter of the pages - way too much stuff crammed into a small area. Trust me, it has bothered me as much as it has you.
I have tried many times to come up with an acceptable alternative for spreading things out that would not cause the page to be 2000 pixels wide or many pages tall, and still be useful. My options have been limited by a combination of not wanting to send visitors multiple layers deep into the site in order to locate targeted data, not wanting to implement unreliable dropdown type menus (still not enough standardization to work consistently across browsers and platforms), and most importantly not having the freedom to reconfigure the entire web page layout because of commitments to advertisers who were paying hard-earned money to appear in specific locations on the page. At great financial risk, I made the command decision to change that last restriction at the beginning of 2012. Doing so was key to being able to accomplish everything...<more>
RF Cafe began a makeover on January 1st of this year. It is a long way from being complete. Since its inception in 1999, RF Cafe has grown rather explosively, and during that time thousands of pages of content have been added. The task of compiling and presenting all of the information in a useful manner has become daunting, if not impossible. The biggest criticism I get about RF Cafe is the overall clutter of the pages - way too much stuff crammed into a small area. Trust me, it has bothered me as much as it has you.
I have tried many times to come up with an acceptable alternative for spreading things out that would not cause the page to be 2000 pixels wide or many pages tall, and still be useful. My options have been limited by a combination of not wanting to send visitors multiple layers deep into the site in order to locate targeted data, not wanting to implement unreliable dropdown type menus (still not enough standardization to work consistently across browsers and platforms), and most importantly not having the freedom to reconfigure the entire web page layout because of commitments to advertisers who were paying hard-earned money to appear in specific locations on the page. At great financial risk, I made the command decision to change that last restriction at the beginning of 2012. Doing so was key to being able to accomplish everything else.   <more>
1/19/2012


Trade School vs. College? - RF CafeWe seem to have reached a crossroads in America, as well as in a lot of other similar countries. Over the last few decades government agencies, universities, public schools, and media have convinced many people that the only way to succeed and be happy and productive is to go to college and earn a Bachelor's (or higher) degree - in anything. Drilled into us continually is that the average person with at least a 4-year degree will earn up to a million dollars more in his/her lifetime. Sounds good, right? As anyone with knowledge of statistics will tell you, averages are meaningless without an accompanying figure for standard deviation. That would be the same as saying if you stand with one foot in a pot of near boiling water and the other in a pot of ice water, on the average you would feel just right.
The propaganda has been so successful that millions of people have been willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars (largely through loans that they don't think should have to be paid back) to get degrees in anything - literally. People graduate, discover there are no jobs paying high of a wage to live on while also servicing loans, then go back for a Master's degree on more borrowed (well, more like embezzled than borrowed these days) money. With a freshly minted diploma in  Women's Studies, Equality  <more>
12/1/2011
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