Tech Smorgasbord Archives - 33

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. Note: There is also a huge collection of my 'Factoids' (aka 'Kirt's Cogitations') that might interest you as well.

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Firefox's Collusion Confirms Your Paranoia - RF Cafe Smorgasbord"col·lu·sion \kə-´lü-zhən\  Noun: Secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, esp. in order to cheat or deceive others" By now everyone knows that unless you take extreme measures to prevent it, almost all websites contain elements that have the ability to track some or all of your movements around the Internet. Not every method of tracking is nefarious, and some is even welcome by Web surfers. In fact, it is unreasonable to expect that any website which provides subscription-free access to its contents not be permitted to serve revenue generating advertisements to pay for the overhead costs and even allow the purveyor to make a profit. However, there are scads of stories about companies that set cookies on your computer that allow them to track your every movement even if it is not related to your mission. Mozilla recently came out with an AddOn for their Firefox browser named "Collusion," that allows you to see exactly how many external sites are tracking your activity and even displays the names of the websites doing so. As I was snooping around for technical headlines today, I took the time to plug many of websites into the Collusion application to see what they looked like. The resulting Collusion maps are shown below. The target websites are displayed in green and the "tracker" website names are in yellow. Lines interconnect websites according to their relationships with other websites. Note that for many sites, trackers go on to send your information to other tracker websites...

Are Tech Company Social Website Pages Useful? - RF CafeThere has been a headlong rush by companies to set up accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social websites and services. The thumbnail to the left shows 100+ such entities managed by the AddThis website (for the Engineer website). I have visited the Facebook pages of quite a few high-tech companies that offer circuit components, equipment racks, software, design services, books, etc. All of these companies also have very nice and useful traditional websites. From what I see, Facebook in particular seems to be a colossal waste of time and effort since most of what appears there is self-promotion, with almost no interaction by anyone else. I won't cite specific companies' Facebook pages, but pick five or six for yourself and see if my claim is valid. There are a handful of exceptions, as always, but in general it is true. When there is any activity at all, it is usually when a contest or a special pricing deal is being offered when a visitor clicks the "Like" button for them. When you do click the "Like" button, that company's postings then begin to show up on your Facebook page, so you either need to hide everything they post or "Unlike" them. I set up a Facebook page for RF Cafe mainly to prevent anyone else from usurping and exploiting the name. ...OK, also because I felt obligated to participate in the fad. There is almost no activity on the page, but at least...

2012 Top 100 Companies to Work For - RF Cafe SmorgasbordAnother "Top n" list has been published, this time by CNN Money for the top 100 best companies to work for. The list never includes the plethora of great locally-owned companies that employ the majority of people in the country. However, if you prefer to work for megacorps, then it might be time to pull out the resume and update it with keywords that will bubble to the top in HR's candidate selection software. Looking at the top salary list, you might be inclined to go to med school since average physician pay at S. Ohio Med Center (#36) is $490k. Not so fast, though. Engineers at Devon Energy (#28) average $178k, and at AutoDesk (#52) they make $150k on average. Intel comes in at $134k and Qualcomm (#18) doles out $132k.
Rank Company
1 Google
2 Boston Consulting (who?)
4 Wegman's Food*
12 Mercedes-Benz USA
14 DreamWorks
15 NuStar Energy
18 Chesapeake Energy
23 Qualcomm
28 Devon Energy
45 National Instruments
46 Intel
52 Autodesk
76 Microsoft
79 Mattel
82 Hasbro
84 Booz Allen Hamilton
97 Schweitzer Engineering
* we shop there - great place
3/9/2012Goldman Sachs CEO Head on a Pike During OWS Demonstration - RF CafeIt has been a while since I reported salary data for chieftains in the electronics industry. With all the violence being threatened against achievers in the corporate world these days, I was a bit reluctant to throw fuel on the fire by pointing out what long hours and hard work can achieve. No, not every one can get there, but the promise of a higher goal motivates people to apply themselves to a greater degree than others. Natural-born intelligence and drive, plus a helping of luck, can and often is the discriminator between who becomes king of the hill; however, there are lots of prince and knight positions available for the rest of us (I'm more of a court jester in the regal line of ascension). Fierce Wireless' 2011 list shows Apple CEO Tim Cook reaping $1/3B (up from $1/20B in 2010), with the #2 slot earning less than 1/10th of that. The #10 position in 2010 yielded $5.9M for U.S. Cellular CEO Mary Dillon, whereas #10 in 2011 only netted $5.0M. 2011 had a 75:1 ratio between the #1 and #10 position (x=$52M, std dev=$115M). 2010's spread was only 10:1 (x=$17M, std dev=$16M).

# CEO Company Total
1 Tim Cook Apple 377,996,537
2 Greg Brown Motorola Solutions 29,329,052
3 Lowell McAdam Verizon Comms 23,120,499
4 Randall Stephenson AT&T 22,018,334
5 Paul Jacobs Qualcomm 21,722,333
6 Dan Hesse Sprint 11,882,651
7 Stephen Elop Nokia 10,374,581
8 Ralph de la Vega AT&T Mobility 9,898,542
9 Dan Mead Verizon Wireless 5,660,641
10 Hans Vestberg Ericsson 5,033,911

Titanic Radio, Compliments of Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company - RF Cafe SmorgasbordFor the last week, we have been inundated with stories on the 100-year anniversary of the "unsinkable" RMS Titanic. Even after a century of research and exploration, no definitive cause has been determined relating to how the ship's crew managed to hit a gigantic iceberg on a star-lit, glass-smooth sea. The prevailing theory seems to be that an optical illusion due to an atmospheric inversion caused the crew to misjudge the position of the iceberg. An article in the March 2012 Smithsonian magazine lays out the scenario, complete with diagrams. The same edition has a story titled, "They Missed the Boat," discussing some of the famous people who were originally scheduled to make the voyage, but decided not to before it departed. Amongst the notables was none other than 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics honoree Guglielmo Marconi. Instead, he left for America on the Lusitania three days earlier. Interestingly, he also made the Atlantic passage on the Lusitania three years later on the trip immediately before a German U-Boat sunk it. Talk about a charmed life! Marconi played a critical role in the Titanic drama without actually being aboard, since his company, Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, Ltd, owned the radio equipment aboard the Titanic and also employed the two radio operators. The April 2012 edition of the ARRL's QST magazine...

Flat Earthers - RF CafeOur president and other pontificating politicians, particularly, it seems, those who hold college degrees in non-science realms, have recently taken to referring to anyone who does not hold their points of view as "Flat Earthers" and anti-science. BTW, these are the same people who regularly chastise their opponents for name-calling and uncivil discourse. Right out of the box they are hypocrites on that point alone. So, if to them others are anti-science, then they obviously deem themselves to be pro-science. Would you consider a person who laments the invention of the ATM machine because it replaces bank tellers or a ticket kiosk at the airport for robbing counter clerks pro- or anti-science? What about people who prefer to cripple society with a blinders-on approach to energy production by insisting on using "renewable" sources while ignoring advances in fossil and nuclear power sources? Excuse me for getting all sciency[sic] on them, but how is any form of energy production "renewable?" Once energy is extracted from wind, sunlight, or water, can that spent energy be used again for something else? Of course not; that energy is converted into electrical energy so it NOT RENEWABLE!!! Unless a wind generator has 0% efficiency (i.e., no electricity produced), its blades slow the air by robbing it of kinetic energy. Air exits the blades at a lower speed. Yes, you might be able to argue that the energy in the wind is "renewed" in...

The Popular Logistics Website: Managing the Flow of Ideas - RF Cafe SmorgasbordThe old adage "flattery will get you everywhere" might not be a universal truism, but at least for Jonathan Soroko at the Popular Logistics website/blog, and at least for this one time, flattery gets him somewhere - a highly coveted appearance on the RF Cafe homepage. Even though he spelled my name "Kirk" rather than "Kirt," I still appreciate the unsolicited plug on his website recognizing all the wonderful things that are RF Cafe (see "Popular Logistics proudly adds link to Kirk Blattenberger and RF Cafe"). What exactly is Popular Logistics? From the website, "On Popular Logistics we explore the long term national security and community security ramifications of energy, environmental, economic, emergency preparedness, and public health policy, and the interrelationships between the people, the companies and the various systems involved in implementing or holding back the paradigm shift to sustainable models." Jon and PL co-founder Lawrence Furman ("with assistance of Jenny Gage, and other persons named and not named") address a variety of topics with a good combination of wit, humor, and facts to analyze various topics - often contemporary headlines. It appears to be a fair treatment from the authors' viewpoints without interjecting insulting political or social dogma (well, not too much, anyway). I like reading articles that contain information that I should have known but didn't. E.g., do you know what Pascal's Wager (aka Pascal's Gambit) is? What about the Precautionary Principle? Me neither (assuming you answered "no"). Thanks to Popular Logistics and Wikipedia though, now I do. Were you aware of the relationship between a particular emergency whistle and a subsystem in the F-16 Fighting Falcon? I wasn't...

Celestron NexStar 8SE Telescope Teardown Report - Telescope & SkySometime around 2006, Celestron introduced the NexStar series of telescopes that offered a relatively low cost introduction to its renown line of high quality catadioptric scopes. Computerized "GoTo" controllers were incorporated to allow even entry level amateur astronomers an opportunity to learn his/her way around the night sky. In order to keep prices down, the 30-plus-year tradition of using a dual arm fork type mount for holding the optical tube assembly (OTA) was replaced with a single arm that produces a cantilevered support. Heavy duty worm gears were replaced with standard spur gears. The ramifications of those two changes will be addressed as I discuss the photographs taken in preparation of this teardown report. A picture of my NexStar 8SE telescope is shown to the right. Note that in the following series of photos, the NexStar 8SE is mounted to a Celestron CPC heavy duty equatorial wedge, sitting atop the standard tripod. A picture of it in the standard alt-az configuration can be seen here. My guess is that the mount for the NexStar 6 SE uses all of the same components. Click on the thumbnail images for large versions. The built-in GoTo system for the two axes consists of a microcontroller and driver PCB assembly (two boards), stepper motors driving gears on each axis, and the pushbutton hand controller seen in the picture above. A 40,000-objet database allows the user to command the telescope to automatically "go to" a particular star, galaxy, nebula, or planetary object once an acceptable alignment is obtained. My experience has been...

DHHS "The Lab" - RF Cafe SmorgasbordIn the last decade many news reports have highlighted instances of academic fraud. It comes in many forms including plagiarism: copying someone's work and claiming it as your own, data fabrication: presenting results of work that never occurred, deception: implying facts without outright lying, cheating: think crib notes, bribery: accepting or offering remuneration for illegal or unethical favors, sabotage: harming people's work, professional misconduct: altering a student's grade, and impersonation: taking a test for someone else. The Wikileaks people recently released e-mails and other research data from the global warming players that exposed much fraud and coordinated deception on the part of both universities and governments (gw is a $$$multibillion business). For some recent notables, see 10 Academic Frauds Who Had Everyone Fooled. In order to help combat the problem, the folks who brought us the $5 trillion deficit, the Branch Dividian inferno, and the Fast and Furious gun running scandal are here to help - yes, the U.S. Government. The Department of Health and Human Services has prepared a role-playing scenario titled "The Lab," centering around a video of a fictitious case of academic fraud. You get to make decisions for various actors and see if your innate behaviors are acceptable. If you are a student or researcher, you might, however, consider playing on a library computer or one with a masked IP address because you can bet you're being monitored along with most other online activity. If the guys wearing dark glasses and having curly wires coming out of their ears show up at the lab shortly after you make a bad decision in The Lab, don't worry - it's probably just a coincidence.

Tech Sector Salaries in the Federal Government - RF Cafe SmorgasbordWe have all seen news reports about the often exorbitant salaries of government employees as compared to the earnings of folks in equivalent private sector jobs. According to a March 2012 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average total compensation for the average private industry worker was $28.57 per hour worked whereas for the federal government worker it was $40.90 per hour - a 43% difference! When you look at the ranges of job titles and pay for government workers as compared to equivalent private industry workers there seems to be no logical correlation between which jobs pay more with the government versus private industry. There are currently about 22 million U.S. government employees - a staggering number indeed.
Asbury Park Press ( recently made available a database of year-2011 earnings for government employees, searchable by department/agency, division, job title, location, and even employee name. If you know someone who works for the government, this is your chance to find out how much they make. I wanted to find out what people in technical agencies were making, so I concentrated on organizations like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Institute of Standards (NIST), etc. The results are in the table below where I counted people whose base salaries are at or above $100,000 per year. It took a lot more time than I really had to spend on it, but after a while it gets addictive.
One thing to keep in mind is that government agencies are notoriously top-heavy in management, which tends to push the pay scale upward. Looking at the filtered results bears out that fact since it reveals that most top earners are in management positions...

Alternative Energy: Savior to an Alternate Universe - RF Cafe SmorgasbordA couple weeks ago, my local newspaper, Erie Times-News, printed this letter that I submitted:
"As an electrical engineer, I have always embraced the technology behind wind, hydro, solar and other forms of 'alternative' energy production. It is undoubtedly cool. What I despise is an agenda by special interest groups to mislead the public regarding the maturity and efficiency of those systems in an effort to destroy the nuclear and fossil fuel industries that drive our economy. The recent failure of the 5-year-old wind turbine at Tom Ridge Environmental Center is a good example. Numbers were not provided for that turbine, but were for the one on Barracks Beach, also offline (Erie Times-News, March 31). The turbine and tower cost about $36,000 in 2004 dollars, when installed. The stated best-case energy generation for it is 15,000 kwh/ year. Electricity rates around here are about 13 cents/kwh, but I'll use 15 cents for best-case analysis. That multiplies to $2,250 worth of electricity per year. So, it would take 16 years to recover the cost of replacement at that rate. The turbine has lasted 8 years, yielding an amortized cost of $4,500 per year. Installation would include expensive cost for cables and equipment for interfacing the wind generator power to the commercial power, which are not figured into my calculations. Similar numbers dominate for solar power as well since installation costs are high and the cells lose efficiency over time. Yes, we must continue pursuing other forms of energy generation to supplement fossil fuels. No, we must not punish and cripple the country's economic well-being in mindless obeisance to groups that are making billions of dollars pushing their disingenuous agenda."
About a week later, I received a telephone call (my letters on various topics often invoke phone calls) from Mr. John Droz, Jr., stating...

Kickstarter Funding - RF CafeIf you have a project planned or in the works that you would like to try to get someone else to fund, you might want to visit the Kickstarter website. Unlike having to swallow your pride and grope before relatives and or venture capitalists, Kickstarter is an online venue where you present your plan to the world and hope that it is compelling enough to convince people to donate. You are obligated to deliver if successful. Here, I'll let the Kickstarter folks explain it: "Kickstarter is the world's largest funding platform for creative projects. Every week, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields. A new form of commerce and patronage. This is not about investment or lending. Project creators keep 100% ownership and control over their work. Instead, they offer products and experiences that are unique to each project. All or nothing funding. On Kickstarter, a project must reach its funding goal before time runs out or no money changes hands. Why? It protects everyone involved. Creators aren’t expected to develop their project without necessary funds, and it allows anyone to test concepts without risk. Each and every project is the independent creation of someone like you. Projects are big and small, serious and whimsical, traditional and experimental. They’re inspiring, entertaining and unbelievably diverse. We hope you agree. Welcome to Kickstarter!"...