Electricity is no Respector of Man’s Codes

Electricity is no respecter of the NEC or any other regional code for that matter. Electrical codes try to ensure some level of safety but are compromised due to political and economic factors. Codes also change over time, due to bad experiences, lessons learned, as well as changing political / economic factors. Alas, this does not mean they should not be ignored, there is a much good advice within. The danger comes into being when they are viewed as some sort of divine truth.

A common problem in older houses is that most of their electrical outlets are 2 prong thus lacking the ground connection. There are many ways folks try to mitigate this shortcoming, some of which pose electrocution hazards, some of which pose fire hazards, and of course the right way which equates to ripping things to bits and starting over.

The most common approach is a 3 to 2 prong adaptor which is rarely if ever used properly. The little grounding tab is supposed to be connected to ground via an outlets center screw… alas, many boxes are not grounded.

1. Many years ago, BX cable (basically 2 wires surrounded by a spiral metal shell) was commonly used. On a positive note, the spiral metal shell sort of provided a ground path between an outlet box and the main panel. By sort of, it provides a path such that a 3 light outlet tester would likely indicate the outlet was grounded. Alas, under a serious fault condition, the spiral metal sheath might not provide solid enough ground connection to trip the breaker… in some cases, the breaker would not trip, that is until the spiral metal shell turned red hot and melted the insulation off the wires shorting them together and in some cases starting a fire in the wall. (BX has not been sold for many years as it was replaced by AC cable (which looks the almost the same but has a continuous ground specifucally designed for fault currents)

2. The use of a GFCI as a workaround is a legal short cut, and it can serve to mitigate shock hazards. Fire hazards are another story. In some future versions of the NEC, I fully expect this practice to be made illegal, just as the old school means of grounding via a water pipe or single wire to another ground circuit were made illegal. (The NEC does allow one to run a single ground wire back to the main panel, but its vagueness as to wire routing / protection makes for a fire waiting to happen depending upon the installer.)

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On Common Core Math

The idea of common core math is to develop understanding, rather than superficial rote methods in the interest of global competition in STEM and related. The problem with this ideology, is that for the majority of folks out there, getting the right answer quickly rather than really understanding whats going on under the hood makes no sense.

Consider these 4 students and how parents would respond.

1. Little Bobby doesn’t show his work, but gets the right answer. He gets a low grade as when queried, he embraces rote methods with very little understanding of what he is doing.

2 Little Suzy shows her work, makes a mechanical error in writing mid way through the exercises using a unique method,but gets the answer wrong. She gets a higher grade than Bobby as she shows understanding of the process.

3. Little Annie who shows her work and gets the right answer. She gets a higher grade than both Bobby and Suzy, but her approach is purely mechanical. She only uses the methods a given teacher uses over and over, and freaks out when her plug and chug doesn’t work.

4. Little Joey shows his work and gets the right answer. He gets extra points, as he is using a number of methods to get the right answer. He may not always choose the optimum approach, but is demonstrating a deeper level of understanding across a multitude of approaches.

The global competition ideology is the following.
On the job site, little Bobby and Annie will build bridges that if they deviate very far from what he’s seen before will run into trouble. They are likely to be relegated to mundane work. Suzy while potentially error prone if paired up with someone to verify her work is likely to push the envelope. Joey is likely to do well no matter what or where he goes. Global competition suggests we need a lot more Suzy and Joeys than we need Bobbys and Annies… The status quo says Bobby’s and Annies should rule, that is until they are run over by the competition.

The status quo is that 99%+ of society uses rote, and short of a few math nerd teachers, very few outside of some STEM sectors have a rock solid math foundation… This sets the stage for examples like this  to propagate which just adds insult to injury.


The above is a terrible example of a decent method. Such is commonly used for doing mental math with large numbers, fractions, and even mixed unit problems like time/date calculations. Mental math while useful to solve equations in mid sentence is a cool and at times a useful thing… but the intuition developed from doing so is where the economic value adder really comes into being. Ie, computers, math models, simulations are all good things, but you must have a pretty good idea of what the answer is before you begin or you will shoot yourself in the foot.

Such is pretty common among the majority of STEM folks I’ve worked with over the years… (and many older tradespeople as well… I’ve known retired carpenters, bricklayers, and machinists who can run math circles around some recent engineering grads who are lost without their computer models.) More often than not, such is the result of having to throw out rote math concepts and rebuilding a foundation from scratch… or in the case of oldsters, because using a slide rule pretty much mandated a solid foundation if they wanted the cool projects rather than the mundane.

I’m not a teacher, but the idea of a firm foundation rather than quick and dirty methods which have to be unlearned later makes sense… Alas doing so goes against the grain of society, many parents who will have fits with low grades for Bobbys who still get the “right” answer, and some suggest that math understanding is too advanced for young kids and that rote should be good enough. I don’t know what the answer is… but hiding ones head in the sand has generally proven not to work out all that well.

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Out of Date Market Research

A fellow sent me some market research today and he was all excited… Cool, its always good when folks do their homework. Alas, the more I read, the more I kept thinking, what planet are these authors on? There was warning sign after warning sign that something was seriously amiss.

Alas, I googled some of the execs quoted in the paper. The key fellow quoted had left his employer in 2007! A bit more googling showed the trending data they were discussing had come and gone in 2004! In hindsight the big warning sign on the whole thing was the lack of a date range for data collection to say nothing of the date of publication. Bottom line, I gave the paper the benefit of a doubt and it cost me.

I fully understand the massive expense of hard core in house market research. I also understand why folks can find it anathama to spend $$$$ for a member ship in a trade association to access current data, or $$$ to buy a single paper. On the other hand, imagine how much this fellow might have spent had he proceeded down a path only to find out he was totally out of sync with his target market 3-6 months later.

In the pre911 days, when I was often in Washington DC, I’d often cruise over to the library of congress just to read market research papers. Often times even the really spendy ones came with a pride factor or something else and they would get deposited there. Alas, such is not the option for most of us, to say nothing of the restriction headaches in today’s security world.

Alas, some market research papers are available, or can be inferred out of data sets available at larger university libraries. Alas, such is often times beyond the scope of a research librarians pervue, but one can get an inkling if a day trip is justified to scope things out in person or not. Albeit such is market dependent… some niche papers have such low demand, the only way the publishers can recoup costs is charging an arm, a leg, and then some.

Alas, one still runs into publishing delays should one be operating in a fast moving market. It would be a sad deal indeed to ride out the low margin tail end of a short cycle market due to delayed upfront data. Granted, most small inventor types run on long tails rather than the leading edge, but its always something to keep in mind.

As such, the pretotype, the minimum viable product, or even vaporware methods of market research can be used to validate ones ideas in light of published data sets. The challenge of course is doing the right type and amount of paper research before entering said stage. Ie, most MVP’s, pretotypes, and even vaporware have an opportunity cost associated with them. There needs to be a reasonable balance between the initial paper based pre-work, and the firm, aim, ready approach or time and money will be wasted.


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Commentary / Notes on How do Good Ideas Spread #DTActionLab

Some random ramblings on “How Do Good Ideas Spread” This is more along the line of notes and insights I picked up from the article for my own purposes rather than a formal blog post. Excuse the scatterbrainess.

**************** From Twitter ***************

Good article for #DTActionLab #VirtualLibrary: “How Do Good Ideas Spread?”in @NewYorker http://goo.gl/tBWkxf 


Wowzers… I wish I had read this years ago. I learned early on that if you have a new product which requires significant customer education / rethinking and things become a nightmare fast. One can spout the benefits of a product, process, or idea left and right, like Lister’s use of carbolic acid sprays and aseptic procedures resulting in significant decreases in mortality. On the other hand, being said sprays also left the surgeon’s hands raw, to say nothing of a near total mindset reset in related domains, no wonder the adoption period was so lengthy.

The 7 points of contact bit was interesting… such could lead one to believe that the use of ones existing sales and distribution force could easily bring a new product to market fast.  One barrier I’ve noticed with this as concerns the retraining/rethinking type product models is it takes the sales force from a consulting / procurement resource to one of an peer/educator…. which from a personal dynamics pov is tricky to navigate.

Over the years, many entities in the EE realm have tried to work around this with traveling field / apps engineers. Short of the late Bob Pease or Walt Jung (massive personal brand individuals in the analog realm) , the frequency / relationship building using field/apps guys takes an incredibly long period of time. In my experience, such relationship/time building far too often exceeds the duration of said field /apps engineers employment with a given firm. If one then adds in the paranoia of a Men’s Wearhouse/George Zimmer deal where one guy pretty much becomes the brand, its easy to understand the rarity of corps encouraging the development of massive personal brand individuals.

The birthing center nurse examples were also interesting.

The use of “Please Do X” and “You must do X” almost always fail, as they dont get to the big deal thing that changes behavior, ie getting folks hearts and minds on board. Such is where the relationship/time building things end up being the most effective, but sadly are also the most costly and time intensive.

All of the above being said, social media has the potential to be a game changer… or at least I think it does as the relationship building time can be substantially compressed. It would need to be done correctly, and with that comes risk. Ie, the use of invisible individual(s) with generic personality pronouncing canned PR bits makes sense to avoid the George Zimmer Men’s Wearhouse deal. Otoh, it takes the time compression advantage of social media and throws it right out the window.  No doubt this will take some time to sort out.

My view at looking at this thinks is in the domain of the business to business marketing of ideas, products, and process as it parallels the sale of ideas to the medical profession.


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Heathkit Exhaust Gas Analyzer Model CI-1080

I saw one of these pop up on ebay and then seeing it sell for over $300 about knocked me on the floor. I can understand a sentimentality for a kit a relative built, or perhaps someone used in their youth… but as far as functionality, egads.

The Heathkit unit works by detecting differences in the thermal conductivity of the exhaust gas relative to air. Its a much simpler and less expensive method than infrared spectroscopy and it should give a reasonable ball park for values less than stoke… provided you sample the exhaust gas stream AHEAD of the catalytic convertor. I use the term should, as the fuels back in the day when this unit was developed are quite a bit different than today. I dont know if this will or will not affect the accuracy.

That being said, the unit raised my curiousity a lot, so I had to dig into the details a bit. It uses a pair of matched thermistors in a bridge configuration, with one in a “air” reference environment, and one in the exhaust stream. The thermistor model is matched pair of Fenwall G126B, a 2K thermistor at 25C with a 200ohm value at 150C. Sadly this part is not a catalog item by any means, but Honeywell (who bought out Fenwall) still offers the 126 series… no idea on minimum order quantities.

You can see a schematic and manual for the Heathkit CI-1080 at the Wedge Labs.


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Open Spirometry

A spirometer is a medical device used to measure pulmonary function. In its most basic form, it measures air flow, and either directly or via integration, air volume. Most commercial units rely on some form of a mechanical turbine as a sensor, but there are a number of ways one might measure said flow velocities.

Spirometers are pretty high priced units $1000 plus… Considering I can buy a microprocessor based wind measurement device (which is not unlike a spirometer) for under $15 including shipping, there is a lot of money on the table. Granted, a spiro is more sensitive… but rather than the delrin bearings in a wind device, a couple jewel bearings do not equate to a 20X multiplier in msrp. The worst part is that high prices preclude the use of sprios and other medical devices in world markets where $1000 is just too expensive. At some point, it will be solved once an outfit decides to canibalize the world market for spirometers… but that could take some time if it ever happens. One can look to China, and they have a spirometer for under $300, but such is a far cry from the $30-50 range.

I’m guess part of the problem is Chinese and other medical device manufacturers are likely to be thwarted left and right by govt regulators to say nothing of intellectual property law gamesmanship. Alas, sooner or later it is likely to happen as markets will force the issue, but it is a matter of when. As a buddy who grew up in China used to tell me the mantra of manufacturing plants he knew about… if junk makes money, we will make it. If quality makes money, we will make it… if we can’t make a quick buck with ease, we wont touch it. Ultimately it comes down to when someone can make decent money with sub $50 units.

Some folks over at UW-Madison started openspirometry some years back to address the insane price of commercial devices leading to a lack of diagnostics in less economically advantage cultures. It looked to be a great student project… alas, it sort of died on the vine after a few years, so I checked into it.



Hmmm… I did a little poking around to see where things are in the commerical world. I found this patent on injection molding turbines to make disposable units pretty fascinating. A little more digging and wowzers, 200 disposable turbine and mouth piece assemblies for just a tad under $300. Or in plain and simple terms, labor and materials to make these mouth piece turbine assemblies is likely in the $0.25 – $0.50 range. If such were to be paired with wind instrument electronics (photo tach, micro processor, and LCD) the problem is really close to being technically solved. Alas, its unlikely that MIR will be really pleased with someone buying hundreds of thousands of turbines w/o their $1000 support electronics. Likewise until the patent runs out, injection molding a 1 piece mouth piece turbine assembly is pretty hard to work around from an intellectual property point of view.

It would be easy to open source the phototach and user interface… but the problem remains with the basic sensor. I’l have to think on this.

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V12 Prototype in 3 Months

This V12 was designed, prototyped, and released for manufacturing in an incredibly short time period. The initial drawings were completed in 5 days, an 8 cylinder prototype was ready in 8 weeks, and the 12 cylinder prototype were done in 12 weeks. Two months after the prototypes were approved, orders totalling 22,500 across multiple manufactures were released. 22,478 engines were built in a 2 year time slot, that included design, prototype, and approval.

Its power to weight ratio 0.53hp/lb, roughly midway between a 80′s Chevy Celebrity and a Mazda RX-8 which while not stellar, isnt too bad either.

It cranked out 400hp.

No CAD tools were used despite the incredily short design and production time frames. In a similar vein, there was no use of stereolithography, or even CNC machining centers during design or production.

LibertyV12 from wikipedia

You can read more about this amazing feat of engineering at http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1919/1919%20-%200006.html

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Snapshot Hard Brake 7mph/sec Is it legit or not?

I’ve been playing around with a progressive snapshot, as well as googling folks who have used it. Some recurrent complaints are from folks who rack up insane numbers of hard brake events. I find it a bit hard to believe that such cases are legit.

Initially, I drove like a grandma so as not to set it off… but then looking at the raw data, I decided to keep pushing things to see where I might actually run into trouble. Even with slightly aggressiv driving, I had zero hard brake events (granted, if I still had my Z31 from years ago, that would be a different story). Apart from that, I did log a couple hard brake events during a 30 day period… namely I had stop fast to avoid a collision… and being the decel occurred in less than 3 seconds, I ended up with 2 hard braking events. Apparently progressive doesn’t count isolated events such as these, as I still got a 30% discount.

In an emergency stop, like coming around a blind corner and finding a rolled semi blocking the entire road, one is very likely to exceed a 7mph/sec deceleration. In fact, most traffic safety speed recommendations are based upon a decent driver in a well maintained car being able to decel at ~11mph/sec to avoid a such a collision. A traffic study where folks had to decel at 12mph/sec to avoid a stopped up traffic jam in a blind corner equated to a whole ton of accidents… as not everyone is decent driver, nor are all cars well maintained and, a lot more folks talk/text today in comparison than when the 11-12mph/sec standard came into being.

As far as even higher deceleration events go, it takes practice and meticulous maintenance and design. A new squad car and a highly trained driver can decelerate safely at near 21mph/sec. In F1, its even possible to get upwards of an average 45mph/sec deceleration with peak decel over double that. Such requires an initial velocity of over 170mph, carefully tuned aerodynamics, and a wealth of pristine tuning and driver training to pull off.

Bottom line, there is no question in my mind that Progressives criteria for discounts, as well as most trucking companies internal standards for critical event recorders equate hard hard braking as equal to or greater than 7mph/sec.

However, there is a ton of anecdotal evidence of folks racking up hard braking events via the snapshot… this is often followed up by said folks saying they have never been involved in a accident. While its entirely possible they really are bad drivers and have been very very lucky, the number of complaints and lack of accidents doesn’t smell right. Granted, folks often estimate their driving skills and their cars as above average… I’m not sure that’s the whole story. Certainly the older individual cited earlier who ran up 1 hard brake event for every 10 miles would have to be extremely lucky in order not to have been in a few serious accidents over the years.

Something seems amiss.

ODBII’s (the port the snap shot plugs into) original purpose was emission diagnostics… over time the diagnostic path has grown multifold. In some cars, the ODBII connector has become a defacto access port to a cars internal communication network…. in some ways, the ODBII port is not unlike an ethernet jack in your home or office. Imagine if you put a piece of monitoring gear on it, that periodically checks to see whats going on. Under normal conditions, its not a big deal. However, lets say you have a lot going on, like 3 videos playing, a couple VOIP calls, and the network is at capacity. Now, imagine what happens when you add more to the network than what it can handle… something has to give. Video slows, VOIP drop outs increase, and monitoring gets a bit intermittent.

In your car, brake computer/engine computer messages are mission critical, they cannot be usurped by diagnostics. In other words, the diagnostics get answered when time is available, which is not necessarily the time that an external device wants. The end result, is that random response delays can enter in during times of high activity. It may be possible that such delays end up causing less than reliable determinations of braking decelerations. This would of course vary from OBDII implementation by year, make, model, and possibly option package.

If such is the case for a specific year, make, and model of a car, it would seem that Progressive would be well aware of it. Not giving legit discounts to safe drivers is likely to result in lost customers which would be counter to their profit motive. I am pretty sure they would look at aggregate snapshot data to determine the potential for errant data is by year, make and model, so I think this possibility is pretty remote.

There are however 2 areas where Progressive is unlikely to have enough information to make the call as to network capacity and thus hard braking error rates. Vehicle option packages and current vehicle condition, both of which may impact ODBII network traffic negatively. Ie, if there is noise on the network as something is wearing out… network retries will go up substantially and bandwidth will be lost. In a similar vein, comfort control options packages and/or concierge services may also use the network and thus reduce available bandwidth.

Bottom line though, all of this is just a wild guess. Short of hooking a ODBII network analyzer/sniffer (which is not an off the shelf type of test gear you could get at auto parts store or have run at the neighborhood garage) there is no real way to know. It might well be there are significant numbers of bad drivers who are also incredibly lucky.

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Technical Communication, Ideas from Politics

Irrespective of how one leans politically, I dont think anyone would contest that Bill Clinton is an excellent speaker. He has an uncanny ability to connect with an audience… the following article presents some insights which seeming would also apply to technical communications.


Why Bill Clinton’s Speeches Succeed

Because he treats listeners as if they are smart.

That is the significance of “They want us to think” and “The strongest argument is” and “The arithmetic says one of three things must happen” and even “Now listen to me here, this is important.” He is showing that he understands the many layers of logic and evidence and positioning and emotion that go into political discussion — and, more important, he takes for granted that listeners can too.

Over the years, my personal approach has been one of oversimplification. I try to tone things down such that an average eigth grade student could understand it… Ok, except perhaps in my written communication where I tend to focus on my own speed rather than efficient transfer of information. :)

The author goes on to parallel President Clinton’s speech with sportscasting. I’m not into sports radio or tv whatsoever, but I from what I’ve heard over the years, I think the author is spot on.

Now, how to use a similar technique in selling research / technology. I may need to do some playing around with this in the future.

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Notes on Simon Sinek Ted Talk

Why is Apple Innovative, when others are not? All have equal access.

Why did MLK lead civil rights movement, others had a chance too.

Why did the Wright brothers fly, when others who were better qualified funded ect fail? Being a flight instructor, I would also ask, why did the Wright brothers pretty much fade from view after their success.

These are some challenging questions which Simon Sinek addresses in his TED Talk. I think back to the hundreds of companies I’ve either worked at or consulted with over the years, and so much of what Simon presents rings true.

In addition, this is not the first time I’ve heard this. I hired a UPS driver who had gone back to school to become a tech years ago. He had all these fascinating stories which predated Simons approach, but also showed what happens when a company or org changes course mid-stream, both in a positive and negative light. The Wright brothers were not the first to have great initial success only to fade away.

Thus, onto my notes!


All great leaders communicate the same way, ie they are able to inspire when others cant.

Golden circle

why (inner part of circle)
it is beyond why a profit
what is cause
what is purpose

how middle of circle
some know how USP differential

what outer
most all know what they do

We communicate from the outside in by nature

Some examples

typical communication path which sort of works

what we make great puters
how they are beautifully designed
why to make money wanna buy one

Inspirational leaders work from inside out, why, how, what


why everything we do we believe in challenging, thinking differently
how beautiful design, easy to use, user friendly
what we just happen to make great putters manna buy one

People do not buy what you do, but why you buy it!

Apples outer circle is a product mix, you build on one, gain why interest for others, ipad, phone, mp3 puter, etc
Goal of Apple is to do business with people who believe what you believe… not to sell to everyone.

Human brain 3 parts
homosapien brain, neocortex, analytical thought, features/benefits
lymbic brains, feelings, trust,decision making, no ability for language, gut decisions

use for voting, buying, and loyalty

goal is to believe what you believe… the why.

The Wright Bros and Langley

pursuit was like the dot com era, everyone pursued flight
Langley had $50K from govt, held a seat at Harvard, hired the best minds he could find, best market conditions ever
Langley was in pursuit of Riches, employees worked for paycheck
The day Langley found out Wright brothers took flight, he quit

Wrights had no money, dream paid for via bike shop, no press, no college education. Wrights driven by a cause. Wrights would crash 5 times every time they went out. No press was on site.

Attracting folks with like beliefs

Law of the diffusion of innovation

2.5% of population r innovators
13.5% early adopters
34% early majority
34% late majority
16% laggards

mass market acceptance has to be 15-18% to reach tipping point
early majority wont step up until someone else has done so first

people dont buy what you do, but why you do it, what you do, proves what you believe
people will do what they believe

famous failure
single highest quality product on market
well funded
market is idea
we use tivo as a verb
tivo has never made money
IPO at $40, never traded much about $6
we have a product which pauses live tv,skips commercials, rewinds live tv, memorizes your habits without you even responding
majority was scared
should have focused on having control over all aspects of your viewing

famous success
250,000 on mall in DC to hear MLK
no invitations, no website
Dr King was not only great orator
had a gift, he told people what he believed, rather than what needed to change
others grabbed on, and built structures
people showed up for the message, not the messenger beliefs were what brought them there
laws of higher authority,laws of man
MLK believed that both need to be aligned
I have a dream, not I have a plan speech

leaders are those with power

visionary leaders are those we follow because of our beliefs, not because of power

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