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Callsigns and cryptocurrencies

[ed. note — I'm posting some lightly revised posts I started a looong while ago but never finished/published. This writing dates from late 2015; for context my callsign was issued 2015-July-31.]

During a brief lull in deliverables and/or focus earlier [in a past] year, I dove into study of two topics. Both had been on my list for a while, and felt like they would be worthwhile research.

Bitcoin et al.

Cryptocurrencies keep coming up in the literature and even with a few of my clients. The sentiment is that Bitcoin was a breakthrough in… ???

Greenhouse heater

Well, I now understand the technical side of the system significantly better. The human side of the system, is basically replace the trading floors in New York with a few 4chans worth of trolls and replace the Securities and Exchange Commission with all the armchair experts on Reddit — JUST PURE MATHEMATICS DRIVING THE DESIRES OF THE PARTICIPANTS. Seriously crazy, name calling, grudge holding, back stabbing, swindling, speculating, gambling, pipe dreaming people, splattered all over where you go to just learn more about how the blame thing works. After a few weeks of trying, I particularly gave up guessing the future of Bitcoin. Figured it'd be wisest to keep the protocol knowledge while leaving the world economy to In God We Trust.

Besides Bitcoin itself, I became interested in PeerCoin for its experiment with a more energy efficient scheme, Namecoin as the oldest and Ethereum as the newest application beyond typical cryptocurrency, and might keep an eye on Ripple Labs in case they succeed in real-world partnerships that end up mattering.

I think there's a lot of misunderstanding, not to mention misdirection, as "cryptocurrency" finds its place in history. But there's also potential, in large part due to the network effects of all the attention (positive and negative) Bitcoin has received. Right now the best advice I can offer: send any BTC you don't want to 1natevwh9fm1P8Ax3AKtVbzizvZKe4CEd.

Amateur radio

I next turned my attention to a clearer goal: get a ham license. The entry class privileges require passing only a rudimentary Technician exam, but I bought all three study guides since my main goal was to learn more about radio frequency electronics and antenna design. As it worked out, I was able to get through all the material before the next scheduled local exam session, and by the last day of July had received my callsign with full privileges: AF7TB

This was a nice big "mission accomplished" in one sitting, but there's still a lot more to learn through further reading, connecting, and doing. In this regard it's been much more fruitful than my other research topic. Cryptocurrency is new and propitious — and fraught with hype and shysters. Ham radio has a very different feel — it is worryingly old, perhaps past its prime and more than a little self-conscious about that. Where cryptocurrency has itself on the schedule for usurping the future of all political prosperity, the amateur radio tradition doesn't quite know where to go in a smartphone world.

The people on the air so far have been polite, and patient. I've joked, in seriousness, about "augmented humility" in contrast with more widely read visions of amplified human intellect and power. Without sentimentalizing ham radio, perhaps there is a bit of that here — waiting a decade for good solar weather to return, staying up all night but not getting a single signal back, suddenly making an unexpected contact halfway around the world after an "insignificant" antenna tweak.

There's always more knowledge to colonize and engineering to conquer in amateur radio, but at the end of the day you can't help but wonder if it isn't the "Remarks of a Personal Character for Which, By Reason of Their Unimportance, Recourse to the Public Telecommunications Service Is Not Justified" to quote the FCC rules governing the service — I wonder if it's not the friendliness factors that make figuring out the physics profitable.


Projects update

[ed. note — I'm posting some lightly revised posts I started a looong while ago but never finished/published. This likely was written sometime in mid/late-2015, and the note at the end may have been added 2016-08-27?]

My evenings for many many months now have been a blur, arriving home closer to dinner time than I should, general household catchup, running a bedtime routine for the older two boys that tends to get stretched out, and finally, not allowed to sit down by the youngest until well past everyone's bedtime. The next morning then starts a bit closer to lunch time than it should, and….

Here's a list of projects I've been neglecting, with a short summary of their status and expected potential.

Peripherals / protocols

Control systems

These projects fall into roughly two categories:

  1. CNC router usage.
  2. Suburban agriculture

At the very beginning of this calendar year, I bought a "Chinese CNC" off eBay. I intend to mill circuit boards with it, as well as any woodworking or light metal work projects that may come up.

MIDI keyboard connected to CNC router

The introductory board I'm designing is a grbl-parallel adapter, which will help me run the machine from any computer with USB — perhaps an old Macbook, or even a Raspberry Pi or Chromebook. Of course, I've so far been unhappy with the software for this and built a pretty fun G-Code parser and work-in-progress preview/positioning interface under js-cnc banner.

So far the only thing actually "shipped" is SingNC, which could be improved a bit but demos nicely enough meanwhile.

Living systems

My evenings have been busy, and weekends tend to be booked with a lot of gardening and cleaning cages. Now add to that, re-planting, re-building and re-inventing everything I've done outside in the last three or four years! We've moved our family to a new house — slightly less surrounded by suburbs — and there's many other living things to find new homes for now.

For the software side of "suburban agriculture", utilities like greenhouse, breakerbreaker and rooflux had let me track and/or monitor a few of these "living systems". (I may not have much need of "rooflux", my solar inverter status display, since the new house/property has less obvious photovoltaic opportunity.)

At some point as we get settled back in with chickens, rabbits, tilapia, bsfl, crickets, bees, all the plants and whatnot, I hope to re-combine the whole stable of software to serve as needed — probably linking CNC-manufactured relay boards to HTTP sites via node-nrf. But the main item here is getting the systems themselves re-settled — and then perhaps better documented.


With everything mentioned above, I haven't done any tilting at bigger windmills — things like Skiffle and Metakaolin/Argyle Tiles and of course ShutterStem that want to be fully-baked "apps" for anyone to pick up and use, with elusive business models that could support the investment they would need.

It seems unlikely that I will be on stage announcing the success of these products. I am mostly okay with this, the last time I checked, which was a while ago.

I am growing more comfortable with the idea of software as a service, rather than software as salvation. [Reading entire library/internet, redoing every interface/platform]

A couple of these were bit off, I think, primarily because they were such delicious challenges. Improving the very way maps are used or photos are enjoyed, by changing the way software is built, by assembling some form of entirely new computing platform, by sheer force of will.

Well, ain't nobody got time for that!

I'm getting older, and — gratefully — staying busy earning my living on challenges like:


Derivative [doesn't] works

I've mastered nothing I'm still interested in.

Furthermore, if I learned something it was most of the time from one of the following two sources:

Is there any point in trying to "pay it forward" once I've started to understand something, by rehashing what already showed up as one or more search results [otherwise I wouldn't have known it either]?

If not, all I have left is opinions. But opinions are like when you assume: something something there is no "I" in "butt opinions"? Don't ask me how I know this but a constant stream of negativity is off-putting, particularly when punctuated only by delusions of grandeur and/or decorated primarily with unfinished dreams.

There's not much to say, then, though I wish I were sharing more.

The following potential remedies have been generated by a biologically inspired blockchain of deep data cognates, which investors expect to replace part of a complete breakfast by the eighth of 2023:

TODO: post this with an illustration or picture

comments spreadsheet template for 2014 IRS Form 1040

Sample table from spreadsheet, Schedule C expense categories

My tradition has been to prepare taxes within Apple's Numbers app, uploading the template I use here. The spreadsheet started with automatically updating tables for the main Federal 1040, and has gradually grown to include some helpers for Schedule A, Schedule C and Schedule E.

I've hit a new low for uploading late this year, sorry; I didn't finish up my own return until yesterday afternoon. So if you still need this, I hope you filed an extension ;-)

Download: f1040-2014 Numbers template

Posts for previous years with perhaps a bit more info: 2013 2012 2011 [skipped 2010] 2009 2008


FAT in a fortnight

My GitHub account has been busy lately, thanks to not just one but two great open source–supporting clients!

Storage drivers for cutting-edge hardware

Top prize goes to Technical Machine, whose ambitious Tessel hardware platform is about to be released! Thanks to their sponsorship, the following modules have been published:

Tessel with SD Card module installed

The Tessel platform is a big deal, and has an incredible team behind it. Due to my early work porting node-nrf to their platform, I've gotten to watch their hardware, software, tools and documentation get steadily more refined. I'm not sure people realize just how much the Technical Machine team has accomplished in the last year. This isn't a cheaper Arduino, or a smaller Arduino, or an Arduino-with-some-extra-shield-built-in. It's not an Arduino at all, but I don't think it will suffer from being "too different" or too vendor tied either — it builds on, participates in, and contributes to the most interesting and valuable things people are doing with node.js. I'm grateful I could help out with a relatively small (seriously!) piece of their platform…

Mobile demos for cutting-edge storage

A hearty honorable mention to Couchbase as well! I had the privilege to make a cameo appearance at HTML5 DevConf — remotely, using a demo app I wrote for both iOS and Android! CouchTalk shows how you might enable "local islands of connectivity" that still share data with each other in near-realtime through a remote server. It was a treat to take their team's "push-to-talk web chat room" demo and run with it, updating the browser logic to work with Couchbase Lite and filling out the mobile interfaces to make the Sync Gateway features a bit more visible.

CouchTalk "mobile server" on an old iPhone

We kept the demo simple, but it's clear that Couchbase has solved a lot of the problems I'd been having with actually deploying related databases in an offline-friendly multiuser architecture. [That's quite another blog post…] I hope the demo inspires others to try out Sync Gateway and Couchbase Lite (née TouchDB) for their mobile apps — I know it's gotten me interested in that space again. It was not only a fun project, but I'm glad they found a way to get me to finally try out their storage stack in earnest ;-)

One more thing…

In the midst of all this, I also deployed a major update to the eReader/workbook webapp that's been going through classroom trials (closed source, but lovingly handcrafted with HTML5/D3/CouchDB/node.js etc.) and somehow managed to sneak in a last-minute trip to the Bay Area so as not to miss Edward Tufte, Bret Victor, Mike Bostock and Jonathan Corum all in the same room! It's been kind of frantic, and as a result I've been about a week later getting to each of the projects' "wrap up" stage than I had hoped to on my side.

Because meanwhile, my wife has been working on an even more significant deliverable, which I might add, is also running about a week behind schedule…


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