Electronic Design

What's All This Floobydust Stuff, Anyhow? (Part 14)

This year I'm going to start off with magazines: It is well known that huge (astronomical!) quantities of magazines—especially National Geographic—have been stored in a million attics across the U.S. This raises the center of gravity of the house and the Polar Moment of Inertia of the whole Earth.

Physicists have predicted that the Earth will wobble excessively, its rotation will slow down to a critical speed, and then the Earth will fall out of its orbit sometime in the first half of this century. It is not known if this will happen earlier than the demise of the Social Security Trust Fund, or later—or simultaneously?

My friend Bill Bernardi recommended to me a good science fiction book by Eric Harry: Society of the Mind. Bill wrote, "Hey Bob, I just read... this book. It reminded me often of you.... It's about this young genius who can't handle the real world, so he buys an island and stocks it with the best and brightest people of the time, from all fields... pays them millions of bucks.... His philosophy is that the digital world of computer technology is a dead end and must evolve in analog form to continue to grow. So he used neural networks and fuzzy logic to let the analog computer teach itself how to grow bigger and better and smarter...."

I read it, and I agree that this was a fascinating, fanciful, and enjoyable story about how one brilliant man could plan one big computer that could build itself bigger and better—until some very interesting things happened. I'm going to buy a few second-hand copies of this 1997 book to give to friends.

I had to cobble up a simple clock and a 74C163N counter to make that stair-step waveform for the "conditioning" column (electronic design, March 3, p. 20). So I grabbed a solderless breadboard, and I lashed up the circuit—for the first time ever. All the wires were flaky and confusing (not any choice of color, for a given length of wire). The resistors were quite wobbly and flaky. The insulating space between adjacent components was marginal. I got it to work (just barely), but the connections were not reliable. I do not like solderless breadboards. This was a setup—an experiment kit for students—that Forrest Mims sent me. I like his experiments, but I just don't like using a solderless breadboard to connect them. My favorite programming language really is solder. The experiment kit, Learning Lab Model 28-280, costs about $60 at any Radio Shack (www.radioshack.com).

told you a few years ago that across the world, all makers of polystyrene had stopped making the material, and capacitor makers were going to run out of polystyrene. I have been able to use polypropylene for almost all of my precision capacitor needs, with no degradation of accuracy. But now in the U.K., there is a company selling polystyrene capacitors. If you can tell the difference between polystyrene, polypropylene, and any other kind of "poly" caps, you might want to buy some polystyrenes from LCR Capacitors (EU) Ltd. Unit 18 (www.lcrcapacitors.co.uk).

A friend said that his daughters once got really sick with strep throat. After treatment with antibiotics, they got better quickly and went back to school. But shortly, they got sick again, and cured again, and sick again, and again. The doctor tried to figure out how. He tested the mother—was she a carrier? No. Neither were the father and teacher. The MD was stumped—but not the triage nurse. She had their dog tested, and the dog was the carrier. After the dog was treated, the problems went away. (One clue was that the son did not get sick, and the son did not play kissy-poo with the dog.) You can't expect a doctor to know everything. We don't want to be unfair about that. We have to help.

Comments invited! [email protected] —or:
Mail Stop D2597A, National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090, Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

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