What's All This Address Stuff, Anyhow?

March 6, 2000
For over 40 years, I've kept a pretty good "Christmas Card List." It's a list of addresses and phone numbers of my friends and our family's friends. For a long time, we kept them on 3- by 5-in. cards. That was pretty good. But the cards got all...

For over 40 years, I've kept a pretty good "Christmas Card List." It's a list of addresses and phone numbers of my friends and our family's friends. For a long time, we kept them on 3- by 5-in. cards. That was pretty good. But the cards got all raunchy and cluttered up. Plus, a lot of cards needed to be added and updated. And they wouldn't even fit in two card-file boxes.

So my wife typed up the information off these cards on her Mac. This was actually quite useful. We could print out the eight pages, photocopy them at 70%, and carry a really compact list along in any briefcase or pocketbook. I mean, when you copy properly, double-sided, eight pages weigh just 14 grams—barely half an ounce.

I had typed up a smaller list of business contacts. I shrank these by 2:1 and kept a copy in my wallet. THAT list carried approximately 122 names and weighed 2.8 grams, just 1/10 of an ounce. I actually had a front-back copy, on the theory that if one side gets crumpled up, the other will be legible through redundancy.

When we first went to Nepal, we brought along a condensed list of people and addresses to whom we'd send postcards. Nancy sent cards to some of our friends, and I sent to others. We both wrote our kids.

I remember very plainly the night when we were camped up at Lama Hotel in 1989. I had to go to the latrine at midnight. At the appropriate time, I reached in my little plastic bag. But I'd brought the wrong bag. It was not the bag of toilet paper, but the bag of postcards and the postcard list. Tricky, there!

On our third trek, we STARTED writing postcards during the first half of the trip and wrote in the addresses. But we didn't want to mail them until we made it over the high pass at 17,771 ft. After we made it over that pass, we finished the cards and tried to buy some stamps. But there were very few post offices, and they only had 1-rupee stamps for local mail. They had very few 16-rupee stamps, which we needed for overseas postcards. We bought out all the 4-, 8-, and 16-rupee stamps for the next 60 miles. Finally, when we were four miles from the road, I was able to buy enough stamps to mail all of my cards in Birethanti.

Note that a 16-rupee stamp is worth about 25 U.S. cents. So the postage in Nepal costs even less than U.S. postage for an overseas postcard. That is, again, MUCH less than the 80 cents or $1.20 they charge for an overseas postcard in some other countries!

I've been adding new addresses on little pieces of paper for a couple years, and saving these scraps in envelopes and boxes. When the box overflowed, I put the scraps of paper in a BAG. When the bag began to overflow, I had to actually sit down and type up an expanded list. After all, the time I was wasting fishing through the bag to find a recent address was getting quite silly!

The total amount of scrap paper was about 4 lb. The paper that actually had addresses or e-mail addresses on it was about 1 lb.—not to mention another pound of specialized address lists, such as trekkers' addresses. And I had spare copies. Hey, I recycle all this paper.

I typed up the addresses in a straight list. I didn't bother to arrange all of the names within the A's alphabetically, but I did group all of the A's together. After I got all of the addresses typed, I merged the old list with this new list. I put in all the old A's and then all the new A's, etc. I checked for duplication. I still did NOT alphabetize them within each letter.

After I get the list printed out, I always check all of these addresses for common sense. I double check them against the addresses on the old scraps of paper. It's all too easy to copy an address wrong, and it takes a long time to figure out why the letter won't go. Or the e-mail. Or the telephone call.

Then I photocopy a full-size copy for use around the house and a couple sets to shrink. Maybe even another set that is actually smaller, for when I want to send a few postcards. But even when I'm on a short, strange trip, I can't just bring a tiny truncated list. I may run into some amazing happening that leads me to write a postcard to a friend whom I wasn't planning to contact.

For example, I was driving along the west coast of Newfoundland when I got to the village of Malpeque. I couldn't resist sending a card to my old friend Mal Peck.

Some people say they prefer to use a standard computer program, such as Microsoft Access. They point out that it can automatically align all of the names and addresses in neat columns, leaving blank spaces if there's no e-mail or phone. It alphabetizes everything, so there's no thinking required. That's fine for some people. I looked at one friend's Access list. It had a LOT of white space, and his took more paper than mine for 1/4 as many names. I certainly don't want my address list as loosely compacted as that. It would be 18 pages thick and weigh 2 oz., even after shrinking. I prefer to compact and crunch my own list, and think about it as I go....

My list is pretty complete and correct now. Of course, it will become obsolete at the rate of about 1% every month. People change jobs, home addresses, or e-mail providers. It can't be helped!

Still, my list will not need much work for a year. And I can carry around with me a copy of this list that has over 700 names and a lot of addresses, e-mails, and phone numbers. Yet it weighs less than an ounce. It's not exactly better than a floppy or a computer in every way, but it's easier to access than a floppy! No batteries, no power required. And it's quite impervious to a hard-disk crash. I'll keep two copies on floppies as backup, and I'll e-mail a set to my wife so she can keep a copy.

Yes, it is a bummer that telephone area codes are getting split up so badly, so often. Hey, if the phone companies have to split an exchange every three years, why do they just split it in half?

My suggestion is that if they have to split, they should split a busy exchange into FOUR exchanges. Then the next splits will not have to be made sooner than six or eight years. That would be much less disruptive.

Remember that little TRS-80 Model 120 that I wrote about a few years ago? It had nice handy capabilities for keeping a phone/address list. But its total storage for all computing functions, documents, mail, and addresses was 30 kbytes. My address list is about 38 kbytes. That little 3-lb. laptop computer had the right CONCEPT. It just didn't have enough capacity. So I gave it away. At present, our best portable keyboard (Alphasmart)* has 128 kbytes of memory. But I'm not about to fill it 30% of the way up with just addresses. For typing notes, 128 kbytes is just about the right size for a 2-week trip.

In a while, I'll write some more about similar exercises: What's All This Sorting Stuff, Anyhow?

All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer
[email protected]—or:

Mail Stop D2597A
National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090


P.S. After I got this list all neatly typed, I got letters showing ALL KINDS of changes. People that hadn't moved in 10 or 20 years suddenly decided to move, as soon as they knew I had typed this list. It figures... /rap

P.P.S. I haven't gotten many entries for my CONTEST. Keep your eyes peeled for great views of windows reflecting the sunset—or sunrise. (Electronic Design, July 12, 1999, p. 93). Check it out on the web site: www.elecdesign.com/mainframe.htm?content=Pages/sitepage/extras/columns.htm. Keep a camera handy! /rap

Bob's MailboxSir: I have read your column for a little over a year now and am an avid fan. I have received a request from my management to provide some form of research article proving that tobacco smoke harms electronic systems and components. I used to work in the hybrid/microelectronic industry and saw what contamination could do to the passivation layers of die. However, I cannot provide written documentation to prove my point: that it is not healthy to the equipment. Do you know of any articles that I can download and print? Thank you in advance for your time.BOB McCUTCHENvia e-mail

Hello, Bob. I have never heard ANY comments on this. But it's well known that sodium is bad for most chips—threshold shifts, leakages, etc. If somebody can PROVE that cigarette smoke has no sodium, then that's one case. Since that's not likely to happen, finding sodium in tobacco smoke will prove that you should keep it AWAY.—RAP

Dear Bob:
Perhaps sometime when you're entertaining ideas for "Pease Porridge," you'll consider an update to "What's All This Incandescent Stuff, Anyhow?" (Electronic Design, Dec. 17, 1992, p. 71). The home centers now carry a bewildering array of lighting devices, making the selection among lumens, color rendering, radiation angles, life, cost, and energy usage quite a project. It's all straightforward engineering, of course, but I've found that assembling and tabulating the data takes a lot of "legwork." (A lot of this is just special hype, fancy styling, special daylight spectrum, etc., etc. SOME of it is useful for high efficiency, but I'm not sure I trust all of those guys. Here at NSC, I noticed some new high-intensity lighting in our stairwells. Most fluorescent lighting is pretty darned dim, but THIS isn't bad. I don't know much about it but will try to find out. /rap)

As an avid backpacker, you might also be able to relate some experiences with the equally bewildering number of flashlights and lanterns on the market (or maybe you just go to sleep with the sun). The LED lights are really coming on strong now (See at www.lightechnology.com—I'm buying one. /rap), as well as the "high-tech" flashlights. Somehow, these pricey gems don't seem to offer much more than a sensibly made, boring old flashlight. At any rate, whatever you decide to write about, I'll probably enjoy some of it.
via e-mail

I have not looked into this, as I usually do not need a very fancy flashlight. There's one thing I'll caution you about: Almost any flashlight that claims to be ultra efficient or ultra high tech should be ASSUMED to have a short bulb life. Carry spares. Many have a bulb life worse than five hours. When I went up Mt. Fuji by flashlight, I did NOT bring a spare bulb. I brought a whole spare flashlight. (Like if you drop your first one, you can always use your second one to look for the first one, but you can't do that with spare batteries and a spare bulb!)

If you use a LOT of flashlight time—like cops do—you ought to consider nicad batteries, which might soon save a lot of dollars. For ordinary reading around a camp, fluorescents are pretty good. Peter Owens carries a solar-powered fluorescent with gel cells. After a sunny day, it works REALLY well. On a grey day, it turns off after 10 or 20 minutes. Then we just burn a bit more kerosene. I don't think I'm much of an expert on flashlights. I just know a little bit, which is more than most people know unless they do a lot of research.—RAP

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