Saturday, August 21, 2010

Setting up a small electronics lab

At Litl, I will be setting up a small electrical engineering lab. What should I get? There's a lot of great stuff at SparkFun, and more at Digi-Key.

Here's my shopping list, all from Sparkfun. No, I'm not a fan boy. Thanks for asking.
Honorable mention, stuff that is not a near-term priority. Most of these are entirely non-work-related toys that just look fun.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

In Taiwan next week

I'm not a big traveler generally speaking, but my new job with Litl is bringing me to Taipei and Hsinchu in Taiwan for a few days next week. I'm excited and a little nervous. I've tried to pick up a few words of Mandarin over the past week using Rosetta Stone, but it's a tough language for an American with only dim memories of high school French.

Hopefully I'll be posting some cool pictures soon, if I get a chance to wander anywhere interesting.

Tuesday evening

What the heck is Tuesday when you're 12 time zones from home? Here in Taiwan it's 8:30 PM. Back home in Massachusetts, it's 8:30 AM on Wednesday morning. Between the time difference and the jet lag, not a lot of luck in reasoning about time.

I'm doing very slightly better with language, strangely. I've identified two glyphs. One (字) looks like a seven digit with a horizontal line through it. It's pronounced "tze" (the vowel is a schwa) and I've seen it occur at the ends of several words or small phrases but I don't know its meaning. The other, I can't remember now because I'm too jet-lagged. Another thing this morning was that I identified a glyph that I believe is a very recent invention without any of the historical roots of the other characters. It's an outline of the Red Cross symbols, with crossbars along the top and bottom edges, and my guess is that it indicates a hospital. Some of the mechanics of how these characters are formed is fascinating.

Today I visited Hsinchu with a couple of other engineers, one also from Litl, and one from Motorola. We did a bunch of debug on some boards that a contractor is designing for us.

I'm surprised how normal things feel in Taiwan. I had expected it to feel more alien. But everything kinda fits and makes sense. It's interesting to be immersed in a culture that's a little different but not very, and a language that is thoroughly alien. (Though I suppose the clicking languages of Australian aborigines would be even more alien.)

Friday evening, Taiwan time

你好 East Coast folks! I should be back in about 24 hours. Just in time to liberate the cat from cat jail and spend the rest of Saturday morning napping.

I really wish I'd gotten an earlier start on learning some Chinese and applied myself more diligently. It was frustrating to look around and see and hear all this interesting language and understand nearly none of it. Oh well, there should be more opportunities. I'm given to understand that my work will bring me to mainland China before too long.

I also wish I'd thought to take more photos. I just totally spaced on the fact that I'd brought along a camera.

Saturday evening, back home

Still a bit dazed about time zones. Spent 18 hours on airplanes getting home, with a layover in SF long enough to stroll around Fisherman's Wharf. Both airplanes were useless for sleeping so I needed to nap. Gonna try to use melatonin to get my biorhythms resynchronized.

I think I was mistaken in thinking the Red-Cross-like character was a recent invention. I later saw other usages that were inconsistent with that theory. It just doesn't feel calligraphic to me in the same way as the rest of the written language.

Here's something humorous: most of the comments to most of my blog postings are in Chinese, with a string of periods, each an HTML link to some Chinese porn site. They're doing this to try to crank up the Google ratings of their porn industry, obviously. The same is true of this posting, there is currently one comment from a friend in Kolkata and four of these porn-site-promoting comments. It just seems kinda funny that they're in response to a posting about visiting Taiwan. I dunno, it sounded funnier when I first thought of it. If anybody knows how to block such comments on one's blog without blocking any legitimate comments from the same geographical area, I'd love to hear about it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

This Google-Verizon deal and Net Neutrality and all that...

Like everybody else, I'm disappointed with Google on this one. The stuff about the wired Internet is good, it's actually a stronger stance on net neutrality than has existed to date. But the wireless Internet is now supposed to be the Wild West of high tech, a lawless place where anybody big enough can do anything they want. Google should know better. But Google is not the important party in all this.

My feelings about Verizon are very different. Verizon paid for the network (having purchased it from its builders and/or previous owners) and now pays to maintain it. When the network in my neighborhood goes down, the trucks that come to fix it are Verizon trucks. It's fair and reasonable for Verizon to decide which packets its network will carry, and how those packets will be prioritized.

What would not be fair or reasonable would be to allow Verizon to block other efforts to build traffic-bearing networks.

I would love to see a parallel Internet built by hobbyists and local communities and small businesses. A few years back there was a wonderful book called Building Wireless Community Networks by Rob Flickinger. It seemed to me that Flickinger envisioned a nation-wide and perhaps world-wide community network. Maybe I was projecting my own hopes, but I like to think he might have shared that sentiment.

The right response to the Google-Verizon deal is not to complain about Google's duplicity. They are a publicly traded company, with all that entails. The right response is to start building a network that isn't supported by already-large corporations, where individuals and small new companies don't need to worry about policy decisions by the Googles and Verizons of the world.

Maybe this should replace Amateur Radio, which has been in decline since the Internet came along.