brainwagon "There is much pleasure in useless knowledge." โ€” Bertrand Russell


More Hardcore Homebrew — Cutting Quartz Crystals

Yesterday's linked article about negative resistance oscillators got me thinking about the possibility of creating a radio where literally every component was made by hand. Okay, I'm not quite ready to make my own wire, but the zinc oxide oscillator that Nyle Steiner seemed like it was only one step away from reaching a reasonable approximation to that goal: instead of a transistor, it used an oxidized strip of zinc. Making potentiometers and capacitors isn't that hard: the book Voice of the Crystal will give you some ideas about those.

The one element that seems like a specialized, manufactured bit of kit is the quartz crystal. But I suspected that even this could be manufactured, I just didn't know where to look for information. But then I rembered that my ARRL membership included access to historical back issues of the QST magazine archive, going back to the time of World War I. Sure enough, a short search later uncovered a pair of articles from 1935 by Ivan Loucks, W9ON. Sadly, I can't reproduce links to the articles here (they are copyrighted), but the first is from the Jan, 1935 QST, and is entitled Cutting Quartz Crystal Plates and the second from February is entitled Grinding and Finishing Quartz Crystal Plates. Combined, the two articles give a pretty good description of how quartz crystals can be cut from raw quartz, dimensioned and then ground and polished into crystals suitable for making oscillators.

This information opens up the possibility that you could make a radio transmitter with no premade components. I think that's pretty interesting.

Addendum: Here is a history of the development of quartz crystal technology. It pointed me at an additional pair of articles about crystal control by J. Herbert Hollister from 1928 and 1930 in QST. From the article Quartz Crystal Facts, Hollister opens with this:

With just a year of the narrowband era behind us, we find the ranks of the quartz crystal exponents growing daily. At this time last year most of us thought crystal control was only some trick arrangement for the other fellow to play with and squander his money on. There were few, however, who did not envy the crystal controlled station with the beautiful bell-like note which was always to be found at exactly the same point on the dial.


A New Podcast! With Reviews of XM Radio and the Panasonic DMC-TZ1

What can I say? I was bored on the way home yesterday, and decided to record a 23 minute podcast, reviewing two of my moderately recent gadget purchases:

I also gave a brief report about my trip down to the Computer History Museum to see their recently restored PDP-1 and play Spacewar!

And I shamelessly plug Pixar's upcoming summer release ofร‚ย  Cars.

I still get pinged by lots of podcast aggregators, here is hoping that somebody is listening.


R.I.P. Brainwagon Radio

Well, I wish my experiment in podcasting was going out with a bang instead of a whimper, but for now, I'm closing the saga that was Brainwagon Radio. It may return in some retooled form in the future: I'm thinking that to really revitalize my interest in doing podcasts I need to find an appropriate cohost and develop a better setup. For now, the 98 episodes stand as an attempt to utilize a new media before I even understood what it was, what I should use it for, or who my audience was. Perhaps when I have a personal answer to one of those questions, I'll be back to try it again.

Until then, I hope that I didn't bore you all, and that you drop in and read my blog, which I will continue to keep. I also hope that at least a couple of you were inspired to reach out to others who reside in the Long Tail and create your own podcasts.

It really has been a blast.


Brainwagon Radio: Sony Rootkits Their Customers, and Thanksgiving Food

Where your host briefly displays his anger about Sony rootkitting their customers, but then happily lapses off into musing about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and food.


Brainwagon Radio: Headset, Reset and Videora Ipod Converter

Another podcast recorded on my Dell Axim x50v after upgrading to Windows Mobile 5. Quicky review: it works, seems to have a few things cleaned up, including some nice enhancements to Pocket Internet Explorer. It does seem however that the Core Pocket Media Player might not be detecting the graphics accelerator in the Dell anymore, I'll investigate that some more.

My Neighborhood

Other links:

  • World Wind from NASA has a new version that includes data on the Moon. It's like Google Earth, but paid for by your tax dollars! On the right you can see the view of my neightborhood. Check it out.
  • Videora Ipod Converter a gadget for converting video to a format that can be watched on the ipod. For some reason the files I tried to transfer from my Media PC didn't have sound, I haven't figured that out yet. But the price is right!

Oh, and Happy Anniversary to While I was podcasting before Josh was, he was the guy whose Axim x50v podcast gave me the idea of recording all these podcasts with my PDA. Thanks Josh, and best wishes for the future.


Brainwagon Radio: Headset and Sunset

Yesterday, I received a package in the mail from Dell including a new headset for my Dell Axim x50v PDA, as well as the upgrade CD for Windows Mobile 5. I recorded this podcast on the way home as a test of the microphone. Also a bit about my sidebar hack for list birthdays of Major Leaguers.


Brainwagon Radio: My Wife Reviews the Video iPod

Holy crap, it's been a month since I published my last podcast. But today I managed to corner my wife in the car and we recorded a brief 10 minute podcast, largely consisting of a review of the new video iPod. She gives her impressions of the iPod, how she's using it, and the success (and minor irritations) that she has experienced with it. Overall though, she really loves it. Listen in for more, as well as a brief interruption while we discuss the horse rolling in a field of manure.


Brainwagon Radio: Comments on Scoble and Specifications

Twice in one day...

Scoble responds to lots of criciticism that he's evangelizing a crappy format, and really misses the forest for the trees. Actually, he misses the trees too. Earlier today I recorded this podcast, which I wasn't going to post, but if Scoble's going to go on, I think it actually merits it.

Scoble writes:

See, as a user, I really don't care about the spec. I can't read them. I don't appreciate them. And, all they seem to do is lead to religious arguments one way or another.

I'm a user. Shoot me.

But what Dave did was give me an application. It works. And, as a user, I wonder "if the format is so crappy, how did Dave get it to work in his own application?"

And, as a user, I wonder "why can't the developers just get their OPML to work with Dave's application?"

The reason that developer's just can't get their OPML to work with Dave's application is because the specification sucks. There is simply no way for anyone to tell if the OPML file generated by their application is really compliant with what Dave's editor implements, or only just happens to never tickle a bug or an ambinguity which wasn't specified.

It's really not that hard to write an application: the trick comes from interoperability. To be useful, these files must be able to be routinely exchanged between applications written by different people, and that simply isn't feasible without a clear, complete specification of what the format actually entails.

Scoble concludes:

The crappy format is good enough until someone comes up with something better. And that's what you're all missing.

What Scoble is missing is that currently he's in a position to help dictate what gets adopted and what users are going to be seeing for the next five, ten, or even more years, and if he had any concern for those users, he'd work to ensure that the technology underlying that growth is as robust and reasonable as possible. OPML doesn't qualify. RSS doesn't even qualify. Did we learn nothing from the whole HTML standards process?


Brainwagon Radio: Turbo Slug, Death of PC, and End of Baseball Season

Well, in this edition of my podcast, I lament the end of baseball season for the Oakland Athletics, talk about the modifications I'm making to my Linksys NSLU2, and then talk about the predicted death of the PC as a platform for innovation.

Links from the show:


Brainwagon Radio: A Podcasting Duet

I have a special treat in today's podcast: my wife makes an appearance. We chat about our experience at Friday's Oakland A's game which the A's lost (boo!) but which had great fireworks (yay!), as well as a couple of other geeky topics like Jeri Ellsworth's hackable gadget, the C64 Direct To TV. The Slashdot thread about her that I mentioned can be found here. The wikipedia page has links to all the hacking sites that I've found.


Brainwagon Radio: Baseball, Atari 2600, FPGAs, you name it

Today's podcast recaps a bunch of topics which have floated to the top of my conciousness: a recap of last night's baseball game, my experience in programming the old Atari 2600 video console, what it might mean to have a video game console which promoted consumer experimentation and programming, some musings about Field Programmable Gate Arrays, and just a general recap.



Brainwagon Radio: eBay Buys Skype: Why?

Today's podcast mostly concerns my confusion on why eBay purchased Internet phone company Skype. Well, not so much why they bought it as why they paid 2.8 billion dollars for it. I present some of my skepticism about the Web services marketplace as well.

Addendum: Jeff Pulver has an interesting perspective.


A Year of Podcasting

One year ago today, I did my first podcast. I didn't even call it a podcast, I think the term was yet to be coined. Since then, by my rough count I've done 93 or so podcasts, on subjects ranging all over the map, with varying bits of quality, stupidity, mistakes and the like. In short it's been a blast.

In the last year, podcasting has gone from something that Adam Curry was trying to get people to do, to something that is organized into podcasting networks, marketed on the Apple iTunes store, and mentioned on major news networks. There are books. There are pundits. It's everywhere.

And, in some sense, it has left guys like me in the dust.

I was talking to my friend Tom today about why I still am podcasting. I need no more justification than this: I've now got an audio record of a slice of my life for an entire year, consisting of over twenty hours of me talking about whatever was on my mind. It's a time machine. A slice of myself, stored in digital form. Even if it was of no interest to anyone else, it would be valuable for that reason alone.

Still, I hope that you, my occasional listeners and my regular subscribers, have found something of interest. I'll keep it up, and I hope you all do too.

Addendum: I just listened to my first post again, and what was surprising to me is that even in my very first podcast, I foresaw that I'd really like to have a PDA to record my podcasts. I wouldn't get my Dell until February, but very early on I wanted the usage scenario that I have settled on for all my recent podcasts: a mobile gadget that I could carry with me and use to record material wherever I was.


Oh, and I talked about this grasshopper too.


Brainwagon Radio: Computer Chess at the Computer Hitsory Museum

Last night, I attended an event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View entitled "The History of Computer Chess". It was a panel discussion by some of the pioneers in the field: Monty Newborn, Murray Campbell, John McCarthy, Ed Feigenbaum and David Levy. My daily podcast gives some of my brief impressions. I didn't learn a whole lot, since I've read quite a bit about computer chess and search, but I found the discussion enjoyable and given the increasing age amongst the panel members, I was glad to see these gentlemen talking about the forty-something year pursuit of computer chess in person. The Computer History Museum is having an open house this Saturday, I think I'll be back with my wife to visit it (it seems like a great facility) and I'll be joining as a member.


Brainwagon Radio: Retro Programming on the Atari 2600

Mostly this podcast concerns itself with my latest geeky project: writing programs for the old atari 2600. Why would anyone do this? Have a listen! Hear the sense of childish joy I take in wasting my time!

Screendump of my Spacewar! emulator

In the podcast I mentioned my implementation of PDP-1 simulator so I could run the original Spacewar! game (a video game which is just barely older than I am). I thought I'd provide this link to it.

Eventually, I'll have binary images of my "game" available that you can run on Stella. If youa re impatient, you should just grab a copy of it and start writing one yourself. ๐Ÿ™‚