- Invoke guilt (“regarding my invite”), as if I received something from you and lost it. I probably did, but hate to feel guilty. I’d much rather feel gleeful, as I always do after a clever, successful and well-executed revenge. If you can start the spam with that, you’ve got my attention.
- Imply previous acquaintance (“Hi, Jeff” and often “following up on...”). If you really knew me, you’d call me “Squab” as do my real friends. I think they’re my friends.
- Structure the message as a single dense paragraph to preclude easy sifting. If you really knew me (see point #2), they’d know I’m too lazy to make it as far as the sting. Message to spammers: Sting up top! I’ll click, I promise.
- Bury useful information deep within the paragraph so I’ve already wasted time getting to it. News like “we stole all your cabbages” really needs to be up there toward the beginning, nearby to the guilt-inducing “Hi, Jeff! I miss you and wish you’d call me like you promised” so I can start replanning the company executive luncheon.
- Suggest that there is no iceberg lurking beneath the tip (“a quick call”). A call like this is never quick, we both know that. Once you have me on the line and we’ve gotten through the inconsequentials, breezed past the product and all the plans by which my team can enjoy its bugs and balky UI, and finished your long and mournful tale of a failed career, wasted life and your concluding promise to send me your CV to pass around, we’re probably at the forty-minute mark. Fifty, if I tell you about this plumbing project at home I can’t seem to get right. I think it’s a gasket.
One good example from this morning’s latest catch (the poor punctuation seems to be a prerequisite as well):
I wanted to check-in regarding my invite and set-up a quick call to introduce my company's cloud-based blahblah solution. CloudBlah offers an ever-growing number of options for ho and hum to provide the appropriate level of whatever and screwit and reduce the burden for both end users accessing all their applications and IT staff supporting them. If you’re interested in learning more, please give me a call at 888-USUCKER, or simply email me your availability, and I will get right back to you.
Nawt M. Portant, Sales and Marketing Consultant, 888-USUCKER
I can’t wait for the next one.
I started thinking about this again when packing a Yaesu VX-7R handheld transceiver for a recent trip. It has a Li-ion battery, charged by the 12VDC from an AC wallwart almost as big and heavy as the 7R itself. There's an added problem here as well: if the 7R is used remotely, or in an emergency (as is likely), there's no AC available.
Let's consider the most common available infrastructures today. There aren't that many:
1. AC Power (if one is available, unless power goes out),
2. 12V Car (if there's a car, charged, with a jack, nearby)
Many devices are already charged from USB jacks, so there's a precedent. Building on this, there are numerous USB battery packs on the market, so there are likely to be a lot of available sources of USB power. Plus, if you build out your own USB power source inventory, each one can be used on everything else you or your friends want to charge from USB.
While there are numerous cigarette-lighter-to-USB converters, I was unable to find one that goes the other way: a USB-to-12V converter, which is what will be required for this job. I could design and build one using a switching controller IC and some time, but decided to take the middle road: find a power supply module, then work with that.
I settled on a Mosel SUS60512, purchased from Allied for $27 (which makes it, like, $100/ounce). 4.5 - 9V input, 12V output at 600mA max, and behaves well during overload, startup etc. It's a tiny little guy - here it is, all hooked up:
It’s mounted it to a strip of steel (insulated) for durability. Before stabilizing the cables, and adding the final wrapping in sealing tape, here it is next to the 7R's own wallwart:
A whole lot smaller, lighter, and ready for the road - it's part of my everyday kit now. Charge a 7R transceiver from my MacBook Air? You betcha!
(Caution: This describes some things you shouldn't do unless you understand what's happening. In this story, I bypass interlocks - not for the insecure - and run some experiments with the machine plugged in but the guts exposed, for which one must be safe and careful)
After our 6-year-old Kenmore Elite QuietPak4 washing machine (also commonly known as HE3T) ceased working for the third time in eighteen months, I began thinking differently.
This is one of the more modern styles, meaning that it has more interlocks and cables than ever before, and more ways to go wrong. The symptom has consistently been that the automatic door lock does not latch; rather than that satisfying "clunk" that happens a couple of seconds after holding down the start button, there's a repeated click from deep within the machine, which occurs about six times, three seconds apart, then an error code flashes on the display and there's a beep.
The first time this happened, I called a repairman who came and replaced the door switch. On the HE3T, the "door switch" is a complex assembly with several connectors, and retails at $66 before installation and markup.
(Door switch assembly with cover removed: Mechanical interlock at the left; lock confirmation switch in the middle - two sets of contacts - dual solenoid to latch door toward right, and the door-is-closed switch at the far right)
The washer worked for a while after that, however, so I did not complain.
The second time, the repairman came out and showed me how you had to wedge the door hinge so it would reliably press the door switch. The washer worked for a while after that.
The third time, I had the repairman on the phone and he said "sheesh, you're an engineer, aren't you? Well what does the diag say?" Now realizing that there was a diag, I discarded his cryptic instructions (given via strong accent, narrowband telephone) and went to Youtube where several demonstrations awaited. The result: the diag routine ran, and stuck at the first step, C:00.
Youtube told me how to loosen the door gasket and remove the door switch, which I did. It seemed OK. I had kept the old one from a year ago, and swapped it in, with no change in result. I took it back out and disassembled it to see how it worked. Knowing this, I bypassed the doorswitch interlocks by putting a couple of improvised jumpers in the doorswitch harness. Still nothing! This told me that the doorswitch was not the problem - may never have been. So what's next? I decided that I would take a peek inside the washer. A Youtube video showed how to remove the top, by pulling three screws from the back top edge, sliding the top panel back, and lifting it off. Now all was revealed:
The washing machine controller is the white box in the center top, with all those wires going into it. I took a look online, and found that a replacement controller was easily purchased, although for prices starting at $266, or over half the cost of the whole washer. Not yet, I resolved.
Theory: Since the washer occasionally works even now, there's something erratic; it feels mechanical, somehow. How do they switch all those valves and locks - is it using relays, by any chance? Experiment: Try starting the washer again, and tap the controller while it struggles. Result: Success! On the third tap, the door latch thunked and the wash cycle started. The mechanical shock of my finger rapping was breaking something free. Wiggling connectors had no effect, so -
Conclusion: Gotta get inside that controller.
Without removing the cables yet, I unplugged the machine and carefully opened the controller case, which is secured with about eight plastic spring tabs. This exposed a single printed circuit board inside. This was a great relief, as it was of conventional construction. Further, it had five common relays among a forest of discrete components and its Motorola microprocessor. Those three black blocks toward the right, and the two white ones under the paper sticker? Relays. Better, made by Omron, a common and pretty good brand.
Plan: Order replacement relays.
I could have done more troubleshooting, perhaps narrowed the issue down to a single relay, but a look at Mouser Electronics website (one of several credible vendors including Newark, Digikey, and others) showed that I could get a whole set for about $15, an incredibly good price. The smaller relays, for example, were about $1.67. So I just ordered them. Parts list:
Qty 3: Omron G2RL-1A-E
this part has a 12VDC coil, contacts capable of 16A/250V
Qty 2: Omron G5LE-1-VD
this part has a 12VDC coil, contacts capable of 10A/250V
When the relays arrived, I removed the controller from the washer after carefully marking the connectors (there are many, don't mix them up), removed the PCB from the controller case, and replaced the relays, one by one (be careful of static electricity, but not paranoid - this board shouldn't be too sensitive). The workbench looked like this, with soldering iron, Soldapullit solder sucker, and solder:
Reversing the process, twenty minutes later and the washer now works. Success! Ten minutes later, it's fully assembled and my lady's coming down with her laundry and a big smile.
So was the problem really one of those relays? All the evidence pointed that way, as do the results. But, curious, I took one step further, and removed the cases from the two white relays. It's a little hard to tell from this photo, but one of them, at the right, has clean, sparkly contacts. On the other, the contacts are blackened, almost roasted. I think that's the culprit, although I haven't checked the other three black relays. Black is not a good color for metallic contacts.
It's suspicious that contacts look this bad after such a relatively short life. That speaks of another failure (perhaps a bad anti-kickback diode on an inductive load such as a solenoid valve), or a weak design (needing such a diode, or a better-specified relay). In general, though, I thought the construction of the washer electronics to be good: robust, secure, and what's better, far more repairable than most recent Apple products. So I'm keeping a couple of spare G5LE-1-VD's on hand. If you follow the path I took, you might order a few extras as well.
The announcement of a simple technique to quintuple disk density, which will also result in an order of magnitude increase in surveillance video storage (after all, it’s unlikely to be used just for text files), takes us another step down the road away from personal privacy. Images of everyone, everywhere, and at any time exist somewhere, and are increasingly accessible to all. Cameras and storage, aggregated by the cloud, provide the raw data; “big data" provides the means by which we select and understand what has been recorded so we all become, in some sense, all-seeing. Not omniscient, because that implies knowledge; all-seeing just means that we have unlimited access to see and probably misinterpret all kinds of imagery.
Technology, once unleashed, finds its own path. There's no comfort in believing that governments will control or curtail this; their track record is just the opposite, embracing every new development to more completely monitor and track a citizenry. We have the very current spectacle of the CIA impaling itself on its own technology, so let's free ourselves of that comforting illusion. There's also little track record to show that technology and data remain permanently protected. It seems that security is only a measure of the rate at which information will leak, not of its ultimate accessability.
What's interesting to me is that this gradual and astonishing dissolution of privacy was foreseen in 1972, in a short series of stories by Bob Shaw later collected in the book "Other Days, Other Eyes." Shaw explored the consequences of the invention of "slow glass," a hypothetical glass-like ceramic that delayed the passage of light by whatever duration it was designed for. As the narration proceeds, this latency was at first an unexpected side-effect of a tough new transparent material, inserting millisecond airplane windshield delays that caused inexplicable crashes. As the effect became understood, variants were designed to take advantage of the function: made into windows, for example, that could be loaded with months of picturesque views and crashing waves at cliffside castles, and then mounted in urban apartments to recreate the view. There were twelve-hour panes, mounted like streetlights that delayed noonday illumination to nighttime. Ethical questions were raised: what does it mean in a trial if you possess a piece of slow glass that witnessed a crime and can absolutely prove or disprove the suspect's guilt, but cannot be accessed for fifty years?
But the strongest bell rings, almost casually, at the end of this Bob Shaw vision. In the dark, helicopters hover silently over one city, then over another, and from them a gentle mist falls. The helicopters depart. The mist condenses on sidewalks, lamp posts, homes, grass, roads, everywhere. The mist? It is a fine, imperceptible, universal and omnipresent dusting of...yup, slow-glass particles. Someone, perhaps the government, has cast an all-seeing net over every corner, street and niche.
The mist is a fine, imperceptible, universal and omnipresent dusting of one-dollar CCD video sensors, 2GB storage drives, and an unlimited ability to save, access, and analyze every vision they ever see.
We are left with the question: when everyone can see everyone, what does it mean? What do we do? How do we judge? What is "judgment" itself?
The stories are well worth reading for their moral, humorous, and dramatic content as well as their technical.
Because the technical is already here.
The following memo was found printed on the back side of a folded-paper fan blowing across the deserted parking lot of an Office Depot in Silicon Valley. It is not known what company, if any, this was produced by, and is fictitious in any event. It is reprinted here as a public service.
MEMO: COST CONTROLS FOR FOURTH QUARTER
Once again in the forthcoming quarter, the relationship between our expenses and our revenue is challenging. Let me quantify. Here on the table in front of me is the egg of a speckled robin. This represents our Q4 budget. And this 1964 copy of Webster's Unabridged English Dictionary, which I am holding directly over the egg, represents our planned expenditures for the same period. Now I shall release the Dictionary. Whump. Do you see the egg anymore? You do not. No wait, there's a bit of egg juice at one edge of the Dictionary - I am sure you understand the concept, however.
How the Company got to this point of overcommitment, or as your Executive staff has explained it to the Board, “employee underperformance,” is not relevant at this point. As a positive step, the Executive staff has identified ten measures the Company is taking to optimize fiscal performance during the upcoming fourth quarter.
1. Travel. Travel is a way of getting from one place to another. You are in one place, in other words, and the place is in another. "Travel" costs money and will not be done in Q4. Alternatives that do not require spending money, such as wishing that you were in that other place, or sending a free email to explain that you are still in your original place, are permitted. The only exception to this rule is traveling to another place in order to pick up money and bring it back; travel is permitted for that sole reason.
2. Coffee. The company supplies free coffee, but it has come to our attention that coffee is often left unfinished, and is even thrown out. This is wasteful of our planet's rainforests and coffee-growing regions as well as costing money and thereby constituting an unauthorized reallocation of resources from important programs. Consequently, rather than pouring a fresh cup of coffee, employees will be instructed to give first priority to identifying a partially-consumed cup of coffee near their workspace and consuming that instead. If the first assignee of a partially-consumed cup challenges the employee who has picked it up to finish it per this policy, both employees shall take the interchange as an opportunity to strengthen intra-company relationships.
3. Heating. The process of heating workspaces is very damaging to the environment due to the emission of CO2 and other toxic substances. Further, it is wasteful because heat leaks out of even well-insulated buildings and there is therefore no identifiable long-term advantage. Any correlation between heated facilities and company revenue is poorly documented at best and so, in accordance with the company's "Green" policy, internal environments in facilities located in cold climates will be heated only to the minimum temperature necessary to keep pipes from freezing. In those cold climates, employees may wish to huddle together for warmth or bring a few horse blankets from home.
4. Bathroom Tissue. Facilities has long received numerous complaints about the quality of bathroom tissue provided as an employee benefit by the Company, tissue that is variously criticized for abrasiveness, harshness, and an undefined term called "punchthrough." Therefore, the company will cease providing this free benefit and employees will be expected to provide their own. Note that triple-ply and perfumed tissues will not be permitted because of potential risk to the building's antiquated sewage system; an auditing system is being developed to ensure conformance to this policy.
5. Mandatory sick leave. As employees have consumed all their vacation time due to mandated time off in previous quarters, we are allocating a two-week episode of non-fatal influenza to every employee in North America. This practice is not permitted in Europe, but HR is pursuing appropriate channels to identify a disease or disability that will be acceptable under EU law. Note that deadlines are unaffected by this policy.
6. Office supplies. Executive staff is confident that employees have been taking office supplies and using company copying machines and other company resources, without explicit authorization, for years. Employees will be expected to use these accumulated supplies, pay for stamps, shipping and network bandwidth, and supply their own copies throughout Q4.
7. Landscaping. The Company will be optimizing its outdoor resources by sub-leasing the spaces around the building to a local farmer who will be raising what she describes as "herbs." We anticipate significant incremental revenue from this activity, and are requiring that employees refrain from unauthorized ad hoc harvesting.
8. Air conditioning. Other than minimal heating as described above, facility air conditioning and ventilation will be turned off during Q4. For those facilities in which windows do not open, employees are permitted to fold discarded memos into fans for ventilation or cooling.
9. Program planning. Experience has proven that nothing optimizes expenses better than replanning. In Q4, the Company will focus on reassigning priorities among numerous complex programs and replanning to accommodate these changes, and will operate on a "drumbeat" of one major replanning cycle each two weeks. Assuming a 10% savings per replan cycle, this should result in a net 47% expense reduction through the six cycles of the quarter.
10. Company logo. The new Company logo, which shows an outstretched hand with each finger in a different color to signify the "I come in peace" gesture, is very expensive to reproduce on a production scale due to the number of silk screens required. During Q4, four of these five fingers will be eliminated.
Your Executive staff is confident that these policies will preserve our company leadership through Q4, and will position us well to enter the challenges of a yet-to-be-defined first quarter in 2013. I, along with our CEO, CFO, CMO, CTO, Senior VP of Sales, Board of Directors and all our major stockholders and litigants, wish to personally thank you for your cooperation.