21 Oct. 2007
SETI League
PriUPS Project

Listen to or download MP3 version of this blogitem

A Potpourri Of The Winnowed

A Bad Idea Gone (Sort Of) Good

I discovered the "boom box" in the 70s.  It was in that decade that I would often galumph down the streets of NYC on some  errand or mission, and find myself assaulted by these hypertrophied portable music players.   There was a certain crowd that felt that in order to listen to their music while on their own errands or missions, nothing less than a 20-pound-plus stereo player was required.  Inevitably held head high on shoulders to which arms that I wouldn't want to have messed with were attached, these players were guaranteed to induce temporary threshold shift in anyone unlucky enough to get close.  Evading the lethal radius of these devices on certain blocks gave the evader the appearance of a drunk looking for his keys with the sun as his lamppost.

Not one to succumb to this assault without at least trying to think of a counter, I decided that I would build a device that would silence the boom boxes in my vicinity.  It would have been fairly simple if they were only radio receivers:  Just build a transmitter that would send out a signal on every AM and every FM channel, one strong enough to overpower the local stations on those frequencies.  This is actually simpler than it sounds.  Broadcast frequencies have simple arithmetic relationships, and transmitting on all of them isn't difficult.  Since the transmitter range was only to be ten or twenty feet, power wasn't an issue and a small battery would run it for a day or more easily.  I ultimately decided not to make the gadget for several good reasons:

  • If the range were short, it would eventually be obvious who was doing the interfering.  See my comment about arms, above.

  • It was (and is) illegal.

  • It wouldn't have worked, I finally realized, because a large number of the boom-box carriers were listening to tapes.  It is possibly to nullify them, too, but the energy expenditure would have been excessive and obvious.

What makes this shudda, cudda, wudda more than just that, whether spelled correctly or not, is the following:

Recently a real company got the same idea - to transmit on all broadcast frequencies simultaneously!  Their purpose was a bit less selfish in a sense.  They wanted to put their transmitter on emergency vehicles so that other drivers could be notified through their radios when one is approaching.  (It was more selfish in another sense.  They want to sell their system while I just wanted less noise.)  The same arguments (except for the arms) apply to them.  It's illegal, but they have applied to the FCC for a waiver or a rulemaking.  And, it wouldn't work if someone is listening to a CD or other music source.  As a substitute for the arms is the NAB, the Broadcaster's association, which makes many arguments, some of them valid, against interfering with broadcast radio. 

I don't know if the company trying to sell the system will be successful, but even if it is, I don't regret not applying for a patent on it so that I could share the wealth.  I "invented" the system so long before the new guys that any patent I would have received would have long expired by the time it achieved commercial use.

A Careless Butcher

Occasionally an apposite (for something) or particularly felicitous phrase occurs to me.  I thought that "count on the fingers of a careless butcher" was one of them when I just saw it on my list-of-too-many-things-to-write-about.  Doing an internet search, however, reminded me that I stole the phrase from a judge's opinion that was quoted in an article I read this summer.  Too bad; I would have liked to have thought of that phrase myself.  Perhaps in some future blogitem I will have done so.

GPS Gerrymandering

This is a minor annoyance, and hence doesn't qualify for a full-blog-whine.  It's a classic example of equipment and software designers foisting their products on the public without first asking my advice.  It has been my pleasure to own two automobiles with factory-installed GPS navigation systems.  Both of these were of foreign manufacture, so let me mention for the benefit of car manufacturers of the overseas persuasion and possibly for the millireaders so situated:  The "United States of America" is in many respects more than just the name of our country.  "United States" implies (truthfully) that we are pretty much one country, and denizens can travel among these States with little effort or formality. 

You wouldn't know this from the partitioning of the GPS maps in these cars!  The purpose of the navigation system is to allow one to travel from one place to another with route guidance.  This would imply that, if the maps have to be partitioned for technical reasons, some thought would be given to sensible places to partition them.  Examples of good places not to partition the maps, without any overlap:

  • Half way down the New Jersey Turnpike, between North and South Jersey, certainly one of the most-travelled routes in the most densely-populated state in the Northeast.

  • Between New Jersey and New York, two neighboring states with lengthy common borders.

Of course one solution would be to provide significant overlap, and another would be to not bother with partitions at all, which I'm sure is in the offing for newer systems.  As I said, not a full-blog-whine on this one.

Did I Save The Bun?

Many years ago, for reasons I not only don't remember, but can't even fathom, I was shopping for a bedspread.  At Bloomingdales in New York City.  On those rare occasions I am forced to shop, I can be decisive.  By limiting color choices to blue in categories where colors are significant, my options are often limited to just one, and I commit to it gratefully.  This was not the case on the day in question.  I located the bedspread department and spent easily fifteen minutes making a selection using unremembered criteria, but presumably "soft" and "comfortable" were added to "not too expensive."

I took the white, large, soft, fluffy, not-too-expensive bedspread to a checkout register.  I gave it to the cashier and tried to pay for it.  She looked at me with a surprisingly neutral gaze and said to me:

"You don't want that one.  It's made from dead bunny rabbits."

I thought about that for a moment, decided that she was right, returned the bedspread whence it came, and left Bloomingdales bedspread-free.

NP:  "The Dance" - Poco

Richard Factor

Yesterday  |  Tomorrow