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Six Fresh Ways to Think About Retirement Savings

Trent Hamm has a good summary in his Six Fresh Ways to Think About Retirement Savings at the Simple Dollar. From the social security network to retirement fund withdrawal rules of thumb and from basic subsistence levels to choosing a location for cost of living reasons, he provides a good over-view of issues that many don’t consider until it’s too late to do anything.

Electric transport

Sven Gustafson reports that Tesla’s long-range Model 3 gets 80.5 kWh battery, per EPA. A cell phone has a battery in the 2-4 Wh range so this is about the battery power of 20,000 cell phones. A typical standard car battery is good for about 1 kWh so the Tesla, the “long range” version has the equivalent of 80 standard car batteries.

Looking at Gasoline Gallon Equivalent (wikipedia) indicates that the Tesla battery is the equivalent to a 2.4 gallon gas tank (80.5/33.4). Conversion of energy to motion is important to consider here as gasoline engines are perhaps 30% efficient while electrical battery charging is in the 80% range. That reduces the battery to 65 kWh effective and the gasoline equivalent to that to 8 gallons for the same transport capability.

The “long range” for the Tesla is stated to be a bit over 300 miles. Typical gas sedans may get 30 miles per gallon so this represents about ten gallons of fuel for them. That fits pretty well with the theoretical energy capacity and efficiency numbers.

This is why electric vehicles have limited utility. A ten gallon gas tank that takes hours to refill means a vehicle with restricted transport options. For daily commute or occasional errands, this might work. In town commercial service might start to push capabilities. There is no reserve capability to support any long haul uses.

Then there’s the battery costs. This might be offset to some degree by maintenance cost differences. The battery has a lifespan of 5 to 10 years and will cost several thousand dollars to replace. That’s a nearly $1000 per year maintenance cost just for batteries. 

The biggest problem many have with cars and money is that they don’t properly amortize initial and expected expenses. Ongoing costs such as registration and insurance often get separated from transportation. Depreciation is often ignored until its pain is felt at sale or trade-in. Major maintenance items such as tires tend to be surprises. 

There are reasons for the market being what it is. You can fight them or use them to your advantage. Make your choice.

Gnome approaches majority (legal age to vote and drink!)

Alan Day ponders The Gnome Way and that gains a special interest as Canonical is folding up Unity and its dreams of integration of the user interface across all platforms. Day notes that the Gnome project has been able to maintain its core identity, expressed in fundamental principles, for 20 years.

When I first got involved in GNOME, one of the things that struck me was how principled it was. The members of the project had a strong set of values, both about what they were doing and why they were doing it. It was inspiring to see this and it’s one of the things that really made me want to get more involved.
The principles that the members of the GNOME project hold in common play an important practical role. They make problem-solving more efficient, by providing a basis on which decisions can be made. They also help to coordinate activities across the project.


However, GNOME’s principles also have a far more important role: they define the project. They are what makes GNOME GNOME.
Another reason that I want to talk about GNOME’s principles is that the project is going to be 20 years old this year. That’s a long time in the software world! GNOME’s longevity is a great success and something to be hugely proud of. It also comes with an inherent risk: as the contributor base renews itself over time, the project’s collective memory could get eroded. As a result, GNOME could forget its principles and the lessons of the past. It is therefore important to find ways of communicating the project’s principles and values, so that they continue to inform successive generations of contributors.

This illustrates the importance of a coherent identity for an organization. Day describes the principles he considers important. The fact that Gnome has survived and continues a vital existence indicates just how important knowing who you are as an organization can be.

Nostalgia: 40 years on in a new era of the Take Home Computer

40 years ago: the take home computer. 30 years ago: it gets a full fledged operating system. 20 years ago: an audio codec for take home computer hardware is standardized. 10 years ago: the smart phone. 1977. 1987. 1997. 2007. 2017??

The August 3 birthday brings back memories. Harry McCracken notes the 40th anniversary and cites his story of five years ago: Please Don’t Call It Trash-80: A 35th Anniversary Salute to Radio Shack’s TRS-80. 1977 was the year the world turned over as Apple, Radio Shack, and Commodore made computing a take home experience.

That 2012 retrospective was accompanied by another: 25 Years of IBM’s OS/2: The Strange Days and Surprising Afterlife of a Legendary Operating System — “Big Blue’s next-generation operating system was supposed to change everything. It didn’t. But it’s also never quite gone away.” This was after ten years of development of the hardware and introduced modern operating systems concepts to the ‘take home’ computer. The Macintosh and Windows were salad dressing on operating systems that were little more than file management software. DOS had some add-on memory management utilities and there were video and other device drivers but these ad-hoc fixes were incomplete solutions. OS/2 changed that in providing task management that allowed downloading files from a network while printing a document and editing a document seamlessly all at the same time. The problem OS/2 faced was that the hardware wasn’t really quite up to the task.

Another *7 hallmark is the Intel AC’97 (Wikipedia). “AC’97 defines a high-quality, 16- or 20-bit audio architecture with 5.1 surround sound support for the PC. AC’97 supports a 96 kHz sampling rate at 20-bit stereo resolution and a 48 kHz sampling rate at 20-bit stereo resolution for multichannel recording and playback.” This one marks a change in the take home computer from a rather limited computing device to a full fledged networked, multitasking, general purpose appliance.

Ten years ago, the hallmark device is likely to be the Apple iPhone. See CNBC The iPhone went on sale 10 years ago today – here’s how far it’s come or, for where it is today, Cnet iPhone 8: Everything we know about the launch date, specs and price. For social impact, read Molla on How Apple’s iPhone changed the world: 10 years in 10 charts — “Everything has changed.” Take home computing technology has advanced from a big box to something you can put in your pocket, from a several thousand dollar expense to only a tens of dollars expense, from limited functionality to replacing a whole plethora of personal devices.

Now, 40 years after the first computers based on the Z-80, the 6502, and similar chips, the entire guts of those first take home computers is all embedded into a chip that can be had for under $5. This includes working and storage memory, support circuits, and a whole lot of peripheral support machinery. The clock speed has increased by a factor of a hundred and the word size by a factor of eight. That’s just the SoC or system on a chip and the microcontroller collection. The chips that have replaced the dedicated CPU needing external memory and peripheral interfacing circuits now include multiple processors running at a thousand times the speed with enhanced instruction sets to handle modern network and security needs.

As McCracken tells the story, his dad brought home a TRS-80 when he was a junior in high school. Just a few years earlier, a high school student would have to visit a nearby university to play with computers. The Dartmouth BASIC project to put terminals in high schools had started only a few years before the 1977 watershed year but even that required going to a special place that had special connections to a special university computing facility. 40 years on and the junior in high school is buying his own Raspberry Pi to create a retro gaming rig that runs emulators of earlier home computers to play old fashioned games of ten, twenty, or more years ago. And that is not to mention his cell phone with all of its apps or the laptop or whatever he’s got for personal computing needs.

It may be that the marker this *7 year is when the computer goes from a take home appliance to in integral part of home management. The home becomes the computer. This is the IoT or I’net of Things concept where the refrigerator can order what’s needed to keep its stock up for you, the thermostat works with the power company to assist in community energy supply management, and your car knows who you are and how to get you to where you want to go.

Can you keep up? Or will you really even notice?

Ringing the Bell: Amateur Radio Introspection

Here’s another notice of the ARRL annual report by Jenny List at Hackaday: Amateur Radio Just Isn’t Exciting. She adds to the list of suggestions. There are more than 100 comments on the post.

As ARRL president, [Rick Roderick, K5UR] spends a significant amount of time proselytising the hobby. He has a standard talk about amateur radio that involves tales gleaned from his many decades as a licence holder, and features QSL cards from rare DX contacts to show how radio amateurs talk all over the world. … Writing in the 2016 ARRL Annual Report, he said:

Change generally doesn’t come easy to us. But when I looked out at that group of young faces and saw their disinterest in traditional ham pursuits, I realized that I had to change. We have to change. It won’t come easy, but it’s essential that we get to work on it now.

If you were to profile a typical group of radio amateurs, it would not be difficult to see why [K5UR] found himself in this position. It might be an unflattering portrait for some amateurs, but it’s fair to say that amateur radio is a hobby pursued predominantly by older more well-off men with the means to spend thousands of dollars on commercial radios.
Were Hackaday to find ourselves in the position of advising the ARRL on such matters, we’d probably suggest a return to the roots of amateur radio, a time in the early 20th century when it was the technology that mattered rather than the collecting of DXCC entities or grid squares, and an amateur had first to build their own equipment rather than simply order a shiny radio before they could make a contact.

That tells me more about a perception problem than about an ARRL Amateur Radio problem. As Jenny notes “We’ve shown you some fantastic amateur radio builds over the years” and Hackaday is not alone here. There have been Amateur Radio equipment building projects as a regular feature in QST and elsewhere. It has never been easier to find projects to build that suit your interests, budget, and capabilities and it is also much easier to find help and assistance in getting them working.

The thing is, Amateur Radio is so much more and K5UR tried to share some of that. Contesting is indeed a significant interest to many hams. DX is still a thrill and the interest in WSJT provides an example. The Preppers have a long history in Amateur Radio as shown in Field Day activity and in the ARES participation. 

As for K5UR’s comment, this is perhaps the most encouraging indication I have seen regarding the health of the ARRL. It contrasts so much to what I hear from WBCCI leadership, for instance. K5UR noticed a problem and brought it to the light in such a way that people are noticing and discussing it in new ways. Whether it is KB6NU noting that begging for money is going in the wrong direction or List’s perception that the hobby is too full of old rich white guys (known as appliance operators in the hobby), there are people who recognize the problem and are offering ideas and suggestions.

It should be noted that the ARRL has been working this issue for years. It has put a number of ideas into practice. You can go back to Chod Harris and Tune in the World and the beginnings of the volunteer instructors in the 70’s as a starting point. It has been a long slog with ups and downs but it cannot be ignored. Even the most recent bulletin describes ideas being considered that fit into this.

The fact is that technical hobbies are not for everyone and Amateur Radio as a government licensed enterprise is set apart from many other technical hobbies. The RC crowd and the Preppers are two examples of non-traditional radio enthusiasts who have found reasons to get a license. The CB’ers are still out there and they are an example of social communications via radio bypassing the licensing burden despite the rise of cell phones and the I’net which are other ways to bypass user level governmental burdens. Trying to sell a technical hobby, much less a licensed one, to everyone is not effective targeting of efforts. This is a similar burden faced by all the PC hoopla about STEM education efforts.

The ARRL faces two major fronts. One is in the health of the hobby itself and the other is in the health of the ARRL itself. Both are in rough seas as fundamental changes wash over society in social interactions and communications capabilities … and in the role of government in individual lives. Recognizing a need for change and the fact that “it won’t come easy” is a good start towards coping with what is coming.

Orgs: ARRL etc.

The ARRL released its annual report and KB6NU provides an interesting commentary: ARRL annual report touts achievements, downplays membership

On a related topic, ARRL president, Rick Roderick, K5UR, in his message, tells the story of how his stump speech to a group of high school students about ham radio fell on deaf ears. He writes, “I realized that I had to change my approach to the presentation if I was going to keep the attention of these young people.”

It’s not just kids that aren’t interested in traditional amateur radio pursuits. There are lots of licensed radio amateurs out there who the ARRL is not serving. That’s why the membership numbers are so low.

Too much emphasis on giving drives away members, not attract them. If you do the right things to attract members, the giving part will take care of itself. The members will be engaged and supportive of the ARRL’s programs and will give generously without any arm twisting or pats on the back.

Now, consider what’s going on with SNARS and why it is doing so well (except for its Noon Net). Or consider WBCCI and why it is in the same conundrum as the ARRL.

RV sales are hitting new highs with millennials disproportionate and Airstream selling trailers like never before. But the WBCCI membership can’t even match the attendance at one of its earlier International Rallies. It has severe management and governance problems but that is only incidental (and contributory) to the problems being measured by membership statistics.

The ARRL is reasonably competent in management and governance yet it struggles to maintain membership representation in the amateur radio community. SNARS, the Sierra Nevada Amateur Radio Society, does quite well as its monthly breakfast meetings shows but it has problems getting people to step forward to serve as NCS for its Noon Net,

Social structures are changing. Communications and technology interests impact the fundamental purposes of ‘birds of a feather’ social organizations. Increased wealth, both in terms of disposable income and in availability of products and services, also hit organizations in the knees as the need for group strength is lessened.

we do live in interesting times. 

Bitcoin disagreements

Despite the high sounding rhetoric about preventing fraud and conflict, It appears that Bitcoin is suffering the human problem. Luboš Motl: Uro, the ultimate virtual cryptocurrency.  

The Bitcoin’s ledger, tens of gigabytes, is too long and some people disagreed with each other so it’s likely that the currency will split into two, Bitcoin and Bitcoin cash, on August 1st. You may keep your Bitcoins happily and wait to see whether they become the more valuable among the two or the worthless one. Good luck! A similar, “real” test will arrive on November.

Handling growth is a problem and Motl provides a parody. He summarizes”

More seriously, the purpose of this exercise was to show that the fans of cryptocurrencies as a solution to anything who see nothing wrong about the chaotic growth of the “value” are just communists who don’t distinguish – and don’t want to distinguish – someone’s being wealthy from his being poor in the real terms. People who believe that the wealth may be created out of thin air – because most of them are Millennials who got their money without any efforts and they think that it’s normal and it’s how the world economy may work and should work. The Bitcoin movement is a branch of hardcore communism defended by spoiled kids.

Some may thing it’s the greatest thing since Pacioli but then again, some may be a bit blinded by the flash. Such fantasies are only possible by those who can afford them.

Python. Astronomy. Science. FOSS. Learning. Change.

A talk at Pycon 2017 on YouTube about Why Astronomers Love Python And Why You Should Too covers a lot of ground about how research is changing. Jake Vanderplas doesn’t get into technical detail but rather explains how the Python ecosystem and idiom fits into astronomical research. He starts with this New Yorker cartoon


One of the projects that illustrates a new way of doing science is:  “The Jupyter Notebook is an open-source web application that allows you to create and share documents that contain live code, equations, visualizations and explanatory text. Uses include: data cleaning and transformation, numerical simulation, statistical modeling, machine learning and much more.” Vanderplas notes that the LIGO finding of gravitational waves is published in a Jupyter Notebook and that the software is on GitHub. That means that anyone can follow the trail from raw data to conclusion using the same steps and calculations the scientists actually used. This is a level of transparency that the climate alarmists could emulate.

I used to think the publications problems could be addressed by having institutions publish the work of their own scientists in an online library and depend upon I’net search and social media to get the word out. The institution’s credibility would be some assurance combating sloppy work, fraud, and bad science. From what Vanderplas is saying, it looks like the institution, a University or whatever, is being replaced by ad hoc working groups and the FOSS “many eyeballs” ethos for finding bugs and flaws.

There is change in the wind and it isn’t always obvious. It’s synthesis and synergy that is changing the way things are done and how problems in social structures and information creation and disbursal is undergoing revolution.

Paradigms shifting

Jim Carroll has some interesting ideas about the implications of self driving cars: “Your car is about to become your concierge. A personal robot. And so much more.”

the simplicity of design means more companies enter the car and truck industry.”

driver education will change.”

not many people realize that light poles are a big part of the self-driving car future.”

Simplicity of design is why we see companies, like Tesla, that can become a competitor with less tradition but more capital. It means that the hobbyist or garage shop can build product that is more cost effective compared to mass production.

Driver education is like those stories you see every now and then how someone stole a car and could get away because he couldn’t handle the stick shift. Much of the base skill of operating a machine is becoming less necessary while the skills for managing the machine become more critical.

Light poles and other infrastructure will gain capabilities in networking and data accumulation to support and facilitate traffic and safety. This is going to emphasize just how deep the data collection should go. I’ve already mentioned how TPMS monitoring can be used to track individual vehicles. Waze and the cell phone location services can aid in routing but also raise issues about just how data collected should be used and where privacy boundaries should be.

It will be interesting. If you can handle it.

Bitcoin and blockchain

3Blue1Brown has one of the better explanations: Ever wonder how Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) actually work? (YouTube). One pundit even referred to this technology as “triple entry accounting” and hailed it as one of the greatest innovations evva’ !!

  • Start with a public ledger where people can note transactions between themselves. This can be tallied to figure out who owes and who is owed.
  • Add public key encryption to entries so the authority of a ledger entry can be affirmed.
  • Add broadcasting so everyone has a copy of the ledger.
  • Add blocking so ledger entries come in pages that can be encrypted by finding a key via brute force methods to yield a specified checksum.
  • These blocks form a linked chain with the links a part of the encryption and also include a ‘payment’ to the miner for doing all the work.
  • Assign credibility to ‘miners’ who have encrypted the most blocks. This credibility based on the longest chain is used to resolve disputes if there are ledger differences.

The video does a good job describing the issues and their solutions in creating a transaction value accounting system that is public, open, secure, and reliable. The video also notes the inherent weakness in the system when it comes to scaling up to real world transaction volumes. 

This is one of those uses of technology that has a lot of people excited but isn’t really ready for prime time. Yet. The ideas and methods are now out there and that will provide experience in seeing how they work, how they can be made better, and just exactly where they are most suited.

This seems to be a good example fitting in with the ideas described in The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. I’ll likely have more on that book when I’ve finished reading it and have had time to think about what it is saying to me.