A Brisket Story

May 27, 2014 – 16:46


Little known outside the area, brisket is revered in Texas.

Brisket is not quite as highly ranked as High School Football or Homecoming Mums, but it gives them both a run for their money among most Texans.

Brisket, in short, is taken *very* seriously down here. When combined with the process and ritual of Texas BBQ the combined power becomes near-nuclear. You just don’t make light of a man’s BBQ Brisket in these parts without expecting severe consequences.

Yesterday was Memorial Day, the national Day of BBQ, so our neighborhood was rich with the smells of meat and sausages in various stages of incineration. Stepping outside while hungry was an experiment in socially-acceptable self-control.

Our neighbor, Jimmy, was one of those who participated in this annual Cooking of the Meat. But Jimmy, being no ordinary guy, went the step beyond, a grade above, the realm of only the exceptional: he smoked his brisket.

Smoking meat takes time. It’s a commitment of a full day, requiring you to tend the smoker while waiting for just the right moment to pull the succulent, precisely cooked meat from the heat.

Tending the Smoker is a time-honored skill, passed from father to son, uncle to nephew down through the generations since the first smoker was invented back in the mists of pre-historic time.

Tending the Smoker involves a lot of standing around the smoker and communicating in male-speak, meaning grunts and monosyllable semi-words punctuated by swigs of long necks. With all due respect to females, it’s man’s work and has been since the first hunk of mastodon was nestled between coal and frond.

It rained here yesterday. It rained hard. Texas hard. All morning and into the early afternoon. All that time, Jimmy tended the smoker. Hour after hour he waited for the precise moment of brisket perfection.

Finally, the rain stopped, the skies cleared and the sun broke through the clouds. As the searing shafts of sunlight brightened the neighborhood, the brisket, Jimmy’s brisket, the perfect brisket, the height of a Texas male’s culinary experience, was pulled from the heat.

With due pomp and circumstance it was transported on its litter from the smoker to the Brisket Throne of Standing in the kitchen. Exalted, there it reposed, sending forth its scents and promises of coming Brisket Glory.

All of that anxiety to pick the perfect brisket, all of that time tending the smoker, all of it led up to this: the Perfect Smoked Brisket.

After the requisite stand time, the Tribute Portions were carved. Perfect slices of brisket were grouped into gifts for the neighbors.

Jimmy himself delivered them. First next door, then down the street.

When he returned to begin the Feast of the Brisket Jimmy saw something was wrong: the brisket throne was empty.

He asked around, “Did you already put up the brisket?” But no one had already put up the brisket.

He looked in the refrigerator. The fridge held no brisket.

He looked in the cupboard. The cupboard was bare.

The brisket was gone.

Jimmy was frantic. What happened to the brisket? The brisket had to be somewhere. Where could it be?

Jimmy looked out back. Out back where Jimmy’s dog was lying on her back, legs askew, tongue draped out her mouth as she drew shallow breaths of gluttony.

There, in that swollen belly, was Jimmy’s Perfect Brisket.

The wail split the thick summer air of the neighborhood. Every man rose in response. That heart-rending cry of pain, longing and loss could mean only one thing: a man without his brisket.

Every male within wailing distance shared the same, simultaneous thought:
“It was gone, all gone! No brisket! No brisket sandwiches! No brisket salad! No brisket gravy! brisket Hash! brisket a la King! Or gallons of brisket soup! Gone, ALL GONE!”

And there was Jimmy, left alone with his dog too full to move and the heavenly aroma still permeating the house, a reminder of what could have been and, now, would never be.

A moment now, of silence.

A moment now, of reverence.

A brisket has been lost.

How to Opt-Out of online advertising tracking

January 20, 2014 – 14:47

How to Opt-Out of online advertising tracking:

Ever notice that all it takes is one search on or, god forbid, one visit to a product or service web site and for the next few weeks everywhere you go on the web you are peppered with ads for Prune Juice or Chevy Silverado pickups or A4 copy paper or whatever else you had the misfortune of looking at on the web?

That is not magic. It’s done by the online marketing wizards who plant little cookies and beacons on your computer’s web browser. Those cookies and beacons tell the next web page you visit what your search and web-visit traffic has been about lately. They use that information to shape your experience on the web.

If you think that’s creepy or if you would like to stop the *participating* advertisers from tracking you around the web, do this:

1. Visit this site in *each* browser and each computer that you use. Meaning, if you use IE, Chrome and Firefox, then you need to do this in in each browser you use on each computer you use. Hey there, stop your whining. You didn’t think they were going to make this easy on you did you? It took a literal threatened act of congress to get you this much. Be grateful.


2. It will take a few minutes for the system to figure out how many *participating* marketers are tracking you. Wait. Be patient. Stop your whining. See above about easy. When the process completes click on the “close” option on the dialog box.

3. Scroll down on the page a little bit and click on the big blue button labeled “Choose all companies” to opt out of all the marketing companies and their buildings full of PhD.s who spend all day, every day, figuring out how to separate you from your money.

4. It will take a few minutes for the system to communicate with the APIs of all those nefarious marketing companies. Be patient. Your credit card balance will thank you.

5. When the process completes, check the middle column: “NAI Members Customizing Ads For Your Browser (XX)”. If the XX number is 0, then you have freed yourself from the shackles of the *participating* online marketers on that browser. Go to step #13.

6. If the XX number is not 0, then click on the company names in that list, one by one.

7. For each company, right-click on the link to that company’s privacy policy (the 2nd link in the company’s info).

8. Select “open in new tab”.

9. Click on the new tab that just opened.

10. Look for the “opt-out” link. You may have to scroll around for it. They are required by law to have it, so it is there somewhere.

11. Click on the “opt-out” link.

12. Go back to #7 and repeat until you are done.

13. Repeat this for *every* browser on *every* computer you use. Stop whining. What you are doing is a subversive act that threatens the very core of the world’s economic system: unnecessary consumption. Be brave. Be strong. Be havin’ mo’ money instead of mo’ stuff.

14. Celebrate. And, while you’re at it, tip a glass in sadness for the waste of an entire generation’s best talents: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” – Jeff Hammerbacher, one of the very earliest, core employees at Facebook.

ObamaCare’s effect on us

January 6, 2014 – 11:10

TL;DR: Premium costs reduced by more than a third. Annual deductible reduced by more than 90%.

We have much, much better health insurance for much less cost.


Full disclosure: I worked in and around U.S. healthcare for over 30 years. My clients have included essentially all aspects of the health care system, from big pharma to diagnostic imaging to large-scale vertically integrated health care systems to clinical delivery at the individual doctor level. I’ve worked in regulatory, public policy and payers (health insurance). In all cases I’ve been on the inside, in the meetings, often with more visibility into the actual, real data than the people who worked there.

As part of that experience, I was once part of a team tasked with modeling the U.S. health care system so I learned the numbers on a societal scale.

What did I learn in my career in and around health care?

Health care systems are huge, complex systems consisting of innumerable moving parts, and that is just at your local level. At a regional or national level, they are, usually, essentially intractable. Attempting to change them, or any aspect of them, is a galactic-scale daunting task.


The biggest single challenge is discussing the issue of health care is The Bubble.

If you work for a medium to large company, an educational or government institution or are in the military or retired from the military, it’s easy to wonder why anything needed to change with health care.

After all, even though your co-pays probably have increased, nothing is broken, so why fix it?

If you get sick, you go to the doctor, they fix you up, somebody else pays for it and all is well, so what’s the problem?

Outside of that bubble, however, things are not so much unicorns and rainbows.

Two big things happened outside the bubble that yielded the U.S. spending twice as much on healthcare than any other industrialized country.

The first was that whole “they fix you up, somebody else pays for it and all is well” thing. How many other purchase transactions do you make in your life where the person paying for it is not in the room?

What happens when nobody is in the room who might, even remotely, be worried about how much this thing costs? That’s like a trust fund baby shopping with daddy’s zirconium, no-limit credit card. What happens when daddy runs out of money? Short answer: Big Problem.

The second is that, by law, hospitals must provide care to anyone who walks in the door. That is a nice reflection on our values as a society, that no one will die in the gutter due to lack of basic health care, but it’s a very big challenge for my friends who are hospital CEOs.

If a good sized portion of your emergency room’s patients are paying nothing, then you must charge every other patient in the ER and every other patient in every other department of the hospital whatever it takes to cover the costs of that free care. Considering that U.S. emergency rooms are the most expensive place on the planet to receive care, it takes a lot of other customers paying very high prices to make up for that.

If you are in the bubble, you’ve never experienced what it’s like to personally pay for that subsidy. All you need to do is whip out your insurance card and, voila, you receive care and somebody else, somewhere else, pays for it.

And, before you start on some partisan ideologue rant about shipping all of those ER freeloaders back to where they came from, most of the uninsured people resorting to emergency room care have jobs or are part of a working household and more than 80% are U.S. citizens.

The knock-on effects of the emergency room care scenario are that those people do not seek health care until they are seriously ill. That means their resulting care, once they are very sick, is extremely expensive. That means the hospitals must charge even more to everybody else to make up for this care.

If you are in the bubble, you don’t have the experience of waiting until you are desperately ill before seeking care. If you need it, you go to the doctor. You don’t wait until your spouse is spitting up blood, your kid can’t get out of bed or your tumor pops through your skin.

The payers for all of that health care, the Medicare and Medicaid programs and the health insurance companies, have their own set of challenges and relief valves for this cost pressure.

The government programs have the luxury of mandating reimbursement rates for care, meaning they dictate how much they will pay for a medical product or service. This leads to any health care provider who has a choice to not accept any patients on Medicare or Medicaid since, from the profit margin perspective, they are bad for business and fatal for profits.

The health insurance companies have comparatively little leverage with the large buyers of health care insurance. Winning a big company account represents the ultimate “big fish” win for a health insurance company. Consequently, they compete aggressively for that prize. That means the health insurance companies’ resulting margins on those contracts can be smaller than they’d like.

The one group of customers who everybody can squeeze, the health insurance companies, the providers and the elected representatives, is the individual buyer of health insurance and small businesses.

Neither of those groups, individuals or small business, owns any senators, so they have no voice in how the laws are written. Individuals and small business have zero bargaining power with the health insurance companies. As a result, the policies that have been sold to individuals and small business have been, by far, the most expensive form of health care in the world.

In this way, the majority of the burden for the wacky, out of balance health care system in the U.S. has fallen on the backs of the self-employed, small businesses and other individuals who do not have access to corporate benefit health insurance.

If you are in the bubble, you have no knowledge of this. Your co-pays may go up, some benefits might be pulled back, but, by and large, you have great health insurance. You get sick, you go to the doctor. What’s the problem?

But out there, outside of the bubble of “nothing’s broken, so why fix it?” things have been exceptionally brutal. And while there have been countless people trapped in jobs they hated, working for tyrants they loathed because they, their spouse or their child had a pre-existing health condition that would never be covered by a new health plan at a new employer, those numbers are small compared to the millions yoked to outrageous costs and unrelenting cost increases in the outside-the-bubble world.

As an example, how does $10,000 annual per-person deductible at a cost of $900 per month for two individuals in good health with no chronic conditions, no prescriptions and no tobacco use sound? And don’t forget the semi-annual 10% to 20% premium cost increases.

See the difference between inside and outside the bubble?


So, what to do?

The first, obvious thing is to get everybody into some type of health insurance coverage so that they can stop using the emergency room, the most expensive form of health care in the history of humanity, which everybody else must then subsidize.

This puts those formerly uninsured, ER-using people into the regular health care system, where they can see a primary care physician on a regular basis. That gives everyone the opportunity to nip sickness and diseases in the bud, before the conditions become raging, chronic, very expensive situations that cost everybody else tons of money to mitigate and manage.

This ends the overcharging of Peter to pay for Paul’s emergency room care.

That’s really important when there are 47 million uninsured Pauls out there that the Peters are paying for.

That’s also really important if you are outside the bubble and your name badge says, “Hello, my name is Peter.”

Getting everybody into a health insurance plan, into the insurance pool as it’s known in the trade, is the single, biggest thing you see at the retail, consumer level of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare.


What happens as a result of the law’s changes?

The existing health care insurance companies in the U.S. gain tens of millions of new customers.

This is the critical, essential point that those in the scream-fest have missed entirely: ObamaCare just gave the existing health care insurance companies tens of millions of new customers. That is, of course, the direct, polar opposite of a “government takeover of healthcare.” But, I digress.

Many, if not most, of those new customers will be relatively young and healthy. That group, those who don’t use much health care, enjoy low health insurance rates. They also “balance the pool,” which means their presence in the overall group, or pool, of people insured enables the insurance companies to: a) pay for the people who use a lot of coverage, b) charge everybody somewhat reasonable rates and c) still make very sizable profits.

Behind the scenes, at the “wholesale” provider and payer levels of the system post-ObamaCare, there are also changes to incentivize better health care outcomes and reduce the rate of the increase of costs. Those things do not lend themselves to banner headlines so are mostly hidden from public view. Ironically, they may yield the biggest difference over time in the overall cost of care in the society.


How did everybody involved handle all of these changes?

Bottom line: If there is one thing for certain, it is that humans hate non-discretionary change.

Humans especially hate non-discretionary culture and process change.

There is little that impacts culture and process more, in a highly emotionally charged way, than arbitrarily changing how people get and pay for their health care.

Putting all the shallow, self-interested partisan politics aside, this thing was going to be a hard sell at just the basic humans-hate-change level, much less loaded down with the very powerful vested interests whose business models and profits depend on the status quo.

Most of the stakeholders in the current system are heavily vested in the current system and rely on that existing system, just exactly as it is, to bring home the bacon.

Some of those people could care less about what that existing system does to anybody else, especially you.

And me.

If you are inside the bubble, then nothing much about ObamaCare changes your world except that your benefit plan health insurance provider’s pool just got a lot larger.

If you are outside the bubble, then there is an excellent chance that 1 January 2014 was the first day in many, many years that you were an equal member of society again.

Welcome back.


So, if you are inside the bubble, why did any of this need to happen?

At a societal level, left to its own devices, the cost of healthcare was on a trajectory to be more than 25% of the U.S. GDP in less than 10 years. The inevitable result of that trend line is a society that cannot afford anything except health care, meaning, no military, no law enforcement, no border patrol, no science, no nothing — nobody’s pet cause or program could survive the insatiable and inexorable rise in the costs of healthcare in the U.S.

The end game of that reality is nobody, except status-quo stakeholders rolling in dough, wins.

Everybody else loses.

Including you.

We’ve had the good fortune to see, live and experience many different societies in the world. We’ve also had the opportunity to check out their health care systems on both an elective and emergency basis. Our experiences have been uniformly positive, some spectacularly so.

Given our observations and experiences and those of our families and friends who live in other societies, we were left wondering, how is it that the U.S. spends double its GDP on healthcare than any other OECD country? How is it that the U.S. spends 2.5 times as much per-capita on healthcare than any other OECD country?

And, with all of that spending, by multiple empirical measures, how is it that the U.S. has lower standards of health care and worse outcomes?

How would you rate your favorite sports team if they spent double what everybody else spent, with dramatic annual increases, spiraling ever-growing expenditures, yet had worse results than their competition? Would that be tenable? Would you continue to support that strategy?

If you’re inside the bubble, where “you go to the doctor, they fix you up, somebody else pays for it and all is well,” this can seem very abstract since it has no direct bearing on your life, the lives of your peers or the lives of your family. It’s easy for it to seem like a bunch of whiners and freeloaders joining together with a socialist plot to destroy life as you know it.

But, the reality is, outside that bubble, outside that slowly boiling pot of water, your entire society is having its blood sucked out by the very health care system stakeholders sworn to preserve and protect that blood.


Why should you care if you are in the bubble?

For starters, how do you expect your company to compete when its health care costs are, at a minimum, double those of its industrialized-country competitors?

On a personal level, how would you like to be out here, outside the bubble, fending for yourself for healthcare like the rest of us?

If your company can’t compete, that’s where you’ll be.

And, I assure you, life out here, outside the bubble, where you don’t own any senators and you’re not on the gravy train of the health care system status quo, is not any fun when it comes to paying for health care.


So, how did it play out for us?

It was, essentially, a life-changer.

We went from paying $900 a month, up from $800 a month less than a year ago, to around $600 a month.

Our annual deductibles went from $10,000 each to $900 each.

Every single aspect of the policy reflected similar positive changes, e.g. preventive care, lifetime benefits, pharmaceuticals, etc.

What’s that add up to?

We have much, much better health insurance for much less cost.

Another high power, low cost SBC: Beagle Bone Black

May 5, 2013 – 15:50


I just received a Beagle Bone Black, which is being used for prototype development for an open-hardware, open-software M2M project we are sponsoring.

Following are some photos of the board and a group shot with a few of its peers in the market, along with the basic specs of each board.

















Group shot of some of the low-cost Single Board Computers (SBC) available:





Clockwise, beginning UL:


  • APC from Via Technologies



The APC is still sold, but has been joined by an up-rated board that has more capability:




  • DB9 CAN terminator provided for scale
  • Standard credit card form factor provided for scale
  • Gizmo board – 52 GigaFlops 



  •  Raspberry Pi


  •  Beagle Board Black







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Raspberry Pi vs APC, Round One

September 6, 2012 – 23:10

The Intro: 

After nine months of anticipation, a Raspberry Pi arrived yesterday. It arrived on the same day and in the same UPS truck as a Via Technologies APC. Both had been eagerly awaited by the market in general and me.

I have specific ideas about where things are headed with computing and how technology will be manifested in everyday life. These little, low-cost computers represent a part of that vision, so I want to get to know them, and their capabilities, up close and personal. I want to know exactly how much these small units of local computing can do so that I can more accurately anticipate aspects of the near future.

The Raspberry Pi is a project by a non-profit foundation from the UK. Its purpose is to introduce computers and computer science to young children. The goal is to get kids back into programming, and in this case, programming meaning typing in text and running programs from a command line.

The Via Technologies APC has an equally noble mission: to bring the internet to the 5 out of 7 billion people in the world who can’t access it now. Their view is that the Personal Computer has not evolved to match the changes in the overall technology environment. They see less of a post-PC world and more of a cloud-based world, with a variety of devices fronting the cloud, including, of course, very low-cost personal computers that still use a keyboard and a mouse.

You can learn more about the Raspberry Pi here:  http://www.raspberrypi.org/

You can learn more about the APC at their web site here:  http://apc.io/

You  you can see the APC in action at its TED launch here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snVFAf4DHEw&feature=player_embedded

Both the Raspberry Pi and the APC are open source software projects, meaning the software is shared and publicly available to anyone who wants to replicate or modify it. The RasPi is also an open source hardware project, meaning its hardware designs, schematics, etc. are also publicly available.

The success of each of these products will depend in large part on the size and sustained enthusiasm of their user communities. The Raspberry Pi currently has a vast  lead in this area with a rapidly expanding installed base that is on track to be multiple millions of units along with highly technically capable early adopters who provide support via community forums, etc. The RasPi has been building community and momentum for at least a year and is attracting a solid core of committed believers in the cause.

The APC  is much newer to the market and lacks the purity of non-profit purpose, the underdog “born in the UK” heritage and the “back to our roots” origin story of the RasPi. The APC is also in a much more transient position in the market. The APC perception of the market and where it’s headed may be exactly correct, but their operating system (OS) of choice, Android, is the world’s most popular mobile device OS. That may sound like a good thing to you, but what it means to Via Technologies is that factories in China will be pumping out ever-more-powerful and ever-lower-cost Android based systems every month. Even today, you can buy a sub-$100 Android tablet, pry it open, remove the mother board, and have more performance and much more capability for similar cost of an APC. For an example, see: http://www.androidauthority.com/gooseberry-arm-board-android-raspberry-pi-102881/

While the RasPi has probably carved out a defensible position in the marketplace, it will be much more challenging for APC to create and sustain barriers to competitive entry into their segment. The RasPi can defend its position via its unassailable moral high ground and sanctity of mission, if nothing else. APC has no unique technology or other barrier to competitive entry. The APC team has only a product, which can, and will be, swept aside by the next bright shiny tech object in its category.

Of the two products, I am very enamored by the RasPi’s size and price point while I am convinced that APC’s vision reflects the near- to mid-term computing future of multiple device types front-ending the cloud.

Of the two approaches, I’ve been disassembling and assembling computers and software since 1979, so I understand the desire of the RasPi team to re-introduce those fundamentals to children. I also understand the enthusiasm and passion of the RasPi community as they rally around this cause and push this little board to its limits and beyond to see just what can be done with it.  I also know that children today are not the kids who were booting up Commodore 64s in the early days of the microprocessor. There’s a different set of expectations now, especially around what it takes to make something work.

Each of these products has been designed and built to accomplish a specific goal, to advance a specific agenda, to manifest a particular destiny. They are not the same goals and they are similar, but not the same products. But, because they are close enough in price point, architecture and market timing, comparisons are inevitable.

This series of posts will be one of those comparisons, but it will be done not just head-to-head, feature-to-feature, but will be done measuring each of these products against its own criteria, its own metrics of success, within its own context.


In the U.S., you can buy the Raspberry Pi at: MCM Electronics http://www.mcmelectronics.com/ A good source for accessories and add-ons is: Adafruit http://www.adafruit.com/

The APC is available at: NewEgg http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813181041&Tpk=13-181-041

Here’s what they look like, side by side (click image to enlarge):

The RasPi is on the left. The SD is a standard size SD card for scale.


The Unboxing:

It was actually really fun to pull these out of the box. Considering how many great, complex, high-end and very expensive things I’ve unboxed in my life, it’s ironic that I had so much fun pulling out these $35 and $49  computers.

I bought the starter package from MCM for the RasPi. It includes a USB mouse, compact USB keyboard, RasPi 1.0 amp / 5VDC power supply, a *non-powered* USB hub, the RasPi board and a 4GB SD card pre-loaded with a special build of the Linux Desbian operating system made specifically for the RasPi.

The RasPi requires a *powered* USB hub, so the USB hub included in this starter pack was worthless. You’ll spend about as much for a powered USB hub as you will for the RasPi itself. The rest of the components were OK, and made the “get it going” process quick.

Note that if you buy just the RasPi, it will *not* include a power supply. You’ll need a standard micro USB 5VDC mobile phone charger that puts out at least 1.0 amps to power the RasPi.

The APC box consisted  of the board, the included power supply and a faceplate for a NeoITX/MiniITX/MicroATX enclosure.


The Booting:

I’d been waiting for the RasPi since last December, when I first learned of the project, so I turned my attention to it first. The SD card receiver is mounted on the bottom side of the circuit board and the SD card containing the OS extends outside the perimeter of the board when inserted. Next came the keyboard and mouse USB cables, network cable and the HDMI video cable. When you’ve got everything plugged in, the RasPi itself looks lost among all the cables.

The $35 Raspberry Pi plugged in and powered up. Connectors, clockwise from bottom: HDMI, Micro USB power, SD card with OS, composite video, audio, status LEDs, USB 2.0, RJ45 Ethernet 100mbs (I’ll cover the IO pins on the board in a future post)


I plugged in the power supply cable and was greeted by a solid red power-on LED and a series of blinking lights from the network. The green disk access light also flickered.

But, unfortunately, nothing appeared on the monitor. I won’t bore you with the details, but what ensued was several hours of Google searches, reading forum posts, wiki entries and blog posts and otherwise tracking down the obscure command lines required to troubleshoot the problem.

You can read the results of that effort here: http://pastebin.com/nBWCUTN6 My forum post in the troubleshooting section of the RasPi forum is here: http://www.raspberrypi.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=16626 There’s no response yet, but it’s late in the UK, where most of the expertise is currently centered.

While I could get video via the composite video RCA connector, nothing was coming out of the HDMI jack.

Bottom line: No Joy

Having no luck with the RasPi, I turned my attentions to the APC.

I plugged the mouse and keyboard USB cables into the APC, plugged the included power supply’s cable into the board and then pressed the tiny “power” button.

Within seconds the APC logo and “a bicycle for your mind” tag line appeared on the monitor. A few seconds later the APC was up and running and I was looking at the opening background and search bar. I was up, running and online.


A fully functional computer with more than 400,000 apps available, as well as the power and resources of the cloud only one click away.

For $49.

APC’s Android browser displaying the APC web site.

The $49 APC plus some stuff you’ve got lying around yields a fully functional front-end to the cloud, plus whichever of the 400k available apps you’d like to run locally.

Note that for some fields of endeavor Angry Birds is a perfectly legitimate productivity tool. 


I’ll save the comparisons of what happens post-boot for next time, after I get the RasPi fixed or replaced.

Until then,


The Score:

RasPi –  0

APC – 1


If you’re interested in this type of thing, check out these alternatives:


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Apple’s Steve Jobs on Stealing Great Ideas

August 29, 2012 – 19:43


Here’s Steve Jobs talking about stealing other people’s inventions:


Excerpt: “We … have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”


Steve Jobs and Apple stole the mouse and graphical user interface (GUI) from Xerox PARC and marketed them as the little-known Lisa and the well-known Macintosh.

Bill Gates and Microsoft stole the mouse and the GUI from Apple and marketed them as the Windows operating system.

The mouse and the GUI were great ideas. They created personal computing as we know it.

But, they were invented by the guys at Xerox PARC, not by Steve Jobs and not by Apple.

Apple is a company that was built on the theft of others’ ideas and inventions and the glorification and deification of the theft of others’ ideas and inventions. (see video above)

It is infinitely hypocritical for Apple to now claim to be the white knight protectors of “values” related to not stealing others ideas.

Apple is a former client. I developed applications for Apple and wrote code for their systems. We have owned and currently own Apple products.

As such, it is tragic to see them now invest and innovate primarily  in the courtroom rather than the marketplace.

In that sense, yes, it is all about values. Just the wrong ones.


Learn more by reading: Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age http://www.amazon.com/Dealers-Lightning-Xerox-PARC-Computer/dp/0887309895

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Reddy Kilowatt

July 24, 2012 – 20:06


Here’s another closing of the circle.

Steph went pickin’ with our sister-in-law, Michele, last Saturday.

One of the things she found at the various antique and “treasure” shops they visited was the book Advertising Character Collectibles by Warren Dotz.

In the book she came across the entry for Reddy Kilowatt, a mascot used by the electrical utility industry.

I grew up with the Reddy Kilowatt.

We had Reddy Kilowatt ashtrays.

My grandfather wore a Reddy Kilowatt lapel pin on his suit.

Reddy went to church every Sunday with gramps.

Reddy was part of my early life, but faded away in the early 70’s.

I never knew where he came from or what became of him, until now.



Another circle closed.



The Trackpoint Story

July 19, 2012 – 15:00

Most of us use computers and other technological devices every day.

Most of us never give a passing thought to where that technology came from, who thought of it, who developed it, who engineered it and who brought it to the market.

Sometimes, you come across those stories and they close a circle for you.

This was one of those times.

I’m a touch typist. my fingers never leave the home row of keys, just like Mr. Niemeyer taught me back in high school typing class. When I signed up for that class, it was because it was filled with girls. As it turned out, I would not have been equipped for every career I’ve had after commercial photography if I hadn’t been able to type. Thank you, Mr. Niemeyer.

Since learning how to type, I went on to write some books and countless numbers of white papers, proposals, contracts, articles, columns, blog posts, missives, long letters and, as my long suffering friends will testify, multi-thousand word emails.

Since shortly after its introduction in 1992, I’ve written most of those kazillions of words on keyboards that feature a Trackpoint, a small isometric joystick nestled between the G, H and B keys. It functions as a mouse, and allows me to move the cursor without moving my fingers from the keyboard.

That may not sound like much, but it adds up. The original studies of human computer interface showed that it takes, on average, 0.7 seconds to move your hand to the mouse and get oriented and 0.9 seconds to move your hand back from the mouse to the keyboard and get oriented. It’s probably the German blood in me, but I cringe at the thought of wasting 1.6 seconds every time I need to move the cursor or make a selection. For a long time, I wasn’t the only one, as Trackpoints were a popular input device for many years.

Invented and brought to market by IBM, Trackpoints have appeared on laptops and desktop keyboards from a variety of manufacturers including, HP, Toshiba, Sony, Fujitsu and Dell, all of whom used different trade names for the device.

These days, with the rise of the cursed touchpad, it’s getting harder and harder to find devices with Trackpoints, especially in stand-alone keyboards.

I’ve been using an old, refurbished IBM Trackpoint keyboard for years. When we returned in 2009 and I set up this office, I bought two from a vendor on EBay, and this morning, the second one bit the dust. (That should give you some idea of how much I write, to go through two IBM desktop keyboards, which are legendary for both key feel and durability.)

So, this morning, I began another quest to find a detached, desktop keyboard with a Trackpoint. An EBay search turned up only beige, which will not work with my esthetics or with my otherwise black gear.

A Google search turned up a plaintive, pleading post from a fellow Trackpoint pilgrim, seeking a source for exactly what I was looking for. One of the responses pointed me to Unicomp, which is a company built on the former IBM and Lexmark people and technologies that manufactured the legendary IBM keyboards. When I hit the web site and saw that their logo included a Trackpoint, I knew I was among My People.


Unicomp is located in Lexington, Kentucky, and all of their products are built and shipped from there. How amazing is that? A computer product that is still produced in the U.S.

But, even though Unicomp sells brand new exact replacements for any IBM keyboard ever made, sells brand new Trackpoint keyboards and will make you a brand-new custom keyboard for any language, key layout, etc., that was not my greatest discovery this morning.

My Google search also turned up an amazing first-person history of the Trackpoint, by the man who conceived it, invented it and guided it through the global IBM bureaucracy to market: Ted Selker.

The story is here, and even if you don’t care anything about the Trackpoint, it is a fascinating story of how innovation happens and does or does not make it to market inside massive, multinational corporations.

For me, the history of the Trackpoint closed a circle. It provided the back-story on a little piece of technology that has been a big part of my life and my writing for two decades.

If you are open to it, and you watch for it, life is like that; it will close the open circles and provide answers for questions you didn’t even know you had.


* * * * * * *


Typing class at Adel Community High School was almost as good as Theater class for girl:boy ratio. I took them both.

Me, starring as Prince Albert, singing a solo to Margie Walston, in the role of Anne, in our high school production of “The Princess and the Pea.”

As to my finely crafted plan of getting girls via theater class, Margie ended up marrying one of my best friends, Pete King. Prior to moving to Adel, Pete grew up in, of all places, Lexington, Kentucky, home to IBM, and now, Unicomp, keyboard manufacturing.


* * * * *


Larry Niemeyer has been National Coach of the Year in both softball and basketball. He’s also in state and national Halls of Fame in the two sports. He has the most wins of any high school softball coach ever, anywhere. He’s the only coach in high school history to win championships in four sports.

Here’s how he ended up in Adel:

“I had an interview for a job in Geneseo, Ill., but I didn’t get it,” he says. “So I interviewed at Adel. The job there meant teaching six subjects and running the school newspaper.

“I wasn’t really thinking about the coaching. But the job paid $4,000 a year, and they gave me an extra 200 bucks to coach girls basketball. I’d never even seen a girls basketball game (it was six-on-six then).”

Now a flourishing suburb of Des Moines, Adel back then was just a tiny dot on the map.

“I remember the first game I coached was against Valley of West Des Moines. I had cotton mouth so bad I couldn’t talk,” he says. “We were 2-17 that first year, then 5-15 the next year. After that, we never had a losing year in the 18 years I was at Adel.”

You can learn more about Mr. Niemeyer here.


* * * * *

The Trackpoint has been used on a wide variety of computers under an assortment of brand names.

I’ve personally used it in IBM, Sony, Fujitsu and Dell products. It’s one of the primary reasons I currently use a Dell Latitude.

From the Wikipedia Pointing Stick entry:

Name Brand Current Models Past Models
TrackPoint IBM / Lenovo All known ThinkPads (not IdeaPads), and Travel Keyboard with Ultranav Most ThinkPads, Space Saver II, Model M13, Model M4-1, Trackpoint IV, Trackpoint USB Keyboard, TransNote
PointStick HP (Compaq) All EliteBooks; ProBook 6450b, 6455b & 6550b All EliteBooks; all models ending with p or w; all models starting with nc or nw; 6445b (optional), 6545b (optional), tc4200, tc4400
NX Point NEC EasyNote MX45, MX65, S5
Pointing Stick Sony none Sony Vaio P series, BX series, C1 series, U8 series, UX series
StickPoint, QuickPoint Fujitsu Lifebook T2020, P1630, P2120, S7220, E8420 (optional), U820/U2010 Lifebook T2010, S7110, S7210, B2400/2500/2600 series, E8310 (optional), E8410 (optional), P1100/1500/1600 series, U1010/U810/U50
Track Stick Dell Latitude E4200, E4310, E6410, E6420 and E6510; Precision M4500 and M6500 Latitude E6500, E6400, D430, D600, D630, D830, XT, E4300, E5400, E5410, E6400, E6510, E6400 ATG, E6500; Precision M2300, M2400, M4300, M4400, M6400; Inspiron 4000, 8100, 8200, 8600, 9100; L
AccuPoint Toshiba Tecra R840, R850, M11, A11 (optional) Portege (not current models 06/2007), Portege 3490CT, Tecra A7, A8, A9, A10, M2, M5, M9, M10, S Series; Satellite Pro 4000 Series, 410 Series
FlexPoint Sprintek SK8702/SK8703 for Laptop/Tablet PC/Netbook/Industrial Keyboard
FineTrack Acer TravelMate C200 (Tablet), C210 (Tablet), 6410, 6460, 6492, 6492G, 6592, 6592G, 6593
Mouse emulator Elonex Elonex ONE
Pointing Stick Unicomp EnduraPro, Mighty Mouse (both for desktops) On-The-Stick





1928 Prices compared to 2012 Prices

June 19, 2012 – 16:43

My friend, Lauren Hillquist, sent me this postcard via email today:


(click on image for full size)

He also included this text:

May 31, 1927, the last Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line. It was the first affordable automobile, due in part to the assembly line process developed by Henry Ford. It had a 2.9-liter, 20-horsepower engine and could travel at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. It had a 10-gallon fuel tank and could run on kerosene, petrol, or ethanol, but it couldn’t drive uphill if the tank was low, because there was no fuel pump; people got around this design flaw by driving up hills in reverse.

Ford believed that “the man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.” The Model T cost $850 in 1909, and as efficiency in production increased, the price dropped. By 1927, you could get a Model T for $290.

I thought it would be interesting to compare those prices with today’s, so I put together a quick spreadsheet comparing Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation adjusted prices and some actual market price data.

Here’s the result (click on image for full size):

As a modern car parts comparison, I just paid $34.41 for one of three pieces that make up the tailgate hinge on a 2003 GMC pickup. All three tailgate hinge pieces totaled $56.68. That’s just for one side of the tailgate.

Note that if car part prices had risen in step with the CPI, like cheese, tea, aspirin and soap did, I could have nearly bought an entire fender for our pickup for what I paid for a tailgate hinge.

You’ll note that incomes are more than double the rate of CPI inflation. Most of that extra money apparently goes for servicing the debt on big ticket items such as homes (~4x) and cars (>2x) that have inflated in cost relatively much more than the things that drive the CPI such as foodstuffs and household supplies.

As many have noted, the recent bubble in the U.S. was centered on inflated home values, so it may be that relative to other things in the economy, there is still downward adjustment remaining in housing costs.

It is interesting that automobiles have increased in relative cost more than other consumer material goods. Given the labor component in their manufacture, some portion of that can be attributed to the ~2x higher median household income. On average, around 24 hours of labor are required to manufacture a modern automobile, less than half the time required only a couple of decades ago. Production line labor costs range from around $50 to $70 per hour, including benefits, depending on the manufacturer and the plant location.

In 1914 Henry Ford caused a sensation when he instituted $5 per day in wages and a 40 hour week. His goal was to reduce turnover, then running 300%, and he succeeded in that goal.

Since then, the amount of labor required to produce and assemble an automobile has decreased dramatically, yet the price of an automobile, and certainly its parts, have increased significantly more than other consumer goods.





















The Crossroads and the Compass

April 9, 2012 – 14:21

7 April 2012

We don’t ride as much as we used to.

That’s not a good thing, but it’s just the way it’s been for the last few years.

We’ve been focused on adjusting to being back here in the U.S. and other aspects of life.

So, we haven’t been riding as much as we used to.

But, Saturday, Steph was up for a ride.

There are not many who would turn that down, and I am not among them.


Read the rest of this entry »

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