I was going through some old files (I’m kind of a pack rat in that sense) and discovered the schematic above. For those of you who’ve seen The Good at any point since about 1996—and shame on those of you who haven’t—you’ve surely noted the four floorstanding houselamps we have on stage. They’re the kind of thing your grandma had in her house in the 70’s. We drilled holes out in the lampshades so they spell out G-O-O-D. See what we did there?
We’d been touring with them for a while, I think, when the idea struck me that it’d be fun to animate the lights, to set them up to blink rather than just be on all the time. There were various professional lighting devices available at the time that would have met the requirements and more, but we were already in debt and barely clawing out with our gig money. It was cheaper to build than to buy. So I designed and built this digital controller circuit for under $150. That’s it in the second picture. The control circuit is in the leftmost junction box, and the second one has solid state relays to control the 120V lamp circuits. It’s all screwed to a 2x6. There is also a remote footswitch to turn the lights on/off, and to initiate the blinking sequence.
Here’s what struck me as I looked at the yellowing schematic: I have been building technology, first as a hobbyist and then professionally, since I was about twelve years old. None of the software I built for a living (not counting my current “job”) is running anywhere. I don’t think that’s so much a referendum on the quality of my work—just life in a corner of the financial services world where ideas don’t work forever, so by definition neither will your software. And all the audio gadgets I’ve built over the years are in landfills. Most couldn’t handle life on the road, or were inferior to commercial products that are also cheaper.
But this stupid thing—after years of rough treatment traveling the country, being stomped on, having beer spilled on it, being chucked into trailers at 2:00am—is still running strong since 1996. Other than a couple of failed receptacles which you can see are disabled by duct tape, this has never required maintenance. This is by far my most enduring engineering work.
Free business idea: parallel LED Christmas lights
When I was a kid, Christmas* lights were big. Exclusively. One huge advantage of those big ones was that they were shrunken versions of the 120V lights around the rest of your house, so they were wired in parallel on the strings. This meant that when they burned out, they didn’t affect each other at all. You found the dead ones and replaced them.
The little lights came later, but as we all know, they came with a huge downside: since they are wired in series, if one burns out, a whole segment of the string goes down with it. Maybe all of them. You can either spend hours swapping each bulb out with one you hope is good, or trash them. If two are dead, you’re basically fucked, since the number of bulbs you have to swap grows combinatorially.
Recently, the rage is LED bulbs. They last longer, use less power, and are prettier in some people’s opinions. But they are still low voltage devices, still wired in series like the old school ones. If one fails to a short, you lose the voltage drop and the other ones burn more brightly for a brief period before they start to fail in cascade. And if one fails to an open, you’re still stuck with the possibly combinatorial exercise in bulb swapping. Either way, it’s in the landfill, now with a bunch of increasingly hard-to-find rare earth elements as part of the deal.
Solution: add, at nominal cost, a low voltage DC power supply to the head of the chain and wire the LEDs in parallel just like the old school giant bulbs. For the cost of a rectifier, a voltage regulator, a capacitor, and a small transformer, you make maintenance trivial and guarantee these bulb strings will last forever.
I’d pay $5 more for that chain; wouldn’t you?
* choose the winter solstice holiday you like
Google knows what’s best for me
Suddenly, when launching Chrome, it opens with two tabs where there used to be one. One, as ever, is my had-it-forever but soon-to-die iGoogle page, but with it is another, unadorned google.com search page. I had to go into settings to disable this. It happened on my work mac and both of them here at home.
The only conclusion I can reach is that Google is trying to wean me off their deprecated web product by pushing an unrequested change into my settings on their browser product. Anyone else seeing similar? Anyone have an alternate theory?
All within their rights, probably, but how utterly fucking creepy. It’s convenient to have all my services in one place, and it’s nice that it’s “free” and all, but the real cost of ownership in the Google family is starting to give me a serious case of the icks.
If you’re dying for the updated quick picks code that can handle PowerBall and MegaMillions, as well as an improved method of generating the final random number, the source is here.
Related: I’m back at work today.
Mega Millions: On Generating Better Quick Picks
Since everyone has Mega Millions fever today, and I am concerned that you might not know I am the biggest nerd in the universe, let me share my shame with you: a few years ago, I wrote a program to generate “better” quick picks.
Here’s the source. The picture below is a sample output run.
Why do I think my quick picks are better?