Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Re-learning electronics – fun with ArduinoQ

10 Feb 2015

I’ve been playing with the Arduino a fair amount lately. The completed projects consisted of giving new life to (very old) devices – an antique radio, and antique mantle clock. I’m happy with the results, and have both at the operational level – but I think the best thing about the Arduino ecosystem is that I’ll probably never call them “done” – there will always be tweaks that can be made.

Along the way, though, I’ve re-learned a few things about electronics that I had managed to forget since taking electronics in high school with Mr (Ray!) Lundy. If you’re just getting into IoT (Internet of Things), this list may be useful to you!

In roughly chronological order:

  1. Invest in a minimum set of basic tools and equipment to remove the pain from your experimentation:
    1. Soldering iron. Not a soldering gun, even if you have one on hand. It doesn’t have to be hugely expensive, but you’ll never get the precision you need with the gun.
    2. An ohmmeter. Ensure you get one with a “Diode” setting (the symbol looks like this: -|<| –
    3. Mini needle-nose pliers. Good for getting in to tight places, but also to act as a heat sink when soldering, to prevent component damage
    4. mini diagonal cutters, to allow snipping off of the longer ends of wiring after soldering
    5. A “third hand” tool
    6. Some shrink tubing to cover connections in tight places. (If you get into it, consider buying a heat gun when on sale – you can often pick them up for < $10, and the result is prettier, faster, and easier than using a lighter)
    7. Some solid-core wire. A good source here, if you have connections, is the network cabling that is used in office buildings (the kind permanently installed, not the sort that connects your PC to the wall). It contains 4 pairs of colour coded individual wire. (Using coloured wire can save you tremendous amounts of time / effort as you are tracing circuits).
  2. Resistors lie! Don’t just believe the colour coding. A quick check with the ohmmeter prior to assembly can save a lot of circuit debugging effort later.
  3. eBay is your friend – but shop carefully
    • Do your research – sort by price (low to high), shipping included. Price varies widely
    • Don’t just go for cheapest price. Do your research. Ensure you can get the spec sheet for the compoenent. (knockoffs of arduinos can vary the chipsets in use – ensure you know what you’re getting)
    • Buy a spare or two. The first time you buy local to be able to finish a started project where you’ve killed a component, or it was faulty, you’ll pay for ALL the spares you ordered. Besides, having the components on hand is more likely to make you experiment “just because”.
  4. Get the circuit working on a breadboard before moving to prototype or final assembly (especially if doing dead bug assembly). Consider using a simulator first, if you’re new to the game.
  5. Get good at soldering (again?) before you start playing with the components. More specfically:
    1. Tin the components before you start to assemble them
    2. Keep the tip of your solder iron clean
    3. Don’t start soldering components circuit boards, transistors or IC’s until you can complete a solder connection in <1 second, with only the minimum amount of solder applied.
    4. Know when & how to use an alligator clip or the needle nose pliers as a heat sink when soldering
  6. Make it pretty. Just because you can – and it will reflect on you.
    1. Plan ahead – you can’t retrofit “pretty”
    2. Keep wires running between the same components similar lengths
    3. Tie wires together using small pieces of shrink wrap. Route them in ways that make sense.
    4. Invest in reasonable enclosures
  7. Document your project for when you come back to it. Ray Lundy used to suggest schematic & paper notes be put in the assembly. I now use cheap, old low-capacity SD cards which still allow me to save not only the most recent version of the code, but the whole history, and schematics, if applicable. For your schematics, the list of options is covered on the same simulator page noted above.

As a side note to all of the above, Ray Lundy had a unique approach to teaching electronics, whereby he taught us through the history of radio as we learned electronics. Soldering practice for its own sake, followed by building a crystal radio, upgrading it to be a single tube rabio, then multiple stages / tubes. We then transitioned the radio from tube to transistors, and on to IC’s – and then you got to work building the computers that were used in the schools computer labs.

At the time, the approach seemed dated (who needed to know how a tube radio worked, when there were almost no tube radios in use at that time?) However, I learned late in the process the real reasons for the approach: the Crystal radio  really just provided targeted soldering practice with hard to destroy components (too much heat can easily destroy electronic components. The tube radios taught us multi-stage electronics, but also taught us not to short out components. (The 350 volt power supplies for the tubes made for very dramatic sparks if you were careless).  Transistors taught us to be even more careful with soldering temperature, before we got to ICs, which were still fairly expensive.

Mr Lundy’s approach was actually largely cost driven, aimed at not letting stupidity or laziness burn through the departments budget. However, the approach he took (“history of radio”) was also equal justification, and a lot easier for the students to swallow.  I’ve been able to adopt a parallel approach in business a few times – and realized that I learned a lot more in Ray Lundy’s class than just electronics.

Issue with email – now addressed

19 Dec 2014


apologies for the impersonal email, but this message is being sent to my entire address book.

I have just discovered that an issue with my hosting provider has caused me to lose approximately half the mail that was being directed to me for at least the last several months.

If you have contacted me recently with no reply, please accept my apologies, and please do reach out again.

Thank you.

Graham Brown (graham)

San Francisco (KSFO) Sample Terminal Area Forecast

13 Jan 2013

Sunrise in San Francisco tomorrow is at 7:25, which is 15:25 UTC, so the relevant section is this one:

Text: FM130500 03003KT P6SM SKC
Forecast period: 0500 to 2200 UTC 13 January 2013
Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
Winds: from the NNE (30 degrees) at 3 MPH (3 knots; 1.6 m/s)
Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
Clouds: clear skies
Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period


Here’s the full report:

Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS)

Output produced by TAFs form (2010 UTC 12 January 2013)
found at

Forecast for: KSFO (SAN FRANCISCO , CA, US)
Text: KSFO 121734Z 1218/1324 12004KT P6SM FEW025
Forecast period: 1800 to 2000 UTC 12 January 2013
Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
Winds: from the ESE (120 degrees) at 5 MPH (4 knots; 2.1 m/s)
Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
Clouds: few clouds at 2500 feet AGL
Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period
Text: FM122000 32008KT P6SM FEW025
Forecast period: 2000 UTC 12 January 2013 to 0500 UTC 13 January 2013
Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
Winds: from the NW (320 degrees) at 9 MPH (8 knots; 4.2 m/s)
Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
Clouds: few clouds at 2500 feet AGL
Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period
Text: FM130500 03003KT P6SM SKC
Forecast period: 0500 to 2200 UTC 13 January 2013
Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
Winds: from the NNE (30 degrees) at 3 MPH (3 knots; 1.6 m/s)
Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
Clouds: clear skies
Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period
Text: FM132200 32005KT P6SM FEW025
Forecast period: 2200 UTC 13 January 2013 to 0000 UTC 14 January 2013
Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
Winds: from the NW (320 degrees) at 6 MPH (5 knots; 2.6 m/s)
Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
Clouds: few clouds at 2500 feet AGL
Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period

Great Article, courtesy of TechCrunch!

02 Dec 2012

Not sure what your experience is, but I have frequently found that the “out of context” articles on blogs and websites are often the ones that make the most impact on me. I suspect it is because they were meaningful enough for the authors that they were willing to step outside their normal areas in order to forward on information that really spoke to them.

I read TechCrunch to keep up to date with technology, but today they had a great article on leadership that I’ll probably refer others to once a week for the next year!

Here it is, let me know if you get the same value out of it that I got…

Interesting article on how differences in our native language can affect how we think and process information

19 Feb 2012

An interesting read on how language shapes the way we think but it also contains some tips for thinking about how we best communicate with people whose native tongue is not English.

Thank You DailyBurn!

18 Nov 2011

The only way to put it was that I was getting fat. I hit a personal “high water mark” of 228 lbs (104 Kg) in the spring of 2010, but it was only a few pounds over the weight I’d been for the last several years, so it wasn’t too concerning – until I saw this photo:

CabinFest Weekend - aka "Fat Graham"

Ouch! I wasn’t Shrek, but I certainly didn’t match my self-image of being athletic either

I was sold – I needed to drop some weight.

With a little more focus on exercise, and a lowered caloric intake level, I dropped about 15 pounds (7 Kg) by August 2010 – which was when I blew out my lower back. (For those unfortunate to have learned the disk numbering system due to issue they have suffered themsleves, my back injury was a massive herniation of the L4-L5 disk, pressing on the sciatic nerve of my left leg).

The bad news was that the injury left me incapable of sitting for more than 30 seconds without suffering extreme pain down my left leg. The good news was that I now had lots of motivation to try to drop some serious weight fast, on the slim hope that lowering my weight would provide some relief.

Cut to December 2010 and I was down to about 185 pounds (84Kg), and had a microdiscectomy which addressed the back and leg pain, but left me with ongoing motivation to keep myself in decent shape. Give me 10 or 20 pain-free years, and I may even consider the four months where I couldn’t sit down as a good investment!

If you’red interested in losing weight to either help ease the pain caused by extra weight, or just want to look and feel better, there were a few keys to my weight loss that I think are pretty generally useful, and repeatable.  At  a high level, they’re the usual trite advice – eat less, watch what you eat, and exercise more. However, as with all big process changes, the devil is in the details!

Here are the details of the approach I used to cut down my weight:

ACTION: Count Calories For 2 or 3 weeks and become fully aware of every calorie you are putting in your body.  This is actually pretty easy if you have a smart phone or iPod, or easy & frequent access to the web. Tools such as Daily Burn (or as an iPod / iPad / iPhone app) make this easy. Knowing how many calories are in your favourite foods is likely to change your relationship to them forever!

ACTION: Adjust Your Eating Habits Use the information you learned from your calorie counting to establish yourself at a caloric intake level that will allow you to drop 1%-1.5% of your body mass each week. For me, this meant losing 2-3 lbs (1-1.5Kg) per week by setting a caloric intake level of about 1800-2000 calories per day.

ACTION: Set Target Weights Set short-term weight target goals, celebrate achieveing them, and set a new target weight.

ACTION: Actively track Your Weight Track your weight on a daily basis. Seeing the line slope down and to the right over time really helped to motivate me to keep up my efforts, especially on those weeks where the curve flattened out, or moved in the wrong direction. Looking back I could see all the places those reversals had taken place, but the long-term trend was still “down to the right”. DailyBurn helped me here too.

ACTION: Exercise Exercise religously – in whatever form you wish. When my back was hosed, walking was about all I could do pain-free – so I walked. It’s easier to “force fit” the time to exercise when you are in pain – I have now learned I need to “force fit” the time to exercise into my schedule on a regular basis even when I’m feeling fit and healthy. “Calorie Burn” charts  and apps are helpful here as a motiviational force.

ACTION: Invest In Your Wardrobe Clean out your closet of the clothes that are (newly) too big on a regular basis. It feels wasteful to be donating clothes to charity that were only purchased 2 months previously, but wearing clothes that are new, and that fit properly, is a lot more motivational than wearing clothes that look like crap and that you can grown back into!

Here are a few more details on the first few actions:

COUNT CALORIES The goal here is not to track every calorie you consume for the rest of your life -but without tracking all calories, you won’t become aware where your nutrition “blind spots” are.

  • I found out that I actually had some major gaps in my understanding of how calories entered my body. I’d already cut out most soda, candy, chips, etc – and thought I was pretty calorie aware – but the gaps were still huge.
  • My own knowledge gaps were
    • how many calories I was absorbing from bread (bagels in particular)
    • how much hard work could be un-done in just one “spoil myself” evening
    • how little it cost in calories to add veggies to my meal, and how much more i enjoyed my meals
    • the degree to which portion size, rather than type of food , was driving up my calorie consumption
  • To burn a pound of fat, you need to consume 3500 calories less than your body needs
    • If you need 2400 calories per day, you can lose a pound in a month by eating only 12 calories less per day!
    • to lose 3 pounds in a week, though, you will need to create a “caloric deficit” of about 10,000 calories. (A caloric deficit just means the combined effect of eating less than required to maintain your current weight, and exercising to burn extra calories)
  • Always remember that your body is a machine that always tries to adjust to its environment in order to protect itself.
    • As an example, the top layers of your skin tan to absorb sunlight to decrease damage to underlying skin.
    • In the same way, if you starve your body, you are telling it that food is scarce – and your metabolism will lower to try to minimize the weight loss “damage”. This will have a twofold impact of making it harder to lose weight, and your lower energy level will quite possibly leave you feeling depressed
  • Instead, remember that not that long ago, our ancestors were cavemen!
    • If you can’t find food (i.e. you are starving), your metabolism will lower over time
    • If food is plentiful, your body doesn’t need to hoard fat, and will allow it to be shed
    • If you need to run to catch your food (exercise!), you are telling your body fat is an impediment to your success, as it is slowing your down
    • Mixing a healthy amount of protein (meat) into your diet also tells your caveman body that food is readily available. (Don’t over do it, though – Atkins-style diets stress your internal organs, and can create a deficit of essential vitamins and amino acids – something he learned when he was cramping continuously after shifting to a low-carb diet).


Based on a USDA web site, I need about 2400 calories a day (based on being Male, 48 years old, 5’10”). In order to drive a more rapid change in my weight, I dropped my intake to 1800-2000 calories per day.

After several weeks of counting every calorie, I had a pretty good idea of how much I could eat each day. However, an equally important learning was that I needed to make modifications to the way I did my meal planning & preparation. For me, this meant:

  • Eating one sandwich, loaded with more meat and veggies, instead of two skimpy sandwiches
  • Bringing down my portion size (or percentage of plate eaten when eating out) was going to be key to my long-term success
  • I also learned that “spoiling myself” by going over my daily calorie count was OK, and necessary every now and then – but that I shouldn’t forget that the calories consumed those days / evenings are not free either!

SET TARGET WEIGHTS If you set out to lose 40 pounds, you are likely to run out of motivation before you achieve your goal.

Set out to lose 15 or 20 pounds instead, and you get a psychological boost when you achieve your goal. The side benefit of this is you also get a chance to reset your expectations about how long it may take to lose that weight – the first pounds are far easier to lose than the last pounds, so carrying the same expectation through a bigger weight range will likely leave you feeling you will never reach your goal – and will encourage you to give up.

Some final thoughts if you are embarking on a weight-loss journey

  • There are lots of other tools out there that will track calorie consumption and your weight. Daily Burn worked for me, and a friend / former colleague, Thomas Watts (His story was featured on the Daily Burn website.
  • Alternatives to DailyBurn can be found on, or by searching the health and fitness section on the iTunes App Store
  • Feel free to get in touch with me if you want more details.
  • Good Luck!

McCready and Speed-to-fly resources (Aviation)

28 Jun 2011

Gliding is all about flying efficiently, and one of the main things we try to do is minimze the amount of time we are spending in sinking air.  These links are probalby not worth reading unless you’re into aviation in general, and have at least some interest in how we glider pilots maximize our time aloft. 

These articles both give much more clear explanations of speed-to-fly than I’ve ever managed to do, so I thought it worth bookmarking them for future consideration.  (part of a series of 7 articles at