This weekend was originally set aside for the regulars of
irc.tf to go to Tewkesbury Medieval Festival. Sadly, due to the pandemic, this year it is to be virtual only. Dan has lately got into going solo camping, originally and serendipitously inspired by the anime Laid-Back Camp (ゆるキャン△). So, this weekend, instead of going back in time to the middle ages, Dan and I went camping with André in Wookey, near the city of Wells. It was to be the inaugural Heathens Camp. We had no prior expectations or plan, only to 'practice' a night in which only polyester or nylon separates us from the stars above. Well, and clouds.
For years I've disliked camping and had friends insist to me that I didn't actually dislike it, I just didn't have the right equipment. Particularly, I'd go to EMF Camp and very much enjoyed all that was on offer, but I'd never quite sleep well enough and end up fighting fatigue as the event went on. Usually I'd turn up with a borrowed tent, a rollmat, and a sleeping bag I've owned for years, and thought little about it. I now get the feeling that at least part of enjoying camping is in part on optimisation problem aiming to get the most (expected) comfort that a piece of equipment is going to give you for the least bulk and weight. On Dan's suggestion, I went for a camp bed this time, a fabric platform on foldable legs that packs down surprisingly well. The bed was only 70cm wide, which in most contexts is uncomfortably narrow for someone like me, because I'd feel unable to turn over without falling out of bed. However, I also chose a narrow tent that only just contained the entire bed, and for some reason this frustration disappeared. I also splashed out on a large sleeping bag, knowing that I often find it hard to move around sufficiently in a regular sleeping bag. When it came, it was huge, but well worth the bulk. My next camping present to myself will be a thin mattress for the top of the camp bed like André had.
The campsite, Pine Tree Camping, is on a a dairy, beef and arable farm. It is a pleasant, small, simple campsite surrounded by corvid-packed wooded hillsides on one side and flat grazing land with views of Glastonbury Tor on the other. There seemed to be a single row of pitches for tents, adjacent to a field of cows with their calves. Ducks and hens wander around the site, quacking and clucking and dealing with the food waste. For me, noise is the other downside of camping — see Nuts in May (1976) — but other than a very loud moo at 5am, we may as well have been by ourselves.
But for all of us the highlight was the state of mind that sitting outside, disconnecting and talking brought. As Dan and André prepared the evening meal it felt a little like the time of day was less relevant and that the talk was perhaps gentler, less hurried and more considered than usual. Shortly after dusk the sky was covered with cloud, so I decided stargazing could wait and climbed into bed. In the morning I slowly woke up, opened the tent doors, and lay in bed for an hour or more looking at the sky and listening to the birds.
Dan made Tuesday's video!
There's the usual shots of the rabbits, birds, and squirrels, including one rabbit showing off rotation of their ear pinna in between munching vegetation. There are some really fun shots of the clan of badgers getting up to their business in the small hours of the morning, even in heavy rain. Dan and I like watching them plodding about, though we can see they sometimes break into a run. They may not be popular locally with everyone but they certainly have personality. The deer are still around and at least one of the fawns seems to no longer have those rows of white spots which I now learn are for camouflage. The two Victure cameras are now arranged in a little cluster and I think sometimes the animals look right into it wondering what it is. Great, because this gives us excellent shots. One of these animals is the fox, though there are several good fox video clips in this week's video.
At one point, a musteline blur can be briefly seen. In this corner of Wiltshire, stoats and weasels on the prowl can be met all over the place, sometimes darting across the road. They look very similar and we weren't sure what we were seeing. Fortunately, among my readership there is a expert on the mustelids. Paraphrased here, Jonny P said that although it is of course difficult to assess the size of the animal flashing across the frame, the frenetic back and forth motion and apparent lack of black tip to tail suggests a weasel.
⚙️ Blessed are the toolmakers
I'm going to talk shop for a bit. Forgive me!
In the 2020-08-23 episode of the Bricolage podcast, Dominic Morrow talks to Jo Hinchliffe about hackerspaces, makerspaces, etc. They talk about motivations for using these spaces, and in particular:
Jo: I very much perceive within the maker world, or, even within the hobbyist engineer world, or within the hackerspace world, not that I want to pigeonhole, but I have done many times, you can draw a fairly clear line between two groups of folks. Maybe there's more, but there's two distinct ones in particular. That's folks that are interested in making something with a tool, and then there's another bunch of folks who are interested in making the tool. And just like that kind of separation between people that are interested in how to build the CNC machine, against those who are interested in what they can build with the CNC machine, there are folks who are interested in how a hackerspace might run and those who are interested in using a hackerspace.
Dominic: Absolutely. And I know where I perhaps sit a lot of the time on that particular spectrum at a personal level and I'm aware that, yeah, there is that. I think even one step further, is there are people who don't even want to learn how the tools are used, they want to have something realised, and it's the mechanism of a makerspace or a hackspace that's shown them that there's a process that can realise their need.
This classification of hack(er)space users quickly made sense to me in the wider context of engineering. I've been involved in conducting technical interviews of engineers as the company I work at expands. Part of what I've been asked to assess is 'fit'. That's a vague criterion, so, instead of having an inflexible and trite list of questions ('tell me about a time when...'), I've built up a list of interview prompts to help me get as much of an idea as I can of the candidate during the interview itself. Some of these questions concern motivation, personal development goals, or where a candidate sees themselves fitting into a team.
In the podcast, Jo identifies two groups of people in his classification, and Dominic adds another. There is perhaps an analogue for roles in an engineering company, technical and commercial. The term 'tools' is meant broadly here. It can mean software tools, technologies, even literal hand tools for trades and crafts. It's just a thing that's used to carry out a particular job, with a tangible result. It's often a machine or a bit of software.
Here I take Jo's suggestion that 'maybe there's more' on board:
- Closest to the customer and the market, there are people who are interested in the commercialisation of the result of tools. This would be sales and marketing teams.
- Then there are the people who are interested in the results of the tools. Perhaps they are product expert, or a business analyst interested in analyses from statistical tools delivered by someone else.
- There are people who are interested in classes of problems that can be solved with tools. This interest might arise after the requirements engineering phase of a project, for example during the design phase.
- There are people who are interested in using tools directly to try to solve some one-off problem that their job presents. They may or may not be 'technical', but their main interest is in interactive dialogue with or practical application of a tool to produce a result. This is often done with considerable expertise. Examples might be a someone working with configuring a software system or perhaps using a statistical programming environment to analyse data or perhaps mending their washing machine.
- There are people who are interested in learning how to use tools directly in general. These people are curious engineers, hackers, scientists, makers, craftspeople and tinkerers. They like developing practical knowledge and understanding how to put all kinds of things together. They're interested in what you can build with a particular tool or machine, but aren't motivated by a particular pressing need.
- There are people who are interested in maintaining tools. These are the people who see taking on a codebase and making it better as a challenge, or maybe the technician of a workshop. These typically unsung people incrementally make everyone's lives easier and make it easier to extend and generalise tools.
- There are people who are interested in making or extending tools. These people make the fundamental devices and implements, software libraries, or things that otherwise are used to do the job, but those things might build on other tools. They think carefully about the processes in which the tool is used, the general possible requirements for it, and apply understanding to make it work well and repeatably.
- Finally, at the other end of our spectrum, there are people who are interested in developing the theory and understanding that means making tools is possible. These are the people who put together all that's needed to make a tool. These are the mathematicians, scientists and other engineers, sometimes from centuries ago, all building on each other's work. They found out the principles on which a tool, technology or process is based, as well as their assumptions and limitations.
(Please let me know if you can think of any more!)
You may have worked in a team where an engineer has attempted to crowbar a technology, method or process which doesn't appear to be justifiable given the requirements. Sometimes this leads to strange tool choices or tangents. Often the suspicion from management is that they are skilling up for another project or position, but it occurred to me that they may just be tasked with work which is far away on the spectrum we've identified from their nature and motivation. Subconciously, they may be attempting to introduce this extra work into their job to combat the feeling of working on the wrong tasks. Over the years I've heard friends who work as engineers report this as a major source of dissatisfaction in their work.
I'm sure all this has been observed before, perhaps in another form like in some training course somewhere. Even if it has, bearing in mind this continuum of motivations will, I hope, help me to improve at recruiting people and defining the work of engineering teams. A company's edge depends in a large part on the inability of competitors to reverse-engineer or simply duplicate that company's work. With this in mind, making your own tools, proprietary or otherwise, is important, and so is the motivation of the toolmakers.
I try to hook up my antenna about once a week and this week I had a later session at about midnight local time. I now know my antenna is resonant towards the top of the 20m band, so I did some SSTV at 14.230MHz with no ATU and my images got out very successfully judging by CQSSTV's reception reports. Andy G0MSA sent me a reply both by SSTV and email. Later I gave JS8Call a try and chatted to Matthew 2E0YGM just 60km away as his third QSO. I guess my signals weren't propagating very far for some reason but we were able to chat on a faster bit rate which felt easier. Even 152kHz down the dial, the SWR was worse, so I'd need to extend the ends of the antenna a bit to make it suitable for 14.078MHz, though I expect it'd be better just to make a new one. My friend M7XER also told me about the BITX40, a 40m SSB transceiver module kit that was previously available. It's open source and hackable and uses an Arduino Nano to control a synthesiser and drive a digital display. The same company brought out the µBITX v6, again based on the Nano doing the same job, based on a double conversion superheterodyne architecture. You can build it youself and do SSB and CW at up to 10 watts. Both seem like radios for hackers that like to build things for themselves, hack around issues or add new features. Maybe a good starting point for someone confident with a soldering iron who wants to get on the air with shortwave but not by buying an expensive, off-the-shelf radio.
By the way, I noticed on Julian OH8STN's blog that there's going to be a new net on JS8 every Sunday at 17:00 UTC on 40m (7.078MHz), organised by Luis HB9HJU. It's called the Amateur Radio Outdoors Sunday JS8CALL Net, and its aim 'is to foster the use of JS8CALL as well as strengthen the global network, specially for outdoors and/or portable/mobile scenarios'. To join in, you just add
@ARO as a group in JS8Call. I hope to give it go one Sunday.
Also this week
Горячка; Gentle Giant; early 70s Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (maybe 'mutual aid bank'?); Jam for World in Action; emergency pizza after exploring wild woodland; functor laws, as well as monoid and monad laws; Townes Van Zandt; Tables Generator; Tim Hunkin videos, in which Tim Hunkin has extended his The Secret Life of Machines programmes, now thirty years old, with ones for designers and makers called The Secret Life of Components; gulls;
m7xer/handy, a set of really useful tools by the aforementioned M7XER for programming your handheld for your local repeaters via the CHIRP radio programmer; the Trinidad scorpion pepper; спячка.