Quality of life

I’ve been relating many of the marvels of advances in technology during my lifetime.  As technology is at the center of my professional career, and holds many of my aptitudes and interests, these come easily to mind.  But how has quality of life changed in recent decades?

While perhaps not as revolutionary, there have been marked improvements in travel.  Faster, and I think less expensive, air travel.  Faster, safer, and more reliable cars.  There have been substantial medical advances.  While not cured, there have been many gains in the war on cancer and heart disease.  Any number of medical conditions can be detected and treated early and effectively.  My allergy shots are near 100% effective–I don’t know if that is a recent advance.  Polio and other awful diseases have been eradicated in my lifetime.

I think working conditions and benefits are much improved.  Work places, and many other places, are smoke free–just ask my dad how awful it was to work in a room with cigarette smoke.  Maternity leave from work is now common, and, increasingly, even for fathers.  Video conferencing and other communication methods have reduced the need for business travel, and facilitated working from home.  (Granted, this can be a negative in the sense that we are never off work.)

Global markets have increased availability and lowered costs of goods.  Productivity and prosperity are high, at least in the first world.  Educational opportunities abound, both formally and informally.  Who hasn’t learned how to create or fix something by searching the internet?

We have almost always had two cars.  And owned our home.  We have traveled for vacation and leisure extensively, across the USA and internationally.  I can’t say our parents had so many opportunities.  (Though my father traveled extensively due to his military career.)

I really do count my blessings for living where I do, when I do.  What will the coming decades bring for our children and grandchildren?  Perhaps in 50 years people will look back at how hard we had things, such as suffering with awful cancers and common colds.  And traffic jams.  And world unrest and poverty.

More technology advances

When I reflect on technologies which have been at the center of my professional career as an electrical engineer, I recall the HP 7908 disk drive I helped design back in the early 1980’s.  16MB of storage, at a retail price of several thousand dollars.  The drive itself was the size of a shoebox, which was small for its time.


Disk drives got larger in capacity, smaller in size, more reliable, and less expensive year after year.  Today you can buy a 3.5″ 10TB drive for $350.  That’s nearly a million times more capacity, at maybe 5% of the price, and 10% the size.  And now you can buy solid state drives which are much more reliable and 10x faster.  It all boggles the mind.

When I was at college in the mid 1970’s our engineering building had a DEC-10 computer that filled most of a large lab.  To run programs on it we had to create punch cards to feed it, and come back later for a printout of the program results (which often just said there was a programming error, so we had to try again).  Later, we could get on terminals for real time access, which was quite a treat.  In many ways, I think my iPhone in my pocket has as much computing power as that DEC-10 did.

I remember not too long ago carrying a cell phone, a Palm Pilot PDA, a GPS device, and a camera.  And thinking how miraculous it would be to combine all these in one device.  Hello smartphone!

In our married student housing apartment at BYU our phone was a shared party line (to save money).  So sometimes we’d pick up the phone to make a call, and our other party line might be using it.  Plus, phones back in those days had rotary dials.  So you’d put your finger on the dial at the digit you wanted, and rotate the dial, and it clicked back to the starting position.  0 was the longest path, then 9, 8, 7, etc.  When we lived in Meridian, ID, our phone number was 888-7381.  So many 8’s, and took so long to dial.  When touch tone phones came out it was so nice.


How the world has changed

I have often marveled about how my parents and grandparents experienced such dramatic changes during their lives, with all the fantastic advances in science and all the practical inventions which improved quality of life during the 20th century.  Things such as automobiles, airplanes, telephones, electricity in the home, home appliances, radios, televisions, penicillon, and so much more.

When I look back over my 6+ decades of life, I have to say significant advances in science and inventions have continued.  Here are a few examples.

Transistors, leading to integrated circuits, and Moore’s Law–doubling of transistor density every two years.  I recall the marvel of the battery operated, hand-held transistor radio during my childhood.  I, and others, used to sneak these into our school classes to listen to the World Series.  I treasured my 8-transistor radio, which operated from a 12V battery.  Transistors vs. vacuum tubes enabled size and power reductions, greater functionality, and reliability gains.

I remember our family getting our first color TV in the late 1960s.  They were large console TVs back then–pieces of nice furniture.  Today, I have a 60-inch flat screen 4K TV on my wall.  With all kinds of available content, from broadcast TV, to cable channels, to internet (such as Netflix), and DVD players.  And a DVR to record and watch later.  (I remember the marvel of the VCR to record programs back in the 1980s, and movies on VHS tapes.)

We purchased our first movie camera in 1978–8mm Super-8 film, no sound.  The technology wasn’t much different from what my parents used when I was young.  Later we got a VHS camera, which seemed amazing to us, and now we take 4K videos with a digital camera.

For most of my life, if you wanted information on anything you consulted your large set of encyclopedia books in your home, or went to the library.  I can’t even begin to characterize how the internet has changed so much of that, and so much else.  For us,  internet access started with a dial-up service with a subscription to Prodigy Internet around 1990, then America Online, with speeds starting at 1200 characters per second.  If you were online, your phone gave callers a busy tone.  It was amazing to us to get broadband internet around 1998.  Today our internet speed is around 8 million characters/second.

For music, we had 45’s and 33 1/3 RPM LPs.  They scratched and broke and warped easily.  Again, the technology wasn’t much different from my grandparents.  Digital CDs in the late 1980s were a marvel.  Today, CD’s are old fashioned, with MP3 players and so much music online.  Though, I have to say LPs are making a comeback in audiophile circles.

I think this is enough for one post.  I will continue the thread later.

Bicycle headlights

About 11 years ago when I got serious about commuting to work by bicycle year round I had to tackle the challenge of riding in the dark, as the sun sets around 4:30 in winter.  At that time there were expensive external battery systems with halogen lights for serious riders, but I opted for lights with built in batteries.  By today’s standards they were pretty dim, and I had to ride fairly slowly on streets with inadequate street lights.

It was a tremendous breakthrough when I got my first LED light with rechargeable Lithium Ion battery a few years later.  It was rated at 200 or 300 lumen brightness and could run three or four hours on a charge.  And I could charge it via USB with a wall adapter, or even on my computer at work.

A couple of years ago I upgraded to a 600 lumen light, which was amazing to me.  Today you can buy a 1000 lumen light for under $100.  LED light technology has really changed the game, with dramatically increased brightness, while using much less electric power, making them perfect for battery operated  bicycle lights.

I have two objectives for my headlight solution–bright enough to see the road well in front of me, and attention grabbing so cars will see me.  For the second objective I opt for a flashing light.  And I even use the flashing light during daylight hours, too, to increase my visibility to cars.

I add a red blinking taillight to increase my visibility to the rear.  Usually two of them, in case one malfunctions or runs out of battery, and just to increase visibility.

My new commute bike introduced me to a new light technology.  Paired with the LED front and rear lights, it uses a dynamo front hub to power the lights, instead of batteries.  I found the front light which came on the bike not bright and focussed enough to light the road as well as my battery light, so I purchased a better one.  This new dynamo powered front light is my main headlight, and I supplement it with a battery light which I run in flashing mode for visibility.  It is convenient and safer to have these front and rear lights always ready to operate, without worrying about the charging state of the battery.

Here is a great website for researching bike headlights, especially dynamo powered ones.



The ideal commuting bicycle

It is time for me to get back to more mundane blog posts.  Like bicycles and cycling.  Which I spend way too much of my attention on.

Nine years ago I bought a really nice carbon fiber road bike to use for commuting, and I’ve put a lot of miles on it.  I’ve replaced the rear wheel twice, the front once, numerous tires and brake pads, brake and derailleur cables, rear cassette, saddle, several chains, multiple lights, brake hoods.  It has been a workhorse and I always enjoyed riding it.

Except last winter.  We had a long, cold, wet/snowy winter.  Roads had lots of debris and sand on them.  It put extra wear and tear on the bike.  And I didn’t feel particularly secure and safe with the narrow tires and braking on wet rims.  And changing a flat tire in the cold, dark, and/or wet is the pits.

So for some months I’ve been exploring and shopping for a real commuter bike.  And this is the one I settled on:

It is a lot heavier and slower than my road bike, but these are the compelling features:

wider tires  (fewer flats, more grip on road surface)
upright posture
real fenders (better splash protection)
disk brakes (better stopping power, especially when wet)
carbon drive belt (less vulnerable to grit and wet)
continuous transmission
dynamo hub, which drives front and rear lights (this was a bonus, which I really like)
reflective tires and bike logos

Here is the bike pre and post assembly:

So I have the bike just in time for the upcoming winter commute season.  I’ve been riding it to work the past two weeks and it is great.  Here it is with a few additions:

I changed pedals and front light (blog post coming).  I added a saddle bag with tools, spare tube, etc.  I added a bell on the bars.  And swapped in some nicer handlebar grips.  



Daniel’s payday–and a 100% pay raise

Recently we were at an event where families of CdLS afflicted children (like Daniel) gathered informally to converse and share a meal.  When our turn came to tell about their child I related that Daniel was an entrepeneur.  Indeed, he has his own business collecting bottles and cans to return to the store for their deposit refund.

Last year there was a 5 cents deposit for most bottles and cans, and Daniel worked hard around the neighborhood to collect them, then take them to a local grocery store to feed them laboriously into the redemption machines, print a voucher, and redeem them for cash at the register.  Sometimes we would drop Daniel off with his bottles and he would spend several hours at the task before we would see him again.  He had to contest with temperamental machines which constantly malfunctioned and required store personnel to address.  He might have to wait his turn at the machine.  And some stores gave him a hard time when he had too many bottles.  He would come home with $20 or so on a good day.

On January 1st this year the depost was raised to 10 cents, so Daniel got his paycheck doubled.  Plus Oregon added more bottle types.  Some stores upgraded their machines and life was good.  But as his business grew and he got more clients feeding him bottles, he still had problems with stores limiting his take to 144 bottles per day, plus lines and machine malfunctions.

Then we learned about Oregon bottle deposit redemption centers, with one about 7 miles from our house.  We have started using that almost exclusively.  Roughly every other week we take Daniel down there with his multiple bags full of bottles and cans.  Sometimes there is a line, but it usually goes quickly enough, as there are 7 high speed machines, and they rarely malfunction.

Here is the machine where we feed the bottles:

We signed up for an account which allows us to fill two bags per visit, and they will count the bottles later and credit his account.  Here is the kiosk for that:

Here is the machine for dispensing cash for vouchers:

And here is the window where we drop the green bags they will count:

Here is our side yard which Daniel’s enterprise has pretty much taken over:

This is a great thing for Daniel.  This week he collected $55, and two weeks ago $75.  Besides the benefit of the spending money for him (he buys food with it, for the most part) this project really gives Daniel purpose and satisfaction in his life.  He gets so excited about which neighborhood will have recycling the next morning, and he is on his way out the door by 5:30AM.


Life story on video

A few years ago my wife facilitated recording on video the personal histories of an elderly couple in our congregation.  Initially, the wife proceeded with the endeavor, then the husband, seeing what was going on, wanted to do the same.  What a great production it ended up being, as my wife edited the video segments and created DVDs for them and their extended family.  Both have subsequently passed away, the wife only last month.

I recall one humorous story the husband told.  While serving in England during WWII he read an announcement in the newspaper from home that his wife had just delivered a healthy new baby.  The problem was he had been in England over a year and couldn’t imagine what had happened.  Turns out it was someone else with the same name.

What a great thing stories like this from our lives are for our families.  We are encouraged to write our personal histories for the sake of our posterity, so they know us and what made us tick.  And what traits we haved passed down.  Doing so with video can be very effective, and simpler in many ways.

During my friend Mark’s final months I encouraged him to record his personal history on video, which he was glad to do.  I anticipated a sizable task recording, editing, and producing the videos, but I have to say it was a piece of cake.  I would start recording on the camera and just sit back while Mark related his story, pretty much uninterrupted and without any notes, from start to finish for the 20 to 30 minute session.  He managed to sit for four such sessions before we ran out of time as his health deteriorated.  He talked about many important things in his life, and what shaped who he was.  He expressed tender love and appreciation for his wife.  The final session was pretty much him talking directly to each of his children on a very personal and loving note.  I can only imagine what a treasure these videos will be for the family.

Military honors

Mark’s funeral service was held November 15.  His son, daughter, brother, and wife all spoke, holding up well and paying great tribute to Mark.  I related previously about our group singing Amazing Grace (at Mark’s request).  It was difficult to hold back tears as they wheeled the American flag draped casket out of the chapel, with family following, while the congregation stood.  

That afternoon, the family and a small number of close friends travelled across Portland to the Willamette National Cemetery for Mark’s graveside service with military honors.  Mark served 9 years in the United States Army, thus meriting the privilege.  As the hearse arrived at the site there were soldiers standing and saluting.  Six uniformed soldiers then carried the still flag draped casket from the hearse, placing it on a platform in the covered area where family sat and others stood.  All was done in precision marching fashion.

The flag was then ceremoniously removed from the casket and folded.  Three rifle volleys were fired and a bugler played taps.  The flag was presented to the widow and another to the daughter, the soldier saluting afterwards.  At this point I don’t know if there were any dry eyes amongst the viewers.  What an impressive, moving experience it was, and paid great tribute to Mark for his life and military service.

Here is a link to a youtube video of a similar such service at this cemetery:



Amazing Grace

After two years of battle with cancer, and knowing the inevitable was around the corner, Mark’s final demise came rather quickly.  He had been getting weaker and thinner all along, but it wasn’t until about two weeks prior to his passing that Suzanne and I had stopped by for a short visit and, while Mark seemed normal in every other way, I sensed he was in significant pain and discomfort.  A few days later upon a visit we noted a significant decline and some mental impairment.  Around this time his wife remarked that they had hoped and assumed he would make it through the Christmas holiday, but that they doubted he would last until Thanksgiving.

A few weeks ago Mark attended the funeral of another member of our church congregation, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he wasn’t viewing it as a dry run for his own.  Shortly after that he communicated his desire that Amazing Grace be sung at his funeral, and even outlined the particulars for it.  Solo violin, a specific lady to sing first verse soprano, a men’s group to sing the 2nd and 3rd verses, all to sing a repeat of the first verse, and the soprano solo repeat the final line.

We thought it would be nice for Mark to hear the rendition himself, so we felt some urgency to put it together.  We scheduled Saturday, Nov. 4 to come by and do a “live” first rehearsal for him.  But he was having a bad morning, so we rescheduled for Sunday the 5th.  We didn’t have the violin, but all the singers were there for two run throughs at his bedside.

Mark was awake and aware, if not talkative.  He seemed in reasonable comfort and peace.  He even smiled at me a time or two, his eyes showing love and recognition.  I held his hand tenderly in both of mine for a couple of minutes, giving him reassurance and teasing him about his stylish unshaven face.  I thought this might be my final goodbye, which it was.

On Wednesday, the 8th, Mark passed away, with his wife and family around his bedside.  I received a text message while at work from his wife.  I shed a few tears, and just hoped nobody would approach me at my desk and wonder.

Here is a recording of our group singing Amazing Grace at the funeral:

Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed!
Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;
Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.
Was blind but now I see.