All Passion Spent

This page written circa 20 May, 2011.

I remember watching All Passion Spent with my mother. It ought to be a sad tale, but I recall it was quite delightful in spite of the fact that the important characters all die, albeit of old age. With the GBP being down the toilet, DVD is cheap at and they have been reduced to offering free delivery to the antipodes, so I have a stack of video landing on my desk, including this. It was a very pleasant watch. It occurs to me, watching so unexciting a story, that lately nothing much could be said to have happened hereabouts. Kay agrees that we are "in a rut", as noted, but I seem to have a load of pleasantries to consider in spite of this.

I have discovered a marvellous essay out of an economic think-tank in Wellington. This decade-old transcript of a speech by one Roger Kerr simply sings to me. It explains much of why we are in New Zealand, why we were in America, and some of my lack of desire to return to Australia. Finding something with which you agree intensely does not necessarily tell you what to do in your life to harness the passion, but it brings a warm feeling, much as did watching "All Passion Spent".

Of course, when there is nothing exciting happening, one feels a compulsion to shop. Sometimes called "retail therapy", it is a well-documented effect and a necessary contributor to the Shoe Event Horizon. I have looked about for some new gadget to boost my mood. It is ages since I bought a new toy. Kay thinks I am entitled to something. There is simply nothing that takes my fancy. The iPad2 now has cameras and microphone and 3G, but I cannot imagine it doing anything I cannot already do easily enough. Personal flying machines are still a little way off and extremely pricey, and they are basically motorbikes with impellers instead of wheels, and they are bound to be illegal, certainly in Australia if not here (dig). Is it my imagination, or has technology not recently produced any new must-have gadgets? I looked at the stores as I left Aus last month. There was nothing there I fancied buying. Cameras may be a few percent smaller and some are waterproof, but they all have more pixels than I can use. Kindle? Meh. As it happens I am finding it hard to have time to go and buy a new disk drive downtown. Not much hope here.

The Hart clan visited recently, as did Amelia, and Andy is due next week. It is lovely having such easy-going people stay. Edwin just loved having Robert continuously for over a week.

Despite being a professor of electronics, I try to stay away from the stuff as much as possible. A recent issue will tell you one very good reason why: When we were putting in the creek pump system, I was faced with the choice between a mechanical or an electronic pump controller. Since the house and workshop pumps are mechanical, and this one was not going into a crucial role, I figured I'd go with the electronic version and see what it was like. It offered what amounts to flow detection, so that it will shut down the pump if it runs dry. The mechanical ones do not do that. Seemed like a good idea too, electronics means fewer moving parts. We thus acquired one Automatic Pump Control PC-13A.
Now three years later the controller failed. It might have failed because of the ants nesting in the (mechanical) pressure gauge, but no. It looked for a while like river algae collecting in the chambers might have jammed valves but removing the stuff did not fix the problem. It turned out to be down to the spiders nesting in the chamber holding the PCB, and some very dubious electronic design. It seems that the electronics is powered by a small amount of energy supplied through a capacitor directly from the mains supply, no transformer. Very crafty, and very close to the system I am designing into my new waterbed controller, so I knew exactly how it worked, except that the capacitor was too small a value. The electronics operates by sensing the position of magnets in the water chambers and switches the pump using a plain old relay. The power supplied by the capacitor was barely enough to hold the relay in, and it relied on a few seconds inactivity to charge up a supply cap to be able to pull in the relay in the first place. A little spider poo created a fatal amount of leakage so it no longer could accumulate charge enough to pull in the coil.

What is this? A mechanical relay to switch the pump? Moving magnets in the water chambers? This "electronic" pump actually had no fewer wearing parts than its mechanical counterpart! Pressure is sensed by a diaphram pushing against a spring, and the power is still switched by mechanical contacts. All the controller did was to introduce the additional weak link of electronics. With the local supplier forgetting to hermetically seal the place where the power cords entered and left the housing, it became a much worse risk than the plain-old mechanical version, instead of only slightly worse. So for anyone tempted to go with the electronic pressure controller, my advice is that you forget it, the mechanical version is way better. Bring on clockwork mp3 players. Always nice to be proved wise and correct.

Dan asked me the other day whether I was getting value out of my convertible. I am, but I work at it. I drive with the roof stowed only if it is actually raining hard. It is roof down, even in zub-zero temperatures. I enjoy my drive to work with Merinda, even if she has her nose in a book. Maybe she is none too happy with the wind mussing up her hair, but she never says so. We sure feel alive, even in "compulsory fur-hat weather" (below 5C outside air temperature). I never cease to be amazed at the number of convertibles we see with their rooves up, even in fine weather.

So, there may be nothing exciting, but if anything I am happier with this situation than is Kay. There is one for the books.

PS: Perhaps I am not alone in missing the excitement of the latest and greatest. The IEEE's "10 Best New Things of the Decade" included Smartphones, social networking, VOIP, LED lighting, Multicore CPUs, Cloud computing, Drone aircraft, Planetary rovers, Flexible AC transmission, digital photography, and Class-D amplifiers. A commentary reflected that these looked less appealing when you consider that the 1911 version might have sported radio, automobiles, the airplane, the diode, the triode, movies, the mercury vapour lamp, and the electrocardiograph.

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