Medical Stuff

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here – a whole month in fact. This has been due to a medical situation that has been stressful and time consuming.Briefly the details are like this.

Last summer I noticed a lump on my face, just in front of my right ear. I wasn’t sure what it was and since there was no pain associated with it I didn’t follow up on it immediately. Finally in early fall I mentioned it to my doctor and he referred me to an ENT surgeon with the intention of having it removed and analyzed.

First I had a MRI of the region and it was called a probable lymphoma which was involved with other lymph glands. In early December I had surgery on my right parotid gland to remove the lump and get samples for analysis. Tests confirmed it as non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at stage III and I was referred to a oncologist.

After more tests and exams I started chemotherapy on Dec. 18. My treatments will repeat every two weeks for six cycles total. With luck that will be the end of it. I just had my second session on January 5th and all went smoothly.

So far the side effects have been minimal. The most apparent one being the loss of my hair but I’m also more tired than usual and, curiously, also having problems sleeping. Before my second chemo session my white cell count went very low so I needed injections to get it up to a safe range. Things seem to be back on track now.

If untreated, this disease would be life threatening but with treatment my odds are very good for complete remission. Even without complete remission it can be reduced to a less dangerous form which can be controlled. I am very confident that I’ll be back to my old self within a few months.

For the curious, here are before and after pictures of me.

mebefore meafter

I’ll post more info in the future and I’ll try to get back to more regular blog posting.

I Saw A Miracle!

Everyone, if not directly affected themselves, has been hearing about the financial crisis. Layoffs, downsizing, increased medical costs, high energy costs, and dwindling social services are worrying millions. It’s a dark time and there are few rays of sunshine to cheer those caught in this downturn. But sometime trouble brings out the best in people.

My friend, author Vera Nazarian, has been struggling with a number of hardships including facing foreclosure on her house. You can read all about her situation here. Last Friday a few of her friends decided to try to help. They organized an online fund-raiser to try to come up with the $11,229.72 needed so she could keep her house.

By Friday evening 192 people had contributed nearly $3800. By Saturday, word was spreading through the Science Fiction community and by 7pm Saturday the total raised was over $7000. Sunday night, sometime after 10pm, the goal was reached. In three short days, hundreds of contributors had turned a bleak, miserable situation into a Holiday miracle. I thought happy endings like this only happened in the movies!

Money continues to pour in and Vera will not only keep her home but she will be able to deal with other problems that have been haunting her. I’ve never seen anything like this before but I hope it will happen many more times for others in need. People working together really can make a difference.


Total of $25,438.37 in 655 contributions as of 12/17/08.  Talk about a miracle.  Vera’s house will be saved and many of her other problems will be taken care of too.

Recent Blog Problems

Since the first of the month (December) this blog has been oit of commission due to a problem with the cache configuration. I believe it is fixed now but if anyone notices other problems or weird behavior please reply to this post or contact me at

We now return you to your irregularly unscheduled blog.

-The Management-

My First Computer

Early in the 1970’s there was an Atari arcade game called something like Tank Battle. One of my friends from work and I would play this game all the time. Finally we realized that it would be cheaper to build our own game than to keep feeding quarters into the bar machines. At about the same time integrated circuit technology was reaching the state where a home-brew computer was feasible. Magazines like BYTE and Dr Dobbs Journal of Computer Calisthenics’s and Orthodontia were loaded with software and hardware projects and ads from vendors selling components. Computer clubs were being formed all across the country.

Through connections at work I was able to get samples of the Intel 8080 microprocessor and the associated support chips. At the same time another friend of mine had acquired an old UNIVAC mainframe computer for just the cost of hauling it away. Once he had it, he found out that wiring his garage for the required 3-phase power would be prohibitively expensive. As a consequence he was selling off the machine for parts.

With this, the great “Home Computer” project started. Little did I know what I would have to learn and how long it would take to complete. I plugged away and by early 1977 I had built the computer shown below — and it actually worked!

The computer itself was comprised of around 20 hand-made circuit boards housed in a box built from aluminum angle and surplus aluminum sheet. The keyboard was salvaged from one of the keypunch machines from the old UNIVAC mainframe. The monitor was a surplus 9″ display bought from a mail order house. Eventually I built a case for the monitor and “prettied up” the whole rig.

This machine ended up with a whopping 15 kilobytes of RAM and 1 kilobyte of UV Erasable ROM and it operated at a screaming 2MHz clock rate! Two regular cassette tape recorders provided “mass storage” via something called the Kansas City Standard interface. Later this would be replaced with two 5-1/4″ Shugart floppy drives.

Eventually I wrote a symbolic assembler for the 8080 machine code, a simple text editor, a basic interpreter and several games (alas, not the Tank Game).

Here is a picture of the interior of the computer.

On the right is the power supply providing ±13V DC and ±19V DC unregulated . I believe the maximum current was 5 amps. On the center of the rear panel you can see the voltage regulators which converted this to ±12 and ±5 volts.

The left and center sections held the PC cards. These all used 44 pin edge connectors, salvaged again from the old UNIVAC mainframe. In this photo you can identify all of the PC cards or card slots (from front to back):

  • Slots (empty in this photo) for 7 RAM Cards (2kx8 each)
  • 1K ROM + 1K RAM Card
  • Memory Control Card
  • CPU Card #1
  • CPU Card #2
  • Status Latch Card
  • Keyboard Encoder
  • Video Interface Cards #1-4 (based on the TV Typewriter by Don Lancaster.)
  • The empty connector in the center bay is for the Cassette Interface card.

This was a fun and very educational project and one of the neatest technical things I have ever done. I spent hours wiring and debugging the unit and writing the software. I probably learned more about digital circuit and software design from this project than I ever did at school or on my day job. Another exciting thing was, for a short time, I was one of the very few people who could casually say, “Why yes, I have a computer in my basement.”

Fall Critters

It’s been an interesting late summer and fall in terms of critters around the house. Along with some old favorites, there were a number of unusual ones that showed themselves, probably due to this years odd weather.

(As always, click on the thumbnail to see a larger image.)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is a common butterfly around here but I’ve always loved their bright colors.

This is a Maple Spanworm Moth. They were very plentiful for a few days and loved to congregate on the siding of our house.

This Angular-winged Katydid was very comfortable posing on the arm of one of our deck chairs.

One cool and damp morning Jan spotted and photographed this salamander in the leaf litter and stones along our fence. I hadn’t seen one of these around here before and was surprised it was so out in the open.

A Preying Mantis (actually a Chinese Mantid) showed itself to Jan who took this nice picture. He hung around for a couple of days and now has vanished.

Random Quote #8

“If the same amount of energy that was spent studying the female bosom went into the space program, we would now be operating hot dog stands on the moon.” — D.W.B.

I have no idea who D. W. B. is but I believe he/she is right about this one.

Tucson – Part 3

On our final day in Tucson we went to the Pima Air & Space Museum. This is a wonderful place to visit if you are an aviation fan. There are hundreds of aircraft on display plus you can take an optional trip to the famous 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG)Boneyard

SR-71 BlackbirdOne of the first aircraft we saw was the impressive SR-71A Blackbird. It’s hard to imagine anything that can fly at 2200+ MPH but, standing next to it, you have to know this plane is Fast!

Fighter RowNext we went outside to see the exhibits there before it got too hot. Here is a picture of the area where fighter aircraft are on display. There were also areas for bombers, transports, tankers, seaplanes and other sorts of aircraft.

B-52Here is a B-52 Stratofortress Bomber first introduced in 1955 and still in active service today. Without actually being there, it is hard to imagine how big one of these is.

Not all of the aircraft are from the US military. Here is a North Korean Mig-15 (built in Poland) used extensively by the enemy in the Korean war.

JFK's Airforce 1Here is the incarnation of Air Force One that was used by president Kennedy, a VC-118A Liftmaster (Douglas DC-6). This was the only plane where visitors were allowed to tour the interior.

As it got hotter outside, we went back into the hangars where some beautifully restored WW-II era aircraft were on display. Among them a B-29 and this B24 Liberator.

Also inside was one of the strangest looking aircraft I had ever seen. It’s the Bumble Bee, the worlds smallest piloted aircraft. It has a wingspan of 5′ 6″ and and overall length of 8′ 10″.

We really enjoyed our visit here and would even consider going back again in the future as there were many displays that we didn’t have time to see nor were we able to take the optional trip to the “Boneyard.”

Tucson – Part 2

On our second day in Tucson, Jan, Steev, and I went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum . It is a 21 acre museum and zoo housing 300 species of animals and 1200 kinds of plants. Here are a few of the things we saw there.

Desert HawkI’m sorry that I don’t remember the species of this bird. It was interesting to be able to see it close up.

Gila MonsterHere is a Gila Monster resting in the shade. It was behind glass as I would not otherwise have gotten this close.

OtterThis otter was Steev’s favorite and seemed very playful and active. It was also possible to watch him swimming from below the water level. Here he was watching Steev take his picture from above.

I had never seen a Coati before. This one was quite hard to spot at first but once I figured out where he was I was able to get a good picture.

DragonfliesThere were many different kinds of dragonflies on different plants and around the water. Most of them didn’t pose but this pair had their tiny minds ocupied with other business.

Butterfly GardenI’ve seen butterfly gardens in many different places but this was the first I had seen that was not in an enclosed building. Apparently they are able to select the proper plants that attract the adult butterflies and also provide food for the larva. In this picture there are at least three butterflies easily visible but there were probably a dozen more that were better concealed.

This was a great place to visit, easier than the previous day’s hike and had water available all around. They even had a nice little restaurant and two gift shops. If you are ever in Tucson, it’s worth a visit.