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Starbucks on the recruitment drive · 30 October 2013 by colin newell

Starbucks Coffee Cup

Starbucks is dedicated to hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses in the next five years.

Organized in part by Starbucks board member and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Seattle coffee giant said it hopes to “enlist” the unique communication, leadership and problem-solving skills most veterans and their families already have.

Quoting a recent L.A. Times article, “The hiring effort, which would affect Starbucks’ U.S. stores, is also a reaction to the “exorbitantly high unemployment rate that military families and veterans face,” Starbucks Executive Community development officer Blair Taylor explained.

Starbucks will set up recruiting processes “specifically targeted at veterans,” he said. The chain is “just starting to track military hires,” he said.

Other major U.S. businesses, like Walmart, have recently made efforts to pull employees from the nation’s defense forces.

Starbucks will open five community stores at U.S. military bases over the next five years… much like Tim’s does in some of its Canadian bases abroad.

Fascinating stuff in light of the some of the many challenges veterans and their families face as they return to civilian life. Hats off to Starbucks.

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Updates, this that and those other things... · 29 July 2013 by colin newell

Nothing like staying awake several hours in the night worried about the fact that two of your main websites are dysfunctional after a suggested system update.

In this case, a software update was made to my main coffee website and my main telecom/radio website.

Godin Jazz Guitars 2013

The radio website has a huge technical library on board with a modest subscription service…
meaning I get some coins when someone wants to browse the growing library.
And that makes sense – In many years, my tech library gets upwards of 60,000 document downloads.
That is bandwidth that I have to pay for.

Since instituting a fee subscription service (and a request for donations to keep the service running), the response has been very favorable.
Meaning if you need something, all you need do is ask.

Because everyone is generous… for the most part.

And what of the guitar? I am currently testing out an amazing “black box” for a company that I cannot currently name – it is actually a vocal processor that does natural sounding harmonizing, pitch correction, commercial grade effects rack, phantom power for commercial microphones and lots more. At some point, if I get permission I will review it – and you will get to hear me sing… in many different ways.

Yea. Look forward to that!

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Living in a wireless world - safe yes or no · 14 November 2012 by colin newell

Listen to the Podcast


Smart Meters - good or bad.

In an era of great technological advance, the question always arises – how good are these advances, conveniences and marvels of technology for us… in general? You know, our health… mental and physical.

I, for one, am typing this blog entry on a Macbook Pro connected through a secure wireless network – and I know my router pretty well… I customized the settings – I have the power level at “medium” – most people are not aware that they can tweak their routers in a myriad of ways – and for me, setting the router output power to a level that works within your work space makes sense in a variety of ways; 1.) It is more secure if you keep your range within the confines of your home and 2.) It adds the minimum of wireless energy to existing orchestra or medley of wireless signals in your living space.

And so you know: I do not believe for a second that 1 device or the output of a handful of devices is going to harm you in any quickly identifiable way – the scientific evidence is not really there.

What I do question (actually I question a couple of different things about this topic area) is the immediate acceptance of any technology that is foisted upon us (or, ahem, introduced) without a sound fiscal or technical rationale for spending a small fortune on introducing the technology. And I know this is kind of late in the game but I heard recently that there have been some perfectly sound judicial decisions about the technology and some of the responses from some local media types is that the Tin foil hat wearers and those that suspect that their PIN Numbers or souls are being stolen by this technology need to relax or take a pill. Which, to me, is nothing more than cruel bullying – and are we not on that very subject of bullying a lot lately?

My point is – I respect anyone (smart or not so much) that questions stuff, any stuff – and even if their claims are a little off the wall, there is no reason to insult anyone.

So: More on where I am coming from. My actual area of expertise is electronics engineering technologist – and my main discipline is, guess what, telecommunications. So I know a little bit about wireless technology. So, let’s talk about wireless for a bit… and wireless radiation.

There are two types of radiation in nature: Ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation. Examples of non-ionizing radiation include cell phones, routers, ham radios, walkie-talkies, radio and TV transmitters, hair dryers (yes, hair dryers) – virtually any electrical or electronic device that has “inductive” properties (has a motor), modern power supplies (like a wall wart for a laptop computer) – even computers themselves radiate a bit of energy on a broad range of frequencies.

Examples of ionizing radiation include X-ray machines, ultraviolet light, gamma radiation and all that neat stuff that nuclear weapons and processes throw off. The thing about ionizing radiation that is bad is: It can (and does) alter your DNA, cause cancer and/or birth defects. It is that simple. No one questions this.

Non-ionizing radiation and electro-magnetic radiation are being studied from many angles for their potential health effects. Here are some examples of what we know. High levels of microwave radiation from cell phones, cell phone towers, radio transmitters, high power routers and other transmitting devices raise your body temperature (when in proximity of the device)… raise it slightly. What the effects of this we are not clear on. Thing is, we have not been using this technology for very long – it is the product of modern living (as in the last 110 years or so…)

When you think about it for a minute, modern medicine is the last 100 years worth of advances. It was not that long ago in history that we discovered antibiotics, antihistamines, remarkable drugs for all kinds of things – even treatments for cancer that were non-existent only a few years ago. And humans have been roaming the planet for thousands and thousands of years – so, point is: A lot of what we are doing today is pretty darn new.

My bigger point: It was only a few years ago, that people would suggest that folks with Fibromyalgia were imagining their symptoms – was all in their heads. This condition is now accepted to be real.

I personally know people that swear that they are effected, in some way, by the presence of high tension power lines (you know the ones, the 300kv transmission lines that cross many rural areas.) There is no physiological reason why anyone should be impacted by the presence of AC power lines near their home – that we currently know of. But who knows what we might discover in the future. We are, after all, bio-electrical creatures… so, who knows right?

Back to the wireless stuff and the smart meters: If you have ever been to the symphony, you will notice that everything seems pretty quiet during the violin solo – and then the rest of the violins kick in and the other strings and then the percussion – My point: 1 or 2 wireless devices in your immediate area are likely not doing you any more harm than running a hair dryer near your noggin – and definitely less of an issue than using a cell phone for 1/2 hour a day. But the more devices that are around you, the higher the levels of energy – it is that simple… and remember this:

The level of energy you encounter from any device drops, in intensity, is at the inverse square of the distance – simply, at 2 feet away, the energy is 1/4 and at 4 feet away it is 1/16th etc. It drops off pretty quickly.

So: Are Smart meters harming anyone? Well. That depends. If one burps out a burst of wireless data every minute or so – more or less at the level of a cell phone and you have one in your home, chances are, it is competing with a bunch of other devices – and some of them are chattering even more frequently. And if you live in a condo or high rise and there are dozens or hundreds of units in your space, then there are hundreds of these device ejaculating bursts of 900+ Mhz energy almost continuously.
Good or bad, we do not currently know.

What I do know is that it is likely less healthy to stress out about it and raise your blood pressure about the possible effects of something that we do not completely understand. If the average person finds these technologies intolerable, then they should have the option of limiting their exposure – and for sure they should not be ridiculed in public or privately. I have been seeing a bit of this in the social media realm and it sickens me. The same person that would ridicule someone who objects to this technology or fears it or questions the wisdom of the investment is clearly the same kind of person who abhors the sight of a handicapped person, a child or adult with a learning disability or someone in a wheel chair… etc. I think my point is clear. Bullying anyone who fears something, legitimately or not does not deserve your pious judgement.
For now, I can sleep at night knowing that all this technology is likely not killing me (that I know of…) and yes, I am an expert on the subject.

if you cannot see the audio thing above, click here for the mp3.

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Toshiba Netbook NB555D quick look · 19 December 2011 by colin newell

The Toshiba Netbook model NB555DHaving acquiesced to pressure from my chief significant other (she) having grown tired of watching me hover over my Asus Eee PC 4G (and its 7” screen) like a microbiologist examining a specimen…

I finally departed mid-2007 and came into the modern times with a Toshiba Netbook model NB555D. In good time too – we have been hauling the little Asus around the World (well, back and forth to Hawaii to be exact) for many years now – running its native Fischer-Price style of Linux (Xandros if I am not mistaken…) and a handful of Live USB sticks with iterations of Ubuntu just to be safe.

I had just become fully comfortable manipulating the OS on this little sub-notebook sized unit (just installed “Leeenux” – a light duty version of Ubuntu even less bloated than Easy Peasy… The Asus Eee runs great, still does – and it will travel more – just not on the next Hawaii trip – coming up in a few weeks.

The search for a slightly better netbook was not a long one – managed to zero in on the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D fairly quickly. Simplified by the fact that I did not want another Asus (at least right away), did not want a Sony, and did not want anything running Android on a device that would be locked to that OS.

What I found kind of interesting and slightly annoying was the complete lack of any credible peer reviews of the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D – nothing. One 1 paragraph review and a you tube link. The rest were ads and zero content lazy shills with links to vendors – more of the net seems to be like that sadly.

Anyway – what of the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D? With a 10.1” LED back-lit screen and a decent size keyboard (for my large hands…) and an energy scrimping Ghz AMD processor – (superior video processing to its Intel brethren in another similar model number) – and an attractive blue shell (and an interesting finish…) I guess I was prepared to be happy from the moment of purchase.

That would not come immediately.

The Toshiba Netbook model NB555D ships with Windows 7 “starter” – but let’s call it what it is – Windows “stripped down” is more like it – but that is OK all things considered. And here is one reason why:
Windows 7 is a memory guzzler. The Toshiba Netbook model NB555D ships with 1Gb of DDR3 1066Mhz RAM – which is what the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D needs to be happy – leaving little left over for apps.

Out of the box, the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D is a slug until it gets through a series of software updates and software self optimization (A windows 7 feature – it actually “learns” some of your preferences and practices as you use it more…)
One of the first things I did was axe the “Norton Starter” that comes with it – I use AVG Free for virus protection but Microsoft Essentials (Free anti-virus) would have been a good choice too.

Next I loaded “CRAP Cleaner” – a great tool from Piriform.com (also free) and got into the start-up manager and pulled a bunch of useless utilities and “launch speeders” that accelerated the appearance of the “Login screen” from a miserable minute and a half to a respectable 50 seconds.

In a head to head with the 2007 Asus Eee 4G PC, the faster machine (the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D) actually lagged the Asus oldie in every instance.
Using Crap Cleaner really got things zipping – still slower than the much older Asus however. More on its performance after I upgrade to 2G of RAM (in a few days)… with more user comments and software tweak suggestions!

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Summer about Victoria 2011 At the digital cinema · 12 August 2011 by colin newell

We visited Cineplex Odeon Westshore cinemas 900 2945 Jacklin Rd in Langford for “Cowboys and Aliens” featuring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.
It’s a Western. And it’s a Science fiction story – two of my favorite genres.

But this is not a movie review.

It is a technology review.

I have not spent a lot of time rambling on the subject of the transition from film projection to digital – there are a lot of people in the industry and in consumer World that bark like otters about this evolution.

My opinion differs slightly.
Starters, modern theaters are too freaking loud. I am clearly middle aged and I pack ear plugs with me to Silver City (and to a lesser extent the other theaters) – because the sound is too loud and it gives me a sonic headache in short order.

It astounds me the number of people that bring children to these noisy shows who have ears that are significantly more sensitive than mine.
Bottom line: Go to any of these shows and you are permanently degrading your hearing and the future of your ability to hear quiet sounds in the future.
But don’t take me word for it.

Digital projection. Cineplex Odeon raves about their ability to download and project digital movies – the savings over film are staggering – and guess what? The savings are passed directly on to the stakeholders at Cineplex Odeon – not the consumers.
There was a time, when film was king, that the only way a theater could make any money was with the concession goods; the absurd lake-sized drinks and waste barrel capacity popcorn selections could set you back a mortgage payment if you were treating the entire family.

The food prices are still stupid but now there is money to be made with the technology. Because it is simpler. And being a person who designs and builds labs and classrooms at a University and actually helps maintain a movie theater (UVic’s venerable Cinecenta [I have worked on the digital and film cinema side of the house]), I know how much stuff costs. And Cineplex Odeon is making a killing on the savings as it were.

And as much as “industry” would like us to believe that digital cinema is “awesome” and sparkles like a jewel – it doesn’t. It is not capable of it. My home Sony blu-ray and LED back-lit Bravia flat screen TV is as capable of showing spectacular video, with breathtaking surround audio. Digital projection onto giant screens has some fundamental flaws – lack of contrast and muted, often dreary color – and jittery scene transitions.

I know this sounds like a bit of a whine. I do come from an old-school movie viewing population where 35MM and 70MM film (and IMAX) was king. My feeling is, the technology is moving forward at a good clip – but it is simply not there yet.

But don’t take me word for it.

Today we drove from Victoria East (Rockland area) to the West Shore cinemas for a Friday matinee – taking surface roads would have made much more sense – The Island highway was inching forward from Tillicum to the Millstream exit – pretty sad. But it was Friday at 3:30 in the afternoon. We made it to the theater with 9 minutes to spare. Would we go again? I would still like to have the “AVX” experience… whatever that is – if the right movie comes along.

Today’s movie was in Cinema 4 – 200 seats maybe… there were, perhaps, 12 people in attendance. Matinee after all.
Final thought. I love the movie going experience. I think it is important for people to get out to movies – to support the economy, develop some social skills as well, eat out and such – especially important for young people and children.

Anyway – enough from me… and enjoy the show!

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Victoria Spring 2011 - Ham Radio in the 21st Century · 18 April 2011 by colin newell

ICOM 703+ All Band Ham TransceiverAs much as I wonder, some times, what I did before the internet (and I am not alone on the sentiment obviously…) – I often wonder what I did before radio was a big part of my life.

Because it was at the age of 12 that a boy friend of my older sister handed me a multiband radio to play with for a few days. It had AM. It had FM. And something called “SW”. And Police Band. Double whammy there. Never heard of SW really – and that I could listen to Police and Fire calls on a radio kind of blew my mind.

Photo above right – The ICOM 703+ All Mode Transceiver keeps me in touch with the world…

Those first few sounds on the “SW” dial are forever etched in my mind – other Worldly, mysterious, cryptic… and the languages; English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese.
I was aware that my pocket sized AM radio was capable of picking up Los Angeles and Denver from my perch on Vancouver Island… but foreign languages? This was wild – and it was one of those moments that I knew would change the way I saw things… forever.

Within a few months my Dad bought be an RCA radio from the late 30’s – that had tubes in it – and SW bands – that worked as well or better than the cheap transistor radio that I had been introduced to. Before long I learned the importance of an outdoor antenna – even if it was a random piece of wire or series of coat hangers strapped together with bailing wire – it all worked. That old radio was pressed into pretty hard service for an antique that had probably anticipated a quiet retirement. And I kind of ran it into the ground with constant listening.

After it died, I built a new radio from a kit from Radio Shack – it allowed me to pick up all the regulars, the Short wave broadcasters that I came to rely on for wildly dissimilar views of my own – Like Radio Beijing and Radio Moscow – but now something called “Ham Radio” – a special circuit in this radio receiver afforded several modes of reception that were heretofore unavailable; Morse code and strange sounding “Single Sideband” reception — an odd off frequency duck sounding chatter that only became intelligible when the dial was adjusted just so.

30 plus years later and I am in the digital age with the Transceiver unit shown above – a product from the company Icom that covers most frequencies of interest and all modes of transmission from SSB (Single Side Band) to AM and FM and Morse code — and more beyond that.

It has a transmitter power of 10 watts – which does not seem like much (and It isn’t) but I have direct conversations from other “Hams” all around North and South America, the Pacific (Tahiti) and New Zealand. Amazing considering that radio energy leaves my balcony mounted radio antennas, bounces around the atmosphere a few times (hitting something 75 to 150 miles up called the Ionosphere) and lands where it lands… thousands of miles away. Amazing.

This weekend I spoke with a Boy Scout troop leader and his charges of young cub adventurers near San Capistrano at their camp site, the U.S.S. Wisconsin Amateur radio club in Virginia celebrating their battleships 67th birthday and a variety of radio operators all around North America.

You might say that Ham Radio is the Worlds first modern form of social networking – and the reality is, you never know exactly what is going to happen or who you are going to talk to when you switch the radio on. Yes, it is an interesting hobby, but it also serves as a valuable public service. In the event of a national disaster or regional crisis, Ham radio serves as a back up grid for the internet, cell phone and traditional telephone communications.

This afternoon I explained some of the principles of Amateur Radio to a young lady that works in my lab at UVic – I think I gave some good answers because she fired some really good questions at me and did not fall asleep listening to the replies.

Yea, it is complicated – but it is not outrageously so that it is out of reach of anyone enthusiastic enough to tackle it – An amateur radio license requires an exam from a certified government examiner; an exam that is as much about technical procedures as it is about some basic electronics. You can do it – yes you can… and be a part of a fascinating hobby and public service.


Colin Newell lives and works in Victoria B.C. Canada – holds the Amateur radio call sign VA7WWV

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