Another Murder

04/11/2011

In less than two months, another man murdered within sight of my front door.  Oh, Lord!  I don’t even know how to pray!  This time I almost skipped sadness and went to anger.  I’m so frustrated!  What the hell are you guys doing killing each other!  Firing bullets, spraying blood less than 100 feet from sleeping children – for what!?  I’ve felt like our neighborhood has been steadily transitioning from a relief-dominated area to more of a development mode.  With the relative peace of the last couple of years, more of us have felt encouraged to focus on the quality of life in our neighborhood, even doing more minor things like street cleaning and planning a community garden.  Maybe this effort has added another coat of rosiness to my rose-colored glasses, but I am shocked by these last two killings.  I’m dissappointed.  To have people murdering each other so close to, even right in the midst of an extraordinary density of people who, as Christ has done already, would lay down their own lives to create an alternative to the path of darkness, pain, and death they’ve chosen!

I searched for “In your mercy, Lord, hear our prayer” and found some beautiful language we can bring to the Father.

O God, who brought us to birth,
and in whose arms we die,
in our grief and shock
contain and comfort us;
embrace us with your love,
give us hope in our confusion
and faith to persevere;
through Jesus Christ.

Amen

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Getting Organized

03/23/2011

Lately I’ve been using this WordPress thing to keep track of some ideas.  I haven’t used it much, but I’m already thinking it’s really powerful.  I also tested out some mind-mapping software, namely Freemind, which is a great way to plan or take notes, but I’m finding it’s not that cool of a way to keep track of references or tie related thoughts together like WordPress.  It seems to have limitations similar to conventional hierarchical file systems on a computer.  I understand that it’s difficult on a flat screen to present data in more than two or three dimensions in a readily understandable way.  But the computer should not be limited in its actual organization of the files to two dimensions!

I’ve been thinking about how to develop a Wiki to organize the resources we rely on as the scientific basis for water quality regulations at work.  It frustrates me that much of the reference material upon which our office depends is scattered across multiple storage areas and records of the documents’ location and proper use are primarily kept in the minds of the most experienced individuals.  I’ve organized the material I’ve accumulated electronically over the last three years into a standard directory structure on my computer.  It’s pretty well developed, so I have general categories and multiple subcategories of subcategories, etc.  Every time I find something I think I’d like to add to my collection, I struggle with where to place it.  I’m afraid it’s getting very difficult to find items that could be categorized multiple ways.  For example, a document that helps interpret water quality analytical lab results might focus on effects on crops and be categorized with agricultural resources, but because of it’s information on petroleum hydrocarbons might be well-placed with underground storage tank information.  I started creating links to some items at the ends of multiple paths I expect I might take in searching for them.  When I reorganize or consolidate directories, the links are broken.

What I’d like to see in a note-taking and reference tool (which I think should be a primary function of a personal computer) is a relational database that you can use to connect objects to multiple other objects (more like a neural network, I guess).  It’s great to have categories and subcategories that you can drill down into like in a conventional file system (and associating an item with a subcategory automatically categorizes it with the parent!) but the ability to assign multiple categories to a single item is also very important in order to allow multiple paths to find the item being sought after.  It seems like this is more like we organize data in our minds – in some kind of spatially impossible interconnectedness, a multidimensional database than can spit out projections of data in fewer dimensions according to user demands.  It’s fun to think about other ways that this kind of data handling system allows mind-like function…but I should move on to higher priority thought.

It kinda seems silly and useless that I wrote all that, but I guess it helped me to build understanding of what I am looking for and realize that the Wiki and other social media software that implements relational database concepts may be a good fit for me.  Kind of like how carefully considering how a wheel makes it easier to move heavy loads might help us to understand the wheel enough to think of how best to apply it to our own situations.

A man from our community was beaten to death across the street from our apartment a week ago on Wednesday.  Folks around here knew him as Spooky.  I didn’t know him, but his death has really shaken me.  I’ve kinda channeled my mind into insignificant minutia as a coping mechanism, it seems.  As I walk the streets in the morning and at night getting to and from work, I sense a disturbing quietness.  It’s like none of us knows what to do; how to mourn or respond at all.  I have that elephant-in-the-room feeling even when I sit alone inside my apartment.  I pulled out one of the big 4×8 corrugated plastic political signs I harvested back in November to create some kind of public expression of mourning and maybe a statement on behalf of Jesus against violence on our streets.  I don’t know what to make, what to express.  I saw the police take my neighbor away today, though I don’t think he was “involved.”  Tomorrow we’ll meet with some brothers and sisters to pray on the street.  Maybe then we can process this together.  Lord have mercy!

What can make us whole again?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!  This is all my hope and peace!  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!  Oh, precious is the flow that makes us white as snow!

I hear shots firing right now.  Father, may your Kingdom come and your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven!

I’m so crazy that I went ahead and bought some op amps (LM741) and other stuff from Jameco before actually planning anything (typical late-night purchase).  Jameco seems to beat Digikey in price for most things I’ve been looking for.  And I usually get everything the next day or in two days at the latest.  Pretty good.  Anyway, I figure I’ll use an op amp to amplify the signal from LED photosensors like Tanya does.

Then I just need a circuit to enable the motors (through my SN754410 h-bridge) to turn over some voltage range, discharging from like 16V to 8V or something.  I don’t know the first thing about how to do that, but hopefully can adjust the voltage regulators I got to use hysteresis or whatever to get that effect.  I’ll try using various motors to operate it at various voltages to check the performance.

I’m thinking I can use a 74HCT245 and some capacitors to make a simple/easy charge pump so the tracker can run intermittently off a tiny, low voltage solar cell.  I figure with a duty cycle of 2.5%, I should be able to run the motors for 12 minutes of an 8-hour sunny day.  If I use my 0.3W solar cell, that comes to over 100 ft-lbs (maybe lift 20 lbs 5 feet, eh?) of energy per day, with power used at 12W when on.  Super-rough numbers, but makes some sense.  It’ll be fun to experiment.

Of course I need to build a thing to mount whatever it is that will be pointed toward the sun (like a tripod/pole, hinges, and some the threaded rod and bolts as a linear actuator).

Here I restate the goal of this endeavor both to motivate myself and prevent this from becoming a mere time and resource-wasting selfish hobby:

I am in the research and development phase of a project to identify products that we can manufacture locally for profit or to offset local cost of living/business.  The goal is economic development in the form of local jobs, influx of money from outside our community,  or reduction in expenses for locals.  The project has the side benefits of being extremely fun and potentially helping out my family in the same way I hope to help out my community.

We’ll see how it goes, eh?

Spiritual Need

03/02/2011

For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? —Jesus (Matthew 16:26)

I don’t wanna gain the whole world and lose my soul!  —Toby Mac

Got me thinking about real change, the transformation that comes with folks fully giving their hearts to Jesus.  Following Jesus means repentance, a 180 degree change in direction.  Sometimes my social justice drive gets me hyper-focused on trying to “gain the whole world” by fighting poverty and advocating for social programs.  The key issues keeping people from full life are really soul issues, maybe complicated and intensified by social issues.  I felt a bit of negative reaction to the Daily Bread (devotional reader thing) the other day because it spoke to how no matter what socioeconomic position you find yourself in, you’re either saved or not.  I felt like it neglected to mention our responsibility to fight injustice and oppose oppressive systems that trap people in poverty.  But then realized the thing was really totally right.  I found my frustration betrayed my misguided thought.  I have been placing my faith in physical remedies, rather than spiritual, which is really the central issue for most.  This doesn’t mean I’m not into promoting a better way of doing things, but my perspective needs some refocusing!

Vocation

02/20/2011

A friend of mine at work shared with me how he was recently challenged with the task of writing a mission statement for his life.  He smiled as he told me it caused a lot of trouble for him because it made him question why he was doing what he was doing.  Now he’s passed the trouble on to me.

I wrote a mission statement for my life this morning.  It goes like this:

My mission is to use my life as a conduit for Christ to bring persistent hope and holistic transformation–in me, my family, my community, my job, and the world.

Lately I’ve committed to act on what I perceive to be God’s strong tugs on my heart.  I’m taking a class that’s essentially a primer on social entrepreneurship from a Kingdom perspective.  I started a group trying to get poor folks into homeownership.  I bought an Arduino Uno to explore manufacturing and other job-creating business opportunities.  As I flounder around trying things, I get the sense that I could waste a lot of my energy if I don’t focus, set goals, make plans, and generally apply some discipline to the process of doing things.  The tricky thing for me seems to be that I have trouble balancing the high value I place on not letting structure and routine interfere with creativity and this new idea that structure and routine (discipline!) can be the key to making a creative effort successful.

I like how the Wikipedia article on vocation describes Christian vocation as “the use of one’s gifts” for the sake of the common good.  I’m convinced that putting gifts to use requires intentionality.  I plan on making some goals consistent with my mission statement for each of the different areas of life over which I have influence (mentioned above:  me, family, community, job, and world).

Success!

02/15/2011

Success indeed!  I controlled a DC motor through an Arduino UNO and a SN754410 h-bridge chip.  I can’t say I totally understand what my problems were before.  I think what happened is that I didn’t have a common ground for the Arduino, SN754410, and the motor power supply.  At one point, I measured 32V between the ground for the motor power supply and the Arduino!  That voltage went away when I plugged my power supply into the power strip as my computer connected to the Arduino – at that point I felt safe to connect all the grounds together.  I also neglected to connect 5V power (pin 16) to the SN754410 at first.

I used a 12V lead from an ATX computer power supply for the motor supply (SN754410 pin 8) and the Arduino 5V output for SN754410 pin 16.  With the enable pin (pin 1) of the SN754410 at 5V, the output (across pins 3 and 6) was about 10.5V, I think.  I put some resistors (like 2 ohms) between the motor and the SN754410 to try to protect from voltage spikes induced in the motor (back EMF?).  I didn’t want to have a voltage drop of more than a couple of volts or the motors might not turn much.  Anyway, it worked great!  I got a screaming motor that tried to run off the table instead of a near-ultrasonic whining and a slight twitch.

This is really exciting.  Not only can I now make a robot that the Arduino can control, I’m sure I can control the SN754410 (motors!) with a simpler/cheaper circuit with digital output!  I think the output from the suspended bicore circuit may be just right for connection to the direction pins (2 and 7) of the SN754410.  A small, solar cell could charge a capacitor with a circuit to energize the enable pin (pin 1) of the SN754410 when it’s ready to power the motors.  Then we’ll have short bursts of solar-powered sun tracking!  I honestly don’t even fully understand what the suspended bicore is, but it looks like an easy way to get a digital signal telling my circuit which direction to turn toward the sun.