Gas station without pumps

2018 October 30

One year later

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:57
Tags: , , ,

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while will remember that last year I had my whole head shaved for the St. Baldrick’s cancer-research fund-raiser.  They are doing the fundraiser again this year (on Nov 7), though I’m not participating this time.

I did not get my hair cut nor trim my beard for a full year (I did trim my mustache to keep it out of my mouth and shave my cheeks).  Here is what a year’s hair growth looks like:

A full year’s growth of hair.

Since getting this picture taken, I’ve gotten a haircut, but I’m still trying to decide what length to keep my beard. It can grow a bit longer without getting too scraggly, but not a lot longer. My wife is fine with it being anywhere from about 6-months’ to 18-months’ growth, as long as it remains neat.

So loyal readers, how much should I trim my beard?

2018 October 28

Redrawing figure in SVG

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:18
Tags: , , , , , ,

There is a figure in my book of the cross-section of a power nFET.  Originally, I used a figure from wikimedia:, but I wanted a color version, so I colorized it myself in Inkscape.  Unfortunately, the original SVG was poorly done—it looked like an inkscape conversion of a raster image to paths, which did not result in paths enclosing fillable areas with clean strokes around them, but separate paths filled with black for each stroke.  This made colorizing the image quite difficult.  I did (eventually) manage to make a colorized version, but I’ve never been happy with it.  The file is huge for an SVG file (over 81kB) and difficult to edit.  I’ve been wanting to do it right for some time, and I finally got around to it today.

What I did was to print out the version I’ve been using as a full-page image, then used a ruler to figure out how big each part was.  I then entered SVG code by hand to remake the image. I included comments to describe what each part did and used styles for the different materials, so editing is now easy.  I also made sure that the image is now symmetric and that all the rounded corners have smooth joins to the straight lines (the “q” command in the path “d” attribute makes that fairly easy. The new svg file is only 3425 bytes, even with the comments, and the pdf created from it is only 8kB, instead of 28kB.  Those size changes are not very important (the PDF for the book, after all, is now 25MB, up from 23.7MB last spring), but the image looks better now also. does not let me upload svg files, but you can see the PDF produced from it by inkscape at only lets me upload raster images for display, so I used inkscape to convert the hand-written SVG file to PNG just for this blog. The black line on the right edge seems to have been chopped off in the conversion, though the PDF conversion gets it right.

Here is the PNG generated by inkscape from the SVG file.

I tried uploading the SVG file to Wikimedia Commons, so it could be used on the Wikipedia Power MOSFET page, in place of the black-and-white image, but the uploaded file got rendered as a badly wrong black-and-white PNG file (with all colors converted to black), which is totally useless. I don’t have time to figure out how to tell it to do the conversion correctly, so I just asked them to delete the image again.

Correction 2018 Nov 21: I realized that the drawing from Wikipedia is missing something—the body should be lightly-doped P, with a P+ contact to the metal. The doping profile for the P layer also does not make physical sense here—how does it get shallower under the N+?  I have redrawn the figure for the book, but not corrected it here. I’ve removed the svg source from this post, because WordPress mangled it completely, despite the use of the “source” square-bracket tag. 


2018 October 27

Google News fix

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:38
Tags: ,

I’ve been moaning about Google News having broken their website for months now—their “new” News site eliminated all user customization, made it impossible to remove useless sections (like Sports and Entertainment), paid no attention to “show me less like this”, showed lots of “news” articles that were just infomercials, and generally was piss-poor imitation of a news aggregator.

I’ve started looking at other sites, but not found any that are as good as the site that Google threw away.  I read my news on my laptop, not a phone, and I want a content-dense, laptop-friendly web interface—eliminating most of the competitors in one stroke.

Today, in browsing once again for workaround to Google’s decision to kill News as usable interface, I found someone point to a way to get the old interface back, though only a frozen version of the customization—further personalization seems to be disabled.

seems to get back the interface I used to use and like, but populated with current news. It is annoying that I can’t tweak the personalization any more, but I can live with that.

I’ve also been able to include Google news searches in Inoreader (the RSS reader that I use), with URLs like

though I get a warning that the URL is deprecated, directing me to one of Google’s new useless feeds.  It still works for now, and I’m hoping that enough of Google engineers use this old backdoor that they won’t close it and force everyone into their ad-driven propaganda site.

Google has a long history of making decent tools, only to break them or throw them away when they did not draw in enough ad revenue (I’ve been burned by both Google Reader and Google News).  I am worried about UC having made such a huge commitment to Google products (Google Drive, Google Docs, Google mail) for so much of its day-to-day work.  I suspect that Google will pull the plug without warning some year soon, and UC will be left without any alternative systems and without the personnel to maintain them even if it had the computers and software.


Update 28 Oct 2018: the Google News fix isn’t quite as useful as I thought.  Not only is personalization not modifiable, but all the links to sections (including the side navigation panels) just go back to the useless new main Google News page. Sigh, I guess I will have to keep looking for news aggregator that does a decent job.

Update 14 Nov 2018: It has gotten worse.  Now produces the same junky sections as the main Google News site, so it is goodby Google, it was nice while it lasted.  Anyone know a decent news aggregator?

2018 October 23

Book progress

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:15
Tags: , , ,

I’m on sabbatical this fall, working on my textbook.  I hope to have the next edition out on LeanPub in early December, at which time I will raise the price by 20% (from $10 suggested, $5 minimum to $12 suggested, $6 minimum).

At the beginning of the summer I had something like 100–120 to-do notes scattered through the book.  Some of them were small wording changes, some new sections or new chapters, some new figures, some additional examples or exercises.  I’ve been slogging through them, but I realized a couple of weeks ago that I needed to up my pace, as I still had 80 to-do notes left.  I’d cleared more than 40, but new to-do notes crept in.

I have now set myself the goal of reducing the number of to-do notes by two a day, seven days a week. My goal is a net change, so if a new to-do note is added, I have to remove three old ones.  After I’ve gotten my net two for the day done, I might work some more to get ahead, but I can stop and do other things if I don’t feel like more writing.  Getting ahead does not buy me time off (except at the end of the process), but if I fall behind I have to make it up the next day, not pushing off the deadline.

Earlier in the summer I was being systematic about which to-do notes I worked on, doing the major rearrangements, new chapters, and new sections, then starting from the beginning of the book.  Now I’m being more arbitrary—I pick a chapter, look to see whether any of the to-do notes in it seem doable now, and tackle the first ones that seem feasible.  On different days my energy for different sorts of work varies, so some days I end up doing figures, some days adding exercises, and some days writing/rewriting explanations.

The new approach seems to be working—I’ve been running slightly ahead of schedule and now have only 50 to-do notes left, 16 of which are not in the book but in the solutions manual.  Of course, I may end up slowing down as I get closer to the end and there are no “easy” things left to do.

Other than clearing the to-do notes, there are few other things I need to do:

  • Decide whether to submit the book to a conventional publisher.  A textbook publisher would charge about $80 for the book (rather than the $6–12 I’m charging), and I’d get 12% of net (which comes to about the same as I make on a $6 sale).  The big question is whether they would do enough marketing to justify their taking the lion’s share of the proceeds.
    I did get a request from a Springer editor to submit the book to them (he’d seen the title on LeanPub), but I’m not very happy with Springer as an academic publisher, so their offer would have to be really good for me to go with them.  I’ve got a copy of their submission form, but I’ve not decided whether to fill it out and send it.
  • Decide whether to self-publish through IngramSpark.  Selling paperback color editions through them would require a price of about $35 a copy, in order for me to make $6 a copy.  That price point includes only a small 20% wholesale discount—enough for on-line sales, but not enough for bookstores to stock it.  I don’t know whether I could still sell the PDF through LeanPub—LeanPub certainly permits it, but I don’t know IngramSpark’s rules.
  • Look for other self-publishing companies.  I doubt that there are any that provide as wide a possible distribution as Ingram, except Amazon, and they won’t do a color paperback this long (and if they did their minimum price would be $64—almost as bad as a conventional textbook publisher).
  • Decide whether to change the title and open up the book to a bigger market.  I’ve been calling the book Applied Electronics for Bioengineers, because that is the focus of my course.  But there aren’t very many bioengineering majors in the country, and most bioengineering curricula don’t require analog electronics, so the market is rather small. I’ve been considering something more like Applied Analog Electronics: a first course in electronics, which captures the focus of the book fairly well and should have a wider appeal.  There is some introductory material in the book that would have to be updated for the change of title, but the amount of rewrite is pretty small.
  • Figure out how to make my book visible to professors who might be willing to teach the course.
  • Figure out how  to make my book visible to individuals (probably makers) who would be willing to buy it for themselves.

So, dedicated readers, should I change the book title?  Should I go for a print edition this year?  How should I gain visibility for the book?

2018 October 22

Rent control and Costa-Hawkins Act

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:19
Tags: , , , ,

In Santa Cruz, the most contentious thing on the ballot this November is rent control.  There are two relevant initiatives:

  • Proposition 10, which would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act and put in its place a rule that cities and counties can pass whatever rent-control rules they want.
  • Measure M, which would affect only the City of Santa Cruz and institute the strongest rent-control and eviction rules in California.

I’m neither a tenant nor a landlord, and not likely to become either in the next 20 years, so the changes to the rules don’t directly affect me.  That means that I’ll be basing my votes on what I think will be best for the community as a whole, rather than for any personal benefit.

I don’t particularly like the Costa-Hawkins Act, which prohibits any limitation on rent increases between tenants, prohibits rent control on anything built after 1995, and prohibits rent control on single-family housing.  Those are all a bit too strong, and I think that Costa-Hawkins needs to be weakened.  Here are some ways that it could be improved:

  • The “built-after-1995” rule was intended to give developers an incentive to build new rental units, by letting them get market rate for new construction.  We do need some such incentives, because housing construction has not kept up with demand—the incentives for building rental housing are too weak.  But I don’t see that the incentive needs to last forever.  It would be better to say that rent control can’t be imposed for the first 20 years after construction—that would give builders all the incentive they need (since the return on investment is generally calculated based on 20-year amortization), without preventing rent control on units that have gotten old.
  • Single-family houses are often rented out by people who only have the one house, but need to live elsewhere for a while.  Allowing homeowners to rent out their residence at market rate while they are away seems fair.  But large landlords and speculators who have bought up many houses (particularly during the foreclosure crisis) shouldn’t be getting such a sweetheart deal.  Perhaps Costa-Hawkins could be rewritten to distinguish between small landlords (owning say 1–5 units) and large landlords, restricting rent control on small landlords but allowing it for large landlords.
  • One of the best ideas I’ve heard came up at an election-discussion party I went to last Saturday (I forget whose idea it was): any landlord could make an arbitrary increase in rent by having the property reassessed for property taxes at its current market value.  If a landlord wants to increase rents faster than 2% a year, they should be willing to let their property taxes go up also.  This would be a win for the cities also, as they would get a substantial increase in property tax (many of the older properties are paying essentially no tax). Of course, this requires some tweaking of the rules of Proposition 13—but I don’t think that there is anything there that would prohibit voluntary reassessment of property.

Unfortunately, if Proposition 10 passes, these reasonable measures could not be enacted by the legislature, because the proposition doesn’t just repeal Costa-Hawkins, but puts in place restrictions on what the legislature can do in the future.  So I’m voting against Proposition 10, even though I think that Costa-Hawkins does need to be fixed—the initiative process is just a horrible way to write legislation.

Measure M, which would institute a rather draconian form of rent control in Santa Cruz, is one I’m definitely voting against.  It will benefit a few long-time renters in Santa Cruz, but it will be disastrous for the rental housing market. The eviction rules, which make it very expensive for landlords to get rid of tenants at the end of a lease make it difficult for people to rent out their own homes if they have to be somewhere else for over a year.

Many of the rental units will be taken off the market if Measure M passes (and even more if both Prop 10 and Measure M pass). Already one of the long-term rental units on our street (a rental for at least the last 25 years) has been sold this fall, in order to take it off the rental market.

Right now the price/rent ratio in Santa Cruz is high (26.4 based on the Zillow estimates for the value of my house for sale and Zillow estimate of a year’s rent) and limiting rents will make it higher, so that there will be substantial incentive for owners to sell rather than rent out property that they are not living in. The result (if Measure M passes) will be a substantial reduction in the rental housing market in Santa Cruz.  Many of the students will have to move outside the city, resulting in much higher traffic also.

Once again, I think that reasonable rent control could be enacted, but Measure M was created to move all the power into the hands of the tenants, rather than striking a balance.  I again think that it would be valuable to distinguish between people who own a house and want to rent it out while they have to live elsewhere, or who have an accessory dwelling unit in their yard, or who live in one unit of a triplex and those landlords or corporations that own apartment complexes or large numbers of houses.  The tiny landlords can’t set the market rates—that is done by the large landlords, and it is the large landlords who need to have controls put on their greed.

I was a little surprised at the election party that all the attendees, who are some of the most progressive people in Santa Cruz (the Leftmost City) were going to vote against Measure M. Almost everyone supported some form of rent control, but felt that Measure M was going to be bad for most of the renters in Santa Cruz, as well as for all the landlords.

Actually, the only large group people who will benefit from Measure M are the gentrifiers who come in and buy up the rental property to convert to owner-occupied homes.  A few long-term renters whose landlords decide not to sell will have some guarantees that they will see only tiny rent increases.



Next Page »

%d bloggers like this: