Archive for the ‘Futique Technology’ Category

Quantum Dots

Friday, April 12th, 2013

me in RiftOMG I didn’t even post in March!  If anyone is still reading, I’m sorry.

I’d like to think that completing the second novel in my Gamers and Gods trilogy is a good excuse — but it isn’t, because there’s no way for you to read it yet.  Oh well.

Word must have gotten out that I am an encyclopedia of useless facts;  some of you even ask me about them.  Quantum Dots have been in the news, in stories ranging from their potential to improve solar cells to their application to quantum computers.  So what, exactly, you may ask is this thing called a “quantum dot?”

I’ve decided to try to answer this question without resorting to the equations, eigenfunctions, and quantum wells that most physicists like me resort to.  (Maybe it’s vanity, but I like to set myself impossible tasks to keep my aging brain active. )  I’m afraid I will have to mention atoms, the tiniest bits of identifiable matter and electrons, those invisible pieces of electricity.  So here goes.

Many of you might still, in spite of the Great Recession, be holding onto the American dream of the two car garage, or at least have two cars in the driveway, because it’s pretty hard to raise a family on one paycheck these days.  Think of your house as an atom — one that can hold onto only two electrons (the cars).

Long before I studied physics and had a career in Web development, my parents, for a time, lived in (I swear!) a place called Webwood Court.  A branch off a main road, it ended in a big disk of asphalt with driveways radiating off  it like the spokes of a wagon wheel.  (A brother of mine lives on one of these places today, although the street that ends in it is called a lane instead of a court.)

My point is this:  although the driveways radiating from a “court” may only hold two cars each,  you can park cars in the central area, instead of in the driveways. That can be rude, if you block the driveways.  But what I’m saying is, if houses were atoms, and driveways the “orbitals” that hold two electrons, this central unclaimed area is like a Quantum Dot:  it can hold more than two car/electrons that are not actually attached to any of the surrounding atom/houses.  A quantum dot is like a parking lot for electrons.  You can push electrons into it, and they will tend to stay there.

If you don’t already know, these quantum dots have some peculiar (and useful) properties.  For example, you may know that different chemicals are usually different colors.  But did you know that when you make quantum dots, you can make them all out of the same chemical –and get different colors?  It’s true.  It turns out that the size of the dot, rather than its ingredients, controls the color.  I won’t waste your time with math.  The relationship is simple.  Big dots are red (lower energy), tiny ones are purple (higher energy), and you can get all the colors of the rainbow from sizes between big and small — and all without having to use a lot of different ingredients.  Basically, this is because red light waves are longer — they need more room.  Purple light waves are shorter — they can fit into smaller regions.

That wasn’t so painful, was it?  Isn’t Nature amazing?  Yes, I said Nature.  You don’t need a lab.  Quantum dots are so easy to make, Nature was doing it a long time before we found out about them.

— MRK

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A Hypercube by any other name

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Hypercube loudspeaker

Hypercube loudspeaker

Sometimes it’s difficult to see something sitting in plain sight.

This is because there are so many ways of looking at things. Johannes Kepler saw it as an inside-out cube. Geologists saw it as lodestone, garnet, copper, lapis lazuli.

Beekeepers saw it as an efficient use of wax and space. But their honey drawers preserved only the two-dimensional aspect of the lattice — the hexagonal grid.

Rhombic Dodecahedron

Rhombic Dodecahedron

Mathematicians saw it as a minor non-Platonic solid — an alternative form of the dodecahedron.

But we know differently. We see differently. We see that the rhombic Dodecahedron (so-called) is actually the outer envelope of one of the projections of the 4D hypercube onto 3-space.

Shakespeare might have said that that which we call a hypercube, by any other name would smell as sweet. But there is something in a name if you want to get attention. Calling this shape “one of the crystalline forms of garnet” misses the point and relegates it to obscurity.

tesseract loudspeaker

tesseract loudspeaker

Perhaps ancient describers were trapped by their 3-dimensional outlook. The Hypercube is best appreciated not as a static form but as a geometry embedded in four-dimensional spacetime. This would seem obvious in retrospect, but was not fully realized until the advent of the audio industry at the beginning of the 20th century. For the first time moving 4-dimensional sound wavefronts were being produced under controlled conditions.

When we regard the rhombic dodecahedron as a geometry embedded in spacetime affecting the propagation and movement of energy in spacetime, then we begin to see more of its possibilities.

The rhombic dodecahedron form of the hypercube excels as a wave trap. In the Middle Ages people believed that a pentagram could somehow trap a demon. Nowadays we see quantum dots trapping electrons. The RD can support cube-shaped standing waves at a wide spectrum of frequencies. Since the tapering pyramidal points crowd sound waves into turning around without hitting a solid wall, this geometry supports resonance across the spectrum. The favoritism of old-style speaker cabinets that boomed some notes and stifled others is now obsolete forever. This harnessed resonance is a result simply of altering the boundary geometry of the air inside the speaker cabinet.

It is no accident that the “rhombic dodecahedron” turns out to have acoustic advantages as a resonator; changing the shape changes the boundary, which changes the air flow, which changes the performance.
—MRK

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The Rise and Fall of Worldnetpress

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

This is about you. I have no children. You are my heirs. This we give the World.

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Our story thus far:

Me at Annapolis

Me at Annapolis

In 1974 I went to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis to become an officer and a gentlemen; I left to become a physicist and a civilian. But my undergraduate studies had to be put on hold when we discovered the tesseract resonating chamber and applied for a patent. We got the patent on 11/4/1980, but it appeared it was too far ahead of its time for speaker companies to believe it; their engineers seemed to think that a U.S. Utility Patent was some kind of hoax.
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Prototype

Prototype

After attempting to manufacture the technology ourselves, we decided to go for a review in Stereo Review magazine and made special prototypes and drove them to NY ourselves to make sure they got there undamaged.
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Damaged speaker

Damaged Prototype

But we did not get our review. Stereo Review and Hirsch-Houk Labs were not interested. And when we got the speakers back they were damaged. We had dug ourselves in a hole financially to produce them and set up our little warehouse-factory, but without an audience there was no show happening. We moved out of the warehouse and I resumed my undergraduate studies in Physics and got my B.S. on 12/19/1981.

Many resumes later, I gave up on getting a job as a B.S. physicist and was accepted into a doctoral Physics program at FSU in Tallahassee. You’d think it would have been heaven for a physics nut like me, getting to share an office in the Keen building and meeting P.A.M. Dirac at a department tea. But there was a problem: the Hypercube patent had changed the focus of my life. I still loved Physics, but I was more of a Geometry nut now. Tom Weiss and I had found something important. It’s a shame I didn’t get my PhD first; maybe more ‘experts’ would have listened to a “Dr. Kennedy.” But when we were granted the first patent for applied hypergeometry, I wasn’t even a college graduate. Maybe we were unworthy to deliver this message: hyperspace is real. But the message had to be delivered, and nobody else was doing it.

Hypercube speaker array

Hypercube speaker array

After a year of graduate school I left FSU and reentered the “real” world, traveling north with a new friend of mine, Shirley Malone. More about her later. When she inherited a little money Shirley bought a CAD/CAM 3-axis overhead router system so that we could make better prototypes. We made quite a few prototypes of various sizes and materials; it turned out that the shape was far more important than what it was made out of: a tin satellite dish works just as well as a golden one. So we made hypercube speakers cabinets in many sizes out of wood, metal and plastic. I suppose if we had a kiln we would have tried to bake some ceramic ones. We took them to an AES show in New York, but Audio Engineering has been around 100 years; many experts appear to think all that remains is tweaks and adjustments of known designs.

SO I went back to work, getting a job at Maxim Group as a contract programmer. They sent me to work for Sylvan Learning Systems in Baltimore, where I served on the Internet Team developing and maintaining Active Server Pages on the new test registration website which back then was at educate.com.

I had been wondering whether Sylvan would ever persuade Dave Clayton, the current head of our Internet Team, a contractor, to change his mind and become a regular Sylvan employee as I had elected to do when offered the chance. To be truthful, however, I had accepted partly because of the raise, but also because they seemed serious about reducing their number of contractors and I thought I might be looking for another job if I said no.

Not too long later, my friends Dave Clayton and Adil Asik decided to leave the Internet Team at Sylvan. They had discovered what looked like a better opportunity in Hunt Valley. When Adil asked me if I would like a job there also, I was like “hell yes!”

Walking into the offices of Worldnetpress was positively surreal. I talked to the president, Ken Wahler, and when I walked into his office he had two things waiting for me: a job offer letter…and a box of already-printed personalized company business cards. Worldnetpress was a print-fulfillment company, with their own 5-color print press and a rented printer the size of two BIG refrigerators that could do production quality full-color printing up to poster size from PDF files. So printing up a box of business cards for me before I even accepted the job was “no trouble at all.”

Worldnetpress soon changed its name to Versient and it looked like the good times had finally arrived, even if I was still making little progress in spreading the word about Hypercube resonators. At its heyday Versient had like 12 full-time ASP programmers hammering out new code, and we built some fine things, like custom websites for clients, pages that let users design their own business cards, and even a way to email individualized college brochure PDFs to users with the content customized according to their inputted interests. The company was good to us. We had a *free* soda vending machine and a free snacks vending machine. When we needed to put in extra time on a Saturday occasionally, we were treated to footlong subs and pizza, whatever we wanted. Okay, we didn’t have a Microsoft-sized budget, but we had an owner who loved us and a boss who understood us. The joke around Development on our new second floor was that our boss Dave Clayton was not allowed to do any coding because he was too valuable as a manager. But the truth was that he was one of us, a programmer, and no one could keep him from rolling up his sleeves and programming with us. This was no Dilbert cartoon: we had offices with doors and a boss who could actually program.

Revenues increased, attracting venture capital. As Ken introduced us to his new investors, I could not help remembering my main question to Ken during my hiring interview. I had asked him about how he would manage growth. A time of rapid growth is often a dangerous time for new corporations, when many of them find themselves required to undertake large loans or sell a lot of stock to new investors, both of which expedients can lead to bad craziness. As I recall, his answer was to reassure me that he knew what he was doing.

Soon we began to hear rumors of a merger. It appeared that there was a company in Boston that was similar but had better shipping and storage facilities and more customers. So far, so good. But there was a problem: the other company had programmers, too…and they were working on projects similar to some of ours. When Versient moved Development off the second floor and into a residential brownstone in downtown Baltimore, we told ourselves that it was a good thing; we could get on with our programming without talking to the suits.

Okay, we no longer had offices with doors and had to share rooms. But we thought it was all right, right up to the moment when we were instructed to report to headquarters instead of the brownstone on a Friday.

When I got there, Dave was waiting for me with a severance latter and a box containing my things from the brownstone office. He was sad to inform us that Versient had decided they did not need TWO development teams and 2 competing products….and they had decided to keep the team from Boston instead of us.

What?? Had we done something wrong? Was Ken Wahler mad at us? No, of course not. But Ken was no longer in charge of Versient. He had sold too much of his voting stock to the venture capital investors, and they now controlled the company. With the merger complete, they took control away from Ken and laid us all off.

Versient, formerly Worldnetpress, was no more. Now it was Shamrock Acquisitions, and I was out of a job.

–MRK

Next: Keeping Score at Walter Reed

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Testing Times

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

continuingAfter the AES show we were still broke,so I found a job working for a consulting firm called Maxim Group. They rented me to Sylvan Leaning Systems, who had moved their corporate HQ to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore.

At Sylvan I was assigned Aileen Barry’s new Internet Team. At our first team meeting (which she held in a room with no chairs to make sure we kept it short!), she gave us our assignments. “Matt,” she said, “I want you to develop the ASP pages for the site. “That’s great,” I answered cheerfully. “I just have one question: what are ASP pages?” (I had apparently missed the announcement of ASP’s release the prior year).

ASP code

ASP code

As I soon discovered, ASP pages were basically BASIC programs that created web pages on-the-fly. In other words, when you request an ASP page, the program runs and creates the HTML that your browser receives. Since the HTML you see does not even exist until the ASP program creates it, it is not static HTML — it is dynamic:  it can look different and say different things every time you load it. ASP and its competitors such as ColdFusion and PHP are the workhorses of most websites. Did you just log into a website? Then a script file read your name and password, then accessed a database to see if you are a member. Probably a .ASPX, .CFM, or .PHP program did the work of checking your password in the database and then creating the HTML for the welcome page to send to you.

I was very happy working on those ASP pages. And I was proud of what the team managed to accomplish, because I saw it filled a real need. At the time, Sylvan Prometric was delivering like 200 tests in 2000 centers in 140 countries, and all of the registration for testing appointments was done by the Call Center where a hundred or more unsung minions manned the telephones and made appointments for people in real time, one at a time. Keeping their phones warm.

Clearly, automation could reduce this pain. While others worked on the database connection and the Java applet to be the database client, I created the sequence of ASP pages that extracted information from test candidates via HTML form submissions. Given a variety of variables such as the type of test and zip code a list of testing locations can be selected. Once the location and date are selected, data can be retrieved regarding available testing slots. An available open testing position can be booked and entered into the database; you can book an hour in a particular testing cubicle for a particular test just as you can book seat 23A on a flight from Jacksonville to Miami.

Not everyone was ready for such power-to-the-people help-yourself front end design. When we got the system up and running, Marketing was caught flatfooted and was so disturbed that they came into the office and turned the server off. When we came in early the next morning, we found the server off, so we just turned it back on again, because the website and server belonged to our team and our development group, not to Marketing. It was the beginning of a little friction between the Internet Team and Marketing.

On my part, I learned to hate MS FrontPage, even though I never used it. You see the Marketing department people used FrontPage, and when they heard that we had a working website representing the Sylvan empire for test registration, they felt, naturally, that any media that presented Sylvan to the general public was their business and they wanted a say in how it looked. Which was fine by me; I am NOT a graphic artist and my focus is always on making pages that function; I welcome assistance in making them visually pleasing.

So we sent them the source code for the pages, which they modified using FrontPage. And when I got the modified code back from them…it no longer worked! The early version of FrontPage they were using had let them move test and graphics around on the page…but it mangled or deleted my ACTIONs for the buttons and messed with the JavaScript embedded in the ASP pages. In other words, the pages now looked better, sure, but they were now useless until I fixed the damage FrontPage had wreaked on my code. So I fixed it, but I have to admit that I never trusted FrontPage again.

Sylvan seemed to be satisfied with my efforts as part of the team. Before too long they offered to buy me out from Maxim Group and give me a raise. Which was good, but there was trouble in paradise. The powers in Sylvan for some strange reason were not as pleased with our team leader. Eventually Aileen decided to leave and one of my fellow contractors, David Clayton was raised to team leader. In a way it was funny, because Sylvan had told me that they wanted me as an employee — they had decided that it was better to have in-house employees rather than so many contract programmers. So I changed from contractor to Sylvan employee…but now the boss of the Internet Team was a contractor! David was smart enough to keep his options open.

continuingIt was good to be employed and solvent. But the house I lived in was full of hypercube speakers collecting dust. And now the Patent was expiring. But the truth has no expiration date…and a message must be delivered.
–MRK

Next: The Rise and Fall of Worldnetpress

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The AES Show

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

hypercubeThe drive to NY in the summer of 1996 was uneventful. We pulled the van up to our hotel and saw to the unloading of all of the prototypes. They were placed on luggage carts and conveyed to our suite.

There were a lot of them. We had made an effort to provide a significant cross-section of what this technology could do.

hypercube2It took us a little time well spent to set up several pairs and sets of hypercube speakers, including original vs converted JBL, Radian and Dynaudio loudspeaker systems.

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demo on tableAs before we had imposed exacting standards on the demonstration models. Every piece of every cabinet was precision machined to .001 inches by the program and glued together in a labor of love by myself and Dale Oaesche.
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We had everything from top-of-the-line Radian coaxials to inexpensive muzak-grade contractor driver sets. I wired them all myself, soldering the crossover connections and checking the circuits for continuity. .
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demo on tableWe had comparison JBL and Radian rectangular box cabinet loudspeakers. We had hypercube speaker cabinets with and without drivers in a variety of sizes. We had bookshelf speakers and surround sound speakers on microphone stands.

We had switchable feeds from the turntable and stereo tuner fed amplifier so that with the flick of a switch we could change from two conventional loudspeakers to a pair of converted hypercube speakers with the same drivers and crossovers.

demo on tableThere was a mixed reception to our demonstrations. An audio set designer from Hollywood fell in love with the geometry. The engineer who showed up from JBL, however, was less amused, and seemed to grow more angry as the demonstration proceeded. All in all we managed a not inconsiderable effort, but the economic return was nil. I did not regret going, but it did not ultimately yield the traction we needed.

–MRK

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Getting Serious: CAD/CAMing Hypercubes

Monday, March 19th, 2012

hypercube“So let us hew the wood,
and carve our rhombus portions; half to tri,
and squarely set the baffle. When the waves
of pressure take their stations in the heart
of throbbing cubeness, function follows form,
the past no longer hostile to the Now…”

About this time, Shirley’s mother passed away. Shirley decided to spend part of her portion of the estate on a 3-axis overhead router CAD/CAM system.

All the time that Tom and I had been gripping the radial arm saw (like grocers slicing the turkey loaf) people had been recommending that we look into routers instead of saws. Now, I finally saw why: a router can create a bevel on the edge it cuts without having to tilt a blade. This is because the bevel is designed into the router head, a tough business end of the router that is a lot like a drill bit. We had two bits, one at 30o and one at 45o.

hypercube loudspeakerThe trick, as always in cutting wood, is to cut straight lines at the correct angles and bevel. With a CAD/CAM system the path of the tool through the wood is controlled by a computer executing a program. The straight or curved lines as required by the program are executed by moving the router head in XYZ-space using stepping motors.  To hold the wood motionless during cutting, the wood lies on a vacuum table perforated with numerous holes through which the air can be sucked to evacuate the air under the wood and thus  clamp the wood against the table using ambient air pressure.

rhombic dodecahedronWith a hand saw the issue was straight cuts. With the tale and radial arm saws the issue was precision angles. The CAD/CAM system reduced it all to “what kind of wood do you want to use?” once we got our custom router bit. For the first time we were able to cut wood accurately enough that all edges and corners came together without straining or extra sanding. We had a 30 degree bit which cut out 30 degrees of the wood on both sides of vertical. We used this because this left 60 degrees of beveled wood on the rhombus edge and then the rhombi came together at the correct dihedral angle, which for the rhombic dodecahedron is 120 degrees. This, while we were cutting out rhombi we were automatically putting the correct bevel on all of their edges to come together at 120 degrees in the rhombic dodecahedron.

Another nice thing about the CAD/CAM system was that for the first time we could easily cut any diameter woofer cutout (the circular opening in the square baffle plate where the woofer is front-mounted). We could easily cut out rhombi and half-rhombi for a number of identically-sized enclosures, and then custom cut square baffle plates with circular woofer mounting holes at whatever diameter we required to test various commercially-available woofer and coaxial driver sets to pick the ones we wanted.

special edition home theater speakersFor the first time, the construction of hypercube speaker enclosures from cut pieces became less of an art form and more of a simple mechanical procedure. This was because for the first time we had truly interchangeable parts (rhombi etc) to construct with because of the precision of the 3-axis router.  While we still had no real facilities for production, storage, or shipping of product, we did have the precision-cut interchangeable parts that would allow construction of the geometry with minimal training.

Our first main project with the CAD/CAM system was to engineer a collection of various-sized tesseract speaker cabinets to demonstrate prototypes at the Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention in New York, NY in the summer of 1996.

It had taken forever to get to this point. The parent, granted 11/4/1980, would be expiring in 1997.  We had tried radial arm saws and cabinet makers in FL and machinists in Baltimore making one-offs and tiny runs. Now we were finally in a position to make quality precision enclosures and show them to industry professionals. We were once again optimistic.

Once again we went all-out given our limited budget. We had enclosures of birch, oak, plastic, and metal. The transducers ranged in size from full range drivers as small as four inches and woofers up to twelve inches. We had coaxials, two-way systems and three-way systems. We had JBL for controls and a switch box like they use in electronics stores  to instantly change the output to any of several pairs of speakers. We packed them all up safely in a van and were ready to NY again, this time a shorter drive from Baltimore MD instead of Crystal River FL.

Next: The AES Convention

—MRK

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