Lightning Adding Machine Company

Mom and dad went to some auctions this past week. One of the things they bought was a Lightning Adding Machine. There are a lot of different models of the calculator.

Mechanical adding machine

Lightning Adding Machine Co. ca. 1953

Looking at the different versions online, mine appears to be the version that was made in 1953. This version has instructions to do addition and subtraction painted on it. It also has a lever that will clear the calculator quickly.

I’m not much of a collector and decided to use it to track my expenses today. I *really* like it. The mechanical clicking of the dials is very satisfying.

My Nokia internet tablet has a really nice digital tape in the calculator. I like that and used the tape often, because I often made mistakes with that calculator. With the Lightning, I make fewer mistakes. Usually, if I’m going to make a mistake, I realize the error as I am entering the addend.

I really like the mechanical feedback of rotating the dials. Mine doesn’t have any of the original attachments like a stand, stylus or instruction book. I’m using a ball point pen for a stylus. If I take the ink cartridge out of the pen, it should be an reliable stylus.

The only drawback I have found is that if I get distracted in the middle of adding a list of numbers, I don’t know exactly where I stopped… Was I in the middle of a value or which number was the last I entered? I have to start over. For a long list of numbers, I make subtotals of parts of the list and then add the subtotals which helps avoid that problem.

The Anti-Placebo Effect

There’s been plenty of information about the placebo effect the past few days. Some researchers are investigating the genetics of the placebo effect. Even the idea of drug-placebo interactions are on the table for discussion. I’ve seen the suggestion that it makes sense to have an additional treatment track in a drug trial: the drug, the placebo and a new “no treatment at all” track.

xkcd today has this amusing take on evaluating the placebo effect.

They work even better if you take them with our experimental placebo booster, which I keep in the same bottle.

xkcd May, 19, 2015

I had some recent experiences that might hint that there is an anti-placebo effect. With the placebo effect, the mind’s expectations modulate the properties of a pill. So, it seems to follow that normally effective drugs might have negative properties that are modulated by the mind.

This is different from the placebo/anti-placebo are imaginary or “all in your head.” A placebo is effective because there are biological consequences of the act of taking a medicine beyond the chemical properties of the drug.

I was talking to a nurse from my cardiologist’s office about headaches. I mentioned the headaches earlier to her earlier and she wondered why I hadn’t yet talked to my primary doctor about them. Almost immediately, my headache became worse until the phone call receded from my attention. A few days later, my doctor prescribed a medicine. Its effect of increased pain is similar to what happened after the conversation with the nurse. My symptoms get worse when I take the prescription medicine. An anti-placebo effect could even increase the likelihood of the side effects of a medicine developing.

So, with my headaches, I’m finding taking a small dose of Tylenol is more effective than the prescription medicine. I don’t think the dose I’m taking is enough to really have any direct effect and part of its effectiveness is a placebo effect.

How I discuss that with the doctor escapes me. “Hi doctor, I’m taking this tiny dose of acetaminophen and it working a lot better than the prescription medicine you ordered. I think part of its effectiveness is that it is having a placebo effect on my headaches.” I can only imagine that conversation going badly. “Err, we should try a different medicine that doesn’t have the same effects as the medicine I’m avoiding. Don’t take the Tylenol.” How do you talk to a doctor about placebos being effective in my case?

I’ve read that doctors think of the placebo effect as “cheating” or somehow improper. An anti-placebo for a specific individual might explain the appearance of side effects of a medicine.

Would an anti-side effect placebo be able to prevent the anti-placebo side effects of a regular drug? Perhaps an anti-side-effect placebo can be a good idea in patients that respond well to placebos.

It seems plausible.


Mom and Dad came down yesterday to help me with my landscaping. They were a lot of help.

In addition to the mulch, mom pruned some bushes. She also brought some tomato and pepper plants.

While we were working, we noticed that my neighbor had some beautiful calla lilies in her yard. I don’t remember ever seeing that kind of lily before. The neighbor has much more of a green thumb than me. My biggest problem is the 20 feet from the sofa to the door. I don’t go out when I need to pull weeds or water things.

Lilac bush by house

Trimmed Lilac

Mom trimmed back my lilac bush that had just finished blooming. It’s going to be a lot smaller next year. They grow really fast, so it won’t be long before it’s giant again.

Peony from 2007

Peonies from 2007

          I have really big pink peonies at the corner of my house. They haven’t blossomed yet, but they’re getting close to opening up.

Contribute to Wikipedia

Wikipedia has plenty of ways to contribute. The obvious one is to add content or edit pages. There are also many “WikiProjects” There’s something for everybody’s taste.Wikipedia sphere

Some of the projects cover different topic areas: Bacon, Batman and Birds

An assignment for a class last year sent me looking for a WikiProject. I found the Maintenance project Citation Cleanup and then I specialized into “Pages with broken reference names” It’s fairly esoteric and the list of things to do on the projects is unbounded. Knock down one page by fixing its citations and there’s ten more waiting for attention.

It’s interesting to learn the inner workings of Wikipedia. I don’t have to do anything more than read it, but by contributing I take a little bit of (mostly anonymous) ownership.

I learned that there are robots that go through the encyclopedia that identify likely vandalism. Others find citations that look similar for a person to make them consistent. There is a robot flotilla helping out. There are guidelines for making your own robot.

As I looked more and more into the inner workings of Wikipedia, it seems to be more of a community. I don’t have to worry about “breaking” it and I can, in my own small way, make a contribution.

Original image. By Wikipedia [Image license: CC BY-SA 3.0]

Hot Glass

First Rule of Laboratory Work
One of the lessons from my chemistry classes in high school was that “hot glass looks like cold glass.” This was a lesson like “don’t touch the stove or you will get burned.” I never felt a need to verify this.

However, hot solder looks like cold solder. I was working to test my “ARC Generator.” I have a bench power supply. I was trying to protect the LEDs in the ARC generator from accidental shorts as I probed them by limiting the current & voltage on the power supply to a safe level.

I was getting pretty frustrated. Nothing was happening. I even tried powering up my little 5V regulator on a proto board and nothing happened there either. I decided to test the test equipment and I found that the red power lead was open. Then it became really obvious because the connector fell off onto the floor–cold solder joint.

I pulled out my soldering iron and solder and tried fixing the cable. The first try was a failure because when I picked the (supposedly) repaired wire, the tip fell off again. This is where the hot metal looks like cold metal applies: I tried to tap the loose part on the floor to gauge if it was cool enough. Well, it wasn’t. I picked it up and burned my fingers and tossed the piece of metal across the room.

I was more cautious on the second try and I think I’ve got the connection solid.

So, testing the testing equipment was a win. Picking up a piece of metal that was just soldered was a fail.

…and I still don’t know if the LEDs in the ARC generator (á la Iron Man) are wired correctly, but I can check that tomorrow.

Original image: ~toxin refinery Rule No. 1. By Leigh Anthony DEHANEY [Image license: CC 2.0 BY-NC]

Survey chimpanzee

Chimpanzee thinking


Saturday I got to play survey chimpanzee.

I got a call about 11:30 for a survey about health related questions from “clearwater res”. It said that it was partly due to a WHO or NIH study. It was pretty long. I gave permission for them to contact me later if they needed to.

Toward the end it had questions about how much of different foods that you had eaten. That part of the survey was very poorly designed because it asked you to estimate frequency on a day, week or month basis (your choice). That was confusing and hard to decide how to answer. I don’t see how you could combine those different counts in a valid way.

About 12 I got another call from “convergys corpo”. This was on food shopping habits. It asked me to compare the two different grocery stores that I spent the most money on. I was supposed to rate WalMart and Kroger about my experiences. This one wasn’t out of blue because I’ve done that survey multiple times. At the end they ask me “Would you be willing to participate again in no less than 3 months from now?” which I always answer yes. I’ve done it maybe 5 times now.

This survey’s weakness was that I tend to compress my ratings toward the top: “1 for terrible” and “10 for outstanding”. I never give a rating < 6 and very rarely 10.

A little after 1pm I got a call from "SSRS" which was surveying for, I believe they said, The Washington Post and another sponsor. Only the first question was open-ended. They asked what issue was most important. I said education and the problem of the high-stakes testing. Most of the questions seemed to be trying to gauge the conservative support for the hot-button issues and candidates.

The rest was annoying. Many questions were presented as Yes/No and no other answers possible. I had to say the liberal position on a bunch of them because I couldn't pick a middle ground option that was more accurate. I wasn't sure what to answer for religious preference since I'm completely inactive in my declared religion and haven't found a replacement yet. In the end, I just said the most recent one–the surveyor had to go searching to find it in their software.

I wonder how I got called cold for two surveys on the same day. "SSRS" also called last Friday but I was away. My only guess is they the two companies were using the same software to make the randomized choices and the got the same result: namely me.

It was funny when I got a second survey about 10 minutes after I was done with the first, but when I got the third, it was just bizarre.

[[Original Image]] [[By Photo by Anup Shah and Fiona Rogers (Nature Picture Library / Rex Features.)]] [[Image license: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]]