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Archive for August, 2012

Saving Tesla’s Last Lab – Internet Style

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012


Internet charity raises over $700,000 dollars to restore Wardenclyffe, the last laboratory of Nikola Tesla!  Read on and find out how you can still help!

Almost two years ago, after a little bit of early morning internet searching, I came to the stunning conclusion that I had moved into a house that was only three miles from Tesla’s last laboratory, Wardenclyffe, and that the building in fact still existed!  I had to wait a few hours for the sun to come up.  Then, I hopped in the truck and wondered over to the location.  Sure enough, there was Wardenclyffe in all it’s slightly tarnished glory sitting at the corner of NY 25, and Tesla Rd!


Dash and TeslaSoon after, I came across an organization, The Tesla Science Center, on Long Island that was working to preserve the lab and turn it into an science museum and associated maker space.  I had a great time working with them in the ensuing two years to raise awareness of their efforts.  I was lucky enough to get to setup an amateur radio station on the Wardenclyffe property to send the first radio transmissions from Wardenclyffe this century along with Jeff Murray of “Dash the Dogfaced Ham” fame.  In conjunction with our amateur radio station, Diana Eng of Make Magazine fame, ham radio operator, and fashion designer extraordinaire, setup an amateur station in the New Yorker Hotel where Tesla spent his last days .  KG7UFO chimed in and transmitted from Tesla’s laboratory site near Colorado Springs.



I was also lucky enough to get to work with the folks behind RASL comics who were kind enough to plug the Tesla Science Center effort in their letters page. RASL is a comic book about a modern day scientist who comes across Tesla’s lost notebooks and puts them to use.  The story ultimately pulls in elements of the Tesla’s research, Everett’s many world theory of quantum mechanics, Wardenclyffe, and the Philadelphia Experiment, all of my fringe physics favorites.  It turns out their headquarters are near my old alma-mater, Ohio State University.

John Blyler of even helped publicize the effort!  Thanks John!


tesla internet fundraiser

Tesla internet fundraiser

Now, for the new news!  Last week, a web comic, “The Oatmeal“, publicized the fact that the state of NY had setup $850,000 in matching funds to save the laboratory.  The Oatmeal’s creator Matthew Inman also setup an internet fundraiser on indiegogo to help raise the $850,000 in contributions needed to fully match NY’s offer.  In the ensuing week, the fundraiser has raised $779,357 towards the goal!  If you’d like to help out, (and who wouldn’t), please check out the fundraiser, pass it along to your friends, and donate often!

On the off chance, you’ve read this whole post wondering, “who the $**! is Tesla?”, Matthew has your back covered.  You can read all about Tesla at The Oatmeal:

All About Tesla

All About Tesla




On International Travel, Spies, and Men’s Undergarments

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Early this spring, a vacationing German amateur radio operator, Baldur Drobnica, was arrested in Greece and charged under a ’1929 decree for illegal operation of radio telegraph equipment’.  It later came out that he had actually worked for West German intelligence earlier in his life.

I’m certainly not a spy and I suspect the majority of folks working in the semiconductor industry aren’t either.  We do tend to travel to far and varied places though.  We might all do well to keep old Baldur in mind.  On that note, out of concern for my fellow travelers, (and because I’m spread thin analyzing superconductor data and changing universities this week), I submit the following recycled cautionary tale from five years ago involving the Middle East, the ancient ruins of Petra, rushed travel plans and sundry undergarments for you consideration.



I’m doing a whirlwind tour of the Middle East this week in conjunction with a few work commitments. As much as I travel for work, I thought I had the whole process pretty well figured out. Not the case!

I landed in Tel Aviv early last weekend with plans of visiting Eilat, and then popping across the border to see Petra in Jordan.

I planned to take the bus to Eilat. It was a four hour bus ride, but it seemed worth it to get to see Petra that weekend. I’ve ridden the bus in Israel before. It’s not too big of a deal, just a little interview with a guy with a big gun and onto the bus you go. On the way to the hotel from the airport I asked my taxi driver where the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station was and explained my travel plans.

“No”, he said, “You don’t want to take the bus that will take all day. Take a plane. For $100 it will take you one hour to get to Eilat.”

Wow! What a deal! Thanks to my taxi driver I’d just instantly reclaimed six hours of my weekend! I rushed into my hotel, got on the internet, and booked a ticket to Eilat and a hotel room. I hustled back out of the hotel, into a cab and back to the airport.

I got to the airport a bit early and had to wait for security to open up. As I was waiting with everyone else I noticed a guy walking around nonchalantly. Imagine the stereo-typical portrayal of a spy in a recent US movie, mirrored sunglasses, Hawaiian flowered shirt, khaki pants. That’s the guy.

Security finally opened up and I dutifully lined up with everyone else to get my bags x-rayed. Then it was over to a separate little table to be interviewed. No problems, so far the whole process is pretty similar to taking the bus. But here’s where things derailed.

In my travels I’ve begun to take my passport a little less than seriously. No neck pouches, or hidden belt compartments for me, just jam that little puppy in my front pocket and off I go. Yeah… that was a mistake…

I presented my wrinkled, rather beat up passport to my interviewer whose first question was “What’s wrong with this passport?” I explained that I carried it in my pocket and it got a little beat up that way.

The second question was: “When did you make arrangements for this trip?”

“Earlier today”

OK, now we’re completely derailed. Apparently impromptu airplane travel is frowned on here even more so than in the US. Now, we’re playing twenty questions. Imagine the last argument you had with your significant other except you’re in an airport and it just doesn’t look like you’re going to get your passport back! And just like with your S.O. there are no right answers. My interviewers are twenty-something women and all the questions are in your face and rapid-fire. I’m jet-lagged and on about four hours of sleep at this point, and oddly, my thoughts are running less towards irritation and more along the lines of, “She’s kind of cute. Oh look at that, dimples when she smiles. I wonder if I can get her number after all this?” We discussed my business, my planning habits, and my destination.

“Where are you going?”



“It’s beautiful!”

“How do you know Petra exists?”

“I saw it in Indiana Jones.”

She rolls her eyes, “I understand.”

This goes on for a while until we hit the ultimate questions:

“If your business starts on Monday, why have you arrived on Saturday?”

“To get some rest before work.”

“Aha! But you’re not resting, you’re traveling!”

“Ummm, well… You’ve got me there.”

“So, you have no answer?”

“Nope, not to that one.”

“Then we have to search you and your bag.”

I’m thinking things are probably still OK. I’ve done this in the States right? Just a little spread’em routine. No biggy. They find a male employee to do the search. I look around for the search area.

Whoops, this is a bit different, I’m being led out of the airport. I’m watching the airport employee on my right lead me out. As soon as we get outside I feel something to my left, look over and… Wow! Remember the classic spy hanging out at the airport?  He’s walking along with us on my left. I’m telling you, it’s only paranoia if they’re not actually out to get you.

So, into the little search room we go. Once inside, my new handler put on a rubber glove. At this point I was thinking I never wanted to go to Eilat that badly! The bus will do just fine! Imagine my relief when we just did the normal states side pat-down! Next comes the wanding. My torso gets wanded and life is looking pretty good. I’m on the downhill side of this thing.

Then, suddenly, my butt beeps! All those grade-school dreams of secretly being the bionic man and not knowing it come back to me. Why is my butt beeping? I reach down into my pants to see what might be the problem and I’m instantly let down. No, I don’t have a bionic butt, the staff at Banana Republic once again forgot to take out their theft detection device! I pull the little tab of fabric above the belt line to show my inspector. He explains that seeing it won’t be quite enough. I’ll need to drop my britches so he can scan my butt separately. We have a problem!!!

“Dude, No! That’s a problem!”


“Crap… You picked the exact wrong day for this!”


“Well, you see when I got up this morning I was in kind of a hurry and skipped the whole underwear step. I’ve got nothing on down there!”


“Yeah, nothing…”

At this point I’m feeling worse for my inspector than for myself. He rolls his eyes, mutters something under his breath and says we have to do it anyway.

And sure enough, my butt’s not bionic! Oh well, at least I finally got that lingering question answered. A few more questions, and I’m off to join my flight.


I’m thinking all of this is pretty hilarious. I didn’t have my laptop with me, so I began to record some notes for a blog entry in a little sketch pad. I got about halfway through recounting the questioning and dozed off.

As soon as I hit Eilat, I checked into my room and wondered across the street to buy some underwear. If this happens tomorrow, I’ll be prepared!

Petra Detail

Petra Detail

The next day I made the border crossing into Jordan hopped into a cab and was off to Petra. The place was every bit as spectacular as I thought it might be. Wow! It’s hard to believe it was all carved out of the sandstone, not built, but carved. The entrance is a narrow chasm that is at least forty feet high in places, just like the movies!

So, life is good I saw what I wanted to see and I head back to Israel. I grabbed a little bit of dinner and headed for the airport. Where, the first question asked of me is, “What’s wrong with this passport?”

Here we go again. But this time, I’m feeling pretty confident and prepared! After all, I’ve got some underwear on.

As expected, the questioning results in a search. Once again I have to drop my britches, but this time I’m prepared. Everything goes smoothly.  Then, my inspector comes out of a room holding my sports coat.

“Why do you need a sports coat to see Petra?”

“You don’t.  You need a sports coat to eat dinner in Eilat!” I’m feeling good, I’ve got them this time.

He then reaches into my sports coat pocket and pulls out two little pieces of paper. “Why have you documented the airport security procedure?”

Ahhhh crap! My brovado is gone. I begin to wonder if the jail in Eilat has wireless so I won’t have to miss work. I look up at him and say, “Because it was kind of funny?”

“No, this is not funny! This is an important matter of security! You think we are funny!?”

“No, no, no… I think I made it funny”


“Well, that little part about Indiana Jones maybe?”

I see the tiniest smile crack. Thank God! I’ve never been so happy to see a smile in all my life! He goes back into the other room, says something in Hebrew, and I hear my other inspector burst out laughing! Apparently they had both read the whole thing.

The short of it? I’m comfortably hanging out in Athens after a spectacular week in Israel.

The moral?  I don’t know, maybe it’s better to be lucky than smart; maybe it’s good not to take life seriously? But for sure, just like your mom told you, always, always, always wear clean underwear!