- It’s not cinder blocks, but something altogether more boggling: a pair of quadricopters tossing a pole to one another, catching it, and balancing it like I used to do with rakes, only way better. (Thanks to Bill Higgins for the link. )
- Salon can’t seem to decide if self-publishing makes sense, or if it doesn’t.
- 10 thoroughly obscure terms, of which I knew 7–which makes me a bit of a language geek. I knew everything but “pataphor,” “isograms,” and “capitonym.” I suspect those are relatively recent coinages, compared to “zeugma.” (Thanks to Bill Cherepy for the link.”
- NPR: Kids who drink whole milk are thinner than kids who drink skim milk. Fat makes you thin. Carbs make you fat. The evidence just keeps on a-pilin’.
- It gets worse: Life extension by calorie restriction doesn’t work. Starving yourself doesn’t make you thin, doesn’t make you live longer, and beyond the continuous suffering it entails, may make you so unpleasant to be around that people will run when they see you coming.
- Related: From the Terms I Didn’t Know Until Yesterday Department: The second meal effect : The glycemic index of the food eaten at any given meal will affect blood glucose levels at subsequent meals as well. Eating low-GI all the time may be necessary to keep your blood sugar in line.
- And while I’m being a party pooper: Why restaurants make you fat. Carol and I make a point of not eating out more than once a week. In a lot of months, we have a sit-down restaurant meal maybe twice.
- People think that food labeled “organic” tastes better. It’s supposed to, therefore it must, I guess. (I drink organic dairy products to avoid hormones; beyond that, it’s case by case.)
- As if we didn’t have enough to worry about these days, H7N9 may get airborne.
- Web publishing favors cats. Print publishing favors dogs.
- The latest Nuts & Volts (April 2013) has a cover story on a modern reconception of the classic AM low-power broadcaster, using a 12K5 space charge tube. The twist is that the broadcaster is fed by an Arduino board called VoiceShield, which can generate all sorts of audio signals.
- From Kent Kotal: Behold the 20 richest musicians of all time. Note that the richest one is not a rock star.
- Also from Kent: Chicago radio legend Clark Weber will be doing on-the-air commentaries on WIND-AM. Clark is also a ham radio op (W9FFB) and I contacted him a few times back in the late 70s while I still lived in Chicago.
- For a trifling $44M, you can live in the fortress of Roman Emperor Tiberius. My only concern: If it’s haunted, it’s gonna be way haunted. (See Tacitus, Annals V1.) Thanks to Steve Sayre for the link.
None Of The Above
Anything that doesn’t fit into existing categories
Having had a certain amount of trouble with keeping multiple OS images on a single drive, I’ve been looking for a reliable way to pop a bootable SATA hard drive into my quadcore. The goal is to have one OS per drive. Drives smaller than 128GB are fairly cheap, and drives 80GB or smaller are dirt cheap. The challenge is purely mechanical, and I think I’ve got a line on it: the IStarUSA T-7M1 mobile rack. It can be had in a number of places, including Newegg and Amazon. About $35. It’s a full-size SATA drive holder that contains a removable sled to which the drive itself is bolted. The sleds themselves are available separately, at about $15-$20 each. They come in several different colors, including silver, blue, black, and red.
In use, the drive can be spun down while the machine is operating, or you can wait until you power down the machine as a whole before popping a drive and tucking a new one in. (That’s what I do. The Windows feature allowing hot-swapping of the drives slows down drive throughput, or so I’ve read.) I’m currently in the process of building a new Windows image on a Samsung 120GB SSD, and being able to swap sleds between my current image and the new image means I can take my time and do it right.
The only serious question about this is how many times the SATA leaf connectors on the backs of SATA drives can be cycled without compromising them. The SATA spec says 50 times, which does seem low but is probably conservative. The truth is that I don’t think of these as bigger thumb drives and won’t be yanking them anywhere near as often. Although I occasionally boot into Linux on this machine, I have a dedicated multiboot Linux box in my shop. I doubt I’ve gone into Linux here since last fall. Also, I have a case that contains two toaster-style SATA slots on top, and I’ve been using them for monthly backups since last summer without incident. A backchannel correspondent who swaps files using a BlacX case like mine says the danger is overrated. He’s had drives in and out of various docks well over 50 times and the drives still work perfectly. Even if I plug drives in monthly, I still get 5 years of backups without going beyond the spec. That’s more than good enough for me.
I’ve wanted to try an SSD for a couple of years. My reaction so far is that software comes in quite a bit faster from an SSD, especially the first time after boot-up. And with one less motor spinning, the machine is mildly but noticeably quieter. (I don’t have an outboard graphics card, and the case stays quite cool with only a single 120mm fan running.)
I’ve got a couple more evenings of configuration to do on the SSD image, but after I’ve been using it awhile I’ll post my impressions here. So far, the sledding has been fine.
My longtime friend and collaborator Jim Strickland has had a Raspberry Pi board almost since the beginning, and he startled me by handing me one as a Christmas present. I was aware of it but hadn’t researched it deeply. Here’s a good place to start if you’re new to the concept.
Basically, it’s an ARM-6 board with HDMI and composite video output, two USB ports, and a standard RJ45 Ethernet connector. For disk it uses an SDHC card. There’s an I/O header for connecting to physical gadgets like relays and lights and things. There’s more than one OS available for it, but most people use the adaptation of Debian Wheezy called Raspbian.
I don’t like having circuit boards flopping around in mid-air, so I drilled and tapped two 4-40 holes in a husky 3/16″ aluminum plate and mounted the Pi on a pair of 3/8″ nylon standoffs.
Putting it together was a snap. I downloaded the Raspbian image file, wrote it out to a spare 8 GB SDHC card I had in the drawer with Image Writer for Windows, plugged the card into the card slot on the board, hooked up the cables, and turned it on.
Bootup isn’t snappy, and the first time in you have to set a few things like time zone, but in a couple of minutes I had Linux on my big-screen LED TV. The small black item connected to the USB port block in the photo above is the Bluetooth dongle for a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse. This leaves me a port free for something else. Ethernet came to the device through a pair of Linksys Powerline bridges, which I’ve described here before.
I now have what Michael Abrash would call “Linux on my bedroom wall.”
This particular distro comes with Python and Scratch preinstalled, but Jim’s already gotten the ARM-6 port of FreePascal/Lazarus downloaded and running. That’s next on the list for me. I’ll wrestle with that another time, as it’s getting late here. I have a special purpose in mind for the gadget which I won’t spill just yet, since it may not be realistic. More as I learn it.
Today is Aero’s sixth birthday. We’ve given the Pack (and their forebears, Mr. Byte and Chewy) cake and lemon bars on their various birthdays down through the years, with good results. Dash, however, is peculiar in that he simply doesn’t like sweet things. So this time we took a quarter pound of good burger and divided it four ways. (L-R: Jack, Aero, QBit, and Dash.) We were out of birthday candles, so I took a plumber’s candle and stuck it in Aero’s portion.
It’s a testament to the quality of Carol’s training that even after she placed the plates of burger in front of them, saying “Leave it!” was enough to keep them seated patiently on the bench behind the table. Once the photos were taken, saying “Take it!” ensured that the burger was gone in two heartbeats. Maybe one. (Carol yanked the candle first.)
It’s also been two weeks since I last posted here, which is well beyond my usual threshold of pain. Insiders know what’s going on: I have a novel to finish. And I’m not trying to finish it just to get it off my do-it list. No sirree: An editor at a significant press has asked for the full manuscript.
Boy. Nothing like a little request like that to light a fire under a guy.
I have a pair of hard deadlines now: Finished manuscript by 8/31. Polished manuscript ready to ship by 9/15. Today was a milestone: I hurtled past 53,700 words, which was the finished length of Drumlin Circus. That means that Ten Gentle Opportunities is the longest piece of fiction I’ve written since The Cunning Blood crossed the finish line on Good Friday 1999.
It is also the strangest. At my Clarion workshop in 1973, Lloyd Biggle, Jr said during a guest lecture that you can’t mix SF and fantasy. I’ve had it in my head ever since then that when Biggle’s words reached my ears, it was like swearing on the Runestaff: I knew I would damned well do it someday.
Sorry, Lloyd. I offer you: Dancing zombies. Well-dressed AIs. Object-oriented magic. Virtual universes, virtual doughnuts, virtual Frisbees, virtual stomach acid. Romance. A cannon that fires machine instructions. Heavily networked kitchen appliances. Total war waged inside a robotic copier factory. (Did I miss anything? I’ve heard there’s a sink shortage locally.)
I admit it. The romance has been hard. Reading romance novels to see how the pros do it was not especially helpful. Worse, I have no real-world experience engaging in screaming matches with significant others, of whom there have been exactly four, anyway. The romance may thus seem less real than the magic, which might be described as Supernatural Pascal.
What’s been harder than the romance has been maintaining the mood for 53,000 words. Humor is just, well, hard, which is a topic worthy of one or more entries all by itself. I think it works, but it’s hard to know until the whole thing’s done. I suspect my beta testers will tell me. If they don’t, my editor will.
53,800 words down. 26,200 words to go. Three weeks. Watch me.
- One of the best parts of Wired‘s site is their volcano blog, run by geologist Erik Klemetti. He currently has a delicious demolishment of all the panic over this weekend’s perigee moon up over there, and the only sad part is that the people who need to read it the most won’t read it at all.
- I am pondering a trip to Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska on or about my 60th birthday on June 29th. I’m going to park on the beach, throw an antenna into a tree and crank up the Icom, run the dogs around, look at the stars, and roast marshmallows over a fire. The schedule isn’t clear yet, but I would be most honored to have any of you join me. More here as I know it.
- The more choices purchasers have, the harder it is for any individual seller to get a product noticed. Here are some hard facts about iOS apps and their very unevenly distributed success. I intuit that an identical model already holds sway in ebooks, or will very soon.
- Listen to yourself…then check to see if what you’re saying is described on this poster. What they call “Tu quoque” is what I call “the Fifth-Grade Defense;” i.e. “Your guy is a crook!” answered instantly by “Your guy is a crook too!” Wonderful summary that should be on everyone’s wall. (Thanks to Michael Covington for the link.)
- From Bruce Baker comes a link to a decent piece in Scientific American on the notion that dogs take humans into account within their problem-solving minds, and their doing so might be considered “tool use”…with us as the tools. Recall how Dash brought me his empty food bowl for a refill.
- A new twins study suggests that sleeping for less than seven hours a night activates a gene that causes weight gain. I first heard this at a Mayo Clinic lecture twelve years ago, and it’s nice to see it finally elbowing its way into conventional wisdom.
- Here’s yet another very good piece on the 1859 Carrington Event, which was the strongest solar storm in recorded history.
- Somebody did some analysis on 37,000 Billboard chart song titles since (egad) 1890, and learned that those song titles had a vocabulary of only 9,000 words. Here’s a cloud chart of the most common song title words. Betcha can’t guess the #1 word. Actually, betcha can. Try before you click to the chart.
- Evidently identity theft is still a problem even after you’re dead.
- Speaking of dead…here’s an interesting story on the near-death experience, which is interesting as much for the type of surgery they describe (basically, kill the patient, fix the artery, and then bring her back to life) as what the patient experienced while she was “dead.” (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
- I like the dog…but I don’t get the joke.
Wow. I think I finally happened upon a use for Twitter. The Union Pacific railroad tweets status updates on the tour of its restored 4-8-4 steam loco, #844, as I described in my entry for October 31, 2011. I have line-of-sight from my house to the BNSF tracks on which #844 would be taken south to Pueblo yesterday, and I wanted to actually see it from my back deck. Now, it’s a long line of sight–a little over five miles, according to MapPoint–but since I’m on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain, 600 feet higher than the tracks, I have no trouble making out BNSF’s coal trains, though it’s easier with binoculars. On quiet summer nights I can hear their horns (faintly) when they go through grade crossings. Uphill seems a favorable direction for sound. As I’ve mentioned here several times, we hear Fort Carson’s bugle calls on most quiet days.
#844 has a whistle, a real steam whistle, but not just any old steam whistle: It’s got a whistle transplanted from one of the now-extinct but inexpressibly awesome Big Boy 4-8-8-4 articulated locomotives, which seventy years ago began hauling freight up Rocky Mountain grades. None of the Big Boys are still operable, but a piece of one of them remains in service, and #844′s got it.
I wanted to see #844 from my deck, and I wanted to hear it too. The window was short, probably two minutes or less, so if I wasn’t out there at precisely the right time I would miss it. Enter Twitter: By following the UP’s status updates while I worked here on my quadcore, I was able to grab my jacket and binoculars as soon as #844 pulled out of downtown, and be there on the back deck (along with QBit; Carol was still in Chicago) when the loco went past.
QBit sat next to my chair and gnawed a Nylabone. I leaned back and did a little deep breathing and some ten-second-meditation exercises. A couple of minutes later, I felt annoyed at the sound of some damfool 18-wheeler engine-braking on Highway 115. (We hear those a lot too.) But…it wasn’t engine braking. It expanded to the deepest, thrummingest whistle I’d ever heard, and for four or five seconds it blasted, echoing among the hills and against Cheyenne Mountain itself. It wailed the way nothing on earth but a steam whistle wails, a wail that doubtless inspired ghost-train stories and infused the history of steam traction with something like mythic sadness. Steam trains sounded sad long before they were an endangered species. (The physics of that wail is simple but surprises many people when they first learn of it. You all understand it, right?)
I stood up, leaned on the railing, and looked hard. Sure enough, a comet’s tail of cylinder-vented steam crept out from behind a hill, and for two minutes and change #844 crossed my field of view. Five times the big whistle sounded, and then it passed behind another hill on Fort Carson and was gone. It’s far from certain that I will ever see it again.
Why didn’t I go down there closer to the tracks and get a better view? I’m not entirely sure myself. I can guess, though. This house was a first for us: We’re 600 feet higher than Colorado Springs itself, and we get a view from a height. The wide view off my decks is a personal metaphor for the world as a whole. I can see buildings and cars and traffic lights and water towers and the aviation beacon from Butts Field. Houses and offices and a little bit of everything are right there, and I can take it all in at one glance. Seeing #844 from my deck made it feel like steam was still part of the world I live in, and I felt it viscerally. Big steam whistles will do that.
And yeah, Twitter made it possible. As silly as I consider it sometimes, broadcast IM may well have its (occasional) uses. I wonder how many years it will be before I run across another one?
- Fairness requires that I point this out: An article in the Guardian that I cited in my last Odd Lots was in error. NASA had nothing to do with the paper in question, which was written in his spare time by a postdoc who happens to work for NASA. That makes the paper no less ridiculous, but at least NASA isn’t doing stuff down that far along the dumb spectrum.
- And I’ll give this project a fair shot, though I would prefer to see NASA do this on a non-exclusive basis rather than for a particular publisher only. No word on whether and what Tor/Forge is paying for the deal. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- Samsung has cited Kubrick’s film 2001 in a patent prior art case. (Engadget has a shorter entry with a still.) I wasn’t aware that fictional concepts can be raised in prior art challenges, but evidently it was done back in the 1960s when waterbeds were coming into common use. Robert A. Heinlein had described a waterbed in his 1942 novel Beyond This Horizon, and it was cited in a prior art challenge that cost Charles Hall his patent on the waterbed in 1968.
- My computer books and articles have been cited in patent applications 37 times, but I don’t know if it’s possible to look up prior art case citations. Will have to research this.
- While we’re citing citations, I was recently cited in a book by Paul J. Nahin, Number Crunching: Taming Unruly Computational Problems from Mathematical Physics to Science Fiction . The citation, on page 281, briefly describes my reprints of the Carl & Jerry stories from Popular Electronics. Alas, he cites me as “Copperhead Press” but mentions of the boys are way down in the last year and I’m glad they were mentioned at all. Thanks to Bruce Baker for letting me know.
- If you’re interested in hurricanes, here’s a nice summary page with automatically updating satellite imagery and lots of interesting graphics. The satellite imagery can be animated to show changes over the last several hours.
- I didn’t think this was new news, but apparently star formation is slowing down, as material that was originally hydrogen is “locked up” in white dwarfs, neutron stars, and heavy elements, even after a supernova has blasted a star’s substance back into interstellar space. I didn’t think that 70% of a supernova’s mass fails to return to the gas pool, but that seems to be the case.
- Jim Mischel sends along a link to a marvelous homebrew bandsaw made mostly of wood. (The blade and the hardware may be inescapably metallic.) The site as a whole has lots of interesting woodpunk concepts and projects. I especially like the wooden gear template generator, which calculates a gear outline that can be printed to paper and then cut out from wood.
- Whew. We get the message, guys.
- Finally, the epic review of the Motorola Xoom that we assumed we’d eventually see from Ars Technica. My only gripe is that somebody over there needs to learn how to take sharp, close-in photos of hardware.
- While we’re talking Xoom, I learned that my Degunking collaborator Joli Ballew is doing a Xoom book for Wiley. According to Amazon, it will be out on June 7.
- Ibuprofen (Advil etc.) may provide some protection against Parkinson’s. It may also tear up your stomach lining, as happened to me in 1999. Be careful.
- And damn, I shoulda gone to Polish school when I was four, like my mom wanted. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- Here’s a list of the ten most powerful earthquakes since 1900. (They have not yet included the Japanese quake, which has recently been promoted from 8.9 to 9.0.) I remember the stories in the papers about the 1964 Alaska quake. Man, that was ugly. Let’s be glad it wasn’t in the Cascades.
- My assembly language book is now for sale on both the Kindle and the Nook stores. Kindle: $36.86. Nook: $52.00. Print: $65.00. (But nobody pays cover anymore.)
- I’ve been called a crank for my position on this, but I don’t care: Sleep is more important than food. (If you won’t listen to me, maybe you’ll listen to Harvard.)
- Here’s a nice page on magic eye tubes, which are remarkably little-known (especially among the young) given their off-the-charts coolness factor. And another photo page. Some of the miniature types were used well into the 1960s. We had a Grundig tape recorder from 1961 or so, and it incorporated a DM70, which I still have in a box somewhere, along with a 6AL7 and a couple of 6U5′s.
- From the Ideas You Can Have For Free And Are Worth Every Nickel Department: Somebody should start a Wikipedia extension wiki that automatically grabs and posts anything deleted from Big Wiki for that peculiarly intense Wikipedia fetish, non-notability. In this era of pervasive broadband and $50 terabytes, why shouldn’t the 6U5 get its own page? It’s certainly notable to me.
- From the Law of Unintended Consequences Department: Scrupulously green San Francisco is turning brown because government-mandated low-flow toilets aren’t moving solid waste through the system quickly enough to forestall clogging. Be glad you live in New Yawk, Ed. (Thanks again to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- Although I’ve always known what hops are used for (beer, basically) I realized this morning that I had no idea what a hop looked like. Now I know.
- Classmates.com has evidently been bought out by a nostalgia site called Memory Lane. I haven’t gotten any email pitches from them lately, so I’m quietly hoping that either Memory Lane has reformed their fraud-laced marketing practices (telling me of girls who supposedly attended my all-male high school back when I did) or that the whole mess will soon sink into bankruptcy and vanish.
- At our most recent nerd gathering here, four of my friends and I managed to carry our 1997-vintage, 198-pound Sony CRT TV set up our precipitous stairway out to the 4Runner, and a few days later I paid Blue Star recycling $37 to see it to its final rest. Many thanks to the guys–we had been pondering how to get rid of it for the past several years. Friends are most excellent to have, especially for people like me who can’t lift 100 pounds anymore.
- And this means we’re shopping for a downstairs TV. I came across a good site focused on plasma TVs, which as a class may be problematic at our current altitude of 6600 feet. Apparently they buzz and run far too hot, though the physics of the phenomenon remain obscure to me.
- I’ve found the first (thin) review of the Motorola Xoom. Few details yet, but I will say up front that the cloud-based ebook system doesn’t thrill me. Early releases of Honeycomb may not support the XD card slot, but Motorola hints that an OS update will take care of that. That’s important here: Given that 16GB MicroSD cards are already down to $35, sideloading my entire ebook library would be a snap, with room left over for lots of music and videos.
- I also recently found out that the Xoom GUI borrows from the quirky but interesting BumpTop, recently bought by Google and then pulled from general distribution.
- I may be too old to appreciate the BumpTop 3D metaphor (I always think it looks like working inside a refrigerator box) but some good themes have been created for it, including this steampunk specimen.
- Xoom has a “barometer.” Most commenters, including the LA Times , don’t seem to understand that a barometer can measure altitude with more accuracy than GPS. I doubt that the Xoom’s barometer will have anything to do with weather reports. (Else there’d be a thermometer and a hygrometer as well.)
- There’s a long-running feud between Samsung and US cell carriers over who pays for Android updates, with the result that many Samsung phones are stuck at Android 2.1 and may never get an update from the vendor. (Applying the update yourself is not for the squeamish.) Yesterday afternoon, of course, Samsung denied it all. As intriguing as the Galaxy Tab looked when I played with it back in November, issues like this may keep me away from Samsung wireless products entirely.
- Some images speak for themselves. Like this one. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- Oxytocin may be the biochemical basis for tribalism, racism, political parties, and just about everything else that the human species would be better off without. “Cuddle hormone” my ass.
- Good-bye to seigniorage, not that one person in ten thousand ever knew what it was–or how to spell it.
- Ahh, well. I may have eaten my last pistachio.