- Amazon has announced and should now be shipping a new Kindle Paperwhite with 300 DPI resolution. That’s a magic number; it’s the resolution of most inexpensive laser printers, and will make reading on e-ink mostly indistinguishable from reading b/w paper.
- The physics behind those new “no-stick” ketchup and mayonnaise bottles.
- Egad: The 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines has omitted cholesterol from its list of “nutrients of concern” and eliminated its upper limit on total fat consumption. People, we are winning. Ancel Keys’ corpse has been exhumed and is about to be burned at the (heavily marbled) steak.
- Reason ranks states in terms of numbers of libertarian citizens. Colorado is #16. Arizona is #10.
- Amazon released a figure for June page-reads that allows us to calculate the KU per-page payout. It comes to 0.6 cents. For a 500-page novel (again, remember that Amazon defines what a page is, and the algorithm is still unclear) an author realizes $3.00. That’s actually a good chunk more that what the author would get for a $2.99 sale, and fairly close to the author payout for a $3.99 sale.
- More on author earnings: Agency pricing for ebooks, which large publishers fought so hard for, looks like it’s being a disaster for them. Higher prices have meant lower sales; in fact, Big 5 ebook unit sales were down 17% in the first four months of 2015.
- 30% of ebooks sold in the US do not have ISBNs, and this seriously distorts industry reporting on ebook sales. Conventional industry metrics don’t count ebooks without ISBNs. I have lots of ISBNs and intend to use them—hey, they’re paid for—but this makes me wonder if it really matters.
- 23 newly coined words for emotions that we feel but can’t describe. Carol and I experienced Chrysalism the other day, and anecdoche seems to be the American Way.
- Most MMJ edibles are badly labeled, and contain less THC and CBD than they imply. Colorado has a testing program in place, but it’s new and not everyone is convinced the tests are accurate. So it still pays to be careful, do a little at a time so you know what you’re in for, and try your best not to pull a Maureen Dowd.
- It’s both.
- Before you shoot your mouth of about the Confederate flag, maybe you should learn a little bit about the several Confederate flags.
None Of The Above
Anything that doesn’t fit into existing categories
Rumors of my abduction by aliens are at least a little exaggerated. My wife, as most of you know well, is an …otherworldly… beauty, and on my 62nd birthday she abducted me for another tropical vacation. Carol’s sister Kathy and our brother-in-law Bob were co-conspirators, and though the Dominican Republic is a bit of an alien environment (especially for white-bread boys like me) it was an alien world well worth visiting.
The east coast of the island is an area called Punta Cana, where the density of resorts approaches a weird sort of recreational singularity. We landed at Secrets Royal Beach and stayed there for a full week. Logistically, the trip was a polar opposite to our second honeymoon on Grand Cayman back in May: In the Caymans, we bought our own food, cooked, and kept house on our own steam in a rented beach condo. At the all-inclusive Secrets, well, they do pretty much everything except throw you in the pool, and I’m guessing that could be arranged.
Our phones didn’t work. Meh. Ask me if I care. We had to pay extra for Internet, which we used a lot less than we expected. (My increasingly cranky Win7 laptop didn’t help.) I gained four pounds, which for one week is close to a personal record. Much of that was due to the neverending pina coladas, I suspect. What wasn’t alcohol was sugar, and in truth (this being an all-inclusive) there wasn’t a great deal of alcohol in the drinks unless you knew how to ask for it. (We learned.)
The beach is spectacular. The white sand was like powder, soft, and for some reason never too hot to walk on, even in the brutal noonday sun. Some sea grass breaks loose from the bottom and washes onto the shore, but the beach tenders were constantly raking it up. The water was upstairs of 85 degrees. The resort has chairs under the palms and under dozens of hand-thatched tiki huts. Granted that this is their off-season, we had no trouble getting a hut when we wanted one.
The Secrets staff were wonderful, with particular mention of two: Angel and Marianny. Angel (a male waiter whose turf included our spot on the “lazy river” pool) was hilarious, and kept the drinks coming. Marianny worked at the beach grill, and she was gracious enough to help me remember my Spanish across the 41-year gulf since my last Spanish course. I wanted to say “bee” (abeja) and almost said “abuela” (grandmother.) Instead, I buzzed. She laughed, and told me the word. I could not for the life of me remember the word for “breakfast” (desayuno) and one word that I could say (conozco) I could not define. (It means “I know.” Heh.)
This was a (mild) problem throughout the week. I was never entirely sure whether the staff understood my questions, and therefore whether their answers reflected reality. Boy, I started wanting a book that would be a sort of second-gen Exam Cram for stuff you learned long ago and recall unevenly. Anybody want to buy a series? The first title will be Take Back Your Spanish. (The second might have been Take Back Your FORTH, but some things are best left forgotten.)
Americans at the resort were outnumbered (I’d guess 2 to 1) by Europeans and Canadians, and most of the people we spoke to were British, Irish, or Russian. I had abundant opportunity to play my private game of identifying overheard languages. We heard Russian, Polish, French, and probably Portuguese. Here and there I heard languages I had no clue about, though I think one was Turkish. Peculiar cultural gaps kept appearing. A middle-aged British woman asked me what sort of hat I was wearing (not the hat in the photo above) and seemed poleaxed by the idea of an indestructable terrycloth roll-up beach hat that (granted) looks like something made out of a washcloth. She wanted to know where I got it, but I’ve had it for at least 25 years and no longer recall. Another woman from the UK had never heard of Kaley Cuoco, even though she was a dead ringer. European women evidently wear bikinis well into their seventies, a species of courage that I much admire.
Carol and I remarked to one another that we may be the last people in the Industrialized West without tattoos.
The food was good. We ate most meals at the buffet, which had its quirks but was generally excellent. We had uneven luck with the a la carte restaurants. Language again intervened: I ordered a steak at the resort’s French restaurant, and asked for a glass of red wine. The waiter said there was only white wine. I said ok, I’ll take a glass of white wine. Then he returned with the bottle and poured me a glass of…red wine. The steak was terrific, and the mushroom orzo spectacular. The wine was workmanlike, and hey, however tangled the negotiation, I eventually got what I wanted.
There are all sorts of things to do there, almost none of which we did. People hanging from parasails were going by over the beach constantly. I like kites and brought two, but I don’t think I’d particularly enjoy riding one. You could also get rides on these little ultralight planes with inflatable pontoons, or, for more money, rides in real helicopters. The snorkling was not good unless you went out a lot farther than we wanted to go. (In the Caymans it was right off the beach.) So we bobbed in the ocean and paddled around the pool. I got another 150 pages through Richard Ellmann’s ginormous fine-print biography of Oscar Wilde. I now know that Wilde had a 17-inch neck and a 38 1/2 inch waistline. It’s that kind of biography, and took Ellmann twenty years to write. I hope to finish reading it in less.
Secrets is “adults-only” (which sounds disreputable but just means the kids are in the next resort over) but the definition of “adult” was slippery. There was deafening rappish tech/trance music and much twentysomething horseplay by the big pool all afternoon through mid-evening. Every time I turned around I was hearing Aloe Blacc’s technocountry (yes, I just made that up) hit “Wake Me Up When It’s All Over,” to the point where I was absently humming it over dinner. On Canada Day there was a marching band circling around the pool playing “O Canada,” whereas on the Fourth of July there was a hot dog eating contest and a big machine spraying soap foam all over the revelers in the pool. What this says about us and the Canadians (or how other cultures perceive us) is unclear.
All of this is to say that we had a great time doing exactly what we wanted to (splashing, reading, enjoying the company) and little of what we didn’t want to. The outing cost about a third of what a week in Hawaii would cost us. The plane ride was five hours, not eight or nine. It was hot. So? It was winter in Colorado until fairly recently. Heat still has some novelty value. Overall, I’d call the experience superb. Once the Polar Vortex starts landing on you (and it looks like it’s already begun in parts of the Midwest) we suggest getting a couple of tickets on a Frontier starship and heading to planet Punta Cana. Highly recommended.
While everybody else yesterday was running around looking for foot bras and the world’s smallest volcano (more on which in the next Odd Lots) I was tidying up my shop/shack, and pulled down my AN/GRC-109 Special Forces radio system. I’ve had it since the mid-1990s, but hadn’t fired it up literally since we left Arizona in 2003. I don’t have the full list of accessories so I had to do a little lashing-up to get the R-1004 receiver connected. It didn’t disappoint me.
I have the CW-only T-784 transmitter as well. I don’t use it because I’ve largely lost my CW chops and the only guys still pounding brass are whistling along at 20+ WPM. Not having an antenna that won’t set off my security system is the other issue. (Shielding the heat sensor it triggers it is not an option due to insurance regs.) My outdoor dipole will go up as soon as we have a few leaves on the tress, whenever that actually happens.
So. What we have here is a vintage all-tube spy radio, where the spies either have stealth jeeps or very strong backs. The design came out of the CIA in the late 1940s, and was adapted for more general use in the 1950s. It was used until the end of the Vietnam War. The receiver weighs 8.75 pounds all by itself. The PP-2684 power supply will weigh you down another 25 pounds or so. (There’s a lighter, smaller power supply, the PP-2685, that I don’t have.) The receiver uses conventional 7-pin miniature battery-filament tubes in a fairly simple superhet circuit. The only glitch there is the 1L6 converter tube, which is hard to find and costs a small fortune when you find it. The 1L6 is scarce enough so that people have designed solid-state replacements for it.
The R-1004 tunes from 3 MHz to 24 MHz in three bands. Selectivity is good, hardly single-signal but a reasonable compromise for a set designed to receive both AM and CW. I had to grin at how spoiled I’ve gotten by modern digital rigs like my IC-736, which can tell you to a single cycle where you are. The dial is pretty accurate, reading bang-on for WWV at 5 and 10 MHz, but it’s a wide dial, and lacks a vernier. Sensitivity seems lower on the 12-24 MHz band. No matter; in the evenings all the action is at 12 MHz and down.
SSB was still pretty exotic when the R1004 was designed, and yet its BFO is solid enough that I didn’t have to “chase” sideband signals on 40 and 75 meters with either the tuner or the BFO knob. AM quality was good, considering that it has caps to roll off audio response past 3 KHz. I tuned the entire range from 12 MHz down to 3, stopping at the ham bands or anything else unusual. I used to do that a lot before I was licensed as WN9MQY in 1973. I was hoping to find a numbers station (are there still numbers stations?) or one of those long-extinct semi-musical beacons that I used to hear in 1965. SWBC hasn’t really changed much since 1970: Christian stations, national stations, some German and French, and a lot of things too far down in the noise to quite make out. Canadian time station CHU is no longer on 7335 KHz, but a quick Google check pointed me to its new location at 7850 KHz. I listened to an AM net on 7290, and was startled when K5MIL’s big signal came up and forced me to turn down the gain–he’s only 5 miles north of me, and running a fair bit of power.
Talk about old times, whew.
My R-1004 hasn’t seen much hard use; I’d almost call it pristine. Serial number 25. By contrast, the power supply has been around the block–or maybe the world–a few times, and when I bought it I had to do some fussy needle-file work to get the corrosion off the power connectors. It sounds goofy, but I love how this gear smells: bakelite and black rubber, with undercurrents of oil and perhaps solder flux. (Radio terroir!) If ever there were a canonical Dieselpunk radio, well, here it is. My only gripe is that my high-Z “cans” headset gave me a headache after squeezing my ears for an hour, and I really need to lash up an audio transformer to take the R-1004’s 4000 ohm output impedence down to whatever my cushy padded headset likes. I’ve done this before, but alas, the adapter unit (built into a 70s contacts case I got from Carol) is hiding somewhere.
No matter. You’ve seen my shop and my collection; it will be done. When we can manage a nerd party here sometime this summer, I’ll put it out on the deck and drop a wire over the edge if I haven’t done so already. Put the black thing up against your ear, young’un: That’s what the Internet was when I was mowing the lawn and not chasing you off of it!
Wow. Somehow it got to be a whole new year when I wasn’t quite looking. I’m not unhappy to be shut of 2013, and as usual, I have high hopes for this year to be better. The last of our parents has been released from her suffering, and while I miss them all (especially my father, who died 36 years ago) my idiosyncratic understanding of Catholic theology suggests that they’re all in better shape than I am right now.
Which isn’t to say I’m in bad shape. I had a couple of health problems this year, but nothing horrible. I’ve been able to get my abdominal fat down to almost nothing, and weigh just eight pounds more than I did when I was 24. It still puzzles me just a bit, but I lost that weight by eating more fat. I’ll tell you with confidence that butter makes almost everything taste better except corn flakes.
I scored an interesting if slightly peculiar writing gig this year. It’s been an immense amount of work, not so much in the writing as in the learning. I’ve never done a book–or part of one–with this broad a scope. I’ve touched on a lot of technologies in my career, but touching isn’t understanding, and understanding is the critical path to explaining. I’ve written code in Python and C and ARMv6 assembly. I practically buried myself in ARM doc for most of two months. That felt good in the way you feel good after walking fifteen miles…once you’ve allowed three or four days for the smoke to clear. I now know a great deal more about virtual memory, cache, and memory management units than I might have just touching on things in my usual fashion. Curiosity is an itch. Autodidaction is a systematic itch. And to be systematic, you need deadlines. Trust me on that.
No, I still can’t tell you about the book. It’s going to be late for reasons that aren’t clear even to me. When the embargo breaks, you’ll hear it whereverthehell you are, whether you have an Internet connection or not.
Every year has some bummers. The ACA did us out of a health insurance plan that we liked, but at least in our case it wasn’t cancelled on the spot. We have some time to figure out where we can get a comparable plan, if one exists. (One may not.) It could end up costing us a quarter of our income or more, and we may lose relationships with physicians we’ve known for ten years. I’ll just be called evil for complaining, so I won’t. Anger is the sign of a weak mind, after all. I think one of my correspondents whose insurance was cancelled without warning summed it up in an interesting way: “I’m not going to get angry. I’m going to get even.”
It’s snowing like hell as I write. I would have posted a photo, but as most of you are staring out the window at snow this week (in some places a great deal of it) I doubt it would have been especially interesting. Besides, a couple of hours ago, I could have just said: Imagine yourself inside a ping-pong ball. Open your eyes. In truth, the weather hasn’t been all that bad. The global climate, in fact, has been remarkably benign considering all the dire predictions of the past ten or twelve years, at least once you look at actual stats and not anecdotes or GIGO models. Science works. Back in 2007, Al Gore himself told us that we would have an ice-free arctic by 2013. (Then again, he also said that a couple of kilometers under our feet it was millions of degrees…talk about global warming!) I love the scientific method. You predict, you test, and then you learn something. Sure, I believe in global warming. I’m still unconvinced that it’s entirely a bad thing. (I remember the ’70s. I also remember Arizona.)
I’ve also been doing some experimental research on the psychology of people who jump up and start frothing at the mouth like maniacs the instant they read something somewhere (anywhere!) that conflicts with their tribe’s narrative. That research is ongoing.
I’ve discovered a lot of good things, albeit small ones: Stilton cheese pairs with Middle Sister Rebel Red. Who knew? Python is much better than I remember it, TCL, alas, much worse. And Tkinter, wow. You’re not going to spin a GUI that fast or that easily in C. Green Mountain Coffee Island Coconut beats all, at least all you can get in a K-cup. Carol and I are dunking good bread in good olive oil again, now that Venice Olive Oil Company has a retail shop in Colorado Springs.
Time to go up and start cooking supper. We’re out of egg nog but my Lionel trains are still running. I don’t care if it looks like a ping-pong ball outside. I have my wife, my dogs, my junkbox, and a head that still works more or less as intended. Happy new year to all. Life is good, and getting better. Trust me on that too.
I guess for symmetry’s sake I have to hand you two Daywanders in a row. Blame symmetry if you want; here you go:
It’s (almost) all good news. Carol is improving daily, though still using crutches for long hauls. Her foot hurts when she uses it too much. She’s about to begin physical therapy, which should help. And in three weeks she goes in to get the other one done. We knew this winter was going to be spent mostly at home, though neither of us fully appreciated just how at home we were going to be. Then again, dancing with that girl is as close to heaven as I’ll get on this old Earth. It’s not even three years until our 40th wedding anniversity celebration. Dancing you want? Dancing we’ll give you!
Our Lionel trains are up! It’s been several years, but with a little unexpected help from Jim Strickland, the Camel and the GG-1 are tearing around a longish loop that now surrounds both of our livingroom couches, powered by my formidable Lionel ZW. We put some liver treats in Carol’s 1959 hopper car, and of all the Pack, only Dash was willing to chase the train around and scoop the treats up out of the hopper. He was also the only one willing to grab Louie the Giggling Squirrel from the same hopper.
Then again, Delphi and Lazarus are just better.
Carol and I got the Christmas cards out today. It didn’t get done last year because Carol’s mom was failing and we knew we had only one more Christmas with her. Between Carol’s foot and my book project it almost didn’t get done this year either, but we’re trying to get back real life as life should be lived. Christmas cards are part of that. No complaints.
Bad news? Not much. I was pulling a pizza out of the oven a couple of nights ago, and fumbled the pan with my gloved right hand. Fearing that dinner was about to go jelly-side-down on the kitchen floor, my reflexes put my un-gloved left hand in the line of fire, and whereas I saved the pizza, it came at the cost of second-degree burns on two fingers and the thumb of my left hand. It’s not bothering me as much today as yesterday, and my typing speed is slowly getting back to my accustomed Thunderin’ Duntemann (Thanks, Fiona!) 100 WPM. But I promise you, the next pizza that gets wonky on me is gonna go jelly-side down, while I stand there and laugh. I may be 61, but I learn.
New featured pairing: Stilton cheese and Middle Sister Rebel Red wine. Very good news.
As most people have already discovered just sticking their noses out the back door, 2013 looks to become one of the ten coldest years in US history. It may not be global, but damn, it’s cooling.
And that, my friends, makes me look to my now-empty snifter of brandy and egg nog beside the monitor. Time for a refill. Long past time, in fact.
Feeling better. Some. Not lots.
Of course, “better” (as with other words like “warmer”) are inherently comparative and need reference points, or they’re meaningless. Better/warmer since when? Better since last week? Hell yes. Better since two weeks ago? Maybe a little. (It’s hazy; like the Ball says, “Ask again later.”) Better since three weeks ago? No way. I’ll be back with the docs again tomorrow. We’ll see what they say.
This is the first time I’ve done bedrest with a tablet. Read stuff, played Random Factor Mah Jong, checked in on email and Facebook. I have the Transformer Prime’s matching keyboard dock, which made many things easier. That said, most of Facebook, being as it is a mighty global confluence of Loud And Aggressive Persons, is a vexation to the spirit. By a week or so ago my body had had all the vexation it was willing to put up with, so to avoid its actually becoming a spirit, I pondered pleasanter things, like tweezing my armpits.
I did read one reasonably good book: Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild, by Lee Sandlin. Great light reading, and full of interesting things. We’ve been a little too thoroughly romanced by Mark Twain and others: The Mississippi in the 1850s was just freaking nuts. The book is not a systematic history but a collection of vivid vignettes. A lot of it is well-covered elsewhere, like the siege of Vicksburg. Some of it was described with a hair too much vividness, especially the explosion of the Sultana. Much of it was new to me, like the phenomenon of Mississippi River moving panoramas. John Banvard’s signature product was a painted scene twelve feet high and literally half a mile long. (It was by no means the longest moving panorama ever done. It wasn’t even close.) It was displayed to an audience by slowly spooling it between one large roller and another. Banvard toured the country with his and made a great deal of money from an entertainment-starved populace, who had neither TV nor Facebook to kill time on. Sandlin’s description of the pandemonium at riverside camp meetings is wonderful, and aligns with other descriptions I’ve seen of revivals in that era. The revival phenomenon is a scary thing, far scarier than anything you’ll ever see on Facebook, or even TV. (It is also not exclusively religious in nature.) I was at a small one once. It was the best evidence of mental power at a distance I’ve ever experienced. It went well beyond hysteria or even mass hypnosis. It almost completely defies my ability to describe, which is why I probably won’t, at least here. I’ll write it up for my memoirs.
I did watch some TV. In doing so, I learned that “Mermaids” is the most-watched series that Animal Planet has ever run, egad. We were actually watching the “Too Cute” episode that included Bichon Frise puppies, but the channel was pushing its signature achievement with everything it had. Uggh. Can we please go back to Chariots of the Gods now?
Mostly, Carol and I watched episodes from the DVD gatherum of “Anything But Love.” It was a half-hour TV sitcom that ran from 1989-1992. We would watch it now and then while Carol brushed dogs, and it featured a brand of gentle humor that TV simply doesn’t understand anymore. 25 years is a long time, and I had completely forgotten Joseph Maher, who had a long run with the series. He’s one of those guys that you’ve doubtless seen and heard but probably can’t name, and his chemistry with stars Richard Lewis and Jamie Lee Curtis was damned near perfect. The series is about a magazine based in Chicago, so I paid attention to the details. Yes, magazine publishing really did sort of work like that back in the 80s, with a lot fewer people, a lot less screwing around, and a whole lot more work.
My most promising entertainment, however, was lying on my back and vividly imagining the Neanderthals who may star in a possible comic novel called The Gathering Ice. They’re homely but clever guys who have been hiding in plain sight for 20,000 years by pretending to be ugly humans, telling jokes at our expense and harnessing homo sap’s frenetic energy to make their lives easier. They wrote the Voynich Manuscript and gave it to Emperor Rudolf II just to torment him (along with a long line of homo sap cipher hobbyists.) When it looks like a new Ice Age begins setting in during the 2020s, the Plugs (as they call themselves) go looking for long-lost members of their tribe and the occasional throwback. Among other techniques, they break into the TSA’s top-secret Cloud database of traveler X-rays and look for conical ribcages and occipital buns. (I have both, but my Neanderthal blood is far from pure.) They have a plan that might in fact reverse the relentless march of the glaciers and short-circuit the end of the Holocene. Should they do it? (Of course they should. And of course they do. Duhhh.) It’s a sendup of steampunk, dieselpunk, reality TV, the Holy Roman Empire, global warming, Pythagoras, the Paleo Diet, and a great many other things. No dancing zombies. Cavemen throw good polka parties, though. And all those skinny-dipping ladies in Voynich? Neanderthal babes doing hands-on DNA research.
I will probably be a little quiet for a few more days. I’m still here. If I’m envisioning scenes from a novel, I’m probably going to be all right. Patience!
- 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.
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.