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Odd Lots

Short items presented without much discussion, generally links to other Web items

Odd Lots

  • The Sun spat out an X5.8 flare last night, the strongest of this solar cycle so far. I went out in the back yard and looked northeast, and damned if I didn’t catch fleeting glimpses of faint flickering light. Was too faint to discern color, but if it was an aurora, seeing it from Phoenix must be some kind of record.
  • If you don’t have a link to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, bookmark it. I suspect that they’re going to have a lot to say during the solar maximum that’s now bearing down on us.
  • I’m not expecting a Carrington-class event, but my longwire, by default, is switched to my engineered ground. I’m of two minds about listening to the low bands (or lack of low bands) while this storm is underway. 77 feet of wire is more than enough to develop enough voltage to spark with a strong enough coronal mass ejection. I don’t want to fry the front end of my IC-736.
  • From the "That’s a Very Low Bar" Department: AIs can pretend to be stupider than they actually are. Forgive me if I say that they may be able to do it, but they’ll be BAD at it. Still, could AI’s "four-finger problem" be a joke on us? (By that I mean the tendency of AIs not to “know” how many fingers or toes a human being has.)
  • Francis Turner’s opinions on LLM-style AI pretty much map to mine, and his Substack essay on the topic is a must read.
  • I ran across an intriguing piece of music listening to KBAQ, our local classical station. It’s “Sky Blue After Rain” by Joseph Curiale, and consists of a piano and a Chinese erhu 2-stringed violin alternating with full orchestra. The piece is short (4:48) punchy, melodic, and when the orchestra picks it up, energetic. You can hear it on YouTube. Be sure to listen to the whole thing, even if the erhu grates on you. The orchestral part is worth it.
  • Here’s a good short article explaining how cloud levels help regulate Earth’s temperatures.
  • The highest observatory on Earth is now open for business, atop Cerro Chajnantor mountain in the Chilean Andes. The observatory was designed to capture infrared images with its boggling 6.5 meter (22 feet) clear aperture telescope.
  • I have a robot dog with a 9mm gun in the (for now) dormant version of The Molten Flesh. What I didn’t imagine was a robot dog with a built-in flamethrower and laser targeting.
  • While I was writing this entry, I had an idea: What if I unplug my antenna from the Icom and in its place on my antenna switch, put a coax plug with an NE2 neon bulb soldered across the connector. Well, it didn’t take but ten minutes (I’ve got plenty of neon bulbs and PL-259s) and the experiment is in place. Tonight when it gets dark I’m going to spend a little time out there in the garage, watching that NE-2.

Odd Lots

  • Alas, we have lost my favorite country music star, Toby Keith, of stomach cancer, at 62. He had lots of hits, but may be most famous for “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” the most-played country song of the 1990s. (And if you’ve never seen my filk “Should’ve Been a Jedi,” you can find it here.) Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
  • Ever heard of Venus’ moon Zoozve? You say Venus doesn’t have any moons? Well…it’s complicated. And interesting. Not to mention funny as hell.
  • Orkin (the bug people) posted a list of the top 50 US cities for bedbug infestations. My home town is #1. My current metro isn’t even on the list. I guess I chose wisely.
  • February is National Grapefruit Month, and today is National Fettuccine Alfredo day. Alas, my birthday is National Mud Day—granting that when I was a kid, I played happily in the mud. How do I know such important things? Of course: There’s a website for it. Select a day, week, or month, and who knows what people will be celebrating?
  • Well, it’s not exactly a flying car, but…it’ll do, it’ll do.
  • Three million malware-infected smart toothbrushes were gathered into a botnet that tormented Swiss servers with DDOS attacks. Uggh. My toothbrush is smart enough to be dumb. And hey, it smells like Pepsodent. Can’t beat that!
  • Trout gonads can cure baldness when injected into your head. So just eating the trout doesn’t work? Bummer. I’m out.

Odd Lots

  • Happy New Year, gang! My prediction: 2024’s gonna to be a wild ride across the board. If popcorn weren’t so fattening I’d buy a pile of it.
  • The Quadrantids meteor shower is tonight. The shower’s characteristic behavior is having a brief peak but an intense one. The predicted time of the peak is 7:53 AM EST, which would be 6:53 CST and 5:53 MST on 1/4/2024. That may sound awfully early to some of my night-owl readers, but Dash typically wakes us up by that time. I intend to be out watching for it, even though we have a first-quarter Moon—and it might rain. Hey, if you don’t play you can’t win.
  • The JWST has begun showing us how many odd chunks of stuff are drifting around the galaxy without actually orbiting stars. Some of these rogue planets are in pairs, orbiting one another. Fascinating long-form piece on the phenom if astrophysics—or writing science fiction—is your thing.
  • Here’s a dazzling video of a volcano erupting in Iceland. It’s unique because it shows the very beginning of the eruption, which almost resembles a sunrise. But then, boom! It gets spectacular!
  • Sports Illustrated was buying articles generated by AI, with authors also invented by AI, right down to the author headshots. Futurism called them on it, and all questionable articles vanished. That doesn’t mean a few weren’t so ridiculous as to stand out and may still be there.
  • Old timers like me will recall text user interfaces (TUIs) which, when we got started in computing, were what was on the menu. (It was a one-line menu.) Here’s a fun Substack piece about TUIs, and how in truth, modern GUI programming editors in IDEs don’t really give us much that we didn’t already have back then. Hell, when I was at Xerox in the early 80s somebody was passing around a Pac-Man game written in text mode for a 24X80 display.
  • Alas, Bill Gladstone, who founded Waterside Productions, passed on to higher realms on 12/27. Waterside is the agency that represents my book-length nonfiction via agent Carole Jelen. We acquired a fair number of books through him during the Coriolis years. He knew what he was doing, and the world could use a few more agents with his savvy.
  • New research suggests that red meat is not fatal. Body weight, not meat consumption, appears to cause the inflammation behind much cardiovascular disease. It’s carbs that put the weight on, as I’ve found over my past 25 years eating low-carb.
  • Back before Christmas I was over at Total Wine buying vino to honor the Bambino, and was standing in the (long) line for the checkout beside a spinrack of hard liquor shooters. Most were things I’d heard of. But there…does that little bottle say it’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich whiskey? Yes, it did—so I bought one. Hey, 99c is cheap thrills. Carol and I tasted it when I got home. I expected to spit it out, but…it wasn’t half bad. From Skatterbrain, though Total Wine tells me it’s no longer available. Maybe the shooters were market research, and it flunked. So it goes. Alcohol is a volatile business…
  • Cheap thrills? There’s a cheap ($10) red blend called Sheep Thrills, which was vinted in Italy but bottled here in the US. I bought some. Like PB&J whiskey, it wasn’t awful, but I still don’t recommend it. Too thin, too dry.
  • I assumed that Skatterbrain’s PB&J whiskey had to be the weirdest whiskey in America. Silly boy. Have a look at this. Sorry, I’ll pass.
  • If you’ve ever wondered what shallots were, well, here’s how to tell a shallot from an onion. I like the notion of shallots as heirloom onions (imaginary band name alert!) and Carol and I are going to try a few recipes that might tempt Tennyson’s Lady of Shallott. Ok, sure, it’s the Lady of Shalott. Maybe that’s the British spelling. Or Tennyson’s spellchecker wasn’t working. Yes, ok, I’ll shut up now.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • NASA’s first asteroid sample, from asteroid Bennu, safely landed and is now in a clean room awaiting analysis. That’ll take some time yet, but let’s just say that the journey was definitely the reward—the first of many rewards, I suspect.
  • FEMA and the FCC are planning a test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the Wirless Emergency Alerts (WEA) on Wednesday, October 4 of this year. The timing for the alert is 2:20 PM EST. The WEA portion of the test will be heard on cellphones.  The EAS portion of the test will go out to broadcast radio and TV stations. The test broadcasts will announce themselves as test broadcasts and no action need be taken. As I read the release, the EAS portion will last for one minute and the WEA portion for half an hour. (H/t to Don Doerres.)
  • Older adults who use the Internet regularly have only half the risk of dementia compared to those who use the net occasionally or not at all. I avoid social media fistfights and use the time I devote to the net to learning new things and promoting my books. Pace Woody Allen, my brain is my first favorite organ.
  • The Raspberry Pi 5 has been announced, and the 4 GB version should be available in quantity to end-users by midlate October. (The 8 GB version may not ship until November or December.) Tom’s Hardware has a good long-form overview. The CPU is an A76 quad core with all cores running by default at 2.4 GHz. It overclocks well. Oh, and it has a power button!
  • NOAA’s average temperature anomaly chart for the contiguous US shows no clear trend from 2005 to the present. The data come from USCRN, the United States Climate Reference Network, all sites of which are well away from any UHI.
  • UHIs bias temperatures quite a bit. Here’s a new study from the peer-reviewed journal Climate that credits UHIs for most of recent recorded warming. As much as 40% of the warming measured since 1850 might be due to measurements made in cities rather than out in the natural environment.
  • An NHS study shows that cannabis is a “hyperaccumulator” of heavy metals, especially lead and cadmium. Regular users show hazardous levels of those metals, and traces of several othes, in blood and urine.
  • Cannabis isn’t the only hyperaccumulator of heavy metals. Brazil nuts contain 1,000 times the amount of radium found in typical foods. Barium too. I gave up Brazil nuts in my teens because it was just too damned much work to get them out of their shells. Right choice, wrong reason. But emphatically the right choice.
  • Another NHS study shows that typical N95 masks emit hazardous levels of toxic organic compounds linked to seizures and cancer. So not only will N95 masks not protect you from COVID, over the long haul they could kill you.
  • The penny jars are still coughing up old uncirculated pennies in considerable numbers. Over the past week or so I got brilliant uncirculated (BU) 1976-D and 1969-S pennies. Peculiarly (or maybe not) the uncirculated pennies I find before 2000 tend to be older than pre-2000 pennies showing signs of daily handling. I think this proves my theory that they’ve spent a long time in a jar in somebody’s closet.
  • There is now reasonable evidence that night people are at greater risk for type II diabetes than morning people. The researchers seem puzzled by this, but I have a hypothesis based on a lecture I heard 25 years ago at the Mayo Clinic here in Scottsdale: Night people stay up late, but their work or school schedules begin at the same time as for morning people, so night people get less sleep overall. Mayo Climic researchers found that dogs deprived of sleep both gained weight and developed diabetes. There is a metabolic connection to sleep quantity and quality that we don’t fully understand yet, but the research is out there and we could use a lot more.
  • A new baby giraffe was born back in July with no spots. Actually, no reticulation; her coat is uniformly the color of giraffe spots. She may be the only such giraffe in the world, and although she’s enjoying the spotlight now, I don’t think she’ll be quite as happy once she gets into giraffe middle school.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • Here’s a longish research paper from the NIH National Library of Medicine exploring studies of the effects of light at night (LAN) on various body functions. One of the most startling is the degree to which night work correlates to obesity and Type II diabetes. Less clear but more concerning are links between LAN and certain cancers. The message appears to be: Sleep at night, in the dark. Carol and I do that, and have all our lives.
  • Hating the Other evidently heightens activity in our reward centers. The late Colin Wilson explored the issue, and claimed that in modern society we have to give ourselves permission to hate the Other…but once we do, hating the Other is delicious and hard to stop. This explains a lot about tribalism in modern politics, 90% of which is about hating the Other–and an important reason why I don’t write about politics.
  • Virginia Postrel has a related article on her Substack, about the role of what she calls “purity” and its relation to cancel culture. She mentions Gavin Haynes’ notion of a “purity spiral,” which I think nails the whole purity business. It’s an effort to outbid others in pursuit of an unattainable ideal. It is thus more evidence supporting my notion that idealism is evil.
  • I’ve always wondered why music in a minor key sounds sad, spooky, or creepy. Here’s one of the better online essays on the subject.
  • I include this (slightly) related item because it asks a question I’ve never heard asked before: What is the most evil chord in music? I would guess it’s the chord that runs around with a chainsaw, cutting treble clefs in thirds, and playing hob in a minor key.
  • I wonder how I got to be 70 without ever hearing about raccoon dogs, which are neither raccoons nor dogs. They’re an interesting, albeit invasive, species of canid found in the Far East. The Japanese call them Tanuki, though I don’t recall them coming up in conversation when I was in Japan in 1981.
  • Speaking of my 70th birthday, my writer friend and collaborator Jim Strickland brought a Cabernet Sauvignon to our dual birthday party on July 16. I tried it and found it…not bitter. That was a first in my wine experience, granting that once I tasted a few bitter specimens, I basically stopped trying them. The wine in question is from Daou, vintage 2020. About $20 at our Kroger-affiliate supermarket. Quite dry, but no oak, which spoils all the other flavors for me..
  • Well. Ever heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” played on several disemboweled scanners and piles of 5″ floppy drives, plus the occasional phone modem? Here’s your chance.
  • In case you don’t yet have enough interesting things to read, here’s the Smithsonian’s history of the hard hat.
  • Back in June, people in San Francisco reported that anchovies were falling from the sky. People did not report anyone running around the city’s streets holding a pizza and hoping for free fish.
  • Hey, this was evidently a banner year for Pacific Coast anchovies. My guess is that with no one putting them on pizzas anymore, their depleted populations have rebounded.
  • After using it since 2005, LiveJournal has canceled my account there. I don’t think anybody was reading it anyway. It was a mirror, and I have better backup schemes now.