Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

June, 2009:

Odd Lots

  • One of the most remarkable photos of a volcanic eruption ever taken apparently happened by sheer chance, when the ISS passed over the Kuril Islands just as the Sarychev Peak volcano let loose. The rising plume literally punched a near-circular hole in the cloud cover.
  • Just in case you happen to see a nuclear weapon go off, having one of these in your pocket would be handy to quantify things. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the pointer.)
  • From Bruce Baker comes a pointer to a NYT article about the perils of being an outsourcee for an unscrupulous publisher. And so much for our textbooks being created by experts with advanced degrees.
  • John Cleese’s lighthearted but still informative documentary “Wine for the Confused” can now be seen on Hulu, at the cost of a few Toyota commercials. I’m good with that–and in complete agreement with Cleese that knowing good wine from great wine is not automatic, and in fact knowing good wine from bad takes more effort than most would think. Don’t miss it. (Thanks to Roy Harvey for letting me know it was there; I saw it on TV a couple of years ago and much enjoyed it.)
  • We may gasp at 64 GB thumb drives now, but storage technologies coming to market in the next few years will make 1 TB thumb drives not only possible but commonplace. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • The annual amateur radio Field Day event happens this weekend, from 1800 zulu on Saturday to 2100 on Sunday. I’ve got the radios boxed up, and will be experimenting with a interesting rotatable dipole made from a pair of AN-45G collapsible military whip antennas, on top of a pipe mast made of four 5′ sections of 3/8″ pipe mounted on my ancient telescope pipe base. The rotator is my right hand, turning a greased 2″ pipe joint on its own threads. I’ll describe the dipole with photos if it works; if it doesn’t work I’ll admit failure and quietly forget about it. But if you’ll be on the air, I’ll be working solo from a nearby campground as K7JPD. Listen for me.
  • From the Too Weird To Be True but True Anyway File: The woman who may well become our first Hispanic supreme court justice stated quite flatly in her Princeton University senior thesis that “…in Spanish we do not have adjectives. A noun is described with a preposition.” I’m a Polish-German-Irish-French ubermongrel who last took Spanish in 1973, and even I know better than that. So…can I be on the Supreme Court instead?

Fingerpainting with a Spoon


I surfaced yesterday after several days immersed in copyedits, which are done and returned now through chapter 8, of 12. (Another batch will fly out from NY on Monday, if I understand the sked correctly.) My publisher surprised me last night by sending me a first draft of the book’s catalog copy, which was so unspeakably horrible that I immediately volunteered to rewrite it from scratch. I used to do that a lot at Coriolis and I’m good at it, and I think my editor knows me well enough to know that I’m good at it. She might have just asked me to do it (I certainly would have) but I’ll admit that seeing what other people would say about my 200,000 words if I did not added some urgency to the task.

Done in a trice. So I woke up this morning with no more work to do than I generally have, and that’s a feeling I haven’t felt in some time. Over breakfast I let my mind wander, and when I got down to the bottom of my bowl of yogurt, I had an idea, an idea born out of irritation: There is no way to get the last of the yogurt out of the bowl. I mean, you can scrape with the spoon until you’re purple in the face (which can happen, with blueberries in the mix) but that’s just fingerpainting with the spoon and you’re always going to leave a little. This yogurt is peculiarly good, too: Greek Gods full-fat pomegranite, just half a notch thinner than cream cheese and capable of keeping me cranking most of the morning. (A scrambled egg, its partner-in-breakfast, takes care of the rest.) I am loath to leave any, even for the dogs…and besides, having a pure-white dog lick purple yogurt out of a bowl has consequences.

Then it struck me: All-metal spoons are just so third-century. Why are we still eating Greek yogurt with the same implements the ancient Greeks used? Is this not 2009? And so I sketched out what I wanted: Spoons with metal handles but bowls molded from heatproof silicone rubber, formulated to be a little stiffer than a kitchen spatula, but sufficiently flexible under a little force to conform to the curve of the bowl and get enough of the yogurt out so that leaving what remains wouldn’t bother me.

I looked online for such a thing this morning and came up empty. The basic concept is feasible: We have a silicone-rubber serving spoon in the drawer, but it’s far too big to fit in my mouth. Could it be that nobody else has ever thought of this? Or could it be that we just don’t like our food enough to want to finish all of it?

Odd Lots

  • Pete Albrecht alerted me to Collecta, an interesting twist on a general Web search engine, in that it gathers news being posted Right Now, and displays it item by item on the screen in realtime While You Wait. Alas, most of what it seems to index are tweets, which may just barely count as information, for small values of “information.”
  • And yet another stab at the same concept.
  • Kingston has just announced a 128GB flash drive. Figuring an average MP3 is 5 MB in size, that’s 25,600 MP3s. And if the average MP3 runs 4 minutes, that’s 71 days of music running 24/7 with no repeats.
  • Rich Rostrom sent me a link to a (pretty dense) medical research paper suggesting another possible benefit of low-carb diets: ameliorating schizophrenia. A 70-year-old schizophrenic woman went on a low-carb diet and after eight days ceased experiencing hallucinations. Not any reasonable cause-effect here in this one case, but boy, this suggests a promising avenue of research. (Steak, cheese, and fish are way cheaper than designer drugs.)
  • It’s gotten cold enough in Brazil this year to allow Brazilian vineyards to make the first-ever Brazilian ice wine. (Babelfish translation of the original Portuguese.) Ice wine is a dessert wine delicacy made from grapes that are allowed to remain on the vine long enough to freeze in the first cold nights of autumn. Trouble is, there are almost never enough freezing nights in autumn in Brazil to make ice wine. (Most ice wine comes from places like Austria.) Ice wine is great stuff: I’ll continue to worry about global cooling but damn, I’ll buy a bottle!
  • Ten years or so ago at Coriolis, we had an underwear policy. We did not, however, have an open wounds policy. HR gets more complex all the time…

The Twilight of the Ad Era

I made a decision late last year without saying much about it: I won’t be using AdSense ads anymore. Now, I’m not going to remove them from existing pages, and I’m not going to shut my account down, but as you might have noticed if you’ve perused my articles over on, my new layouts do not contain ads.

There’s not a lot of point. The curve is heading in the wrong direction.

When I first used AdSense in 2006, my goal was to bring in a dollar a day on average, and I either met or beat that for the rest of 2006 and the first few months of 2007. After May, 2007 things went into a slow decline. My page impressions grew slowly, but revenue slumped, and over 2007 I averaged only 85c per day, which is still worth pursuing. Across 2008 I was averaging only 61c per day, even though page impressions were higher than they had ever been. People just seemed to stop clicking on ads. (“Ad-numb” is a coinage that I’ll offer here if no one else has.) 2009 has earned me an average of about 20c per day, and that’s really not enough to warrant the effort of designing ad spaces into my layouts, especially if it’ll be down to 10c per day next year.

An interesting thing has happened over the course of 2009 so far: Google-tracked page impressions have plunged, even though my overall page hits continue to climb. Some of this is doubtless the rearrangement of my Web content that I began last fall, but it was also true for individual pages (like my Homebrew Radio Gallery) that had not changed significantly since 2006. Daily AdSense page impressions for that single page were always up in the high 30s to low 50s, and are now down to 15-20 tops.

I didn’t start doing anything differently. I’ve never worked at building traffic to my site, and in fact the only way AdSense makes sense to me is if you don’t have to screw with it. Spending time and effort trying to drum up traffic for the sake of ad clicks is time and effort I can’t spend researching and writing new articles (or heaven knows, fiction) so I’ve never bothered.

I think I know what happened: Malware delivered from Web ads has gotten enough publicity that people in large numbers are starting to install ad blockers. This is the only way I can reconcile imploding AdSense page impressions with steadily growing traffic to my site as a whole. Google only counts a page impression when an ad is served; block the ads, and viewing the page does not generate an AdSense page impression.

I’ve never used an ad blocker before, and it was eerie surfing around using the Iron browser, which blocks ads from a huge number of major ad sites (including AdSense) by default. Eerie–and fast. Malware isn’t the only issue with Web ads: Overloaded ad servers slow down page render time, sometimes hugely. This is not new news, but until I saw it myself I couldn’t appreciate the scale of the problem. Iron may not be intrinsically faster than IE or FF, but it looks faster because it doesn’t wait on ads. Blocking ads still makes my conscience twinge a little; here is an interesting discussion on whether it’s wrong to block Web ads. The tipping issue is malware: If all it costs me is time to render your ads, then that may be the cost of viewing your pages. But if there is some significant chance that your ads are serving malware (whether you knew anything about it or not) I feel that I have a right to protect my system and my network. Remember that I can’t tell if your site even has ads before I go there, and if your ads serve malware, my system gets nailed faster than I can back out. The only way I can reliably protect myself against ad-served malware is to block ads entirely, so until each browser instance is a thoroughly isolated VM, there’s no other way.

Thus fades the Great Hope of “free” content supported by ads. What replaces it is obscure. One barely hears the term “micropayments” anymore, and those sites that have retreated behind paywalls don’t seem to be doing well. Among the pubs I read, The Atlantic Online dropped its paywall last year, and the only paywalled site I still read is The Wall Street Journal. Money does need to be involved somehow: I write better material when I get paid for it, and when I pay for material, I have higher standards for it than for what’s lying around free. That being the case, I intuit that a paid Web would be a smaller but far more useful thing than a free Web groaning under the weight of pages (you see them all the time) that exist solely to serve ads. Still, I’ll be damned if I can see the way there.

Happy Beginnings vs. Happy Endings

Left to right: Patricia Labuda (later Sr. Maristella), John Malone, Bea Berbach, Victoria & Frank Duntemann, William Mark, and Kathleen DuntemannSixty years ago today, my parents were married, at St. Mary of Perpetual Help church on West 32nd Street in Chicago. It was a remarkable event, not so much because history will consider my parents remarkable (though I do) but because it was, well, unlikely. This remarkableness was not unique, but occurred countless times around America in that era, as social and ethnic barriers that had stood for centuries started to crumble, and men and women began to marry for love and not to satisfy family demands.

Consider Frank William Duntemann, the only son of a bank officer at the First National Bank of Chicago. He had been born and raised solidly middle class in East Rogers Park, of a German father and an Irish mother. Hard-headed, ironic, optimistic, stubborn, bright, slightly snotty, and short–5’6″ of solid muscle, fearless and (especially as a young man) a little pugnacious. He drove his parents crazy sometimes, running off to join the Army in 1938 when he was only 16 (the Army sent him home) and getting suspended from Lane Tech for beating the crap out of the six-foot president of the Lane Tech Nazi Society, after the Nazi had made the mistake of stabbing my father in the stomach with a wood chisel during an argument.

And consider Victoria Albina Pryes, the youngest of ten children, born of penniless Polish immigrants in a ramshackle farmhouse in Stanley, Wisconsin. Artistic, fretful, possessed of a beautiful voice, pious to the point of mysticism, and ethereally beautiful, she trained as a nurse in Chicago after WWII and struggled with the question of what to do with her life. Her family thought she should become a nun, because her high-school sweetheart had died in the War, and that could only be a Sign. But she held back, and one day in 1946 a nursing school friend suggested a double date. Mary’s boyfriend knew this interesting guy from the North Side…

Frank was smitten. Victoria was terrified. He asked for her phone number, and in a panic she made something up. Undeterred, the man who had slept through the bombardment of Monte Cassino sent a postcard to her nursing school (we have that postcard) asking her to get in touch. Even though torn between what she felt to be her family and religious obligations and her own infatuation, she did. Not sure what to expect from a man so far removed from her ethnic heritage and socioeconomic class, what she found was passionate friendship. In 1948 he asked her to marry him. By then, there was no hesitation.

But it was not without challenges. Frank’s parents were furious. They had expected him to marry a nice German girl from the neighborhood. Instead, he had chosen a Polock farm girl living in what they considered the slums. Harry Duntemann was not a man to be trifled with, and he told his son to break it off. Harry had managed to browbeat Frank into a bookkeeper’s job that he hated, and was nagging him to return to Northwestern for a degree in business. But the War had changed Frank, as it had changed thousands of men who had been frightened boys the day after Pearl Harbor. Frank took his father aside and told him, “Look, I’ve made my decision and it’s not open to discussion. I’m going to marry Victoria, and then I’m going to Georgia to get my engineering degree on the GI Bill. If you want us to come back here, and if you want to see your grandchildren, you’d better start seeing things my way.”

Harry, perhaps recognizing his own stubbornness in his son, gulped and agreed. (And to ensure that his son would return from Georgia, helped buy him a house–on the North Side.) And so on that gorgeous June day in 1949, my parents made their Happy Beginning, bridging two widely disparate cultures, he confidently, she (as always) apprehensively.

By any measure it was a successful marriage. Frank and Victoria changed one another: He taught her confidence, and persuaded her that she was beautiful and worthy; she taught him moderation and compromise. She was not sure she wanted children, but he did; he was not sure that a gentle style of childrearing would work, but she did. They were in fact spectacular parents. They read to us, they bought us books, they insisted that we speak correctly and tell the stories of our days at the dinner table. My father threatened to call the Alderman if the Chicago Public Library refused to give me a library card for being underage. (I was six; you had to be seven.) I got the card. He gave me money for electronic parts and bought me a microscope; later, when I was deeply into junkbox telescopes, my mother always had a dollar for one more pipe fitting. We were not especially flush, and were taught frugality, but money was always there for things that mattered. Stubborn as he was, my father had the courage to avoid his own father’s mistakes: He told us that no matter what careers we chose, he would support us in that choice.

My father loved my mother fiercely, and the lesson was not lost on me. More than once, when I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework, my father came home from work a little early, went up behind my mother at the stove, kissed the top of her head, and told her he loved her. When I was fifteen, he made it explicit: “Love comes out of friendship. If you’re lucky and smart, you’ll marry your best friend.” I did as he said (and also as he did) and no better advice has ever been given to me.

Happy beginnings are often easy. Alas, happy endings are not automatic. I’ve told most of the rest of the story here. In 1968 my father was diagnosed with oral cancer, from his two-pack-a-day habit he had picked up in Italy during the War. He fought back, and it took nine years, but the cancer killed him a piece at a time, in a gruesome progression that still gives me nightmares. It broke his spirit and finally took his mind; at our wedding in 1976 he was weak and confused. By 1977 he no longer knew who I was, which broke my heart, and in January 1978 it was finally over.

My mother was never the same. Living alone in their house for another 18 years allowed her to brood on questions of divine justice that had always haunted her. What had she done to offend God? How had she failed? My mother’s understanding of Catholicism was suffused with peasant superstition amplified to absurdity by her odd mystical personality. It was a cruel and often bizarre religion, full of prophecies and portents and dark powers, overlaid against the looming background of an angry God and an animate Hell. She was tormented by hideous dreams of accusing demons, dreams that may have led (as Gretchen and I have speculated) to the insomnia that plagued her last years. She was literally afraid to sleep, fearing what she might dream. Her doctors tried various drugs, but nothing helped, and even with Gretchen and Bill’s constant companionship and loving care, she lost her ability to speak, and slowly withered away to almost nothing. When I carried her out to Gretchen’s van the day before she died, she may have weighed fifty or sixty pounds, and looked like a victim of the Biafra famine.

It made me furious then, and I still get a little nuts to think about it. How can people who tried so hard, who loved one another so truly and unfailingly, who were generous and industrious and offered their children nothing but unconditional love, suffer such hideous ends? Where’s the justice here? The answers are complex, if in fact they are answers at all, and my readings on theodicy have been scant comfort.

Yes, they deserved a happy ending. And because they never had that happy ending, the day after my mother died in 2000, I sat down and wrote them one. (Warning: Major tearjerker material. The goal was closure, not publication.) They allowed me to be a writer, which is not as secure a career as an engineer (or almost anything else) so it was the least that I could do.

Still, the question stands: Where is the justice? If God does in fact exist, He owes me an answer to that painful question–but if God does in fact exist, (as I think He does) He’s already provided the answer–and the happy ending–to those, like my parents, who are farther along the Great Path than you or I.

The Cloud in Your Pocket

We’ve been getting rained on a lot this week, in more ways than one. Carol’s garden is going gangbusters, and I’ve never seen an explosion of wildflowers along my accustomed hiking paths as I’m seeing right now. There’s a bee shortage somewhere in the country, I’ve heard, but the little buggers are thronging the wildflowers here. Temps are deliciously cool, for June, which seems to be a trend this year.

On the flipside, some dorks broke into my hosting directory a few days ago and inserted porn spam links into all my static HTML. They tried to modify the PHP in my instances of the Gallery photo manager for purposes unclear, but Gallery stopped working and I had to delete both instances. (I have backups of all the photos and captions and will reinstall as time permits.)

That whole adventure happened while I was on deadline reading copyedits on the first five chapters, and it did not endear me to cloud computing. I’ve had some time to think about the whole sorry mess, and some larger questions arise:

  1. How do we keep crap like that from happening? (This is a mostly rhetorical question; I’m not sure that we can.)
  2. Apart from portability (i.e., accessing your data on the road) what’s the real value-add in cloud computing? Remember to figure in the cost-benefit of having to find and sometimes pay dearly for a broadband connection to use it.
  3. And if portability is the only value-add, why screw with something as inherently pricey and dicey as the Cloud?

Why not put the Cloud in your pocket?

I just ordered my very first 32GB thumb drive. I skipped the 16 GB size entirely, because my trusty and much-missed 2001 Thinkpad X21 had a 32 GB hard drive, and I never filled it up. It contained all my major apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, MapPoint, InDesign) and all my Internet apps, plus a scattering of smaller utilities. It also contained a great deal of data, including everything I had written electronically since 1979, though in truth much of the bulk lay in MP3s. Document files are remarkably small.

One of the most significant trends of the last two years is the explosion in “portable” apps, meaning software that does not require a formal installation process beyond unzipping it into a directory. Nothing goes into the Registry, nor into \windows\system32. The whole app lives in a single folder. What a brilliant idea! (Wait…all software used to be like that…)

There have always been portable apps, but for the last fifteen years or so it’s been seen as declasse to produce them. Why? Think for a second: Once installed, a conventional Windows app can’t simply be lifted out of its folder and copied to another machine. It was one of the earliest forms of stealth DRM, invented, I suspect, specifically to keep MS Office from wandering.

No more. There are now lots of portable packages, many or most of them completely free. See PortableApps and 100 Portable Apps for Your USB Stick. You can get OpenOffice, the Gimp, Thunderbird, Firefox, Kompozer, and just about anything else you might need in portable versions. You can unzip them into directories on a thumb drive, and execute them from File Manager. (There are also portable app managers like CodySafe that give you a separate UI for your portables and stick data.) Portables run like conventional Windows apps, except that they don’t crap in your machine.

I got into portable apps while thinking about degunking for Windows. The Registry is Gunk Central, and much havoc is caused by duelling and mis-versioned DLLs dropped like softball-sized hailstones into the system32 directory. When I got my new Core 2 Quad last summer, I resolved to install only what conventional apps I absolutely needed, and use portable apps for everything that I could. The results? I have a cleaner-running machine that boots fast and has a remarkable lack of line items in Task Manager’s Processes tab. I’ve tried to stick with FOSS apps, because commercial apps are always down there in your taskbar popping up nag balloons, trying to upsell you or force updates down your throat.

It’s worked very well. What I want to try is having a single largish thumb drive containing not only data but also the programs used to manage it. Other people have been doing this for years, and it’s time I gave it a try. In the meantime, my view of the Cloud cooks down to this:

Take from the Cloud what can only be had from the Cloud–and keep the rest in your pocket.

Odd Lots

  • Have been reading copyedits and catching up on any number of things after five weeks away from home. We’re going to have real books out of the bindery on or about October 1. For the time being, I’ll be glad to just Not Be Doing Book anymore. (And that should be on or about June 30.)
  • Some twit (maybe twits) wrote Twitter apps that store unique tweet ID numbers in signed 32-bit integers. The tweet count since startup is approaching the magic number 2,147,483,647. After that, tweet IDs become negative, and hilarity reliably ensues. Should be tomorrow; let’s watch.
  • In other recent software fails, Ubuntu 9.04 broke Skype out here, and made sound support work a little weirdly generally. The Mute button gets checked all by itself for no apparent reason. This is evidently not a problem I’m having all by my lonesome, but time to fix it has been scarce.
  • A 14-year-old boy got hit by a meteorite, albeit a smallish one. He got a 3-inch scar on the back of his hand, which (once the bandanges come off) will be the most interesting conversation piece he is ever likely to own, since he evidently had to give up the meteorite itself.
  • Building this must have been a picnic. (But I’ll bet the view’s to die for.) It’s a tourist thing, like the tchochke shop atop Pike’s Peak, but way cooler. And yet another reason I have to get back to France someday.
  • If everything goes well and the IC-729 still works, I may be out in the (pacified) woods somewhere working Field Day on June 27-28. (I hate to haul my IC-736 into the wilds, but I will if I have to.) I have an RV with a generator, an AH-3 antenna tuner, and an obscene amount of wire. I know I can’t use an RV park’s electricity, but can I use their water pipes for an RF ground?

Souls in Silicon on Amazon at Cover

SISSmall.jpg Boy, I sure wasn’t expecting this: An email this morning from Lulu informed me that my SF story collection Souls in Silicon was now being offered through Amazon Marketplace at its $11.97 cover price–not cover plus 30%, as I reported in my May 29, 2009 Odd Lots entry. It’s evidently a test program of some kind, and not all Lulu books are included; in fact, of the eight Copperwood Press titles, Souls in Silcon is the only one in the program. Somebody’s giving up significant margin here, and odds are it’s not Amazon.

But this is an awesomely good thing. I have a hunch that Lulu heard that POD publishers like me were going with other systems (like Amazon’s own BookSurge) to get into the Amazon database somehow and started to worry. Hey, I’d worry too. All Copperwood books would probably be on another system (probably BookSurge) by now had the assembly book project not taken over my life last November. I would not have pulled them off Lulu, but everybody knows that Amazon is the first place people go looking for books online.

I want this program to continue and go mainstream, not just for me but for everybody, so I’m going to make a slightly weird request: If my writeups on the book piqued your interest and you figured you might order Souls in Silicon someday, now is the time to do it–if you do it through Amazon. I’m about to order a few here, and if I could scare up a couple more orders from elsewhere it could support the test and convince them that the decision could pay off for them, by generating higher unit sales even at obviously lower margins.

Here’s the Amazon sales link. (The same link is on the cover image above.) And if you know any other Lulu books in the same program, consider buying them as well. If Lulu’s going to survive it has to be able to get its products into the Amazon database. This may be their best shot, at least until they allow me to use ISBNs from my own set.

UPDATE: I just discovered that within the past hour, all the rest of my Copperwood Press titles were updated on Amazon to their Lulu cover prices. Dare we hope that the test program succeeded?

UPDATE: Chris Gerrib wrote to tell me that his Lulu SF novel The Mars Run is also in the program, which in fact includes the top 100,000 Lulu titles by sales rank. Even my slowest seller, The Pope and the Council, is at #37,303, which makes me wonder how many copies the bottom two million Lulu titles have sold…

Jaunty Jackalope in Only 2:45

I finished and packed off the introduction to the book today, which doesn’t leave a great deal more to do. I’m still “discussing” how to handle my two ASCII charts, which I laid out in InDesign and exported as PDFs. It boggles to imagine that nobody there knows how to insert a PDF into a print image, but that’s the impression I’m getting. Now and then I think publishing was better off when we strung books together with X-Acto knives and waxers.

Let it go, I keep telling myself. Nobody’s going to hang me if I don’t include a concise representation of the IBM-850 code page, as useful as it might sometimes be.

And my do-it list is calling to me. I knocked off an item today that’s worth relating: I upgraded the Ubuntu 8.10 instance on this machine to 9.04. I let the updater do it, just to see how automatically and how accurately it would happen. I’ve got a lot of software installed there (including several Windows apps under Crossover) and lots of configuration tweaks.

It happened completely automatically. I was asked twice if I wanted to keep the existing menu.lst file, which I didn’t recognize and didn’t run downstairs to look up. Alas, I told it to keep the existing one, which it obediently did–and thus didn’t update the menu display for Grub. I can fix that, but I’m annoyed at myself for being too lazy to look first.

Beyond that, as best I can tell, nothing was corrupted or left out or changed in any significant way. It took two hours and forty-five minutes, most of which was spent downloading 1,413 files from the repositories. It didn’t demand to reboot until the end of the process, which is a trick Microsoft should learn.

I admit, I was a little disappointed that there’s no funny animal in the default wallpaper. I liked the Hardy Heron art a lot; and Intrepid Ibex wasn’t bad once I got used to it, as much as it resembled a soda glass ring on a leather couch. Jackalopes don’t exist except in our imaginations (though there was one on the wall of the Pie Pan restaurant in Sauganash where we lunched with my grandmother in the early 1960s) so perhaps omitting it makes a rough kind of sense. Come October we’ll see what a Karmic Koala looks like. Maybe.

Anyway. It went great. Completely trouble-free so far. Highly recommended.

Odd Lots

  • Our good president is creating czars right and left, to the point where you can’t tell the czars without a program. So maybe we need a czar czar–I know a guy named Binks who could do the job…
  • Jim Strickland sent me a decent video demonstration of superfluidity in liquid helium. Liquid helium had a starring role in my 1980 story “Cold Hands,” and Richard Bartrop’s cover image of my upcoming story collection Cold Hands and Other Stories includes Richard’s visualization of liquid helium floating free in atmosphere at zero-G. I don’t think we’ve ever fussed with liquid helium in orbit, but if we have, I’d like pointers to any mentions.
  • In my novel The Cunning Blood, I postulated fluidic computers, which use fluid pressure and flow rates as the encoding units of information. People think I made this up completely, but not so: The technology was in use as early as 1948, and was written up in Popular Mechanics in the 1970s. (That’s where I first heard of it, though I can’t find the citation right now.)
  • If you’re at all interested in the future of the publishing industry and newspapers in particular, be sure to read James Fallows’ take on it. Ad-supported print media are being bled white by eBay and especially Craigslist, which is the direct digital analog of print classified ads.
  • From the Words-That-Sound-Exactly-Like-What-They-Are Department: “Dudelsack” is German for “bagpipe.”
  • Ethanol is a terribly inefficient use of corn (corn stoves that burn it for home heat are a far better use of corn as fuel) and it may destroy engines as well. Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.
  • Some years ago, while bumming around my old neighborhood in Chicago, I noticed an observatory dome on an addition to a late 40s house about three blocks from where I grew up. It was right across the street from Olympia Park, where I tried and failed several times to become good at softball. Pete Albrecht noticed that the New York Times did an article on home observatories a couple of years ago, which included some photos of the observatory, built by an accountant named John Spack.