Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

February, 2013:

My Security System


Multiply your terror by four. Then divide by the square root of pi. Or something. (Sign available at

Odd Lots

Score! The Phone-Inside-A-Tablet Concept, Now From ASUS


I don’t know where my ideas come from, so don’t ask. However, I do get ideas. Most of them come to nothing. Every now and again, however, I score.

Back at Clarion in 1973, I wrote an otherwise dorky novelette entitled “But Will They Come When You Do Call For Them?” in which I predicted something very like the World-Wide Web. It was over twenty years later that I realized I’d been scooped by H. G. Wells, who published his idea of the World Brain in 1937. (I’d never heard of the World Brain until I read about it on…the Web.) Hey, if you’re gonna get scooped, get scooped by the best.

In 1993, I got an idea for something I called The All Volunteer Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything. It came out of the Information Superhighway fever (remember that?) and did not postulate HTTP, which was a new and obscure protocol at the time I was doing my research. Functionally, however, it was Wikipedia, or at least Wikipedia minus its idiotic Not Notable fetish.

Jim Strickland told me that I came very close to describing Second Life three years before it went live, with my “RAD Mars” concept piece in the final issue of Visual Developer. I think there were other stabs at that concept abroad at the time, so I don’t consider it as big a score. Still, it’s a score.

Which brings us to a news item I ran across this morning while I was scanning the World Brain. (Or the Universal Data Engineering Project, as I had more humbly named it in 1973.) ASUS has unveiled the Padfone 2, a smartphone that plugs into a 10″ “dumb” tablet. Pull that animation around–it’s very cool. The PadFone 2 is the newest rev of a product announced last spring that I missed somehow. (2012 was the second-worst year of my life. I missed a lot.) Here’s another detailed description from Engadget. The ASUS PadFone product line is the first real-world stab at a concept I described here on Contra back in 2008. That was in the thick of the netbook era, post-Kindle but pre-iPad, and the notion of a general-purpose touchscreen tablet was still obscure. What I wanted was a dockable display into which my smartphone plugged, with storage and network communications on the smartphone. And dayum if that isn’t more or less precisely what ASUS offers in the PadFone.

So forgive me if I sound like I’m gloating. I’m gloating. This may be the most accurate technology prediction I’ve ever made, and I made it almost five years ago.

Back in 2008 I considered patenting the idea, but only briefly. A patent would have cost me $10,000 and more time than I had to spare right then. Worse, I consider the idea only half a notch more than obvious, and when people patent the obvious it makes my blood boil.

I am a big fan of ASUS, and I own a much-loved and much-used Transformer Prime. I wish them no ill, but guys, put that patent application down. I thought of it five years ago.

Odd Lots

The Five Minute Electrostatic Charge Detector


I’ve been building electronic gadgets for almost fifty years, and I don’t think I’ve ever managed a working five-minute project before. If the photo above shows a slightly random assembly style (I’m typically more artful, whether or not the circuit requires it) that’s because I wanted to complete it in five minutes.

I did. And it works. When I snapped the picture, I was holding my hand about six inches from the gate lead of the MPF102. When I pulled my hand back about a foot or so, the LED went out. If I scuff around my static generator of an office, it “sees” me even two or three feet away. The sensing “antenna” is nothing more than the gate lead of the FET, left loose in mid-air. A short scrap of wire three or four inches long would have increased the range greatly.

The circuit came to me from Bill Beaty, who posted a comment with the link to my February 18, 2013 Odd Lots entry. It consists of an MPF102 JFET, a generic red LED, and a 9V battery plus its associated connector. I lashed it up on a scrap of perfboard with a total of three solder joints. Bill found me because of this post, to an old Popular Electronics electroscope project using a 6J7 tube instead of an FET. (They didn’t have MPF102s in 1961.)

Sure, it’s a stunt, but I was in a stunt mood. Remember, if you try this and it takes a little more than five minutes, that I’m good at this stuff, and had gathered all the parts to my workbench before starting the clock. And clock it I did: the stopwatch said 4:39 when I snapped in the battery, leaned toward the gate lead, and saw the light come on.

I’m still considering a tube-based device using some sort of neon light more exotic than an NE-2. I’m considering an NE-34, and would have had one by now if they didn’t cost so much. Or an Aerolux bulb, if I’m feeling Art Nouveau-ish. Those cost even more.

I can feel my resistance crumbling. Remember: It’s futile.

Odd Lots

  • Carol and I are now home from Chicago, still bumping into walls but doing better. If you haven’t heard from me in a couple of weeks that’s why.
  • Chicago burned on October 8, 1871. The cow did it, right? Well, there were a lot of other serious fires around the American midwest that same night. Tucking my ears into my tinfoil hat here: What if a cluster of biggish small meteorites hit the country that night, sparking fires wherever they fell? The more Russian dashcam videos I see, the less outrageous I think the idea is. (Thanks to Michele Marek for the link.)
  • And for people who say that the Russians seem to attract meteorites, look at this. I’d say The Curse of the Splat People has been laid upon northern new Mexico.
  • Why am I so fascinated by the Neanderthals? Aside from the fact that I may well have a Neanderthal-ish skull and ribcage, it’s hard to beat our big-brained, musclebound brothers for idea triggers. I had never considered Taki’s startling question: Would they vote Republican? Or would they just tear your arm off for asking? (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
  • Search Google Patents for Edward F. Marwick, and you will find 205 different patents filed by my very own late high school physics teacher. He told us about a few of them (like this one) in 1969. We thought he was kidding. The man was a damned good physics teacher, and he thought big.
  • Bill Beaty posted a comment on Contra for my September 7, 2011 entry describing a very simple solid-state equivalent using an MPF102 and a 9V battery. A full description is on his site, and it’s worth seeing if you have an unscratched itch for a half-hour project.
  • I think I aggregated the Steampunk Workshop before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Beautiful stuff, startling craftsmanship. Like this Mac Mini mod. Wow. (Thanks to Bill Cherepy for pointing it out.)
  • Carol and I had to cancel our entry of Dash and Jack in the big Rocky Mountain Cluster dog show for obvious reasons, but one of our Bichon Club members posted a wonderful video of her seven-year-old son Adam showing their puppy, Ruby. Ruby and Adam got a blue ribbon. The kid is amazing. Sheesh, when I was that age I was still throwing mushrooms at my sister at the dinner table.
  • I guess this was inevitable, at least in Washington State and/or Colorado. I suppose the research is useful. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)

Delores Ostruska 1924-2013

1948_07_Clam Lake_Scan17-500Wide.jpg

Carol’s mom has left us. She died quietly this past Saturday after a long illness, at a nursing facility near her Crystal Lake, Illinois home. Her daughter Kathy was by her bedside, and her two grandsons Brian and Matthew had visited her earlier that day. She was 88.

Most people in our time are lucky to have two loving parents. Somehow, incredibly, I had four. I met Delores on August 2, 1969, when I came by their house to pick up Carol for our first date. I was 17, a little scruffy, and undoubtedly, well, odd. No matter. Delores smiled and welcomed me, a welcome that never faded. Carol’s dad was a slightly harder sell, but I won his esteem by treating his daughter with respect and kindness. When I bought a lathe in 1977 he stabled it in his basement, and over time he taught me what he knew about its use, which (considering that he could grind a carbide die to a ten thousandth of an inch accuracy) was pretty much everything.

On many Sundays Delores prepared family dinners for which her sisters Marie and Bernice and her Aunt Marie and Uncle John drove up from the South Side. Pork roast, salad, vegetables, bread, dessert; a huge spread brought to the table hot and perfect in all ways. I had a place at that table, as later on Kathy’s boyfriend/fiance/husband Bob did as well. It was decades before I knew the term for the feeling that hovered all about us in Delores’ dining room, but when I found it, many things fell into place. It was unconditional love.

I had had that from my own parents, of course. And even my own father was a bit of a hard sell, since I bore little resemblance to the rowdy boy that he himself had been and expected his own son to be. All the more remarkable that Delores and Steve embraced me almost immediately as one of their own.

Delores was a child of Polish-American heritage, youngest daughter of a large family, who was born and grew up on the Near South Side of Chicago. She belonged to a group of very close teen girlfriends who called themselves The Comets. They were capable and confident girls, journeying around the city for fun, and even slept on the sand of Chicago’s 31st Street Beach. She quietly rejected the dour Polish pessimism of her own parish church, and far preferred the exuberant Catholic culture of an Irish parish a few blocks away. She believed all her life in an infinitely loving God and the goodness of all His creation. When I began struggling with my own life of faith at the dawn of middle age, it was her example that helped bring me to the unbounded and unshakable Catholic optimism that I hold today.

Delores worked at the US Treasury in downtown Chicago, where she helped trace lost and stolen US Savings Bonds. During WWII she met and in 1947 married Steve Ostruska, one of her brother Charlie’s Navy shipmates. After Carol was born the family moved to Niles, Illinois, where Delores lived for over forty years before moving in with her daughter Kathy in Crystal Lake.

Every summer while the girls were small the family vacationed along the lakes near Hayward, Wisconsin, where Steve fished for walleye and city girl Delores learned to love the outdoors. The photo at the head of this entry is from a vacation that she and Steve took to Clam Lake in July 1948. It’s not fair to picture her as an elderly woman when she has already broken the bonds of this Earth and risen triumphantly into the arms of the God she so strongly believed in. I prefer to recall her as the beautiful, vigorous person she was most of her life. In truth, all the time I knew her she glowed wth the quiet, invincible light of unconditional love, and if there’s anything closer than that to the ineffable light of God, I don’t expect to see it in this world.