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Luck Happens: The Blotter and the Pocketwatch


A couple of people have asked me where I got the Windows blotter wallpaper discussed and shown in the photo on my January 19, 2011 entry. I stumbled across it while looking for art depicting steampunk airships. Jim Strickland and I have been tossing ideas around for a drumlin airship, and I wanted to see what other people had done in that area. Just clicking around, and alluva sudden I was looking at this. Egad, it’s 1600 X 1200 too–no need for me to do any resizing. If you’re widescreen, you might consider this one instead.

I like blotters. I had a desktop blotter at Borland that was an Ampad Efficiency Deskpad 24-003. It was basically a faux-leather frame surrounding a pad of 17″ X 22″quadrille paper, which I have always liked for sketches and off-the-cuff coding. When Borland laid us off they told me I could have it, since they were just going to dump it (and everything else in my desk) anyway. It’s followed me around ever since, though I’m not sure the quadrille paper for it is available anymore.

The only thing that bothered me about the blotter wallpaper was the pocket watch, which (while well-drawn) was just an image, and always read 3:37. (Days later, I found a version of the blotter wallpaper without the watch.) If the watch had to be there, it had to work. And then I remembered something I had seen a long time ago and forgotten.

There’s a widget engine for Windows called Rainmeter. It was mentioned on one blog or another that I followed back in 2008 or 2009. A widget engine is an app that runs without a conventional windowed UI, and allows you to display frame-less output on your desktop. The widgets are basically skins, and the output can be drawn in easily parameterized ways. There are myriad skins for Rainmeter, and while I was experimenting with it back then I ran across a clock skin called Pocketwatch. It looked a little bit Stickley (as does much else in this house) and I would still have it running had I kept Rainmeter across the last couple of Windows reinstalls. (I did not.)

On a hunch I did the obvious: I took a 6″ steel rule and measured the size of the Pocketwatch widget on the screen, then measured the static pocketwatch image on the blotter wallpaper. The face of one was precisely the same size as the face of the other. (The Pocketwatch skin is the face only; the blotter has the whole pocketwatch.) I quickly installed Rainmeter and Pocketwatch. I centered Pocketwatch over the face of the pocketwatch image, and then un-checked the Draggable setting on Pocketwatch’s context menu. Bang! The watch on my wallpaper now keeps time. All free, too. C’mon, people: What are the chances? Sometimes luck just happens.


  1. Rich, N8UX says:

    Wow. Fits like a solar eclipse.

    1. Heh! Precisely, as it were. It’s less useful than it might seem at first because I typically run my major apps (Word, InDesign) maximized, but I’ve been fooling with the other Rainmeter skins and now have several of them running as a sort of dashboard on my secondary display. If I need a quick time check, I can glance right and see another analog clock, plus “world clocks” for other places of interest, like Des Plaines, Illinois. Rainmeter fetches the weather from Yahoo and puts up a 2 1/2 day forecast, and I enabled the sun and moon widgets, granting that those aren’t especially useful at all. It’s an interesting concept, even without all the gonzo skins that people have posted for it.

  2. Lee Hart says:

    It’s ironic to see an expensive high-tech computer being used to display an antique pocket watch.

    I’m not being critical, Jeff: But it reminded me of George Ewing’s essay on “Where have all the techies gone”. He groused that his techie friends all used to DO stuff; build geodesic domes, make ham gear, fly rockets, etc. Now, they sat on their butts all day, staring at a computer screen. The computer changed from a tool for doing stuff into an end in itself; an excuse for *not* doing anything else.

    I took George’s words to heart. Up to that time, I had indeed become a computer geek that had to keep buying the latest machine, trying the latest programs, and spending endless hours tinkering with them. I decided to quit. I went back to building things and doing stuff in the real world, and only use the computer when I have to, as a tool for getting something else done.

    Maybe you should get a real pocket watch, and hang it in a little glass case next to your computer? 🙂

    1. It’s a fair criticism, and in fact I have a physical pocket watch that I like a lot, but I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with using a picture of a watch on my screen–especially if it was easy. (It was.) I haven’t given up on physical tinkering by any means. I do lots of things I never talk about here, especially if I need the word-energy to get some fiction written. For example, I’ve been playing around with 12V tube pentagrid converter circuits recently, simply because I’ve never done it before. I built one, and it works, and I learned a few things by doing so. That said, I’m not sure conventional 12V BCB converter circuits are of broad enough interest to spend much time describing.

      I have a 12V inverter circuit on the side that works, using a junker toroid inverter transformer with a winding putting out 250 volts. The next step is to make a voltage multiplier that will take that to 1000VDC at a mil or two, and I’ll have the core of my shoulder-slung tube-based Geiger counter. It’ll drain a 12V gel cell after a few hours, but I’m good with that–I’ve already got a smart charger that I built 20+ years ago.

      I’ve got a new circuit for a 12AX7/6T9 superregen FM BCB receiver that I’m gathering parts for. I built a similar receiver a couple of years ago that I didn’t say much about here; it was mainly a lesson in berserk hand capacitance. (Both sides of the tuning cap were above ground. Bad idea.)

      So worry less. I still build stuff, mostly when there’s something to be learned by doing it. I don’t need an FM receiver–got lots–but if I built one that worked well I’d make it my main radio because I would know precisely how it works. That seems like a kind of narrow eccentricity to me, and for the same reason that I don’t review books like The Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics here (I’m not sure that more than two of my readers would stay awake) I don’t go into detail about electronics projects unless I think they’re different enough in some way to be generally interesting. My Geiger counter project meets that criterion, but ordinary BC radios–meh.

      Recently I’ve been writing SF, and I may spin out some of my techniques here when I get far enough ahead of my personal deadlines to afford the time. I’m certainly not sitting around doing nothing!

  3. Lee Hart says:

    I have no worries about you, Jeff! Computers take a lot of your time, but you *are* still building ham gear, doing astronomy, writing SF, etc. You have kept your “techie” status.

    George was thinking of guys like me. We “got lost” in computers, letting everything else go. I look up to you as an example of how to stay on track. So it was with a pang of dismay that I saw your pocket watch wallpaper. “Oh no; not Jeff too!” But, you also have a *real* pocket watch; you’ve kept the faith. 🙂

    There’s a fine line between being addicted to the bleeding edge of technology, and becoming a luddite that’s overly obsessed with obsolete technology. I prefer to look for and use *good* technology, whether it is new or old. There are “classic” examples of technology that are ageless, like good books or music. These are the things worthy of our time.

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