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aerospace

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • My old friend and fellow early GTer Rod Smith has posted a great many excellent pictures he took at Chicon 7, including a book signing that I attended.
  • My mother’s cat Fuzzbucket died yesterday, at 16 years and change. He outlived my poor mother by twelve years, and while skittish as a kitten eventually warmed to me. I’ve never had a cat (for obvious reasons, of which I have four right now) but of all the cats I’ve never had, Fuzzbucket was my favorite. He kept his own LiveJournal page, and the final entry brought a tear to my eye.
  • For those who couldn’t attend Chicon and were cut off from viewing the Hugo Awards by an idiotic copyright protection bot, you’ve got another chance: The award ceremony will be re-streamed tomorrow night, September 9, at 7 PM central time.
  • This morning’s Gazette had an ad for hearing aids, which bragged of their product having 16 million transistors. This is easier than it used to be, since all those transistors are in one container. Now, does anybody remember the days when ads bragged of radios containing six transistors?
  • And while we grayhairs and nohairs are recalling transistor counts in the high single digits, does anybody remember the early Sixties scandal (reported in Popular Electronics, I think) in which Japanese manufacturers would solder additional transistors into simple superhet boards and short the leads together, just so they could advertise the box as a “ten-transistor” radio?
  • Nice piece from Ars Technica on the deep history of the spaceplane.
  • Bill Cherepy sent a link to a marvelous steampunk tennis ball launcher, used for getting pull-strings for antennas (and as often as not, the antennas themselves) into high or otherwise inaccessible places. Gadgets like this (albeit not in steampunk dress) have been around for a long time, and I posted a link to this one (courtesy Jim Strickland) back in March.
  • Also from Bill (and several others in the past few days) comes word of a promising if slightly Quixotic attempt to preserve orphaned SF and fantasy. Here’s the main site. At least they’re offering money to authors and estates; most other preservation efforts (of pulp mags and old vinyl, particularly) are pirate projects most visible on Usenet.
  • That said, there are projects that limit themselves to out-of-copyright pulps, like this one. One problem, of course, is knowing when a pulp (or anything else from the 1923-1963 era) is out of copyright. Copyright ambiguity only hurts the idea of copyright. We need to codify copyright and require registration, at least for printed works. I’m not as concerned about copyright’s time period, as long as the owners of a copyright are known. As I’ve said here before, I’m apprehensive about competing with hundreds of thousands of now-orphaned books and stories.
  • I don’t eat much sugar anymore, but egad, there are now candy-corn flavored Oreos.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • The mysterious X-37B has returned to Earth after 468 days in space, evidently without a scratch. One of the comenters on the many space hobby sites I read suggested something interesting: The spacecraft might be considered a “retrievable satellite” that can stay in orbit for years at a time, then shimmy down the gravity well for a refurb when necessary before being launched to orbit again. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • The secret to an successful programming language may be a good…beard.
  • Here’s a nice, short, practical piece on password security. In case you haven’t heard yet, a long password of concatenated plain English words (“correct horse battery staple“) is better than a shorter password of unmemorizable gibberish.
  • Why 419 scam emails claim to be from Nigeria and are written idiotically, as they’ve been for years’n’years: It’s a stupidity filter. Only the spectacularly gullible would now reply to one, which maximizes the chances that the respondents will actually fall for the scam. Damned clever, these Nigerians.
  • Here’s yet another assault on wine snobbery.
  • I’m closing in on 60, and in my life have known a fair number of redheads. Not one of them would I describe as “fiery.” Not one. The cliche has become widespread enough that we recently discussed it as such in our writing group. (Most of my heroines have black hair, which seems more exotic to me.) Now that Pixar has anointed the cliche in a new film (rough language alert) might we hope that redheads will now be given some slack? (At least it’s a film in which the folks with Scots accents are actually Scottish.)
  • Speaking of redheads…there is some science now suggesting that the Neanderthals may have been gingers.
  • Speaking of Neanderthals…in my note-taking for a possible novel called The Gathering Ice, I suggested that Neanderthals (who hide in plain sight, and have done so for 50,000 years) refer to themselves as “the Uglies” and to the rest of us as “the Saps.” Now I learn that Graham Hancock uses “the Uglies” to describe the Neanderthals in his 2010 novel, Entangled. Bummer.
  • Double bummer: There is a YA teen series called The Uglies. Not about Neanderthals, though. Still, having twice been outgunned on the term, I’m considering renaming my Neanderthals “the Plugs.” Could work.
  • The anomalous cold snap called the Younger Dryas 12,000 years ago figures into the backstory of my Neanderthal yarn. It’s still unexplained, as this article maintains, but it sure looks like a phase-transition stutter to me, as Earth’s climate was changing from its cold state to its warm state. I’ve often wondered if we are now in the thick of a phase transition from the climate’s warm state to its cold state. (Such a stutter is the main gimmick in The Gathering Ice.)
  • This was utterly news to me: Parts of New York City have a vacuum-driven garbage-collection system that literally sucks trash through pipes under the streets to a central disposal location–and has had it for 35 years.
  • The email subject read “Your parcel is expecting of receiving.” Its parcel was expecting of delivering trojan. My delete was delivering of action. Alreet!

Odd Lots

  • For the several people who asked: The odor-free carpet pad that we used in carpeting the lower level here is called Napa Carpet Cushion, from Leggett & Platt.
  • Apart from N&P’s Fallen Angels, Bob Tucker’s Ice and Iron, and possibly Mackelworth’s Tiltangle, what other SF novels involve an ice age on Earth in the near(ish) future? I have a concept that capitalizes on all my recent paleoclimate research, and I’d like to see if it’s already been done.
  • Whoops, found a list just before posting this. I clearly have some reading to do, assuming I can find any of these items. What are your personal favorites?
  • Today’s sunspot number is very close to zero. I haven’t seen sunspot activity this low in some time, and here we are supposedly barreling into the Cycle 24 maximum. The sunspot number is going in the wrong direction. 6M DX is evidently not in my immediate future.
  • Joe Flamini and Jack Smith are both pretty sure that the mysterious Comco gizmo I presented in my February 6, 2012 entry is an early remote control unit for commercial and public service radio systems, allowing control of a transmitter or repeater through leased phone lines. More on this in a future entry.
  • Having read briefly about hydraulic analog computing in a magazine decades ago, I built hydraulic calculators and computers into the technological background for my novel The Cunning Blood. Turns out the Russians did it on a pretty large scale back in the years running up to WWII. (Thanks to Jim Strickland for the link.)
  • From the You-Probably-Couldn’t-Do-That-Today Department: The flipside of the Chad Mitchell Trio’s 1963 hit kid/Christmas 45 “The Marvelous Toy” was “The Bonny Streets of Fyve-I-O, about a colonel who shoots one of his own captains for insubordination.
  • Tucows (does anybody even remember Tucows?) is launching a contract-free mobile service using Sprint’s network. The rates are interesting, and favor people who want smartphones but just don’t use them much, and data little or not at all.
  • The Maker Shed has a $99 Geiger counter kit that allows logging of pulses through a serial port, and detects both beta and gamma radiation.
  • A little gruesome maybe, but it’s real: When we lived in California in the late ’80s, there were reports of sneakers washing up on Santa Cruz area beaches…with human feet still inside them. At the time we assumed drug violence, but there’s a less scurrilous if no less ghastly explanation for a phenomenon that’s still happening. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Mmmph. Military combat aircraft should be able to fly in more air than we’re used to, no? Sweden had this problem recently. (I’m guessing that Saab has it too, now.) Thanks to Aki Peltonen for the link.
  • The name of my company, Copperwood Media, LLC, was inspired by a set of traces on an old PCB that just happened to look (a little) like a tree. I had an artist draw me a better copper tree for the logo, way back in 2000. Now Rich Rostrom sends a link to the odd tradition in some parts of the UK of hammering coins into cracks in trees until the notion of “copperwood” takes on a whole new meaning.
  • Some very nice steampunk watches and jewelry. “Chronambulator” is a great word, whether or not you’ve got a steampunk gizmo to hang it on. Note also the level-reading absinthe hip-flask. (Thanks to Bill Cherepy for the link.)

Odd Lots

  • Here’s yet another brick in the structure I’ve been seeing in psychological research suggesting that beyond a certain (reasonable) point, the more confident you are, the less competent you are.
  • The Japanese word I heard at MileHi Con but could not spell (and thus not find) is yaoi (boys’ love) which is evidently fiction targeted at women which portrays homoerotic/homoromantic relationships between good-looking young men. (Thanks to Erbo and Eric the Fruit Bat for clarifying this. I just had no clue.)
  • And while we’re identifying obscure pop culture icons and references, I’ve seen this guy somewhere. Who/what is he?
  • NASA’s new-technology space-based atomic clock has eight pins, and relies on high vacuum. George O. Smith would approve. (Thanks to Larry Nelson for the pointer.)
  • Switch to a “mechanical keyboard”? I never stopped using them to begin with. Modern “mush” keyboards were created solely to be cheap and are mostly useless. (I love it when I’m right–and thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • How many people lived on Earth when you were born? For me, it was 2,556,061,949.
  • The 99c MP3 of the Month Award here goes to Sam Spence for “Classic Battle,” which was evidently commissioned by the NFL as incidental music for football games. Dayum. Why doesn’t baseball get music like that?
  • Music, heh. Ever hear a piece of music that immediately made you head for the exits? Maybe that’s the whole idea. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the pointer.)
  • I’ve found a good home for my old Ampro CP/M system, and will be shipping it out shortly. Thanks for all the suggestions and reminiscences.

Odd Lots

  • Jim Strickland and I will be attending MileHiCon in Denver this weekend. Anybody else listening gonna be there?
  • I’m on a panel about robots, and here’s a megatrivia question for you: What was the first film depiction of a robot that was not a mechanical man; i.e., not things on two legs like Robbie, Gort, or Tobor the Great? The oldest one I can think of is the 1954 Gog. (Writeup.) This was a rare form factor back then (because humanoid robots were actors in robot suits) and the only other one from the Fifties I can recall is the 1957 Kronos.
  • Pertinent to that question: There was a serious and reasonably big-budget Japanese SF movie in the early 60s (not a let’s-stomp-on-Tokyo thing) depicting a spaceship with a small robot named Omega that ran on tracks. The other vehicles on the starship were also given Greek letters as names. Can anybody remember what that film was? All I get on Google for “Omega the Robot” are Sonic the Hedgehog references.
  • Having flown the X-37B into space twice, Boeing is now officially looking into doubling the size of the vehicle and making it a sort of people-only space shuttle. Alas, it would probably kill all hope for anything like the sexy li’l X-38–but I’ll take what we can get.
  • Red tide algae glows blue after dark, if you shake it up enough. Pete Albrecht has seen this, and it’s real; nay, surreal.
  • Boston Dynamics’ uncanny and brilliant Big Dog quadriped robot now has a big brother, AlphaDog. Watch both videos; the second is a demo of Big Dog doing stuff I wouldn’t have imagined a robot doing when I was in high school. BTW, that tube sticking out of Alpha Dog’s front panel isn’t artillery…yet.
  • These guys will sell you a 144-core CPU–and then make you program it in FORTH. Not x86; each core is an 18-bit F18A processor executing the colorForth instruction set. FORTH ties my head in knots and yes, I’ve tried it–on the CDP1802 processor, no less. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • Gotta love Google Books. I recently found a Popular Science article I had read in 1967 summarizing various rotary engines under discussion at that time. Nobody answered the obvious question: How do you machine a piston in the shape of a piece of kielbasa?
  • A short 1963 book on rotary engines by Felix Wankel himself can be found here. (Multiple PDFs; not an easy read.) Thanks to Pete Albrecht for spotting it.
  • From Henry Law comes a pointer to the most boggling piece of amateur rocketry I’ve ever seen. High power? Heh. One doesn’t get to 121,000 feet on vinegar and baking soda.
  • You don’t have to speak or read German to appreciate this photo tour of Vienna’s sewers. Why do they get such cool sewers in Europe? (I’ve seen a few Stateside, and they just…stink.)
  • Sure, and while you’re at it, grab his beach towel.

Odd Lots

  • Fairness requires that I point this out: An article in the Guardian that I cited in my last Odd Lots was in error. NASA had nothing to do with the paper in question, which was written in his spare time by a postdoc who happens to work for NASA. That makes the paper no less ridiculous, but at least NASA isn’t doing stuff down that far along the dumb spectrum.
  • And I’ll give this project a fair shot, though I would prefer to see NASA do this on a non-exclusive basis rather than for a particular publisher only. No word on whether and what Tor/Forge is paying for the deal. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Samsung has cited Kubrick’s film 2001 in a patent prior art case. (Engadget has a shorter entry with a still.) I wasn’t aware that fictional concepts can be raised in prior art challenges, but evidently it was done back in the 1960s when waterbeds were coming into common use. Robert A. Heinlein had described a waterbed in his 1942 novel Beyond This Horizon, and it was cited in a prior art challenge that cost Charles Hall his patent on the waterbed in 1968.
  • My computer books and articles have been cited in patent applications 37 times, but I don’t know if it’s possible to look up prior art case citations. Will have to research this.
  • While we’re citing citations, I was recently cited in a book by Paul J. Nahin, Number Crunching: Taming Unruly Computational Problems from Mathematical Physics to Science Fiction . The citation, on page 281, briefly describes my reprints of the Carl & Jerry stories from Popular Electronics. Alas, he cites me as “Copperhead Press” but mentions of the boys are way down in the last year and I’m glad they were mentioned at all. Thanks to Bruce Baker for letting me know.
  • If you’re interested in hurricanes, here’s a nice summary page with automatically updating satellite imagery and lots of interesting graphics. The satellite imagery can be animated to show changes over the last several hours.
  • I didn’t think this was new news, but apparently star formation is slowing down, as material that was originally hydrogen is “locked up” in white dwarfs, neutron stars, and heavy elements, even after a supernova has blasted a star’s substance back into interstellar space. I didn’t think that 70% of a supernova’s mass fails to return to the gas pool, but that seems to be the case.
  • Jim Mischel sends along a link to a marvelous homebrew bandsaw made mostly of wood. (The blade and the hardware may be inescapably metallic.) The site as a whole has lots of interesting woodpunk concepts and projects. I especially like the wooden gear template generator, which calculates a gear outline that can be printed to paper and then cut out from wood.
  • Whew. We get the message, guys.