Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image


Odd Lots

  • I regret to report that Robert Bruce Thompson has left us, at age 64, of heart problems. He’s best-known for his books PC Hardware in a Nutshell and Building the Perfect PC, but he’s also written several books on astronomy and telescopes that I much admire, as well as several books on home-lab chemistry. He was one of the best technical writers of his generation, and has been blogging as long as I have, which later this year will have been 20 years.
  • Apple will be releasing the source code for the Lisa OS this year. The machine came out in 1983 and didn’t sell well due to its $10,000 price tag. (That would be almost $25,000 today.) I’m interested because Lisa OS was written in…Pascal! I’ve heard rumors from the FreePascal community that a port to the Raspberry Pi is likely and might not even be especially difficult. Imagine the OS from a $25,000 machine running on a computer costing $35. I’d do that just to say I did.
  • I didn’t know anything about ArcaOS until a few days ago, but it’s basically a continuation of OS/2 Warp, based on Warp 4, MCP2. Legal, not free, but also not hideously expensive, and supported to boot. If you ever used OS/2 and liked it, take a look.
  • Back before we truly understood the dangers of nuclear radiation, scientists experimented with nuclear fission by moving neutron reflectors around a softball-sized core of PU-239 by hand, and recording the nuclear reaction’s strength from Geiger counter readings. This was called “tickling the dragon’s tail,” and when done clumsily, led to the death of several researchers and shortened the lives of others. Here’s a good summary.
  • The last house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright before his death in 1959 is in Phoenix, and it’s for sale. Got $3.25M in your wallet? You’re set! (Thanks to my own Carol for the link.)
  • Here’s an excellent long-form piece on Amazon Go, the online retail behemoth’s experiment in checkout-free B&M retailing. Take if off the shelf, toss it in your bag, and when you’re done shopping, just leave. You need an Amazon account and ideally a smartphone, but with that you’re in business. No word on when the concept will move beyond Seattle.
  • The Dark Crystal is coming back to movie theaters in February. That was a butt-kickin’ movie, and I will probably hand over the $14 ticket price without a great deal of grumbling. A really big screen is worth something!
  • IO9 mentioned some teasers for Cloverfield III. III? Was there a Cloverfield II? You guys never tell me anything!
  • A Canadian sniper team in the Middle East nailed an ISIS terrorist at 3,871 yards. This is about 1,000 yards farther than the previous record for a sniper kill. I have a lot of respect for marksmen (my father was one) and a sense of awe before the skill of snipers at this level.
  • Every time I crank up Waterfox, it asks me if I’d like it to be my default browser. Every damned time. Something appears to be redefining my default browser without my permission. This support page hasn’t been especially helpful. Haven’t cracked this one yet, but I’ll report here when I do.
  • Something the AGW crowd should keep in mind: If you say that any hot summer’s day means global warming, don’t be surprised if people unroll the syllogism and assume that any cold winter’s day means global cooling. Climate isn’t simple, and we know a lot less about it than we claim.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • The length of the Earth’s day varies more than I would guess, and the cause seems to be a certain amount of slosh in our molten core.
  • PC World is shutting down its print edition. I still have early copies of both PC World and PC Magazine in boxes, including issues from those heady days when the PC universe was exploding like a supernova and the magazines could be an inch thick and heavier than some small dogs. If I could still make money in magazines I’d still be in magazines making money, but that train has left the station, the station has been razed, and the tracks sold for scrap.
  • I smell careers burning.
  • Which might be one reason the Chicago Tribune’s owners are doing this.
  • And yet another reason (among many) for this.
  • On a whim I went out and checked the Adobe CS2 download link that got so much attention this past January. Gone. I guess they calculated that anybody who was entitled to it already had it, and all the rest were pirates. I wonder if they understood that genii don’t return to their bottles once let loose.
  • How about some extreme swimming pools? Damn. I’d just like to have a really boring swimming pool right now.
  • Or maybe nine peculiar (old) vending machines. Read the comments, which contain more cool vending machine links. I saw beer vending machines on Japanese streets when I visited Tokyo in 1981. It shouldn’t be too long before a modern descendant of the Book-O-Matic actually prints and binds your book from scratch, while you watch. Alas, it will cost more than a quarter.
  • Speaking of descendants: I knew this. Did you?
  • Bill Higgins sent a link to some sort of German WWII tank training manual, written in German rhyme and illustrated in a very surreal fashion, including God carrying a tank on one shoulder and a chubby redheaded Aryan angel in leather boots, holding a cannon rammer. The Jaegermeister stag-and-cross is there too, which might explain a few things. Yet another reason I should have taken German in high school.
  • Speaking of Jaegermeister: I asked my nephew Matt what it tastes like. His answer: “You don’t want to know.” When pressed, he added, “Malort.” Only a little research confirmed that, yes, I really don’t want to know.
  • Choice is always good.

UPDATE: A little research on the Panther Primer shows that the figure I thought was God is St. Christopher; the angel in red braids is St. Barbara, and the guy chasing the buzzard is St. Hubert, who was a master hunter…a Jaegermeister. Siegfried is in there too, as are some Classical Greek figures. German tank crews must have been a pretty educated bunch.

Rail Trails and the Narrowest Storefront

The weather today in Chicago promised to be as good as it gets this trip, so I decided to do a little exploring. I wanted to get some exercise and a little sun on my face, and run down to a neighborhood I hadn't set foot in for almost thirty years: Sauganash, an upscale part of the Northwest Side where my father's parents lived in the 1950s and 1960s. I went past the old house (at the corner of Kedvale and Glenlake), which had not changed at all, though the tree that my grandfather had planted in 1955 was now huge and breaking up the sidewalk. I had lunch at a hot dog place at Devon and Pulaski and parked the car on Pulaski near St. Odisho's Assyrian Catholic Church. I then did something interesting: I walked the old rail line that intersects Pulaski near Granville, southward as far as the Chicago River, roughly at Balmoral. The rails are still there, but by the depth of their rust I'd guess they hadn't seen wheels for a number of years. It was a little weird walking over Peterson on the rail bridge, but I wanted to see if there was any evidence of there having been a commuter rail platform at Peterson. I'm not sure why, but I always thought my grandfather boarded a train for downtown (he worked at First National Bank) on Peterson somewhere. This was clearly not the place. (Gretchen says he boarded at Edgebrook, and she's probably right.) Whatever that line was, it had clearly been freight-only.

Since I was on the right of way, I just kept going. The tracks continued, rusty and weed-choked, as far as I went. Just a block south of Bryn Mawr, a second line merged with it, and I found that the city was in the process of making a walking trail out of the old bed. So I cut north again on the walking trail, passing people and their dogs and a father flying a kite with his preschool son in a schoolyard. The trail is quite new, and in fact the walking bridge over Peterson was not complete yet and was fenced off. (The trail goes north as far as Devon.) So I skidded down the embankment and walked east back to Pulaski along Peterson to my car. It was a nice two-and-a-half mile stride, and when the sun was out it was quite warm.

That accomplished, I drove back west toward Des Plaines, and stopped in Park Ridge to do a little more walking. I wanted to visit Hill's Hobby Shop, and walked there only to find that they have moved to Buffalo Grove. I did, however, snap a shot or two of what is certainly the narrowest storefront in Park Ridge (and perhaps the whole Chicago metro area) at 147 1/2 Vine Avenue (60068) directly across the street from Park Ridge City Hall. I didn't have a tape measure in my pocket, but I'm guessing the whole thing was between four and five feet wide.

I'd seen it before, and remembered that it had been a knicknack shop a few years ago. Sure enough, googling the address showed it to have been (aptly) The Miniature Gallery, and there was a 2007 business registration sticker on the window. However, the counter and window displays had been ripped out, and it looks like it's being converted to something else, probably a hall to the rear. The art gallery in the rest of the building was also vacant, and the building as a whole was not in terrific shape.

No serious point to be made here, other than you miss some odd and occasionally wonderful things by driving everywhere. Spring's coming—so get out on shank's mare and see some of the weird stuff in your own neighborhood!