- 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.)
- I’ve been playing with the new generation of desktop “all-in-ones” at Best Buy etc. and can’t get my head around the notion of using a touch screen on a desktop–especially a big touch screen. I thought I was just being a grouch, but now I have company.
- This slightly confused piece from the BBC raises a crucial issue–what the whole self-esteem movement is doing to our kids–but appears to confuse “self-esteem” with “confidence.” Confidence means “I am well-calibrated.” Self-esteem means “I don’t need to read the dial.”
- Make is going deep on Raspberry Pi. Check out that repurposed Mac Classic.
- One of my domains got on an RBL the other day. Not sure why; it’s off now. But it’s a good time to remind you of the valli.org RBL checker.
- We’ve experienced a very sudden burst in sunspot formation in recent days, which you can see on this startling photo. When I was projecting the transit of Venus on foamcore this past summer, line of sight to the setting sun passed through the approach to O’Hare Field, and I saw four or five of these much quicker transits. It’s nice to see one captured, for those who didn’t get to see them in realtime.
- And while we’re talking sunspots, here’s a good piece on the technical details of how we count sunspots.
- This past Christmas I had my first sip of Goldschlager in 30+ years. Was stronger than I remember it, or maybe I’m just weaker. Moot point: I’m holding out for Ytterbiumschlager.
- Made me wonder how strong booze has to be to be burnable in an alcohol lamp. When absinthe burns, what happens to the wormwood?
- Carol had heard good things about Shasta sodas, particularly their diet ginger ale. I wasn’t sure where they could be found, but they have a “soda finder” that I wish more independent brands would emulate, particularly Green River.
- That said, you can get diet Green River from Wal-Mart, but you have to order a case. I don’t think it’s in their stores.
- Alas, the wonderful retro soda-maker across the street from my alma mater vanished in 1986 and won’t be found again: The Lasser factory building has been converted to half-million dollar lofts. I do remember having a lime rickey or two while at DePaul. I guess I just like seriously green sodas.
- I think they did this in Colorado last fall.
- Making you fat and diabetic is the least of it: Sugar (especially fructose) sabotages your brain. If it’s your first favorite organ (as it is for me) put your brain at the top of your personal food chain. Be a caveman: Eat more animal fat and less sugar.
- Eat more fat and less sugar, but do it this way: Trade sugar for sleep. Lack of sleep makes you hungry, and I’m guessing that chronic lack of sleep makes you lots hungrier than you would be if you just admitted that you can’t get by on six hours or possibly even seven. Cavemen slept when it got dark. Dark is your friend. (Thanks to Jonathan O’Neal for the link.)
- While we’re talking Inconvenient Health Truths, consider: The downside of demonizing salt is that people have begun to show symptoms of iodine deficiency. (I myself am…unlikely…to ever have that problem.)
- Instagram walked back from the cliff and withdrew its mind-boggling policies on commercial use of user photos without permission or complication. The Internet firestorm was one reason, I’m sure…but I’m also guessing that someone in their legal department got the message through that the firm would be sued into subatomic particles if it went ahead.
- I wasn’t aware that a sack of potatoes stands in well for a human being in Wi-Fi tests on networking in crowded spaces like aircraft cabins. I do wonder what happened to the potatoes.
- “Thorium” is my answer to the question of how to best reduce CO2 in our atmosphere. We need base load; wind and solar are necessary but not sufficient.
- There are at least five planets orbiting SF favorite Tau Ceti, and one may be in the star’s habitable zone. What the article does not mention is that the habitable planet is considerable closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun, and at a distance closer than Venus is probably tidally locked on its star. That’s not a dealbreaker, but tidal locking certainly makes the journey from slime to sublime a lot less likely.
- My ongoing (and slow-going) project of rewriting Borland Pascal from Square One for FreePascal continues, and there’s a new and expanded PDF up on my FTP site. 9 MB. 180 pages done out of about 350 or 400 planned. Not all 800 pages of the original book will be included, because some of it is now mostly useless, and some will be kicked upstream to a Lazarus book that I’m planning.
- FreePascal contains a clean-room clone of Borland’s TurboVision, which I actually named way back in 1989. (Its original name was TOORTL: Turbo Object-Orietnted Runtime Library.) I’m going to recompile my Mortgage Vision application in FPC with FreeVision and see if it still works. That is, if I can find the source…
- We’re getting our Mayans, Aztecs, and Oreos mixed up. Actually, I read the oreoglyphics on the cookie and it said that the world will end in 1947.
- Furthermore, it’s a lot tougher to dunk a Mesoamerican stone calendar in your coffee.
- From the Some-Things-Just-Sound-Right Department: “Glitzenstein” is German for “rhinestone.” It suggests an ironic horror novel in which a mad plastic surgeon stitches together an unreasonable facimile of Liberace from pieces of washed-up Vegas lounge singers.
- From the Words-I-Never-Heard-Before-But-Won-A-Word-Of-The-Year-Contest Department: “Omnishambles,” which basically means, “big mess.”
- Jonathan O’Neal found a much better link to the “impersonating marijuana” cartoon from Kliban that I cited in my November 13th entry.
- Bill Cherepy sent word of a $29.95 steampunk thumb drive that appeaars to be mass-produced and not a hand-made work of art.
- And while sniffing around the same site, I came upon a steampunk telescope ring. Oh–and a slightly less compact steampunk wrist monocular.
- Good paper on historical solar activity by Dr. Leif Svalgaard. If you want to work all continents on a Sixer, you might have to wait awhile. (I’m hoping to get some traction on my G28 this max–if we actually have a max.)
- We forget sometimes how diverse old telephones were–because we (mostly) had to get them from the phone company. The others we mostly saw in spy movies.
- There is bubble-gum flavored vodka. Fair enough. Now, is there a wintergreen-flavored cordial of some kind? Or lavender?
- Carol’s sister chills room-temperature box sangria by throwing a few spoonfuls of frozen blueberries into it. Granted, you have to let the glass sit for a few minutes, but it’s way easier than slicing oranges.
- Some may argue that allowing radioisotopes to perform music isn’t exactly music, or if it is, we can definitely call it very heavy metal.
- Just what I want in my Thanksgiving wine.
- Jim Strickland sent word that Lindsay’s Technical Books is shutting down next year, not for financial reasons but simply because Lindsay is retiring. Their last print catalog has been sent. Order the stuff you’ve been procrastinating about for years–I will be. (Recommendation: Radio for the Millions.) Tip for those who haven’t heard of him before: Lots of steampunk-pertinent do-it-yourself there.
- Amazon can wipe any Kindle it wants to, anytime, without telling you. We’ve known this since the 1989 dustup over the rights to Orwell’s 1984. It’s still a risk, and you can trigger it by trying to sneak around region restrictions. Now, Ars Technica explains how to keep what you’ve bought by removing the DRM. I object to region restrictions in digital content because it makes piracy a safer way to acquire content. Don’t train your customers to be pirates. When are we going to learn?
- I knew this, but not in detail: Kodak had a working digital camera prototype in 1975, and it used a casette tape to store photos–which took 23 seconds per photo. Here’s more on the device from the man who invented it.
- If that sort of thing intrigues you, here’s the motherlode.
- In case you’ve never actually seen it (I hadn’t) here’s where you can stream the video of Doug Engelbart’s prophetic (to put it mildly) Mother of All Demos, during which he showed how a mouse could be used to help with various computer tasks like word processing.
- I bought the original Microsoft Mouse in 1983 and still have it. It still works. It had better, as I paid $200 for it.
- The placebo effect may be genetic–which is a far less significant question than how the hell it works to begin with.
- The first mirror for this telescope has now been completed. The finished telescope will have seven of them. I struggled to grind, polish, and figure a ten-inch mirror when I was 15. This helps me put the whole thing in perspective. Wow.
- Slate seems to think that humans would win fights with Neanderthals. Having seen a number of skeletal and muscle reconstructions of those gnarly guys, I tend to doubt it. Why, then, did they go extinct if we didn’t kill them? My guess: They killed each other. Why do I think that? I read human history and anthropology.
- You can now buy a brand-new, reinforced and factory rustproofed body for a 1940 Ford Coupe…from Ford. If they made an AWD minivan I’d already have one. Here’s hoping.
- I’ve installed Lazarus 1.0 without mayhem, and have created a few simple programs with it. So far, no glitches. My recommendation is still cautious. Nonetheless, I’d be interested in hearing other people’s experiences with the new release.
- Carmine Gallo wonders why more people aren’t doing image-rich PowerPoint presentations. Um…it’s because drawing pictures is way hard compared to writing text. Why is there no mention of this either in the article or in the comments?
- Here’s a great timesaver: Instead of making political posts on Facebook, point to this. Done! Effortless! (Link courtesy S. Hudson Blount.)
- And if that doesn’t work for you, this may. (Link courtesy Jim Mischel.)
- I guess the evidence is piling up: It’s time to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and ask yourself: Does this political opinion make my head look small?
- I’m glad that somebody else besides me noticed that The Atlantic came back from the dead mostly by publishing articles calculated to raise people’s blood pressure. I was a very satisfied subscriber back in the 90s and early oughts, but I suspect now that I never will be again.
- Don’t believe what the MSM says about volcanoes. Or about DNA. Or maybe anything else.
- Maybe we can give them (the MSM) something for Christmas this year. And then tell them to put a sock in it.
- The article I mentioned in my September 8, 2012 Odd Lots about transistor radio manufacturers tacking unused transistors onto their circuit boards to up the transistor count was in fact “The Transistor Radio Scandal” by H. M. Gregory, in Electronics Illustrated for July, 1967; p. 56. Some manufacturers used transistors for diodes, which was maybe half a notch better. The article includes some mighty weird schematics, too. Worth digging for, if you have piles of old mags somewhere.
- If our understanding of solar physics is accurate, sunspots might become impossible (at least for awhile) by 2015 or 2020. (Full paper here.) The magnetic fields that create sunspots have been getting weaker by about 50 gauss per year for some time. Field strength is now at about 2000; once that value hits 1500 gauss, some research suggests that sunspots may not form at all. This is not new news, but it’s interesting in that it’s a bit of poorly understood science that most of us will live to see confirmed or falsified. At any rate, I’m guessing we will not be working Madagascar on half a watt into a bent paperclip again for awhile, as the late George Ewing WA8WTE used to say.
- I’ve identified a new trigger for Creeping Dread: Hearing the fans incrementally rev up on what was assumed to be an idle computer.
- I didn’t know this until the other day: The instrumental riff in ELP’s “Touch and Go” is not ultimately from Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Variations on Greensleeves.” It’s a far older folk melody called “Lovely Joan,” and the song is about a girl who, when asked by some aristocratic lout to hand over her virginity in exchange for a ring and a roll in the hay, keeps her virginity and steals his horse instead. Much better deal.
- Here’s a tool to see if your email was on one of the 400,000 accounts recently leaked from Yahoo.
- One of the big downsides of the ASUS Transformer Prime is that the micro SD card pops out of its slot very easily. I found mine on the cushion of my reading chair the other day, and have no least clue how I managed that, apart from sitting there and looking at some weather maps. I’m evidently not the only one with this problem.
- I haven’t been over to The Consumerist in some time, but when I tried to go there the other day, Google marked it as an attack site. There’s not much to go by in Google’s details page, but it looks like an ad vector. This is why I use AdBlock Plus. (I went there from Linux and nothing bad happened.) UPDATE: They fixed the problem. Lesson: Nobody’s immune. Use AdBlock Plus.
- Be sure to watch for auroras tonight, as far south as (I hope!) Colorado. Look east just before dawn and you’ll catch Jupiter, Venus, and maybe the crescent Moon.
- A ride-em Iron Trilobyte! Yee-hah!
- From the Utterly Obscure But Brilliant Music Department: Hunt down “The Last Farewell” by the New Christy Minstrels, from their ambum Ramblin’ (1964.) Bone-chilling harmony on the ancient melody “O Waly, Waly.”
- From the Found Quotes Department: “It is all but impossible to sit quietly by while someone is throwing salad plates.” –James Thurber
…for another 105 years. By 2117, I’ll be heavily involved in other pursuits and may not be able to watch–but man, did we get a show this time!
Catching any short-lived astronomical phenomenon always involves a strong measure of luck. In 1972, seven friends and I drove 1200 miles to Cap Chat, Quebec, to see a total solar eclipse. We brought out the big guns–my 10″ telescope looks superficially like a big gun, and took a little explaining at customs both coming and going–but alas, two hours before totality the clouds rolled in. We had the novel experience of watching the umbra hurtling toward us by the darkening of the undersides of the high clouds, but of totality we saw nothing.
Luck, yeah. While planning for the event I noticed that my sister Gretchen’s back yard has a near-optimum line-of-sight to the place on the NW horizon where the Sun would set on June 5, 2012. Her lot fronts on a large open space running roughly E-W, with high-tension lines and their towers the only significant obstruction. Given that my western horizon is a 9,800 foot mountain and I see granite up to about 35 degrees, Gretchen’s back yard seemed flukily ideal.
So there we chose our ground. (Without hawks but with hounds–sort of–and elves be damned.) The instrument was my Bausch & Lomb Criterion 4000 suitcase scope, which has gone on a number of expeditions with us, including two total solar eclipses and Halley’s Comet in 1986. The technique was what I generally do for solar observing: project an image on a piece of foamcore supported by a separate tripod. The image at the top of this entry was a shot of the foamcore, taken with an ordinary and slightly ancient Kodak V530 pocket camera.
I logged first contact at 5:05 PM. Second contact (when the trailing edge of the disk of Venus enters the disk of the Sun) came at 5:22 PM. After that it was the long slow crawl of Venus downward (on the foamcore) as the Sun slowly set in the northwest. Gretchen’s girls thought it was interesting, and before the transit I showed them how the telescope brings in a magnified but inverted image of things far away, like a 55-gallon trashcan across the open space. I’m sure they didn’t completely understand what was going on, but as with all Uncle Jeff tricks they did consider it a lot of fun.
The weather was nothing short of astonishing: high 60s F, light breeze, crystal blue skies down to the horizon. So it had been the whole day, and so it stayed every minute until the Sun vanished behind some trees at 8:03 PM. I got a lot of good photos, considering that the photos were of an image projected on cardboard. Toward the end of visibility, the scope was directed square across the approach to O’Hare Field, and five, count ‘em, five jet aircraft crossed the disk of the Sun while we watched. The exhaust from the engines, though invisible directly, distorted the solar image in an interesting way.
Fifteen minutes before the Sun vanished, it passed behind one of the high-tension towers across the open space, allowing me to fiddle the focus a little and get some remarkable shots, like the one below:
Gretchen made one of her trademark pot roast feasts, with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes almost the color of the solar disk. (A dollop of real butter yellowed ‘em up gorgeously.) Dash and QBit ran around in circles, chased balls, and slept like rocks last night. As did we all.
Success just don’t get any more successful than that.
- In the wake of the recent eclipse, the best photo I’ve seen: One ring to woo them all!
- Although we missed seeing the thin crescent Venus on Sunday night, I saw it again last night (Monday) and through a 12mm Plossl it was spectacular. Probably the thinnest crescent I’ve seen in 25 years. You can discern the “horns” of the crescent easily in good binoculars. It’s quite close to the Sun now and getting closer all the time, but if you can catch it immediately after sunset you’ll have a good chance for the next several days.
- And if you’re into crescents (I have a drawer full; whoops, wrong category) tonight just after sunset you’ll be able to see a very thin crescent moon right beside that very thin crescent Venus. Go get some lemon crescent cookies from Maggiano’s, pour some iced tea, and watch the crescents set in the west. Life is good.
- Time to admit it: I pulled the trigger (finally) and bought an ASUS Transformer Prime TF201 tablet, plus its brilliant keyboard/battery/port extender/charging dock. I’m still studying it and testing it, and will report in detail later on.
- Cell phones are not the same UI challenge as tablets, and there’s a site listing tablet-friendly apps for Android. I’ve been cruising it a lot the last few days. Some good stuff in there.
- TV numbers are imploding across the board. The NYT is muttering something about “nonlinear viewing,” but I think NPR has it right: People are getting wise to the fact that they’re paying $150 a month for overripe weasel manure. What all those people are doing instead is obscure. Dare we hope…books?
- Maker Jeri Ellsworth rocks. And what makes her rock is the wonderful gizmo she rocks on.
- As this article suggests, I had forgotten about ReRAM, thinking it was yet another oddity that would never escape the labs into real products. I guess being 10,000 times faster than Flash memory got somebody’s attention, along with the fact that CPUs based on the technology are possible, if still perhaps a ways off.
- Why are so many of the world’s collection of leaning towers in Italy?
- Here’s a good illustration of why I rarely take “medical studies” seriously anymore.
- Everything else has been built out of Lego. Why not the Nine Circles of Hell? (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
By four PM yesterday I knew we were in trouble: The western sky was overcast, and weather radar showed various precipitation clouds squirming around in our line of sight to the western horizon. However, the scope and the folding chairs were already packed in the back of the 4Runner, so on the outside chance a miracle might happen, we put QBit and Dash in the back seat (Aero and Jack don’t like crowds of admirers as much) and steamed six miles east to St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church.
We had announced the event at both morning services, and several of our fellow parishioners were waiting eagerly for us as we got there about 5:30. I chose a spot in the parking lot to maximize western coverage, then stood around talking to our friends with one eye on the sky. Well, call it miracles or just call it a side benefit of chaos (in the rigorous sense, as the math that governs complex systems like weather and climate) but a little before six the sky in the northwest started to clear.
With a little help from fourteen-year-old Fred Jones (below left) I got my vintage 8″ vent-pipe junkbox scope (details and better photos here) set up in record time. We put it in the wind-shadow of the 4Runner, and while I adjusted the optics Fred went and got some additional folding chairs from the parish hall. By then a few more people had arrived, and by 6:15 we had a small crowd of chairs in a half-circle around the scope and its foamcore screen.
The skies were not great. We had runs of clear air and runs of dense cloud. While it was clear I pointed out the several sunspots, and at 6:24 Fred announced that there was a flat edge to the Sun’s image at the bottom of the screen. We had a chance to see that flat edge grow to a small scallop before the clouds closed in again.
At about 6:45 it cleared up, and for over half an hour we actually had a decent line on the Sun as the Moon took a greater and greater bite out of it. The coolest event of the evening happened so quickly that only a few of us caught it: A jetliner clipped across one of the horns of the sun’s roughly 50% eclipsed disk. Remarkably, Dianna Jones was taking a video of the foamcore screen when it occurred, and she’s going to try and fish out the frame or two of the plane’s passing when she goes through the video on her PC.
We had a decent view up to about 65% or so coverage, when the clouds closed in what turned out to be for good. In the meantime, there was a profound weirdness: A southeast wind blew light rain out of clouds that had already passed over us, and even though it was (mostly) clear from well east of the zenith to the Sun, we watched the best part of the eclipse in the rain. As God may well have been telling us: “Here’s your miracle. Just don’t get cocky.” And to seal the deal He gave us an intense double rainbow. What does it mean? It means we didn’t mind getting a little wet, we laughed, and we all had a wonderful time. (I threw my jacket over the most vulnerable portions of my scope.)
My emphasis was not to take great photos but to make the eclipse accessible to people who would otherwise have to be content with a few shots on TV. Our friends were able to walk right up to one side of the foamcore and see the umbrae and penumbrae of sunspots on the image. Most snapped their own pictures of the Sun’s disk, and we talked about things like heat distortion at the edges of the image (because the Sun was very low in the sky) how reflector telescopes differed from refractors, and much else.
I had hoped to catch the crescent Venus after sunset, but by then the western sky was solid clouds. We packed up and went home. I still call it a great success. After all, in 1972, a group of my friends and I drove 1400 miles from Chicago to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River for a total solar eclipse, only to be clouded out a bare hour before totality. Carol and I have seen two unobstructed total solar eclipses since then, including the “big one” in Baja in 1991. Two out of three ain’t bad.
Next stop: Grand Island, Nebraska on August 21, 2017.