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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

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.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • Here’s a nice graph of the smoothed sunspot number for the last four solar cycles (21-24.) Our current Cycle 24 is still young, but it stands fair to be the weakest solar cycle in 200 years. It may mean nothing, but 200 years ago we saw cycles like that frequently and were in the worst part of the Little Ice Age.
  • Darrin Chandler pointed out Maqetta to me: an HTML5 WYSIWYG Web editor, free and open-source. And from IBM, yet. Haven’t tried it but hope to in coming days. Has anybody else played with it at any length? I use Kompozer for Web work right now, and it’s not evolving very quickly, let’s say.
  • And what we may need more than Maqetta for Web pages is Maqetta for epub ebooks. I remain appalled at how much kafeutherin’ it still takes to do an epub with a cover image and even the simplest forms of paragraph differentiation. (Like no first indent to indicate a new scene in a story.) People continue to hand-code ebooks. This is idiocy to the seventeenth power.
  • Sometimes you read a short, casual mention of something in a book or article, and the weirdness of it doesn’t really hit you. So stand ready for some pretty boggling astronomical weirdness: A 400-meter asteroid that moves in a horseshoe-shaped orbit. And guess who’s in the gap of the horseshoe?
  • At our most recent nerd party, my new friend Aaron Spriggs mentioned Chisanbop, a method of finger arithmetic created by the Koreans and little known here in the US. This is very cool, and would be extremely handy on fictional planets (like my own Hell and the Drumlins world) where electronic computation either doesn’t work and hasn’t been invented.
  • A brilliant new method of imaging underground structures like magma plumes shows that the Yellowstone supervolcano is bigger than we thought. The imaging is done by measuring electrical conductivity in the rock rather than the transmission of physical (seismic) vibration. The images give us no additional information on how close (or far) we may be to another eruption, but it may help us to interpret what little data we already have.
  • Hoo-boy, here’s a problem I don’t think anyone anticipated in the wake of Japan’s recent catastrophic tsunami: Safes full of (soggy) money washed out of individual homes are now washing up on the seashore.

Odd Lots

  • At our most recent nerd gathering here, four of my friends and I managed to carry our 1997-vintage, 198-pound Sony CRT TV set up our precipitous stairway out to the 4Runner, and a few days later I paid Blue Star recycling $37 to see it to its final rest. Many thanks to the guys–we had been pondering how to get rid of it for the past several years. Friends are most excellent to have, especially for people like me who can’t lift 100 pounds anymore.
  • And this means we’re shopping for a downstairs TV. I came across a good site focused on plasma TVs, which as a class may be problematic at our current altitude of 6600 feet. Apparently they buzz and run far too hot, though the physics of the phenomenon remain obscure to me.
  • I’ve found the first (thin) review of the Motorola Xoom. Few details yet, but I will say up front that the cloud-based ebook system doesn’t thrill me. Early releases of Honeycomb may not support the XD card slot, but Motorola hints that an OS update will take care of that. That’s important here: Given that 16GB MicroSD cards are already down to $35, sideloading my entire ebook library would be a snap, with room left over for lots of music and videos.
  • I also recently found out that the Xoom GUI borrows from the quirky but interesting BumpTop, recently bought by Google and then pulled from general distribution.
  • I may be too old to appreciate the BumpTop 3D metaphor (I always think it looks like working inside a refrigerator box) but some good themes have been created for it, including this steampunk specimen.
  • Xoom has a “barometer.” Most commenters, including the LA Times , don’t seem to understand that a barometer can measure altitude with more accuracy than GPS. I doubt that the Xoom’s barometer will have anything to do with weather reports. (Else there’d be a thermometer and a hygrometer as well.)
  • There’s a long-running feud between Samsung and US cell carriers over who pays for Android updates, with the result that many Samsung phones are stuck at Android 2.1 and may never get an update from the vendor. (Applying the update yourself is not for the squeamish.) Yesterday afternoon, of course, Samsung denied it all. As intriguing as the Galaxy Tab looked when I played with it back in November, issues like this may keep me away from Samsung wireless products entirely.
  • Some images speak for themselves. Like this one. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Oxytocin may be the biochemical basis for tribalism, racism, political parties, and just about everything else that the human species would be better off without. “Cuddle hormone” my ass.
  • Good-bye to seigniorage, not that one person in ten thousand ever knew what it was–or how to spell it.
  • Ahh, well. I may have eaten my last pistachio.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Daywander

hatchetman.jpgWell, as a fair number of people have told me, the logo Carol and I saw the other day was the “hatchet man” icon of Insane Clown Posse, a hip-hop duo from Detroit that I’ve never heard and probably won’t. Key to finding the figure online is knowing that what he’s holding isn’t a map or a piece of paper but a hatchet. (In fact, it looks a lot more like a meat cleaver.) There’s also a girl-version of the icon, with a ponytail, but what we saw on the gate of a pickup truck was almost precisely what I show above left.

We had a relatively small gathering last night, but that was all right, as there were few enough of us to all sit on the two couches and talk about everything from dogs to SF to classic aircraft of the Strategic Air Command. We spoke of that lunatic Lt. Col. Bud Holland, whose lifelong ambition appears to have been to roll a B-52. (Detailed discussion here.) He tried, he failed, and you can see a video of the results here. Eric Bowersox and Sabrina Hoyt brought some Mountain Dew Throwback, made with real sugar instead of corn leavins’, and the original product artwork on the cans. There were intermittent thunderstorms all afternoon, but we had enough time between microcells to grill a batch of smoked brats and Ranch Food Direct burgers. By sheer coincidence both Mike Reith and Peggy Sargent brought cream puffs, and it had been so long since I’d had one that I’d mostly forgotten what cream puffs were. That memory came back in a big hurry, heh.

Alas, the thunderstorms prevented me from getting any Field Day time in yesterday, and with less than an hour remaining in the contest and yet another thunderboomer passing overhead as I write, I doubt I’ll get any time in this year at all. I created what I had hoped to be a low-profile inverted vee, and in truth, when I told people I had antenna off the back deck, several people looked and just didn’t see it, when when I was pointing right at it. It’s designed to be portable, and is attached to the deck railing with bungee cords. I’ll try to get a couple of days’ contacts with it, then roll it up and put it back in the garage.

There was more bear action yesterday. Late afternoon, our doorbell rang, and it was our new neighbors from across the street. Heather and Glen had gone for a walk with their two small boys, aged two and four, and left their garage door open. When they returned, sho’nuff, a bear was in their garage ransacking their garbage can. Heather asked to bring her boys inside, but about then Glen came back and said he’d driven the bear off by throwing rocks at it, after which it vanished up the street and ran between two other houses. (Glen’s an Army officer. Spend some time in Iraq and bears lose a lot of their mystique.) I’m guessing it was the same bear I saw yesterday about lunchtime, eating dog food down in our gully near our back door. It seems a little too comfortable with people and a little too willing to be out and around during the day to stay here, and if it comes back too much we’re going to have to put a call in and see if it can be relocated.

Lots of leftovers from last night, and I’ll be grilling Ranch Food Direct burgers again this evening if the rain will just stop for half an hour. The West is getting soaked this year. Our local reservoirs are full, and western Nebraska’s massive Lake McConaughy is refilling (after a 9-year drought that the doomsayers warned would be permanent) at a rate of two feet per week. When we first saw it we marveled at the broad sand beaches, which were not in fact beaches at all but recently exposed lake bottom. It was about 30% full when we first saw it several years ago. It’s now over 80% full and the water level is rising fast. (Note the end of the curve on the graph, and then see this graph to get a sense for the insane amount of water flowing into it this year.) We hope to take a long weekend up there before the summer’s over.

This coming week should be fairly peaceful. I intend to do some fiction writing and perhaps even finish an experiment I have on the bench downstairs, concerning how well IN23A microwave diodes serve as AM BCB detectors. What I know of detector theory tells me that such detectors should be socko. We’ll find out–that’s what science is for.