- Yet another take on the Amazon vs. Hachette dust-up: The publishers contributed to Amazon’s monopsony power by demanding platform lock-in via Kindle DRM. And now they’re surprised that Amazon controls the ebook market. (Thanks to Eric Bowersox for the link.)
- Pete Albrecht sent word that some guys at the University of Rochester have figured out how to trap light in very small spaces for very long times, on the order of several nanoseconds. (This is a long, long time to be stuck in one place if you’re a photon.) It’s done with evolvable nanocavities–and that gives me an idea for a tech gimmick in my long-planned novel The Molten Flesh. So many novels, so little time…
- Related to the above: The reason I stopped working on The Molten Flesh three or four years back is that I ordered a used copy of the canonical biography of Oscar Wilde (who is a character in the story) and the book stank so badly of mold and mildew that I threw it out after sitting in a chair with it for about five minutes. Time to get another copy.
- Yet another reason not to bother with The Weather Chanel: WGN’s weather website is hugely better, doesn’t require Flash, and works nationally, not only in Chicago.
- Lazarus 1.2.4 has been released. Go get it.
- OMG! STORMY, have you been messing around in Nebraska again?
- Over at Fourmilab we have a superb scan of the 1930 Allied Radio catalog, which carried not only radios and parts but waffle irons, home movie projectors, coffee percolators, toasters, copper bowl heaters, electric hair curlers, and much else for the newly minted upper middle class. (Thanks to Baron Waste for the link.)
- One interesting thing about the radios in the Allied catalog above is that they’re shouting about screen grid tubes. Tetrodes were invented in 1919 and weren’t in mass production until the late 1920s. I’m guessing that tetrodes were what separated the extremely fussy triode-based radios of the 1920s from the turnkey appliance radios of the 1930s and beyond. What the tetrode began the pentode completed, of course, but the watershed year in appliance radio seems to have been 1930.
- Our current Pope has abandoned the bullet-proof Popemobile. It’s one step closer to the end of the Imperial Papacy.
- What dogs think of dog impersonators. Hey, man, the lack of a tail gives it all away…
Jimi Henton, the local breeder from whom we got Aero, Jack, and Dash, brought me her dog grooming dryer some time back to see if I could figure out what was wrong with it. Carol has the exact same dryer, a Chris Christensen Kool Dry. It’s basically an SCR-controlled variable-speed fan in a box, putting out 114 CFM through a hose.
Jimi said it wasn’t blowing as much air as it used to, even after she cleaned the filter and made sure nothing else was gummed up with dog hair. It still blew, and the pot still varied the fan speed, but it wasn’t as loud and clearly didn’t have its out-of-the-box oomph. Worse, she’d had a new motor installed last year. The first one had gone for eleven years before dying; this seemed kind of premature.
I wanted to compare the two dryers to get a sense for how much air was being lost in Jimi’s. I have no way to measure airflow here, but sitting on the laundry room floor I noticed Jack’s little soccer ball, much reduced from its original size, but still round enough for my purposes. With only a little skill I managed to get the ball levitating over the nozzle, as any kid who’s bright enough to put a vacuum cleaner in reverse has done. On Carol’s dryer, the ball wobbled between 18″ and 24″ above the nozzle. On Jimi’s, it was maybe 4″.
So there was work to do, somewhere. Upon opening the dryer up, at least one problem was obvious: The 1,025 watt AC motor was wired to the speed control with #24 telephone wire, and too much of it. (You know, the stuff with the two-color, bands-on-solid insulation.) Close inspection showed two cold solder joints, coincidentally (heh) where the #24 wire hit the speed control pot. The plastic insulation on the phone wire was blackened with heat. The dryer slowly was cooking itself from the resistance of all that skinny wire. No need for a fork; it was done.
Jimi had ordered the motor from the manufacturer and then had somebody local put it into the dryer. She called him an amateur. No. I’m an amateur, with a callsign to prove it. I do electronics because I love it. Whoever installed this motor was…an idiot.
All fixed now, using some #14 stranded wire and soldering skills I learned when I was eleven. Both dryers now loft the soccer ball two feet hgh. Ohm’s Law is a bitch, dude. Please go back to sharpening scissors.
Yes, I’ve been gone for awhile, and for any number of reasons found it inconvenient to put anything together until this evening. I’ve been having some trouble with that old book-hauling injury in my left arm, spent ten days in Chicago, fixed some stuff (including an interesting repair on a dog grooming hair dryer) and learned some new things that I didn’t expect to learn, including a few that I probably didn’t need to learn.
In short, I’ve had nothing much to report, and in the summer heat just felt better reading books and taking it easy in the cause of getting my whiny supinator to shut the hell up. The gruel here is on the thin side, but that’s summer.
My younger niancee, Justine, made me aware of something called Prancercise by demonstrating it in front of the whole family. Damn. I thought she was kidding. Then I watched the video. Wow. It has nothing on the Invisible Horse Dance, but it could be the next craze at weddings. Or maybe not.
Weddings. We did attend a terrific wedding, of the daughter of my oldest friend Art. At her reception I saw something called the Casper Slide–not to be confused with the skateboarding stunt of the same name. And if you are confused, you’re not alone. I think this is why the real name of the dance is the Cha-Cha Slide, developed by a Chicago DJ named Casper. I watched the dance, and apart from some stomping, it looked a lot like the Electric Slide. But hey, what do I know about cultural tropes?
Another bit of knowledge that was true but unwelcome is that Barnes & Noble comtinues to come apart at the seams. Their CEO quit the other day over the failure of the Nook tablets to capture any significant part of the tablet market. The Nook division is for sale, and Microsoft is making slobbering noises. The Nook guys have been on my you-know-what list for some time, for pushing down updates that freeze in mid-install and can’t be removed. (I don’t use AMV, but I wonder if it works at all after the installer gets stuck.) Leonard Riggio wants to take back the retail division. A lot of stores are closing, and half the remaining stores have leases that expire in 2016. And everybody’s wondering what happens after all this happens. Especially publishers.
I learned that the Chicago Tribune has a page dedicated to documenting every single homicide that happens in Chicago. That this would be a big, frequently updated page is bad enough. That is exists at all is worse. I guess Chicago is a terrific place to be from.
There’s a video on domesticated fox, pointed out to me by Pete Albrecht. I mentioned the Russian research on Siberian fox years ago, but this is the first time I’ve seen videos of the animals themselves. It’s sad in a way; the poor things are stuck somewhere between fox and dogs, and are at best unreliably tame. It’s pretty clear to me, however, that this was the same process our ancestors used to turn wolves into dogs. And it didn’t take thousands of years.
I learned that the backlight behind the controls of my new car stereo changes color continuously.
Ok, ok, I can see eyes glazing over. That’s it for tonight. I hope to get back on my usual schedule shortly.
Carol found some very small insects crawling around on Dash’s neck yesterday while she was brushing him. She dropped several of them into a pill bottle followed by some alcohol. These were tiny bugs; I’m guessing the biggest one wasn’t quite two millimeters long, and most were at best a millimeter. We squinted and used the magnifying glass that I keep in my desk drawer, and the best we could say is, Yeah, that’s a bug.
I knew what I had to do next, and it took me way back. For Christmas when I was eight (the end of 1960), my father bought me a microscope. It was small and lacked a fine focus knob, but it had an iron frame and decent optics. For the next two years until I discovered electronics, looking at very small things was one of my main hobbies.
My father helped me get the hang of it. He had had a simple microscope himself in the early 1930s, and I still have it somewhere: A black crinkle-finish tube about five inches high, with an eyepiece at the top, a slot for inserting slides, and a tilting mirror in a large milled cutout toward the bottom. He bought me a book called Hunting with the Microscope, by Gaylord Johnson and Maurice Bleifield (1956) and I spent a couple of years hunting for all the microscopic things the authors had painstakingly drawn on its pages.
Many of the drawn microorganisms were said to be found in rivers and ponds, and my friends and I haunted the banks of the Chicago and Des Plaines rivers in the summer with mayonnaise jars in hand, scooping up slimy water and the even slimier mud on the riverbottom beneath it. Holding up the jars against bright light showed them to be absolutely crawling with minuscule thingies in constant motion. I had a well slide and managed to corral some of the little monsters in it, but they didn’t slow down long enough for me to identify them. None followed the corkscrew path that paramecia were said to exhibit. We saw no volvoxes nor stentors, cool as that would have been. Water bears too were AWOL. Most heartbreakingly, we never cornered an amoeba, which we longed to see eat something by engulfing it, which would be akin to watching The Blob in miniature–always a draw for ten-year-olds.
No, most of the critters that moved slowly enough to identify were microscopic worms. When my mother heard us talking about worms from the corner of the family room when my friends and I were gazing into my microscope, she made us dump the mayonnaise jars into the toilet and wash our hands. My mother was an RN, and although we didn’t learn it first-hand until we were 13 (another story entirely, though a good one) both rivers were flood relief for Chicago’s and suburban sewers. After even a modest rain, runoff would cascade from overflowing sewer mains right into the rivers, carrying raw sewage with it. So these weren’t exactly earthworms we were watching.
I’m honestly not sure what became of my little microscope. The good news is that Carol received a much better one she when was fourteen (a Tasco 951 with a fine focus knob) and earlier today, I pulled her microscope down off the high shelf and set it up on the kitchen island where the light was good. I looked at a few of the pickled-in-alcohol bugs, but they had been picked off Dash with a tweezers and were not in good shape. We cornered Dash and hunted until we spotted a live one. I carefully snipped the little tuft of hair to which the bug was clinging, and with some prodding managed to tack the bug to the sticky strip on a white Post-It. (Gaylord Johnson would have been proud.) Under the microscope, it was unmistakable: Linognathus setosus, the dog louse. The tacky Post-It strip kept it from walking around, and we were able to see how it clung to a strand of dog hair with its hooked legs.
Dash got a prompt treatment with the usual doggie bug meds, and in a day or two whatever lice remain will be gone. In the meantime, I have to wonder what happened to the microscopy hobby. Astronomy and electronics are both big business, but beyond some Web sites (like this one) I don’t see much to indicate that anybody is digging through river mud looking for water fleas anymore. The instruments are cheap compared to good test equipment or telescopes. You can get used stereo microscopes on eBay for $250 or less, and used student microscopes like Carol’s for under $50. Rivers are a whole lot cleaner than they were fifty years ago, and I’m thinking that if I sampled the Chicago River today I might score a stentor or two, and maybe even an amoeba. Granting that Google is a much better way to identify the stuff you’re looking at, I might order a copy of Hunting with the Microscope, just for fun. No, I don’t really need another hobby, but I want to be ready the next time something really small comes calling, and I need to know what it is.
- 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.)
- 32 years ago today, Darkel’s Lucky Guess–known to more than a few of you as Mr. Byte–came into our world, and eight weeks later Carol and I took home our very first bichon puppy. Although not show quality, Mr. Byte was a spectacular dog, and even seventeen years after his passing we miss him terribly.
- A study at Michigan State shows a strong correlation between use of multiple forms of media at once–e.g, watching TV while surfing the Web–and depression. We don’t know if multitasking causes depression, or if depressed people multitask to distract themselves, but simply establishing the correlation is a good first step.
- Now this is nothing less than brilliant: an app that examines a design destined for 3D printing and lets you know whether it will print well, or at all. 3D typos cost money, and it’s not always obvious looking at a design where a typo lies, or how serious it might be.
- Oh, and there’s a browser-based CAD system that was created with 3D printing in mind: TinkerCAD. Have not used it and generally don’t like browser-based software (what if I develop skills with it and then it goes away?) but it’s a niche that had to be filled.
- Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has just signed the state constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana. As long as you’re not in a public place, using it is now legal under state law–which is, pardon the expression, mind-blowing.
- Only slightly less mind-blowing was the savaging that Rolling Stone gave Obama for not jerking the leash on the DEA. Wow.
- If the elderly–who have nothing if not life experience–are peculiarly vulnerable to scammers, it may be due to the failing of a region of the brain that acts as a “crook detector.” I agree: smug, smirky mouths are not the signs of integrity. Nor is the desire to run for office.
- Pete Albrecht sent me a link to a search site for locally grown food and farmers’ markets. We buy local when it’s possible (though we don’t make a fetish of it) and things like this can only make it more possible.
- Line up the cover spines on Wired‘s 20th year, and read the secret code.
- Lazarus 1.0.4 is out. It’s a bug-fix release, but bug fixes are good to have. I’ve already been messing with it, and I’m starting to think the product has really quite sincerely arrived. Get it here. Many components and demos available here.
- Some brilliant if loopy stuff came out of the 70s, and one of the most brilliant is the episode of WKRP in Cinncinnati where they shoved live turkeys out of a helicopter and were surprised when the turkeys soon hit terminal velocity and went splat. (No turkeys were harmed–nor even shown–in that episode.) Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.
- There are in fact turkeys that fly. Carol and I bought a heritage turkey of the sort that can and probably did fly, if not very far nor fast. Although it’s still thawing as I write this, the theory is that the meat will be darker and juicier coming from muscles that are actually used in the bird’s daily life. We’ll know soon.
- I often eat eggs two meals a day, and don’t quail at eating eggs at all three meals. Which made me wonder if you could get turkey eggs somewhere, and what they’re like. They’re a little bigger (about 25%) and considerably pointier–and almost unavailable. Why? They’re lots more valuable as turkeys than as eggs. As so often, Cecil Adams has the last word.
- Leave it to The Wall Street Journal to highlight a conflict I would not have imagined on my own: the issue of putting Marshmallow Fluff in the sweet potatoes. People have evidently come to blows over this.
- I was astonished to learn (from the above article) that Marshmallow Fluff has existed since 1920. I’ve tasted it exactly once (as best I remember) when my poor mother attempted to use it in gingerbread house roof frosting circa 1960. The frosting softened the hard gingerbread slabs and the roof caved in.
- The obvious question to arise after you cease boggling over putting Marshmallow Fluff in the sweet potatoes: Is there a marshmallow-flavored liqueur? Yup. Smirnoff has it. And a bald woman in their product advertising, egad. Like a marshmallow, get it?
- If that doesn’t seem odd, well, consider other weird cordials from around the world, including cannabis liqueur, smoked salmon flavored vodka, and (yukkh!) baby mice wine.
- No, I didn’t find a turkey-flavored liqueur. However–and I am not making this up–Jones Soda sells (among other things, including Green Bean Casserole soda) Turkey & Gravy soda. How does it taste? Do not fail to read the description in the article.
- I failed to find turkey-flavored vodka, but I did run across a recipe for 100-proof vodka-flavored turkey. Hic.
- We’re long past Marshmallow Peeps season, but here’s an entrepreneurial idea: sell pre-staled Peeps. It takes a year or so to get them stale enough to pass muster with aficionados, but I have it on good authority that they don’t get moldy. Don’t ask why; you don’t want to know. Twinkies were not outliers in this regard.
- As for Thanksgiving itself, the holiday and the state of mind, I will simply refer you to what I said in 2008. It’s all still true–and since then Jackie has lost a good deal of weight and become ours. Be thankful. Live mindfully. Appreciate those you love and who love you. And thanks to everybody who takes a detour out of their busy online lives to read me here!
- For readers who are in the Colorado Springs area: All Breeds Rescue is hosting the 14th annual Romp in the Park this Saturday, August 11, at Norris Penrose Event Center. The event runs from 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Carol will be working it, and I should be there midafternoon with QBit.
- The Curiosity rover has a trick I didn’t hear about until after it landed: Its treads imprint a Morse code pattern in the sand or soft soil it crosses. The pattern spells JPL. Now that’s DX!
- From Ernie Marek comes a link to DRB’s very visual article on Project Orion, including a sketch of Niven/Pournelle’s Michael spacecraft from Footfall. I would have called it OBB, for “Old Boom-Boom.”
- Weird clouds are a minor interest of mine, and here’s a compendium from Wired that I missed when it first appeared in 2009.
- New Zealand’s Tongariro volcano just erupted–and it was a complete surprise. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned Erik Klemetti’s Eruptions blog on Wired before, but it’s well worth following if you have any interest at all in volcanic phenomena. Erik has a helluva constituency: The comments occasionally contain better insights and links than the blog itself!
- Memories sometimes just appear out of nowhere, and the other day I remembered these. My next thought was, Nah, you imagined that! But they did exist, and when I was 13 or 14 they were first-run and I used them.
- Ballotpedia has a fascinating listing of the net worth of congresspeople and senators. First insight: We are ruled by multimillionares. I am not disturbed that some of our representatives are multimillionares. I am disturbed that virtually all of them are. Second insight: Compare the net worth of Democratic vs. Republican senators. Things are not what you’d expect.
- From the Hardware WTF File: The ASUS Transformer Prime’s otherwise excellent keyboard dock does not have a delete key. Shift-Backspace is as close as it gets.
- And on the outside chance that you too have a Transformer Prime keyboard dock, here’s a list of keyboard shortcuts.
- Newsweek will probably cease print publication later this year. A lot of people have never forgotten their mean-spirited and idiotic 2009 cover story, “The Case for Killing Granny,” and I personally cannot wait to see that thing rot in its grave.
- David Plotz does not like August. Me, I could do without March.
Today is Aero’s sixth birthday. We’ve given the Pack (and their forebears, Mr. Byte and Chewy) cake and lemon bars on their various birthdays down through the years, with good results. Dash, however, is peculiar in that he simply doesn’t like sweet things. So this time we took a quarter pound of good burger and divided it four ways. (L-R: Jack, Aero, QBit, and Dash.) We were out of birthday candles, so I took a plumber’s candle and stuck it in Aero’s portion.
It’s a testament to the quality of Carol’s training that even after she placed the plates of burger in front of them, saying “Leave it!” was enough to keep them seated patiently on the bench behind the table. Once the photos were taken, saying “Take it!” ensured that the burger was gone in two heartbeats. Maybe one. (Carol yanked the candle first.)
It’s also been two weeks since I last posted here, which is well beyond my usual threshold of pain. Insiders know what’s going on: I have a novel to finish. And I’m not trying to finish it just to get it off my do-it list. No sirree: An editor at a significant press has asked for the full manuscript.
Boy. Nothing like a little request like that to light a fire under a guy.
I have a pair of hard deadlines now: Finished manuscript by 8/31. Polished manuscript ready to ship by 9/15. Today was a milestone: I hurtled past 53,700 words, which was the finished length of Drumlin Circus. That means that Ten Gentle Opportunities is the longest piece of fiction I’ve written since The Cunning Blood crossed the finish line on Good Friday 1999.
It is also the strangest. At my Clarion workshop in 1973, Lloyd Biggle, Jr said during a guest lecture that you can’t mix SF and fantasy. I’ve had it in my head ever since then that when Biggle’s words reached my ears, it was like swearing on the Runestaff: I knew I would damned well do it someday.
Sorry, Lloyd. I offer you: Dancing zombies. Well-dressed AIs. Object-oriented magic. Virtual universes, virtual doughnuts, virtual Frisbees, virtual stomach acid. Romance. A cannon that fires machine instructions. Heavily networked kitchen appliances. Total war waged inside a robotic copier factory. (Did I miss anything? I’ve heard there’s a sink shortage locally.)
I admit it. The romance has been hard. Reading romance novels to see how the pros do it was not especially helpful. Worse, I have no real-world experience engaging in screaming matches with significant others, of whom there have been exactly four, anyway. The romance may thus seem less real than the magic, which might be described as Supernatural Pascal.
What’s been harder than the romance has been maintaining the mood for 53,000 words. Humor is just, well, hard, which is a topic worthy of one or more entries all by itself. I think it works, but it’s hard to know until the whole thing’s done. I suspect my beta testers will tell me. If they don’t, my editor will.
53,800 words down. 26,200 words to go. Three weeks. Watch me.