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Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • Ars has the best article I’ve yet seen on the recent ruling in the Apple ebook price fixing trial. Insight: Publishers get less under agency than they do under wholesale, but they’re willing to accept it to keep control of pricing. Book publishing is a freaky business. This may not work out as planned for the publishers.
  • Also from Ars: Weird search terms that brought readers to the Ars site. I used to publish these too, but I don’t get as many as I once did. Web search has always been a freaky business. I guess the freakiness just wanders around.
  • The sunspot cycle still struggles. Cycle 24 will be freaky, and weak–even with our modern tendency to count spots that could not be detected a hundred years ago.
  • Not news, but still freaky if you think about it: The Air Force tried building a flying saucer in 1956. The aliens are still laughing at us.
  • Actually, the best flying saucers are all triangles. In the greater UFO freakshow, these are by far my favorites.
  • There’s a quirk in the insurance industry that will allow young people to opt out of the ACA and still get health insurance–while paying much less they would buying traditional health policies under ACA. Life insurance policies often allow for accelerated payouts of benefits while the insured is still alive. My insight: Such a policy would be a way to finesse limited enrollment windows by paying for catastrophic care until enrollment opens again. (Which would be no more than ten months max.) And you thought publishing was a freaky business.
  • We thought we knew how muscles work. We were wrong. Human biology is always freakier than we thought.
  • As is washing your hair–in space.
  • Streaming is the ultimate end of the DRM debate. Music, movies, sure. Could one stream an ebook? Of course. Would people accept such a system, or would they freak out? Well, we thought DRM for serial content was dead, too. (Book publishers have become much more aggressive against piracy lately. More tomorrow.)
  • And finally, if you want freaky, consider the humble cicada killer, which vomits on its own head to keep from frying in the summer. We had them living under our driveway in Baltimore. I didn’t know what they were and they scared us a little until I called the county ag agent, who said, “They’re cicada killers, but don’t worry. They’re harmless.” I immediately called Carol at work to give her the good news. The receptionist at the clinic wrote down: “Jeff called. The things living under your driveway are psychotic killers, but don’t worry. They’re harmless.”

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • Egad. No, egad squared: A major literary agency has asked to see the full manuscript of Ten Gentle Opportunities. The novel is done, but I still have to format it for submission and write the synopsis and logline. I’m going to be busy for a few days, that is fersure.
  • IBM is taking a new slant on fluidic computers, one that operates via charged fluids. The hope is that this will allow better modeling of human brain operation. I’m skeptical, but hey, it’s a species of nanocomputer, and I’m certainly bullish on those. (Thanks to Mike Reith for the link.)
  • If anybody reading this has a 3D printer, I’d like to ask: Does the extruded plastic stick to clean copper-clad PCB stock? The obvious idea is to lay down a single-slice pattern in the form of PC pads and then etch the board with the plastic as resist. I don’t see much about this online.
  • From Chris Gerrib: How American radio stations got their call signs. One minor refinement: US callsigns beginning with AAA-ALZ and NAA to NZZ are not exclusively military. Amateur radio callsigns have used those prefixes for at least 35 years. (An OTA friend of mine outside Chicago got his Extra and selected AA9J as his call in, I think, 1976.)
  • People always seem to be recording meteors on dash cameras. I now have a dash camera. If I put it on my dash, will I see a meteor? Or will I get my money back? (Whoops. Found it in the bushes. All finds final. No refunds.)
  • Speaking of dash cameras: The manufacturer of the little sports camera I found in my bushes issued a DMCA takedown notice to a reviewer, on trademark grounds. (The DMCA has nothing to do with trademark abuse.) Hey, GoPro, Barbra is singing. Backtracking about the blunder will not help you. (Thanks to Tom Roderick for alerting me to this.)
  • Salads are way more dangerous than hamburgers. Alas, you can’t grill salad until it’s done to the center.
  • From Michael Covington comes a link to a story about how a Medieval copyist’s cat peed on his manuscript. The scribe drew a peeing cat on the damaged section, with an appropriate curse in Latin.
  • And we think we have a junk DNA problem: Amoeba proteus has 290 billion (yes, billion) base pairs in its genome, as compared to homo sap’s piddling 2.9 billion.
  • The reason all of us baby boomers didn’t die as grade schoolers may be that none of us lived in rich-guy gonzo-modern homes like these. (Why did I think that these houses were designed to ernhance estate tax revenues?)

Odd Lots

The Surplus Survivors

I’m trying to clean up the shop a little and free up space, and one of the places I need space the most is in my file cabinet. I’ve been accumulating catalogs for electronic parts and equipment for years untold, and each gets a folder in the top drawer, so that invoices and catalogs can live together. (I want to know what I ordered from who, when. The system works well.)

So I asked myself a week or two ago, How many of these firms are still in business? I began looking them up on the Web. An amazing number are still out there and still selling parts and odd junk like they were back in the 90s. Here is a list of the survivors so far:

There were, of course, some casualties:

  • Brigar Electronics, Binghampton NY.
  • Burghardt Amateur Center. Still there, but now a repair shop only.
  • Classic Radio, Houston.
  • DC Electronics, Scottsdale. Sold to Philmore.
  • Edlie’s Electronics, Levittown.
  • Fertik’s Electronics, Philly. Leon was a character. Appreciation here.
  • Ocean State Electronics, RI. Flood apparently did them in.
  • Two Fox Electrix, Tivoli, NY

I didn’t list firms that vanished prior to 1990. I used to order lots of stuff from Poly Paks in the 70s, but they’ve been gone a long time. Ditto Tri-Tek, with their embarrassing mascot Amp’l Annie. Nor am I counting the manufacturers’ distributors like Mouser, Digi-Key, and so on. The file drawer has folders for tool vendors, wood products dealers, and non-electronics firms of many sorts, which also had winners and losers that I won’t tally here. (Many of you may know that Small Parts, Inc. has been bought and converted to Amazon Supply.) A number of used book dealers I bought from regularly in the early 1990s are, not surprisingly, gone. One survivor in that category is Bequaert Old Books, which I knew as Rainy Day Books in the early 90s and heartily endorse, especially for old ham books and “boys'” electronics and science books. Frank survived by moving his sales fulfillment to AbeBooks, as the others did not.

The upshot is that the file drawer isn’t a great deal emptier than it was yesterday. I’m good with that, since some of these firms (like Playthings of the Past) are very nearly the sole source for certain items. What I marvel at is how long some of these companies have been around, and how well they’ve weathered our near-constant recession since 2008. The Web helps. Print catalogs and postage are expensive. The good news is that there seems to be enough people like me to float a quirky industry that looks like everybody’s picture of a hoarder’s basement. As grim as these times may be, there’s always something worth celebrating!

Odd Lots

  • 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.

Odd Lots

  • I’m behind on a great many things, especially fiction writing and replying to email, so bear with me until I get dug out from under the pile. Exchanging offices within a house is precisely the same as moving two offices, and that means a lot of boxes and a lot of bother, exploding intercoms being the least of it.
  • I didn’t expect this wine to be as good as it actually is. About $11.
  • The weather’s been beautiful here, so yesterday I was going to get out on the back deck with my Icom 736 and work the world. That was, of course, the day that sunspots basically vanished on the visible face of the Sun. What does it mean to have solar flares but no sunspots? Nobody knows.
  • Thanks to many people (Jim Strickland being the first) who wrote to tell me about a “smart sand” project at MIT that is the first step toward the sort of nanoreplicator I postulated in my Drumlins stories: Tap in a 256-bit code, and some “smart dust” (very smart) in a stone bowl assembles something for you. I love it when my crazy dreams come true!
  • Single-atom nanotransistors can now be reliably made, rather than hunted for. (Thanks to Roy harvey for the link.)
  • From Michael Covington comes a link to a fascinating article about the other kind of abduction: abductive logic. If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, don’t miss it!
  • The Colorado state law that led Amazon to nuke my Associates account has been declared unconstitional. No word from Amazon as to whether I can have my account back.
  • I would probably buy one of these if I could find one in stock somewhere.
  • Jack Tramiel has left us, having created quite a raft of famous computers, including the very best forgotten computer ever.
  • I checked the date on this one, but it was nine days too late to assume it’s a hoax. One might argue that solar panels are more elegant, but you can’t make buffalo spaghetti sauce in a solar panel.
  • I’ve seen more dumb YouTube posts than I’m willing to admit, but this one takes the cake for sheer willful stupidity. I knew how this worked in 1959, when I was 7.
  • Kids, this is futurism. All we need now are better tacos.

Odd Lots

  • Maybe it’s some of the recent solar storms (the sunspots were not spectacularly high) but I heard both Guyana and the Cayman Islands on 17m the other day–the first time I’ve seen any significant life on that band in several years.
  • I have yet to find an Android ebook reader app that will open and render an MS .lit file, of which I have several. No surprise: Having blown an early and promising start in ebook reader software, MS has recently announced that it is withdrawing the app. Reader is actually a nice piece of work, and the first ebook reader program I used regularly. DRMed .lit books are now just noise, and the rest of them will have to be translated by something like Calibre. DRM, especially when it’s abandoned, trains people to locate cracks and become pirates. Way to go, guys.
  • SanDisk just announced a thumb drive about the size of its own USB connector cap. 4, 8, or 16GB. I’ve now broken two thumb drives by leaving them plugged into the rear edge of a laptop and then tipping the laptop back. If that’s a common problem, this is definitely the solution.
  • What do you do with the Moon once you rope it down? (Watering it would be interesting, though Mars needs it more.)
  • This guy thinks like I do. Just ask Carol. (Thanks to Michael Covington for the link.)
  • I recently found a PDF describing the first computer I ever programmed for money. It was a…1 MHz…8080. It cost a boggling number of 1979 dollars, so Xerox ended up using most of the initial production run in-house. The 3200 cast a long shadow: I got so used to sitting in front of it that when I built a computer table later that year for my S100 CP/M system, I made it just high enough that the keyboard was precisely as far off the floor as the 3200’s, a height that I use in computer tables to this day.
  • How long did it take you to figure out what this really was? (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Russian President Medvedev has taken a liking to ReactOS, a long-running and mostly ignored attempt to create a driver-compatible, win32-friendly (via WINE) open source Windows clone. He’s suggesting that the Russian government fund it. Now if Medvedev can convince Putin, we could have quite a project on our hands.
  • I’d never thought much about how you recycle a dead refrigerator. Now I know.
  • Begorrah! Zombies are not a new problem. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • And if that machine gun in your hollow leg won’t slow them down, send them into sugar crash.

Odd Lots

  • Wired has a nice piece on the 1859 Carrington Event; basically, the strongest solar storm in the last 500 years, assuming ice core data is a reliable proxy for storm strength. Early landline telegraph operators actually disconnected their batteries and passed traffic solely on power induced in the lines by solar activity. Whew. Now that’s QRP!
  • Alas, even with sunspot numbers hovering at 120, I’m not hearing much DX out here. I’m not even hearing the East Coast. So much for Cycle 24.
  • There’s a difference between “loving reading” and “loving reading what the literary class loves to read.” We can teach the first. By teaching the second, we may teach a good many students to stop reading completely. (Thanks to Rev. Sharon Hart for the link.)
  • Here be the history of Godwin’s Law.
  • From the September 1922 issue of Popular Science comes a crystal radio in a corn-cob pipe, shown in one of the geekiest Roaring Twenties radio geek photos ever taken. I doubt this would work (well) but I suppose it had to be tried. (Thanks to David Stafford for the link.)
  • This radio geek photo shows a set that would certainly work (schematic here) but I’m not sure he would have been let on an airliner even in 1936.
  • By 1949, radio geek photos were in serious decline, but 15-year-old Hope Lange gave it a damned good try.
  • By sheer coincidence, the cover of that very same issue of Popular Science cited above for the corn-cob radio shows a drawing of a “monocopter,” an unlikely but at least physically possible device modeled on maple tree seeds, which I mentioned in Odd Lots back on July 28. This should be easy to model; has anybody ever seen it done?
  • Maybe I’ve been writing SF for so long that this article sounds a little obvious to me, but some of the points do need to be borne in mind by writers new to the field, particularly #3. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • This was Big News in Germany. Those people need to get out more.
  • I’m not sure what it is either, but if you’re going to cite its name as PIGORASS, you’d really better expand the acronym.