- Lenin’s head is missing. It was last seen rolling around a forest near Berlin 23 years ago, but nobody can find it now, even though it weighs three and a half tons. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- Evidently Lenin loses his head a lot. Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. Shame it didn’t happen in 1890 or so.
- How far does $100 go in your state? (Backstory here.) Be careful; the figures are state-wide averages. It’s much worse in urban cores. (Thanks to Tony Kyle for the link.)
- If you’ve never seen one, here’s an ad-farm article. I’ve often wondered if these are machine generated, written by people who don’t know English well, or machine-obfuscated copies of legitimate articles, intended to duck news providers’ plagiarism bots.
- Wired volcanologist Eric Klemetti reports that a swarm of small earthquakes may presage an eruption from Iceland’s Barðarbunga volcano. The volcano is interesting because its name contains the ancient letter eth (ð) something I don’t recall seeing on Web news sites in a lot of years. To generate an eth on Windows, by the way, just enter Alt-0240.
- Wired misses as often as it hits. One of its supposed futurists is telling us that the educated elite should be able to license reproduction, and dictate who can and who cannot have babies. By the way, his description of who is unfit to reproduce sounds a lot like the nonwhite urban poor. Articles of this sort are about as wise as “The Case for Killing Granny,” which put Newsweek in a world of hurt back in 2009.
- To make you love this guy even more, let me quote a summary of presentation he did on Red Ice Radio: “Zoltan argues that ultimately technology will be helpful to the ‘greater good’ and must be implemented, even if by force and even if there are causalities along the way. In the second hour, Zoltan philosophizes about technology as evolution and luck as the prime mover of the human experience. He talks about maximizing on the transhumanist value for the evolution of our species. We parallel transhumanism with religious thinking. He’ll speak in favor of controversial subjects such as a transhumanist dictatorship, population control, licenses to have children and people needing to justify their existence in front of a committee, much like the Fabian Socialist George Bernard Shaw’s idea.” If I were a transhumanist, I’d be ripping him several new ones right now. Or is transhumanism really that nasty?
- Nobel laureate physicist Frank Wilczek is not proposing thiotimoline, nor anything else (I think) having to do with time travel. He believes that he’s broken the temporal symmetry of nature…which sounds devilish and full of interesting possibilities. As soon as I figure out what the hell it all means, time crystals will land in one of my hard SF concepts in -5 milliseconds.
- Michael Covington reminded us on Facebook that there are a surprising number of plurals with no singular form, including kudos, biceps, suds, and shenanigans. (I do wonder, as does Bill Lindley, if the very last bubble in the sink is a sud.)
- That discussion in turn reminded me of a concept for an END piece in PC Techniques that I took notes on but never wrote: the KUDOS operating system, which lacks error messages but pays you a compliment every time you do anything right. In 1992 I was thinking of purely textual compliments, but these days I imagine a spell-checker that plays “Bravo!” on the speakers every time you spell a word correctly. Wouldn’t that be fun?
- Sony is shutting down its ebook reader business. Note the line that says with a straight face: “…the Librie was the first to use the e-ink display that makes long sessions headache free…” Headache-free? Headaches were why I stopped using the PRS-500.
- Here are the best shots I’ve seen of the first comet we’ve seen really close up. Y’know, I’ll bet we could make that into two comets if we really wanted to.
- According to Wired, there are Type 1 and Type 2 sockpuppets. I’ll bet there are others.
- Is luck really luck? Or is it some combination of skills and attitude?
- Here’s a detailed description of how rifle barrels are made. It’s a much more subtle business than I thought. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- In case you were too young to actually be part of the 60s muscle car culture and wondered what all the jargon was in the old Beach Boys’ song “Shut Down,” here’s a detailed discussion. I was crushed: The mighty Corvette was going up against a “413,” which was in fact a…Dodge Dart.
- Someone asked me what I think about the EmDrive. Answer: I don’t. And until it’s demonstrated as thrust against gravity rather than thrust against a torsion spring, I won’t.
- Why, Lord? WHY?
- I thought I was imagining it, but evidently not: There really was a book called Science Fun with Milk Cartons . Now, where did I see the line, “Fun with Giant Frogs”?
- This one was real too, and I saw it face-out at eye-level in Bookstar.
- Speaking of real things, there’s a hot drink (tea of some sort, by the looks of it) called Urinal. (Scroll down.) I can guess where that one’s going. (Thanks to Irene Smith for the link.)
- More of the same here, though you’ll have to scroll to the very end to see the can of Unicorn Meat.
- Hats off to T. C. Chua, who figured out how to make Zoundry Raven work with IE9+. Raven uses IE’s WYSIWYG editor, and changes made to the editor with IE9 breaks the program completely. Zoundry is open-source and hasn’t been updated since 2008. Mr. Chua traced through the Python code, found the problem, fixed it, and built an .EXE out of the Python code. He’s made it available here. I’ve used Raven to edit and post Contra entries since 2008, and didn’t feel like chasing down some new blog editor now that I’ve moved to Win7. Bravo!
- Vegetarian diets are not as healthy as we’ve been led to believe. Make sure you scroll down to Table 3 and get a look at the figures for cancer. Now, some thrive on vegetarian diets and many don’t. What the research doesn’t appear to take into account is “lifestyle panic,” which is severe anxiety that some (usually minor) aspect of your life will kill you. If worry about your diet turns your life into a cortisol thrill ride, your diet won’t help you, and it certainly won’t be what killed you.
- Mars reaches opposition on April 8, and the best day for observing it is April 14. Actually, any time within a week or two of those dates will provide a pretty good show, especially if you have even a smallish telescope. Such opportunities happen roughly every two years, so catch it now or wait until 2016!
- Wearable computing has never really set the world on fire, and here’s a reasonably honest assessment as to why. I already have one computer in my pocket, and that’s plenty.
- A GoPro-packing RC flying wing. Makes kites look kind of lame, but lame is what I have on hand, and lame is how I’m going to fly my GoPro this spring. If we ever get a spring. (6″ of sloppy stuff this morning; would have been 15″ had it been ten degrees colder.)
- Cores (the other kind of cores) like dust.
- My instance of the Gallery photo server is pretty much dead, and I’ve begun migrating photos to Flickr. Here’s my photostream link, and my three sets so far. I’m not yet an ace at the system by any means, but with some practice I’ll get everything interesting up there.
- Ok. Precision marshmallow toasting is cool. Just don’t get nuts and melt the mallow into the machinery.
- I study climate, in general to support a fiction concept I’m working on, but I don’t talk about it here because I don’t like to trigger the sort of slobbering tribal hatred that any such discussion invariably involves. This is an interesting (if depressing) psychological phenomenon all by itself. (Thanks to Trevor Thompkins for the link.)
- This turned up on April 1, but like all the best hoaxes, it is nowhere clear that it’s actually a hoax. So is it? (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the link.)
- The world’s smallest volcano was maybe just a little easier to suss out…
- One of my backchannel correspondents emailed me some weeks ago: “I know what you’re working on. Not much of a secret if it’s listed on Amazon.” True dat. I’m just following orders.
- People in disorderly environments pay more for the same things, and appear to think less clearly generally. I guess I had better start shoveling out my office before I go broke.
- This is not just a problem in exotic physics. This is a problem in all modern science, particularly the science of complex systems. The easy stuff has been done. Everything else is measuring gnats in a sandstorm.
- Video shot from far away generally makes volcanic eruptions look like they’re unfolding in slow motion. Get a quadricopter up to the edge of an erupting volcano, and suddenly it all looks a whole lot…faster .
- A new frozen woolly mammoth find may provide what scientists would need to clone a mammoth. Now, will you guys please go looking for frozen glytodont?
- This is what happens when you try to print a house on a gigantic Epson fanfold printer.
- Make one with sweet red wine, and it would be unbeatable.
- * If you don’t know by now what I’m cheering about, well, read Wednesday’s entry.
- Jim Strickland found a site with some of the guldurndest CP/M-80 programming tools from the 80s and maybe earlier. Most of them aren’t familiar to me, and I don’t have a machine to run them on anymore. However, if you want any of the four releases of JRT Pascal, or Turbo Modula-2 for CP/M, well, dinner is served.
- And for dessert, here’s the x86 DOS collection, including Turbo Pascal 3.02, Turbo C 2.01, and all of the original IBM PC slipcase compilers that I’ve ever seen.
- Very nice if not especially new intro to Flash and SSDs, from AnandTech.
- Another, more recent piece on Flash over there. Remember that it’s a multiparter; read ‘em all.
- Pete Albrecht sends word of a Death Star ball camera trending on IndieGogo right now. It’s a little like kite aerial photography without the kite.
- Amtrak has some new muscle: 8600 horses’ worth. I used to take Amtrak between Baltimore and NYC regularly when I worked for Ziff-Davis, and it was a wonderful thing. Now if I could only get a damned train between here and Denver… (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
- Wonderful volcano photo over at Wired, which again leads me to wonder what the trends are in volcanic activity over the past century or two. Are there really more eruptions, or are we just hearing more about the ones that happen? If you’ve ever seen a chart somewhere, please share.
- Pertinent to my last Odd Lots: The correct term is “assortative,” according to linguist Michael Covington. “Preventive” and “assortative” are derived from the 4th principal parts of the Latin verbs “preventus” and “assortatus.” That’s actually more interesting, in a way, than assortative mating itself.
- The Great Lakes are now 88% covered in ice. We may not top the 1994 level (94%) nor 1979 (95%) this year, but unless things get a helluva lot warmer out east in the next month or so, we’re going to give them a very good run.
- Great perky guitar piece by Eric Johnson in the $1.29 MP3 pile over at Amazon.
- Also, my fourth favorite pop song evah, for only a buck.
- If you &*!## love science enough to believe the &*!## data, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that sugar will &*!## kill you. (Thanks to my very brilliant wife for the link.)
- The core of loving science, by the way, is questioning authority–and demanding that scientific authority be sane, calm, utterly honest, and absolutely without anger. (And so–need I say?–should the questioners.)
- Either red wine, aspirin, or both could help us beat certain types of cancer. The key may be not too much wine, and not too much aspirin.
- If this Onion piece makes you twitch even a little, well, good.
- Have you ever wondered what the analemma looks like on other planets? There’s an app for that.
- If you want to cover screwheads or other elements of a laptop that would be disturbed by tampering, use glitter nail polish, the less common the better. The tampering may still happen, but glitter nail polish isn’t easy to fake, and at least you’ll know that it occurred.
- More evidence that the better part of our modern diet consists of…lies. (Thanks to neil Rest for the link.)
- The Atlantic reminds us of the 40-year war waged on coffee by Mr. C. W. Post of Post cereals, who was trying to build the market for his caffeine-free dirt-flavored cereal beverage Postum.
- Speaking of the devil, Lileks did his signature treatment on Mr. Coffee Nerves some time back. People drank a lot of coffee in the 50s to counteract all the booze that was going down the hatch to keep them from killing one another wholesale. That decade was not Arcadia. It was psychotic.
- Why did good always trounce evil in Middle Earth? It may have been the bad guys’ vitamin D deficiency.
- The government of El Salvador has released a boggling video of Salvadorian volcano Chaparrastique, just before and after its recent explosion.
- Michaelangelo’s grocery list…with illustrations, natch. (And does this remind anybody else of the handscript style used in the Voynich Manuscript?)
- A collection of science fiction postage stamps. (Thanks to Ernie Marek for the link.)
- These semi-fossilized English words escaped total fossilization by hiding inside popular idioms. The list lacks “ilk,” which sounds like it should an obscure human organ, or even a breed of horse. (Thanks to Gwen Henson for the link.)
- Both MIT and ETH Zurich have made some cool cubical robots that move and balance using flywheels. Ha! I did this in the first chapter of The Cunning Blood: I had gas-turbine powered mechanical dinosaurs that moved (twitchily) by pinching several internal flywheels under the control of a fluidic computer.
- Ceramic squirrels don’t injure people. Crazy people holding ceramic squirrels injure people. No one evidently cared what happened to the ceramic squirrel. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- $10,000. Software written in Pascal. Windowing interface remarkably like the Xerox Star’s, on which I’d been trained the year before. I spent a wistful hour putting it through its paces at a nearby computer store in Rochester, NY. I’d just spent $4000 on a CP/M system three years earlier, and didn’t have another $10K lying around. Nice retrospective on poor Lisa, who never got the respect she deserved. Market niches matter, and it’s not always possible to create your own from the quantum vacuum.
- Solar Cycle 24 is definitely double-humped, and its second peak could well be peakier than the first. This doesn’t make it a strong cycle, by any means, but we thought the whole deal was over after the first peak in 2011. Not so.
- An amateur telescope maker in Utah bought a 70″ spy satellite mirror at a scratch-and-dent auction and built the world’s largest amateur telescope.
- I haven’t written aliens into my SF much, at least since I first thought deeply about the subject in college. This is part of the reason. I had planned out a story in which Earth contacts an alien race with so old and rich a culture that their language consists of context-sensitive metaphors within similes within puns within knock-knock jokes. I never wrote the story because I could never figure out how to crack the problem.
- Your graphics card is getting faster, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll even notice. I think this is what the term “diminishing returns” was coined to describe.
- From the Major WTF File: One of my readers sent me this link, and I’m still trying to figure out what these creeps are up to. I’ll post a separate entry on it when I have a little more time to research it. But look yourself up: I’d like to hear about it if you’re on there too.
- Little by little, people are starting to figure it out: Fat will make you lose weight and keep you healthy. Sugar will f*(&ing kill you.
- I was told by a cardiologist 20-odd years ago that gum disease was related to heart disease. It seemed like a stretch at the time, but since then I’ve seen a number of studies indicating that it’s true. Floss, don’t infarct!
- Slate has a short piece explaining what makes a continental breakfast continental. What made me laugh was an embedded Key & Peele bit in which Peele delights in discovering Fruit Loops at his hotel breakfast counter, as though they were rare treats. Bartholomew Stypek does the same thing in Ten Gentle Opportunities: “Carolyn had gifted him with sacks of delicacies that any nobleman in the realm of Ttryngg would kill for: Doritos, Cheetos, Pringles, Ruffles, and sweets baked by elves.”
- The Marines are about to begin hunting Somali pirates. If I were a Somali pirate, I would be thinking about early retirement.
- Cities, like ogres and onions, have layers. The deepest and oldest of those layers can be forgotten by all but a few. Here’s a marvelous quick tour of the some of New York’s less visible layers. No ogres. We hope. (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the link.)
I originally thought it was a hoax when I heard about it this past January. It sure sounded like one. But it’s for real: The World Trade Organization has given the otherwise unexceptional Caribbean nation of Antigua permission to sell US copyrighted content, without any payment to copyright owners.
It’s revenge, people. Antigua was making a pretty good living in online casinos until 2001, when the US outlawed online gambling. What was a $2.4B annual business dropped by two thirds. (Apparently, two thirds of the world’s stupidity lies within US borders.) I’d be temped to say that nothing of value was lost, which may have been true unless you were Antigua. So Antigua went to the WTO asking for compensation for the loss. The WTO gave them all American copyrights, free of charge. There’s a $21M cap on the annual take, but as best I can tell, no time limit on the grant. Basically, Antigua can sell anything copyrighted in the US at all.
This is the plot of a comic novel. It reminds me of nothing more than The Mouse That Roared, which was a 1959 sendup of nuclear weapons politics. A US firm creates a clone of the signature wine of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, which is a nanoscopic country somewhere in Europe, probably bordering San Marino on one side and Liechtenstein on the other. The Duchy goes for the throat and declares war on the US, expecting to lose and make up for lost wine revenues in foreign aid. Instead, the country accidently captures the horrible Q-Bomb from a secret lab (with a bumbling crew of Robin Hoodish bowmen) and the US surrenders.
Except that this time, it’s real. Buried in my notes on possible novels is something I called TC Pirates in Paradise that dates back to 2006. A disgruntled engineer slips something extra into his company’s “smart” wall-wart product: a powerline networking system that sets up a hidden filesharing node every time it’s plugged into the wall. Nobody notices at first. He leaves the company, and nothing happens until a billion file-sharing wall warts have been sold into the wild. Then he reveals the secret, and all hell breaks loose.
Ok, not my best idea, and people would get annoyed at me for making fun of piracy. But man, this could be a marvelous high-tech farce with a title like Pirates of the Retail Channel. The whole business was made possible by a loophole in WTO rules that allows intellectual property to be used in punitive trade settlements. The glass on your irony meter will shatter explosively when you realize that the treaties that allow this are the same treaties that US copyright interests pushed for years ago and occasionally use against other countries. If those guys didn’t know what a “petard” was before, they’re sure as hell reaching for the dictionary now.
Antigua didn’t create its own online casinos. It licensed other people to create them, and took a cut of the profits. One wonders if they’re going to license Pirate Bay clones and do the same thing. Certain issues are unclear, primarily whether they’ll be able to strip DRM. On the other hand, who would stop them? (They could just download pre-stripped copies from Usenet and sell them.) What sort of prices are we going to see? Would they dare to become the Five Below of online commerce? Windows 7 for $5? And how soon before DRM-stripped items would show up on the rest of the pirate ecosystem? Is it any wonder that Adobe is giving up on selling boxed software?
No, I don’t approve. But man, I giggled. Politics is its own punishment, as the US copyright lobby is figuring out about now. If Rockhound57 and HockWards need to flee the country, well, Antigua would be the logical place to go.
Popcorn anybody? Let’s watch.
- Anger makes you stupid. Politics makes you angry. Do the math. (Thanks to Bob Trembley for the link.)
- Running across George O. Smith’s books while redistributing titles on one of my shelves led me to look for the most powerful vacuum tube ever produced commercially. This was the understated Eimac 8974, which contains its own vacuum pump and could hurl out two million watts in Class C. QROOOOOOOOO! You can’t drive a truck into it, but you’ll need a truck to move it. And once you get it home, your first problem will be finding 600 amps to heat the filament.
- Winter’s coming early to the West: We hit a record low here for this date yesterday night: 26 degrees. Two feet of snow fell in parts of the Dakotas, with some unofficial reports (like this one, in the appropriately named Deadwood, SD) of as much as four feet.
- The Farmer’s Almanic is predicting a truly bitchy winter this year. (Note that this is not The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which is less sanguine.) We’ve noticed that the squirrels here are busting their nuts eating acorns, which is at least as good a predictor.
- Speaking of brrrrrr: Recent research fingers the Llopango volcano in Ecuador as the triggering event of the severe global cooling of 535-536, which finished off the Western Empire via crop failures and the Plague of Justinian. It was a truly titanic eruption, hitting 6.9 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index and thus a peer of the gigapuissant Tambora. After that, well, there was nothing much to do except have the Dark Ages.
- More scary robots. Four legs seems optimal for this sort of creature, which seems to be designed to carry cargo over bad terrain. It’s pretty clear to me that drones with machine guns make better manshunyoggers.
- Most people don’t have a gut sense for what “ephemera” means, but if you want a sampling of the weirdest examples ever seen (as well as many cool and sometimes beautiful ones) prepare to spend some time on it. Don’t miss Part 2.
- Which led me to Found in Mom’s Basement, a compendium of vintage ads. Some weird, some peculiar, some creepy, much Seventies. “Guess Whose Mother Used Downy?” Mort Drucker’s tampon ads. Read the archives!
- How to deal with the highest of all high-class problems, albeit the one you’re least likely to face. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
- One of the siller analyses I’ve seen recently. Then again, it may be the case that geeks are about culture and nerds are about ideas. I actually thought that nerds were what they called us in the Seventies and geeks are what they call us now.
- From the Brutal Truth In Labeling Department. I’m in.
Feeling better. Some. Not lots.
Of course, “better” (as with other words like “warmer”) are inherently comparative and need reference points, or they’re meaningless. Better/warmer since when? Better since last week? Hell yes. Better since two weeks ago? Maybe a little. (It’s hazy; like the Ball says, “Ask again later.”) Better since three weeks ago? No way. I’ll be back with the docs again tomorrow. We’ll see what they say.
This is the first time I’ve done bedrest with a tablet. Read stuff, played Random Factor Mah Jong, checked in on email and Facebook. I have the Transformer Prime’s matching keyboard dock, which made many things easier. That said, most of Facebook, being as it is a mighty global confluence of Loud And Aggressive Persons, is a vexation to the spirit. By a week or so ago my body had had all the vexation it was willing to put up with, so to avoid its actually becoming a spirit, I pondered pleasanter things, like tweezing my armpits.
I did read one reasonably good book: Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild, by Lee Sandlin. Great light reading, and full of interesting things. We’ve been a little too thoroughly romanced by Mark Twain and others: The Mississippi in the 1850s was just freaking nuts. The book is not a systematic history but a collection of vivid vignettes. A lot of it is well-covered elsewhere, like the siege of Vicksburg. Some of it was described with a hair too much vividness, especially the explosion of the Sultana. Much of it was new to me, like the phenomenon of Mississippi River moving panoramas. John Banvard’s signature product was a painted scene twelve feet high and literally half a mile long. (It was by no means the longest moving panorama ever done. It wasn’t even close.) It was displayed to an audience by slowly spooling it between one large roller and another. Banvard toured the country with his and made a great deal of money from an entertainment-starved populace, who had neither TV nor Facebook to kill time on. Sandlin’s description of the pandemonium at riverside camp meetings is wonderful, and aligns with other descriptions I’ve seen of revivals in that era. The revival phenomenon is a scary thing, far scarier than anything you’ll ever see on Facebook, or even TV. (It is also not exclusively religious in nature.) I was at a small one once. It was the best evidence of mental power at a distance I’ve ever experienced. It went well beyond hysteria or even mass hypnosis. It almost completely defies my ability to describe, which is why I probably won’t, at least here. I’ll write it up for my memoirs.
I did watch some TV. In doing so, I learned that “Mermaids” is the most-watched series that Animal Planet has ever run, egad. We were actually watching the “Too Cute” episode that included Bichon Frise puppies, but the channel was pushing its signature achievement with everything it had. Uggh. Can we please go back to Chariots of the Gods now?
Mostly, Carol and I watched episodes from the DVD gatherum of “Anything But Love.” It was a half-hour TV sitcom that ran from 1989-1992. We would watch it now and then while Carol brushed dogs, and it featured a brand of gentle humor that TV simply doesn’t understand anymore. 25 years is a long time, and I had completely forgotten Joseph Maher, who had a long run with the series. He’s one of those guys that you’ve doubtless seen and heard but probably can’t name, and his chemistry with stars Richard Lewis and Jamie Lee Curtis was damned near perfect. The series is about a magazine based in Chicago, so I paid attention to the details. Yes, magazine publishing really did sort of work like that back in the 80s, with a lot fewer people, a lot less screwing around, and a whole lot more work.
My most promising entertainment, however, was lying on my back and vividly imagining the Neanderthals who may star in a possible comic novel called The Gathering Ice. They’re homely but clever guys who have been hiding in plain sight for 20,000 years by pretending to be ugly humans, telling jokes at our expense and harnessing homo sap’s frenetic energy to make their lives easier. They wrote the Voynich Manuscript and gave it to Emperor Rudolf II just to torment him (along with a long line of homo sap cipher hobbyists.) When it looks like a new Ice Age begins setting in during the 2020s, the Plugs (as they call themselves) go looking for long-lost members of their tribe and the occasional throwback. Among other techniques, they break into the TSA’s top-secret Cloud database of traveler X-rays and look for conical ribcages and occipital buns. (I have both, but my Neanderthal blood is far from pure.) They have a plan that might in fact reverse the relentless march of the glaciers and short-circuit the end of the Holocene. Should they do it? (Of course they should. And of course they do. Duhhh.) It’s a sendup of steampunk, dieselpunk, reality TV, the Holy Roman Empire, global warming, Pythagoras, the Paleo Diet, and a great many other things. No dancing zombies. Cavemen throw good polka parties, though. And all those skinny-dipping ladies in Voynich? Neanderthal babes doing hands-on DNA research.
I will probably be a little quiet for a few more days. I’m still here. If I’m envisioning scenes from a novel, I’m probably going to be all right. Patience!