- $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!
- Wired ran a wonderful photo piece on one of the weirdest aircraft ever to fly: the Soviet Union’s ground-effect ship-killer seaplane Lun. (Thanks to Mike Bentley for the pointer.)
- Surezhell, a faint tickle of a memory led me back to even more Lun-y goodness at Dark Roasted Blend. Don’t forget Part 2.
- Which led directly to Awesome Armored Trains. (Steamfrack? Again, the Russians seem to be the masters of this game.)
- Yet another photo gatherum from Spiegel, highlighting zany transportation ideas that didn’t pan out. Or get anywhere near the pan.
- Ars has a nice article on a very new category of aircraft: the solar-powered “atmospheric satellite,” a robot plane that flies in the high atmosphere for indefinite periods without fuel.
- Sakurajima is acting up again. That was one of my favorite volcanoes when I was a kid, right after now-extinct (probably) Paracutin. One thing to note here is how good the comments are. I read Klemetti’s blog as much for his community as for his own (excellent) posts. No politics, no hate, no incessant tu quoque from tribal slaves. You don’t see that very often.
- As with all claims in this category, whether fission or fusion, I’ll believe it when I see it, but damn, I would like to see this.
- The Nook business is in trouble. We’ve seen that coming, but it makes me wonder if the Nook is alone, or if the rest of the color-screen ebook readers are falling into line behind it. (E-ink will remain as a niche for daylight reading.) I read ebooks on my Transformer Prime. Works. It’s a general-purpose tablet with a keyboard dock that makes it an only slightly crippled laptop. The number of specialized gadgets I’m willing to cart around is limited.
- That said, B&N’s print book business is in reasonably good shape, especially its very profitable textbook division. (Thanks to Janet Perlman for the link.)
- Ouch. “There’s no real ebook piracy problem because most people don’t think books are worth stealing.”
- Publishing is an ecosystem, and the parts don’t thrive without the whole. The ecosystem can change, of course, but the changes take time, and not all parts of the system will survive the changes. (Again, thanks to Janet Perlman for the link.)
- Forget underage women. Crossing state lines with rented textbooks can get you into trouble.
- Composers on acid? I’d be curious to hear from experienced musicians whether most of these, um, compositions are playable at all.
- Now this is the sort of drought I can celebrate: We’re looking at a record low tornado count this year.
- On the hurricane side, the accumulated cyclonic energy (ACE) value, which is an aggregate of how much power has been seen in cyclonic storms so far this year, is 48% of normal to August 21. Less than half. The Coriolis Gods are evidently taking a break. Let’s hope it’s a long one.
- The latest Duluth Trading catalog is pushing a product called Ballroom Jeans. Huh? For cowboy proms? Ballroom…wait. Ok. I get it.
- Always read food labels carefully.
- The length of the Earth’s day varies more than I would guess, and the cause seems to be a certain amount of slosh in our molten core.
- PC World is shutting down its print edition. I still have early copies of both PC World and PC Magazine in boxes, including issues from those heady days when the PC universe was exploding like a supernova and the magazines could be an inch thick and heavier than some small dogs. If I could still make money in magazines I’d still be in magazines making money, but that train has left the station, the station has been razed, and the tracks sold for scrap.
- I smell careers burning.
- Which might be one reason the Chicago Tribune’s owners are doing this.
- And yet another reason (among many) for this.
- On a whim I went out and checked the Adobe CS2 download link that got so much attention this past January. Gone. I guess they calculated that anybody who was entitled to it already had it, and all the rest were pirates. I wonder if they understood that genii don’t return to their bottles once let loose.
- How about some extreme swimming pools? Damn. I’d just like to have a really boring swimming pool right now.
- Or maybe nine peculiar (old) vending machines. Read the comments, which contain more cool vending machine links. I saw beer vending machines on Japanese streets when I visited Tokyo in 1981. It shouldn’t be too long before a modern descendant of the Book-O-Matic actually prints and binds your book from scratch, while you watch. Alas, it will cost more than a quarter.
- Speaking of descendants: I knew this. Did you?
- Bill Higgins sent a link to some sort of German WWII tank training manual, written in German rhyme and illustrated in a very surreal fashion, including God carrying a tank on one shoulder and a chubby redheaded Aryan angel in leather boots, holding a cannon rammer. The Jaegermeister stag-and-cross is there too, which might explain a few things. Yet another reason I should have taken German in high school.
- Speaking of Jaegermeister: I asked my nephew Matt what it tastes like. His answer: “You don’t want to know.” When pressed, he added, “Malort.” Only a little research confirmed that, yes, I really don’t want to know.
- Choice is always good.
UPDATE: A little research on the Panther Primer shows that the figure I thought was God is St. Christopher; the angel in red braids is St. Barbara, and the guy chasing the buzzard is St. Hubert, who was a master hunter…a Jaegermeister. Siegfried is in there too, as are some Classical Greek figures. German tank crews must have been a pretty educated bunch.
- IDC says that desktop PC sales will drop by 7.6% in 2013. This may well be due to what I call the Silverware Effect: PCs are pretty damned good, aren’t getting better very quickly, and people are keeping them way longer than they used to. Good ones can be had dirt-cheap. (And the dirt-cheap ones don’t have Windows 8 sticking to their boots!) Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.
- And a leaked screen shot seems to indicate that Microsoft heeded the technopeasants with torches and pitchforks: With Windows 8.1, the Start button is back!
- A day later, Ars published a much more detailed look at Windows 8.1.
- While some people still struggle to get their Raspberry Pi keyboards to stop stuttering, other people are writing brand-new operating systems for it. I know one of those guys, and if he wants to announce here, I’ll applaud!
- The Siberian Times reports that a frozen mammoth carcass yielded a surprise: Blood. The other surprise in this story is that there’s an English-language publication called the Siberian Times.
- A third surprise was how much cool stuff is published in the Siberian Times.
- That all the commenters in the Siberian Times appear to be Americans somehow comes as no surprise.
- In 2008, NOAA predicted that the Cycle 24 sunpost maximum would take place in May 2013. A quick look at my watch suggests that it’s over. So does a quick look at the sunspot graphs. After the second hump, it’s all over but the plunging.
- As much as people scream when anyone says so, talent trumps practice. 10,000 hours will make you better if you have talent, but it won’t make you better without the natural gifts to excel in your chosen field. Choose the wrong field, and all the practice you might attempt won’t make you great.
- Moore’s Law seems to be stalling, on NAND flash memory, at least.
- Twenty home technologies that were way ahead of their time. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- The husband of a local rising star in bichon grooming is a comics artist. And he is beyond amazing.
- One of the few things I miss about California is the Weird Stuff Warehouse in Sunnyvale. Ars has a photo tour that makes it look precisely the way I remember it looking in 1989. (I guess that makes it a “comfort junk shop.”)
- I haven’t laughed out lout at PVP in a long time, but today’s strip did it.
- Physicists have created quantum entanglement between two photons that don’t exist at the same time. If my head didn’t hurt before, it hurts now. (Thanks to Jonathan O’Neal for the link.)
- We thought we knew what organism caused the mid-19th century potato famine in Ireland, but we were wrong.
- I don’t think I’ve announced it broadly yet, but I am now agented, for both fiction and nonfiction. Either is a first for me, and it may make any number of things better on the writing side.
- This isn’t glaciation, obviously, but having been researching the coming Ice Age for a year or so now in the service of a Neanderthals novel, I was riveted: A calf-deep wave of ice fragments advances across the land like a cross between Jack Frost and The Blob.
- One way to solve the Raspberry Pi stuttering keyboard problem is to use a wireless keyboard/mouse set. The one I have (the Logitech MK520) works beautifully. Stutter gone. (The high road, of course, is to power everything, including the RPi itself, from a wireless hub.)
- Microsoft has offered B&N $1B for the entire Nook business, including the readers and all facets of the B&N store. This says a lot less about Microsoft than it says about B&N–none of it good.
- Here’s an inside look at a dedicated bitcoin mining machine. Now, could the same box mount a brute force attack against password hashes?
- A bunch of do-it-yourself Muppets present ten reasons why time travel is no good.
- I’ve discovered a spectacular new cheese: Uniekaas Black Label 3-year-old gouda. (Scroll down.) Bears about as much resemblance to the gouda I knew as a Porsche does to a Trabant. Pair it with any dry red; I’ve had it with Middle Sister Rebel Red and Campus Oaks Old Vine Zinfandel. Actually, it pairs well with Real Sangria. Or, for that matter, whole milk. Sheesh, even dead air. We get it at Whole Foods. Try it.
- Still another voice calling for an end to team sports in schools. Team sports are how we teach high schoolers that alpha males can do whatever they want to the people below them on their ill-begotten ladders.
- Want another reason? The most highly paid state employees in nearly all states are…college sports coaches. And we all know how “college” college sports are.
- Watch out, Colorado. Here come the pot machines.
- This Easter, automate your Easter-egg rituals with an open-source egg-drawing robot.
- Here’s more on the comet that may hit Mars in October 2014. Whether it hits Mars or not, that comet will come mighty close, and from here it could be a fascinating show indeed.
- Walter Jon Williams is still taking applications for his Taos Toolbox SF/fantasy writers’ workshop. I attended in 2011 and it was spectacular . (I didn’t finish the Contra series because my house almost blew up. However, I wrote a little more here.) Powerfully recommended.
- OMG! Jeff Bezos has invented mainframes!
- George Mason University has an elaborate 50-state ranking on freedom, broken out by category and pulled together by color-coded maps of the states.
- Wikipedia has a nice chart indicating the colors given off by various gases when used in gas-discharge lamps.
- People are still making cantennas to throw their microwaves a little more sharply in one direction, but here’s a cantenna that isn’t a waveguide. (Watch those edges!) Hacker Dave Mirecki builds something similar but much larger using foil-backed duct insulation, in Ten Gentle Opportunities.
- Here’s how a strike that essentially shut down the American music industry allowed unconventional (and largely non-white) music to rise to public prominence.
- Once people begin making dieselpunk keyboards, will dieselpunk itself move from being a blip to being a trend?
- Shop carefully, lest you choke on a banana bone.
- Which movie theater did you go to on your first date? Whether or not that theater still exists, this site may have a photo of it, along with other interesting historical data. The first theater I took Carol to is this one. It’s still there, and still awesome. (Thanks to Ernie Marek for the link.)
- Five years later, I proposed to Carol while we watched the sun set from a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. There are other ways of doing it. I forgot to bring a flashlight up the side of that bluff, and we had to pick our way down in near-darkness. My nerdiness has gaps. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
- The Softpro retail bookstore at the Denver Tech Center is closing its doors at the end of March. Even though it’s 70+ miles away, I’ve dropped a fair bit of change there. Bummer.
- Back in the 50s, the Russians were producing an extremely interesting line of low-voltage tubes. I’m still trying to get my head around how they work internally, but hey, “Gammatron” is a wonderful name for a line of tubes–or anything else. (Thanks to Jim Strickland for the link.)
- The war on “moist” (see yesterday’s entry) prompted Bruce Baker to remind us of Moist von Lipwig, a Discworld character whose distinguishing characteristic is having no distinguishing characteristics. See Going Postal and Making Money .
- People are still selling tumbleweeds on eBay. I can’t figure it. If the world has an abundance of anything, it’s tumbleweeds. Unless maybe you live in New York City and want some Western ambience without ever actually going there.
- When I was in college, a girl told me: “The trouble with you, Jeff, is that you’re too damned happy!” Guilty. And this research sounds like BS to me, in part because low expectations are not the same as pessimism. And also in part because most pessimists I’ve spent time with seem pretty unhappy. But what do I know? I’m a pessimism denier.
- The Atlantic reports research suggesting that the Neanderthals went extinct because they ran out of woolly mammoths and couldn’t get their substantial (and hard) heads around hunting bunnies. I’m still convinced that they wiped themselves out for lack of dogs. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
- Humanoid robots could make good firefighters, and the Navy is working on it. I’ll believe it when I see it, of course, but I keep thinking that a humanoid robot who can fight fires can do a lot of other interesting things. (Thanks to Bp. Sam’l Bassett for the link.)
- God sometimes teaches stupid people harsh lessons–and sometimes they’re so funny they hurt. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)