- My old friend Lee Hart scratchbuilt a marvelous model of the Galileo spacecraft, including an operating COSMAC processor that blinks out the Arecibo message on an LED.
- The COSMAC 1802 was a good choice for spacecraft, because it drew almost no power and could be radiation-hardened. It was all static CMOS, so the system clock could be slowed arbitrarily, down to audio rates, or just stopped. Alas, the contention (which I’ve shared) that there was an 1802 on the Viking spacecraft isn’t true. Bummer.
- Here’s an essentially bottomless collection of old radio literature, including magazines, technical books and articles, and ephemera. The PDFs are of excellent quality, though I wonder how legal some of the items are. Worth a look, for the Deco artwork in the 20s and 30s magazines, if nothing else.
- And if you’re interested in toilet paper on a total lifestyle basis, Toilet Paper World is just the thing. I’m not sure I even noticed that tinted toilet paper existed before they told me. And now it’s gone. I guess it’s true that 80% of the world is always below our radar.
- We’ve had air rifles since…1779. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- I’d heard about how the Soviets repaired their ailing Salyut 7 space station, but not in anywhere close to this kind of detail.
- Paris used to use (and may still; the article is unclear) a sort of Indiana Jones mechanism for clearing blockages in its extra large economy-sized sewer pipes: Rolling a 9-foot iron ball through them.
- If you’re watching sea ice levels in the Antarctic (as I am) this site puts up very nice graphs on an almost daily basis.
- Is there anything that hipsters can’t ruin? (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
- Murder comes naturally to Chimpanzees. The sad part is, it comes naturally to us, too. I suspect it came so naturally to the Neanderthals that they didn’t need Sap to extinctify them.
- Somehow I managed to see the first Hobbit flick four times and never noticed that Bifur had an axe stuck in his head. I thought it was some sort of ornamment.
- Oh, and predictably, Buzzfeed has a stack rank of Peter Jackson’s dwarves by, um, hotness. They should have asked some Dwarf women; the hottest dwarves are also the ones that look the least like dwarves. Several times I was asking myself if Fili and Kili had been left in a basket on some dwarf’s front porch.
- One more and I’ll let the dwarf thing go. Separated at birth: Bofur the Dwarf and…Sister Bertrille.
- I survived the 60s. I had all the Beatles albums. I am not and have never been a Communist. I guess this means that hypnotism is impossible.
I just finished walking to Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,which is the third or fourth time I’ve seen it. I have some grumbles: The damned thing came to 181 minutes long; did we really need atolkienic rock giants starting a rumble with dwarves clinging to their pants legs? On the other hand, it was visually startling and lots of fun, and I give Jackson points for working in some of the appendices’ material, especially Radagast and Dol Guldur. Sure, Goblin Town was over the top, as was the Goblin King (“That’ll do it”) and the whole Goblin Town episode reminded me of a side-scroller video game.
All that said, what I really like about the film is its depiction of the dwarves. We didn’t see much of them in Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, beyond Gimli and stacks of decayed corpses in Moria. From his own text, Tolkien clearly didn’t like the dwarves much, both explicitly and implicitly. I figured that out over 40 years ago, once the Silmarillion was published. Unlike elves and men, the dwarves were tinkered together after work hours by Aulë, the Valar demigod of tinkering. Aulë was out of his depth there, so Eru (God) fixed their bugs and archived them until the elves got out of beta and were RTMed.
That’s a pattern in Tolkien’s universe: Aulë’s guys were always digging stuff up and doing stuff with it, causing lots of trouble in the process. Fëanor made the Silmarils, and before you know it, we’d lost half a continent and the rest of the First Age. The dwarves in Moria dug too deep and struck Balrog; the dwarves in Erebor unearthed the Arkenstone, which made Thrain go nuts and hoard so much gold that Smaug sniffed it half a world away.
Oh–and Sauron (disguised as as a sort of evil Santa Claus) gave the clueless dwarf kings Seven Rings of Power. Worst. Idea. Evah.
Ok. They were nerds. You got a problem with that? By contrast, the Elves just sort of sat around inside their own collective auras, eating salad and nostalgia-tripping. The elven makers like Fëanor and Celebrimbor all came to bad ends, leaving behind the elven New Agers, who made a three-Age career of doing nothing in particular while feeling like on the whole, they’d rather be in Philadel…er, Valinor.
Screw that. I’m with the dwarves. They had an angular sort of art design that I envy (see any footage set within Erebor) and a capella groups long before the invention of barbershops. (See this for a bone-chilling cover.) We haven’t seen them in the films yet, but Weta concepts indicate that dwarf women are hot, irrespective of their long sideburns. And only a celebrity dwarf could tell you why mattocks rock.
Metal is fun, and craftiness is next to demigodliness, especially with Aulë as your demigod. The dwarves are basically Tolkien’s steampunkers, and if they didn’t have airships it was solely because they didn’t like heights. Sure, they were maybe a little slow on the uptake at times. Playing with minerals requires an intuitive grip on chemistry, and out of chemistry (given metal plating for motivation) comes electricity, as the Babylonians showed us. After three Ages, the dwarves still didn’t have AA batteries? Sheesh.
Still, they did real damned fine with iron, bronze, gold, and mithril. Makes you wonder what they could have done with ytterbium. Eä, the Final Frontier? Fifth Age, fersure!
- 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.