- I had some fairly sophisticated oral microsurgery about ten days ago, and it kind of took the wind out of me. That’s why you’re getting two Odd Lots in a row. I have things to write about long-form but have only recently found the energy to write at all. Promise to get a couple of things out in the next week.
- Some researchers at UW Madison are suggesting that sleep may exist to help us forget; that is, to trim unnecessary neural connections in order to improve the signal-to-noise ratio in the brain. Fair enough. What I really want to know (and am currently researching) is why the hell we dream. I doubt the answer to that is quite so simple.
- Ultibo is a fork of FreePascal/Lazarus that creates custom kernel.img files for the Raspberry Pi, allowing direct boot into an embedded application without requiring an underlying OS. I haven’t tried it yet (still waiting on delivery of a few parts for a new RPi 3 setup) but it sounds terrific. Bare metal Pascal? Whoda thunkit?
- Humana just announced that it is leaving the ACA exchanges after 2017. As I understand it, that will leave a fair number of counties (and some major cities) with no health insurance carriers at all. Zip. Zero. Obamacare, it seems, is in the process of repealing itself.
- NaNoWriMo has gone all political and shat itself bigtime. You know my opinions of such things: Politics is filth. A number of us are talking about an alternate event held on a different month. November is a horrible month for writing 50,000 words, because Thanksgiving. I’m pushing March, which is good for almost nothing other than containing St. Patrick’s Day. (Thanks to Tom Knighton for the link.)
- Paris has been gripped by rioting since February 2…and the US media simply refuses to cover it, most likely fearing that it will distract people from the Flynn resignation. Forget fake news. We have fake media.
- I heard from a DC resident that there was also a smallish riot in Washington DC today, and so far have seen no media coverage on it at all.
- Cold weather in Italy and Spain have caused vegetable shortages in the UK. Millions of small children who would supposedly never know what snow looked like may now never know what kale looks like. Sounds like a good trade to me.
- Trader Joe’s now sells a $5 zinfandel in its house Coastal brand, and it’s actually pretty decent. Good nose, strong fruit. Seems a touch thin somehow, but still well worth the price.
- I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Gahan Wilson’s cartoons in Playboy and National Lampoon, but Pete Albrecht sent me a link to an interview with Wilson that explains why he did certain things the way he did, like his brilliant series called “Nuts” about how the world looks and feels to small children.
John Glenn. Carrie Fisher. Debbie Reynolds. Zsa Zsa Gabor. Gene Wilder. Lots, lots more. OMG! Worst year evah!
I wonder. And because I wonder, I doubt it.
It’s certainly true that a lot of famous people died in 2016. However, we didn’t have any plagues or natural disasters that would raise the death rate significantly, so we have to assume that these deaths are unrelated to one another, and that we can’t finger any single cause or groups of causes. First, some short notes on mortality itself:
- Plenty of ordinary people died too. We had one death in our extended family. Several of my friends lost parents this year. A quick look back shows such deaths happening every three or four years. There was a peak circa 2000-2010 when extended family in the Greatest Generation were dying. Those individuals were in their 80s, mostly, which is when a great many people die.
- There are a lot of Baby Boomers, and Baby Boomers are hitting a knee in the mortality curve. The oldest Boomers are crossing 70 now, and the curve goes up sharply after that.
- Basically, there are lots more old people now than in the past, and old people die more frequently.
All that is pretty obvious, and I list it here as a reminder. Humanity is aging. That’s not a bad thing, if living longer is better than dying young. In truth, I thought Zsa Zsa Gabor died years if not decades ago. She lived to 99, so she stood out in my mind, as does anyone who lives well into their 90s.
Which brings us to the issue of fame. There are different kinds of fame. Three types come to mind:
- Horizontal fame falls to people who are very famous and generally known to the population at large.
- Vertical fame falls to people who are well-known within narrower populations.
- Age cohort fame is vertical fame along a time axis: It falls to people who are generally known but by people in a narrower age cohort, like Boomers or Millennials.
John Glenn had horizontal fame. Zsa Zsa Gabor had age-cohort fame: She had been out of the public eye for quite some time, so while Boomers mostly knew who she was, I’ll bet plenty of Millennials did not. Vertical fame is interesting, and I have a very good example: David Bunnell was a tech journalist, so as a tech journalist I knew him (personally, in fact, if not well) and know that he was well-known in tech journalism and very much missed. The fact that another well-known and much-loved tech journalist, Bill Machrone, died only two weeks later, gave us the impression that tech journalism had a target on its forehead this year. The fact that both men were 69 at the times of their deaths just made the whole thing stand out as “weird” and memorable in a grim way.
Most people have a passion (or several) not shared by all others. We can’t pay attention to everything, but all of us have a few things we pay attention to very closely. I’m not a medical person, so when Donald Henderson (the man who wiped out smallpox) died, I had to look him up. Those in science and healthcare probably recognized his name more quickly than people who focus on music or NASCAR. The point here is that almost everyone falls into some vertical interest bracket, and notices when a person famous within their bracket (but otherwise obscure) dies. This multiplies the perception of many famous people dying in any given year.
The proliferation of vertical brackets contributes to another fame issue: We are making more famous people every year. Vertical brackets are only part of it. With a larger population, there is more attention to be focused on the famous among us, allowing more people to cross the admittedly fuzzy boundary between obscurity and fame.
The key here is mass media, which creates fame and to some extent dictates who gets it. The mainstream media may be suffering but it’s still potent, and the more cable channels there are, the more broadly fame can be distributed. I doubt we’re producing as many movies as we used to, but the movies that happen are seen and discussed very broadly. I confess I don’t understand the cult of celebrity and find it distasteful. Still, celebrity and gossip are baked into our genes. (This is related to tribalism, which I’ll return to at some point. I’m starting to run long today and need to focus.)
Over the past ten years, of course, social media has appeared, and allows news to travel fast, even news catering to a relatively narrow audience. Social media amplifies the impact of celebrity deaths. I doubt I would have known that Zsa Zsa had died if I hadn’t seen somebody’s Twitter post. I didn’t much care, but I saw it.
There is another issue that many people may not appreciate: More people were paying attention to news generally in 2016. Why? The election. The profound weirdness and boggling viciousness of this year’s races had a great many people spending a lot more time online or in front of the TV, trying to figure out what the hell was actually happening, and why. I think this made the celebrity deaths that did happen a lot more visible than they might have been in a non-election year.
Finally, averages are average. There are always peaks and troughs. In fact, a year in which celebrity death rates were simply average would be slightly anomalous in itself, though no one but statisticians would likely notice. I’m guessing that we had a peak year this year. Next year might be kinder to celebrities. We won’t know until we get there.
To sum up: This past year, for various reasons, more people were paying attention, and there were more ways to pay attention. These trend lines will continue to rise, and I have a sneaking suspicion that next year may also be seen as deadly, as will the year after that, until the curves flatten out and we enter into some sort of new normal.
Grim, sure, but not mysterious. There may well be reasons to consider 2016 a terrible year, but thinking rationally, the number of celebrity deaths is not among them.
- Take a look at Visuino, which is a visual development environment for the Arduino embedded processor family. This is a beautiful thing, and makes me wish I still ran a certain magazine.
- And there’s a new default OS for the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3. (Don’t try it on the earlier boards, nor the Pi Zero.) Looks good from here, and my RPi 3 will get the treatment as time allows.
- 75 years ago, there was a butt-kicking geomagnetic storm. Not exactly Carrington, but it makes me wonder how our infinitely more electronic culture would respond to such a storm today.
- Chemporn: How sodium and other twitchy elements burn.
- As of today, there are no Obamacare individual policies available in Maricopa County, Arizona. None. Granted, open enrollment does not begin until November 1, but we qualify to purchase because we’re moving interstate. Arizona officials are still reviewing a proposal from Centene to offer an HMO here, and if approved, it would be the only plan available in this county. This is not a robust healthcare marketplace. This is a law that has already imploded.
- More evidence? Here’s the firehose.
- Implosions, anybody? Great rant about the ongoing imposion of the media elite.
- Low testosterone appears to predispose men to dementia. It’s unclear (and no longer automatically asserted) that high testosterone predisposes men to prostate cancer. (Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.)
- There is a very nice online PDF calendar generator that will create a calendar in PDF format for any string of months you might want. (The site has much else worth exploring related to calendrics.) You can add in holidays, solstices/equinoxes, phases of the moon, and so on. This pretty much makes my 1999 copy of Calendar Creator…useless. (Thanks to reader Spook for the link.)
- How The Atlantic explains Donald Trump: The media takes him literally but not seriously, and his fans take him seriously but not literally. This may in fact explain a great deal.
- Heads up: Today is the last day you can register (for free) to vote for the Dragon Awards, which will be presented at DragonCon next weekend. The Hugo Awards have made their preferences clearly known; for the cast-out Puppy cohort the Dragons are every bit as good and probably better.
- The least affordable American cities, and how much you need to be making to buy a home in them. Do you need to live in Silicon Valley to have a satisfying career? No. Whatever salary you make will go direct to landlords, or to long-time homeowners who will take your million+ and retire. Get Thy Ass Unto Omaha.
- Zerohedge posted a chart showing how much Obamacare premiums are going up in 2017, by state. Carol and I have been paying $20,000 per year for premiums since the ACA killed our pre-ACA policy. (Didn’t somebody important say we could keep our plan if we liked it?) This is starting to make Medicare look good. (Thanks to Charlie Martin for the link.)
- The FTC is going after a large publisher of nominally peer-reviewed scientific journals, claiming that almost no peer review is done on the articles. Also, people named as editors by the publisher were often not affiliated with the firm in any way. Sigh. Peer review is not any sort of gold standard these days. I’m thinking it might be a zinc standard, or perhaps a tin standard.
- People scratch their heads when I say that Woodrow Wilson was the worst US President ever. He is also the most-bleached. The reasons I loathe him begin with his racism but are mostly about his hatred of the US Constitution. He came as close as any President ever did to being a dictator, and that’s precisely what he wanted to be.
- Here’s a map depicting every cargo ship in the world and where it was going at the displayed time. Yes, yes, the map is from 2012, but it’s a good illustration of how goods move around the world. I don’t see any action in the Northwest Passage, but there are ships going up and down the coast of Greenland, and a few crossing under South America through Tierra Del Fuego.
- Here are some photos of more Tarzans and Janes than I’ve ever seen in one place, gathered at LACon in 1975 for the 100th birthday of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
- Heh. I was a big Tarzan fan in grade school. And I actually met Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. In fact, I think she may have been about to ask me down to the bar for a drink. Or maybe not; and I wonder if I missed a chance to make a fascinating new friend that night.
- Friday was International Boron Appreciation Day, and in the excitement of National Dog Day, I missed it. How could you blame me? There wasn’t a mule in sight. (Thanks again to Charlie Martin for the link.)
- Today is Go Topless Day. Why don’t they have a National Ytterbium Appreciation Day? I can go topless any time, but damn, ytterbium gets no respect at all!
- Somebody over at USA Today seems to think that Colorado is just a little too high… (Thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)
- Not new news, but startling: They’re still digging up live, century-old ordnance in France and Belgium. I suspect they’ll still be digging it up a century from now.
- Here’s an overview of how to write custom components for the Lazarus Component Library (LCL). Doesn’t have anything on Ray Konopka’s book, alas.
- How much of each chemical element is there in the Earth’s crust? Among other revelations, there’s 150% as much ytterbium as uranium. In fact, there’s more ytterbium on Earth than tin.
- There is a small circuit-board add-on that snaps onto a Raspberry Pi and provides a tube audio amp. (Thanks to Rick Hellewell for the link.)
- Going further back in Unlikely Time reveals a plethora of Steampunk Raspberry Pi cases.
- In truth, my experience shows that you can search for images of “steampunk [whatever]” and find it. Oftentimes a lot of it. Try steampunk Geiger counters.
- Ya blink and ya miss it: Sandisk now has a 512GB SD card.
- Note well: There are also fakes. Amazon keeps taking them down, and they keep coming back. (Read the single comment.)
- Baron Waste sends a link to a marvelous gallery of high-res photos of mechanical calculator innards. One of the inspirations for The Cunning Blood was the insight that my Selectric typewriter contained no electronics at all, and could be run from a windmill or a water wheel.
- From the I-Am-Not-Making-This-Up Department: Wikipedia has a list of sexually active popes; it’s incomplete. Who knew?
- A guy at a Russian Renaissance Faire hurled a spear at a drone–and hit it. That is capital-B badassery in my book. Me, I would have used a Wrist Rocket–but I’m neither medieval nor Russian.
- Not all of us are fooled: If you have to signal it, it’s not virtue.
- If you’re of the increasingly rare human subspecies called “morning people,” consider watching the predawn sky for the next few weeks. Once Mercury gets a little higher above the horizon at dawn, you’ll be able to see all five naked-eye planets in a line: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter.
- Here in Arizona, I don’t even have to get up early. I’ve been spotting planets at 7 AM, when we take the dogs out. (Sleeping until 7 is sleeping in for us.) No Mercury yet, but all the others are there, and easy. And here and there I see a meteor, which is yet another advantage to the contrarian morning-person position.
- Astronomers are looking at planetary perturbations again, and doing some math suggesting that a gas giant bigger than Neptune out beyond Pluto. My question: Wouldn’t anything that big have been spotted by now? It should be possible to calculate the range of visual magnitudes for a gas giant of typical composition at various distances from the Sun. Even if it’s as faint as Pluto, the Hubble could snag it with one secondary mirror tied behind its back.
- One downside to claiming that every summer hot spell means global warming is that the public then unrolls the syllogism and comes to believe that every winter cold spell means global cooling. Climate means trends that extend cross 30-50 years. Everything else is weather.
- A new model of the Sun’s internal mechanisms suggests that solar activity may fall as much as 60% by 2030. That number is misleading for a number of technnical reasons, but if the Sun is indeed the primary driver of climate, I’m glad I’m in Phoenix–and I’m staying here this time.
- If you haven’t reviewed it lately, it’s time to go and read ESR’s very cogent description of “kafkatrapping,” which is a common logical fallacy that cooks down to, “If you’re not willing to admit that you’re guilty of <whatever>ism, that proves that you’re guilty of <whatever>ism.” I see it all the time. I and many other people in my orbit consider kafkatrappers to be utter morons. We may not say it out loud, but we do. Don’t go there.
- Newspaper subscriber numbers are in freefall. I like newspapers, and once we’re really quite sincerely residents of Arizona, we’ll likely pick up the WSJ again. In the meantime, I think I’m doing what most other people have been doing for some time: picking up news on the Web.
- The appendix could be the body’s Federal Reserve Bank for gut bacteria. I’ve often wondered if overuse of antibiotics has contributed to the explosion of obesity cases since the 1970s, by narrowing the range of beneficial microbes in the lower tract. There are solutions, and although they may seem ukky, they do seem to work.
- Watch what happens when you pour molten aluminum onto dry ice, and (a little later) liquid nitrogen.
- And even though I vividly described what happens when you drop fifty pounds of of cesium into water in Drumlin Circus, if you don’t have a thingmaker to cough up a fifty-pound ball of cesium for you, here’s what happens when you drop 25 grams of cesium into water. Do the math.
- Finally, while we’re talking exotic metals, here are some cool videos of gallium doing freaky things.
- The very first magnetic hard drive had 50 platters, stored 5 megabytes, and weighed over a ton. IBM was so proud of the RAMAC system that included the hard drive that it would take a demo unit on tour, to show it to a skeptical business community. Must have been hard on the truck’s suspension.
- Compare that original hard drive to Intel’s Edison, which is an X86 Quark processor and associated logic in an SD card chassis. The comments to the story are cautionary: There’s not much hard information on Edison right now, and it’s not clear whether it adheres to the full SD card spec or the mechanical spec only. Rumor holds that it runs Linux, though what the connectivity is I’m not sure.
- Edison is targeted at the idiotically named “Internet-of-things,” which, given Bruce Schneier’s cautions, I’m not entirely sure I want to clutch uncritically to my oddly shaped ribcage.
- If Edison’s a little too small, consider Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) machine, which crams a non-gamer desktop into a box 4 1/2″ X 4 1/2″ X 1 1/2″. $700. As best I can tell, that would do pretty much whatever I do now on my quadcore, minus hard disk mobility.
- I don’t remember when I last saw a sunspot this big. I think 2003. Must … scan … 10… meters…
- If you’re under the illusion that TV news outlets actually write the news stories that they broadcast, well, watch Conan O’Brian’s video mashup of 23 newcasters saying precisely the same thing. And it’s a really dumb thing, too. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- Calling all pop music fans Of A Certain Age. (Like me.) This may interest you: Forgotten Hits has a collection of top 40 music surveys for various (mostly Midwestern) radio stations from 1956-1980.
- Talk about planned obsolecence. This truck is guaranteed not to rust…but it will melt within six months, tops.
- We could sure use a few of these right now.
- When I was a (much) younger man, I wanted a ’59 Chevy. Having seen this, I guess it’s just as well that I didn’t get one. (Thanks to Todd Johnson for the link.)
- Micropayments may not allow small creators (like me) to make money. They may not allow big huge monstrous media outlets make money either. They may not allow anybody to make much money at all. Bummer. I did have hopes…
- Oh, and the Long Tail may not be as long as we thought. Double bummer.
- Has anyone reading this ever played with the Alice language/GUI system for teaching programming? (Alas, no Linux version. Triple bummer. ) Any opinions? I have nieces who are growing up so fast…
- From Pete Albrecht comes word that Chicago’s Kiddieland is closing. My father took me there in 1955 while my mom was working. We had pizza and I went on all kinds of rides. That night I puked my guts out, and my mom thought I was coming down with polio. (They don’t call it the Scrambler for nothing.)
- Here’s another thing I thought I might have imagined: World Of Giants , a b/w TV show from 1959 that went into syndication and used to run just before the 4:00 PM monster movie on Channel 7 in Chicago, circa 1965. At least two people must have watched this, and the other one must have been Irwin Allen. (And the guy who created the show must have read Richard Matheson.)
- Although the sun’s face has been devoid of sunspots for 18 days running (and 212 days this year) there is a major sunspot on the other side of the Sun, which may rotate into view sometime tonight. I boggle a little to think that we can image a sunspot on the far side of the Sun. How this is done is interesting, and has little or nothing to do with light. Flying cars or no, we are living in the future!
- From the Not Too Clear on the Concept Dept: I just nuked a spam message pitching “herbal testosterone.” Right.
- SRWare Iron was doing a peculiar thing: When I used it to view my junkbox.com main page, the title image was broken. This was not the case using IE, FF, or Opera. Nor was it true of the several other images on that same page, but only that big main one. An intuition led me to look up the name of the image file: junkboxmainbanner.png. I renamed the file “junkboxmain.png” (that is, removing the substring “banner” from the filename) and the image began rendering normally. I guess there’s a downside to adblockers as twitchy as this one.
- From Bruce Baker comes a nice chronological screenshot survey of computer GUIs since the primordial Xerox Alto in 1973, up through Windows Vista and KDE 4. No judgements are passed on the products, and not much history is offered, but it’s unusual to see them all lined up in one place, and one definitely gets a sense for the way it all evolved, and especially for the immeasurable debt that Apple owes Xerox.
- On a tip from Pete Albrecht, I’ve learned that the Progressive Insurance girl Flo and one of the Geico cavemen shared a scene in the short-lived 2007 TV sitcom Cavemen . Here’s a YouTube clip of the scene. This was sheer coincidence; the Progressive ad campaign did not happen for at least a year after that and Stephanie Courtney just happened to get the part. I tried to like the series and failed, but I’ll admit that it had some surreal moments, a few of which we evidently didn’t appreciate at the time. Now, cavemen ate geckos. (Cavemen ate anything they could catch.) Dare we hope…
- Here’s an old article from Popular Mechanics on building your own Geiger counter. Michael Covington reminds me that there was a circuit in Alfred Morgan’s book The Boys’ Second Book of Radio and Electronics, though it had a peculiar power supply and didn’t work when I tried to build it in 1966. (I may still have the G-M tube somewhere, but I can’t find it and in truth haven’t seen it in decades.)
- Yet another one, this time from Popular Science, March 1950.
- Todd Johnson suggests using scrounged or surplus fluorescent lamp supplies from computer scanners for homebrew Geiger counters. I’ve got two defunct scanners on the woodpile downstairs, but if you don’t, Todd also sent along a pointer to a surplus source, for only $5.
- Today is Ubuntu 9.04 day. It’s like the Day after Thanksgiving at Marshall Fields up there, so don’t expect much in the line of download performance. I’m going to wait for the dust to settle a little (and maybe for my assembly book to be done) but it will happen here sooner or later. If you want it, look for torrents. And come with a backpack of patience.
- Do you have Linux running on an Intel DQ35 motherboard. If so, be careful.
- Finally, this clever food hack reminds me vaguely of something. I don’t know what. That’s probably just as well.