- I always hate to hand you two Odd Lots in a row, but I’ve been so burned out by the end of the day working on this book that there’s nothing left to craft a coherent essay with. I was going to write something insightful about Prohibition (which was repealed 80 years ago today) but about all I can muster is this: Prohibition was altogether evil and accomplished nothing. It was a cry of rage against Irish and southern European Catholic immigrants, and in one blow created organized crime and birthed a disrespect for the rule of law that afflicts us to this day. Of all the things our government has condoned, only slavery was more evil.
- ARM Holdings offers a free ARM and Thumb-2 instruction set reference in PDF format. I remember when these things folded up to fit in your shirt pocket. Not anymore.
- Somebody figured out how to hack Parrot quadricopters wirelessly, and it was done with a Raspberry Pi.
- Bill Meyer sent me a link to a nice comparison of various small under-$100 boards in the Arduino / Raspberry Pi class. The only serious omission I see are the Beagle boards, including the fascinating BeagleBone Black.
- But never fear: Make did a BBB vs RPi comparison back in August. Best I’ve seen so far. Gizmag’s is older but still worth a quick scan.
- You can evidently find out if your login or logins were stolen in the recent hack of Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Adobe, and other sites. Here’s a multi-site lookup.
- Is there any article online about the “divided sleep” concept (our ancestors retired at nightfall, slept for three or four hours, awakened for an hour or two, and then slept again for three hours or so) that does not walk back to Roger Ekirch? I’ve read Ekirch’s book very carefully, and his evidence for this phenomenon is pretty damned slim. Yet…it shows up all over the place.
- Statins may not cause memory loss or confusion. However, their primary mission of reducing cholesterol levels may not do much to prevent heart disease in people who don’t already have it.
- Eau Crappe. Newsweek returns from the death that is the Cloud, and will resume a weekly print edition. Will the magazine be awright, Uncle Lar? Well guldurn, Little Tommy, I sure hope not! (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- There are currently 35 volcanoes erupting around the world. Here’s a great site summarizing where they are and what they’re doing. I’m still curious about what the active volcano trends have been over the past thousand years or so (within the limits of our ability to determine what was blowing up on Kamchatka in the 1300s) and if you’ve seen any trend reports like that, do drop a note.
- That poor llama is finally getting a rest. After fifteen years, AOL is shutting down the Winamp page and ceasing support of the product on December 20. Winamp was the first MP3 player I ever tried, way back in 1998. One of my colleagues had to send me an MP3 to test it with: Rosanne Cash’s “Seven-Year Ache.” The song didn’t impress me, but the concept made me think: This is gonna change a few things in the music business.
- Blasting away on a book project that I’ll tell you about when the publisher announces it. One thing fersure, it’s certainly reminding me what I’d forgotten.
- Your brain takes out the toxic trash while you sleep. Short your brain on sleep, and the trash piles up. Let it pile up enough (particularly beta amyloids) and you could put yourself on the fast track for Alzheimer’s. (Thanks to Jonathan O’Neal for the link.)
- I described a coffee-station sized version of this, controlled by a hipster AI, in Ten Gentle Opportunities.
- Oh…and a blood-powered computer. Reminds me of another book I wrote once. Ok. It’s not blood. It’s “blood.” But still… (Thanks to Jim Strickland for the link.)
- Apple’s iCloud system has been cracked. It’s true that anything can be cracked. But I’m still convinced that it’s harder to crack stuff located down here than it is for stuff up there.
- Intel now has a competitor to the Raspberry Pi, the Galileo. It’s compatible with most Arduino shields and the Arduino software development environment. The board is based on the Quark microarchitecture, which is somewhere south of Atom and aimed squarely at the mobile device market. The board will be generally available to hobbyists by the end of November, for about $60. More on Ars. (Thanks to Bill Meyer for poking me about this; I knew but have been too busy to mention it here.)
- Very nice site on Earth’s cryosphere, which shows sea ice extent and much else. Antarctic ice is in good shape and growing. Arctic ice is a tougher call. It’s down from the 70s but looks to be coming back.
- There is a hoarder house so full of vinyl records that the collector ended up sleeping in his car. Hey, is there an undiscovered hoarder house full of variable capacitors somewhere?
- There are a number of reasons I don’t read Time Magazine. This may be most of them.
- Maybe it’s a triple-humped solar max. Or maybe Old Sol is just having some fun with us.
- Here’s why the Russians didn’t beat us to the Moon.
- If you f&$!*!ing love science, you should f&$!*!ing hate how we do it in this country.
The six-disc changer in my 4Runner’s console stereo dropped dead late last summer, after serving me well for eleven years. Considering the mechanical nightmare the damned thing was internally, I’m a little surprised it lasted as long as it did. So for about ten months now, I’ve been reduced to listening to the radio, in a town where radio is not a priority. (Irony, however, is a Colorado Springs delicacy: With just about every other town and county but Denver voting to ban legal marijuana, the home of Focus on the Family looks like it will soon be the highest city in the state.)
I haven’t listened to pop radio in the car for maybe 25 years, since I started recording mix tapes off vinyl. I expected to develop (however unintentionally) an appetite for recent pop music. Hey, it worked with Madonna in 1986. Not this time. I found one band worth investigating further (Owl City) and bought four, count em, four MP3s. A couple of Owl City tracks, Kelly Clarkson’s “Catch My Breath,” and Two Door Cinema Club’s moody song “Sun,” which I bought because it contains the word “drumlins.” Just that, based on ten months of mostly cringing and reaching for the volume knob.
Now I can’t even do that.
After punting for far too long, I went down to Car Toys earlier today and had them install one of these. It had a Bluetooth phone feature I wanted, since I don’t like manhandling a phone in the car. It plays MP3s from a thumb drive, and every MP3 I have that’s worth hearing will fit on a thumb drive. (Not a big one, either.) It looks for all the world like a smartphone held sideways, complete with the little four-square menu button. All it lacks is a volume control knob. It has a mute button, which will come in handy, just like it does when The Weather Channel plays that excruciating commercial about the poor woman who’s been falling on her kitchen floor and failing to get up since before they tore down the Berlin Wall. It has firmware to update, God help us, and…cripes, I wasn’t ready for this…a remote.
At the risk of sounding like an MP3 on autorepeat, well, all it lacks is a volume control knob.
I’ll get used to it. (I got used to Madonna in 1986, after all.) Mostly what I want out of it is hands-free phone calls and MP3 playback. I know why it doesn’t have a knob: Knobs take room on the panel that you could otherwise fill with icons. And a knob would add another 85.67 cents to the UMC. Besides, knobs are just so 1952.
Just like me.
- It’s not cinder blocks, but something altogether more boggling: a pair of quadricopters tossing a pole to one another, catching it, and balancing it like I used to do with rakes, only way better. (Thanks to Bill Higgins for the link. )
- Salon can’t seem to decide if self-publishing makes sense, or if it doesn’t.
- 10 thoroughly obscure terms, of which I knew 7–which makes me a bit of a language geek. I knew everything but “pataphor,” “isograms,” and “capitonym.” I suspect those are relatively recent coinages, compared to “zeugma.” (Thanks to Bill Cherepy for the link.”
- NPR: Kids who drink whole milk are thinner than kids who drink skim milk. Fat makes you thin. Carbs make you fat. The evidence just keeps on a-pilin’.
- It gets worse: Life extension by calorie restriction doesn’t work. Starving yourself doesn’t make you thin, doesn’t make you live longer, and beyond the continuous suffering it entails, may make you so unpleasant to be around that people will run when they see you coming.
- Related: From the Terms I Didn’t Know Until Yesterday Department: The second meal effect : The glycemic index of the food eaten at any given meal will affect blood glucose levels at subsequent meals as well. Eating low-GI all the time may be necessary to keep your blood sugar in line.
- And while I’m being a party pooper: Why restaurants make you fat. Carol and I make a point of not eating out more than once a week. In a lot of months, we have a sit-down restaurant meal maybe twice.
- People think that food labeled “organic” tastes better. It’s supposed to, therefore it must, I guess. (I drink organic dairy products to avoid hormones; beyond that, it’s case by case.)
- As if we didn’t have enough to worry about these days, H7N9 may get airborne.
- Web publishing favors cats. Print publishing favors dogs.
- The latest Nuts & Volts (April 2013) has a cover story on a modern reconception of the classic AM low-power broadcaster, using a 12K5 space charge tube. The twist is that the broadcaster is fed by an Arduino board called VoiceShield, which can generate all sorts of audio signals.
- From Kent Kotal: Behold the 20 richest musicians of all time. Note that the richest one is not a rock star.
- Also from Kent: Chicago radio legend Clark Weber will be doing on-the-air commentaries on WIND-AM. Clark is also a ham radio op (W9FFB) and I contacted him a few times back in the late 70s while I still lived in Chicago.
- For a trifling $44M, you can live in the fortress of Roman Emperor Tiberius. My only concern: If it’s haunted, it’s gonna be way haunted. (See Tacitus, Annals V1.) Thanks to Steve Sayre for the link.
- 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.
- Juggling, thing-throwing robots are a major theme of my newly completed novel, Ten Gentle Opportunities. It’s a good bet they’ll be deployed in Disney theme parks eventually. I’m not sure why, but I find this very depressing.
- I read this when it first appeared ten years ago and I still think it’s true: DRM does not and cannot do what it’s supposed to do. This from Microsoft, heh. I sure wish they’d quit trying.
- Here’s a good quick survey of Linux window managers, starting out by explaining the difference between a window manager and a desktop environment. (We don’t have this problem in the Windows world.)
- Smilodons and bear dogs somehow managed to coexist. What I don’t understand is how I lived sixty years without ever hearing the term “bear dog.”
- I dunno. This reminds me a little of Cold Fusion: We all want it desperately, but it just seems so damned unlikely. (Thanks nonetheless to Frank Glover for the link.)
- Facebook enforces a sort of least-common-denominator social behavior on people, and is thus stressful. In other words, everybody’s got a hot button, and if you have enough friends people will get pissed at you no matter what you say. The people who don’t care are probably the only ones who should be on Facebook.
- Not space-efficient, but very cool in its way: the Moebius clothes hanger. (Big question: If you buy two will they breed in the closet?)
- This is the heaviest thing that Amazon will ship for free. It weighs a ton. (Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.)
- If you still have a Commodore 64 (or something like it) try this one-line BASIC program. Amazing.
- Yes, except that if I drink as much as I want, I wouldn’t sleep. (I barely sleep without drinking it at all.)
- Everything you didn’t really want to know about Gangnam Style and didn’t feel like asking. The funniest thing about the video is that it doesn’t go anywhere near the ritzy Gangnam area that it’s named for, though I would expect only Koreans to get that part.
- Oh–and the name of the dance that PSY and his gang are doing is (as best I can tell) “the invisible horse dance.” It’s a natural at weddings. Watch out, chicken dance–your days are numbered.
- From the Some-Things-Just-Sound-Right Department: “Glitzenstein” is German for “rhinestone.” It suggests an ironic horror novel in which a mad plastic surgeon stitches together an unreasonable facimile of Liberace from pieces of washed-up Vegas lounge singers.
- From the Words-I-Never-Heard-Before-But-Won-A-Word-Of-The-Year-Contest Department: “Omnishambles,” which basically means, “big mess.”
- Jonathan O’Neal found a much better link to the “impersonating marijuana” cartoon from Kliban that I cited in my November 13th entry.
- Bill Cherepy sent word of a $29.95 steampunk thumb drive that appeaars to be mass-produced and not a hand-made work of art.
- And while sniffing around the same site, I came upon a steampunk telescope ring. Oh–and a slightly less compact steampunk wrist monocular.
- Good paper on historical solar activity by Dr. Leif Svalgaard. If you want to work all continents on a Sixer, you might have to wait awhile. (I’m hoping to get some traction on my G28 this max–if we actually have a max.)
- We forget sometimes how diverse old telephones were–because we (mostly) had to get them from the phone company. The others we mostly saw in spy movies.
- There is bubble-gum flavored vodka. Fair enough. Now, is there a wintergreen-flavored cordial of some kind? Or lavender?
- Carol’s sister chills room-temperature box sangria by throwing a few spoonfuls of frozen blueberries into it. Granted, you have to let the glass sit for a few minutes, but it’s way easier than slicing oranges.
- Some may argue that allowing radioisotopes to perform music isn’t exactly music, or if it is, we can definitely call it very heavy metal.
- Just what I want in my Thanksgiving wine.
Where have I been? Healing. No, I didn’t break anything. (I did floss one of my crowns right out of my mouth last Saturday night. Note to self: Popcorn hulls don’t hide very hard. Back off on the shear force a little.) What I did is watch a number of people I’ve known for some time, including a few that I nontrivially care about, soil themselves hurling hatred at entire groups of people they’ve never met and pretty clearly know nothing about. It almost made me quit Facebook for awhile, though it’s a little unclear how one actually goes about quitting Facebook. (The account of a woman I knew in college is still there even though she died two years ago.)
Reading that stuff hurts. Am I nuts? Maybe. I value friendship, for one thing, and for another, tribal hatred is the first step toward genocide. Giggle if you want. Years of research into tribalism, psychology, history, and our killer ape origins suggests that it’s true. I would write more about it except that knowingly hurling yourself into depression is pretty much as dumb as it gets.
Furthermore, it stopped Ten Gentle Opportunities dead in its tracks, at least for the time being. Am I annoyed? You have no idea.
So I’ve been spending a lot of time in my big chair, reading things that have nothing to do with elections as a way of putting a sort of giant band-aid on my soul. It’s been a mixed bag. Some quick notes:
- Train Wrecks by Robert C. Reed. (Superior Publishing Company, 1968.) If you need steampunk mayhem in a big way, find this on the used book sites. Virtually every way that locomotives and rolling stock can die are well-represented, including a few that you’ve probably never heard about. This might even be depressing if I didn’t like trains (and steam power) as much as I do. (It also made me damned glad I live in 2012 and travel in a Toyota.)
- Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin. (Pantheon Books, 2010.) Still working on it, but what we have here is a collection of colorful anecdotes about the Mississippi from 1800-1863, when it was dredged for reliable river commerce. Pirates, floods, storms, and the New Madrid earthquake. I paid a buck online. Worth ten times that. (Maybe not twenty.)
- Marry Him! by Lori Gottlieb. (Dutton, 2010.) Meh. Short, breezy read extending (a little) what I read in an article in The Atlantic some years back. Got it cheap in the B&N bargain bin, which suggests that it bombed. No surprise, given that the author is basically shouting “Attention princesses! We are currently experiencing a severe prince shortage. Please select an archduke or viscount while they are still available. Thank you.”
- Electric Radio Magazine. Jack Smith K8ZOA sent me twelve years of this stunning little monthly, from 2000-2012, and I’ve been savoring them in my loose moments for several weeks. The focus is vintage ham radio gear, especially AM phone, which I would be doing more of if there were people close by to do it with. I still have a working Sixer, Twoer, 99er, and a G28, plus a couple of other things on the shelf that need work.
Carol and I spent some time in Chicago. Our niece Katie turns six next week and we bought her what my sister described as “an RC helicopter in a hamster ball.” It’s an Air Hog Heli-Cage, which has a pair of thin plastic hoops around it, like an equator and a prime meridian, which keep crashes from becoming too serious. Needless to say, in the hands of a not-quite-six pilot, the bands earned their keep. It was amazing how quickly both girls learned to fly it, including Julie, who’s only four. My brother-in-law Bill is even better, and landed the gadget on one of the blades of his livingroom ceiling fan. Wow.
Now, RC helicopters are fairly easy to describe. Not everything is. One evening, my older nephew Brian and his fiance Alexis twisted my arm into watching a YouTube video called “Gangnam Style.” Words fail me. Most of the song is in Korean, except for a peculiar Greek-American interjection, “Opa Gangnam Style!” plus “Hey Sexy Lady!” here and there to prove that computer audio is working correctly. I was impressed by the young Korean chap at about 1:50 who was dancing energetically in an actinic yellow leisure suit. I didn’t know you could lase polyester. Most boggling of all was the fact that the video has been downloaded 693,000,000 times, plus or minus a significant fraction of humanity. I caught myself wondering what it would be like if seven hundred million people had read Drumlin Circus. I would probably have a new minivan–and little or no trouble selling Ten Gentle Opportunities.
Anyway. I’m better now. I’ll have nothing more to say about the election except for one very peculiar thing, which I will take up as soon as I understand it a little better myself. Hint: There may be a stoner stampede into Colorado next year.
In the meantime, I have a pop song to eject from the inside of my head. Listen at your own risk. About all I can say is that it’s better than listening to politics on Facebook.
- The only thing harder than selling a novel is finishing one.
- From Chris Gerrib comes a link to Smithsonian’s marvelous tale of The Great New England Vampire Panic.
- At least “vampire” isn’t a funny word. I can’t say “tatzelwurm” without giggling.
- From the Things-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-Yesterday Department: The “dead men” in that fine old drinking song “Down Among the Dead Men” are empty bottles, generally set on the floor under the tables.
- From ditto: Rice is an arsenic magnet. Eat with care.
- Here’s a gallery of applications and utilities written in Lazarus.
- The original 6-CD changer stereo in my 2001 Toyota 4Runner has failed, after working flawlessly since April 2001. Any suggestions as to a replacement? The car’s great. But I won’t drive very happily without music.
- As we gradually replace hundreds of millions of print books with ebooks, what will happen to our print books? Well, at least some of them may become color-coordinated accessories for people who don’t read. (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the link.)
- The price of bacon is about to skyrocket, while Americans enjoy the cheapest beer on Earth. Why do I always back the wrong horse?
- I guess compensating for a bacon shortage may be the striking tornado shortage going on right now.
- Be careful what you try to invent. You might succeed. More or less.
- I didn’t know this until the other day: The instrumental riff in ELP’s “Touch and Go” is not ultimately from Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Variations on Greensleeves.” It’s a far older folk melody called “Lovely Joan,” and the song is about a girl who, when asked by some aristocratic lout to hand over her virginity in exchange for a ring and a roll in the hay, keeps her virginity and steals his horse instead. Much better deal.
- Here’s a tool to see if your email was on one of the 400,000 accounts recently leaked from Yahoo.
- One of the big downsides of the ASUS Transformer Prime is that the micro SD card pops out of its slot very easily. I found mine on the cushion of my reading chair the other day, and have no least clue how I managed that, apart from sitting there and looking at some weather maps. I’m evidently not the only one with this problem.
- I haven’t been over to The Consumerist in some time, but when I tried to go there the other day, Google marked it as an attack site. There’s not much to go by in Google’s details page, but it looks like an ad vector. This is why I use AdBlock Plus. (I went there from Linux and nothing bad happened.) UPDATE: They fixed the problem. Lesson: Nobody’s immune. Use AdBlock Plus.
- Be sure to watch for auroras tonight, as far south as (I hope!) Colorado. Look east just before dawn and you’ll catch Jupiter, Venus, and maybe the crescent Moon.
- A ride-em Iron Trilobyte! Yee-hah!
- From the Utterly Obscure But Brilliant Music Department: Hunt down “The Last Farewell” by the New Christy Minstrels, from their ambum Ramblin’ (1964.) Bone-chilling harmony on the ancient melody “O Waly, Waly.”
- From the Found Quotes Department: “It is all but impossible to sit quietly by while someone is throwing salad plates.” –James Thurber