- My collection Cold Hands and Other Stories is now available to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
- Well, judging by its website it may seem a little wobbly, but Heathkit has a new owner, and is actually selling radio kits. Let us wish them the best and watch what happens. (Thanks to Tom Byers, Michael Covington, and several others for alerting me.)
- Smart bullets appear early in The Cunning Blood, which I wrote in 1998. (You can read that part of the story in the Amazon “Look inside” ebook preview.) Seventeen years later, we’re starting to pursue that line of research, with the Army’s XM25, which us about ready to test. By 2374, those little devils are going to be pretty damned dangerous.
- Lazarus 1.4.4 has been released. Mostly bug fixes, but it’s free and well worth having if you program for Delphi or Pascal generally. Plus, it can be installed and works very well on the Raspberry Pi 2.
- Here’s David Archibald’s solar update for October, 2015. I find the trend lines in the graph of F10.7 flux fascinating: They’ve been in a pretty linear decline since the beginning of the year. Anything under 100 signals a cooling trend. We’re now at 84, and the reading may “bottom out” at the lowest possible reading of 64 by January of 2016.
- As if a quieting Sun weren’t enough, there’s a newly discovered mechanism pushing the planet in the direction of global cooling, via volatile organic compounds, particularly isoprene.
- Roy Harvey pointed me to MakerArm, a sort of general-purpose 3-D positioner that can be used to mill PCBs, print 3-D artifacts, and draw things on cakes with frosting. This is definitely second-gen, or maybe third (I lose track) and something in me seriously wants one.
- Esther Schindler sent a link to word that high-fructose corn syrup apparently slows recovery from brain injury. It also overloads your liver, especially downed 44 convenience-store ounces at a time.
- I’m considering renting a short cargo container as a temporary storage shed in our new (large) back yard. We did this at our second house in Scottsdale in the 90s, and it worked very well. Researching containers led me to this writeup of the world’s largest container ship, MSC Oscar, which can hold 19,224 containers. Me, I’d call it Darth Freighter.
- This is very cool: Brilliant color photographs of an era (1940-1942) we remember almost entirely in black and white. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- More Oldiana, for early vintage Boomers and before: An Old-Time Chicago Quiz. This one is not easy: I got less than half of them right, granting that most of the ones I missed were sports-related. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- We’re getting closer to being able to prevent Lyme disease, though injection of lab-engineered antibodies.
- Megan McArdle thinks it makes sense. I think it’s their last swing around the drain marked “DOOMED MAGAZINES.” Whoever turns out to be right, Playboy is eliminating nudity. Wow. Isn’t that kind of like caffeine-free diet Jolt?
- 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.
- I’m a day late and a shamrock short, but I want to endorse an obscure but wonderful animated film with connections to St. Patrick’s Day: The Secret of Kells . It’s a fantasy about the creation of the Book of Kells, drawn in the style of Medieval illuminated manuscripts.
- Granted that I’d prefer to achieve immortality by not dying, the notion of writing your memoirs for the sake of documentation rather than publication is catching on. I have 67,000 words so far. It’s good practice in writing, and may prove useful against the future possibility that I myself can’t remember what I did in high school.
- Earth is passing through a significant CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) and the aurora have been excursing as far south as Colorado. I had bad weather last night but I’ll check again tonight.
- Chicago’s quirky habit of dying the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day has its roots in detecting illegal sewage dumps into the river. Having grown up at a time when falling into the Chicago River was sometimes fatal, I boggled during a recent visit, when I looked down into the river and saw bottom.
- Our new pope has only one lung. This is less important than it would seem to the uninformed.
- Irrespective of the number of his lungs, is Pope Francis I more liberal than his predecessors? The question is tricky because “liberal” often means completely opposite things to North Americans as it does to Latin Americans.
- A 12-year-old girl is selling kits of Lego bricks that can be assembled into a case for Raspberry Pi computer boards. If ever the phrase “You go, girl!” applies, it would be here. I’d actually like to see a custom case with properly sized gaps and mounting holes for the Pi inside and Lego bumps on the outside, and I suspect at some point the product will appear.
- It’s possible to have too much gold…if you’re a Cray.
- While Carol was raking up the season’s dead leaves, pine needles, and other plant debris from our front “yard” (we have no grass, only gardens) the other day, she found one of these lodged in one of our bushes. It had evidently been there for some time, but within its air-tight case was pratically mint. Still not entirely sure what it can do…nor what to do with it.
- Jim Strickland sent word that Lindsay’s Technical Books is shutting down next year, not for financial reasons but simply because Lindsay is retiring. Their last print catalog has been sent. Order the stuff you’ve been procrastinating about for years–I will be. (Recommendation: Radio for the Millions.) Tip for those who haven’t heard of him before: Lots of steampunk-pertinent do-it-yourself there.
- Amazon can wipe any Kindle it wants to, anytime, without telling you. We’ve known this since the 1989 dustup over the rights to Orwell’s 1984. It’s still a risk, and you can trigger it by trying to sneak around region restrictions. Now, Ars Technica explains how to keep what you’ve bought by removing the DRM. I object to region restrictions in digital content because it makes piracy a safer way to acquire content. Don’t train your customers to be pirates. When are we going to learn?
- I knew this, but not in detail: Kodak had a working digital camera prototype in 1975, and it used a casette tape to store photos–which took 23 seconds per photo. Here’s more on the device from the man who invented it.
- If that sort of thing intrigues you, here’s the motherlode.
- In case you’ve never actually seen it (I hadn’t) here’s where you can stream the video of Doug Engelbart’s prophetic (to put it mildly) Mother of All Demos, during which he showed how a mouse could be used to help with various computer tasks like word processing.
- I bought the original Microsoft Mouse in 1983 and still have it. It still works. It had better, as I paid $200 for it.
- The placebo effect may be genetic–which is a far less significant question than how the hell it works to begin with.
- The first mirror for this telescope has now been completed. The finished telescope will have seven of them. I struggled to grind, polish, and figure a ten-inch mirror when I was 15. This helps me put the whole thing in perspective. Wow.
- Slate seems to think that humans would win fights with Neanderthals. Having seen a number of skeletal and muscle reconstructions of those gnarly guys, I tend to doubt it. Why, then, did they go extinct if we didn’t kill them? My guess: They killed each other. Why do I think that? I read human history and anthropology.
- You can now buy a brand-new, reinforced and factory rustproofed body for a 1940 Ford Coupe…from Ford. If they made an AWD minivan I’d already have one. Here’s hoping.
- I was wrong about Diesel engines being easy to make, as I suggested in my entry for March 5, 2012. Fuel injection, as it turns out, is a bitch. You’re trying to divide oil into a multitude of very small droplets of (reasonably) consistent size. Gasoline carburetion, by comparison, is a snap. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht, an automotive engineer, for the reminder.)
- I suspect it’s easier to produce wood gas (AKA “producer gas”) at a small scale than gasoline. In a future where large-scale oil refiners are no more, a Dieselpunk society could power internal combustion engines with wood gas. This has been done a lot around the world, especially during WWII when oil supply channels were disrupted.
- This has little or nothing to do with the Holy Roman Empire, but if you’re a map freak, boy–budget a day for it. Wow.
- This looks like a good book, especially if you’re finding it hard to keep track of genre mutation within SFF. Will order and report after reading. (Thanks to Trudy Seabrook for pointing it out.)
- We found one of these in a drawer in my late grandfather’s workbench after my grandmother died in 1965 and we had to sell their house. I never knew what it was until it made the A-head story on the front page of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal , in an article about…olympic sheep shearing. My grandfather lived a quiet life in a modest house on a tiny lot on Chicago’s north side. There wasn’t a sheep for miles. (I hope he didn’t use it to cut my father’s hair.)
- I’ve noted some confusion about this: “Retina display” is not an Apple trademark, but a technical term: a display with such high resolution that the eye can’t make out individual pixels at typical reading distance. Here’s a good explanation of the whole retina display concept. The new iPad certainly qualifies, but it wasn’t the first. Asus’ Tranformer Prime was there some time ago. Retina-quality displays are made by several vendors, and will eventually appear in other high-end tablets.
- The Lytro camera has been mentioned in a lot of places, but here’s the first in-depth description I’ve seen. A camera that allows you to fiddle with the focus after the shot is taken is FM, if you know what I mean. I ditch about a third of my digital photos (mostly taken in bad light) for focus problems. It’s an awkward form factor, but if it’s the first of it’s kind, I’ll assume the next one will fit the hand a little better.
- The mad scientist in me cried out when I saw this. I need a castle. I need a kite. I need a monster.
- After being in the water for as many as four years, a broken camera turns up on a California beach with the SD card still in it…and still functional, complete with a hundred-odd photos taken before the camera was lost. I marvel first at the durability of these cards in a corrosive medium–and then at how little circuit board there actually is inside the SD card itself. Wow.
- There is an ice cream truck that goes down Alles Street here in Des Plaines, playing a midi riff of a familiar old song–and, periodically, a slightly creepy woman’s voice calling, “Hello!” This is evidently pretty common, but judging by some quick online research, the songs are different for almost every ice cream truck out there. (The “Hello” voice appears to be the same.) The truck came by here late yesterday, shortly before the storm rolled in, and I suddenly recognized the song: a bouncy variation on the old Southern hymn “Holy Manna,” often known as “Brethren We Have Come to Worship.”
- And pertinent to the above: I only recognized the melody because Lorie Line played it in a medley with “The Lord of the Dance” on her Heritage Collection Volume 1 CD. She plays it fast, much faster than I’ve ever heard the majestic old hymn itself played in church. (The song is not credited by name on the CD, but it’s there–and the CD is very much worth having.)
- Damned if these don’t look like drumlins. On Mars. (The other kind of drumlins–and yes, I am very familiar with them. More on the naming of alien artifacts in an upcoming entry.)
- I’ll come back to this issue once I’m home and decompressed a little, but Glenn Reynolds posted a case history of a man who had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (also called NASH in some circles, for Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis) eventually ascribed to eating/drinking fructose. Depending on your genetics and how much you consume, fructose can send you all the way to cirrhosis and death. This article (linked to by Reynolds) is a must-read. This one is worthwhile as well. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for alerting me to the post.)
- And while we’re slogging through the Carb Wars, well, fake fat makes you fat. (More and more research indicates that real fat does not.) And let’s not forget that little issue of “anal leakage,” gurrkh. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- Xoom, meet SD slot. SD slot, meet Xoom. You guys have been traveling together for over a year. It’s time to shake hands. In Europe . The problem in the US has to do with the “Google Experience.” Somebody at Google is holding back card slot support, and thus (I’m guessing) a great many sales, including one to me. I smell rentseeking somewhere.
- On the other hand, if all you want is an Android ebook reader, this might be worth a look. $99? Who cares if it’s only Froyo? (Forgive me if I’m skeptical that it’ll ever see retailer shelves at that price.)
- The creator of this device calls it “technofetishism,” and it is. That doesn’t keep it from being amazing, and killer cool. (Thanks to Bill WB4WTN for the link.)
- Finally: How To Make a Mask With Photoshop. I always wondered if that would work.
- I got an email recently from ABEBooks inviting me to their Weird Book Room. They were telling the truth, and I was not disappointed. I was a little surprised that I only own two of the titles on the list (guess which ones!) but I’ve already ordered another: How to Be Pope by Piers Marchant. I mean, c’mon, how could I not?
- I complain a lot about pocket camera latency, but check this one out: A seminal 1990 digital camera from Leica took three minutes to grab a shot. Those handles are cool, sure, but I’ll guess that a tripod works better.
- Think of Constantine at the Milvian Bridge for a moment: “In This Sign, Conquer.”
- Various party poopers emailed me this story about an Antarctic cruise ship that lost an engine and got pounded by 45-foot waves somewhere in the Drake Passage. Yes, I feel better already, thanks.
- Don’t forget the Geminids meteor shower late Monday night/Tuesday morning early. It’s probably cold where you are, but the show might be worth it.
- There will also be a total lunar eclipse the night of December 20/21.
- I used to pick up The Fortean Times at the Village Green Bookstore in Rochester, NY in the early 80s, and it was fine bathroom reading. I’m delighted to report that their Web site is still good, albeit less convenient in the bathroom. I wasn’t aware that no viable peas were found in King Tut’s tomb, but that sort of ignorance is easily corrected. Ditto the feral parrots of London, which have been there long before Jimi Hendrix made the scene and felt that it needed some color. Hey, paint’s cheaper, and it doesn’t poop on you when you’re sitting under a tree.
- I guess the primary virtue of The 100 Best Movie Spaceships is that 100 spaceships is a lot of spaceships, so just about everybody gets in. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
- David Stafford provides a link to a functional re-creation of the Antikythera Device…in Lego! (I’m guessing that it’s also been done in Meccano, but I’ve not gone looking.)
- Here’s a remarkably long and detailed (for attention-challenged io9, at least) essay on the biological effects of sudden exposure to vacuum, a la Dave Bowman in 2001. As a bonus, author Geoff Landis explains (with equations) how quickly your spacecraft will lose atmosphere if punctured. I’d read this site more frequently if there were more of that and less of this.
- My old friend Neil Rest is right: These are about as cool as artistic representations of cities get. And they’re all made of techie castoffs, including cardboard. Wow! (And in the comments is a link to a chess set made of various coax connectors. Way wow!)
- I wouldn’t have thought of this: Coat a few bazillion tobacco mosaic viruses with conductive material, and you can use them make batteries with ten times the capacity of lithium-ion tech. Well, with the ongoing decline in smoking, what else are all those poor unemployed tobacco viruses gonna do? (Thanks to Roy Harvey for the link.)
- From David Stafford comes a pointer to instructions on how to determine either the speed of light or the operating frequency of your microwave oven by tormenting marshmallows.
- With that, I think I’m caught up on the Odd Lots file. More as they come in.
Broadband on the high seas isn’t very broad. It also costs a fortune, so I made a conscious decision not to blog in real time about our recent seven-day, much-delayed 34th wedding anniversary cruise. I bought some “Internet minutes” (at 70c each, egad) to flush my spam every couple of days so my primary mailbox wouldn’t fill up, and posted a previously written Contra entry partway so it wouldn’t look like I’d sailed off the edge of the Earth.
In truth, we stayed well away from the edge of the Earth (besides, they’d just painted the guardrails) and instead sailed from Tampa back to Tampa by way of Key West, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. The point of the cruise wasn’t to go to any of those places in particular so much as to just get the hell out of here, since winter began early again and between my shingles and Carol’s pancreas it had been a lousy couple of months for us. Cruise vacations have been cheap lately because of the recession, and Carol got us smoking deal on a larger cabin with its own balcony overlooking the bounding main. The bed was comfortable, the bathroom could be turned around in, and there was a lot less claustrophobia to be had than on our earlier cruise adventures. On the whole, we heartily recommend Holland America cruises, especially if you’re over 50. The service is spectacular, the ships squeaky clean and not enormous (1200 people, not 5,000 like some of the newer boats other carriers are fielding) and the food abundantly good, if at times a little too abundant.
The main was bounding quite a bit this cruise, to the extent that both of our snorkel trips (in Grand Cayman and Cozumel) were canceled and refunded by the tour providers. We hit Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman instead and slopped around amidst the eight-foot waves near the Royal Palms Beach Club. Disappointed as I was by losing our snorkel trip, I got tossed around enough on the beach by the breakers (including being dragged along the bottom and almost relieved of my trunks) to figure it would have been a short and unsettled outing anyway. (It definitely cleaned out my problematic sinuses, though.) Grand Cayman has no cruise dock so people “tender in” on lifeboats, and the water was so choppy people were falling down while trying to board and disembark. During the school year the median age for cruises like this is probably 70, so falling was a serious issue, and certainly made the disembark/re-embark lines longer.
Once you get a block away from shore, Key West is mostly bars, and from the sheer quantity of Mardi Gras beads hanging from the overhead power lines, I’d guess the street parties there are something to see. Key West has feral chickens the way some places have squirrels, and you can buy killer-rich key lime pie slices from street vendors. We visited the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, where I snapped a great many photos of foliage where butterflies had been sitting only moments before. I’ll gladly trade several megapixels for less latency, but pocket camera manufacturers don’t seem to be interested.
We met a lot of interesting people from several different countries, including a retired Welsh sea captain and a couple who were celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. I sure hope I look as good–and more to the point, function as well–as those two when I’m 88! At the first meal in the formal dining room at the ship’s stern, I found myself seated next to another writer, Dottie Billington, Ph.D., who wrote her first book at age 50 and exhorted me not to give up before I become a best-selling SFF author.
Carol and I have been on several cruises before and eat carefully, wistfully avoiding the dessert bars and keeping carbs to a minimum generally. As best I can tell, I brought less than four pounds home that I didn’t leave with, and intend to lose them before Christmas gets into full roar.
- In my last very mobile couple of years, I’ve had some of my best ideas while driving across the featureless plains of Nebraska, including a way to solve a plot/tech issue that had prevented me from further progress on The Molten Flesh: How Protea sampled the powerful and very paranoid Sangruse Device. In looking back, this has been a pattern: In times of enforced boredom, ideas happen. Here’s some insight on that issue, which matters a lot to me, who loves ideas but loathes boredom.
- Here’s a very good tutorial on how to take photos of electronics projects, and by implication any small object shot for detail on a neutral background.
- The causes of “the French Paradox” (the French eat loads of fat and yet have little heart disease) have long been argued about, but it may simply be due to the fact that the French government makes sure that its pregnant women are well-fed, and has been doing so since the 1870s. (See next link.) Low fetal weight (often caused by poor maternal nutrition) correlates strongly to heart disease, diabetes, and much else later in life. Modern declines in heart disease may have nothing to do with red wine, dietary fat, or even smoking. Pregnant women may just be eating better.
- Sometimes a simple animation can explain a difficult mechanical mechanism. Hey, how many of you dudely dudes really understand how a sewing machine works?
- Grab a look at this bogglingly clear close-up of a sunspot, taken with an Earth-based telescope. The key is the deformable mirror and its overall mechanism of adaptive optics, which continuously corrects for atmospheric turbulence and other disturbing factors.
- Google’s spider evidently crawled Contra thirty seconds after I posted yesterday’s entry. Not complaining, but…how often does that damned thing come by?
- Here’s everything you’ll probably ever need to know about four-leaf clovers. It confirmed what I knew from experience probing our lawn in Chicago as a kid: five-leaf clovers also exist (I found more than one) even if they’re not as legendary.
- Double resistor color codes! So intense! What does it mean? (It means 230K.)
It’s fawn season again, and yesterday we saw a mother deer leading a fawn that was no bigger than Jackie, if perhaps a little taller. Figure that: A deer the size of a bichon. The poor thing can’t be more than a day or two old, and it’s wobbling unsteadily around the First Curve on Stanwell St., where teenagers roar by in their parents’ elephantine Escalades and probably wouldn’t even notice if they had small animals wedged in their grilles. (We’re mostly thankful that they don’t miss the curve and plow through my office window.) Last night about 8 or so, mom had gone off somewhere, and junior was simply lying on our neighbor’s mulch, about six feet from the pavement. It wasn’t as obvious as it could be, but there are much better hiding places in the area. I guess we can think of it as evolution in action.
Our nephew Brian was out for a few days last week, and we all went down to the Garden of the Gods for a vigorous walk around the rock formations. I took a photo of Brian and Carol and something very weird happened: A dazzle from one of Carol’s rings just happened to hit the camera the moment the shutter snapped. Green Lantern must have that problem a lot, but this is the first time I’ve seen it from Carol.
My low-key inverted-vee antenna should be up and running off the back deck by Field Day, and will be 32 feet on each leg. That will get me the 20 meter band and up, and given that I’m feeding it with a short run (~10′) of open wire line through an MFJ Versa Tuner 2, I may get 40 as well. I’ll certainly try.
I’m still testing EPub readers. This morning, at Jim Strickland’s noodging, I installed the Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader. Not a bad item, but as with all the readers I’ve tested so far, doesn’t quite get it right. The presentation on my test files has been pretty good so far, but this time the software does use the title tag, and thus puts up only half of the Beyschlag ebook’s title. Also, it puts my test books up in two-column format, and I still haven’t figured out how to control the column settings. Neither of my two test books with cover images show their covers as thumbnails in the library pane. To its credit, the reader renders PDF documents pretty well, though of course there’s no metadata and thus no display of title or author.
Most annoying is the User Guide button, which brings up a longwinded sales pitch but no user guide. I assume you have to sign up for a B&N account to get the user guide, and I will at some point, but probably not today. I do understand that the product is designed to work tightly with B&N’s online bookstore and won’t slam them too hard for that integration, but basic “here’s how to do it” information should be there long before the sales pitches begin.
Nobody’s perfect, but the winner so far is FBReader, even though it inexplicably displays my copyright notices in ancient Greek. We’ll get there. Just not as soon as I’d like.