- Stonehenge may be the largest neolithic monument in its immediate area, but it is not alone: New research shows that dozens of smaller monuments exist around it and may be related to it.
- Here’s a beefy, detailed description of how the B-2 stealth bomber could have been something else entirely, if Lockheed’s Skunk Works had won the day.
- That piece led to this one, about the deep roots of the F-117 Nighthawk.
- Iceland’s Holuhraun eruption is throwing off a growing cloud of sulfur dioxide that has reached 1 ppm in eastern Iceland, and has been detected all the way across the Atlantic in Norway and Scotland. Please let this not be another Laki.
- Reports like that make me wonder if this won’t be a buttwhumping winter in the Northern Hemisphere. We had our first snow of the season yesterday, which is earlier than I’ve seen since we moved to Colorado Springs in 2003. Last winter was brutal.
- Most people outside the US do not refrigerate eggs. Here’s why. (Thanks to Tony Kyle for the link.)
- As I’ve said several times, Carol and I no longer refrigerate butter. A stick lasts us about five days (used to be a week before I started eating two eggs fried in butter every morning) and that’s nowhere near long enough for butter to go bad. Part of the reason is the salt. I find it intriguing that not one of ten or twelve sites I read about butter spoilage would quote a time limit of how long butter can sit “out” without refrigeration. This suggests that the answer is “so long that we would lose face for admitting it, so we won’t.”
- From the Words-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-Yesterday Department: Orthorexia, an eating disorder characterized by obsession with “righteous eating;” that is, making yourself sick over whether or not you’re “eating healthy.” (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for bringing this to my attention.)
- Cell phone location data is imprecise, to put it mildly. (I’d use stronger terms if I were in a worse mood.)
- A lousy article about apples. Plus a good one.
- I may have posted links to one or more of these DRB collections before. I don’t care. You just can’t have too many pictures of screwy little tiny cars, plus a little tank and other minuscule laughable things having wheels.
- Or screws.
Carol and I just got back from a month-long driving trek to Chicago. I generally don’t talk much about my travels until I get back home, hence my silence here for the last few weeks. As usual with Tripwanders, this entry will be a sort of long-form Odd Lots, and not a coherent essay leading toward any particular point, beyond the epiphany that there are many different colors of bugsplat.
Place: The Des Moines Sheraton. Time: 5:38 AM. I awaken from my usual dream of trying to teach evil cosmic forces how to use their silverware correctly to find a xenon strobe flashing in my face, one pulse per second. WTF? The room is utterly dark. There is no fire alarm, nor any sound at all beyond that puissant pop! of the triggered strobe. I am on my back, and the damned thing is centered in my field of view. I began counting pulses while waiting for some sort of hell to break loose, or at least try to push peas onto a fork with its fingers. 26 pulses, and then darkness again.
So much for that particular Saturday night. I lay there and fumed until Carol woke about an hour later. There were in fact three strobes in the ceiling of our room, two attached to fire alarms of some sort, and one solo. The solo strobe was the one I had been staring at. I went down to the desk a little later to complain, or at least ask for an explanation. The clerk told me that the strobe I’d seen was…the doorbell. Sure enough, there was a doorbell button to one side of our door. If you’re hearing-impaired and order room service, how else would you know your dinner had arrived?
We were in a handicapped room because that was what there was, and we’d gotten the room for $88 in a hotel where most of the rooms went for $150 and up. My only hesitation in getting handicapped rooms is that some handicapped person might come to the hotel an hour later and want it. I never quite understood why they were so cheap. Now I do. As the clerk explained that they’d had a very large and rowdy wedding that night (which we’d seen as we checked in) with drunks wandering the walls until dawn, I could see some staggering fool noticing the button and pressing it. Works as designed.
Other odd things we saw in the middle of the night included little red LED smiles on the front edges of LG TVs in hotels. I never noticed them until our first night out, when I reached for the switch on the nightstand light at a Holiday Inn Express, and saw something grinning at me in the darkness. I discovered that I’m a little apprehensive about glow-in-the-dark smiles (I’m sure there’s a technical term for the psychological condition somewhere) and parked my briefcase in front of it.
Part of the challenge of summer road trips taken with dogs is that you can’t leave them in the car while you catch a meal. This means that we eat fast food a lot. This isn’t a health hazard, though Southern Style Chicken meals can get old after a few days. One lunchtime at a McDonald’s drive-through (in Nebraska, I think) I got a penny in change with two footprints punched all the way through it.
Defacing currency is a crime, which is why I always wondered if the Where’s George site would get into trouble. The same guys who protect the President are also tasked with going after penny-punchers, which says something about something, albeit nothing coherent. As it happens, coin art is legal as long as you don’t try to pass off a coin as a different coin. I was told in grade school that you can sand a penny down on the sidewalk until it would pass as a dime in a payphone, but it seemed like a lot of work to earn nine cents, when the local empty lots were lousy with returnable Coke bottles.
It didn’t take much Googling to find out that the penny had been sold as a sort of inspirational good-luck token based on the well-known Christian fable “Footprints in the Sand.” I’m going to toss it in my weird coins cup, though I do wonder where all the little copper-coated zinc footprints ended up.
One of my goals this trip was to trek out to Third Lake, Illinois, to see what (if anything) was left of the summer place our family had owned there from 1965-1991. I knew the cottage itself was gone, after a tree fell on it in the mid-1990s, and I was more interested in the neighborhood itself, which had been a constant summer haunt in my young teen years. Telescopes and dark skies, model rockets, slopping around in the slightly green lake, my first attempt at target shooting–it was formative in ways I didn’t realize for decades.
I had gotten in touch with a couple of the “kids” I used to hang out with there, and spent a little time with Rob and Tim Smyth, walking around the area while they pointed to things that used to be there. The garage Uncle Louie built in 1977 still stands, but after that it was slim pickins. The adjoining Picket Fence Farm, where we would chase Angus steers while stepping smartly around cowpies, is now a forest preserve, with grass as high as my nose. I’m guessing that launching model rockets there would now be a felony.
I did find, to my delight, that the Dog ‘N’ Suds drive-in is still there in nearby Grayslake, essentially unchanged since the 1950s. I had a coney dog and a bag full of sumptuously greasy fries, and for a moment it was 1968 all over again.
The trip, of course, was centered around the wedding of our younger nephew Matt and his high-school sweetheart Justine. They met as sophomores, which means that they have Carol and me beat by almost two years. As I would expect, the ceremony at St. Thomas church was beautiful, and the reception (at the tony Boulder Ridge Country Club) spectacular. The open bar included Chicago’s infamous Jeppson’s Malört, and whereas I toyed with the idea of trying it, I went for the pinot noir instead. After eating all that McDonald’s on the trip out, I figured my tongue had suffered enough. Besides, my camera was conked and there was no way to get a picture of my inevitable Malört face.
The weather had not been helpful. As we were milling around Carol’s sister’s house 40 minutes before the ceremony, I went outside and could see a very ugly front glowering its way toward us out of the northwest. The WGN radar on my phone painted it in red and (worse) dark red. I suggested to Carol that we needed to leave right damned now, and although we did, it wasn’t quite soon enough. Just after we pulled into the church parking lot, a thunderstorm the likes of which we rarely see opened on our heads. I took Carol as close to the building as I could, and then tried to wait out the sheeting downpour in the parking lot. As the minutes ticked past, the storm abated only slowly. Finally, just a few minutes before the ceremony was slated to begin, I opened an umbrella and ran for it. It crossed my mind that I was dashing through puddles under a lively thunderstorm carrying a metal spike in one hand. I like ground rods, and have used many in my time, but never felt any desire at all to be one.
Things began a little late but turned out well, with the storm rising and falling and rattling against the skylights in the church ceiling. During the exchange of vows, a second front rolled through, with deafending thunder while Matt declared his love for his bride. People laughed, but I had been through something very like this before, and knew the truth: It was God’s applause, for two young people who had made us all very proud, and would almost certainly continue to do so.
Of course, we both got colds toward the end of our stay, which has happened before, and we made the long trip back amidst coughs and sniffles. The dogs were peevish and unruly; Dash has taken up howling whenever Carol isn’t in his immediate vicinity. So when we rolled back into town on Monday night, both of us were abundantly glad that the trip, as good as it had been, was over.
Much to do here, but I’ll try to post a little more often than in the immediate past.
- A guy is working on 3D printing with molten steel, via TIG welding.
- I’m really good with words. Maybe that’s why a college friend said 40-odd years ago: “The trouble with you, Jeff, is that you’re too damned happy!” Everything is connected, I guess, and now there’s science indicating that human language is biased toward happiness.
- More research on ice ages: They may be made possible by the isolation of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by the Ithsmus of Panama. (Full paper here.) I’ve heard this before, but there’s more data behind it now.
- Some recently discovered fossilized poop in Spain suggests that I’m not really a Neanderthal after all. Bummer.
- I’ve always been of two minds about Mensa, for reasons I really can’t talk about here. Now there’s a Mensa dating site. I think I’m of three minds about that. Maybe five.
- There’s an exploitable software flaw in the Curiosity rover, stemming from arcane math in the Lempel-Ziv-Oberhumer compression algorithm. I hope the rover isn’t running XP, or (judging by the hype) it would have been totally pnwed since April 10. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- This guy says he could tornado-proof the Midwest with a couple of 1,000-foot-high walls. Me, I say, implement STORMY. Then stand back.
- Meditation may not always be the unalloyed good that its proponents insist it is. I’m researching this further and will do a full entry on it at some point, as it’s a matter of serious interest to me. I have a theory that meditation is only one half of a single effective psychiatric process, and without its other half it can aggravate psychosis and even cause a drift toward schizophrenia.
- Here’s a terrific collection of photos of steampunk gear from Dark Roasted Blend. Follow the links to the mechanical calculators page if you haven’t seen it before. (It’s old, and I linked it from here some years back.)
- DRB publishes periodic “feel good” collections of visual odd lots that are mostly 50s and 60s nostalgia. Here’s the latest. Too many actresses, not enough classic cars. But if you like classic actresses, well, wow.
- Yet another take on the Amazon vs. Hachette dust-up: The publishers contributed to Amazon’s monopsony power by demanding platform lock-in via Kindle DRM. And now they’re surprised that Amazon controls the ebook market. (Thanks to Eric Bowersox for the link.)
- Pete Albrecht sent word that some guys at the University of Rochester have figured out how to trap light in very small spaces for very long times, on the order of several nanoseconds. (This is a long, long time to be stuck in one place if you’re a photon.) It’s done with evolvable nanocavities–and that gives me an idea for a tech gimmick in my long-planned novel The Molten Flesh. So many novels, so little time…
- Related to the above: The reason I stopped working on The Molten Flesh three or four years back is that I ordered a used copy of the canonical biography of Oscar Wilde (who is a character in the story) and the book stank so badly of mold and mildew that I threw it out after sitting in a chair with it for about five minutes. Time to get another copy.
- Yet another reason not to bother with The Weather Chanel: WGN’s weather website is hugely better, doesn’t require Flash, and works nationally, not only in Chicago.
- Lazarus 1.2.4 has been released. Go get it.
- OMG! STORMY, have you been messing around in Nebraska again?
- Over at Fourmilab we have a superb scan of the 1930 Allied Radio catalog, which carried not only radios and parts but waffle irons, home movie projectors, coffee percolators, toasters, copper bowl heaters, electric hair curlers, and much else for the newly minted upper middle class. (Thanks to Baron Waste for the link.)
- One interesting thing about the radios in the Allied catalog above is that they’re shouting about screen grid tubes. Tetrodes were invented in 1919 and weren’t in mass production until the late 1920s. I’m guessing that tetrodes were what separated the extremely fussy triode-based radios of the 1920s from the turnkey appliance radios of the 1930s and beyond. What the tetrode began the pentode completed, of course, but the watershed year in appliance radio seems to have been 1930.
- Our current Pope has abandoned the bullet-proof Popemobile. It’s one step closer to the end of the Imperial Papacy.
- What dogs think of dog impersonators. Hey, man, the lack of a tail gives it all away…
- The media loves to build its own myth: Orson Welles’ famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast did not cause panic.
- Had this last night, over dinner with friends: Zinzilla, a monster zin that could be the perfect Halloween wine.
- BTW, “monster zin” is not a term I made up: It’s winespeak for a zinfandel with alcohol content over 15%.
- The Neanderthal in me rejoices at body hair. Wax is for candles.
- Why are so many kids myopic? This article says it’s about not getting outside enough. I’ve read that it’s about not sleeping in darkness, but don’t recall ever seeing an actual study. If lack of exposure to bright natural light is the issue, a population study somewhere with grim crappy weather could nail it. I nominate Chicago.
- The Feds are repurposing an old technology in use at least since Vietnam for domestic spying: radios inside rocks. If it ever becomes clear what frequencies these are on, I could imagine a massive national radio foxhunt. There’s some mythspinning about their batteries, and it would be fun to see what dissecting such a device would reveal.
- Related: If you’re an anal-retentive spy, this page might interest you. Scroll down to see why. Scroll further to see a genuine CIA turd radio. These were once sold on the surplus market. I almost bought one.
- More spy stuff: Bondian gadgets from the movies that have (more or less) become real. I notice the absence of the James Bond assassin ball-point pen that dorkeroo Alec was fiddling with in Goldeneye. I used to do that a lot, which is why I no longer use retractable ball-point pens.
- From the Global Calming Department: The Atlantic hurricane season still has another month to run, but so far it’s the quietest we’ve seen in 45 years.
- From the Words-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-Yesterday Department: rodomontade, defined as swaggering boastful talk without any grounding in reality, which makes the speaker look like an utter moron; see political bullshit. (Thanks to Ernie Marek for dropping the word in my presence.)
- Shades of Newsweek’s execrable “The Case for Killing Granny“: Slate endorses death panels. Way to make friends for health care reform, guys. Sheesh.
- People can live in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but not Chernobyl. Here’s a decent explanation why.
- Anger makes you stupid. Politics makes you angry. Do the math. (Thanks to Bob Trembley for the link.)
- Running across George O. Smith’s books while redistributing titles on one of my shelves led me to look for the most powerful vacuum tube ever produced commercially. This was the understated Eimac 8974, which contains its own vacuum pump and could hurl out two million watts in Class C. QROOOOOOOOO! You can’t drive a truck into it, but you’ll need a truck to move it. And once you get it home, your first problem will be finding 600 amps to heat the filament.
- Winter’s coming early to the West: We hit a record low here for this date yesterday night: 26 degrees. Two feet of snow fell in parts of the Dakotas, with some unofficial reports (like this one, in the appropriately named Deadwood, SD) of as much as four feet.
- The Farmer’s Almanic is predicting a truly bitchy winter this year. (Note that this is not The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which is less sanguine.) We’ve noticed that the squirrels here are busting their nuts eating acorns, which is at least as good a predictor.
- Speaking of brrrrrr: Recent research fingers the Llopango volcano in Ecuador as the triggering event of the severe global cooling of 535-536, which finished off the Western Empire via crop failures and the Plague of Justinian. It was a truly titanic eruption, hitting 6.9 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index and thus a peer of the gigapuissant Tambora. After that, well, there was nothing much to do except have the Dark Ages.
- More scary robots. Four legs seems optimal for this sort of creature, which seems to be designed to carry cargo over bad terrain. It’s pretty clear to me that drones with machine guns make better manshunyoggers.
- Most people don’t have a gut sense for what “ephemera” means, but if you want a sampling of the weirdest examples ever seen (as well as many cool and sometimes beautiful ones) prepare to spend some time on it. Don’t miss Part 2.
- Which led me to Found in Mom’s Basement, a compendium of vintage ads. Some weird, some peculiar, some creepy, much Seventies. “Guess Whose Mother Used Downy?” Mort Drucker’s tampon ads. Read the archives!
- How to deal with the highest of all high-class problems, albeit the one you’re least likely to face. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
- One of the siller analyses I’ve seen recently. Then again, it may be the case that geeks are about culture and nerds are about ideas. I actually thought that nerds were what they called us in the Seventies and geeks are what they call us now.
- From the Brutal Truth In Labeling Department. I’m in.
- More or less recovered here, but oboy, do I have some catching up to do…
- Those Parallels guys are now installing dicey stuff allthehellover the disks of user Macs. They do it in connection with their poorly received Parallels Access product, and they do it whether or not you use Parallels Access. In other words, they’re preinstalling DRM for a product even when users don’t want the product. Avoid Parallels like the plague.
- This, by the way, is the same pack of tinfoil hatters who approached me to write about an early version of Parallels years ago, just after I reviewed VMWare Workstation 5 for PC Magazine. I said sure, and asked them for a review copy. They said they couldn’t give me a review copy. They just wanted me to write about it. To review it I’d have to buy it. They’ve been on my killfile ever since.
- You have to sleep to keep producing a type of brain cell that refreshes nerve myelin. Short your sleep, and you’re basically killing your brain cells. Are you ready to go to bed at 10 PM now?
- We are extremely close to having a blank Sun, having arrived at Solar Max, maybe for the second time of a two-humped peak. (If it goes officially blank tomorrow, I’ll post a separate announcement, because that would be boggling.) I didn’t even put my wire antenna out this year. What’s the point?
- We may also set a record for the latest first hurricane of the season. Two more days and it’s in the bag. TS Humberto could break the streak, and lord knows, the gang over at the Weather Channel is rooting for it. Tropical weather has been so peaceable that their Hurricane Central presenters are reduced to playing with stuffed bunnies and doing standup comedy.
- Like everybody else I get butter, potato chip grease, hand cream, and occasionally red wine on my Transformer Prime. Like most people I clean up with a soft cotton rag. However, there are other ways.
- I don’t even like motorcycles, but I would ride this in a heartbeat.
- Yet another Death Ray Skyscraper. I knew Jaguars had electrical problems. I wasn’t aware that they melt like butter. Don’t get melted Jaguar on your tablet. Even AutoMee would have trouble with that. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- There are probably Horrifying Stats sites for most big cities. Here’s the Horrifying Stats site for my home town.
- CBS is gearing up to make a TV medical drama based on The Wizard of Oz . I would walk through a blizzard / For a checkup on my gizzard / If I only had a pain… (Thanks to Frank Glover for the tip.)
- Wired ran a wonderful photo piece on one of the weirdest aircraft ever to fly: the Soviet Union’s ground-effect ship-killer seaplane Lun. (Thanks to Mike Bentley for the pointer.)
- Surezhell, a faint tickle of a memory led me back to even more Lun-y goodness at Dark Roasted Blend. Don’t forget Part 2.
- Which led directly to Awesome Armored Trains. (Steamfrack? Again, the Russians seem to be the masters of this game.)
- Yet another photo gatherum from Spiegel, highlighting zany transportation ideas that didn’t pan out. Or get anywhere near the pan.
- Ars has a nice article on a very new category of aircraft: the solar-powered “atmospheric satellite,” a robot plane that flies in the high atmosphere for indefinite periods without fuel.
- Sakurajima is acting up again. That was one of my favorite volcanoes when I was a kid, right after now-extinct (probably) Paracutin. One thing to note here is how good the comments are. I read Klemetti’s blog as much for his community as for his own (excellent) posts. No politics, no hate, no incessant tu quoque from tribal slaves. You don’t see that very often.
- As with all claims in this category, whether fission or fusion, I’ll believe it when I see it, but damn, I would like to see this.
- The Nook business is in trouble. We’ve seen that coming, but it makes me wonder if the Nook is alone, or if the rest of the color-screen ebook readers are falling into line behind it. (E-ink will remain as a niche for daylight reading.) I read ebooks on my Transformer Prime. Works. It’s a general-purpose tablet with a keyboard dock that makes it an only slightly crippled laptop. The number of specialized gadgets I’m willing to cart around is limited.
- That said, B&N’s print book business is in reasonably good shape, especially its very profitable textbook division. (Thanks to Janet Perlman for the link.)
- Ouch. “There’s no real ebook piracy problem because most people don’t think books are worth stealing.”
- Publishing is an ecosystem, and the parts don’t thrive without the whole. The ecosystem can change, of course, but the changes take time, and not all parts of the system will survive the changes. (Again, thanks to Janet Perlman for the link.)
- Forget underage women. Crossing state lines with rented textbooks can get you into trouble.
- Composers on acid? I’d be curious to hear from experienced musicians whether most of these, um, compositions are playable at all.
- Now this is the sort of drought I can celebrate: We’re looking at a record low tornado count this year.
- On the hurricane side, the accumulated cyclonic energy (ACE) value, which is an aggregate of how much power has been seen in cyclonic storms so far this year, is 48% of normal to August 21. Less than half. The Coriolis Gods are evidently taking a break. Let’s hope it’s a long one.
- The latest Duluth Trading catalog is pushing a product called Ballroom Jeans. Huh? For cowboy proms? Ballroom…wait. Ok. I get it.
- Always read food labels carefully.
- I confess to some surprise at reading that we really don’t know yet whether antimatter falls up or down. Falling up might explain why we don’t see a lot of antimatter in these parts.
- By now I’d guess you’ve all seen the movie. Now see how it was made. (We used to do animation with that few pixels. But the pixels were, well, a lot bigger.)
- There’s been much discussion recently about bitcoin mining using GPUs, including some systems designed specifically to mine bitcoins and not do much of anything else. Such systems basically turn electricity into money, and you have to make sure that the bitcoins you get are worth more than the juice you have to spend to mine them. So…how about using solar panels? I have easier ways to make money (and don’t trust the bitcoin infrastructure to begin with) so it’s not an experiment I’m willing to make, but with enough solar panels and a bitcoin box, how long would it take to break even? Bitcoin math is pathological, but I’m aware that the more people start mining with such rigs, the harder the mining becomes.
- Here’s more cautionary advice on bitcoin.
- Somebody thought that mining bitcoins on user PCs while they play your games could a new business model. Mmmm, no.
- We are already shoveling our way through the second-coldest spring on record. If May doesn’t warm up quite a bit (it’s still going below freezing at night here) we will soon be facing the coldest. The photos of my deck under 4″ of snow on May 1 continue to boggle. I may have one of them framed.
- Suing your customers for criticizing your business is epic dumb, as Chicago’s tort-happy Suburban Express has discovered.
- I don’t use Visual Basic so I’m unlikely to try it, but OsenXPSuite could be useful for creating embedded database apps without a great deal of coding. The screenshots are intriguing. $150 for a single-seat license. They also have a freeware SQLite management app that I will try.
- There’s nothing healthy in most “health foods.” (It’s PR.) I like the bit in Men In Black III. K: “Do you know the most destructive force in the universe?” J: “Sugar?” (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
- From The-Ghosts-of-Friendships-Past Department: LinkedIn just sent me a message telling me that a friend had just celebrated his fifth anniversary at a local firm–even though he died four years ago. This led me to check my Facebook friends list, and sure enough, there are two dead people there as well. This is a weird business.
- May 1 here in the Springs will see a high of 36, and a low of 16…with 2-4 inches of snow likely. I’m thinking I’m going to have to drain the sprinkler system yet again.
- The end must be near: Jeff spent some time fooling with a Samsung ATIV running Windows 8…and was impressed. It’s a 12″ tablet with a dockable keyboard, not unlike a bigger version of my Transformer Prime. The first thing the Best Buy sales guy showed me was how to flick away the Windows 8 UI like a bug. What remained was enough like Windows 7 to be usable.
- Alas, Office 2000 will not run on Windows 8. Nor will Office 2003. But Atlantis will. As will Libreoffice. Not sure about AbiWord.
- Something shot a hole in one of the ISS solar panels. Guys, the Universe is armed and dangerous.
- And unpredictable. There are now more spots on the Sun than I’ve seen in years. Will need to spin the dials a little later today to tell if it’s doing us any good.
- Wikipedia’s psycho editing community got on the wrong side of feminists recently, and Salon did a nice piece on “revenge editing.” Requiring that real names be published for all editors would help this problem a lot. (If I had a Wikipedia entry, I’m sure I’d be vandalized for saying this.)
- Poking around Salon led to this: We once tried to weaponize the weather. (So much for those bucolic 1950s that everybody seems to love.) Of course, the key to weaponizing the weather is knowing where to deploy your butterflies.
- Suddenly I’m seeing the word “adorable” used with what appears to be a straight face. Is this a hipster thing?
- These see-through highlighter pens were a long time coming, but they’re simply adorable.