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October, 2009:

Contest: 1-Verse Filk

I’ve had a bummer couple of weeks for many reasons, most of them relating to Global Cooling and a mild skin rash on several of my knuckles. So I need to increase the silliness factor a little, and am hereby mounting a contest, with real prizes.

The challenge: Submit a 1-verse filk; that is, a short parody song with original funny words to only one verse, what ur-filker Allan Sherman called a “schtick.” It has to be a funny filk, and the contest will be judged by people who know what “funny” means. (They will not necessarily be filkers. I will have a vote.) The tune can be anything, but it has to be a tune that has some chance of being recognized by a reasonable number of people. The song should only be one verse long; brevity is the soul of damned near everything, humor not the least of it. You can send me more verses, but your chances of winning decrease with each verse submitted beyond the first.

All entries should be submitted as comments to this blog. Your choice which site, and if you feel so inclined, submit entries to both sites. Being in both places does not increase your chances, though it may increase the number of people who see your entry. The two sites, in case you only ever read one, are LiveJournal, and WordPress.

No other rules except: Use no dirty words that will get either of us into trouble. Numerous things rhyme with “duck” and even more with “wit.” (Here’s a rhyming dictionary, in case you get stuck.)

The winner will be judged by Thanksgiving Day, or as soon thereafter as I get at least three entries. If I don’t get three entries by Christmas, we’ll call it done and both entries will get prizes. The prize will consist of your choice of one from the following list:

  • One copy of any title from the Copperwood Press catalog.
  • One copy of Assembly Language Step By Step.
  • A variable capacitor from my collection. I’ll test it for shorts before shipping.
  • A TO-36 auto radio power transistor from my collection. Sub a 6SN7 if you’re allergic to germanium.
  • Anything else somebody sends me to be a prize, to be listed later.

Hey, if that don’t get your mouth watering, what will? And in case you’re not sure what a one-verse filk is, let me show you:

Let There Be Fleas on Earth

(To: “Let There Be Peace on Earth”)

Let there be fleas on Earth, but keep them away from me;

Let there be toads and snails, but not where I can see!

To love each creature’s obnoxious features would drive me up a tree–

So let there be fleas on Earth, but keep them away….from me!

Shirley, you can all do better than that. So get on it!

Am I Blue?

In a word, no. And yet looking at recent operating system UIs, you’d think blue was the only color there is. Everywhere I look, I see GUIs that look like they were carved from a block of sea ice. (I guess that’s why modern GUI designs are so…cool.)

I’ll be doing an immersion experiment with Kubuntu 9.10 once it’s out and has had a few weeks to yield up its birth booboos, since KDE deserves a second chance. (I tried version 4.0 last year and it gave me no end of trouble.) But…KDE is so damned blue. Ditto Windows 7, which I haven’t seen a lot of yet but will probably be using sooner or later. And Mac OS/X as well. Now, don’t tell me that these OSes can be themed in any color you want. I know that. But why is blue so pervasive in every big-time OS except Ubuntu?

Well, there’s another blue distro out there, which I finally burned onto a livecd and played around with yesterday afternoon. It’s Puppy Linux, which I tried in its first release years back wasn’t impressed with. Puppy is now four, and much improved. It probed the SX270 graphics system and monitor here, and set itself up to use the default 1600 X 900 resolution with nary a whimper.

Puppy is unique in several ways. It’s not derived from any other distro, but was created from scratch by Australian Barry Kauler and is maintained by its own community. It’s a “lightweight” distro and was designed deliberately to make use of the fact that mermory is much cheaper now than it used to be: It loads into memory and mostly stays there. This is true even if you install it on a disk partition (as opposed to running it “without a trace” from the livecd) and includes the major apps as well as the OS itself. When installed on the hard drive it still plays from memory, writing changes to a disk file but avoiding disk access whenever possible. This makes it feel snappy in the extreme: Click on the Abiword icon and pop! Abiword is there in front of you. Other preinstalled apps include the Gnumeric spreadsheet, the Seamonkey email client, paint and draw programs, and a lightweight browser created for Puppy Linux. (There are more; those are the major ones.)

There are some additional FOSS packages available for download from the Puppy respositories, but in truth not nearly as much as you can get for Ubuntu and other major distros. There’s no apt-get; the Puppy installer format (PET) is unique, and if nobody put a FOSS package into Puppy’s PET format, you have to fool with tarballs etc. and do the install manually from the console.

There is also a mechanism (which I didn’t try) for repackaging changes to the Puppy system into distributable derivatives called puplets. Many of these can be had, always free. One makes Puppy look a great deal like Mac OS/X; others are tweaks to look/work well on hardware like the EeePC. Some come with a specific emphasis and preinstalled apps, like composing music or bioinformatics, of all things. In a sense, you’re creating an app installer that includes the OS along with the apps, which is an interesting idea. This can be done with other distros, but the Puppy remastering mechanism makes it trivial. Puppy or its puplets can be installed on a thumbdrive and will thus run on any machine that can boot from a USB device, with configuration changes written to the thumb drive. (Ditto a rewriteable optical drive, if the session wasn’t closed and there’s room on the optical disk for a change file.)

On the downside, certain simple configuation items hid well: I have not yet found the way to run apps from icons with a double click instead of the default single click. Nor did I find the way to add an app shortcut icon to the desktop for newly installed apps. I admit that I didn’t spend a huge amount of time with Puppy and probably won’t, but such simple things should be easily findable and obvious how to use.

So on Puppy I’m lukewarm. I don’t really need it for the sake of old slow hardware, but the idea of a lightweight RAM-based Linux on a bootable keychain thumb drive is fascinating, and I might download one of the puplets and try them in just that way. However, if you’re just looking for an easy-to-use Windows alternative, I think Ubuntu is a much better bet.

Odd Lots

  • It was inevitable: Be the Balloon Boy for Halloween. However, as the ad says, don’t get carried away… (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • I downloaded an Xubuntu 9.04 LiveCD, and (interestingly) the OS does not appear to be able to identify my Samsung 1600 X 900 display, and thus defaults to a 4:3 something too narrow and a little too high. More interestingly still, it shows a blank field for the current display resolution in the Settings dialogs. Ubuntu and Kubuntu 9.04 have no trouble with the display, and I’m wondering if the xfce resolution is hardcoded. Either way, it didn’t leave me with an especially good impression of Xubuntu.
  • There’s something telling about my feeling it necessary to tell you that there’s a spot on the sun! I’ve done screen-projection sunspot observations at, um, spotty intervals since 1970, and until quite recently, sunspots were more or less always there when you wanted to look. Not so for the last two or three years, when sunspots–and band openings–have become something of a novelty.
  • Heath-Zenith still exists. They make doorbells. (Thanks to Bp. Sam’l Bassett for the link.)
  • Use your deordorant and become a better person. (Clean the catbox, ditto.) I’ve sometimes wondered what odors are actually for, and whether there’s an evolutionary reason that humans are so much lousier at detecting and discriminating among them than other mammals.
  • Oh, and you may be more productive with your shoes on. (If that’s true, how the hell have I ever gotten anything done?)
  • Wired Magazine has a cover story on the antivaxers, and whatever your views on the issue (mine are so strong as to be essentially unprintable, so don’t look for them here) it’s worth reading.
  • The New Yorker always has clever covers, but this is the best one I’ve seen since the Mullahs on Segways.
  • Recommended Obscure Halloween Reading for 2009: Jonathan Carroll’s The Land of Laughs, which was published in 1980 but can still be had for cheap on the used book sites. The biographer of a legendary (deceased) author of children’s books travels to the small Midwestern town where the author once lived and finds that fantasy is blurring into reality in some odd and very creepy ways.
  • Is there a more modern technical term for those jokes/inspirational/polemic notes that people email out to their entire address book, with instructions at the bottom to send this to 10 people / 20 people / everyone you know? I call them chain letters, but wonder if their email incarnation has a geekier term attached to it.

Bring Your Priest and Your Prayerbook. That’s It.

Just the other day, Good Pope Bennie opened a door for conservative Anglicans to become Roman Catholics without completely abandoning their Anglican traditions. (Links to more discussion here.) The Roman Catholic Church will be willing to create Personal Ordinariates for converting Anglicans, which is jargon for establishing non-territorial dioceses in which members retain a distinctive liturgical style different from that of the RCC as a whole. This has been done before on a very small scale, though it’s a complex business and not everybody within the RCC agrees that it’s a good thing.

Basically, conservative Anglicans will be received into custom-built dioceses with their own priests and prayerbooks (what Anglicans call missals) and report directly to the Pope, rather than to an RC archbishop in a particular city. They’ll be able to continue using their liturgies and occasional ceremonies pretty much as they have before. The big win for them is that they will no longer have to cope with women priests or demands for gay marriage. However, there’s a downside, and I wonder if it’s dawned on potential crossover Anglicans what they’ll have to leave behind:

  • Birth control. Even conservative Anglicans in my experience have no particular issue with contraception. (Abortion is another matter entirely.) In the Roman Catholic Church, procreation is the primary reason for marriage and the only permissible reason for sexual activity or even sexual thoughts. Contraception remains a mortal sin. There’s no indication that Personal Ordinariates trump Papal teachings at this level.
  • Divorce. This was, after all, the whole reason for Anglicanism to begin with. While divorce is treated less casually among conservative Anglicans than among liberal Anglicans and Episcopalians, it is nonetheless embraced reluctantly when necessary. Crossover Anglicans will have to agree with Rome that divorce is impossible.
  • Their bishops. Male Anglican/Episcopalian priests have been accepted into the RCC in the past, but married bishops are considered off the table. The problem here is that every prominent Anglican bishop I’ve ever heard of has been married, primarily because nearly all Anglican/Episcopalian priests are married. So crossover Anglicans will have to accept episcopal oversight from Roman Catholic appointee bishops, or bishops newly consecrated out of the ranks of (the very uncommon) unmarried priests.

I don’t think this will work, and here’s why: In my view, a religious culture is more than a set of prayers and ceremonies. It’s a way of seeing Earth as well as a way of seeing Heaven, and in my own research the Roman Catholic and Anglican Catholic undertstandings of the physical world, the human person, sex, and marriage stand out as radically different. There’s some serious question in my mind as to how many Anglicans will embrace Rome once they completely understand what Rome will demand of them–and whether those who accede will continue to be Anglicans in any honest sense of the word.

An Attempted Scam

I hope all of you know by this time not to fall for any advertising pitch from Their service can be useful, as we found when we put together our 40th grade school reunion back in 2006. However, I’ve seen a multitude of reports that their constant email come-ons are completely fictional, and (as far as I’m concerned) fraudulent.

Today I got one that I know is a fraud, and I didn’t have to sign up to find out. Ordinarily, the scam works like this: You get an email from Classmates that reads something like, “Someone is trying to find you! Click here to find out who!” You click and find that you have to pay to find out. Fair enough. But as many people have found, once you pay up you find that there’s no one there. Nobody was looking for you. It was a lie, or, as we say when you lie to sell somebody something, fraud.

So today I get the umptieth email from Classmates since my subscription expired, asking me: “Remember Linda Cripps? Newest Class of ’70 Alum!” This is half a hair better than saying that someone was trying to find me; note well that there is no imputed action on the part of Linda Cripps. However, there’s a huge worm in it:

The Lane Technical High School Class of 1970 had no girls in it.

Zero. Zip. Nada. Girls were not even admitted to the school until 1971, and none were graduated from Lane until 1973. So unless we’re in “boy named Sue” territory here, Classmates pulled some poor girl’s name out of its subscribers (or the Chicago phone book, or Facebook, or somewhere else) and told me she was in my graduating class at Lane Tech. (I just checked: There was no one of any gender named “Cripps” in my class, nor any class listed in the 2002 Alumni Directory, nor among the multitude of people I’ve met or dealt with in any way in my life.)

I don’t see anything online as to how the suit is going or whether it was dismissed, but I’ve seen enough reported sleaziness just looking to say, avoid these guys like H1N1. (The Plague is just so 1348…)

Metal-Free Photos

One of my shyer correspondents is shy only about my using anything like her name online; she never hesitates to needle me about certain things, and last night I got a note from her asking, “Can’t you ever post a photo of something that isn’t made out of metal?” I’m guessing she means computers, but 30-year-old forks, while low-tech, still quality.

So be it. And, m’dear, I will go you one better: I’ll post photos of two things of recent vintage that have no metal in them at all.


First up, well, is Dash. I have to hurry: He’ll be chipped in another month or so, and then will have a (small) amount of metal in him. And given his penchant for picking things up off the floor and chewing them, I can’t promise that there isn’t some small bit of aluminum foil working its way through him at any given moment. (Polychrome puppy poop is an occupational hazard at this stage of his life.) The photo is a couple of weeks old now, and shows him after Carol gave him his first genuine bichon cut. He’s looking a lot more like an adult now, and is rapidly reaching adult size and weight. (As of yesterday afternoon, he clocked in at 11 pounds 5 ounces.)


The other is a kite I made earlier this summer, out of the translucent wax-finish “kite paper” that Waldorf schools use to make paper ornaments. (Why they don’t use it to make kites is unclear.) I’ve made kites with metal in them here and there, but this one is all organic, and even a little retro: The string is 50-year-old cotton twine, and the glue mucilage. I don’t fly kites in thunderstorms, and I generally don’t put metal in them. Ben Franklin was many things, but mostly he was…lucky.

Odd Lots

  • There appears to be a new online scam that is a first cousin of scareware: Driver updaters. Drivers ride with hardware, and install with hardware, so unless your hardware changes or you do a major OS upgrade, drivers do not need to be updated. Every such updater I’ve researched appears at best to be adware and often much worse. Get your drivers from the hardware manufacturer (or built into the OS) and nowhere else.
  • While trying to determine if Chicago had ever had a radio station WYNR (it did, briefly, from 1962-1965) I ran across this exhaustive list of all broadcast radio stations that have ever operated in Chicago (both AM and FM) with brief discussions of their history.
  • There’s a downside to modern optical drives that spin discs at 50X Not all discs can take it–and when they go, they turn into daggers. I know it took the Mythbusters guys awhile to detonate a CD by spinning it on a Dremel tool, but one wonders if a disc accumulates stress fractures over time and one day just…lets go. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Among other things that Carol and I have been using since we were married in 1976 are a Realistic STA-64 30W tuner/amp, a Rival crockpot, and a Sunbeam 16-speed blender. Admittedly, we don’t use them as often as we use our flatware, but we use them regularly, and they all work basically as well as when they came out of the box, way back when I still had all my hair.
  • While not as old as our Rival Crockpot, I still have and use my TI-30 SLR scientific calculator, which I bought in 1983. Won’t do hex, but it’s handled every other piece of math I’ve ever thrown at it.
  • A nameless source in the filesharing community tells me that MP3s of every pop song that has ever charted on Billboard will fit on a single $50 500 GB hard drive. I have no way to verify this, but if true, it’s a good demonstration of what the music industry is facing, and perhaps why they’re as nuts as they’ve gotten in recent years. (I already have an external 320GB USB hard drive that slides into my shirt pocket–and disappears. For $125, I could have one containing 500GB. All of pop music hiding in one shirt pocket. Egad.)
  • From the Wines-To-Avoid-At-All-Costs Department: Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir 2006. A whiff of galvanized iron is not a plus. (Dumped it.)

All The Forks That We Need

eternalfork.jpgCarol and I have been married now for 33 years. Back in the summer of 1976 my mother threw us a bridal shower, and among the many gifts we received were two sets of Ecko Eterna Corsair stainless steel flatware, for a total of eight place settings. We still have them. In fact, we have been eating with them for all 33 of those years. (At left is a 33-year-old daily-driver fork. “Eterna” is fersure. ) They’re all still in the drawer.

Well, almost all of them. Flatware eventually goes missing, like protons, though with a much shorter half-life. Over the years a couple of spoons and forks have probably followed us to potlucks and never come home. I have no better explanation. When I was a toddler I used to drop flatware down the cold air return, which I know because when I was 14 I helped my father tear out the old sheet-metal octopus that heated our house, and found most of a place setting at the bottom of the big pipe. As an adult I have no such excuse. I only know that we run out of clean forks before we run out of clean tablespoons.

I got irritated enough recently by our fork shortage to look on eBay, where I scored three Ecko Corsair forks for $10–and five spoons for $12. The forks were unused, and when I got them, washed them, and dropped them in the drawer, it struck me that there wasn’t much difference in appearance between the brand-new Corsair forks and the forks that have been faithfully stabbing our steaks for 33 years now. We have a full drawer of flatware again, and all the forks that we need. Better still, if we ever need more, we know where to find them.

I had an insight when the forks arrived that Carol and I are not and will probably never again be in the market for new-build stainless steel flatware. Why should we be? Our set works perfectly, and still looks like new. Spare parts are available, cheap. This isn’t good news…if you make flatware.

And I also wonder if our auto industry is in trouble at least in part because cars are lasting longer and people are trading them in far less often. I got my first car in 1970 when I started college. It was a bare-bones 1968 Chevelle 300, and even at two years old the door panels were growing significant rust spots. By 1974 the body was mostly rot and the engine disintegrating, and rather than pony up for a valve and ring job, I dumped it and bought a brand-new Honda Civic. The Civic lasted until 1982, when its brake cylinders started going out repeatedly. I had a Datsun pickup for a year and decided I didn’t like pickups; I traded it for a 1984 Chrysler minivan, which I owned uneventfully until 1995. That year I traded the old minivan in on the newest version of the same minivan–and we still have it, a little tired but entirely functional. The Toyota 4Runner that we bought in 2001 will flip over 100,000 miles today or tomorrow, and has never given us a lick of trouble. No rust, no wiggles, no funny noises, no problemo nada. I expect to be driving it happily ten years from now.

Draw the curve here. Cars that used to implode after 5 years are now lasting for fifteen or more. Is it any wonder that we don’t need as many cars as we used to? A great many of our economic problems today may stem from simple overcapacity: factories cranking out stuff like it’s 1968, simply because that’s what they’ve always done and the spreadsheeters require it. (Publishing certainly has that problem, though for different reasons.) We are the victims of our own success, in that there is less work than there are workers, because we’re making better forks…and much better cars. We may not need a Big Three for making cars. A Big Two may be sufficient. (I’ll leave the eenie meenie mynie moe part to someone else, thanks.) And if that’s the case, we have to be extremely careful about protectionist economics, because the export market is all that’s left, once Americans have all the forks that they need.

Three and a Half Planets Tomorrow Morning

If you’ve got clear weather for the next 18 hours or so and a good eastern horizon, set the alarm a little early for tomorrow and head outside just before dawn. Mercury, Venus, and Saturn will be lined up in a vertical row, with the Moon off to one side a little toward the south. There’s nothing historical or unprecedented about the conjunction (which isn’t hugely close) but it’s a chance to take in three planets at one tight glance, assuming you can see clear down to the horizon. Mercury never gets very high nor very bright, but it has two unmistakable pointers aiming right at it: Follow the line from Saturn toward the horizon past Venus a little more than twice the distance between Saturn and Venus, and it’ll be there.

My horizons have been lousy in recent days, but, ever hopeful, I’ll be out on the small deck with binoculars about 6:30 tomorrow morning. Mercury will be the first of the group to drown in the rising light, so don’t wait too long!

Odd Lots

  • Gizmodo has a decent overview of the jungle of Intel CPU chip families. Core, Atom, and old reliable Pentium are compared and contrasted. Good short brushup, even if you’ve been following along as best you can. (I cop to not paying as close attention to Core i7 as I should have been.) My one objection: Late-build Pentiums are not nearly as bad as the author suggests.
  • With 225 sunspotless days, 2009 just edged past 1867 in its climb up the Most Spotless Years Since 1849 hit parade. 2009 is now in position 11. Two more spotless weeks and we’ll overtake 1855 and enter the Top Ten. 2008 was a killer, now standing at #4, with 266 spotless days. Will 2009 beat that? Unlikely; there are only 77 days left in the year, and while the Sun is sleeping, the old guy isn’t dead. (He throws up a few sunspecks now and then just to keep his hand in.)
  • An article in today’s Wall Street Journal reminded me that American author/poet Stephen Vincenet Benet wrote the postarmageddon short story “By the Waters of Babylon” in 1937, before even the possibility of nuclear weapons was understood by the general public. It stands in my mind as one of the finest SF shorts of all time, and certainly one of the most prophetic. (The story’s been posted on the Web and is easily Googleable, though how legal those postings are is unclear.)
  • Very nice summary of what we know about the second-largest asteroid Pallas here. Interestingly, Pallas has its own “death star” astrobleme, which can be found on most of the smaller bodies of the solar system, suggesting that during the solar system’s formation everybody got pounded, and the biggish moons that survive just barely missed being turned to gravel. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • Google just clarified its plans (a little) for Google Editions, an ereader-agnostic ebook store that will offer ebooks in a universal format based on HTML. Books will be readable offline. One suspects that Google Gears will be involved, but what sort of DRM will be slathered onto the binaries is still an open question, and in a lot of people’s minds (including my own) that’s the only significant question there is.
  • From Michael Covington comes the suggestion (from one of his grad students) that if a coral snake were a resistor, it would have a value of 24 ohms at 20% tolerance. (Determining the snake’s power dissipation we leave as an exercise for the grad student.)