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December 4th, 2009:

Odd Lots

  • We broke a new cold record for December 3 last night, when it went down to -3 here. (The previous record was +3, so that’s a significant margin.) Cheyenne Mountain is covered with snow, and it’s a wonderful wintry-Christmasy scene out my office windows, though I have to get out there and clear the walks when the temps eventually get up into double digits.
  • My prediction: We will not quite break 2008’s record for sunspotless days this year. Why so sure? Well, we’re already at 255 days (and just passed 1912’s count of 253) but a sunspot appears to be forming on the back of the Sun, and it will rotate around the far side and come into view in about a week. If it’s a big enough spot, it may be visible for the rest of December. So add 7 to our current 255 and you get 262, which is in cigar territory for 2008’s 266 sunspotless days, but not quite lit. Of course, if the spot lives and dies over the next week or so (which I’ve seen happen for smallish spots) we may still beat 2008. Either way, we’re in the thick of the deepest solar minimum in 150 years.
  • I just ordered a Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook, after spending some quality time with Julian Bucknall‘s slightly older and smaller Dell netbook at the Meetup-less Delphi Meetup last night. The keyboard is surprisingly usable, and I don’t expect to be writing any 180,000-word computer books on it. I was looking for compactness, not cheapness (there’s a larger toy budget this year, much thanks to Assembly Language Step By Step and other things) and so I loaded up with a GPS receiver, higher-res display, faster CPU, and (obviously) a bigger battery. All that, and it still runs XP. Windows 7 was an option, but why burden a pocket machine any more than it’s already burdened by just being a pocket machine?
  • Intel has unveiled a novel 48-core x86 processor, arranged as 24 dual-core CPUs communicating through a mesh network with up to 256GB/s bandwidth. Cores no longer need hardware cache coherence machinery, which cuts the complexity and power consumption of the (huge: 567 mm2!) part. I’m still wondering howinhell we’re gonna program these things.
  • Does anybody my age or older remember the TV series Men Into Space? It ran for one season in 1959-1960, and was created by Ziv TV, the firm that also did Science Fiction Theater, Sea Hunt, and Highway Patrol. Remarkably, I don’t remember it at all, even though Broderick Crawford’s iconic “10-4!” is crystal clear in my head. There was supposedly some Bonestell backdrop art in the show, and a solid attempt at factual accuracy, within the limits of weekly TV production of the time. Thanks to Roy Harvey for the link.
  • People who are familiar with my novel The Cunning Blood should take a look at these 3-D renderings of the Mandelbulb. This is almost precisely what I had in mind when imagining Magic Mikey’s views of chaos signatures using the Femtoscope. (Chapter 12, p.196ff.)
  • In a dance-around-it sort of way, Slate admits that there’s no compelling reason to use Office 2010…or 2007…or any version past the one that meets all your needs. Duhh.
  • From Neil Rest comes a pointer to a puppet show dramatizing the Bohr-Einstein debates over spooky-action-at-a-distance. Einstein is played by a stuffed bichon. (What else? You’d cast a Chihuahua?) BTW, this is for real; it’s not a parody but an actual physics lesson.
  • Borders is closing about 200 of its Waldenbooks mall stores in January. Here’s a PDF list of stores to be closed. I’ll admit that I haven’t bought anything at a Waldenbooks store for many years, simply because they don’t have the selection of the “big” Borders stores. (I also don’t go to shopping malls that often.) This may be good news, if it means that fewer of the big stores will have to go down too.