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January, 2011:

The Inexplicable Pirate Box


I’m still on the long climb back to functionality and can’t do much computing because the current bug has hugely irritated my eyes. However, I did want to call quick attention to one more thing in the pirate universe before going back to bed: David Dart’s Pirate Box. I got the tip from the Jolly Pirate a couple of days ago, and most of the gadget blogs have now picked up the story. It’s a make-it-yourself wireless filesharing node in a pirate lunchbox.

Lesse here: You carry this into a crowded coffee shop so that people can connect from their laptops and smartphones and download whatever pirate goodies are in the box, at least until somebody calls the Bomb Squad.

Ok, I’m just funny that way. But read through the DIY, and ask what I’m asking: Isn’t this a lot of fooling around just to create a wireless file-sharing node? Even a five-year-old beater of a laptop can run Debian and a file server, and software router apps are routine. Furthermore, a laptop looks like a laptop, and when there’s a dozen people at Panera running laptops, it’s a little less easy to tell who’s the pirate.

Unless that’s the idea. This certainly seems to be more about cachet than practical piracy. I’m reminded of warchalking, a silly near-hoax that was getting people’s twickers in a nist back in 2002 or so: marking the locations of wi-fi networks on the sidewalk in chalk, god help us, as though there were no other way to know something was there.

I have the late Harry Helms’ books about pirate radio and I think I understand the psychology. It’s about being a Merry Prankster more than actually getting anything accomplished. And I’m good with that, especially since the 17 people on Earth who will actually build this thing and hang out with it are unlikely to do much damage. (I do grant them points for creativity.)

The Pirate Box reminds me a little of AirStash, which has the advantage of being able to hide in your pocket. The notion of hidden local physical filesharing is an interesting one, and I’m sure that there are better concepts for it hiding out there somewhere. (A USB thumb drive mortared into a brick wall is just one of the gonzo notions I’ve seen recently; something like geocaching with data.) If you know of any more, send me links.

And now it’s back to bed for me.

Kill Switches and File Hoarding

I am so flat on my ass.

My own fault, too. Back in December Carol went in for a re-check on her pancreatitis issue, and the doc said, “Hey, how about a flu shot?” We’re usually good about getting them every year, but this year she got one almost by accident, and the whole issue then slipped my mind. So this past Tuesday afternoon the nausea began, and by Wednesday lunch I was coughing hard and so wobbly I could barely stand. I crawled out of bed here and there during the week to clear my spam and maybe answer an email or two, but more than that just wasn’t in the cards. This morning I’m feeling better than I have since Wednesday, but my chest still aches from the coughing and I’ve lost five pounds.

Shame; lots of interesting things have been going on this week, and I just haven’t been able to write about them. I got two notes from the Jolly Pirate after a long absence. I’ll take up the first one tomorrow. The second one was shorter, and cooks down to one sentence: “Egypt is why I hoard.”

I’ve talked about him here before. He’s one of my eccentric fans, an unapologetic file hoarder who fills hard drive after hard drive with pirated content and freely admits he’ll never even look at (or listen to) most of it. He’s not some sort of wunderkind topsite scenemaster. He’s a thirtyish single guy, and (in his own words) “not especially high tech.” We’re not talking about mysterious Darknet interconnections here. Jolly gets most of his stuff from Usenet or from his friends. They have occasional LAN parties (which are often about file sharing as much as gaming) but mostly they just pass external hard drives around, and copy content among their laptops by the terabyte while watching TV. 2 TB drives are down to $80 on NewEgg. I’m guessing his habit isn’t making him broke.

He worries a lot about the “kill switch” idea, and won’t assume that content you find in the Cloud today will still be there tomorrow, nor that it will still be safe to grab it. Mubarak very quickly and effectively knocked Egypt out of the Cloud this week. Jolly isn’t worried that our President will literally take the Net offline to combat file sharing, but that security concerns will lead to forced logging of all server traffic and detailed monitoring of every packet we send and receive, nominally to keep order but with the full encouragement of Big Content.

In essence, the Kill Switch will be the threat, and a tightening of Net surveillance will be the fallback, since, hey, we’re better than Egypt. We don’t have to shut it off. We just haveta watch it harder.

The real problem with kill switches may be something like that: They’re a form of theater, pandering to popular fears but in reality serving multiple interlocking agendas that few people understand. Lots of powerful groups dislike the Internet. Big Content is only one of them.

Pay attention to what the weasels you elect to office are doing. In the meantime, the Jolly Pirate is responding what may well be rationally: Get It While You Can. The buckets are cheap and the faucets are still wide open.

Luck Happens: The Blotter and the Pocketwatch


A couple of people have asked me where I got the Windows blotter wallpaper discussed and shown in the photo on my January 19, 2011 entry. I stumbled across it while looking for art depicting steampunk airships. Jim Strickland and I have been tossing ideas around for a drumlin airship, and I wanted to see what other people had done in that area. Just clicking around, and alluva sudden I was looking at this. Egad, it’s 1600 X 1200 too–no need for me to do any resizing. If you’re widescreen, you might consider this one instead.

I like blotters. I had a desktop blotter at Borland that was an Ampad Efficiency Deskpad 24-003. It was basically a faux-leather frame surrounding a pad of 17″ X 22″quadrille paper, which I have always liked for sketches and off-the-cuff coding. When Borland laid us off they told me I could have it, since they were just going to dump it (and everything else in my desk) anyway. It’s followed me around ever since, though I’m not sure the quadrille paper for it is available anymore.

The only thing that bothered me about the blotter wallpaper was the pocket watch, which (while well-drawn) was just an image, and always read 3:37. (Days later, I found a version of the blotter wallpaper without the watch.) If the watch had to be there, it had to work. And then I remembered something I had seen a long time ago and forgotten.

There’s a widget engine for Windows called Rainmeter. It was mentioned on one blog or another that I followed back in 2008 or 2009. A widget engine is an app that runs without a conventional windowed UI, and allows you to display frame-less output on your desktop. The widgets are basically skins, and the output can be drawn in easily parameterized ways. There are myriad skins for Rainmeter, and while I was experimenting with it back then I ran across a clock skin called Pocketwatch. It looked a little bit Stickley (as does much else in this house) and I would still have it running had I kept Rainmeter across the last couple of Windows reinstalls. (I did not.)

On a hunch I did the obvious: I took a 6″ steel rule and measured the size of the Pocketwatch widget on the screen, then measured the static pocketwatch image on the blotter wallpaper. The face of one was precisely the same size as the face of the other. (The Pocketwatch skin is the face only; the blotter has the whole pocketwatch.) I quickly installed Rainmeter and Pocketwatch. I centered Pocketwatch over the face of the pocketwatch image, and then un-checked the Draggable setting on Pocketwatch’s context menu. Bang! The watch on my wallpaper now keeps time. All free, too. C’mon, people: What are the chances? Sometimes luck just happens.

Odd Lots

  • At our most recent nerd gathering here, four of my friends and I managed to carry our 1997-vintage, 198-pound Sony CRT TV set up our precipitous stairway out to the 4Runner, and a few days later I paid Blue Star recycling $37 to see it to its final rest. Many thanks to the guys–we had been pondering how to get rid of it for the past several years. Friends are most excellent to have, especially for people like me who can’t lift 100 pounds anymore.
  • And this means we’re shopping for a downstairs TV. I came across a good site focused on plasma TVs, which as a class may be problematic at our current altitude of 6600 feet. Apparently they buzz and run far too hot, though the physics of the phenomenon remain obscure to me.
  • I’ve found the first (thin) review of the Motorola Xoom. Few details yet, but I will say up front that the cloud-based ebook system doesn’t thrill me. Early releases of Honeycomb may not support the XD card slot, but Motorola hints that an OS update will take care of that. That’s important here: Given that 16GB MicroSD cards are already down to $35, sideloading my entire ebook library would be a snap, with room left over for lots of music and videos.
  • I also recently found out that the Xoom GUI borrows from the quirky but interesting BumpTop, recently bought by Google and then pulled from general distribution.
  • I may be too old to appreciate the BumpTop 3D metaphor (I always think it looks like working inside a refrigerator box) but some good themes have been created for it, including this steampunk specimen.
  • Xoom has a “barometer.” Most commenters, including the LA Times , don’t seem to understand that a barometer can measure altitude with more accuracy than GPS. I doubt that the Xoom’s barometer will have anything to do with weather reports. (Else there’d be a thermometer and a hygrometer as well.)
  • There’s a long-running feud between Samsung and US cell carriers over who pays for Android updates, with the result that many Samsung phones are stuck at Android 2.1 and may never get an update from the vendor. (Applying the update yourself is not for the squeamish.) Yesterday afternoon, of course, Samsung denied it all. As intriguing as the Galaxy Tab looked when I played with it back in November, issues like this may keep me away from Samsung wireless products entirely.
  • Some images speak for themselves. Like this one. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Oxytocin may be the biochemical basis for tribalism, racism, political parties, and just about everything else that the human species would be better off without. “Cuddle hormone” my ass.
  • Good-bye to seigniorage, not that one person in ten thousand ever knew what it was–or how to spell it.
  • Ahh, well. I may have eaten my last pistachio.

Displaying Wallpaper on One Monitor Only


I got annoyed the other day (finally!) after being annoyed off and on since, well, almost forever. The problem was this: I was following a Web tutorial explaining how to do something in InDesign. I had InDesign up and maximized (as I always use it) and the Web tutorial in a Firefox window. Firefox wasn’t maximized, but that didn’t matter: Each time I selected a menu item in InDesign to tweak a setting, Firefox vanished under InDesign. That’s just the way Windows has always worked, and for a long time (ten years? more?) I was wondering if there were a better way. Tiling is not an option, not if I want to work on spreads in InDesign. So I just kept on keeping on, with Firefox appearing and vanishing as I ticked off steps on the tutorial.

Until this morning, when shadows on the wall told me that the light bulb had appeared over my head. Yes!

I ran downstairs and got an old monitor off the shelf. It’s a 15″ Samsung SyncMaster 570B, bought for Carol in 2003. She used it until I got her a 20″ display a couple of years ago. It has a mount pivot, and can be used in either portrait or landscape mode. I plugged it into the idle VGA video connector on my desktop, and without any fuss I had dual displays.

I’ve done that before to see how it was done, but never had the desk space for two identical (big) monitors. It wasn’t until today that I hit upon the refinement of putting the second monitor in portrait mode, which takes some space but not as much as anything in landscape mode. Now I can put a Firefox window on the secondary display while working on something full-screen on the primary display, without having to rescue the tutorial window from behind the app window each time I do something in the app window. Victory is sweet–and contains no fructose.

One peculiarity: My desktop wallpaper was partially duplicated on the second, lower-resolution display. The wallpaper image is a desktop blotter (complete with stains) and it just looked wrong having only part of it on the smaller monitor. I wanted the wallpaper on the primary display only, with just a blank color field on the secondary. Remarkably, there is no obvious way to do this. I dug around for most of an hour, trying things in both Control Panel’s Display applet and the NVidia control applet, without success. Then I hit upon this article. The gist is this:

  1. Return the wallpaper image setting in Display | Desktop to None; that is, turn off your current wallpaper. Both screens will now have the same blank color field for background.
  2. Select Desktop | Customize Desktop | Web. What you’re going to do is add a static image (the wallpaper of your choice) for Active Desktop, instead of a Web page.
  3. Click New. In the New Desktop Item dialog, click Browse, and select your wallpaper image from wherever it lives. Open it. Click OK on New Desktop Item. Click OK on the Web tab. Click OK on the Display applet as a whole to close it.
  4. The image you selected will be displayed, probably spanning both monitors. (It did on mine.) Hover over the top edge until the Active Desktop title bar pops up. Click and drag the image to whichever minotor you want to have it as wallpaper. When it’s moved completely onto one display, click the maximize button in the title bar. Bang! There’s your wallpaper, on one display only.

Now, as best I know Active Desktop was eliminated from Windows Vista, so this mechanism applies only to XP and (I presume) earlier versions. (Let me know if I’m wrong about that; I have no Vista or 7 instances here.) Active Desktop used a lot of CPU time and memory, but I think that was due to continuous refresh of the Active Desktop HTML and inane things like Pointcast that people have long forgotten. I don’t see any resource hit for having a static image in place of a Web page.

If I see any system flakiness in coming days I’ll reverse the change and let you know, but so far I haven’t seen a downside. I may try other uses of the secondary display, but I also think I may just turn it off unless I need to read a Web page while doing something else on the primary display. We’ll see.

Restoring Grub with Rescatux

If a task has to be done often enough, sooner or later somebody will automate it. And so it happened with a very common task that I’m glad I didn’t have to do the hard way: Restore Grub to the MBR after a Windows reinstall overwrote it.

Windows does not play nice with Linux the way Linux plays nice with Windows. When you install Linux on a hard drive that already contains a bootable Windows partition, Linux adds the Windows instance to the Grub bootloader menu, allowing you to choose which OS to boot on startup. On the other hand, when you install Windows to a hard drive that already contains a bootable Linux partition, Windows ignores the Linux partition and puts its own bootloader link into the master boot record (MBR.) At startup, the system boots straight into Windows. Linux is still there, but you don’t get to choose to boot into it at startup.

Getting Grub back into the MBR after a Windows reinstall isn’t hideously difficult, but it’s a bit of picky terminal work done from a LiveCD. The trick is knowing how. The canonical description of how to do it is borderline incoherent, including advice like “This method apparently no longer works. Use with caution (if at all.)” The information is all there, but you have to dig a little to make sense of it. (Being a Linux geek helps a great deal.)

There’s now an easier way that I wasn’t aware of the last time I had to reinstall Windows on a dual-boot system: The Rescatux LiveCD. It’s a Debian instance with some scripting added that puts up a wizard and automatically detects installed bootable partitions. It then rebuilds the Grub bootloader menu and points the MBR back to Grub.

A couple of cautions:

  • The wizard is fairly terse. Don’t expect a great deal of handholding. If you don’t have any prior experience with Grub, read the documentation on the Web site. Then read it again.
  • Give the wizard time to work at each step. When you click the OK button, the options reappear immediately, but when there’s some disk access to be done, the script goes off to work and doesn’t give you any indication that it’s working. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds. Be patient.

I failed to be patient the first time I ran Rescatux, and clicked something once too often. (I’m still not entirely sure what.) When I booted the system again, Grub ran and Ubuntu was listed, but this time Windows was missing. There’s some rough justice in that, I guess, but I need to get into Windows just as surely as I need to get into Ubuntu. So I rebooted back into Rescatux and ran the wizard again, giving it enough time to finish each step. Another reboot, and Windows was back in the Grub bootloader menu.

Supposedly Rescatux works with both Grub 2 (the current version) and “Legacy Grub,” V0.97. My system uses Grub 2, and thus I didn’t test its dealings with older Grub versions.

It’s still a little rough, but it saved me a certain amount of eye-crossing terminal work this afternoon, and that’s always a good thing. Be careful and read the doc before you begin, but having said that, I do recommend it.

Replacing Bad Caps in a Good Monitor


About a month ago, my three-year-old Samsung 214T 21″ LCD monitor started flickering so badly that it could induce a seizure in a lump of granite. It’s been my primary monitor for some time and I love it for several reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a 4:3 and has a built-in pivot on the VESA-compatible stand. So if I want portrait mode I can have it, and all of my machines including the older Dells support it at its 1600X1200 native resolution.

I set the ailing 214T aside and swapped in my downstairs monitor (the older and slower but otherwise similar Samsung 213T) followed by some research on repairs. I had a hunch it was bad electrolytic capacitors. Freaky hardware behavior these days has a high likelihood of being bad electrolytic capacitors, for reasons I explain here. And sure enough, a chap on eBay was selling a caps repair kit specifically for the 214T for $14 shipped. I ordered it, and when it arrived in today’s mail I wasted no time getting to work.

Samsung214TBadCaps1Cropped350Wide.jpgThe “kit” is just a Baggie with six caps and a short length of thin wire solder. If you don’t know soldering you’re going to have some trouble. However, the vendor has a very nice tutorial specific to the similar Samsung 204T/214T units here. It helps that we’re dealing with a power supply board and not a logic board, in that power supply board traces are usually big enough to see. Anybody with a spoonful of bench tech experience won’t have any trouble unsoldering and removing the old caps and getting the new ones soldered in. That took me maybe 10 minutes, granting that I’ve been soldering for almost 50 years and had top-shelf bench tech training at Xerox. No, your real problem will be getting the damned thing apart to where you can remove the PC board to work on it. And the first step is the worst: prying apart the two black plastic halves of the monitor’s case. LCDAlternatives suggests a putty knife in their tutorial, and that’s precisely what it took. And even though I’m very good with disassembly (bruising up a customer’s machine was a serious no-no at Xerox) I scratched up the 214T pretty thoroughly just getting into it. Alas, these units were not designed to be repaired.

Two of the six caps on the power supply board were obviously bad (above left) in that they were domed on top, and one had begun to leak. The others had no visible defects, but that doesn’t guarantee that they hadn’t failed, or wouldn’t fail soon. The kit had six, and I replaced all six.

Total time for the repair was about an hour, including disassembly/reassembly. When I got it plugged back in and powered up, it worked like new, including being a little brighter than it had been shortly before the flickering began. (This is in line with what I’ve read about the effects of bad caps on monitors.) All in all I consider it a big win: Absent the repair, the monitor would have been scrap. I might not have bothered on a smaller or older monitor, but this one I feel is exactly right for what I do, and an hour spent giving it a few more years of service was an hour well-spent indeed.

Odd Lots

  • Before we had CGI to draw animated pictures of the Solar System, we turned parts on our lathes and made orreries. Here’s a gallery of 18 beauties, including one made in Lego (ok, injection molded) and two in Meccano. Some of them are pretty steampunkish, if that matters to you.
  • And speaking of steampunk, here’s something I’ve never seen before: Windows XP wallpaper in the form of an animated GIF. As wallpaper, this particular item would make me nuts in about ten seconds, but it’s a nice piece of work, and looks best at 1024 X 768. (The animation includes little puffs of steam!)
  • I’ve looked for this for several years now and have not yet seen it: A higher-end digital camera with an option to overlay a scale bar across the edges of a photo, calculated from the point of focus. (A ping or crosshairs at the point of focus would be another useful refinement on the idea.) This would certainly be useful to me in some circumstances, and I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be useful to landscapers and those in the construction business.
  • Jim Strickland sends us word of electronic bifocals, containing a region of a special LCD overlay that changes its index of refraction in response to an electric current. We’re still a few years away from a practical product, and my big objection to the Pixel Optics implementation is that if you can change the index of any part of the lens quickly and at will, why not change the whole lens? I have separate glasses for computer work in addition to my bifocals, and I’ve considered ordering separate glasses for reading. Finally, I don’t see any provision to correct for astigmatism, which is an issue for me and many others. Still, a damned good start!
  • Injecting carbon dioxide gas underground to be rid of it is a hazardous business, because the gas doesn’t stay ridded. Oh noes!
  • Here’s the best description I’ve seen of an upgrade from a conventional hard drive to an SSD. The Kingston 128GB SATA device described in the article costs from $200-$275 depending on where you shop, and there are both a 256GB ($720) and a 512GB model ($1400) now. 128GB is more than enough for my backup SX280 Linux/Windows dual-booter, and I think I’ll be outfitting the SX280 with one of these in the near future. Funny that the SSD will cost me significantly more than the (used) machine did originally.
  • This kind of genie rarely goes back into a bottle. My suggestion? Have them sit down and think of a way to capitalize on the new and irreversible openness of the system. My prediction? Sony will fail. They just can’t think in those terms. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • When I was a kid I grew up about half a block from a boy named Bill Van Ornum. We both attended public high schools, and both belonged to the Catholic teens organization at our parish targeted specifically at public schoolers. Dr. Van Ornum is now a columnist for the online edition of the Catholic weekly America, and his column (shared with several other writers) is worth visiting. This week: Piaget and the “magic years,” in which children discern the distinctness between themselves and the physical universe, and which may be the well of fascination for Harry Potter style magic in myth and literature.
  • For those who don’t have to deal with in snow and ice in hilly country, well, this YouTube video may make you feel better about not living in Colorado Springs. (Thanks to Eric Bowersox for the link.) Then again, we don’t have mosquitoes. Sorry about that, Chicago.
  • While you have YouTube open, let me nominate this Danny Kaye song (from the 1959 film Merry Andrew, which, alas, has never been available on DVD) as The Perkiest Song Of The Last 100 Years. If you don’t agree, I’ll certainly hear counter-suggestions. And if you’re naturally depressive, don’t click the link. Your head will explode.

The Importance of Sideloading

You haven’t seen much of me here since the first of the year because I set myself a target for writing fiction, and, micracles of miracles, I’m sticking to it. Blogging is second priority, and if I spend my creative hours working on stories, I’m likely to post a lot less in this space. (What posts I do write I hope to make longer.)

Anyway. CES 2011 is now history, and I followed it more closely than I might have in past years because I’m actively shopping for an Android slate. (I hate to call them “tablets;” we’ve had tablet PCs for almost ten years and there’s one on my desk.) I played a little with a Samsung Galaxy Tab at a Verizon store in Tampa in late November and was much impressed, even though the demo unit did not have any kind of ebook reader installed. (Wireless carriers are pushing video hard, because video will use up a lot of deliciously profitable minutes.) I’ve played with Apple’s iPad as well and have been just as impressed, but there’s a huge worm in it for me: Apple wants to absolutely control its content ecosystem, and sideloading of apps is a gnarly business. Sideloading an iPad is easier with books and music, but I’d like to try my hand at slate apps, and I’m not going to work in a playground with barbed wire around it. The open-source Android just suits my temperament better. I have some faint hope of programming Android apps in FreePascal, but Android is really a Java-like platform (apps run on the Dalvik VM, which has its own specific register-based bytecode set) and a Pascal-to-Dalvik compiler is unlikely, as much as it has precedent in the ancient UCSD P-system.

Sideloading is important in a number of ways. (The term as I use it simply means the ability to get apps and content onto a device locally through a cable or a plug-in memory unit, rather than from a tightly-controlled online store or cloud locker of some kind.) I don’t have a lot of ebooks yet, primarily because the e-ink display on my Sony Reader makes my head hurt. Furthermore, the ones I do have are a very mixed bag, from many different sources and in many different formats. I have novels, but I also have tech books, many of which have intricate art and layouts that don’t reflow. A lot of things I’ve picked off Usenet are image scans of transformer catalogs and ancient manuals for Fifties Heathkits, none of which are legible on low-res e-ink screens. I need a good high-res color display, but more significantly, I need the ability to install arbitrary apps to render any arbitrary content format, including minority formats like DjVu, which I don’t favor but must deal with occasionally. I could readily sideload the files on an iPad, but the apps to render them are another matter.

Sideloading of ebooks is still a geek thing, primarily because the ebook business is so damned young. If you can get everything you want from Amazon or Apple, cool–and almost everybody is starting from scratch, with little or no existing ebook library to deal with. In years to come, people will be jumping from device to device and reader to reader and store to store, and at each jump must face the question of how to pack along the books they’ve already paid for. DRM makes this hugely more difficult, but even in a world without DRM, different kinds of content would require local storage transfer and different rendering apps, not all of which will be readily available from the current vendor’s store, especially for new devices incorporating new OSes.

Sideloading also allows local scanning for malware, which will become increasingly important in coming years, certainly for apps but probably for compromised content files as well.


Any slate I buy will have to support sideloading of both apps and content. Android seems to be the OS for that, and I’m now watching the Motorola Xoom, a dual-core 10″ Android slate running the Honeycomb version of Android. There’s some weirdness involving the SD slot (the CES prototypes didn’t have it) but without that, there’s no sale. More intriguing for many reasons is the Notion Ink Adam, (above) which does have a MicroSD slot and 2 USB ports, and the intriguing PixelQi display. Its Android OS is a custom version that anticipates some of the Honeycomb features but is technically V2.2 Froyo with a proprietary UI. (Their blog is worth following if you’re interested in slate technology.) I just hope they don’t do a FusionGarage thing, but if they can hang in there they’ll be a contender.

I must emphasize that I’m being careful and I’m not in any particular hurry. Much of my personal Jedi self-training in recent years could be summarized as Stop wanting stuff. Buy, or buy not. There is no “want.” When jump I, know you will!

Odd Lots

  • I may be the last person to aggregate this, but if you haven’t seen it yet, consider: The Sun being eclipsed simultaneously by the Moon…and the ISS! Thanks to Bill Higgins for pointing it out. (Talk about having to set up a shot!!!)
  • And for further astronomical boggle-fodder, consider this: A ten-year-old girl discovered a supernova a few days ago, and is the youngest person ever to do so.
  • Here’s a site listing a great many 19th Century and early 20th Century studio photographers, many with addresses and sometimes timeframes. All but one of the studios I’ve seen on old family photos I’ve scanned (circa 1880-1910) are listed. How useful this might be is hard to tell, but if you’re currently doing genealogical research it’s worth a bookmark.
  • RF Cafe has a nice table of dielectric constants, useful if you’re winding coils on odd scraps and not commercial forms or cores.
  • The same research yielded this short discussion of how good PVC piping is for RF use. Quick form: Most plastics are better, but they don’t make polystyrene pipe. They don’t even make polystyrene vitamin bottles anymore. (Fortunately, I still have a few in the scrap box.)
  • From my old friend Dennis Harris comes a pointer to, which has short MP3 clips of 18,351 TV theme songs and all their variations. Elmer the Elephant is missing, but damn near everything else is there, from Supercar to The Ugliest Girl in Town .
  • Last week while we were in Chicago, my nephew Brian showed me Google Sky Map on his Android smartphone. Basically (assuming your phone “knows where it is” and when) you can hold your phone up against the sky, and it will show you what stars and planets lie in that direction, even in broad daylight. Aim the camera at your feet, and you’ll see what’s on the other side of the planet, swinging toward rising or circling the opposite pole. Way cool.
  • From the Words I Haven’t Heard In A Long Time Department: bric-a-brac , a collective term for odd items of low value. I realized, digging through a box in the garage, that I must hold one of the world’s largest reserves of bric-a-brac. Damn. I shoulda invested in rare earths.
  • Related to the above: Rubrique-a-Brac , a long-running cartoon strip by French cartoonist Gotlib. His 1971 Taume 2 collection of strips is the funniest book in French I ever read without knowing French. (I do have a French-English dictionary, which helps, but the art largely speaks for itself.)
  • As if the Nazgul weren’t enough: We’ve gotten word that there was once a giant stork that preyed on the Flores Island hobbits.