Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

May, 2013:

Odd Lots


FWDuntemannII1942-255 wide.jpgOur house is on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain, and our back deck looks down on Fort Carson. We hear bugle calls at 6:30, noon, and 5:00, accompanied by a cannon. Then every night at 10 PM, taps drifts up the mountain. If I’m still up and around, I go out on the back deck and remember three men. When the echoes die away among the mountain canyons, I salute, and whisper, “Thank you, gentlemen.”

All three served their country in World War II. Only two came back. One gave me life. One gave me his daughter’s hand in marriage. And one…he died for you, me, and everybody else who thinks that freedom matters critically in the history of our world.

SteveOstruska1945-550Wide.jpgFrank W. Duntemann was attached to the AACS (Army Airways Communications System) and served first in Italy and then Africa. He claims that he slept through the bombardment of Monte Cassino, and having seen him sleep through my puppy Smoker’s biting his ear and drawing blood, I can almost believe it. He sent Morse code on a Vibroplex bug, and could copy it in his head and pound it out on a typewriter as fast as anybody could send it. I could fill a book with the stories he told.

Steve Ostruszka was in the Navy, and served on the destroyer USS Woolsey (DD-437) until the War ended. Or so we think. Unlike my dad, Carol’s dad simply refused to talk about the War. Nearly all of what we know of his days as an engine mechanic on the Woolsey came from his brother Ed, who also served on the ship.

Then there was Robert Williams, Jr. of Necedah, Wisconsin. He graduated from Necedah High School in 1942, and enlisted in the Navy immediately. At some point in 1942, he kissed his best girl good-bye, and got on a train for California to ship out on the Pacific. I don’t know what ship he was on, but at some point it was attacked by the Japanese, and sunk.

His best girl was my mother.

Like millions of other men and women in WWII and since, Bobby Williams gave his life to help ensure that others could keep theirs, and it was true of me in a very weird way. Absent his sacrifice, I wouldn’t be writing this. I wouldn’t “be” at all, which is a strange thing to meditate on. Now, the chain of contingencies leading to any individual life is long, and doesn’t end until the moment the genetic die is cast. Nonetheless, I wish that he had come back. He loved my mother, and no one should die so horrible a death at 19 or 20.

I’ll go out and listen for taps tonight, and I will thank them again. I will thank countless others for what they gave and for the lives that were changed or lost altogether. We must go to war with the utmost reluctance, but having done so, we must honor those we send, in the hope that every war will be the last that our world will ever see.

Odd Lots

  • Yes, I’ve been away from Contra for longer than I’d like, and the Odd Lots have been piling up. Some of that away was necessary for my sanity, and was spent by the pool at a resort in Phoenix, where Carol and I discussed things like the wonder of a single-celled organism that is 10 cm long. The secret appears to be evolving superior organelles. Bandersnatchi, anyone?
  • While I was gone, someone released a new OS for the Raspberry Pi: The Pidora Remix. It’s basically Fedora for the Pi. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ll flip another SD card out of the drawer soonest and burn an image. Man, you have to run like hell just to stay in one place in this business.
  • The Raspberry Pi’s main competition, the BeagleBone, now has a 1 GHz ARM Cortex A8 version that ships with a Linux 3.8 kernel. BeagleBone Black supports the Linux Device Tree, which does a lot to decouple hardware details from the kernel. Looks terrific–now all it needs is an installed base.
  • I noticed a system resource draw-down when I had iTunes installed on my old and now electrocuted quadcore. The software took a lot of cycles and memory, even when it didn’t appear to be doing anything. The discussion has come up on Slashdot. (The poster also mentioned Rainmeter, which I tried once and found…ok.) I try to run a lean system here, and I frown on things that want services, tray icons, and 15% of my cycles all the damned time. (The Dell Dock does precisely that. For showing a row of icons. Sheesh.)
  • Amazon is setting up a new markeplace for short fiction, with a twist: It offers to share revenues on fan fiction with the authors of the original items. It’s unclear how many authors will accept that, but I would, like a shot. (I guess all I’d need are some fans.) In truth, Jim Strickland and I talked in detail some years back about opening up the Drumlins World to all authors who’d care to tell a story there, without even asking for money.
  • Clinical depression may be linked to sleep cycles, which appear to have a genetic basis. How to fix this is unclear, but I’ll testify that depression in the wake of losing Coriolis laid waste to my sleep habits for a couple of years. (Thanks to Jonathan O’Neal for the link.)
  • The Man Who Ploughed the Sea may soon be mining it…for uranium. I’d cut to the chase and just mine it for gold, so I can buy more ytterbium for my Hilbert Drive. Alas, there’s less gold in the oceans than we thought (1 part per trillion) and not much more ytterbium (1.5 parts per trillion) so maybe I should just extract the uranium (3 parts per billion) and make yellow pigments to sell on Etsy.
  • I’m not sure I buy this, but it’s an interesting speculation: That the Younger Dryas cold snap was triggered by a smallish asteroid that crashed…in Lake Michigan. Click through for the maps if nothing else. My favorite Great Lake is deeper and more complex than I thought.
  • Save the apostrophe’s! (From a fate worse than dearth…)
  • And save us, furthermore, from new Microsoft technology that counts people in the room watching your TV. Because having more than one person watching a TV show or movie rental is…is…stealing!
  • 3-D printing is still in the stone age (and the Old Stone Age at that) but if we don’t allow berserk patent law to strangle the kid in its crib, wonderful things will happen once 3-D printers are no longer CNC glue guns. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • I’m starting to think that 3-D printers like that will soon make one-off repro of small plastic parts like the ones at the center of kites practical. I guess the challenge is somehow getting the precise shape of the part into a file. If I weren’t trying so hard to be a novelist I would probably have a 3-D printer already. For the moment I’m glad I didn’t jump as soon as I otherwise might have.
  • Speaking of CNC…and guns: Plastic guns are dumb, dangerous, ineffective, and basically a stunt that seems designed (probably in Autocad) to make politicians say stupid things and make enemies. The real issue is cheap, portable CNC machines capable of cutting metal. That horse is out of the barn and beyond the horizon.

Remembering the Known Unknown

Now, this is a weird one: Yesterday, while talking to Carol about how monasticism amplifies the dangers of dualism, I tried to remember the name of the poet who wrote “Wherever the Catholic Sun Doth Shine.” Failed. This annoyed me; the poem is a very big favorite of mine, and someday I’ll have it printed on a poster and framed. I punted and went on with the conversation, but the memory failure rankled me.

Ok, sixties moment and all that. Happens to the best of us. The weirdness started when it suddenly occurred to me that the last name of the poet was the same as the last name of Indiana Jones’s archaeologist rival in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was absolutely certain that it was the same name…but I still couldn’t remember the name itself.

Sheesh. I could see a picture of the poet. He looked a little like H. P. Lovecraft with a squarer face, and I knew that the two were contemporaries. I could see the archeologist in the movie. I could even hear his voice. The name, nowhere to be found.

It hit me sometime later: Hilaire Belloc, of course. And the fictional archaeologist, Rene Belloq. (I don’t consider the difference in spelling significant.) I think most of us have the experience of remembering facts about a person while failing to remember the name. I distinctly recall asking Carol: “Who was the woman in Albuquerque who showed a bichon named after G.W. Bush?” I could see the woman in my mind. I could see the bichon. I knew where they lived. Carol had to remind me of the woman’s name.

I don’t think I’ve ever before had the insight that two people had the same name, without being able to remember the name itself. I’ve read a number of arguments that the invention of language made our brains explode and allowed us to make the final leap to true intelligence. I’ve heard counter arguments too, and I think the counters have it: We could think long before we could speak, and when we evolved machinery for managing language, it ended up somewhere else in the gray matter. (Odds are that Michael Covington knows a little about this. Or maybe a lot.) I’m guessing that we store facts about stuff in one place, and we store names in another place. We store relationships in with the facts (I think) and we can recall and understand facts and relationships without necessarily having a name tag tied to any of it. I had a little plastic drawer devoted to spade bolts long before I knew the term “spade bolt.” Not knowing what they were called only became a problem when I tried to go buy more. (Like a lot of things in my junkbox, I have no idea where the ones in the drawer originally came from.)

I don’t bring this up because it’s surprising; in fact, it makes perfect sense. I’ve just never had my nose rubbed in it so vividly. We once lived in a world where everything was a game of charades, 24/7. Language was a damned useful invention. I’m a little surprised that it took us as long as it did.

Odd Lots

End of the Road for CS-in-a-Box

Big news today: Adobe’s CS6 product is the last one that you’ll be able to install “out of the box” from a retail copy. Much fuss is being made about a move that was lead-pipe predictable after Creative Cloud went live last year. Some of today’s new stories give you the impression that there’s some dazzling new browser-based whatchamacallit technology behind CC, but after reading the Creative Cloud FAQ I’m not sure there’s any radical re-engineering going on at alll. Creative Cloud is not a browser-based technology. It’s just a new release of a digitally delivered client-side app suite, with a difference: You have to connect to the Internet at least once every thirty days to authenticate it.

So calm down. It’s just stronger DRM, and a leakproof end-run around the First Sale Doctrine.

The DRM, like all DRM, is probably crackable. Having to re-crack it every thirty days will slow the pirates down a little, but I wouldn’t bet on it being impossible. DRM is less significant than then other half: You can’t resell bits the way you can resell discs. There’s a pathway to de- and re-registering an Adobe boxed product, but it’s a nuisance and I’m sure Adobe has wanted to eliminate the whole process for a long time. This’ll do it.

Going to a subscription model means that people will no longer be able to buy a box for $500 and then use it forever. Big shops may be able to justify the cost. Smaller shops may stick with old versions. Doesn’t matter. Adobe obviously wants to eliminate the perpetual-license home market, which has always cost more in support than it generates in revenue. Going to subscriptions means a predictable and mostly reliable revenue stream. Losing individual users and very small shops isn’t much of a loss, money-wise. I also wonder if this may be the end of the road for Adobe Resellers. CC may do for boxed software what self-published ebooks are doing for books: eliminating the middleman.

Now, one final point I haven’t seen others make so far: Without a boxed product for pirates to steal, Adobe will lose a certain number of sales from people who tried it illicitly, liked it, and then bought it. (Most people credit this model with giving Microsoft a lock on the office suite market back in the 90s.) This makes me wonder if the otherwise-puzzling release of non-authenticating copies of all CS2 apps back in January was intended to keep the piracy-driven sales channel alive. In a sense, Adobe provided a pre-stolen copy of CS for people to install and fool with, no risky cracking required. A certain number of those people will like it enough to sign up for CC for better apps and sync services. Also, don’t underestimate the value of skills developed in using a product line. Unlearning a product and learning a different product is a pain in the butt. (This is why student versions at breathtaking discounts make sense in the long run.)

And for all the talk about CC being the future of software, c’mon. There are maybe four software companies in the universe that can pull this off. The future for $20-$50 apps like Atlantis is bright, and open source software has never been better. Adobe has kicked itself upstairs. That leaves a whale of a lot more room for everybody else down here.

Odd Lots

The Pibow Case and Vesa Mount for Raspberry Pi

Last week I bought a Toshiba 23L1350U 1080p TV set as a display for the Raspberry Pi. It’s a terrific TV set, as TV sets go, and a reasonable monitor. I had to do some hunting around the configuration menus with the remote to get it out of TV mode and into PC mode, and then reduced the brightness until it didn’t make my eyes want to fall out and roll under my desk.

With that accomplished, boy, it’s a sweet display for the Raspberry Pi. The effective resolution is 1920 X 1080, which is a lot of pixels to push around for something not quite the size of a business card and running at a bare 700 MHz. It runs Scribus, Lazarus, and AbiWord tolerably well. In fact, the MagPi magazine is laid out with Scribus on an RPi, which makes this old magazine geek boggle.

Like a lot of people, I just let the RPi board lie in the thick of its nest of cables for awhile. I then cobbled a mount out of scrap aluminum for an old SX270 all-in-one stand, and that works pretty well on the matching 2004-era Dell 17″ 4:3 monitor. That’s now my spare RPi system. I bought a second board for the Toshiba and wanted a case to put it in, to get it off the desk and out of the way.

Pi in PiBow Case 1-500 wide.jpg

The Toshiba provides an ideal place to put the case: on the 100mm VESA mount at the back of the TV. The Pibow people sell these slick transparent cases consisting of seven layers of CNC-cut plexi, stacked, with vent-perfed front and back panels. The board fits snugly in the void left in the slabs by cutting. The plexi layers are not glued or fastened to one another in any way, which makes assembly tricky. Four long nylon bolts hold the assembly together. Tip: Don’t get the layers out of order, as they are not numbered.

Pibow on Vesa 1-500 wide.jpg

Pibow sells a VESA mount as a separate item. It’s simply a different rear panel, with four ears drilled for both 75mm and 100mm VESA templates. Bolted to the VESA inserts, it’s up and out of the way and reduces cable clutter radically. I’m wondering how warm the board will get inside the case, but as I’m not overclocking the board (yet) I suspect it’ll be fine.

I’m going to use Adafruit’s nano-Wi-Fi adapter for networking on this unit. It hasn’t come yet, and I’ll report on how easily it goes in and how it works in future entries.

Where’s the rest of SQLite?

Wait. Oh. That’s all there is.


I had this problem once before, with the Atlantis word processor. It’s 5MB installed. 5. The first time I installed it I suspected I had downloaded a corrupt file, but no: However they did it, the wizards over at Atlantis implemented a damned fine Word 2000 clone in 5MB. It doesn’t have the collaboration features, but for solo work it’s a very big win, and exports extremely clean epubs as a side benefit.

For a fair number of years now, my non-Delphi database work has all been in MySQL. (With Delphi I use a VCL product called DBISAM, which is linked into the compiled .exe and doesn’t have to be installed separately.) Because SQLite is available for the Raspbian OS and MySQL isn’t (as best I know; Percona runs on Arch Linux) I’m going to be using SQLite as a database teaching tool. So when I installed it the other day, I stared at the 600K .dll and wondered, Is that all there is?

Yes, that’s all there is, my friend–so let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the tools and have a ball. ‘Cause that’s all there is!

Wow. I verified it by searching for the sqlite3.dll file on my system. The Calibre ebook manager uses an older version (as do a few other things) and the file was not only that same unbelievable size, but smaller. Can you implement a relational database engine in only 372K? I guess you can.

One reason SQLite’s .dll is so small is that it contains no UI at all. There’s a bare-bones command-line management utility available as a separate download. As some of you may know (or suspect) I dislike command lines intensely. So it wasn’t long before I had two free GUI management apps for SQLite databases. One was recommended by Chris Newman’s book on SQLite, SQLite Database Browser, and the other is SQLiteMan. Both are free and installed without drama. So far I prefer SQLiteMan, but it’s really too early to tell. SQLiteMan is supposedly compilable on the RPi. I intend to try that. I’ll let you know how it goes.

One other reason may be that SQLite is “typeless,” which means that the engine does not do type-checking on reads and writes. You can put anything you want in any field (apart from key fields, which are treated specially) and if it makes no sense, it’s your screwup on your conscience. I’m a strongly typed guy and this would rankle, if it didn’t allow a database engine to come in at half a megabyte.

There are wrappers for most common languages, including Lua and Lazarus/FreePascal, both of which I have here and have been fooling with in recent months. I’ve been very spoiled by DBISAM, and I’m interested to see how well SQLite works in non-server applications. More as it happens.