Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

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.


  1. Tom says:

    It looks like y’all have been getting the same kind of stuff we have had on the ground for about three days down here Jeff. It looks like more of those drivers in your neck of the woods should have read the January 1961 Carl and Jerry, “A Rough Night” it was one of my favorites. I loved the phrase, “Only a woolly worm with a sandpaper belly could travel on this ice,…”

    I am an Atlanta native, but I spent three years at Wright Patterson AFB back in the early 1970’s in the Air Force and learned to drive pretty well on snow. However, I do not even attempt it around here any more for the following reasons.

    1. We almost ALWAYS have ICE under, over, or in the snow.

    2. We have hills — lots of hills.

    3. Too many people think 4 wheel drive will save them. They don’t remember that everybody already has four wheel breaks, and on ice it doesn’t help a bit!

    You HAVE been missed on Contra. Jeff, but good luck with the fiction!


  2. Erbo says:

    I was seeing a less-violent version of that video today, in fact, right out the window of my office. The window faces 19th Street, between Blake Street and Wazee Street, and there’s a slight upslope going towards Blake. Some vehicles, mainly rear-wheel-drive trucks, had trouble getting rolling on that slope after having to stop at the light at Blake; I saw some of them spinning their wheels, sliding or rolling back a short distance, trying to get a better grip on the road. Even a big semi truck had trouble getting traction. No collisions, thank heaven.

  3. Aki says:

    The Finnish speed kings on a slippery highway 03.17.2005. We’ve got winter tires covered by studs, so you can drive like in June, or at least some folks thought so. 60 people to hospital, three died among them a driver whose surname was “Talvitie” ie. “Winter road”.

  4. I’m not clear on what exactly you’re trying to accomplish with the digital camera.

    Flat-bed scanners are commonly used in forensics and biology labs because they’re calibrated automatically. If you know the resolution (recorded in the image file), it’s trivial to map the dimensions of objects in the image. But the image is two-dimensional. With a digital camera, you’re recording a 3-dimension image onto a 2-dimensional sensor. How does overlaying a measurement grid on that image help you? The actual dimensions of an object in the image vary according to the actual size of the object, its distance from the optical center of the lens, and the focal length of that lens. Granted, the EXIF data in the images from my DSLRs includes the focal length setting, but I don’t understand how that can give me more than the apparent size of the object. Even if the camera recorded the exact focus distance and placed a tick on the image at that distance, that could be used only to determine the actual size of an object or portion thereof that lay exactly in that plane. Or am I missing something?

    1. I’ve taken photos of unfamiliar items with my digital camera, and it’s not obvious how big they are from the photo. Here’s a good example:

      Is it two inches long or eight inches long? If I hadn’t measured it and included the measurement none of us would know. It’s relatively flat, and if the focus mechanism is relatively sharp, the camera could calculate a scale for the plane in which the focus lay. That’s all I want; I’m not doing forensics-level stuff here. Furthermore, I don’t expect this feature to be present in cheap pocket cameras. My (now stolen) Canon G10 had the chops to do it, I think, and I bought it for macro work on technical projects.

      I don’t know enough about how cameras (especially DSLRs) calculate foci, but we have long had cheap technology to do echo rangefinding, and in a high-end camera it wouldn’t add much to the SRP. Nor do I know how well laser rangefinding would work at a distance of four or five inches (which is what I want) but “laser tape measures” are now $35 at Home Depot. Submillimeter accuracy is not required. But when I photograph a small part or a stone or something which is not immediately sizeable by eye, I want people who see the photo to have something to get their bearings from.

      1. Ah, I see. I thought you were talking about being able to determine the dimensions of many objects at different distances from the camera.

        That’s why forensics photographers (not to mention archeologists and other scientists who work and shoot images in the field) carry many different rules and are careful to place them so that a viewer can determine the size of the object in the image. In a pinch, I’ve used objects of well-known sizes (such as a 35mm film cassette or a 9V transistor battery) to give approximate scale.

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