Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Odd Lots

  • Suddenly the Sun woke up, perhaps afraid that it would get typecast for weak peaks. A sunspot number of 282 is only a little low for a sunspot maximum, and higher than I’ve seen since 2004 or so.
  • The Atlantic takes on the interesting phenomenon of false memories, which I did back in 2009 in a series that started here and continued here, here, and here. As I write my memoirs, I’m checking anything I can against my sister’s memories, as well as any old papers or photos I have lying around in boxes. It’s amazing how much I remembered wrong, and I wonder how much may be wrong that I have no hope of every verifying.
  • Did your favorite classic car ever appear in a movie or on TV? Well dayum, there’s a Web site for that. (Thanks to Ernie Marek for the link. And yes, there are loads and loads of 1968 Chevelles.)
  • Reader DennisK pointed me to LXLE, a lightweight Ubuntu-based Linux distro designed specifically to look and work like Windows XP. I have lots of SX270s here destined to become bookends (and several that already have) so there’s no shortage of test platforms. I’ll let you know what I think after I try it.
  • The Intel Galileo board will be shipping by the end of November, for $70. It supposedly competes with the Rapsberry Pi, but to me it looks like half the computer for twice the price. The Beagle boards have more promise. Anybody using one?
  • Here’s a quick history of optical disks.
  • What do you feed that pharaoh you just mummified? Mummified beef ribs.
  • These peculiar ads (one depicting a brand of salami as a dirigible) don’t include Flying Bomb batteries (battery as bomb; what could possible go wrong?) or another brand of battery I saw in the 1960s that shows an Asian couple riding a battery like a horse. Or could it have been needles and thread? Oh, and meet Seaman Strangelove. There are many more Depression-era product posters (salami was popular) with similar metaphors on the walls of hipster restaurants everywhere.


  1. I’ve been working with Beagle hardware for several years since the original Beagleboard came out. Beaglebones, especially the new Beaglebone Black are a great value with good processors, lots of I/O and decent OS options. I’ve designed a number of expansion cards for them (mostly FPGA related) and done a lot of coding on them. Well worth looking into.

    1. The BeagleBone Black has a Cortex A8 processor, with NEON and lots of other good things, like 2 GB flash storage. That definitely got my interest. I’ve seen reports that Lazarus/FPC run on the BBB, and that could tip my decision to pick one up and play around with it.

      More than most people here, you can appreciate a notion I had to use a board like this as a software radio of some sort. Long-term research project, and like as not somebody’s already done it.

      1. Funny you should mention software radio. I’m currently working with a ham buddy on a wideband SDR project that marries the Beaglebone Black with a midrange FPGA and ADC / DAC front end to build a compact SDR box. Frequency range from about 100kHz – 1GHz with an instantaneous bandwidth approaching 30MHz.

        The FPGA portion of it is documented here:

        That board plugs into the Beaglebone Black and the RF card sits on top of it for a 3-board stack. If all goes well we should be seeing some results in a month or so.

        1. Whoa. That’s a fine-looking item. Let me know how you’re doing on this. From here it looks like you’re closing in on a homebrew HT that runs Linux, and I like the sound of that.

  2. Bill Meyer says:

    Optical disks: And speaking of time machines (as did the article), this review prompts me to point out that what is arguably the most stable form of modern media remains paper.

    Some of us have moved from 8″ to 5.25″ to 3.5″ floppies, as well as through a parade of hard disk formats (I once had a couple of 14 inch hard drives wired to my CP/M system), and are therefore inclined to skepticism about digital archiving. Anyone here have a functioning ST-506 interface?

    Magnetic tape provides an interesting diversion, but no solution. Some years ago, I worked in a video post-production house which discovered that some of its archival tapes, carefully stored, had some sort of goo oozing from between the layers. It seems that 3M had used an adhesive in the storage cases which out-gassed something which interacted with the anti-static back-coating of the tape to produce a sort of jelly.

    On the other hand, we can still read books from hundreds of years ago, and decipher papyrus scrolls form much longer past.

    Just saying….

    1. Media decay doesn’t matter if you migrate your files across media over time. I have SF stories I wrote on my 1 MHz 8080 S100 machine in 1980, now present on archival hard drives that I refresh periodically as well as thumb drives. I don’t think I’ve ever lost any files that I wanted to keep due to media decay. Scanning photos is a nuisance, but the ones that I’ve scanned will migrate along with those SF stories and not be destroyed if the house burns down.

      Books are an issue, because scanning them without destroying them is almost impossible, and very few books older than ten years are available as ebooks, and fewer still as legitimate ebooks.

      I’ve heard from a number of EEs (including Eric, above, unless I misrecall) that Flash is a long-lived medium if you’re not constantly writing and rewriting it. I think the key is to just copy all the files from one bucket to another periodically. The buckets keep getting bigger, so capacity has never been a problem here.

      1. Bill Meyer says:

        True enough about migration, though I have lost some files over time. I lost a large archive of floppies due to deterioration which clogged heads. The 3.5″ media were particularly hygroscopic, in my experience, which led to serious recovery issues. I think you were in AZ when I was struggling with that, so you would not have gone through the same. 😉

        Not only is scanning a book without destroying it extremely difficult, the process is extraordinarily tedious, and the correction of OCR errors even more so. Books from before 1923 are often on, but those, too, are often plagued with OCR errors.

        My limited understanding of the physics of Flash suggests that it should be long lived, however, there remains the question of ever-changing interfaces. Not a short-term problem, as USB seems unlikely to depart, but still….

        As to capacity, yes, it keeps increasing, but the recovery time for failing drives also grows. I recently retired a 1.5TB Seagate drive which was intermittently disappearing from view. Copying all the files from that drive to a replacement was a very slow process, as there were some (small) files which took minutes to copy. My working hypothesis is directory seek issues.

  3. re: long term preservation of data, one wonders if, in the historical view, the burning of the library at Alexandria might not have inadvertently been a positive thing. (Not that this exonerates the scumballs who did it.) It left a gap in which new knowledge could be synthesized, and through that gap flowed the modern age. Are we, as a civilization, burying ourselves in the preservation of the data/knowledge past so deeply that we stifle innovation for the future?

    I don’t know the answer. I do know it’s a rough market for writers when nothing /ever/ goes out of print.


  4. Thom Denholm says:

    Always enjoy reading about sunspots here. Have you read the book “The Sun’s Heartbeat (And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet) by Bob Berman? Really interesting (and recent!) science, and some wry humor as well.

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