Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Odd Lots

  • Our good president is creating czars right and left, to the point where you can’t tell the czars without a program. So maybe we need a czar czar–I know a guy named Binks who could do the job…
  • Jim Strickland sent me a decent video demonstration of superfluidity in liquid helium. Liquid helium had a starring role in my 1980 story “Cold Hands,” and Richard Bartrop’s cover image of my upcoming story collection Cold Hands and Other Stories includes Richard’s visualization of liquid helium floating free in atmosphere at zero-G. I don’t think we’ve ever fussed with liquid helium in orbit, but if we have, I’d like pointers to any mentions.
  • In my novel The Cunning Blood, I postulated fluidic computers, which use fluid pressure and flow rates as the encoding units of information. People think I made this up completely, but not so: The technology was in use as early as 1948, and was written up in Popular Mechanics in the 1970s. (That’s where I first heard of it, though I can’t find the citation right now.)
  • If you’re at all interested in the future of the publishing industry and newspapers in particular, be sure to read James Fallows’ take on it. Ad-supported print media are being bled white by eBay and especially Craigslist, which is the direct digital analog of print classified ads.
  • From the Words-That-Sound-Exactly-Like-What-They-Are Department: “Dudelsack” is German for “bagpipe.”
  • Ethanol is a terribly inefficient use of corn (corn stoves that burn it for home heat are a far better use of corn as fuel) and it may destroy engines as well. Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.
  • Some years ago, while bumming around my old neighborhood in Chicago, I noticed an observatory dome on an addition to a late 40s house about three blocks from where I grew up. It was right across the street from Olympia Park, where I tried and failed several times to become good at softball. Pete Albrecht noticed that the New York Times did an article on home observatories a couple of years ago, which included some photos of the observatory, built by an accountant named John Spack.


  1. Erbo says:

    It’s not a Popular Mechanics cite, but it’s from a Popular Science book: In The How and Why of Mechanical Movements by Harry Walton (Popular Science Publishing Co., 1968), chapter 12 is titled “Hydraulic Power And The New Science of Fluidics.” The last few pages of that chapter describe elementary fluidic systems, including fluidic amplifiers, a fluidic light switch, and a bow thruster system for large warships. It describes the state of fluidic technology at that time as “about the same stage of development as transistor technology was in the 1950s.” Several photos on those pages are cited as “Courtesy Bowles Engineering Corp.” As far as I can tell, Bowles Engineering changed its name to Bowles Fluidics, and they eventually focused on consumer applications, such as windshield washer nozzles, bath and shower products, massaging spa jets, and so forth. They held over 200 patents in fluidic technology, and yet I’ll bet they never really tapped the field’s full potential.

    1. That sure sounds like the real deal, though I remember it as a magazine article–which it probably was, before PS adapted the material into a book. The bow thruster thing I remember very clearly.

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