Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image


Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • I was wrong about Diesel engines being easy to make, as I suggested in my entry for March 5, 2012. Fuel injection, as it turns out, is a bitch. You’re trying to divide oil into a multitude of very small droplets of (reasonably) consistent size. Gasoline carburetion, by comparison, is a snap. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht, an automotive engineer, for the reminder.)
  • I suspect it’s easier to produce wood gas (AKA “producer gas”) at a small scale than gasoline. In a future where large-scale oil refiners are no more, a Dieselpunk society could power internal combustion engines with wood gas. This has been done a lot around the world, especially during WWII when oil supply channels were disrupted.
  • This has little or nothing to do with the Holy Roman Empire, but if you’re a map freak, boy–budget a day for it. Wow.
  • This looks like a good book, especially if you’re finding it hard to keep track of genre mutation within SFF. Will order and report after reading. (Thanks to Trudy Seabrook for pointing it out.)
  • We found one of these in a drawer in my late grandfather’s workbench after my grandmother died in 1965 and we had to sell their house. I never knew what it was until it made the A-head story on the front page of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal , in an article about…olympic sheep shearing. My grandfather lived a quiet life in a modest house on a tiny lot on Chicago’s north side. There wasn’t a sheep for miles. (I hope he didn’t use it to cut my father’s hair.)
  • I’ve noted some confusion about this: “Retina display” is not an Apple trademark, but a technical term: a display with such high resolution that the eye can’t make out individual pixels at typical reading distance. Here’s a good explanation of the whole retina display concept. The new iPad certainly qualifies, but it wasn’t the first. Asus’ Tranformer Prime was there some time ago. Retina-quality displays are made by several vendors, and will eventually appear in other high-end tablets.
  • The Lytro camera has been mentioned in a lot of places, but here’s the first in-depth description I’ve seen. A camera that allows you to fiddle with the focus after the shot is taken is FM, if you know what I mean. I ditch about a third of my digital photos (mostly taken in bad light) for focus problems. It’s an awkward form factor, but if it’s the first of it’s kind, I’ll assume the next one will fit the hand a little better.
  • The mad scientist in me cried out when I saw this. I need a castle. I need a kite. I need a monster.

Odd Lots

  • After being in the water for as many as four years, a broken camera turns up on a California beach with the SD card still in it…and still functional, complete with a hundred-odd photos taken before the camera was lost. I marvel first at the durability of these cards in a corrosive medium–and then at how little circuit board there actually is inside the SD card itself. Wow.
  • There is an ice cream truck that goes down Alles Street here in Des Plaines, playing a midi riff of a familiar old song–and, periodically, a slightly creepy woman’s voice calling, “Hello!” This is evidently pretty common, but judging by some quick online research, the songs are different for almost every ice cream truck out there. (The “Hello” voice appears to be the same.) The truck came by here late yesterday, shortly before the storm rolled in, and I suddenly recognized the song: a bouncy variation on the old Southern hymn “Holy Manna,” often known as “Brethren We Have Come to Worship.”
  • And pertinent to the above: I only recognized the melody because Lorie Line played it in a medley with “The Lord of the Dance” on her Heritage Collection Volume 1 CD. She plays it fast, much faster than I’ve ever heard the majestic old hymn itself played in church. (The song is not credited by name on the CD, but it’s there–and the CD is very much worth having.)
  • Damned if these don’t look like drumlins. On Mars. (The other kind of drumlins–and yes, I am very familiar with them. More on the naming of alien artifacts in an upcoming entry.)
  • I’ll come back to this issue once I’m home and decompressed a little, but Glenn Reynolds posted a case history of a man who had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (also called NASH in some circles, for Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis) eventually ascribed to eating/drinking fructose. Depending on your genetics and how much you consume, fructose can send you all the way to cirrhosis and death. This article (linked to by Reynolds) is a must-read. This one is worthwhile as well. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for alerting me to the post.)
  • And while we’re slogging through the Carb Wars, well, fake fat makes you fat. (More and more research indicates that real fat does not.) And let’s not forget that little issue of “anal leakage,” gurrkh. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Xoom, meet SD slot. SD slot, meet Xoom. You guys have been traveling together for over a year. It’s time to shake hands. In Europe . The problem in the US has to do with the “Google Experience.” Somebody at Google is holding back card slot support, and thus (I’m guessing) a great many sales, including one to me. I smell rentseeking somewhere.
  • On the other hand, if all you want is an Android ebook reader, this might be worth a look. $99? Who cares if it’s only Froyo? (Forgive me if I’m skeptical that it’ll ever see retailer shelves at that price.)
  • The creator of this device calls it “technofetishism,” and it is. That doesn’t keep it from being amazing, and killer cool. (Thanks to Bill WB4WTN for the link.)
  • Finally: How To Make a Mask With Photoshop. I always wondered if that would work.

Odd Lots

Tripwander: Cruise Retrospective

Carol With Ms Ryndam-500W.jpg

Broadband on the high seas isn’t very broad. It also costs a fortune, so I made a conscious decision not to blog in real time about our recent seven-day, much-delayed 34th wedding anniversary cruise. I bought some “Internet minutes” (at 70c each, egad) to flush my spam every couple of days so my primary mailbox wouldn’t fill up, and posted a previously written Contra entry partway so it wouldn’t look like I’d sailed off the edge of the Earth.

In truth, we stayed well away from the edge of the Earth (besides, they’d just painted the guardrails) and instead sailed from Tampa back to Tampa by way of Key West, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. The point of the cruise wasn’t to go to any of those places in particular so much as to just get the hell out of here, since winter began early again and between my shingles and Carol’s pancreas it had been a lousy couple of months for us. Cruise vacations have been cheap lately because of the recession, and Carol got us smoking deal on a larger cabin with its own balcony overlooking the bounding main. The bed was comfortable, the bathroom could be turned around in, and there was a lot less claustrophobia to be had than on our earlier cruise adventures. On the whole, we heartily recommend Holland America cruises, especially if you’re over 50. The service is spectacular, the ships squeaky clean and not enormous (1200 people, not 5,000 like some of the newer boats other carriers are fielding) and the food abundantly good, if at times a little too abundant.

Seven Mile Beach-500W.jpg

The main was bounding quite a bit this cruise, to the extent that both of our snorkel trips (in Grand Cayman and Cozumel) were canceled and refunded by the tour providers. We hit Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman instead and slopped around amidst the eight-foot waves near the Royal Palms Beach Club. Disappointed as I was by losing our snorkel trip, I got tossed around enough on the beach by the breakers (including being dragged along the bottom and almost relieved of my trunks) to figure it would have been a short and unsettled outing anyway. (It definitely cleaned out my problematic sinuses, though.) Grand Cayman has no cruise dock so people “tender in” on lifeboats, and the water was so choppy people were falling down while trying to board and disembark. During the school year the median age for cruises like this is probably 70, so falling was a serious issue, and certainly made the disembark/re-embark lines longer.

Butterfly Key West-500W.jpg

Once you get a block away from shore, Key West is mostly bars, and from the sheer quantity of Mardi Gras beads hanging from the overhead power lines, I’d guess the street parties there are something to see. Key West has feral chickens the way some places have squirrels, and you can buy killer-rich key lime pie slices from street vendors. We visited the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, where I snapped a great many photos of foliage where butterflies had been sitting only moments before. I’ll gladly trade several megapixels for less latency, but pocket camera manufacturers don’t seem to be interested.

Key Lime Pie-250W.jpgWe met a lot of interesting people from several different countries, including a retired Welsh sea captain and a couple who were celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. I sure hope I look as good–and more to the point, function as well–as those two when I’m 88! At the first meal in the formal dining room at the ship’s stern, I found myself seated next to another writer, Dottie Billington, Ph.D., who wrote her first book at age 50 and exhorted me not to give up before I become a best-selling SFF author.

Carol and I have been on several cruises before and eat carefully, wistfully avoiding the dessert bars and keeping carbs to a minimum generally. As best I can tell, I brought less than four pounds home that I didn’t leave with, and intend to lose them before Christmas gets into full roar.

More tomorrow.

Odd Lots


newfawn.jpgIt’s fawn season again, and yesterday we saw a mother deer leading a fawn that was no bigger than Jackie, if perhaps a little taller. Figure that: A deer the size of a bichon. The poor thing can’t be more than a day or two old, and it’s wobbling unsteadily around the First Curve on Stanwell St., where teenagers roar by in their parents’ elephantine Escalades and probably wouldn’t even notice if they had small animals wedged in their grilles. (We’re mostly thankful that they don’t miss the curve and plow through my office window.) Last night about 8 or so, mom had gone off somewhere, and junior was simply lying on our neighbor’s mulch, about six feet from the pavement. It wasn’t as obvious as it could be, but there are much better hiding places in the area. I guess we can think of it as evolution in action.


Our nephew Brian was out for a few days last week, and we all went down to the Garden of the Gods for a vigorous walk around the rock formations. I took a photo of Brian and Carol and something very weird happened: A dazzle from one of Carol’s rings just happened to hit the camera the moment the shutter snapped. Green Lantern must have that problem a lot, but this is the first time I’ve seen it from Carol.

My low-key inverted-vee antenna should be up and running off the back deck by Field Day, and will be 32 feet on each leg. That will get me the 20 meter band and up, and given that I’m feeding it with a short run (~10′) of open wire line through an MFJ Versa Tuner 2, I may get 40 as well. I’ll certainly try.

I’m still testing EPub readers. This morning, at Jim Strickland’s noodging, I installed the Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader. Not a bad item, but as with all the readers I’ve tested so far, doesn’t quite get it right. The presentation on my test files has been pretty good so far, but this time the software does use the title tag, and thus puts up only half of the Beyschlag ebook’s title. Also, it puts my test books up in two-column format, and I still haven’t figured out how to control the column settings. Neither of my two test books with cover images show their covers as thumbnails in the library pane. To its credit, the reader renders PDF documents pretty well, though of course there’s no metadata and thus no display of title or author.

Most annoying is the User Guide button, which brings up a longwinded sales pitch but no user guide. I assume you have to sign up for a B&N account to get the user guide, and I will at some point, but probably not today. I do understand that the product is designed to work tightly with B&N’s online bookstore and won’t slam them too hard for that integration, but basic “here’s how to do it” information should be there long before the sales pitches begin.

Nobody’s perfect, but the winner so far is FBReader, even though it inexplicably displays my copyright notices in ancient Greek. We’ll get there. Just not as soon as I’d like.