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Odd Lots

  • Mercury has a tail. Whodathunkit? With all that solar wind blasting over it, the poor planet’s already thin atmosphere is constantly being driven outward, forming a tail over 24 million kilometers long. That makes ol’ Merc the biggest comet in the Solar System. You can’t see it visually; if you’re used to astrophotography, shoot through a sodium filter to make the tail more visible. Some good shots at the link; check it out.
  • NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe has left asteroid Bennu and is headed for home as fast as limited fuel and orbital mechanics allow. It’s got 300 grams of asteroid dirt to drop, after which it will head into a parking orbit. NASA is considering another mission for the probe. Nothing crisp yet, but there’s still some life in the device, so why waste it?
  • Having listened carefully to 60 million stars in toward the galactic center, the Breakthrough Listen project has found no sign of alien intelligence. We may be the one impossibly unlikely fluke that solved the Drake Equation.
  • Relevant to the above: Our dwarfy next-door neighbor Proxima Centauri spit out a flare a couple of years ago that was 100 times more powerful than anything we’ve ever seen out of our Sun. If too many dwarf stars are in this habit, it could bode ill for the chances of life elsewhere in our galaxy, where we have red dwarf stars like some people have mice.
  • I stumbled across a British news/opinion site whose USP is going against the grain of conventional wisdom. Given the current drain-spiral of American media, it can be useful to have a few overseas news sites on your bookmarks bar. This one is definitely contrarian. It’s also sane and not prone to the often-comical frothing fury we see in news outlets here.
  • Tis the season to be stumbling, in fact: I stumbled upon Reversopedia, which is a compendium of things that we don’t know or can’t prove. The entries are odd lots for very large values of “odd.” E.g: “Why is space 3-dimensional? And is it?” I love that sort of thing because it makes me think about matters that could easily become the central gimmicks of SF stories.
  • Bari Weiss posted a solid article on Substack saying what a lot of people are thinking but afraid to say out loud: That vaccinated people don’t need masks, especially outside. Social pressure against mask skeptics is intense. Masks have become a culture-war thing, which is both absurd and dangerous: Antivaxxers are asking what is actually a sensible question: If the vaccines are real and not just saline solution, why do we have to keep wearing masks?
  • Substack (see above item) is an interesting concept, rather like a blog site that you can get paid for. A lot of articles can be read for free, and subscription fees for many writers are $5/month. It’s not a gumball machine for articles, but rather a gumball machine for writers. A lot of writers who would be anathema in big national vehicles can write there, gather a following, and make a living.
  • Is sleeping with your TV on ok? Short answer: No. (And I’m wondering how old the stock photo in the article is, given that it shows a glass-screen TV.)
  • IBM has just created a proof-of-concept chip with a 2NM process. IBM’s published density numbers for this node are 333M transistors per square millimeter, whew! They say 2NM will improve performance by 45% at the same power.
  • I haven’t said much about my book project Odd Lots lately. It was a classic “odd moments” project accomplished in moments scattered across the last year or two. I just got the first proof copy back from Amazon and will be cleaning it up as time allows. Most of what’s wrong are OCR errors of old writings for which I no longer have disk files and had to scan out of magazines. I expect to post it on Amazon before the end of May.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • I’ve just added a book catalog page to my primary WordPress instance of Contra. There’s a link on the title bar at the top. If you’re using LiveJournal, here’s the direct catalog link. From my WordPress instance you can also go direct to an individual title within the catalog by clicking on one of the cover thumbnails in the right sidebar. It’s a little barebones for now, but it’ll do until I finish getting the Copperwood Press site rehabbed.
  • This sounds worse than it probably is: B&N has restricted sideloaded content to only 1 GB of the Nook Color’s internal memory. The NC has become very popular as a somewhat broader device than an ebook reader, and I’m sure B&N is worried that people will fill the little slab up with so much of their own stuff that there’s no room to buy more from B&N. The key is the MicroSD slot, which (for the time being) can hold up to 32GB. If sideloaded content stored on the MicroSD card is completely accessible to the Nook’s machinery, it’s really not a terrible problem. (I don’t have an NC so I don’t know for sure.)
  • B&N’s certainly been busy: There’s a new, inexpensive, smaller, lighter e-ink Nook in the pipe called Nook Simple Touch. 6-inch display and two months on a charge (sheesh!) will appeal hugely to commuters who just want to read books and not do seventeen things at once. $139; mid-June arrival.
  • Then again, if you want a cheap Nook ($99) and don’t mind the orginal model, go to eBay.
  • Here’s an expert’s braindump on ebook creation/formatting, which clearly highlights the appalling nature of ebook formats and ebook creation tools. Mobipocket in particular comes in for some (well-deserved) hard whacks with the baton. None of this crap should be necessary. An epub file is basically a collection of HTML documents with an external TOC, all wrapped up in a ZIP archive. Why is this so hard to do? (My thought: Immature rendering engines, like Web browsers in 1994. We are compensating for bad software.)
  • This is the high road toward SSTO, and I hope to hell they can pull it off. The trick isn’t so much getting to orbit as getting back intact. We’ll see.
  • From the Words-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-March-But-Forgot-Until-Yesterday Department: oneiric; meaning of or pertaining to dreams. Also the adjective in the next Ubuntu animal version code: Oneiric Ocelot, due this November. Not new news, but I forgot to mention it in March. Dreams, sure. But having read some of the fights that the discussion of Ubuntu Natty’s Unity desktop has triggered since then, I also picture an ocelot that lost one ear in a bar brawl.
  • Bichons are notoriously hard to housebreak. Carbreak too, evidently.
  • From the Painfully Obvious Research Department: A study (PDF) suggesting that when we see people breaking the rules, we assume that they’re powerful. Duh. (One wonders if a lifetime of watching powerful people be abject shitheads could have anything to do with it.)
  • And a much more interesting study on the role that some airborne bacteria play in acting as seeds for precipitation. Get a look at that hailstone! (Duck!)
  • Amen, brother. (Thanks to John Ridley for the link.)

Odd Lots

  • My Geiger counter project is still alive, but I ordered an old telephone magneto from eBay and it just got here. Now I have to work up a scheme to transform its hand-cranked 120VAC to 900VDC in the capacitor bank. Will report back once that section of the device is in the can.
  • I’ve seen these people in used bookstores and tent sales, and although I knew (vaguely) what they were doing, I hadn’t seen a detailed description of the culture. Here’s why you don’t find lots of bargains at used book sales.
  • A correspondent who will remain nameless suggested that, since I’m fighting ongoing shingles pain, I should get a Colorado medical marijuana card and do a series on the Colorado weed scene. After all, an MMD is the third-closest retail establishment to my home (after Blockbuster Video and a nail shop.) Well, no. I’ll go with gabapentin. But if you’re curious about the kind of nuthouse medical marijuana has become (at least in Michigan and probably Colorado as well) read this.
  • Taco sauce cleans the oxide layer off of pennies, leaving bright metal in its wake. How? We’re not entirely sure, but here’s an interesting discussion of the question–and some fun citizen science.
  • The Soviet Union had a lot of hardware done and mostly tested for a lunar landing circa 1970, but it didn’t have the required launch power of a Saturn V, so the program was mothballed and the landers abandoned. (Thanks to Frank Glover begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting for the link.)
  • On the same site, and in the same vein, are some photos of early Soviet snowmobiles, many of which were powered by aviation engines and air propellers rather than treads of some kind.
  • This may be TMI about chicken nuggets. You judge. I’ll stick with beef.
  • Here’s an interesting take on the Periodic Table, called Helix Chemica, from the 1944 book Hackh’s Chemical Dictionary. “Hackh” is a wonderful name. I think I’ll steal it.
  • Our President wants a better America through science, technology, engineering, and math. A little more glue behind the Presidential Seal would be a good start.
  • Ok. This is silly. But there is something wonderfully, goofily likeable about it.
  • Like I predicted, people are going to be making jokes about this thing forever. I liked this one. Not only epic fail, but epic humilation. Anger is deadly.