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Odd Lots

  • I’m behind on a great many things, especially fiction writing and replying to email, so bear with me until I get dug out from under the pile. Exchanging offices within a house is precisely the same as moving two offices, and that means a lot of boxes and a lot of bother, exploding intercoms being the least of it.
  • I didn’t expect this wine to be as good as it actually is. About $11.
  • The weather’s been beautiful here, so yesterday I was going to get out on the back deck with my Icom 736 and work the world. That was, of course, the day that sunspots basically vanished on the visible face of the Sun. What does it mean to have solar flares but no sunspots? Nobody knows.
  • Thanks to many people (Jim Strickland being the first) who wrote to tell me about a “smart sand” project at MIT that is the first step toward the sort of nanoreplicator I postulated in my Drumlins stories: Tap in a 256-bit code, and some “smart dust” (very smart) in a stone bowl assembles something for you. I love it when my crazy dreams come true!
  • Single-atom nanotransistors can now be reliably made, rather than hunted for. (Thanks to Roy harvey for the link.)
  • From Michael Covington comes a link to a fascinating article about the other kind of abduction: abductive logic. If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, don’t miss it!
  • The Colorado state law that led Amazon to nuke my Associates account has been declared unconstitional. No word from Amazon as to whether I can have my account back.
  • I would probably buy one of these if I could find one in stock somewhere.
  • Jack Tramiel has left us, having created quite a raft of famous computers, including the very best forgotten computer ever.
  • I checked the date on this one, but it was nine days too late to assume it’s a hoax. One might argue that solar panels are more elegant, but you can’t make buffalo spaghetti sauce in a solar panel.
  • I’ve seen more dumb YouTube posts than I’m willing to admit, but this one takes the cake for sheer willful stupidity. I knew how this worked in 1959, when I was 7.
  • Kids, this is futurism. All we need now are better tacos.

Odd Lots

  • The Big Honking Sliding Puzzle Project continues, and today Carol and I are mostly stuffing boxes downstairs. Mover guys coming Tuesday. The carpeting is coming out on Wednesday, and the plastic tarps will go up. Thursday they drill holes in the slab and start pumping gooey stuff underneath to stabilize the soil and raise the slab to where it originally was. We are shopping for new carpeting, and will begin choosing new paint colors tomorrow morning. The lower level will not be back in livable shape until mid-January, but when it is it will be much improved.
  • I do not do walled gardens. I absolutely do not do walled gardens. This gentleman from Harvard Law School has done a good job capturing my unease with vendor-controlled hardware and especially software.
  • Reader Nick DeSmith sends a pointer to a wonderful site on numeric-readout vacuum tubes of various species, from humdrum nixies to one I had never heard of before: A Compactron-based micro-CRT with ten guns. I consider Nixies at least to be steampunk-possible, since there’s no physics involved that wasn’t understood in 1900. Not sure they’ve been used in the steampunk canon so far; if they have, let me know.
  • There were giant beavers during the Pleistocene. There have been talking beavers on TV in the past, though they weren’t all that huge. Now there’s an angry giant beaver. Don’t piss one off unless you’re wearing the right overalls.
  • I’ll meet your giant, jeans-eating beaver and raise you a giant cricket so big it eats carrots! (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the link.)
  • If giant beavers or giant crickets aren’t your passion, how about miniature forests of old-growth moss that may be thousands of years old? Such are found in Antactica, and by spotting nuclear test fallout debris along the length of their stalks, we can see how slowly they grow. Think, slow. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • I keep tools and even a wi-fi bridge node in ammo cans. Why not wine?
  • The many faces of Superman. (Thanks once again to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • This has some steampunk resonance, but (oldster that I am; how old were you in 1966?) I keep hearing an endless loop in the back of my head: “Batfan! Batfan! Batfan, Batfan, Batfan. Na na na na na na na na na na Batfan!”

Odd Lots

  • Happy Thanksgiving Day to all who celebrate it–and to those who don’t, well, this guy is still thankful that the world is big enough for both of us. In terms of Thanksgiving Day meditations, I’ll simply offer the one I wrote in 2008. I may not ever do better than that.
  • From the Words-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-Yesterday File: seedbox, a remote and generally headless system on a high-bandwidth Internet connection, used exclusively to seed torrents in defiance of ISP speed-throttling of BitTorrent users.
  • Also pertinent to yesterday’s entry: Penguin Books got into a snit of lender’s remorse, and basically shut down access to its titles previously available to public library patrons through Amazon’s Kindle lending program. Apparently the DRM wasn’t DRM-y enough, and Penguin (through the Overdrive technology) locked its titles out. Precisely what the technical issues are is still unclear, but I’m researching it.
  • We have lost Anne McCaffrey, at age 85. She died of a stroke at her home in Ireland on November 21. She was the first woman to earn a Hugo or a Nebula award, and did a great deal to drag SF out of the locker room to which the pulps had led it.
  • Having recently become an Android user (via my Droid X2) I have now begun to dream of SparkFun’s Electric Sheep.
  • Debsnews now has a wine channel. It’s one way to focus in on specific short videos (example: WalMart’s new $3 wine line) without having to spend a third of your life parked in front of a TV.
  • Anybody who’s tried to spread a Ziplock bag with one hand while pouring leftover spaghetti sauce into it with the other may appreciate this gadget. Everybody else, move along.
  • Many people are sending me links to stories about canned goods containing greater than acceptable levels of BPA. This is not new news. However, I didn’t know about it until yesterday, right after opening a can of Spam.
  • Maybe the new Spam Singles packaging is the answer. No can!
  • Carol met Colonel Sanders at the Mayo Clinic back in 1975, and the guy does get around. You can now see him from space. This is not photoshopped, but the real deal. It’s been there since 2006, and consists of 87,000 colored tile “pixels.” (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • Make describes a steam-powered bristlebot. Somehow this reminds me of those little scrubbing-bubble guys on the TV commercials.
  • There may be another reason (quite apart from battery life) to turn your smartphone’s power off every night. (Thanks to Pamela Boulais for the link.)
  • If you’ve never gone up to the Car Talk Web site and looked at the staff credits page, you’re missing out on people you haven’t seen since your study hall attendance-sheet days. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • Printed book sales fall, and ebook sales rise by 115%. Something’s Going On Here.
  • I bought an iPod Touch from Jim Strickland and am currently figgering it out. Although I was surprised that it won’t display .mov videos, this article makes much clear about Apple’s video formats.
  • Michael Covington’s 2008 tutorial on reading email headers to spot phish and phakes is worth reading again.
  • Richard McConachy sent me a link to The Great Wetherell Refractor, a hand-made 200mm F9 with some of the guldurndest metalwork in it.
  • There was a horned gopher during the Pleistocene. Really. It is the only horned rodent known, and the smallest horned mammal.
  • From Henry Law comes a reminder of an xkcd item from a while back. For heavenly performance, ground your receiver in a jar of holy water!
  • And that led to this one, which (Ben Franklin groupie that I am) has always been one of my favorites.
  • I haven’t had a monster zin in some time, but last night I opened the bottle of Klinker Brick 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel that’s been sitting on the rack for almost two years. About $18 if I recall. At 15.8% alcohol, it’s among the strongest reds you’re likely to find that aren’t port. Dry but not bitter, with strong spice and enough fruit to balance the buzz. I had about 100ml. Puh-lenty!
  • A cool hack and great visual humor. I have a couple of these little KingMax USB sticks (courtesy Eric Bowersox) and although it would be a bad use of my time, I’m sorely tempted.
  • Accidental visual feast: Search for “steampunk jewelry” on Google Images. My favorite would be this one, which I would title “Time Flies.”
  • In addition to bathroom heaters like the one I bought the other day, the Fitzgerald Manufacturing Company was well-known for making vibrators, (PDF) albeit not the kind that generated plate voltage for car radios! (Could this have been the original killer app for mains electricity?) Thanks to Jim Strickland for the link.

Odd Lots

  • I’m still pretty sore from lingering shingles pain on my back, and a little grouchy in consequence, though I’m trying manfully not to show it. On the good news end, Carol is much better, and we both had cheese ravioli last night. I think it was the first meal worthy of the name that she’s had in almost two weeks.
  • Anger really does make you lose: Sony has condemned “No Pressure” and completely disassociated itself from 10:10.
  • From the Terms-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-Yesterday Department: milk float, a small delivery vehicle (often electric) used to deliver milk in urban England. Some photos here.
  • And another from that department: steamdevil, a small vortex of condensed water vapor rising into cold air from a warm body of water like a lake or a river. This is the time of year you tend to see them, and Spaceweather posted a nice example from Wisconsin.
  • I’ve always suspected that grains aren’t good for me, but here’s some analysis as to why. Your Body May Vary, but a lot of this sure sounds familiar. Note well the caution on soybeans, which give both Carol and me a lot of trouble.
  • Napa’s cool summer has winemakers biting their nails: They may lose much (and perhaps all) of their harvest if a freeze comes before the grapes mature, but if they can walk the tightrope to harvest without falling, this year’s late-harvest wines (my favorite kind) could be spectacular. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • The Colorado Springs marijuana industry has made the New York Times , and has injected new life into local newspapers. I like The Independent, our quirky little free paper (its offices are in an old church with interesting architecture) and every issue I flip through down at the Black Bear Coffeehouse has another page of MMD ads. The latest issue had a 48-page pull-out supplement, devoted entirely to You Know What. The world is clearly crazier than we can imagine.
  • Mars may have had not only oceans, but (c’mon, this is obvious!) also icebergs. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • Australia is about to get its first native-born Roman Catholic saint: Sister Mary Helen MacKillop, who in 1870 got a child-abuser priest removed from his position. In retaliation, friends of the priest orchestrated her excommunication, but she was exonerated in 1872. She will be canonized later this month, and I’d say she now stands fair to become the patron saint of whistleblowers.

Thanksgiving Break

I’m by no means finished with my current thread on how necessary Windows is, but the Thanksgiving holiday weekend intervened, and Carol and I flew to Chicago earlier this week to spend time with family. I hadn’t seen our nieces Katie Beth and Julie since the beginning of August, and kids change quickly at this point in their lives. Julie is now making short but full sentences (at 18 months) and Katie, now 3, is chattering away as she discusses some pretty interesting issues. For example, last night at Gretchen’s house, Katie looked at me and asked her mother, “What is Uncle Jeff?” (A few of my early girlfriends probably wondered the same thing.) Gretchen tried to explain that Uncle Jeff is her brother, but Katie does not have a brother and may not quite grasp the concept yet.

No sweat on that one; she’ll get there. Carol and I visited with her mom on Wednesday, did some shopping, and helped her sister Kathy prepare the Thanksgiving feast. It was drippy from the moment we got off the plane on Tuesday, and the drips continued through the day Thursday, when the family finally gathered at three. The feast included all the traditional fare: Turkey, ham, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, both ceasar and Hawaiian salad, three kinds of home-made pies (with ice cream, as an option) and probably a few things that I missed, most likely green vegetables. As has become the tradition, I acted as sommelier, and brought both dry and sweet wines for the table. The dry red was Cosentino Winery’s Cigarzin 2004, a superb, fruit-forward Zinfandel without much oak but with explosive fruit flavors. Not subtle–but then, neither am I. On the sweet side I chose Bartenura’s Malvasia, an unusual sweet blush with just a little fizz. We also had a German Riesling Auslese from St. Christopher, with a bottle of White Heron in the fridge in case we needed it. As feasts go it was outstanding; much credit going to Kathy, her husband Bob, and Bob’s mother Betty for somehow making all the food appear at an appropriate time at the appropriate temperature.

I stayed out of the stores yesterday for obvious reasons, even though I’m shopping for a new subnotebook or (gasp) netbook. Instead I spent time at Gretchen’s making an old family recipe handed down from our Irish grandmother Sade. It’s called gumgash, which is essentially hamburger mixed with chopped onions, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, and shell macaroni. I dumped a little Campus Oaks Old Vine Zinfandel 2006 into the mix, which isn’t historical but adds significant flavor if you can let the whole thing simmer for 20 minutes. After we all feasted on gumgash, the girls demanded to hear their Phineas and Ferb music CD. This is a spinoff from a cartoon show on the Disney channel, about two 10-year-old nerds who invent things and drive their 15-year-old sister to distraction. The show is the girls’ current favorite (having recently upended the Madagascar Penguins; could there be stirrings of Linux culture here?) and I danced with both of them to a few of the brief but well-written cuts (some of which were hilarious) on the album. There aren’t many effective ways to dance with an 18-month-old, so I sat taylor-style on the kitchen floor and held Julie’s hands while we both swayed back and forth to the pounding rhythms of “I’m Lindana and I Wanna Have Fun!” which, while only 51 seconds long, is insanely catching, and echoed endlessly around in the back of my skull until I finally dozed off at 11 last night.

So here I am, taking a breather on Saturday afternoon before getting busy again. We’ll be home in a couple of days, when I’ll continue the current series, and then segue into some observations about writing fiction. I like lumps in my Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, and I like lumps in my exposition. The important part is what the lumps are made of. If they’re tasty enough, nobody will care…but I’ll get back to that.

Odd Lots

  • There appears to be a new online scam that is a first cousin of scareware: Driver updaters. Drivers ride with hardware, and install with hardware, so unless your hardware changes or you do a major OS upgrade, drivers do not need to be updated. Every such updater I’ve researched appears at best to be adware and often much worse. Get your drivers from the hardware manufacturer (or built into the OS) and nowhere else.
  • While trying to determine if Chicago had ever had a radio station WYNR (it did, briefly, from 1962-1965) I ran across this exhaustive list of all broadcast radio stations that have ever operated in Chicago (both AM and FM) with brief discussions of their history.
  • There’s a downside to modern optical drives that spin discs at 50X Not all discs can take it–and when they go, they turn into daggers. I know it took the Mythbusters guys awhile to detonate a CD by spinning it on a Dremel tool, but one wonders if a disc accumulates stress fractures over time and one day just…lets go. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Among other things that Carol and I have been using since we were married in 1976 are a Realistic STA-64 30W tuner/amp, a Rival crockpot, and a Sunbeam 16-speed blender. Admittedly, we don’t use them as often as we use our flatware, but we use them regularly, and they all work basically as well as when they came out of the box, way back when I still had all my hair.
  • While not as old as our Rival Crockpot, I still have and use my TI-30 SLR scientific calculator, which I bought in 1983. Won’t do hex, but it’s handled every other piece of math I’ve ever thrown at it.
  • A nameless source in the filesharing community tells me that MP3s of every pop song that has ever charted on Billboard will fit on a single $50 500 GB hard drive. I have no way to verify this, but if true, it’s a good demonstration of what the music industry is facing, and perhaps why they’re as nuts as they’ve gotten in recent years. (I already have an external 320GB USB hard drive that slides into my shirt pocket–and disappears. For $125, I could have one containing 500GB. All of pop music hiding in one shirt pocket. Egad.)
  • From the Wines-To-Avoid-At-All-Costs Department: Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir 2006. A whiff of galvanized iron is not a plus. (Dumped it.)

Odd Lots

  • Here is the entire sky projected on a plane, and zoomable.  (LINK REMOVED–SEE COMMENTS.) That doesn’t do it anything like justice. Cruise the image a little and gasp. (Give the site time to refresh; it’s newly slashdotted.) Read the rest of the page too–it’s fascinating, and full of great photos. Chile looks a great deal like Mars in some places.
  • There is apparently a correlation between sleep loss and amyloid tangles in the brain, which are a key element in Alzheimer’s Disease. Causation is still a little unclear, but I find it significant that in our era of Anything But Sleep, the incidence of various dementias is exploding. Be in bed by 10:00PM and keep your brain. Now there’s a deal I can live with.
  • Wired has an interesting retrospective on tablet computing, which I found worthwhile mostly for the mention of a steampunk-era electromechanical handwriting encode-and-transfer device, which ferdam sounds like what Sherlock Holmes would use to IM Watson.
  • Here’s another worthwhile perspective on the Google Books Settlement.
  • A chap who calls himself the Jolly Pirate wrote to tell me that the Pirate Party is alive and well in the US (I was under the impression that it was a European thing) and some interesting links may be found on its site, many of which have nothing to do with piracy. Now, would an American instance of the Pirate Party lean left or right? (Or would it be port and starboard?) I’ll be damned if I can decide…
  • It’s been a bad season for big-time wine critics, who can’t seem to find a business model and keep getting busted in conflict-of-interest scandals. The Internet allows the crowdsourcing of critique of all sorts of things–why should wine be any different?
  • Pertinent to the above: What we need is the wine implementation of the “People who liked this also liked…” mechanism I see (and use) in the book world. I very much like Campus Oaks Old Vine Zinfandel, though the 2007 vintage now in stores is a pale shadow of 2005. What would be a wine similar to that? (If you know of such a system for wine, please share.)
  • There are candy Legos.
  • The charger for my Kodak pocket camera is a thin little slab with two 110V power plug pins that swivel out to plug into the wall, and then swivel back into hiding when they’re not needed. Why can’t they build that mechanism right into the back of an ebook reader? (I was without my Sony Reader for a couple of months after I lost the charger.)
  • After an unexplained absence of several weeks, Fort Carson’s cannon is back. (See my entry for September 15, 2009.) Maybe the cannon was broke and they had to send it back to the factory for repairs…

Odd Lots

  • One of the most remarkable photos of a volcanic eruption ever taken apparently happened by sheer chance, when the ISS passed over the Kuril Islands just as the Sarychev Peak volcano let loose. The rising plume literally punched a near-circular hole in the cloud cover.
  • Just in case you happen to see a nuclear weapon go off, having one of these in your pocket would be handy to quantify things. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the pointer.)
  • From Bruce Baker comes a pointer to a NYT article about the perils of being an outsourcee for an unscrupulous publisher. And so much for our textbooks being created by experts with advanced degrees.
  • John Cleese’s lighthearted but still informative documentary “Wine for the Confused” can now be seen on Hulu, at the cost of a few Toyota commercials. I’m good with that–and in complete agreement with Cleese that knowing good wine from great wine is not automatic, and in fact knowing good wine from bad takes more effort than most would think. Don’t miss it. (Thanks to Roy Harvey for letting me know it was there; I saw it on TV a couple of years ago and much enjoyed it.)
  • We may gasp at 64 GB thumb drives now, but storage technologies coming to market in the next few years will make 1 TB thumb drives not only possible but commonplace. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • The annual amateur radio Field Day event happens this weekend, from 1800 zulu on Saturday to 2100 on Sunday. I’ve got the radios boxed up, and will be experimenting with a interesting rotatable dipole made from a pair of AN-45G collapsible military whip antennas, on top of a pipe mast made of four 5′ sections of 3/8″ pipe mounted on my ancient telescope pipe base. The rotator is my right hand, turning a greased 2″ pipe joint on its own threads. I’ll describe the dipole with photos if it works; if it doesn’t work I’ll admit failure and quietly forget about it. But if you’ll be on the air, I’ll be working solo from a nearby campground as K7JPD. Listen for me.
  • From the Too Weird To Be True but True Anyway File: The woman who may well become our first Hispanic supreme court justice stated quite flatly in her Princeton University senior thesis that “…in Spanish we do not have adjectives. A noun is described with a preposition.” I’m a Polish-German-Irish-French ubermongrel who last took Spanish in 1973, and even I know better than that. So…can I be on the Supreme Court instead?