29, 2008: Odd Lots
- From Rich Rostrom comes a pointer to an
amazing gallery of 50s-70s transistor radios and transistor
radio ephemera. Almost every radio I had in that period or remember
is here (including a nice one belonging to my grandmother) plus
some true oddities, like phony transistor radio cases concealing
liquor bottles, and a transparent pen with a single transistor
floating loose in a little compartment full of oil, like a spider
in formaldehyde. The photography is gorgeous, but the images are
large and may take some time to come down. Nonetheless, don't
- Jim Strickland pointed out that CFLs
are now available in high wattages in the Mogul base, but
alas, the bulb shown will not fit in Aunt
Kathleen's floor lamp, as it's too long and would hit the
- From Pete Albrecht I got a link to a model rocket for people
who aren't rocket scientists.
- I haven't been to Snopes
in a while, but a
recent post aggregated on Slashdot suggested that it has been
infamous Zango adware package for several months. The
firestorm seems to have changed their minds, according to
a report issued only today. There is a difference between serving
ads and pushing adware, and if you're going to be considered one
of the world's Good Guys, you have to stay on the right side of
- The video snippets taken by my late Kodak digital camera are
all in QuickTime .mov format, which is a pain in the ass to edit
unless you're a Mac guy. Pete and I recently found AVIDemux,
a free open-source utility on
SourceForge that converts .mov clips to .avi files, and in
the limited testing I've been able to do, it seems to defy the
codec chaos that reigns today and works beautifully.
was fifty years old yesterday, and I will have to admit here
that I never owned Lego as a kid. Never. I had a significant Meccano
set from the time I was eight, which was my favorite toy until
I got into electronics in a big way several years later. (I built
a differential when I was nine, and hence I know how these slightly
mysterious mechanisms actually work.) I boggle at stats like the
fact that there are 62 lego parts for every person on Earth, which
must mean that a certain number of people have a lot of
them. People have built Lego
logic gates, Lego
cathedrals, and (more recently) a Lego
Stargate. Wow. I have a few more years to build my missing
Lego skillset before Katie (and her as-yet unborn sibling) will
be ready to build her own Stargate with some uncle-ish help, but
time flies. I'd better be at it.
26, 2008: US Copyright's "Weird Window"
US copyright terms are more complex than they should beeverybody
seems to agree on that but Big Media. Here's a
nice short summary that I have presented before. What's interesting
is what happens in a sort of weird window between 1923 and 1963.
Books published in that window bearing a legal copyright notice
may or may not still be within copyright. The key is whether the
copyright was explicitly renewed by the rightsholder. No renewal,
and the book passed into the public domain after its initial 28
years of copyright, which would be no later than 1991.
Most books from that period that we even moderately successful
financially have been renewed, but I've found a fair number of reasonably
interesting books that were not. Most of the books I used in my
researches into the fourth dimension in high school were either
pre-1923 or never renewed: Coxeter's Regular Polytopes, Manning's
Geometry of the Fourth Dimension and The Fourth Dimension
Simply Explained, Somerville's An Introduction to the Geometry
of N Dimensions. All are now in the public domain, and all are
available from (surprise!) Dover Books in print editions, but I
would certainly like to see them become nicely reset PDFs and not
simply holographs. (My copy of Coxeter fell apart back in 1970.)
A lot of old electronics and amateur radio books were never renewed.
All the Frank C. Jones amateur radio books that I have (great tube-era
construction stuff!) have expired, and they were beautifully
done. The late Don Stoner's New Sideband Handbook from 1958
is now out of copyright, as is Radio for the Millions. A
lot of these old titles are now available from Lindsay Books.
As I've mentioned in other places, a lot of classic SF has expired,
including most of E. E. Doc Smith's work, and much of H. Beam Piper.
All of the Skylark books except for Skylark Duquesne (published
shortly before the author's death in 1965 and thus outside the window)
have expired, as have all of the Lensman books except for Gray
Lensman and Children of the Lens. None of the Ace Double
short novels I've checked have shown up for renewal, including Chandler's
The Rim Gods and Lin Carter's Destination Saturn.
Both of those could stand republishing; most of the other Ace Double
entries I have are best forgotten. (It may be that the components
of Ace Doubles were treated differently from a copyright standpoint;
this would be useful to know. I'm looking into it.)
Nothing written solely by the Jesuit Herbert Thurston has been
renewed, and his book Ghosts and Poltergeists is actually
good sleepytime reading. (I'm still trying to obtain The Physical
Phenomena of Mysticism, which of all his books has the best
rep. The bookstores I order it from keep selling it to somebody
else before I get there.) The New Dictionary of Thoughts
is a decent book of quotations, well-organized by subject, and now
expired. Max Freedom Long's pre-1964 books on Hawaiian religion
and magic were not renewed, nor were Carl & Jerry author John
T. Frye's two books on radio repair. Ditto Glenn's Theodicy
and Broderick's Concise Catholic Dictionary, along with Jessie
Pegis' A Practical Catholic Dictionary. The slightly peculiar
Benziger Brothers' My Everyday Missal from 1948 (with print
I can't imagine anyone could read in a badly lit church) does not
appear in the renewal records. Ditto My Sunday Missal from
Fr. Joseph Stedman (1942) and St. Joseph Sunday Missal from
Catholic Book Publishing (1962). In fact, most of the odd little
prayer books I've gathered over the years either have no copyright
notice or were never renewed.
And that's just the stuff from my own library. When I come across
a book published in the Weird Window, I often check the renewal
records to see if it's expired. Stanford University has a
nice lookup page here, though the lawyers always caution that
it's possible for there to be errors. I suppose. Nonetheless, there's
a lot of room for the release of these titles as ebooks, or their
reissue in print via POD. The public domain does not begin
in 1922 and go back from there.
25, 2008: Odd Lots
- Here's a
nice article from NPR on sleep. Worth noting is the author's
comment that in 20 years, the stylishness of getting only five
hours of sleep a night may be seen the same way that the "stylishness"
of smoking is seen today: As something that kills you before your
- Pertinent to the above: I have notes on an SF novel postulating
a drug that lets people sleep as much as 23 hours a day, with
a side effect that lucid dreaming is not only normative but shared:
People using the drug encounter one another in their dreams, and
struggle for control of the weird collaborative colony they've
created within the human collective unconscious. As years of use
roll by, research shows that drug-induced sleep occupying over
75% of each day leads to reversal of aging and what might actually
be physical immortality. Sleep forever and live in your dreams!
Take that, you short-sleepers!
- I stumbled upon gOS
earlier today, and it's an interesting concept: A Linux distro
focused on Web apps that might be ideal for ultra-mobile PCs,
tablets, and ebook readers. (Alas, it's not mature and may
not be as "small footprint" as people would like.)
Many of the Web apps it installs by default are Google apps, which
led me to wonder if the product's creators intended from the start
to sell the company to Google someday.
- Pete Albrecht put together a
long and detailed resources page for model rocketry. Perhaps
only peripherally related to model rocketry but interesting nonetheless
is the linked-to story of Miss
Bomarc. (I had a model Bomarc when I was a kid, and Pete is
building a flying model.)
- From George Ewing comes a pointer to an intriguing article about
Things That Do Not Make Sense. Actually, they do make
sensethe problem is that we don't understand them yet. (Humanity's
most grievous sin is refusing to admit its own ignorance.) I'm
glad they included cold fusion, and the one I would add is poltergeist
- Jim Strickland sent me a pointer to an item about a
pair of prosthetic legs that communicate via Bluetooth in
order to help a double amputee walk more effectively. The story
I currently have doing the rounds (though all the majors have
bounced it) posits a prosthetic leg with a 128-core Intel processor,
a snarky AI personality, a thigh speaker, and WiMax, with all
that that implies. If I don't sell it soon, you'll see it in Souls
in Silicon later this year.
- This June, ContraPositive Diary will be ten years old. (How
many blogs can make that claim!) What would you all suggest
I do to celebrate? Should I publish a print book "best of"
on Lulu? (Might make good bathroom reading...)
24, 2008: My 2008 Publishing Plan File
This oral surgery business has set me back on a number of projects
(no, scratch that; all of them!) but things get a little
better every day and I'm hard at work again on several fronts. The
fifth and final volume of Carl and Jerry is getting close to finished.
I'm now doing the topic index, which is an interesting concept.
I regularly get messages from guys who ask me, "Hey, Jeff,
what was the Carl and Jerry story where they set up a talking skull
for a haunted house?" That's all they remember: The talking
skull. So there will be an index entry like the following:
November 1959: V11 #5 Book 3 p.81 "The Ghost Talks"
On Halloween, Selsyn motors and a glowing skull haunt a house
for Norma's sorority.
The topic index will have entries like Iceboat, Dogs, Kidnapers,
Bootleggers, Capacity-operated relays, RC models, Telemetry, Tesla
coil, Norma, Mr. Gruber, Theremin, Ultrasonics, and so on. I already
have a complete chronological index on the Web here,
but I wanted to make the search possible by topic, and if all you
remember is that the boys were fooling with a police speed radar
unit, you can look up Radar and see both stories (there were two)
in which police speed radar figures significantly. After the index
is done, I have two "new" Carl and Jerry stories to typeset
and then it should be finished. I'm hoping to have it available
by February 10.
With Carl and Jerry in the can, my next major push will be to get
two anthologies of my own SF out there on Lulu and as ebooks. The
two volumes will be:
- Souls in Silicon, including all my SF featuring any sort
of artificial intelligence, plus a significant excerpt from The
Cunning Blood; and
- Firejammer!, which will contain all the rest of my published
SF plus the title novella, which has never seen print and, given
its 27,000-word length, is unlikely to in traditional markets.
Unlike my earlier Lulu publications, these two will get ISBNs and
be available on Amazon. I also intend to make them available on
the Kindle. Most of the material has already been typeset, and a
lot of the remaining effort will go into things like finding art
for the covers. I'm hoping to get these both out by midyear; Souls
in Silicon may happen sooner.
In loose moments I've been recasting the 1993 print edition of
Borland Pascal from Square One for FreePascal, and will release
an initial volume as a free ebook sometime in late summer. As FreePascal
was designed to be compatible with Borland Pascal 7, this should
work. The ebook will be free, but I will offer an inexpensive printed
edition with a color cover on Lulu. The first volume will cover
the basic concepts of programming, installation of FreePascal on
several platforms, the use of the console window IDE, and the core
Pascal language. Much of the book is now obsolete, and it doesn't
really cover OOP beyond the basic idea, so if additional volumes
happen they'll take a fair bit of work and won't be out until 2009.
I'm also considering adapting my portions of The Delphi 2 Programming
Explorer for Lazarus,
but that won't likely be this year either.
Toward the end of the year I may release a third Old Catholic history
title, which will be a compendium of several shorter items from
journals published between 1875 and 1900.
Note well that this is a publishing plan file; I still intend
to do a fair bit of writing and will continue to shop my material
to traditional markets. I hope to finish Old Catholics and
make some headway on The Molten Fleshand if I can't
get traction there, I will go back to Ten Gentle Opportunities.
Shorter items may pop up at any time; writing is a messy business.
But you knew that. I hope.
22, 2008: Fuse Fuse Revolution
Yee-hah! The drugs are gone and I got my monsters back! Ok, last
night's monster was nothing special, but at least I'm no longer
dreaming of repairing Xerox machines for Hilary Clinton. And the
monster is probably the least interesting aspect of last night's
But it was still a monster, and that counts for something. I dreamed
that Carol and I were vacationing somewhere in England. In a small
hillside village we were browsing in shops and in a sort of street
market, and that's where we first saw the monster: It was a big,
totally hairy 9-foot tall Sasquatch-ish thingie. It wasn't doing
anything special; in fact, it was browsing the market stalls and
stepping into shops just like we were. (In the morning it occurred
to me that the poor thing was probably vacationing from western
Oregon, where so many tinfoil-hat types are searching for it that
it must lead a pretty stressful life.) We later saw it again while
touring some old castle.
Now, I have a protocol for dealing with dream monsters that has
worked well for me these past 55 years:
- Don't get too close;
- Don't make eye contact;
- Don't engage them in conversation.
(I use this same protocol in the real world for beggars, religious
fanatics, and women leaning against buildings.) Every time I saw
the monster, I quietly started herding Carol in the opposite direction,
and once again, it worked.
But toward the end of the dream, I saw something remarkable: A
video game vaguely similar to Dance
Dance Revolution. It consisted of a typical game console, plus
a low square platform with nine cells that you step on. When the
game begins, the platform lights up in dull red, and the nine cells
display callouts for common nuclei. The object of the game is to
put one foot on each of two nuclei that can fuse. For example, if
one cell says 7Li and the another 1H (Physics types will know what
I'm talking about) you step on both and the game console totes up
the energy you've generated, with a display on the console in MeV.
Each time you successfully fuse two nuclei, the pressure value goes
up and the platform's backlight slides up the spectrum a little
from red toward violet. As the pressure goes up, more exotic fusion
reactions become possible, and if you know your nuclear physics
you can rack up quite a score. The machine we saw was in a pub,
and a young business-suited British gentleman was playing with a
pint in his hand.
Damn, I remember thinking, he must know his carbon-nitrogen
Anyway, I have no idea whether this makes sense as a game, since
I don't play games other than some Snood and an occasional round
of Mah Jongg. But it was the coolest thing I've seen in a dream
in quite some time, certainly since before I had my gums worked
on a week ago Monday. Nor am I sure there are enough possible fusion
reactions to make such a game interesting, though in the heart of
a supernova (once you goose the platform into the purple zone) who
knows what's possible and what isn't?
Some part of me is obviously ready to write some SF again. I gotta
21, 2008: Artificial Stupidity
Unambiguously better now. I'm no longer taking narcotic painkillers,
and mirabile dictu! I can think again. The big battle now
is not against pain so much as the swelling, and anti-inflammatories
don't disrupt your higher brain functions. (They can mess bigtime
with your stomach lining if you're not careful, though.) My mouth
is still a little uncomfortable, especially after I eat somethingeven
innocuous stuff like oatmeal and cottage cheese, which is most of
what I've been eating for seven days nowbut it's not like
it was even two days ago. I've lost five pounds in seven days while
getting no exercise at all. Try the Gingivectomy Dietno, scratch
that. Not worth it.
The swelling can and does cause some nagging discomfort, and while
I'm not quite my usual ebullient self, I'm in the ballpark again.
My experience this past week reminded me of the mystery that has
tied our nation up in knots from time to time: Why "drugs"
are an issue at all. We as a society spend an immense amount of
money chasing people who make an immense amount of money selling
chemicals for an immense amount of money to people who seem to think
ingesting them is worth an immense amount of moneynot to mention
the risk of jail time . I've never been able to figure the payoff,
however, and I'm gradually coming around to the realization that
the mystery is really about me:
I don't get high. I've never gotten high. In truth, I'm not even
sure what "high" means.
I smoked marijuana a couple of times in 1973, in part because everybody
I knew was doing it, and in part because I was interested in whether
drugs could enhance creativity. The answer to that was a resounding
no; pot made me depressed and paranoid for days afterward.
By that time I had already given up alcohol because there was no
payoff apart from confusion and a tendency to talk too muchand
when I drank more while looking for that elusive payoff I just threw
up and felt wretched for the next several days. (It was ten years
before I went back to good wine in small quantities.)
Here and there in the subsequent 35 years I've been given narcotics
for pain. I vividly remember my first hernia surgery in 1978: I
had eagerly packed a small bag of electronics theory books to study
during what I was told would be four days of enforced bed rest.
(They did not tell me who or what would enforce the bed rest, heh.)
The memory of picking up an RF design text ten minutes after a shot
of morphine is peculiar: Damn, I used to know what this stuff
meant! After a few minutes of futile riffling, I grabbed the
TV remote and happily watched "Green Acres" reruns until
I fell asleep. A few years later I had my wisdom teeth pulled, and
under the influence of some damned pill or another I felt stupid
and took peculiar delight in watching "The Dukes of Hazzard."
And that's been my pattern ever since, when medical issues arise
and I get handed drugs: Instead of euphoria, I get artificial stupidity,
memory lapses, and depression. The memory lapses I don't mind much;
who wants vivid recall of a root canal or colonoscopy? (My last
root canal I remember well because they tried to sedate me with
nitrous oxide, and it didn't work. At all. Nada. I had to content
myself with watching Raiders of the Lost Ark on a TV embedded
in the ceiling while praying that the whole thing would be over
soon.) But I dislike the feeling of my intelligence falling away
from me as the drug takes hold; to me it's a metaphor of losing
my soul and thus all that matters to me. (I drew on this feeling
in describing the motivation of the Guardian in my
1980 story of the same name.)
I'm a naturally upbeat person, and perhaps that's the key: I may
be immune to euphoria because I'm already there. A woman I knew
in college said something once that startled me at the time: "The
trouble with you, Jeff, is that you're too damned happy!"
Looking back, however, she just may have been right. Having a naturally
euphoric state could be like living at the South Pole: No matter
which way you go from there it's toward gummy-headed depression.
It may be impossible for me to understand why people risk their
lives for narcotics, just as it may be impossible to understand
how people can enjoy nasty bitter wine like Chardonnay. Life's experience
is not the same for all people. I taste bitter things with outrageous
intensity, and for the most part I live my life in a state of nonmanic
happiness. My brief spates of depression following the loss of Coriolis
and several close relatives makes me wonder what life is like for
people who are unhappy basically all the time. Perhaps Huxley's
somaor something similar but gentlerreally is necessary
for some people. (Perhaps we already have it, in the mind-changing
antidepressants. See Listening
to Prozac.) Mood seems to be inherited, not earned, and
if it's inherited, do people have a right to tweak it? (See Stephen
Science of Happiness.) I don't claim to have the answers,
but there's no better time to be haunted by unanswerable questions
than when you're sitting still in a comfy chair, dosed to the eyebrows
with something that doesn't permit your brain to do anything more
than chase its own shadows.
19, 2008: Putting My Dreams on Hold
Dare I hope that I've turned the corner? We'll see in the morning.
At least the black-and-blue hasn't gotten any worse, and I'm taking
the pain pills less often.
And I've been thinking about dreams. A lot of people thought that
yesterday's entry described a dream made up for the sake of a funny
story, but it wasn'tthe dream was real and unfolded precisely
as described. I had another dream last night with the same odd characteristic
in common: No outlandish elements. I dreamed that I was at my godfather's
dairy farm near Green Bay, Wisconsin, standing in the open doorway
of the farmhouse watching the cows champ grass in the pasture, like
I did when I was there in the 50s and 60s. They were ordinary cows
eating ordinary grass, and the house was precisely as I remember
it, even though the farm was sold and the house razed over thirty
I think that's the key: My dreams for the last few nights have
been composed entirely out of things remembered, not things
made up from whole cloth, as they so often are. I've never met Hilary
Clinton, but lord knows I see her enough on TV, and she did grow
up a scant couple of miles from where I did. And the outlines of
the situation were familiar: I used to visit a lot of offices when
I was a Xerox tech rep back in 1974-76, and for the most part I
was treated well by the office managers and secretaries who were
in charge of keeping their cranky copiers running. I was generally
offered coffee or sodas, often with doughnuts or chips, occasionally
sandwiches, and sometimes odd things like taffy apples. (I went
home once with a zucchini in my coat pocket, though I dislike them
and eventually had to throw it out.) More surprisingly, these people
(almost always women) generally liked me and had the wisdom not
to blame me for their malfunctioning machines, many of which were
ancient limping electromechanical clunkers that desperately needed
scrapping. I tried to be helpful in return: I was sometimes asked
to "look at this damned telephone" or see if I could make
a balky radio work. My record there was spotty, but I did what I
could and they appreciated it.
I think that Hilary Clinton was standing in here for the archetype
of the Good Customer, the ones who knew that I did my best to help
them. I enjoyed being a tech rep, even though I knew I wouldn't
be doing it for long, just as I enjoyed my visits to Uncle Joey's
farm in the early 60s. The Xerox job was peculiarly rewardingI'm
still not quite sure whyand I'm guessing that my dream-maker
mechanism was reaching for "comfort memories" and gluing
them together with the same abandon that it often glues together
weird creatures and impossible architecture and machinery.
So where did the weird creatures go? I have a theory that I tested
today: I think that the pain pills anaesthetize the machinery in
my subconscious mind that creates brand new things. I tried working
on two of my numerous "hanging fire" SF projects, and
it was startling how completely incapable I was of making progress.
I did a little better on Old Catholics, which is a contemporary
mainstream novel about people in Chicago, not an adventure set far
in the future on peculiar worlds. Still, I had a great deal of trouble
being truly creative today, in any way at alland I think I'm
doing as well as I am on this entry right now simply because I'm
due for another pill in an hour or so, and my gums are starting
to hurt. I think it's telling that I have taken a pain pill (two
of them, actually, of two different kinds) right before bed every
night since Monday, so that the chemicals have had their greatest
effect while I sleep. (Which is the ideaotherwise I wouldn't
I'm starting to miss the weirdly creative theater of the mind that
I have always experienced, even though it sometimes disturbs me.
I have fair confidence that it will return once the pill bottle
is empty. I'll let you know.
18, 2008: Dreams of a Gum Surgery Fiend
This is getting old. No, scratch thatit was old before it
started. It is now real old. This morning, while I was still
blearily sipping coffee and waiting for the microwave to cook my
oatmeal, Carol looked at me across the table and said, "You're
turning black and blue." And it was true: The damage I had
previously been able to conceal by just keeping my mouth shut is
now leaking through my cheeks somehow, and I have blotches. Not
many, not big, but sheesh, this was gum surgery. I didn't
have a limb stitched back on. I didn't have my gallbladder removed.
I wasn't in a brawl.
Carol, at least, tells me that the swelling isn't any worse than
it was yesterday. Yay wow halluluia. It is, however, increasingly
asymmetrical, as the left side appears to be going down a little
faster than the rightor maybe the right side is still swelling
and the left side finally stopped. The pain drugs keep me a safe
distance from suicidal, but there are...side effects.
My dreams are changing. They are moving from otherworldly to thisworldly,
and I'm not sure that's entirely a good thing. I've had my very
personally specific brand of dreams for 55 years, and a guy should
go with what works. Magnetic monsters that rise from my tool cabinet
and look like walking globs of stuck-together screwdrivers and ratchet
sets, well, fine. I can deal with tools. Rotating horned skyscrapers,
sure. I used to live in Chicago and I like innovative architecture.
Freeze-dried dinosaurs stacked up like cordwood out on the parkway,
no sweat. I have a fireplace. Talking doughnutshey, I knew
guys in college who not only talked to their doughnuts but argued
with them. If that sounds weird to you, well, you don't remember
I wish I was artist enough to do CGI. I would show you some things,
But no. Last night I woke up at 5 ayem from a new kind of dream.
I am not making this up; you can ask Carol yourself. There was
nothing freaky in the dream at all. There was nothing in the
dream that does not already exist in this world, and that's a first
for me. It was disturbing in the extreme: I was wandering around
Hilary Clinton's red-brick condo in Park Ridge (outside of Chicago,
where she grew up and near where I grew up) looking at her record
collection while Hilary was talking strategy with two of the senior
guys from her campaign team. She had a lot of Steely Dan. Ms. Clinton
was charming, pleasant, and every so often came over to me to see
if I wanted more nachos or another soda. I looked at my watch and
remembered that I had volunteered to give them all a lift downtown
in a few minutes, and decided I didn't want any more Diet Mountain
She was good with that. So I took my toolbag and went out to look
for my car. It was gone. I had parked it in a no-parking zone, and
the old guy on the second floor leaned out the window and told me
he had reported me and they towed it. Dayam.
The nachos had nothing to say. There were no talking doughnuts.
Where were the weird creatures? The space habitats? The mutant Frank
Lloyd Wright bungalows floating on antigravity cushions? The fiendish
intelligences breaking through from the eleventh dimension to steal
our souls? No. Nothing at all. I dug for my car keys and pulled
a spool of corotron wire out of my pocket, and woke up in a cold
Last night I dreamed I was Hilary Clinton's copier repairman.
You couldn't beat that for weirdness by tossing in a
Maidenform bra. I want off these drugs. Dear Lord, please let
it be soon. Please.
17, 2008: And On the Third Day, He...Ached
Figgered I'd surface for a few words; I'm between pain pills and
can think a little bit. However, my face is badly swollen and I've
lost three pounds in as many days, largely because eating requires
the detailed use of your mouth.
Before the surgery, the medical office handed me pages of fine
print about the procedure and its aftermath, which I skimmed, as
it was depressing. However, it was true in an interesting respect:
The worst doesn't come until three days after the procedure itself.
In truth, I was so sedated that I no longer remember much about
being in the chair and getting worked on. And the first and second
days weren't too bad. But this morning, mon dieu...
And there it was, in the fine print: Swelling peaks on the third
or fourth day post-surgery. Now, I'm no Hugh Grant and don't
care that much how I look, short-term. But swelling hurts.
So I'm reading, daydreaming, and lying on my back in bed being
bored. I'll report more when I can think clearly enough to report
13, 2008: Odd Lots
- Bob Halloran wrote to remind me that dual-booting Windows and
Linux on a single hard drive is easybut you have to install
Windows first. When you install Linux it will see the Windows
partition and configure grub so that grub will allow you to choose
either OS when the hard drive's MBR gets control. If you install
Linux and then Windows, Windows will overwrite the MBR with its
own stuff, and grub will be gone. I'm going to try this with a
couple of Linux installs alongside Windows (I want both Ubuntu
and Kubuntu on that drive, at minimum) and will report back here
in detail as to how it goes.
- From Engadget comes a report of a
prototype ebook reader (including handwriting recognition)
shown without any explanation at the recent CES. This looks damned
good to me, and is worth watching, at least in part because it's
not tiny. I do not want a tiny ebook reader. I want something
that shows an 8 1/2" X 11" page full-size. The dimensions
on this gizmo are unclear, but it's sure as hell bigger than a
cell phone. I'll trade a keyboard for a stylus, but I want the
display to be at least letter-sized. (And I want a photovoltaic
panel on the back to charge it when I'm not using it!)
- There's nothing whatsoever preventing a piece of software from
rendering a PDF ebook as reflowable text, and we're starting to
get hints that Adobe
may provide that ability, at least for the Sony Reader. This
will allow people with big displays to read an ebook as pages,
and people going crosseyed on small displays to read an ebook
five words at a time. It should be the reader's choice, and I'm
annoyed that that ability was not there from the beginning of
- Finally, I'm going in for serious gum surgery tomorrow morning,
and I do not plan to be fully present intellectually for a couple
of days. Do not look for a Contra entry before Thursday, but if
you see one, it means I'm in better shape than I expected to be.
11, 2008: Booting Kubuntu from a Removable Drive
Pete and I discovered something interesting recently, almost by
accident. Ok, it was almost entirely by accident. But it's useful
nonetheless: We figured out how to install and boot Kubuntu on a
removable hard drive after Kubuntu's installer failed to see the
I've written about Dell's
SX260/270 small form factor desktop here a number of times.
It's a tiny little micro-tower made from laptop parts, especially
Dell's Inspiron line. Its single most useful feature is its
"media bay," a front-panel slot that accepts several different
kind of removable drives, including floppies, Zip 100s and 250s,
CD and DVD drives of all stripes, and hard drives in appropriate
cartridges. These cartridges are available empty, and Pete and I
each bought such a cartridge plus an 80 GB notebook drive to install
in it. The idea was to install Kubuntu on the cartridge drive, and
then figure out how to dual-boot between Windows on the main hard
drive and Kubuntu in the cartridge drive.
Except that I couldn't get Kubuntu's installer to see the cartridge
drive, and thus couldn't do the install. Oh, well. We were interested
enough in configuring Kubuntu and experimenting with some OSS titles
accessible by KDE package manager Adept to pull the main Windows
hard drive out of my SX270 lab machine and drop the new, empty hard
drive into the main internal drive slot in its place. From there
it was a typical and easy Kubuntu install, and we spent an afternoon
trying things out. (Adept is a marvelous thing!) The next day I
wanted to use my scanner downstairs, but the scanner software was
installed under Windows, and HP infamously does not provide Linux
drivers for its products. So I pulled the Kubuntu drive out of the
SX270 and put the Windows drive back in. On a whim I installed the
Kubuntu drive in my empty media bay cartridge and plugged the cartridge
in to the machine's media bay to see what the boot process would
do. I restarted the SX270, and wham! Kubuntu booted.
It's obvious in hindsight: The BIOS lists the CD drive ahead of
the internal hard drive in boot order, and the CD drive lives in
the media bay. In fact, anything with a master boot record plugged
into the media bay will boot (or try to boot) before the internal
There is a downside to using Kubuntu from the SX260/270 media bay:
There's only one media bay, so with the Kubuntu hard drive cartridge
plugged in, there's nowhere to put my media bay optical drives.
(I could buy a USB optical drive, but that's yet another piece of
hardware to keep track of.) The real solution is to figure out how
to make grub dual-boot Windows and Kubuntu from separate partitions
on the 120 GB internal hard drive. Remarkably, O'Reilly does not
have a book on grub, even though they have whole books on numerous
deep-geek software packages with user bases (barely) in double digits.
(There are millions of grub installs. Maybe tens of millions.) So
I've been reading the scraps posted here and there online and will
figure it out eventually.
I guess I should have known that anything in the media bay would
boot before the main hard drive. I freely admit that I didn't. Sometimes,
well, you just get lucky.
9, 2008: Iowa Caucuses Footnote
Now that the New Hampshire primary is history, we have another
data point and might be able to get a little perspective on how
bizarre Iowa's dominance of the primary phenomenon is. (See my entry
for January 3, 2008.) This is due to the
way the Iowa caucuses are conducted, at least on the Democratic
side. (The Republicans caucus a whole different way.)
The Democratic caucuses in Iowa are a little like the platypus,
in that people hearing how they work for the first time don't always
believe it. Let me give you the short summary: At 7 PM on caucus
night, Iowa's 1,784 precincts open their doors and the most motivated
citizens stream in. There are no ballot boxes as we understand them.
Instead, people literally go to the corner of the room under a sign
with the name of the candidate they support. If you support Obama,
you go stand in the Obama corner. If you support Hilary, you go
to Hilary's corner. You can switch corners at any time, keeping
in mind that after about 45 minutes, candidates without sufficient
numbers of people under their signs are declared nonviable and tossed
out, releasing their corner-standers to go stand somewhere else.
(How this "viability factor" is calculated is complex
and I'm not entirely sure I understand it myself, but it runs from
15% to 25%.)
Electioneering is allowed in the room, meaning that people can
cajole others to move into their corner. Eventually, the party bosses
declare that the caucus is over, and count heads in each of the
viable corners. That isn't quite the end of it: What the numbers
in each corner actually select are delegates to a state (not the
national) Democratic nominating convention, but it's possible to
know with some certainty on caucus night which candidates get how
many delegates at the national convention.
There are multiple flaws in a system like this, including the fact
that people who are not free at 7 PM on caucus night get no vote,
nor do people like military personnel who are required by law to
be elsewhere and cannot attend. (There is no absentee participation.)
However, the worst of it is that everybody in your precinct gets
to see whom you supportand that, in my view, is pure evil.
I have tangled with party tribalists on occasion, and they are nasty,
vituperative Right Men and Right Women who nourish grudges and hold
them basically forever. If your neighborhood tribalists support
one candidate and you support another, you'd better hope that they
have nothing on you. (Zoning board members? Homeowners' association
weasels? Such people are everywhere, and they have the power to
make your life very difficult if they choose.) Even if there are
no such tribalists in your precinct (and there are almost always
a couple) people may feel pressured to vote with the rest of their
families, or at least pressured against supporting an oddball dark
horse candidate who appeals to them. Whatever cloud may hang over
your personal decision as an Iowa Democrat, it is not a free
I'm amazed that this gets as little attention as it does. My readings
and conversations indicate that the most committed Democrats supported
Obama, and Big Media has all but handed him the nomination already.
I can well imagine Obama's tribalists giving the "just you
wait!" eyeball to people they know standing under Hilary's
sign last Thursday night. (Yes, I'm sure there are Hilary tribalists
as well, but Democratic tribalists tend to lean left.) It's impossible
to know how different the results would have been had Iowa's Democrats
allowed their people a true secret ballot. But would it have been
different? Count on it.
4, 2008: Odd Lots
- Pete Albrecht sent me a link to a collection of free
fonts with a German flavor.
- Pertinent to the above, Pete sent a link to a
nice free font viewer from AMPSoft.
- Alas, font rendering is one of the areas where Ubuntu (and Linux
generally) is way behind Windows.
almost unbelievable piece of spyware is being installed by Sears,
Roebuck on the machines of people who join "My SHC Community."
Good God: The software installs a proxy that causes all
of your Web activitywhether associated with My SHC or notto
be intercepted. Disclosure of the spyware is buried in the small
- Here's yet
another reason not to use Vista: It's all about protecting
Microsoft and the Big Media outfits that Microsoft is trying to
impress. What they did to this guy is criminal, but predictable.
DRM technologies like this are the reason I do not buy downloads
of music or video.
- I inadvertently validated a lot of people's objections to ebooks
recently: I lost the wall-wart charger for my Sony Reader. I simply
don't know where it is, and the Reader is dead as a doornail for
lack of juice. I'm sure it's here in the house somewhere, but
until I find it, well, paper is looking mighty good.
- Pertinent to the above: I recently purchased a 109-year-old
copy of a theology journal containing an article on the Old Catholic
movement. The journal is as readable as it was in 1898and
the several ebooks stored on my Sony Reader might as well be on
Mars. We have to work on this. DRM and deprecated media formats
aren't our only problems. Could an ebook reader be made with solar
panels on the back side so you could charge it by flipping it
over and laying it on a sunny windowsill for an hour?
- Also in the ebook field is a
report from Crave pointing to Igor
Skochinsky's blog entries reverse-engineering the Kindle.
There's some interesting stuff in there that hasn't been turned
on yet, further cementing my conviction (now having actually seen
Jim Strickland's unit) that as ugly as it is, the Kindle is the
most innovative thing the ebook world has yet seen. That doesn't
make it perfect, but I'm less dismissive than I was.
- Every now and I then I spot something that makes me say, "Damn,
that's clever." The Make Blog highlighted earrings
that can become earplugs when ambient noise gets too high.
Carol and I don't go to many live concerts for precisely that
reason: Everything's too loud and gives her headaches. Yes, the
plug portion should be designed so that it looks less like a shuttlecock,
but the inventor gets credit for thinking outside the box.
- My Kodak EasyShare V530 digital camera (which died at warranty
expiration plus three weeks) may be replaced by this
model. 12 megapixels! Are we getting to the point of diminishing
returns on camera resolution? (I actually like it for other features,
like taking the picture when you press the button and not three
3, 2008: Why Is Iowa Special?
And so the whole wretched business begins again, as the anointed
tribal elite in Iowa gather tonight to caucus (which comes from
an obscure Kickapoo Indian word meaning "to put tribal defectives
in a dark room and order them to run around in circles acting like
idiots") six months early or possibly four years late, depending
on your perspective.
It's well known that I hate politics, and so don't talk much about
it. I don't talk much about dark green leafy vegetables either,
but that doesn't keep some knuckleheads from holding that they are
the keys to eternal life. But I bring up questions now and then
that no one else seems to be asking, like this one: Why does
Iowa get to be first, and winnow the slate of candidates before
anybody else gets a shot at them?
Here and there you may possibly see the question posed, just before
the anointed elite and Big Media tut-tut and say that that's the
way it's always been. (Which, by the way, was a major argument in
favor of retaining racial segregation.) They then change the subject.
More rarely, someone with more guts than sense dares to answer the
question, generally by declaring that Iowa is somehow special in
a demographic sense. Special? Hey, we're all special today, right?
(Ask any third-grade teacher.) You hear the term "microcosm"
a lot, generally from people who don't know what it means. As the
Wall Street Journal reminded us this morning, the only Iowa
Democratic caucus winner in recent memory who went all the way to
the White House was Jimmy Carter.
In truth, there's nothing special about Iowa that isn't special
about Nebraska, Wyoming, or South Carolina. The current primary
system gives people in early states power over the choices of people
in later states, and that is not a good thing. This leaves us two
other alternatives: 1) Have a single national primary in all states
on the same day to select November's candidates, or 2) try something
Alternative #1 would be better than what we have now (which is
simply idiotic) but there's a strong argument against it: Without
that early "momentum" obtainable in small states like
New Hampshire and Iowa, the big states would select the candidates.
This is a reasonable objection, and basically the same one that
sustains the Electoral College, which is neither as good nor as
bad a mechanism as many people think. (It could use improvement,
but let's forego that discussion until November.)
What else can we try? Well, one mechanism seems obvious to me:
Assign each of the 50 states a random number from 1 to 50, and then
run primaries on 25 consecutive weeks, in which the states that
pulled 1 and 2 hold primaries the first week, those that pulled
3 and 4 the second week, and so on, with the states that pulled
49 and 50 primarying (is that a verb? Hey, everything else is!)
last. If by some fluke larger states pull small numbers in 2008,
it's likely that smaller states will get the same fluke in 2012.
But for the most part, it'll be a good mix, and most important of
all, not a predictable one. No candidate would be able to
snatch momentum by spending months studying the idiosyncratic specialness
of Iowans or New Hampshirians and then pandering to that specialness.
They'd have to be able to pander to the specialness of any state
at all, or (better yet) give up pandering completely and stand on
Such a Randomly Ordered Sequential Primary (ROSP) could make the
Giant Pander an endangered species. Now that would be special!
1, 2008: The Power of Dust
In the past week or so, I've gotten unpredictable overheating warnings
from my Intel motherboard monitoring utility. The CPU zone was getting
up to 165 degrees while I was typing continuously into Dreamweaver.
That Dreamweaver should be the culprit was not a total surprise;
when I type continuously into the Dreamweaver editor, Task Manager
shows CPU usage pegged at 50% until I stop. I don't know how they
handle their data internally, but I intuit that every time I press
a key while the editor has the focus, Dreamweaver does some kind
of tree traversal of the entire document. (This comes from watching
Task Manager's graphs while editing a short and fairly simple HTML
document and then a large a complex one.) The mystery was why my
CPU zone temperatures were gradually increasing from about 130 under
load to 165.
Crack the case (which I admit I haven't done in almost a year)
and there's no mystery: My CPU heatsink was caked with dust, and
across much of the heatsink the dust had completely closed over
the voids between the heatsink fins. My digital camera's lens jammed
just after Christmas or I would have taken a picture, but it was
impressive, and what was even more impressive was the cloud that
rose from the opened case out in the garage when I switched the
shopvac hose to "blowing" and directed a stream of cold
air into the works. Whoaback up and don't inhale!
I ordinarily do periodic degunking of my system, but we were gone
so much during 2007 that I just stopped. The lesson here is that
"degunking" is not just a software metaphor. Dust matters,
sometimes as much as disk fragmentation and register clutter. The
easiest and safest way to remove dust from a PC case is to blow
it out. Don't vacuumthe snout of a vacuum hose accumulates
significant static charge over a few seconds and can damage the
electronics if the snout touches the mobo (or other hardware) in
the wrong spots. Take the box out onto the driveway or the deck
and blow air into it without touching the case. Pay particular attention
to the CPU area, especially if you have a CPU fan pulling air through
a heatsink. Blow air into the power supply through any vents it
has, and make sure any vents in the case are clear.
Dust is a little like fiberglass fuzz in that it traps air and
acts as insulating material once it gets thick enough. If you don't
get the dust off your CPU, it will heat up, and if your CPU usage
gets aggressive, it may heat up enough to damage the die. My CPU
zone now drops to as low as 108 when the machine is idle, and hasn't
gone up past 135 even during furious Dreamweaver input sessions.
30 degrees saved at the cost of two minutes with a shopvac hosethat's
the power of dust.
My Antec case custom box is fairly quiet, but Antec has an even
quieter case now, with larger, slower fans and a little more room
inside. I've been having trouble with the audio connectors on the
front case panel, and it occurs to me that if I'm going to do a
case transplant, I might as well buy a new dual-core moboor
perhaps a quadand play around with multiprocessing. Changing
out the case is pretty much the same as building a new machine,
so perhaps it's time to do the research and get a hatful of new
cores in the bargain. I'll let you know what I decide.