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Apr. 24th, 2013

Odd Lots

Dec. 20th, 2012

Odd Lots

  • Making you fat and diabetic is the least of it: Sugar (especially fructose) sabotages your brain. If it's your first favorite organ (as it is for me) put your brain at the top of your personal food chain. Be a caveman: Eat more animal fat and less sugar.
  • Eat more fat and less sugar, but do it this way: Trade sugar for sleep. Lack of sleep makes you hungry, and I'm guessing that chronic lack of sleep makes you lots hungrier than you would be if you just admitted that you can't get by on six hours or possibly even seven. Cavemen slept when it got dark. Dark is your friend. (Thanks to Jonathan O'Neal for the link.)
  • While we're talking Inconvenient Health Truths, consider: The downside of demonizing salt is that people have begun to show symptoms of iodine deficiency. (I myself ever have that problem.)
  • Instagram walked back from the cliff and withdrew its mind-boggling policies on commercial use of user photos without permission or complication. The Internet firestorm was one reason, I'm sure...but I'm also guessing that someone in their legal department got the message through that the firm would be sued into subatomic particles if it went ahead.
  • I wasn't aware that a sack of potatoes stands in well for a human being in Wi-Fi tests on networking in crowded spaces like aircraft cabins. I do wonder what happened to the potatoes.
  • "Thorium" is my answer to the question of how to best reduce CO2 in our atmosphere. We need base load; wind and solar are necessary but not sufficient.
  • There are at least five planets orbiting SF favorite Tau Ceti, and one may be in the star's habitable zone. What the article does not mention is that the habitable planet is considerable closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun, and at a distance closer than Venus is probably tidally locked on its star. That's not a dealbreaker, but tidal locking certainly makes the journey from slime to sublime a lot less likely.
  • My ongoing (and slow-going) project of rewriting Borland Pascal from Square One for FreePascal continues, and there's a new and expanded PDF up on my FTP site. 9 MB. 180 pages done out of about 350 or 400 planned. Not all 800 pages of the original book will be included, because some of it is now mostly useless, and some will be kicked upstream to a Lazarus book that I'm planning.
  • FreePascal contains a clean-room clone of Borland's TurboVision, which I actually named way back in 1989. (Its original name was TOORTL: Turbo Object-Orietnted Runtime Library.) I'm going to recompile my Mortgage Vision application in FPC with FreeVision and see if it still works. That is, if I can find the source...
  • We're getting our Mayans, Aztecs, and Oreos mixed up. Actually, I read the oreoglyphics on the cookie and it said that the world will end in 1947.
  • Furthermore, it's a lot tougher to dunk a Mesoamerican stone calendar in your coffee.

Feb. 3rd, 2009

Odd Lots

  • The United States has overtaken Germany as the world's lead producer of wind energy, measured in total kilowatts. Way to go--keeping in mind that Germany still beats us all hollow with kilowatts per capita. I'm a big believer in NWS, in that order, and part of the reason N comes before W is that over the past few years, when Carol and I have passed giant wind turbines along I-80 on our way to and from Chicago, they were only turning about a third of the time. Wind energy is great, but it does not stand alone.
  • Small children should be allowed to get dirty as a way of building their immune systems. I was digging in the back yard since before I can remember, and never had much trouble with allergies. There may be a downside to our dirt- and germ-averse culture that has nothing to do with the risk of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. (With Gretchen's approval, I think I'm going to buy our nieces a couple of garden trowels next Christmas...)
  • Few people today remember that Apple Computer was once a Pascal shop, and had a promo poster in the late 70s incorporating a classic "railroad" diagram of Pascal language syntax. Yes, the 70s really did look like that. (At least it wasn't all done in Harvest Gold.) Thanks to Paul Santa-Maria for the link. Paul created his own version of the poster in black and white, which I hope he makes available at some point. The Waite Group sold (or gave away; not sure if it was a boom promo) a similar card in the same era, but it's long since vanished from my collection.
  • Has anyone here ever read any of the Very Short Introduction books from Oxford University Press? Are they useful? I just ordered several, and I'm curious as to the quality of the series. I'll report here once the books show up and I've had a chance to read them. There are many subjects I'm interested in sufficiently to read 150 pages on, but not 600 pages.
  • A German publisher wrote an article claiming that cheaper ebooks will put them out of business. (The article is in German; take what you can from the English summary or if you know the language, click through to the original.) The gist is that there are special costs associated with e-publishing that more than balance the special costs associated with print publishing. My take: If true, it's only until we get up to speed. (I also think it may be true that many publishers don't really understand all the forces that bear on how they make their money. Many things lead up to the cash-register's beep, not all of them obvious.
  • I'm a lot less sanguine about the OLPC than I used to be, but the recent unveiling of future designs intrigues me: The next-gen OLPC will have two displays, and can be held and read portrait-style, like a book. When a keyboard is needed, rotate the device 90, and one of the two displays becomes a keyboard. Very cool, and something like that should be sold worldwide by every electronics retailer. (Their peculiar distribution mechanism will eventually be the end of them.)

Mar. 2nd, 2008

Odd Lots

  • I remember reading somewhere years ago that having a photo of a box on your Web store improves your sell-through of downloadable software, even if the product is never sold in a box and even if the box doesn't even exist. Anyway, here is a product that helps you create imaginary product boxes.
  • Here's another very similar product. We evidently have a small industry here that I had never heard of before this morning.
  • And yet another: This time, it generates a 3-D rotating video of an imaginary box!
  • After a little further research, I'm guessing that the "online affiliate marketing" industry is driving the imaginary box subindustry. On the other hand, the online affiliate marketing industry is itself imaginary, and basically a scam that labors mightily to stay just half a hair on the legal side of the razor. It's what the 419 scams would be if Nigeria had something like the FTC.
  • From Pete Albrecht comes a link to a video showing how well a 21-foot (!!) X-wing model rocket flies. (Flies? So-so. Dies? Spectacularly!)
  • Don Lancaster has a detailed article (PDF format) about why rooftop PV solar power isn't as big a win as everybody says it is. Definitely worth reading, and pay especial attention to the description of exergy, a concept I had heard of but not understood until now. As with TTL and CMOS logic, Don finally made it click for me.
  • Is Flash memory "write endurance" (i.e., the number of times you can change the state of a Flesh emmory cell) a serious issue or not? I always thought it was, but Eric Brombaugh (one of my EE friends who knows a thing or two about such matters) sent me a link to an article that changed my mind. If you're interested in Solid State Drives (SSDs) the parent page is worth a look as well.

Feb. 22nd, 2008

Odd Lots

  • From Jim Strickland comes this report of a new coinage. How many seconds did it take for you to get the joke? Did you get it at all?
  • Alas, neither the Death Star Grill nor the Darth Vader gumball machine made it past the first cut. Dayum. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • This, on the other hand, is a real product. (Again from Pete. Don't miss the video.) On the other other hand, if you have to ask, well...
  • Here's an interesting discussion on the economics of rooftop PV solar power systems. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the pointer.) As with a lot of posts like this, the real action is in the comments. Had we stayed in Arizona—and possibly built a new custom house there, which we were considering—I would have installed a system like that. Note that batteries are not necessary unless you're completely off-grid. (A lot of people still don't understand this.) The power companies are basically paying you for adding peak power capacity to their grid by reducing your monthly bill. Doesn't work well everywhere, but where it does work well (basically the Southwest) it will become a great deal cheaper over the next fifteen or twenty years.
  • Sometimes I can spot a hoax. Sometimes I can't. And sometimes I just can't decide. (I know enough artistes to understand that anything's possible.) So you tell me.
  • It's hardly new news, but I don't generally walk in those precincts: Romances represent 21% of the $6.31B print book industry. SF/fantasy comes in at $495M and mysteries are at a surprisingly low $422M. (Those are print book sales only. Ebooks not included.)
  • Chris Gerrib called my attention to a great rant by John Scalzi on what's still wrong with SFWA, which I still haven't re-joined, and may not until I know that Andrew Burt has removed himself from their environs to, say, Uranus. And even with Burt out of the way, I'd like to know what the organization thinks that it is, because I myself have never been quite able to figure it out.
  • The generally clear skies in Colorado Springs failed us on Wednesday night for the eclipse, and while we could tell there was a moon up there (and could tell that it was partially occluded) details were utterly lacking.

Oct. 13th, 2006

Odd Lots

  • One very useful application of Flash lies in posting schematic diagrams. I took the Visio schematic of my 6T9 tube stereo amplifier, exported it from Visio as a .AI file, imported the AI file into Flash, and then exported the diagram as a .SWF file. The SWF is only 22KB in size, which is much smaller than a TIF of similar resolution would be and comes down in a fraction of the time. Take a look. It prints well from Firefox, with the sole glitch that the art does not appear in the print preview screen.
  • I pass this along only because Herman's Hermits' "No Milk Today" is one of my all-time favorite pop songs—and for the sake of an animated bouncing udder. As silly as anything I've seen in some time. Maybe a very long time.
  • Jim Strickland sent me a pointer to this, which I would perhaps consider even sillier if it didn't border on "too true to be funny" territory.
  • Make sure you get one of these before your next all-geek cocktail party.
  • I take a certain amount of heat for building and flying kites. How immature, heh. But lo! I may be getting my revenge. (How soon before this gets into Popular Mechanics?)

Aug. 1st, 2006

Sequestering Carbon in Unexpected Places

We've released a great deal of CO2 into the atmosphere in the last 100-odd years, and although it may not account for all of the bizarre weather we've seen in recent years—livestock methane and small changes in the Sun's luminosity almost certainly have some effect—CO2 is the biggie. We've actually begun to talk about deliberately sequestering carbon somewhere other than the atmosphere.

Some of these plans strike me as ridiculous, like a recent Japanese proposal to pump CO2 and store it under pressure underground. Besides being a health risk far worse than a nuclear meltdown (a sudden eruption of massive amounts of CO2 turned loose by an earthquake could quickly asphyxiate tens or hundreds of thousands of people) pumping the stuff underground takes energy, and with only a few exceptions, industrial quantities of energy come from oxidizing carbon. Duhh!

Others strike me as extremely promising, like salting the southern Pacific Ocean with trace amounts (50 parts per trillion) of iron. That part of the ocean is deficient in iron compared to much of the rest of our ocean area, and certain types of diatoms with calciferous bodies breed only slowly there. With only a little more iron in the water, the diatoms reproduce furiously, die, and sink to the ocean bottom, carrying a certain amount of carbon carbonate with them. The chemical leverage is apparently enormous: A few gallons of iron salts can trigger the sequestration—using purely solar power and no altered living organisms—of hundreds of tons of carbon. This has been tested, and I think the opposition from environmentalists stems from the fact that it seems to have no downside and would allow our carbon orgy to continue. (If the ecophonies would quit opposing nuclear and hydro, we might actually make some progress without any help from the poor diatoms.)

Without thinking of it as such, we've actually been sequestering major amounts of carbon for a long time, in a number of odd places. The vast majority of materials buried in landfills contain carbon, and even backing out the plastics (which do not pull CO2 from the air) the amount of paper, grass clippings, and food scraps is immense, and apparently does not decompose very quickly when buried properly. Another place is in housing. Virtually all new detached housing these days uses wood frame construction. (Chicago-style fired clay bricks are energy-intensive and expensive, and are actually an artifact of cheap natural gas energy in the middle decades of the 20th century.) Houses stand for a long time, and when they are razed, the debris is generally buried.

We now have almost as many forested acres in the United States as we did when the Europeans arrived, especially in the eastern states, where marginal farmland has returned to hardwood forest with a vengeance. Oak trees pack a lot of carbon, and even though it's a long-horizon project, we should be planting more of them everywhere we can. (Whatever happened to Arbor Day?) Simply using less gas, coal, and oil is a good thing, but it's not enough to save our bacon at this point. We need to be pulling carbon out of the air anyway we can, in tremendous quantities.

By the way, I've been keeping my eyes open for good figures on how much carbon (in terms of gallons of gasoline, tons of coal, or cubic feet of natural gas) is present in a single average frame house or cubic yard of grass clippings or old newspapers and magazines, but haven't found anything yet. Do send me pointers to data like that if you find it.