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Apr. 3rd, 2014

Odd Lots

  • Hats off to T. C. Chua, who figured out how to make Zoundry Raven work with IE9+. Raven uses IE's WYSIWYG editor, and changes made to the editor with IE9 breaks the program completely. Zoundry is open-source and hasn't been updated since 2008. Mr. Chua traced through the Python code, found the problem, fixed it, and built an .EXE out of the Python code. He's made it available here. I've used Raven to edit and post Contra entries since 2008, and didn't feel like chasing down some new blog editor now that I've moved to Win7. Bravo!
  • Vegetarian diets are not as healthy as we've been led to believe. Make sure you scroll down to Table 3 and get a look at the figures for cancer. Now, some thrive on vegetarian diets and many don't. What the research doesn't appear to take into account is "lifestyle panic," which is severe anxiety that some (usually minor) aspect of your life will kill you. If worry about your diet turns your life into a cortisol thrill ride, your diet won't help you, and it certainly won't be what killed you.
  • Mars reaches opposition on April 8, and the best day for observing it is April 14. Actually, any time within a week or two of those dates will provide a pretty good show, especially if you have even a smallish telescope. Such opportunities happen roughly every two years, so catch it now or wait until 2016!
  • Wearable computing has never really set the world on fire, and here's a reasonably honest assessment as to why. I already have one computer in my pocket, and that's plenty.
  • A GoPro-packing RC flying wing. Makes kites look kind of lame, but lame is what I have on hand, and lame is how I'm going to fly my GoPro this spring. If we ever get a spring. (6" of sloppy stuff this morning; would have been 15" had it been ten degrees colder.)
  • Cores (the other kind of cores) like dust.
  • My instance of the Gallery photo server is pretty much dead, and I've begun migrating photos to Flickr. Here's my photostream link, and my three sets so far. I'm not yet an ace at the system by any means, but with some practice I'll get everything interesting up there.
  • Ok. Precision marshmallow toasting is cool. Just don't get nuts and melt the mallow into the machinery.
  • I study climate, in general to support a fiction concept I'm working on, but I don't talk about it here because I don't like to trigger the sort of slobbering tribal hatred that any such discussion invariably involves. This is an interesting (if depressing) psychological phenomenon all by itself. (Thanks to Trevor Thompkins for the link.)
  • This turned up on April 1, but like all the best hoaxes, it is nowhere clear that it's actually a hoax. So is it? (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the link.)
  • The world's smallest volcano was maybe just a little easier to suss out...

Mar. 30th, 2014

Daywander

This entry will be a hodgepodge, or as they say in some circles, a "hotch potch." (I think it's a Britishism; Colin Wilson used that spelling many times.) Stuff has been piling up in the Contra file. Carol and I have been slighting housework for these past six months, she laid up after surgery on both feet, and me writing what has doubtless been the most difficult half-a-book I've ever written. We've been cleaning up, putting away, and generally getting back to real life. Real life never tasted so delicious.

One reason is rum horchata. I'm not one for hard liquor, mostly, and generally drink wine. (Beer tastes far too bitter to me.) But Rumchata got me in a second. It's a dessert cordial no stronger than wine, with the result that you can actually taste the other ingredients, like vanilla, cream, and cinnamon. Highly recommended.

People ask me periodically what I've been reading. After soaking my behind in computer science for the past six or eight months, I've been studiously avoiding technology books. That said, I do endorse Degunking Windows 7 by my former co-author Joli Ballew. I actually used it to learn some of the Win7 details that weren't obvious from beating my head on the OS. I wish it were a Coriolis book, but alas, it's not. That doesn't mean it's not terrific.

True to my random inborn curiosity about everything except sports and opera, I've developed an interest in the chalk figures of southern England. The next time we get over there (soon, I hope, though probably not until summer 2015) we're going to catch the Long Man of Wilmington, the White Horse of Uffington, and that very well hung (40 feet!) Cerne Giant. Other chalk figures exist, many of them horses. Some can be seen from Google Earth. A reasonable and cheap intro is Lost Gods of Albion by Paul Newman. The book's been remaindered, and you can get a new hardcover for $3. I wouldn't pay full price for it, but it was worth the hour and change it took to read. My primary complaint? It needs more pictures of chalk figures, duhh.

Quick aside: While researching kite aerial photography with my found-in-the-bushes GoPro Hero2 sports camera, I came upon an impressive video of the White Horse of Westbury taken from a double bow kite (rokkaku). I have the cam, and loads of kites. All I need now is a chalk figure. (I suspect I could coerce my nieces into drawing one for me.)

Far more interesting than Lost Gods of Albion was Gogmagog by Thomas Lethbridge. I lucked into a copy of the 1957 hardcover fairly cheap, but availability is spotty and you may have to do some sniffing around. If you're willing to believe him, Lethbridge did an interesting thing back in the 1950s: He took a 19th century report that a chalk giant existed on a hillside in Wandlebury (near Cambridge) and went looking for it. His technique was dogged but straightforward: For months on end, he wandered around the hillside with a half-inch metal bar ground to a point, shoving it into the ground and recording how far it went in before it struck hard chalk. His reasoning was that the outlines of a chalk figure would be dug into the chalk, and thus farther down than undisturbed chalk. In time he had literally tens of thousands of data points, and used them to assemble a startling image of two gods, a goddess, a chariot, and a peculiar horse of the same sort as the Uffington White Horse.

Not everybody was convinced. Even though Lethbridge was a trained archaeologist, his critics claimed that he was a victim of pareidolia, and simply seeing the patterns he wanted to see in his thousands of hillside holes. The real problem was that Lethbridge was a pendulum dowser, and a vocal one: He published several books on the subject, which make a lot of claims that aren't easily corroborated. Lethbridge claims that most people can dowse, and hey, it's an experiment that I could make, if I decided it was worth the time. (It probably isn't.)

The third book in my recent readings is The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism by Herbert Thurston, a Jesuit priest who spent a good part of his life collecting reports of peculiarly Catholic weirdnesses (stigmata, levitation, inedia, odor of sanctity, etc.) and presenting them in a manner similar to that of Charles Fort, if better written. Most of the articles were originally published in obscure theology journals, but were collected in 1952 in a volume that I've never seen for less than $100. Last year it was finally reprinted by White Crow Books and can be had for $18. I'm not sure what one can say about reports of people who have not eaten for forty years. Mysticism is a weird business, but physics is physics. The book is entertaining, and it's given me some ideas for stories, particularly since I have a spiritually butt-kicking psychic little old Polish lady as a major chartacter in Old Catholics. (Vampires are just so 2007.)

If three books doesn't seem like much, consider my habit of going back to books I've read and liked, and flipping through them to see what notations I've made in the margins. We all make them; when was the last time you deliberately went back to read and reconsider them? I've been dipping into Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories, Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, Colin Wilson's A Criminal History of Mankind, and Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist, and arguing with my own marginal notes. One can learn things arguing with oneself, and I've been known to change my mind based on things I scribbled in other people's book's ten or twelve years ago. (Before that I was too young to have anything like informed opinions.)

For example, I've gone back to calling it "global warming." Climate is always changing, and the assumption that we know all the forces propelling those changes is just wrong--and in tribalist hands, willfully dishonest. Carbon dioxide has exactly one climate trick in its bag: It warms the atmosphere. That's it. If the discussion is about carbon dioxide, it's about global warming. Why climate changes is still so poorly understood (and so polluted by political hatred) that we may be decades before we even know what the major forcings are. In the meantime, I want predictions. If your model gives you climate data out fifty years, it will give you data out five. Publish those predictions. And if they prove wrong, be one of those people who really do #*%^*ing love science and admit it. Being wrong is how science works. Being political is how science dies.

I have a long-delayed electronics project back on the bench: Lee Hart's CDP1802 Membership Card. I started it last summer, and set it aside when the Raspberry Pi gig turned up. It's basically a COSMAC Elf in an Altoids tin. I had an Elf almost forty years ago. I programmed it in binary because that's all there was in 1976. And y'know? I can still do it: F8 FF A2. F8 47 A5...

Some things really are eternal.

Apr. 27th, 2013

Goof-Proof Meets Green Giant

Goof-Proof Flying-350 Wide.jpg

Well, the punk felt lucky today, so after Carol and I got back from some shopping midafternoon, we threw Dash and QBit in the back of the 4Runner and went down the hill to the park to fly a couple of kites.

But not just any kites. In the past few months I managed to score a Hi-Flier Goof-Proof Kite and a classic RB Toys Green Giant kite. Both are collectible, but like I said, it was a beautiful day and I was feeling lucky. I was lucky, actually, since I got both of them back to the house without damage or drama.

The Goof-Proof Kite is rare but not legendary, and most people have never even heard of it. It's listed in the 1977 Hi-Flier trade catalog but not in the 1987 catalog. It's a 36" plastic bow kite with a twist: There's no bow. The cross stick is in two pieces, and the pieces attach to the vertical stick with an injection-molded plastic connector that provides about 15% dihedral and a single mount point for the string. The dihedral makes a bow unnecessary, and the single mount point makes a bridle unnecessary. You tie your string to the plastic loop at the center of the connector (which pokes through the plastic sail at the kite's center of balance) and that's it. Done. Goof-Proof.

Goof Proof Connector 500Wide.jpg

I don't have a lot of experience with single-point kites, and what I've had has been marginal. The problem is that the bridle and the bow are the only real adjustments you have on a two-stick kite. You're at the mercy of the wind and the kite's designers. In this case, the kite did fairly well in the very light and intermittent wind we had in our late afternoon. It was unstable without a tail, but 4' of tail did the trick and didn't weigh it down very much. (Kite tails are about wind resistance, not weight.)

I paid $25 for it, and I've told people for years not to fly classic kites. But having done that, I went back to the car and did something even nuttier: I flew an original 1972 RB Toys Green Giant promo kite. I don't have to describe the kite in detail. If you want to know more, read the larger article on them, linked above. It was the first time I'd flown a kite like that since 1987. I hadn't imagined it: They fly better than almost anything else I've ever had. But having paid $50 for it (and considered it a steal at that price) actually tossing it into the air was crazy. 41 years is a long time, and I don't know how well the plastic center connector keeps on a decadal scale. (RB Toys didn't expect they'd be flying forty years after manufacture!)

1972 Kite With Jeff-500 Wide.jpg

I had another insight while the Green Giant was in the air: That little camera we found in the bushes a few months back might be just the thing for kite aerial photography. I'd have to make a mount for it, and I would need a bigger and ruggeder kite than I have right now. But remote control really isn't necessary if all you want to do is take video. Start the camera, launch the kite, and let it run as long as the kite's in the air. I'll read up on it, and when time allows I think I'll try it.

When time allows. Aye, there's the rub.

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Jan. 20th, 2012

Odd Lots

  • I'm still alive, and still remodeling. Designing two more Elfa buildouts, in fact, before the Container Store's annual Elfa sale times out on January 31. Getting migraines from craning my neck during ladder work, too, which has made me disinclined to be perky in this space. It won't be forever; the painting was finished today, finally. But it will be February before the carpeting's in.
  • From the Words I Didn't Know Until Yesterday Department: plectrum, an implement used to pluck the strings of a stringed instrument such as a guitar or harpsichord. Among the many forms of plectra are guitar picks and harpsichord jacks.
  • Here's an intriguing list of major solar flare events, beginning with the Carrington Event in 1859. Is it just me, or has the Sun done a lot of quieting down in the last 100-odd years?
  • Why Megaupload? Those guys had four percent of all Internet traffic worldwide, all of it Linux distros and Project Gutenberg mirrors. Yeah, that's it. Yeah.
  • On the other hand, there are a lot of people who were using Megaupload as a cloud server for their own files. And you wonder why I like local storage.
  • As I take a break from remodeling to try and get my head around various current IP topics, it occurs to me that the well-covered Megaupload bust is Streisanding the hell out of the bitlocker concept itself. People who had never heard of bitlockers (alias "one-click hosting") or indexes like FilesTube are doubtless adding lots of new bookmarks today.
  • That swoopy one-piece telephone with the dial on the bottom that you used to see in a lot of spy movies and TV shows? The Ericophon.
  • Nancy Frier has found a niche printing firm that can actually print from then original plates used in Alox kites, and so new kites using the original Alox designs may well live again. More as it happens.
  • This dream is such a common phenomenon that the dream itself must have a name. What is it? (I've had it now and then for probably thirty years.)
  • Is there a utility that will search a Web page or pages for a list of search terms every X minutes / days / weeks ?

Sep. 12th, 2010

Flying a Hi-Flier--If Not Very High

PegasusKiteFlying500Wide.jpgYesterday afternoon, Carol and I went down to the schoolyard near Safeway, and we did something I keep telling people not to do: We flew a vintage kite. It was an experiment to see if my advice was always good, or if there might be exceptions.

The advice came out of three separate experiences I've had in the last ten years, attempting to fly vintage kites. In each case, the kite didn't survive even five minutes in the air. In one case, the paper sail more or less disintegrated, and in retrospect I should have seen that one coming. Mercifully, it wasn't an especially valuable kite, and it was in lousy shape.

CarolAndPegasusKite350Wide.jpgIn the other two cases, it was the sticks that went. Both times, wind pressure against the kite caused the bow stick to snap at the vertical spar. In neither case was the breeze hurricanic, or even particularly fresh. The lesson? Thin sticks of cheap pine dry out over forty or fifty years and get very brittle.

In this case, the kite in question was present in a lot of ten kites I bought at auction. It's a 36" Hi-Flier "Pegasus" plastic kite from the mid-1970s. Its sticks were already cracked, and I simply replaced them with new wood of similar size bought at Hobby Lobby and cut to the same length. The plastic sail had remained wrapped tightly around the sticks in an (evidently) very warm place since 1975, with the expected crinkles and bleedover of the paint on the plastic. So it wasn't a great kite to begin with, and probably the worst in the lot of ten. If I lost it, I wouldn't cry. (Too hard, at least.)

The wind was a little stiff for this kind of kite; probably 15 MPH. In a 6-8 MPH breeze they often fly well without a tail at all, but I gave it about seven feet of tassel-tail made out of kite-paper rectangles pinched in the middle and taped to a mylar ribbon. And well that I did: It went a little wild with about 100 feet of string out, which is all I wanted to give it. Any more, and it would have been out over Highway 115 or (worse) Fort Carson. There was plenty of leaning and looping and a couple of outright nose-down crashes into the grass, but nothing broke and nothing tore.

The mark of a truly successful flight is being able to lie on your back on the hillside, and after the wind shifted to the north a little and banked down to about 10 MPH, things got satisfyingly snoozy and I declared the outing a total success. Reeled the kite in and took it home, and I may in fact dare to fly it again at some point. So the advice against flying old kites is generally true if the old kites are really old, and all original equipment. Replace the sticks with new pine, and if the sail isn't already crumbling to dust, well, you've got a chance. Tree problems, heh: That's up to you.

JeffFlyingKiteOnBack500Wide.jpg

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Jan. 29th, 2010

Odd Lots

  • The iPad's ebook store is evidently US-only, less likely because of copyright laws themselves (as many are claiming) than because a lot of books are licensed to publishers by country, and if an author did not contract a book for distribution in Asia (for example) it can't legally be sold in Asia. Some authors think this will allow them to contract separately by country or language and make more money...when in fact it only means that people outside the US will have yet another reason to steal the damned book. The only way to reduce content piracy is this: Sell it cheap, sell it easy, sell it everywhere. Anything else is wishful thinking.
  • Here's a great short piece by nanotech guru Eric Drexler on why tokamaks won't ever be widely used in commercial power generation. My favorite line in the whole thing: "...[the Sun] puts out less power per unit mass than a good compost pile." Fortunately for us, the Sun is a little bigger than a compost pile. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • When I finally worked up the courage to go to the Meetup Web page for the Paranormal Erotic Romance Book Club of Colorado Springs, I discovered that one of the topics they list for the group is "New in Town." I belonged to the New In Town Meetup for awhile in 2003, and I'm guessing that that's why I got the email mentioned in yesterday's entry. Lesson: Never ascribe to vampires what can be explained by simple spamming.
  • And while we're talking weird emails, I got one the other day thanking me for using Minitab statistical software...which I had never heard of until I opened the message.
  • If you ever had the urge to click on a cloud formation, this is the kite for you. (Thanks to Michael Covington for the link.)

Oct. 20th, 2009

Metal-Free Photos

One of my shyer correspondents is shy only about my using anything like her name online; she never hesitates to needle me about certain things, and last night I got a note from her asking, "Can't you ever post a photo of something that isn't made out of metal?" I'm guessing she means computers, but 30-year-old forks, while low-tech, still quality.

So be it. And, m'dear, I will go you one better: I'll post photos of two things of recent vintage that have no metal in them at all.

DashFirstBichonCut500Wide.jpg

First up, well, is Dash. I have to hurry: He'll be chipped in another month or so, and then will have a (small) amount of metal in him. And given his penchant for picking things up off the floor and chewing them, I can't promise that there isn't some small bit of aluminum foil working its way through him at any given moment. (Polychrome puppy poop is an occupational hazard at this stage of his life.) The photo is a couple of weeks old now, and shows him after Carol gave him his first genuine bichon cut. He's looking a lot more like an adult now, and is rapidly reaching adult size and weight. (As of yesterday afternoon, he clocked in at 11 pounds 5 ounces.)

PinkKite500Wide.jpg

The other is a kite I made earlier this summer, out of the translucent wax-finish "kite paper" that Waldorf schools use to make paper ornaments. (Why they don't use it to make kites is unclear.) I've made kites with metal in them here and there, but this one is all organic, and even a little retro: The string is 50-year-old cotton twine, and the glue mucilage. I don't fly kites in thunderstorms, and I generally don't put metal in them. Ben Franklin was many things, but mostly he was...lucky.

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Mar. 13th, 2009

Odd Lots

  • From the Words I Didn't Know Until Yesterday Department: Chicanes are small kinks placed along the course of an auto race, to make the race more...interesting. Heh.You race. I'll watch. (But not anywhere near a chicane.) Thanks to Pete Albrecht for teaching me this one.
  • According to my good sister Gretchen, that very distinctive and extremely memorable smell of Crayola crayons was due to the animal tallow (probably beef) used in the waxy crayon base material. This is significant because Katie's pumpkin-shaped bucket of new crayons has no smell at all. None! I may have to buy a set of "classic crayons" on eBay to smell that smell again. (Or maybe I can con my friends into each sending me one of their dupes. Unlike some people, I wouldn't care if my set had four Periwinkles, three Thistles, five Cornflowers, and a few scruffy Raw Siennas. Variety can be overrated.)
  • And just in case you like the smell of classic crayons so much that you want to smell just like them, here's Crayon Cologne. (Would using that make me a Person of Color?)
  • Other kid smells worth recalling are Play-Doh and freshly sharpened pencils. My mother bought a canned wallpaper cleaner compound once in the 1970s that looked and smelled a great deal like Play-Doh. In sniffing around online, I found in Wikipedia that the Play-Doh compound was originally marketed as...a wallpaper cleaner. And even today, I occasionally pull the casing off my electric pencil sharpener and take a deep whiff.
  • More kid stuff: Did any of you ever have a Puffer Kite? And if so, did you live in or near Chicago? The Puffer was an inflatable kite, something like a beach toy in the shape of a pork chop, with a grommet for a string. It was patented in 1967 and I had one while I was in college, circa 1973. I'm gathering what little information exists about the Puffer Kite, and it appears to have been a Chicago product, made by the Fredricks Corporation, precise address unknown. I've written to a man who may be the heir of the Fredricks operation, and we'll see what comes of it.
  • More than half of the boggling numbers of mortgage forclosures have occurred in only 35 counties across the US, with 25% occurring in only eight counties. (Alas, the crappily written article does not name them.) States like Nebraska, Kansas, and Kentucky (and most other flyover states) had no counties at all where there were over 20 foreclosures per thousand households, and yet people in small towns and rural areas are essentially bailing out big cities with their tax money. (Thanks to Michael Covington for the pointer.)
  • One of the most wonderful collection of mad-scientist backgrounder material I've seen in quite awhile can be found at Mike's Electric Stuff. Geissler tubes, Nixie tubes, and (do not miss this one!) what is arguably the world's first integrated circuit, made in 1926 and providing resistors, capacitors, and three vacuum tubes in a single glass envelope!
  • If you like your radios steampunkish, check out Sparkbench, with some of the most beautifully executed homebrew radios I've ever seen. More here.
  • The longest-lived person on the Duntemann family tree so far is Alvina Duntemann Wille, who lived from 1880 to 1978. She was the daughter of Louis Duntemann, my great-great grandfather's younger brother, and lived her entire life in Mount Prospect, Illinois, in a house that stood where the Busse Car Wash stands today, right on Prospect at Maple. My great-grandmother Martha Winkelmann Duntemann did all right too, and made it to 96, outliving all four of my grandparents. I hope to do as well.

Feb. 22nd, 2009

Glites, Gliders, and North Pacific Products

When I was a freshman in high school, I remember picking up an odd paper kite at Walgreen's. It was called a Glite, and was billed as a "gliding kite." I was intrigued, and as it might have cost as much as 35c, I was willing to try it. The instructions indicated that even on a completely calm day, you could pull it aloft on a string, let the string go slack, and it would glide gracefully to the ground.

I never tried that; completely calm days were unusual where I grew up. However, I did try just tossing it horizontally, and it flew better as a glider than a lot of the small balsa wood gliders I'd played with over the years. Unlike the diamond bow kites I'd always flown, the Glite had a center of gravity a lot farther forward, giving it the balance of a glider rather than that of a conventional kite. Its two lead edges were relatively thick wooden dowels, as was its spine, making it a lot heavier than most kites as well.

It's a shame it didn't fly better as a kite. The one day I did try to fly it kite-style, there was a nasty wind, and my Glite looped helplessly in the air over the Edison schoolyard before ending up in the low branches of one of the kite-eating trees that stood in the parkway up and down the full length of the school property. I managed to get it down, but tore the sail badly in the process. It sat in my corner of the basement awaiting repapering, but I never got around to it and eventually threw it out.

I always wondered who made the Glite and how long the product had been on the market, though never badly enough to spend any time searching. Earlier today I spotted a paper Glite on eBay, and the seller kindly sent me the patent number printed on the sail. This led me to US Patent #3,276,730, which had been granted to Charles H. Cleveland of North Pacific Products of Bend, Oregon, in 1966. The irony is that the patent is titled "Tailless Kite," when in fact the damned thing needed a tail pretty badly. Interestingly, the patent text does not mention the device's gliding ability at all; Cleveland must have discovered that later on, or perhaps did not consider it a patentable aspect of the product.

Searching for other inventions patented by Charles H. Cleveland led me to US Patent #2739414, a balsa wood "knock-down toy glider" in which the wings were attached to the fuselage by a short length of plastic extrusion. I recognized it instantly as a species of glider abundant at Bud's Hardware Store and other places when I was eleven-ish. You could fine-tune the balance of the glider by sliding the red plastic extrusion forward and back along the spine, and I remember that they flew very well, for something that probably cost a quarter. Cleveland liked things that flew; he also patented an oddly cubistic boomarang (which I never saw in a store) and a rubber-band catapault launched glider toy, which I did see once in a hobby shop, though never bought.

I did a little looking for North Pacific Products, Inc. and found no trace of the firm. A Portland, Oregon lumber products company is now using the name and does not mention toy manufacturing in its history. The SSDI lists a Charles Cleveland whose last residence was Bend, Oregon, and lived from 1917-1982, which would be about right. (His last patent was filed in 1980.) I may buy the Glite and would love to do an article about it; if you know anything else, please pass it along.

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Feb. 7th, 2009

Odd Lots

  • German model train manufacturer Marklin has filed for bankruptcy, though there is still some hope that the 150-year-old firm will remain in business. Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.
  • Scientific American has an interesting retrospective on the infamous nuclear-powered B-36 that actually flew back in the late 1950s, with a live, air-cooled fission reactor in its rear bomb bay. I'm less twitchy about nuclear than almost anyone I know, and that item still gives me pause. (I do think that the stock B-36 was the coolest military aircraft of the transition period between props and jets, and one of the coolest of all time, period.)
  • From Rich Rostrom comes an aerial photo of the Fovant Badges, which are a group of military insignia cut into the Wiltshire chalk downs in southern England. They date back to WWI, and have been laboriously maintained since then--a job and a half, considering that some are over 200 feet wide.
  • When I first heard Cher's uber-irritating hit "Believe" years ago I wanted to know what sort of processing was going on with her audio. I didn't want to know enough to search too deeply, but it recently turned up on Slashdot. The gadget is called Auto-Tune. And Cher can actually sing when she wants to; one wonders what it could do for no-voicers like Bob Dylan.
  • I've never paid much attention to KDE's Kate editor, but discovered today to my delight that it has syntax highlighting for NASM. I'd basically given up trying to find a lightweight Linux assembly language IDE to describe in my book, but half an hour of lightweight fooling around with it makes me think that Kate might be the one. Now all I have to do is become an expert in the next couple of weeks. Are there any books on it, print or e? I looked around and have found nothing so far.
  • From the Words I Didn't Know Until Yesterday Department: interpunct, which is a small dot used originally in Latin to unambiguously mark the spaces between words. It's still used today to show you where the invisible characters are on your screen, and I recognized the concept immediately, but never knew what it was called.
  • From ditto: A placket is a flap of cloth that hides a button on fancy clothes. I have a pair of pants with one, and again, never knew what it was called until very recently.
  • Pete Albrecht pointed out a source of very nice cast aluminum house numbers in the Craftsman style--though at prices like these, I'm glad I have only a 3-digit address.
  • From the Painting the Devil on the Wall Department: One of the nation's leading promotors of monster truck shows was run over and killed by a monster truck at one of his own shows. (Again, thanks to Pete for the link.)
  • From Ed Keefe comes a pointer to a stunt kite fitted out with a microcontroller, an accelerometer, and LEDs so that it could be flown at night and turn different colors depending on how fast it's going and which way it's pointing. I flew a kite at night in 1965 and only knew what it was doing by the crackle noise it made and how hard it pulled on the string. Technology advances...

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