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Feb. 2nd, 2015

Odd Lots

  • Big, big news today: The Raspberry Pi foundation is now shipping the rumored Raspberry Pi 2 board. (What this means in practical terms is that all your usual suppliers are sold out.) Will write more once I learm more, but geddaloadadis: Quad 900 MHz Cortex A7 CPU, plus a full gigabyte of RAM. And the sleeper, which is still tying my head in knots: The foundation has cut a deal with Microsoft to provide a version of Windows 10 that will run on the RPi2. The cost? Free. No more details than that right now, but I'll be watching it closely. (Thanks to Bob Fegert for alerting me. Twitter has already earned its keep.)
  • Update: The new Windows 10 deal with the RPi community is part of Microsoft's larger strategy on the Internet of Things, and will be available without charge through the Windows Developer Program for IoT.
  • Jim Strickland sends a link to Microsoft BASIC for 6502, in assembly. This is from 1978, and the oldest publicly available source code written by Bill Gates. The interpreter exists for the COSMAC 1802 as well, and I may still have it somewhere. It's on paper tape, and I think in a metal 35mm film can. This was a great use for 35mm film cans, back when there were 35mm film cans, and paper tape to put in them.
  • Wired's vulcanologist Erik Klemetti has a fascinating article on how magma forms hexagonal pillars a la Devil's Postpile and Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. These figure in the yet-unbegun novella prequel to The Cunning Blood, so it was nice to get some science on them.
  • If you liked the Panjundrum (see my Odd Lots for January 29, 2015) you will love this thing, whatever they call it: It's a Panjundrum that flies. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • UPDATE: One of my readers just wrote to tell me that it's called a "girandola."
  • Yes, this is short for an Odd Lots, but I wanted to get notice out on the RPi2 sooner than tomorrow or the next day.

Jan. 29th, 2015

Odd Lots

Oct. 4th, 2014

Odd Lots

Jul. 13th, 2014

Odd Lots

Jun. 17th, 2014

Odd Lots

Feb. 16th, 2014

Odd Lots

Jan. 4th, 2014

Yearwander

Wow. Somehow it got to be a whole new year when I wasn't quite looking. I'm not unhappy to be shut of 2013, and as usual, I have high hopes for this year to be better. The last of our parents has been released from her suffering, and while I miss them all (especially my father, who died 36 years ago) my idiosyncratic understanding of Catholic theology suggests that they're all in better shape than I am right now.

Which isn't to say I'm in bad shape. I had a couple of health problems this year, but nothing horrible. I've been able to get my abdominal fat down to almost nothing, and weigh just eight pounds more than I did when I was 24. It still puzzles me just a bit, but I lost that weight by eating more fat. I'll tell you with confidence that butter makes almost everything taste better except corn flakes.

I scored an interesting if slightly peculiar writing gig this year. It's been an immense amount of work, not so much in the writing as in the learning. I've never done a book--or part of one--with this broad a scope. I've touched on a lot of technologies in my career, but touching isn't understanding, and understanding is the critical path to explaining. I've written code in Python and C and ARMv6 assembly. I practically buried myself in ARM doc for most of two months. That felt good in the way you feel good after walking fifteen miles...once you've allowed three or four days for the smoke to clear. I now know a great deal more about virtual memory, cache, and memory management units than I might have just touching on things in my usual fashion. Curiosity is an itch. Autodidaction is a systematic itch. And to be systematic, you need deadlines. Trust me on that.

No, I still can't tell you about the book. It's going to be late for reasons that aren't clear even to me. When the embargo breaks, you'll hear it whereverthehell you are, whether you have an Internet connection or not.

Every year has some bummers. The ACA did us out of a health insurance plan that we liked, but at least in our case it wasn't cancelled on the spot. We have some time to figure out where we can get a comparable plan, if one exists. (One may not.) It could end up costing us a quarter of our income or more, and we may lose relationships with physicians we've known for ten years. I'll just be called evil for complaining, so I won't. Anger is the sign of a weak mind, after all. I think one of my correspondents whose insurance was cancelled without warning summed it up in an interesting way: "I'm not going to get angry. I'm going to get even."

It's snowing like hell as I write. I would have posted a photo, but as most of you are staring out the window at snow this week (in some places a great deal of it) I doubt it would have been especially interesting. Besides, a couple of hours ago, I could have just said: Imagine yourself inside a ping-pong ball. Open your eyes. In truth, the weather hasn't been all that bad. The global climate, in fact, has been remarkably benign considering all the dire predictions of the past ten or twelve years, at least once you look at actual stats and not anecdotes or GIGO models. Science works. Back in 2007, Al Gore himself told us that we would have an ice-free arctic by 2013. (Then again, he also said that a couple of kilometers under our feet it was millions of degrees...talk about global warming!) I love the scientific method. You predict, you test, and then you learn something. Sure, I believe in global warming. I'm still unconvinced that it's entirely a bad thing. (I remember the '70s. I also remember Arizona.)

I've also been doing some experimental research on the psychology of people who jump up and start frothing at the mouth like maniacs the instant they read something somewhere (anywhere!) that conflicts with their tribe's narrative. That research is ongoing.

I've discovered a lot of good things, albeit small ones: Stilton cheese pairs with Middle Sister Rebel Red. Who knew? Python is much better than I remember it, TCL, alas, much worse. And Tkinter, wow. You're not going to spin a GUI that fast or that easily in C. Green Mountain Coffee Island Coconut beats all, at least all you can get in a K-cup. Carol and I are dunking good bread in good olive oil again, now that Venice Olive Oil Company has a retail shop in Colorado Springs.

Time to go up and start cooking supper. We're out of egg nog but my Lionel trains are still running. I don't care if it looks like a ping-pong ball outside. I have my wife, my dogs, my junkbox, and a head that still works more or less as intended. Happy new year to all. Life is good, and getting better. Trust me on that too.

Dec. 21st, 2013

Daywander (Again)

I guess for symmetry's sake I have to hand you two Daywanders in a row. Blame symmetry if you want; here you go:

It's (almost) all good news. Carol is improving daily, though still using crutches for long hauls. Her foot hurts when she uses it too much. She's about to begin physical therapy, which should help. And in three weeks she goes in to get the other one done. We knew this winter was going to be spent mostly at home, though neither of us fully appreciated just how at home we were going to be. Then again, dancing with that girl is as close to heaven as I'll get on this old Earth. It's not even three years until our 40th wedding anniversity celebration. Dancing you want? Dancing we'll give you!

Our Lionel trains are up! It's been several years, but with a little unexpected help from Jim Strickland, the Camel and the GG-1 are tearing around a longish loop that snow urrounds both of our livingroom couches, powered by my formidable Lionel ZW. We put some liver treats in Carol's 1959 hopper car, and of all the Pack, only Dash was willing to chase the train around and scoop the treats up out of the hopper. He was also the only one willing to grab Louie the Giggling Squirrel from the same hopper.

I find myself renewing an old friendship while writing a chapter on programming. (The book itself is largely about hardware.) Back in the early 1990s I spent a certain amount of time with Tcl/Tk and much enjoyed it. Visual Basic was brand new, and creating GUI apps was still mortal drudgery facilitated by the king of mortally drudgerous languages, C. In 1993, all you got with Tk was Motif. Funny to think of Motif as a bottom-feeder GUI now, when back then it was nothing short of breathtaking. Today Tk gives you native look-and-feel, and there are bindings for just about any language you'd ever want, and there are more computer languages these days than mosquitoes in Minnesota. I'm using a binding for Python called TKinter that basically gives you Tcl/Tk without Tcl. That's good, since Tcl is a bit of a dud as languages go and the main reason I dropped Tcl/Tk like a hot rock when the Delphi beta wandered in the door at PC Techniques. Python isn't Pascal but it's way better than all the toothless C wannabees that represent the sum total of recent language research, especially JavaScript, the Woodrow Wilson of programming languages. If you just can't bring yourself to use The Kiddie Language without falling into fits on the floor and drowning in the dog's water bowl, well, Python and TKinter represent the easiest way to lash up a GUI that I've ever seen.

Then again, Delphi and Lazarus are just better.

Carol and I got the Christmas cards out today. It didn't get done last year because Carol's mom was failing and we knew we had only one more Christmas with her. Between Carol's foot and my book project it almost didn't get done this year either, but we're trying to get back real life as life should be lived. Christmas cards are part of that. No complaints.

Bad news? Not much. I was pulling a pizza out of the oven a couple of nights ago, and fumbled the pan with my gloved right hand. Fearing that dinner was about to go jelly-side-down on the kitchen floor, my reflexes put my un-gloved left hand in the line of fire, and whereas I saved the pizza, it came at the cost of second-degree burns on two fingers and the thumb of my left hand. It's not bothering me as much today as yesterday, and my typing speed is slowly getting back to my accustomed Thunderin' Duntemann (Thanks, Fiona!) 100 WPM. But I promise you, the next pizza that gets wonky on me is gonna go jelly-side down, while I stand there and laugh. I may be 61, but I learn.

New featured pairing: Stilton cheese and Middle Sister Rebel Red wine. Very good news.

As most people have already discovered just sticking their noses out the back door, 2013 looks to become one of the ten coldest years in US history. It may not be global, but damn, it's cooling.

And that, my friends, makes me look to my now-empty snifter of brandy and egg nog beside the monitor. Time for a refill. Long past time, in fact.

Dec. 6th, 2013

Daywander

As the temperature slides back down below zero (F) here, the supper dishes are done, and I lean back to savor the memory of home-made stuffed peppers, and for dessert a good sharp Stilton cheese chased with Middle Sister Rebel Red wine. It was very close to a carb-free meal, consisting of some 85% ground beef with a little rice to thin it out, mixed with salsa and scooped generously into some very Christmas-y red and green pepper halves. Oh, I'll maybe have a little egg nog later on, the season being what it is.

What the season actually is, is early. I'm not used to below-zero temps two weeks before winter begins. It certainly hasn't happened in the ten years we've lived here. I get screamed at every time I suggest that we may be entering a cooling spell on the Third Rock, but from all I've seen in the stats it sure looks that way. At some point my strongly suspected Neanderthal genetics may come in handy.

Carol's still scooting around the house on her knee walker. She's improving day by day but there's still some pain that her surgeon will have to consider when we go back next week. I hung a little canvas pack on the knee walker so she can carry things around. My father brought the pack home from WWII, and it sat in a box in my mother's attic until we sold her house in 1996. It then sat in a box in my sister's garage for another ten years, until we unpacked it and I took it home. I have no idea what sort of pack it is, and if you recognize it (see above) give a shout. Now, the other mystery: How could something that old and neglected not smell? It doesn't. It's clean and looks almost unused. Whatever my father did with it back in the day, it's become useful again. He would be pleased if he knew. Someday I hope to tell him.

I turned in a ginormous chaper today for The Book I Still Can't Tell You About. I'm well over half finished with the gig, and certainly hope the next chapter won't cast off to 55 book pages all by its lonesome. It's certainly something to do while waiting for a quick trip outdoors to cease being a near-death experience.

Michael Covington mentioned to me that Lowes is now selling Meccano parts in those marvelous little bins of odd bits in the hardware aisle. I got up there a few days ago to take a look, and it's true: A company called The Hillman Group provides little bags of zinc-plated steel girders, plates, and brackets, all with the Meccano standard 1/2" hole spacing, the holes sized to clear an 8-32 bolt. They're expensive compared to haunting eBay for beat-to-hell and incomplete modern Erector sets, but the parts can be damned handy. Here's an Arduino-powered cat teaser built from some servos and Hillman parts.

Tomorrow I dive into Chapter 5. Should be easier, as it's about programming, not hardware. Now, can we ditch this absurd obsession with curly brackets? What part of BEGIN and END don't you all understand?

Oct. 21st, 2013

Odd Lots

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