February 7th, 2020

Odd Lots

  • Amazon is selling hand-made (in Latvia) steampunk thumb drives incorporating copper pipe caps and a Soviet-made pentode vacuum tube. LEDs light up the glass from the bottom of the tube when there's power available at the USB connector. (Thanks to Bill Meyer for the pointer.)
  • Tonight would be a good night to see Mercury. It's never easy because the planet never gets too far from the Sun in the sky, but with smartphone apps like Sky Map (on all Android phones by default) it's certainly easier than it once was. Start by finding Venus in the west, immediately after the Sun goes below the horizon. (You can't miss Venus.) Mercury lies roughly on a line between Venus and the Sun. There are no bright stars in that part of the sky, so if you see a star near that line, it's not a star but ol' Merc himself.
  • Speaking of the Sun... Here's a solid overview of the history of solar science. It's a long piece, and even if you choose not to read it, the photos and diagrams are worth the visit.
  • Betelgeuse continues to dim for unknown reasons. It's fallen from 10th brightest star in the sky to 24th brightest. Orion is the first constellation I can clearly recall seeing, and these days, it just looks...off. This may mean it's about to go supernova...for large values of "about." (Hundreds or more likely thousands of years. Stars are never in a hurry.)
  • I've been following the coronavirus epidemic using a dashboard maintained by Johns Hopkins. Who knows how accurate it is, but one does get a feeling that China is currently in a world of hurt. I got the link from my friend Charlie Martin, and he's got a good article about the issues involved.
  • This is a little weird, but it's one more telltale that the technical publishing industry I loved for so long is no longer with us. I went searching for a book on installing, configuring, and customizing the MediaWiki software, and found...nothing. There's plenty online, but I'm talking about book-length treatments. If you know of one let me know. My longstanding heuristic is that if it's not on Amazon, it isn't available.
  • How to turn a waterway into wine. At least it wasn't a Zinfandel.
  • Ah, but this was a sweet, sweet hack: Some guy wandered around downtown Berlin pulling a little red wagon full of smartphones, all running Google Maps. Wherever he happened to be during his wander, Google Maps reported a traffic jam.
  • If politics bores you as much as it bores me, here's a solid distraction from all the tiresome yelling and screaming: The economics of all-you-can-eat buffets. Eat quick: My instincts tell me that as a category buffets are not long for this world.
  • Finally, you've heard me say that there's funny, there's National Lampoon funny, and then there's Babylon Bee funny. This may be one of the Bee's best pieces yet--given this season's nonstop nonsense.