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A Policy Initiative July 24, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brilliant words, Uncategorizable.
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Stuffilike.net has always been devoted to stuff I actually like, from Hello Kitty sex toys and other strange ironies to octopodes and  current technologies I first saw saw in the original Star Trek show which are now, if not commonplace, at least no longer utterly fictional (still no flying cars, though).

One of the consequences of this relentlessly cheerful editorial policy is the self-limiting nature of the work. Some days I don’t like things very much, and must fight the urge to say so loudly and clearly through the megaphone of the web. For instance, I take no joy in remarking upon electoral politics as the choices available fill me with ennui for more money machine politics at best (Hillary) and World War Three Holocaust at worst (The Donald). And what erudition is to be had there, anyway?  People who think and people who won’t instinctively recognize each other and can’t communicate across the gulf of sentience between them.

I hate shouting across the Grand Canyon–just makes me hoarse.

All this explains (perhaps) why there is little output here.  That and the black depression from the loss of my father, my wife’s father, my job, acquiring pneumonia, acquiring sciatica and a motorcycle racer’s recent suicidal crash into the back of my van have made me less cheerful and unlikely to take delight and inspiration from the beauty in the world around me.

OK, that’s a little bleak.  Here’s a cat picture.

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That’s better.  Not sure she is filed correctly, though.

Look, wonderful things have been happening in our world.  Research in mixed graphene substrates have opened up some exciting avenues for development of smaller, faster, more powerful (and less power-consuming) electronics.  Computer controls are cheaper and more sophisticated than ever, and people are starting to do the theoretical heavy lifting about communications security to make the world’s devices more flexible in response, data more analyzable and who knows what kind of benefits neural network analysis thereof will derive? Augmented reality is in a nascent phase, the infrastructure of AR-ware barely beginning to coalesce from a dark void of ignorance to saleable products, when Real Money will push research to actual utility. Powered exoskeletons are already entering clinical trials for muscle-wasting conditions, and soon will be available for grandmothers, too.  The James Webb telescope will soon make Hubble look like a spyglass. And right here in front of me is a box that lets me communicate with anyone in the world, if I’m smart enough to get them to answer. Even if they don’t, so much of the world’s information is now available to me through this box I may not need their answer…if I’m smart enough to get one myself.  And my magic box is smaller than this:

spock

Well, that seems better.  What? Our time is up?

Thank you, doctor.  See you next week, then?

Aerosmith Could be Better Without Aerosmith July 22, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Music, Video.
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Looking Out My Back Door July 17, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Photography.
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The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi July 17, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi, is one scary piece of fiction featuring all the violence, desperation and hopelessness that any person should ever be exposed to in fiction.  This tale of the possible future (not actually science fiction, I hasten to point out, just speculating on what happens with the logical extension of our attitude towards water, land, money and each other) where the Colorado continues to dry up and states fight for water rights—to the point of excluding US citizens from moving from one state to another (using guns.  Did I mention the guns?) is pure Bacigalupi in its stark descriptions of privation, threats, torture and murder for profit on a large scale.  Very much not safe for children, as there are gruesome depictions of torture, murder and fairly explicit depictions of sex…and foul language.

That said, the characters are detailed and believable, the action scenes are briskly paced, the villains are monsters and a lot of people fall into the gray areas of morality, mostly driven by fear.  Fear is the main character in this book, touching the lives of everyone except the worst monster (no spoilers).

I like and recommend The Water Knife.  It’s gripping, if you can stand the horror of the world Paolo Bacigalupi creates.  More terrible than The Windup Girl for sure, but no less fascinating.

Link above goes to Amazon, but it should be in your local library or borrowable therefrom by inter-library loan (ask your librarian).

The Daedalus Incident, by Michael Martinez July 8, 2016

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The Daedalus Incident, by Michael Martinez is a strange  mixture of steampunk and, uh, standard science fiction.1 A series of quakes on tectonically-dead Mars has led a number of scientists to risk their lives to understand what is really going on. “The only clues they have stem from the emissions of a mysterious blue radiation, and a 300-year-old journal that is writing itself.”–from Amazon’s site.  As a science geek I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised to find Cherenkov radiation featured as a clue.

Well, the steampunk part is that a parallel universe is bumping up against ours produces Cherenkov radiation..you can see where that could lead.  In the parallel universe, alchemy is used to float wooden ships through the Void between worlds (all inhabited) in a Victorian era that seems to have lasted well into the 21st century.  This puts me in mind of an hilarious game that I never purchased for myself in 1989 when I damned sure should have, Space:1889. And, I swear the whole plot setup in Daedalus Incident is predicated on this ridiculous game, substituting alchemy for Edison’s aether propeller.

Well, there is action and romance in both universes, with villains and heroes (and damsels who take up fencing), loss and redemption—standard action/adventure stuff, the bubblegum of the mind.

Link goes to Amazon, but this is at sfpl.org as well as are the follow-on novels (I think there are four right now).

____________

1 Is there such a thing?

The Red, by Linda Nagata July 7, 2016

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The Red, by Linda Nagata held my interest well enough that I also listened to The Trials, the concluding (?) book in this story. Of the two, I think I liked The Red better, since the story arc seemed more complete and satisfying in and of itself.

Lieutenant James Shelley, US Army is part of a Linked Combat Squad which is just what it sounds like: an Army unit with excellent communications in three forms: a radio linkage to each other (GenCom), a video linkage to an overhead drone (an Angel), and a linkage to a handler (Control).  The individual soldier is also equipped with armor and an exoskeleton (either referred to as “armor and bones” or “dead sister”) and an “emotional prosthesis”, a skullcap which keeps mood swings in check.

Nice killing machines, you think? Not so much.  Our hero and his squaddies seem to be nice folks, just regular Joes (and Janes) in a rough business. There’s a bit of backstory for our hero but much less for the other characters, which does keep the narrative as tight as it needs to be, since this is an action tale after all.

This is probably interesting enough setup for several novels-worth of tales, but this particular one deals with a third sci-fi trope that is really interesting.  Shelley is infrequently given to having strong feelings in tactical situations that seem entirely incongruous with known operational parameters—he has hunches, and plays them. 

And they are always right. 

The source of these hunches are the crux of this novel. I must say I found the idea which explains it in the book is the most whimsical possibility I could have imagined, and brings me great delight when I think of it.

Good action, fair character development and a breezy pace (considering) make a good audiobook, competently read.

 

Exciting update: This is part of a trilogy. Great; now I have to listen to another one.

The Road to Hell July 6, 2016

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“Intentions are now the most widely used technology for creating unintended consequences, having disrupted older technologies like madness and stupidity.”—from a lovely essay by Venkatesh Rao.

The Short Drop, by Matthew FitzSimmons July 1, 2016

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The Short Drop is a chilling little novella about corruption, featuring all the violence and evil you could ever want in an audiobook.  The lives wrecked by (other’s) corruption are offered redemption at a fearful price: knowledge of the whole, sordid story. The learning is, of course, a horror story itself involving all manner of evil including a Army sniper turned serial killer, a corrupt vice-president of the USA, old money with older ambitions and a pair of very good hackers in a duel.

Good characterizations of people with very bad problems written in a lively tone, but painful to see the realization of evil marching toward the denouement. It’s like a whole Greek chorus coming to your house to sing you a lullaby that lasts all night.

Ouch.

Good actioner, with some very likeable characters.1 The main bad guy is surprisingly uninteresting, though; it seems that the love of power is so common in both history and current events that I find the bad guy really repulsive…and dull.

Donald Trump will not get my votes2, for sure.

OK, this is pretty depressing.  Here is a consoling kitten (mine). Notice the cute paws: IMG_20150703_232339

1Besides the evil guys. Hey, what can I say?  I like well-written bad guys.

2Vote early, and vote often.

Nexus, Crux and Apex, by Ramez Naam July 1, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Star Trek Technology.
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These three novels are among the most interesting science fiction novels I have come across in some time..Lovingly detailed descriptions of the brain-nanoparticle operating system (Nexus) that allow people to hack their own brains, regulating mood, compelling actions and desires and enabling communication mind-to-mind seem plausible (after you swallow the sufficiently-advanced-technology bits) enough to support a tale of personal discovery by the author of the OS as he winds between the US government, Chinese spies, Thai drug lords and showdowns with the US government and a singularity’s intelligence. A good actioner, the story will compel your attention through all three books and make you wish for a different ending to the last one, for sure.

Highly recommended.  The links above go to Amazon, but are available at sfpl.org.

Monster 6502 June 30, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Mutants, Toys.
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MOnSter 6502 (prototype PCB)

Monster 6502 is a circuit-board replica of the classic (in that it appeared an Apple II) MOS 6502 microprocessor. It is the project of a couple oof very serious nerds who will be running BASIC programs on it at the local reverse-engineering meetup next Wednesday.  I can’t wait to meet the guys who wrote the following snippets in the FAQ for this project:

How many components are there on the board?

In total, there are 4304 components on the board. There are 3218 transistors and 1019 resistors that comprise the "functional" part of the 6502. In addition to these, there are also LEDs sprinkled throughout that indicate the values of various control lines, registers, and status bits, as well as additional transistors and resistors (not counted in those "functional" totals) that are necessary to drive those LEDs.

As of the current design, the statistics are as follows:

  • Components that correspond 1:1 with transistors in the original 6502:
    • Total active transistors: 4237
      • 3218 enhancement mode n-channel MOSFETs
        • 2599 discrete
        • 619 located on 161 quad transistor array chips (25 of these 644 transistors were not used)
      • 1019 depletion mode MOSFETs (the MOnSter 6502 uses resistors in place of these MOSFETs)
  • 525 Additional parts present only in the MOnSter 6502:
    • 167 LEDs
    • 123 extra MOSFETs for driving the LEDs
    • 20 filter capacitors
    • 2 zero-ohm jumpers for net tie reasons
    • 8 current limit resistors
    • 167 resistors for the LEDs
    • 36 diodes (for ESD protection)
    • 2 connectors (5 V power, 40-pin "ICR" ribbon cable)
  • Total parts: 4304
Are you nuts?

Probably.

 

Are you going to make one out of vacuum tubes next?

No.

 

Is there going to be a soldering kit version of this?

No. (But on the other hand, "Anything is a soldering kit if you’re brave enough!")

Exciting update: yeah, it was just great. Never before in the history of the world has anything so pointless been done so very well, with thorough design, component selection and pre-assembly testing carefully prepared against the day that an obsolete processor’s ghost could be made to rattle the chains of Integer BASIC. Woz would be so proud.  I have some BlurricamTM footage:

Light Show June 30, 2016

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When I was a boy all we had were clock crystals, dye, oil and overhead projectors. Of course LSD was legal then, so it seemed as impressive as Jupiter.

Lightweight Plastic Exoskeleton Raw Materials June 30, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science, Video.
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When I worked (briefly) at SRI some twelve years ago, they were developing some stretched-polymer artificial muscles with pretty exotic chemistry. I am really pleased to see how much the field has advanced in the intervening years, probably due to adequate microprocessor-powered software algorithms to make a normal walking gait practical.  This particular polymeric muscle seems to be well on its way to application.

Important Update June 30, 2016

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And Doesn’t it Look Delicious? June 23, 2016

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I should have a category for cake.

Housewife Replacement June 23, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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This is SpotMini from Boston Dynamics.  Usually BD makes enormous, noisy hulking robot mules to haul stuff around for the military…but the military said they were too loud and nixed the program.  So, here’s Spot, tidying up after breakfast.  All Spot needs now is the correct voice-activated response to “Get me a beer, will ya?” I see an enormous market for that.

Exciting update:

Told you so.

Silicon Valley Robotics Meetup June 17, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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I went a Meetup named Beer and Bots as part of Silicon Valley Robotics  in San Francisco (held at Comet Labs on Mission Street; thank you for your generosity) for a meeting featuring, well, beer and bots. 
It was almost all schmoozing, though there were three demos: An EE, who demonstrated a $150 black box robot platform (I have his card and will report more on this later);  Tap Interface guys tapwithus.com showing a Bluetooth gizmo for one-handed typing without a keyboard; and a robot gripper guy with a robust gripper that is fairly cheap, can hoist beer bottles despite guys trying to remove them by hand, but gentle enough to not wreck a tortilla chip (my test for gentleness).  Also met a recruiter from a contract robotics engineering firm, from whom I might get a little work here and there. Among other things I learned that Andra (boss of this little show) doesn’t have time to arrange any more robotics job fairs and is looking for someone to help with that kind of thing.  Could be me, maybe; I have some bandwidth coming available soon.

Rappers Don’t Use Guitars June 16, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Music, Mutants, Toys.
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although for this guitar I am sure they would make an exception and include melody in their screaming. Though this may look like a death metal band member’s dream it’s for an actual rapper, Wyclef Jean.

Driven to Church Every Sunday June 15, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Uncategorizable.
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I picture this little job driven by a gentle little old lady who dislikes rude drivers (notice the cannon).

Mini-Me June 15, 2016

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Our beloved Lily has a toy that follows her from room to room.IMG_20160220_094743

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I have about a dozen photos of her taking it with her everywhere.

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Sorry about this.

Another Cheery Sculpture June 15, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Mutants, Octopus, Uncategorizable.
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IMG_20160521_114711

Also from Maker Faire. I want one, please

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