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My Google Audition March 15, 2022

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This is part of a technical writing exercise requested by The Goog.  I was strictly exhorted to take it seriously.  I failed this part of that exercise.

I have been asked to describe a common Earth game to Speaker-to-Animals, an ambassador to Earth from the Kzin empire.  He is an eight-foot-tall tiger-striped alien who looks distinctly feline, has large fangs, a limited sense of humor and is skilled in game theory.

Me: This game is one of logic, skill and cunning.  It is the first strategy game Earth children learn, and its rapid apprehension guides their path throughout life.

Speaker-to-Animals: Really?  How is it I have never heard of it? Is it concealed from outsiders customarily?

Me: Not at all; its value is poorly comprehended by outsiders, and so is ignored.  Nonetheless, Earth children readily grasp the nature of the derived victory and take life lessons therefrom, which can be thought of as the Iron Laws of Destiny, Distribution and Dining.

Speaker-to-Animals: [cocks ears forward] And this has escaped our notice all this time?

Me: Your species would not be the first.

Speaker-to-Animals: I must see this.  What equipment do we require?

Me: A piece of paper and two pencils.  In a pinch, we could each use the same pencil.

Speaker-to-Animals: Here. [produces materials]

Me: I will draw a three by three grid. [draws grid] The object of the game is to occupy a square at a time, by turns, until three squares are occupied by one player either vertically, horizontally or diagonally; that player is the winner.  The first player draws a cross [draws cross in the middle square] as his symbol; the second player draws a circle.  A draw occurs when all spaces are occupied but no winner has emerged.

Speaker-to-Animals: Hmm… [thoughtfully examines board, while his rat-like tail switches menacingly] The first player, by taking the center space, can always at least force a draw or beat an unskilled opponent.

Me:  Now you know why we call them the Iron Laws.

Cake! July 12, 2021

Posted by stuffilikenet in Uncategorizable, Uncategorized.
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COVID Vaccine Info Dump December 30, 2020

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Science, Uncategorized.
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Berthub.eu has an excellent deconstruction of the Pfizer vaccine (“a character-by-character look at the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine”).

You won’t be sorry.

Ion-propelled Aircraft December 8, 2020

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Uncategorized, Video.
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Yanked from the scripts of Star Trek with embarrassing plagiarism, researchers from MIT have created a proof of concept aircraft propelled by ionic thrust. They have only tested it in a (pretty large) gymnasium, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Simple in concept[0], a wire with 20Kv ionizes air in front of an airfoil while the oppositely-charged airfoil draws the air over itself:

The amount of thrust generated by this system is pretty small admittedly, so there are several airfoils stacked atop one another to provide enough lift for sustainable flight.

…well, it is just a prototype

An intriguing design, it is possibly a first step of a solution to the problem of noisy propeller-driven flight. If we imagine a future with drones filling our skies, I sure hope they are quiet[1]

[0] to be honest

[1] unlike my wife’s drone

Teach Yourself Electricity and Electronics February 13, 2020

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by Stan Giblisco is a pretty good solid introduction to the very basics of electronics. An adult could run through a chapter a night while on vacation if his wife doesn’t talk too much (ahem). I’m technically inclined and I read for a living, so maybe that’s too ambitious for most folks? In any case, it’s a good grounding in the basics[0] with tests at various periods[1] to make sure the reading sinks in.

The trouble is, because I was on vacation, I didn’t apply any of the knowledge and so it’s fading fast (in all fairness to me, it was a year-long vacation–not that it took a year; it was only about two weeks, but I didn’t have a workbench to build cool toys on, since I was living in an RV).

What a re-volting[2] development. I’m going ohm.



[0] See what i did there?

[1] I almost said frequencies but that would be too poor a pun, so I resisted. I am reluctant to subject my readers to puns because of their strong capacity for reactance.

[2] OK, fine! One more.


View from the back porch February 6, 2020

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Uncategorized.
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Reddit Loves Cats January 1, 2020

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Chemistry Class Graduation Photo December 24, 2019

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The Everything Box, by Richard Kadrey December 23, 2019

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The Everything Box, by Richard Kadrey is a macguffin chase done in neo-noir style with snappy dialogue and pretty unique characters..except they are all kind of snappy dialoguers. That’s a minor quibble and you don’t even notice it as the book hums along with charm, wit, pathos and a bit of terror tossed in for fun. The macguffin is stolen not once, not twice, not three times but four (tying with The Hot Rock’s record for ripped-off treasure). Problem is, this particular macguffin is an apocalypse engine lost by an angel right after The Flood, and being hunted by, well, everyone: gangsters, a fake Russian, two rival demon cults, The Government and probably others I have forgotten[0]. Along the way the burglar (our hero) meets, fights, partners with or robs a Caspar Gutman sort of character, a dragon, thousands of enchanted spiders, a frightened ghost, two mind-clouding women, a magical locksmith, the deedholder to Earth, the angel who lost the macguffin in the first place, vampires, werewolves, tentacle monsters from hell (by which I mean The Government), demonic pets, a revenant and a particularly unpleasant government operative.[1]

Very entertaining read, and admirably read as audiobook. The narrator gets the dialogue just right.

At Amazon, but I got mine at sfpl.org.


[0] Just kidding.  I think that’s all of them.

[1] I am not at all sure I mentioned everybody.

Catfishing on Catnet, by Naomi Kritzer December 9, 2019

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This piece of classic AI fiction is unusual in that the AI is not evil. S/he/it/they [insert politically-corrected grammar item here] is an empathetic intelligence that also likes cat pictures (an obvious sign of empathy and sentience). The AI is involved in fugitive children, gender discussions, assault with a deadly weapon, murder, robot rampage and gratuitous cat pictures and is unrepentant about most of it.
Great fun. I read it straight through. I am a little bit old for the target demographic for this one (by about fifty years), but loved it like twelve-year-old me would have. Highly recommended.

Available on Amazon, but not yet on sfpl.org

Giggling Maniac with Gatling Gun July 16, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Toys, Uncategorizable, Uncategorized.
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It’s lovely what you can do with 3D printers. It is, of course, best illustrated by a cackling madman with a Gatling Gun.


EXCITING UPDATE: I tend to forget the excellent work done in a related space by Jeorg Sprave, a happy German fellow who specializes in rubber-driven devices for impelling various projectiles:

As the video shows, he is also a giggling maniac, just this time with an electric fully-automatic crossbow.

Pandoc Conversion to Markdown July 15, 2019

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pandoc -s example.docx -t markdown -o example.md


For converting from MS .docx to .md files in a hurry.  I usually do this manually, but file bigness.

Oh, crap. July 15, 2019

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Not All Stats Are Useful, or Meaningful June 17, 2019

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WordPress is a dandy hosting platform with some curious limitations and curiouser utilities.  One of said utilities is a tracker that lets me know which of the 1000+ articles I have written (it has been a very long time indeed) attracts views.  Among the “popular” articles is my brief and tantalizing review of The Thin H-line, a vaguely pornographic comic strip long discontinued by its creator, partly because he’s depressed, and partly because his “friends” shunned him when they discovered he had created it.[0]

The statistics involved here are even more curious: on days when I have no traffic but one view, it’s almost always this article. Crazy; I mean, I understand the attraction of porn (no problem), but The Thin H-Line is just a comic with porn themes. Not sexy at all. I wonder if the constant visitations are bot-generated?  For a time, WordPress blogs were inundated with spamming comments, but this stopped when Facebook became the main waste of time for many people. I was initially disheartened by the decline of my little blogempire from around 40,000 visitors a year to mere hundreds…and many of them aimed at The Thin H-Line.  I now just keep it up (infrequently) just out of habit (originally I published it just to show my sister how to monetize a blog. I did very little of that, as she showed little interest in the process) and now I just do this to keep my (few) friends apprised of little things I find amusing).[1] Also, I am a slave to habit.[2]


In any case, the bot must be singularly ineffective, because that article is old and probably still just as uninteresting as it ever was.  If anyone has an idea about this, leave a comment. My curiosity is killing me.


[0] This is not Stuff I Like. I do not believe these people were very good friends at all.

[1] Like parentheses.  I love parentheses.

[2] Among other things.

Noir, a Novel, by Christopher Moore May 2, 2019

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Noir, a Novel, by Christopher Moore combines Moore’s signature humor with the delivery of a noir-fiction detective. It is, like all his books, filled with wild improbabilities or impossibilities depending on your religion (or lack thereof). Get the audio book version; the reader gets it just right at every turn of the page.

For your trouble you will get murder (of course; it is a noir novel), kidnapping, gangsters, conspiracies, secret societies, hookers dressed like Dorothy Gale, a girlfriend referred to as “The Cheese”, potential human sacrifice and a completely unexpected ending, unless you are big on deus ex machina, or catches in left field.

In my usual way of ensuring maximum delight, I give no details whatsoever. Let it unfold in your mind. Available on Amazon (of course) and sfpl.org.

January Dancer, by Michael Flynn May 1, 2019

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January Dancer, by Michael Flynn, is a juicy little bit of wordplay cleverly disguised as a science fiction novel featuring clever cops, more clever criminals, powerful pre-Human artifacts, corporate greed, human cupidity, piracy, rebellion, senseless violence, gratuitous sex (is it only coincidence that it advances the plot?) and moral courage.

I enjoyed it hugely. Basically, a pre-Human artifact is discovered by a space crew repairing their ship, surrendered for a fee to the Big Corporation With Evil Ends in Mind, stolen by space pirates, recovered by persons unknown, sought by idealistic rebels, found by clever policemen, stolen by ….

It’s a little bit complicated, but pretty much everyone can enjoy it despite the complexities of the MacGuffin hunt, if only for the names of the places and characters and the fascinating patois of the locals (see wordplay, above).  In the hands of the capable narrator, it fairly sings with delightful banter and description.

Available on Amazon (of course) and sfpl.org. Most highly recommended.

3D-printed Millimeter-sized Robots April 25, 2019

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An exciting (and lovingly detailed) paper in Science Robotics documents the design and production of Millimeter-scale flexible robots with programmable three-dimensional magnetization and motions for use in hard-to-reach body parts and possibly surgery as well. Developed by researchers in the University of Toronto, the tiny little device is activated by a magnetic field:

As in all the best papers, this one show materials and methods in exquisite detail, illustrating the physical apparatus for patterning the magnetic needles which make up the basic structure of several tiny machines: the millimeter-scale segmented magnetic swimmer, the untethered multi-arm magnetic microgripper, and the multi-legged paddle-crawling robot.

What’s really wonderful about this paper is the careful explanation of the first principles used to build up all the other pieces (see Table 1., where they show the reason they are able to successfully manipulate in three dimensions using only a single magnetic field).

Table 1. Capabilities of major existing methods to pattern magnetic particles. 1D: Only binary magnetization can be patterned, e.g., longitudinal or perpendicular recording in a hard disk drive. 2D: Direction of magnetization in each layer is restricted to a single plane. 3D: Magnetization in each layer can be patterned in arbitrary direction. Discrete: Magnetization in each area is independent of adjacent areas. Continuum: Magnetization in each area cannot have sudden changes with respect to adjacent areas. N/A, not applicable.

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 10.10.00 AM
*Shape of media refers to the structure of the composite materials in which the magnetic particles are dispersed. 2D refers to planar structures, whereas 3D refers to solid 3D structures.

†States of magnetization is defined as degrees of freedom related to the orientation of hard magnetic particles or preferred magnetic axes of soft magnetic particles in each area.


Beautiful. The rest of the paper is just as detailed, and even fairly easy to understand.


Homework: T. Xu el al., “Millimeter-Scale Flexible Robots with Programmable Three-Dimensional Magnetization and Motions,” Science Robotics (2019). robotics.sciencemag.org/lookup … /scirobotics.aav4494

Synchro de Mayo May 21, 2018

Posted by stuffilikenet in RV and camping, Toys, Uncategorizable, Uncategorized.
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is not really what it’s called, it is just when it happens.  A congregation of some of the 2600-odd Volkswagen Vanagon Synchros in the United States, it’s really a long camping party in Hollister State Recreation Area and the best place to see immaculately kept and/or innovatively modified Synchros:
















There’s one in every crowd, I guess.







Why four wheel drive?



Vanagon owner doing what they do most.



The newest Volkswagen four-wheel drive: not for sale in California (or maybe the USA)


Typical Vanagon in its native habitat.

There were other VW vans there, of course:





His Plan to Own Lakefront Property Advanced December 18, 2016

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I hope my new weather machine does not work better than I thought.

EXCITING UPDATE: everyone knows about the flooding and the two atmospheric rivers.  Very sorry about that.


Unity3D Game Engine November 8, 2016

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If you already know a few things about coding in Java or C#, you can probably cobble together a few different types of games using Unity3D’s game engine. I can state this with fair confidence as I have done just that following their video tutorials with slavish adherence to every bit (and byte, I suppose) of their coding advice.  The Unity3D game engine will allow you to compile to a number of different operating systems; I built an Android app and a web-based sample you can see here.  It’s a fun little space shooter a la Galaxians, but a bit more primitive.  I was just thrilled to make it work with so little knowledge of C#.

I’m an idiot; I am sure you all can do better.  The video tutorials on Unity’s site show examples of 2D and 3D games, both perspective and first person games.  There’s lots of shooting, but there doesn’t need to be (Katamari Damacy, anyone?); be creative. 

My personal dreamscape of computer games involves cutlery fighting with crockery; YMMV.