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Tech journalist since the dark ages. Windows Secrets, LangaList newsletter, Windows Magazine (NetGuide, Home PC), Byte, Popular Computing, yadda yadda yadda. Google me, if it matters.

This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

London Underground Informational messages go... off message.


More: Mashable.com

Monday, July 27, 2015

Trickle down: Theory and practice


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Boston Summer Arts Weekend 2015 #bsaw

The 4th annual Boston Summer Arts Weekend is in progress, and Day One was pretty great, starting on a cool summer afternoon.

The free concerts take place in Copley Square , a scenic venue even without the concerts. (For non-Bostonians, it's also where the Boston Marathon finishes.)

We arrived in time for Federator No. 1, a great-sounding, 13-member, afrobeat group from the Boston area.

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Lots of brass, heavy percussion, lots of fun.

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They were followed by the oddly-named Dirty Dozen Brass Band, out of New Orleans.

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I say "oddly named" because there are only seven band members. Maybe they're counting their roadies. Or maybe the "Soiled Seven" didn't sound as good as "Dirty Dozen."

No matter, they sounded great, mostly avoiding the clinches of New Orleans jazz and instead doing fresh, lively numbers that got the crowd going.

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Part of the reason for their rich sound was the presence of a ginormous baritone sax (played excellently), a sousaphone, and an outstanding drummer. Lots of bass, lots of bottom.

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They were followed by a Blue Man Group drum-off; the six finalists from the various Blue Man Group venue cities (Las Vegas, New York, Boston...) each performed an original 90-second drum solo.

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It was interesting to see what each did. The one we liked best had a very clever composition in which he performed an entirely acoustic fade in (starting with soft finger taps) and building to a variety of beats, and then fading out --- again, entirely acoustically; not via a volume control --- in an ending that was the exact mirror image of the opening.

Alas, he didn't win: the prize went to a guy who just whaled the crap out the drums for 90 seconds.

Next up was an odd all-female chorale group --- the Merrimack Valley Chorus --- that did barbershop-quartet type songs, but with a much larger group.

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As the sun set, the next act turned out to be the best: Bettye Lavette.

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She's been twice nominated for Grammys, and was an honoree at the Kennedy Center. She's been singing for 50-some years, and was awesome.

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She was full of life, and engaging between songs; she packs a ton of personality into her slender frame.

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She was also backed by a extremely accomplished band. Hers was a truly great act. Thoroughly enjoyable.

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The nominal headliners were up last, Emmylou Harris  and Rodney Crowell.

Sad to say, the set wasn't that good. Harris' voice was weak and has lost much of its range; a problem marred by a crappy sound setup. (In contrast, Bettye LaVette brought her own sound techs, who tuned things to perfection before her act.)

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Harris' act worked best when she gave the lead to Crowell, who has a strong voice; Harris did fine singing background vocals and doing harmony, but was (sadly) weak as a frontperson.

The whole set was pretty sleepy and uninspired; they were mostly just going through the motions.

We stayed until the end, but the crowd thinned out during her set.

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But in all it was a great day of music in a fabulous setting.

I'm now adding a Bettye Lavette station to my Pandora listings. :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

See lightning strikes and track thunder in near real time

Blitzortung.org is an international,crowd-sourced/community project to map lightning strikes in near-real-time, for the whole world. (Blitzortung means "lightning location" in German.)

The North American affiliate site is LightningMaps.org.

In addition to tracking lightning stikes, you can overlay satellite and radar data; and even set the maps to show you approximate thunder propagation.

Select the realtime option (e.g. http://www.lightningmaps.org/realtime) and zoom way in on any storm. Select the thunder option under the settings (gear) menu, and you'll see the strikes as yellow dots, with thunder shown in animated circles, expanding  from each mapped strike.

Here's a still image, grabbed from current storms in northern Vermont, with the thunder, clouds, and radar options all on.

There are many weather apps, but this is the only one I've seen with thunder. :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

About that coming "mini ice age..."

A mathematics professor, Valentina Zharkova, recently gave a presentation in which she predicted that we could soon see a temporary 60% drop in solar magnetic activity.

Her presentation was a speech, not a peer-reviewed paper.

But a number of publications, including the British tabloid the Daily Mail, interpreted her remarks as predicting a 60% drop in solar light and heat, and ran an article saying we're in for a "mini ice age," with illustrations of a frozen-solid Thames.

Other publications --- including some who should have known better --- repeated and amplified the misinterpretation.

Many used the ambiguous phrase "drop in solar activity," even though Zharkova clearly stated she was talking about "magnetic wave components" inside the sun --- not its light and heat.

But Zharkova didn't help when, in interviews, she went way beyond her research and speculated about possible climate effects on Earth and Mars (!), and got the numbers wildly wrong. (It's not her field; she should have simply said "I don't know.")

In all, it was like christmas for climate change deniers and right-wing news operations.

Most solar scientists say there's maybe a 15-20% chance of a deep magnetic minimum of the type she's predicting. Maybe that number will increase if Zharkova publishes her research so others can check her work.

But in any case, a temporary drop in solar magnetic activity does not equal an equivalent drop in the Sun's heat and light. If the deep magnetic minimum does occur, most climate scientists say that any cooling effect will be trivial, and overwhelmed by the long-term warming we're locked into. (2015 is on track to be the hottest year in human history.)

If you want the details, from people who study the sun and climate for a living:


Monday, July 13, 2015

Bloom County is coming back.

Like Dave Letterman, the current fiasco that is the GOP has, er, drawn Berkeley Breathed out of retirement. :)


NASA's "Eyes on Pluto" real-time app

"Eyes on Pluto" is a JPL/NASA desktop app for Windows and Macs that can show you, in realistic real time animation, exactly what the New Horizons spacecraft is doing, and seeing.

A preview mode gives you a speeded-up look at the gyrations New Horizons will go through to map and measure Pluto and its moons during tomorrow morning's closest encounter.

You also can choose your point of view: "spacecraft" (New Horizon's own view); "ride along" (a point near the spacecraft; now not much different from the spacecraft view); and "overview" (which lets you see the weird, lumpy orbits of Pluto's moons, caused by the fact that Pluto and its major moon as actually almost a binary planet.

Today (Monday July 13 2015), 24 hours before closest approach, I think the best view is "preview" and "spacecraft." Let it run for a couple minutes; wait and watch. It's worth it!

Free download: http://eyes.jpl.nasa.gov/eyes-on-pluto.html