Author Archives: Randy

Star Trek tech

Via Jeb Kinnison, the transporter pad coasters that every Star Trek fan must have:

Available at They’re cheaper than you’d think. (I’d tell you the price, but Amazon has a nasty habit of changing it after you go there.)

Once at the site, check out the other Trekkian items. I had no idea some of this stuff was out there.

There’s a phaser that functions as a TV remote. It’s based on the specs from the original series, and the power pack pistol grip can come apart like the originals, but it’s a lotta money. The price of that set of transporter coasters looks better and better in comparison.

A Star Trek: TOS Bluetooth Communicator – Cell Phone Handset and Speaker seems a bit overboard — until you really, really need one.

There’s more, of course.

The Mighty Eighth (2014)

A clip from The Mighty Eighth showing what hell it must have been flying on a B-17 mission over Germany during WWII:

One obvious failing, probably mentioned before, is that military aircraft cabins are louder than that today, and were much louder then. I usually wore earplugs on the P-3. A B-17 had to be a lot worse. I don’t know what the filmmakers could have done to make it more realistic without making a movie unwatchable, which is why this is a common failing.

While watching, keep in mind that the crewmembers weren’t just along for the ride. They had to work in this environment — sometimes doing math with slide-rules.

And yes, I came across this while doing research. (YouTube has WWII training videos, too.) The writing continues….

Stephen Baxter, Ken MacLeod and H. G. Wells

Ken MacLeod speaks with Stephen Baxter on his new book The Massacre of Mankind. The despairing title comes from a phrase in The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. This is the sequel. It’s not the only sequel, as the first book (from 1897) has long since passed into public domain. But it’s the only one authorized by the Wells estate.

I’ll wait on buying it until my own forthcoming book is ready, and then until the price comes down.

The premise of the book is that the martians return after having studied what went wrong the first time. The British have learned a few things, too, with all those martian war machines left by the first invaders. Baxter studied the science that was understood at the time, and remained faithful to that.

The discussion is good listening if you’re an H.G. Wells fan. I’m tempted to say more, but a character in my next book talks about Wells and I don’t want to say anything best left for that.

Baxter also wrote an accompanying novelette, The Martian in the Wood (also available free at

Emergency supplies

Preparing for Hurricane Irma’s approach reminded me of this list of things to pack the event of a nuclear attack:

  1. Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  2. Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  3. Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  4. Flashlight and extra batteries
  5. First aid kit
  6. Whistle to signal for help
  7. Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  8. Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  9. Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  10. Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
  11. Local maps

If that looks like your standard list of things you’d need in a more mundane emergency, like a Cat5 hurricane, you’re right. They refer to FEMA, which also has more ideas.

They didn’t say it, but be sure there’s enough food for your pets, too!

tl;dr — The part that might have slipped your mind…

I’m sorry to say that it’s too late for some of this stuff, if you’re in Florida, as the stores have been busy for the last few days. But I’ll add a couple things you can probably still get or do:

  1. Set your refrigerator to max cold
  2. Charge your cell phone
  3. Plastic bags or containers for your personal electronics, including that phone
  4. Reading material that doesn’t need to be plugged in, especially if (like me) you don’t have a Kindle with weeks of battery-life
  5. Cash!

You’ve probably thought of most of this, but cash is an easy one to forget these days.

If you’re in an area that can get flooded, be sure to unplug everything, and move your electronics to where it will stay dry.


We were luckier than most. I’d lost a tree and my internet connection. That was followed by PC problems I just wasn’t ready for. It all coincided with a miserable cold. But like I said, we were luckier than most.

Google isn’t invincible

There were once a couple of guys (lawyers, I think) who had a clever idea on how to beat the big web near-monopoly: Offer prizes to site users. After all, if you’re going to search for something, you might as well use the site that effectively gives you a free lottery ticket. They took their clever idea to Viacom, and thus began a short-lived partnership.

The site was called iWon. It’s gone now. You might think that means the king of the web can’t be beat. But the king of the web at the time was Google was still just a clever search algorithm. Google is on top now, but that can change.

I use Microsoft’s as my default search-engine. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever use Google, but I’ll always prefer an alternative.

Never trust Google

You may have seen this: One Statistics Professor Was Just Banned By Google: Here Is His Story.

I’ll pause here to say that, although I happen to like ZeroHedge, and often find it fascinating, I very much agree with Tam’s basic point on whackadoodle beliefs.

That being said, their article is an important one. Math professor Salil Mehta had come to rely on Google for its services, including email and data storage, and was then banned. The icing on the cake is that he was running a math site. He doesn’t appear to hold extreme views.

I’m tempted to say what everyone else is saying, but I’ve got a slightly different take. First, businesses shouldn’t be in the habit of policing political views. Twitter went off the rails on this one, and now YouTube (a Google company) is doing the same. They built these businesses by attracting users of all types, basically pretending to be open to almost everyone, and then began tightening the rules when nearing monopoly status. If they wanted to cater to narrower viewpoints then they should have said so earlier.

It would be different if the government had demanded they shut the site down, which is always possible. We don’t really know everything.

But my real point is this:  Don’t put your critical data in Google’s hands.

You don’t know when a policy-change might lock you out. That can happen even when you’re apolitical, but it’s a client who’s attracted the wrong kind of attention. It might not even be a company decision. A company like that must be chock-full of nutcases who think a greater justice could be served by altering your data, if not ruining your day.

Yes, I’m sure they have safeguards. I’m less sure that they don’t have backdoors.


Indian business-site OfficeChai does a piece on this, basically telling the same story, although they do find some political posts giving points to Trump on immigration and the ban on foreign-nationals from seven Muslim countries. Not entirely apolitical, but it’s hard to believe that’s the reason Dr. Mehta was kicked off the site.

Now ZeroHedge reports that Google changed their minds.

But the lesson remains the same:  Don’t trust Google with your data.

Another telemarketer’s foot in the door

This is clever: Telemarketers know we don’t want to talk to them. Their latest trick is to spoof the caller ID to make it look like they’re calling from a phone number with the same prefix/exchange and area code as yours. They could be calling from anywhere, but you’re more likely to answer if you think it might be a neighbor. And once they have you, you’re more likely to buy. As with spammers, this is a never-ending fight.

I once had an idea for a device that would pick up the telephone on the first ring. It would put the caller on the speaker, but not connect the microphone until you actually pick it up. You’d get to listen to sounds and voices on the other end, but the caller would continue to hear fake ringing as though you hadn’t answered yet. It’s a safe bet that somebody’s already done this.

Yes, this is a mean trick. I never bothered with the idea, although I’ve had modems in the past that could have done it if I’d written the right software. It’s a privacy violation of sorts that I wouldn’t do to a friend. Of course, telemarketers are fair game, but not everyone is.

James Holland reviews Dunkirk

History writer (fiction and non-fiction) James Holland reviews Dunkirk, and asks, does historical accuracy matter? This is a great piece, although long. In reality, the “Little Ships” that were the heroes of Dunkirk were a big part of the legend, but only a small part of the actual rescue effort. But still, at least it happened. Hollywood has done a lot worse with history.

I haven’t seen the movie yet. From this review, I am both intrigued and disappointed to learn that the size of the spectacle was limited because director Christopher Nolan has an aversion to CGI. It’s funny when you realize that the movie was still converted to digital for distribution.

A minor nit:

Tom Hardy’s pilot also seems to have an inexhaustible supply of ammunition – I counted around 70 seconds’ worth in all – when in reality Spitfires and Hurricanes both had 14.7 seconds in which to shoot down enemy aircraft.

This is very common in nearly all action movies. The typical machine gun doesn’t have nearly as much ammunition as you’d think. This should be less forgivable in historical movies, in that much of the audience expects to learn what it was actually like.