Supersonic Man

April 8, 2017

eight-bit nostalgia

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 1:03 pm

There’s a lot of nostalgia out there for the era of eight-bit computers — especially the home-oriented ones from the likes of Commodore and Sinclair and Atari.  And I get why: they were tremendously liberating and empowering to those who had never had access to computing before.  And the BASIC interpreters they all came with were likewise quite empowering to those who hadn’t previously realized that they could write their own programs.

But as someone who was already empowered, I couldn’t stand those crappy toy computers.  Never owned one.  I didn’t start wanting my own computer until the sixteen bit era.  The first personal computer that actually made me want it was the Apple Lisa, which of course was prohibitively expensive.  The first one I wanted enough to pay hard-earned money for, at a time when I didn’t have much, was the Amiga 1000.

(Last I checked, my Amiga 1000 still runs.  But one of these days the disk drives are going to fail, and any available replacements will be just as old and worn.  Turns out that what a lot of retrocomputing hobbyists do is to use hardware adapters to connect their old disk cables to modern flash-memory drives.  It may be kind of cheating but at least you won’t have range anxiety about how much you dare use it before it breaks.)

To me, the sixteen bit era, and the 32-bit transition following, was the most fun time, when the computers were capable enough to do plenty of cool stuff, but also still innovative and diverse enough to not be all boring and businesslike.

If I were of a mind to recapture any of that fun with modern hardware, it sure doesn’t cost money like it used to: I’d look at, for instance, getting a Pi 3 with Raspbian on it.  You could have a complete Linux system just by velcroing it to the back of a monitor or TV.  But there are even cheaper alternatives: there’s a quite good hacking environment available across all modern platforms, more empowering and ubiquitous than BASIC ever was… in your browser’s javascript.

November 7, 2016

enduring entertainment franchises

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 6:48 pm

What are the longest-lasting, most prolific, most enduring entertainment franchises? When it comes to movies, there are two big ones which usually get mentioned above all others: Godzilla, and James Bond. If you include the combination of movies and TV, Star Trek is hard to beat. But these are only the well-known internationally popular ones. If you look at more obscure serieses that aren’t well known outside of their countries of origin, there are many which, for sheer quantity, utterly blow away those big names.

Here are some examples:

franchise origin years films genre
Hopalong Cassidy USA 1935-1948 66 western
The Durango Kid USA 1940-1952 64 western
El Santo Mexico 1958-1982 52 luchador
The Bowery Boys USA 1946-1958 48 comedy
Tora-san Japan 1969-1995 48 romantic comedy
Charlie Chan USA 1926-1949 47 mystery

This list gets plenty longer if you start counting Japanese TV material repackaged as films, in which case Ultraman and Super Sentai are both formidable. Perry Mason and Scooby-Doo are also substantial.

Things get muddier if you look at public-domain characters who have been the subject of different serieses of films made by independent groups. Some characters who have large numbers of films of independent origin include Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Hercules. Two characters which may be a bit more unified in their origin, and more plausible as having their films constitute a single franchise, include Maciste (Italy) and Wong Fei-hung (China).

But the picture brightens up if you look at franchises which include the longest span of years. Then the mass-produced comedies and westerns centered around particular actors mostly drop away. The most enduring I can find by this measure are:

Godzilla Japan monster 62 years and counting
Perry Mason USA mystery 61 years including TV movies
James Bond UK spy 54 years and counting
Doctor Who UK SF 53 years on TV, and counting
Ultraman Japan SF/kids 50 years on TV with spinoff films, and counting
Star Trek USA SF 50 years on TV, 37 on film, and counting
Zatoichi Japan samurai 48 years
Bulldog Drummond UK/USA action 44 years
Mil Máscaras Mexico luchador 44 years
Looney Tunes USA comedy 41 years and counting, without including shorts
Super Sentai Japan SF/kids 41 years on TV with spinoff films, and counting
Apartment Wife Japan erotica 40 years
Star Wars USA SF 39 years and counting
The Cisco Kid USA western 36 years, then rebooted in 1994 after 44 years off

But these all dwindle into insignificance if you count the short cartoons of characters like Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. I have no doubt that those guys will hit the century mark in due time… though the effects of their early works going into the public domain (if lobbyists ever even allow that to happen) may be difficult to estimate.

October 26, 2016

the popularity of football

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 1:09 pm

Why is gridiron football so much more popular than other sports to watch on American TV?  I think it’s because the sport excels at creating drama.  In almost no other sport I can name does a game-changing score typically come about only as a result of many minutes of effort, in which a mishap at any point can mean it was all for nothing.  In sports like baseball or soccer or hockey, big scores come with very little warning, and in sports like basketball or tennis or golf or volleyball, there are no really big moments because each individual score is small and only the accumulation of dozens of scoring moments can create a win.

There are certain sports which are very popular despite being poor at drama in this sense.  Auto racing has even more fans than football, and winning at that involves very little drama — it’s an extremely incremental process to work one’s way forward through the field. Bicycle racing is much more dramatic than any motorsport, because the athletes can make bursts of effort at strategic moments.  But on the other hand, losing at auto racing can be very dramatic indeed.  Maybe it’s true that many fans watch it just for the crashes.

Soccer is the real puzzle. Why is it the most popular sport in Europe, South America, and Africa?  It’s fun to play but I don’t see how it’s fun to watch.  Scores can be very rare, and you may have to watch an hour or more of nothing before seeing a big moment, and that moment comes with little warning. Then if they go to penalty kicks, it’s an anticlimax that makes the entire game pointless. (They should widen the goals and make the game higher scoring.)

Actually, I can think of one other athletic endeavor which can offer the same kind of drama that gridiron football does: the fighting sports. Boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, judo, MMA… no wonder the UFC has grown so rapidly. Except sumo wrestling, which is usually over in seconds. That’s another one which is a bit inexplicable in its popularity.

One sport that might be kind of good at drama is cricket — it sure ought to be better than baseball, from what I understand of the rules. Unfortunately a cricket test is really really long.

September 9, 2016

Star Trek: 1966–2005

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry,Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 3:43 pm

Star Trek has now been an important and inspiring part of our culture over a span of fifty years.  But it’s done.  It is now time to let the shambling corpse have its rest. (more…)

July 6, 2016

Erdős-Bacon number

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry,Uncategorized — Supersonic Man @ 11:54 am

The Erdős-Bacon number is defined as the sum of the number of onscreen filmmaking collaborations it takes to connect a person to actor Kevin Bacon, and the number of academic publishing collaborations it takes to reach mathematician Paul Erdős.  The number has no value except for the small set of people who are both academics and film performers.  Natalie Portman has a Erdős-Bacon number of seven, as does Colin Firth, and Danica McKellar’s number is six.  The actor with the lowest number is apparently Albert M. Chan, who appeared with Bacon in Patriots Day.  His number is four.  Coming from the other direction, Carl Sagan’s number was four.  Stephen Hawking’s is seven.  The lowest number that anyone is known to have is three, held by Professor Daniel Kleitman of MIT, who was a math advisor for Good Will Hunting (which is one step from Kevin Bacon via Minnie Driver’s appearance in Sleepers) and appeared in the film as an extra.

Can this number be beaten?  Lots of mathematicians are still alive who have collaborated with Erdős, and if any of them ever appears in a Kevin Bacon film, they will achieve a value of two.  The other way this could be achieved is if Mr. Bacon himself goes into academia and collaborates with one of this group.  Since Paul Erdős left us twenty years ago, a value of one is not achievable.

For an even more exclusive club, there are people who have an Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number, in which the third component is the number of musical collaborations which separate the subject from the members of Black Sabbath.  Some famous people for whom low Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath numbers have been claimed include Lisa Kudrow (15), Adam Savage (13), Albert Einstein (11), Richard Feynman (10), Mayim Bialik (10), Tom Lehrer (9), Terry Pratchett (9), Ray Kurzweil (8), and Brian May (8).  I don’t think any values lower than eight are known.

Some of these collaborations are a stretch — it’s easy to question whether they count.  Among those mentioned earlier, Natalie Portman has a pretty solid 10 via a joke rap track she recorded with some people from Saturday Night Live, Danica McKellar has a dubious 10 by singing in an ad jingle, and Carl Sagan has an even more dubious 10 by being sampled in an autotuned remix of bits of narration from Cosmos.  Mayim Bialik’s case might be the poorest of all: Michael Jackson put his celebrity friends into a crowd scene in a music video, and I don’t think she even sings in it.  In Brian May’s case, it’s the Erdős side which is very dubious, via some book called Bang! The Complete History of the Universe, which does not exactly seem to be a peer-reviewed publication.  For Kurzweil, it’s the Bacon number which is shaky, as they’re counting an appearance on a nonfiction TV show.  But some are much more legitimate: for instance, by singing in Mamma Mia!, Colin Firth has given himself a value of 11 which should be beyond dispute.

June 5, 2016

solar panels on electric cars?

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 12:39 am

So if you had an electric car, would it be worthwhile to put a solar panel on the roof?

At first blush, it wouldn’t seem so.  A decent electric car ought to have something like 100 kilowatt-hours in its battery pack, and it sure would be nice if it could hold 200 or more.  (The total energy in a moderately sized tank of gasoline is about 500 kwh, but at least two thirds of that just goes into waste heat.)  The biggest solar panel area you could fit on top of a car, disregarding all competing design criteria, would be about two square meters, and a more typical car would probably make room for about one square meter.  Over a whole day in blazing sun, that’s only going to produce about one kwh, and in most circumstances you’ll get quite a bit less.  So it’ll probably only extend your daily driving range by three miles at most, and if you park it indoors you’ll never get even one mile out of it.

But range extension isn’t the only benefit of having a bit of free power available when not driving.  You’d never have to worry about running things down with the fan or the stereo or mobile-device chargers.  On a hot day you could even use the air conditioner.  The car could even cool itself automatically while left in a parking lot, with no fear that this would affect your ability to get home.  Cars left unattended for months might still be fully ready to drive away in.  And if you run out of juice in a lonely desert, the next day you might be able to drive a few crucial miles to get to a spot where help is reachable.

I think this is starting to sound like a good idea even on gasoline cars.  Or on hybrids, at the very least.

May 21, 2016

a suggestion I intend to send to my legislators

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry,life,Rantation and Politicizing — Supersonic Man @ 12:28 pm

Senator Lois Wolk, Assemblymember Bill Dodd, Senate candidate Mariko Yamada, Assembly candidate Dan Wolk, and Assembly candidate Don Saylor,

Are you tired of dealing with pennies? I sure am. They take time and effort out of one’s day even if all you want to do is get rid of them. I don’t think any other economy keeps such a worthless coin in circulation — in Mexico, for instance, you never see anything smaller than a half peso. The US Treasury has been considering eliminating the penny from our coinage for twenty years, but hasn’t been able to move forward due to pointless obstructionism from assorted directions.

But fortunately, we don’t have to wait for the federal government to act. We can solve the problem right here in California. We can make it so people can use pennies if they want to, but nobody will need to. How can we do this? With a minor adjustment of the sales tax code.

All we have to do is make a rule that when buying retail at a location which accepts cash, the tax amount is rounded up or down by a cent or two, so that the total purchase price including tax is always a multiple of five cents. Note that this applies to noncash purchases as well, as long as they’re made at cash registers, so the amount remains consistent. But it would not apply to mail order purchases as they don’t offer a cash option. This means that we would not burden merchants in other states with adjusting to any new complexity.

The result would be that nobody who pays cash would need to either bring pennies, or receive them as change. People would become accustomed to nickel prices and before long, merchants might get into the habit of advertising nickel prices also. The other states would envy our penniless lifestyle and start copying us, and eventually the Treasury will stop minting pennies. And California will once again be seen as taking a leadership role.

But before that, we need someone to lead this idea in Sacramento. I’m hoping that among you, the legislators and candidates to represent me in Napa County, are the ones to do so.

I hope that this change can be accomplished by simple legislation, without requiring a ballot measure. If one is needed, I am confident that would pass, without requiring any substantial campaign effort.

Thank you for your attention, and I hope this idea appeals to you.

May 3, 2016

top science fiction writers

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 1:33 pm

Who would be my picks for the top ten or so science fiction writers of all time?  Let’s take an initial stab:

(the inarguable immortals)
H.G. Wells
Olaf Stapledon
Philip K. Dick
Ursula K. LeGuin

Arthur C. Clarke
Frederik Pohl
Alfred Bester
Cordwainer Smith
Kurt Vonnegut
Frank Herbert
John Brunner
Roger Zelazny
Greg Bear
Octavia Butler
Vernor Vinge
Kim Stanley Robinson

(tempting, but probably not justifiable)
R.A. Lafferty
Greg Egan

(ought to read more before rejecting)
Bruce Sterling
Doris Lessing

Names I will definitely not be listing include Asimov and Heinlein… and also Sturgeon and Bradbury.

April 12, 2016

If not for the South…

Filed under: fun,Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 10:29 am

The reason Hillary Clinton has a delegate lead over Bernie Sanders is because she won big in Southern states — specifically, in the Confederate states. What if that weren’t a factor? What if we imagine, say, that the Confederacy had seceded peacefully, gone to hell in its own way, and left the United States to move forward without them?

March 23, 2016


Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 7:45 pm

I grew up sort of unconsciously assuming that there were fairly straightforward rules, fairly consistently applied, for how to turn a place name into the term for the people who live there. Once I actually looked, it turned out I had not appreciated how complex and inconsistent it is. I think it was during the 2000 election controversy, when people on TV kept talking about “Floridians”, that it sunk in for me that there’s no requirement for similar sounding place names to be consistent: it could just as easily be “Floridan” and “Nevadian” as the other way around.

I think I will now inventory the demonyms for people who live in the US states and territories, according to what rule they empirically seem to have used. And I’ll throw in Canadian provinces and Australian states too.

Global rule to apply before other rules: if the place name is a plural, convert it to singular before looking for a rule to apply below.
Cases following this rule: Mariana Islands, Virgin Islands, Northwest Territories.
Exceptions: none.

First rule: if the place name ends in “ia”, just add “n”.
Cases following this rule: California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, South Australia, Western Australia, Tazmania, Victoria.
Exception: District of Columbia (people just say “Washingtonian”).

Second rule: if the place name ends in “a” but not in “ia”, just add “n”.
Cases: Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Samoa, Alberta, Manitoba. (Also, America.)
Exceptions: see next rule.

Third rule: if the place name ends in “a” but not in “ia”, and you don’t want to follow the second rule, you can replace the “a” with “ian”.
Cases: Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, North and South Carolina. (And Canada.)
Remaining exceptions: none.

Fourth rule: if the place name ends in an “ee” sound, add “an”.
Cases: Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Northwest Territories.
Minor exceptions: Kentucky (the “y” is replaced with “i”), Tennessee (the last “e” is dropped), Northern Territories (just “Territorian” with no “Northern”).
Real exception: Australian Capitol Territory (similarly to D.C., it gets covered by “Canberran”).

Fifth rule: if it ends in a vowel sound not covered above, replace that vowel (and any silent letter following it) with “an”.
Cases: Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Ontario, Puerto Rico.
Exceptions: see next rule.

Sixth rule: if it ends in a vowel sound not covered in the first four rules, and you don’t want to follow the fifth rule, add “an” without removing anything.
Cases: Idaho, Ohio.
Remaining exception: Utah (it’s “Utahn”).

Seventh rule: if it ends with “as”, replace the “s” with “n”.
Cases: Kansas, Texas.
Exceptions: none.

Eighth rule: if it ends in a plosive or unvoiced consonant sound, but not with “as”, add “er”.
Cases: Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Mariana Islands, Virgin Islands, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Queensland. (Also, New Zealand.)
Minor exceptions: Connecticutt (the last “t” is dropped), Quebec (any of “Quebecker” or “Quebecer” or “Québécois”).
Real exception: Nunavut (“Nunavummiuq”).

Ninth rule: if it ends with a voiced nonplosive consonant sound, add “ian”, or just “an” if the last letter is a silent “e”.
Cases: Delaware, Oregon, Washington, Labrador, Saskatchewan.
Exceptions: see next rule. Also, Michigan can follow this rule, but it’s optional, as it has two competing official demonyms.

Tenth rule: if it ends with a voiced nonplosive consonant sound, and you don’t want to follow the ninth rule, add “ite”, after dropping any silent “e” at the end.
Cases: New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Wyoming (most people pronounce this nonplosively).
Remaining exceptions: see next rule.

Eleventh rule: if it ends with a voiced nonplosive consonant sound, and you don’t want to follow the ninth rule or the tenth rule, add “er”, or just “r” if the last letter is a silent “e”
Cases: Maine, Yukon.
Remaining exceptions: Michigan (the second official demonym adds “der”), Guam (“Chamorro”), New South Wales (“New South Welshman”).

I’ve restricted this list to English-speaking nations, but I excluded the British Isles themselves: the adjectival forms “English”, “Scottish”, “Irish”, and “Welsh” have their own rule, and for added inconvenience “Englishman”/”Scotsman”/”Irishman”/”Welshman” are gendered. “Briton” doesn’t fit with anything else. And I wouldn’t know where to begin with smaller regions such as Middlesex or Yorkshire or Cork. Given the existence of a case like “Manx”, I don’t even want to look.

And once we get into nonanglophonic areas of the world, anything can happen, even if sticking to Englishized names.

Next Page »

Blog at