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Mystifying Marconi

A portrait of a man in suit and tie
Guglielmo Marconi in 1909

My attention was recently drawn to an article in the Provincetown Independent entitled The Marconi Mythology. This makes the claim that “His ideas were derived from spiritualism, a pseudo-religious movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries by which people sought to commune with the spirit world.” It also claims that Marconi believed that “sound never disappears from Earth” and that one could potentially construct a device to recover the sound of the angels singing in Bethlehem!

This last claim is the more extrordinary. But I can find no evidence that it is true. Not only can I find nothing to connect Marconi with these ideas, I can find nothing online to suggest that the possiblility of recovering “lost sounds” is even a known belief.

The idea that he might have been interested in spiritualism is at least plausible. A number of well-known figures of the day were receptive to the idea of communicating with the dead including Sir Arthur Conan Doyl, biologist Alfred Russell Wallace, and English physicist and radio pioneer Oliver Lodge. But Marconi does not seem to have been one of them.

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Unsubscribing from Zoom Release Notes E-Mails

Button labeled "Following" with drop-down menu open

For a long time now Zoom has been sending release notes to the e-mail account I used to register. I didn’t want this and so I scrolled to the bottom looking for a way to unsubscribe, but found nothing. I also searched the web where I found information on unsubscribing from meeting notifications, but nothing about the release note e-mails. Today I finally figured out how to unsubscribe.

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Why All Capitals?

A news report in all upper case on the platen of a Model 15 Teletype
A Teletype Model 15 teleprinter
Attribution: John Nagle at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Q: Why do some users complete forms all in capital letters?

This is because early teleprinters and computer systems had no provision for lower case. Mixed case teleprinters came on the market in the 1930’s, but the standard US military teleprinter of World War II was the Teletype Model 15 (produced from 1928 to 1963) which only printed in upper case. This exposed an entire generation to official communications and reports typed in all upper case. This ‘official’ style was then duplicated by users of typewriters by engaging the Caps Lock toggle key.

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Walking on Hypothetical Legs

On September 1st a number of news outlets published stories about the discovery of the skeleton of a whale with four legs. If true, this would lend support to the popular theory that whales evolved from a four-footed land animal which gradually adopted an aquatic way of life.

In most cases the story was illustrated by an artist’s conception provided by one of the discoverers of the skeleton:

Creature with crocodile like snout, body of a skinny elephant, and long tail dives to attack snark lurking on bottom

All of the news stories I read leave the reader with the distinct impression that the skeleton as found actually has four legs.

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Radio Shack brand may return online

The Radio Shack stores played a big role in my childhood. My first memory of Radio Shack is from around 1975 when I was six. I went with my dad when he bought new speaker cables. We went others times whenever our TV stopped working. Dad would take the back cover off, pull out some vacuum tubes, and take them in to Radio Shack to use the tab tester. Sometimes there would be a line for the tester. If the tester said a tube was weak, dad would go over to a counter and ask the man there for a new one.

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How Stocks Work

Wall Street, NY in 1867

For many years nobody could explain to me the rational basis of the stock market. They told me that prices were controlled by the law of supply and demand. Investors expected the the price of shares in successful companies to rise and so they bought them. This demand then drove the price up. Those who got in early enough would make money when they later sold their appreciated shares. This is all true, but it did not answer my question: why do shares have value in the first place.

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Review of the Sun Joe CJ603E Wood Chipper

Ever since I first saw them in a catalog years ago I have wanted own one of those garden waste chippers. Those I saw 30 years ago were made of metal and cost far more than I could justify paying. But consumer goods are getting cheaper and home wood chippers are no exception. One reason they are cheaper is that the stamped and folded bodies of heavy-gauge sheet metal have been replaced by molded plastic. Still the prices seemed too low for a useful machine. Surely they would break and jam unless the openings had been made deliberately small enough that nothing which would put a strain in the mechanism could be inserted in which case the machine would be of little practical value.

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Where Did Sputnik Get its Name?

Postage stamp shows Earth in orbit around Sun with a man-made object in Earth orbit.

On October 5, 1957, the Soviet newspaper Pravda announced that the Soviet Union had launched a 184 pound object into Earth orbit. That first artificial satellite has since come to be known in the English-speaking world as Sputnik. In the West it is now widely assumed that the Soviets chose the word sputnik as the name for their satellite because it means “fellow traveler.” This is not what actually happened.

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Updating Webmin’s Self-Signed Certificate

When SSL is enable in Webmin it creates a self-signed certificate which is stored in the file /etc/webmin/miniserv.pem. I recently upgraded a server from Debian 7 to Debian 9 and discovered that Webmin would no longer start.

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Darwin and Pasteur

Charles Darwin seated
Charles Darwin

On November 24th, 1859, the naturalist Charles Darwin published a book entitled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. In it he offered his views on how God had created the living world. He summarized his overall view thus:

Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled.

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