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Week of 5 February 2001

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Monday, 5 February 2001

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Ran web stats this morning as usual for my and Pournelle's sites. I notice an interesting phenomenon which I hadn't noticed before, but going back to earlier reports shows that it's pretty consistent. I get lots of page reads on Mondays (3,226 last week), followed by a decreasing number of page reads each day throughout the week until Friday (2,197 page reads last week). Saturday generally does about the same as Friday (2,135 page reads last week), but Sunday dies completely (1,685 page reads yesterday). I guess that means that if I have anything important to say, I'd better say it Monday. Unfortunately, I can't think of much important to say this morning.

Hmm. I got to wondering what would happen if I combined the page reads from this site, the HardwareGuys.com web site, the TTG messageboard, and the HardwareGuys.com message board. Could I be within striking range of Pournelle's page count? Let's see. About 17,000 page reads on this site last week, plus another 5,000 or so on the HardwareGuys.com web site gets me to about 22,000 page reads for the week.  Wonder how many I'd need from the messageboards to match Pournelle. Oops, he's got 58,000 page reads for the week, and the messageboards aren't going to add anything like enough to match that. Not even worth bothering to run the reports for the messageboards. Oh, well. At least I'm probably doing about half what Pournelle does. That's a lot better than the 10% that it used to be.

Barbara is off to a dentist's appointment this morning and is taking my mother to the doctor this afternoon, so her day is shot. I'm working on chapters for PC/Nutshell and our own book. The only thing in the news is that Duncan caught a squirrel yesterday. Fortunately for the squirrel, although Border Collies retain a wolf-like prey instinct, they've had the "kill" part of the instinct bred out of them. So Duncan overran the squirrel, knocking it rolling through the leaves, but didn't bite it. So Mr. Squirrel escaped up the tree and presumably went home to tell the wife and kids about his close brush with death.

And I'd better get to work.

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Tuesday, 6 February 2001

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Okay, I admit it. I'm a wimp. You can send "nyah, nyah" messages to wimp@ttgnet.com. Why am I a wimp? Because after all that complaining I did about no one building anything any more, I decided to order a commercial telescope instead of building one for myself. I called Orion Telescopes yesterday afternoon and ordered one of their SkyQuest XT10 10" Dobsonians.

Barbara says only Real Men will admit they were wrong. So, as a Real Man, I decided I was wrong on several counts:

1. The cost of the XT10 was $649. The total, including shipping and an optional $70 laser collimator, was about $800. It'd cost me more than that to build a 10" Dobsonian. Just the 10" mirror kit from Newport Glass is more than $350 with shipping, although that does include a 1/10th wave diagonal and aluminizing the mirror. Then I started adding in the stuff I'd have to buy that's included with the XT10: two decent 1.25" Plossl eyepieces at $35 each takes us to $420. A decent 8X50 achromatic finder scope with mount at $75 takes us to $495. A 2" R&P focuser at $75 takes us to $570. A decent 10" mirror cell, a spider, and other miscellaneous parts adds at least another $80, for a total of $650. And, having arrived at $650, I still haven't built the tube and base. So it'd actually end up costing me more to build a scope from scratch than to buy one. And that's not counting the cost of the time to grind, polish, and figure a 10" mirror, which is non-trivial.

2. The thing I lack most right now is time. I have so many balls in the air that I could productively work 24 hour days seven days a week. Anything I decide to do that takes time gets charged against one of my other projects, my reading time, or my sleep time. So buying a scope, even if it cost more than building one, was a very attractive option. That it costs less is icing on the cake.

3. A telescope in hand is worth two in the bush. I'm afraid Barbara would lose interest during the period, realistically months long, it would take us to build a scope. By buying a scope, we can start observing the day it arrives. Orion is getting their next batch of XT10s in in mid-February, so we should have it by late in the month. According to Jill, the very nice salesperson at Orion, these things sell out very quickly, and the next batch isn't due in until mid-March, so I'm glad I ordered now.

4. Quality is an issue. Could I grind a 10" primary mirror as good or better than the mirror that comes with the Orion? Maybe, but then again maybe not. The last mirror I ground was almost 35 years ago, and it was only 6". A 10" mirror is at least five times harder to grind, polish, and figure properly than is a 6" mirror, so I might have been biting off more than I could chew. From all reports on the web, the Orion primary is pretty darned good. Better, I suspect than what we'd end up making ourselves.

So, yes, I wimped out. But I wimped out for what I considered to be very good reasons. And I still do want to build a scope or scopes once I've eased off my work schedule and have more time to play. Probably an 8" or 10" one for practice, a 16" one as my first "large" scope, and then on to the 24" one I really want to build. 

On the other hand, the day when I have more time to play may never come. I suspect that one day they'll find my body slumped over my keyboard with a brilliantly written partial paragraph on screen. I just hope I'm in at least my mid-200's before that day arrives. (My grandmother made it to 212 years old. Well, at least according to her. The rest of us thought she'd made it to 89.)

The Register has some interesting stuff up today. First, this article about the latest email exploit, using JavaScript to intercept recipients' comments when the original email is forwarded. This exploit is notable because it doesn't take advantage of a bug but rather uses JavaScript as it was designed to be used, albeit for nefarious purposes. The solution is to turn off JavaScript support in your email client, something I can't believe everyone hasn't done already. A second article reports that the FTC is looking into allegations that Rambus hasn't been playing fair, which many of us have suspected since the JEDEC mess back in the early 1990's. And a third article reports that AT&T is introducing a "7/7" plan today, which for $7 per month will include unlimited Internet access and 7 cent/minute long distance service. The only downside I can see is the mention of a "navigation bar with targeted advertising".

FedEx showed up with some very interesting motherboards yesterday afternoon. They're pre-production samples of the Intel D810E2CA3 ("Cayman 3") in microATX and the Intel D810E2CB ("Calabasas") in Flex-ATX. Both use the Intel 810E2 chipset, which is essentially the 82810E Graphics Memory Controller Hub (GMCH) from the 810E chipset combined with the enhanced 82801BA I/O Controller Hub (ICH2) from the 815E chipset. Substituting the ICH2 for the ICH used by the original 810E chipset is a nice incremental upgrade to what was already a very nice chipset for entry-level systems, adding such features as ATA/100 support and dual USB hubs (for a total of four root ports). We liked the Intel CA810E motherboard a lot for entry-level and mainstream systems, and we'll probably like these replacements just as much. No doubt Intel will sell these things by the millions to OEM computer manufacturers, but there's no word yet on whether they'll package the boards for retail sales. I hope they do.

We have a couple of Intel Celeron/800 processors here (the new "Celeron III" processors with the 100 MHz FSB), so once we get some time we'll be building long-term project systems around these motherboards. Those Celeron processors arrived from Intel bare, so this'll also give us a chance to test some of the third-party heatsink/fan combos we have stacked up around here. Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, 7 February 2001

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Here's the latest Amazon.com ripoff. Amazon offers to collect money on behalf small web sites. And what a deal! Amazon says "The Amazon Honor System charges minimal transaction fees". Well, minimal by their own definition, perhaps. In fact, they charge fees that would make some loan sharks blush. Get this. Amazon charges a fee of $0.15 per transaction plus 15% (!) of the transaction amount. PayPal charges a flat $0.30 for credit card transactions up to $15.00, and $0.30 + 2.2% for larger transactions.

What that means is you break even on a $1.00 transaction, from which you receive $0.70 from either Amazon or PayPal. At the $15 transaction level, PayPal still charges you $0.30, so you get $14.70 of the $15.00 your customer paid. Amazon, on the other hand, charges you $2.40 for that same transaction--eight times as much--leaving you with only $12.60 of the $15.00 your customer paid. What a rip. I hope people will treat this new Amazon.com "service" with the contempt it deserves.

I have no idea why people get excited about this genealogy stuff, but many do. Barbara left early this morning to drive with her parents to the middle part of the state, where she's meeting with someone to whom she's distantly related on her mother's side. I'm not sure of the details, but Barbara in her genealogist persona is very excited because apparently she knows stuff they've been looking for and they know stuff she's been looking for. So apparently they'll meet and trade information and both will be better for it. I guess. I do know that all genealogists from this part of the country despise General Sherman, who made a wide sweep through the Southeast about 135 years ago, burning every courthouse he could find. 

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Thursday, 8 February 2001

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Barbara was away yesterday until mid-evening, so it fell to me to make dinner for my mother and me. We had home-made ravioli. Well, home-made in the sense that I was at home when I opened the can and put it in the microwave. Not bad, though. Barbara got home about 8:00 to a chorus of welcoming barks and face licking. And the dogs were pretty happy to see her too. They hate it when Barbara is gone for long periods, because I'm boring. They lie outside the door of my office, looking in at me and whimpering. They want action, which Barbara gives them and I don't.

It's supposed to be another nice day today. Temperature around 70F (21C) and sunny. Yesterday had a high in the mid-60s and was also sunny. I figure Mother Nature is getting all the good weather out of the way before our new telescope arrives. It's supposed to ship February 16th by UPS ground, which means we'll have it by February 23rd or so. I have this vision of us sitting watching the television weather report in late April, with the weatherman talking about the unprecedented frigid temperatures and 100% cloud cover that've been hovering over Winston-Salem for the preceding 60 days. Well, it probably won't come to that. But I'm not looking forward to Barbara's reaction when I tell her we need to cut down several large trees in the back yard to give us an unobstructed view of the skies. There are also quite a few streetlights we'll need to shoot out.

I've had my editor's hat on last night and this morning, doing "sanity check" passes on Pournelle's new column. It's fascinating to watch it develop from a very rough first draft through the final finished product. I've often thought that I'd like to be a fly on the wall when Pournelle and Niven are creating one of their books. Watching the creation process is interesting enough for a column. It'd be fascinating to watch a novel come together.

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Friday, 9 February 2001

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I'm running behind this morning. A reader pointed out a bad link in the Mainstream Pentium III System Guide over on HardwareGuys.com, so I went in to fix it. While I was there, I decided to update the components and prices, so that took the time that I'd ordinarily spend working on updating this page. So I'm late updating this page and don't have time to write anything more. Sorry.

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Saturday, 10 February 2001

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I don't particularly care for cats, but BonsaiKitten.com is definitely over the top. They modify kittens by enclosing them in a glass container, forcing them to assume the shape of the container as they grow. As far as I can tell, these people are completely serious, and the FBI is after them now. On what grounds, I'm not sure, as these kittens are the property of the people who are modifying them, and it is their right to do as they wish with their own property. Still, things like this just give more ammunition to the PETA nazis and the other "animal rights" lunatics.

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Sunday, 11 February 2001

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My readers tell me that the bonsaikitten.com site is a parody. Oh, well. Their products certainly would have been unique gifts.

Barbara forwards me the following without comment:

Proofreader dead at desk for 5 days. 

Bosses of a New York publishing firm are trying to figure out why no one noticed that one of their employees had been sitting dead at his desk for five days before anyone asked if he was feeling okay. George Turklebaum, 51, who had been employed as a proofreader for 30 years, had a heart attack in the open-plan office he shared with 23 other workers. He quietly passed away on Monday, but nobody noticed until Saturday morning when an office cleaner asked why he was still working during the weekend.

His boss Elliot Wachiaski said "George was always the first guy in each morning and the last to leave at night, so no one found it unusual that he was in the same position all that time and didn't say anything. He was always absorbed in his work and kept much to himself." A post mortem examination revealed that he had been dead for five days after suffering a coronary. Ironically, George was proofreading manuscripts of medical textbooks when he died.

It may even be true, although I doubt it. After five days, even in a well air conditioned office, I'd expect the smell would have alerted someone. Interestingly, a Google search for either of the surnames mentioned turns up only a handful of pages, all related to this story. That's suspicious in itself. But it does sound like a place I used to work.

I'd better get to doing the laundry and helping Barbara clean up. My office is getting to look a bit cluttered again. Perhaps I should spend some time neatening it today.

Where else but around here is there swimming weather one day and an ice storm the next, literally? Friday and Saturday were sunny, with temperatures peaking in the lower 70s (23C). The Weather Channel is running a crawler that says there's a winter storm warning for tonight. Temperatures in the lower 20s (-5C) with sleet and freezing rain.

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