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Week of 24 November 2003

Latest Update : Tuesday, 25 November 2003 09:13 -0500


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Monday, 24 November 2003

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8:45 - Barbara and I spent the weekend up at the Wake Forest University Lodge at Fancy Gap, Virginia. We had a relaxing time, and each of us logged 30 or 40 additional Herschel 400 objects towards our Herschel 400 certificates.

We got home yesterday afternoon, only to find the phones had no dial tone, only a loud buzzing sound. I was 99% certain it was the phone company's fault, but I decided to check just to make sure. If we call them out and it turns out to be a problem with the premise wiring, they charge a $62.50 call-out fee. It was lucky I checked, because I got normal dial tone at the demarc. Same thing on the surge protectors I'd installed behind the phone company surge protectors. So I spent an hour or so tracing it back. I finally isolated it to the cable run to my office. So now all the phones work except the one in my office. Hmmm.

This'll be a short work week. Our friends Bill and Emily from California are to arrive late tomorrow afternoon, I forget exactly when. I wouldn't fly at the best of times. Heck, I hated to fly before 9/11. I can't imagine flying post-9/11 near a holiday. If for some reason I absolutely had to go to California, I honestly think I'd drive rather than fly. It'd take several days each way to drive, but that pales in comparison to the 30 years it'd take me to fly (once you take the jail sentence into account).

Jerry Pournelle is always asking me if I want to meet him some place or other, but he has the typical Westerner's contempt for Eastern distances. When he was traveling to New Orleans not long ago he called me to ask if I wanted to drive down to New Orleans so we could get together. I just started laughing, and Jerry was clearly puzzled. I asked him how far he thought it was from Winston-Salem to New Orleans. "What, five hours?" he responded. "Yeah," I said, "if I can average 160 miles an hour."

I guess everything is relative. When our British friends travel to the US for the first time, they are invariably flabbergasted by American distances. When they look at a map and see that North Carolina is a relatively small Eastern state, they seem to unconsciously assume that it must be about the size of one of their smaller shires. When they realize that North Carolina is about as large as all of England, it puts things into perspective.

Conversely, friends from the Western US (and particularly Alaska) think Eastern states are so small they really ought to be counties. I remember talking to Ken Thompson one time, when he was the mayor of Kenai Borough, Alaska. The population of Kenai Borough at the time was perhaps 20,000, but it was a bit more spread out than the average town of 20,000 around here. As to how much more spread out, I think Ken mentioned that the coastline in his jurisdiction was longer than the coastline of the entire continental US.

16:23 - This story is being reported all over the web today. What I find incredible is the one quote in that story that everyone is reporting with a straight face:

He said his firm does not send spam but blamed a rival firm which he said routes much of their unsolicited bulk e-mail through Russia and eastern Europe. Mackay said such firms gave a bad name to the penis enhancement business.

 

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Tuesday, 25 November 2003

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9:12 - Here's a Fair Use issue:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [RBT] NYPD Blue
Date:    Mon, 24 Nov 2003 21:40:34 EST
From:    Alan Donders
To:      Robert Bruce Thompson

Hi Bob - and Barbara,

Condolences on the loss of Kerry.

Now a somewhat strange request but maybe you can help me out - I'm a big NYPD Blue fan and I missed last week's episode (November 18). I know Barbara mentions on her journal page that the she usually tapes it to watch at a later time - so I'm wondering if you happen to have that episode on tape and if so, if I could possibly borrow it at some point. If you do, I'd be happy to pay for postage both ways. Thanks in advance.

Alas, no.

In the ordinary course of events, we'd probably still have it. Barbara normally has a NYPD/Left Wing tape and an ER tape. But we've been having some problems with tapes breaking and jamming, so this week she ended up watching NYPD and Left Wing and then taping ER over the NYPD.

Once I get my PVR system built, this won't be an issue. I'm going to put enough disk space in it to hold 500 hours or more.

Hmmm. I just had an interesting thought. It *should* be possible to have an on-line database of commercial start times and durations. That is, I remember my brother, who works in television, telling me that the local stations had exact times, to the second, when commercial breaks started and ended. It should be possible to amass an on-line version of that, so we'd know, for example, the exact times and durations of the commercial breaks during that specific NYPD episode. With that, the PVR should be able to skip commercials automatically and instantly.

Even without the cooperation of the industry, it shouldn't be hard to do. The first person who watches that episode of NYPD could mark the commercials. The PVR software could log that in a standard format and make it available for others. In fact, the whole process could be automated, with the PVR automatically uploading the commercial times data to a central repository, where it'd be compared with other submitted data and any errors rectified. That way, one would seldom have to mark a recording because chances would be excellent that someone else had already done it for you. Kind of like the CCDB database for CDs.

It'd also be a fairly non-demanding thing to host, even if there were millions of users. The necessary data for each program would occupy only a few bytes. Hmmmm.

Incidentally, if anyone can help Alan out, please email him directly at adonders at aol dot com.

The only problem with my scheme would be determining the index mark for the start of the program. Obviously, if one person chose to mark commercial start times based on, say, the start of the TV-14 warning and another based on the start of the program itself, the resulting commercial times would be skewed. Still, that would be accommodated in two ways. First, with an automated system, the submitted schedules could be compared with each other, with oddball ones discarded. Second, the periods between commercial breaks and the durations of those breaks are what's really important. Those remain fixed, so all the viewer would need do is click a button on his remote as the first commercial break started. From that point forward, the PVR would automatically kill all commercials. The playback stream could be buffered so there wouldn't even be a pause when a commercial was killed. My ideal PVR software would also automatically re-record the program to a separate file that did not contain the commercials at all. That'd be ideal for archiving and for giving Fair Use copies of those programs to friends.

Others might argue that another drawback with my scheme is that if millions of people started using it it would kill commercial television. I look upon that as an advantage, not a drawback. Anything that does away with advertisements and commercials is ultimately a Good Thing. So, what we need is this ideal PVR software running under Linux on readily available, inexpensive hardware. X-Box hack, anyone?

Brian Bilbrey posted a link to an on-line IQ test this morning. It's not much of an IQ test. There are 40 questions on two pages. I expect that the average person who reads this journal would complete it very quickly and get all the answers correct. I timed myself. It took me 95 seconds from start to finish, and none of the questions required even a momentary pause for thought. As usual, the test designers missed some obvious things. There are, as is often the case with such tests, some ambiguities. For example, one question on the first page has two correct answers. One of them is "correcter", but only because it differs in two respects rather than just one. There are other ambiguities as well, but less obvious ones. Some IQ test.

I didn't bother to get the results. Brian mentioned that they try to sell you a detailed analysis of your score, but what he didn't mention was that they require personal information including a valid email address before they show you your results. NFW.

 

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Wednesday, 26 November 2003

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Thursday, 27 November 2003

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Friday, 28 November 2003

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Saturday, 29 November 2003

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Sunday, 30 November 2003

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