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Week of 8 December 2003

Latest Update : Friday, 12 December 2003 07:44 -0500


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Monday, 8 December 2003

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8:06 - I really like Barbara's new Olympus C-5000 digital camera, but while I was building and photographing the PVR/HTPC system yesterday I ran into a problem with it. There's nothing wrong with the camera per se, but it uses a proprietary lithium ion Li-10B battery. As I was working on the new system, the battery died. With my old Olympus D-400Z, that wouldn't have been a problem. I'd have had a set of AA NiMH batteries already charged, and if for some reason I didn't I could always use standard AA alkaline batteries. That's not an option with the C-5000.

Fortunately, the charger that Olympus bundles with the C-5000 takes only a couple hours to recharge the battery, but that was two hours of down time. As it turned out, I need to do some other stuff anyway--the routine Sunday laundry, climbing up on the roof to do the final blowing out of the gutters and attaching the covers on the roof ventilators, and so on. So the time wasn't wasted, but it did bring me to a crash stop. The moral of this story is to buy a second proprietary battery if your camera uses such, and keep it charged.

There are a couple of other frustrating things about the C-5000, but they're more due to my failure to read the manual than anything else, I'm sure. One of them had to do with setting the camera's resolution/compression. By default, it does 2,560X1920, which is five megapixels, it's maximum resolution. However, it employs standard "HQ" compression, which yields images of about 1.5 MB each. I wanted to use the "SHQ" compression, which results in better image quality and generates image files of about 4 MB. I stumbled my way through the setup screens, which are actually very well-designed, and found the place to reset compression to SHQ. I then shot a couple of images, but when I transferred them they were still only about 1.5 MB each. Hmmm.

So I played around a bit more, and eventually discovered that the camera resets itself to defaults each time it's turned off unless you override that behavior. I changed the "reset to defaults at power-down" option (it's not called that, but you get the idea), reset the camera to SHQ mode, powered it down, and powered it back up. Sure enough, when it booted it showed that it was in SHQ mode at 2,560X1920 resolution. Good enough. So I shot a few more images and transferred them. Arrrghhh. They were still 1.5 MB each, even though the camera tells me it's shooting in SHQ mode.

I'll figure this out, just because it annoys me, but the truth is that the images at 2,560X1920 in HQ mode are more than good enough for reproduction in the book.

I ran into another problem during the system build yesterday. I had planned to use a 160 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 drive. The Barracudas are the quietest of any 7,200 RPM drive available. I had two of the 160 GB models sitting on my shelf, and I thought one was S-ATA and the other P-ATA. Wrong. They were both S-ATA. I popped the lid of the Antec Overture case, hoping that the power supply had S-ATA power connectors. Nope. Just the standard connectors. I didn't have a Molex->S-ATA power adapter--well, I probably did, but I had no idea where it might be--so I had to use a P-ATA drive instead of one of the 160 GB Barracuda S-ATA drives.

Checking my stock of P-ATA drives revealed several Seagate Barracudas, but the largest was only 120 GB. I really wanted more drive space than that, so I kept looking. I found a pair of Maxtor DiamondMaxPlus 160 GB P-ATA drives. The Maxtors are a bit louder than the Seagates, and have only a 2 MB cache versus the 8 MB on the Seagate S-ATA drives. The Maxtor is a very fast drive and quite reliable, so the only real sacrifice was the additional noise level. I decided we could tolerate that, since the HTPC system will be across the room from us. If the drive turns out to be louder than we like, I can always replace it with a Barracuda (or two) later.

My initial impressions of the Antec Overture case are quite favorable. It's very attractive, with a gloss black and brushed chrome motif, and it's extremely quiet. Antec uses the single-fan version of their TruePower 380 power supply, and it's mounted in the side of the case rather than the rear.

I keep reading Fred on Everything, and I have to say that Fred is convincing me that it may be a good idea for Barbara and me to learn to speak Spanish and move to Mexico.

I spoke too soon. I'm having some severe problems with the Olympus C-5000 digital camera. I bought it directly from my contact at Olympus, and here's the message I sent her this morning:

I spoke too soon. I'm having severe problems with the C-5000 digital camera you sent me, all related to auto-focus. At first I thought it was just me, but now I'm convinced that the camera isn't focusing properly. The problem occurs in all modes and under all conditions--indoor and outdoor, with and without flash, macro through infinity, etc.

Yesterday I was trying to shoot some macro illustrations for the book. I could watch the camera attempting to focus. It would go through the correct focus and into a defocused condition before it would capture the image.

Does it sound to you as though the unit itself is defective? This is the first real chance I've had to try it. I've read everything I can find, and I'm certain it's not something I'm doing. I've also found several reports on the web about autofocus problems, so I wonder if it's a design problem.

How can we get this problem resolved? I really need the camera to do shots for the book, and I'm on a very short deadline.

And I am really under the weather this morning. I started feeling ill yesterday when I was up on the roof blowing out the gutters. I cut that process short and came down. Throughout the afternoon and evening I felt worse and worse, and this morning I woke up with a full-blown cold. At least I hope it's just a cold. I'm not sneezing much. If it's the flu I'll be very upset. Barbara's giving me aspirin, vitamins, and herbal stuff, including what she (and President Bartlett on Left Wing) call "euthanasia".

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Tuesday, 9 December 2003

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Ill.

 

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Wednesday, 10 December 2003

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Ill.

 

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Thursday, 11 December 2003

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10:01 - I'm back. Not hitting on all cylinders, but back. Whatever I came down with Sunday made me feel like I'd been run over by a truck. I tried to work a bit on Tuesday, but it was hopeless. Same thing yesterday. Now I don't have any choice. I have a first chapter submission deadline looming, and I need to get it cranked out and submitted. I have the rest of this week and next week to get that done.

Naturally, I chose a difficult chapter, the one on Home Theater PCs. Of course, the new digital camera refuses to co-operate. A lady from Olympus tech support called me Monday (as Jerry Pournelle says, "You probably won't get this level of support"...) and spent half an hour walking me through stuff. She eventually concluded that the camera isn't working properly, so I have to deal with that as well. All of the pieces-parts of the HTPC system have been sitting on the kitchen table since last weekend. If necessary, I'll use my old Olympus D-400Z to shoot the illustrations. It only has 1280X960 resolution, but the O'Reilly graphics guy thought that'd be sufficient. It was for the other books.

So it's heads-down system-building and writing for me through next week. Once I get everything assembled and the software installed, I'll connect it up to the TV and keep my fingers crossed. Although there are many conflicting messages on the forums and messageboards out there, the consensus seems to be that ATi RADEON cards have the best video quality of any of the mainstream capture cards. We'll see.

I see that the Washington, DC schools are in trouble, and will have to lay off staff soon. Looking at the numbers, I'm not surprised. They currently have 65,099 students and 14,058 staff. That's a student:staff ratio of less than 5:1. And of those 14,058 staff, only 5,400 (about 38%) are teachers. They have 167 schools, each with an average of about 390 students, 32 teachers, and 84 total staff. Their student:teacher ratio is about 12:1. If throwing money at the problem helped, those kind of numbers should ensure that all of their students are stellar performers. Instead, their average performance is miserable, about as bad as it gets.

I think back to my days at Arthur McGill Elementary School in New Castle, Pennsylvania. As best I recall, we had three classrooms for each of the six grades. Each classroom had a teacher, for a total of 18 teachers. Each classroom probably averaged 25 students, for a total of 450 students, or somewhat larger than the average DC school. The front office had a principal, assistant principal, and two secretaries. There was a school nurse and one custodian. The cafeteria in the basement had as I recall four ladies working there. In other words, we had a total of less than 30 staff serving 450 students, or a ratio of 15:1. The 18 teachers made up about 64% of the total staff. In fairness, there were support functions that were shared among the schools, but they were relatively small and lightly staffed. Let's say they reduced the student:staff ratio to 12.5:1. Even so, that's less than 40% of the staffing level of the DC schools. And every one of the students who went through Arthur McGill Elementary School over the years left knowing how to read and with a firm grounding in mathematics, science, and the other essentials.

Now, I know things have changed a lot since then. But surely the essentials remain the same. I wonder how much longer it can take before everyone notices that the emperor has no clothes.

 

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Friday, 12 December 2003

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7:44 - Stuff you don't find on the Internet sometimes surprises me. Last night, I was surfing around and something, I forget what, reminded me of an incident back when I was a senior in college in 1974/75. My girlfriend, Karen Taylor, dumped me for a guy who wasn't a student. Her best friend, Barb Deem, also got sucked in by this guy, and I wasn't willing to let things drop. So I kind of forcibly inserted myself into the situation. He didn't like me one bit, and the feeling was mutual.

His name was Tom, or so he said. In fact, I soon learned that his real name was Jeff. Jeff Jones. Jeffrey Carl Jones. As in the Jeffrey Carl Jones who was good buddies with Mark Rudd and Billy Ayers, AKA the leadership of the Weather Underground. To some of my readers the phrase Weather Underground calls to mind only the on-line weather site. To those of us who grew up in the 1960's and 1970's, it brings to mind a very different image. The real Weather Underground was a violent revolutionary splinter group of the SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. The real Weather Underground set off bombs and killed people.

At the time, although I knew of the SDS and Weather Underground, of course, I didn't make the connection. All I knew was that this guy was trying to steal my girlfriend and that I really, really didn't like him. So I stuck close to Barb, who was sticking close to Karen. This Tom/Jeff guy was very smooth, very convincing, at least to women. I didn't trust him, period.

It soon became clear even to Karen and Barb that this guy was into some very weird stuff. He wouldn't talk at all about himself or his past, and he didn't sleep the same place for more than one or two nights running. He'd drop out of sight for a few days and then return with no explanation. Then one afternoon he told Karen he had to make a drive down to Washington, DC and invited her along. Karen told Barb, Barb told me, and the two of us invited ourselves along. Tom/Jeff made a stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania and loaded a couple of crates of what appeared to me to be dynamite into the trunk. He then drove to Silver Spring, Maryland, where he dropped the crates in a rest area. We then turned around and drove home, arriving in the wee small hours.

Enough was enough. I called the police. They came and picked me up and I told them what had been going on. They called the FBI. Listening to just one end of the conversation, it didn't seem like the FBI was all that interested until the local cop said the name "Jeff Jones". At that point, the local cop just sat there listening to the FBI for a minute or more, and then hung up. He told me the FBI was on their way from Pittsburgh and wanted me to stay there until they arrived.

They made it up from Pittsburgh in less than an hour, which was saying something considering that it's about a 90 mile trip. Eight FBI vehicles showed up. I later found out that another FBI vehicle had gone to my parent's home in the middle of the night to interview them. My parents were completely confused. They thought I'd applied to the FBI for a job or something and couldn't figure out why the FBI was at their door wanting to interview them at 4:00 a.m.

In the mean time, I spent two or three hours telling the FBI interviewer everything I knew about Tom/Jeff. They pulled in Karen and Barb, who were both very upset. They thought I'd gotten the FBI involved just to make trouble for Tom/Jeff because I didn't want to lose Karen. Fortunately, the FBI soon made them understand that they wanted this guy for bombings and other terrorist acts. The police station we were in didn't have much privacy, so I was able to overhear much of the interviews of Karen and Barb. I must say that the FBI was surprisingly gentle with the three of us. At no time did they make us feel that they suspected us of any wrongdoing.

Early that morning, the FBI, local police, and state police swooped simultaneously on several locations where we thought Tom/Jeff might be, but he'd disappeared. No surprise. He was always disappearing like that. So the FBI hauled all three of us down to their Pittsburgh offices and had us going through mugshots and so on. They didn't have many photos of Jeffrey Carl Jones, and those they had weren't great. The most any of could tell them was that the guy we knew as Tom/Jeff Jones might have been the person in their photos.

The FBI was concerned that Tom/Jeff or other WU members might take reprisals against us, particularly me. They asked me if he'd ever threatened me, and I told them that he'd threatened me more than once in a general way: "If you fuck with me, I'll kill you." and so on. Since what I'd just done could most definitely be construed as fucking with him, I planned to be armed at all times until they caught the guy. I told the FBI that I was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, but that I'd appreciate it if they'd have a word with the college administration to clear it with them. So, in probably one of the more bizarre meetings ever held in his office, an FBI Special Agent and I sat down with President McKenzie and explained what was going on. So, for the next several weeks, I was carrying my .44 Magnum around campus at all times, hoping that I wouldn't see Tom/Jeff.

A month or two after all of this happened, I got a call from an FBI agent in Pittsburgh. He told me that the situation was resolved and that I could stop looking over my shoulder. When I asked him how it had been resolved, he said that the guy who'd been representing himself to us as Jeffrey Carl Jones had in fact been someone else entirely. When I asked how they could possibly know that, he said that the guy had turned himself in at the Pittsburgh office, been fingerprinted, and been cleared. Great. Only one problem with that, which he didn't appear to realize until I pointed it out to him. The guy they'd fingerprinted and cleared hadn't been seen by any of those of us who had actually met the guy who called himself Jeffrey Carl Jones. They hadn't even bothered to photograph him. Duh. To this day, I'm not sure if the guy we knew as Tom/Jeff was in fact Jeffrey Carl Jones. He may have just been some guy attempting to impress Karen by claiming to be someone he wasn't. On the other hand, he may have been Jones and simply had one of the WU hangers-on go in and have his prints taken.

So what can't be found on the Internet? I did a Google search for "Jeffrey Carl Jones". It turned up exactly two hits, neither of them related to the WU guy. Oh, a search for "Jeff Jones" and "Weather Underground" turned up plenty of hits, but none of those included his full name, this of the man who was one of the top three leaders of the most violent home-grown terrorist organization that has ever existed in the US. Even searching the FBI web site turned up no hits.

But I did track down a person who appears to be the real Jeffrey Carl Jones. He's now working, of all things, as the Communications Director for Environmental Advocates of New York. Looking at his picture 27 years later, I just can't be sure if this is the guy I knew as Jeff Jones. EANY lists a toll-free telephone number. Perhaps I'll give Mr. Jones a call and ask him.

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Saturday, 13 December 2003

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Sunday, 14 December 2003

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