Monday, -2 January 2004
8:42 - With the New Year imminent, I'll be doing my usual end-of-year housekeeping stuff this week. Moving older material to archive directories, moving old mail to archive folders, pulling copies of important files to optical discs, doing an end-of-year tape backup, and so on. I plan to write copies of all my important files to CDs. My first thought was to use DVD+R discs for archiving, and I'll probably do that too, but CDs have the advantage of being readable by anything. I don't have any reason to doubt the archival stability of DVD+R discs, but valuable data deserves the belt-and-suspenders approach.
As usual, I've run into a problem with the year-end changeover in my journal page. I insist that years have 52 weeks each, weeks have seven days each, and that weeks start on Monday. That makes it tough most years. I proposed a fix three years ago, but no one listened. The next time January 1 falls on a Monday we need to change to my proposed new calendar.
The new calendar will have 13 months, each of 28 days. Every month will start on Monday the 1st and end on Sunday the 28th. That totals 364 days, so every year we'll have a special intercalary day as the last day of the year. That day will fall between Sunday, December 28th and Monday, January 1st. It will not be numbered, nor will it be any day of the week. It will be an "extra" day, and would no doubt be devoted to celebration, football games, and political speeches. We'd continue to use the existing scheme for leap years, so every fourth year we'd have two intercalary days at year-end.
Of course, this new calendar leaves us with a 13th month to name, which I suggest we insert between June and July, and for which I modestly propose the name Thompsonary. Hey, it's only fair. As far as I can determine, I'm the only one pushing this scheme.
FedEx just showed up with a box from NewEgg. I don't officially recommend resellers because that's a no-win situation for me. But that doesn't mean I can't unofficially mention a reseller without formally endorsing it. In my experience, NewEgg has excellent prices and quick delivery, so it's one of the first places I look.
I ordered some optical drives for the systems I'm building for the new book. Plextor makes wonderful optical drives, and I use them wherever possible, but there are some gaps in Plextor's product line. I'm sure those gaps exist because they are products with very little margin, but the fact remains that there are times when I want a product that Plextor doesn't make. That was the case here. Plextor doesn't make an ATAPI DVD-ROM drive, so I ordered a Lite-On 16X black DVD-ROM drive for $32. Similarly, Plextor used to make a combo DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, but they discontinued it. Lite-On makes one that sells for only $47. I also ordered a Lite-On 52X CD burner for $34. Plextor does make superb CD burners, obviously, but not for $34, and that drive is destined for the economy system, where price is a very high priority.
Finally, I was able to find a $36 silver DVD-ROM drive made by Sony, which I wanted to match the brushed chrome bezel of the Antec Overture case I used for the Home Theater PC system. Frankly, I'm not sure that drive will match the Overture bezel closely enough to satisfy me. My first idea was to use a black drive, but that looked ugly against the brushed chrome bezel. Then I tried a white drive, which matched surprisingly well in the relatively dimly lighting that falls on our entertainment center. But it really isn't good enough. The drive and bezel have similar enough reflectance that in the evenings it looks as though they match. But during the day it's abundantly clear that there's a white drive in a chrome bezel. Ugh.
Often it seems that a near match is worse than no match at all. A near match usually looks like someone tried to match the appearance and failed. That's why I started with the black drive, on the assumption that no match at all is often more pleasing aesthetically than an almost-but-not-quite-match. I suspect that what I'll end up doing is installing the black DVD-ROM drive and spray painting the bezel flat black. That'll leave the shiny-chrome power button as the only non-black feature on the face of the system.
So my HTPC is likely to end up with a Lite-On DVD-ROM drive. I'd rather it was a Plextor, but I don't want to use up a black Plextor DVD burner in this system, and Plextor doesn't make an ATAPI DVD-ROM drive. Oh, well. Lite-On drives aren't nearly as good as Plextor drives, but they're the best inexpensive drives I know of. I'm sure it'll be fine.
Tuesday, -1 January 2004
13:05 - I unboxed the stuff from NewEgg, and everything was fine. I still find it incredible that one can buy a 52X CD burner for $34, or a hybrid DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive for $13 more. I could have bought an ordinary CD-ROM drive for $16, but I don't see the point. Even for a basic system, it makes little sense not to pay an extra $18 to have 52X CD burning capability. Well, I suppose some corporate systems don't have burners to make sure data doesn't walk away, but other than that there's no reason I can think of. It's pretty amazing when you think about it. I think I paid between $300 and $400 for my first CD burner, a 4X Smart & Friendly. CD burners are now an order of magnitude cheaper, and an order of magnitude faster.
Of course, I much prefer Plextor drives in my own systems, and NewEgg would have sold me a 52X Plextor burner for only $13 more than the Lite-On CD burner. That's the kind of issue I balance when designing systems. For an inexpensive system, is it worth paying the $13 more for the Plextor, or would that $13 be better applied to another component or to the bottom-line cost? It's easy enough to assume that the Plextor is worth the extra $13, which it certainly is in a general sense. I have a bunch of Plextor drives around here, and even the oldest still works fine. On the other hand, numerous lesser drives have failed miserably, sometimes under relatively light use.
But the problem is that it's very easy to nickel-and-dime a basic system to death, to the point where it becomes a mainstream system, and at a mainstream price. When you're dealing with a dozen or more components, deciding to spend an extra $15 here and $30 there can really add up quickly. On the other hand, where spending an extra $15 adds real functionality, as with the CD writer versus a CD-ROM drive, it's usually worth doing it. But making the trade-offs can be painful. That's one reason I enjoy designing and building systems where budget is not a major factor, and so there are few compromises to be made.
I'm working now on the Building a Kick-Ass LAN Party System chapter, which, if not a price-is-no-object system, is at least a system where I'll make few compromises.
Urk. I just realized that I wrote this entry at 8:00 this morning but just now remembered to publish it.
16:07 - What on earth is wrong with the US government? I just read a horrifying story of a young woman whom the TSA tried to force to dispose of her pet Siamese Fighting Fish, which she already had permission from the airline to transport. Perhaps they were worried she might use it as a weapon?
Then there's all the to-do about the FBI warning to watch people carrying almanacs. That makes a kind of sense, or is at least understandable in the sense that Islamic terrorists may use almanacs as aids in planning terrorist acts. I won't ridicule the FBI for this memo. It wasn't intended to be public, and the majority of FBI agents are just trying to do their jobs within the constraints put upon them. But really now.
Should we worry, then, about a young Swedish woman who is visiting the US and happens to be carrying an almanac? No, I thought not. How about an elderly British gentleman visiting family here in the US? No, again. Under no conceivable circumstances could either of them realistically be considered potential terrorist threats. Could they be terrorists? Of course they could, but the likelihood is vanishingly small. Well, then, how about young men of Islamic or Middle-Eastern appearance? Don't you think it might make sense to single them out, given that every terrorist involved in 9/11 fit that description? Not to mention every Al Qaeda terrorist now being sought. Wouldn't it make sense to focus on Saudi Arabians, given that nearly all of those involved in the recent terrorist actions against the US have been Saudis?
The Politically Correct have succeeded in redefining profiling as a dirty word. There is absolutely nothing wrong with focusing our attention on Islamics. They are the enemy. And, while not every young Islamic male may be a terrorist, the fact remains that all of the terrorists who attacked us were young Islamic males. So, where should we be focusing our attention? Young American black men and elderly American white women are strip-searched at airports, all in the name of avoiding the dreaded profiling. And while the TSA goons are busy strip-searching people who by no reasonable definition could be considered likely terrorists, young Islamic males are waved through. Wouldn't do to discriminate against the sons of bitches, after all.
I've waited in vain to hear a US government warning against Islamics. We'll never hear it, of course. The government is too busy strip-searching 3-year-old girls in the name of Political Correctness. What a horrifying idea, to point out that those most likely to be terrorists are young men of Islamic appearance. Is the US government insane? I think it might be. As is anyone who buys into the Politically Correct crap that they're peddling.
Wednesday, 0 January 2004
9:20 - I've been taken to task by at least one person who claims that I didn't bother to check my facts before commenting on the appearance of Mad Cow Disease in the US. I always check my facts. Sometimes I make mistakes, but when that happens it's from ignorance rather than laziness. I said up front that I'm not a physician, and I'm certainly not an expert on BSE or vCJD. But I did check my facts before I wrote that piece. In fact, I spent several hours reading various source documents, and the more I read the more concerned I became.
I don't understand people who take the pronouncements of the beef industry and government regulators at face value. These people all have a vested interest in minimizing the perceived danger. For a different take on the situation, go read this. Then go read this. It's always difficult to sort out the hidden agenda in situations like this, and I don't take any of this at face value. For all I know, the folks who wrote that book are a bunch of PETA maniacs. But I've read enough from diverse sources to convince me that the situation is a lot more fraught with danger than the beef industry and government regulators would have us believe.
Incredibly, the USDA has just now gotten around to banning the use of sick cattle for meat. This article states in part, "The changes announced Tuesday include a ban on meat from cows that can't walk or stand on their own..." Nice to know that until now we've been eating beef from cattle that were dying of natural causes. I thought that was a joke. Apparently not.
Barbara took today off to continue her Thompson Deep Clean® and I'm continuing work today on the Building a Kick-Ass LAN Party System chapter. We'll have a quiet evening with a friend whose husband is out of town, and ring in the New Year with champagne for them and Coke for me. If we can all stay awake, that is.
I don't really expect any significant terrorist outrages today, but I guess I'll keep an automatic weapon and a few grenades handy in case there's an Islamic attack. The Atchison Assault Shotgun, I think. That's a full-auto 12-gauge riot shotgun with a 25-round drum magazine. <Insert Toolman Tim grunts here>. Speaking of which, why has no one published an FPS game with Islamic bad guys? Oh, yeah. Political Correctness. I forgot.
I'll spend most of tomorrow doing year-end stuff--archiving data to optical discs and so on.
Thursday, 1 January 2004
8:54 - Happy New Year.
Barbara and I went over to our friend Mary's home for dinner last night. Mary is a morning person, and was yawning by 9:00 p.m. Barbara was also pretty tired, so we headed home about 9:30, played ball with Malcolm for a while, walked the dogs, and went to bed. We were awakened at midnight by kids setting off firecrackers. Duncan is terrified by firecrackers, so he levitated from the floor up onto the bed and got between Barbara and me, where he lay shivering. Poor guy. What a way to start his birthday. Duncan turns 9 years old today.
Barbara is continuing her Thompson Deep Clean® today, and I'm doing end-of-year archiving stuff. I'll clean out my "probably spam" folder, which I do periodically, so I may find a few real messages among the tens of thousands of spams. After that, I'll archive all my old mail and burn copies of it and our other files to CD-R. That'll take most of the day, I'm sure.
Friday, 2 January 2004
9:00 - ESR has an article up suggesting that the US military replace the failed Beretta M9 9mm sidearm with the old standby Colt 1911A in .45 ACP. I couldn't agree more. In the article, Eric links to a blog posting that reports how the Beretta 9mm performs (or doesn't perform) in combat.
No one chooses a pistol as a primary weapon. If you have a choice, you pick up a rifle or a shotgun. A pistol has one thing going for it. It's small, portable, and can be kept ready to hand. A pistol is a last-ditch line of defense. When you need it, you need it badly, and if it doesn't work you're dead. Even if it works, you're dead if the pistol has insufficient stopping power to make the bad guy stop what he's doing. And the 36-caliber rounds--9mm, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .38 Super, and so on--have proven time and again to have insufficient stopping power. Conversely, the .45 ACP has been proven over nearly a century to have sufficient stopping power to put an end decisively to a gunfight. So why do the US armed forces persist in using the puny, inadequate 9mm round?
One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing repeatedly, hoping for a different outcome. In that respect the US armed forces are insane. Until the late 19th century, the US Army used a competent 45 caliber pistol round. In the interest of reducing weight of both the pistol and the ammunition, they withdrew that round and began issuing a 38 caliber service pistol. Battle experience soon proved that the .38 was entirely inadequate to the task. In action against the Moros, the Army found that the .38 simply didn't work. More than one US soldier was found dead, holding an empty .38 revolver and surround by dead Moro tribesmen with .38 holes in them. The .38 killed well enough, but it didn't stop well enough. Knowing that someone you shoot with a .38 is going to die eventually is cold comfort when you also know that he'll be able to kill you before he dies.
So the US Army went in search of a better sidearm. A guy named John Moses Browning designed the perfect sidearm, which was subsequently adopted as the M1911 service pistol in .45 ACP. For most of a century, that pistol (in its slightly modified M1991A1 variant) served our soldiers well. But then the government decided in the interests of ammunition commonality with NATO to adopt a 9mm service pistol. They chose a Beretta model that was subsequently adopted as the M9. It has been an unmitigated disaster. The 9mm cartridge is simply inadequate as a defensive round.
The other reason for the shift to 9mm was the perception that the .45 ACP M1911A1 was "difficult to shoot." Of course it is. Any pistol is difficult to shoot accurately, including the M9. But most experienced pistol shooters will tell you that the .45 ACP is actually easier to shoot accurately than a 9mm. The .45 ACP has more recoil in the M*V momentum sense, but its recoil is a gentle shove, as opposed to the 9mm, which is a sharp kick. I've competed in Combat Pistol and taught a lot of people to shoot defensively. Among beginners, who come into it without preconceptions, the consensus is that the .45 ACP is easier to keep on target for follow-up shots.
I remember discussing the .45 ACP with my father, who was issued one in WWII as a B-17 crewman. He'd sold his for $11 when he was discharged from the service. I commented that I wished he'd kept it. He told me that it was worthless anyway, because it kicked like a mule and was so inaccurate that you couldn't hit the proverbial broad side of a barn with it.
When I was 21, I bought my first M1911 model in .45 ACP, a Colt Combat Commander. I convinced my dad to come out to shoot it one day. I set up a silhouette target at 50 feet and let him bang away at it. When he'd fired an entire magazine at it, we walked down range and found no holes in the target. He talked some more about how inaccurate the .45 Auto was as we walked back to the firing line. I put eight rounds down range rapid-fire, and we walked back down range to look at the target. It had eight holes in the K5 area in the center of the target, in about a 4" group. He was amazed. Being 21 and full of myself, I said, "It's not the pistol, dad, it's the shooter."
Which was impolite, but true. American boys in that time grew up watching westerns, and assumed that shooting a pistol accurately was somehow instinctive. It's not. It's a very difficult thing to do and an acquired skill. And it's a skill that the US military doesn't teach to many soldiers. But if the average US soldier is hopeless with a .45 ACP M1911A1, he's also hopeless with the 9mm M9. With an average soldier shooting them, the effective range for either of those weapons is about 10 or 15 feet. Fortunately, a lot of Close Encounters of the Worst Kind occur at that kind of distance. And if our soldiers need a pistol in those circumstances, better they have a pistol that works than one that doesn't.
Saturday, 3 January 2004
Sunday, 4 January 2004
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