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Week of 19 April 2004

Latest Update : Friday, 23 April 2004 11:37 -0400

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Monday, 19 April 2004

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10:03 - It's National TV-Turnoff Week. As the web site says, "Take a seven-day break from TV and reclaim time to talk, play, read, exercise, create, dream -- and live!"

Some people who participate are able to break the TV habit entirely. Most find that their TV viewing is permanently reduced. There are simply so many better ways to spend one's time. As Groucho Marx said, "I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book."

Do yourself and your kids a favor. Unplug your TVs, just for a week. Stop by the library and pick up a pile of books. Grab a bunch of mysteries, science-fiction, historical novels, whatever you most enjoy reading, and spend the week reading them instead of watching TV. Pick up some non-fiction, too. History, science, whatever.

Don't cheat, either. If you want the news or weather, read a newspaper, listen to the radio, or get it on the Web. If you want sports, gather up the family and attend a local game. Go for a walk, work in the yard. Take a drive in the country and visit little bookstores and antique shops. Take the kids to a museum. Do some of the stuff that you never have time to do because you're always sitting in front of the TV.

Every year during National TV-Turnoff Week, I think of Jubal Harshaw in Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and his "god-damned noisy box." Harshaw treated TV rationally. He kept his TV set in the closet and only pulled it out and plugged it in when there was something on he really needed to see. The rest of us would do well to emulate him.

I need to get to work on a chapter.

14:52 - Here's an interesting serial killer. For one thing, he's black, which is pretty unusual. Most serial killers, at least those we know about, have been white. Unless I'm confused--which is quite possible; I pay little attention to serial killers--and depending on how one defines "serial killer", I believe black serial killers are even rarer than white female serial killers, of which fewer than a dozen come to mind who truly fit the description. And even to get those dozen requires going back to the history books--Mary Ann Cotton, the Marquise de Brinvilliers, and so on. Of course, these women were not true serial killers in the usual sense, because they killed people known to them and had a financial motive. True serial killers by the standard definition--those who kill random strangers--are overwhelmingly white male. Also very unusual, at least from what information was provided, this guy appears to have almost an equal share of the characteristics from the patterns that profilers call "disorganized" and "organized".

15:24 - More from Bob Sprowl, who must enjoy his web surfing more than most people. (A couple of the images are marginally work-unsafe.)

Geez, this brings it back. I remember when I was in college we used to do stuff like this to people who'd passed out drunk or stoned. I thought kids nowadays might be a bit kinder. Guess not.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Nine reasons not to drink
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 2004 15:02:26 -0400
From: Bob Sprowl
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

These pictures say it all.




Tuesday, 20 April 2004

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10:57 - This is starting to get annoying. Ever since I installed Windows 2000 SP4, Windows Explorer GPFs regularly. I could uninstall SP4, but when I fire up the uninstall I'm presented with a very long list of other software and Microsoft patches that Windows claims may no longer work properly if I uninstall SP4. I'm beginning to think that the only real solution is to take one of these new systems I'm building, install everything fresh, and use it as my main system.

In the meantime, I do have a new, fast system in the den, and that one's giving me fits with Mozilla. Mozilla 1.6 installs but won't run on it at all, and I've about concluded that the reason is the system is too fast for it. Mozilla Firefox kind of runs on it, but butchers some web pages. Thunderbird works, such as it is, but it's a pathetic mail client compared to the full Mozilla Mail. Bizarrely, Mozilla 1.5 runs properly, so it appears that something introduced in Mozilla between 1.5 and 1.6 borked Mozilla on fast systems.

I suppose I could confirm my suspicions. The Pentium 4 processor in the den system is an Engineering Sample, which means the multiplier isn't locked. I could slow it down as far as necessary to see if the problems go away. Heck, my main office system, the one I'm writing this on, has only a 1.7 GHz Pentium 4, half the speed of the one in the den system, and yet it's plenty fast for what I do.

But I'm still in heads-down writing mode, which means all I want is for this stuff to work.

14:26 - We all know about the ridiculous "moron warnings" that our legal system mandates that any manufacturer with a sense of self-preservation place on his products. Things like those warnings not to put your fingers into the lawn mower while it's running or to fuel your car while you're smoking a cigarette. Personally, I think these warnings do the species a disservice. Better to allow anyone stupid enough to do those things to commit suicide accidentally before he has a chance to pass on his genes. On the other hand, anyone stupid enough to need the warning probably can't read it anyway.

But my favorite moron warning reminds me of the old Roadrunner cartoon. "One Dozen Grenades (not recommended for children)". My favorite is a real warning, though, reported to me by a reader who saw it on a box of hand grenades:

Caution: Improper use may cause death or serious injury.

Which begs the question, doesn't proper use cause death or serious injury?



Wednesday, 21 April 2004

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9:13 - I finished building the SFF PC and shooting images yesterday. Now it's back to writing the chapter.

I have a Northwood-core 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 in the Aria system now. I want to track the temperatures for a while before I decide what is the fastest processor practical to use in the Aria, consonant with quiet operation. As it is configured now, the Aria is reasonably quiet. The power supply fan and the supplementary Cyclone Blower produce almost no noise. What noise there is is a high-pitched whine from the CPU fan. It's not particularly intrusive, but it's there.

My alternatives are limited, but there are some. The stock Intel HSF unit has only 1/4" or so of clearance between the top of the bracket and the bottom of the power supply. That rules out using something like a Zalman flower cooler, which operates in fanless mode only up through 2.8 GHz anyway, if I recall correctly. I do have a 2.6 GHz Pentium 4, which has a quieter stock HSF. I may substitute that. Alternatively, I may remove the fan from the stock 3.2 GHz cooler and install a separate large, low-speed fan above the cooler. Antec provides a bracket for that with the Aria. The bracket attaches to the power supply and holds the fan pointing downward at the heatsink. Or, I may simply leave things as is. The system isn't "silent" by any means, but it's not all that loud either.

This from Jim Cooley:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Moronic Govt. Policy
Date: Tue, 20 Apr 2004 15:59:30 -0700
From: James Cooley
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Saw your remark about the dumb warnings and figured this belongs in the same category


"In order to comply with EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations, and at a cost of about $5.2 million per ICBM, the rocket motors on 500 Minuteman III missiles will be replaced with new ones. These rockets will emit less toxic chemicals when used. ... Thus, if the Minuteman III ICBMs have to be used in some future nuclear war, their rocket motors will not pollute the atmosphere."


Computer Closet
1104 Sanchez Street
San Francisco, CA 94114-3825

415-642-1651 PHONE
415-642-1652 FAX

Well, I admit that my first reaction was the same as everyone else's. Who cares about a rocket motor putting a few tons of nitrogen oxides into the air when the thermonuclear warheads striking the US would put millions of tons of nitrogen oxides into the air? But then I considered an alternative. Perhaps there's method in their madness. What if they're considering a unilateral strike by US forces? After all, just because we decide to nuke Mecca, say, doesn't mean we want to pollute our air with rocket motor exhaust.

And another from JHR:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: DVD Burners & SW
Date: Tue, 20 Apr 2004 19:15:18 -0700
From: JHR
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Bob -

Been a long trip and a Learning Experience. After reading your many praises of the Plextor 708A DVD burner, I bought one to replace my Sony DVD burner - which refused to play nice with Big-a Box anymore, and was becoming obsolescent anyway. That, and the storage demands of my new Canon A80 clinched the sale.

So - I installed the Plextor in Big-a-Box, and the fun began. Fired it up. Tried the new Nero 6 SW. Nothing. Nada. Nero's very complex and murky UI was no help at all. It is even more opaque and user-hostile than Nero 5. There was no option that I could find for formatting DVD+R/Ws.

Uninstalled Nero, and tried the cockamamie Roxio (Ptui! - I've had nothing but bad experiences with Adaptec/Roxio SW) SW bundled with the Plextor. Bottom line: Roxio INSISTED there was no device connected - despite winfile clearly listing the Plextor as DriveQ: So much for Roxio and their "Easy" SW. One would think that Plextor would bundle SW that could work at least marginally with their product.

Next, just for the halibut,I tried the SW that had come with my Sony - B'sCLIP. It would not work with the Plextor - but then, it was made for the last-generation Sony. Went to the B'sClip site (_http://www.bhacorp.com/products/clip/clip5_retail.html _ <http://www.bhacorp.com/products/clip/clip5_retail.html>) and DLed V.5. It listed the Plextor 708A as supported. Cleared out previous DVD burner SW and installed B'sCLIP5 and rebooted.

Bingo! It worked like a champ first shot out of the box. Formatted the DVD+R/W disc faster than the previous version, and was generally more responsive. Now I again have DVD+R/Ws that act like a floppy on steroids - I can drag&drop files to/from them, add files to them incrementally as I clear the pix from the Canon's Compact Flash Card, use two DVDs to back up all my files in Big-a-Box, etc. In short - anything I could do with a 1.44 floppy, I can do with a 4.7Gig DVD. I'm happy as a pig in a puddle.

POINT: Since BHA's SW is likely little known, and Nero apparently does not have the ability to format a DVD+R/W, I daresay the capability of creating a 4.7 Gig floppy is a little-known but very precious gem. Too bad. I would be very upset without it. The 4.7 DVD+R/Ws have served me well for archiving and redundant backups.

Try it - You'll like it!



Sorry you had problems. I confess that I've not used Nero 6. I've been perfectly satisfied with Nero 5.5. Did you install InCD? That's Nero's UDF program for drag-and-drop RW support.



Thursday, 22 April 2004

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9:40 - I installed Windows XP on the SFF PC yesterday. Probably a mistake, since the last time I installed XP I couldn't get it to recognize my NT4 domain controller. This time, I'll play around with LMHOSTS to see what I can do about that problem.

The box itself is very nice. The box is unexpectedly heavy when one picks it up. Or perhaps heavy is the wrong word. I guess dense would be a better word. One doesn't expect something that small to weigh as much as it does. I have some thermal testing to do on the SFF box. I've built several versions of it. With a 1.8 GHz Northwood and embedded video, it's very quiet and cool-running. At the other extreme, with a 3.2 GHz Northwood and an ATi RADEON 9800XT, it's noticeably louder and runs very warm, enough so that I'm concerned about whether the higher temperature may introduce instability. Putting a 3.2 GHz processor and a video card that's hot in every sense of the word into an enclosure that small is begging trouble.

Back to writing.



Friday, 23 April 2004

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10:38 - Taking the dogs out has become fraught with peril, as it does every spring. This morning, I connected Duncan and Malcolm to their 15-foot roller leashes, opened the front door, and walked out onto the front porch. At that instant, Duncan spotted a lawn rat in the yard across the street, and Malcolm simultaneously spotted a tree rat in the yard next door. Both dogs accelerated, one straight ahead and one at 90 to my left, from 0 to 30 MPH in about 0.5 seconds. Meanwhile, there I stood with both leash handles in one hand, trying to drop them, but with one leash wrapped around the other's handle.

Let me tell you, when you're on one end of the leashes, it's no joke to have a cumulative 140 pounds of dogs moving at high speed until they simultaneously run out of roller leash. In this case, my 240 pounds stood me in good stead. If it had been Barbara, she'd probably have gone airborne.

Sometimes even my mass isn't enough to prevent embarrassing moments. One winter morning, there was snow and ice on the ground. Unfortunately, a dog in 4-paw drive has much more traction than I do. As we went out the front door, Duncan spotted a rodent and instantly accelerated at full military power. Barbara wouldn't believe me later, but I'd have sworn there were afterburner flames coming out of Duncan's rear end. I couldn't drop the leash in time because it was wound around my wrist. I went flying off the porch and ended up on my ass, literally being dragged across the snow-covered front yard at a high rate of speed. Fortunately, I got the leash loose before he dragged me over the curb. That would have hurt.

My astronomy buddy Clyde in New York City, who sings opera for the Met, forwarded this. (Yes, I know it's all over the Internet, and no, I don't believe it).



Dear Ma and Pa:

I am well. Hope you are. Tell Brother Walt and Brother Elmer the Marine Corps beats working for old man Minch by a mile. Tell them to join up quick before maybe all of the places are filled.

I was restless at first because you got to stay in bed till nearly 6 a.m., but am getting so I like to sleep late.

Tell Walt and Elmer all you do before breakfast is smooth your cot and shine some things. No hogs to slop, feed to pitch, mash to mix, wood to split, fire to lay. Practically nothing. Men got to shave but it is not so bad, there's warm water.

Breakfast is strong on trimmings like fruit juice, cereal, eggs, bacon, etc., but kind of weak on chops, potatoes, ham, steak, fried eggplant, pie and other regular food, but tell Walt and Elmer you can always sit by the two city boys that live on coffee. Their food plus yours holds you till noon when you get fed again.

It's no wonder these city boys can't walk much. We go on "route marches", which the platoon sergeant says are long walks to harden us. If he thinks so, it's not my place to tell him different. A "route march" is about as far as to our mailbox at home. Then the city guys get sore feet and we all ride back in trucks. The country is nice but awful flat.

The sergeant is like a school teacher. He nags a lot. The Capt. is like the school board. Majors and colonels just ride around and frown. They don't bother you none.

This next will kill Walt and Elmer with laughing. I keep getting medals for shooting. I don't know why. The bulls-eye is near as big as a chipmunk head and don't move, and it ain't shooting at you like the Higgett boys at home. All you got to do is lie there all comfortable and hit it. You don't even load your own cartridges. They come in boxes.

Then we have what they call hand-to-hand combat training. You get to wrestle with them city boys. I have to be real careful though, they break real easy. It ain't like fighting with that ole bull at home. I'm about the best they got in this except for that Tug Jordan from over in Silver Lake. I only beat him once. He joined up the same time as me, but I'm only 5'6" and 130 pounds, and he's 6'8" and weighs near 300 pounds dry.

Be sure to tell Walt and Elmer to hurry and join before other fellers get onto this setup and come stampeding in.

Your loving daughter,


11:37 - Here's a story about the death of a hero. Mr. Tillman didn't have to join the US Army, but in the wake of 9/11 he, like many others, did so. He became part of the elite Army Special Forces, a Ranger. He died last Thursday in Afghanistan. We mourn him.



Saturday, 24 April 2004

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Sunday, 25 April 2004

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.