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Week of 25 October 2004

Latest Update: Friday, 29 October 2004 09:42 -0400

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Monday, 25 October 2004

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08:40 - Crunch time. I have to finish the Pocket Guide supplement book for Building the Perfect PC this week. There's not likely to be much here...

There's a Lunar eclipse Wednesday evening. The entire eclipse is visible for all of North America, clouds permitting, except the extreme western edge (where all but the very early stages of the eclipse are still visible), all of South America, and northern and western Europe. You can view the eclipse naked eye, although even an inexpensive binocular will provide a much better view. If you'd like a closer look and don't have a telescope, check with your local astronomy club or nature science center, which probably has a public observation scheduled.

Lunar eclipses can occur only at the Full Moon, when Earth is between the moon and the sun. If Luna's orbit of Terra was in the same plane as Terra's orbit of Sol, we'd have Lunar and Solar eclipses every month. Because the orbits are in slightly different planes, Lunar eclipses occur only when the orbit of Luna at full moon happens to cross the shadow thrown by Terra in the Terra-Sol orbital plane.

Most people think Lunar eclipses occur more frequently than Solar eclipses, but the converse is true. The reason for this misperception is that Lunar eclipses are visible over the entire half of Terra where Luna is visible during an eclipse, whereas Solar eclipses are visible only in the very narrow track traced by Luna's shadow on Terra.

Still, a Lunar eclipse is an extraordinary event, and is well worth getting out to watch. Get out to watch even if the weather isn't perfect. Luna is bright enough to burn through surprisingly dense clouds, and totality lasts for more than an hour, so unless you're simply socked in you may be able to see the eclipse through gaps in the clouds.

Take the kids along. Who knows, one of them might become the next generation's greatest astrophysicist. I can trace my own interest in astronomy to the first Lunar eclipse I saw, when I was perhaps three or four years old. I remember my dad explaining that Luna was being darkened by Terra's shadow, and to my young mind that meant Luna wasn't very far away.


Tuesday, 26 October 2004

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08:30 - Barbara dropped off Duncan, our ten-year-old Border Collie, for surgery this morning. She found a lump near where his tail joins his body. When we had the dogs at the vet last week, the vet took a tissue sample and sent it off for testing. The vet called me yesterday to say the results were inconclusive, and that he recommended excising the lump. So we set it up for this morning. Barbara dropped Duncan off on her way to work, and we'll pick him up late this afternoon.

I keep reading all these news articles lately about the huge and continuing drop in violent crimes other than murder. No one can figure out why it's occurring. It's not additional policing, nor longer sentences, nor anything else anyone can determine. So let me give them all a hint.

The reason for the drop in violent crime that started to become obvious about fifteen years ago is Roe v. Wade. Violent crimes are committed, by and large, by young men, and particularly by young men from lower socio-economic groups. Roe v. Wade greatly reduced the supply of such young men, and the drop in violent crimes commenced just about the time all of those young men who were never born would have reached the age when they would have started committing violent crimes. The correlation is extremely close, so much so that it's obvious to anyone who cares to look at the data.


Wednesday, 27 October 2004

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10:35 - We picked up Duncan at the vet's late yesterday afternoon, and he seems to be doing fine. We won't know if the lump the vet removed is cancerous until the tests are back, but we're hopeful that everything will work out for the best. Duncan was a little out of it last night, although he did want to play ball. He was a bit unsteady on his feet. When I walked him, each time he lifted his leg he'd fall over. After doing that two or three times, he just started squatting like a girl dog.

It looks like we'll miss the Lunar eclipse tonight, which is the last one for the next couple of years. The forecasts all say 100% cloud cover and rain. Oh, well. We're having dinner with Sue Stephens, one of our friends with whom we manage to get together only every year or two. I was planning to show her the eclipse, but I guess the best I'll be able to do is point out the clouds and tell her what she'd be able to see if they weren't in the way.

12:43 - Now here's something scary. I confess that I'd never thought about what the IQs of Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush might be. I'd just assumed that they must both be very bright guys. Not so, as it turns out. It appears that Mr. Kerry's IQ is only 120 or so, which puts him squarely in the "above average" class, and Mr. Bush's only 125 or so, which puts him barely into the "gifted" category.

Not that IQs on this level mean these men are stupid. They're not. But an IQ in that range makes them both suited for jobs somewhat less demanding than President of the United States. A junior military officer, say, or a mid-level corporate manager. Neither of these men is someone any sane person would want making critical decisions that affect the well-being and prosperity of nearly 300 million American citizens. They are simply not bright enough to lead at that level.

So, what might we reasonably expect from a candidate for President of the US? Here's an interesting web site devoted to IQ, from which I've extracted the following table.

Intelligence Interval
Cognitive Designation
Common Possessors
85 - 114
Pupils at junior high school
115 - 124
Above average
Pupils at senior high school
125 - 134
University graduates
135 - 144
Highly gifted
145 - 154
155 - 164
Nobel Prize Winners
165 - 179
High genius

180 - 200
Highest genius

> 200
"Unmeasurable" genius

With a Stanford-Linet IQ of 120, Mr. Kerry is brighter than about 8/9 of the population. At 125, Mr. Bush is brighter than about 16/17 of the population. But surely it is reasonable to expect our candidates to be in the top 1% (SB IQ 137) or even the top 0.1% (SB IQ 149). To be honest, I'd feel a lot better if they were in the top 0.01% (SB IQ 159), and even smarter would be better.

Surely we want our leaders to be extraordinarily intelligent. Instead, in this election, we're faced with choosing between two guys who are barely above average. Given that these two are presumably among the best and brightest of their peers, that may say something about the average IQs of politicians. I don't know the IQ of Badnarik, the Libertarian candidate, but I'd be willing to bet that it's significantly higher than those of Mr. Kerry or Mr. Bush.

Of course, I don't take these data without a grain of salt. The assumed IQs of Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry appear to have been estimated at least partially on the basis of their SAT scores. Until 1994, the SAT was in fact an IQ test. The SAT after that date was useless as an IQ test, and many would argue it was useless for any purpose.

But 1994 was not the first time the SAT changed. There was also a significant change in 1974, and an SAT score from before that date indicates a significantly higher IQ than the same SAT score post-1974. Those who estimated Mr. Bush's and Mr. Kerry's IQs seem to have used the 1974-1994 SAT data rather than the correct pre-1974 data. My guess is that both their IQs are at least somewhat higher than the numbers being bandied about, but they both probably would still fall into the "gifted" category.

That's not smart enough. We need bright people to lead our government, particularly in these perilous times, and the choice of dumb versus dumber just doesn't cut it. I'm voting for Badnarik.


Thursday, 28 October 2004

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09:00 - The eclipse last night was a wash-out for us. As if the 10/10ths cloud cover wasn't enough, it was also raining with heavy fog.

I don't usually have any problem finding utility programs for Linux. In fact, there are usually several to choose among for any particular requirement. But I am having a hard time finding a GUI SNTP utility. I used to use a Windows program called, I think, NetTime. It ran as a background service with a little icon sitting on the taskbar. Every few minutes, it'd go out and hit a timeserver and synchronize the system clock. In addition to being a client, it was a server, so I could run it in client mode on one of my Windows servers and tell the other Windows boxes on my network to sync their clocks against the local server.

I can find no similar utility for Linux. Actually, I'm surprised Xandros doesn't include a nice built-in SNTP client. There are several command-line Linux SNTP clients, and I can use one if I must, but I'd really prefer an SNTP client with a nice GUI front-end. If anyone knows of a good one, please let me know.

The curmudgeonly J. H. Ricketson is back to posting again, after a 2.5 year hiatus.

15:48 - Fred Reed makes a surprising endorsement for President. In his new column, dated 28 November 2004 (he has problems with dates sometimes), Fred finally tells us who he's pulling for. If I didn't know him better, I'd think he was kidding.

AMD has introduced a fascinating new appliance PC called the PIC, short for Personal Internet Communicator. It lists for $185, not including the 15" "minitor". It comes with an unspecified amount of memory, a 10 GB hard drive, and a Geode processor. It runs WinXC (which sounds a lot like WinCE) and an unspecified office suite that sounds a lot like OpenOffice.org. It uses a wall-wart power supply, and so should be nearly silent.

I'm not sure why AMD chose to supply Windows for this little computer rather than Linux, but I'd guess it won't be more than five minutes before someone removes Windows and has the PIC running Linux. For now at least, the PIC is to be sold only in India, Mexico, and other countries with large populations that cannot afford standard PCs, but I'd be surprised if that policy lasts long. There are so many applications for a slow, cheap, silent, Linux-based PC that I expect the PIC to make its US debut before long. Obviously, AMD will be concerned about cannibalizing sales of low-end PCs, but I suspect the temptation to begin selling it in the US will be too great to resist.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my query about running SNTP on my Xandros boxes. Brian Bilbrey called me soon after I posted this morning, and several people have sent email to describe their solutions to the problems. I reproduce one mail from Dr. Mark Huth below, because it includes everything anyone needs to know to keep their Linux boxes synced with a time server.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Linux mail server/client
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 2004 11:07:49 -0700
From: Mark Huth
To: Robert Bruce Thompson


I'd be surprised if your linux distribution doesn't have a built in NTP server...I'd even suspect that it is installed, but perhaps not configured.  In doing a quick search on the net  for xandros time server I find:

1) install "ntpdate" through Xandros Networks
2) either open an Administrator console or login in as "su" in a regular console
3) type "cd /etc/cron.daily"
4) type "kwrite ntp-time-synchronize" (now kwrite is open)
5) type the following two lines into kwrite

/usr/sbin/ntpdate #

6) replace the "#" symbol with an IP address of a timer server for you (www.ntp.org has a list of public servers)
7) save the file and exit kwrite
8) type "chmod 700 ntp-time-synchronize"

This should make sure it is installed and configured.  You can change it to run however often you want it to run.  Your other systems can look to your local time server or can also look to the outside.  On my Debian mail server, I've configured the ntp server to run every 6 hours.   My other boxes, 1 Mac's, my wife and sons Windows XP box, and our file server check the mailserver twice a day.  I run a wonderful  windows program Abouttime...written by Paul Lutus of Apple fame and can be used as "careware".  http://www.arachnoid.com/abouttime/ worth looking at even if you aren't using any Windows software, just because you and Paul share so many interests. 

Thanks! Brian Bilbrey recommended just using pool.ntp.org, which is what I'm using. That's good enough to keep the time approximately synched, which is good enough for me. The docs mention several ways to get a more accurate time sync by choosing "closer" time servers, but pool.ntp.org works well enough for what I need.


Friday, 29 October 2004

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9:42 - Today is the 100% completion deadline for the Pocket Guide supplement to Building the Perfect PC. I'm pretty much finished with the bulk of it. All that remains to be done is the Preface and the video adapters section. But those will occupy me for the rest of the day. This weekend, I'm sure I'll be incorporating suggestions and corrections from my editors and colleagues who are reviewing the manuscript.


Saturday, 30 October 2004

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Sunday, 31 October 2004

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