- This weather is getting old. Our forecast for today is the
same as it's been for most of the last month or so, and probably will
be for most of the next month or so. Highs in the 90's, relative
humidity near 100%, with scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon,
evening, and overnight. I don't know how people in the southeastern US
survived before air conditioning was invented.
What kind of lunatic manufactures 40 pounds of peroxyacetone
in his bathtub? Obviously, a lunatic with a death wish, but I guess
for Islamic terrorists that goes without saying. Peroxyacetone is a
explosive. Not as unstable as nitroglycerin or nitrogen triiodide, but
unstable enough to have killed and maimed a lot of people who have
attempted to make it. The stuff can detonate simply from the friction
of its crystals rubbing against each other. It surprises me that the
four London bombers, each carrying ten pounds of this stuff, reached
their targets without detonating spontaneously.
I suppose the attraction of peroxyacetone is that it's easy to make
from readily available chemicals. All you need are acetone, hydrogen
peroxide (even the 3% stuff from the drugstore will do), and a strong
acid such as sulfuric acid (battery acid) or hydrochloric acid (sold at
the hardware store as "muriatic acid" for cleaning concrete) to
catalyze the reaction. But anyone who makes this stuff in any quantity
is just plain nuts.
When I was a teenager, I used to make peroxyacetone a few grams at a
time, and even that made me nervous. A few grams unconfined would
simply burn, but much more than that would detonate, even unconfined.
The stuff made me nervous enough that I worked with it behind a
Plexiglass screen, using tongs. Manufacturing 40 pounds of the stuff in
a bathtub, even in batches, is unbelievably stupid, particularly for
someone who is supposed to be a real chemist.
It wouldn't have taken much more effort to make 40 pounds of a serious
military explosive like RDX, which also can be made from
readily-available precursors (formaldehyde, ammonia, and nitric acid).
RDX is relatively hard to initiate, and so requires a booster. One
commonly-used booster is PETN (pentaerythritoltetranitrate), which can
be produced from from the hexamine precursor of RDX using formaldehyde,
acetaldehyde, calcium hydroxide, and nitric acid. All of this
stuff is readily
available and can be purchased without causing suspicion. That makes me
question not just the sanity of the chemist who made the London
explosives, but his competence.
Our friends Mary Chervenak and Paul Jones had Barbara and me over for
dinner at their house last night. Mary is an organic chemist for Dow
and Paul teaches organic chemistry at Wake Forest University. When I
mentioned that the London terrorists had use peroxyacetone, both just
rolled their eyes.
I mentioned to Paul that I was going to post about this
today, that I'd thought about the social responsibility issue, and
that upon reflection I'd decided it would do no harm to post because
the terrorists already know all this stuff. But, as Paul said, if
they're stupid enough to use peroxyacetone, maybe they don't.
So I decided that perhaps I'd write up a series of detailed
instructions for terrorists who want to make explosives. My guides
would be full of handy tips, such as:
"Whatever you do, don't use an ice bath to cool the reaction vessel."
"An ordinary kitchen blender running at its fastest speed is an ideal
way to mix the glycerin and acids when you're making nitroglycerin."
"When you add acid to a reaction vessel, don't trickle the acid in;
dump it in all at once."
"Heavy red outgassing is a good sign. When it first appears, stir
vigorously and apply heat."
And so on.
- If you need more evidence that Tivo has really lost touch with
its users, C|Net just published an article entitled TiVo
extends ad features. The article begins:
has launched new technology designed to let commercials pack in more
information, regardless of whether viewers are trying to fast-forward
our partners' feedback, we have worked continuously to develop a
leading ad platform that is relevant and exciting for TiVo subscribers
and, at the same time, makes it valuable for advertisers"
Duh. Surely TiVo must understand that its users DON'T WANT TO SEE ADS.
What a deal! You buy a TiVo, pay them a monthly subscription, and in
return they give you an "ad platform". They've even removed the
30-second skip feature, just to be helpful.
TiVo has sold out to the dark side--their so-called "partners"--and I
wonder why anyone would continue to use it. There are better
alternatives available, including simple, inexpensive DVD recorders,
which at least allow you to zap commercials instead of forcing you to
watch them. For those of a more technical bent, it's pretty easy to
roll your own recorder with live pause and other TiVo-like features.
And all without having to pay TiVo's monthly subscription.
- The heads-down writing continues.
-------- Original Message --------
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2005 22:32:53 -0800
From: Jan Swijsen
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Apart from easy availability of the ingredients it also doesn't contain
the typical nitrogen components. Those are what set off
explosive-detection devices (and bomb-dogs are trained to detect
them). So when you leave a bomb somewhere it's less likely to be
For suicide bombers premature (not a good word in this context) is not
a big problem of course.
It's true that TATP is not nitrated, but that's probably immaterial.
The preference of Islamic terrorists for TATP has been known for
several years, and my understanding is that bomb dogs are now trained
to alert when they detect the odor of the acetone emitted by TATP.
Trying to detect terrorist bombs before they explode isn't the answer.
It still has to be attempted, of course, but a lot of them won't be
detected in time. The answer is to stop them at the source, which
requires expelling Islamics from the US and western Europe. I find it
unbelievable that Islamic foreigners--including, incredibly,
Wahabbis--are still permitted to wander freely around the US and
Europe. Obviously, our governments aren't taking the threat seriously.
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Roll Your Own Recorder
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2005 21:50:23 -0700
From: J H RICKETSON
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
I hope you will devote a portion of one of your books to discussing
& means, recommended HW, etc.
But then - you would have the DRM Nazis all over you & your
like white on rice (to use the more PC version of the expression).
Oh well. It /was/ a good thought. Back to the drawing board.
Oh, we plan to cover building a PVR in future books, as we did in Building the Perfect PC. There's
nothing illegal about it. The problem comes with talking about
circumvention measures outlawed by the DMCA, which means, for example,
that we can't safely talk about hacking copy protection.
- Periodically, I look at alternatives to Xandros Linux. I did
that yesterday, downloading and installing Simply MEPIS, Kubuntu 5.04,
and Ubuntu 5.04. Once again, I concluded that none of these popular
distros come close to matching Xandros for usability. For example, when
I installed Kubuntu, it set the screen size to 800X600 at 60Hz on a 17"
monitor which I'd used at 1024X768 at 85Hz with Xandros. No problem, I
thought. I called up the desktop configuration dialog, intending to
change the video settings, but found that the only choices available
were 800X600 and 640X480, both at 60Hz. Geez. So I installed Ubuntu,
which was even worse. It set the video at 640X480 at 60Hz, with no
other options available. Sure, I could have gone in and edited
configuration files manually, but who needs that aggravation? I'm
sticking with Xandros.
(In a fit of insanity, I also downloaded Fedora Core 4. Fortunately, I
remembered before I installed it that I'd sworn off ever using any
Our latest article, Choosing the Best Star Atlases,
is now posted on O'Reilly.net.
It was 61 years ago today that Oberst Graf Klaus Philip Schenk von
Stauffenberg slid a bomb under the conference table at Wolfshanze,
Hitler's eastern headquarters. The bomb detonated, but someone had
moved it behind one of the pillars that supported the conference table,
and Hitler escaped with minor injuries. What a pity, but it does remind
us that bombs can be used to do good as well as evil.
Heads-down writing again today, followed by dinner and an astronomy
club meeting. At least we can talk about astronomy, because we sure
haven't been able to do any lately. We've had thunderstorms nearly
every night. Those few nights we haven't had thunderstorms, we've been
socked in with clouds. And on the very rare clear nights, the moon has
been up, which makes DSO observing impossible. This crap has been going
on all summer every summer for the last three summers, which makes it
pretty hard to log the summer objects we need for the Herschel 400 and
several other Astronomical League lists we're working on. The only real
solution may be to move to New Mexico.
- Astronomy Hacks just got slashdotted.
Feel free to post your own comments.
- The slashdotting had its predictable effect on the Amazon
ranking of Astronomy Hacks.
It was in the 600's yesterday evening, the 400's overnight, back
to the 500's this morning, and now sits at 661. It's fun to watch one
of our books hit the three-digit Amazon ranks, but it doesn't really
mean much unless it's persistent. This short blip may mean that Amazon
sold 20 or 30 extra copies in the last 12 hours or so. Still, it is fun
I was just reading several articles about how Microsoft is trying to
force Office 2003 on users, before Office 12 arrives in 18 months
(their estimate, not mine). The estimates vary, but most suggest that
Office 2003 currently makes up only 5% to 10% of all MS Office
installations (Microsoft claims 15%, but they have motivation to
exaggerate). As best I can determine, the antique Office 97 still has
about a 30% share, Office 2000, about 40%, and Office XP, about 20%.
When you think about those numbers, it becomes obvious that the
Microsoft Office cash cow is dying. The 30% of MS Office users who use
Office 97 aren't going to upgrade to a later version of MS Office, or
they'd have done so already. The same is true for Office 2000 users.
Together, they comprise 70% of the installed base, and they ain't
budging. Office XP uses are already running a recent version, and
Office 2003 users the most recent. Why would they upgrade? Who exactly
is going to buy Office 12? Not many people, I think.
Microsoft's problem is that earlier Office versions are more than good
enough for what people want to do. All of the upgrades have added only
bells and whistles that most people don't care about. Office 12 will be
more of the same. It's no wonder that Microsoft hates perpetual
licenses and is doing everything possible to move its user base to
software rental. That's why I've argued in the past that security flaws
actually benefit Microsoft. By refusing to fix security holes in
earlier versions, Microsoft forces upgrades to newer versions of both
Office and Windows.
We see that now with Windows 2000, which at about 50% share is still
the dominant corporate OS. By not porting Internet Explorer 7 to
Windows 2000 (which would be trivially easy to do), Microsoft hopes to
force Windows 2000 users to upgrade their OSs. What they hope doesn't
happen, of course, is that all those Windows 2000 users migrate to
Firefox. But I suspect a lot more Windows 2000 users will upgrade to
Firefox than to a newer version of Windows. Isn't it nice to have
And, speaking of alternatives, I've been looking at a late beta of
OpenOffice.org 2.0. I actually prefer OOo 1.X and StarOffice 7 to
Office 2000, but OOo 2.0 is a significant upgrade. OOo is already
starting to establish a foothold in corporations. Some data I've seen
suggest that corporations migrating from early versions of MS Office
are at least as likely to migrate to OOo/SO as they are to migrate to a
later version of MS Office. There are some niggling compatibility
issues between MS Office and OOo/SO (and one major one, macros), but
there are also significant compatibility issues in upgrading from
an early MS Office to the current version, so that's a wash.
Given the small number of people who are likely to upgrade to Office
12, and the growing groundswell for OOo/SO, I think it's not at all
unlikely that a couple years after the release of Office 12 we'll see
Office 12 with last-place share, behind OOo/SO. My guess is that Office
12 will be lucky to achieve 5% share two years after its release, by
which time OOo/SO may well be at 8% to 10% share. Wouldn't that be
embarrassing for Microsoft?
- I am having one of those days when I get absolutely nothing
done. Duncan has diarrhea, poor dog. Malcolm has been barking
And I've just had my first-ever failure of a Plextor drive. Not that I
can blame Plextor. This one wasn't a natural death. It was murder. When
K3b finishes burning a disc, by default it ejects the disc and leaves
the tray sticking out. Malcolm started barking ferociously. I was
hoping it was UPS delivering our author copies of Astronomy Hacks, which were to have
been delivered Tuesday, then Wednesday, now today. (I think they've
lost the box, because every day they reschedule it for delivery the
As it turned out, it wasn't UPS. It was some other large truck, so I
told Malcolm to shut up and headed back into my office. Unfortunately,
I work by preference with dungeon-like lighting, and I didn't notice
the Plextor tray still sticking out. I hit it with my knee, ripping it
out of the drive. Oh, well. It's a PX-708A, so it's no great loss. I
have a bunch of 16X drives sitting around, so I suppose it'd make sense
just to shut down my main system and install a current model DVD writer
For some reason, I didn't feel like doing that, so I decided just to
use the Antec Aria sitting on credenza behind me to do my backup today.
That system was formerly my main box, but I replaced it with the
current system because the Aria was running hot and the fans were
screaming. I solved that, albeit temporarily, by pulling the top and
side panels from the Aria, leaving it open to outside air. It's been
running for almost an hour now, and is barely audible.
Of course, in order to back up to DVD, I had to have DVD writing
software installed. The Aria is the box that I used the other day to
install half a dozen Linux distros, one after the other. It currently
has Xandros 3.02 Business Edition on it. X3BE has built-in DVD burning,
but I don't much like it. It won't do verifies, for example. So I
decided to install K3b. There are versions of K3b for Xandros available
in the Xandros unsupported repository and a couple other sites, but
none of them work properly. Every one generates "broken packages"
messages when I attempt to install it.
There being no alternative, I downloaded the K3b sources, installed the
compiler, K3b development environment, and other necessary packages,
and started K3b compiling. Interestingly, make took a lot longer to run
on the Aria, which has a Pentium 4/3.2 Prescott, than it did on my main
system, which has a 3.4 GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. Apparently, that
extra cache really helps, because the difference was much greater than
I'd expect from 3.2 GHz versus 3.4 GHz.
And the Aria system is still almost inaudible because the CPU fan is
running at about 1,700 RPM rather than the 5,600 RPM it sometimes
reaches with the case closed.
- I see the British
police know how to handle an Islamic terrorist. Chase him. When he
trips, sit on him and shoot him five times in the chest and head.
Give the bastard no chance to trigger his bomb.
The New York City transit cops, on the other hand, have their hands
tied by political correctness. They're doing random spot searches of
backpacks and briefcases, but the authorities have announced that they
won't use so-called racial profiling. Now there's a plan. Search an
Italian grandma's knitting bag or a Chinese businessman's briefcase,
but don't dare bother the young Islamic man with the backpack as he
goes through the turnstile. That goes beyond stupidity. It's insanity.
Fortunately, although our authorities are politically correct and
probably insane, our citizens aren't. They know what the dangerous
people look like. I have one piece of advice for young Islamic men in
the US who are not terrorists. If you use mass transit, don't carry a
backpack. That grandma may have a Glock in her knitting bag, and the
businessman may have a Ruger in his briefcase. In light of recent
events, they're not likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. And,
if I were sitting on their jury, I'd vote to acquit, as would most
American citizens. I'd consider your death an unfortunate accident, but
better safe than sorry.
- Incredibly, after an 8-month analysis and search, Microsoft
has apparently decided to name the new version of its Windows operating
system, formerly known as Shorthorn, after Arnold Schwarzenegger's
famous line from the Terminator series. Yes, it's true. The new version
of Windows will be known throughout the universe as "Hasta la Vista
Windows", which my Spanish-speaking friends tell me means "Goodbye
Windows". Could they be trying to tell us something?
After years of effort and long delays, Microsoft will give birth to
what amounts to Windows XP SP3, so it's a who-cares anyway. Nearly
every important new feature that was promised for Shorthorn has been
eliminated, falling victim to the rush to get Shorthorn out the
door by 2006, a date Microsoft looks unlikely to meet. Of
course, Microsoft simply redefines the product features
retroactively, so it can meet any arbitrary deadline it chooses. But
don't expect much more than XP SP3. And this is a service
pack you'll have to pay for.
Microsoft executives have compared Shorthorn to the Apollo program,
which resulted in humans setting foot on the moon. To my way of
thinking, the Shorthorn launch is more likely to resemble that famous
footage of Langley using a catapult to launch his airplane from a boat
on the Potomac River. (Hint: it crashes immediately and
sinks like a stone.)
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All