- Another month nearly gone. Our 50% complete deadline for the
new astronomy book is tomorrow. We've submitted only two chapters so
far, but we're not as far behind as it might appear. I've stubbed out
57 constellation chapters, which required a massive amount of work.
Today I start filling out those chapters. Some have only a few objects,
and some have upwards of 50 objects. Barbara started work on her first
constellation chapter yesterday, and will be writing quite a few of
them. I'll be doing the rest.
We drove up to the club site Friday night to get in a bit of
observing for the first time in a long time. My white Trooper, which we
keep packed with the scopes and other astronomy gear, wouldn't start.
Dead battery. So we transferred everything to Barbara's Trooper and
headed up. The skies were reasonably clear early, but clouded up as the
Barbara had a lot to do Saturday, so we decided to take the white
Trooper in for a new battery later in the week. Then, yesterday
afternoon, our neighbor Stephanie called. She was stuck with her
husband and kids at PrimeCare with a dead battery. So Barbara and I
hauled out the jumper cables and headed over to give them a jump. As
we returned home, Barbara suggested that as long as we already had
the jumper cables out, we might as well take the white truck for a new
battery. So we came home, jumped my truck, and drove out to AutoZone.
When I lived up north, I replaced my battery every three years. I'd buy
the best Sears Diehard available. Every time, the guy would tell me
that my old battery had a seven-year (or whatever it was) guarantee,
and I was replacing it way too early. That didn't matter to me. Even if
a battery has a 100-year guarantee, it can't be trusted more than three
years when winter temperatures drop below 0° F.
But when I moved south, I got pretty lackadaisical about replacing my
battery. Just how lackadaisical became evident Sunday. The old battery
in the Trooper was also an Autozone battery, with a seven-year
guarantee. The trouble was, it was between eight and nine years old. Of
course, that truck probably hasn't been driven more than 10,000 or
12,000 miles in the last eight years, but even so. I had AutoZone
install their basic $50 battery, which also has a seven-year guarantee.
I figure it'll probably last me until 2014 or 2015.
Thanks to everyone who has subscribed
or renewed recently. I batch process subscriptions, and plan to run
another batch the first of the month. If you've subscribed recently and
haven't heard back from me, my apologies. I'm pretty well covered up at
the moment, but I'll get to them as soon as I can.
- I got a nasty surprise when I attempted to log on to PayPal
yesterday morning. It refused to accept my password, which was stored
in Mozilla and had always worked properly. I tried again, and then
opened my encrypted master password document, copied the password from
there, and re-entered it in the PayPal login screen. That also failed,
so I knew something was going on. Apparently, someone or something had
changed my password without my knowledge or permission, so I
immediately logged a report with PayPal. I then spent a couple of hours
getting things straightened out.
The first problem was that PayPal prompted me with the last four digits
of my bank account number and wanted me to enter the rest of it. I
don't trust PayPal, so when we changed bank accounts some years ago, I
never told them about the change. We're on our third or fourth
different bank since then (our banks keep being sold or closed down;
after having one bank account for nearly 20 years, we've had about one
new one every 18 months or so for the last few years.)
So I went digging through our old bank statements to find one that
ended in the proper last four digits. I found that number and entered
it, after which PayPal prompted me for a valid credit card number.
Rats! The old credit card number they had for me was as dead as the
bank account number they had, and I don't want PayPal to have a valid
credit card for me. But there was no choice, so I entered the number
for a Mastercard we still have from Wachovia, which was one or two
banks ago. Barbara had held onto that credit card, but now that PayPal
has the number I'll ask her to cancel it as well. (In case you're
wondering, I really don't
like PayPay being able to go in without notice and pillage my checking
account or make unlimited charges against one of my credit cards.)
So, after going through a bunch of hoops, creating a new password and
"secrets" list, and so on, PayPal tells me that my account will remain
limited for up to ten days. I can still receive money, but I can't send
any, I can't get to the money in my own account, and I can't close the
account. Oh, well. At least when I was able to access my account again,
I found that the balance seemed correct. It's sitting at about $250
now, and I seldom let it get much higher than that. I have them cut me
a physical check and mail it to me each time the balance exceeds $250.
Yesterday evening, I got email from PayPal saying that my account was
now usable again, so they beat their ten-day estimate handily.
Netflix has done a lot better this month than last. In January, they
sent me only 13 discs. For February, counting the two discs due to
arrive today, they've sent me 19, one of which was damaged and
unreadable. Still, at a net 18 discs per month, I'm happy. I wasn't at
all happy at 13.
- Here's an important article
that warns about the triumph of Political Correctness, the death of
democracy, and the social, political, and economic collapse of Europe.
- Hmmm. Xandros sent me email last night to invite me to
join the Xandros 4 Beta Team. I think I'll pass.
I was a very active beta tester for Xandros 3, and when Xandros asked
for V4 beta volunteers six weeks or so ago, I expected Xandros
to accept my application immediately. They didn't, and I'd
forgotten about it until their email arrived last night. Apparently,
they're doing the same thing they did for V3: start with a relatively
small group of beta testers and then later expand beta testing to
include many more beta testers for the final phase of testing.
That probably means that V4 is imminent, so I'll just wait for the
actual release. Then, I'll do my own testing in-house before I roll out
Xandros 4 on our production systems. I'm looking forward to seeing what
they've come up with for V4. If my experience beta testing V3 is any
indication, I'd expect V4 to ship later this month.
I followed up with O'Reilly yesterday about the review copies of Repairing & Upgrading Your PC.
Apparently, they're a bit behind schedule. The book was originally
listed as a 1 February release, but the books aren't expected in the
warehouse until next week. The review copies should be mailed out soon
after the books arrive in the warehouse.
I got a couple of early copies, and I noticed that they were printed in
Canada, which probably explains at least part of the delay. Four-color
printing is expensive, particularly if it's done in the US. O'Reilly
has to make a trade-off between printing cost and time. Having the book
printed in the US would have meant it was available immediately, but
the cost would have been very high. They could have had it printed in
the Far East, which would have been a lot cheaper, but taken a lot
longer. My guess is that Canada was a compromise between cost and
- I wonder why anyone bothers paying for express shipping from
Amazon.com. Yesterday, at 11:25 a.m., I ordered a couple of books from
them. My order qualified for free shipping, so that's what I chose. As
usual, Amazon told me it would take forever for my books to arrive--in
this case, 10 March. As usual, it won't take anywhere near
that long. Last night, Amazon sent me an order confirmation email
with a UPS tracking number. Here's what I found when I checked status
on the UPS web site this morning:
So, if I'd chosen the fastest, most expensive shipping option, I might
have had the books today. Or it might have been Friday anyway,
since Amazon doesn't promise same-day shipping even if you opt for
overnight delivery. Any of the intermediate shipping options would have
gotten the books to me no earlier than Friday or even Monday, which is
what the free shipping option gets me. Even when Amazon has shipped
books to me via USPS, it seldom takes longer than three or four days
for them to arrive. I'd have to be pretty impatient to pay a lot more
for express shipping just to save myself a day, or two at the outside.
I'm in the heads-down writing phase of both new books, so there's not
much to write about here.
I finally settled on MegaStar
planetarium software to generate charts for the new astronomy book.
In addition to having more accurate databases than any other
planetarium software I know about, MegaStar has one key feature that I
absolutely needed. All planetarium software allows me to filter the
objects that appear on a chart by various criteria, such as magnitude,
object type, and so on. But only MegaStar, as far as I know, allows me
to specify by individual object whether or not that object is to appear
on the chart. That means I can use MegaStar to produce charts that
include the specific objects that I want to appear on the chart,
and no others.
I spent quite a bit of time playing around with various planetarium
programs. Originally, our plan was to provide the charts in electronic
form. Rob Romano, the graphics guru at O'Reilly, would import those
charts, clean them up, substitute appropriate fonts for labels, and so
on. The problem is, there are going to be a lot of charts. So I spent a
lot of time trying to minimize the work that Rob (and I) would have to
do to get clean, usable charts. The other problem is that, as good as
Rob is at graphics, he's not an astronomer. So it would be quite
possible that in the process of cleaning up a chart he would do
something undesirable. That would mean that I'd have to examine each
finished chart very carefully to ensure that it was correct.
The solution was simple in concept, but difficult in execution. I would
have to produce the final charts myself, and they'd have to look good
enough to be used directly, without any cleanup from Rob. As it turned
out, MegaStar was the only software that had both the flexibility and
the output quality necessary to do that job.
So we've settled on a process. I'll produce the charts here, print them
on our laser printer, and scan them at 600 dpi in 8-bit grayscale. I'll
send the scan files to Rob, who can drop them in as is, or scale them
up or down if necessary to fit.
- Brian Bilbrey's post
yesterday got me thinking about brand names. Until I was in my
mid-20's, I drank Pepsi. I wouldn't have even considered drinking Coke.
Then one day, I just started drinking Coke. And I wouldn't even
consider drinking Pepsi. If we were at a restaurant that offered only
Pepsi, I'd order coffee or iced tea.
Then, a few years ago, Coke decided to start boosting its prices. For
several years, 2-litre bottles of Coke or Pepsi had normally sold for
$0.99, sometimes for $0.79 on sale. The 3-litre bottles were usually
$1.49, or $1.29 on sale. For some reason, 3-litre bottles disappeared
from the market. Pepsi kept its 2-litre bottles at $0.99, and Coke
began raising its prices. First they went to $1.19, then $1.29, and now
2-litre Cokes sometimes sell for $1.49. Pepsi has pretty much
maintained the $0.99 price point all along. When I found out about
that, I told Barbara that, although I slightly
preferred Coke, their price gouging was offensive to me. So I
asked her to buy Coke from then on if it was the same price or less
than Pepsi, but otherwise to buy Pepsi.
I am the nightmare of advertisers and marketers. By now, my buying
preferences were supposed to be cast in stone. That's why advertisers
focus on the 18-49 demographic, or even the 18-34, and ignore older
people. The younger folks are supposed to be swayable by
advertising, whereas us older folks are supposedly set in our ways.
In reality, I think the situation is just the opposite. Young people
are set in their ways, and those ways are defined by whatever happens
to be popular. Older folks realize there's lots of good stuff out there
under various brand names, and even equally good stuff that's not sold
under a popular brand name. Which brings me back to Brian's post about Magnatune.
I read PJ's
post this morning over on Groklaw, where she bemoaned DRM-infested
music and said, " I thought I'd simply die without my music". I emailed
PJ and suggested she give Magnatune a listen, which she says she'll do.
Magnatune's music is not DRM'd, is sharable, and if you choose to
buy an album from them, Magnatune gives the artists 50% of what you
decide to pay for the album. These folks are doing things right, and
they deserve to be rewarded.
So what does any of this have to do with brand names? Simply this.
Magnatune artists aren't familiar names because they don't have
contracts with a major record label. They lack the "brand name" but the
quality of their music is very high, probably higher on average than
the music RIAA companies try to shove down our throats. It's a pity
that many ignore Magnatune for this reason. If they'd simply give a
listen to what Magnatune offers, they'd probably change their minds
For years, I've been encouraging Barbara to buy CDs only directly from
the artists, and to give Magnatune a try. She'd been buying CDs from a
couple of major-label music clubs she belonged to. For Barbara, the
Sony rootkit thing was the last straw. One night, she announced that
she'd dropped her memberships in both her music clubs, and wouldn't buy
any more music from the major labels.
So I set her up to listen to Magnatune tracks. The voiceover on the
free tracks drives her nuts, but I pointed out that Magnatune really
needs to do this so that people who hear the track second- or
third-hand will know where it came from and where to get more of the
same. Last night, Barbara mentioned that she'd read Brian's post, and
asked some questions about Magnatune. She wasn't aware, for example,
that we could buy an album from Magnatune in .wav format, and use those
files to burn her a real CD for her car, in addition to ripping the
.wav files to MP3s for her portable music player. Now that she knows
that, I suspect she'll be buying some albums from Magnatune.
Magnatune allows the buyer to set the price, typically from $5 to $18
for an album. Actually, even at the lowest price, that's more than
Barbara was paying on average for a CD from one of her music clubs. But
those clubs exploit the artists, who probably average literally only a
few cents from each album sold. If Barbara chooses to pay the minimum
$5 for an album, the artist gets $2.50 from Magnatune.
Most Magnatune buyers choose voluntarily to pay more than the minimum.
I seem to remember that the average, far from being the expected $5 per
album, is something like $8.70. I told Barbara that paying $5 seemed a
bit too little to me, and that $10 seemed fairer to the artists. So
we'll see what she decides to buy and how much she decides to pay for
- Over on the messageboard, Larry McGinn comments about
Magnatune, saying "Magnatune
is the epitome of mediocrity and it isn't worth the price of
admission." Larry is a musician, which I am not, but I don't share his
disdain for the music available on Magnatune. I've listened to some of
their baroque/classical tracks and some of the Celtic stuff, and to my
ears it's as good or better than much of the stuff that Barbara has
bought on commercial CDs. Of course, the thing about Magnatune is that
you can listen for yourself. If you don't like it, don't buy it.
Thanks to everyone who's commented about possible solutions for
generating charts by printing to postscript files and so on.
Unfortunately, I have no choice. I must print the charts on paper
and scan them, because the Megastar software, which I need to use for
its flexibility, uses overlays that are not present in charts that are
printed to a file.
For example, if I put a Telrad or finder circle on a chart and print
that chart to paper, the Telrad or finder circle is printed along with
the chart. But that Telrad or finder circle is created as an overlay,
and if I print that same chart to a file, the chart itself is present
in the file, but the overlays are not. Someone suggested that this was
probably caused by a defective driver, but it's not. Megastar is
designed to work that way, and it says in the manual that overlays are
not present in print-to-file charts. And indeed they are not, as I have
verified by experiment. So, I'll have to print all my charts to paper
and scan them. O'Reilly tells me that doing a 600 dpi scan in 8-bit
grayscale will result in charts that will look fine in the printed book.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Robert Bruce