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Week of 17 July 2006

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Monday, 17 July 2006
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08:31 - There I was, working my butt off yesterday afternoon, when Brian Bilbrey sent me a link to yet another time-wasting site. This one's a picture-of-the-day site, and definitely isn't work-safe. Among other things, it has pinup girls for geeks, like this one and this one. Oh, well. I needed a break anyway. Thanks, Brian.

I had to take some time off yesterday to reorganize our data. The working data directory was approaching the capacity of a writable DVD, as was the holding directory into which I sweep stuff pending its move to the archive directories. So I swept our older working data and the contents of the holding directory into the archive directories and pulled new backups of the archive directories. That now requires seven DVDs, not counting audio and video data.

I wrote the archive directory data to 16X Verbatim DVD+R discs, and after I burned each disc I did an in-depth surface scan. The scan actually takes much longer than the burn. Ordinarily, doing the scan is a waste of time, because Verbatim discs are always about as close to perfect as you'll ever see. This time it was worth it, though. Six of the seven discs were nearly perfect, but disc number four was terrible. It was nearly perfect through about 3.5 GB, but then went completely to hell. I reburned and rescanned that disc, and the new disc was nearly perfect. Even Verbatim lets a bad disc get through once in a great while.

I now have some breathing room. Our working data directories are down to about 1.7 GB, and the holding directory is empty. That means I can add about 7 GB of new data before I have to redo the archive backups. That'll happen quicker than you might think. When we build a project system, I shoot many more images than we actually use, usually in the ratio of 5:1 or 10:1. If we use 50 or 60 images in a chapter, those might be selected from 250 to 500 images that I actually shot during the build. I suppose I could just delete the unused ones, but at times we've had to go back and replace an image that was unsuitable for one reason or another, so I prefer to keep them handy.

One frequent problem is poor focus. Autofocus simply doesn't work very well for close-up work when we're building PCs. Even Barbara's digital SLR often guesses wrong. Even when it guesses right, there are sometimes problems with depth-of-field. The relatively weak flash requires relative large apertures, which provide limited depth of focus. And even when everything else works perfectly, there is often reflected glare from the flash that makes an otherwise good image unusable.

We're going to try something different starting today. We bought some 100W GE Reveal neodymium bulbs at Home Depot a couple weekends ago. These are the bulbs that look light blue whent they're not burning. The neodymium compound on the inside surface of the bulbs filters out a lot of the excess yellow light, giving light that's almost daylight quality. I put a couple of those bulbs in gooseneck desk lamps, and we'll use them to light the shots. Using 200W of light only a foot or two from the subject should allow us to use relatively small apertures and fast shutter speeds. Unwanted reflections should also be obvious in the viewfinder. We'll see how it works.


Tuesday, 18 July 2006
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08:52 - Sunday evening, I transfered some digital camera images that Barbara shot on her last trip up to the Walgreen's server. Yesterday morning, I logged onto their server and ordered some prints to be made, which Barbara was to pick up and pay for on her way home from work. The prints were supposed to be ready any time after 1:22 p.m., so I called Barbara and let her know they'd be waiting for her. I thought nothing more about it until she called me from Walgreen's to say that the prints weren't there and Walgreen's had no record of the order.

I called up the screenshot I'd made of the final page of the order and gave the clerk at Walgreen's the order number. They had no record of that, nor any record that we'd ever had prints made there before. Very strange. So I called the toll-free number for Walgreen's on-line photo department and spoke to a nice young woman who told me that their server had failed and was basically a smoking pile of rubble. (I asked her if they were running Linux or Windows, but she had no idea.) She said that since that morning all over the country people were arriving at Walgreen's stores to find that their photo orders had been lost or only partially printed. She suggested that I wait a day or two and then resubmit the order. She credited our account with 20 free prints as an apology for the inconvenience.

I called back and spoke to the clerk at the local Walgreen's, another nice young woman, who had no idea what had happened. She thanked me for letting her know what was going on. When Barbara arrived home, she showed me a rain-check receipt that they'd given her, good for 50% off the price of our re-order. So, between the 20 free prints and the 50% off coupon, the print order that would have cost $11.02 will end up costing us $3.61. That's more than enough to make up for the few extra minutes it'll take Barbara to stop by Walgreen's again to pick up the re-order and to pay for the extra gas for the second trip. They volunteered both discounts. We didn't even have to ask. Walgreen's is a class act.

We shot a bunch of images for the SOHO server system last night. The bad news is that I'm not happy about the color balance using the GE Reveal neodymium bulbs. I'm sure they would have worked fine if we'd been using only them for illumination, but they didn't do well mixed with daylight from the window and the camera's flash, which was needed on many of the images. The good news is that the color balance should be tweakable. It's a bit warm, but not outrageous. I'll just send the images to O'Reilly with a request to their production folks to tweak the color balance. I'd do it myself, but I'm afraid I might screw things up worse. Better to let folks who know what they're doing make the adjustments.

Anyway, I'm back to using just flash.


Wednesday, 19 July 2006
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09:27 - I was so whacked by dinnertime yesterday that I decided to take the evening off. Barbara had skipped going to the gym in order to be available for shooting images after dinner, but I was simply too exhausted mentally to continue working. Of course, that just means I'll have to work harder today to keep from falling too far behind my projected schedule.

For the build part of the chapters, we usually shoot the images first and then I go back and fill in the descriptive text. Today, I don't have any new images to work from, so I'll write descriptive text and we'll shoot the images later to fill it in.

I still don't have a Core 2 processor, and probably won't for 10 days or so. My contact at Intel tells me he's flat out of samples. I understand, because he had to provide samples to web sites, magazines, and other short-deadline places before he provided them to us, with our longer deadlines. Still, it's pushing it to get samples at the end of July when our to-production deadline for the book is 20 August. We'll manage, one way or another. I hope we can use Core 2 in our media center system and our SFF system, but we may have to choose one or the other, depending on timing.

Of course, it's aggravating that Intel is essentially replacing its product line with a new generation of processor just as our deadlines are approaching fast. But the reality is that the project systems we're doing based on Pentium D and other older-generation processors are still current and will remain so for quite some time.

Core 2 isn't going to replace Netburst overnight, much as Intel would like it to. Intel is doing everything it can to ramp up Core 2 production, but it'll probably be the end of the year or early 2007 before Core 2 is widely available for build-it-yourself systems. My sources tell me that right now Dell and the other big OEMs are sucking up every Core 2 processor that Intel can ship. It'll only get worse when Apple starts shipping Core 2 systems. I expect that the Pentium D will remain widely available in the channel for the next year or so.

In addition to availability issues, there are pricing issues. Right now, motherboards compatible with Core 2 are quite expensive. Intel is cutting the prices of the Pentium D dramatically. That and the less expensive motherboards for Pentium D make the choice between the two technologies anything but a no-brainer. The fastest Pentium D processors are faster than the slowest Core 2 processors, and cost slightly less. That's particularly true in Q4 and beyond, because Intel is likely to continue to cut the prices of Pentium D while keeping Core 2 at the same prices until availability is no longer constrained, although the Core 2 Celeron replacement and the Core 2 Solo loom on the horizon.

Of course, Core 2 uses less power, but when I calculated the differential electricity cost of running a Pentium D versus a Core 2, it came out to something like seven cents a day, or about $25 a year. Of course, that extra power consumption adds to the cooling burden during warm months, but it reduces the heating burden during cold months, so I figured that part was a wash.


Thursday, 20 July 2006
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08:38 - Still heads-down writing.

We're in monsoon season here. Daily high temperatures near 100°F (38°C) and afternoon/evening thunderstorms. Last night, a storm popped up that delivered nearly 1" (2.5cm) of rain in less than 10 minutes. There was also some heavy hail.

Which reminds me that I should get someone to look at our roof. A couple years ago, I had the dogs out in the front yard and saw a guy from a roofing company looking at the house next door. That roof had been replaced only a year or two prior, so I asked him what he was doing. He said there'd been severe hail damage to the new roof, and that he was working up a quote for replacing it.

The roof looked fine to me, so I asked him to take a look at our roof. Just standing in the front yard and looking up at our roof, he said it also had severe hail damage. I couldn't see any damage at all, even when I climbed up on the roof and looked closely. I called our insurance company and they sent out an adjuster. The adjuster confirmed that there was severe hail damage, and we ended up getting a new roof. It cost about $4,000, of which the insurance company paid all but the $500 deductible. I'd hate to think that our new roof suffered hail damage during the storm last night, but I suppose I'd better get someone who knows what he's doing to look at it.

12:41 - Only around here.

When we're building project systems for a book, we end up with parts all over the house. There's an Antec Fusion media center case sitting in the foyer as I write this, and a couple of motherboards sitting on my Ottoman in the den.

We use the kitchen table for the actual build, but parts always overflow into the adjacent dining room. As I was working on the SOHO Server chapter a few minutes ago, I needed to check something. It wasn't on the kitchen table, so I went to look on the dining room table. Here's what I found.

Yep, that's Barbara's Ruger .357 Magnum lying in a basket. I have no idea when or why she put it there or how long she intends to leave it. Barbara and Grace Slick share a taste for interior decorating with firearms.


Friday, 21 July 2006
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08:19 - Barbara and I did a marathon session last night to finish shooting the images for the SOHO Server system. This morning, I'll choose the best from among the several hundred images I shot. I'll drop them into the text that's already written, do some cleanup, and finish the SOHO Server chapter. Tomorrow, we start on the gaming system.

I did realize one thing last night that surprised me. I'd been shooting all the images with Barbara's digital SLR. As I was attempting to shoot images of one task that was in particularly close quarters, I finally realized that I could use my little Concord D5345 digital camera instead. That camera is about the size of a pack of king-size cigarettes, and can fit in places where there's no hope of fitting the digital SLR. Sure enough, the D5345 let me get images that I couldn't have gotten with the larger camera.

All of this really makes me appreciate digital photography. If we'd been doing this book in pre-digital days, I'd have probably shot Ektachrome slides in one of our Pentax bodies with the 50mm Pentax Macro lens. After we finished a session, I'd have had to run down to the darkroom, process and dry the slides, and check them with a loupe to make sure I'd gotten the images I needed. Then, if I didn't want to send the originals to O'Reilly and risk losing them in transit, I'd have had to print the ones I wanted to use and do high-resolution scans to send to O'Reilly. Either that, or buy a good slide scanner, which wasn't cheap.

Digital really is the way to go, at least when its low resolution compared to 35mm Kodachrome or medium- or large-format stuff is acceptable.


Saturday, 22 July 2006
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Sunday, 23 July 2006
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Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.