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Week of 21 August 2006

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Monday, 21 August 2006
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09:52 - The book is off to O'Reilly. I'll still be getting queries from time to time, but basically it's out of our hands.

Nothing is ever easy. I decided I wanted another 19" LCD display to use on my desk as a secondary display. The Costco web site had a ViewSonic VA902b, which is their entry-level model, for $199. It's analog-only, but that's okay for a secondary display. I checked the NewEgg site, which had the same monitor for $197 with free shipping. I prefer to buy displays locally, so when Barbara and I made a Costco run yesterday, I looked for the VA902b.

Alas, the local Costco didn't stock that model. They did have a VG2021b, which is a 20" model from their mid-range Graphics series, for $299. That model has analog and digital inputs, and is generally a nicer display, so I decided to pay the extra $100 for it. When I got home, I checked the NewEgg site and found that NewEgg was selling the VG2021b for $240 with free shipping, but there was also a $30 manufacturer rebate, for a net of $210. That rebate was available only if you bought from one of a small list of vendors, which included NewEgg but not Costco.

I decided $90 was too high a premium, so I ordered a VG2021b from NewEgg. Barbara had to pick up her parents, who were returning from a bus tour, on that side of town yesterday evening, so she returned the display to Costco.


Tuesday, 22 August 2006
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08:46 - Today I start clearing the decks, literally. Most of my office floor, not to mention my secondary desk, is covered with boxes and PC components left over from building the project systems for the book. The dining room table and floor are partially covered as well, and I won't even talk about my workroom. Over the next few days, I'll try to get all of that cleaned up. I'll store the good stuff and pitch the junk.

Oddly enough, of the six project systems we built, only the Budget PC and Mainstream PC are fully assembled and functional. The others are still sitting around with their covers off and various components missing. We'll get the Gaming PC reconstructed first, because that's destined to be Barbara's new main system. All it lacks is a video adapter, which I stole when the video adapter in my main office desktop system failed. Then we'll get Xandros 4 installed on that box and migrate all Barbara's stuff over from her old Xandros 3 Pentium 4/3.2 system. Once we're sure everything is working properly on her new system, we'll clean up her old system, wipe the hard drive, install K/Ubuntu on it, and donate it.

Then we need to get the SOHO Server put back together and running. We intended to install that in Barbara's office, but instead we're going to install it in my office, or perhaps even downstairs in the basement. Either that, or replace the cable run to Barbara's office with something that'll support 1000BaseT. I also need to order an 8- or 16-port D-Link 1000BaseT switch to replace the 100BaseT unit we're using right now. The main reason I'm considering putting the SOHO Server in my office is to keep all the 1000BaseT stuff local. That way, I don't have to worry about replacing the cable runs out to Barbara's office, the den, and elsewhere. They can continue to run 100BaseT.

In the next few days, I'll jump back into the new astronomy book, which we put on hold while we finished the PC book. We hope to have the astronomy book complete by early December, just as the new PC book arrives in bookstores. After that, we hope to get started on a new book, which we hope will actually turn out to be a series of new books. I just spent an hour yesterday on a conference call with my editor and publisher at O'Reilly, doing the initial pitch for the new book/series. They're interested, which means I have to spend some time doing an initial proposal and outline/TOC. I want to get a contract hammered out for the new book no later than November so that we can start work on it as soon as the astronomy book draft manuscript is complete.

Ripping Barbara's CD collection continues apace. I'm up to something like 2,000 tracks and 10 GB so far, and I've actually started to put a noticeable dent in the stacks of CDs waiting to be ripped. KAudioCreator makes the process very easy. Every time the DVD drive tray opens, I just pull the disc that's in there and put in a new one. KAudioCreator takes care of the rest, ripping the tracks, converting them to MP3s, and storing them in a hierarchical directory structure by artist and album.

I do need to do a bit of manual cleanup occasionally. For example, one disc I recently ripped was stored under the top-level directory "/mp3/Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers". Another was stored, incredibly, as "/mp3/Petty, Tom; and the Heartbreakers" and still another as "/mp3/Tom Petty and the Hearbreakers". Still, that's easy enough to deal with. I just cut/paste the album directory to the correct top-level directory and delete the weirdly-named top-level directory where it was originally stored.

The real problem is classical. It always makes sense to store rock CDs by artist name and then album title. (Collections are stored by album title under "Various Artists".) Classical is different, because the composers and the performers are both important. For example, I just ripped a two-disc set of Igor Kipnis on harpsichord performing Bach. Does that go under Igor Kipnis or under Johann Sebastian Bach?


Wednesday, 23 August 2006
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08:22 - Bo Leuf has posted an interesting article, Why We Are Retiring Xandros. Although I haven't experienced most of the problems he lists, I do understand the general thrust of his argument. Basically, Bo knows far too much about Linux to be happy with Xandros, at least as his primary OS.

Think of Xandros as Linux with Training Wheels, and you won't be far wrong. Just as a bicycle with training wheels makes it possible to learn to ride without too many spills, Xandros lets newbies ease into using Linux without having to deal with most of the problems and frustrations they're likely to encounter with other distros. Xandros remains, in my opinion, the best choice of distro for Windows refugees. It's also an excellent choice for call centers and similar limited-function business desktops. But it's a poor choice for someone who wants to spread his wings and investigate the wider world of Linux.

I dithered about whether to install Xandros 4 or K/Ubuntu on Barbara's new system. I'm sticking with K/Ubuntu for mine, and have finally decided to install the same on Barbara's desktop. Probably Kubuntu for both of us, although I've been using Ubuntu for some time and have found a lot to like (and hate) about Gnome. I think what it really comes down to is that I don't need training wheels any longer. Not that I'm a Linux expert. I'm not. On the newbie/guru continuum, I'm still firmly on the newbie side. But I do know enough now to be comfortable working with K/Ubuntu, and it does offer immensely more flexibility than Xandros.

The other issue is that my distaste for any form of commercial software is growing. If I ever get a call from the BSA Gestapo, I want to be able to tell them to screw off because I'm using only FOSS. I've read too many horror stories about small businesses suffering at the hands of these goons to have any desire to leave them even the slightest wedge into our business.

It comes as a shock to no one, but Iran says it will continue its uranium enrichment program. The United States, Europe, and the UN are all making weak, ineffective protests, but it's clear to everyone that Iran plans to continue full speed ahead with its project to create nuclear weapons.

Why, I wonder, has no one spoken the plain truth? There is no way that we will permit these Islamic nutcases to develop nuclear weapons, and we'll do whatever is necessary to prevent that from happening. If the United States doesn't do it, rest assured that Israel will. Dimona must be on its highest alert status now, prepared at any moment to deliver armed nuclear warheads to Israeli attack aircraft. The Israelis harbor no illusions about Islam. They can't afford to.

In the long run, we can't, either. The attacks on 9/11 were merely the opening shot in the latest phase of the war to the death between Islamic barbarism and Western civilization. Islam has been at war with Western civilization for more than a thousand years. Eventually, perhaps we'll notice.


Thursday, 24 August 2006
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09:36 - The ViewSonic VG2021m display arrived from NewEgg yesterday, but I haven't had time to unpack it. This display supports analog and digital inputs, and has a button on the front panel to toggle between modes. That means it's easy to connect this display to two computers and toggle between them.

I intend to move the CRT that's currently connected to the secondary system off my desk. The Samsung 930BF that's currently my primary display will become my secondary display, connected to the secondary digital DVI output on my primary system. The ViewSonic VG2021m will become my main display, connected to the primary digital DVI output on my primary system and to the analog output on the secondary system.

All of that, of course, assumes that I'll be able to get K/Ubuntu to support both displays. I don't expect to have a problem doing that, although the Samsung 930BF is 1280X1024 and the ViewSonic VG2021m is 1400X1050.

Also, since the Samsung 930BF also supports both analog and digital input, I may connect its analog input to the server. I'd planned to run the server headless, but since the analog input on the 930BF would otherwise go unused it may make sense just to connect the server to it. I'd still tunnel to the server for most maintenance, but having a display/keyboard/mouse connected to it would make life easier when I did happen to need to work locally on the server.

It's interesting that I've cut so far back on the computers in my office. At peak, I worked surrounded by nine computers, with five or six sets of monitors/keyboard/mice and a couple of KVM switches. Now I'm down to two desktop systems and eventually a server, with only two displays/keyboards/mice. Well, not counting what's behind me--including the mainstream PC, SFF PC, and Media Center PC from the book--but all of that stuff is in my office only temporarily.

Of course, the three systems I'm down to are pretty capable boxes, with 5 cores, 5 GB of memory, and 5 TB of drive space among them.

14:48 - The ripping of Barbara's music CD collection continues. I'm not finished yet, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. As of a few minutes ago, I'd ripped and encoded about 3,000 tracks, totaling about 15 GB. I can remember when 15 GB was a lot of disk space. Now, it's 0.75% of the total disk space available on my main desktop system. That's a small price to pay for Barbara being able to choose anything from her collection and easily load it into her portable MP3 player.

At some point, I'll probably go back and re-rip Barbara's entire collection of CDs to .WAV files in a parallel directory structure. That might require another 150 GB of disk space, which is nothing nowadays. It'll probably be a few more years before it's realistic to do the same thing with videos. Assuming a collection of 2,000 high-definition DVDs at 25 GB each, that'd be 50 TB. For that to have a similarly small footprint as Barbara's audio does now, I'd need something between 500 TB and 1 PB of disk space, or about 100 times what I have spinning now. I expect our home network to reach that point in maybe 2012.

16:52 - This seems like a worthy cause. I know I have many single male readers, probably more than a few in the metro NYC area, so come on guys. Let's help her out. For that matter, judging by her photo, many of you might be willing to travel.


Friday, 25 August 2006
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10:05 - We drove up to the Wake Forest University Lodge at Fancy Gap, Virginia yesterday afternoon for an observing session. Barbara had to work today, so we got a couple hours observing in and then turned around and drove home. We made it into bed by 1:00 a.m. The weather wasn't great, but we did manage to add half a dozen objects to our bag.

Our friend and neighbor Kim is retired from the USPS on a medical disability. She has constant back pain, often so bad that she's prostrated. The only possible solution is surgery, but she's been told that there's a fairly high probability that she could end up paralyzed if she undergoes the surgery. She's 44 years old, widowed, and has a daughter who just turned 13.  She doesn't want to take the chance of having surgery until Jasmine is grown up, so she's living with the pain.

Yesterday, I was reading an article in Current Biology, Analgesia Mediated by the TRPM8 Cold Receptor in Chronic Neuropathic Pain. Apparently, something as simple as a low-concentration solution of menthol in ethanol applied topically can be very effective in managing such chronic pain. In fact, I remember years ago that drugstores carried several types of rubbing alcohol--plain 70% isopropanol, plain ethanol, and green-tinted ethanol with menthol. Perhaps they still do. I remember my grandmother using the stuff, and she claimed that it worked very well.

When I mentioned the article to Barbara, she reminded me that her sister and brother-in-law had given her some sample packs of a menthol-based topical pain-relieving gel called BIOFREEZE that they swore worked wonders. Barbara tried it and agreed. She had one of the sample packs left, so she gave it to me to give to Kim. We'll see if it helps Kim at all. The stuff isn't sold on-line or in drugstores. Apparently, you can only get it from chiropractors. But if it works, I'm sure Kim could find a local source. Either that, or perhaps she could buy a simple 3.5% solution of menthol in ethanol at the drugstore. For that matter, I could make it up for her.

14:58 - I see that the French cheese-eating surrender monkeys plan to provide 2,000 troops for the peacekeeping force in Lebanon, up from their original commitment of 200 troops. That reminds me of the old joke: First prize - one week in Cleveland. Second prize - two weeks in Cleveland. Or, as George Patton is reported to have said, "I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me."

I don't have any inside information, but I'd be willing to bet that the French expeditionary force is well equipped with white flags.


Saturday, 26 August 2006
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11:53 - I have to admit that the global warming nutcases have a point. As they predicted, the 2006 hurricane season is already the most active in all of recorded history. We've had five named storms and zero hurricanes so far this season, compared to only eleven named storms and five hurricanes at this time last year, with one of those hurricanes a Category 4 and two Category 5. The correlation should be obvious to anyone. Oh, wait.

Actually, I hope the global warming nutcases are right about anthropogenic global warming, although I fear that they're not. Even significant global warming would have a largely beneficial effect, as it always has had in the past. Certainly the grain basket regions would shift further north (or south, in the southern hemisphere), but overall the world would be able to produce more food and sustain more people. The alternative, a long-overdue ice age, would lead to mass extinctions. An ice age would reduce the human population of earth by at least 50% in the short term, and eventually by 90% or more.


Sunday, 27 August 2006
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