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Week of 2 October 2006

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Monday, 2 October 2006
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08:27 - Every Sunday, Brian Bilbrey posts a list of our casualties. Every Sunday, I read that list, looking at the names, ages, and hometowns of those who died defending us, and I reflect upon their sacrifices. Most of them are young enough to be my sons and daughters, and I grieve for each and every one of them.

The deaths of our young men are bad enough, but periodically the name of a young woman appears on the list. That affects me even more deeply, I suppose because I consider it the job of men to defend women and children, with our lives if necessary, not to put them in the firing line. It's certainly true that at times women will have to fight, but to put them on the firing line routinely as a matter of policy strikes me as so wrong on so many levels that I'm at a loss to understand how this could have happened.

The name of a young woman appeared on Brian's page yesterday:

1st Lt. Ashley L. (Henderson) Huff, 23, of Belle Mead, N.J., died of injuries suffered in Mosul, Iraq, on Sept.19, when a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated near her mounted patrol during combat operations.

I often search the web to find out more about our fallen heroes and heroines, and I did so for Lt. Huff. Looking at her picture and reading a little bit about her life, I am filled with regret that we have lost her so young and with so much potential unfulfilled. And, as I reflect upon the fact that she is only one of thousands of our lost best and brightest, I wonder how anyone could think that such a nebulous goal as "democracy for Iraq" could be worth the loss of one such person, let alone thousands.

Work on the new astronomy book has kicked into high gear. I'll be in heads-down mode until it's finished, so as usual the posts here will be catch as catch can.


Tuesday, 3 October 2006
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08:43 - Bulgarian airbags, indeed. A Sofia woman avoided serious injury in an automobile accident when her silicone-enhanced 40DD bosom functioned as air bags, absorbing the impact. Unfortunately, her boobs exploded on impact.

McAfee and Symantec are upset with Microsoft because Vista will lock them out of the kernel. This is one of those situations where I wish everyone could lose. All three of them rank very high on my personal list of obnoxious companies. Microsoft says, rightly in my opinion, that they're under no obligation to grant kernel access to third-party software. Although they cloak their objections as concern for customers, the real reason McAfee and Symantec are squealing like stuck pigs is that they fear their lucrative anti-virus subscription businesses will disappear. What a bunch of weasels.

The great Firefox javascript exploit turns out to be a tempest in a teapot. There's no zero-day exploit, no 30 unrevealed flaws, and no remote execution. At worst, an exploit against the one revealed flaw might be able to crash the browser. Big whoop.


Wednesday, 4 October 2006
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08:22 - I'm still heads-down writing on the new astronomy book. Or, more accurately, heads-down working. I'm not doing much writing at all at the moment. Instead, I'm checking the object lists for each constellation, verifying the position of each object, and generating finder charts for each. It's very picky, time-consuming, detail-oriented work, but it's important that the book be as accurate as possible.

Once I've completed that process for each constellation chapter, I can begin flowing in the text itself, most of which will be generated from our own planning and observing notes, but some of which, particularly instructions for locating each object, we'll have to reconstruct. In the field, we work from printed charts and planetarium software, which means we have few or no records of how we located particular objects. Still, that's nearly always easy enough to reproduce, either from memory or because it's obvious from the charts how best to get from point A to point B.


Thursday, 5 October 2006
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09:21 - So, the screw continues to turn. Microsoft has announced that the WGA function in Vista will disable the system if the OS is not activated within 30 days of installation, or if WGA decides for some reason that your installation is unauthorized. By "disable", I mean that Vista will refuse to run applications other than Internet Explorer, which it will allow you to run for one hour before automatically logging you out. During that time, you can use IE to download only critical updates and presumably to buy a new license.

Microsoft has lost its collective mind, it seems, and appears to believe that everyone else has as well. Why would any sane person install Vista, knowing that it may by design stop working at any time? Even if Microsoft's "piracy detection" is perfect, that's a risk I wouldn't want to take. And Microsoft's "piracy detection" is far from perfect.

I swore off using copy-protected software like this 20 years ago, when a copy protection failure put the screws to one of my customers. I don't recall the specific software in question. It may have been AutoCAD. But this software used a dongle. Late one Friday afternoon, I got a call from the customer that the software had stopped working, just as they were in the finishing stages of an important project. I drove over to check things out. After some fiddling, we concluded that the dongle had died.

The customer needed this software to finish up a key project that needed to be done Monday morning. The software company support lines were closed until Monday morning, so we were out of luck. Fortunately, the customer had a second system with the software installed that still worked. They ended up using that second computer in overnight shifts all weekend to get the project finished. If they hadn't had that second system, they'd have been royally screwed. As it was, they worked round the clock and finished the project early Monday morning.

Vista doesn't use a dongle, but the principle is the same. Better to hang one hundred innocent men than allow one guilty man to go free.


Friday, 6 October 2006
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08:08 - We awoke this morning to news of a huge fire at a hazardous waste plant in Apex, NC, about 80 miles east of us. As I write this, the plant is still burning furiously. Unfortunately, the forecast calls for rain all day, which is the last thing the firefighters want. More than half of the town's 32,000 population have been evacuated, with more expected to be evacuated as the wind shifts this morning. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported yet, although the whole area stinks of chlorine.

Back in March, state regulators cited and fined the plant's owner, Environmental Quality Industrial Services of Wayne, Michigan, for various safety violations, including unsafe storage practices. Apparently, that did little good. To my mind, siting a hazardous waste plant in a residential area is a stupid idea. To then run it in a slipshod manner is breathtakingly irresponsible. Although this disaster is obviously not on the scale of Bhopal, I expect the lawsuits that result from it will destroy Environmental Quality Industrial Services, just as Bhopal destroyed Union Carbide.

11:45 - Oh, goody. I just visited the Blockbuster.com site to cancel my free trial. Here's what I found.

I hope the site is back up soon. I'm going to be very upset if it's not back up in time for me to cancel before they bill me.

I would have thought that the purpose of a free trial was to encourage people to sign up for the paid service. Apparently not in Blockbuster.com's case, unless this really is the best they can do. If so, it's pathetic. Blockbuster.com is inferior in every way to Netflix. The web site sucks. The selection is inferior. And the shipping times are ridiculous. So far, every disc that Blockbuster has shipped me has had a 2- or 3-day ETA. In one case, the post office got the disc here in one day, but otherwise the ETAs have been accurate. The returns are just as bad. So far, I've not had one disc acknowledged as returned within one day, which is pretty odd considering that their distribution center is in Charlotte, which is within the one-day service range for us. I conclude that Blockbuster.com has inferior processes for shipping and receiving discs, or that they intentionally fail to log in discs as received on the day they actually arrive.

In any event, Blockbuster has sufficiently impressed me with its inferiority that I'll never join their service.


Saturday, 7 October 2006
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Sunday, 8 October 2006
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