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Week of 16 October 2006

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Monday, 16 October 2006
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09:25 - Still heads-down work on the new astronomy book. Over the weekend, I exchanged several emails with my editor and publisher at O'Reilly. Their salespeople need some sample material from the new book to present to book buyers next month, so I need to spend some time today polishing up a couple of sample chapters.

I just went back and looked at some material I'd done back in the spring, before I dropped work on the new astronomy book to get a new edition of Building the Perfect PC done. It'd been long enough that the material was "new" to me. I was surprised how good it is. It won't take a lot of updating and polishing to be ready for the O'Reilly sales people to use as a sample for buyers.


Tuesday, 17 October 2006
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08:33 - North Korea continues to behave like a rabid chipmunk attempting to goad Godzilla into responding. Because it is now a nuclear power, says North Korea, it doesn't have to put up with anything from anyone. Of course, from the news yesterday, North Korea isn't a nuclear power. At best, it managed a squib, using up 4 KT worth of plutonium to produce a 0.2 KT firecracker. Apparently, North Korea intends to try again, although it's anyone's guess as to whether they'll do any better the next time.

Meanwhile, as expected, China and Russia have agreed to only limited and ineffective sanctions, refusing even to inspect shipping arriving in North Korea. They don't want to offend the North Koreans.

All this reminds me that there's nothing new under the sun. Last night, I was reading Churchill's The Gathering Storm. Beginning on page 175, Churchill talks about the League of Nations sanctions against Italy after the invasion of Abyssinia. Those sanctions were not only ineffective, but were designed to be ineffective. For example, the sanctions against Italy placed tough controls on Italy's imports of aluminum, but ignored imports of other metals. The problem was, Italy was self-sufficient in only one metal, of which it produced a surplus. That metal was, you guessed it, aluminum. Conversely, the sanctions carefully avoided placing any controls on imports of petroleum, because those who designed the sanctions were fully aware that restricting Italy's petroleum imports would leave Italy no alternative but going to war. The upshot was that the British man in the street was convinced that his government had put tough sanctions in place against Italy, when in fact there might as well have been no sanctions at all.

For sanctions to be effective against North Korea, they should prevent North Korea from importing or exporting anything at all, including food and medical supplies and most definitely including petroleum. The best way to do that would be to blockade North Korean ports, sinking any ship sailing under any flag that is bound for or departing from those ports. Some materiel would no doubt continue to flow to and from North Korea overland via its borders with China, Russia, and South Korea, but a complete sea blockade would soon choke North Korea into compliance with UN demands.

None of that will happen, of course, because China, Russia, and particularly South Korea fear the response of the rabid chipmunk.


Wednesday, 18 October 2006
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08:07 - The front page of the newspaper this morning featured the Great Winston-Salem Earthquakes of 2006. The first and largest quake hit at 4:56 a.m., and was magnitude 2.6. Barbara and I slept through that one, as did the dogs. There was a magnitude 1.5 aftershock about 7:54 p.m., which no one felt, and a magnitude 2.4 aftershock at 9:10 p.m., which everyone felt.

Barbara and the dogs had just gone back to bed to read (yes, our Border Collies read before lights out) and I was sitting in the den reading. I felt/heard the quake, and immediately assumed it was another quake rather than thunder. It wasn't loud enough to have shaken the house as it did if it had been thunder. According to the news story, the epicenter was about three miles southeast of the center of Winston-Salem. We're about the same distance to the northwest, so I now know what a magnitude 2.4 quake feels like for someone who's six miles from the epicenter.

If you're on the west coast, please don't send me email to scoff at our earthquakes. I know they're weak and pathetic compared to what you're used to. But for us around here, it was a very unusual event.


Thursday, 19 October 2006
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08:55 - Barbara just followed me out to our mechanic's place to drop off the white Trooper for an inspection and oil change. I wasn't sure it needed the oil change. On the one hand, it hadn't been changed since January. On the other, the truck has only 1,000 miles or so on it since the last oil change, and nearly all of that is highway mileage. It's a 1992 model with 48,000 miles on it, and most of that was put on it during its first four or five years. Since I've been working at home, it just doesn't get much use. We leave it loaded with telescopes and observing gear, and bring it out only when we're going out to observe.

I'm having a good time working on the astronomy book. It's a a field guide intended for beginning to intermediate observers. The problem is, I passed that status about 35 years ago, so I have to put myself in the position of someone who's considerably less experienced.

Locating objects is often very difficult for beginning observers. For example, I once watched a beginner spend 15 minutes trying to locate the bright globular cluster M 56 in the constellation Lyra, and she ultimately gave up in frustration. It takes me literally 10 seconds to put M 56 in the eyepiece, and less if I'm using a Telrad bulls-eye finder. I just eyeball the positions of the stars Albireo in Cygnus and Sulaphat in Lyra, point the scope about where it belongs, and there's M 56 in the eyepiece. But I can't tell our readers, "just point the scope where the object is" so I have to put myself in the position of the beginner and give detailed instructions for locating the object.

Our goal for this book is to eliminate or at least greatly reduce the frustration level. We want this book to be the book we wanted when we were getting started, so it's worth taking pains to get things right from a beginner's perspective. That's surprisingly hard work.


Friday, 20 October 2006
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08:36 - Last night, I removed Xandros 4 from my den system and installed Kubuntu. This morning, I read this article, which may not be a coincidence. According to the article, Xandros has re-organized, replaced its CEO, and will now concentrate on its server products. This doesn't bode well for Xandros Desktop. Although I still think Xandros 4 is the best choice of Linux distribution for newbie Windows refugees, Xandros must be being hurt by the new generation of desktop Linuxes like K/Ubuntu.

From my point of view, the freely-available distributions like K/Ubuntu get the newbie 95% of the way there. Xandros gets them 99% there. The problem Xandros must have is that many potential Linux users don't understand that difference. Either that, or they don't consider that difference worth paying for. I continue to think it is worth paying for, but only for rank newbies. With Xandros, tasks like setting up a network printer or mapping a Windows networking share are as easy or easier than doing the same with Windows. With K/Ubuntu, it can be a bit more involved.

And then there's Freespire, which is quite similar to Xandros. If anything, Freespire is even more newbie oriented than Xandros, and it has the advantage of being freely downloadable. Freespire has most of the special newbie-friendly features of Xandros, and, unlike Xandros, Freespire is all GPLd with the exception of the proprietary drivers and other binaries it bundles. Xandros keeps its crown jewels, such as Xandros File Manager, proprietary, but it won't be too difficult for K/Ubuntu and other distributions to replicate those.

Although I would bitterly regret the demise of Xandros Desktop, I'm afraid that we'll never see Xandros 5. Alas.


Saturday, 21 October 2006
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00:00 -


Sunday, 22 October 2006
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10:25 - Barbara mentioned this morning that her PC was whining. That PC is due for replacement. Overdue, actually. I'd planned to replace it over Memorial Day weekend, but had some problems getting the replacement system running. That new system is sitting in the corner, so until I get it up and running Barbara will continue to use her old system, which is a Pentium 4/3.2 or thereabouts.

I figured her system was just dirty, so we popped the cover and vacuumed it out. When I fired it up, it made more noise than before. I thought a wire had fouled the CPU fan, but when I looked that turned out not to be the case. The fan itself was loud and getting louder.

No problem, I figured. I have lots of spare fans around. Unfortunately, the CPU cooler uses a 70mm fan. I had probably 25 or 30 spare fans in 120mm, 80mm, 60mm, and even a couple of 50mm and 40mm units. But no 70mm fans.

Okay, time for plan B. I started looking for a replacement CPU cooler. I found a couple that were compatible, but when I started to uninstall the old cooler, I found that it was one of those that has a special mounting plate that's installed under the motherboard. Aarrrrggggh. I really didn't feel like completely disassembling the PC to install a new cooler.

I finally decided to install an Antec 80mm SmartCool, using only one screw to secure it, but with some rubber cement or something similar to secure the fan to the CPU cooler body. Unfortunately, the SmartCool is considerably thicker than the OEM fan, so the screws weren't long enough. We searched high and low for some screws that would work, but couldn't find any.

So, to make a long story short, the original CPU cooler is still in place, with an 80mm Antec SmartCool fan attached to it using...wait for this...a rubber band. I probably shouldn't admit that, I guess.

Oh, yeah. Barbara's machine is now completely silent and running cool.


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