After I replaced the CPU cooler fan in Barbara's current main system
yesterday, she commented that she can't hear the system at all. The
loudest noise it makes is the sound of the Seagate Barracuda hard drive
seeking. This system is in an original Antec Sonata case, with no
special measures taken for sound reduction. When I do get around to
replacing her main system, I'll clean this one up, replace the rubber
band with plastic-coated twist-ties or Tie-Wraps, and donate it.
Meanwhile, the noise reduction with Barbara's system has me again
thinking about doing something about my den system, which is a BTX
Pentium D box. The bundled Intel BTX cooler is noisier than I'd like. I
didn't do anything about it initially, because the BTX cooler is an
integrated assembly that may require a bit of hacking rather than a
simple drop-in fan replacement. Still, the potential noise reduction
may well be worth a bit of effort. That system, which has a gigabyte or
two of memory and a fast dual-core processor, is more than fast enough
to keep me happy for the next couple of years.
Friday, I managed to shoot myself in the foot. I was working on charts
for the Orion constellation chapter. The main chart in each chapter is
a full-page constellation chart, which I scale to fit a page. (Some
constellations are small and compact; others are huge and straggling.)
Ordinarily, I generate charts with north up, but in the case of Orion,
I decided to put it on its side, with north to the right. That allowed
me to use a field width of 35°, which is fairly large scale for an
entire constellation. So far, so good.
The problem arose when I noticed that the sword area of Orion was too
cluttered on the printed chart. There are half a dozen featured objects
in that small area, and on the full-page chart they had stomped all
over each other, leaving an unreadable black blob of toner. So I
started looking for a way to "hide" some of them, planning to eliminate
enough of the closely-grouped ones to make the chart readable.
I'm using Willmann-Bell's MegaStar software to produce the charts. It's
extremely flexible, so I knew there must be some way to do what I
wanted to do. Sure enough, I found it. When I clicked on the clutter,
up popped a dialog box for M 42, the Great Nebula in Orion. I
right-clicked on that dialog box, and chose properties. The Auto Filter
Mode Display Threshold dialog appeared, and one of the choices on that
dialog was a radio button to "Hide at all field sizes". Aha. I happily
clicked that radio button, and M 42 disappeared from the chart.
One by one, I then highlighted the half dozen other objects in that
small area of the chart and told MegaStar to hide them at all field
sizes. Once I had all of them hidden, I decided to unhide M 42, which
is the most famous of the objects in that small area, and would serve
to represent all of them. Oooops.
M 42 was invisible, so there was no way to display its dialog to unhide
it. I used the Search function to locate M 42. MegaStar put crosshairs
on the correct position, but didn't display the dialog box for M 42.
Without that dialog box, there's no way to right-click for the
context-sensitive menu that would allow me to unhide it. I tried
everything I could think of, but wasn't able to unhide M 42.
I was at the point of uninstalling and reinstalling the software, when
I found the DSO Utility. Aha. That utility allows me to search for DSOs
by primary designation and modify their properties. That seemed to be
exactly what I needed, and in fact it allowed me to unhide the several
objects around M 42 that I'd previously hidden. The only problem was
that it wouldn't allow me to unhide M 42.
After perusing the manual, I found the fatal flaw. The DSO Utility
works only with primary designators, which for DSOs translates to NGC
numbers. So, although I could search for M 42 and display the record,
MegaStar wouldn't allow me to change the properties for it when it had
been located as M 42 rather than by NGC number. Ordinarily, that
wouldn't be a problem, because M 42 is also known by its primary
designator, NGC 1976. Unfortunately, MegaStar treats NGC 1976 as
including both M 42 (the nebula) and a surrounding open star cluster.
MegaStar represents open star clusters as circles rather than as the
filled blobs it uses for nebulae. The best I could do with the DSO
Utility was to unhide NGC 1976, which put a large unfilled circle
labeled "NGC 1976" at the location of M 42. What I wanted was the
filled blob labeled "M 42". After fighting with it for another hour, I
finally decided a reinstall was the only option.
Then it occurred to me that I had full backups of my MegaStar directory
configuration files. It wasn't a simple matter of copying the backup
configuration files to the working MegaStar directory, because MegaStar
is continuously updating those config file and I didn't want to blow
away everything I'd done since the last backup. Unfortunately, the
config files are binary, and there are quite a few of them. So I copied
the current MegaStar directory to a backup directory and started
playing with copying different backup config files to the working
directory. I eventually got back to where I wanted to be, but only
after several wasted hours.
Oh, well. I'll know better next time.
I'm still working heads-down on the astronomy book, so there's not a
lot to write about here. As usual when I'm busy, I see news items that
I'd like to comment on, but I simply haven't time. I have a conference
call at noon with my editor and publisher at O'Reilly to talk about our
upcoming books. As of now, the astronomy book I'm working on is the
last one we have under contract. I'd like to get at least one new book,
and ideally two or three, nailed down to make sure I don't have any
down time after finishing this one up.
I'm also thinking about doing some hardware maintenance around here.
Barbara's main desktop system is now quiet, and my main desktop system
has always been quiet. As I mentioned yesterday, my den system is too
noisy for my taste, so I'll probably disassemble it and install a
replacement CPU fan. With a BTX system, that may be a bit more involved
because of the BTX monolithic cooler assembly. Then I'll probably
tackle my secondary office desktop, which is reasonably quiet but could
be a lot quieter.
Finally, I may tear down my Falcon Electric UPSs
and quietize them. The main Falcon unit in my office is a big on-line
UPS with a supplemental battery pack, and makes quite a bit of noise.
Both units are the size of standard mini-tower PCs. The UPS itself has
a couple of fans that generate quiet a bit of noise. The battery pack
may also have a fan or two. (I'd have to crawl under my desk to look.)
I may replace whatever fans are in there with Antec or other quiet
But all of that will have to wait until I have some time to spare, which isn't likely to be soon.
Wednesday, 25 October 2006
- Here's an article I never expected to see.
The BBC admits that it's politically and religiously biased,
politically correct, and prejudiced against the United States.
Furthermore, it says the rot is so deeply embedded that it probably
can't be fixed. Now, if only CNN, Fox, the broadcast networks, the New
York Times, and other mainstream media would admit the same, we'd be
Linux, or more particularly KDE, screwed me again. As I typed the
paragraph above the first time, half an hour or so ago, my task bar
disappeared. I had it set to autohide, and it decided to hide
permanently. I ran kdesu kcontrol to bring up the KDE control panel.
Nothing I did in the Hiding section brought back the control panel. I
tried running kicker (the program that provides the task panel)
manually, but no joy. A couple of reboots solved nothing.
This happened to me once before, and I wrote it off as a one-time
glitch. Apparently not. To make a long story short, I finally got my
task panel back. This time I turned off autohide. That may not stop the
task panel from disappearing permanently, but then again it might.
For my own future reference, or for anyone who finds that his task
panel has disappeared permanently, here's what I did to get it back:
1. Right click on the desktop and choose Configure Desktop
2. Click Behavior in the left pane
3. In the right pane, in the middle section (Menu Bar at Top of Screen), mark the middle button (Desktop Menu Bar)
4. A desktop menu bar appears at the top of the screen. Right click in
an empty area of that bar and choose Add New Panel -> Panel
5. An empty task panel appears at the bottom of the screen. Right click
in that bottom empty panel and choose Remove Panel -> Panel (Bottom)
6. The original task panel reappears at the bottom of the screen.
Right click on it, choose Configure Panel, and turn off autohiding.
Thursday, 26 October
Well, based on the conference calls I had with O'Reilly Tuesday and
yesterday, it looks like I'm going to be a busy author for the next
year or two anyway. O'Reilly is in the process of one of their periodic
reshuffles, and we'll now be working with the Make magazine group, for
which our books are clearly the best fit.
One of the participants on the conference call yesterday commented that
our books weren't a good fit for the group we'd been working with. Tell
me about it. We did the first Windows book for O'Reilly, and they had
no convenient place to fit it. They had a boatload of programming and
Unix books, and then our poor little Windows NT book sitting off to the
side pretty much all by itself. Then we did the first PC hardware book
for O'Reilly, and again it didn't fit any of their existing groups.
Then we did the first astronomy book, and once again it was off by
None of that was O'Reilly's fault. It was just that we tend to write
books that don't fit their existing categories. They're good books, if
I do say so myself, but most of them were pretty much standalones in
O'Reilly's line-up. Working with the Make magazine group, that's going
to change. We'll be doing a lot of hands-on, project-oriented books
that will dovetail nicely with the whole Make philosophy.
The first fruits of that change will be the new edition of Building the Perfect PC.
The book itself won't be changed at all, but O'Reilly is repackaging it
with a cover that's more Make-like. I haven't seen the new cover yet,
but I'm looking forward to it. As far as I know, the book is still on
schedule to arrive in bookstores in time for the Christmas selling
The rest of this year I'll spend finishing up the Astronomy Tourist's
Guide book. The first third of next year I'll spend doing a new
computerish book that will join Building the Perfect PC
as a sibling. Then I'll spend some time doing yet another astronomy
book, and in late summer or early autumn I'll start yet another new
book on another topic altogether. I can't say much about that one, but
it's going to be seriously fun to write.
My one major concern in moving to the Make magazine group was that we
have a superb relationship with our current editor, Brian Jepson. From
an author's viewpoint, a good editor is more precious than rubies. I've
worked with Brian for years, and I trust him implicitly. I've told
Brian that if he sees something that needs fixed, just fix it. That
level of trust is extraordinary, and something that can't be developed
with a new editor overnight. Fortunately, O'Reilly recognizes that, and
committed yesterday to allowing Brian to continue to edit our books,
even if he's technically not (yet) in the Make magazine group.
We also talked about pushing beyond traditional book publishing into
other areas, including video. I can just see myself as the new Mr.
Wizard. It's going to be an exciting next few years.
As of this morning, I've finished templating 48 of the 51 constellation
chapters. All that remain are Ursa Major, Virgo, and Vulpecula, which I
hope to finish today or tomorrow.
The templating process is a lot of work, and very picky work at that.
It requires checking the several observing lists we're covering to
determine which objects from each list are in the constellation in
question, verifying the celestial co-ordinates of each object (many of
the observing lists have incorrect co-ordinates for some objects),
deciding the order in which to cover the objects, deciding the best way
for a beginning or intermediate observer to locate each object (which
isn't always the way that we locate the object), generating finder
charts for each object, printing and scanning the finder charts
and generating thumbnails to incorporate in the draft chapters,
examining each chart and producing notes to production regarding any
manual changes that need to be made to the charts, and finally
packaging everything up as a draft chapter. With that done, all that
remains is to write the text to describe the appearance of the object
and the directions for finding it.
After I finish templating the chapters, I'm going to take a couple days
to work on a proposal, outline, and table of contents for each of the
three or four books that I'll be working on in the coming year or so.
Then I'll probably need to take another couple days to review galleys
of the new edition of Building the Perfect PC.
I haven't gotten those yet, but they're due any time now. Once that's
complete, I start heads-down work on producing the text for the
constellation chapters, which should carry me through year end or
nearly so. One way or another, 2007 is shaping up to be a busy year for
Saturday, 28 October
I almost finished templating constellation chapters yesterday. I got
most of the way through Virgo, which was the last one to be done. I'll
finish that one up today, and then start work on
proposals/outlines/TOCs for the next three or four books I plan to
The big news on the Linux front is that Oracle plans to fork Red Hat
Enterprise Linux. Red Hat's stock took a major hit on the news, and
everyone seems to be predicting gloom and doom for Red Hat. I don't see
it. If I want to run RHEL at home, I'm going to run a white-box version
and not pay anyone anything. If I want to run RHEL for business, I'm
going to run real RHEL, not a forked abomination. The cost of RHEL
licenses is trivial compared to my other costs in a business
environment. I want the real thing, and saving a few bucks by going
with Oracle just isn't in the cards.
If Oracle really wanted to reduce the cost of computing, they'd do
something about the cost of their Oracle licenses, which are hideous.
Obviously, that's not going to happen until MySQL and other OSS
database software forces Oracle's hand, which I understand is starting
to happen. My opinion is that Oracle is pissed at Red Hat about JBoss
and decided to hurt them by stealing some of their customers. I can't
imagine that many Red Hat customers are foolish enough to go for that
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Robert Bruce