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Week of 6 November 2006

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Monday, 6 November 2006
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09:24 - I spent Friday afternoon and Saturday morning going over the galley proofs for the first third or so of the new edition of Building the Perfect PC. It's in pretty good shape. I'm expecting the galley proofs for the second third or so today or tomorrow, and the final third soon thereafter. Once I have all of it, I'll post the whole thing on the subscribers' page, along with my own edits and comments.

As always, I'm also going to ask O'Reilly to provide some number of review copies to any of my subscribers who are interested in receiving a printed copy of the book and are willing to post a review of it. Ordinarily, I'd send an email to my subscribers notifying them of that offer. At the moment, though, I don't have a subscriber mailing list. Somewhere in my transition from Mozilla Mail to Kmail, I lost track of that list, so I'm going to have to recreate it from other records.

I'm currently planning projects for 2007, both work-related and personal. One of them is something I've wanted to do for a long time. I now have planning permission from Barbara to convert the kitchen in the downstairs guest suite into a chemistry laboratory. I haven't had my own laboratory since I was a teenager, and it's long overdue. (Every boy should have his own chem lab; every girl, too.)

Nowadays, I can afford to buy stuff that I could only dream about as a teenager, so this lab will be pretty well-equipped for a hobby lab. Of course, I'll have to deal with issues that I didn't have to deal with back then. Ridiculous as it seems, I think I'll probably have to get a DEA license to buy some pretty ordinary chemicals, such as iodine. It could be worse, though. It's a crime for Texas residents to possess an Erlenmeyer flask without a license.

10:48 - Here's the order I just placed with Indigo Instruments. It's a basic set of laboratory glassware, enough to get me started. I'll order more glassware later, including graduated cylinders, burettes, vacuum filtering flask, separatory funnel, and so on, as well as a few larger beakers and flasks. I'm not interested in doing microchemistry, which uses tiny quantities of reagents, often very dilute. I want to work with quantities from a few milliliters to perhaps 100 ml, which is small enough to be economical while large enough to be fun.

I'm also putting together a list of laboratory hardware--ringstands and clamps, burner, balance, etc.--that I'll order once I get things a bit more organized. I also need to make provision for stuff like basic spectroscopy, chromatography, and so on.

# Part No. Description Unit US $ Qty Extended
1 55105 Beaker, 150ml, borosilicate glass (80mm watchglass extra)
NOTE: Allow for up to 25% Breakage *
2 55202 Flask, Erlenmeyer, 125ml, borosilicate glass
NOTE: Allow for up to 25% Breakage *
3 55224 Flask, volumetric, 100ml, borosilicate, glass stopper
4 33770-18R Test tube rack+50 18x150mm tubes+40 stoppers
5 55507 Pipet, 10.0ml, blowout type, borosilicate glass, Class B
NOTE: Allow for up to 25% Breakage *
6 33821 Pipette pump, 10ml (cc), plastic, thumbwheel control
7 55242 Flask, boiling, flat bottom, 250ml, borosilicate glass
NOTE: Allow for up to 25% Breakage *
Product Totals:
39  $95.94
Shipping: $16.54


Tuesday, 7 November 2006
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08:39 - Election Day, and, for the first time since I turned 18 in 1971, I'm considering not voting. The Democrats disgust me. The Republicans disgust me. The Libertarians have no chance of winning.

What I'd like to have is the opportunity to vote straight-ticket for "None of the Above", with the understanding that if None of the Above wins, None of the Above serves. Or, more realistically, that if None of the Above wins, the election must be held again, and continue being held again until a candidate receives 50% + 1 vote of those eligible to vote (not of those who actually did vote). Anything less is not representative government.

We actually have a one-party system. The Republicrats have been in control of the federal government and most state governments at least since the Goldwater election. There's little or no difference between a typical Republican candidate and his Democrat opponent. Neither is a conservative, nor a liberal, nor a libertarian. Both are actually populists, which is to say that they believe government should interfere with personal freedom across the board.

I define a conservative as someone who believes that government should keep its hands off economic issues, but should be free to interfere in personal issues. A conservative, for example, believes in a strong currency and free markets, but believes government should control private consensual sexual behavior, drug use, and abortion. A liberal is just the opposite, believing in strong government control of economic issues, but advocating a hands-off approach to personal issues. A populist thinks the government should control both economic and personal issues. A libertarian believes that the government should keep its hands off both types of issue.

Over the years, surveys have repeatedly shown that the American population divides as about 50% populist, 25% libertarian, 15% conservative, and 10% liberal. Unfortunately, the candidates presented by the two major political parties are nearly 100% populist, so we're given no real choice at all.

There are a few exceptions, of course. Congressman Ron Paul in Texas is 100% libertarian, although he was elected as a Republican. A very few conservatives, liberals, and libertarians hold elective office at the national level. They are more common, although still a small minority, at the local and state level.

I've often thought that Ron Paul has shown us the way to succeed, by co-opting the parties that be, working within the current system rather than trying to create a new system from the outside. The libertarian message is attractive to many people, but few vote Libertarian because they believe they'll be throwing away their votes. For example, Jerry Pournelle, although well-known as a conservative, has told me more than once that he'd vote Libertarian if he thought they had any chance of being elected. It seems to me that we libertarians should be working to co-opt the Republican party, leaving the Democrat party as a refuge for populists and other scoundrels. What we need to concentrate on is electing another Republican Ron Paul, and then another and another and another. Eventually, voters would have a real choice, and long before then libertarians would have a strong voice in the Republican Party.

11:47 - I just couldn't help myself. At about 11:20 a.m., I went out and voted. I was number 281 on a rainy, blustery day, which surprised me. I expected to be in the double digits. There weren't many real contests, and no Libertarians running. I voted Republican, except for one vote-for-three school-board race that had three Republicans, three Democrats, and one Independent on the ballot. I voted for the first two Republicans and the Independent. I have no idea what the Independent stands for, but at least it wasn't a vote for either major party. I also voted against a $250 million school bond and a smaller bond for the community college.

And, Holy Cow! Jerry Pournelle votes Libertarian.


Wednesday, 8 November 2006
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08:30 - Mercury transits Sol today, but, as usual for planetary transits, we're going to be clouded and rained out. I may watch some of it on one of the web sites that streams video from a large telescope. Still, it's just not the same watching it on a screen.

Our local elections didn't yield any big surprises, nor any major changes. The Democrat running for the at-large County Commissioner seat won by about 300 votes in 70,000 cast, but the Republicans remain in control of the Board of Commissioners. One of the Democrat candidates for an at-large seat on the Board of Education won, taking that body from 7-2 Republican to 6-3. Our incumbent Republican congresscritter won easily, and the incumbent Republican Sheriff won by a 2:1 margin. Large bond issues for the schools and community college won by 2:1 margins.

Overall, local voters pretty much voted for more of the same, more fool them. Of course, they didn't really have much choice. A vote for any candidate of either major party is a vote for more of the same.

Nationally, the Democrats are no doubt heartened by their success in taking control of the House. They shouldn't be. People didn't vote for Democrats; they voted against Republicans. Any Democrat who believes he was elected because the voters liked him or approved of his policies is a fool. He was elected because voters disliked him and his policies less than they disliked the Republican and his policies. The system is seriously broken when voters are routinely forced to choose a candidate they dislike because the only alternative is voting for a candidate they dislike even more.

A pox on all their houses.


Thursday, 9 November 2006
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08:28 - When I checked my mail this morning, I found a message from Jerry Pournelle to his back-channel mailing list with an attached copy of the draft of next week's column. In it, he relates a tale of woe about one of his primary Windows systems trashing itself. I sent the following reply.

I'm sorry your Windows system committed suicide, but of course Windows systems are prone to doing that. As you'll remember, not long ago my sole Windows XP system trashed an external hard drive the same way, although fortunately it didn't trash its C drive. That time, anyway.

I understand that you have to run Windows to generate column fodder, but I do wonder why you continue to run Windows on critical systems when you have the choice of using two rock-solid operating systems, Linux and OS X. I can't speak to OS X, since I don't run it, but I'm willing to bet that in terms of robustness and data safety it's a a lot more like Linux than Windows.

And Linux is extremely robust. For example, I recently managed to shoot myself in the foot by trashing the Kubuntu 6.06 Linux installation on my main desktop system. I ended up replacing it with the most recent version, Kubuntu 6.10. The difference between what I experienced and what you experienced is instructive.

I stripped down the hard drive to bare metal and installed a fresh copy of Kubuntu 6.10 to my main system. I then restored from my backups. I lost zero user data *and* I lost zero configuration data. All of my mail data and settings were stored in the .kde subdirectory of my home directory. All of my Firefox configuration data, including passwords and form data were stored in the .mozilla subdirectory of my home directory. Getting from a fresh vanilla installation of Kubuntu 6.10 to one with my own custom configurations was pretty much a matter of copying directories from my backup set to the new system.

Even upgraded software versions were accommodated automatically. For example, Kubuntu 6.10 includes Firefox 2.0 instead of the 1.X version I had been running. When I copied my Mozilla data to the new system and started Firefox 2.0, it told me that it had noticed that the Note Tab Plus extension was installed, and that it was incompatible with and not needed by Firefox 2.0, so it was ignoring it.

You already have desktop and notebook systems that could run Xandros or Kubuntu Linux. I know you have an OS X notebook, and I believe you're considering buying an OS X desktop system. So why continue to run Windows, with all of its dangers?

You say your communications machine is devoted to running Outlook and FrontPage. You can't run either of those on Linux, and I believe the same is true of OS X. But that doesn't matter. There are good alternatives for Linux, and I'm sure for OS X.

For example, I'm attaching a screenshot of Kontact, which I use for email and PIM functions. You'll notice that it's similar in appearance to Outlook, and has similar overall features. (In fact, it's considerably more powerful and featureful than Outlook in most respects.)

I'm also attaching a screenshot of NVU, which I use to maintain my web sites. As you can see, it's a GUI editor that appears similar to FrontPage. I'll be the first to admit that NVU is missing some of the nice features of FrontPage. For example, it doesn't do autothumbnails, and it lacks the site management facilities of FrontPage. Still, it's easy to use, generates clean, standards-compliant HTML, and has all of the features you really need to maintain your pages.

Why not give Linux and/or OS X a try as your primary operating system? I'm sure you'll hate either one for a while, because they're not what you're used to. But I think you'll soon come to appreciate the advantages of using a modern operating system instead of a legacy Microsoft product.

I'm cranking away on constellation chapters for the new astronomy book. I posted the first ten yesterday on the subscribers' page. I hope to get three or four more chapters completed today and tomorrow.

Updates here are likely to be infrequent and sparse until I get the final draft of this book completed.

09:27 -
From Chris Christensen.

From: Christensen, Chris (Aspen Research)
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Yesterday 17:45:37

Bob: I'm not sure if Dvorak has had a stroke, or what.  I'm sure Oracle, Tivo, phone companies, most of the FEA and computational fluid dynamics software houses in the world, and don't forget routers and other network gear, would be astounded if they were told you couldn't run proprietary software on linux.  Slashdot has some commentary.

My favorite Mencken quote, in honor of the election:

"The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can't get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time it is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods." H. L. Mencken

Dvorak is a clueless troll. I used to read him sometimes for amusement, but I no longer bother.

I'd forgotten that Mencken quote. Thanks for reminding me. The more things change...

14:08 - O'Reilly just sent me the draft cover for the new edition of Building the Perfect PC, remade in the Make Magazine image. I think it's gorgeous. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

Building the Perfect PC, 2nd Edition, cover image

I pointed out that they'd left my first name off the spine, which will be fixed. I was also concerned by the $49.95 retail price, which is $20 higher than the first edition. O'Reilly assured me that this was just a placeholder. They haven't decided yet what the retail price will be.

As usual, O'Reilly has offered to send some number of review copies to my subscribers who agree to review the book on Amazon.com and elsewhere. (Elsewhere is fine, but Amazon.com is the one that really counts.) I'm not sure how many copies O'Reilly has allocated for review, nor obviously how many of my subscribers will request a copy, so I can't guarantee that anyone who requests a copy will receive one. In the past, O'Reilly has sometimes limited shipments of review copies to the US and Canada, and perhaps the UK and Australia. I'm not sure what they'll do this time, but it certainly can't hurt to ask for a copy, even if you're located elsewhere.

More details about how to request a copy are on the subscriber page. If you visit that page, you'll be prompted for a username and password. Use the username/password I sent you when you subscribed (NOT your username/password from one of the messageboards.)


Friday, 10 November 2006
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08:13 - Hmmm. Bill Gates told attendees of the Microsoft Business Forum 2006 in Moscow that competitors were trying to "castrate" Vista. My immediate reaction was that this would be a good thing. After all, if it were castrated, Vista would become just another member of the family of UNIX.

Arrrrghhh. Arrrrghhh. Arrrrggggghhh.

Speaking of Vista, Allchin says Vista doesn't need antivirus software. Yeah, right. As it always does when it releases a "new" operating system, Microsoft claims that Vista is "the most secure Windows ever", and bad-mouths earlier versions. Yeah, right. I remember Microsoft making the same claim for XP SP2, XP, and Windows 2000, which was the first time they noticed that this security thing might be important to users. If Microsoft were honest, they'd instead say something like "Vista is a tiny bit less insecure than earlier versions of Windows." Exploits against Vista are already in the wild, and it hasn't even shipped yet.


Saturday, 11 November 2006
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10:32 - Veterans Day, a day for honoring living war veterans and remembering those who are no longer with us.

I remember as a young child in the late 1950's going downtown with my parents to watch the parades. There were many WWI veterans then, most of whom were only in their late fifties and early sixties. They all seemed very old to a five year old child, of course. They were grandpa's age. They all wore poppies, as did most of the crowd watching the parade. We don't see that nowadays, more's the pity. And if there were many in the WWI contingent, the WWII veterans outnumbered them hugely. These were guys my dad's age, mostly middle thirties or thereabouts.

Back then, many of the adults remembered WWI, at least as children. WWII was still a recent memory, no more distant for them then than the Clinton-Bush election is for us now, and Korea even more so. Many of the men in the parades had served in both WWII and Korea, and some had even served in all three wars. They wore their uniforms proudly, and all of us watching were very proud of them.

Nearly all of the WWI veterans are gone now. I read in the paper this morning that only about two dozen US WWI veterans were still living as 2006 dawned. Now, eleven months later, only a dozen or so remain. Most of our WWII and Korean War veterans are gone now as well, and more than a few of our Viet Nam veterans are no longer with us. That really brings it home for me, because I think of the guys who served in Viet Nam as being young men. Most of them weren't much older than me. A few of the fathers or uncles of my friends served in Viet Nam, but it was usually an older brother or cousin, guys who'd been in junior high school when I was in elementary school.

And, of course, there have been wars since Viet Nam, up to and including the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who have served and are serving there are young enough to be my children.

We all of us owe our thanks to each and every one of them, from the 108-year-old WWI veteran to the 19-year-olds currently serving in the Middle East. These men (and nowadays, women) have risked everything to protect us. They've put their lives on the line and suffered the horrors of war so that we don't have to, and the very least we owe them is our sincere thanks for their sacrifices.


Sunday, 12 November 2006
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09:52 - Well, we now know how long a rubber band will last when used to attach a CPU cooling fan.

Yesterday evening Barbara shouted from her office that her PC had died. There she was, working happily, ordering stuff from Lands' End, when suddenly her monitor went black and displayed a No Sync message.

When I went back to her office, I found that her PC had powered down. I pressed the power button and the machine let out a siren noise. Ruh-roh. Barbara guessed the problem immediately. I pulled the cover. Sure enough, the CPU fan was hanging loose, with the broken rubber band at the bottom of the case. Barbara had some long plastic-covered twist-ties, so I used one of them to secure the CPU fan, replaced the cover, and fired up the system.

It booted up normally, except that it stopped at the BIOS boot screen, displaying a message to inform me that "the processor has experienced a thermal event" and recommending that I deal with that problem before continuing. Pressing F4 cleared the message and the system started up normally.

So we now know that (a) a heavy rubber band will last about three weeks when used to secure a CPU fan, and (b) Intel's thermal overload protection works as designed.


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