Week of 4 December 2006
Update: Sunday, 10 December 2006 10:40 -0500
The weekend was a bit hectic. At 9:14 p.m. on Friday evening, I got
email from Phil Dangler at O'Reilly, telling me that the OTD PDF galley
of Building the Perfect PC, 2E
was available for download. "OTD" stands for "Out The Door", and is
just what it sounds like. As it turned out, the book was scheduled to
go to the printer on Monday (today), so I had only the weekend to do a
final check and correct.
Phil was very apologetic. O'Reilly's production department is
apparently extremely overloaded at the moment, presumably with books
that they're trying to get out the door this month. I told Phil it was
no problem. I'm used to turning around edits on complete books in a
couple of days, so the only issue here was that it was a weekend. I
worked on the check all day Saturday, which was Barbara's birthday.
(She turned, using Elayne Boosler's syntax, 20:32, or using my own
I burned through about half the book on Saturday before it was time to
leave to meet Barbara's sister and parents for dinner. After dinner, we
headed over to Frances's house for cake and presents. Barbara had said
not to buy her a birthday present because she'd count the membership
I'd signed up for at the pistol range as her birthday present. But I
knew she wanted a green laser pointer for astronomy, so I'd ordered her
one of those. Am I romantic, or what?
Sunday, I did the laundry and worked on the second half of the book
while Barbara cleaned house and put up Saturnalia decorations. I got
through the entire book except the index by late afternoon and sent in
my comments. The book goes to the printer today. Now all I have to do
is complete the questionnaire from the marketing department that
they'll use to produce the press release and similar stuff. I always
hate doing those.
I've often said that everyone should buy their music directly from
independent artists rather than buying CDs from RIAA companies, who treat their musicians
pretty much as Simon Legree treated his slaves. Most independent
musicians are at least as good as those who are hyped by the music
labels, and many are better.
Barbara and I just listened to one example, the CD Silver Darlings
by The Browne Sisters & George Cavanaugh. One of the Browne sisters
is Diane, an Internet friend of mine. Silver Darlings was their first
CD, recorded when Diane was only 15. They've since recorded several
others, which Barbara and I also plan to buy. If you enjoy Celtic
music, do yourself a favor and order this CD and/or the other CDs by The Browne Sisters & George Cavanaugh. I think you'll enjoy them, and they make good Saturnalia gifts.
Actually, I didn't realize for a long time that Diane was also a
musician. I "met" her on the DorothyL mailing list, which is devoted to
mystery novels. Reading her posts on that list led me to read her first
traditional mystery novel, High Rhymes and Misdemeanors: A Poetic Death Mystery, which she wrote under the pen name of Diana Killian. High Rhymes
is usually classified as a cozy, but it's actually a romantic mystery
similar to those written by my late friend Caroline Llewellyn.
My first reaction upon reading High Rhymes was that it was much too good to be a first novel. As it turns out, it wasn't. Diane actually wrote an earlier novel called The Art of Dying that she self-published with Xlibris. Nonetheless, High Rhymes was stunningly good for an almost-first novel, and Diane has followed it with two others in the series, Verse of the Vampyre and Sonnet of the Sphinx. If you enjoy well-written cozies, order all three. I think you'll like them as much as I do.
Something happened in Sonnet of the Sphinx that all authors dread. I'll let Diane explain.
Re: [DOROTHYL] mistakes
From: D.L. Browne
To: DOROTHYL listserv
Date: 2006-08-19 21:37
Sharon Wheeler wrote:
Yes, we know
everyone makes mistakes, and that things you think you've checked
20 times suddenly get mangled. But what it boils down to is trust. If
I'm picking up a book, I trust the author to have done their homework.
If they're blase about it ('oh, the Americans won't notice the mistakes
about Britain' or whatever), then there are plenty of other authors out
there that I'd rather spend time with.
Coincidently, this recently
happened to me. A reviewer caught a mention of hummingbirds in SONNET
OF THE SPHINX. Guess what? There are no hummingbirds in Great Britain.
As careful as I am in my research
(and I am very careful and there is A HELL OF A LOT of research in
these books) it absolutely never crossed my mind that there might not
be hummingbirds in the English Lake District. I didn’t double
check because…I thought I knew this to be true. I’ve
researched the endangered status of those wretched red squirrels, I
checked the admission price of Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm, I
researched Percy Shelley’s addiction to laudanum. I can tell you
the book he was reading—heck, I can tell you the POEM he was
reading when he was drowned. I’ve checked and double-checked
stuff that never made it into the novel. But you don’t get credit
for all the stuff you get right, you only hear about the mistakes you
Now had this mistake been pointed
out to me courteously and privately I’d have been chagrined and
embarrassed. But it was pointed out in a rather snide review (that also
contained one glaring error—NOT THAT I’M COUNTING OR
There’s not a lot that I
can do at this point. Several thousand copies of the book—with
the mistake—are circulating even as we speak. British people
everywhere are scowling and shaking their heads—watching their
bridges of disbelief come crashing down at their feet—maybe only
narrowly getting out of the way in time!
Do I take out an ad in MYSTERY
SCENE and apologize publicly? Do I hand over my laptop in disgrace? Do
I abandon the series because I am obviously unworthy to write it? Or do
I just resolve to be a little more careful in future—and let it
go. I don’t know if such an attitude is blasé, but
what’s the healthy and productive response to making a mistake in
a book? Will obsessing over it somehow make amends?
Sure, I see mistakes in books all
the time, and yes, occasionally they are bad enough to jolt me out of
the story—but if the story entertained me to start with, I get
over it and go on enjoying the book. What’s harder for me to get
past, as others have pointed out, is flat characters behaving in
unbelievable ways, boring plots, dull dialog—-crummy writing.
I guess I just don’t take
any of it that seriously. I don’t have “trust” issues
with the authors of the books I read—maybe because I don’t
rely on them for anything more than a few hours amusement.
Let she who is without sin cast the first book. Know what I mean?
Finally, sincere thanks to Lynn
Dielman and Pat Browning for their very kind posts this week on SONNET
OF THE SPHINX. I do sincerely appreciate it.
D.L. Browne (aka Diana Killian)
So I emailed Diane privately and pointed out that, although there may
not be hummingbirds in the Lake District, there most certainly are
Hummingbird Hawk Moths, an insect that is very easily mistaken for a
Re: [DOROTHYL] Open letter FROM Diana Killian re the hummingbird kerfluffle
From: D.L. Browne
To: DOROTHYL listserv
Date: 2006-08-28 22:37
Dear Mr. Ewing, Mrs. Songer, Mrs. Browning, et al,
It is with great interest I have
followed your discussion re the peculiar migrating habits of
hummingbirds, nightingales, the sun, and authors who do not do their
proper research (the latter easily recognized by the large dark
sunglasses they wear at mystery conferences).
While I welcome, nay EMBRACE, any
and all interest in my humble scribblings (both the accurate and
inaccurate ones), I feel that it is always a mistake to COMPLICATE
one's alibi--er--research with too many facts. "Simplify, simplify," as
the Marines say.
Or something like that.
In short, while one (this one, in
particular) does appreciate the ingenuity and energy spent on my
behalf--and the behalf of those little feathered emigrees--I have
decided to come clean in my next novel. Indeed, I have already penned
the moving and momentous scene wherein my heroine, budding
ornithologist Grace Hollister, confesses to her larcenous swain that a
few months previously she MISTOOK A HUMMINGBIRD HAWK-MOTH FOR A REAL
I have it on the expert advice of Mr. Robert Thompson that this is an easy enough mistake to have made.
Yours MOST sincerely, humbly AND etc.,
D.L. Browne (aka Diana Killian)
- I think about our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan a lot. Every Sunday, I read the list of casualties that Brian Bilbrey posts, and I mourn the loss of our brave young men and women.
Every day, they risk their very lives to defend us and, in a larger
sense, to defend Western civilization itself from the scourge of Islam,
the goal of which is to kill or enslave all of us. And sometimes, such
as when I read something like this, I wonder why they bother. From the article, Islamic fears kill off children's thriller:
A LEADING children's publisher has dumped a novel because of political sensitivity over Islamic issues.
Scholastic Australia pulled the plug on the Army of the Pure after
booksellers and librarians said they would not stock the adventure
thriller for younger readers because the "baddie" was a Muslim
The article goes on to say:
is at odds with the recent publication of Richard Flanagan's
bestselling The Unknown Terrorist and Andrew McGahan's Underground in
which terrorists are portrayed as victims driven to extreme acts by the
failings of the West.
What are these people thinking, if indeed they're thinking at all? Are
they both stupid and evil, or just one or the other? Those are the only
To point out the obvious, Islam declared war on Western civilization a
millennium ago, and nothing has changed as far as Islam is concerned.
It's true that for most of the last thousand years Western
civilization didn't even notice the hostility of Islam, but that's
attributable to the incompetence of Islam.
At its heart, Islam is uncivilized in the literal sense of the word. A
civilization is a culture that builds cities. Islam is a culture of
villages, ruled by old men, with women held in subjection little
different from slavery. Islam has never produced anything
of cultural, scientific, or economic value. Islam consumes what
betters provide. To the extent that Islamic countries have any
technology or infrastructure at all, they can thank Western
Not that they're likely to. Instead, their goal is to destroy Western civilization and enslave
all of us. They have no hope of doing that without our active help, and idiots
like those mentioned in the article are eager to give it to them. I
guess I answered my own question. They're both evil and stupid.
Wednesday, 6 December 2006
- What a hypocrite. What a moron.
Edgar Bronfman, head of the Warner Music Group, publicly admits he's fairly certain that his children have "stolen" music.
His response? He gave them a stern talking to. No mention of filing a
lawsuit against them (or himself?) or sending them (or himself?) a
lawyer's letter demanding thousands of dollars in compensation.
In one stroke, Bronfman has illustrated his belief in a double standard
and demolished any claims the RIAA might have for collecting large sums
of money from those they claim have "stolen" music, at least music from
What should he have done? Well, if it had been me, I'd also have given
them a stern talking to. I'd have explained to them the legal and
financial risks of using a P2P network to download music, and suggested
that instead they rip CDs and trade them directly with friends who'd
done the same. Instead, Bronfman apparently shook his finger at them
and told them never to do it again. Let that be a lesson to them.
I might have had at least a tiny amount of respect for the guy if he'd
done what he claims is the right thing. As soon as he found out what
was happening, he should have notified the RIAA attack lawyers and
insisted that they file a lawsuit against him. But he didn't, which
proves he's both a hypocrite and a moron. A moron, because, on behalf
of not just himself but of Warner Music Group, he's abandoned what he
would define as the high ground just to save himself a few thousand
dollars which he wouldn't even notice.
From: Ron Snider
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Today 01:21:17
Re: Islamic science and mathematics ...
"Islam has never produced anything of cultural, scientific, or economic value."
Surely that is a bit over the
top, is it not ? For years I've been hearing that the old
islamists gave the world all kinds of mathematics stuff, etc. ??
That's certainly the myth. The reality is different. Nearly all of what
is attributed to "Islamic science" is merely Arabic translations of
Greek and Roman writings, most of which were lost in their original
forms after the collapse of the Roman Empire. That's why, for example,
most stars have Arabic names, even though those stars were originally
plotted and named by Ptolemy or other Western scientists. Many,
probably most, and perhaps all of the "Islamic" writings that are not
known to be translations of Western works are almost certainly
unattributed works by anonymous Western authors. Furthermore, most or
all of the so-called Islamic scientists who did produce original work,
particularly the alchemists, were actually Christians and Jews living
in lands conquered by Islam.
As far as mathematics, the only original contribution I know of by
Islamics is the Arabic numbering system and zero, and there are
convincing arguments that those concepts were in fact actually created
by Irish mathematicians. (Ireland was a shining light in science,
mathematics, and other intellectual pursuits during the so-called Dark
I've just registered a new domain, homechemlab.com.
Thursday, 7 December
- A date that will live in infamy.
The stories about teenage chemistry mishaps have started over on the message board. My own contribution:
I actually caused three "incidents", two of which resulted in the school being evacuated.
In 6th grade, I was assigned to a group of students to make a project.
We chose to make a working model of the Mexican volcano
Paricutín. My part was to provide the filler, which as I recall
was potassium nitrate, sugar, sulfur, and several other components
designed to provide the lava flow. I made two pounds of it, and packed
When I touched it off, the flame rose a couple of feet and large clouds
of choking sulfur dioxide gas immediately made the classroom
uninhabitable. The teacher started shouting for the kids to get out,
and pushed the fire alarm on her way out the door. The whole school
ended up standing outside while the fire department checked things out.
I was a bit concerned about our grade for that project, but we ended up getting an A.
Then there was 8th grade, when I mixed a fair amount of potassium
chlorate and red phosphorus in the chemical storage room behind our
classroom. Hey, I didn't know what was going to happen. During class,
the mixture spontaneously combusted, and large clouds of smoke poured
out of the chemical storage room.
The teacher grabbed a large fire extinguisher off its wall mount, but
couldn't get it to work. As he was staring down the cone of the thing,
looking for a blockage, I reached over and pulled the pin.
Unfortunately, his grip on the extinguisher was squeezing the handle,
so when I pulled the ring the fire extinguisher went off in his face.
He was wearing a nice navy blue suit that turned completely white.
I did get called to the principal's office on that one, but they took
no disciplinary action. They did tell me to be more careful in future.
And then there was the time in high school when... No, I don't think I
should talk about that one even now. I have the right to remain silent.
Barbara has bought a disturbing number of "CDs" lately that won't play
in the CD player in her truck. Each time, I dupe the CD for her, and
the copy plays fine. Until this morning. I stuck her just-unwrapped
copy of Sarah McLachlan's Wintersong in the DVR writer in my main
office system, fired up K3b to make a copy, and the system locked up
tight. I suppose it's possible that the disc is defective, but I think
it's more likely that it has some obnoxious form of copy protection on
it. I'll deal with it somehow.
Another Windows zero-day exploit. No, not the Word exploit, for
which Microsoft's solution was basically to stop using Word documents
that you hadn't created yourself. This is yet another Windows zero-day
exploit. It's against Windows Media Player,
and seems likely to be as severe as the Word exploit. Microsoft hasn't
issued a patch or workaround, but for now the best solution seems to be
to disable WMP from auto-opening .ASX files.
We no longer run Windows, so I've given up even trying to keep track of
all the vulnerabilities in Windows. Doing that is pretty much a
full-time job, literally, which should be sufficient proof for anyone
that Windows is fundamentally defective. Among my technically-competent
friends and colleagues, very few run Windows except when there is no
alternative. About half of them run Linux, and the other half run OS X.
All of them boot Windows on their personal systems only to run games or
when they must run a particular Windows application for which no Linux
or OS X equivalent exists. Many of them are forced to run Windows at
work, but very few of them run it at home.
Even Jerry Pournelle, who is seriously invested in Windows, has said he
plans to migrate to OS X, and is now taking steps to do so. For Jerry,
the final straw was apparently the infamous Windows delayed write
error, which he's written about recently in his columns. Jerry has
repeatedly asked Microsoft to comment on the problem, and has gotten no
response. He concludes, reasonably in my opinion, that Microsoft hasn't
responded because they don't know what's causing the problem.
How is it possible that in late 2006 a mainstream operating system can
unpredictably trash hard drives and that the vendor apparently has no
idea why this is happening? It's not like this is a new problem,
either. It's been going on since at least Windows 2000, and Microsoft
has at least once claimed to have fixed the problem. That fix didn't
work, because the problem occurs even in a fully-patched Windows XP. As
Jerry says, perhaps the problem will be fixed in Vista. But probably
If you're looking for a good New Year's Resolution, one that you might
actually keep, how about this? Resolve to migrate away from Windows to
Linux. Download Kubuntu 6.10 or buy a copy of Xandros 4. Install it in
dual-boot mode if you must, but resolve to live in Linux as much as
possible and to run Windows only when you absolutely must. Resolve not
to give up easily, but to devote some serious effort to becoming
Windows-free. You'll thank yourself later.
Interesting timing. Just as I posted the previous entry, I accidentally
bumped the mouse on the Windows system that I've been using to produce
charts for the new astronomy book. When the screen lit up, I saw
a plain-text message, something about Windows being unable to find
a particular file.
I restarted the system, and Windows XP appeared to start normally. But
when I clicked on Windows Explorer, I just got an hourglass and
eventually an error message. It soon became very clear that
Windows was completely borked. My first thought was that Windows had
borked itself, which is a distressingly common thing to happen.
I booted Xandros 4, intending to install it in dual-boot mode so that
I'd be able to access some of the data files on the Windows system.
Xandros 4 Setup started up normally, but when it started to resize the
NTFS partition, it displayed some error messages. At this point, I'm
not entirely sure if there's a physical problem with the hard drive, or
if Windows has simply trashed the filesystem.
It's no big deal either way. I've finished generating charts for the
book anyway. This system is the one we built as the "budget PC" for the
new edition of Building the Perfect PC,
so it wasn't destined to remain around here much longer anyway. When I
get time, I'll strip it down, replace the hard drive if necessary,
install Kubuntu 6.10 on it, and donate it to a local non-profit or some
deserving kid. It's actually a pretty competent system, with an AMD
Sempron 3100+ processor, 512 MB of RAM, embedded nVIDIA 6100 graphics,
and a DVD writer.
Saturday, 9 December
Barbara has left us again for a bus tour to the beach with her parents
to watch the Christmas shows. The dogs and I are bereft. Duncan refused
to eat last night, not just his dog food, but the Vienna sausage I cut
up and put on top of his food to temp him. Malcolm isn't even bringing
me the tennis ball to throw. They're both lying around with their "woe
is me" expressions. I had peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for dinner
last night, which is a more complex meal than I usually prepare when
I'm on my own.
I told Barbara before she left that it'd be wild-women-and-parties
time. As usual, she just laughed. She knows that I don't know any wild
women and don't like parties. I did get an email this morning from a
Russian girl named Ludmilla who seems eager to talk to me. She sounds
like a wild woman. Perhaps I should reply.
The UPS guy showed up after dinner last night with a couple boxes from
United Nuclear. I unpacked some of the stuff last night. Nothing
damaged so far except a plastic test tube rack that was crunched.
Counter space in my chemistry lab--which used to be the kitchen in the
downstairs guest suite--is getting tight already, and there's more to
I need to get the shelves and cabinets organized down there, and I also
need to do some serious thinking about chemical storage. There'll be
some pretty nasty stuff stored there, including concentrated
hydrochloric, sulfuric, and nitric acids, chlorates, permanaganates,
and other oxidizers, and so on. Most of it will be in pretty small
quantities, typically 25g to 500g of solids and 500mL or a liter of
liquids, but even so it's worth some thought to keep incompatible stuff
The response to my plan to build a home chemistry lab has been
interesting. With just one exception, my scientist friends have all
been enthusiastic. Barbara didn't get it at first. When I mentioned
building the lab and said that our chemist friends Paul and Mary would
be excited about it, Barbara said, "Why? They have real labs of their
own." I explained that real scientists are always excited about doing
real science on whatever level, and that Paul and Mary would even be
intrigued by "toys" like the chemistry sets I had when I was young. The
science is the point.
When Barbara told some other people she knew that I was building a home
chem lab and writing a book about it, their response was "why?" I
suggested that she reply, "To help get kids excited about chemistry,
and to encourage the next generation of scientists that will keep your
sorry ass fed, clothed, and healthy." Barbara is more diplomatic than I
Kim stopped by after dinner last night to tell me that Jasmine had
passed her computer competency test, which is required for graduation.
(Originally, it was required for graduation from middle school to high
school, but so many kids failed it that they changed the rules; now
they're allowed to retake it in high school, although it remains a
requirement for high school graduation.)
Kim found out after the fact. She didn't know exactly when the exam
would be given. She'd planned to do some extensive review with Jasmine
before the exam, and I'd told Jasmine that I'd be happy to sit down
with her one weekend and do what I could to help. Jasmine apparently
didn't feel the need for any of that. She went in, took the exam, and
passed it, informing her mother casually "Oh, by the way..." after she
received her results.
Kim is now faced with a dilemma. Jasmine's high scores in math and
science tests earned her an invitation to attend Atkins High School
next year. Atkins is a so-called "magnet school" that specializes in
science and engineering. It's the only school in our system that offers
those programs. Unfortunately, like most magnet schools, Atkins is a
bad place, situated in a poor neighborhood and attended by many kids
that Kim would rather Jasmine not be exposed to.
There are fights at Atkins, and racial tension. Kim told me of one
recent fight, where a girl lay in wait in the cafeteria for another
girl. Well, actually, she stood in wait on one of the tables in
the cafeteria. When the other girl arrived, the first girl kicked her
in the head and then jumped on her. Several other students jumped in
and attacked the victim, who was injured pretty badly.
I've no idea what punishment, if any, was meted out to the attackers.
If I were running things, expulsion would be the least of it. I'd see
to it that the attackers were charged with felony assault and battery
Naturally, Kim has reservations about Jasmine attending such a school,
and I share those reservations in spades. Tossing Jasmine into that
kind of environment is like tossing the proverbial sheep in among the
lions. As Kim said, she wishes she could just wave her magic wand and
move the Atkins magnet programs to a good school.
The real problem is that the school administration puts the programs
people want in schools that people don't want. That's completely
intentional, of course. If it were not for the magnet programs at
Atkins, no parents would want their children to attend Atkins. Atkins
would have only complete losers and would score very poorly on
standardized tests. Atkins would fall afoul of the NCLB rules, be taken
over by the state, and all of the teachers and administrators would
lose their jobs. Can't have that, can we? When it comes down to a
choice of job security versus the good of the children, guess which one
So, parents are faced with the choice of sending their children to a
good, safe school that doesn't have the programs their kids need and
deserve versus sending their kids to a rathole of a school that does
offer those programs. Some choice, huh?
I suggested again to Kim that she look into home schooling. She's
concerned about doing that because her back problems sometimes
prostrate her for literally days or even weeks on end. Like most
parents, she's also concerned about her ability to teach some subjects,
particularly science and math. I suggested to Kim that she check into
local home schooling groups. Surely these are all problems that have
been encountered before and solved? I don't have children and I've
never been involved in home schooling, but I suspect that if I were I'd
be teaching science, math, and computers to my own and others'
children, and that others would be teaching in their own areas of
competency to not just their own children, but mine as well.
I've told Kim that if she does at some point decide to home school, I'd
be willing to devote a few hours a week to teaching Jasmine science,
computers, and math. I don't know the rules. For example, it may be
that students are required to take an actual AP chemistry course in a
school before they're allowed to take the AP chemistry exam. If not,
I'm perfectly comfortable teaching Jasmine AP chemistry, AP calculus
and other math topics, and AP computing topics. Heck, without much
preparation, I could probably teach Jasmine AP biology, AP physics, and
several other AP topics. If I devote even a few hours a week over the
next four years, we could cover a lot of ground. Jasmine is a smart
girl. With proper planning and preparation, I don't see any reason why
she shouldn't be able to skip her entire first year of college, or at
least most of it.
Of course, we have to keep Jasmine's preferences in mind. As Kim said
last night, Jasmine is interested in science and math, but at this
point we don't know for sure how interested she is. It may be that
she'll take to science and laboratory work like a duck to water, but
it's also possible she'll decide this isn't something she wants to
pursue. Either way, though, a firm grounding in science and math can't
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Robert Bruce