Week of 18 December 2006
Update: Saturday, 23 December 2006
Jasmine told me yesterday that she's decided what she wants to be. She
wants to become a physician and specialize in sports medicine. I
told Jasmine that, from her perspective at age 13, it looks like a long
haul now, but before she knows it we'll all be calling her Dr.
The good thing about this decision, as I told Jasmine, is that
preparing for med school leaves her options open even if she later
decides she wants to go into a field other than medicine. Rigorous math
and science preparation will serve her in good stead even if
she later decides to become a scientist or an engineer or
just about anything else. So now I guess it's time for Jasmine to start
thinking about AP Chemistry, AP Biology, and AP Math.
And I'm sure Kim is already thinking about getting Jasmine into a
top-notch school like Duke, Cal Tech, or MIT. Or, of course, Wake
Forest University, which is a mile down the road from us, and also has
a highly respected medical school.
Tuesday, 19 December 2006
- Wired has posted an article, Goodbye TV, Hello Broadband,
which describes the experiences of a guy who dropped his cable TV
service and substituted various broadband video services. He should
have talked to me first.
Barbara and I dropped everything but basic cable two years ago
and haven't looked back. We pay Time-Warner cable $6.66 per month for
the local network affiliates, PBS, and a 24-hour local news and weather
channel. With that and Netflix, we have more than enough to keep
us entertained and informed. We use an inexpensive DVD recorder to
record the only network program that Barbara watches, Studio 54 Where Are You,
and zap all the commercials. (I don't know why they don't put all the
commercials in one contiguous block; it sure would make it easier to
I'm taking some time off from now through the end of the year. I'll
continue posting here sporadically, but posts will be infrequent and
short. I'll also be slow in responding to email, so please bear with me.
Wednesday, 20 December 2006
I don't usually post press releases, but I suspect many of my readers might be interested in this one:
From: Xenia von Wedel (Terpin Communications Group)
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Today 13:58:26
Re: Xandros alert: Red Hat Server System Administrators Needed for Beta (and Happy Holidays!)
Here's the gist of Xandros’
a call or beta testers. Hope you can spread the word. They are looking
for over 500 testers… I wish you guys Happy Holidays and a
prosperous and healthy 2007!
Red Hat Server System Administrators Needed for Beta Testing of Xandros Cross-Platform Management Tools
Xandros, today put out a call to
Red Hat Enterprise Server system administrators to sign-up for the beta
testing of Xandros’ new cross-platform server management tools.
Red Hat server system administrators will play an integral part in
assuring that the forthcoming Xandros product releases meet the highest
standards for stability and ease of use. Red Hat administrators will
test new monitoring tools to determine Xandros’ success in
allowing administrators to manage multiple Red Hat Enterprise servers
on various hardware architectures.
With the Xandros Management Tools
for Red Hat, Red Hat server users will enjoy the same ease of setting
up and managing their server as those who use the Xandros server.
In general, Windows administration expertise is mostly sufficient
to operate the Xandros system, as opposed to others requiring full
Linux or Red Hat training.
Red Hat server administrators interested in testing the new tools are invited to apply at: www.xandros.com/beta.
# # #
Please find the full press release here: http://www.marketwire.com/mw/release_html_b1?release_id=196396
Just in time for Christmas.
From: Larry Peters
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Today 15:27:08
Re: Merry Christmas to you and your family
Christmas Cookie Recipe
1 cup of water 1 tsp baking soda
1 cup of sugar 1 tsp salt
1 cup of brown sugar lemon juice
4 large eggs 1 cup nuts
2 cups of dried fruit 1 bottle Crown Royal/Whiskey/Rum
- Sample the Liquor to check quality.
- Take a large bowl, check the Liquor again, to be sure it is of the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink.
- Turn on the electric mixer...Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.
Add one teaspoon of sugar...Beat again.
At this point it's best to make sure the Liquor is still OK, try another cup.. just in case.
- Turn off the mixer thingy.
- Break 2 leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.
- Pick the frigging fruit off floor...
- Mix on the turner.
- If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers just pry it loose with a dewscriver.
- Sample the Liquor to check for tonsisticity.
- Next, sift two cups of salt, or something.... who giveshz a sheet.
- Check the Liquor.
- Now shift the lemon juice and strain the nuts.
- Add one table.
- Add a spoon of ar, or somefink.... whatever you can find.
- Greash the oven.
- Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.
- Don't forget to beat off the turner.
- Finally, throw the bowl through the window.
- Finish the bottle of Liquor.
- Make sure to put the stove in the dishwasher.
- Cherry Mistmas and a Nappy Hew Jear.
Thursday, 21 December
- Dinner with Paul and Mary last night, and as usual the conversation was fascinating.
Among other things, Paul told us about a report he'd heard about condom
problems in India. Apparently, standard-size condoms are too large for
many Indian men, which leads to obvious problems. I freely admitted
that I didn't know much about condoms. I knew that pharmacists
used to tease nervous teenage boys by asking them whether they wanted
small, medium, large, or extra-large condoms, but I didn't realize that
they actually came in different sizes.
Apparently they don't, at least routinely. Most of the world uses the
standard one-size-fits-all size, but manufacturers also make smaller
models for markets where they're needed, including apparently India. I
made the mistake of saying that I did know that condoms were available
in various colors and textures. Mary chimed in to tell me that they
also came in different flavors, which was information I could have
lived happily without knowing. She added that there were also musical
condoms, which was really too much information. Now I have this mental image of a condom playing the Barney theme song.
I'm still buying chemicals for the home chem lab. Some are difficult to
obtain economically, not because of the cost of the chemical itself but
because of the cost of shipping it. For example, a 500 mL bottle of a
particular chemical may cost only $10, but by the time you pay for
special packaging and hazardous material shipping surcharges, that
bottle ends up costing $50 or more.
Fortunately, ScienceKit sells
many of the "problem" chemicals I need, in reasonable quantities at
reasonable prices, and with no hazardous shipping charges. They sent me
email yesterday to say that they're running a special promotion until
Saturday where they waive even their standard shipping charges on
orders of $75 or more. So I put together an order yesterday that
included, among other things:
Calcium, reagent grade, granular, 25 g - $11.90
Ethylene chloride, laboratory grade, 500 mL - $10.30
Hydrogen peroxide, 30% reagent ACS grade, 100 mL - $8.70
Sodium hydroxide, reagent grade, pellets, 500 g - $9.90
Barium nitrate, reagent grade, crystals, 500 g - $4.11
Chromium oxide, reagent grade, powder, 25 g - $6.10
Nitric acid, 15.8M reagent ACS grade, 500 mL - $16.70
Barium hydroxide reagent grade, crystals, 100 g - $10.50
Hydrochloric acid, 37% reagent ACS grade, 500 mL - $12.90
I felt pretty bad about taking advantage of them like that, but not so
guilty that I didn't place the order. After I placed the order on their
web site, I did decide to call them and let them know about their
obvious error on the price of the barium nitrate. I assumed that either
the quantity or the price was in error. The $4.11 price might have been
reasonable for 50 g rather than 500 g, or they may have left a number
off the price, but either way they must be losing their shirts on that
deal. I spoke to a nice woman named Cindy, who told me that the $4.11
price was indeed wrong, although they'd honor it for the remaining few
bottles they had in stock, including the one for my order. After that,
the price jumps to about $20.
Most of what I ordered is pretty nasty stuff, particularly the nitric
acid. I'll have to give some serious thought to safe storage. Even at
that, I managed to avoid ordering some stuff I really, really wanted to
have but that's simply too dangerous to have around, let alone have my
readers playing with. For example, Paul and Mary earlier talked me out
of ordering any mercury salts, which are extremely toxic and very
expensive to dispose of legally. I'm also steering clear of stuff like
cyanide salts, which would be useful for several illustrative
experiments, but which are simply too hazardous to risk using.
I'm also buying chemicals in much larger quantities than readers will
need. For example, I might buy a 500 g bottle of a particular
chemical for $10, where a 25 g bottle for $2 would probably suffice.
I'm doing that because, first, I don't know going in how much I'm
actually going to need and, second, because I'll end up having to
repeat experiments several times that readers will do only once or
Incredible. I just got off the phone with ScienceKit. I called to add
an item to my order, and spoke to a woman named Lindsay. She called up
my order and told me they couldn't ship me any of the stuff I'd ordered
because it was restricted. I explained that I was a business and had
given my EIN to Cindy yesterday, who had told me that was sufficient
proof that I was qualified to receive those items. Lindsay told me that
(a) there was no one at ScienceKit named Cindy, and (b) they shipped
restricted materials, including chemicals, only to schools and
universities, and not to individuals, businesses, or home schools. No
I told Lindsay that I'd called a week or so ago and spoken to another
woman whose name I hadn't written down who told me that SK shipped to
schools and universities, home schools, professionals, and businesses.
The woman I spoke to a week ago provided me with a list of acceptable
proofs of qualification to receive chemicals, and among them was an EIN
number to prove you're a business. When I spoke to Cindy yesterday, she
took my EIN number and told me that was sufficient.
I'd gotten to Lindsay by pressing 2 for customer service, so I decided
to call back and press 1 for sales. I ended up connected to Jeanine,
who told me the same story Lindsay had, said that no
one named Cindy worked for SK, and she couldn't figure out what
had happened. She eventually put me on hold to speak to her supervisor.
When she came back, she said that I must have been talking to their
California office, which might have a Cindy. That made sense, because
it was after 5:00 EST yesterday when I spoke to Cindy. According to
Jeanine, SK is under an umbrella corporation named VWR, and I must have
been speaking to VWR in California. VWR, she said, may have different
policies. Incredible. What company you connect to and what you can buy
apparently depends on what time of day you call.
After talking with her supervisor, Jeanine admitted that SK sells some
but not all chemicals to home schoolers and businesses, but "not
dangerous ones." How, I asked, can one tell from looking at the web
site which chemicals are and are not available to which groups? "You
can't tell," she said. I was flabbergasted. She told me she'd canceled
my order and would make sure I didn't get billed. Oh, good. I didn't
want my order to be canceled. I wanted it to be shipped.
So I guess I'll wait until after 6:00 this afternoon, call back, and
ask for Cindy. Perhaps she can get things straightened out and uncancel
my order. If not, I'll just have to buy the stuff I need elsewhere and
pay the hazardous shipping charges. Geez.
So I waited until after 6:00 yesterday evening, and then called back
ScienceKit. Sure enough, I was connected to the California office. I
asked for Cindy. When she came on the line, I said, "Remember me? I'm
the guy who called last night and told you that you had barium nitrate
priced at $4.11 for a 500g bottle." She remembered me immediately, and
I told her in detail what had happened earlier that day when I talked
to their New York office. She was very apologetic. She said that it was
no excuse, but that the New York office had been expanding rapidly and
that most of the people there were quite new.
When Cindy attempted to look up my original order, it was in fact gone.
She said that she had taken care of everything the preceding day,
emailing someone in the New York office to make sure my order was
cleared to ship, and that that person had replied that all was well. So
Cindy was also pretty annoyed with the New York office for deleting my
order. I forwarded a copy of the original confirmation email, which
included the items I was ordering, to Cindy. She said she still had my
credit card information on file, and would take care of re-entering my
order and seeing to it that it was cleared to ship.
Cindy said she was leaving at 7:30 our time and would be taking today
and all next week off, but that she'd clear the way to getting my order
processed. She asked me to CC my email to another woman in the
California office, just to make sure. So it looks like things are back
From: Rod Schaffter
To: Bob Thompson
Date: Today 07:25:24
Re: Encyclopædia Britannica under Linux-have you tried it?
I came across the following procedure to run Britannica under Linux:
It is for Britannica 2004, which
I don't have (I have 2006), but I'm going to give it a try -I need to
clean up my hard drive a bit, as I'm just about full, and I'm waiting
for your Book so I can build a new system rather than upgrade this one.
I also installed openSUSE 10.2 on
my laptop-much better than 10.1. I'm planning to install Egregious
Egret (or whatever the latest Kubuntu is) on the same machine to do a
On of my Favorite bloggers has revealed herself as a Linux Diva:
Take the link cited in that page with an enormous grain of salt.
Have a Festive Saturnalia! (And please don't plug Santa before he gets to our place!)
That is interesting. It's nice to see a mainstream publisher like EB
acknowledging Linux. Alas, the latest version I have is, I think, the
2000 edition. Perhaps I'll buy a later version at some point.
I'm expecting my first copy of the new edition of Building the Perfect PC
to arrive today. I just got email from one of my subscribers telling me
that his copy had already arrived, so I guess they're in the mail.
I've been too busy this year to make any anti-Santa plans. At dinner
the other night, Paul and Mary suggested putting down superglue on the
roof to trap the reindeer, but they move so quickly that I'm afraid it
wouldn't have time to bond before they were off again. I was thinking
about leaving drugged milk and cookies out for Santa, but that didn't
work last time. Perhaps I'll leave out a bottle of single-malt.
Saturday, 23 December
- Ed Foster has posted an interesting article about what happens when Microsoft comes knocking at your door.
If I were the CEO/CIO of a corporation, this by itself would be
sufficient reason for me to order a crash-priority migration away from
Windows and Office to Linux and OpenOffice.org. Depending on the
corporation, "crash priority" might mean anything from a complete
transition within a year or less to a multi-year project. Yes, it can
be expensive and disruptive short-term, but as the old Chinese
proverb has it, the longest journey begins with the first step. And,
with OSS, the expense and disruption is a one-time problem; with
Microsoft, it's perpetual.
I'm pleased that many of my readers have already begun the migration
process, and some of them are quite advanced in it. An increasing
number have even reached "Independence Day", as we did back in 2004. We
are now a Microsoft-free environment, and immune to such threats. Our
data is our own, and under our control. We don't have to worry about
the Microsoft security-hole-of-the-week any more. Life is peaceful.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Robert Bruce