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Week of 18 December 2006

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Monday, 18 December 2006
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08:20 - 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. Littlejohn.

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
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08:42 - 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 zap them.)

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
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08:06 -  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!

Best regards,


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 2006
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08:57 - 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 twice.

09:54 - 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 exceptions.

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.


Friday, 22 December 2006
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08:35 - 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 on track.

From: Rod Schaffter
  To: Bob Thompson
Date: Today 07:25:24
  Re: Encyclopædia Britannica under Linux-have you tried it?

Dear Bob,

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 side-by-side comparison.

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 2006
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09:30 - 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.


Sunday, 24 December 2006
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00:00 -


Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.