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Week of 1 January 2007

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Monday, 1 January 2007
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09:28 - Happy New Year.

Today marks the 12th birthday of our Border Collie Duncan. By longstanding custom, a Border Collie who's turned twelve no longer has to obey commands, and I'm sure Duncan will make the most of that. (Actually, it's not so much that he doesn't have to obey commands as that he just ignores them or, at best, treats them as suggestions.)

There are also some other perqs associated with turning twelve, not least of which is that once Duncan has staked out a position, he no longer has to move to make room for the senior pack members. Well, for me at least. He'll still make room for Barbara. But when I come into the den and find Duncan in my place on the sofa, I now have to sit somewhere else. Or when I go back to bed and find Duncan sprawled across my side of the bed, I either have to curl up in whatever room remains at the foot of the bed or go out and sleep on the sofa until Duncan jumps down and curls up on his own bed.

I'm still doing administrative stuff. Yesterday, I cleaned up our working data directories, moved a lot of older stuff to the archive directories, and pulled a new set of nine archive DVDs. Our archive directories now contain about 37 GB of actual data, not including stuff like ripped audio.

Today we're going to head over to Barbara's parent's house and install the amplified phone Barbara bought her father for Christmas. My presence is required because there's no phone jack in the den near her dad's chair, so I'll need to run cable and install a jack. When we get home, I'll try to get some more work done on the home chem lab book. I'm still outlining and stubbing out material, but it looks like it may turn into two books.


Tuesday, 2 January 2007
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09:44 - I'm a bit slow getting started this morning. Usually, year-end is a relatively quiet time around here, but this year I've been extremely busy. I have several work projects in progress, along with some personal stuff and several tasks I've undertaken to do for friends. For the last couple of months, it seems as if every time I cross one thing off my to-do list, two more pop up. And, oddly, it seems that the more I have to do, the fewer things I can think of to write about here.

I suppose I could do an article about my predictions for 2007, but I don't have any more idea what's going to happen than anyone else does. Or I could write about my New Year resolutions, except that I don't have any. Well, other than my traditional ones: continue smoking, eat plenty of fatty foods, avoid exercise, and so on. But I make those same resolutions every year and, unlike most people, I've never had any difficulty keeping my resolutions.

Barbara and I visited some friends yesterday who hold a New Year's party every year. Barbara began attending the party before we met. The first one I attended was 1984, when Barbara was 29 years old and I was 30. The crowd has changed over the years, although I saw some people yesterday that I met at the first one I attended. Unsurprisingly, the average age of the group has increased over the years. When Barbara and I first attended, we were probably a bit younger than the average. Yesterday, we were probably still a bit younger than the average.

As usual, as I walked around I heard a lot of snatches of conversation. What struck me yesterday was how many people were talking about retiring, who had retired, who was about to retire, who couldn't afford to retire because of the money they'd lost in the market, and so on. As a writer, retirement is a foreign concept to me. As I've said before, a writer retires when they find him lying dead on his keyboard.

Retirement implies giving up what you're doing to do something else you enjoy doing more. If you enjoy what you're doing, you don't retire. You keep doing it. So all of these people who are talking about retiring have apparently been doing things they dislike doing all these years. I suppose they must do it for the money. I could certainly have made more money if I'd been willing to do things I disliked doing. I could do so now. But why would I? Why does anyone?


Wednesday, 3 January 2007
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08:58 - Barbara sat up last night to watch Wake Forest University play in the Orange Bowl. WFU made Winston-Salem proud, finishing in second place. Louisville finished next-to-last.

I ordered some more stuff for my home chemistry lab yesterday. I'm intentionally ordering stuff from a lot of different sources so that I can judge whether I can recommend them in the book. This time, I ordered from Home Science Tools, which specializes in supplying science equipment and chemicals to home schoolers. Here's what I ordered.

 Item                                            Qty      Qty      Qty  Expected
 Number    Description                           Ord.     Shp.     Bck.    By  
---------- --------------------------------- -------- -------- -------- --------
CE-CALORIM Calorimeter, double wall              1.00     1.00     0.00                  
EL-ELECTST Electrode Set                         2.00     2.00     0.00              
EL-ELECTC  Carbon, electrode rod, 1/4"x4"        2.00     2.00     0.00                  
EL-ALCLIP2 Alligator clip leads, 2/pk            1.00     1.00     0.00
EL-ELECTPB Lead, metal electrode, 4"             2.00     2.00     0.00
CH-PHSTRIP pH papers, 1-14 range, 100/pkg        1.00     1.00     0.00
ME-PHMETER pH Meter, Digital, 0-14 pH range      1.00     1.00     0.00
CH-LITBLUE Litmus paper, blue, 100 strips        1.00     1.00     0.00
CH-LITRED  Litmus paper, red, 100 strips         1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-BURSET  Burette, 50 ml capacity               1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-BURBRSH Burette brush, 36" length             1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-CLAMP   Clamp, burette                        1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-TUBERU2 Tubing, 4.8 mm rubber, 2' long        2.00     2.00     0.00
CE-TUBEPLS Tubing, 4.8 mm vinyl, 2' long         2.00     2.00     0.00
CE-CRUCIBL Crucible & lid, 15 ml                 3.00     3.00     0.00
CE-EVAPDSH Evaporating dish, 75 ml               2.00     2.00     0.00
CE-DEFLAG  Deflagration spoon, stainless steel   1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-MEASP01 Measuring scoop, 0.15ml               3.00     3.00     0.00
CE-MICPLAT Microplate or culture plate, 24 wells 2.00     2.00     0.00
CE-STAND2  Ring stand, 4x6" base, 18" rod        1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-RING4   Ring support, 4" diameter             2.00     2.00     0.00
CE-GAUZE   Wire gauze, ceramic center, 5"        2.00     2.00     0.00
CE-TRIANGL Triangle, clay, 2" pipe-stems         1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-STOP03B Rubber stopper,  #3, 2-hole           2.00     2.00     0.00
CE-STOP03A Rubber stopper,  #3, 1-hole           1.00     1.00     0.00
BE-MEMBRLG Semi-permeable membrane, 12"          1.00     1.00     0.00
BE-THISTLE Thistle tube, polypropylene, 12" long 1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-TUBEGLS Tube,  5 mm glass,  3" long, 2/pack   3.00     3.00     0.00
CE-TUBEY   Tubing Y connector, plastic           1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-WATCHLG Watch glass, 100 mm diameter          2.00     2.00     0.00
CE-WATCHSM Watch glass,  65 mm diameter          2.00     2.00     0.00
CE-SGLOVES Safety gloves, size 6-6½ child        1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-SGLOVEM Safety gloves, size 8-8½ med.         1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-SGLOVE  Safety gloves, size 7-7½ small        1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-SGLOVEL Safety gloves, size 9-9½ large        1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-GOGGLE1 Safety goggles, full-size             1.00     1.00     0.00
CE-GOGGLE2 Safety goggles, child size            1.00     1.00     0.00
CH-NAPOLYA Sodium polyacrylate, 30 g             1.00     1.00     0.00

I already have disposable latex gloves. The gloves I ordered are non-disposable heavy neoprene rubber gloves, intended for handling concentrated mineral acids and other nasties. I got a pair in each available size, just in case.

11:43 - I just read an article in the NY Times about Wal*Mart pushing compact fluorescent lights. I was surprised to learn that only 6% of US households use them. Barbara and I have been using them for years in any lighting fixture that gets much use. There's one in the desk lamp beside me, and others in our table lights in the den. The only places we still use standard incandescents are fixtures that see very limited use, such as seldom-used table lamps, closet lights, ceiling lights (where CFLs often won't fit), the attic light, and so on.

I don't understand why anyone would use standard incandescent bulbs routinely. The CFLs are a bit more expensive to buy, of course, but they use a small fraction of the electricity and last about ten times longer than incandescents. Economically, it makes no sense at all to use incandescent bulbs other than in rarely used fixtures.

Perhaps CFLs got a bad reputation based on the early models that shipped 25 years ago or more. The new ones are much better. There's only a fraction of a second delay when you turn them on, not much different from a standard incandescent bulb. The light from CFLs has a slightly different spectrum. Where an incandescent bulb has an orangish light, the CFL looks a bit greenish to me, but only when I compare them side by side.

Although I'm sure the equivalence ratings are scientifically accurate, CFLs seem to me to put out less light than they're rated for. For example, I think the one in my desk lamp is a 26W unit rated to be equivalent to a 100W incandescent. It doesn't look that bright to me when I compare it side-by-side with a 100W incandescent bulb. More like 75W or 80W maybe. But still, that's perfectly adequate.

Frankly, even though we use CFLs, I think it's a mistake for Wal*Mart to start pushing them. CFL is the best affordable lighting technology at the moment, but affordable LED lighting is on the near horizon, and is superior in every respect to CFL. CFLs now sell for $3 or $4 each. If they could get a 100W-equivalent LED bulb down into the $10 range, I'd start installing them instead of CFLs. LEDs are even more efficient than CFLs, last almost literally forever, and don't contain mercury vapor. Of course, LEDs do dim as they age. I think I've read that the illumination provided by a typical LED falls by 50% after 50 years of constant use. Since few bulbs burn constantly, that means I'd probably want to replace LED bulbs every 100 years or so.

I suppose it's no wonder that light bulb manufacturing companies are fighting tooth and nail against CFLs and LED bulbs. Kind of like alkaline battery manufacturers have done everything possible to slow the adoption of NiMH rechargeables.


Thursday, 4 January 2007
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08:43 -  I had an interesting evening.

Our friends Paul and Mary have been out of town, visiting Paul's parents in Oklahoma. Paul left last Wednesday and drove out to Oklahoma. Mary had work commitments, and so left Thursday to fly out. Shortly after Mary left, I got email from Paul. She'd called him from a layover and said she was afraid she'd left the back door unlocked. So I drove over to check.

In the process, I found that I'd somehow misplaced their house key, which I thought was in the center console of my truck. It wasn't, and a quick search turned up nothing. Fortunately, their back door was locked, so I just picked up their mail and papers all week and held onto them, figuring I'd find the key sooner or later.

Then, about 4:00 yesterday afternoon, I was over at our next door neighbor's house, helping Stephanie get a photo account set up with Walgreens and getting her Christmas photos uploaded to the Walgreens server. When I got home there was a message on the answering machine from Mary. She had arrived at the airport and realized she didn't have keys to her car or her house. I called her back and told her I'd search for the keys. Barbara was convinced I'd given the keys back to Paul, which I didn't remember doing. A comprehensive search turned up nothing, so I called Mary with the bad news.

Mary said she'd catch a cab from the airport and call a locksmith to meet her at the house. I told her I'd meet her there and give her a ride back to the airport to pick up her car. Mary arrived home and we sat in my truck for half an hour or so, talking and waiting for the locksmith to show up. I told Mary that Barbara thought I'd given the keys back to Paul, perhaps the last time his dad had come to visit. She said that sounded reasonable. I told her I could visualize the key. It was on a keychain with a miniature chrome tape measure with yellow highlights. Mary said that sounded exactly like the spare key they had in a drawer near the back door.

When the locksmith showed up, he spent some time trying to pick their front door deadbolt, but couldn't do it. He ended up drilling out the cylinder in the deadbolt on the back door. After we got into the house and Mary calmed down the security company by giving them her password and explaining that she'd had to break into her own house, the first thing she did was give me the spare key from the drawer, which was indeed the one I'd formerly kept in my truck. She called Paul in Oklahoma to tell him she was in the house and getting ready to head back to the airport to get her car, and that oh-by-the-way I now had my key back. When Paul mentioned it to his dad, Jay immediately remembered that Paul had borrowed the key from me to give to Jay while he was here. Oops.

By that time, it was around 6:30. Mary and I hadn't had dinner, so we called Barbara to ask if she wanted to grab some food on the fly and drive over to the airport with us to drop Mary off at her car. As we were about to leave Mary's house, she realized that the key she'd just given me was the only one she had to the house, so I gave it back to her. We drove back over to our house, jumped in Barbara's truck, made a quick stop at Subway, and then headed for the airport. There's an incredible amount of construction going on there, and we ended up driving in circles around the airport (twice, I think) before we could figure out how to get on the entrance road.

Barbara pulled up in front of the long-term parking deck, and I walked Mary to her car. The last frustration of a long day of frustrations was when Mary realized she didn't have her ticket. Although the lady in the booth was very apologetic, Mary ended up having to pay $84 in parking, which is apparently what they charge people who've been parked there since 4004 BC. Barbara and I arrived home about 9:15 and were greeted by two Border Collies who couldn't figure out what the hell was going on.

UPS just showed up with an envelope from Paul. He sent Mary's keys to me overnight because there are other keys on her keyring that she'll need before he arrives home.

Friday, 5 January 2007
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09:25 - As it turned out, there was a silver lining to Mary's cloud. Paul emailed me yesterday.

I told Mary we likely came out ahead: When she called initially to ask if I had her keys, Dad and I were on our way to buy a printer capable of printing photos - he has been sent tons from friends and family and would like hardcopies, rather than electronic.  I knew such printers were available but not much about them.  Whether or not I would have wised up before buying the silly printer is an open question, but by Mary's adventure, I wound up on the phone with you before getting the chance to throw money at Dad's problem.  There is a Walgreen's ten minutes away. So, thanks very much!

Paul's dad just wants standard 4X6 color prints from these image files. I told Paul that, for most people, buying a photo printer is a sucker bet, when Walgreens will make 4X6 prints on a professional photo printer using top-notch paper and inks for $0.19 each.

Mary stopped by yesterday to drop off the keyring and pick up the keys that Paul had expressed overnight to me. We ended up standing out front talking for an hour and a half, with the conversation ranging far and wide, as usual. Mary's incisive mind and sense of humor are delightful.


Saturday, 6 January 2007
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11:20 - I just spent an hour or two in the basement, stripping hard drives from old computer systems. Barbara just left to take a dozen or so of the old systems to Goodwill. They're mostly relatively recent systems, Pentium 4 or Athlon, but there were one or two older ones, including a Slot 1 dual Pentium III 550 in a PC Power & Cooling tower case.

I wish I could have left the hard drives in the systems, but I have no idea what was on any of them and it would have taken too long to wipe the drives. I now have a box of older drives in my work room, including several Ultra 160 SCSI Cheetahs and Barracudas, not to mention several relatively recent S-ATA drives, including four or five Seagate Barracuda S-ATA 7200.7 160 GB drives. I also had Barbara haul a large box of SCSI host adapters to Goodwill, which I just realized leaves me entirely SCSI-less for the first time in many years.

I was also about to pitch an old Plextor USB 2.0 external CD writer, which I'd used only for some testing and then boxed up and stuck on the shelf. Then I realized that I could remove the CD-RW drive and install a DVD+RW drive in its place. One of our friends telecommutes, and the only way he has of backing up his notebook is the internal CD writer. That takes seven or eight discs, and he has to sit there the whole time feeding it discs and then feeding the burned discs back in for the compare pass. Because it takes so long, he backs up only weekly. With an external DVD writer, and perhaps a bit of reorganization of his working data directories, he'll be able to start a DVD burning and walk away, which means he'll be able to back up every day.

So I pulled the Plextor drive and replaced it with an NEC ND-3550A DVD writer. I'll get it set up for him the next time we're over at his house.


Sunday, 7 January 2007
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Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.