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Week of 15 January 2007

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Monday, 15 January 2007
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09:55 - Barbara has today off for the holiday. I'm heading to the dentist for some oral surgery this morning. Oh, joy.

This morning I discovered accidentally something I'd forgotten about Windows 2000. It doesn't enable DMA automatically. I couldn't figure out why the system with Windows 2000 on it was so slow, so I started poking around. Once I enabled DMA for the hard drive and optical drive, it started running much better. I'd forgotten how much faster Windows 2000 is than Windows XP. Compared to Windows 2000, Windows XP is a mammoth pig. I'm sure that Vista is even piggier.

Our friends Mary and Paul stopped by Saturday on their way home from Best Buy, where they'd been shopping for LCD monitors. I'd given them some suggestions, and they ended up getting a couple of Samsung LCDs. They're quite pleased with them. The display quality of the Samsungs must have come as a surprise, since they had been using a couple of older 17" CRTs.

They also dropped off their copy of the first season of Veronica Mars, which Mary said she thought we'd like. We watched the first disc last night, and I think we'll stick with it. It's described as a little bit of Buffy and a little bit of Humphrey Bogart, with Veronica, the teenage protagonist, setting out to find the murderer of her best friend. Kristen Bell, who plays Veronica, isn't Buffy, but she's very likable.

The early episodes of any series are always rough, as the director and writers struggle to get all the characters and settings introduced without losing the viewers' attention. The characters started out pretty two-dimensional in the pilot, but by the fourth and final episode on the disc they'd started to develop some depth. We plan to stick with the series. The fact that Mary Chervenak recommended it is enough for me to give it as long as it takes.

The most annoying thing about the boxed set is that the DVDs in it overlap. There are three pairs of discs, each of which overlaps. You have to remove disc 1 to get to disc 2, and so on. That means when you swap discs, you either have to juggle two at a time or put disc 1 back where it'll later be overlapped by disc 2. Whoever designed this package obviously never had to use it.


Tuesday, 16 January 2007
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08:54 - I survived oral surgery yesterday, although I'm still not hitting on all cylinders.

Barbara and I watched the second disc of Veronica Mars last night. It's very well done, and getting better. Several people sent me a link to Joss Whedon's take on Veronica Mars, in which Whedon says of Veronica Mars, "Best. Show. Ever. Seriously, I've never gotten more wrapped up in a show I wasn't making, and maybe even more than those" and then goes on to say, "These guys know what they're doing on a level that intimidates me. It's the Harry Potter of shows."

It's certainly reminiscent of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, albeit without the vampires or martial arts. In fact, at times Veronica looks and sounds a lot like Buffy. And Whedon is right about the tight plotting and crisp dialog, but I think he underrates himself if he thinks this is a better show than Buffy. Of course, we're only eight episodes in.

Winter is returning to Winston-Salem. Our high yesterday was about 75F (24C). Our low tonight is to be 27F (-3C) and the high tomorrow 43F (6C).


Wednesday, 17 January 2007
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09:38 - We reached the forecast low last night. With the stiff breeze, the windchill got down to about 14F (-10C), which is our coldest night of the winter so far. It's just above freezing right now, but at least the wind has died down. I just took the dogs for a short walk. Low temperatures seem to invigorate them.

The new chem lab book continues to progress. I just added the following stub outline to the redox chapter:

Laboratory 99999: Analysis of Chlorine Bleach by Redox Titration

Determine concentration of sodium hypochlorite in bleach by using starch/iodine as a redox indicator

and the following stub outline to the forensics chapter:

Laboratory 99999: Presumptive Drug Tests Using Standard Reagents

Test household chemicals for false positives using Marquis Reagent and other standard DEA tests

At this point, it looks like I'm going to have to spend some time deciding, as Bob Seger said, what to leave in and what to leave out. More than likely I'll end up with enough material to do a second chem lab book, and perhaps even a third.

I kind of wanted to name this book The Mother of All Chemistry Sets, but I'm sure we'll come up with a better title.

15:15 - From Jerry Pournelle's View page:

Charles Murray's education series in the Wall Street Journal is important and must reading for everyone in the US. Spread the word.



There will be a third.

Tell everyone.

With which I heartily agree. Murray knows what he's talking about, and he's not afraid to say it.


Thursday, 18 January 2007
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08:27 - The CyberHome DVD recorder in the den may have died last night. We were watching the final episode on disc three of Veronica Mars when the phone rang. I pressed the Stop button. When Barbara finished her phone call. I pressed Play, and the recorder shut off. I pressed the power button and it seemed to come up normally but the "Loading" icon never went away. The recorder just sat there humming, obviously trying to load the disc and failing. So I opened and then reclosed the tray. The recorder chugged away for several seconds and then displayed the "No Disc" icon. Hmmm.

I tried a couple more times with no joy, and then hooked up a DVD player to the TV. That loaded the disc normally, and we watched the final part of the episode. If I get a few spare moments this weekend I'll see if the recorder has gone belly up. If so, I may just buy another. On the other hand, I may disassemble it and see if I can install a regular DVD writer in the chassis.

There's been some discussion over on the messageboard about the title for the new book. Someone pointed out that a bestseller needs to have the words "sex" and/or "diet" in its title. The best suggestion so far is The Better Sex Through Chemistry Diet.

I did have one thought. Perhaps I'll add a lab to the book: "Synthesis of Sildenafil Citrate (Viagra)".

Here's a disturbing article, Congress to Send Critics to Jail, Says Richard Viguerie. FTA:

"Section 220 of S. 1, the lobbying reform bill currently before the Senate, would require grassroots causes, even bloggers, who communicate to 500 or more members of the public on policy matters, to register and report quarterly to Congress the same as the big K Street lobbyists. Section 220 would amend existing lobbying reporting law by creating the most expansive intrusion on First Amendment rights ever. For the first time in history, critics of Congress will need to register and report with Congress itself.

The bill would require reporting of 'paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying,' but defines 'paid' merely as communications to 500 or more members of the public, with no other qualifiers."

It's obviously unConstitutional on the face of it, but nowadays that's no guarantee it won't be enforced if Congress is foolish enough to pass it.

Hint to Congress: If you really want to reform lobbying, start arresting lobbyists who offer bribes and any member of Congress who accepts them, which is to say all lobbyists and nearly all members of Congress. Lobbying is nothing less than institutionalized bribery, and it's long past time to put a stop to it. That, and any "campaign contributions" from any source other than individuals who live in the district represented by the member in question. With the exception of Ron Paul and perhaps a couple of others, every member of Congress already belongs in a federal prison. So I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that they want to shut us all up.

Not all the news is bad. Canadian researchers have come up with a possible breakthrough: Small molecule offers hope for cancer treatment. The bad news is that dichloroacetic acid is a simple, well-known molecule, too simple and too well-known to be patented. That means that the pharmaceutical companies aren't interested in funding clinical trials, because they couldn't make any money selling it, even if it turned out to be a magic bullet.

Perhaps some third-world physician will do a clinical trial of his own. If it works, he might share in a Nobel Prize. But even if that doesn't happen, I predict a boom in sales of dichloroacetic acid salts to desperate individuals.

From: Sjon Svenson
  To: Robert Thompson
Date: Yesterday 17:46:46
  Re: daynote
[quote]We reached the forecast low last night. ... [/quote]

after that I expected you to tell how incredibly wrong the forecast was. :)

[quote from Murray]Advances in computer simulation are expanding the technical skills that can be taught without having to gather students together in a laboratory or shop. [/quote]

That misses one point. Get a bunch of people together in one practice room, split up in small teams and let them work on test together. The result is -with some luck- a race condition where the teams compete against each other. OK, that sometimes works with virtual environments to (though it is often rather forced). Where technology falls off is where half a word or gesture picked up from another group's conversation can steer one's own group. When you hear the other teams sigh or breath faster, or see them thinking or gesturing you pick up clues or hope. It puts the 'experience' back in the 'learning experience'.

I had the immense luck of being in such a situation at University. I studied Biology. We had a person who was a crack at mathematics where most of us were only average at it. During physics practice session his team usually came up with the right solutions fastest. But it made some of us work harder and try harder. Beating his team on speed was vary rare but also exhilarating. And it was a challenge. It also resulted in us talking about the excercises and test after the lessons, at the bar with a pint of beer :)

(ps, We didn't have a real team-competition cause the "teams" changed every time.)

The point is mixing people with different capabilities has it's advantages.

Notice that I agree for 99% with mister Murray.

ps Oh dear! That means I agree with you as well. *grin*

Kind regards
Sjon Svenson


Friday, 19 January 2007
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08:27 - Jasmine, who was injured in a gymnastics competition a couple of weekends ago, went back to school on Tuesday. Jasmine is on crutches and can't ride the bus, so Kim has been dropping her off and picking her up.

Wednesday afternoon, I happened to be walking the dogs near Kim's house when she arrived home with Jasmine. Jasmine was obviously upset, and Kim was livid. After Jasmine's X-rays and MRI, the doctor had told her that at all costs she had to keep from putting any weight at all on her injured knee or she could damage it very badly. Kim could barely speak when she got out of her car, but she was finally able to tell me that a boy at school had tripped Jasmine, who had fallen hard.

At first, I thought Kim meant there'd been an accident, but incredibly it turns out that the boy tripped Jasmine intentionally, with a teacher and thirty other students looking on. Kim was sick with worry that Jasmine had been badly hurt, as well as irate that this young hoodlum was apparently going to get away with this assault. What really bothered her was that no one at the school seemed to care.

I talked to Kim yesterday afternoon, and things are looking better. Jasmine's injury wasn't exacerbated by the fall. The teacher and principal are in fact very concerned about what happened, and are doing what they can to address the situation. The kid who attacked Jasmine has been suspended, and the school has told Kim that she has three months to decide whether or not to file criminal assault charges against the punk.

The kid has been in trouble before, and doesn't seem to care. After he tripped Jasmine, for example, he asked her if she'd had a nice trip. This half-wit was apparently still giggling over his cleverness when he arrived in the principal's office, and showed no remorse when he was confronted with what he'd done. The punk's mother, of course, says her little darling would never do such a thing, despite the testimony of the people who saw him do it and heard him brag about it afterwards.

The kid is at least a year or two older than Jasmine but is also in eighth grade, so he must have been held back at least a year or two. As Kim says, a five or ten day suspension is no punishment at all for this kid. He'd rather not be in school anyway. But she hesitates to press criminal charges because she doesn't want to give the kid a criminal record. Unfortunately, in these Politically Correct times, there's no middle ground. When I was that age, a kid who did that would have been paddled by the teacher or principal until his ass was smoking. Then his father would have repeated the paddling when he got home. He would have had to sit on a pillow for a week.

But the Politically Correct morons have made corporal punishment impossible. (I almost typed "capital punishment"--can you tell I'm also upset?) What they fail to understand is that only one form of attitude adjustment is understood by teenage boys, and that's physical pain. Kim would like this boy to suffer physical pain--bamboo under the fingernails would be about right--but that's apparently not an option. So she has to decide between allowing him to get away with it, indeed to be rewarded for his action with a free pass to get off going to school, or filing criminal charges.

She's thinking about it, and will listen to what Jasmine has to say. Jasmine, after all, knows this punk, and she has to go to school, where he's likely to be when he returns from suspension. Jasmine is a brave kid, but if I were in her position I'd probably be worried about reprisals from the punk or his friends, assuming he has any. The teachers can't watch everyone every moment, so if this kid wants to hurt her he'll be able to. Of course, he doesn't seem to care even if he's seen hurting her, which is very not good.

I told Kim it was none of my business, but given the two choices available to her I'd be inclined to file criminal charges. At the very least, that might get him expelled from her school and moved to a school for people like him. Either way, I predict a dim future for this punk. A boy who would intentionally trip a 13 year old girl on crutches and then laugh about what he'd done is going to grow up to be a criminal. As far as I'm concerned, he's already a criminal.


Saturday, 20 January 2007
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09:34 - Barbara is downstairs painting the ceilings in the guest suite. Except, of course, in the kitchen/laboratory, which I asked her to stay out of unless I was there. Barbara's smart, but there are bottles of concentrated nitric acid, ethylene dichloride, and similarly nasty stuff sitting on counters in there.

We've made it through 14 of the 22 episodes of the first season of Veronica Mars. The program was very good even in the early episodes, but it's fast becoming top-notch. Alyson Hannigan showed up in one of the episodes we watched last night. She must have enjoyed playing a roaring bitch. Or, as she said in Buffy, a b-i-t-c-h. (To which Xander replied, "Bitca?")

Veronica Mars is in season three right now, and it's looking as if there won't be a season four. I'm getting used to programs that we like having short runs. At seven seasons, Buffy was an exception, and Angel made it through five seasons. Then came Firefly and Wonderfalls, at just over a dozen episodes each, and now Veronica Mars, which will probably make it through 64 episodes, two short of three full seasons.

As Paul said, the networks are constantly in search of 70's-style hits, which just isn't going to happen in today's environment. So they'll cancel Veronica Mars and replace it with something inferior, constantly hoping for a breakout hit.

And geniuses like Joss Whedon and the Veronica Mars guys are left looking for work. If I were a studio executive, I'd shovel money at these guys and tell them to go make whatever they wanted and bring it to me when they were finished.

Of course, the studios and networks are dinosaurs anyway. Just as technology has freed musicians from having to sell their souls to record companies in exchange for studio time, technology is in the process of freeing folks like Joss Whedon from depending on studios and networks, on both the production side and the distribution side.

I can easily visualize a few years from now subscribing to a new Joss Whedon program. I and a couple million other people will send Joss a $25 subscription--the price of a hardback book--and in return he'll produce and distribute a dozen new episodes of whatever program he's working on. Perhaps those will arrive on high-capacity DVDs, or perhaps I'll download them and burn them to DVD myself. But the important point is that the studios, networks, and advertisers will be cut out of the loop.


Sunday, 21 January 2007
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