Week of 15 January 2007
Update: Saturday, 20 January 2007 09:34 -0500
- 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
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.
- 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
Wednesday, 17 January 2007
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:
99999: Analysis of Chlorine Bleach by Redox Titration
concentration of sodium hypochlorite in bleach by using starch/iodine
as a redox indicator
and the following stub outline to the forensics chapter:
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.
With which I heartily agree. Murray knows what he's talking about, and he's not afraid to say it.
Thursday, 18 January
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:
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
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
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
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
From: Sjon Svenson
To: Robert Thompson
Date: Yesterday 17:46:46
[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
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*
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
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
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
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.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce