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Week of 26 March 2007

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Monday, 26 March 2007
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08:15 - I worked all weekend on the astronomy book. I'd decided to work weekdays on the astronomy book and weekends on the home chem lab book, but I was on a roll and decided to keep going. Saturday, I finished up the constellation chapters for Hercules, Hydra, and Lacerta.

I was about to start on Leo on Sunday, but decided I'd better go back and do some more work on the chapters that I'd completed before we got permission to use the DSS images. So I spent Sunday downloading and formatting images for the previously completed constellation chapters Andromeda, Aquarius, Aquila, Aries, Auriga, Bootes, Camelopardalis, Capricornus, Canis Major, Cancer, and Canes Venatici. I also went back and redownloaded many of the images for the Cassieopeia chapter, which was the first I'd done with images.

Unfortunately, when I did Cassiopeia, I'd used different size images for different objects. The maximum size of a DSS image is 60x60 arcminutes (one degree square). For small objects, such as planetary nebulae, I'd sometimes used only 10x10 arcminute images. I decided it made more sense to use a consistent image size, so I went back and redid the Cassiopeia images. The larger images don't reveal any more detail in the the objects, because the DSS image scale is consistent at one arcsecond per pixel. But the larger images do put the objects into context, showning surrounding bright stars and so on.

While I was downloading images, I decided to go ahead and download the images for the chapters I'll be working on soon: Leo, Leo Minor, Lepus, Libra, Lynx, and Lyra. So, I have a bunch of images ready to drop into chapters, although I haven't actually updated those chapters yet.

In other big news, I washed my mug. Some years ago, Barbara got me a large plastic mug at Wal*Mart or someplace. It holds about a liter, so it's ideal for me. Ordinarily, I just rinse it with water every few days and wash it once every year or two, whether it needs it or not.

After dinner last night, we washed dishes and walked the dogs. When we returned, I headed into the kitchen to get some Coke. The sudsy water was still in the sink, so I decided what the heck. I washed my mug. Barbara was flabbergasted.

When it comes to mugs, I'm actually a paragon of cleanliness compared with my friend Paul Jones. Mary told me about her first visit to Paul's office. She wanted a drink, and he got her some water in his mug. She refused to drink it after she noticed the swirling brown currents in it. As it turned out, Paul admitted to her that he hadn't washed his mug at all in the preceding four years. Mary gagged and made other arrangements.

What is it about women and their fetish about washing mugs?


Tuesday, 27 March 2007
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08:28 - I'm still toiling away on constellation chapters. Yesterday, I went back and added images to all of the chapters I'd finished before we got permission to use the DSS images. I also got part way through the Leo chapter. I'll finish that today, and then start work on Leo Minor, Lepus, Libra, Lynx, and Lyra, for which I've already downloaded and processed the images.

I also took some time yesterday to move a lot of files from my working data directories to a holding area. My backup yesterday was 4.2 GB, which was getting perilously close to the 4.4 GB capacity of a DVD. The resolution of the DSS images I'm downloading is 3600x3600x8bpp, which means they eat disk space fast. So I moved a lot of stuff over to /holding, and ended up with only 1.2 GB in my working data directories. That counts the actual data I'm currently using actively, along with backups of Barbara's and my /home directories.

Some of the home school chemistry lab manuals I ordered arrived yesterday. I have to say that so far I'm not impressed. The first one I picked up to flip through was the Castle Heights Press book Experiences in Chemistry, by Kathleen Julicher. Actually, "book" overstates it. It's 40 sheets of copier paper, crudely printed and spiral-bound. Not much for $30.

I opened it at random to a page on distilling water. As a substitute for a condenser, the author recommends using a plastic bag filled with ice chips to surround the plastic tubing between the distillation vessel and the receiver. So far, so good. Then she writes, "The ice should remove the excess temperature from the gas".

The excess temperature from the gas? This woman is obviously clueless about the difference between temperature and heat. That's very ungood for someone who's writing a chemistry manual.

I hope the rest will be better, but somehow I doubt it. I also got the imposingly-named

Laboratory Manual
for Christian Schools
Home School and Small Christian School Edition
Teacher's Edition

from Bob Jones University Press. That one is also spiral-bound, but is a bit thicker, printed in color, and cost $23. I haven't had a chance to look through it yet.


Wednesday, 28 March 2007
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08:33 - I'm still cranking out constellation chapters. Yesterday, I finished Leo, which I'd started the day before, and started/finished the small chapters Leo Minor, Lepus, Libra, and Lynx. Today I'm starting work on Lyra, Monoceros, Ophiuchus, and Orion, which will probably occupy me through the end of this week. Together, those chapters account for about one eighth of the total number of deep-sky objects covered in the book. After that, I have only 17 more constellation chapters to complete, but some of them--such as Sagittarius, Scorpius, Taurus, Ursa Major, and Virgo--have many objects each.

My editor wants me to get as many as possible finished by mid-April, so I'm going to work straight through on the constellation chapters, taking only a couple days off during that time to get our taxes done. After I complete the constellation chapters, there's a lot remaining to do on the early narrative chapters. But then I'll be done and starting back to serious work on the home chem lab book. That'll occupy me through the summer, by which time I'll have another project in progress.


Thursday, 29 March 2007
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08:39 - I'd started work on the Lyra chapter yesterday and was downloading DSS images for it when I had a horrifying thought. What if that site went down or the image data otherwise became inaccessible? I'd be royally screwed, with images for some chapters and none for others.

So I decided to change my procedure. I had been downloading the images for each constellation chapter as I worked on it, but I decided to go ahead and download them all before I did any more work on the constellation chapters. Downloading the images is painstaking work. I have to check, double-check, and triple-check that I'm requesting the correct image. For example, if I want to request an image of NGC 1528, I have to make very, very sure I haven't transposed that request to NGC 1582. (This is a real example; both of those objects are in the book.) Then, when the image finishes downloading, I have to make very sure that I'm saving it under the right name.

The other problem is that there's little context in the images themselves. For example, if I do accidentally download NGC 1582 instead of NGC 1528, well the image shows an object and a lot of stars. Just looking at the image, it's difficult to tell which particular object it represents. This will be an issue for production when they lay out the book, too. Ordinarily, if images get swapped, it's easy enough to tell when I look at the PDF galleys. If the caption says "Installing the ATA cable" and the image shows Barbara seating a memory module, the problem is obvious. It won't be so obvious if O'Reilly's production folks switch the images for NGC 1528 and NGC 1582.

One aggravation is that I can't do anything else while I'm downloading images. I tried, but the danger of getting things screwed up is too high. Anyway, the time needed to download an image is long enough to make it desirable to do something else while it's downloading, but short enough to make it impossible to get anything done during the download. So I devoted yesterday from about 8:30 a.m. until Barbara got home at 6:15 p.m. to downloading images, with only short breaks. I managed to get 90 images downloaded during that time, finishing all of the constellations except Ursa Major, Virgo, and Vulpecula. There are 42 objects in those three chapters, so I have another half day or so of work ahead of me to finish downloading the images.

If you need DVD+R discs, now is a good time to get them. NewEgg has a deal on a spindle of 100 16X Verbatim DVD+R discs. Free shipping and a $13 rebate, which makes the final price $19.

I'm thinking about using DVD+R discs exclusively for my backups. Right now, I have a Monday through Saturday set of six DVD+RW discs that I use for daily backups. Every Sunday, I burn a DVD+R disc. I have a CaseLogic disc wallet that holds 48 discs. Allowing room for a 10-disc archive set, that means I keep more than six months' worth of Sunday backup discs in it. That case goes with me when I leave the house.

I use the DVD+RW discs just to avoid being covered up in used discs, but I think I may start using DVD+R discs for the daily backups as well. I won't throw away the old discs. I'll just keep the 100-disc spindles and put the older discs back on them as I burn new discs. They should be safe enough from damage there. The rims on the discs keep the data area from coming into contact with the adjacent disc. And $0.19 per day or $1.33 per week is pretty cheap insurance.

The DVD+R discs have much better burn quality than DVD+RW discs. The Verbatim DVD+RW discs are far better than any others I've tested, but the surface scans I run on them show orders of magnitude more errors than the scans I run on Verbatim DVD+R discs.

Periodically, someone publishes a sky-is-falling article about the archival stability of burned CDs and DVDs. I don't buy it. I've gone back and done in-depth surface scans on Verbatim discs that I burned five years ago, and they're as good as they were when they were first burned. The trick, if there can be said to be a trick, is to use top-quality discs in the first place, burn them in a top-quality burner, and store them properly. If you do that, your discs will last a long, long time.


Friday, 30 March 2007
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07:58 - I'm still cranking away. Yesterday, I finished downloading DSS images for the astronomy book and did a bunch of administrative stuff that I'd been letting slide. Today, it's back to working on constellation chapters. My goal is to have all of those completed by the end of April. Then I'll have some work left to do on the narrative chapters to complete the book. Then it's back to work on the chemistry book.

Thanks to everyone who made suggestions about tagging the images, either electronically or with a label on the bottom of the image. That's a good idea, but it doesn't solve the real problem, which is that once O'Reilly's production folks insert those images into a chapter I have no way to verify that the image I'm looking at is the one it's supposed to be. Still, O'Reilly's folks are very good and very careful, so I'm hoping it won't be a problem.


Saturday, 31 March 2007
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Sunday, 1 April 2007
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Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.