Week of 2 April 2007
Update: Saturday, 7 April 2007 08:40 -0500
We took Duncan to a veterinary oncologist this morning. The appointment
was at 9:15, but it was in Greensboro and they did some blood work
while we waited. Barbara dropped Duncan and me off at home at 12:15.
Dr. Jeffries seems to be a very competent young woman. She's Italian.
Her DVM is from the University of Torino. She laid out the
alternatives, and Barbara and I decided to start chemotherapy. We have
to take Duncan off the Previcox pain medication he's on right now and
let it work its way out of his system before we start the chemotherapy.
Dr. Jeffries says that dogs usually tolerate the chemotherapeutic
agents well. It's not the horror that it often is with chemotheraphy in
humans. Duncan will take two pills a day. After 10 days, we'll take him
back for a followup exam and blood work to see how he's doing and
whether the drugs are slowing or stopping the growth of the oral
Dr. Jeffries said that the one downside to trying chemotherapy first
rather than surgery is that, if the tumor does continue to grow, more
radical surgery may be needed later. We decided to take that chance. In
ten days, we should have an idea of whether the chemotherapy is
working. If it's not, we can try another agent or think again about
If the chemotherapy does work, we may have to continue the treatments
for a few weeks, a few months, or indefinitely, depending on how the
tumor reacts to the drug and how well Duncan tolerates the drug
We'll start the chemotherapy, which is in pill form, on Friday, after
the Previcox has had a chance to be eliminated from Duncan's system.
We'll have a follow-up visit the week of Tax Day to see how it's
Despite some distractions this weekend, I managed to finish up the
constellation chapters for Monoceros and Ophiuchus and get started on
Orion. I was hoping to finish Orion today but I may not since I'm
getting started with the day half gone.
As I expected, I didn't make it all the way through Orion yesterday,
but I'll finish it up today. As usual, I'm posting the finished chapter
drafts to the subscribers' page.
We tried last night to shoot an image of the tumor in Duncan's mouth so
that we would have something to compare sizes after he's been on the
chemotherapy for ten days. Duncan simply refused to cooperate, so I got
lots of fuzzy pictures of his snout and a couple close-ups of his
Not that Duncan tried to bite us. He simply twisted and jerked every
time Barbara tried to pry his jaws open. We tried everything from
sneaking up on him to holding a ball or treat just out of reach to
using two bandanas to hold his upper and lower jaws apart. Nothing
In other respects, Duncan is the most cooperative dog I've ever seen.
He'll let Barbara do just about anything to him without complaining.
But when it comes to his mouth, he just refuses to cooperate. Oh, well.
The oncologist visually examined him yesterday, so she should have some
basis for comparison.
And I got mail on Pournelle's back-channel mailing list saying that his
little dual-lens Kodak digital camera had bit the dust and asking for
recommendations. I told him that my favorite small digital camera is
the Concord 5345z, which unfortunately was discontinued long ago. I
suggested he check to find out if Concord has a current model with
similar features. Here's what I told him:
The 5345z is about the size of pack of cigarettes, and fits a shirt pocket easily. Here's what I like about it.
1. Start-up time is very fast. When you push the on button, it's ready to take a picture almost instantly.
2. Shutter latency is very short, about the same as Barbara's digital
SLR (or a standard SLR, come to that.) When you push the shutter
button, it takes the picture immediately, without that annoying lag
that's typical of most point-and-shoot digital cameras.
3. The autofocus is very, very good. I've used various high-end P&S
cameras from Olympus, Sony, and Nikon, and all of them produce fuzzy
images much more often than this little 5345z.
4. The macro function is also very good. If you still have a first
edition of Building the Perfect PC, check out the images in it. All or
nearly all of them were shot with the 5345z. (The same is true of the
second edition, but the printer did a horrible job of reproducing quite
a few of the images in the first printing of that edition.)
Our neighbors just got back from a visit to Disney World. I offered to
lend the 5345z to Stephanie because she doesn't trust her $500 Sony,
which frequently fails to focus properly. She left it at home and used
the 5345z. She took several hundred images, and there wasn't a badly
focused shot among them.
This 5345z has taken about 4,000 images with no problems so far. It's
been dropped and otherwise abused. I like it well enough that if it
died I might look for a used one to replace it instead of buying a
newer model. When I need to shoot images for a book, I find myself
reaching for the 5345z instead of Barbara's D-SLR.
I finally finished up the Orion constellation chapter yesterday. I also
started and finished Pegasus, and got started on Perseus.
Charlie Demerjian of The Inquirer has dubbed Microsoft's latest
operating system "Windows Vista Me II", which is so right on so many
levels that I wish I'd thought of it myself. In the opinions of many,
Vista has already superseded Windows Me for the title of Worst Windows
Version Ever. As to the "II" part, they say that imitation is the
sincerest form of flattery, and on that basis Vista is certainly
sincere. Vista freely imitates many features of Mac OS X and, although
it is seldom mentioned, Linux. Unfortunately, Vista imitates
incompetently, which is no surprise.
I've removed all DVD+RW discs from my office and put them in the
den, where I'll use them for recording TV programs. For years, I've
kept a set of six of them, labeled Monday through Saturday, in the disc
wallet I use for backups. Every year or so I'd replace the old set with
new discs and recycle the old discs for recording TV programs.
I did that mainly because I'm constitutionally incapable of throwing
anything away, particularly discs with data on them, and I didn't want
to be covered up in DVD+R discs. Using DVD+RW discs for weekday backups
meant that I generated only 52 or 53 Sunday DVD+R discs per year
instead of 365 or 366 DVD+R discs.
But every time I run surface scans on DVD+RW discs I'm nervous about
how bad they are compared to a well-burned DVD+R. The Verbatim DVD+RW
discs are better than any others I've tried, but they still have a
couple of magnitudes more errors than Verbatim 16X DVD+R discs (MCC
004) burned at 8X. So I decided to start burning a DVD+R disc every
That means I'll go through about four spindles of 100 DVD+R discs
every year, but in return I'll have daily granularity of my backup
data for as long as I keep the old discs. The spindles themselves are a
convenient and safe way to store the old discs. Each spindle holds 100
discs, which is just right for 90 days worth of daily backups plus a
ten disc archive set, so I'll fill up a new spindle once a quarter.
My 48-disc wallet goes everywhere with me when I leave the house. Six
spaces are allocated for Monday through Saturday backups, ten to an
archive set (which will obviously grow as time passes), two to two
copies of my current holding directory, and the remainder to Sunday
backup discs. That leaves me with 30 positions open for Sunday discs,
or more than six months' worth.
Eventually, I'll be able to buy a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD burner for $35 and
discs for $0.19 each. When that happens, I'll change over to
high-density DVDs, but for the foreseeable future regular old 4.7 GB
DVD+Rs are more than sufficient for my needs.
I finished the constellation chapters Perseus and Pisces yesterday, and
posted them to the subscribers' page. That's 37 of the constellation
chapters down and 13 left to go. Today, I'm going to try to get Puppis
and Sculptor knocked out, and perhaps get started on Scorpius. Three of
the remaining chapters--Sagittarius, Ursa Major, and Virgo--are big
ones that may take a couple of days each. But things are moving along.
I'm taking this coming weekend off to get the income tax returns
finished up. Then, once I finish the constellation chapters, I'll dive
back into the early narrative chapters. At that point, we'll be in the
review and production phases, and I'll be re-starting work on the home
chem lab book. Work on that will take me through the summer, by which
time I'm sure I'll be working on something else.
Pournelle posted a link to a horrifying story about a mob of bicycle terrorists in San Francisco
who surrounded the vehicle of a family with small children and attacked
them, terrifying them and doing thousands of dollars of damage to their
vehicle, including throwing a bicycle through the window of the
In that situation, I'd have come out of the vehicle shooting. Either
that, or used the vehicle itself to mow down as many of the attackers
as I could. That the San Francisco authorities apparently tolerate
these gangsters is sufficient reason to stay out of San Francisco.
I finished the constellation chapters Puppis and Sculptor yesterday and
posted them to the subscribers' page. I also got started on Scorpius.
I'll also try to get as far as possible on the next several small
constellation chapters, Scutum, Serpens, Sextans, and Sagitta, before I
break off work on constellation chapters to work on the income tax
returns this weekend.
After I finish the taxes, I'll dive back into the
constellation chapters, finishing up any work that remains on those
small chapters and then getting started on Sagittarius, which is a big
one. After I finish Sagittarius, I'm in the home stretch of Taurus,
Triangulum, Ursa Major, Virgo, and Vulpecula, all of which except
Triangulum and Vulpecula are large chapters.
We started Duncan this morning on the chemotherapy drug Melfalan. I
have trouble remembering that name (I have to look at the bottle
every time), so I think of it as 2-amino-3-[4-[bis(2-chloroethyl)amino]phenyl]-propanoic acid.
The stuff is expensive, at $200 for 30 1.5 mg capsules. Duncan gets two
capsules per day for ten days and then one capsule per day for another
ten days. We take him in for more blood work ten days from now. It's
possible that the drug will have killed the tumor after 20 days, but
it's also possible the vet will tell us to keep Duncan on the drug
If that's her recommendation, I'll talk to Barbara about trying sodium
dichloroacetate instead. That stuff is dirt cheap, at about $0.10/day
instead of $10/day. More important, DCA is much less toxic and may very
possibly be a lot more effective. Obviously, no one knows for sure, but
the initial reports are extremely promising, to say the least.
Busy day yesterday. I finished five constellation chapters, Scorpius,
Scutum, Serpens, Sextans, and Sagitta. In case anyone is wondering why
I'm working in almost but not quite alphabetical order, it's because
I'm working by constellation abbreviation rather than name: Sco, Sct,
Ser, Sex, and Sge.
The only constellation chapters remaining to be done are
Triangulum, Ursa Major, Virgo, and Vulpecula. Well those and Ursa
Minor, which has only the double star Polaris. Unfortunately, those
chapters have a total of 70 objects, which is about a quarter of the
total objects covered in the book. I've been averaging seven to ten
objects per day plus chapter intros, so it looks like I have seven to
ten days of work remaining on the constellation chapters.
One of the most time-consuming parts is checking our own notes against
observing notes made by others, just to make sure we aren't way out the
edge one way or the other. The differences are sometimes striking,
particularly for double stars. For example, we may have noted that the
primary and companion of a particular double star appeared pure white
and warm white to us. Others' observing notes for that same double may
report anything from white/white to yellow/orange to even blue/orange.
Some of those differences can be attributed simply to differences in
how people perceive colors. Others are attributable to the aperture
used by different observers. For example, someone who used a 70mm
refractor may have reported a double star to be blue-white/yellow,
while in our 10" Dob it appeared to be white/white because our much
larger aperture made both components so bright that the color
differences reported by the observer with the smaller scope were simply
swamped in our case by the additional brightness. It works the other
way, too. Someone may report a double as white/white in a small scope,
but when we look at it in our 10" Dob it's enough brighter that we're
able to see colors.
When there's a very large discrepancy in the colors reported, I have to
resort to looking up the spectra for the components to determine how it
"should" have looked. That goes both ways, too. For some of the doubles
that we saw as more or less pure white, the magnitudes and spectra
indicate that we should have seen them as distinctly yellowish or
bluish or whatever. But we didn't see them that way. So sometimes I
fudge the reports. If all the other observing reports and the spectra
agree that a pair appears, say, blue-white/yellow-white, but we saw it
as white/white, I report it as blue-white/yellow-white.
The same problem occurs, although usually to a lesser extent, for
reporting the appearance of deep-sky objects, although for these even
our own reports often differ significantly. For example, we've observed
the famous Whirlpool Galaxy, M 51 in Canes Venatici, dozens of times.
It seems reasonable that all of our observing reports done with the
same instrument from the same site under similar conditions using the
same eyepiece should be very similar. They're not. One night, M 51 may
appear with striking detail, including mottling structure in the halo
and the connecting lane between 5194 and 5195. Another night, when
we've recorded the observing conditions as similar or identical, M 51
just doesn't show much detail at all.
In cases like that, I choose our "best" session, but a problem
sometimes arises when our "best" is significant worse than everyone
else's apparent "average". That's happened on several objects so far,
with others reporting observing the object and seeing much detail, when
we've never seen much at all despite repeated attempts. Oh, well, the
best we can do is the best we can do.
And I have to get started on the taxes. I'm starting early this year.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce