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Week of 2 April 2007

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Monday, 2 April 2007
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12:38 - 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 plasmacytoma.

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 surgery.

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 long-term.

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 working.

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.


Tuesday, 3 April 2007
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08:36 - 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 fangs.

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 worked.

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.


Wednesday, 4 April 2007
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08:34 - 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 day.

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.


Thursday, 5 April 2007
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08:03 - 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 vehicle.

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.


Friday, 6 April 2007
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08:30 - 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 indefinitely.

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.


Saturday, 7 April 2007
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08:40 - 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 Sagittarius, Taurus, 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.


Sunday, 8 April 2007
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