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Week of 16 April 2007

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Monday, 16 April 2007
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08:28 - The taxes are done and sent off, and I'm in the closing stretch of the astronomy book. I have two constellation chapters left, Ursa Major and Virgo, both of which are large chapters. I started Ursa Major yesterday, and I should be able to finish it today or tomorrow. Then comes Virgo, and then I have some work left to do on the initial narrative chapters. That'll probably carry me through the end of this month. But at least the end of this project is now in sight.

I've penciled in some time this coming weekend to get the lab whipped into shape. When we had dinner with our chemist friends Paul and Mary the other night, they asked me how the lab was coming. I told them it was a huge mess. They responded simultaneously, "What lab isn't?"

Which reminds me of the time several years ago when Barbara was unhappy about the mess that my office had become, with computer parts and boxes scattered randomly all over the place. As it happened, several other computer hardware writers had recently posted pictures of their own offices. So I showed Barbara pictures of the offices of Jerry Pournelle, Anand of AnandTech, and Tom of Tom's Hardware, all of which bore a remarkable resemblance to my own office. It didn't help.

So I'll spend some time this weekend getting the lab organized. My motto, as always, will be "A place for everything, and nothing where I can find it when I need it." But at least I'll be ready to roll on the home chem lab book as of 1 May.

The edges of that huge storm came through here yesterday afternoon. We didn't get much. All it amounted to here was some gusty winds, an inch or so of rain, and some lightning and thunder. There were two very close lightning strikes in the afternoon, with almost no separation between the lightning and the thunder. Just a brilliant flash and loud boom together. The first one didn't even make the lights flicker, but the second one knocked out our cable TV and cable modem for a couple of hours.

Fortunately, the cable service was back on by 6:00 p.m., in plenty of time for us to record the 2-hour premiere episode of Drive, Tim Minear's new show that stars Nathan Fillion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Serenity. I told Barbara that, given Fox's history of abusing shows by the Whedon gang, this new show will probably be canceled after something between four and thirteen episodes, so we might just as well record all of them to DVDs before we start watching. That way, if they run them out of order, we can watch them in the proper order. The second episode runs tonight, allegedly.

And, speaking of watching stuff on DVD, I see that Sony hasn't learned its lesson. New Sony DVD-Video discs, including Casino Royale among others, have a new form of copy protection that unfortunately makes it impossible to play them on many DVD players, including many current Sony models. Talk about the right hand and left hand not knowing what they're doing. Sony's solution for owners of Sony DVD players is to suggest that they install a firmware patch. The only problem is that no such patch exists. What a bunch of morons.

14:10 - Initial reports say there are 22 dead and 21 wounded in the shooting this morning at Virginia Tech. Every time something like this happens, I can't help but think how much smaller the toll might have been with the rogue wolf loose amongst the sheep had there been even one or two armed civilians in that flock. That's 43 people shot and 22 of them dead, and all they could do was scream and run until the police showed up.

In case it's not obvious to everyone by now, all that gun control laws can do, all that they have ever been or will ever be able to do, is to make sure that only the bad guys are armed. Rogue wolves are unpredictable. They show up when and where you least expect them. There's almost never a police officer around when it happens, and if one does happen to be in the vicinity, he's always the first target. As I've said before and will keep saying, these things don't happen when there are good wolves in sheep's clothing mixed in with the flock.

No one should be helpless, but the government seems determined to make us that way. I'm going to have a chat with Kim about teaching Jasmine to shoot. Jasmine turns 14 in June, which is old enough to start learning combat pistol skills. I also think it'd be a good idea for Jasmine to take some serious martial arts classes. Not the garbage recreational/sport martial arts stuff they peddle in strip mall storefronts, but skills that Jasmine could use if necessary to kill or disable an attacker before he realized she would fight back.


Tuesday, 17 April 2007
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11:05 - I'm just back from taking Duncan for a follow-up visit to the veterinary oncologist in Greensboro. They did follow-up blood work and an exam. The blood work is normal, and they can't see any sign of the tumor.

I just waited out front while they did the exam, and I didn't see the vet. She wrote up a report, which her assistant handed me. They want Duncan to continue on the chemotherapy indefinitely, but we'll probably disregard that advice. We'll give Duncan the remaining ten days or so of the initial 20-day supply and then just keep an eye on him. If the tumor returns, then we'll consider alternatives. But for now the news is very, very good.

And Barbara just sent me this picture of Hercules, a 284-pound Old English Mastiff, which is the breed and size of dog I've always wanted. Actually, I'd like to have two or three of them. Attack trained. Nothing like 750 pounds of fangs to discourage intruders.

Actually, when I first looked at this image, being a guy, the first thing I noticed was the pretty girl holding the ugly white dog.

Speaking of which, I just saw an interesting article about the different ways that men and women look at hard-core porn. The women look at the genitals first, and spend most of their time focused there. The men look first at, you guessed it, the girl's face. Yep, it's true.

I suppose that's why of all the images on Nick Scipio's Picture of the Day site, which runs a lot of soft-core porn, this is my favorite.


Wednesday, 18 April 2007
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08:32 - I spent some time yesterday checking out Kim's Vonage problem. As it turns out, they'd been without phone service other than cell phones since Sunday. Kim was going around in circles with Time-Warner Roadrunner and Vonage tech support people. I disconnected the Vonage router and connected her Linux box directly to the cable modem to verify that she did have connectivity.

Having isolated the problem to the Vonage router, we called Vonage, who said they'd ship us a replacement via two-day express or, if we didn't want to wait that long, we could just buy another Vonage router at Best Buy and Vonage would refund the cost. Kim ran over to pick up a new Vonage router and when Barbara and I walked the dogs last night we stopped by to install it for her. I had to visit the Vonage web site to activate the new router, providing its MAC address and transferring Kim's phone line to the new device. The web page said it might take half an hour for the change to take effect. We sat around waiting for a while, but eventually gave up and came home. Presumably, it's working this morning, but I'll stop by to check.

I talked to Kim about teaching Jasmine to shoot, and she had no objections. In fact, she thought Jasmine might enjoy it. Kim and I were sitting in our den talking yesterday afternoon when Jasmine stopped by to ask Kim something. I asked Jasmine if she'd like me to take her to the range and teach her to shoot a pistol, and she thought it sounded like fun. She did say, "I'd never use a gun." I asked if she meant that she'd never shoot a person, and she replied that she'd never shoot any living thing. I told her that was fine, and that a lot of people who enjoyed target shooting as a hobby never hunted or otherwise used a gun to do anything but punch holes in paper. So I think once Jasmine gets out of school we'll spend some time at the range.

And this from Rod Schaffter. Not all of the victims in Virginia were sheep.

From: Rod Schaffter
  To: Bob Thompson
  Date: Yesterday 13:13:18
Re: Chemical & Engineering News: Education - Science Of Homeschooling

Dear Bob,

Thought this might be of interest...

Science Of Homeschooling

As homeschooling catches on, demand grows for a broader spectrum of chemistry curricula


Also, it is good to know that men with chests still walk the earth:

"As Jews worldwide honored on Monday the memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust, a 76-year-old survivor sacrificed his life to save his students in Monday's shooting at Virginia Tech College that left 33 dead and over two dozen wounded.

Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter when the man attempted to enter his classroom. The Israeli mechanics and engineering lecturer was shot to death, "but all the students lived - because of him," Virginia Tech student Asael Arad - also an Israeli - told Army Radio..."


Certainly something that isn't taught much these days.

Take Care,

Rod Schaffter

Obviously there was at least one sheep dog amongst the sheep. It's too bad that the only weapon he had to fight with was his own body.


Thursday, 19 April 2007
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08:18 - I'm off mail collection duty. Our neighbors Steve and Mimi are back from Disney World, and our friends Paul and Mary are back from London, where Mary did the kick-off event for the Blue Planet run.

Kubuntu 7.04 ships today. I tried to get to the download site, but it and all of the mirror sites I had bookmarked are not responding. Once I can get to one and download a torrent file, I'll fire up Bittorrent and leave it up for the next day or two to help with the distribution. A lot of other people will be doing the same thing, which should eliminate the roadblocks pretty quickly.

Barbara's sister, Frances, dropped off their PC yesterday because it was booting to a text screen after the bad lightning storm Sunday. I just hooked it up, expecting to log in and get things straightened out, but when I attempted to type my username it was dropping most of the characters I typed. So I swapped the USB keyboard for a PS/2 model, thinking that would solve the problem. Nope. This system won't accept keyboard input. I'm afraid the motherboard took a hit. This may turn out to be more work than I thought.

I almost finished Virgo yesterday. I have four or five objects left to write up the descriptions for, and then I'm finished with constellation chapters. Two of the three early narrative chapters are already written, and the third one is partially complete, so I have only to complete some work on those and write the Preface and I'll be 100% complete. I'll finish that work in the next few days.

14:18 - I've tried everything I can think of to get the data off the hard drive in Barbara's sister's system, and I'm afraid it's completely borked. Worse still, because the problem occurred right when we were having a severe lightning storm, I'm afraid the problem may be more than just the hard drive. I'm running a memory scan right now, because the system locks up unpredictably even when it's running a Live Linux CD. Even if I replace the hard drive and memory, I don't trust this system. I think I'll tell Frances she should contact her homeowner's insurance agent and ask them if they're covered for lightning damage.


Friday, 20 April 2007
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08:15 - Thanks to Peter N. Glaskowsky, who reminded me of something I should have remembered:

From: Peter N. Glaskowsky
  Re: The other Virginia college shooting, five years ago


In 2002, another Virginia college was attacked by a madman bent on mass murder. That time, only three people died-- because two legally-armed students intervened before the local police could arrive.

Virginia law allows college students to carry guns just like other responsible adults, but Virginia Tech's rules left its students defenseless.

It's time to face facts in the gun-control debate. Gun control doesn't protect people. Guns protect people.

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Every once in a great while, a politician says what he really thinks. Here's John McCain on the Iran situation. And here's the brilliant satire upon which McCain's little jingle is based. At least I think it was intended as satire, although it seems to me to be a serious foreign policy recommendation.

I talked to Barbara's sister, Frances, again last night. She really doesn't want to use her home insurance if she can avoid it. In fact, she had some roof damage during the storm and didn't report it to her insurance agent. She said the guys showed up yesterday and replaced 30 or 40 individual sheets of shingles and renailed the rest of the roof. I told her that if she didn't want to make a claim on her PC to let her agent know and that I'd build her a new one as inexpensively as possible.

In fact, I think I'll just give them the system that's currently my secondary system. It's running Windows 2000 right now, because I needed Windows to run the Megastar software that I used to produce star charts for the astronomy book. I can just pull the hard drive that's in it, install a new hard drive, and install Linux. After a bit of clean-up, it'll be ready to go. It's faster than the system that was damaged, and should be more than sufficient for their needs.

That leaves me without a secondary system, but I can cobble something together pretty inexpensively when I have time to get around to it. I've finished all of the constellation chapters and posted them up to the subscribers' page, so I probably won't be needing Megastar again unless I need to re-do a chart or something. If so, I can probably just pop that hard drive into a similar system and do a repair installation of Windows 2000.

I may install Kubuntu 7.04 on their new system. Bittorrent finished the DVD download sometime overnight, so now I'm seeding. I'll leave Bittorrent up for another day or two to help others who are downloading it. Checking the stats, I see that I'm now one of 223 seeders for this particular torrent who are supplying the 4.3 GB ISO file to something over 1,000 leechers. Right now, my share ratio is at 0.53, which means I've uploaded only 53% of the torrent, versus downloading 100% of it. I'll let that ratio get to at least 1.00 and probably 2.00 before I shut down Bittorrent.

11:26 - I stripped down my secondary system, pulled the hard drive, and blew out the dust. It now has a 160 GB Seagate Barracuda S-ATA drive. I'm installing Kubuntu 7.04 on it as I write this. The only weird thing is that the installer is running in 640X480 resolution on my 19" Samsung LCD, which is purely ugly. It's also offset about 15% to the left. Oh, well. Once it finishes installing and reboots I can take care of that problem.

I also noticed that this system has only one 512 MB DIMM installed. I'll see if I can find a second, compatible DIMM to install. Actually, 512 MB is probably sufficient for how this system will be used, but more can't hurt.

The system also has a Plextor DVD writer rather than the CD writer that was in the original system. I think I'll set things up with the KDE utility Keep to perform automatic daily backups of their home directories to a /backup directory. Frances can then write the backups to a CD or DVD however often she feels inclined to do so.

I should probably also get their email rationalized. Right now, they're using Roadrunner servers. I'll offer to set them both up with accounts on Barbara's fritchman.com domain or any of my other domains they'd like to use. Roadrunner does fine on IP connectivity, but their POP and SMTP servers suck dead juvenile Leporidae through a tubular supplementary drinking device.


And I conclude that Kubuntu 7.04 is not ready for prime-time. There's apparently a bug that affects systems with nVidia video. Using the GUI tools, I couldn't get the nVidia 6100 video adapter and Samsung 19" LCD to display any resolution higher than 800x600. I was sitting here manually editing the xorg.conf file to put in a modeline for 1280x1024 when I came to my senses. This is not an OS I want installed on Frances's and Al's system. So I'm installing Xandros 4 Premium, which is what they were using. Frances wanted me to install Google Earth, so I'll have to see if it's available for Xandros. I'll also need to check to see if Keep is available.

Nothing is ever easy.


Saturday, 21 April 2007
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08:22 - I'm really disappointed with Kubuntu 7.04. Yesterday morning, I installed Kubuntu 7.04 on a vanilla system with embedded nVidia video and found that it refused to display anything higher than 640x480 on my 19" Samsung LCD, which has a native resolution of 1280x1024. Last night, I tried to install it on my den system, which is a vanilla system with Intel integrated video, and found that it refused to display anything lower than 1280x1024 on my 17" CRT.

This isn't a showstopper bug for me or anyone else who has a bit of Linux experience. (See here for fixes for the video problems.) But these video problems would indeed be showstoppers for newbies, and there's no excuse for shipping a half-baked release like this. Who does Ubuntu think they are, Microsoft? It's not like I'm running unusual hardware. Even minimal testing would have uncovered these problems, so I'm forced to conclude that Ubuntu knowingly shipped a release with borked video support.

There was considerable speculation that Ubuntu wouldn't be able to make the proposed April ship date, and some surprise that they'd managed to do so. Now we know why. They shipped a product that wasn't ready to be shipped. Far better if they'd delayed the release into May or even June. I'd much rather have seen a working Kubuntu 7.05 or 7.06 than a rushed 7.04 release with these problems unfixed.

I don't doubt that the problems will be fixed, probably within the next couple of weeks. But why couldn't Ubuntu have waited those couple of weeks and shipped a working product?


Sunday, 22 April 2007
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