Week of 16 April 2007
Update: Saturday, 21 April 2007 08:22 -0400
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
It's time to face facts in the gun-control debate. Gun
control doesn't protect people. Guns protect people.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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?
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce