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Week of 23 April 2007

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Monday, 23 April 2007
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08:54 - For the first time in many years, I'm down to only one PC in my office. Barbara's sister's system died, and the easiest and quickest way to get her back up and running was just to swap a new drive into my secondary system, install Xandros 4.0 on it, and give her that system. Frances and Al stopped by yesterday afternoon to pick up their new system, so now I'm working in a uni-computer office.

The count is down quite a bit from the peak, when I had nine (!) PCs surrounding me in my office, with two 4-port KVMs sharing out two monitors, mice, and keyboards among the eight supplemental systems. (My main system always had a dedicated monitor, keyboard, and mouse.) Thinking back, I'm not sure what I used all those systems for, but there were times when all nine of them were running simultaneously.

But now we have only three systems running in the house--my office, Barbara's office, and my den system. All of those are dual-core, including Barbara's Athlon 64 X2. When I get a moment, I'll build another dual-core system to use as my secondary office system, or perhaps I'll make it the primary. I have an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and motherboard that will be the basis of that system, but I need to order some other components. I think I'll put it in an Antec SFF case to minimize the amount of desk space it'll need. I'll probably set it up to dual-boot Linux with a small Windows 2000 partition, just in case I need to run a Windows-only app or two.

The Forsyth Astronomical Society held a public observation Saturday night, in conjunction with SciWorks and Pilot Mountain State Park. Unfortunately, the moon was up all evening, but Barbara logged quite a few of the Lunar objects she needed for the Astronomical League Lunar Club, and, although conditions weren't ideal of observing faint fuzzies, we both managed to add half a dozen or so of the DSOs we need for the AL Herschel 400 list.

Our friend Paul Jones was set up next to us, and during the evening we of course discussed the VT shootings. I was surprised when Paul, who is an organic chemistry professor at Wake Forest University, told me that he'd be very uncomfortable if his students were armed. I guess Paul is concerned that if all his students could legally carry concealed weapons, a student who thought he deserved a better grade might take a pot shot at him.

My attitude, of course, is that a student who is going to shoot a professor won't be deterred by any gun control law, and that Paul would be better off if his other students were also armed. The simple fact is that normal people don't go berserk and start shooting people, and I'm stretching "normal" here to mean about 999,999 out of a million.

Paul's concern, obviously, is that the mere availability of firearms might lead to impulsive acts of violence that would otherwise not have occurred. I don't buy that argument. If it were true, there would be many more cases of drivers going berserk and mowing down victims with their automobiles. The vast majority of people restrain their violent impulses, and the mere availability of lethal weapons does nothing to increase the frequency of such outrages.

If anything, available evidence indicates that the converse is true. You're much less likely to be shot if you live in an area where firearms and armed civilians are commonplace. Cities and states with the tightest gun control laws are also those in which criminal shootings are the most common. The correlation is exact. And it's confirmed every time a jurisdiction reverses tight gun control laws, as for example by making it easier to obtain concealed carry permits. Without exception, every time that has occurred, violent crime in general and gun violence in particular rapidly falls. And the converse is also true. Every time a jurisdiction tightens gun control laws, the rate of violent crime increases.

The simple truth, which should be be obvious to anyone with a brain, is that bad guys don't like the idea of their potential victims being armed. It makes their job a lot riskier. A would-be rapist or mugger in Boston or New York or DC can be pretty certain that any victim he chooses is very likely to be unarmed, because the state and city legislators in their supposed wisdom have ensured that. In cities and states with liberal concealed carry laws, the would-be felon has no such assurance. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that rapes and muggings are much less common in these more enlightened jurisdictions.

If you want to live somewhere really safe, move to Vermont, where violent crime is almost unheard of. And it's no coincidence that Vermont has very liberal gun control laws. So liberal, in fact, that you don't even need a permit to carry concealed in Vermont.

Updates here are likely to be short and sporadic for a while. I'm working hard to finish up the astronomy book, and some friends are arriving early next month to visit us for a few days. I'm trying to get the decks cleared before they arrive, so I'll be pushing pretty hard.


Tuesday, 24 April 2007
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07:54 - Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to an LA Times article. When I clicked the link, I was presented with a login page. I used to have a Firefox extension called BugMeNot that automatically supplied login credentials for such obnoxious sites, but apparently development of that extension died somewhere around Firefox 1.5. So I did my usual, creating an account for null<random-string>@null.com, and telling them I was a 14-year-old female with a household income of $150,000, which was the default. I was then presented with a page full of ads. When I clicked the "No thanks" button at the bottom, I got to a screen that informed me they'd sent me a password to the email address I supplied. Ordinarily, I would have used a throwaway Yahoo account, but I hadn't bothered this time, so I just abandoned my attempt to read the article.

After doing this, I opened Preferences in Firefox to get rid of the cookies set by the LA Times, which reminded me of how bad Firefox 2.0 is compared to the 1.x versions. Among other downgrades, Firefox 2.0 no longer has the option to reject third-party cookies or to automatically add sites whose cookies you delete to the banned list. Way to go, Firefox.

It occurs to me that some of my readers may not be aware that it's possible to regain that lost functionality, but only by changing the settings in about:config or editing prefs.js directly. To re-enable rejecting third-party cookies, fire up about:config, search for network.cookies, and change the value of network.cookie.cookiebehavior to "1". While you're at it, add the following line: network.cookie.blockfuturecookies and set it to "true" to cause Firefox to add sites whose cookies you delete to the banned list automatically.

I have Kubuntu 7.04 running on the den system, with the video adjusted properly to 1024x768. At first, everything appeared to be working normally, but then I started having network problems. Last night, I was browsing web sites when suddenly nothing would load. Initially, I thought Time-Warner Cable was having problems, but when I went into my office and checked on my main system, everything was working normally. So I went back out to the den and trying pinging my router. Ordinarily, I'd get <10 ms times on a local devices, but I was getting >250 ms times with > 50% packet loss, on the local network. Hmmmm.

A reboot solved nothing, and it was getting late, so I just went to bed. This morning, I'd forgotten about the problem when I opened Firefox to check my mail. I was able to log into my mail server normally and read new messages. Then I attempted to bring up the Weather Channel to check the forecast for Barbara. No response, and when I attempted to get to my mail server again, it didn't respond either. Once again, using ping and checking my office system established that the problem was local to the Kubuntu 7.04 system.

At this point, I'm ready to declare Kubuntu 7.04 not ready for prime time. I have no doubt that I could get it working properly if I wanted to spend some time troubleshooting it, but it's easier just to revert to Kubuntu 6.10, which is solid and has none of these problems. Presumably, 7.04 will be fixed soon, so I may try it again in a month or two.

Barbara pointed out last night that I really need to get a secondary system up and running in my office. Either that, or connect my LaserJet and scanner to my main system, because right now we have no way to print or scan. I was thinking that I had an almost-built Core 2 Duo system sitting in the workroom, but when I went in to look yesterday I found the Antec SFF case with no motherboard installed. I'm not sure where that Core 2 Duo processor and motherboard have gotten to, but I'm sure I can come up with something or other.

Perhaps I should build an AMD system as my secondary system. AMD is going through hard times right now, and it's in all our interests to keep them solvent. Otherwise, we'll be back to the bad olde days, when Intel could pretty much charge whatever it wanted for mainstream processors.

11:34 - I'm working on the Observing Equipment chapter. In the first draft, we talked about various star charts, including the Orion DeepMap 600, Mag 6 atlases, Sky Atlas 2000.0, and Uranometeria, with small images of their respective coverage of the Sword area of Orion. I wanted to add coverage of a new star atlas that Barbara and I really like, the Pocket Sky Atlas by Roger Sinnott.

That meant I needed to scan the Sword area of Orion from that atlas. Urk. I just gave my secondary system to Frances and Al, so my Epson Perfection 3490 scanner is now sitting next to me, connected to nothing. In the past, I hadn't had much luck getting any current scanner model to work under Linux, but I hadn't tried it since I installed Kubuntu 6.10 six months ago. So I dragged the USB cable out from behind the scanner and plugged it into the USB hub on my desk. As soon as I plugged it in, the scanner did a reset, which was a good sign. I fired up Kooka, the scanning software bundled with Kubuntu 6.10, and it recognized the scanner immediately. A very good sign. I told it to do a prescan, which it did without complaint, and then did a final scan, shown below. It looks like my Linux scanning problems are gone.


Wednesday, 25 April 2007
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08:04 - On April 10th, the popular mystery author Elaine Viets suffered a stroke. She's recuperating now, but she won't be able to tour to promote her new book, Murder with Reservations, which hits the bookstores next week. The DorothyL community of mystery authors and mystery readers, led by popular mystery author Jan Burke, has rallied around Elaine.

From: Jan Burke
Date: Friday 16:27:06
  Re: How to Help Elaine Viets

As the recent outpouring of messages of concern and well-wishes for Elaine Viets have shown, Elaine has a lot of friends in the mystery community.   It's no wonder -- she's not only a delightful person and beloved writer, she has given a lot of time and energy to helping others through her service in MWA, Sisters in Crime, and other groups.

She also has a new book coming out in May, MURDER WITH RESERVATIONS, and one of her biggest worries has been that due to the stroke, she won't be able to tour.

So we're offering her friends a chance to actively help her -- we're going to "tour" for her!

Here's what to do

1) Send an e-mail to 4elaineviets (at) gmail (dot) com

2) Let us know what part of the country (or world) you are in and if you are

a) an author
b) a bookseller
c) a fan

3) Let us would be willing to:

a) place a stack of Elaine's books on your table as you sign on your own tour

b) help set up an "Elaine Viets" party at your store or a store near you (if you are not a store owner, PLEASE do NOT contact stores directly at this point!)

c) serve as a "stand-in" by hosting a nearby scheduled signing on Elaine's tour.

d) place an image of Murder With Reservations with a note about this effort on your Web site or blog.

PJ Nunn, Elaine's publicist, is offering to reward the kindness of Elaine's author friends with publicity help for their own books.

We will have more details for you soon!

I know this community is one that has many generous people in it, people who are willing to act on their concern for others.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Please feel free to forward this message.

Jan Burke

And then this:

From: Jan Burke
Date: Monday 19:11:46
  Re: Elaine Viets "Stand-in" Tour Project

DorothyL folks, I just want to thank you for your generosity.  We've been getting a great response from the mystery community in support of Elaine Viets, and an amazing number of authors are stepping forward to help.   (For those who may not know, Elaine suffered a stroke on April 10.  Fortunately, she is recovering and it seems likely she will be able to go home in a few weeks.  She won't, however, be able to tour for her new book, so we're providing "stand-ins" for her.)

We really appreciate all you are doing to help us "tour" for her.

If you have a Web site or a blog (you don't have to be famous, an author, etc.), and you'd be willing to put an image of the cover of her new book Murder With Reservations on it, please send an e-mail to 4elaineviets (at) gmail (dot) com.  We'll send you a cover image and information about the book.  This will really help us to spread the word about the new book!

(Please note -- 4elaineviets (at) gmail (dot) com is the project's e-mail address, not Elaine's.  Elaine is in the hospital, so it's probably best to hold off sending e-mail to her for the moment.)

I also want to mention some of the things that are being planned.  

Mystery Lovers Bookshop has made this offer:

> We like to offer to anyone who sends a book to their favorite library
> to do so for free shipping. We will throw in a paperback too. They
> just have to log on to www.mystterylovers.com to make the purchase and
> we’ll take care of the rest. Will send donor and Elaine the names.

Joanne Sinchuck will be hosting the book launch of Murder with Reservations at Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore on May 2nd -- it promises to be a great party!

I'll have lots of other announcements about this "virtual tour" -- again, many thanks to DorothyL members for their kindness!


Here's the cover:

Elaine Viets' Murder with Reservations

Here's the publication information:

Murder with Reservations: A Dead-End Job Mystery
By Elaine Viets
NAL Hardcover. $21.95
ISBN: 0-451-22111-7
On sale May 1, 2007
(preorders accepted any time by your favorite bookstores)

And here are links to some on-line booksellers:

Barnes & Noble

I confess that I haven't yet read any of Elaine's books, although I intend to remedy that as soon as I can get some of them. If you want to help Elaine, you can order a copy of her new book, post information about it to your own blog, or take any of the other actions Jan mentions.


Thursday, 26 April 2007
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08:43 - A couple of weeks ago, Barbara mentioned that we should record the premiere episode of Drive, a new Fox series by Tim Minear starring Nathan Fillion (from Buffy and Firefly) and Amy Acker (from Angel). Given the history of Whedon/Minear/Fillion shows on Fox--they last anything from three to thirteen episodes before being canceled--I told Barbara we should just record all eleven episodes before we started watching.

Alas, I over-estimated. Paul Jones sent me an email last night with a link to a story about Drive being canceled after less than three weeks. Which reminds me of a quote from Fred in Angel, who was played by the delightful Amy Acker.

[D]estiny is just another word for inevitable, and nothing's inevitable as long as you stand up, look it in the eye, and say "you're evitable!"

Apparently not. Cancellation of Drive was about as inevitable as it gets. We haven't watched even one episode yet, and it's gone, so quickly that it'll probably never even make it to DVD.

I do have a suggestion for Joss Whedon and Tim Minear and Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars). The next time you create a series, don't bother trying to sell it to the networks. They'll screw you, and us. Instead, pre-sell it directly to viewers like us. Put up a web site that lets people sign up ahead of time to support the show. I promise to click on the link to commit $25 to your new project, sight unseen. That money goes into an escrow account. When the amount committed reaches $25 million or $50 million or whatever amount you need to make the show, you start producing episodes. As they're completed, you deliver them to us as DVD ISOs via a secured Torrent, sell them directly on iTunes, and so on.

Sure, the show will be "pirated", but who cares? Your core audience is smart enough to realize that TANSTAAFL, and many of those who sample the show without paying for it will turn into paying customers. You bypass the networks and the advertisers, and get paid directly by the people who want what you create. That's as it should be.

And I firmly believe that's the way it's going to be, eventually. The current model is irretrievably broken. Those of us who want quality programming have to be willing to pay for it directly, because that's the only business model that can succeed nowadays.

I'd love to see another season of Firefly, even if that season was only twelve or fifteen episodes. I don't recall exactly what Firefly cost to produce, but I think it was less than $2 million per episode. Are there a million people who'd be willing to pre-commit $25 for another season? I know I would, and I suspect there are at least that many other people who'd do the same. If not, there's little lost, because the money goes into escrow and could be returned.

If I were Joss Whedon, I'd bring up such a web site now, today. My guess is that by the end of this month he'd have enough money committed to produce a new season of Firefly. Heck, given Whedon's past performance, I'd click on a button if all it said was "I'm planning a new show. Click here to send me $25 for it." And I don't doubt that there are a million or more other Whedon fans who'd do the same.


Friday, 27 April 2007
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08:18 - Arrrghh. I spent yesterday afternoon trying to help a friend get his data transferred off his current corporate notebook and onto his new corporate notebook. He telecommutes, and his IT department is of zero help. The old notebook has to go back next Friday.

He has 6 or 8 GB of data, so we started by copying all of his data from My Documents and elsewhere to a new directory, named /data. That directory has two directories, /data/working and /data/archive. When the copy completed, we organized that data into the working and archive directories to make sure that his daily backup would fit on one DVD. I then attempted to burn a file-by-file backup DVD of his archive directory, only to find that Windows apparently has no built-in DVD burning support. (I was sure there was a DVD burning applet in Windows XP, but if so it was apparently removed by his IT department.)

So we used the application provided by his IT department, called Stomp, to back up the archive directory to a DVD. That took about an hour. We started burning the working directory to a second DVD on the old system, and took the archive directory DVD to the new system, only to find out that it doesn't have Stomp installed on it. In fact, it has none of the programs he uses installed on it other than Office.

At this point, I plan to try copying all his data off his notebook onto an external hard drive, but IIRC we tried that several months ago and ran into problems with the encryption on the notebook. Plan B is to install a DVD burning app, which needs to be downloadable.

I did a search for free DVD burning apps, and came up with this list. I know nothing about any of these Windows burning apps, so any advice would be appreciated. Obviously, I want one that doesn't have spyware, but other than that, all I really need is one that allows me to select a directory and burn it and its files to a DVD. The DVD writer is an external USB drive, if that matters. If you've used and can recommend one or more of these, please let me know on the messageboard. Or, if there's a better one that's not list, please say so.


Saturday, 28 April 2007
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09:40 - In the past, one of the best unofficial resources for Xandros users was the ArchLUG site, which appears to have gone away. Yesterday, I was looking around to see if the Open Circulation Edition of Xandros 4 had been released, when I came across this site, which seems a worthy replacement for ArchLUG. It has a lot of the files that Xandros users want but that can't be obtained from Xandros, such as Xandros-specific .deb files for K3b, media codecs, and so on. If you use Xandros 3 or 4, bookmark this site. Oh, yeah. It also has a link to download Xandros 4 OCE.

Although I run Kubuntu 6.10 on my personal systems, and will no doubt upgrade to Kubuntu 7.04 once they've fixed some of the bugs, I still recommend Xandros as the best first Linux for Windows refugees. Xandros just makes things a lot easier than any other Linux I've used, including Kubuntu, particularly with regard to sharing Windows networking resources with the Linux box and vice versa. Things that are showstoppers for newbies using Kubuntu are simple point-and-click tasks with Xandros.

I've heard some people refer sneeringly to Xandros as "Linux with training wheels". Fine. That's just what I wanted and needed when I first made the change to Linux, and I was more than happy to have those "training wheels" for the first year or so. If you're in the early stages of converting to Linux, my strong recommendation is that you download and install Xandros 4 OCE. Then, if you like what you see (which I think you will), go ahead and send Xandros some money for the paid edition. I promise you it'll be money well spent. Also, don't forget to sign up for the Xandros User Forums, which is one of the best and most helpful on-line communities I've ever encountered.


Sunday, 29 April 2007
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