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Week of 10 September 2007

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Monday, 10 September 2007
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10:54 - Today is Barbara's and my 24th anniversary. That seems incredible to me. It doesn't feel like 24 years. It feels like the blink of an eye. Just think. We're almost half way to our 50th.

Late start this morning. I'm busier than the proverbial one-armed juggler. The first thing I need to do is knock out the review pass on the final five chapters of the astronomy book. Then, I've got several chapters of the home chem lab book in progress that I want to get finished up and sent to my editor.


Tuesday, 11 September 2007
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09:27 - By early afternoon, I managed to get the five final chapters of the astronomy book checked and returned to my editor. Then, as I was answering some email before starting on the chem book chapters, my system locked up. I ended up rebooting it, and it came back up with 640X480 video. Hmmm.

A bit of fiddling led me to believe there's some sort of hardware problem, or perhaps a heat problem. A few months ago, the case fan failed, which I didn't discover until I noticed that the CPU fan had started whining when the system was under heavy load. As a "temporary" measure, I just removed the side panel and pointed a small table fan at the CPU. That should also produce enough air flow to keep the video card, memory, drives, and other components cool.

But when I rebooted I decided to go into setup and check hardware monitoring, which listed the CPU temperature as 69 C. That's pretty high, even for an Intel Pentium D 960. I'm not sure what's going on, and I don't really have time to mess with it right now. I'll be building a new Core 2 reference system real soon now, which will become my new main system. So I just wanted to get this one working well enough to hold me until I build the new one.

Unfortunately, I was overtaken by a moment of insanity. I was running Kubuntu 6.10. I'd looked at Kubuntu 7.04 when it was released, but decided it wasn't worth the hassle of doing an upgrade. I planned to hold out for Kubuntu 7.10, which should ship next month.

Alas, Mary Chervenak had given me a newer model of Logitech webcam than I had been using. Kubuntu 6.10 recognized the old model perfectly, but it saw the new model only as an unknown USB device. Some quick checking told me that I could use the new webcam under 6.10, but only if I built and compiled a new kernel. That didn't seem worth the hassle and potential risk, so I'd decided just to put the webcam aside until I upgraded to Kubuntu 7.10, which presumably would recognize it.

Then, as I was working on my system, Adept Notifier told me there were upgraded packages available. I told it to go ahead and install them. When it finished updating my 6.10 installation, it informed me (as usual) that there was a newer version of Kubuntu available. I decided I might as well upgrade to 7.04 along with everything else, so I told it to do the upgrade to 7.04. That was going to take a long time, so I went off to do something else. When I returned, the upgrade was hung. Uh-oh. I diddled around a bit and finally decided that my system was now borked.

It was still running under 6.10, so I made more copies of all of my data, my home directory, etc. to multiple hard drives and then downloaded and burned Kubuntu 7.04. When I started the installation, I told it to blow away the contents of sda, the primary hard drive. A short while later, I had a working 7.04 installation on my system.

The only minor glitch was that it came up in 1024X768 instead of the 1400X1050 native resolution of my Viewsonic VG2021M display. That was easy enough to fix. I ran sudo kate /etc/X11/xorg.conf to edit the xorg configuration file as root, added an entry for "1400X1050" for each of the color depth records, changed the vertical and horizontal sync numbers to reflect those supported by the VG2021M, and restarted X.

Now the only problem is getting stuff back where I want it--applications installed, fonts tweaked, etc. Fortunately, that's pretty easy with Linux compared to the nightmare it is with Windows.

13:07 - Update from Paul.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
  Date: Today 08:54:15
Re: final journals

Hey again,

Mary has written two final blog entries.  She had a quota to fill for Dow, so she had to write these last two and they'll be posted on the internal Dow site.  However, I'm not sure if they'll be posted on the BPR page - I would guess not.  I thought this group might like to read them.  You can still find the rest of her journal entries at this link:


The new ones are attached.  Cheers, Paul

Entry 21: 2 September 2007

Team Chervenak!

The Elmira, New York leg of the Blue Planet Run was, for obvious reasons, the most sought after.  Elmira is a friendly, home-y place with wide, old sidewalks and gracious wood-sided houses that open onto the street.  The shallow silver Chemung River runs through town.  The streets are lined with fragile, fleeting poppies and ancient, gnarled roses.  People wave from lawn chairs in their front yards.  Who wouldn't want to run through Elmira?  Using powerful intellectual arguments, hypnotism, and occasionally, bribery, I wriggled my way into the prime Elmira slot.

My family doesn't actually live in Elmira.  I grew up closer to Corning – about 15 miles down the road.    I went to high school in Corning, Mom and Dad currently live in Big Flats, my sister taught at Elmira College.  Until the last few years, I have been transient.  This part of New York is as close as I get to a home town.  Running here is a return to childhood, a return home.

My brother has always been a better runner than me.  Years ago, he would pace me, pausing only to spit over his shoulder, forcing me to perform a crazy dance of saliva avoidance.  He joined me for the Steege Hill to Pennsylvania Avenue leg bouncing with confidence.  At 4:30 in the afternoon, the sun was already starting to sink behind the hills, but the roads were still radiating the day's heat.  After a hand-off from Lansing, who warned both of us that the day was deceptively hot, Jay set off at a brisk pace asking “is this okay?”  I wasn't about to disagree.

A reporter from the Corning paper trotted alongside Jay and me for the first quarter-mile of the run.  Annoyingly, he kept firing questions to Jay about the run, like “How long have you been running?” and “How does it feel to run around the world?”  Jay responded “about 2 minutes” and “I don't know.  Ask her.”  I love my brother.  He has mastered the art of sarcasm.  I am merely a pupil.

Dad commented later that my feet ticked off the miles like a metronome.  Jay lasted eight miles before hopping on a bike.  My sister picked up the slack for a mile and a half before she commandeered the bike and Jay jumped back in for the finish.  Dad brought up the rear on his own bike and Mom met the entire crew at the 6:00 PM exchange point.  Yeah, Team Chervenak!!  Jay presented the baton to Sunila, smiled broadly for a photograph, and then lay on the ground in front of an automatic carwash.

After we convinced Jay that a carwash actively in use was not the best place to recover, the entire family adjourned to the house to celebrate with lemonade, raw vegetables, and homemade chocolate chip cookies into the not-so-wee hours.  Team Chervenak rocks!

Entry 22: 10 September 2007

“We've done the impossible and that makes us mighty.”  -- Malcolm Reynolds

“For the past seven years I have done nothing but travel around the world getting shot up, locked up, blown up... and all I have to show for it are a couple of empty rolls of duct tape.”  -- Angus MacGyver

I'm home.  We've crossed the finish line, the run is over, the team has dispersed, and now I'm sitting in my living room.

In some ways, it's like I never left.  When I climbed into my car for the first time after getting home, my Lyle Lovett CD fired up and the song I was listening to on my way to the airport on May 24th began to play.  In other ways, it's like I'm trying on a life that belongs to someone else.  While Mr. Lovett warbled away, I stalled my car three times before I made it out of my driveway.

I'm slowly stepping out of the Blue Planet world.  Since coming home, I've run where I want, when I want.  I've woken up in the morning and gone to bed at night.  I've cooked a meal.  I've gotten my hair cut, my teeth cleaned, my glasses adjusted.  The Blue Planet schedule, the Blue Planet life, is receding into memory.  The six hour shifts, the 16 countries, the long hours waiting for the next run are already starting to feel a little unreal.  Sometimes, I wake up thinking I'm still in Russia.  Other times, though, it seems like someone else ran around the world.

I spent the weekend emptying suitcases, washing clothes, putting stuff away, throwing junk out, and mailing Blue Planet Run T-shirts.  I also spent the weekend remembering how to use my debit card, drive my stick-shift car, and set the security system.  The back door has been re-keyed.  Things aren't where I remember them.  I'm a stranger in my car.  I'm a stranger in my house.  My life feels strange.

I like the way this strange old life fits, though.  I've become reacquainted with my shoes.  I haven't worn black shorts and a white top in a week.  I've watched some really bad television.  I've eaten some really terrible junk food.  I've wallowed in normal-ness.

The fit isn't perfect; I'm not quite the same.  You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.  After years of restless, semi-insomnia, I sleep – the deep unconsciousness of childhood.  After years of distraction, I focus – the phone and e-mail are noisy, but they aren't truly clamoring for my attention.  I'm trying to live more consciously and less wastefully, to be more thoughtful and less self-absorbed, to eat more fruits and vegetables and kill fewer spiders.  And so far, I've resisted making a list of things to do. 

I'm glad, glad, glad to be home, but I don't want to come all the way back.


Wednesday, 12 September 2007
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08:20 - Barbara and I have been watching the second season of Rome. It's a good series. The history isn't perfect by any means, but it's a lot better than I've come to expect from video productions. But what really struck me funny yesterday was the label on the DVD:

Rome, The Complete Second Season
Disc IV
Episodes 7-8

Shouldn't that have been "Episodes VII-VIII"? For that matter, given the setting of this series--late Republic to early Empire--it probably should have been "Disc IIII". IIRC, prior to the first century CE, it was more common to use "IIII" for 4 and "VIIII" for 9 than the later "IV" and "IX". Of course, the Romans themselves were pretty casual about it. For example, we write the number 28 as XXVIII, but the Romans themselves often used odd constructs such as XXIIX. Which probably tells us something about how they thought about numbers.

I wonder how things might have been different if the Romans had had a better numbering system. Their lack of a good numbering system hampered them, just as the Chinese lack of an alphabet hampers them. In fact, the lack of a good numbering system explains why science never developed under the Romans and why they had only rule-of-thumb engineering.


Thursday, 13 September 2007
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08:10 - I burned another coaster yesterday, which had me wondering if I'd gotten a bad batch of Taiyo-Yuden DVD+R discs. When I burn a disc, I usually just fire up K3b, tell it to burn the disc and do a verify, and then minimize it. Some time later, I remember the disc, maximize K3b, see that it wrote and verified the disc properly, and go on with what I was doing. This time, the disc showed a verify error. That made two coasters out of perhaps a dozen discs. My usual is maybe one coaster in every 500 to 1,000 discs, so something was obviously wrong.

As it turns out, I don't think the discs are the problem. I started to do a few tests, and the Plextor PX-740A drive started acting strangely. Eventually, it stopped being recognized by the system. I wasn't able to eject the disc in the drive, even by pressing the eject button. Finally, I stuck a paper clip in the emergency eject hole. The tray popped open slightly. I had to use a screwdriver to pry it open to retrieve the disc, after which the tray refused to open or close. Apparently, the tray motor failed, along with who knows what else.

A visit to the workroom turned up little in the way of spare drives. I have an SATA Lite-On, but that one's reserved for the new reference system I'll be building soon. I also found an elderly Plextor PX-708A and an almost-as-elderly Plextor PX-712SA. I finally found an NEC ND-3550A installed in a project system that had been partially stripped for salvage. I pulled that drive and popped it into my main system.

At first, everything seemed to work normally, but when I tried to burn a DVD I got another coaster. Hmmm. Then I remembered that I'd previously had compatibility problems with the NEC ND-35XX-series drives and newer Intel chipsets. Rats. I dug around the stock room a while longer, thinking there should be more DVD writers around. I've bought Pioneer units, BenQ's, Lite-Ons, and so on. But then I remembered that I'd given away several systems, all of which had DVD writers in them. Oh, well. I'll probably just stick in the Plextor PX-708A. I seldom burn at more than 8X anyway.

But building this new reference system, which will become my new main system, is becoming increasingly urgent.


Friday, 14 September 2007
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08:39 - The astronomy book is complete, at least from our point of view. Now the O'Reilly folks have to produce the book, print it, and get it to the stores. They're showing it as available next month, which doesn't leave them much time. All of the constellation chapters are now available for download from the subscribers' page.

I got an interesting email from Netflix this morning. Apparently, they're being hurt by the Blockbuster campaign that promotes the ability of Blockbuster Online subscribers to return rentals to their local Blockbuster stores. That's of no interest to me--I have no desire to drive to Blockbuster--but apparently it appeals to a lot of people. My own experience with Blockbuster Online was horrible. Their title selection was much more limited than Netflix's, and their delivery/return times were pathetic. I would have gotten about half as many discs per month from Blockbuster as from Netflix, so I discontinued my Blockbuster Online subscription before the free trial period ended.

I've been perfectly happy with my Netflix subscription since I reactivated it in May. They've sent me an average of about 24 discs a month since then, which is a pretty good deal for $17/month plus tax. But the growth in their subscriber base is slowing, and it's very expensive for Netflix to get new members. I seem to remember that they spend something like $45 for each new member they sign up. So they decided to engage in a bit of viral marketing by convincing their existing subscribers to get new subscribers for them.

Apparently, the deal is that Netflix is offering a one-month free trial (versus the usual two-week free trial) to new members who are referred by existing members. In return, the existing member gets a coupon for one free disc rental for each new member that signs up for the free trial and then remains as a paying member, up to a maximum of five coupons. That's not a bad deal. It probably costs Netflix $0.75 to get a new member that way, versus $45 the old-fashioned way.

If you want to give Netflix a try, here's a risk-free way to get a month's free service. It's available only to people who have never been a Netflix member. Full Disclosure: If one of you signs up by clicking on the link and remains as a paid member, I get a coupon for a free rental, which is worth about $0.75 based on my monthly Netflix bill and the average number of discs they send me per month. If five of you sign up, I get five free rental coupons. If 100 of you sign up, I get ... five free rental coupons. That's okay. Netflix is a good company, and I don't mind doing them a favor.

Here's the email.

* NETFLIX * Friends & Family - 1 Month FREE*

You give, you get!
Dear Robert,
We're offering you a special opportunity to give your friends and family one month of Netflix service for FREE - that's twice the length of our regular free trial!

When they redeem their free trial, you'll get a bonus rental (up to 5 bonus vouchers per member) at no additional charge. This limited time offer expires 9/30/2007 so forward this email today.
-Your friends at Netflix

Robert Thompson

1 month of Netflix DVD Rentals




DVDs by mail:

Over 85,000 DVD titles
* Create your movie list online.

Free Delivery in about 1 Business Day
* We rush you DVDs from your list.

No Late Fees
* Keep each movie as long as you want.

Prepaid Return Envelopes
* Return a movie to get a new one from your list.

Movies instantly:

Over 5,000 choices
* Instantly watch movies & TV episodes on your PC!


Quantities of this special offer are limited. Free trial valid in the 50 United States and its territories and possessions only. This limited introductory free trial offer expires 9/30/2007 subject to continued availability and cannot be combined with any other offer. Limit one per household. First-time customers only. Internet access and valid payment method required to redeem offer. Netflix will begin to bill your chosen method of payment for the plan selected at sign-up at the completion of the free trial unless you cancel prior to the end of the free trial. DVDs out-at-a-time vary by plan. Our most popular plan, 3 DVDs out-at-a-time, is $16.99 plus any applicable tax. Your Netflix subscription is a month-to-month subscription cancelable at anytime. Click the "Your Account" button for cancellation instructions. No refunds or credits for partial monthly subscription periods. Delivery claim based on nearly 90% of our subscribers being within one-day postal delivery zones. Please visit www.netflix.com/TermsOfUse for complete terms and conditions. Netflix reserves the right to change terms and conditions at any time.

(c)1997-2007 Netflix, Inc. 100 Winchester Circle, Los Gatos, CA 95032

SRC: MB_TAF20070912_S4


Saturday, 15 September 2007
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09:48 - Barbara is getting ready to take off on a week-long bus tour with her parents and sister up to Cape Cod. It'll be wild women and parties all week for me and the dogs.

In the past, I'd had similar plans, but they always fell through because I wasn't able to find any wild women. This time, though, I'm set. The other night when Barbara and I were walking the dogs. Barbara mentioned her trip, and I mentioned the wild women and parties. Almost as an afterthought, I asked Kim, "Are you a wild woman?" She said she is, and Barbara told us to knock ourselves out. So that takes care of that problem. Well, technically, I suppose it'll be wild woman and parties, unless I can come up with at least one more wild woman.

SCO filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late yesterday afternoon. I can't figure out why they did that. Chapter 11 protects assets from creditors during reorganization, but Chapter 11 won't protect SCO against Novell's claim for its share (which Novell says is all) of the monies paid by Sun and Microsoft for SVRX licenses. The judge has already ruled that SCO converted these funds, which is a fancy legal term for "stole". In other words, the monies paid by Sun and Microsoft (or some portion thereof, yet to be determined) never belonged to SCO and are not an asset of SCO. They're stolen property.

Mere possession does not imply ownership. Think of it this way. You take your car to the dealer for repairs. While your car is still in the shop, the dealer files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Is your car an asset of the dealer? Of course not. No more so are the monies paid by Sun and Microsoft an asset of SCO. The judge has already so ruled, when he decided that Novell was entitled to equitable relief.

SCO collected those monies on behalf of Novell. The original deal was that SCO would collect the monies and pass 100% of them to Novell, which would then pay SCO a 5% administrative fee. If Sun and Microsoft paid SCO $50 million for SVRX licenses, that means SCO should have remitted those monies to Novell, which would then pay SCO a $2.5 million administrative fee. SCO kept the whole amount, and Novell now says that by abrogating that contract, SCO is now no longer entitled to the 5%. So it seems to me the only question to be determined is whether SCO is sitting on $50 million of Novell's money, or only $47.5 million.

Of course, SCO has nothing like $47.5 million available. In fact, I think they're down to about $10 million in cash and liquid assets, so it's in Novell's interest to grab all of that as quickly as possible. Of course, now that SCO is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, no one can touch its assets. But that $50 million isn't an asset. It's stolen money.

I just tried burning another DVD+R disc in the NEC ND-3550A drive. It appeared to complete the write successfully, but blew up immediately when the verify pass started. Attempting to look at the directory of the disc immediately causes a hang. There's apparently nothing there. I tried again with a DVD+RW disc, with the same result. I don't believe the NEC drive is actually writing data to the disc. It reads pre-written discs fine, but can't seem to write one that's readable. Oh, well.

Tomorrow I'll swap out the drive for something else. My stockroom is surprisingly bare of DVD writers. Usually, I have a stack of them of various makes and models, but now I'm down to dregs. The best candidate is an elderly Plextor PX-712SA SATA drive, which has seen only very light use in a test-bed system. I'll probably stick it in my main system and see how Kubuntu 7.04 deals with an SATA optical drive.


Sunday, 16 September 2007
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.