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Week of 17 September 2007


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Monday, 17 September 2007
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08:18 - Barbara is up in Cape Cod today, with her parents, her sister Frances, and her sister's friend Marcia. Frances' husband, Al, is driving the tour bus. I tried to convince Barbara to put a little bonnet on Malcolm and take him along, but as usual I wasn't able to convince her.

Barbara doesn't much like to reread books or rewatch videos, so when she's away on a trip I take the opportunity to re-watch videos we've seen. As soon as she left Saturday evening, I started re-watching Joss Whedon's Firefly, which gets my vote as the best TV series ever made. Better than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which gets my vote for second place. I made it through all 14 episodes of Firefly Saturday night and last night. Tonight, I re-watch Serenity, the movie.

I could easily put together a top ten (or top hundred) list of television series and movies, titles like Upstairs, Downstairs; Poirot; I, Clavdivs; Cadfael, and so on. All of them have people I'd like to meet and places/times I'd like to visit. But the Firefly universe is somewhere I'd like to live.



My DVD burning problems persist. I've about concluded that our home is now haunted by an anti-DVD-burning demon. I've now had four different DVD burners installed on my main system. All of them read discs just fine; none of them will write a usable disc. Until a week ago, my Plextor PX-740A was producing perfect discs under Kubuntu 6.10. It stopped working. I eventually replaced 6.10 with Kubuntu 7.04, and it still didn't work. I replaced the Plextor 740A with an NEC ND-3550A, which didn't work, then another NEC ND-3550A, which also didn't work, and finally with a Plextor PX-712SA SATA drive, which (you guessed it) didn't work.

I suspected that the batch of Taiyo-Yuden DVD+R discs I just opened was bad. Nope. None of these drives work with Verbatim MCC004 discs, which previously burned perfectly. So yesterday I decided to copy the files I wanted to burn to a DVD back to Barbara's main system, which has a BenQ DW1650 drive in it. I fired up K3b on Barbara's system, and told it to burn the disc. Same thing. It reads discs perfectly, but won't write a usable disc. Now, granted, Barbara's system had never been used to burn a disc before, but I'd have expected it to just work.

I'm haunted, I tell you.



09:01 - I was mistaken about the Netflix bonus discs. They're not worth $0.75. In fact, they're not worth anything at all. Netflix emailed me Friday to tell me that I'd gotten a bonus disc and again this morning to tell me I'd gotten another. Friday, I clicked on the "Use Bonus Disc" link on my queue page, and it told me they'd ship another disc from my queue on Monday. It also told me that I'd have to return two discs before they'd send out the next disc, so in effect their "bonus" disc is no bonus at all.

For example, this morning, Netflix acknowledged that they'd received a disc back from me. But instead of adding another disc to the "to be shipped" list, they counted the "bonus" disc that they're shipping today. That would have shipped anyway, so that "bonus disc" turns out to be of zero value. We'll see what happens to the "bonus disc" I redeemed today, but my guess is that, at best, it'll save one day.

That doesn't really matter, of course. The reason I posted that Netflix news release wasn't to get free discs for myself. I wanted any of my readers who wanted to try Netflix to get a month free trial instead of only two weeks. That actually does have some value.


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Tuesday, 18 September 2007
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08:42 - The dogs and I are surviving so far.

Sunday night, I had meatballs and rice for dinner. Frances provided the meatballs, and they were excellent. I did the rice myself, and it was not so excellent. I've made rice in the microwave a bunch of times, with excellent results. A cup of rice, 2.5 cups of water, heat on high for 5 minutes and then on 50% for 20 minutes, let sit for 5 minutes, and it's done. This time, I reduced the rice and water to 50%, but didn't change the cooking time. The rice ended up really well cooked. Nothing caught fire though. It was a bit dry, so I just added a bunch of butter, which made it edible. Last night, I had peanut butter and butter sandwiches. Tonight, I think I'll have Doritos.

I rewatched Serenity (the movie) last night. It was excellent, although I thought it wasn't quite as good as the Firefly series. After Serenity finished, I stuck in Revolution OS, the Linux documentary made way back in 2001. It was interesting to see interviews with many of the movers and shakers behind Linux and OSS. I was shocked, during an early segment on the GPL, to hear RMS refer to Linux as "Linux" rather than his preferred "GNU/Linux".

I got email last night from Brian Jepson, my editor at O'Reilly. Apparently, we'd forgotten to do a review on the first chapter of the astronomy book. I have the PDF and will get that proofing pass done this morning. Work on the home chem lab book continues. I'm making good progress.



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Wednesday, 19 September 2007
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08:52 - From a year ago today...

Arrrrrr! Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

I was looking around for a photo I have of our friend Mary Chervenak wearing a pirate eyepatch and with a parrot on her shoulder--actually, it's a small stuffed baby duck, but we did the best we could--but I couldn't find it. Oh, wait, here it is. Arrrrrr!




On a totally unrelated issue, my DVD writing problem is solved. The problem was apparently several bad drives, including two Plextors and two NECs. I installed a new Lite-On SATA burner in my main system, and everything started to work normally again.

Of course, I had no idea what the optimum burning speed was for this drive with 16X Taiyo-Yuden DVD+R discs, so I did a few quick test burns and then scanned the discs with Nero CD-DVD Speed. (No I don't have Windows running on any of my systems; this is CD-DVD Speed running under WINE on Linux.)

For the first burn, I let K3b use its Auto speed setting. For most of the disc, the drive was burning at 16X or higher, and towards the end of the disc it reached 18X and even 20X. Unfortunately, although the burn quality was very good for the first 3.5 GB or so, it went completely into the toilet for the last GB or so.

Lite-On LH-20A1S drive, Taiyo-Yuden 16X DVD+R, Auto speed setting

So then I decided to tell K3b to burn at 8X. Unfortunately, it disobeyed me. Once again, the drive burned starting at 8X, but it quickly started speeding up the burn, and eventually reached 18X and 20X. The burn quality for the first 3.5 GB or so was excellent, but again it turns really crappy in the final GB or so. I turned on jitter testing for this disc. The jitter values are higher than I'd like, but not outrageously so.

Lite-On LH-20A1S drive, Taiyo-Yuden 16X DVD+R, 8X speed setting

So I tried another burn, this one with K3b set to burn at 12X. This time, K3b really did burn at the designated speed, and the results are pretty decent. There's an early spike in PIE/PIF, but that's not a major concern. The bulk of the disc burned nearly perfectly. Jitter is still a bit high, but overall this disc is considerably better quality than a pressed disc.

Lite-On LH-20A1S drive, Taiyo-Yuden 16X DVD+R, 12X speed setting

So, it looks like I'll be doing 12X burns with this drive and media.


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Thursday, 20 September 2007
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08:45 - I did some more testing yesterday, burning a bunch of discs and doing quality scans on them. As it turns out, the best disc quality with the 16X Taiyo-Yuden discs is achieved by burning them at--who would have thought it?--16X. Here's a pretty typical scan report. There's an initial spike in PIE/PIF, but that's of little practical concern, and otherwise the disc is about as good as it's possible to make. The average PIE (parity-inner error) is about 0.5 and total PIE is under 10,000. The average PIF (parity-inner failure) is 0.00, with a maximum of 3 and a total of only 289. Those numbers are an order of magnitude better than even an excellent pressed disc.


Here's a scan of a pressed disc. This one happens to be a Foyle's War disc that Netflix sent me yesterday. It appeared to be unused, with a pristine surface. This scan produced roughly an order of magnitude more PIEs and PIFs. (But note that the scale for PIE is not the same as the above scan, and that this scan was of 5.5 GB rather than 4.4 GB.)




After yesterday's post, several readers requested a new picture of Pirate Mary. Some suggested replacing the stuffed baby duck with a penguin. I emailed Mary to ask her if she's game:

After reading today's post, many of my readers have requested a new picture of you in pirate mode. Several have suggested replacing the baby duck with a penguin. I have the penguin and the eyepatch if you're up for it. You don't by any chance have a pirate-striped shirt and a bottle of rum, do you?

To which she replied:

Hmmm.  I think we have rum.  I'll look into a stripy shirt.  Just let me know where and when.

So we may have a new picture for next year.


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Friday, 21 September 2007
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08:08 - Barbara arrives home late tomorrow evening, so I have only two more evenings of cooking for myself. I've blocked out some time tomorrow to clean up the place. I'll go through with fire and sword. Can't have her returning home to a house that's filthy and squalorous.

I also need to make a Costco run tomorrow with Paul to pick up food and supplies for Mary's welcome home party on Sunday. He has the city park that adjoins their backyard reserved for the party.

I'm working on the gas chemistry chapter right now, and I just realized that the first lab session I wrote, electrolysis of water, actually belongs in the electrochemistry chapter. Oh, well.

I need to do a lab session or sessions on Boyle's Law, Charles's Law, Gay-Lussac's Law, and the Ideal Gas Law. The last one is no problem. I'll produce carbon dioxide gas by reacting vinegar and baking soda and use the stoichiometry to determine the percentage of acetic acid in the vinegar by applying the Ideal Gas Law. The first three are conceptually simple, but challenging in terms of getting useful data with inexpensive or home-made equipment. I think I'll end up using a large plastic syringe with the tip plugged for my volumetric vessel.


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Saturday, 22 September 2007
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08:40 - Barbara arrives home late this evening. The dogs and I are preparing to do our happy dance.



I see that the police in Boston, apparently trying to outdo themselves after the Mooninite Menace fiasco, have arrested a young female MIT student for possession of a not-a-bomb. Of course, it was also a not-a-banana, a not-an-iPod, and a not-a-lot-of-other-things, but apparently possession of those other not-a-devices is not illegal. Fortunately for her, she was carrying it openly. Otherwise, they might have charged her with carrying a not-a-concealed-weapon.

She entered a plea of not guilty to possession of a not-a-bomb, and was released on $750 bond. The low amount of that bond suggests that even the Boston authorities know that they've screwed up once again.

I suppose one moral of this story is that if you're heading to Maker Faire, be careful about which project you take along and how you transport it.



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Sunday, 23 September 2007
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.