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Week of 24 December 2007

Latest Update: Sunday, 30 December 2007 11:15 -0500

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Monday, 24 December 2007
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08:41 - I start the final week of 2007 with much remaining to be done. I've already blocked out this coming weekend for administrative tasks, including year-end tax-related stuff, making a new set of archive discs, etc. During the week, I'll be doing setups in the lab and shooting images. I probably won't finish shooting images this week, but I'll make a large dent in the list of remaining images to be shot.

I also need to get quite a few things done before the book hits the bookstores in April, including creating a PDF book with the answers to the questions in the main book, bringing up a web site and forums for the book, and shooting some promotional videos to post on YouTube. All that stuff is planned and outlined, so it's just a matter of getting it done. As Pournelle often says, it's a great life if you don't weaken.


Tuesday, 25 December 2007
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11:30 - Curses, foiled again. This year, I decided to return to basics, so I put a large reindeer trap baited with reindeernip up on the roof. Think a mousetrap with a 10-foot snapper. I had to set the jaws with a winch. I heard a loud snap in the wee small hours. When I rushed out to check, the trap was sprung and the reindeernip was gone, but there was no reindeer in the jaws of the trap.

Despite my efforts to grab all his loot, Saturnalia Claus left some good stuff for me under the Saturnalia tree. Among my presents was a 22" Viewsonic LCD display to replace the 20" Viewsonic VG2021m display that's currently on my main system. Today I'll connect that, move the 20" Viewsonic to my den system, and move the 19" Samsung LCD that's currently on my den system back to Barbara's office.

After about 90 minutes of swapping around displays, I ended up with the three displays situated as described. When I started shutting down systems to move displays around, I decided to move the 20" Viewsonic back to Barbara's office and keep the 19" Samsung in the den. That didn't work out very well. The 20" Viewsonic is a wide-screen model, and the integrated nVIDIA video chipset in Barbara's Athlon X2 Kubuntu 6.10 system lacks support for the 1400X1050 native resolution of the 20" Viewsonic. I hacked around on that for a while, installing a utility that patches the video BIOS on-the-fly, but I finally decided just to move the 19" Samsung to her office. Its native resolution is 1280X1024, which is what Barbara had been running on her 19" Hitachi CRT. The Samsung came up fine and works properly.

I then moved the 20" Viewsonic to my den system, which runs Ubuntu 7.10. It recognized the monitor and configured it properly automatically. Then I connected the new Viewsonic VX2255wmb to my primary office system, which also runs Ubuntu/Kubuntu 7.10. Once again, the system automatically detected and configured the display properly, so now I'm running 1680X1050 on a 22" display.

The new display is big, bright, and beautiful. In fact, it's so big that at the distance I normally work I can't take it all in without scanning horizontally or moving my head. The line of text as I write this is about 18" long, which is far too long to parse comfortably. I can see that I'll be working with multiple windows a lot more, which is a good thing. With a 19" display, and even with the 20" widescreen, I usually worked full-screen. Now I'll have room to have multiple windows visible at the same time.


Wednesday, 26 December 2007
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08:52 - Barbara is off to the doctor's office to get a form signed that says it's okay for her to return to work. This will be a short week for her, and with so many people on vacation her workload is likely to be very light. I'll be doing lab setups and shooting images the rest of this week.

I'm still getting used to the 22" Viewsonic VX2255wmb display. This is my first 16X9 display, so it does take a bit of getting used to. The pixels are a bit smaller than those of the 4X3 20" Viewsonic VG2021m. The difference in aspect ratio means that this display has 20% more pixels in an overall screen area that's only about 7.7% larger. Still, by last night, I'd gotten used to the wider screen ratio enough that it felt a bit strange to use the square 20" display in the den. The wider ratio makes it a lot easier to work with two documents side-by-side, which is nice.

Barbara is happy with the 19" Samsung 930bf display that's in her office now. She had been using my old Hitachi SuperScan Elite 751 19" tube monitor, which turned eight years old in November. She immediately noticed how much brighter and sharper the Samsung is. I retired the Hitachi to the tech room, where it'll serve as a test-bed monitor.

I guess this is the passing of an era. We now have zero of our primary systems running CRTs. Things have come a long way in the two years since I bought my first LCD display, the Samsung 930bf. Up until then, I'd gotten loaner eval units from the manufacturers to review for the books, but I still preferred the image quality on a good CRT display. Back then, LCD displays cost a lot more than CRTs of similar size and quality, and Newegg listed many more CRTs than LCDs. Newegg now lists only six CRT models for sale--one 15" and two 17" models from AOC, a 19" Viewsonic, and 19" and 21" models from NEC--versus 323 LCD models.

And I just noticed how far down our machine count is. Several years ago, I worked surrounded by nine running systems connected to four monitors via two Belkin KVM switches. Now we have only three running PCs in the house, one each in Barbara's and my offices, and my system in the den. My former primary system is sitting under a table in my office, mainly because it's still a competent system (dual-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, nVIDIA 6800 Ultra video adapter, 2 TB of disk space) that in an emergency I could have up and running in about 30 seconds flat.

There are probably half a dozen more working systems in my work room, or at least systems that could be working with minimum effort, including a dual-core SFF system and a fully-functional DVR system with dual SDTV tuners and an HDTV tuner. If I can get a spare day or two, I should give some of those systems a once-over, format the drives and install Linux on them, and donate them to local non-profits. But I'm afraid it may be a while before I have a day or two to spare.


Thursday, 27 December 2007
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10:10 - Barbara did well her first day back at work. The only real restriction the doctor put on her is that she's not permitted to lift anything that weighs more than 10 pounds. She's also not permitted to play golf or do any exercises at the gym that involve using her legs. Otherwise, she's cleared for duty.

I'll be shooting more images today.


Friday, 28 December 2007
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12:30 - I'm shooting images of some outdoor experiments today, including reacting sulfur and iron to form iron sulfide and reducing copper carbonate (copper ore) to copper metal.

I'd been shooting most of the images in auto mode, which works pretty well, but many of the images are macro shots and the typical f/5.6 aperture in auto mode gives little depth of field. Yesterday, I set the camera to aperture-priority mode for some macros, and shot at f/22 and smaller.

Alas, when examining those images I noticed a few blobs that shouldn't have been there. To make a long story short, I have dust on the sensor. It's not apparent when shooting at larger apertures, but it shows up distinctly at f/22 and smaller. Eventually, I'll need to clean the sensor, but I'll defer that for now and simply shoot at larger apertures.


Saturday, 29 December 2007
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10:45 - I'm taking a day off from shooting images to get some administrative stuff done.

This morning, I'm organizing and archiving data. Shooting images in RAW format is all well and good, but they're large. At about 10 MB each, one gigabyte holds only about 100 images. I often shoot four or five (or ten) images for every one I end up using. That means I sometimes shoot 100+ images in one day, so the amount of storage space needed mounts up quickly. Being a packrat (not a pack rat or a packrat), I keep all the extra images.

I try to keep my working data directories as small as possible for quick daily backups, and certainly smaller than the 4.4 GB that fits on a DVD. Yesterday, my working data directories were up to 3.9 GB, and this morning up to 5.3 GB. I archived all of the extra images and some other stuff to my holding directories, and cut the working directories down by 3.9 GB to 1.4 GB.

Speaking of packrats, although Barbara thinks of herself as a thrower-away rather than a keeper, she's currently taking down all the Christmas stuff and carefully packing it in boxes.


Sunday, 30 December 2007
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11:15 - Today and tomorrow I'm archiving data and burning a new year-end backup set to DVD. I estimate the new backup set will require roughly a dozen DVDs.

Unfortunately, I'll have to create those manually, deciding which directories and files go on which DVDs. There apparently is no Linux application to do that for me. There are bits and pieces, including command-line utilities like split, but no complete solution I can find.

What I want is a GUI-based application that will examine the 50 GB or so of files in my archive directories, decide how to split them to minimize the number of DVDs needed, and write out ISOs of a specified size, automatically numbering them. The application should store in a database all of the particulars about which files are on which discs, so restoring a file should be simply a matter of locating it in the database, inserting the correct disc, and pulling it back up to my hard drive.

Furthermore, the files should be directly readable on the discs, and no file should be split across discs. It's okay if the application compresses individual files with gzip or whatever, as long as the individual files remain visible and manipulable on any Linux system, without requiring that the original backup/archiving application be installed.

That point is important given what happened to KDar, which is a KDE front-end for dar (disk archiver). KDar is no longer being developed, no longer supported, and no longer available in the Ubuntu repositories. Two years ago, I installed it and seriously considered using it for my 2005 year-end backup. I ended up not doing that, because I was concerned about what would happen if the application ended up being abandoned, which it apparently now has.

KDar wrote .dar files, which are still readable by the command-line dar application, but attempting to retrieve files that are on random discs in a set of a dozen or so would be a nightmare. What I'd end up doing, no doubt, is restoring all 50 GB or so to a hard drive and locating the file I needed from the hard drive.


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