Week of 21 January 2008
Update: Sunday, 27 January 2008 10:36 -0500
We just got back from the vet, where Duncan had his annual checkup.
Except for his rear end, which weak, Duncan is in good shape.
Barbara re-injured her left leg while she was walking Duncan around in
the vet's yard to get a urine sample. She had lots of errands planned
for today, and is very frustrated. Her leg was doing so well, and now
she's back to where she was a week or two ago. Her left leg is one she
didn't have surgery on, but in adapting to her injured right leg, she
apparently put extra stress on the left leg and ended up with a pulled
muscle or something similar in her calf. She's sitting on the sofa
right now, fuming, and with an ice pack applied to the left calf. I
hope this is a very temporary setback.
Here's another Darwin Award candidate.
What was this woman thinking? She arrives home to find a burglar in her
bedroom. Any sane person would get out immediately and call the police.
Instead, she confronts the burglar, who flees. She chases
the burglar for several blocks, pulls him off a fence he's trying to
climb to get away from her, and puts her knee on his chest to restrain
him. He gets away anyway, of course.
But what if he'd decided to
fight? He'd have hurt her very badly, or killed her, and I don't care
how black her belt in Karate is. What if he'd had a knife or a gun?
What if he'd simply used his much greater strength to break her in
half? The simple fact is that, pound for pound, an average man is two
to three times stronger than a woman, even a woman who works out and
lifts weights. And, of course, men typically outweigh women by 50% to
100% or more.
I sure wouldn't confront a burglar if I had any choice in the matter, and I'm a lot better equipped to do it than she is.
Barbara's leg is a bit better, although it was hurting enough yesterday
that she took some oxycodone. She's off to work this morning, wearing
the knee brace they gave her after her knee surgery, but now on the
other leg. I suspect it's a muscle strain or pull, and if she doesn't
aggravate it it should be back to normal within a few days.
placed an on-line order last Wednesday morning, and FedEx showed up
with the package yesterday. Nothing unusual in that, you might
think, except that I wasn't sure the order would be delivered at all. I
ordered 250 mL of reagent-grade dichloracetic acid from Fisher
Scientific. In their catalogs, Fisher says they don't sell to
individuals, but only to educational institutions, businesses, and
professionals. I guess I qualify under one or more of those categories.
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
Something strange is going on with my main system. It may be hardware
or software. Yesterday, when I returned from walking the dogs, my
monitor was blank. Moving the mouse didn't unblank it. Eventually, I
just restarted the system and wrote off the problem to a random glitch.
this morning when I came into my office, the monitor was blank. Moving
the mouse unblanked it, but it displayed a login prompt. Hmmm. I logged
in and worked for a few minutes when suddenly the monitor cleared and
displayed a no-signal message, and the system rebooted. Hmmm. I went
into BIOS setup and found the CPU temperature was over 60C and the ICH
and MCH temperatures were around 70C. That's hot, but not hot enough
that the system should have shut down.
Still, I pulled the side
panel and pointed my little desk fan into the case. Within a couple of
minutes, all of the temperatures were down into the 50s. I'll see if
that stabilizes the system. If not, it may be the recent large update I
installed, which replaced a lot of system files including X. But one
way or another I need to take some time to figure out why the system is
running so hot. There's no obvious reason for it.
It seems that others, including the music industry itself, are finally
catching on to what I've been saying for at least ten years. The music
industry is dead, gone beyond any hope of salvage. The glory days are
gone for good, killed by the Internet eliminating the artificial
scarcity upon which the industry depended. The era of "superstar"
musicians and groups is giving way to a new era in which many more
musicians and groups will find a wider audience, while the
platinum-plated superstars of the past find themselves earning
Even The Economist is now sounding the death knell of the music companies. FTA:
2006 EMI, the world's fourth-biggest recorded-music company, invited
some teenagers into its headquarters in London to talk to its top
managers about their listening habits. At the end of the session the
EMI bosses thanked them for their comments and told them to help
themselves to a big pile of CDs sitting on a table. But none of the
teens took any of the CDs, even though they were free. “That was the
moment we realised the game was completely up,” says a person who was
music industry is now well into its death spiral. CD sales have been
for years, and are now falling month-on-month. Fewer CDs being sold
means retailers allocate less shelf space to CDs, which in turn means
still fewer CDs will be sold, and the shelf space will be further
reduced in a spiral that ends only when CDs are allocated no shelf
space at all. Electronic sales of single tracks can't make up for lost
revenues from declining CD sales, and anyway electronic sales appear to
have peaked and begun to decline in real terms. Most people
simply aren't willing to pay much if anything for music any more, and
that's never going
Musicians will still make a living, of course, just
as they did before the music industry was born. They'll make their
livings by touring, by selling branded gear, and by selling CDs and
electronic tracks directly to the fans who want to support them
financially. Good musicians will probably make no more than
middle-class incomes, and in fact Internet distribution means that it's
likely that more musicians will be able to make at least a
modest living than have ever
been able to do so in the past. But the days of the top 0.01% of
musicians earning millions are rapidly drawing to a close, as
are the days when
the music "industry" was able to insinuate itself between the musicians
and their fans, taking the lion's share of the income.
Thursday, 24 January
- I got so busy yesterday that I forgot to post.
lab looked like the aftermath of a catastrophe. While I was shooting
images for the book, I had one small working area cleared off to use to
shoot the images. The rest of the horizontal surfaces (including the
stool) were covered in stuff. I'd just gotten a delivery of 50+
additional chemicals and some additional lab equipment, all of which
added to the clutter. The sink and the counter on both sides of it were
filled with dirty glassware.
So I spent a few hours cleaning up.
Now, my lab looks merely like a disaster area, but at least most of the
glassware is clean and stowed, as are most of the chemicals and
equipment. The main problem now is that I need to free up and create
more shelf space.
Right now, I'm using two 48" (1.2 meter)
double-shelve cabinets. One of them is devoted to glassware and
equipment storage. The other is used for chemical storage, In that
one, I used two 48" 1X6 boards to double the shelf space, giving me 16
feet of shelving in that cabinet, and allowing me to pack chemical
bottles much more tightly while still leaving them reasonably
That's still not sufficient, though, for two
reasons. First, I still need more linear feet of shelf space to
accomodate all the chemical bottles. Second, some of the bottles,
mostly 500 g and larger containers, are too tall to fit the current
shelves. Actually, there's a third reason. Chemicals are labeled with
storage code colors, as follows:
Green or gray - general storage (not particularly hazardous or reactive)
Yellow - oxidizer/reactive
Red - flammable
Blue - toxic
White - corrosive
of which should be stored separately and isolated from each other. In
fact, it's a lot more complicated than that. For example, a strong acid
and a strong base may both be coded white, but that doesn't mean it's
safe to store them in the same cabinet. Similarly, many organic acids
react with strong mineral acids, so I should store them separately
rather than together in an "acid" cabinet. Then there's nitric acid,
which reacts with almost anything and should be stored completely
separately. All told, I really should have about a dozen separate and
isolated chemical storage areas, but that just isn't going to happen
for reasons of space if nothing else.
Not that there's any real
danger, given the small quantities of chemicals I'm storing. For
example, in theory it's a really rotten idea to store 30% hydrogen
peroxide (a strong oxidizer) near benzene or toluene (flammable). But I
have only 100 mL of each, so the risk is very small.
still have two 2-foot cabinets unused, which I'll convert to chemical
storage, as well as considerable under-counter cabinet space, which
I'll also free up. In addition, the end wall of the lab is a convenient
place to put up a half dozen 4-foot storage shelves, which will help a
One of the reasons I'm trying to get the lab cleaned up and
organized is that I plan to shoot some videos to promote the book.
Being me, I spent some time yesterday working on scripts for the
first two or three videos. I'll shoot the raw footage with my camcorder
and send it to O'Reilly. Their folks will edit and polish the raw
video, add titles, and package it up. The narration will be mostly
voiceover, which I'll record on my digital voice recorder after the
videos are finished. The result should be, if not professional quality,
at least a step up from the typical amateur videos you find on YouTube.
hope to have several videos in the can before the book hits the
bookstores in April. We'll release a couple of them concurrent with the
book, and then a new video periodically to keep interest in the book
high. That's the plan, at any rate.
Saturday, 26 January
- Here's an interesting article on promoting books by releasing them for free download:
Alchemist Author Pirates His Own Books
I see that the book is currently in the 100's on Amazon.com, which is incredible for a novel that's several years old.
Recent HD DVD sales grind to a virtual halt
tends to confirm what I said when the news of Warner's abandonment of
HD-DVD first hit. HD-DVD has lost, but that's not the same thing as
saying that Blu-Ray has won. FTA:
"According to raw retail data
collected by NPD, consumers bought just 1,758 HD DVD players the week
of January 12, down from 14,558 players the week before. In contrast,
consumers bought 21,770 Blu-ray Disc machines, up from 15,257 the
So, HD-DVD player sales dropped by 12,800 units
week-on-week, while Blu-Ray player sales gained only 6,513 units, or
about half of the unit sales lost by HD-DVD. Or, another way of looking
at it, the total sales of all high-def players fell week-on-week from
29,815 units to 23,528 units, a decline of 6,287 units or 21%.
the argument of both camps has been that people were staying away in
droves from HD-DVD and Blu-Ray because no one wanted to buy a player
that'd be orphaned. If that were true, one would expect the total units
sales of high-def players to have increased or at least remained the
same instead of dropped by 21%. It'll be interesting to see how the
numbers come out for the next few weeks, but I think my original
prediction--that both formats will utterly fail to catch on--will prove
Some people say that DVD will be the last mass-market
video format, and will be replaced by electronic distribution. That may
be true, but I think there's another factor operating here. Just as
most people are perfectly happy with MP3 files and other lossy audio
formats, most people are perfectly happy with DVD quality video. Even
on an HD TV, an upscaling DVD player, which can be had for well under
$100, provides video quality that most people can't tell from true HD
video. When you consider that DVDs typically sell for half or less the
price of HD-DVDs or Blu-Ray discs, not to mention the fact that many
people have large libraries of standard DVDs, it's no surprise that
most people yawn at high-def discs.
Then there's one final
factor that I pointed out years ago. A lot of people thought I was
kidding, but I wasn't. I said then that high-def DVDs would fail in the
market unless and until writable high-def discs were ubiquitous and
cheap. If you could go out and buy a Blu-Ray writer for $40 and Blu-Ray
blanks for $0.30 each, the format would have some hope of being
adopted. But it has no chance of being widely adopted with burners
selling for ten times that much and blanks selling for sixty times that
And this from Pournelle's backchannel mailing list:
From: Alex Pournelle
To: Chaos Manor Advisors
Date: Fri Jan 25 18:31:35 2008
Re: [Advisors] Windows Genuine Advantage validation website down: WGA staff
I'd say this qualifies as breaking news.
have been attempting to install a Microsoft-provided Windows Genuine
Advantage (WGA) product key on a Windows XP Pro machine for the last
week. We purchased the key directly from the Microsoft WGA department,
and attempted to install it, without success so far.
the machine in question started out as Windows XP Home, and was later
updated to XP Pro. (That combination is troublesome to WGA, and we
recommend NEVER trying it.) When we came on the scene (much later), it
had never seen the Internet, so we of course immediately ran updates,
which meant the machine ran afoul of the WGA validation.
a week of attempting to get the WGA validation to pass, and repeated
calls to Microsoft, we were told the "Server is down" and "being worked
on". As you probably remember, they had similar problems last year,
which prevented a lot of people from validating their Vista
installations. At the time they swore a mighty oath It Would Never
Happen Again. I'm extremely disappointed.
have the Microsoft Product Support Services staffer's badge number,
should anyone wish to follow up with Microsoft. I'm planning to check
again on Monday and will advise.
Disappointed, but probably not surprised.
I don't understand why
anyone who depends on his computer would use an operating system that
has a built-in mechanism to disable it at the whim of the OS vendor. In
particular, I don't understand why anyone would do so when that
mechanism is demonstrably buggy and has experienced widespread severe
malfunctions at least three times now, disabling legitimate copies of
One of the reasons I run Linux is that such things
can never happen with Linux. If I absolutely had to run software that
wasn't available for Linux, I'd run it on OS X, although Apple is about
as bad as Microsoft. If the software I absolutely needed to run wasn't
available for Linux or OS X, I'd devote a Windows box to running it and
only it. And I'd be looking hard for alternatives and pestering the
software vendor to provide a Linux version or lose my business.
Barbara has speakers connected to her computer--a $200 M-Audio 2.0 set
of studio monitors--but she seldom uses them because she has a
bookshelf audio system in her office. When I was installing something
on her computer the other day, I noticed that the speaker volume was
very low, barely audible. I didn't think much about that, because
Barbara had always kept the speaker volume very low.
morning, Barbara came into my office to tell me she was trying to
listen to a YouTube video and couldn't hear the audio. So I went back
and started checking things. The speaker volume knob was turned all the
way up. I couldn't find anything in the Sound System section that
This is one of these problems that Windows
fans claim to be "showstoppers", gleefully proclaiming that Linux isn't
usable by ordinary people. I had no idea what to do next, so I did a
Google search for
ubuntu low speaker volume
The first hit
gave me exactly what I needed. Some poor guy had the same problem I
did, and the first or second reply to his post asked him if he'd
checked alsamixer to see if the volume was set to low. So I tried to
fire up alsamixer, only to find that it wasn't installed. I fired up
Adept (the package manager), searched for alsamixer, and clicked on
install. In about one minute, literally, from start to finish, I had
Barbara's speakers working again.
The only things that puzzle me
now are why alsamixer wasn't already installed and how the volume got
set so low in the first place.
and I headed up to Rural Hall yesterday. I wanted to pick up some shelf
brackets and 1X4's to put up some shelves on the end wall of my lab,
and I prefer to buy such stuff from a family-owned lumber yard in Rural
Hall instead of Lowes or Home Depot. As it turned out, the place was
closed on Saturdays, so Barbara and I made a quick stop at the Rural
Hall library to refresh our to-be-read stacks and then headed for Home
Depot, where I picked up three 8-foot 1X4's and a dozen brackets.
the narrowest brackets they had were designed for use with 1X6
boards. The brackets are about half an inch wider than the boards, but
that won't be a major problem. I may bend the front of the brackets up
and screw them into the front of the shelves, or I may simply mount the
shelves a half inch from the wall.
Either way, I'll end up with
an additional 24 linear feet of shelf space, which I'll use for storing
chemical bottles, as well as for a backdrop for headshots when I shoot
some video segments to promote the home chem lab book.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert