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Week of 23 June 2008


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Monday, 23 June 2008
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09:51 - Mary Chervenak and Paul Jones came over yesterday afternoon to shoot some homechemlab.com videos. We did everything informally; no script, handheld camera, and so on. We managed to get about 90 minutes of video shot for three segments: making copper carbonate (Mary), making napalm (Paul), and making guncotton (Paul).

Paul is doing demos today for a summer class of beginning chemistry students at Wake Forest University. He wanted to have the guncotton prepared ahead of time. He was also going to prepare the napalm ahead of time, but then the question of how to transport it arose, so he decided instead to make the napalm during the demo.

The shooting went reasonably well, although we have a few segments left to shoot. Paul is going to return to shoot the concluding segments for the guncotton video, where we'll burn some of it and dissolve some of it in acetone to make collodion. I also need to reshoot the introduction to Mary's copper carbonate video, which somehow didn't record properly.

I've transferred all of the raw .dv files to my system and run through them quickly. The Azden wireless mike worked perfectly, and the recorded audio is worlds better than it was with the built-in mike. Once I have the concluding segments recorded, I'll burn all the .dv files to DVDs and send them up to Phil Torrone at MAKE, who'll edit them into final videos that'll be posted on the MAKE site, Youtube, and elsewhere.


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Tuesday, 24 June 2008
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08:46 - The Netflix throttle-weasels are at it again. I consider normal performance to be the one-day turnaround and one-day delivery that Netflix promises: they receive a disc back from me one day, ship me a replacement disc that same day, and I receive the disc the following day. In the last two weeks, the throttle-weasels have cost me six disc-days, with more to come shortly. They received two discs back from me yesterday. They shipped one replacement disc for delivery today, but the second disc won't ship until today (one disc-day delay), and they're shipping it from Denver, which means it probably won't arrive until Friday (two disc-day delay).

I suppose I shouldn't complain too much. I rejoined Netflix on 11 May, and in the first month they shipped me 23 discs, although one of those was damaged. For the second month, I'll be lucky if I manage to get 18 discs. Still, I'm averaging less than a buck per disc in rental charges, which is about as good as it gets.

Speaking of Netflix, Fred Reed has posted an interesting column that he calls Gonads and Gadgets. In it, he includes a short list of questions, and posits that the responses to these questions allow one to determine if the responder is male or female. Here are the questions:
  1. What does a cam shaft do?
  2. What is a vertical flyback interval?
  3. What role does expansion play in refrigeration?
  4. What does an address bus do?
  5. Timed delay of arrival is the basis of what common technological service?
  6. What is the role of a CCD in a digital camera?
  7. Name any space craft now in orbit around anything.
  8. What does TCP/IP stand for?
  9. What is the purpose of a torque wrench?
I would have had a perfect score, except that my answer to #5 was "Netflix".


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Wednesday, 25 June 2008
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08:42 - If I had ever doubted that Windows Vista was a dead product, those doubts would have been laid to rest yesterday. I got a call from Bill, a completely non-technical friend who'd spilled a drink into the keyboard of his 2-year-old notebook and wanted some advice about how to proceed.

We talked about how to plug a USB keyboard into his notebook so that he could get his important data transferred to a flash drive or to another system, and then discussed alternatives for a new system. He made it quite clear that he had no interest in Windows Vista, and wanted to know if he could still buy a new notebook with XP. Things have come to a sad pass for Microsoft when even casual users know that they don't want Vista.

In early 2007, Charlie Demerjian called Vista a "chrome-plated turd". I told Charlie at the time that he was being too kind, and nothing since then has given me reason to alter my opinion. Now that Microsoft has officially announced Windows 7, the three or four people who were still thinking about buying Vista will probably decide to wait for Windows 7. Of course, I can predict now that Windows 7 will be at least as bad as Vista, and probably worse.

As I told Bill, Windows is no longer a viable option. There are two reasonable choices: OS X and Linux. For Bill, OS X is the obvious choice, so I recommended that he look at Apple notebooks.



I have a couple of segments remaining to be shot for the first three homechemlab.com videos. I need to reshoot Mary Chervenak's intro to the copper carbonate video, and we need to shoot the final segments of Paul Jones' guncotton video. Paul was going to stop over yesterday to shoot the concluding segments, but I realized that I didn't have any unused mini-DV tapes. I don't really want to tape over any of the used tapes, so I ordered 10 tapes from B&H yesterday.

While I was at it, I ordered a spare camcorder battery and a head-cleaning tape. That was annoying, because I'm almost certain that I already have a spare battery and head-cleaning tape, unopened. I just don't remember where I put them. Oh, well. If I ever find the first ones I ordered, I'll just have two spare batteries and two head-cleaning tapes.


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Thursday, 26 June 2008
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08:36 - Today I find myself in agreement with John McCain and Barack Obama, both of whom say that the Supreme Court blew it when it ruled that being convicted of raping a child after previously being convicted of raping a child doesn't merit the death penalty. Of course, the overturned law itself begs the question, why would anyone who had already been convicted of raping a child be at liberty to do so a second time?

We're heading in the wrong direction with the death penalty. Rather than being an extraordinary punishment, the death penalty should be a common punishment for common crimes, in order to make those crimes uncommon. The death penalty should certainly be applied, for example, to anyone who defrauds elderly people or who sexually molests children. Or to any politician who takes a bribe or fails to carry out his campaign promises. Or, for that matter, to anyone who makes his living as a burglar or a car thief. And, of course, telemarketers who ignore the do-not-call list.

I would like to see us return to the good old days, when anyone who was convicted of such a crime was publicly hanged in the town square within hours or at most days of his conviction. Of course, there'd be an initial backlog. In Winston-Salem, a town of about 250,000, there are probably at least 2,500 people walking around free who should be hanged immediately. Once we'd cut down that backlog, we'd need only keep up with current cases, maybe 10 a week. The local TV news folks could cover the weekly hangings. If they were scheduled for, say, Friday evenings, I suspect the local TV stations would generate the highest ratings ever for local programs.



12:11 - On the other hand, the Supremes sometimes get it at least partially right. Their decision (PDF) to strike down the DC prohibition against keeping guns in the home for self defense is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. The Second Amendment gives us the right to keep and bear arms. This decision confirms the "keep" part, but ignores the "bear" part, which is critical.

I hope the Supreme Court will revisit this decision soon, and rule that all of us have the right to bear arms, concealed or unconcealed, at any time and any place, including most specifically on government property and airliners. And that includes all types of arms, including those currently classified as machine guns and destructive devices. An armed citizenry is a free citizenry, which of course is why the government constantly passes laws and creates regulations to infringe our Second Amendment rights.

But at least the Supreme Court has stuck a knife in the ridiculous argument of the anti-gun crowd that the Second Amendment somehow guarantees only our right to keep and bear arms as a part of a militia. A militia is the citizenry, which the Supreme Court has now recognized.



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Friday, 27 June 2008
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08:13 - Good analysis from Dave Markowitz of the Supreme Court Second Amendment decision.

From: Dave Markowitz
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
  Date: Thu Jun 26 15:20:38 2008
Re: SCOTUS Decision in Heller
  
Robert,

I read Scalia's majority opinion when I should have been working (haven't read the dissents). ;)

My initial impressions:

1. The Court held that the Second Amendment ("2A") protects an individual right, one not dependent upon membership in an organized militia. The right exists for otherwise lawful purposes, specifically noting that self defense is one of the bases for the right. The Court recognized the pre-existing nature of the right, as well.

2. Some restrictions of the RKBA are permissible. E.g., licensing is not forbidden by the 2A, but only when imposed in a manner that is not arbitrary or capricious. That would seem to disallow much of the discretion typically exercised by issuing officials in places like New York.

3. Outright bans of classes of arms in common use by the people are forbidden. This is a key point because it disposes of the frivolous argument that even if the 2A protects an individual right, it only protects the right to keep and bear arms of a type common in use during the 18th Century. In particular, the Court notes that handguns are in common use and overwhelmingly chosen by Americans for self defense. In dicta, the Court noted that machineguns could *possibly* be banned. However, it left open the argument that the reason machineguns are not in common use is because they have been so heavily regulated since 1934.

4. The Court declined to specify a standard for review in 2A-based challenges to gun control laws. For example, it will leave the matter of whether gun control laws must pass rational basis or strict scrutiny to later challenges. This wasn't unexpected.

5. The Court did not explicitly incorporate the Second Amendment against the states. However, it did cite several state cases in its decision supporting the idea that the 2A protects an individual right. This leads me to believe that the Court would be open to incorporation in a future case where a state law is challenged, e.g., Chicago's handgun ban. Again, this isn't totally unexpected, since the D.C. law which was struck down was a Federal matter, not a state law. The Court tries to craft most decisions narrowly.

In my opinion, the decision is sound.  While I agree that a broader ruling would be desirable (e.g., right to carry concealed w/o a permit outside the home), the Court tries to draft most of its decisions as narrowly as possible.  What was at issue in Heller was the ability to license and keep a firearm for defense in the home.  Carry outside the home was not at issue in this case.  But by recognized the 2A as an individual right alongside free speech, etc., the Court laid the foundation for challenging laws like Chicago's handgun ban, or concealed carry laws in which only the favored few get a permit.

Regards,

--
Dave Markowitz, KB3MNK
http://blogostuff.blogspot.com/
http://survivalpreps.blogspot.com/

Thanks. As I said, it doesn't go nearly far enough. As first steps, I'd like to see the 1934 National Firearms Act and the 1968 Gun Control Act ruled unconstitutional. There's no legitimate reason why I shouldn't be able to mail-order a heavy machine gun from L. L. Bean or a case of hand grenades from NewEgg or an RPG from Lands' End. Those are all things that are useful to keep around the house.


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Saturday, 28 June 2008
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00:00 -



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Sunday, 29 June 2008
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13:13 - Our power failed at 6:50 this morning. Although the Falcon Electric UPSs on Barbara's and my systems can power them for an hour or so, the chirping got on my nerves so I shut everything down. The power came back on about 9:00 a.m., but when I powered the network back up, the D-Link router was deader than King Tut.

Best Buy doesn't open until 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, so I spent some time cleaning out the area under my desk where the UPS lives. The UPS itself was pretty disgusting, with a clump of dog hair hanging off the front grill. The network was down anyway, so I vacuumed off the external junk and took the cover off the UPS (voiding the warranty; oh, well.)

I'd never seen the inside of a Falcon Electric true UPS, and it was a revelation. Unlike consumer-grade stuff, which is mostly empty space other than the battery, the Falcon UPS was jam packed with electronics. A circuit board ran the entire length of the case at the top, with other circuit boards, coils and capacitors filling nearly all of the available space. And what's amazing considering that this unit has an air fan and that I'd never so much as vacuumed the air inlet grills in the two years or so that I've been using this unit, the entire inside of the case was pretty much clean. There were a few very small bits of dust on the floor of the case, and a couple of huge coils near the front had some dust on them, but basically this system keeps itself clean. Very nice.

I took a shower and did some laundry while Barbara cleaned house. Finally, it was time for Best Buy to open, so we headed over there. I bought a D-Link DIR-615 Wireless N Router for $50. Since the four-year-old D-Link wireless router had died for no apparent reason, I also decided I'd better buy a new switch just in case the existing switch, which is of the same vintage, fails.

I ended up getting a D-Link DGS-2205 10/100/1000 5-port switch for $20. I thought about getting an 8-port switch, but we routinely run only three computers nowadays--my office, Barbara's office, and my den system--plus the Brother network printer. And the wireless router has four 10/100 ports on it, so I don't think we'll run short of ports.

I could have gotten a similar D-Link switch that supports only 10/100 for $10, but I figured the extra $10 for gigabit was worth it. All of our systems have gigabit adapters, but most of the cable in the walls is Cat 3, which is technically rated only for 10BaseT. The runs are short enough that 100BaseT works fine, but 1000BaseT might be pushing it. Still, the unit autonegotiates, so it'll optimize throughput regardless. I haven't installed the new switch. It'll sit on the shelf in plain view so that I can actually find it when I finally do need it.

I also picked up a 4-port Belkin USB 2.0 hub, which I'll need when I finally get around to setting up the Mac Mini that my editor sent me to try out.

Oh, yeah. Installing and configuring the new D-Link router took literally five minutes. I plugged it in and both the den system and my office system immediately had connectivity. Barbara's system couldn't find the Internet, but that took only 30 seconds to fix. For some reason now lost in the mists of time, I'd assigned her system a static IP address. I reconfigured it to use DHCP, and she was up and running immediately. It took me only another minute or so to set the new router to use an NTP server, configure the starting and ending dates for DST, and enable WPA/WPA2 security on the wireless side.



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