Week of 28 July 2008
Update: Friday, 1 August 2008 08:28 -0500
We made a Costco run yesterday, taking Paul and Mary along as guests.
Between our stuff and their stuff, we had Barbara's Trooper packed
pretty full for the return trip. They decided not to join Costco,
because they'd end up making a run only every few months. We told them
they were welcome just to tag along with us whenever they needed to
stock up again.
appears that serious, widespread problems may be developing with nVIDIA
graphics cards. The original spin from nVIDIA was that only a small
number of notebook GPUs were affected, and only those used in some HP
notebooks. Charlie Demerjian says that's wrong.
According to Charlie, all nVIDIA G84 and G86 GPUs--mobile and
desktop--suffer from a design/production flaw, and are doomed to
Events seem to confirm what Charlie is saying. Dell now says that some of its notebooks are affected, and now desktop part vendors have begun demanding a recall
as well. There have also been many reports of premature failures from
users of other brands of notebooks, including Apple, that use the
G84/G86 chipsets. The only "fix" for notebooks appears to be installing
a patch that causes the notebook fan to run more or less continuously.
Obviously, that kills battery life. Furthermore, according to Charlie,
the patch isn't a fix at all. It's aimed at merely delaying failure
until the units are out of warranty.
If Charlie is correct, and
it appears to me that he is, installing the patch is a sucker bet. With
the patch installed, your notebook has only a fraction of its normal
battery life and is very noisy. The GPU may last a bit longer before it
fails, although it seems likely that we'll start seeing many more cases
of premature fan failure. Presumably, the vendors hope the extra
cooling will allow the GPU to live just long enough to take the system
out of warranty.
I don't have any video cards or embedded video
based on the G84 or G86 chipset. If I did, I wouldn't install the
patch. Instead, I'd beat the hell out of the GPU, hoping to uncover the
problem while my GPU was still in warranty. Before the warranty ended,
I'd call the vendor's tech support line, report a GPU failure, and
demand a replacement.
And if I held any nVIDIA stock, I'd sell
it now. Best case, it looks like nVIDIA is going to take a severe
beating. Worst case, the cost of warranty replacements may kill the
company. Unfortunately, the only real alternative for 3D graphics is
ATi, which is owned by AMD. AMD has serious financial problems of its
own. It's not out of the realm of possibility that in a couple of years
we may all find ourselves running integrated Intel graphics from lack
of any alternative.
- Thanks to everyone who emailed me to tell me that Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments has been chosen by Cool Tools as the Best home chemistry lab book.
confess that somehow I hadn't heard of Kevin Kelly or the Cool Tools
site until now. My editor tells me that Cool Tools is "the current
bearer of the Whole Earth Review torch". Obviously, this site has
considerable clout, because the Amazon.com rank for the book has been
in the middle three-figure to very low four-figure range since the
article appeared on Cool Tools.
I intend to spend some time browsing that site and reading Mr. Kelly's other recommendations.
A $33 million mistake.
Yesterday morning I tried Cuil,
supposedly a potential Google killer. I spent five or ten
minutes doing various searches. If my results are any indication,
Google has nothing to worry about.
The first search was for "Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments"
with quotes. Cuil returned zero results. Okay. I tried it without
the quotes. Cuil found ... zero results. So I typed in "Robert Bruce
Thompson" with quotes. Cuil claimed to have found 61,109 results. The
first page was bizarre. It had results for several of my books listed
and it had cover images of several of my books. Unfortunately, the two
were completely out of sync. The first hit was for Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders, but it had an image (not the cover image) from the chemistry book. Another hit for PC Hardware in a Nutshell had the cover image from Astronomy Hacks. Another hit for PC Hardware in a Nutshell,
this one in Spanish, had an image of what appeared to be a castle of
some sort. And another Spanish entry from AddALL.com had a picture of
some bald guy with a beard that I've never seen before. And one result
was, I'm pretty sure, in Portuguese, but with a cover image of the
Russian-language version of one of my books. Then there was the hit in
German with an image of a random group of people I've never seen
So then I tried a bunch of other searches,
pretty much randomly. I searched for "Brian Bilbrey" and found only a
few hits that referred to very old pages, messages he'd posted on
mailing lists, and so on. The one for "Jerry Pournelle" wasn't much
better. Nor was the search for "ammonium metavanadate" or "Becke line".
I searched for "Mary Chervenak". Here's one of the hits, which shows
how badly Cuil matches hits to images. The image appears to be a cover
shot for an album by Paul Jones and Dave Kelly. Mary is in fact married
to a Paul Jones, but not this
Paul Jones (unless her Paul Jones, who's an organic chemistry professor
at Wake Forest University, is hiding something from all of us.)
you want a search engine that ignores recent pages in favor of really
old pages, ignores relevant pages in favor of irrelevant pages, ignores English pages in favor of pages in other languages,
and has linked images that bear no relation to the entry, Cuil.com is
the one to use. Otherwise, you're much better off sticking with Google.
We had dinner yesterday at Dioli's with Paul and Mary. It's an
Italian deli that focuses more on take-out than sit-down dining. There
are raised stools and a counter around the perimeter of the place, and
one table in the center that seats a dozen people. Just after we sat
down to eat, one of the staff came over and asked if we minded if he
sat at the table with us to have his dinner. We welcomed him and Mary
started talking to him. He's in college, majoring in sustainable
technologies. I told him that Mary was too modest to mention that she'd
run around the world last year to support sustainable water systems, so
I would. Mary said she'd forgotten about it.
den system was dead this morning. I figured we'd had a short power
outage, but when I powered the system back up it displayed a message
that it had shut down because of a processor thermal event. It's the
BTX system that we built about two years ago for the second edition of Building the Perfect PC, and I'm not surprised that it overheated.
been sitting there on the floor for two years, sucking in dog hair.
I've tried to clean it out a couple of times, but I could do only a
superficial job. The BTX air duct covers the CPU heatsink/fan, and
there's no access without completely disassembling the system. There's
probably enough dog hair in there to build a new dog.
As I sat
there debating with myself about tearing the thing down to clean it out
versus dropping in a different system in its place, I realized that now
was a good opportunity to connect up the Mac Mini system that Brian
Jepson, my editor at O'Reilly, sent me on long-term loan. He bought a
newer Mac Mini to replace this one, which is one of the original PPC
models. The Ethernet port stopped working, so Brian sent along a USB
Ethernet dongle. The system has only its original 256 MB of RAM, but
that's easy enough to upgrade. IIRC, there's only one DIMM slot, but I
can drop in a 512 MB or 1 GB DIMM to replace what's in there.
will be happy, because that BTX system has always been loud. And
getting it running will give me a chance to try the Mac for editing the
camcorder videos we've been shooting. I'll probably wait until this
weekend to get it all set up.
Usually, I wake up when Barbara's alarm goes off at 6:50 a.m. This
morning, I managed to sleep through that as well as Barbara taking her
shower and playing ball with the dogs as she read the paper and had
breakfast. I didn't wake up until 8:00 when she came back to get
dressed for work.
I'm still computerless in the den. We missed
the computer last night while we watched Delderfeld's To Serve Them All
My Days. Usually, I keep the IMDB page for whatever we're watching up
on the screen so that I can answer Barbara's questions like "what else
have we seen him in?"
On the forensics book, I'm currently
working on the glass and plastic analysis chapter, which I hope to
finish today or perhaps tomorrow. There are only four lab sessions in
that one, which makes it go faster. I'll start another chapter this
weekend, but I'm also going to block out some time to get the Mac Mini
installed and working in the den. Brian suggested I upgrade the memory
from the stock 256 MB to 512 MB or 1 GB, but I think I'll try it with
256 MB first. Upgrading the memory involves using a putty knife to pry
off the cover, which makes me a bit nervous. I don't want to break a
system that belongs to someone else.
- I just noticed a couple of articles on FoxNews: Memo to Barack Obama: It's the Christians Stupid! and Memo to John McCain: It's the Christians Stupid!.
The author is apparently a Christian nutter trying to convince the two
major-party candidates for President of the United States that they
should both pander to the wishes of fundamentalist Christians.
reality, of course, neither of them should do that. For Obama, it
doesn't matter. They'll all vote for McCain no matter what Obama says
or does. For McCain, it doesn't matter, either. They'll all vote for
him no matter what he says or does. Even though they hate McCain,
they're about as likely to vote for Obama as they are to vote for
The author of these articles is living in a dream world
in more ways than one. He claims that 84% of Americans are Christian,
and 47% are evangelicals or born-again Christians. Give me a break.
It's a small fraction of that even right here in the Bible Belt.
after I read the articles, I took the dogs for a walk. As I did so, I
totaled the religious practices of the homes we passed, at least for
those for whom I knew their religious practices. Our next door
neighbors to one side are fundamentalist Christians, Southern Baptists.
The whole family goes to church every week, if not more
often. Mary, Kim's mother and Jasmine's grandmother, attends
church every week, but Kim and Jas do not. That was about it. Of ten
houses, that totaled one with four regular churchgoers and one in which
one of the three people who lives there is a regular churchgoer. That's
five people out of more than 30. Call it 15%. And that's in the Bible
My impression is that there aren't many Christians in this
country, at least if you define Christians by their church-going
habits. Congregations are shrinking, and have been for at least 50
years. Churches have been consolidating and closing all that time.
Catholics can't get enough priests or nuns to keep their facilities
staffed. I remember reading one time that nuns in the US averaged
something like 58 years old and that something like three nuns died for
every new nun they were able to recruit. Also, although obviously there
are exceptions, the average churchgoer is elderly and getting older.
Other than weddings and funerals, I haven't attended church very often
in my 55 years, but some of those who do tell me that
congregations are indeed shrinking and aging every year.
course, it's possible that 84% of Americans are Christian, if you set
the bar low enough. My parents took me to church when I was small. Does
that make me a Christian? Hardly. Barbara and I got married in a
church, although I came close to strangling (literally) the minister
during pre-marriage counseling. Does that make me Christian? No way.
Nor Barbara, who's spent Sunday mornings for the last 40 years or so
playing golf with her father. Two of our good friends got married in a
Catholic church to make her parents happy. They also attend mass
at Christmas and Easter. Neither of them believes in god. Do they count
as Christians? I don't think so.
And here's another interesting
factoid. Few ministers or priests actually believe in god. They stand
up and preach every Sunday, but are they Christians? Not by any
reasonable definition. And there is probably a larger proportion of
atheists among the Jesuits than among the general population, but I'm
sure most people count Jesuits as Christians.
evangelical Christians make up only a fraction of those few regular
churchgoing Christians. They make a lot of noise, certainly, but there
just aren't that many of them. So why would any politician pander to
The start of a new month and, as usual, I'm not where I wanted to be.
The forensics book is progressing well, but not as quickly as I'd
hoped it would. Still, I should finish up another lab chapter today or
tomorrow and then start another.
Yahoo is doing the right thing,
offering people who purchased DRM'd music tracks from them a choice of
coupons that can be exchanged for DRM-free tracks or a direct refund.
I'd like to think that Yahoo planned to do this all along, but I
suspect the cries of outrage prompted their decision.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert