Week of 4 August 2008
Update: Saturday, 9 August 2008 14:18 -0500
Brian Jepson, my editor at O'Reilly, was kind enough to offer the loan
of his first-generation Mac Mini to let me see what OS X is like. He
also sent along a USB Wi-Fi dongle, because the 100BaseT socket in the
Mac Mini no longer works.
My den Linux system had started
overheating, probably because it hasn't been cleaned out in more than
two years. It's a BTX system, which means you have to pretty much tear
the whole thing apart to get to the CPU cooler. There's probably enough
dog hair in that system to build a new dog. At any rate, I decided this
was a good opportunity to take a look at OS X, so I installed the Mac
Mini in the den on Saturday.
This Mac Mini has only two USB
ports. I needed one for the Wi-Fi dongle, one for the mouse, one for
the keyboard, and one for an external USB hard drive or USB flash
drive, so I plugged a Belkin 4-port USB hub into one of the ports. I
figured it might be a good idea to have the Wi-Fi dongle connected
directly to the system unit, so I kept a free port on the system unit
The system fired right up, and immediately recognized
the Viewsonic VG-2021M display and set the resolution correctly.
Unfortunately, that was about the end of the good news. I know people
say that OS X Just Works, but I have reason to doubt that. The first
problem was that it didn't recognize the keyboard, a bog-standard PC
keyboard. It asked me to press the key immediately to the right of the
left Shft key and then the key immediately to the left of the right
Shft key. Okay, I did that, and it recognized the keyboard. That did
seem a bit gratuitous, though.
The bog-standard Logitech mouse
was running at a slow setting with no acceleration. I found the dialog
to fix that problem and got the speed and acceleration set reasonably.
It wasn't difficult, but this is something that Linux takes care of
automagically, and which OS X doesn't.
Next step was to plug in
the Wi-Fi dongle. The good news is that OS X recognized it immediately
and brought up a Wireless configuration dialog. Unfortunately, there
were no APs listed, although my D-Link AP in my office is less than 10
meters away. So I clicked on the Rescan button, and it popped up my AP
in the list. So far, so good, although it seemed odd that it didn't
find the AP without requiring a rescan.
I entered the SSID and
WPA passphrase in the appropriate boxes and clicked "Connect". The AP
disappeared from the list, and the status button showed Disconnected.
Hmmm. So I tried again. When I went to the site survey tab, no APs were
listed. I clicked Rescan again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Finally, after
about five tries, it showed my AP again, but the status showed as
So I reentered my SSID and WPA passphrase, at
which point an error message popped up. I read through the error
message details, and it said things about a kernel error and a bunch of
other stuff. The only way to get out of that dialog was to click the
button that would send the error report to Apple. Some chance with the
system not yet connected to the AP, huh? But I clicked it anyway and
after a couple of seconds a message popped up to tell me that that
error report had been received successfully by Apple. Huh?
clicked the Safari icon to fire up the web browser, and it brought up
the home page almost instantly. Figuring that might have been cached, I
entered a couple of other web sites that would be unlikely to be
cached. They came right up as well, even though the Wireless utility
was showing the system as not connected to the AP. So I went into my
office and fired up the web-based admin utility for the D-Link WAP.
Sure enough, the Mac was connected, at 54 Mbps with excellent signal
So I played with Safari for about five minutes
before I decided I just couldn't stand to use it as my main browser. I
downloaded and installed Firefox 3 with no problems. I installed
AdBlock Plus, the Filterset.g updater, and Flashblock, again with no
problems. I logged onto my web-based email and checked mail with no
problems. Then the connectivity died in the middle of loading a web
The OS X wireless utility was, as usual, showing me as
disconnected, but the D-Link status page showed me as still connected
with high signal quality. A few minutes later, I tried Firefox again,
and it woked. Connectivity returned on its own. I did nothing. So I
wrote that problem off to some temporary glitch and decided to
configure OS X to use the network laser printer in my office. It
couldn't find it, although none of our Linux systems had the slightest
problem finding it. Thinking maybe connectivity had died again, I fired
up Firefox again, which worked normally. OS X was connected to the
network. It just couldn't find the IP laser printer.
connectivity died again and stayed dead. Well, not completely dead.
Every once in a great while, it'd work for long enough to load one or
two web pages, but then it would stop working. The good news is that
when I fired up the OS X wireless utility, it now showed the link as
connected. The signal quality fluctuates, but is always in the 96% to
99% range. The signal strength varies from about 50% to 75%, usually at
the upper end of that range. But the stats screen shows a bunch of
packet CRC errors.
Obviously, something is screwed up, but I
have no idea what the problem is or how to fix it. The D-Link wireless
router is configured correctly. I suppose it's possible that the USB
Wi-Fi dongle Brian sent me is defective, but I have no real good way to
Watching all this going on, Barbara said, "If you
need it to do your work, why don't you just order a new Mac Mini?" And
I may do that. But before I do, I'm going to use this one to play
around with iMovie or whatever they call the video-editing application.
system doesn't need Internet connectivity to do what I need to do.
Well, it would need connectivity if I were going to use it permanently
as my den system, but for video editing all I need is a way to transfer
.DV files and finished .MPEG files to and from it. I was about to plug
one of my external hard drives into the Mac and suck down the
files when I remembered that the Mac probably couldn't read, let alone
write, the formats on any of my external drives, which are EXT3 and
other Linux formats.
I decided to transfer files back and forth
with USB flash drives instead. Unfortunately, I don't have any
high-capacity USB flash drives. I haven't bought any since 512 MB was
large flash drive and 1 GB was huge. I wanted something in the 4 GB or
higher range, because some of the .DV files I need to transfer are 2+
I checked the Costco web site and was surprised that they
had SanDisc Cruzer Micro flash drives at $33 for the 4 GB
and $40 for the 8 GB model. Then I checked NewEgg, and found they were
even less expensive there. I ended up ordering two Kingston
DataTraveler 100 4GB Flash Drives for $14.39 each, including free
the meantime, I copied the raw .DV files to DVD and sneakernetted them
into the den to load on the Mac Mini. The first video is made up of six
.DV files that total about 5.9 GB. I copied the first five of those to
a DVD and took that disc into the den to start it copying up to the
Mac. The progress indicator on the Mac said that it'd take about 40
minutes to copy the files, which seemed a bit much. While that was
going on, I returned to my office to copy the final 2.3 GB file to
another DVD. When I returned to the den with the second disc, the
progress indicator said there were 38 minutes left to complete the
So I decided to fire up Kino, a Linux DV editing app,
on my main system. I opened a new project, dragged the six DV files for
the first video over to the timeline pane, and started editing. Once I
realized how things worked, it wasn't difficult at all. I thought I'd
be literally editing the raw files. Instead, what Kino does is build a
template file that includes the beginning time and ending time (or
frame number) for each clip. The original files remain unchanged.
can save in one of two ways. For original DV files from which I wanted
to extract only one continuous clip, I used Overwrite mode.
example, the 001 file was Mary's talking-head intro to the segment. We
did two takes, each of about 15 seconds, but with extraneous discussion
and so on the DV file totaled about one minute. The second take was the
better one, and it ran from something like 0:40.504 to 0:54.752. I set
the start marker at 0:40.504 and the end marker at 0:54.752 and told
Kino to save in Overwrite mode, leaving me with only the 14.248 second
clip that I wanted to use.
For DV files that included multiple
clips I wanted to use, I used Insert mode. After picking the start and
end markers, I'd save in Insert mode, which prompts for "Before" or
"After". Choosing Before puts a copy of the selected clip into the
timeline before the main DV file I was working on. I could then edit
that main DV file again to mark the second clip, save that clip in
insert mode, go on to choose the third clip, and so on. I ended up with
14 total clips from the six original DV files.
Once I finished
the timeline, I just clicked Export and told it to export as MPEG. The
results were surprisingly good, although I somehow managed to get two
clips swapped in the timeline and one clip ran a fraction of a second
too long, leaving a partial spoken word at the end. The 720X480 MPEG is
about 300 MB, which isn't a problem. YouTube takes videos as large as
1,024 MB. Unfortunately, the video is too long. The YouTube limit is 10
minutes--not for any technical reason but because they decided that
most videos longer than 10 minutes were from TV programs and
movies--and my video currently runs a few seconds over 11 minutes. I
need to cut that down to about 9:00 or 9:15 to allow room for O'Reilly
to stick in intro video and closing video with URLs and so on. Either
that, or break it into two 5+ minute segments.
I'm sure the next
video will be easier to do, although probably just as time-consuming.
The software and my system are fast enough. The problem is that I have
to play DV files over and over to decide what I want to use, where to
set start and end points, and so on. The next time I shoot a video, I'm
going to keep a written timeline, with numbered takes, the start- and
end-time for each take, and so on. That should eliminate much of the
drudgery of hacking up the segments to get what I need.
Barbara leaves tomorrow for a bus tour to Chicago with her parents and
sister, so until Sunday it'll be just me, the dogs, and any wild women
I can find.
We'll probably spend as much time as possible
indoors. The high temperature today is to be near 100 °F (38 °C), with
high humidity. Malcolm turns 9 next month. Duncan turns 14 on New Years
Day, which is pretty old for a 75-pound Border Collie. Both of them
start panting as soon as we get out the door, and I'm afraid to have
them out for very long. Come to think of it, I'm 55, and I'm afraid to
have me out for very long.
I'll probably do a Firefly marathon
while Barbara is gone. Barbara didn't mind Firefly in small doses, but
she doesn't want to watch it again. When I really like a series, I
watch it over and over, getting more out of it each time.
of good series and wild women, I've been watching Californication.
Barbara watched half of the first episode and gave up. She's no prude,
but she found the constant foul language, bouncing boobs, and simulated
sex offensive. Although the series is certainly rude and crude, it's
also top-notch television and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. The
writing is first-rate, and there's not a weak member in the cast.
Quality-wise, I'd put it on a par with, say, Veronica Mars.
Barbara is safely off. The tour bus makes a 7:00 a.m. stop in
Winston-Salem to pick up people who'd rather not drive the 30 miles or
so from Winston-Salem to Randleman, where the tour bus company is
Unfortunately, the pick-up point is a K-Mart
parking lot on the other side of town. Barbara would have had to leave
here by about 6:00 to meet the bus. She'd also have had to leave her
truck in that parking lot. Mary Chervenak had agreed to give
ride over to pick up Barbara's truck and then to deliver it back on
Sunday when Barbara returns (there would be five people in her
truck--Barbara, her parents, her sister, and her sister's friend
Marcie--and Barbara's truck seats only five, so I'd need to ride back
with Mary in any event.)
Fortunately, the bus makes a scheduled
breakfast stop at a cafeteria that's only a few miles from our house,
so Barbara made arrangements to meet the bus at the breakfast stop.
That means she needed only to pick up Marcie, who lives on our side of
town. I rode over with them and brought Barbara's truck back. Sunday,
I'll pick up Barbara and Marcie at the K-Mart parking lot.
working on the forensic drug testing chapter right now, specifically a
lab session drug-testing currency. I'll do that in two parts, one
merely illustrative, but the other as real as can be.
of the type of paper it uses and the intaglio printing, U.S. paper
currency picks up drug traces very easily. Most US notes have
detectable traces of controlled substances, particularly cocaine. The
older the bill and the higher its denomination, the more likely that
traces of drugs will be present.
tests that are
practical in a home lab may not be good enough to detect drugs on a
single bill, or even the combined residue from several bills.
using a modified Scott Test, which has a threshold limit of about 65
micrograms for detecting cocaine. Any particular US note may
cocaine traces from less than one microgram--a level that is
undetectable outside a formal
forensics lab--to more than 1,000 micrograms (1 milligram). That means
the Scott Test may or may not work for readers. So, just to make sure
they can see what a positive test looks like, I'm going to
them contaminate a dollar bill with the contents of an acetaminophen
capsule, and then test the dollar bill with ferric chloride reagent.
- We've all survived the first 24 hours without Barbara,
although no wild women have shown up yet.
has gotten very bad about taking his pills. It used to be that both
dogs would sit in the kitchen waiting for their pills. Barbara wrapped
the pills in a small piece of lunch meat, and the dogs
willingly took them. A couple of years ago, Duncan started
at taking his pills, as do all of our Border Collies as they get older.
I think as they get older they decide that Barbara is trying to poison
In would go the pill, wrapped in lunch meat. Duncan would
eat the lunchmeat and spit out the pill, sometimes after a delay of up
to 30 seconds. A year or so ago, Duncan stopped accepting lunch meat,
even if there was no pill embedded. Barbara tried every workaround we
could think of, including buying special pill pockets, soft dog treats
with a hole in the middle. She'd insert the pill, squash the pill
pocket, and Duncan would eat it. Then he figured out that there were
pills concealed in the pill pockets, so he started disassembling them
in his mouth, eating the pill pocket, and spitting out the pill. Then
he stopped accepting pill pockets entirely.
Duncan is now very
suspicious of any food we offer him. If it's flat, like a potato chip,
he snarfs it up. But if it's lumpy, such as a piece of meat, he
carefully examines it for adulterants before eating it. Once he decides
it may be okay, he chews it carefully to make sure he's not
accidentally swallowing a pill.
Lately, Barbara has had to start
giving him the pills by force, shoving them into his mouth, holding his
snout closed, and stroking his throat until he finally swallows the
pill. Malcolm, conversely, happily eats plain pills. We can
hand him the pill. He eats it and begs for more. If Duncan spits a pill
out, Malcolm tries to grab and eat it, and sometimes succeeds
before Barbara can stop him.
Barbara has been Duncan's human
since he adopted her when he was only six weeks old. He'll let her get
away with things that he won't let me get away with. One of those is
prying open his mouth to stuff pills in. He may be nearly 14 years old,
but he still has a dangerous set of fangs, so I'm very careful giving
him his pills. As I'm doing it, he gives me a baleful stare, and I can
just tell what he's thinking: "I'm not allowed to bite humans, and I
would never bite Barbara, but for you I may make an exception. Go
ahead, make my day."
I got kind of sidetracked yesterday. Instead of working on the thing
with using Scott Reagent to test dollar bills for cocaine, I ended up
working on a lab session on general presumptive drug testing. This one
resembles the similar lab in the chemistry book, but instead of using
Marquis reagent, nitric acid, and ferric chloride reagent, I'm using
Marquis reagent and Mandelin reagent.
Early start this morning. Someone was walking a dog at 6:35. The dog
barked, and that set Malcolm off. I took our guys out and picked up the
newspaper. When we came back in, both dogs immediately headed back to
the bedroom to go back to sleep, leaving me wide awake.
was an interesting article in the newspaper yesterday. Apparently, the
Hispanic population of Winston-Salem is declining, as many illegal
immigrants are leaving Winston-Salem to return to Mexico. The slowdown
in the economy, particularly the precipitous decline in new housing
starts, is affecting them badly. There's no work here for them, so
Let's hope this trend continues until
they're all gone. We have more than enough unskilled workers of our own
without importing unskilled foreign workers to take jobs away from US
citizens. And, yes, I know all of the bogus arguments about illegal
immigrants taking only jobs that US citizens aren't willing to do. To
the extent that's true, it's because those jobs don't pay enough to
make them worth doing. If those illegal immigrants are gone, those
employers will have no choice but to pay a living wage. Or to mechanize
jobs that have historically been done by low-wage, low-skill people.
that means the price of agricultural commodities rises, that's fine
with me. What few people consider is that in exchange for cheap
vegetables harvested by illegal immigrants, we pay through the nose in
indirect costs that are directly attributable to the presence of those
millions of illegal immigrants. In effect, by allowing those illegal
immigrants to live and work here, we're subsidizing the costs of the
Mexican social welfare system, in addition to greatly increasing the
cost of our our own social welfare system. The net benefit is to Mexico
and Mexicans, with us carrying the costs in the form of higher
taxes and higher unemployment among low-skill US workers.
Enough is enough.
brings up another interesting phenomenon that apparently no one
considered. As the cost of energy continues to climb, the cost of
transporting goods increases. Already, some goods produced on the
Pacific Rim are being priced out of the market, as locally-produced
goods become more price competitive because it costs much less to get
them to local markets. For now, the effect is most pronounced for
high-bulk, low-value goods such as bulk commodities, but I expect this
trend to continue and expand.
It now costs enough to transport a
refrigerator or a sofa from a Pacific Rim factory to the US that many
companies must be considering moving production of such items back to
the US. In effect, high energy costs have begun functioning as the
equivalent of significant import tariffs for such items. As energy
costs continue to increase, it wouldn't surprise me to see some of the
shuttered furniture factories in North Carolina brought back into
The sooner that happens, the better. I'm so tired of
the flood of cheap, shoddy Chinese goods that Wal*Mart flogs by the
megaton. I want the stuff I buy to be made in the US, Canada, or
another first-world country. When Barbara and I got married, nearly 25
years ago, the underwear, t-shirts, jeans, and boots she
for me were all made here in the US, much of it right here in North
Carolina. Nowadays, most of that stuff is made in China,
Romania, or wherever. Places I don't care about and don't want my money
So, to the extent that they encourage the migration of
production back to the US, high energy prices are not entirely a bad
- Barbara returns tomorrow evening. The dogs and I will do
our happy dance. They're not happy with Barbara gone.
morning is pretty typical. I got up about 7:00 and took them out for a
few minutes. When we came back inside, I sat down at my computer and
they went back to the bedroom for a nap. Duncan hasn't been eating
much, and Malcolm is just moping around. Last night, I tried to play
some ball with Malcolm. He chased it down the hall a few times and then
just took the ball and left. Ordinarily, he'd be willing to chase the
ball as many times as I was willing to throw it, all evening if
We'll all be happy when Barbara returns and things get back to normal.
two Kingston 4 GB flash drives showed up from NewEgg yesterday.
Apparently, DHL and the USPS have some sort of arrangement. NewEgg
shipped the drives from the west coast by DHL, which delivered them to
a USPS center here on the east coast. USPS then actually delivered the
All of the other flash drives I've had have little
plastic caps to cover the USB plug. These drives have no cap. Instead,
there's a little knurled slider that moves the USB plug in and out of
the drive body. It's a better arrangement in that there's no little cap
to lose, but I wonder about the USB plug accumulating pocket lint.
I'm deep into Chapter 12, forensic drug testing. Here's the current
Laboratory 12.1: Presumptive Drug Tests
Laboratory 12.2: Detect Cocaine and Methamphetamine on Paper Currency
Laboratory 12.3: Analysis of Drugs by Chromatography
Laboratory 12.4: Observing Microcrystalline Structures
Laboratory 12.5: Assay Vitamin C in Urine
Laboratory 12.6: Analyze Ethanol Content in Exhaled Air
finished designing and writing the first two lab sessions, and I'm well
into the third. I hope to have it and perhaps the fourth completed by
the time Barbara returns tomorrow.
- I never thought I'd say this, but Paris Hilton may just
be playing dumb. She apparently took umbrage at this McCain campaign
commercial that used footage of her.
And here's her response.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert