Week of 30 November 2009
Update: Sunday, 6 December 2009 11:56 -0500
For about the next three weeks, I'll be busier than the proverbial
one-armed paper hanger. Christmas is on Friday this year, which means
things will be hectic until Wednesday, the last day to place orders
with overnight shipping to arrive by Christmas. I pity the poor UPS and
FedEx delivery drivers that week, not to mention the MakerShed
warehouse folks. Yesterday, even though it was a Sunday, was our
biggest sales day ever, but by December 23rd it will probably no longer
be among the top ten. Things are going to be hectic, so don't expect
much here until at least December 24th.
- Wired has an interesting article up about gasoline rationing in WWII.
As the article points out, gasoline was never the problem. The US was
awash in petroleum, but pitifully short of rubber for tires, with
supplies cut off by the Japanese. What the article doesn't mention is
that this was another case of chemists and chemical engineers to the
rescue. Within a year, there were more than 100 synthetic rubber plants
in operation, and our output of synthetic rubber soon dwarfed total
pre-war world production of natural rubber. And we didn't simply
replace the natural rubber that we no longer had access to. We
developed new types of rubber, with better characteristics than natural
rubber for specific applications.
In fact, someone should write
a book about the contributions scientists in general and chemists in
particular made to the war effort. On both sides. I wish I had time to
write it myself. Everyone knows about the physicists and the Manhattan
project, of course. And Watson-Watt and radar. But probably not one
person in 10,000 is aware, for example, of how Dow Chemical contributed
to winning the war by producing magnesium in huge quantities. In just
one of its many applications, that magnesium went into stronger,
lighter alloy airframes that allowed US aircraft to carry more fuel,
ordnance, and armor than opposing Axis aircraft while still
outperforming all but the German jets. And that's just one example of
the thousands of ways, large and small, that chemists and chemical
engineers helped win the war.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
- Happy birthday to Barbara, who turns twenty-thirty-five today. Or, as I prefer to think of it, 0x37.
pest control guy just left. We have no termites, which is a good thing.
Not long after we bought this house in 1987, we had to have it
retreated for a minor termite problem. I remember the guy complaining
about the new stuff they were using since the feds banned chlordane in
1988. According to him, the new stuff cost 10 or 20 times as much
and just didn't work very well. "At least it still kills them, right?",
I asked. "No," he replied, "it just hurts their feelings."
pretty much sums it up. The feds banned chlordane, a substance that was
cheap, worked well, and bonded to the treated soil forever. In
exchange, we got very expensive chemicals that don't work very well and
leach out of the soil, contaminating the ground water. Which pretty
much sums up the EPA.
Thursday, 3 December 2009
I almost did something silly yesterday. I hadn't gotten Barbara a good
birthday present, so I was about to drive down to the Dick sporting
goods store and buy her a shotgun. Then I realized, duh, that it'd be
much better to take Barbara along so she could handle various models
and choose one that fits her.
I really wanted to get her an Atchison--it's
ideal for clay shooting and home defense, as well as as an
anti-Santa gun--but it's a bit impractical. So I'm thinking we'll
probably get her a 12-gauge 870 pump with a 20" barrel. Those come with
a cylinder choke that's not ideal for clays, but on the other hand
it'll be fairer to Mary, whose 20-gauge throws a smaller shot
charge. At typical clay ranges, Barbara's 12-gauge and Mary's 20-gauge
should put about the same number of pellets in a 30-inch circle.
Our Panasonic DVD recorder started misbehaving the other day, having
trouble loading DVDs. Even if a DVD loaded, it would sometimes
repeatedly seek when I selected an episode. We picked up a cleaning
disc at Walgreens the other day and ran it through the DVD recorder.
The next couple of discs worked normally, but last night the problems
returned. I pulled an old DVD player off the shelf and we got through
the evening using it, but we were getting skips and jumps with it.
first inclination was to disassemble both of them and clean them
manually, and I may still do that. But I'm busy enough right now that
it seemed easier just to order a new one, which I just did, a $40 Toshiba unit
from NewEgg with free shipping. I thought about ordering a recorder,
but the simple truth is that there's so little on regular TV that we
care about that I don't remember the last time I used the Panasonic
recorder as anything but a player.
With the exception of live
news, weather, and sports, everything we watch is on DVD, rented from
Netflix or borrowed from friends or the library. Even when we've caught
up through the current season by watching Netflix DVDs, we don't bother
to watch the current season on regular TV. We'll just wait until it's
available on DVD and rent it then. My tolerance for commercials is now
below zero. Not only will I not watch anything with commercials in it,
I now begrudge even the few seconds it takes to fast-forward
It's now been almost five years since
Barbara and I were among the first to "cut the cord". We were paying
something like $50/month for basic cable service, which Time-Warner
cable defined as the "lower tier" of 15 or so mostly local channels
plus another 30 or 40 "upper tier" non-premium channels. One day I told
Barbara that I thought it was insane to keep paying TWC $50/month for
service that we simply didn't use. So we cut back to the lower-tier
only channels for $6.66/month and subscribed to Netflix, which at the
time was about $20/month for the three-at-a-time plan. We've never
found any reason to go back.
At the time, I wasn't sure if the
three-at-a-time plan would be enough, but it would have been easy
enough to upgrade to the four-, five-, or six-at-a-time plan if we
wanted to. As it turned out, three-at-a-time was plenty. In particular,
now that Netflix has completely stopped throttling and begun shipping
on Saturdays, we're seldom without something decent to watch. We
average 25 or 26 discs a month--call it 50 or 60 hours of video--which
is plenty for us.
Saturday, 5 December
About six weeks ago, Barbara brought the 4 GB Sansa Clip MP3 player
that she used for music in her truck to me because she'd listened to
all the music on it. (I'd ripped all her CDs to 320 Kb/s MP3s, which
are stored on the disk array on my office system.) As usual, I
connected a USB cable to the Sansa Clip, expecting a directory window
to pop up listing its contents. No dice. The directory window came up,
but showed no contents. I screwed around with the player for a while
and concluded that it was borked, so I ordered her an 8 GB Sansa Fuze,
loaded it with music, and thought no more about it.
morning Barbara brought me the 2 GB Sansa m250 she uses for music at
the gym. I connected it to a USB cable, and it popped up a directory
window. Empty! Hmmmm. As Barbara immediately said, that was a bit too
coincidental. What she actually said was, "Why does your computer keep
killing my MP3 players?"
So I took the player and cable back to
her system, plugged it in, and up came the directory window with all
her music files. Hmmm. Something's obviously hosed with USB MP3 players
on my main system. I suspect it's the execrable rythymbox player.
That's not easy to uninstall from Ubuntu. Doing so requires removing
the Ubuntu desktop, which isn't as bad as it sounds, but still has some
So I decided the easiest thing was just to
copy all of Barbara's MP3 files to her office desktop system. The
problem with that is that Barbara's system was built as a client
system, and has only an 80 GB hard drive, about 60 GB of which is free.
All of her MP3 files total several hundred GB, but that includes a lot
of classical, Saturnalia, and other types of music that she doesn't
listen to in the truck or at the gym. Her core stuff is only about 40
or 50 GB, so there's room for it on her hard drive. I just carried an
external hard drive with her core MP3 files on it back to her office
and started it copying up to her hard drive.
She put the old 2
GB Sansa m250 on the shelf as a spare, and will use the 4 GB Sansa Clip
as her gym MP3 player. I'll get her set up so that she can charge both
players and transfer music to them herself. Boy, am I glad I didn't
toss that 4 GB Sansa Clip into the trash, as I almost did. Once again,
my "keep everything" habit pays off. Heck, I still have my first digital camera from a decade ago. Someday I may want the sensor for something.
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