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Week of -3 January 2010


Latest Update: Saturday, 2 January 2010 13:35 -0500

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Monday, -3 January 2010
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12:05 - I'm starting the new year a bit early because I refuse to have one of my weekly pages straddle two years.

Barbara is working today, but will then be off until next Monday. I'm doing the usual end-of-year/start-of-year administrative stuff, including developing plans for the Maker Shed Science Room for 2010. Things are otherwise pretty quiet around here.

We just watched series one of Nurse Jackie, which one of my friends recorded for us on his DVD recorder. And we've been pigging out on another Showtime series, Dexter, in which the lead character is a forensic analyst who also happens to be a serial killer. The twist is that Dexter only murders people who richly deserve it and have slipped through the legal system unpunished or even undetected.

Barbara and I disagree about the entire premise. She thinks taking the law into one's own hands and committing murder is wrong, period. I think a justifiable murder is not only not wrong, but can be a moral act. In fact, I can see myself doing what Dexter does, although I wouldn't ritualize it and I would commit each murder by a different method and leave the body where it fell rather than risk disposing of it. Of course, disposing of the body at the very least complicates forensic analysis, but I'm familiar enough with the entire field of forensics to avoid problems there.

I'm probably in the minority. As Heinlein commented, most males have an unhealthy tendency to obey laws. That's never been a problem for me. I have zero respect for the politicians who make the laws, so why would I have any respect for the laws they make? I don't break a law if there's a significant likelihood that I'll be caught doing so, or if the law happens to be one I agree with, but otherwise the law is immaterial. I have my own moral compass. I don't need politicians to tell me what's right and what's wrong.


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Tuesday, -2 January 2010
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Wednesday, -1 January 2010
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Thursday, 0 January 2010
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Friday, 1 January 2010
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13:58 - I'm still doing end-of-year/start-of-year stuff, including pulling new archive sets to DVD. Of course, the DVD burner in my main system picked now to die. It's an ASUS DRW-2014L1T, about a year old. So I headed for the workroom, looking for a SATA DVD burner. I was delighted when I spotted an old but unused Plextor PX-716SA. The manufacturing date was December 2004, but I figured it'd still be good. Wrong.

I swapped out the drives and put a Verbatim MCC004 16X DVD+R disc in the drive. The burn ramped up very slowly, reaching only 8X or so by the time it was a third of the way through the disc. Then it abrupted dropped to 0.0X for fifteen seconds or more and then started writing at 4X, at which speed it remained until it finished writing the disc. I'd set it to do a verify, not that there was much hope for that disc. And, of course, the verify failed. Thinking perhaps I just had a bad disc, I tried burning another disc, but got the same results.

I didn't have any more SATA burners on the shelf, so I started eyeballing some older mothballed systems, planning to pull a burner from one of them. Then I decided it wasn't worth the hassle. I jumped onto New Egg's web site and ordered a $30 Lite-On burner with free shipping. That'll arrive early to mid next week, but I can wait. In the interim, I just finished my archive set by writing them to ISO files, which I'll burn once the new drive arrives.


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Saturday, 2 January 2010
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09:53 - Oops. I forgot to post my New Year's Resolutions. Oh, well. They're pretty much the same as last year's. I'm no longer writing books per se, but I will be writing a lot of new material for the MAKE Science Room this year. (Actually, there are already 65 more finished articles in the queue, which I hope will be posted before long.)



I've been watching the Fox/TWC battle and, wonder of wonders, rooting for the cable company to win. Apparently, no one but me has noticed a logical inconsistency in Fox's position. Fox claims that it needs $1/subscriber/month from TWC for the right to broadcast OTA Fox programming because ad revenues are insufficient. But if that's true, why does Fox continue its money-losing OTA operations? Why not drop the OTA operations and convert what's now the Fox broadcast channel to a cable channel? That way, Fox could keep all ad revenue rather than paying some of it to its local stations, and could also claim that $1/subscriber/month revenue as a cable-only channel.

What we're really seeing here is the beginning of the end of "free" OTA programming. There are too many middlemen between the content producers and the viewers, and those middlemen are adding zero value. In fact, they're now adding negative value. Local broadcast stations are likely to be the first casualty, cut out of the loop as the national broadcast networks transition to national cable networks.

The Comcast/NBC deal was the first crack in the dam, quickly followed by this Fox/TWC battle. This trend is likely to continue, with all of the broadcast networks eventually transitioning into cable networks. I expect to see all of the broadcast networks duplicate their OTA content on new cable networks. Then, some year soon, when contracts between the national broadcast networks and their local affiliates expire, I expect to see the networks refuse to renew them, leaving the local affiliates hung out to dry. Dropping OTA boardcasting will reduce viewer count, certainly, but those lost viewers are exactly the kind of viewers that the networks don't much care about. They're generally poor and rural and of little interest to advertisers. Losing them will cost the networks some revenue, certainly, but that lost revenue will be offset by reduced costs.

The local affiliates won't really be missed, either. Right now, the only real value they provide is their local newscasts, and those are increasingly becoming unnecessary. For example, Time-Warner has its own cable channel here, on the basic tier, called News 14 Carolina. TWC runs a statewide news operation, which is at least the equal of the local stations' news operations, and probably considerably more cost-effective. For example, all of the local affiliates have their own weather crews. News 14 Carolina has a weather crew as well, but it serves the entire state. In the Triad, we see Tara Lane doing Weather on the Ones. Charlotte gets Tara (who lives in Charlotte) doing Weather on the Fours, and Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill gets Tara doing Weather on the Sevens (or vice versa). I suspect Tara gets to use the Bathroom on the Zeroes, but is otherwise working flat out for her entire shift.

And, of course, not only are the local affiliates not doing anything useful, they're sitting on a lot of valuable RF spectrum, all of which would better be allocated to wireless networking. So, although there will doubtless be a lot of posturing and a lot of lawsuits and federal court cases, I have no doubt that local affiliates are going away, with their spectrum auctioned off by the federal government. That leaves the cable companies and satellite companies and phone companies as the remaining delivery mechanisms for all those cable networks.

The trouble is, the next logical step--and we're already seeing the first baby steps--is for cable networks to go away, replaced by Internet networks. We'll still have A&E, the Home & Garden Channel, and so on, but they'll be IP networks rather than cable networks. The cable systems become just another middleman, and are adding no value. What we need from the cable companies is just big, fast, dumb pipes. We'll find our own "content", thank you very much. Initially, we'll find that content on those Internet networks, but in reality they're just another middleman, and they'll also be adding no value. So, ultimately, I see the landscape being local pipe providers that we'll all use to pick and choose the content we want to watch, which will be provided directly by the creators of that content. No middlemen at all between us and the creators. That transition may not be complete for 20 years or more, but we're definitely heading in that direction.



13:35 - Something just happened that illustrates how little network TV we really watch. Barbara and I were taking a lunch break when we started trying to figure out which network affiliate corresponded to which of our cable TV channels. We both knew that the NBC affiliate, WXII, was on cable channel 11 and that CPT (PBS) was on cable channel 4. Other than that, we had no clue. I thought CBS was on channel 2 and Barbara thought maybe it was channel 7. (It's channel 9, as it turns out.) I thought Fox was on channel 7 or maybe 10 and ABC was on whichever one Fox wasn't on. Barbara wasn't sure. She checked the TV section in the paper to find out. Now that I know, I've already forgotten. It's been years since I've watched anything on ABC, CBS, NBC, or Fox.

Barbara is nearing the end of her annual deep cleaning, with only her own office left to do and some minor things in other rooms. As long as she was cleaning the downstairs guest suite, we decided it was time to do something I'd wanted to do for a long time. Our industrial upright freezer has been in my lab, taking up space. I've also been vaguely uncomfortable having food storage sharing my lab space. Finally, we had two spare microwave ovens and a convection oven stored out in the unfinished area of the basement. I've wanted to have a microwave and that convection oven in my lab, but I simply couldn't spare the counter space.

So we decided to do some rearranging. We moved the freezer out into the unfinished area of the basement, which was a project in itself. After cleaning the area where the freezer had been sitting for years in my lab, we moved a microwave cabinet into that space. The convection oven sits nicely on the top of the cabinet and the microwave oven in the interior area designed for it. I've even made sticky "Lab Only" labels for each of them, not that either of us is likely to use them for cooking food, but it's good practice to label things that shouldn't be used subsequently for food preparation. I'll use the microwave primarily for heating water or solutions quickly, and the convection oven will serve as a very efficient dry autoclave. I also have a pressure cooker for when I need a wet autoclave. And the microwave cabinet has a drawer that'll be useful, along with cabinet space underneath that I can use for storing acids or something.


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Sunday, 3 January 2010
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.