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Week of 4 January 2010


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Monday, 4 January 2010
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09:36 - It's been a bit chilly here, and that's supposed to continue through the week. Last night, the low temperature was 14 F (-10 C) with winds of 15 to 25 MPH, which took the wind chill into the sub-zero Fahrenheit range. I've always been suspicious of the concept of wind chill, which could be quantified scientifically, but instead is given as an arbitrary estimate. The Weather Channel acknowledges that by giving wind chill temperatures as "Feels Like" numbers.

As far as I know, no one has done the obvious experiment: set up a container of fluid at skin temperature, expose it to various temperatures and wind speeds, and measure how quickly the container loses heat. My guess is that even a slight breeze achieves nearly the maximum wind chill effect by breaking up and blowing away the boundary layer of warmer air next to your skin. Once the wind speed is sufficiently high to do that, additional wind speed should have little effect on the rate of heat loss, because the warm surface is already being exposed to continuously refreshed air at the ambient temperature. My own empirical experience confirms that. There's a considerable difference in apparent temperature between 14 F in calm conditions versus 14 F with even a 5 MPH breeze. There's not much difference between 14 F with a 5 MPH breeze and 14 F with a 10 MPH or even 20 MPH wind.



The traffic on Jerry Pournelle's back-channel mailing list yesterday was mostly about a scammer trying to convince one of the guys on the list to send $1,000 supposedly to another of the guys on the list, who was supposedly stranded in London. The guy who supposedly needed the money, Ron Morse, has a facebook page as Ronal B. Morse. The scammer apparently set up a fake facebook page under the name of Ronal Morse and then contacted the real Ron Morse's facebook friends, soliciting them for money, and hoping that they wouldn't notice the difference between the real Ronal B. Morse and the fake Ronal Morse. Of course, any of us would have sent the real Ron the $1,000 he needed to get home, but fortunately the scam was pretty obvious so no money changed hands.

The scammer depended on something many people don't know. I certainly didn't. He asked his would-be victim to send the $1,000 to him at Heathrow airport via Western Union, claiming that it was safe because he'd have to present identification at the Heathrow Western Union kiosk. The would-be victim even called the Metropolitan Police at Heathrow, hoping they'd be able to arrest the guy when he tried to claim the money. The problem is, with Western Union one doesn't send money to a person at a specific location; one sends money to a person, period. Once the scammer had the transaction number, he could claim that money at any Western Union location world-wide simply by giving them the transaction number and presenting some form of ID, which of course would have been faked.


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Tuesday, 5 January 2010
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08:46 - Google introduces its smart phone today. I'm not sure why anyone cares, nor have I ever understood why anyone would pay thousands of dollars to have an iPhone. Several of my friends have iPhones, so I'm sure there must be good reasons to have one, but what those reasons might be escapes me. Perhaps I'm just a Luddite.

I'll probably be doing more traveling this year, so I plan to buy a cell phone. It'll be a basic Boost Mobile prepaid unit, like the one I got for Barbara two years ago. She's been completely satisfied with it. In two years, that phone has cost a grand total of about $100, including the price of the phone and adding airtime every 90 days. Actually, the total has been only about $70, because there was still $30 worth of airtime on her phone when I added time on Christmas day. So, at $70 for 24 months, it's cost her about $3/month. Of course, Barbara averages only about 16 minutes a month of airtime, but at ten cents per minute even if she used it more heavily the cost would remain very reasonable.


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Wednesday, 6 January 2010
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Thursday, 7 January 2010
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08:40 - The deal announced yesterday between Netflix and Warner Brothers studio is being spun as Netflix caving, but in fact it's a win-win-win deal for Netflix, its customers, and Warner Brothers. By delaying release of new Warner Brothers titles for 28 days in order to let Warner Brothers sell more DVDs, Netflix gets a better price on Warner DVDs and a big expansion in the number of titles available for streaming. Netflix customers get better availability of Warner titles (after the first 28 days) and more streaming titles available. And Warner gets a 28-day window for more profitable sales of new titles to customers before rentals become widely available. Historically, about 75% of sales of a new DVD title occur within 28 days of release, so this should help increase Warner's DVD sales and profitability.

The only losers are those Netflix customers who want the latest titles as soon as possible, and even they may see a net improvement even with the 28-day window in effect. Netflix has the same problem with hot new movies that libraries do with the latest best-sellers. If they buy enough copies to meet the initial surge in demand, within a month they find themselves with many more copies than they need to meet ongoing demand.

Libraries have a mechanism to deal with this problem. If they think they'll actually need fifty copies of a new book that costs $20 to meet initial demand but only five copies of that book once the initial surge passes, they'll buy those five copies for $100 and do a short-term rental of the other 45 copies for perhaps $6 per copy. That way, the library has plenty of copies  to meet the initial demand, isn't stuck with 45 unneeded copies after the initial surge in demand passes, and spends only $370 instead of $1,000.

Unfortunately, Netflix doesn't have that option. If they buy enough copies of a hot new title to satisfy initial demand in a timely manner, they're stuck with all those extra copies. So, if Netflix thinks they'll need 20,000 copies of a hot new release to meet initial but only 1,000 copies once that initial surge passes, they might actually order only 5,000 copies. They and their customers both lose. The customers because they're going to have to wait to get the title because Netflix doesn't have enough copies. Netflix because they end up with 4,000 extra copies. They can try to sell those to their customers as used copies, probably for less than they paid for them, but sales of that title 30 or 60 days after release are probably going to be slow. By that time, most people who want to watch that title have either bought it new or rented it, and traffic for that title will be almost exclusively rentals. So Netfix may end up with 3,000 or 3,500 essentially useless copies in stock.

Under the new system, Netflix may buy only the 1,000 copies they need for ongoing rentals, or perhaps 1,500 copies to cover any remaining vestiages of the initial surge in demand. They'll pay less per copy than formerly, and they can probably sell any copies they deem excess at a breakeven price. Even with the 28-day wait, Netflix customers may actually be able to get a copy sooner than they did under the old system.

I understand that Netflix will probably be announcing similar deals with the other studios soon. I think that's a good thing.


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Friday, 8 January 2010
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15:35 - A full day in the lab, as well as planning, scripting and shooting videos. I'll be posting those on YouTube once they're ready. It's been one of those days. As I was working in the lab, the head of the sink sprayer came loose, drenching me and the counters around it. Fortunately, no damage was done and I was able to reinstall the head.


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Saturday, 9 January 2010
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Sunday, 10 January 2010
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10:28 - Dinner with Mary and Paul last night at our favorite Mexican place. As usual, the conversation was wide-ranging and entertaining.

At my request, Mary brought me a baggie of poppy seeds. I'm going to use them in a drug-testing video, because poppy seeds react just like opium. In fact, ordinary supermarket poppy seeds are opium, in an extremely dilute form. Edible poppy seeds are from papaver somniferum, the opium poppy plant, and contain very small amounts of the two primary opium alkaloids, morphine and codeine, as well as smaller amounts of papaverine and the other opiates. Trace though they may be, those amounts are sufficient to ring bells in any test for opiates, including urine tests. In fact, just eating a poppy seed bagel or two is sufficient to produce a positive urine test for opiates. When Mary handed me the baggie at the restaurant, she said she felt like she was doing a drug deal. I'd left my wallet in my purse out in the truck. Otherwise, I'd have handed her a $20 bill just to make her experience complete.

Barbara and Mary both seem unhappy with their current gym. There's a new YM/YWCA gym opening soon in our area, which will have swimming pools and other facilities that their current gym doesn't. I think both of them are going to drop their memberships at Gold's Gym when they expire and move over to the new place. As well as being a member at Gold's, Mary is also an intructor there for organized classes, including Body Pump. She gets her membership for free and they pay her a nominal amount for each class she teaches.

But that also makes her a staff member, and staff members aren't allowed to park in the Gold's Gym lot. Incredibly, Mary and the other female instructors have to walk, in the dark and without escort, to another parking lot. And not just the nearest lot, which Mary calls the "Rape Me" parking lot. No, they have to walk across that parking lot, in the dark, and on to the next parking lot, which Mary calls the "Please Rape Me" parking lot. When Mary can't find an escort at the gym, she calls Paul. If Paul is unavailable for whatever reason, I told Mary to please call me. Barbara made the same offer. The gym is maybe a mile from our house as the crow drives, so it's no trouble at all.

I can't believe that Gold's Gym has so little concern for its staff members that it orders them to park so far away from the gym, knowing the risks. As far as I know, nothing bad has ever happened, but a situation like that is just bad news waiting to happen. And Gold's Gym would likely find itself facing a huge lawsuit if anything bad did happen. Even if they don't care about their staff, I'd think they care about legal liability.


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