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Week of 15 March 2010


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Monday, 15 March 2010
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10:34 - I'm starting heads-down work today on the new edition of Building the Perfect PC. As Barbara said, we'll soon be flooded with PC components. Or at least I hope we will. It's been a few years since the last edition, and many of my industry contacts may have moved on or forgotten me.

YouTube sent me a invitation to apply for partnership yesterday. I guess hitting 2,000 subscribers and 50,000 views must have triggered it. Until now, they were offering ad revenue sharing on specific individual videos that met whatever criteria they required. That hasn't always been obvious. Some videos that have more views haven't included the revenue sharing button, while others with many fewer views have. At any rate, I always ignored those revenue-sharing invitations because the only thing they offered was to share revenue if I allowed them to run ads with those particular videos.

When I checked my account yesterday, there was an invitation to apply for general partnership. That offers many advantages, not least the ability to customize one's channel page, which I really want. So I clicked on the Apply button and filled out the form to request partnership. One odd thing. There were two checkboxes at the bottom, with a red asterisk next to them that indicated they were a required field. The first checkbox was that I agreed that ads could appear with my video and the second had something to do with promotion. I tried marking only the second checkbox, but when I then clicked the Submit button it returned me to the form and said I hadn't completed a required field.

Eventually, I marked the permission to run ads checkbox and it accepted my submission. On the summary page that followed, one of the summary items was that I'd given permission to run ads, as though that were an optional choice. I still think it may be optional, so I'll look into that once they approve my partnership application, assuming they do. If it turns out the ads aren't optional, I'll hold my nose and let them run the ads, although I'll still encourage everyone to run an ad blocker so they won't see them.



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Tuesday, 16 March 2010
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10:24 - The plumber is supposed to show up some time today to repair or replace the sewage ejection pump in the basement. That pump was installed nearly 20 years ago, so I'm inclined to replace it, but I'll see what the plumber suggests. He repaired it in 1999, and it's run fine ever since. It doesn't get much use, because it serves only the downstairs bathroom and the former-guest-suite-kitchen-now-laboratory. Barbara also wants me to have him replace the outdoor hose faucets and raise the one on the front of the house a few inches.

I'm re-familiarizing myself with the PC component market. A lot has changed since we did the current edition of the book, not least the growth of the Mini-ITX form factor. I'm particularly looking forward to building one or two Mini-ITX systems that can be configured as an appliance PC, home server, media-center front-end, NAS, and so on. It's always fun to cram as much functionality as possible into as little volume as possible. A passively-cooled Intel Atom-based system with an SSD may be my next den system.


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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
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08:58 - Jerry Edwards, our plumber, came out yesterday and replaced the sewage ejection pump in the basement. He also repaired the hose taps, front and back, but didn't need to replace them. So, a couple hours' work and $767 later, everything is working again. I'd told Jerry to put in a good pump. The old one was installed in 1991, so it lasted nearly 20 years, which Jerry said is about four or five times the average lifetime for one of the cheap sewage pumps sold at Lowe's or Home Depot. I hope the new one lasts as long as the one it replaced. It should, if weight is any indication. The thing is constructed of thick cast iron, and reminded me of a floor safe. When I tested it, it took only 2 or 3 seconds to completely empty the reservoir.



Wow. Here's reason enough not to buy an iPad. If the battery dies, it's going to cost you more than $100 plus tax and a week to get a functioning system again. Oh, and they don't return your original iPad, so you'll need to make sure you've backed up all your data. And the iPad warranty specifically excludes the battery. I've never understood why anyone would buy something like this, with a battery that's not user replaceable, if only because you might need a second battery to extend run time.


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Thursday, 18 March 2010
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09:16 - Dentist visit yesterday for fillings, but I'm fully recovered. He asked whether I wanted silver or composite fillings, and I knew immediately that he asked because silver filling material is an amalgam of silver and mercury. Mercury has been demonized by the popular press, starting 30 years ago or more with the reports about high levels of mercury in fish, and a lot of people are simply terrified by it. When I questioned him, Dr. Miller said that the silver-mercury amalgam was a much superior filling material and was essentially permanent, while the composite material was much less durable and might need to be replaced after a few years. I told him to use the silver.

Speaking of illegal levels of mercury in fish, I remember a news article back in the 1970's about a fisherman who exceeded the daily catch limit. He was busted by a game warden, who ordered the fisherman to open the trunk of his Monarch and found it filled with fish. The warden wrote him up for, and I am not making this up, "Illegal levels of fish in a Mercury."

Speaking of mercury, I'm getting ready to order some chemicals, and as usual I'm struck by how different things are now than they were back in the 1960's. There are a lot of formerly-common chemicals that are either no longer available or extremely expensive. Mercury compounds lead that list. You can still get most of them, but they're extremely expensive. Even from the least expensive sources, most of them now cost $20 an ounce or more. Back in the 60's, I used to buy these mercury compounds for a few bucks a pound. Even taking inflation into consideration, they now cost five or ten times what they did back then. And that doesn't count hazardous-shipping surcharges, which didn't exist back then. Nowadays, it'll probably cost you $100 or more total to order just an ounce or two of mercury compounds.

And the cost of severe poisons has gotten simply ridiculous. Back in the 60's, I used to order arsenic compounds, which were dirt cheap. In fact, I could usually get what I needed cheaply at the hardware store, where relatively pure arsenic compounds were sold as rat killers and insecticides. Same thing for potassium cyanide and thallium sulfate. All of them could be bought by the pound locally, and all had a skull and crossbones on the label, which was considered sufficient warning. Of course, people back then were assumed to be competent, which assumption is no longer made. So, not only are these and many other compounds no longer available in hardware stores, but most of them are difficult or impossible for home scientists to buy even from specialty chemical suppliers.

I've actually considered making a visit to our local hazardous materials collection depot. I'm sure they occasionally get stuff like unopened bottles of reagent-grade hazardous chemicals from schools and businesses cleaning out old lab supplies. I wonder if I could sweet-talk them into putting those aside for me to look over. Probably not. There's probably lots of paperwork required to track all this stuff, and it's probably illegal for them to give up anything that's been given to them for processing.


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Friday, 19 March 2010
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08:35 - Fred Reed thinks there's another revolution on the horizon, and I'm afraid he may be right. The last time states got tired of being pushed around by the federal government, we had the Civil War. And we now have not just one but many states that have passed or are seriously considering passing laws that tell the federal government to get stuffed. Health care is the hot button topic this time, but it goes much deeper than that. Montana has made its residents and businesses no longer subject to some federal firearms laws. California and other states are considering legalizing marijuana. At least 30 states are, in one area or another, considering laws that contradict federal laws and regulations.

I wonder how long it will be before one or more states pass laws to exempt their citizens from paying federal taxes. If that happens, the excrement really hits the rotating ventilation device.


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Saturday, 20 March 2010
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00:00 -

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Sunday, 21 March 2010
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13:30 - As Barbara mentioned on her page, we went observing Friday night for the first time in a long time, driving up to our friends' Steve and Linda Childers lake house at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. Conditions were excellent, with about Bortle Class 3.5 skies. That's about as good as it gets nowadays if you're anywhere near civilization.

At Bortle 3.5, the general light pollution is still bright enough that there's no problem seeing people, vehicles, and so on, but the skies are stunningly dark and there are about 100 times more stars visible than most people are used to being able to see. In fact, a lot of people will have trouble pointing out familiar constellations because there are so many more stars visible, cluttering up the sky.

Barbara and I logged a dozen more Herschel 400 objects, all in Ursa Major. After we'd gotten several of those, we moved on to the next one, which should have been in the same eyepiece field as the bright Messier galaxies M81 and M82. Those galaxies are bright enough to be prominent in a binocular or optical finder, and they're easy to locate geometrically from the bowl of Ursa Major (the Big Dipper). So I was surprised when Barbara said she couldn't find M81/M82. Finally, she asked me to come find them for her. I stepped to the eyepiece, expecting to take maybe 5 seconds to get them in the eyepiece.

They weren't there. I tried again, several times, and I couldn't find them. Now, understand, these are objects that I've seen literally hundreds of times, in everything from small binoculars to large scopes. I think the first time I saw them I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, and using some opera glasses that my grandmother had given me. Even counting the very first time I ever observed them, it never took me more than a few seconds to get them in the eyepiece. But they just weren't there. Barbara announced that someone had stolen M81/M82, and with some embarrassment we asked Steve to get them with his scope and turn on his green laser to point them out. We put our scope on Steve's pointer, and sure enough there they were.

So, after some reflection, I think I have the answer. Although the night was cloudless and transparent, I think there was one tiny, opaque cloud covering M81/M82 at just the time we were trying to find them. By the time we asked Steve to point them out to us, that cloud had moved on. In support of that idea, we subsequently re-found M81/M82 several times. (We were using it as a guidepost or departure point to star-hop to other H400 objects.) At any rate, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.


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