Things are in full swing on the new edition of Building the Perfect PC.
We already have some components on the way to us, including Intel Core
i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors, various
and various Antec cases. This week, I'll be requesting samples
from Seagate, Western Digital, ASUS, AMD/ATi, Kingston, Crucial, and so
We'll be building half a dozen project systems, as usual,
with probably one or two AMD systems and the remainder Intel. AMD has
been going through a rough patch for some time now, and that's likely
to continue for the foreseeable future. Intel owns the very low end
with the Atom processors. Intel also owns the mid-range and up--call it
$120 or more for a processor--with the Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7
processors. AMD simply can't compete in that range. However, AMD does
own the entry-level segment, where processors cost $50 to $100. In that
range, AMD gives you more cores and more threads than Intel can touch.
And, of course, AMD owns the 3D graphics market, with ATi graphics
boards blowing away nVIDIA products all the way across the
from low-end to extreme high-end.
As things stand right now, we're planning on doing the following
System - a Mini-ITX system with an Intel Atom dual-core
motherboard/processor and possibly a small SSD in a tiny case. Very low
power consumption, almost no noise. Kind of like a Mac Mini, but
running Windows or Linux. Ideal as a second or third system, dorm
system, front end for a split Media Center/Home Theater
etc. This one will probably end up being my new den system.
System - a microATX system, with processor and motherboard not yet
determined, but probably a $65 AMD processor on an ASRock motherboard.
Performance should be noticeably higher than the mainstream system we
did two years ago.
Mainstream System - a traditional mini/mid-tower system built around
the Intel Core i5-661 processor on an Intel DH55TC board.
Center/Home Theater System - built around the Intel Core
processor on probably an ASUS board in an Antec Fusion HTPC case. We'll
probably include support for Blu-Ray playback.
Gaming System - a
kick-ass full-tower system built around the Core i7-980X processor on
an Intel DX58SO board, with CrossFireX/SLI support.
Home Server System - we're still talking about this one. It may end up
as an Intel Atom-based system with lots of disk storage or as a larger
system with the resources to serve as an HTPC back-end, including
enough disk space for most people to rip their DVD collections to the
hard drives and Wi-Fi support to make it easy to connect satellite
systems (like a bedroom HTPC front-end).
So, that's what we'll be working on for the next few months.
I haven't commented on the health insurance debacle because my regular
readers probably already have a pretty good idea of where I stand on
this. Come November, Democrats are going to pay a heavy price for
forcing this abomination down our throats. It's a parting on
left instead of a parting on the right, and the beards have
grown shorter overnight.
The problem is, the only real
alternative to voting for these radical left-wingers is voting for the
Republican theocrats. Talk about dumb and dumber. Pournelle thinks the
Republican party needs to be reorganized into a conservative wing and a
libertarian wing. I wish him much luck with that, but I don't think
it's going to happen and if it did happen it'd likely be too little,
too late. More likely, I'm afraid, is an eventual outright revolt by
the states and the people against the federal government. That won't be
pretty. Think tanks in the street. Maybe not this year or next, and
maybe not for a decade or more. But, given the extreme divisiveness of
current politics, I think that's where we're inevitably heading. Ah,
well. If it comes to that, I know which side of the barricades I'll be
- Here's the new Washington, DC license plate. Politicians
are sometimes honest, but only unintentionally.
I just spent some time talking with Kim, whom I hadn't seen for a
couple of months other than to wave to as she passed in her car. She's
been busy with Jasmine doing the whole college admission routine,
visiting faires, filling out forms, talking to guidance counselors, and
so on. Since Jasmine started high school, she's wanted to go to UNC
Chapel Hill, but Kim says it looks like she won't be able to get in.
Jasmine's GPA is about 3.8 or 3.9, but Kim said UNC-CH standards
require a 4.9 GPA, which is to say a solid A/A+ average for someone
who's taken all honors courses. Kim says UNC-CH also requires at least
three and preferably four AP courses, again with A averages.
told Kim that I don't know for sure, but my guess is that those
requirements are not the minimum for admission but rather a level at
which admission is, if not guaranteed, at least almost certain.
Otherwise, I suspect, UNC-CH would be rejecting almost every applicant.
has taken some hits to her self confidence. She did very well in Honors
Algebra I two years ago, but struggled a bit with Honors Geometry last
year, where she ended up getting a B. (Jas hates Bs.) So, this year she
took standard Algebra II, and everyone, including her teacher and
herself, realized very quickly that she should have been in the Honors
course. Jas's curriculum for next year is already set. In the past, the
school had given the kids until nearly the end of the school year to
finalize course decisions for the following year. This year, they got
one week only to decide, and Kim is worried that Jas should have signed
up for a more difficult course load.
I suggested to Kim that she
might want to think about home schooling Jas next year. She said she'd
be willing to do it if Jas was willing. Jas's objection in the past had
more to do with social issues than educational issues, but the social
issues are no longer a problem. Jas has been participating in a
cotillion group since she started 11th grade, and may do so again next
year. Kim says that group has done wonders for Jasmine, and that she's
watched Jas bloom.
Social issues aside, I told Kim that if Jas
wanted to home school for her senior year I'd be happy to help with the
science and math stuff. In fact, I suggested that Jas might want to do,
say, AP Chemistry and AP Calculus at home this summer and/or on
weekends next year, if she ends up attending public school. Kim is all
in favor of that. As far as taking the AP exams, I told Kim that, as
far as I knew, anyone is eligible to take them whether or not that
person has attended a public-school AP course, but she's going to check
We'll see what happens. Jas is already under a lot of pressure, and she
may elect not to put still more pressure on herself.
- For those of you who want to set up a *real* home lab, here's
Pfizer is closing down a pharma research facility and everything must
go. This isn't old junk. It's state-of-the-art stuff, most of which is
probably in great shape. I've talked to people who've gotten stuff from
lab closures before. In some cases, the facility literally threw open
its doors and let anyone who wanted to walk in off the street and carry
stuff off. It saved them the cost of having it hauled away. I don't
know what kind of prices the auction will bring, but it wouldn't
surprise me to see $100,000 instruments sell for $100, literally.
Now if only I could convince Barbara that I really need a GC/MS and can
figure out somewhere to put it...
- FedEx showed up yesterday with the first of what will
eventually be a flood of PC hardware. I'm now the proud owner of three
Intel processors--a Core i3-530, Core i5-661, and Core i7-980X--along
with DH55TC and DX58SO motherboards. I'm spending some time
this week and next renewing my contacts with PC hardware vendors. Many
of those contacts have moved on, of course, some in interesting ways.
For example, yesterday I was getting ready to call Kingston about some
memory samples. I found that my primary contact in the Kingston
marketing department has moved on, and is now doing the same
job for Western Digital. Just as well, because I wanted to talk to
Western Digital about getting some samples, and I'm sure she'll be able
to tell me who to talk to at Kingston.
At the same time, I'm working on my own project, which is putting
together chemistry kits for home schoolers, along with supporting
documentation and videos. Science is the hardest and most expensive
subject for home schoolers to do well because of the material
requirements, and chemistry is the hardest and most expensive of the
sciences. As far as I can find, there's only one company addressing
that need, and their products are pathetic. They have two chemistry
kits, the first of which they represent as covering chemistry
lab "instruction at a college-preparatory level", and the second of
which they represent as covering AP chemistry lab work. In fact the
first kit is pretty trivial, and I suspect the second isn't much better.
I was actually considering suggesting that Maker Shed carry these
products, so I had the company send me a manual for the basic chemistry
kit. Just flipping through the manual for a few minutes made it clear
that this kit is, words fail me, whatever the opposite of rigorous is.
I decided I could do much better for the same price, so I decided to
put together a kit for basic first-year high-school chemistry,
eventually to be followed by a second kit for honors first-year
high-school chemistry and a third kit for AP chemistry. Eventually,
I'll probably do kits for biology, physics, and the other
middle-school/high-school sciences, but chemistry is the first priority.
I'm going to start small. My original goal was to start
shipping kits in small numbers in time for the start of the first
semester of the 2010 school year this autumn, but I suspect that goal
isn't makable. If I can't do it right and still make that deadline I'll
simply aim at the second semester or at autumn of 2011. I'll probably
put together 50 to 100 kits to start, a fair number of which
I'll send as samples to reviewers who write for home schooling
magazines and web sites.
That kind of volume I can handle in the basement. (There's no danger
involved doing it that way; I'll be packaging pretty innocuous stuff
like 1 M hydrochloric acid, 1 M copper(II) sulfate solution,
and 0.1 M potassium iodide solution.) If things take off and I find
myself selling thousands of kits a year, I'll obviously have to make
other arrangements. In the meantime, I've been getting all my ducks
lined up. Much of that is administrative. Stuff like filling out forms
to create an LLC, applying for tax numbers, and so on. And, of course,
I have to write up the actual labs and supplemental materials, shoot
images, script and shoot videos, and on and on. There's a lot of work
involved, but I like to stay busy.
Unfortunately, chemistry instruction in our public schools appears to
be getting worse every year. There are some exceptions, certainly, but
many high schools now teach chemistry as a lecture course, with a few
demonstrations if the kids are lucky. Having kids do actual hands-on
lab work is becoming a thing of the past because of cost and liability
concerns. Here's a video of one of the better high-school chemistry
teachers I've seen on YouTube. Her name is Melanie Harlan. She's
enthusiastic and obviously relates well to the kids, but (not to slam
Melanie) I'd guess she majored in education rather than chemistry. I
shudder at some of the flat-out wrong things she's telling these kids.
Incidentally, if you watch her videos you may notice that
everything is reversed. When I pointed this out to her she didn't at
first understand what I meant. When I pointed out that the lettering on
her t-shirt and the periodic table in the background was a mirror
image, she said she had no idea what caused that. The videos are shot
with the web cam in her MacBook, which apparently renders video as a
mirror image. Very strange.
any rate, if most kids, whether home-schooled or public-schooled, are
going to get any exposure to hands-on chemistry, it's going to have to
be at home with a chemistry kit. From talking to quite a few
home-schoolers, I suspect there's a pretty decent demand for such kits.
I hear over and over again that home-school parents want to do real
chemistry as part of their curricula, but it's simply too expensive to
do it with the kits from Home Science Tools and other vendors, most of
which cost several hundred dollars, let alone to set up a real home
lab. The parents would be more than happy to give up some quantitative
work that requires a balance, volumetric glassware, and so on, in
exchange for a kit that sold in the $125 range. That vendor I mentioned
earlier sells kits in that price range, but they're just not very good
ones. I can do much, much better. As a sideline now, perhaps, but
eventually as a full-time business.
It's a usual Saturday, doing laundry and cleaning up the lab. The
fourth load of laundry is washing and the third drying. Clean glassware
now covers about 10 square feet (1 square meter) of counter space, and
that's not counting what I already put back in the cabinets. It's times
like these when I really wish I had an Ygor.
Barbara and I recently finished watching series 2 of Breaking Bad.
It was as good as the first season, which is to say excellent. They
don't really get into the details of making methamphetamine, but what
they do touch on in passing is pretty realistic. Well, except things
like having Jesse run out and buy a bunch of 2-liter boiling flasks
with ground glass joints and reflux condensers. That's certainly stuff
that would be very useful in a meth lab, but not something you're
likely to find locally unless you break into a serious lab facility and
steal the stuff. There's also an occasional real bogosity, such as Walt
being trapped in the desert with a dead battery and jump-starting their
RV with a battery he makes from pocket change and potassium hydroxide,
but otherwise the science is pretty believable. The scripting and
direction are very tight, and the acting is first rate.
are likely to be sparse around here for some time. I have a dental
appointment next week, book deadlines looming, and of course 15 April
is tax day. I'll try to post now and then, but there won't be much.