Week of 19 April 2010
Update: Wednesday, 21 April 2010 08:38 -0400
I'm still cranking away on the PC book. Right now, I'm working on the
Media Center/HTPC chapter. It's interesting because "media-center
system" is really an umbrella term that covers such a wide variety of
configurations. One person's media-center system may be an inexpensive
Mini-ITX box with limited local storage and no tuner card that serves
as a front-end to a server located elsewhere in the house. Another
person's media-center system may be a large box with a full ATX
motherboard, terabytes of local disk space, and several tuner cards.
Many media-center systems have no tuner card at all, because they're
not used to record programs. Instead, they merely serve to play DVD or
Blu-Ray discs and to play back audio, image, and video files from local
or remote disk storage.
In the first two editions of the book,
we built media-center systems that focused on PVR functions. Those were
really worthless for us, because we simply don't watch much TV, let
alone record it. Even when something we want to watch is on PBS, we
prefer to wait until we can buy the DVD or rent it from Netflix. So, we
built these media-center systems, tested them, and then promptly tore
them down to salvage the components for something that was actually
useful to us.
For this edition, we're going to build something
that'll actually be useful to us and will actually live in our
entertainment center. We'll include one tuner card and a reasonable
amount of local disk space, just in case we need to record something
(which might happen once or twice a year), but the main focus will be
on playback of discs and audio/video files. Those media files will
reside on a second system, the Home Server, which'll have several
terabytes of disk space, sufficient for uncompressed rips of Barbara's
collection of several hundred CDs, as well as maybe 2,000 to 3,000
hours of DVD-quality video.
Our primary TV is still an
NTSC analog, so we'll run the output from the media-center system via
the TV-out on a PCI-E video adapter. Once we get around to replacing
the TV, we'll just use the digital-out on the motherboard or the video
card. The VGA-level resolution of an analog TV is too low to make the
system useful as a general-purpose den PC, so for now we'll use a
"10-foot interface" for playing DVDs and audio/video files, as
well as limited web access (such as playing YouTube videos). When we do
get around to replacing the old TV with a digital unit, we'll probably
just use the standard Ubuntu interface.
In the earlier editions,
we always did the "here's what we picked, but here's why you might want
something else" bit, but that'll be true in spades for the
- It seems that Chinese raw materials and manufactured products aren't the only Chinese things that can't be trusted.
pisses off scientists big-time, because it's an abuse of trust that
cuts to the core of science. With the exception of global warming
papers, which unfortunately are incredibly politicized, if I read a
peer-reviewed paper in one of the hard sciences, it never crosses my
mind that the paper might be fraudulent. It happens sometimes,
certainly, but it's so rare for papers from Western scientists that
every instance of a fraudulent scientific paper makes the news. A
fraudulent paper irrevocably ruins the careers of the authors, and the
fallout often damages the institutions with which they're associated.
And rightly so. Once someone is proven to be a liar, he can never be
Note that I'm not talking about merely bad
papers, but truly fraudulent ones. Poorly defined goals, bad
methodology, inadequately reported data, poor statistical analyses, and
similar defects aren't uncommon, but such defects merely cause one to
question the competence of the investigators, not their honesty. Truly
fraudulent papers are those in which the investigators simply make up
their data or cherry-pick non-representative subsets of their data,
which amounts to the same thing.
For papers from Western
scientists, such flagrant abuses occur in a tiny percentage of papers,
perhaps one in ten thousand or one in one hundred thousand. For papers
by scientists and institutions from most third-world countries, my
impression is that the incidence of fraud is noticeably higher, perhaps
an order of magnitude or more. But even there, fraud remains relatively
rare. Contrast that with China, where apparently any paper from a
Chinese institution can't be trusted.
Boy, talk about overreaching. The North Carolina Department of Revenue
is demanding that Amazon turn over complete details of all orders made
by North Carolina residents since 2003. And they mean complete details.
Not just a list of orders from each resident and the total amount of
the invoice, but all of the line-item detail for each order. Amazon has
already filed suit in Seattle, asking the judge to rule this demand
unconstitutional. Unconstitutional, indeed. I'm not sure what
jurisdiction North Carolina thinks it has over Amazon, which has no
presence in the state. It's all about use taxes, of course. North
Carolina, like every other state, is desperate to increase tax
collections, and they're not picky about how they do it.
whole concept of a use tax is unconstitutional anyway. It originated
when the courts ruled that states could not charge sales tax on
transactions that did not occur fully within their jurisdiction. I
remember 50 years ago my parents driving from our home in New Castle,
Pennsylvania to Youngstown, Ohio, about 15 miles away. They bought
furniture and had it shipped back to New Castle. Because delivery
didn't occur in Ohio, they owed no Ohio sales tax. Because the purchase
didn't occur in Pennsylvania, they owed no Pennsylvania sales tax.
the court ruling, states decided to get around it by implementing what
they called a use tax. If you bought something in-state, you owed sales
tax. If you bought something out-of-state, you owed use tax. The
problem with that is that the use tax is discriminatory because it's
not charged on in-state purchases. For it to be legal, it would have to
be charged on all purchases, including ones that were subject to sales
tax. As far as I know, no one has ever challenged this, but someone
should. It's clearly an out-of-state sales tax under another name, and
it's just as unconstitutional as when they called it what it was.
just emailed my NC house and senate representatives to make sure
they're aware of the situation and to ask them to put a stop to it.
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