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Week of 28 June 2010

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Monday, 28 June 2010
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09:30 - We did a Costco run and had dinner at the Mexican place yesterday with Mary and Paul.

I had one of my few annual beers. I asked the waiter what they had on tap. He mentioned Dos Equis, so I ordered one of those. Light or dark, he asked. I chose dark. Small or large? Of course, I chose large. It turned out to be a liter. Barbara, Mary, and Paul were all giving me a hard time about that being more beer than I'd drunk in a year. When I picked up the glass, Paul started chanting "Chug!" I looked him in the eye, took the glass in both hands, and raised it toward my mouth. "Don't you dare!", said Barbara. So I didn't.

I do feel a bit better about the future. If I'm uncertain about something, I often ask smart friends what they think. So I asked the three of them what they thought the future held, on a scale of 0 through 10, with 10 being the best future imaginable and 0 being the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Paul expects about a 5. Mary said she was a bit more optimistic, maybe a 6. Barbara agreed on a 5 or 6. And here I was, hoping for a 2 or 3 instead of a 1. So perhaps I'm more pessimistic than I should be. Or perhaps not.

I haven't sent the budget system chapter to our tech reviewers yet, but it's essentially complete. We should finish building and shooting images of the mainstream system by mid-week and get started on the media center system or or around the first of July. That leaves the extreme system, which I hope we'll finish by the following weekend, leaving us three weeks for cleanup, work on the narrative chapters and preface, and so on. Our to-production deadline is 31 July, and it looks like we'll make it.


Tuesday, 29 June 2010
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10:13 - One thing about getting older is that I can no longer concentrate as intensely for as long at a stretch. Fifteen years ago, I could work uninterrupted other than for short breaks for 12 hours a day, seven days a week for weeks on end and remain productive. Nowadays, for tasks that require intense concentration and creativity, including writing, I have difficulty sustaining much more than 10 hours a day, and that's with several breaks to walk the dog and often a break around lunch time to stretch out and nap for a few minutes.

I think it was Thomas Edison who used to nap holding a book in his hand. When he finally fell completely asleep, the book would drop and wake him up, at which point his nap was over. I often do exactly that around mid-day. I'll go back and stretch out on the bed, read a few pages of a book, and then close my eyes to rest. When the book drops, I wake up and go back to work.

Speaking of writing, we shot 84 more images last night after dinner, which translates to probably a dozen or more usable images. With three of the project systems complete and a fourth nearly so, we're at about 225 images that are candidates to be used in the book. We'll get the remaining images for the mainstream system shot tonight and finish up the first draft of that chapter tomorrow. That leaves only the media center system and the extreme system left to build and shoot, which we should finish over the rest of this week and next week.

We'll be finished with the manuscript by the end of July, at which time we'll do some re-shuffling of systems around here. My current main office desktop will be refurbished and put in a new case to become Barbara's new main office system. That system is a Core2 Quad, and even with all the new systems it will still be the second-fastest system in the house, after the new extreme system, which will become my new main office desktop. The media center system obviously goes next to our new HDTV, and the Mini-ITX appliance system replaces my old den system. My current den system and Barbara's current main office desktop, both of which are still very capable systems, will be cleaned up and set aside as spares. Or I may keep one of those as my den system and install the Mini-ITX system in my lab. There are times when it would be very useful to have a system there.


Wednesday, 30 June 2010
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08:07 - We shot another 85 or so images last night, but didn't quite finish up the mainstream system build. Still, things are going well.

We'll be starting the media center system soon. That system will live in the den, next to the TV. I'm still debating whether to configure it to allow Netflix streaming. On the one hand, it would be nice to stream things from Netflix, but there's really not all that much we want to watch that's available for streaming. And the only way to support Netflix streaming on a Linux box is to install a Windows virtual machine. I have unused Windows XP licenses lying around, so perhaps I'll install XP in Virtual Box just to see how it works.

Someone commented to me the other day about what a great victory for gun rights the recent Supreme Court ruling was. I consider it no great victory, but just a very small step in the right direction. The decision said nothing about the right to BEAR arms, without which the right to KEEP arms is essentially meaningless. In practical terms, having the right to keep my .45 Auto Colt Combat Commander doesn't mean much if I don't have the right to carry it, anywhere I want to, any time I want to. And, yes, that includes carrying it onto an airliner or into a federal courthouse or a private restaurant.

The right of THE PEOPLE to keep and bear arms is a right reserved to the people, which means the Supreme Court would have been fully within its rights to void all state and local gun laws, including those that prohibit concealed carry or require a permit for doing so. Such a ruling would have been a real victory. Even better would have been a ruling that voided restrictions on particular classes of arms. The Second Amendment guarantees us the right to keep and bear military-class arms rather than just sporting weapons. I should be able to visit my favorite armaments vendor's web site and order a sawed-off shotgun, an M-60 machine gun, a case of grenades, and a couple of anti-tank missiles and have FedEx show up with them at my door the next day. Anything less is unacceptable.


Thursday, 1 July 2010
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10:48 - We had a period of global warming around here in June. For the last half of the month, high temperatures were around 95 F (35 C), with heat chills sometimes over 100 F. Yesterday and today, global cooling has set in, with high temperatures around 77 F (25 C). Tonight, our low is to be in the upper 50's (~ 15 C). I do expect global warming to come roaring back later this month and in August, though.

Barbara is off on a day trip to Galax, Virginia with her friend Marcie. Barbara had made this arrangement some time ago, and didn't want to let Marcie down, but she was concerned that I'd need her for shooting more images. But we took care of that last night, shooting another hundred or so images and finishing up the build of the mainstream system. Today, I'll sort through those images to choose the best ones, incorporate them in the chapter, do the write-up for them, do some setup and software stuff, and then call the chapter complete.

At that point, the mainstream system goes off in the corner and I'll get set up to start work on the media center system. That's the one that Barbara has been waiting for, and it goes live first. I can't wait to see what one of my YouTube videos looks and sounds like on a 42" 1080p HDTV with a 505W RMS speaker system. The original videos are only 480p (720x480), so I'll have to play around a bit with upscaling. I suspect the TV itself will be able to upscale the 480p signal pretty well, but the media center system may do a better job.

I'm still debating with myself about which case to use for the media center system. Some time ago, I bought an Antec Fusion Remote, which has some very nice features, including remote control and a vacuum-fluorescent display. I'd intended to use that for the media center system, but I also have its little brother, the Antec NSK 2480, which is a lot less expensive and lacks the remote control and VFD. If I were installing MythTV or other PVR software, I'd use the Fusion Remote if only for the remote control. But I'm not going to use PVR software on this system, and I suspect many of the book's readers won't, either. The NSK 2480 is not only less expensive than the Fusion Remote, but has one extra drive bay freed up by the absent VFD. In the long run, I suspect that extra drive bay may be more useful to me than the remote/VFD module, either to hold a third hard drive or a second optical drive.


Friday, 2 July 2010
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14:51 - Our neighborhood is plagued with an invasion of thousands of gigantic, rabid vampire bats. Well, okay, I've actually seen only one bat so far, hanging from the eaves of our neighbors' house. And it was gigantic only in a very tiny way. And, as far as I know, neither it nor any of its bat buddies are actually rabid. And it doesn't actually look like a vampire bat. But the neighborhood is concerned nonetheless.

It started last week when our next-door neighbors had one or two bats actually in the living area of their house, and more in the attic. They called a company that removes wildlife from homes, and I saw the truck parked out front. At first, I thought maybe they'd spotted another copperhead. We find one of those in the back yard every few years. When I talked to Stephanie's dad, he told me they had bats.

At first, I didn't think too much about it. I knew bats could carry rabies, but what I didn't realize is that they can transfer rabies without biting. So Stephanie and her husband and their two little girls are going through a series of rabies shots. Stephanie and Gerald apparently have gotten or will get six shots, I would guess because one or both of them was in close contact with the bat(s) in the house. The girls are getting a series of three shots.

In the interim, nothing has been done. The bats are still in their attic. Apparently it's bat mating season or something and they have to wait before they can remove the bats. What really surprised me is that it's apparently illegal to kill bats. You have to hire a company to remove them. The lady down the street said she'd had bats when she lived in Massachusetts, and it cost her $2,500 and several days out of her home to have them removed.

Of course, as far as I know, it's not illegal to kill bats accidentally. So, if I were to put, say, a pound of potassium cyanide and a gallon of dilute sulfuric acid in our attic and accidentally drop the potassium cyanide into the acid, I wouldn't be violating any laws. And, since hydrogen cyanide gas is light and dissipates quickly (particularly if after an hour or two one turns on one's high-speed whole-house exhaust fan) there wouldn't be any danger to other life forms nearby.

Barbara enjoyed her day trip with Marcie yesterday. They were planning to do another day-trip today to Lexington, but Marcie had to cancel.

So we've shot quite a few images of the media center PC build. We decided to use the NSK 2480 case rather than the Fusion case. It's a very tight fit for the Intel DH55TC motherboard. Tight enough that we did something we very rarely do; connected the front-panel port, switch and indicator cables to the motherboard before we installed the motherboard in the case. The upside to that is that it makes it very easy to connect the cables and very easy to shoot images. The downside is that it's also very easy to pull one of the cables out by its roots, or to end up with one trapped under the installed motherboard.


Saturday, 3 July 2010
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10:03 - Barbara is out doing some yard work before it gets too warm. Later today, we'll finish building the media center system and shooting images.

The one thing I don't like about the NSK 2480 case is the silver/aluminum front panel, which is actually plastic. The problem is that it's impossible to match that front panel with the front bezel of any optical drive I've ever seen. I have three or four older optical drives with different "silver" bezels, but none of them are an exact match with any silver case I've ever seen. Apparently, others came to the same conclusion, because optical drives with silver bezels are now almost impossible to find. Actually, anything but black is now almost impossible to find, including the formerly common beige and somewhat less common white.

The problem is, an "almost-match" looks hideous. It's worse looking than a complete mismatch, such as using a black optical drive in a silver case. The Antec Fusion case doesn't have this problem, because it has a flip-up optical drive cover that conceals the front bezel of the optical drive. Alas, the NSK 2480 is available only in silver. If Antec offered a black version, that's what I'd have chosen. This system is going to sit in our den, so I think I'm going to remove the front panel and spray-paint it matt black or a dark charcoal gray. If necessary, I can also spray-paint the front bezel of the optical drive to match exactly.


Sunday, 4 July 2010
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Happy Birthday USA!

As you celebrate Independence Day today, please take a moment to think about the men and women of our armed forces, past and present, who have willingly risked, and all too often lost, everything to defend our freedom. I worry about America, but there can be nothing very wrong with a country that continues to produce men and women like them.

10:56 - Today is Independence Day for me in more ways than one. It was on this day in 2004 that I abandoned Microsoft and other proprietary software and made the move to using Linux and FOSS almost exclusively.

Barbara is over at her parents' house this morning, helping her dad do some stuff in the yard. We didn't quite finish the media center system yesterday, but all that remains is to install the optical and hard drives and connect the fans. We'll finish that up this afternoon and clear the decks to get started on the final system build, the extreme system.

My original goal was to have all six project systems built by 30 June, which was optimistic. But with five of the six systems now essentially complete and the sixth to be mostly built tomorrow, we're still on track to meet our 31 July to-production final deadline with time to spare. We'll have three weeks to incorporate tech review comments, do re-write, play around with the systems, and so on. The manuscript should be pretty clean by the time 31 July rolls around.


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