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Week of 12 July 2010


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Monday, 12 July 2010
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09:39 - We pretty much finished the build on the extreme system yesterday, although there are still cables hanging out of it every which way. That's the sixth and final of the book's project systems. Two of them are already in use. We gave the budget system to Barbara's sister Frances to replace her old system, and the appliance system is now working as the replacement for my old den system. We'll get the media center system installed next, but that'll probably be after we finish the book. Eventually, the extreme system will replace my main office system.

Speaking of the book, our to-production deadline is 31 July, which is a Saturday. In practice, that means the real deadline is Monday, 2 August. I assume my editor already has a production slot reserved, so that's an absolute drop-dead deadline. Once the book goes to the production folks, it's completely out of our hands, other than answering queries and proofing the PDFs and making minor corrections.

I see that B&N is currently listing the book with a 15 November pub date, but that's really just a guess that O'Reilly made months ago. Well, more than a guess, because I'm sure they absolutely, positively wanted the book to be available in time for Christmas sales, which means a pub date no later than mid-November. Based on past experience with how fast O'Reilly works, I'd guess the book will actually be published in October or even late September. A lot depends on what else is in their queue, what priorities are assigned to the different books, the printer's schedule, and so on. But I'm confident that the book will be available well in time for Christmas sales.

We'll just hope the book sells well. Ten years ago, a lot of computer books would have a sell-in (pre-purchases by distributors and booksellers) of 10,000 to 15,000 copies, which meant those books essentially earned out their advances immediately. Nowadays, a typical sell-in is just a few thousand copies. Bookstores that used to have several aisles devoted to computer books may now have just one small section. Instead of ordering a dozen copies of a lot of titles, they'll order two or three copies of a few titles. So sell-in is still important--to get the books on the shelves in the first place--but sell-through (re-orders) is now the important metric in terms of earning out the advance and getting into royalty payments.

In terms of meeting the to-production deadline, we're behind where I wanted to be, but ahead of what I actually expected. We have three weeks left, and the bulk of the work is done. Of course, that's a result of working a seven-day per week schedule since April. Once I get the extreme system chapter finished and off to the tech reviewers (Brian Bilbrey and Ron Morse), I'll start incorporating tech review comments in those chapters and also do re-write on the early narrative chapters and the preface. Realistically, we may finish up a few days ahead of schedule, which is extraordinary given the short deadlines for this book.

Of course, I'll be busier than the proverbial one-armed paper hanger for the next three weeks, so updates here will be short and sporadic.



12:10 - Hah! Just did the smoke test on the extreme system, which powered up normally. Counting the power supply and CPU cooler, this beast has nine (!) fans, so it's not exactly a silent PC. With the cover off, it looks like Times Square in there, with seven red-LED fans and a bunch of blinking blue LEDs on each memory module. Of course, it'll look like that with the cover on, too, because the left side cover is transparent acrylic.



It really annoys me when people claim credentials they don't have. Frankly, it annoys me when some people claim credentials that they do have. People in non-rigorous disciplines should not be using the title "doctor", even if they're legally entitled to it. To me, the title "doctor" means, or should mean, that the person holds an MD or a Ph.D. or a D.Sc. in a rigorous discipline, such as hard science, mathematics, or engineering. I think it's dubious, to say the least, to award that title to someone in a field where correct answers are a matter of opinion. Someone who is truly accomplished in, say, history, should hold a masters as a terminal degree. And, in fact, that's the way it used to be, even at the world's best universities.

Diluting the Ph.D is bad enough, but people claiming throwaway Ph.D.'s as real is much worse. So I was pleased to read Gillian McKeith does not have a Ph.D. on Pharygula. That article is baed on Ben Goldacre's Bad Science article on the subject. As PZ remarks, if someone earned a real Ph.D. it's easy enough to find out. I did a quick check of two friends who hold real doctorates. It took me all of 15 seconds to find Mary Chervenak's doctoral dissertation, and not much longer to find Paul Jones's.


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Tuesday, 13 July 2010
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09:05 - Writing continues.



10:46 - This is interesting. The journal Neurology has just published an article that suggests there is an inverse correlation between head size (used as a proxy for brain size) and the severity of Alzheimer's symptoms. Apparently, larger brains have more excess capacity that is brought into play automatically as Alzheimer's damages a brain. I hope it's true, because I wear an extremely large hat.

But I wonder if it is true. Women typically have smaller brains than men, so this research suggests that women should suffer disproportionately from Alzheimer's. Is that the case? I have limited exposure to Alzheimer's patients, most from the time when my mother was in the nursing home. There were certainly a lot more women Alzheimer's patients there, but there were a lot more women there, period. Women live longer than men.

Of course, this may all be immaterial to my situation. I think my head is shrinking as I get older.


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Wednesday, 14 July 2010
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09:29 - I sent the first draft of the extreme system chapter off for tech review yesterday. I've already gotten back Ron's comments and I expect Brian's will follow soon. That gives me 11 of 12 review comments on the six build chapters, so I'm going to spend today going through them and incorporating the changes and suggestions. Once I finish that, I'll go to work on updating the two early narrative chapters.

It's interesting. Usually, at this stage of a book I'm running flat-out, convinced that there's no way I can get everything I want to do done in the time remaining before deadline. This book was on a very short deadline, and yet it feels as though I have plenty of time to finish it up and even do a final pass through to make some minor tweaks. I may even take a day off to do some lab stuff and shoot a YouTube video.


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Thursday, 15 July 2010
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12:41 - I just finished posting the second drafts of the six system chapters. Ron and Brian have been turning around tech review comments very fast, and at this point those chapters are ready for our editor to starting hacking on. Today and tomorrow, Barbara is off on day trips: Galax, VA today with her parents, and Lexington, NC tomorrow with her friend Marcie. I'll be working on the two narrative chapters on fundamentals and choosing/buying components.

I'm waiting for FedEx to show up with a couple of 32 GB Lexar Echo SE Backup Drives, which will feature in the book. As it turns out, they're arriving just in time. I do my daily backups to two internal hard drives on my main system, as well as two external hard drives. Then, being a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy, I copy the backup to a USB flash drive. The problem is, the size of my daily backups grows when I do a book. Ordinarily, my and Barbara's working data directories (including our compressed Linux home directories) might be 500 MB. I've been writing those data sets to a pair of Kingston 4 GB flash drives that I bought two years ago.

Not only are those Kingston drives small, they're fairly slow. Realistically, I get at most 4 to 5 MB/s when writing. With a 500 MB data set, that's only a couple of minutes. But my daily backup data set is now 4.1 GB (and growing), so it'd take 15 minutes or so to write, assuming the drive had enough capacity. With flash drives, there's always a trade-off between capacity and speed. The fastest flash drives are available only in small capacities, mainly because few people would pay the price for a flash drive that was both fast and high-capacity. Conversely, most high-capacity flash drives are quite slow, because (again) few people would pay the price to have both speed and capacity.

The Lexar Echo SE drives strike a happy medium. They're available in 16, 32, 64, and 128 GB capacities, and their write speeds are specified as "up to" 10 MB/s. Of course, that's almost certainly specified for copying single large files, because copying many small files incurs a lot of overhead and can slow write speeds dramatically. Still, I'm hoping that these drives will be roughly twice as fast as what I have now, not to mention eight times larger. I'll run them through their paces over the next week or two.



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Friday, 16 July 2010
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Saturday, 17 July 2010
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Sunday, 18 July 2010
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.