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Week of 19 July 2010

Latest Update: Saturday, 24 July 2010 08:52 -0400

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Monday, 19 July 2010
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10:03 - The book is moving along. I finished the re-write of the chapter on choosing and buying components yesterday and sent it off for tech review. I've been hacking away at Chapter 1, Fundamentals, and should finish it shortly. That leaves only the Preface, which won't require much work.

I've been playing around a bit with the two 32 GB Lexar Echo SE Backup Drives. They're rated at "up to" 28 MB/s reads and 10 MB/s writes, and they actually provide that level of performance or better, even on a backup set that comprises a lot of small files. The read speed is effectively throttled by the real-world 25 MB/s to 30 MB/s throughput of a USB 2.0 connection, but I did test one 1+ GB read yesterday at 29.3 MB/s. The write speed is limited by the speed of the flash memory chips, but after timing many writes I concluded that 10 MB/s is realistic. In one test, I got only 9.8 MB/s, but most were in the 10.2 MB/s range.

At 10 MB/s and $90 or so for a 32 GB model, the Echo SE Backup Drive is a slow, expensive backup solution for me, and probably for most of my readers. DVD+R is about the same speed, but much cheaper. External hard drives are both much cheaper and much faster. Of course, they won't fit in the watch pocket of my jeans, either. But people like us aren't the target market for this product. Most of us back up frequently and thoroughly. Aunt Minnie never backs up at all.

It's Aunt Minnie who is the target market for the Echo SE Backup Drive, and Lexar has optimized this product for her. I decided to pretend I was Aunt Minnie. I installed Windows on a box, transferred some document and image files to the hard drive, and plugged in the Lexar Echo SE. After I installed the Lexar backup software from the flash drive, it automatically backed up the system and wrote the data to the flash drive. I removed the flash drive, added a few more files to the hard drive and changed a couple that were already there, and then plugged the Echo SE back in. It proceeded to back up the changed files automagically. Very slick.

The main reason Aunt Minnie doesn't back up is that she doesn't have the tools to do so easily. Deep down, she knows she should be backing up. She knows that if (when) the hard drive fails, she's going to lose all her data. But she still doesn't back up. The Lexar Echo SE is perfect for her. All she needs to do is plug it into a USB port and let 'er rip. If you have your own Aunt Minnie, a Lexar Echo SE would be very nice gift for her.

Of course, there's one remaining problem. Aunt Minnie isn't in the habit of backing up. More than once, I've set up a scripted backup routine for an Aunt Minnie, and told her, "All you have to do is put a blank disc in the DVD burner, wait until the disc icon pops up on the screen and then click this Backup icon. Do this every week or every time you add or change a lot of stuff on your system." I make sure she has a spindle of DVD+R discs and then run a backup while she watches. Months or years later, she has a hard drive problem. I sit down at the system and ask for her most recent backup disc. If I'm lucky, it's weeks or months old. If I'm unlucky, it's the original disc I burned for her.

So, if you buy an Echo SE Backup Drive for your Aunt Minnie, stay on top of things until she develops the habit of backing up. Put a weekly recurring reminder in her PIM to pop up a notice every week that it's time to back up. Every time you visit her, check to see when she last backed up, and if it wasn't recently, give her a hard time about it.


Tuesday, 20 July 2010
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07:58 - ScienceBlogs is imploding. The straw that broke the camel's back was the announcement a month ago that SciBlogs would be hosting a corporate PR blog by Pepsi. Responding to howls of outrage from its member bloggers, Seed Media Group, the parent company of SciBlogs, immediately reversed course and announced that they wouldn't host the Pepsi PR blog. But that announcement was too little, too late, and about 25% of the SciBlogs bloggers have already departed, including many of the most popular ones. But the Pepsi problem was really just the final straw. Apparently, SMG has fallen far behind on payments to the bloggers and gives little attention to their other concerns.

Paul Zachary (PZ) Myers, the blogger I linked to above, is the 900-pound gorilla on SciBlogs. Before the recent departures, SciBlogs had nearly 100 bloggers. By himself, PZ was producing more than 40% of the total traffic on SciBlogs, about 140,000 page reads per day. If PZ elects to fold his tent and move elsewhere, SciBlogs is toast. PZ is like the anchor store in a mall. In addition to the 40%+ of the total traffic he generates personally, he's probably responsible for another 40% or more of the traffic that visits other SciBlogs blogs. So, when PZ starts talking about heading for the lifeboats, SMG had better start worrying.


Wednesday, 21 July 2010
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10:10 - Wild women and parties time. Barbara just took off with her friend Bonnie for a driving tour. I'm not even sure where they're going. They'll be back Saturday. While I'm waiting for the wild women to show up, I think I'll have a Firefly Marathon.


Thursday, 22 July 2010
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08:36 - No wild women have shown up, so I watched the first five episodes of Firefly last night. I'll probably watch another four or five tonight, and the remaining four or five tomorrow night. Every time I watch Firefly, I can't help but think that it might have been even better had Joss Whedon made it for HBO or Showtime. We'd probably also have gotten at least four or five seasons and 50 or 75 episodes, instead of the measly 14 episodes we ended up having. In fact, I'm kind of surprised that HBO or Showtime didn't pick it up.

The book is in the closing stages. I posted Chapter 1, Fundamentals, and have received comments from our technical editors, Brian Bilbrey and Ron Morse. I'll incorporate those in the master copy today and get it reposted. Meanwhile, I'm working on the Preface. By tomorrow afternoon, I hope to have the whole thing finished and ready to go to production. That gives my editor, Brian Jepson, a week or so to work on it before the production deadline. I'll turn around any edits he makes quickly, and after that it'll be out of our hands. All that'll be left for us to do is respond to queries from the production folks and proof the PDFs before they go to the printer.

12:30 - Okay, the book is now officially 100% complete and off to our editor. That doesn't mean we don't have work left to do, but it is a major milestone.

Barbara has been quite patient for the last few months, as I covered the kitchen table, the dining room table, and most other horizontal surfaces in the house with parts, boxes, work-in-progress, and so on. So I'm going to spend some time this afternoon cleaning up at least some of the mess. If I have time before she gets home Saturday, I'm going to get the media-center system set up and connected to the TV. My own new system (the extreme system) will have to wait. I've learned by sad experience that replacing my main system while work remains to be done on a project is not the best idea.

I also owe my YouTube viewers a new video. I did post a quick-and-dirty video a month or so ago, but the last one before that was in May.


Friday, 23 July 2010
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11:27 - With the book complete, I'm taking some time to relax. I've been surfing YouTube, and came across this Carl Sagan segment. It's hard to believe Sagan has been gone for almost 15 years. Imagine what more he might have accomplished had he not died as a young man.


Saturday, 24 July 2010
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08:52 - Barbara arrives home today. Malcolm and I will both be delighted. He's had a pretty boring last few days. It's been beastly outdoors, so he's mostly been outside just for quick chances to pee. The only short walks he's had have been in the early morning or after dark. It's still hot and muggy then, but at least better than being out in the sun.

Malcolm turns 11 in September, so I'm trying to keep him from being exposed too much to the heat. He's also, not to put too fine a point upon it, not slender. Most Border Collies are built like NFL wide receivers. Malcolm is built like a defensive tackle. Looking down on most Border Collies reminds me of the silhouette of a destroyer. Narrow beam. Malcolm, on the other hand, reminds me of an aircraft carrier.

Ordinarily, I do laundry on Saturday. Barbara will be returning today with four days' worth of clothes, so I guess I'll wait and do laundry tomorrow. Today, I think I'll clean up my lab. I haven't spent more than a few minutes there in the last couple of months, and there's a lot of stuff I need to do.

Another young woman I adore. Rebecca Watson, AKA Skepchick. I love her voice. She married a British guy a year ago and moved to London. It's interesting hearing her pure American accent in earlier videos gradually shifting to American with a slight overlay of British.


Sunday, 25 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.