Week of 16 August 2010
Update: Sunday, 22 August 2010 10:15 -0400
This Panasonic DECT 6.0 Plus cordless phone system we installed
recently is pretty cool. With the changeover from Phone Power to
Time-Warner, we no longer have voicemail provided by the phone company.
So I had Barbara call from work to make sure the answering machine
function was working properly. Mainly, I wanted to see if the caller's
voice coming from the base unit in my office would be loud enough to
hear out in the den.
As it turned out, that's not an issue. When
the caller records a message, it's audible on all of the handsets. But
what I really thought was cool is that there is apparently a married
couple living in the system. He does the voice for the outgoing answering
machine message--if we don't record one of our own--and the answering
machine prompts. She announces the caller ID. So, when Barbara called
from Womble-Carlyle, out of my handset came a synthesized female voice
saying, "Call from Womble Car-lie-le... Call from Womble Car-lie-le ..."
I've never understood why phone manufacturers don't enable Caller ID on
all of their phones, whether or not the user subscribes to Caller ID
service. If you don't subscribe to Caller ID, the phone company still
sends the information, which is simply an ASCII string sent between
rings, but it flips one bit to tell the phone not to display the Caller
ID information. It would be trivially easy for a phone manufacturer to
program its firmware just to ignore that bit and display the Caller ID
In fact, that's always an issue for
battered women's shelters and so on, where the caller location
absolutely has to be filtered out. I've set up several such locations,
which required installing an alarm circuit (pairs provided by the phone
company but not connected to the CO switch) to a remote location, from
which the call was actually inserted into the phone company's system.
It seems there's been a huge increase in spam lately. Every morning,
Barbara and I sit in the den, with her reading the morning paper and me
glancing at it but spending most of my time checking email and web
sites. I use squirrelmail (webmail) to check my mail. Ordinarily, about
90% of the messages in my inbox are real mail, and about 10% are spam
that's gotten past the server-side filters. Lately, that ratio has been
reversed. This morning, I had only four new real messages from
overnight and 24 spams. As usual, I flagged all the spam messages and
moved them to the _LearnSpam folder, which the server parses and uses
to train the server-side filters.
None of this has any real
effect on me. My local mail client uses bogofilter, which catches about
99% of the spams missed by the server-side filters and moves them to my
local trash folder. Still, I wonder what's going on. Perhaps the poor
economy has made spammers even more desperate than usual.
of the annoying things about the Phone Power VoIP service was that
there was no way to reserve upstream bandwidth for VoIP. When I was
uploading a YouTube video or another large file, that consumed all of
my upstream bandwidth and the phone was unusable. The Time-Warner Cable
VoIP cable modem solves that problem. Even during a big upload, the
phone service remains unaffected.
I confirmed that yesterday.
For our last several books, we've skipped the copy-edit process.
O'Reilly basically publishes what we send them. We, our technical
reviewers, and Brian Jepson caught and fixed typos and other errors
that would ordinarily be caught during a copy edit. This time, for some
reason, O'Reilly decided to do a copy-edit pass. I mentioned it to
Brian, who said he could kill it if we wanted to. I told him I thought
it was unnecessary, but it was his call. He decided to go ahead and do
it, on the theory that it wouldn't hurt to do one once in a while.
O'Reilly sent us a schedule: 8/12: Copyedit starts; 8/19: Copyedit
ends; 8/20: Authors' review of copyedit begins; 8/23: All
reviewed files due back to copyeditor. I emailed them to say that we
generally turned stuff around pretty quickly, so, if it would help stay
on or ahead of schedule, we'd be happy to start working on edited
chapters as soon as they were complete. Yesterday, I got the first
batch of chapters from our copy editor, Rachel Head. She sent me the
Preface and chapters 1 through 5, which I finished and returned to her
by late yesterday afternoon my time. (She's in France, so by the time I
returned the last chapter to her it was late evening for her.) Chapters
6, 7, and 8 are all that remains, so we should finish the whole process
well ahead of schedule.
Editing passes on our books go quickly
because I have no pride of authorship. With obvious exceptions--where
an edit would change the meaning of what we wrote--I just accept
proposed changes pretty much automatically. If Brian or Rachel thinks
something needs to be rephrased, it probably does, so I just accept
whatever changes they propose. I've had several editors tell me horror
stories about knockdown/dragout fights with authors who think they're
Shakespeare incarnate or something. Those authors--which apparently is
most authors--think of editors as people who are attacking their
already-perfect work. I think of an editor as someone who's trying hard
to improve what I sent them.
So, yesterday I'd finished up a
chapter, one that had embedded images and was about 10 MB. As I clicked
on Send in my mail client, I realized that this was a good time to test
the phone service. So I called Barbara at work. She said the phone
sounded perfect, so obviously it had whatever upstream bandwidth it
needed. At the same time, the big document file was uploading,
apparently at normal speed.
Wednesday, 18 August 2010
Rachel sent me chapter 6 around 17:00 my time yesterday, and I got it
processed and returned to her just as Barbara arrived home from work.
Rachel is covered up in projects and emailed me this morning to say
that she wouldn't be able to get to the final two chapters for a day or
two. So I'm back to working on my microchemistry kits.
the fun things about creating these kits is trying to do as much as
possible with as little as possible. Figuring out ways to minimize the
equipment needed and make it serve more than one purpose. Minimizing
the number of chemicals needed while still covering the basic concepts.
Working on a smaller scale, using well plates and test tubes instead of
beakers and flasks. And so on. I'm trying very hard to make sure the
Mark I kit is finalized and complete, because I want to sell these kits
for years without any modifications being needed.
documenting procedures. For example, not just that I need to dissolve
xx.xx grams of iron(III) chloride in yyyy mL of distilled water to make
up the solution used in the kit, but that iron(III) chloride is
available in both hydrated and anhydrous forms, which can be
substituted for each other by adjusting the mass used. And that to
stabilize the solution, one needs to add x.xx mL of concentrated
All of that is obvious to any chemist, but
not to civilians. If I get run over by a truck, I want Barbara to be
able to make up and sell these kits herself, or to hire a semi-skilled
person to do it for her. That means I also need to document things like
my account details for wholesale vendors of equipment and chemicals,
logon credentials to wherever I set up my storefront(s), and so on.
There are tons of details to organize, and I am not by nature an
organized person. However, my early education was in science, I'm an
experienced IT guy, and my most recent degree is an MBA, so I have no
excuse not to get all of this right.
Oh, and series 4 of Dexter
released yesterday, so we're pigging out on Dexter episodes. Once
again, there's a real disconnect between Barbara's attitude and mine.
She's of the he-kills-people-that's-wrong persuasion. I cheer Dexter
on, because there's not a one of his victims who doesn't richly deserve
to be killed. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Of course,
that also means one must assume personal responsibility for the
And it finally hit me last night. For a couple of
years, I've been trying to think of who Jennifer Carpenter (who plays
Dexter's sister, Debra Morgan, and in real life is married to the actor
who plays Dexter) reminds me of. Also for a couple of years, I've been
trying to think of who Abbie Smith reminds me of. Last night, while we were watching Dexter, I had Abbie's blog
up. And I finally realized that Abbie Smith and Jennifer Carpenter
remind me very much of each other. Their voices are even similar, and
they both tend to use a lot of foul language, at least when they're in
I've always suspected that--like most scientists, engineers, and IT
guys--I'm borderline Asperger's. So, when I came across this Asperger's Quotient test, I just had to take it.
is apparently 14 to 16 for women and 15 to 17 for men. I got a 26,
which puts me solidly in the range common to scientists, engineers, and
IT people. Actually, the norm for that group is probably in the 20 to
22 range, so I'm definitely nearer the range where ASD has to be
seriously considered. My guess is that most of my readers will be on
the high side of normal, if not well above normal.
consider borderline Asperger's "normal" in the sense that nearly all of
my friends and colleagues are probably in that range. I'd suspect
anyone who gets a "normal" score on this test of being a mealy-mouthed
I suspected correctly, as it turns out. A lot of people have taken the
AQ test and reported their scores, either on the messageboard or by
email. There are a couple of low scores--13 and 14--but the next-lowest
was 23. The vast majority are in the middle 20's to lower 30's, with a
few in the middle and upper 30's. Barbara took the test last night and
scored a 23. That was a bit higher than I expected, but not
surprisingly so. While Barbara was taking the test, I took it again and
scored a 29 that time.
The interesting thing about these results
is that they imply that all of these people are at least good
candidates for borderline Asperger's, and yet all of them, as far as I
know, are not just functioning people but very high-functioning people.
These are people who are, to put it mildly, competent in their jobs and
completely able to function in social situations. Many of them, I
suspect, are considered charming and well-mannered by their
I conclude that what this test actually measures
is sociability. Several people have commented that, although they are
perfectly able to function in social situations, they prefer to avoid
them when possible. Most, like me, probably much prefer getting
together with a small group of close friends to attending a party with
scads of people, most of whom they don't know. I also conclude that,
far from being a drawback, a high score on this test is likely to
indicate that the scorer is probably a go-to guy, someone you give a
job to when that job absolutely, positively needs to be done right.
Which is not to say that low scorers can't also have these
characteristics, but all things considered I think I'd prefer a high
scorer if I needed something done right.
I administered the AQ
test to Malcolm, our Border Collie. (Malcolm's paws aren't that good
with a mouse, so I had to help him.) He scored 44. That tells me that
people who score in the 20's or higher on this test are actually human
Border Collies, which isn't a bad thing to be. I'm off to chase a
tennis ball now.
My lab was trashed, so I spent a couple hours yesterday while I was
doing laundry to get it cleaned up. There's still more to be done, but
at least I've cleared some of the horizontal surfaces. I'm still
working on writing up lab sessions and dealing with innumerable
We've been watching series 4 of Dexter and series 2 of Everwood.
This series of Dexter is darker and more inward-looking than series 1
through 3. Everwood is heartwarming, which I hate, but I'll put up with
it because the series is packed with adorable women, from Delia (age 9)
to Amy (16) to Madison (20) to Nina (30-something) to Linda
(30-something) to Edna (60-something). Admittedly, I initially
despised Madison, who was introduced as a bitch-on-wheels, and
Linda, an MD who practices "alternative medicine" and new-age woo,
but the writers somehow morphed both of them into admirable characters.
The writing is merely very good rather than great, and many of the
situations are hackneyed, but the cast is excellent and it's relaxing
escapism. We'll be starting series 3 shortly. Annoyingly, series 4 has
not yet been released on DVD.
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