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Week of 16 August 2010


Latest Update: Sunday, 22 August 2010 10:15 -0400

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Monday, 16 August 2010
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09:11 - 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 ..."

Actually, 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 information regardless.

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.


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Tuesday, 17 August 2010
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08:15 - 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.



One 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.

So 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.


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Wednesday, 18 August 2010
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10:55 - 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.

One of 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.

I'm also 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 hydrochloric acid.

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 decision.

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 character.


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Thursday, 19 August 2010
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10:46 - 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.

"Normal" 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.

Actually, I 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 weasel.


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Friday, 20 August 2010
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09:38 - 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 acquaintances.

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.


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Saturday, 21 August 2010
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00:00 -



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Sunday, 22 August 2010
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10:15 - 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 administrative details.

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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