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Week of 25 October 2010


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Monday, 25 October 2010
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09:14 - Late start this morning. Barbara had some transmission work done on her SUV and it wasn't quite right. Malcolm had an 8:00 a.m. vet appointment. So I drove Malcolm out to Clemmons while Barbara drove over to the transmission place, where I picked her up after dropping Malcolm off. This afternoon, assuming her vehicle is ready, she'll pick up Malcolm in Clemmons and then come pick me up to go get her SUV back.

The election approaches, and like all voters I'm faced with an even worse choice than usual. On the one hand, I'm certainly not going to vote for any Democrats, who are determined to destroy what shreds remain of our republic. That leaves the Libertarians, who have no chance of being elected, or the Republicans, who oppose nearly everything I stand for. If I vote Tea Party, at least I'm voting in favor of smaller government, but the flip side of that is that most Tea Party candidates are religious nutter know-nothings who'd love to destroy science and see the US become a Christian theocracy. I suppose I'll vote Libertarian, which at least has the advantage of being a principled choice.


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Tuesday, 26 October 2010
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07:55 - With all the to-do over National Liberal Radio firing Juan Williams for making comments that were not Politically Correct, I have to ask the bigger question. Why PBS continue to receive public funding? The original rationale for PBS made some sense. Back then, we had three commercial over-the-air broadcast networks, which then, as now, ran mostly garbage. PBS was intended to provide programming that would never have made it on the air in those days when airtime was a scarce commodity. And it did a generally fine job, running fine-arts programs, Masterpiece Theatre, Mystery!, many great science shows, and so on.

But airtime is no longer a scarce commodity, and hasn't been for decades. We now have cable network channels devoted to cooking, fishing, golf, and other specialized interests. There's simply no need for PBS any more, and certainly no reason why taxpayers should be funding it. If PBS disappeared today, we'd have no shortage of the types of programs it runs. In fact, we'd probably have more of them. HBO might pick up Masterpiece Theatre and Showtime might fund an ongoing series of new Nova episodes. No doubt we'd soon have one or several new cable network channels running high-brow programming. There's simply no need for PBS, and no justification for continuing to spend taxpayer money to support it.


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Wednesday, 27 October 2010
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07:58 - It had been a bit dry around here until recently. Not anymore. We had about half an inch (12.5 mm) of rain in the gauge Monday morning and another three-quarters of an inch yesterday morning. Last night, we had heavy thunderstorms, with another four inches of rain in the gauge this morning. More is expected today and tonight. Added to the rain we had earlier this month, that should put us at about twice normal rainfall for the month.

I'm working on the group of lab sessions on chemical kinetics. In the book, I used Alka-Seltzer tablets for a couple of the kinetics experiments. I was going to include Alka-Seltzer tablets in the kit, or a generic version of them, until I found out the price of two-packs. Even buying in bulk, including enough of those tablets to do the experiments just once would cost $3 or so, which is non-trivial. So I wondered if anyone sold simple sodium bicarbonate tablets in bulk. Sure enough, I was able to find them, at about $14 plus shipping for a bottle of 1,000. That makes the cost per tablet about two cents, which is a lot more reasonable. Even with packaging costs, I can include a good supply of them at a cost of maybe $1 or so.



11:44 - I've spent the morning creating and issuing purchase orders for the remaining small items I need for the kits. Actually, although I still had to create actual purchase orders for record-keeping purposes, I placed all of these orders on-line with a credit card, because it's not worth the time to set up accounts with the companies in question. I was ordering stuff like a roll of 500 ORM-D shipping labels and a roll of bubble wrap, two bottles of 1,000 sodium bicarbonate tablets, three dozen purple Sharpie markers, three dozen 9V batteries, three dozen Mead composition books, and so on.

I ordered the composition books from Costco.com for $1.26 each, shipping included, because that was easier and cheaper (in terms of my time) that trying to deal with a wholesaler. I was surprised at checkout to see that Costco had added $3.52 in sales tax. Oh, well. I have a tax-exempt resale number, but again it's not worth the hassle necessary to save $3.52. So the state of North Carolina ends up getting $3.52 in sales tax revenue that it's technically not entitled to.

I'm actually proud of myself for staying organized. My personality is about as far as you can get from that of a typical accountant. My natural inclination is just to order everything I need with as little effort as possible and let the bean counters worry later about keeping everything straight. The problem is, I'm now the bean counter, as just one of my many hats*.  I've set up purchase order management and receiving spreadsheets, and am keeping track of everything. The extra time necessary is annoying, but I keep telling myself that it's not excessive. Once I'm up and rolling, it'll take no more time to order a hundred dozen batteries than it took me this morning to order three dozen. Less, in fact, because I can merely edit the first PO to update quantities, issue a new PO number, and send it off.

I've also set up the basics for a cost-accounting system, although it'll be crude. A proper cost-accounting system would give me actual costs down to the fraction of a cent. I'm using a broader-brush approach. Although shipping costs can be a significant percentage of the total item cost, if I issue a purchase order with numerous line items, I'm not going to attempt to break out per-unit shipping costs. For example, one of my orders included 40 of one item (it comes in packs of 10) that costs $0.83 per unit. There were a whole lot of other line items on that order, and shipping costs for the entire order were about 10% of the order total. Rather than try to allocate that shipping by individual item, taking into account things like actual item weight and number ordered, I'll just increase my nominal cost for quantity one of that item by 10% from $0.83 to $0.913. Of course, if I turn around and order 1,000 of those items, my actual delivered cost may be a bit more or a bit less than $913, but it'll be close enough not to matter.

I got my MBA 25 years ago, and I did wonder if it'd turn out that I'd forgotten everything I learned. Fortunately, I think I remember most of the essential stuff. I've probably forgotten most of what I knew about marketing, but none of that ever made sense anyway.

* I recall the story of Braxton Bragg. From the Wikipedia article:

Bragg had a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian and one who adhered to regulations literally. There is a famous, perhaps apocryphal, story about him as a company commander at a frontier post where he also served as quartermaster. He submitted a requisition for supplies for his company, then as quartermaster declined to fill it. As company commander, he resubmitted the requisition, giving additional reasons for his requirements, but as the quartermaster he denied the request again. Realizing that he was at a personal impasse, he referred the matter to the post commandant, who exclaimed, "My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself!"


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Thursday, 28 October 2010
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09:17 - Barbara is off to the beach with her parents for the next few days. As usual, it'll be wild women and parties while she's gone.



What Happened When I Yelled Back at the "Christians" Calling My Wife a Murderer

His wife was carrying a fetus that was doomed to be stillborn. They visited an abortion clinic. It was the worst day of their young lives. As if that wasn't bad enough, these Christian nutters were protesting abortion outside the clinic and accused his wife of murdering their baby.

The only thing I take issue with is the quotes around "Christians". I don't doubt that these women were committed Christians. Their actions were fully consistent with their deranged beliefs, which are certainly among those espoused by many mainstream Christian churches. The implication of the quotes is that these two women were not behaving as "Christians", when in fact that is exactly what they were doing.

As far as I'm concerned, these two women are no different from the Westboro Baptist Church scum. I think he showed immense restraint merely to accost them verbally. I'll defend their First Amendment right to free speech, but I certainly wouldn't shed any tears if someone harmed them.


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Friday, 29 October 2010
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10:26 - Barbara called yesterday afternoon to say that she, her parents, and her aunt had arrived safely at the beach house. Her sister and her sister's husband are arriving today. Malcolm and I are on our own. No parties yet, mainly because of the complete absence of wild women.

With Halloween rapidly approaching, the local news has dusted off and re-run the stories they run every year about safety. I always wondered about the supposed dangers of Halloween. It'd take a very special kind of evil/insane person to randomly poison small children, and I've always found it hard to believe that even one such person exists or ever has existed.

Still, every year the hospitals set up to X-ray sacks of candy, searching for razor blades or needles, which they never find. A week or two ago, I happened across a blog entry from a woman who's written a book deploring our fanatic fixation on child safety. She claims, and I have no reason to doubt her, that there has never been a confirmed incident of Halloween candy being poisoned or otherwise tampered with. Well, there was one exception: a father who slipped poison candy to his own children, and was subsequently convicted and executed.

Work on the microchemistry kits continues.



Greg Lincoln sent this warning about Firesheep to Pournelle's back-channel mailing list this morning, and it's worth repeating here.

From: Greg Lincoln
  To: Chaos Manor Advisors
Date: Fri Oct 29 09:58:20 2010
  Re: Firesheep  

I suspect many of you have already heard of this, but just in case you haven't:

http://codebutler.com/firesheep

Even though most sites will redirect you to HTTPS when you send your username/password across the wire, they revert to HTTP immediately afterward, which means the cookie they use to associate you with a session is sent in the clear. This firefox extension makes it trivial for a user on the same hotspot to steal your session. It is literally a double click operation.

There are four options to combat this that I know of.

1. Don't use public wifi, or any services like twitter, facebook, etc while on public wifi. Verify any service you use is SSL.

2. Use a firefox addon like SSLEverywhere. This isn't perfect, as it only works with the sites it supports.

3. Use a VPN. There are premium VPN services available, as well as some free options.

4. Use a socks proxy with SSH.




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Saturday, 30 October 2010
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07:57 - The results from Malcolm's urine culture finally came back from the lab yesterday. He had a resistant E. coli infection, which our vet, Sue Stephens, was treating with Zeniquin, a veterinary-only antibiotic. We'd given Malcolm the last of it on Wednesday evening. I was getting a bit concerned about a gap, so I called the vet Thursday. They had preliminary results, but the receptionist said that Sue had told her to tell me not to worry about a gap in treatment. Zeniquin apparently has a long biological half-time.

So, Sue called yesterday about 13:00 to say that the Zeniquin had cleared up the infection, but she wanted to continue it for another week, just to make sure. It doesn't pay to mess around with resistant E. coli infections. So I headed out to Clemmons to pick up another week's supply of Zeniquin, along with some tramadol and phenylpropanolamine. The former is for pain. Sue says Malcolm has lost muscle mass in his hind quarters and she thinks he may be in chronic pain. Tramadol is a safe non-NSAID pain reliever, so we'll start him on that and continue it routinely.

The non-NSAID part is important, because Malcolm liver enzymes are elevated, so aspirin or other NSAIDs are not a good idea. We'll take Malcolm back to the vet in three or four weeks to have another urine culture done, as well as another ultrasound. The last ultrasound was only of his bladder area. This time, she'll look at his bladder, liver, pancreas, and other nearby organs. It's possible the ultrasound will show something about the liver. If not, we're not going to go any further with it. Sue says a needle biopsy would be useless, and Barbara doesn't want to put Malcolm through surgery for a full liver biopsy.

The good news is that he's acting like a perfectly healthy 11-year-old dog. He has his aches and pains, but he's the same as he ever was mentally. I remember James Herriott commenting in one of his books that he always figured that if he couldn't catch his patient there probably wasn't anything too serious wrong with it. Malcolm is his usual energetic, enthusiastic self, so unless the ultrasound shows something diagnostically useful we'll just take things as they come.


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Sunday, 31 October 2010
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12:17 - Barbara is due back from the beach tomorrow. Malcolm and I are already preparing to do our happy dance.

I have to get things straightened up before Barbara arrives home. UPS showed up Friday with deliveries of several orders of stuff for the microchemistry kits. When he left, our foyer was stacked full of boxes. Among them was one the size of a dorm refrigerator that weighed next to nothing. I couldn't imagine what it was until I remembered that I'd ordered a 175-foot (53 meter) roll of bubble wrap from U-LINE. I guess bubble wrap doesn't weigh much, even in bulk. Duh.



I crossed my fingers and upgraded Barbara's office desktop system to Ubuntu 10.10. The upgrade went flawlessly. The Extreme System from the new edition of Building the Perfect PC is still sitting on the floor of my office. I haven't had time to migrate all the stuff on my current office Core2 Quad desktop over to the new system, so for now I'm still using the system I've been using for a couple of years. It was truly an extreme system when I built it. Even now, that old system is nearly half as fast as the new extreme system, which is to say maybe three times faster than a typical new midrange desktop system.

In fact, that old system is much faster than any of the new systems we built for the book, other than the Extreme System. When I have a spare hour or two, I plan to recycle that motherboard and processor with new memory, a new case and power supply, and new drives, and turn it into Barbara's new office desktop system. Despite its age, it'll be roughly four times faster than her old office desktop system, which is itself no slouch.



15:33 - Barbara called early this afternoon to say she was watching me. Somehow, she knew that I'd upgraded her system. She even knew details like version number. It's uncanny.

We'll see if she's really watching me. After we hung up, I went out and spent a couple hours blowing leaves in the front yard. Well, I partly blew them and partly raked them. There was a bit of a breeze blowing from exactly the wrong direction, and my lung power isn't what it used to be.

There wasn't much green visible under the fallen leaves, and I didn't want Barbara to have to deal with that after just returning from her vacation. Ordinarily, Barbara does all the yard work, mainly because she likes doing it, but these days also because she's afraid if I engage in any strenuous outdoor activity she'll be widowed. I keep telling her that I have the body of a teenager. A sedentary, out-of-shape, very elderly teenager, but a teenager nonetheless.

I guess I should make some effort to get back in shape. I'm off to do a push-up. Maybe a sit-up as well.


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