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Week of 13 December 2010


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Monday, 13 December 2010
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11:26 - After about 10 days of experience, Barbara and I are both very pleased with the Netflix streaming service. The selection, at least of the kinds of things we watch, is very good. The video quality is excellent. SD streams look as good as or better than DVDs on our 1080p HDTV, and HD streams look better than cable HD. Other than the initial setup issues, we've had zero problems with the Roku box.

Incredibly, I'm doing something that I've never done before and would have bet I'd never do: intentionally delaying returning DVDs we're finished with, just to keep from being flooded with new stuff to watch. Barbara and I average maybe 50 or 60 hours per month of TV viewing, which is something like a third of the average for US viewers. We simply don't have time to watch 20 or 25 DVDs per month and still watch the stuff in our Netflix streaming queue.

We've just gotten up-to-date with Grey's Anatomy. Barbara likes it. I can tolerate it in short bursts. My problem is with the title character, who unfortunately also does lots of pop psychology voice-over narration for most episodes. She's an attractive woman, physically, but her character is a whining, self-absorbed, nasty bitch. She reminds me of the early Cordelia on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Cordelia: People who think their problems are so huge craze me. Like this time I sort of ran over this girl on her bike. It was the most traumatizing event of my life, and she's trying to make it about her leg! Like my pain meant nothing.

Except that Cordelia soon grew up. At 30-something but with the maturity of a tween, it looks like Meredith Grey never will. Barbara agrees with me, but speculates that perhaps the Meredith Grey character was intended to be despicable. I don't think so. I think she was intended to be appealingly vulnerable and the writers missed the mark by a mile.

We're really enjoying McLeod's Daughters on Netflix streaming. I understand it was one the top-rated Australian programs until it jumped the shark in series 6 or 7. We'll stick with it as long as it continues at its current quality. It's pretty much a soap opera, but a good one. I don't know how accurately it reflects day-to-day life in the Australian outback, or perhaps it's the bush, but it is interesting to see how other people live, even if they are fictional. As usual, it took only a couple of episodes for the accents to disappear for me. Now the characters just sound to me like they're speaking normal unaccented English.

Barbara probably gets sick of hearing it. When we watch a Brit series, I periodically comment, "Boy, the Brits sure have some pretty girls." So now I'm periodically commenting, "Boy, the Aussies sure have some pretty girls." Of course the two prettiest, Claire and Becky, are actually from New Zealand. I wish they all could be North Carolina girls.

I'm neck deep in writing the biology book. Barbara says it's okay if I culture the Andromeda Strain, as long as I keep it out of her kitchen.


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Tuesday, 14 December 2010
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11:16 - I just signed and sent back the contract for the home biology book. As I watched my printer spitting out pages, I thought about how much things have changed since the first contract I signed with O'Reilly, nearly 15 years ago. That contract was something like nine paragraphs that covered a page and a half. This one was 15 pages long. Of course, a large part of that was the short-form contract for the copyright office, three or four pages of Creative Commons verbiage, and so on.

Speaking of CC, I don't know if I've mentioned this, but this is the first of my books that'll be released under a Creative Commons license. The idea is that everyone wins when the book is freely distributable. Those who can't afford to buy the book still have access to the information in it. Of course, neither O'Reilly nor I makes any money on freely-distributed copies. However, history shows that books that are freely and widely available electronically sell more printed copies than those that aren't. Sometimes a lot more.

I don't know how O'Reilly would react to this idea, but I'd actually considered putting a tip-jar pitch in the front matter of the electronic version. "If you found this book useful and would like to support more like it, please send $5 to the author via Paypal. If you can't afford five bucks, don't worry about it." I'd keep half and send half to O'Reilly as a reverse royalty. That'd probably screw up their accounting big-time. Authors sending them money. Now there's a concept.

I'll be busting my butt to get this book done as quickly as I can, consonant with a very high level of quality. The contract actually says I'll complete the book almost a year to the day from now, but I'm going to try hard to complete it by mid-August of next year. That would give the production folks time to complete layout and printing in time for the book to be available for Christmas sales. I don't think I'll be able to make the August to-production date, but I'll try hard to do so.


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Wednesday, 15 December 2010
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07:48 - Amazon strikes again. One would have thought they'd learned their lesson the first time, but apparently not. According to this author, books that feature incest as a plot line are being removed from Amazon. That's fine. What's not fine is that it appears Amazon is removing purchased copies from people's Kindles. What's really not fine is that they're apparently harassing people who request a refund for the book Amazon has stolen from them. FTA:

When some of my readers began checking their Kindle archives for books of mine they’d purchased on Amazon, they found them missing from their archives. When one reader called to get a refund for the book she no longer had access to, she was chastised by the Amazon customer service representative about the “severity” of the book she’d chosen to purchase. 

Why would anyone buy a Kindle?

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Thursday, 16 December 2010
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07:59 - The forecast last night was one I'd never seen before. It called for "ice pellets" by morning. This morning, when I walked out to get the paper, sure enough, the front walk was covered with crunchy ice pellets. There's also a glaze of freezing rain, with more freezing rain expected through this afternoon. As usual, Barbara doesn't let the weather interfere with her plans. She's about to leave for work, and plans to hit the gym on her way home.



We started watching Spartacus: Blood & Sand last night. This is the one that stars Lucy Lawless, who was so embarrassed about some of her erotically explicit scenes in series two that she asked her parents not to watch. It sounded perfect to me. The IMDB Plot Keywords were:

Female Full Frontal Nudity | Female Frontal Nudity | Merkin Wig | Fake Female Frontal Nudity | Sword Fight

and so on. What's not to like? It met my expectations. The sword fights were complete with slow-motion/stop-action, with lots of spurting blood and gore. In other words, what the NFL should be. I was intending to give it five stars on the Netflix rating system, until I asked Barbara what she thought. She gave it one star. She said the dialog and acting were horrible, which I hadn't noticed. So we stopped watching part way through the first episode and switched to the other disc. Oh, well.


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Friday, 17 December 2010
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07:53 - We watched the first disc of Defying Gravity last night. I understand the producers originally pitched the program as "Grey's Anatomy in space" and it is that. The same lame voiceovers. The same insipid pop music. They even have a Meredith Gray character, Zoe, who looks and sounds the same. I don't think we'll be getting the rest of the series. There's better stuff available to watch.



I'm not sure what happened with the "compromise" omnibus funding bill that passed last night. In the space of one day, it went from being a done deal to being dead beyond recovery to being replaced by a short-term bill that would have kept the government funded for only two months to being passed on a 2:1 vote with equal numbers of republicans and democrats voting in favor. What happened to them having to read the entire bill? This unseemly haste is disturbing.

The most disturbing part to me was the extension of so-called unemployment benefits. A program that was originally intended to be a bridge for people who'd lost their jobs and were looking for new ones has turned into a long-term welfare program. Yes, there are many millions of people unemployed. But there are also millions of unfilled jobs, and this extension of unemployment welfare benefits merely assures that we'll continue to have millions of unfilled jobs and millions of people sitting around collecting unemployment welfare. And the rest of us paying taxes to support that idleness.

Some of those unfilled jobs exist because they're very specialized and difficult to fill, just as some of those unemployed people are unemployed because their skills are very specialized. For example, chemists are moaning about the tens of thousands of layoffs that pharma companies have made over the last couple of years. Right now is a very bad time to be a pharmaceutical chemist. Unemployment among chemists has reached an all-time high. Of 3%.

But the real problem is that many of those millions of unfilled jobs aren't "good enough" for the unemployed people to accept. And this extension of unemployment benefits merely ensures that we'll continue to have millions of unfilled jobs waiting for applicants who are too busy sitting around collecting unemployment benefits to go back to work.


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Saturday, 18 December 2010
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09:59 - I just got email that the final component I need to build my ultracentrifuge has shipped. This is pretty cool. It'll accept up to six standard 1.5 mL Eppie microcentrifuge tubes and produce about 35,000 RPM and 60,000 gravities. Just as a point of reference, if you accelerated six people of my mass to 60,000 gravities, we'd outweigh the battleship USS North Carolina. Of course, none of us would ever be the same again.

The problem will be the first test. I was thinking of brave people I know, and the bravest is Dr. Mary Chervenak. So, my cunning plan is to sweet-talk Mary into firing up my home-built ultracentrifuge for the first time while I take cover out in the back yard. Just kidding, Paul. Mary is brave, but she's sure not foolish. (Although, come to think of it, as a teenager Mary did have a summer job as a tour guide on the battleship USS North Carolina, so there is a connection. Hmmm.) I'll just clamp the Dremel Moto-Tool vertically, lower the head assembly into a steel cooking pot, and cover the whole rig with one of those 5-gallon plastic pails from Home Depot to serve as a blast shield. If the rig does fail catastrophically, the steel pot should stop the fragments, or at least slow them below Warp Factor 6, and the plastic pail should handle any ricochets and slower fragments. I wonder if OSHA would approve.

What's it for? Spinning down suspensions of bacteria, proteins, DNA, and so on to isolate and purify them.


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Sunday, 19 December 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.