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Week of 14 March 2011


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Monday, 14 March 2011
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10:06 - Bad news continues to arrive from Japan. The MSM, of course, focuses on the nuclear reactors, although as far as we know there's been no significant radiation release. The greens and environmentalists are all over it, but the message they're sending is diametrically opposed to the real story. Just as at TMI, where everything that could go wrong did go wrong and the radiation release was utterly trivial, the lesson here, at least so far, is that even an elderly nuke plant that was scheduled for decommissioning has withstood a nearby 9.0 earthquake and the resulting tsunami apparently without releasing significant amounts of radiation. There'll be a mess to clean up, no doubt, but so far the containments are doing what they were designed to do. Let us all hope that continues to be true.

TMI killed new nuke construction in the US. We should have a thousand nukes operating today. Instead, we have a handful of aging, elderly plants with no replacements in prospect. I do disagree with the pro-nuke spokesmen in one respect. I don't think we should be siting nuke plants in areas subjects to extreme earthquakes. Any nuke plant is immune to nearly all natural disasters, including Category 5 hurricanes and F5 tornados. But no nuke plant, no matter how heavily constructed, can be guaranteed to be immune from an 8.0 or greater earthquake. We should be building many more nuke plants, certainly, but we should not be siting them in California or in other regions subject to extreme earthquakes. California already imports much of its power from out-of-state. There's no reason they can't continue to do so from new nuke plants sited further inland.

And it does disturb me when I see Jerry Pournelle, who understands nuclear radiation well enough to know better, talk about laying in supplies of duct tape to seal his Studio City, California home against radiation. Come on, Jerry, you know as well as I do that even if every affected reactor failed catastrophically the vast majority of the radiation plume would quickly fall out over the ocean near Japan. By the time any residual particulates crossed the Pacific Ocean, it'd be difficult to discriminate their radiation from background.



12:44 - Thanks to Derek Lowe for pointing out this excellent summary of the real situation with the Japanese nuke plants. Once again, bloggers reveal the MSM for the useless piece of crap that it is.


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Tuesday, 15 March 2011
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08:40 - Although one would never know it from reading the MSM, radiation releases are the least of Japan's problems. Even the horrendous loss of life and the lack of food, water, shelter, and heat in the affected areas are only distractions from the real problem. Japan's economy has just suffered a blow from which it may never recover. The US deficit pales next to that of Japan, which has been on a government spending binge for more than 20 years now. Japan now needs to borrow on a massive scale to replace damaged and destroyed infrastructure, and will have great difficulty finding anyone who is able, let alone willing, to lend them the money they need.

For the last several years, it's been obvious to anyone paying attention that governments have been robbing Peter to pay Paul, but that game of musical chairs is coming to an end. The government of every major country on the planet is bankrupt, but continues to pile debt on debt. We're rapidly and irrevocably heading for a crash that will make the recent economic unpleasantness look trivial.

I often disagree with him, but Eric Raymond sums things up well in Politics as Usual is Over. I do think he's overly optimistic. We're not "fast approaching the point of no choices left". We're already there and have been for quite some time. The question is no longer if but when and how. Default or hyperinflation? I'm hoping for the former, which will be bad enough but not nearly as bad as the only alternative. If it is managed properly, the US--along with its de facto satellite states, Canada and Australia--can remain standing after a general default. Badly beaten, but still standing.



16:29 - Holy crap. I see there's a run on potassium iodide tablets and solutions. That would be understandable in the affected areas of Japan, but the run is in the US, particularly in California, where no risk exists. What's worse is that some people are buying tincture of iodine or other solutions that contain elemental iodine. So I decided to write a sanity check.
Note that, despite the fact that I can't convince the Wake Forest University Bowman-Gray School of Medicine that I am not a physician, I am not. Follow these instructions at your own peril. And you don't really need to be taking iodide anyway. But if you decide to drink iodine tincture or Lugol's iodine, please use vitamin C to decolorize it first. You'll still get every atom of iodine that was present in the bottle, but your throat and internal organs will thank you for giving it to them in non-corrosive form.


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Wednesday, 16 March 2011
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08:08 - Thanks to Rob Clay for this link. Isn't it nice to know that our surgeon general is radiologically illiterate? At least the California Emergency Management Agency appears to have its head screwed on right.

Hmmm. Apparently, the prices on eBay for potassium iodide are skyrocketing. I just checked, and I have about 5,000 adult doses worth of reagent-grade potassium iodide on hand. If I didn't despise profiteering I might package up some centrifuge tubes with 13 mL each of 10% KI solution stabilized with vitamin C and sell them as "10 adult doses" for $20 a tube.


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Thursday, 17 March 2011
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13:04 - Several emails and posts on the forums convinced me that it's not profiteering to sell people things they don't need. So, not being an eBay person, I spoke to a woman in our neighborhood who sells stuff full-time on eBay. I told her if she wanted to sell potassium iodide I'd package it up for her and we'd split the profits, if any. I left everything eBay-related up to her, including setting prices. I emailed her this morning to say that I think she has the prices set too high, at $30 buy-it-now for 10 doses and $150 for 50 doses. I think she's going to drop that down to $20 and $100. She's going for all the traffic will bear, which is fine with me. As I said, I don't really care if we sell any or not.

The product is basically distilled water with reagent-grade potassium iodide at 130 mg/mL, which means one mL is equivalent to one adult dose as recommended by the WHO. Atmospheric oxygen reacts with KI to produce elemental iodine, which means that the solution turns pale yellow even as you stir it. As Kristen said, people aren't going to want a product that looks like urine, so I'm adding one 500 mg tablet of vitamin C per 500 mL to keep the iodide in ionic form and the solution colorless.

I wanted to label it "Love Potion #9" because I'm using the Madam Ruth manufacturing method, making it up right here in the sink. Well, I don't think Madam Ruth autoclaved her bottles.



Update on the 32 GB Lexar thumb drives I used in the latest edition of Building the Perfect PC. I've been using these things every day for several months for doing my own backups, and they continue to function better than advertised. They're rated for 10 MB/s writes, and I'm actually doing better than that as long as I do it correctly. A typical backup might include zip files of mine and Barbara's home directory plus a couple thousand individual files, totaling maybe 500 to 800 MB. If I write that directory to the thumb drive, my transfer rate overall is typically in the 6 or 7 MB/s range, but can drop to as low as 3 MB/s, depending on how much cruft is on the thumb drive. If it's freshly formatted, the 6 or 7 MB/s range is typical, but when I've deleted a bunch of stuff and fragmented the drive the rates drop down toward 3 MB/s.

So, a few weeks ago, I started zipping up the entire backup directory before copying it to the thumb drive. Doing that adds maybe 30 seconds to zip the backup directory, but the trade off is worth it because writes to the thumb drive are so much faster when writing just one large file. Even after the drive has been churned for a long time, writing the one big zip file is fast. The slowest I've seen is 9.7 MB/s, and that's counting the time needed to flush the cache and unmount the thumb drive. Most of the time, the write speed is between 11 MB/s and 12 MB/s, and on one or two occasions it's exceeded 13 MB/s.



16:27 -
I almost forgot. Happy Saint Patrick's Day.  Here's a biologist doing a traditional Irish song.





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Friday, 18 March 2011
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10:31 - Kristen started getting orders last night and this morning, which she'll ship by 11:00 a.m. today. She has 1,500 ratings for her eBay store, 100% of them positive, and she says one of the keys to maintaining that high rating is to ship fast. I suspect another key is to deliver more than promised, so I'm overfilling containers slightly. I don't want anyone who orders 50 mL to receive only 49.9.

I see on FoxNews that the FDA has issued a warning that some Internet sellers are offering "potassium iodide" products that don't actually contain any potassium iodide. There are also quite a few that are confused, unintentionally or intentionally, about the difference between milligrams (mg) and micrograms (mcg or g). The standard adult dosage is 130 mg, which is the same as 130,000 mcg. But many vendors are offering nutritional supplements that contain, say, 65 mcg of potassium iodide, and telling people that two pills is an adult dosage. In reality, of course, one would need to swallow 2,000 of those pills to get 130 mg of potassium iodide. Not to mention Thor knows how much other stuff.

The bad news is that there's no potassium iodide to be had anywhere. I had an order in for 2 kilograms, but my supplier tells me he ran out and doesn't expect to get any more in for at least three weeks. Oh, well.



12:55 - It's started. Barbara just emailed me to ask me to buy two Eveyln David titles for the Kindle, one at $0.99 and one at $5.00. I won't pay more than $2.99 for a fiction ebook, but Barbara's entitled to set her own limit, so I went ahead and ordered both. I then emailed her to say I'd ordered them, and included a list of that authoress's other titles, all of which sell for $2.99. Apparently, she has two series whose names are confusingly similar. Barbara had just read a paper copy of the first book in one series, the Sullivan Investigations Mysteries, so she said to go ahead and order her the first title in the second series, The Brianna Sullivan Mysteries.

Although I haven't checked, my guess is that the first series is from a traditional publisher, which accounts for the ebook versions being priced at $5 each. I suspect David is self-publishing the second series, which are all priced at $2.99. (She'll earn $0.87 on each sale of the $5 titles and $2.04 on each sale of the $2.99 titles, which is a strong motivator for self-publishing.)

This, of course, means that Barbara is going to have to read them on the e-reader formerly known as my Kindle. I told her I was going to tell my readers I was already waving bye-bye to it. Barbara stomped her foot and says that's not true. We'll see. In my experience, Kindles have to be pried from the cold, dead fingers of their users.


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Saturday, 19 March 2011
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10:24 - This is interesting. I just ordered two items from Amazon for my Kindle, both priced at $0.99. One was J. A. Konrath's Origin, another of his early books, and the other was Scrabble, which Barbara wanted. When the email invoices showed up a moment later, the first one I looked at was for Scrabble. It was for $1.07. Amazon had charged sales tax. Okay, that was new. I figured that North Carolina must have finally convinced Amazon to start charging tax for buyers in North Carolina. Nope. The ebook invoice total was $0.99. I don't understand why one was taxed and the other not.



14:03 - I commented over on the forums this morning that everyone knows what I look like, but none of us knows what most of the other regular participants over on the forums look like. But it occurred to me that that image at the top of this page was shot back in about 1998, so I figured I'd better post a more recent image. Here's one Barbara shot of me a month or so ago. I'm down in the basement doing laundry, smoking my Dunhill and reading my Kindle.



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Sunday, 20 March 2011
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09:35 - Malcolm is the first dog I ever had. All of the others liked someone else better, first my mom and later Barbara. But when Malcolm came home with us as a 6-week-old pup, he actually preferred my company. He'd curl up in my lap, ignoring Barbara. Then when he was a year or so old, something happened, and he decided he liked Barbara better. Now, unless there's a thunderstorm (when he comes to me for protection), he tolerates me, at best. If he's curled up against Barbara on the sofa and I pet him, he growls at me.

I see the same thing happening with my Kindle. From the time it arrived here in mid-January until very recently, it pretty much ignored Barbara. Then, yesterday, I downloaded and installed the Scrabble app on it. When I looked over yesterday afternoon, there sat my Kindle, curled up in Barbara's lap, playing Scrabble with her. I can see the writing on the wall. At least my Kindle hasn't growled at me. Yet.

We've been churning through Gossip Girl. If you haven't seen it, give it a try. Don't let the description of it as a "teen drama" turn you off. Barbara thinks it's one of the best series we've ever watched. I agree. The cast is first-rate, as is the writing. The Parents' Television Council hates it, which is a strong endorsement in itself.



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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.