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Week of 22 September 2008

Latest Update: Saturday, 27 September 2008 13:01 -0500

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Monday, 22 September 2008
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10:00 - Barbara's dad is still in the hospital, but seems to be doing better.

Barbara and I met Mary and Paul at Costco yesterday. When we finished shopping, we loaded all our stuff except the frozen foods into Barbara's truck, and she took off to visit her dad at the hospital, which is on the same side of town. I put our frozen stuff in Mary's and Paul's truck and they gave me a ride home.

When Barbara got home yesterday evening, she said her dad was doing much better, particularly mentally. This knee replacement hasn't gone as well as the one he had done four years ago, and that's been getting him down, both mentally and physically. He'll probably be in the hospital at least a few more days, but at least things are starting to look better now.

Over the weekend, I got some work in on the gunshot residue and explosives residue chapter of the forensics book. The explosives lab session in particular is difficult. In days gone by, I'd simply have whipped up small amounts of black powder, nitroglycerin, TNT, RDX, PETN, and other explosives for testing, but in the post-9/11 age that's a complete no-no.

Fortunately, black powder is readily available from sporting goods stores, as are nitroglycerine and guncotton in the form of smokeless powder for reloaders. (Single-base smokeless powders are more or less pure nitrocellulose, and double-base powders are nitrocellulose with nitroglycerin added.) But that's a pretty limited repertoire for testing, so I think maybe I'll give instructions to readers who want to synthesize tiny amounts of nitrated aromatics.

In particular, I'm thinking about giving readers instructions for nitrating a few drops of toluene. Depending on reaction conditions, that will produce a mixture of mono, di, and trinitrated toluenes including 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene, also known as TNT. The mix is fine, as it will produce the signature needed just as well as pure TNT would do.

In fact, I may specify gentle nitrating conditions (an ice bath), which will the skew the mixture far in favor of mononitrotoluene, which is not an explosive. In fact mono- and dinitrotoluene (which is explosive) are used as taggants in commercial explosives with low vapor pressures. MNT and DNT have relatively high vapor pressures, which makes the explosive mixture much more easily detected by dogs and sniffing instruments.

What I don't know is whether all, some, or none of the explosive color spot tests will react positively to MNT. I suppose I should make some up and try it.


Tuesday, 23 September 2008
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08:25 - Barbara's dad was much improved yesterday, so we're all quite relieved. They finally moved him up to the therapy floor, where I suspect he'll spend the next few days.

I see that Bill Clinton is saying nice things about Sarah Palin, which confirms my prediction that the Clinton's support of Obama would be luke-warm, at best. The Clintons can't come right out and endorse McCain-Palin, but I suspect they would if they thought they could get away with it. The last thing Hillary wants is Obama as president. She wants the field open in 2012 for her next run, and if there's to be an economic collapse, she'd prefer it come under a Republican administration.

If McCain is elected in November, which I think is nearly a certainty, he's likely to be a one-term president. That raises the fascinating possibility of a Palin-Clinton contest in 2012.

I'm going to be working heads-down on the forensics book for the next month or so, so posts here are likely to be very short and sporadic.


Wednesday, 24 September 2008
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08:39 - Barbara's dad continues to improve. Barbara said he was acting like his normal self when she visited yesterday. He'll probably remain at the Sticht Center for physical therapy the rest of this week and then be sent home.

Barbara and her sister will still have to do all of the shopping and other errands until their dad is again able to drive, which may be some time, but things will be much easier with him back at home. Their friend Marcie, who goes on bus tours with them, has been a real help throughout, doing things like taking Barbara's mom to the doctor that otherwise Barbara or her sister would have had to do.

I'm having DVD writing problems, and I'm not sure why. It actually started when I built this system. The Samsung SH-S203B SATA DVD writer did very poor writes with Verbatim MCC004 DVD+R discs. I decided I had a bad bunch of discs and ordered some Taiyo-Yuden 16X discs. Everything seemed to work for a while, but then I started getting occasional bad writes on the TY discs.

Yesterday, after getting three bad writes in a row on TY discs, I decided that perhaps the drive itself was bad. I was in a hurry, so without shutting down the system I disconnected the data and power cables from the Samsung DVD writer and reconnected them to an old Plextor PX-716SA drive I found in the stock room. (Try that with a Windows system...).

I burned a Verbatim disc successfully, and thought the problem was solved. Then I burned two bad Verbatim discs in a row. Hmmmm. So I tried burning a couple of TY discs, both of which had problems. Not severe problems, but cause for worry. Instead of doing a steady burn at gradually increasing burn rates until the speed reached 16X or 18X, the burn would start at a slow rate, increase gradually, and then drop back, sometimes to as little as 4X. The discs themselves were easily readable, but I don't like that slowdown.

So now I don't know if I have two bad drives, two bad batches of discs, a combination of the two, or a problem with the system itself. I have a new DVD burner that's destined for the new mainstream reference system, but I wanted to avoid using it. Perhaps I'll try plugging it in long enough to see if it solves the problem.


Thursday, 25 September 2008
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08:52 - More on DVD burners.

From: "Christensen, Chris (Aspen Research)"
  To: "Robert Bruce Thompson"
Date: Wed Sep 24 11:19:41 2008
  Re: DVD burners

Bob: If you go to Newegg, and start looking through DVD burners, you can do a 'read all reviews' (a lot of the burners have 100 or more reviews) and do a reverse sort (bad reviews first), what you'll read will cause an upset stomach.  It looks to me like ALL the burners have, for one reason or another, a 10-20% fall down rate, with delayed failures being common.  I wouldn't be surprised if there was only one company making transports anymore.  At any rate, DVD burners have gone the same way as floppy drives: amazingly inexpensive, and amazingly cheap ( in the worst sense of the word).

My estimate is that 'lifetime' DVD burns for the average computer is < 30 discs, and probably << 30.  So the bogie for the engineers is probably 20 burns, which will take them past warranty.  My burner at home is 2 years old, and I haven't burned 5 DVDs (quite a few CDs though), but I don't use DVDs for backup: I use a USB connector, and a SATA Seagate drive.  I'm going to make sure, that my next computer has an ESATA port, for removeable backup.  If I need to transport a few gigabytes of files to another site (work for instance), I'll use a thumb drive.


this is a list of reviewers of CD and DVD burners, and media. You're probably familiar with all of the reviewers.  What I've found is if you find a review of a drive you like, you'll probably find that the drive has been discontinued or superceded, 'not available' in other words.

Yes, I'm at the point where I'm going to start recommending anything at all, because they're all as bad as each other. Alas, Plextor went down the tubes a few years ago, and their current drives are no better (although much more expensive) than competing drives.

On the one hand, I wish I'd stocked up, but on the other that wouldn't have done much good because I have numerous reports from people I respect telling me that even Plextor burners from when they were still excellent apparently age even when they're not in use. Several people have reported installing new unused Plextors that were three or four years old and having them fail right out of the box or do terrible burns even with current firmware. I'm not sure what could possibly be aging like that, but I've heard such reports often enough to believe them. That and the fact that I've experienced the same thing myself.

I used to torture test DVD burners by running an entire spindle of discs through them. As soon as they finished burning one disc, I'd start another burn. In the old days, Plextor drives would do that, and the last burn would scan as well as the first one. I doubt any drive would stand up to that nowadays.

Ars Technica reviews a new book from the lunatic fringe, Explore Evolution.

As the lead to the story says, "What happens when a group dedicated to the overthrow of modern science writes a science textbook?" The short answer is that it produces a book full of lies and distortions, all aimed at destroying science and advancing its anti-science religious propaganda.

In a way, one almost feels sorry for these people. Science refutes religion, but religion cannot refute science. So what's a religious person to do? If he were rational, he'd simply abandon religion, but these folks are not rational. So they make a pathetic attempt to refute science, which of course is doomed to fail. Science says, "Here's the evidence supporting our claims. Examine it for yourself." Religion says, "You must have faith, because we have no evidence for our claims."

It would be laughable, except that these people will go to any lengths to poison the minds of our young people. When courts ruled that creationism had no place in public school science curricula, the religious wackos put a new coat of paint on creationism and called it Intelligent Design. When courts ruled that ID had no place in public school science curricula, the religious wackos put yet another new coat of paint on creationism. This time, they call it Explore Evolution.


Friday, 26 September 2008
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08:07 - The morning newspaper says the $700 billion bailout is in trouble. Let's hope it fails completely. The government and the MSM are doing their best to paint "greed" as the cause of this crisis, with the implication that the free market caused the problem and that government must step in to solve it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Government intervention in the financial markets caused the problem, period. Greed had nothing to do with it. The government strongly encouraged (and in some cases, forced; see the red-lining rules) lenders to make loans to people who didn't qualify for loans under any rational standard. Now, surprise, they've discovered that those people are defaulting. And now they're calling for more government intervention to solve the problem. Duh.

The solution, to the extent that there is any solution, is to let the chips fall where they may. Let the free market make adjustments. We'll all be poorer for it, but not as much poorer as we will be if this insane $700 billion intervention is allowed to proceed.


Saturday, 27 September 2008
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09:12 - We didn't bother to watch the debate. From the reports, it seems clear that McCain won pretty convincingly, which surprises me. McCain is a wooden speaker; Obama is quite polished.

But when as left-leaning a source as CNN declares the debate a draw, it's pretty clear that Obama must have lost badly. The CNN article says that their poll showed 51% of those surveyed who watched the debate declared Obama the winner. The trouble is, those who watched the debate skewed heavily democrat, much more heavily than the general population. To CNN's credit, they pointed that out.

We may actually watch the vice-presidential debate. I expect Palin to tear Biden the sock puppet to shreds. Or perhaps I'll just watch it on Youtube.

Barbara's dad is doing much better, although they'll probably keep him in the hospital through Tuesday.

Today, we rip out the kitchen counters. I'll disconnect the cooktop and the sink. Barbara will probably do most of the actual ripping. She likes tearing things apart.

The new dishwasher was installed yesterday. I haven't completely figured out how it works, although I was able to run a rinse cycle last night.

13:01 - We got a good start on ripping up the kitchen. The half of the counter to the right of the sink is detached, although we laid it back in place to give us some work space. The water to the sink is turned off, the drain disconnected, and the old Insinkerator is disconnected. The old cooktop is lying on a towel on the floor in the library.

All we need to do tomorrow is disconnect the water to the sink, remove about eight clips that hold the sink in place, remove the sink, and rip up the old counter between the sink and cooktop area.

Which reminds me. Like most men, I'm frequently accused by women of being unable to find anything. When we started work on ripping the old counter, we had two mini pry bars. I told Barbara we needed a big pry bar. She went down to the basement to look for it, and came back about ten minutes later, unable to find it. I went down and found it in about 12 seconds flat, and I didn't know where it was to start with. Later, while I was disconnecting the Insinkerator, I told Barbara I needed a stubby large flatblade screwdriver. She couldn't find one. It took me about another 12 seconds to find it.

Which I suppose proves the point. When you need to find a tool, ask a man. If you need to find anything else, ask a woman.


Sunday, 28 September 2008
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.