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Week of 23 February 2009

Latest Update: Sunday, 1 March 2009 09:18 -0500

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Monday, 23 February 2009
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07:53 - Costco run with Paul and Mary yesterday, followed by dinner. The poor waitress. Every time she approached our booth, we were discussing something outrageous. We finally told her to pull up a chair.

Over the weekend, I got started re-ripping Barbara's audio CD collection. I'd lost the original set when I built my new system over Thanksgiving. I forgot to transfer it from the hard drive of my old main system, and it wasn't backed up to any of the other hard drives. (Because these are all rips of Barbara's original CDs, I'd classified this material as not requiring backup; I'll not make that mistake again.)

As it turns out, it probably wasn't a bad idea to re-rip the collection anyway. The original rips were compressed at various settings, many of them as low as 160 kb/s or 192 kb/s, and re-ripping them gave me the opportunity to produce high-quality MP3s of all of Barbara's tracks. I decided to do it this time using LAME's "alt-preset insane" setting, which produces 320 kb/s variable bit rate files. I can't tell any difference between a 320 kb/s VBR MP3 and the original CD tracks, even on a good system with excellent speakers, so this is the last time I'll need to rip these CDs. The 320 kb/s VBR MP3 files are two or three times the size of some of the older versions, but in these days of terabyte hard drives and multi-gigabyte flash players, there's no real difference between a 5 MB music file and a 12 MB file.

My first thought was to use kaudiocreator, but it wasn't in the Ubuntu 8.10 repository. Presumably, the current version of kaudiocreator is incompatible with the current version of KDE. So I looked at some of the Gnome tools, all of which sucked. I remembered that K3b, the application I use to burn CDs and DVDs, also has a CD ripping function, so I decided to fire it up and give it a try. My first attempt failed, but I soon figured out that I needed to mark the two checkboxes in the LAME configuration screen, one of which enabled passing the WAV file header and the other of which enabled reverse byte order. I'm not sure why those boxes weren't checked by default, but checking them fixed the problem.

K3b rips CDs and encodes MP3s several times faster than the Gnome apps like grip, about four or five minutes per CD, and the resulting MP3 files sound fine. I'm now at around 50 discs down and only several hundred left to go.

Every time I rip CDs, I can't help but think how pointless are the music industry's efforts to hold back the tide. I've never used P2P music trading software, and I don't understand why anyone else would, either. With the hundreds and hundreds of audio CDs that Barbara owns, about the last thing we need is more music, but if we did we certainly have many friends who have also ripped their audio CD collections. And, chances are, most people's friends' taste in music is pretty similar to their own. F2F music trading via darknet is completely untraceable. There's zero chance of getting caught. So why would anyone trade music in public on a P2P network?


Tuesday, 24 February 2009
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08:26 - I'm up over 100 CDs ripped and encoded to MP3. Barbara has checked, and they play fine on all of her MP3 players. Someone asked what command line I was using in K3b. Here it is.

/usr/bin/lame --preset insane --tt %t --ta %a --tl %m --ty %y --tc %c - %f

So far, I've ripped and encoded just over 1,500 tracks, which occupy about 13.8 GB of disk space. Call it 9 MB/track, which means about 450 tracks fit on the 4 GB flash player that Barbara uses in the car and 225 tracks on the 2 GB player she uses at the gym.

I'm still working on a proposal for my next project as well as other administrative stuff.


Wednesday, 25 February 2009
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08:34 - I've been playing with our thermostat. We normally keep it set at 68 F (20 C) during heating season. That's a compromise, because Barbara's preferred temperature is 65 F and mine is 71 F.

When we had dinner with Mary and Paul the other night, I asked them what they preferred. Paul agrees with Barbara that 65 F is perfect. Mary, who as a Marathon runner is in the best shape of any of us, prefers 72 F to 75 F. But they keep their house at 65 F, even though Mary works at home and Paul doesn't. Not because of Paul's preference, but simply because they don't want to consume any more energy than necessary or put any more money in the pockets of the gas company.

So, since Barbara prefers it cooler and I don't mind wearing more clothes, I decided to start bumping the thermostat down a notch at a time until it gets too cool for me, which'll be when my hands start to feel cold. Last night, I turned the thermostat down to 65.5 F. I just checked, and it's currently 18.2 C (64.8 F) in my office. I'm quite comfortable, wearing flannel pajamas and a robe. When I get around to getting dressed, I'll wear a sweatshirt with a heavy chamois shirt over it, which should suffice. Tonight, I'll bump it down to 64 F and see how we do. If the dogs start shivering, I'll know I've gone too far.


Thursday, 26 February 2009
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08:21 - Yuck. FoxNews ran a story about racist music on iTunes and Amazon. Why would they carry this stuff, not to mention the rap crap that talks about abusing women and shooting cops? I suppose their justification is that someone is going to sell it so they might as well do so and make the profit. But if I were running their businesses, I'd draw a line. If customers want this crap, let them buy it somewhere else.

Speaking of music, I finished ripping and encoding the audio CDs in Barbara's office yesterday. There were 201 discs, which surprised me. I'd have guessed more like 300 or 350. Of course, that's only the popular music. I haven't started on the classical/baroque CDs out in the den yet, so I probably have another 100 or 150 discs to go.


Friday, 27 February 2009
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08:34 - I'm still working on a proposal for my next project. I'm taking some serious time on it, because I want to get it right.

Several people have asked if I'll be at Maker Faire this spring, and the answer is probably not. I'm still recovering from my encounter last May with the airlines. Speaking of which, I see that US Air has announced they'll stop charging for soft drinks starting in March, and RyanAir has announced they're considering installing pay toilets in their airplanes. Let's hope they don't get together.

And the Islamics are at it again. The UN has now passed a measure that makes it illegal to criticize Islam. It's time and past time that the US withdraw from the UN and expel it from US soil.


Saturday, 28 February 2009
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00:00 -


Sunday, 1 March 2009
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09:18 - Our local newspaper finally got around to running an article about "miracle water" AKA "electrolyzed water" this morning. I missed it, but Barbara pointed it out to me. This scam is an excellent example of why it's important that people have at least a basic understanding of science. I was surprised to see that even Jerry Pournelle, whom I'd have expected to know better, was taken in by this fairy tale.

This so-called miracle water is produced by running an electric current through a dilute aqueous solution of sodium chloride, common table salt. As anyone who remembers high-school chemistry knows, this produces a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite, AKA chlorine bleach. Or it does if you don't isolate the two electrodes from each other. If you do isolate the electrodes (typically done via a salt bridge), you end up with aqueous sodium hydroxide at one electrode and chlorine being evolved at the other. In aqueous solution, chlorine is in equilibrium with hypochlorous acid.

According to the articles, you end up with "miracle cleaner" at one electrode, which cleans without foaming. That's the electrode where dilute sodium hydroxide (lye) solution forms. Of course, a dilute base solution, whether it's sodium hydroxide or aqueous ammonia, is well known as a grease-cutting cleaner, because the base reacts with fatty dirt by saponification to produce ... soap. As to the "miracle disinfectant" produced at the other electrode, it's chlorine water. And, according to Le Chatelier's principle, the concentrations of the chlorine and hypochlorous acid that exist in equilibrium can be forced in one direction or the other by altering the pH of the solution. So, adding some of the "miracle cleaner" (sodium hydroxide) to the chlorine water raises the pH and forces the equilibrium toward the hypochlorite ion, while lowering the pH by adding acid forces the equilibrium to the other side, favoring chlorine gas.

Apparently, some people have been taken in by this, buying very expensive apparatus to produce this "miracle water", when they could instead just buy gallon bottles of chlorine bleach at the supermarket and dilute them with tap water. Geez.


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