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Week of 2 March 2009

Latest Update: Sunday, 8 March 2009 11:17 -0500

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Monday, 2 March 2009
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07:45 - Urk. While Barbara was cleaning up the workroom yesterday, she found the LaserJet 5P toner cartridge I'd been looking for a year ago. I ended up buying a Brother HL5250DN laser printer, which I'm happy with, but this means we now have two functional printers. The HP LaserJet 5P is now something like 14 years old. It's gone through a total of two toner cartridges during that span, so the one Barbara found yesterday should take it up to the 20 year mark. Or more, since our very light printing demands will now be shared across two printers, assuming I decide to connect up the LJ5P again.

Overnight we had the first significant snow we've had in a long time. There are about 3" (7.5 cm) on the ground here, with amounts ranging up to 8" (20 cm) across the region. Barbara is getting ready to leave for work now. She'll put her Trooper in four-wheel drive, and shouldn't have any problems, assuming everyone else drives sanely. There probably won't be much traffic on the roads. The street in front of our house is still pristine, and the news is showing very light traffic even on major roads.


Tuesday, 3 March 2009
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08:23 - The kids get another day off from school today. The roads are pretty well cleared, but patches of black ice remain. The lows last night were around 12 F (-11 C), with wind chills down around 0 F (-18 C). That's extremely cold for around here.

Our friends Mary and Paul spent the weekend in Tampa, where Mary was participating in a Marathon. They were to fly back yesterday morning, but their flight was canceled. The next flight they could have gotten was to arrive late this evening. That was a nonstarter, because they both had to be at work this morning. So they rented a car and drove home yesterday, dropping the rental car at the Greensboro airport and picking up their own SUV, and arriving home around 7:15 p.m.

This was the first significant snow we've had since 2004. The neighborhood kids loved it. There were three snowmen on our block, and the kids were out all day sledding and snowboarding. I gave the dogs a chance to play off-leash in the snow, too. Duncan didn't seem to care much for the snow, but Malcolm had a great time. He was kind of puzzled when I threw snowballs for him to chase and they disappeared into the snow before he could retrieve them. He'd stick his snout into the hole where the snowball disappeared, and then plow the snow looking for it.


Wednesday, 4 March 2009
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08:23 - I see that Apple refreshed its desktop line yesterday. I was disappointed by the new Mac Mini, which continues to be overpriced by a factor of two and, unfortunately, uses embedded nVidia graphics. $600 for a low-end PC with an entry-level processor, only 1 GB of memory, and a tiny, slow hard drive--not to mention without keyboard, mouse, or display--is simply ridiculous. At $300, I might buy one. Or I might not. The embedded nVidia graphics are a real cause for concern, given the reported high failure rates of nVidia embedded video chipsets.

Cable TV companies are starting to panic. It seems that a lot of people are doing what Barbara and I did years ago, cutting the cord. People are finally waking up to the fact that the so-called "triple-play" offerings are actually just triple-pay. Cable companies want us to pay once for the data pipe, a second time for the TV pipe, and a third time for the telephone pipe. But what's the point to paying three times when all we really need is that data pipe? That, and a Netflix subscription lets us watch what we want to, when we want to, and for a lot less money.

When Paul Jones stopped by yesterday to pick up his garage door remote, he mentioned that his and Mary's driving radius was now up to 800 miles. In other words, their recent bad experience with the airlines means they won't even consider flying instead of driving for anything less than a 1,600 mile round trip. Barbara and I had a similar watershed moment with Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. The commercials were so obnoxious that that first episode of Dollhouse will be our last attempt to watch a series on network television. From now on, we just won't bother to watch until the series is out on DVD.


Thursday, 5 March 2009
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08:39 - GM auditors say there is "substantial doubt" that GM can survive, something the rest of us have known for a long time. GM should have been forced into bankruptcy long ago. Instead, our elected representatives have thrown billions of taxpayer dollars, our dollars, down this rathole, with billions more to come, despite the fact that their constituents overwhelmingly oppose this bailout, not to mention the bank bailouts, the housing bailouts, and all of the other bailouts. And they are "representing" us how? Short of a revolution, there's nothing that can be done to stop them for now, but mid-term elections are coming next year. Let's throw all the bastards out.


Friday, 6 March 2009
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08:41 - Oh, good. I just updated Ubuntu 8.10 when prompted. It installed a Firefox update. Now, every time I start Firefox or attempt to type in a URL, I get the following error message box.

Assertion Failed

ASSERT: *** Search: _installLocation: engine has no file!
Stack Trace:
0:ENSURE_WARN(false,_installLocation: engine has no file!,2147500037)
4:epsGetAttr([object Object],hidden)
11:([object XULElement],6)

Fortunately, the fix was pretty easy. I just fired up the package manager and told it to reinstall Firefox and related files. A minute or so later, I was back up and running with the latest version of Firefox working properly.

It's about time. FoxNews reports that some states are reconsidering abstinence-only "sex education", one of the dumber policies enforced by the late Bush administration. No reasonable person could question its effectiveness. In 2007, only 20,000 teenage girls became pregnant in North Carolina. Why, without abstinence-only sex education, we'd probably have had 20,000 teenage girls become pregnant. But at least it keeps the religious nutters happy. Of course, many of their daughters were among that 20,000.

I've always wondered exactly what the curriculum outline for abstinence-only sex education might be. Probably something like:

Day 1: Just don't do it.
Day 2: Just don't do it.
Day 3: Just don't do it.

But the religious nutters are living in a dream world. Of course, we already knew that. In their world, their sweet daughters--no one seems to worry about the sons--remain as pure as the driven snow until they marry, at which point they probably have sex only once per child and, ideally, don't enjoy it.

These folks would certainly be stunned to learn that many early teenage girls consider fellatio a normal activity for the second date, if not the first date. And that many of them engage in unprotected anal sex, in the bizarre belief that they're retaining their virginity by doing so.

Presumably, these religious nutters assume that if they don't talk about sex to their kids, the kids won't realize they can be having sex. Wrong. Kids are doing it and will continue doing it regardless. That's a given. The trick is to make sure they avoid pregnancies and STDs. And the way to do that is to tell them the truth and make sure they have easy access to condoms, birth-control pills, and other preventative measures.

One disturbing aspect of this issue is that many school systems have either implemented or are considering implementing a dual-track system, allowing the parents to decide whether their kids take useless abstinence-only classes or classes that provide real information. Although I'm all in favor of parental choice, the obvious problem with this is that the innocent children of religious nutters are going to suffer disproportionately from pregnancies and STDs. Of course, that's already true. The more religious the family background, the more likely kids are to get in trouble.


Saturday, 7 March 2009
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11:17 - One of the problems with reading books by superb authors is that it makes books by less capable authors look even worse by comparison. Over the last week or so, I've been re-reading the Vor Saga books by Lois McMaster Bujold, who is certainly in the top rank of SF authors. In fact, I think Bujold is the best SF author I've read, or at least tied for best, and that list includes Heinlein.

Then, last night, I started reading Cruel Intent by J. A. Jance, who is normally an excellent mystery author. It was not just bad, but so bad I couldn't believe J. A. Jance wrote it, or that she'd allow it to be published with her name on it. At first, I thought Jance's book was suffering by comparison with the slew of Bujold books I'd just read, but that isn't the case. Jance's new book is simply bad. Poor writing, poor characterization, and poor plotting. It also suffers from the technical incompetence common to nearly all mystery authors who attempt to make computer hacking a key plot element.

I won't give up on Jance, because she's written dozens of good mysteries and will probably write many more. She's certainly capable of doing so. I think in this case her agent and her editor failed her. They should have told her flat out that this book was so far below her usual standard that she really didn't want her name on it. If it was published at all, it should have been published under a different name.

Oh, well. I have plenty of other books on my TBR stack.


Sunday, 8 March 2009
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.