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Week of 30 November 2009

Latest Update: Sunday, 6 December 2009 11:56 -0500

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Monday, 30 November 2009
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09:48 - For about the next three weeks, I'll be busier than the proverbial one-armed paper hanger. Christmas is on Friday this year, which means things will be hectic until Wednesday, the last day to place orders with overnight shipping to arrive by Christmas. I pity the poor UPS and FedEx delivery drivers that week, not to mention the MakerShed warehouse folks. Yesterday, even though it was a Sunday, was our biggest sales day ever, but by December 23rd it will probably no longer be among the top ten. Things are going to be hectic, so don't expect much here until at least December 24th.


Tuesday, 1 December 2009
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09:12 - Wired has an interesting article up about gasoline rationing in WWII. As the article points out, gasoline was never the problem. The US was awash in petroleum, but pitifully short of rubber for tires, with supplies cut off by the Japanese. What the article doesn't mention is that this was another case of chemists and chemical engineers to the rescue. Within a year, there were more than 100 synthetic rubber plants in operation, and our output of synthetic rubber soon dwarfed total pre-war world production of natural rubber. And we didn't simply replace the natural rubber that we no longer had access to. We developed new types of rubber, with better characteristics than natural rubber for specific applications.

In fact, someone should write a book about the contributions scientists in general and chemists in particular made to the war effort. On both sides. I wish I had time to write it myself. Everyone knows about the physicists and the Manhattan project, of course. And Watson-Watt and radar. But probably not one person in 10,000 is aware, for example, of how Dow Chemical contributed to winning the war by producing magnesium in huge quantities. In just one of its many applications, that magnesium went into stronger, lighter alloy airframes that allowed US aircraft to carry more fuel, ordnance, and armor than opposing Axis aircraft while still outperforming all but the German jets. And that's just one example of the thousands of ways, large and small, that chemists and chemical engineers helped win the war.


Wednesday, 2 December 2009
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10:19 - Happy birthday to Barbara, who turns twenty-thirty-five today. Or, as I prefer to think of it, 0x37.

The pest control guy just left. We have no termites, which is a good thing. Not long after we bought this house in 1987, we had to have it retreated for a minor termite problem. I remember the guy complaining about the new stuff they were using since the feds banned chlordane in 1988. According to him, the new stuff cost 10 or 20 times as much and just didn't work very well. "At least it still kills them, right?", I asked. "No," he replied, "it just hurts their feelings."

Which pretty much sums it up. The feds banned chlordane, a substance that was cheap, worked well, and bonded to the treated soil forever. In exchange, we got very expensive chemicals that don't work very well and leach out of the soil, contaminating the ground water. Which pretty much sums up the EPA.


Thursday, 3 December 2009
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10:08 - I almost did something silly yesterday. I hadn't gotten Barbara a good birthday present, so I was about to drive down to the Dick sporting goods store and buy her a shotgun. Then I realized, duh, that it'd be much better to take Barbara along so she could handle various models and choose one that fits her.

I really wanted to get her an Atchison--it's ideal for clay shooting and home defense, as well as as an anti-Santa gun--but it's a bit impractical. So I'm thinking we'll probably get her a 12-gauge 870 pump with a 20" barrel. Those come with a cylinder choke that's not ideal for clays, but on the other hand it'll be fairer to Mary, whose 20-gauge throws a smaller shot charge. At typical clay ranges, Barbara's 12-gauge and Mary's 20-gauge should put about the same number of pellets in a 30-inch circle.


Friday, 4 December 2009
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08:47 - Our Panasonic DVD recorder started misbehaving the other day, having trouble loading DVDs. Even if a DVD loaded, it would sometimes repeatedly seek when I selected an episode. We picked up a cleaning disc at Walgreens the other day and ran it through the DVD recorder. The next couple of discs worked normally, but last night the problems returned. I pulled an old DVD player off the shelf and we got through the evening using it, but we were getting skips and jumps with it.

My first inclination was to disassemble both of them and clean them manually, and I may still do that. But I'm busy enough right now that it seemed easier just to order a new one, which I just did, a $40 Toshiba unit from NewEgg with free shipping. I thought about ordering a recorder, but the simple truth is that there's so little on regular TV that we care about that I don't remember the last time I used the Panasonic recorder as anything but a player.

With the exception of live news, weather, and sports, everything we watch is on DVD, rented from Netflix or borrowed from friends or the library. Even when we've caught up through the current season by watching Netflix DVDs, we don't bother to watch the current season on regular TV. We'll just wait until it's available on DVD and rent it then. My tolerance for commercials is now below zero. Not only will I not watch anything with commercials in it, I now begrudge even the few seconds it takes to fast-forward through commercials.

It's now been almost five years since Barbara and I were among the first to "cut the cord". We were paying something like $50/month for basic cable service, which Time-Warner cable defined as the "lower tier" of 15 or so mostly local channels plus another 30 or 40 "upper tier" non-premium channels. One day I told Barbara that I thought it was insane to keep paying TWC $50/month for service that we simply didn't use. So we cut back to the lower-tier only channels for $6.66/month and subscribed to Netflix, which at the time was about $20/month for the three-at-a-time plan. We've never found any reason to go back.

At the time, I wasn't sure if the three-at-a-time plan would be enough, but it would have been easy enough to upgrade to the four-, five-, or six-at-a-time plan if we wanted to. As it turned out, three-at-a-time was plenty. In particular, now that Netflix has completely stopped throttling and begun shipping on Saturdays, we're seldom without something decent to watch. We average 25 or 26 discs a month--call it 50 or 60 hours of video--which is plenty for us.


Saturday, 5 December 2009
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00:00 -


Sunday, 6 December 2009
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11:56 - About six weeks ago, Barbara brought the 4 GB Sansa Clip MP3 player that she used for music in her truck to me because she'd listened to all the music on it. (I'd ripped all her CDs to 320 Kb/s MP3s, which are stored on the disk array on my office system.) As usual, I connected a USB cable to the Sansa Clip, expecting a directory window to pop up listing its contents. No dice. The directory window came up, but showed no contents. I screwed around with the player for a while and concluded that it was borked, so I ordered her an 8 GB Sansa Fuze, loaded it with music, and thought no more about it.

Then this morning Barbara brought me the 2 GB Sansa m250 she uses for music at the gym. I connected it to a USB cable, and it popped up a directory window. Empty! Hmmmm. As Barbara immediately said, that was a bit too coincidental. What she actually said was, "Why does your computer keep killing my MP3 players?"

So I took the player and cable back to her system, plugged it in, and up came the directory window with all her music files. Hmmm. Something's obviously hosed with USB MP3 players on my main system. I suspect it's the execrable rythymbox player. That's not easy to uninstall from Ubuntu. Doing so requires removing the Ubuntu desktop, which isn't as bad as it sounds, but still has some serious drawbacks.

So I decided the easiest thing was just to copy all of Barbara's MP3 files to her office desktop system. The problem with that is that Barbara's system was built as a client system, and has only an 80 GB hard drive, about 60 GB of which is free. All of her MP3 files total several hundred GB, but that includes a lot of classical, Saturnalia, and other types of music that she doesn't listen to in the truck or at the gym. Her core stuff is only about 40 or 50 GB, so there's room for it on her hard drive. I just carried an external hard drive with her core MP3 files on it back to her office and started it copying up to her hard drive.

She put the old 2 GB Sansa m250 on the shelf as a spare, and will use the 4 GB Sansa Clip as her gym MP3 player. I'll get her set up so that she can charge both players and transfer music to them herself. Boy, am I glad I didn't toss that 4 GB Sansa Clip into the trash, as I almost did. Once again, my "keep everything" habit pays off. Heck, I still have my first digital camera from a decade ago. Someday I may want the sensor for something.


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