Friday, 18 November 2011

By on November 18th, 2011 in writing

11:40 – I’m still working heads-down on the biology book, so I don’t have much to say.

One interesting thing. My editor, Brian Jepson, emailed me last night to say that O’Reilly/MAKE is getting ready to do a reprint of Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments and ask if there were any changes I wanted to make before the book went to reprint. Although this book is what’s called an “evergreen” title–in other words, one that sells consistently for years–in the course of our discussion, I mentioned that at some point I’d like to do a re-write of the book to convert it to microchemistry kit-based. Brian said that was worth discussing in more detail, and mentioned that this would probably be the last reprint of the chemistry book.

Not that the book is going away. The reprint they’re about to do will provide a six-month or year’s supply, during which O’Reilly/MAKE will be transitioning to print-on-demand for this and other titles. That means they’ll no longer have to print thousands of copies and stick them in a warehouse while they wait for orders. Instead, they’ll just print as many copies as they need whenever they need them. And that’ll also make it a lot easier to manage updates, since we’ll no longer have to worry about having thousands of unsold copies that an update obsoletes.

The other nice thing about POD is that it decreases risk in publishing new titles. For example, we finished the Illustrated Guide to Home Forensics Experiments a couple of years ago, but it’s never been published because doing so is very expensive. With POD, that expense is reduced. There’s still the cost for layout and production, of course, but there’s no longer the risk of printing 10,000 or 20,000 copies of a four-color book and then finding out that it doesn’t sell as well as hoped.

12:16 – Here (h/t to Abbie Smith) is a worthwhile graphic that illustrates science-as-perceived versus science-as-reality.

10 Comments and discussion on "Friday, 18 November 2011"

  1. Chuck Waggoner says:

    I am not able to keep up here, as between Oktober and Xmas, my work load increases dramatically, so everybody I work with can have 2 weeks off at the end of the year.

    I must correct the impression from my last comment–that some of the Linux problems I outlined are related to bad practice in Rivendell. Not true. Rivendell works flawlessly as an appliance, once properly configured. The reboot comment refers solely to the people who are either testing systems, or setting up and maintaining audio workstations with multiple programs on them. If I indicated “developers” said not to reboot, it was a mistake. I do not believe they have.

    But they really do have a reason to say that. Here’s the deal–the reason for not rebooting, is that in Linux, rebooting often causes changes in configurations in a way so that the order in which various processes are started and the configurations executed, happen in a different order from reboot to reboot. I have not been with a Linux system consistently but for only about 6 months, and my experience there is limited to audio/video systems and applications. The order that things are started may not be important to a home system, but it is absolutely crucial to making things behave in the audio/video realm–some things need to wait until certain other processes are not only started, but properly configured and running before the next can be started. This is especially true for applications that rely on server processes. Actually, I suspect people who have to administer complex servers running databases and communications software would have the same ‘no reboot’ advice. Rivendell uses Apache server, and one of the guys who helps recover broken databases for a living says don’t EVER reboot a Linux system without first attempting to run a backup of the non-functioning database from the database and/or administration tools, because you will likely not ever see that database in one piece again if you do.

    Again, it is the guys out in the field who are building and maintaining Linux systems for various radio stations and networks who warn against rebooting. Don’t upgrade anything on a functioning workstation, and don’t reboot is the mantra. I can attest from my own experience this is positively true. Very recently, I compiled and installed the latest Rivendell release on an older Dell Latitude laptop, using Ubuntu 10.04 64-bit. After a fair amount of futzing, I had everything working properly. Shut down and took that laptop to what was supposed to be an evaluation/training session. On boot up, the audio was completely broken. Have not had time to troubleshoot that problem, but I do not at all doubt the wisdom of that ‘don’t reboot’ axiom. I suspect something is not starting in the correct order.

    Also, I have not looked into it, but on that computer, only one audio process at a time can use ALSA. Whatever grabs it first, will deny connection to a second with an error message that the hardware is occupied and to stop whatever else is accessing it. I admit that computer (typical of Dell) has a non-standard driver for the motherboard soundcard, which is a bear to get working in Linux. So my personal experience is that ALSA does not accept multiple sound inputs. Again, it may be the hardware on that system. So far, I have only installed ALSA on that machine, but Pulse with Jack on my personal laptop.

    Regarding updates–even on Windows, I have not run Windows Update since around 2004, when an update broke both our computers while we were in Germany (I cannot be the only one on this list who has experienced that). The radio project has a computer with Windows Update turned on (I do not administer that computer), and auto-updates have screwed up its operation on multiple occasions during the last year. The folks I taught English to, IT pros administering hundreds and hundreds of Windows seats at Deutsche Telekom and BASF, never rolled out a single update across their company without weeks of testing each and every update. Since 2004, I install only service packs (no Windows updates at all), but even when I have done that, it always breaks something in my systems. I just make sure I have enough time to troubleshoot before installing a service pack. I still have stuff on this computer that XP SP3 broke when I installed it. Windows rot is setting in on this machine, so I have to do something soon. That will probably be a new laptop running some version of Linux, with WINE for most Win applications I need, and Win7 in a virtual machine, if that is needed.

    If you have not been bitten by buggy Ubuntu updates yet, my guess is that you will be at some point. Its development is a mess. As I say, there are a couple versions of Ubuntu since 10.04 that Rivendell simply will not work on. Cannot remember which ones, but I do know that it works on 10.04 and 11.04, because I have had 64-bit Rivendell installed on both. I recommend running away from Ubuntu and all its derivatives as fast as possible while Shuttleworth self-destructs Canonical.

    As far as laptops go, I have had my best success with my now 5 year-old Asus S93J. Like the old 2001 Compaq that I finally named ‘the computer that will not die’, this one has never failed me (have had 2 Dells and an HP fail completely on me–above and beyond the hard drive or memory–the Dells were second-hand, so no support available for me).

    I need FireWire, lots of USB ports, and prefer ATI graphics, but nobody is mass-producing laptops with that kind of integrity anymore. FireWire has all but disappeared (I need it for both video interface and FireWire sound cards), Intel no longer embeds anything ATI on their motherboards since AMD bought ATI, and laptop makers have reduced the number of ports in cost-cutting measures. I have looked most seriously at Asus and MSI, but in both cases, a laptop with FireWire starts at US$1,200. Currently, I have 4 USB ports, FireWire, universal card reader, VGA and HDMI out on this ~$1,000 (2006 dollars) Asus, but nothing I have seen in stores lately has more than 2 USB ports on it.

    There is an outfit called ADK, which produces laptops specifically for the audio field. Their i7 6-core 3.4ghz, 12gb DDR-3 RAM, TI FireWire 800, 2x SATA hard drive bays, HDMI out starts at $2,500–without Windows or hard drives. Gulp!

  2. Ed says:

    Re: sound on Linux.

    Last night I was testing for audiobook usage, trying to get the smallest usable bitrate for phone storage, and at one point had both the audio from a youtube opera clip and an audio book playing (Rhythmbox) at the same time.

    Irritating, but it shows that multiple audio processes are possible.

    This was an old D845 mobo relegated to a back bedroom, integrated sound, running generic (updated to current) Ubuntu 10.10.

  3. With ALSA, whether you get multiple applications able to use the sound card simultaneously depends on what ALSA device you use. With the default device (named “default”), most distributions have set it up so that multiple applications can produce sounds, which are then summed before being given to the audio card. But if you specify a device like “hw:0” (hardware device zero), that’ll grab it for sole use. Which is probably what you want, for radio automation; no sense in broadcasting the system beeps and boops to your whole listening audience.

  4. Chuck Waggoner says:

    Well, on the several machines where I have installed 10.04 and 11.04, the default is to install Pulse, which does play multiple sound sources. If I kill Pulse, then ALSA takes over, and indeed, it does use “hw:0” as its default. That is more setup than a regular user would go to, if the default install played sound, however. But it is correct in the final system we use for automation playout, we actually do not want audio coming from any source but Rivendell.

    On the laptop front, HP is releasing new entries in the Envy series early next month.

    Alas, no FireWire. And it looks like it comes with a slot CD/DVD drive. As my grandson used to say as a toddler: “I can’t like that.”

  5. BGrigg says:

    Well, I pulled the trigger on an Asus i5 2.3GHz, 6GB RAM, 640GB HD and English only keyboard and OS (Win7 Premium 64 bit). And it was under budget, too!

  6. Miles_Teg says:

    Haven’t the language police in Canada banned English only KBs?

  7. OFD says:

    Yeah, that would seem to discriminate quite badly against all the other wonderful languages spoken there. But then again, I am a rat bastard xenophobe and nativist responding with English to this post.

    Off to sign papers for our new house; we are actually moving further north and 70 miles closer to Kanada. Mrs. OFD went to McGill for five years and speaks Quebecois and Acadian French; daughter is at McGill now and learning likewise. OFD remembers a tiny bit of Parisian French from middle school years of torture, but is finding it easier to pick up now in his advanced and decrepit old age, somehow. Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother, seeing as how we have reached consensus here on English being the Master Language of the Universe, and rightfully so, but it comes in handy for talking with regular people in the countryside. As probably everywhere, you make an honest effort and the local folks will fall all over themselves for you. C’est bon!

  8. BGrigg says:

    We don’t have language police in the rest of Canada (properly joke-spelled as Canuckistan, since the fall of the USSR), only in Quebec, and I’m a hell of a long way from the Office Québécois de la Langue Française! Their mandate is to align international French, promote Canadianisms and fight Anglicisms. Which means they’ve more or less failed, and the French spoken in Mount Royal is atrocious to a Parisian.

    Only the French need such support. Down with Anglicisms! Up with Poutine! Funny how on St. Patrick’s Day, we all pretend to be Irish for a day, but come Bastille Day, we just resent the French.

    I lucked on on the English only keyboard. Every single other laptop offered forced me to accept bilingual software and hardware. When I say English only, I hit BUY NOW!

  9. Chuck Waggoner says:

    I think you will be happy with Asus. I sure have been, as have others I know who bought Asus on my recommendation.

    Actually, I would like a bilingual English-German keyboard, but apparently, there is no such thing. Although Microsoft supported bilingual English-Spanish and English-French, they refused to make software that would do both German and English. In fact, unless you were a developer, you could not purchase Windows in English in Germany; it was necessary to go to the UK or the US and buy it there. Even then, they would not support you if you took it back to Germany, as I did. My students in software development were not nearly as upset about that as I was. Somehow I just found it thoroughly un-American that an American company would thumb its nose at me — an American — who merely wanted their OS in my native language, regardless of the fact I lived in Germany.

  10. OFD says:

    On the subject of French in Quebec I would just mention that in the Maritimes and with the Acadian French, les Quebecois are clods and morons and looked down upon and referred to insultingly as “Pepsis.” They dress very strangely, to the point that when they come down to Vermont they stand out and are easily identifiable as such. Our daughter may be in Montreal, a polyglot internationalist city, but our little cottage is in an area of mixes Acadian French, and Scottish and Irish Catholics. So Mrs. OFD fits in pretty well and I am, of course, the hated and feared gigantic Yankee of Anglo-Norse dimensions and violence and oppression. I will need to get along with these folks somewhat so I guess I will refrain from growing all the hair out again with a giant beard down to my chest like I had here a few years ago. And leave off some of the talk about guns and war and suchlike.

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