sailing the NorSea


WEEK 11 2010

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First Post, 17 March 2002
Eight Years Ago, This Week, 2002 Seven Years Ago, This Week, 2003 Six Years Ago, this week, 2004 Five Years Ago, this week, 2005 Four Years Ago, This Week, 2006
Three Years Ago, This Week, 2007
Two Years Ago, This Week, 2008
One Year Ago, This Week, 2009

Saturday 20 March 2010
Saturday - still working in the yard. I got the lawn tractor going - after almost replacing the battery when it wouldn't take a charge. When I went to remove the battery I discovered the battery connectors weren't even finger tight. After cleaning and tightening they tractor started right up - it's probably been six months since the last start. It's a little rough idling, some carb cleaner in the gas probably wouldn't hurt.

But that right front tire is shot, cracked on the sidewall and will not hold air for more than about 5 minutes. Also the blade in the deck on the right side is so dull that it is rather more of a bullnose than a cutting edge and literally won't cut the grass on that side, leaving a rather funky trail behind the mower.

Remembering that the local Sears carried the tires last year I went down at lunch to pick one up. No luck there - they don't stock them any more. You have to go online to SearsDirect with the model number. They had blades, but there were so many options that I decided to go home and pull one, and get the model number off it directly.

So that was a waste of an hour and a gallon of gas.

Finished up the bulk of the back yard with the small mower...

On the way home from Sears I thought I'd make something of the trip by dropping off a roll of B&W film at CVS on the way home - but they don't develop B&W film any more, even though I bought the film there, less than six months ago. They said "Go to Walmart".

Walmart - the last refuge of the artistic & creative!

Book #15 was The God Engines, by John Scalzi. This was sort of a John Scalzi does Charles Stross novelette - rather gloomy and short (136 pages). Well done though, the characters rather better drawn than in Transitions.

Books This Year

#1 Sailing from Byzantium
#2 Wireless
#3 The Riddlemaster of Hed
#4 Heir of Sea and Fire
#5 Od Magic
#6 Storm From the Shadows
#7 Krakatoa
#8 The January Dancer
#9 The Forest of Time
#10 Over the Edge of the World
#11 Harpist In the Wind
#12 Destroyer of Worlds
#13 Unknown Quantity
#14 Transitions
#15 The God Engines

Friday 19 March 2010
Friday - I fixed the string trimmer - had to go to two hardware stores to find a new cartridge, but that's done. Nobody carries the Ryobi battery, guess it'll have to be an online order. Also picked up a new blade for the edger. Edged and trimmed in the front yard, put down some anti-fungal and fertilizer. My shoulders ache.

I went with the cable modem option - it turns out that the Verizon Mifi is $60/mo, not $30, . Also, the Verizon rep said, there isn't any tethering for the Android from Verizon. He suggested the app store. Heh.

The alternate was a cable modem option on month-by-month, i.e. contractless, for $25/mo.

So I picked up the modem (Time-Warner in Palmdale has an interesting clientele-and-clerk set, it's like going to the DMV) and tested that it works, Now I just have to figure out where to put it, and the wifi router. There isn't a cable outlet where I'd like to put it, unfortunately. The next best spot would be in the teevee cabinet, but that means partial disassembly of the a/v setup, to get behind the cabinet.

Book #14 was Transitions, by Ian M. Banks. Eh. It is of the parallel worlds/world-at-the-center-of-time type, and the protagonist is an assassin. It is pretty blatantly anti-American and anti-capitalist, and the characters are not particularly well realized. The villian in particular is just a cardboard cutout, the the ending abrupt and deus-ex-machina. There is a cardboard stock market trader as well, with only the most tenuous connection to the rest of the book, apparently put in just to show how shallow and evil capitalism is. Not really recommended.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Thursday - finally got some lawn work done. Of course it turned out to be the hottest and most windless day of the week year. But the front lawn looks better - the back still needs a lot of work. Both string trimmers are non-working, the 110V unit has a broken part and the battery unit has a bad battery. I'll fix one or the other tomorrow.

I am thinking of getting a nice(r) telephoto zoom for the camera, in preparation for the trip to Florida in May. For comparative purposes I grabbed my Dad's old Canon AE-1 and looked at stuff through the 80-200mm Sigma zoom. It's shocking the difference the 200mm makes, even in looking at birds 20' away. From taking up perhaps 5% of the screen a finch suddenly is 4X larger.

The Digital Rebel Xt only has an 18-55mm on it - the stock kit lens. The only real options would the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 USM IS lens from Canon for about $550, and the EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens for about $650 (Both are pricey for me, though professionals pay in the thousands for lenses).

The first is longer, but it's also a plastic barrel and has some quirks. The second has a shorter zoom, but it is of sturdy metal construction and a member of the famed "L" glass series.

I'm inclining towards the 300mm lens. Firstly it's black, and isn't the ostentatious white barrel of the L series. Which also makes it less of a target for theft. Then too, it has image stabilization - that's what the IS signifies. The L lens doesn't, and in anything but direct sun lens shake will probably be an issue hand held - and I don't like carting tripods around. And of course the 300mm is 6X the magnification of the 55mm of the stock lens, rather than the 4X the L series would give. And though the reviewers rave about the L series sharpness several professionals said that it's not really that big a difference - you get equivalent performance in the real world, or if it's still a bit off just stop down the 300 a notch.

I might mention, the birders on the photography forums sneer at a measely 300mm, it's apparently the least one would use...

It's a pity one can't use the old FD lenses on the EF mounts, then I wouldn't have to buy anything.

But then again, that old AE-1 with the metal telephoto zoom is heavy. Another good reason to go for the plastic barrel!

Old age is catching up with me. I said last week that I hadn't liked 2008's #10, Fleet of Worlds, but my own post of that time says different. Sigh.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Wednesday - catching up on some bills, running about doing errands, finally made an appointment with the tax people. They've moved again, third time in about 6 years. Does that say good things or bad things about them? Are they watching the bottom line like hawks - or failing miserably in business and forced to cheaper locations? Now they are down in Palmdale, in what sounds like a deserted business park. Hmmm.

You were probably thinking "He's done talking about Byzantium, thank heavens, back to Cats and Aerospace!", but no, wait, there's more!

The religious center of Byzantium were the monasteries on Mt. Athos. These are actually kind of cool, but while covering this material in Sailing from Byzantium the author rather casually notes that the canal dug by Xerxes I in his attempted invasion of Greece, right across the neck of the peninsula, was still there and still visible.

What? That was dug about 500 B.C.! Herodutus wrote about it.

There is an overview on a website here, and a closeup here, though not too much is actually visible.

Pretty neat that there are still traces, 2,500 years later. There have been several recent archaeological expeditions, but the results are almost all behind journal paywalls. It's too bad, and a commentary on modern science's "openness" that fifteen years later you have to pay to see the results of these investigations, mostly publicly funded by the taxpayers of Greece and England.

Ah well, here are what looks to be sonar reflections of the canal, found on the Greek web site (the web to Greece crawls), and showing a trapezoidal channel buried some meters beneath the current earth surface:

Xerxes canal, cross section, buried
Processed Image?

Xerxes cnnal at Mt. Athos
Raw Image?

Old (well, ca. 1900, so not really) German Topographic Map

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Tuesday - I've been thinking of getting rid of my old data card plan - it's been two years and I'm contractually free, free I say, free at last! Ahem.

I like it, it's been useful and I'm using it daily because I got rid of my home DSL last year, but it's expensive. There are a some options-
  1. Use the Verizon phone as a modem. Cost is $30/mo (if you do it legally), and there is a 5GB cap & 2-yr contract.
  2. Get the Verizon Mifi 2220 access point. Cost is (suprise) $30/mo and there is a (surprise!) 5 GB cap & 2-yr contract.
  3. Get the Time Warner Cable Internet, $25/mo and no (in practical terms) cap. A 1-yr contract, may have to buy another service.
  4. DSL from there, done that. I think it was $40/mo, but that was bundled with a landline - extra cost there.
Q: How important is the cap? I was thinking of getting rid of my teevee and using Hulu and Netflix for my mass media needs. Stolen from we have this table:

5GB of downloads get you...

So, 8 hours of Netflix streaming, or about 25 hrs of Hulu-ish video. That latter isn't too bad, actually, but the selection is a lot more limited than Netflix.

Monday 15 March 2010

Monday - More cleaning up and putting away. There is just an incredible amount of work to do around this house...

The birds seem to enjoy the new feeder - after a cautious pause of an hour or two the avian squadrons are back. Oddly they are fearful of me, while ignoring the cats lurking underneath.

new bird feeder
The new plastic feeder - not classy, but still appreciated!

Booked the flights. Saved $200 by not booking last Wednesday's tickets, which I applied to a rental car. It's a remarkably tedious process, working through the various options. Still, another chore finished.

Sunday 14 March_2010

Sunday - a nice quiet day. Not much going on.

My brother and I are planning to travel to Florida in May for the STS-132 Shuttle launching. Not too many opportunities left to see the 4.5 million pound system throwing itself into the sky!

I almost booked the flights last week, but have been told that booking on Monday or Tuesday would save money. We'll see - that's two months out, but prices will probably start to rise after this.

I've been checking out a used Dell Inspiron 2500 laptop for a friend. The hard drive is going bad, but I suspect I could get it to run long enough to copy the 10GB Windows drive (WinMe, ugh) to another drive (the old bag of frozen peas trick), but I don't have an external PATA drive enclosure. I've a 20GB laptop PATA drive, but no way to get the data onto it.

Probably the way to go is to use a Linux Live CD and the dd command (The copies of Partition Magic and Drive Copy that I own are pre-WinMe, so they probably can't be used). I've booted the system with Puppy Linux, and that works just fine. I've Live CD's for a couple of newer full distributions, so that's cool.

Picture of the Week

Photo NotesAfterburner, either an SR-71 or a D-21.

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