I’ve read several books and short stories over the years, but never considered myself much of a writer. I tend toward more utilitarian, concise, and direct writing over the creative word use of an expert writer. I’m not a terribly creative writer either — I tend to write about what I think and what I see, and am not often known for my flights of fancy.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I had an inspiration the other day for a short story. I’m still putting together the outline in my copious amounts of free time, so we’ll see when I actually get to writing. I’ll likely post it here in stages as the writing progresses.

Being Geeky

I just installed Ubuntu Linux 9.04 (“Jaunty Jackalope”) Alpha 4 on my laptop (I have a second hard disk for mucking about like this).
So far, it seems to have addressed several of the issues I’ve had with previous versions of Ubuntu on my Dell Inspiron 1521 laptop:

  • Based on some limited testing, it suspends and wakes normally. Previously it froze up, requiring a hard restart, which defeated the purpose of having it on a laptop to begin with.
  • Better wifi support. This improves with each release.

Alas, it still seems to be lacking in a few areas:

  • There is no ATI-provided 3D graphics card driver for the built-in Radeon X1250, as ATI doesn’t support alpha-release OSs. Presumably this will be resolved when 9.04 gets released “for real”. In the interim I’m using the open source “radeon” driver, which works well enough for my purposes, but I suspect I won’t be playing any 3D games for a bit (not that I have time to do so). Desktop effects work fine out-of-the-box.
  • Power management still sucks compared to Vista on this hardware. This computer was designed with Vista in mind (it came from Dell with it), and can get about 3.5-4 hours of normal use off of a charge. Running XP or linux results in about 1.5-2 hours of battery life. Something to do with good processor speed-stepping in Vista. A bit of a pain, yes, but not the end of the world.

Otherwise, things look pretty good. Desktop support is better than laptop support, but that’s mostly because laptops use weird hardware most of the time.

ATF sending out CD-ROMs

I’m a C&R 03 FFL holder, and have occasionally used it for acquiring various C&R firearms. For the most part, though, I don’t use it for anything except discounts at the occasional online retailer.
The ATF, however, must not have any sort of internal differentiation between 01 (normal “gun shops”) and 03 FFLs, and so sends C&R holders all the same material that they send to dealers. In the past, this has included an annual copy of all the federal and state laws relating to the purchase and ownership of firearms, published in book form. These books are Not Small: combined thickness is about 2″.
Well, I guess the ATF realized that sending out big, heavy books is a pain in the butt, so they’re now mailing out CD-ROMs.
I suppose this could be a useful point in gun policy debates: “There are so many federal and state laws regulating firearms in the US that it became too expensive for the government to print them and mail them to gun dealers and licensed collectors, so they’re putting them on CD-ROM now. You say we need more?”
That said, I rather like the CD-ROM — it’s considerably smaller than the gigantic books.

CCW for couples?

Any recommendations for a CCW class/instructor, either in Tucson or within a reasonable distance (say 30 minute drive) of Chandler, AZ?
Sarah and I are looking to take a CCW class, preferably one that’s good with women and, this particular case, couples. We’re looking for someone who’s knowledgeable, yet not overbearing. I’ve done the whole army thing and been yelled at by men in big hats — I don’t feel the need to do that again.
Any input would be greatly appreciated.

Scary Quote of the Day

From WorldNetDaily:

If you had gone into business on the day Jesus was born, and your business lost a million dollars a day, 365 days a year, it would take you until October 2737 to lose $1 trillion.
If you spent $1 million a day, every day since Jesus was born, you would still be only slightly more that three-quarters of the way to spending $1 trillion.
One trillion dollars divided by 300 million Americans comes out to $3,333 per person.
One trillion one-dollar bills stacked one on top of the other would reach nearly 68,000 miles into the sky, about a third of the way from the Earth to the moon.
Earth’s home galaxy, the Milky Way, is estimated to contain about 200 billion stars. So, if each star cost one dollar, one trillion dollars would buy five Milky Way galaxies full of stars.
One trillion seconds of ordinary clock time equals 31,546 years. So, spending money at the rate of one dollar every second, or $86,400 every day, would still take nearly 32,000 years to spend $1 trillion.
If someone were to build city blocks that contained 10 homes valued at $100,000 per home, you would end up with ten houses to a block, ten blocks to a mile and a hundred blocks per square mile. It would take 10,000 square miles to reach $1 trillion in value. This would be more than the size of six U.S. states: Vermont, 9,615 square miles; New Hampshire, 9,351 square miles; New Jersey, 8,722 square miles; Connecticut, 5,544 square miles; Delaware, 1,954 square miles; and Rhode Island, 1,545 square miles
Craig Smith, founder and CEO of Swiss America, estimates it would take approximately four generations of Americans to pay off the interest of the U.S. Treasury bonds sold as debt to create the $1 trillion stimulus package, factoring in a 3 percent growth rate in the economy throughout that time.
The U.S. national debt now exceeds $10 trillion according to the according to the U.S. National Debt Clock, at Times Square in New York City.
With the estimated population of the United States at 305,556,415 people, each citizen’s share of the national debt is $34,769.40.

Burning Stuff for Science and Preparedness

A year or two ago I purchased a rather large bottle of olive oil (it was on sale) in the hopes that I’d use it for cooking at whatnot. While I did use it for cooking, I used it in such moderation that it passed the “use by” date while still having about three-quarters of the bottle remaining.
I purchased a new, smaller bottle of oil and have been using that for cooking, but what was I to do with the old bottle of oil? Throwing it out seemed like such a waste, so I decided to put it to good use.
By setting it on fire.
After doing some brief searching on the internet, I discovered that many old oil lamps (prior to more modern kerosene-burning ones) burned olive oil, so I was in luck. All I needed was an oil reservoir and a wick and I could make a lamp. In addition to being a rather fun thing to do, it would also yield a useful source of long-term, low-intensity light that would be handy in extended power outages — candles are bulky and don’t burn for long, and flashlights (of which I have several) require batteries which burn out relatively fast. Olive oil is relatively safe compared to other oils, as it is very difficult to ignite without a wick, and so wouldn’t cause a massive fire if the lamp were to tip over.
I decided to start with the basics: I had an empty, clean, dry jar that used to contain spaghetti sauce and a paper towel. I punched a hole in the lid of the jar, widened it to about a quarter-inch, rolled up the towel, inserted it into the hole with about a bit more than a quarter-inch protruding, filled the jar with oil, put the lid on, and let the oil soak up into the wick. Once it was soaked, I lit it with a lighter. It took about 5-10 seconds to light, but once lit it’s burned cleanly and smokelessly for several hours. I haven’t been able to detect any odor, and the lamp is not unpleasant to be around. The paper towel wick has turned black where the flame is, but has not burned down by any noticeable amount in the last several hours.
I could go about punching more holes in the lid and adding more wicks for greater output at the expense of greater oil consumption, as well as using a better wick (I’d imagine that the paper towel will eventually degrade in the oil) like cotton or something. We shall see.
Anyway, the point was that I was able to make a very inexpensive, clean, long-burning lamp using only the most basic of household ingredients. While a mass-produced oil lamp would likely be more effective for lighting, this sort of MacGyver-esque approach is useful for people without a lot of storage space that can be dedicated to emergency supplies (such as my small studio apartment), as well as a lot more fun.
I’ll post some pictures once I find my camera. It’s somewhere around here…

FeedBurner Problems

FeedBurner’s been giving me some trouble over the last day or two, so I’ve switched back to self-hosting the feed here.
Please ensure that your RSS feed reader is subscribed to and not or In the event that I switch back to FeedBurner in the future, your feed reader will be redirected automatically.
I apologize for any trouble this might cause.
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Photographic Experiment

A few fellow students at the university and I have come up with an interesting project: we’ve figured out the IR sequence that will remotely trigger the shutter on Nikon cameras. Two of my friends have suitable Nikon SLRs and some tripods. One of them is an engineering student and has some electronic gadgets that can sense loud sounds (e.g. gunshots) and then emit the IR sequence after a user-configurable delay.
We’d like to setup the cameras so that they can take simultaneous photos of the same scene from different angles. In addition to gettting some cool pictures of brass ejecting and bolts cycling, we’d also like to place the cameras a couple inches apart and attempt to blend the two images to get 3D pictures.
I’ll keep you posted as things proceed.

Happiness is…

…curling up with a warm 18-year-old.
Scotch whisky, that is.
I have two separate gastronomical soft spots: I have a sweet tooth and enjoy good drink. While many of my collegiate peers will be drinking Miller High Life whilst playing beer pong, I’ll have a bottle of Chimay Blue and observe. When they’re doing shots of Smirnoff vodka, I’ll savor a dram of Glenfiddich 18-year-old.
Such drinks are expensive, and so lead naturally to drinking in moderation. This is fortunate, as I need the time for studying rather than recreational pursuits.
Even so, there’s something excellent about good Scotch, a comfy chair, and some time to relax.