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Friday, November 30, 2001
Working on a perl script to extract weather info from a remote web site. At first I was going to use ftp but couldn't figure out how to do that so I decided to use the LWP::Simple module which is designed to allow one to retrieve a web page from a script. The technique is described at the web developers virtual library. After extracting the page from the Weather Underground site, I used a regular expression to extract just the temperature. It's amazing how satisfying those little victories are when you finally get a script like that to work. It opens up such a wide range of potential applications.

Speaking of the weather, it's 66 degrees F now here in Reston, VA, at 8:00 p.m. and it's nearly December. It's been great cycling weather, but I suppose we will have to pay for this good weather by freezing our tushes off later on (thanks to Merriam-Webster for the proper spelling of tush).

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Tuesday, November 27, 2001
When I proposed that the powerlines adjacent to the local rail-trail, the W&OD Trail, be buried underground, I was told that the lines generate tremendous heat that is dissipated in the air. Underground the lines would need to be surrounded by a liquid that would carry way this heat. Like other wasted heat, I wondered if there was a way to convert it into useable energy. This New York Times article on generating electricity from wasted heat explains that it may be more feasible to do so in the future:
"It is impossible to transform 100 percent of the heat into electricity. The laws of physics dictate a theoretical maximum of about 50 percent at the temperature a thermoelectric device operates at. Current commercial thermoelectric devices, at 10 percent efficiency, get only one-fifth the maximum. Using the new technology, future devices should be able to achieve more than half the maximum."

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Monday, November 26, 2001
It's been a busy week of family visits and eating. I try to treasure these rare moments with my parents, realizing that this may be one of their last visits to see us, as their mobility is reduced year by year.

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Thursday, November 22, 2001
Finished reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. It's a novel about the early lives of two cartoonists in New York before, during and after World War II. Highly recommended. As is Chabon's web site which includes a page on books that changed his life.

Watched the movie Billy Elliot about an English boy who discovers a love of dancing and his struggle to pursue it in a world of poverty and violence. The dance scenes are fantastic. They're good enough that we plan to watch it again this weekend. I could identify somewhat with the character, having discovered the joys of country and western dancing late in life. I felt some of the same social pressures from my rock and roll and jazz friends who still can't believe that I dance the two-step, waltz, and line dances to country music.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2001
I can feel the effect on the left side of my face when talking on my cell phone. I don't think it's my imagination. Studies on a possible link between cell phone use and cancer are mixed, but I think I'll hold the phone as far away from my head as possible when talking, and switch ears periodically.

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Saturday, November 17, 2001
It wasn't easy, but I finally got the CD-RW installed and the computer put back together. The first 5 or so tries were unsuccessful for one reason or another. It's been a while since I've done much work inside of a computer so I was a little leary of delving inside. I figured it was worth it to try to save the $40-$50 installation fee. Luckily the box was very easy to open. The CD-RW is an IDE device, and there was one connection left on the cable, but it wouldn't reach the back of the drive, so I had to switch the cables on the other devices, including the power cables and jumpers. I didn't realize that it doesn't matter which drive, Master or Slave, is on which part of the cable, so it made the connections even tighter than they should have been.

Upon hooking all the cables back up and seeing the message that the computer wouldn't boot and I needed an emergency disk was a bit of a shock. I thought I had somehow fried a drive because I used the wrong power cable. I then took out the original, and now second CD drive and used the new drive in it's place, putting all the jumpers and cables back the way they were originally and it booted, but the new drive wasn't recognized. Come to find out one the jumper on one of the devices had been set wrong originally and had somehow worked. Once I set it correctly, the drive was recognized. Yee haw. With that shot of confidence, and after I finally figured out that the position of the device on the cable didn't matter, I figured I could switch all the cables and get the 2 CD drives installed together. With the proper jumpers set and cables connected, I booted and both drives appeared.

What should have been a very simple procedure turned out not to be, which is usually the case when I tackle a job like this. Even so, getting everything to work properly, and finally backing up nearly all my data files onto one CD, was a major victory. I bought the TDK veloCD-RW drive that was highly rated in one of the PC magazines. And for once it was good that a snot-nosed kid, the kind that I usually disparage as not knowing anything, was available to help me decide which one to buy. He'd used the veloCD and liked the software that was included. I fugured the advice couldn't have come from a better source.

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Thursday, November 15, 2001
It's time to buy a CD-R drive. Backing up has become a nightmare and I do it much too infrequently. I've thought about getting an easy to use external USB drive, but it appears that these drives are not supported under NT 4.0, so I either install it myself or have the local shop do it. I suppose I could upgrade to Win2000 or WinXP, but it's not worth it. I would much rather be running Linux but there is one critical application, ArcView, that I use for all mapping projects, that isn't supported under Linux.

The specs on the internal drives indicate that they are much faster than the external, but they're obviously much less portable. I could try to install it myself but don't want to hassle with it. Guess I better back everything up before heading to the shop.

Interesting article on Programming Horror Stories reference on Camworld. Brings back old memories of all the old computers on which I used to work: the Perkin-Elmer with the washing machine-like disk drives and the disk packs that looked like those old hair driers that women used to sit under. If you tilted it wrong the platters would be ruined. Or the Amdahl, programming JCL on punch cards, or the Prime, and then the VAX that we all fell in love with because it was so much more friendly then all the rest. Then the ill-fated DataGeneral Aviions that we were forced to buy because they low-bid the Suns that we all wanted. Then suddenly we had workstations on our desk running Windows.

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Monday, November 12, 2001
Back from a weekend trip to Shepherdstown, WV. It was a long ride but we had great weather. The trip there and back was about 120 miles. We took our road bikes with wide tires (38mm) since we travelled on some rough gravel roads and the C&O Canal towpath. I took a few pictures and will probably write up a brief trip report. Even though we didn't have a lot of time there, we enjoyed visiting our friend Becky. After dinner at the funky Blue Moon Cafe, we walked around town, had a drink at the Lost Dog coffee shop, then took in a movie at the Opera House Movie Theater. We saw Innocence, an Australian film that was very good.

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Friday, November 09, 2001
Never did manage to get downtown this week. Volunteer projects seem to be doing a good job of filling my time. At some point I need to say 'enough already!' and do some of the things that aren't getting done for lack of a more strict routine.

I enjoyed reading the article at A List Apart on how the msn.com site fails to validate using the w3 validator service. Especially in light of the fact that it was claimed by MS that the reason many browsers were blocked was because they were not standards compliant.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2001
Here's a good article about Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute on his theory about the inevitable use of hydrogen to fuel the planet. I've contributed to RMI for a few years now; I think they are one of the few environmental groups that has a strong strategy of implementing practial solutions to problems.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2001
The robins are passing through today.

I cleared my schedule and planned to go downtown to view shows at the Corcoran Gallery and the National Gallery until I realized, as I was leaving the house, that the Corcoran is closed on Tuesdays. At the Corcoran I wanted to see the new show Confronting Nature: Icelandic Art of the 20th Centuryand, and In Response to Place, Photographs from the Nature Conservancy's Last Great Places. And those are just the highlights. At the National Gallery is the show Prints from Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions Limited), one of America's greatest printmaking workshops, and Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women. These museums are one of the reasons I'm still living here.

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Sunday, November 04, 2001
Joan and Jeff are in the Texas Hill Country, on their way to Key West.

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There's a very good analysis of the current situation in Afghanistan by a Robert D. Kaplan in The Atlantic. Kaplan reported on the Afghan/Soviet war in the '80's and wrote a book about the struggle, Soldiers of God, published in 1990 and coming out in November in paperback.

Article in the Post about the detention of over the over 1,000 people since the Sept. 11 attacks. "Exactly 23 minutes before suspected terrorist plot leader Mohamed Atta acquired a Florida driver's license, a 28-year-old Pakistani gas station attendant got his license renewed at the same motor vehicles' branch. For that reason, Mohammad Mubeen was standing in a tiny courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit last Monday afternoon, one of more than 1,100 people ensnared in a nationwide hunt for terrorists."

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Saturday, November 03, 2001
These cool, clear Fall days are some of the best for cycling, and yet as the season winds down I seem to get out less and less. Mostly it's a short ride to work or around town. Instead I've been sitting here working on a Perl CGI script. I'm going to have to figure out how to use a debugger. Sending the script to the server over and over again to try to manually debug it is getting old.

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Friday, November 02, 2001
I'm doing my best to keep the economy strong. Bought a Freeplay flashlight that has a hand crank for charging the battery, a Radio Shack hand crank radio, and a new cell phone. What me paranoid?

I was tired of paying over $20. a month for a phone that I rarely use. I reduced my monthly rate by $5. by getting a pre-paid card service with minutes that carryover when money is added to the card after 60 days. And, I know how many minutes I have left before every call. I couldn't find anything cheaper. And what's really cool about the new service and phone, is that I can receive short email messages. It will be a closely guarded address. Given the amount of junk mail I currently receive, I wouldn't be too happy getting them on my cell phone.

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