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Daynotes Journal

Week of 11 October 1999

Sunday, 17 October 1999 08:37

A (mostly) daily journal of the trials, tribulations, and random observations of Robert Bruce Thompson, a writer of computer books.


 

 

 

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Monday, 11 October 1999

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This is an embarrassing admission for someone who's writing a PC hardware book. I can't figure out how to get the front panel off of this PC Power & Cooling Solid-Steel Tower. There was an instruction sheet, of course. I remember seeing it when I was unpacking everything. But I'll be damned if I can find it now. Ordinarily, that wouldn't be a problem, because PC Power & Cooling has the manuals for their products up on their web site. But when I called up the instructions for the Solid-Steel Tower, I found that they referred to the Personal Mid-Tower instead. That wasn't immediately obvious, until I got to Step 5, which talks about installing a floppy in the "top 3.5" bay". Not only do I not have a top 3.5" bay in this case, I don't have any 3.5" bays at all. Oh, well.

Unlike most cases, which have pop-out plastic bay covers with metal plates under them that twist or snap out, this case secures each underlying metal plate with two screws. I can see the business ends of those screws protruding through the rear of the front panel. I can't get to the heads of those screws until I get the front bezel off. I haven't used force. Ordinarily, that'd be because I'd be afraid of damaging the case. In this case, it's because I'm afraid of damaging me. This thing is built like the proverbial tank.

The only thing I've removed so far is one side panel to gain access to the top of the motherboard tray. Perhaps if I remove the rest of the cover the solution will be more obvious.

* * * * *

This was forwarded to me by my friend David Silvis [HUPPNUT@aol.com], who has a bizarre sense of humor:

Jesus and Satan were having an ongoing argument about who managed to get the most out of his computer. This had been going on for days and God was tired of hearing all of the bickering. God said, "Cool it. I am going to set up a test that will run two hours and I will judge who does the better job."

So they sat at the keyboards and typed away. They did spreadsheets. They wrote reports. They sent faxes. They sent out e mail. They sent out e mail with attachments. They downloaded. They did some genealogy reports. They made cards. They did every known job. But just a few moments before the two hours were up, lightning flashed across the sky. The thunder rolled and the rains came down hard. And, of course, the electricity went off.

Satan was upset. He fumed and fussed and he ranted and raved, all to no avail. The electricity stayed off. But, after a bit, the rains stopped and the electricity came back on. Satan screamed, "I lost it all when the power went off. What am I going to do? What happened to Jesus' work?" Jesus just sat and smiled. Again Satan asked about the work that Jesus had done. As Jesus turned his computer back on the screen glowed and when he pushed "print" it was all there.

"How did he do it?" Satan asked.

God smiled and said, "Jesus saves."

 


 

 

 

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Tuesday, 12 October 1999

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Thanks to everyone who emailed me about getting the front panel off the PC Power & Cooling Solid-Steel Tower case. Shortly after I posted yesterday's update, I emailed Larry Aldridge at PPC to ask him. Although it was about 6:45 a.m. west coast time, I got a reply almost immediately, as follows:

Remove the side panel and look for a slot in the interior frame about 1 1/2" inches down from the top of the chassis. It is about 1/4" by 1/2" inch long. Place a flat blade screwdriver in the slot and rotate it towards the front of the chassis to "pop" the bezel off the frame. Note there are slots on the bezel at the bottom that nest into tabs on the frame, so you will have to slide the bezel downward as you remove it off the frame...

Which in fact works. I'd actually noticed that slot, but was afraid to pry on it.

If you haven't bought the memory you need, it's probably too late. The Register posted an article about RAM supplies drying up, a fact that's confirmed by my own industry contacts. You'll still be able to get memory if you absolutely need it, but expect to pay a large premium for it. Expect this shortage to last at least through the end of the year. This is not good news for the Christmas selling season.

If you plan to buy a DVD drive, it might be a good idea to get an older model now rather than buying a current generation drive. That's because some (not all) older generation DVD drives don't support region code locking in hardware. And, no, I don't know which models aren't locked, just that some aren't. For those unfamiliar with the concept, DVD content providers have divided the world into several Regions. The US and Canada, for example, are Region 1. In order to play a disc, the DVD player or drive must be set to the Region for which that disc is encoded. This prevents you, for example, from playing a DVD movie released in Europe (Region 2) on a drive in the US that is configured for Region 1. To allow some flexibility, players and drives can be changed from one region to another, but only a set number of times, typically five.

On some older model drives, this region code locking is enforced only in software. After you make the five changes you're allowed, you can go into the Registry, clear it out, and again have five changes available. Later model drives actually enforce region code locking in hardware. When you change the region code, the drive firmware actually toggles a counter that cannot be reset. Once you make the final allowable change, that drive is permanently and irrevocably set to the final region code you entered. This struck me as a Bad Thing, and so I emailed my contact at one of the major DVD-ROM drive manufacturers to ask what the real situation was. Here's what I learned:

... I guess I don't understand why any manufacturer would enable region code locking when other manufacturers are shipping drives that allow the region to be changed any number of times (or so I'm told). As far as I can see, the only purpose of region code locking is to make movie producers happy at the expense of making users unhappy. I don't think any user who was aware of the issue would choose a region-locked drive over one that could be changed freely any number of times. Am I missing something here?

... It is interesting that you are hearing about manufacturers shipping drives that allow unlimited region changes. Our information is that the people who license the Content Scrambling System (CSS) require that code locking be included in every drive made (i'm told the penalty for violation includes a hefty fine). The CSS license agreement apparently prohibits shipment of any drive that does not implement RPC2 after the end of this year. (Perhaps there are manufacturers clearing out drives that do not have RPC2 implemented?)

Also, while it is true that RPC protects the content distributor (movie guys), it is maybe a little unfair to blame this purely on greed. Governments also get involved. (For instance, Italian law states that films must be shown in theaters for a set time period prior to video release.) Guess it is just another aspect of cultural differences being washed over by the incoming tide of globalization; eventually, there may be no need for regional codes.

There are any number of Warez sites that talk about unlocking DVD players and drives, but here's an interesting commercial site operated by a UK company that specializes in selling modified DVD players that are not code locked.

 


 

 

 

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Wednesday, 13 October 1999

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Today I hope to finish building my new system. The lights are likely to dim when I finally power it up. I discovered yesterday that I didn't have a 5.25" chassis for a 3.5" floppy drive, so it was off to Computer & Software Outlet to buy one. I got a 3.5" floppy drive while I was there, on the assumption that I won't be able to find the 3.5" floppy drive that I'd already bought for it. That's becoming an increasing problem. I buy something that I know I'll need, put it someplace where I'll be sure to be able to find it, and then can't find it when the time comes. I've now bought three CD audio cables for one system. I have no idea where the first two went, but the third one is taped to the bezel of my monitor. I'll be damned if I'm going to buy four CD audio cables for one system.

I also discovered yesterday that I'd been mounting drive rails to the drives with the screws intended to mount the motherboard. Duh. Well, they fit, so I'll just leave them and use spares for mounting the motherboard rather than going back and pulling out all the drives.

Pournelle forwarded me the following message from one of his readers:

-----Original Message-----
From: Duane Toole [mailto:tooles@erols.com]
Sent: Tuesday, October 12, 1999 6:30 PM
To: jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Subject: Many thanks, O Wise One

My son and I built a computer (for him) three months ago. We did everything right except one thing. It has occasionally behaved erratically, but last week ceased to boot. It kept trying to restore the damaged registry. (Sound familiar?) It had to be the memory.

You recommended Crucial memory. I ordered it (128K, PC100). My son installed it, then we both spent three days trying to make it crash. No luck. Only when we tried to run seven (7) programs simultaneously did it start to drag, but it didn't drop.

I'll never buy cheap memory again!

Thanks for puttin light on the subject of memory; few of us realize the difference that quality memory can make. (Though my own memory has been failing with age [since about age twelve, I think], my computer memory doesn't have to.) You have done us all a great service.

Which pretty much sums things up. I've been telling people for years that memory and power supply problems are more frequent than most people think. Nearly everyone who builds PCs gives little thought to either of those, probably because you can't benchmark them. When subtle, intermittent problems occur, it's usually one or the other (or both). I remember getting a call from a friend a couple of years ago. He'd been having lockups under Windows 95 several times a day, for which he (like everyone else) blamed Windows. His power supply failed one day, and he asked me where to get a replacement. I suggested he buy a PC Power & Cooling unit, which he did. I talked to him a month or so later and he told me, "You know, ever since I installed that new power supply, my system hasn't locked up at all."

Same thing with memory. I talked to a guy a couple of months ago who was having frequent blue screens and other problems. I had him pop the lid and check the memory to make sure it was PC100. He told me that it was labeled "100 MHz". Well, that isn't PC100 memory, which is actually rated for 125 MHz, but many disreputable memory sellers label memory "100 Mhz" in the hopes it'll be confused with true PC100 memory. Even if the memory is labeled PC100 memory, that doesn't mean it's necessarily as good as some other PC100 DIMM. I've experienced this myself when using commodity PC100 memory. Sporadic lockups, which were cured by installing a name-brand memory module.

It never ceases to amaze me that people pay ridiculous premiums for the latest video card because of meaningless benchmarks. I mean, does it really matter if one card runs 58 frames per second on the latest Quake demo and another does only 53 fps? But those same people balk at paying a few bucks more for a good power supply or 10% more for good memory. It just makes no sense.

* * * * *

15:45: My big new machine is now built. I carried it into my office and powered it up. It came up normally the first try, except that I either got a bad floppy disk drive or somehow connected the cable backwards. I think it's the former, as both the motherboard connector and the one on the floppy drive are keyed. Otherwise, all of the drives light up, all of the fans spin, and everything appears normal. The EpOX KP6-BS recognizes both Pentium III/550 processors, although there's a Flash BIOS update I downloaded but haven't yet applied that's supposed to be necessary to use the 550's. It'll be easier to apply that update once I have the FDD working.

I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet the system is, even with the cover off. Given what's in it--a Plextor 8/2/20 CD-RW drive, a Plextor UltraPleX Wide CD-ROM drive, an Hitachi DVD-ROM drive, a Seagate Cheetah 18LP 10,000 RPM hard drive, and a Seagate Barracuda 50LP 7,200 RPM hard drive--I expected it to sound like a jet taking off. That's not the case. It definitely makes some noise, which you'd expect for a system with a 400 watt Turbo-Cool power supply, a half dozen or more fans, and a couple of high performance SCSI hard disks, but nothing extraordinary. Once the case is on, I expect it will be not much louder than my existing system.

I fired up SCSI Manager the first time I booted. The Adaptec 2940U2W host adapter is seeing the Seagate Barracuda 50LP, but nothing else. That's to be expected. I'll have to go in and do some configuration on the system. For that matter, the Plextor UltraPleX Wide doesn't even have a SCSI cable attached to it yet.

Barbara announced today that writing is hard work. She'd just spent several hours working on an article, and said she was as tired physically as she'd have been if she'd spent the same amount of time doing yard work or other physical labor. "No kidding," I told her. People who don't write don't understand how sitting at a keyboard putting words together can be physically exhausting. But it is.

And speaking of exhausted, I've about had it with writing and related work for today. I think I'll bag it for today, collapse on the sofa, and read a mystery or two. Tomorrow is soon enough to tackle this big system again. Barbara is going out for dinner tonight with two of her friends from the library, so it's Chef Boyadee canned ravioli for dinner tonight.

 


 

 

 

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Thursday, 14 October 1999

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Today is allocated to getting the new machine configured and to roughing out a web site structure for a new project that Barbara and I are working on. I still have to come up with a name for the new system. I've been referring to it as "Colossus: The Forbin Project" but that's a bit long for a Windows Computer Name. I told Barbara at one point that I was going to name it gordon, after NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon (her least favorite Winston Cup driver), but I'll probably choose something more in keeping with my current scheme. Right now, our main personal systems are named for members of her stuffed bear collection (e.g. kerby, mandy, and theodore), our subsidiary computers are named for Egyptian gods and goddesses (e.g. thoth, hathor, anubis, and bastet), and our test-bed computers are named for Roman dictators (e.g. marius, sulla, and caesar).

In keeping with that scheme, I'll probably name the new box kiwi, after Barbara's stuffed koala. In fact, I've decided to do that. Here's a picture of Kiwi sitting on kiwi.

kiwi-on-kiwi.jpg (40783 bytes)

That closet in the background is where old computer parts go to die. Just the other day, I opened the door and a 15 year old 10 MB hard drive from an IBM XT made a break for it. That closet is filled with valuable stuff like XT and 286 motherboards, monochrome Hercules Graphics Cards, a 1,200 bps modem or two, several 5.25" floppy drives (in 360 KB and 1.2 MB flavors), and a 10 MB tape drive. At some point, perhaps I should box all this stuff up and send it to the Boston Computer Museum or something.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Chuck Waggoner [mailto:waggoner at gis dot net]
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 1999 11:09 AM
To: webmaster@ttgnet.com
Subject: Clock Utility

You and your readers might be interested in a very good freeware program that expands the clock display in the system tray to include the date and/or seconds according to any format you like. There's a picture of what it can do, along with the download options here  

A young South African programmer came up with this a couple years ago--he should be working at Microsoft. The program actually modifies how Win9x/NT displays the date; it's not "in addition to". I am desperate for the date many times during the day, and this little utility also lets you copy the date into the clipboard in a format that is independent of how you may have set the display. It also includes a pop-up calendar and the ability to modify the ToolTip to display such things as: day number, week number, and certain system resource parameters. He hasn't been able to get the program to accept keyboard input to the program setups under NT, but there's still the mouse which works.

I've been using this little gem for several weeks, and can attest that--at last--the bottom right of the screen has become useful.

Thanks. I looked at the site, and it does look like an interesting utility.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: J.H. Ricketson [mailto:culam@neteze.com]
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 1999 7:56 PM
To: thompson@ttgnet.com
Cc: jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Subject: broadband Access Problem

Dear Bob / Jerry,

I recently came across this article on "America's Digital Divide."

It is the most concise, yet thorough, intelligent, and even-handed article I have yet seen on the subject. As you well know (particularly Bob), >56K is simply NOT available at any price (excluding a dedicated T1) to many, perhaps most, of us. As at the inception of telephony, rural and lower-income-per-square-mile areas are being shoved aside by both cable and Telcos. I do not fault their management people. They do not run a charity. They serve their shareholders well.

HOWEVER: Each provider has a monopoly in its area of coverage. I have NO choice of whose cable or copper I connect to. Bandwidth unavailability is the fault of our Government (as usual) for not making it crystal-clear to bandwidth providers that "You WILL provide broadband access to all", as they told AT&T and the Telcos "You WILL provide telephone access" not so long ago. Somehow, they all managed to muddle through - even turned a tidy profit while doing so. Sure it cost me a few cents a month more, but it is well worth it. I can now call Aunt Minnie in Bumsteer, Arkansas and hear her as well as a call across the street. It can be done if heads are knocked together firmly enough.

I really think such Broadband Equal Access legislation / regulation is LONG overdue. Certainly the FCC & FTC are impotent on this issue. Thus far they have done nothing but waffle and wimp out; their only effect being to exacerbate & confuse an already bad situation.

What can we, as underserved consumers, do to expedite broadband access?

Regards,

JHR
--

culam@neteze.com
[J.H. Ricketson in San Pablo]

Well, as I've said in the past, I'm against universal access, which is really just another subsidy. I don't see why I should have to pay more for my telephone lines just so that someone in West Podunk can pay $20 a month for a phone line that actually costs the phone company $200 per month to provide. Let that guy pay $200/month for his phone line, do without, or move somewhere that the phone company can provide a line at a more reasonable price. In the same way, I pay higher home insurance rates to subsidize home insurance for people who choose to live at the beach. It isn't fair, it isn't right, and I resent the government forcing me to pay to subsidize someone else. The same holds true for high-speed data connections. I shouldn't be forced to pay more for high-speed data access simply so that someone else can get that service at a subsidized rate, and that's all that "universal access" really means. When it comes to government intervention in a free market, be careful what you ask for. You might get it.

 


 

 

 

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Friday, 15 October 1999

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Yesterday was one of those days when everything broke. It actually started the previous evening, when Barbara's sister called to say that her car had died. She left it in the parking lot at the country club where she works an evening job, and they got it towed to the mechanic yesterday morning. Dead starter, as it turned out. The mechanic called yesterday afternoon to say the car was ready. I drove Barbara out to pick up the car and then followed her over to the country club to drop it off.

In the morning, I spent some time swapping stuff around in kiwi and eventually concluded that the new floppy disk drive I bought for it is dead. Either that or the motherboard FDD interface. I hope it's the floppy drive, anyway. Barbara is going to drop by Computer & Software Outlet this afternoon to trade that one out on her way to pick up another rescue dog.

I then decided to install the OnStream SC50 25/50 GB internal SCSI tape drive in kiwi. That turned out to be another mess. I have an OnStream DI30 15/30 GB ATAPI tape drive installed in one of my other systems, and it works fine. That's not the case with the SC50, however. The SCSI cable OnStream provides does not fit the drive. Not that it's the wrong cable, you understand. It's the proper cable, but they built the drive with the SCSI connector misaligned such that it's impossible to fit the cable onto the drive. They saved a few cents by using bare pins for the SCSI connector on the drive instead of using a shroud. The key on the SCSI cable matches to a slot in the circuit board itself. The trouble is, that slot isn't aligned properly with the pins on the drive. This on a $700 tape drive.

I'd chosen the OnStream SC50 for its very large capacity and reasonable cost. But I clearly can't use or recommend that tape drive, so I had to come up with an alternative. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn't really need that large a capacity. Most of what goes on that 50 GB Seagate Barracuda 50LP is not going to need backed up routinely anyway. So I decided to use a Tecmar 3900-series DDS-3 DAT drive instead, which is what I should have used in the first place. At 12/24 GB, the 3900 stores about half what the SC50 does, but that shouldn't really matter much. On the plus side, the 3900 supports read-while-write and hardware compression, both of which are important for a high-end tape drive. I've been using Tecmar tape drives for years and have had very few problems with them.

In the afternoon, I'd just come back upstairs from making my mother a cup of tea and outing the dogs when my mother called up to say that Duncan was vomiting. Great. I headed downstairs again, let the dogs out again, and blotted up the mess. Fortunately, we have an industrial size box of baking soda, which does wonders in absorbing stuff like that from the carpet. Unfortunately, its spout broke as I was sprinkling it on the carpet, dumping a pound or two of baking soda. Oh well. I decided that using a bunch of the stuff wouldn't hurt, so I used my foot to stomp it into the wet patch.

Then after dinner my mother called upstairs to say her television wouldn't turn on. We'd just traded out televisions for her a couple of weeks ago, replacing her old 20" unit with the 25" one that had been in our bedroom. She watches TV most of the day, and the unit in our bedroom is used perhaps an hour or two per week, so we thought it made sense to give her the bigger, newer unit. Even though she sits only six feet or so from the screen, we figured that at age 81 she could use the additional size.

I went downstairs, figuring she'd pushed the wrong button on her remote or something. Nope. That TV is dead. It won't even turn on directly from the console. I plugged a lamp into the same receptacle, figuring perhaps a breaker had blown or something, but the lamp worked fine. Dead TV. Barbara fished out the paperwork and we learned that the TV is almost exactly 3 years old. Given that it's been used for probably 250 hours or less in that time, that seems a bit young to die.

Maybe today will be one of those days when everything goes right. I can hope, anyway.

* * * * *

Here's the kind of message that I have no idea what to do with. I typically get three or four messages like this a month, and there's just no way to respond to them. Ignoring them is rude, but on the other hand, I'm not sure how much more polite it is just to send a one line reply that says, "Sorry. I can't help you." And I sometimes get the sneaking suspicion that I'm only one of many that's received the same message. In fact, in some cases there are multiple recipients visible. My all-time record for this was one message I received with my address as one of 37 recipients, most of whom I recognized as other computer book authors. By attempting to provide brief answers and/or referrals to other sources, I've frequently ended up getting into extended back-and-forth exchanges with people like this, who can't seem to understand that what they're asking for is free consulting. So, much though I hate to do it, the best solution is simply to ignore such messages. If anyone has a better idea, I'd love to hear it.

-----Original Message-----
From: Cletus Okolie [mailto:okoliec@unijos.edu.ng]
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 1999 4:59 AM
To: thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: NETWORKING

I am a student of unijos. I've been opportuned to go through your book Repairing Networks, i must congratulate your and your coleagues for developing that book it is of greater help to somebody developing and repairing his networks especially we in the third world countries. Please I'm developing a network for one of my faculties in the my school and that happens to be my project topic. I need to find out somethings from you regarding the topic. I know you will be a great help to me if you can please answer this following questions:

1. To develop a computer network what should i consider

2. What is the best network technology and topology to use

3. What are different kinds of hubs needed for a star topology. Please I need to know the merits and demerits of the different types of hubs

4. What is the best kind of NIC in the market.

I will be very grateful if my questions are answered because they will be of immense help.

Thanks and hope to hear from you soonest.

Cletus.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Chris Ward-Johnson [mailto:chriswj@mostxlnt.co.uk]
Sent: Thursday, October 14, 1999 2:20 PM
To: webmaster@ttgnet.com
Subject: Phone and data costs

"I don't see why I should have to pay more for my telephone lines just so that someone in West Podunk can pay $20 a month for a phone line that actually costs the phone company $200 per month to provide."

Which is all well and good if that someone in West Podunk can afford $200 per month. If they don't have that sort of money then they have no telephone (and, in the future, no broadband data access).

Personally, I think we should apply a good Socialist principle here: From each according to their abilities, To each according to their needs. So if you, Bob, could afford to pay $200 a month for your phone service you should pay that. And Bill Gates can bay $200 million a month for his.

But as a compromise I'll accept everyone paying the same price for the telephone service, on the basis that I don't get any more benefit from it living in the middle of the back of beyond here in Rural France than someone does who lives in the middle of a big city. Which is what you're paying for, I suppose - not the cost of the service but the value of the benefit.

Regards
Chris Ward-Johnson
chriswj@mostxlnt.co.uk
Dr Keyboard - Computing Answers You Can Understand
http://www.drkeyboard.co.uk

Give me a break. The original justification for subsidized "universal service" schemes was that they were necessary to ensure that everyone had access to essentials. As it happens, I don't even agree with that. If you can't afford food, water, health care, or whatever, you should do without rather than stealing from me at government's gun point to fund your needs or wants. But this is even worse. A telephone is not essential. Obviously that's so, since people managed to survive without them until little more than a hundred years ago. High-speed data access is even less justifiable as "essential." Essential to whom, and for what purpose?

People who advocate such schemes are hypocrites, pure and simple. If they're so concerned with the welfare of those less fortunate, why don't they give up everything they have to benefit the poor? But no, instead they force me to pay for their pathetic beliefs. And they're not even man enough to try to force me to do it themselves. Instead they abdicate to using the government as a hired thug to do it for them. These people arrogantly put themselves in the role of arbiter over what should be done and then demand that I pay for it. Screw them and the horse they rode in on. If they think this stuff is such a good idea, let them pay for it themselves. If you really believe that what you advocate is right, why don't you sell your BMW and donate the proceeds to charity? Or stop eating your fine meals when others are starving. Or stop drinking your vintage wines when others do not even have potable water. If you believe in this so much, give away everything you have before you even think about asking me to contribute to your cause. And never demand that I do so.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Shawn Wallbridge [mailto:swallbridge@home.com]
Sent: Thursday, October 14, 1999 7:28 PM
To: Robert Thompson
Subject: Digital Camera

I had a something weird happen last night with my digital camera. I took a bunch of pictures and the camera told me the card was full. When I stuck it in my reader My Computer said the disk was full. I opened the folder that the images are normally stored in and it was empty. I checked the other folder that stores templates and it was empty as well. I stuck the card back in the camera and it told me the card was full, but when I tried to view the images it said the camera was empty. Do you have any ideas? This is a brand new Kodak 4MB card. I canít remember which cartridge the Olympus cameraís use, but mine uses Compact Flash.

I am pretty sure I lost the pictures (no big loss), but I really hope the card isnít toast. I donít want to have to be without the camera for 6-8 weeks as I wait for a replacement card.

I plan on to format the cartridge and stick it back in the camera and try again. Hopefully that works. But I have never heard of this, have you?

The Olympus uses SmartMedia cards. I've never used the CompactFlash cards, but my guess is that the card simply needs to be formatted. Perhaps one of my readers will know more and can mail you directly. As far as waiting 6 - 8 weeks, if it turns out that the card is defective, I'd be inclined to buy a second card to tide me over. They're not that expensive (or at least the SM cards aren't), and it is useful to have a second card available. Or at least I find it so.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Jan Swijsen [mailto:qjsw@oce.nl]
Sent: Friday, October 15, 1999 7:52 AM
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Subject: subsidy (again)

Bob,

Let that guy pay $200/month for his phone line, do without, or move somewhere th....

Take this reasoning one step further and you left neighbour pays less than you do while your right neighbour pays a tad more. Because the main cable runs on the other side of the street you pay more than the neighbour over there. This is of course silly because it would cost the company a fortune in administration but it could be done on neighbourhood level. Until they actually do this some people will always subsidize others.

I think that most people would accept (grudgingly and with protests of course) to pay more for their line if they are remote.

side remark : Is Jerry in a remote spot? Does he asks to be subsidized? Why can he not get ADSL or cable then?

What is not calculated in is that placing the line and other infrastructure costs more than a few thousand dollars. Now the telco has to cough up that money, they can recover it later if enough people connect to it. So for a small town it may prove profitable while a small village may not generate enough traffic to recoup the costs. The result is that nobody outside the densely populated areas gets connected. And a lot of those in the populated areas don't get a connection either.

So that guy should pay this initial price as well. Which he cannot afford. So he has to move to a more densely populated area. Where property prices may well be over his budget.

What is the difference between Central Congo and Central US?

Well, that's a red herring. As you say, the difference in cost between connecting my neighbor and me are so small as to be indiscernable. That's not the case with connecting me versus the guy in West Podunk, though. It probably costs the phone company less than $5 per month to install and maintain a cable to my house. It may literally cost them $200 a month to install and maintain a line to the guy in West Podunk. So the guy in West Podunk pays $20 a month, and I (and a bunch of my neighbors) pay $15 a month extra each so that guy in West Podunk can have his subsidized line. But it gets worse. Even if one acknowledges that his "essential" telephone line should be subsized for whatever reason (which I do not), what is the justification for subsizing multiple lines? If that guy decides to install a second phone line, shouldn't he pay the actual $200/month cost for that second line? But no. He pays just another $20 a month, again subsidized by those of us who choose to live where it's cheap to install phone lines. That's outrageous.

Rural areas have always been subsidized at the expense of urban areas, and that's not fair or right. The guy living in the rural area has the benefit of cheaper land, cheaper housing, lower taxes, and so on. Why should those of us who are paying more for our land and housing (and much higher taxes on everything) be forced to subsidize that guy's lifestyle?

That's the economic side of things. But there's another side that's just as important. Subsidies like this cut down on innovation and discourage development of alternative ways of doing things. If it weren't for these telephone line subsidies, for example, we'd long ago have developed better methods to accomplish the same job. In countries where there are no rural phone line subsidies, for example, cellular technology is widely deployed. It's much more cost-effective to install one cell and run a trunk to it than it is to run copper pairs to numerous widely scattered farm houses. The same would be true for developing means of deploying high-speed data access to widely scattered rural locations. The existence of subsidies simply locks us into old, obsolete ways of doing things. New technologies are invented to solve problems. If there is no perceived problem, the new technology never gets invented. Subsidies simply conceal the existence of the problem.

 


 

 

 

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Saturday, 16 October 1999

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Barbara is off with her parents to a Celtic music festival today. She went down toward Charlotte yesterday afternoon to pick up a resuce Border Collie pup, and swapped out the dead floppy drive on her way. Unfortunately, the replacement is behaving the same way. I've already tried changing cables, so that means that (a) I got another bad floppy drive, (b) the FDD interface on the EPoX motherboard is dead, or (c) I need to apply the BIOS update for the Pentium III/550 to get the FDD to work. That'll be kind of hard since it requires booting from a floppy. Lots of good mail today. I spent most of my time writing replies to it.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Chris Ward-Johnson [mailto:chriswj@mostxlnt.co.uk]
Sent: Friday, October 15, 1999 11:23 AM
To: thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: RE: Phone and data costs

Bob

I've been out running errands, visiting the doctor and what have you today and have spent a lot of time sitting in the car thinking about what you said. Not the bit about why you should subsidise others' phone calls and broad band data and so on - that's self-evident, it's an extra few bucks from you to save someone else a few hundred bucks, so your small suffering saves someone else a lot of suffering and, anyway, what's the point of a phone/internet when you can't contact everyone, only those who are rich enough to use it? Indeed, I do believe that everyone should have the 'right' to such facilities, in the same way that the UN charter of human rights says we should all have the right to clean water, somewhere to live and so on. I have no problem with the fact that I lived in London for 20 years and my monthly phone bill cost me perhaps an extra fiver a month so someone in the Outer Hebrides could save having to pay thousands of pounds a year for their phone service. Essential? Of course not, but then what is? Water? Grass to eat? Government spending priorities are, obviously, completely wrong, but let's do that debate another day.

Anyway, to the point: what really got me was your question: why don't I give up all that I have to benefit others? The platitudinous answers are that (a) I don't have that much anyway and (b) what I do have wouldn't go far towards alleviating world poverty. The real answer, of course, comes down as you suspect to selfish hypocrisy: I'm not about to give up my BMW and foie gras so someone else can have butter and jam on their bread, instead of just one or the other. However, I would do this - by way of increased taxation - if it applied to everyone. We already pay, I think, higher taxes in Europe than you do in the US: there's, roughly, 25% income tax, 10% National Insurance (for welfare benefits, state health insurance, that sort of thing) and then, in the UK, 17.5% VAT (sales tax) - this is 20.5 - 40% in France, the higher rates being for 'luxury' goods like yachts but not, interestingly, BMWs. Income tax in France is about the same as the UK, but NI can be up to 20% for individuals and the same again for an employer. So, a considerable tax burden. Some things are more expensive for you because of this, I guess, notably health insurance.

This is really the point of socialism, everyone gives what they can and takes what they need, with a level of assurance for the very poor and weak who can't help themselves to a minimum standard of living. This minimum standard isn't high enough in most countries, but some - notably the Nordic countries - are getting there, and paying a high price in the process. It's the bureaucracies which soak up too much, I suppose, but I like the principle.

It's democracy as fascism: I vote for what I want and, if enough people vote for it then you have to live that way too, and too bad: to adapt your metaphor, please borrow my horse and ride out to somewhere you don't have to live this way if you don't like it. This is the problem with democracies, there's no satisfaction for the 49.99% who voted against my way. But your way doesn't work either because then the weak and the poor and the helpless are preyed upon by those who, unlike you, won't take responsibility for their own actions.

So, I suppose I will give up my BMW and foie gras if everyone has to. However, I think it's more likely that if all the wealth were spread around more evenly those coming up from poverty would meet those coming down from Gatesian-style wealth at around my level.

And thanks for asking that question: I don't think I've questioned my own raison d'etre quite so closely for a very long time, if at all.

Regards
Chris Ward-Johnson chriswj@mostxlnt.co.uk
Dr Keyboard - Computing Answers You Can Understand
http://www.drkeyboard.co.uk

Well, it may be an extra few bucks for me, but it's also an extra few bucks for a whole hell of a lot of other people. And the point is not how much is being stolen from me, but the fact that it is being stolen. I don't care if the guy in the Outer Hebrides has a phone or not. If you care, feel free to subsidize him yourself. Just stay out of my wallet. As far as contacting everyone, I have no desire to contact poor people. The only people I interact with are rich ones, like you and everyone else reading this.

As far as your next point, you say that you're not willing to give up what you have unless everyone else is forced to do the same. So it seems that you don't really want to do this or even think it's a good idea to do this, but some pathetic "liberal guilt" makes you feel that it's the "right thing to do." Bullshit. It seems that you think that people in general are bad and must be forced to do the Good Thing. Wrong. If you have to force average people to do something against their inclinations, it isn't the right thing. It's simple some theorists "wouldn't it be nice" idea of what the right thing is. Self-interest is a natural survival mechanism. Forcing people to act against their own interests is anti-survival.

As far as taxes, it seems that we are in a similar position. Average people here pay marginal federal income tax rates of 28% to 35%. We pay about 7.5% in Social Security, but it's really double that because the government collects a matching amount from the employer. State income taxes and sales taxes vary by state, but we pay about 10% in state income tax and 6% sales tax. We also pay numerous other taxes, some of which are punitively high (for example, taxes on alcohol and tobacco).

The real point of socialism is to drag everyone down to the least common denominator. "If everyone can't have a Mercedes, no one can have a Mercedes." Unfortunately, the ultimate result of that sort of deranged thinking is that it is impossible to accumulate capital. Capital accumulation is necessary for production to occur. Production is the source of all weath. Socialism kills production, kills weath, and results in everyone being impoverished.

I think you need to redo your math on distribution of weath. Even if one accepts that Bill Gates is worth $100 billion (which he isn't, not by a long shot. The value of a thing is what it will bring, and Bill Gates cannot sell his stock. Even if he could, he would realize ten cents on the dollar) that amounts to only about $16 per person if distributed equally. What you apparently fail to realize is that human wealth is a pyramid, of which we occupy the peak. The top 10% of the world's population (of which all of us are members) controls something like 95% of the world's wealth. Distributing that equally (even if it were possible, which it is not) would leave all of us living in hovels without running water.

The world comprises a few "haves" and a lot of "have-nots". I am a member of the former group, and intend to remain so. I have no interest in subsidizing the have-nots. Nor is this simply greed on my part (although greed is a Good Thing, and I make no apology for it). Stealing from me and giving to the have-nots is an endless black hole, because the number of have-nots is variable. Feeding have-nots simply results in generating a new, larger crop of have-nots.

I'll make you a deal. If you'll read and think about Ayn Rand's _Atlas Shrugged_, I'll read and think about any socialist manifesto book you choose (although I've probably read most of them already). Actually, you should probably read _The Fountainhead_ first, because it's the preface to _Atlas Shrugged_, but I can't really ask you to read two. Barbara also recommends _We the Living_ and _Anthem_. Note that Rand was no economist or theoretician. She lived through the revolutions in Russia and the early Soviet Union and escaped to write about her experiences. She did not yet speak English when she wrote _The Fountainhead_. She wrote it in English literally by using a Russian-English dictionary.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Jan Swijsen [mailto:qjsw@oce.nl]
Sent: Friday, October 15, 1999 11:25 AM
To: thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: Re: subsidy (again)

Bob,

Well, that's a red herring. As you say, the difference in cost between connecting my neighbour and me are so small as to be indiscernable. That's not the case with connecting me versus the guy in West Podunk, though. It probably costs the phone company less than $5 per month to install and maintain a cable to my house. It may literally cost them $200 a month to install and maintain a line to the guy in West Podunk. So the guy in West Podunk pays $20 a month, and I (and a bunch of my neighbors) pay $15 a month extra each so that guy in West Podunk can have his subsidized line. But it gets worse. Even if one acknowledges that his "essential" telephone line should be subsized for whatever reason (which I do not), what is the justification for subsizing multiple lines? If that guy decides to install a second phone line, shouldn't he pay the actual $200/month cost for that second line? But no. He pays just another $20 a month, again subsidized by those of us who choose to live where it's cheap to install phone lines. That's outrageous.

I used your direct neighbour as an example, on such small scale the difference is indeed indiscernible. But is the difference un-measurable if you compare people living in two equally large towns or in different sub-urbs of a mayor centre? I think not. This is a matter of scale really. (WTF - as in Where The .. as Tom would say - is West Podunk?) If the West Podunk guy wants a second line things change of course. That should not be subsidized. OTH a second phone connection can be handled by an existing line so if the first one has a real cost of 200$ the second one will have a much lower real cost. Probably in the region of 20$ which is still higher than the 5$ dollar your line costs of course.

The point I notice is that I cannot get ADSL while someone half a mile further can get it. Under your reasoning I should pay the full price of putting an extension to the telco backbone from the closest hub to within reach of my own house. Or move half a mile to a place where no houses are currently for sale. Neither is feasible.

And ..

If you want to abolish all subsidizing you should then want to abandon the free local calls because they get subsidized by long distant charges.

FYI We don't have free local (=zonal) calls, just lower rates (2BEF/minute) interzonal the rate is 7BEF/minute with a smaller initial duration. And the monthly rate for telephone is dependent on the size of the zone (653 BEF/17$ for "extensive" zones, to 593 BEF/15$ for "less extensive" zones)

Why should those of us who are paying more for our land and housing (and much higher taxes on everything) be ...

I did not realize that all taxes in America were local. We have national taxes, so a computer you buy has the same tax rate wherever in the country you buy it. Only community and property taxes are local.

That's the economic side of things. But there's another side that's just as important. Subsidies like this cut down on innovation and discourage development of alternative ways of doing things. If it weren't for these telephone line subsidies, for example, we'd long ago have developed better methods to accomplish the same job. In countries where there are no rural phone line subsidies, for example, cellular technology is widely deployed. It's much more cost-effective to install one cell and run a trunk to it than it is to run copper pairs to numerous widely scattered farm houses. The same would be true for developing means of deploying high-speed data access to widely scattered rural locations. The existence of subsidies simply locks us into old, obsolete ways of doing things. New technologies are invented to solve problems. If there is no perceived problem, the new technology never gets invented. Subsidies simply conceal the existence of the problem.

True, but with a twist. To stay with phones. If the lines were never subsidized, telephones would not be so widespread as they are now. If the farmers didn't have subsidized phone lines they wouldn't have phones and would not perceive the need for cellular technology. They would use CB to communicate locally. So the demand for innovation would be low as well. Subsidies may conceal problems but they also bring problems to the foreground. Un subsidized phonel lines would mean few internet connections and few bandwidth problems (and no spam). Now everyone has a phone so every one starts surfing making the bandwidth problem more noticeable.

The costs associated with installing copper pairs correlate almost directly with the density of service. That is, providing a phone line to a typical urban or suburban resident (say, 10,000 people per square mile) is much less costly than providing that same line to a rural home (say, 100 people per square mile). Although it costs much more to run cables in, say, New York City or other highly developed areas, those additional costs are offset by the very high population density. Running a trunk in NYC may cost 10 times what it costs to run that trunk in Winston-Salem, for example, but that trunk may serve a one square mile area with 100,000 people whereas that same trunk would serve a one square mile area in Winston-Salem that had only 10,000 people. Running that same trunk in a rural area may cost only 75% of what it costs to run it in Winston-Salem, but that trunk serves only 100 people. All of that said, monthly service charges do vary dramatically between cities (and between phone companies).

As far as local calls being subsidized by long-distance calls, that's not the case in the US. What few people realize is that long-distance calls are incredibly cheap to provide. When I pick up the phone here in Winston-Salem and call Pournelle in Los Angeles (3,000 miles away), the vast majority of the costs occur on the two local loops. Getting the call from here to LA costs next to nothing. Getting my call from my house to the Central Office (CO) costs money. Getting the call from Jerry's local CO to his house costs money. Getting the call from my CO to Jerry's CO costs next to nothing, probably a penny a minute or less fully amortized. If we truly had free competion in long-distance service, Sprint, MCI or some other carrier would have long ago gone to a flat rate for calls within the US--"as a residential customer, you pay us $15 a month and make all the long distance calls you want."

Yes, there would initially be a flood of everyone calling Aunt Martha and talking for two hours, but that would settle down quickly enough. Think about it. We have free unmetered local calls now, and most of us don't spend all that much time on the phone now. Once the novelty of being able to place unmetered long distance calls wore off, people would start treating that service the same way. Use it when they need it. The long distance company would also make out big-time, because they could set their monthly charge to a surprisingly small level and still have higher average revenues than they do under the current per-minute billing model. That we don't have this model in place now is due to subsidies, pure and simple. When charges are unrelated to costs, you introduce distortions.

We do have federal taxes (income tax, social security, and thousands of special taxes like excise taxes on tires) but a significant portion of our taxes are raised at the state, county, and city level. For example, we pay about $1,500 annually in property taxes on our home because we live within the city limits, although just on the edge. About half of that is city property tax and the other half county tax. An identical house less than 500 metres from our house would be outside the city limits and so pay only the country tax, about $750 annually. The mix varies greatly from state to state and city to city. North Carolina has horrendously high state income tax, but relatively low property taxes. Other states are just the opposite. In Pennsylvania, for example, I might pay state income tax of only about a fifth what I pay here, but the property taxes on my house might be $8,000 per year. All told, when all hidden taxes are considered, the average middle-class person in the United States probably pays about one third of his gross income to the federal government and another third to various state, local, and city authorities.

Never under any circumstances do subsidies stimulate innovation. Innovation and the status quo ante are natural antagonists, and one purpose of subsidies is to stifle innovation and maintain the status quo.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Dave Farquhar [mailto:farquhar@lcms.org]
Sent: Friday, October 15, 1999 1:45 PM
To: thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: What to do with "those kinds" of messages

Hi Bob,

I've been dealing with the same kind of thing: Basically a user who knows a little, aspires to be an OEM, who's been using me as his primary source of tech support for the past year and a half or so, ever since I wrote in when Jerry Pournelle was having problems getting an Ensoniq AudioPCI sound card to work. This other reader wrote me asking if he could ask me some questions, and I guess that translated somehow into "free unlimited tech support for life."

Since the recent exchanges have been taking as long as writing my daily updates (and those are usually anything but short) and sometimes require research on my part to answer thoroughly, I expressed my frustration to Dan Bowman, since I trust his judgment on such things and he's generally cooler-headed than I am.

Dan's response is below. I'll probably post a slightly edited version tonight along with my daily rants. Or I may wait and post it over the weekend, seeing as I've got a fair bit of Mac stuff I want to put online while it's fresh so I don't forget it.

I'm thinking I'll also supplement it with a page I built for myself about a year ago. It's my links page, essentially, which I store locally. Forms for searching AltaVista and DejaNews, Babelfish with an entry for the German magazine c't already in it, plus a few columnists I go out of my way to read. One-stop shop for all kinds of research. Outside of my pile of O'Reilly books, I learned most of what I know about NT networking from doing searches on DejaNews. If an ex-criminal justice writer from the backwoods of Missouri (me) can learn this stuff by reading O'Reilly books, computer magazines, and DejaNews, then so can anyone else. Queries I can't handle in a reasonable amount of time (such as: What should my config.sys look like when I want to run a Hitachi DVD-ROM on a Tyan S1590S mobo with STB Velocity 128 video, Diamond Sonic Impact sound card, running Windows 95C when there's a full moon and it's not a leap year and the Red Sox are in the playoffs?) will be referred to my search page.

Hopefully this'll all help. I love doing this, but I can't be giving free computer lessons or doing free research for people. I have a day job and book proposals to write. You, rumor has it, have five books to write, which is an even bigger load.

Thanks. I read about this on your page and followed the link you provided to Dan Bowman's page. I've started using Pournelle's method: ignore the ones that make outrageous requests and post one occasionally. You should probably do the same.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Robert Rudzki [mailto:rasterho@pacbell.net]
Sent: Friday, October 15, 1999 9:59 PM
To: Robert B. Thompson
Subject: Telcos, subsidies and free rides.

Bob:

With interest I read your latest on subsidies for rural telephone users, it is not just rural areas that cost a fortune for the telco due to the tiny installed base spread over such a large area, but even in dense cities maintaining that local loop for the residential customer costs more than the telcos are allowed to charge by The Hired Thug AKA The Federal Gummint.

Given their druthers the Baby Bells would drop residential phone service in a heartbeat and focus on business service. They would love to get back into the long haul lines they once had until Judge Greene from his throne waved his scepter and decreed AT&T must sever the long lines from local loop telcos.

[I don't remember his name on any ballot I ever cast, who elected this guy and how did he acquire so much power he can break up one of the largest communication companies on the planet?]

But even if the Baby Bells could drop residential service, it doesn't mean your dial tone would stop permanently we would have small block telcos form and lease or buy the old switching equipment [and central offices] and re-sell it to the homeowner since the plant both outside and inside is already in place. There would a shakeout over time and those most efficient with the lowest costs would survive and the rest perish.

But the rural area and the 'urban' city core' may lose their phone service entirely the costs would be so high no rational person would pay for or offer them service. They say 80% of the 9-1-1 calls from South Central LA are 'spurious' and not real emergencies...

Then the cell phone operators could steal all that business and the local copper cable loops would be salvaged/harvested for the metal and a lot of ugly telephone poles would become firewood...

I think the Rural Electrification Board is still around decades after all the small farms in the US went electric, it shows you the power of Government subsidies and programs.

Since the recent floods out in your neck of the woods we have been seeing articles in the paper about 'flood insurance' to protect people living in the low flood plains. It is significant no real private flood insurance exists, nor will lenders give a mortgage if you don't have insurance in a flood-risk area. Why do all of us who live in non-flood areas have to subsidize those people building $2 million houses on the sand bars know as the The Outer Banks?

That was a great flame of that Brit hyphenated-name guy what writes for The Times!

What do the Brits do when 2 hyphenated-name people marry each other what do they name the kids? In a couple of generations, this could get really complicated...

Robert Rudzki
NRA Life Member BPL2997J-029368
rasterho@pacbell.net
http://home.pacbell.net/rasterho
"If the Government did not intend illegal aliens to have the vote, why do they print the ballot and election materials in Spanish...?"

I think the whole basis of subsidies is that everyone feels he's getting more than he's giving. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nearly all of us would be better off if subsidies disappeared overnight. Service would improve and costs would drop. What I've never been able to figure out about flood insurance is this: most people, like Chris Ward-Johnson, support subsidies for the poor, weak, and inept. Nearly no one thinks the rich should be subsidized, and that's exactly what flood insurance does. In one respect, it benefits the less well off in that it allows the little guy to buy a house in flood-prone areas, although I still don't think I should be forced to subsidize his foolishness. But where the really obnoxious part comes in is when the government sells subsidized flood insurance to that guy with the $2,000,000 home.

The answer is easy enough. If you insist on making subsidized flood insurance available. limit its availability to homes appraised at $50,000 or less. The overriding principle of insurance is distributing risk in exchange for a premium that reflects loss experience and expected future losses. If that guy with the $2,000,000 house had to pay the real cost of his insurance, he might think again.

As far as last names, I've always preferred the original Nordic method. My friend Steve Tucker has a son named Andrew. His full name should be Andrew Stevenson. If I have a daughter named Elizabeth, she becomes Elizabeth Robertsdaughter. If she marries Andrew, she becomes Elizabeth Stevenson. If they have a son William, he becomes William Andrewson. And so on. I believe they still use this method in Iceland, but not elsewhere.

 


 

 

 

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Sunday, 17 October 1999

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Lots to do today, and I'm not feeling very well, so I'm going to defer doing much here today and just put it all up tomorrow. I've gotten a dozen or more substantive emails concerning yesterday's material, which I'll put up tomorrow.

 


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