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Daynotes Journal

Week of 20 December 1999

Saturday, 25 December 1999 09:17

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, 20 December 1999

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For new readers who have arrived here via Dr. Keyboard's column in The Times, welcome. Site updates are likely to be quite short this week because of the holidays, but you'll find about 18 months' worth of previous weekly journal pages here. Sorry for the strangely spelled words and all that.

Barbara is off to the doctor this morning for her annual checkup. I have those, too, every twenty-five years or so. The last one was, let's see, in 1971, so I'm a bit overdue. On the way home from the doctor, she's stopping at the supermarket to stock up for the new millennium, just in case. We don't really expect much to happen here, but it makes sense to take precautions. Several years ago, a major ice storm caused us to lose power for nearly a week. Although we have natural gas heating, the furnace wouldn't work without power for the blower. Toward the end of that ordeal, we were literally considering burning books and furniture. Afterwards, we immediately had natural gas logs installed in one of our fireplaces. Running at maximum, those gas logs put out 40,000 BTUs, which is enough to keep the entire house livable and several rooms comfortable. We left the other fireplace as is, to make sure we could burn firewood if the natural gas failed. One way or another, we'll stay warm. And we'll have food and water, enough to allow us to take in family, neighbors, and friends if necessary. So, although we don't really expect major problems, we'll be ready for them if they occur.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Tim Werth [mailto:twerth@kcnet.com]
Sent: Sunday, December 19, 1999 12:28 PM
To: webmaster@ttgnet.com
Subject: MP3 rippers

Bob,

Which MP3 ripper did you settle on. I searched thru your site and found several references to ripping MP3's but you never mention which software you are using. As usual I trust your opinion a lot more than the reviews I read. Thanks.

Sorry. I should have mentioned that. I use the ripper that comes with the Plextor Manager 2000 utility suite bundled with Plextor CD-ROM drives. It doesn't really matter much which ripper you use. All a ripper does is extract the digital audio from the Audio CD and write it as a .wav file to your hard disk. All of the rippers I've tried perform that core function perfectly, although they vary in features, speed, convenience, and so on. The Plextor utility does everything I need to do. It's fast, and I have it. As far as the rest, I use BladeEnc for encoding the MP3s from the .wav files. BladeEnc has a minimalist command-line interface, but it's free, reasonably fast, and (unlike many encoders) allows choosing higher bit rates such as 256 and 320 k/s.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Chuck Waggoner [waggoner at gis dot net]
Sent: Sunday, December 19, 1999 10:06 PM
To: webmaster@ttgnet.com
Subject: Y2k

Speaking of that approaching deadline, MIT here in Boston, is making the local news a lot lately. I find nothing about this on the MIT website, but the local news outlets here are reporting that "sources" at MIT (probably a press release) are recommending that everyone shut down their computers over the magic moment of the date shift, and even consider not starting up again until 2 January.

This, they say, is because they have "seen" quite a few viruses that are laying dormant, waiting for the date change, which then--supposedly--will come alive and wreak havoc on those who are infected. Most of these can be avoided by powering off until 2 January--so say these reports quoting MIT.

Don't know if you are getting the same information, but thought I would pass this little bit of regionalism along.

Many corporations are shutting down all their systems on 12/31/99 and not restarting them until 1/2/00. The virus threat is just one reason for that, however. The possibility of extended power failures is certainly an issue, even for companies that have installed backup generators. Obviously, given the choice, it's better to shut down systems yourself than have them crash when the fuel for the generator runs out. And even in such companies, of course, it's ordinarily only the glass house that's powered by the generator. Servers and clients outside the glass house have only UPSs, if that. And, speaking as a former IT guy, if I'm going to have problems, I'd rather they occur first only with a few systems that I choose to turn on to test things. There's probably a trillion dollar's worth of data stored on client computers that would be difficult or impossible to reconstruct, so just keeping all the systems turned on and hoping for the best is not a viable choice for most corporations.

We won't be shutting down the systems here. We're pretty well Y2K tested, and, if worse comes to horrible, our data is backed up seven ways to Sunday. We'll also keep our dial-up connection to the Internet up, because the one thing that is certain to collapse at midnight New Year's Eve is the telephone system. Most people take for granted that when they pick up their telephones they'll get dial tone and when they dial they'll get connected. In fact, dial tone is a limited resource. Phone companies have only enough dial tone generators and DTMF decoders to provide simultaneous service to a very tiny fraction of the number of lines they support, perhaps as little as 1%. Once you dial a call and are connected, those resources are released for use by the next caller. At midnight, millions of people are going to pick up their telephones to see if they work. They won't. That simple fact is going to result in the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people worldwide, because they'll be unable to connect to 911 and other emergency services. 

 


 

 

 

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Tuesday, 21 December 1999

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This is starting to get annoying. My icons are disappearing. Not many, and not often, but this should not be happening at all. The Internet Explorer icon just disappeared from kiwi. A couple of days ago, I noticed that the FrontPage 2000 icon had disappeared on kerby. There's no sign of where they went. Nothing in the Recycle Bin. I don't normally worry about viruses, but such strange behavior on two heretofore stable machines is beginning to worry me. I downloaded the latest virus signatures from Symantec and ran the virus scan. Nothing found.

Barbara got back from shopping yesterday with a bunch of storable food. Twenty pounds of rice, ten of sugar, a bunch of tea, coffee, and so on, a bunch of canned meats, fruits, vegetables, etc. Juices, noodles, instant mashed potatoes, peanut butter, dry milk, etc. etc. All told, about $300 worth, but I feel better for having it in the house. A lot of it is stuff we use anyway. We labeled everything with the date, and will simply rotate it through our normal consumption cycle, replacing each item as we open one from stock.

Barbara is taking my mother to the doctor this afternoon. Afterwards, we'll be out running various errands, including getting the propane canister for our gas grill filled. We'll may also pick up an adapter to allow us to run our Coleman propane camp stove from that canister. I suspect all these preparations will turn out to be unneeded, but better safe than sorry. My best guess is that there will be only isolated outages of power, natural gas, and so on in the US, but if we happen to be in an affected area it will be little comfort to know that the problems are not widespread. And I remember the Great Blackout of 1965, when one failed relay caused a domino effect that brought down electric power over a significant portion of the US. They say that can't happen again, but then they said it couldn't happen in the first place.

I've been doing more testing of the NiMH batteries, and they confirm my earlier tests. I've mentioned several times that NiMH batteries are good for high-current applications, but haven't really explained that remark. Batteries are rated in amp-hours (or milliamp hours), but the single figure rating really doesn't tell the full story. In addition to the amp-hour rating, a battery should specify at what current level that rating is derived, at what temperature, and at what cutoff voltage. The most important and overlooked aspect is the current draw. Amp-hour rating is the product of the the number of amps that a battery can deliver and the period for which it can deliver it. For example, a battery that can deliver one amp for one hour is rated at one amp-hour. Similarly, a battery that can deliver two amps for 0.5 hours is a one amp-hour battery, as is one that can deliver 0.1 amps for 10 hours.

But the amp-hour capacity of a given battery is not linear. For example, the battery that delivers one amp for one hour might allow you to draw two amps from it. But you'll find that it won't deliver those two amps for 0.5 hour. In fact, it may deliver two amps for only ten minutes, for a total of 1/3 amp-hour. Conversely, if you draw only 0.5 amps from that battery, it may deliver that current for 3 hours, yielding 1.5 amp-hours. With a 0.1 amp load, that same battery may deliver current for 30 hours, yielding 3 amp-hours. So, in addition to the simple amp-hour rating, it's important to take into account the current level at which the rating is derived.

Alkaline batteries are relatively inefficient when used to deliver high current. That's why a fresh set of alkalines may deliver only 10 or 20 shots in some digital cameras, which are high draw devices. NiMH batteries, on the other hand, are relatively efficient when used in high current applications. That's why you may get five times the number of pictures from a set of NiMH batteries with the same amp-hour rating as that set of alkalines.

Temperature also affects the ability of a battery to deliver current, as anyone knows who has tried to start a car on a cold morning. Cold degrades the ability of any battery to deliver current. The rule of thumb in chemistry is that a 10C temperature change doubles or halves the rate of a chemical reaction. I suspect that there are some differences in how temperature changes affect different battery technologies, but I haven't explored this yet.

Finally, there is the issue of cut-off voltage. All battery technologies deliver decreasing voltage as they discharge. But the slope of that discharge line varies for different battery technologies. Silver oxide batteries, for example, have a very shallow slope. They deliver nearly nominal voltage until they are almost completely discharged, and then die suddenly. Other technologies have a steeper slope. They deliver nominal voltage only when fully charged. The voltage they deliver drops rapidly as they discharge, and may reach a value that is too low to be usable by the equipment while considerable charge remains in the battery. Once again, this is something that I have not yet had time to explore. 

There are other subtle issues, including "recovery." That is, battery technologies differ in how well they recover after being allowed to "rest." For example, two batteries that use different technologies may have similar characteristics when discharged under a constant load, for example being used in a portable CD player or motorized toy. But those batteries may have very different characteristics when used in an intermittent load situation, as with a digital camera. One technology may "bounce back" better when allowed to rest. Again, this is something I have not yet explored, although I suspect that NiMH has much better recovery characteristics than alkaline.

Enough of this. It's time to go to work.

 


 

 

 

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Wednesday, 22 December 1999

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Unfortunately, I spent most of the time I would have used to update this page this morning on responding to private emails that arrived overnight. 

We were out and about yesterday running errands, none of which were anywhere near the shopping areas. We got the propane canister filled at the local RV sales and service place. I asked the guy if they'd seen a big increase in people getting them filled. He said they had, and that they expected the real rush to come next week. While I was standing there watching him fill my canister, a service technician drove past in an RV that was literally the size of a city bus. I asked the guy how much something like that cost. He said that, depending on model and options, something between $250,000 and $400,000. Good grief. And they have a lot full of the things. 

I next asked him if any special driver's license was needed to drive one of these behemoths. Nope. None. At least in North Carolina, if you're legally permitted to drive a normal automobile, you're considered competent to drive one of these monsters. And, as Barbara pointed out, most of the people who have them are elderly. Now there's a scary thought for you the next time you're driving down the highway and see one of those things coming toward you. 

Of course, the same can be true of other things. The year I got my "adult" driver's license in Pennsylvania was the last year that they didn't require any special test or endorsement to drive a motorcycle. When I moved to North Carolina in 1980, I immediately went in to get my NC driver's license. I told them I also had a motorcycle, and the guy said I'd have to test to get a motorcycle endorsement on my NC license, since my PA license had no such endorsement. I explained that (a) my PA license didn't have one because it didn't need one, and (b) that my Honda 750F was still up in Pennsylvania. He asked how long I'd been riding regularly. I told him that I'd ridden since I was 16, about 10 years' experience. That was a slight exaggeration, since I'd only been riding regularly for a year or so. But I had ridden a motorcycle once when I was 16. I crashed it, but that's another story. At any rate, I got my motorcycle endorsement. Every time I renew my NC license, they ask if I want to keep the motorcycle endorsement, which costs an extra few bucks. Every time, I tell them yes. So the upshot is that I'm legally entitled to ride a motorcycle, although it's been close to 20 years since I've straddled one.

And my bank repossessed my motorcycle accidentally a month or so later. They later apologized for confusing me with some guy who'd let his payments lapse, but by that time they'd already repossessed and sold my bike. Probably just as well. My mother blessed them for their mistake. My 1979 Honda 750F was one of the last real super-bikes. After some work, it turned 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds, not much less acceleration than an F14 launching from a carrier's catapult. It didn't have much top end, though. It ran out of oomph at about 135 to 140 MPH. I was lucky to have lived through the year I owned it.

Barbara reports a dead bird outside my mom's French doors. It apparently kamikazed into the glass. She doesn't want the dogs to get it. For some reason, I'm the person in this household who is officially charged with dealing with dead birds, so I guess I'd better go give it a decent burial in the trash can.

 

 


 

 

 

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Thursday, 23 December 1999

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I forgot to move the "current" bookmark yesterday, so some may have missed my post yesterday for what it was worth.

We spent the afternoon and evening at the Tucker's house yesterday. It started as a quick trip to drop off Saturnalia presents for the kids. As usual, it turned into a lot more. Steve had accumulated the stuff he needed to build a new PC, so we built it. That's all detailed over on his page. Suzy made prodigious quantities of delicious Beef Stroganoff for dinner. As usual, she was prepared to feed an army on a moment's notice. 

The only problem was that we're used to leaving the dogs at home when we visit the Tuckers. We couldn't leave Malcolm loose at home. Well, we could have, but the destruction we'd have found when we returned home would have been incredible. Malcolm has learned to stand up to end tables and so on, so he can get into almost anything. Actually, we were more worried about him hurting himself than anything he might shred. The alternative was putting him in his crate, so that's what we did, expecting to be back in an hour or so. 

When it became clear that we were going to be there for a lot longer, Barbara drove back over to the house and returned with Malcolm and his crate. Malcolm did quite well at the Tuckers. He and the kids enjoyed playing together, and any time Malcolm got cranked up he went in the crate for a cool-down period. We kept him blocked off in the kitchen, figuring that if he had an accident there it wouldn't be too serious. But he didn't have any accidents. Good puppy.

We returned home late, and I checked my email as usual. There was a call on the answering machine from Tom Syroid, and a bunch of emails from friends, including several that deserve substantive replies.. I mailed Tom to tell him I was completely whacked, read all the emails, and then went to bed. That was just putting off the inevitable. I'll have to answer all those this morning before I start work.

One of the email exchanges was with Chris Ward-Johnson, AKA Dr. Keyboard. He lives in France, but I wasn't sure exactly where. In yesterday's post, he again mentioned Montpellier, so headed over to MapQuest to find out exactly where he lives. I soon discovered that there are two Montpellier's in France, and wasn't entirely sure which one he lived in. So I mailed him to ask, including the detailed MapQuest URL of my own street. Chris was kind enough to return the detailed MapQuest URLs of his home. We agreed that, to prevent anyone from targeting a nuke on us, we'd hold this information closely.

I'm not sure why I care where people live, but I apparently do, and the urge to know seems to infect many people. So far, I've exchanged such map references with Chris, Tom Syroid, Bo Leuf, Jerry Pournelle, and others. I think this, like publishing pictures of yourself, your home, and your family is a way to offset the anonymity of this whole Internet thing. But the flip side of this is that giving out too much personal information isn't a good idea. Jerry's wife asked him not to publish any pictures of their house, which is probably a reasonable precaution. There are a lot of deranged people out there. It sounds like Chris also prefers to remain reasonably anonymous, which is probably a good idea for him as well. Of course, there's no way I would disclose any of this personal information unless someone was willing to pay me enough money.

Which brings up another interesting phenomenon. I posted my End of the World Dinner Party invitation list several days ago. Since then, I've gotten a few emails asking me for the private email addresses, phone numbers, addresses, or other personal information for one or more of the people I listed. Yeah, right. In the first place, I only know a few of those people. In the second place, I don't give out that kind of information, so please stop asking.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: J.H. Ricketson [mailto:culam@neteze.com]
Sent: Wednesday, December 22, 1999 7:12 PM
To: thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: Cookies, and AppsBeing Restricted to One Installation???

Dear Bob,

A couple of things I lie awake thinking about when I don't have anything better to think about:

1. COOKIES: I am really puzzled by what cookies are supposed to accomplish. I use InterMute to block the garbage that is transmitted by most sites. Some sites require allowing cookies to be dropped. Some of those sites (my online bank) I will allow InterMute to pass cookies for that site only. In addition, about once a month I search all partitions for "cookies*.*". Anything that shows up has its attribute changed to READ ONLY. So far, the cookies files I have turned up have remained unchanged - yet the cookie-demanding sites seem perfectly content with this arrangement. I have speculated that the sites may be dropping them in some temp directory, yet I have never seen evidence of this. Plus it seems that Netscape closes down too fast to be automatically flushing the evidence. What's going on with cookies? Who's kidding who here?

2. Install restrictions on recent apps: I understand that certain applications, MS Office 2K is one, I think, restrict themselves to one installation on one box. Attemps to install to a new box on an upgrade are reportedly unsuccessful, according to a Street Tech forum writer. Again - I'm puzzled, and ignorant of how this is accomplished. Yes - back in the early days of floppy disk installation, SW vendors had a nasty trick of writing back to install floppies. This was solved by installing only from diskcopied floppies. What I don't understand is how an app can know it has been installed, assuming that it is installed from the usual CD. I didn't think the normal CD ROM drive was capable of writing to the usual CD. If this assumption is true - just how in hell does the install CD know it has been installed???

Wishing you & yours a very happy Saturnalia ( like that term. I think I'll steal it!)

Regards,

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

As far as your first question, there are two types of cookies, persistent and non-persistent. IE5 allows treating the two types differently. I have my IE5 configured to disallow persistent cookies in the Internet Zone, but to allow non-persistent ones. As far as I know, Netscape stores all cookies in the eponymously-named HTML file in a subdirectory of the main program directory. IE5 unfortunately stores each cookie as an individual file, and then sanctimoniously warns you if you attempt to delete a cookie file. "Mon Dieu! The file you are about to delete is a COOKIE file. How dare you even consider deleting it?" or words to that effect. Earlier versions of IE stored all cookies in a cookies folder under WINNT. Current versions store them under your personal profile folder. As far as making them read-only, that usually doesn't accomplish much. Once the site generates a cookie and writes it to your hard disk, it can subsequently read that cookie and use it to identify and track you. Obviously, cookies that are used for stuff like maintaining a shopping basket won't work properly if they're read-only, but that's not what the majority of cookies are used for.

As far as your second point, I have heard the same statements, and I know of no way to limit how many installations are done from a CD. As you say, a CD is read-only, so if it works for the first installation there's no way to prevent it from working for the next installation. Obviously, it would be possible to produce a CD that installed, say, only to a system that had a specific Pentium II/III serial number, but that's not possible with standard pressed CDs.

 


 

 

 

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Friday, 24 December 1999

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Well, our Y2K preparations are finally complete. We have the M-60s and Claymores covering all approaches to the house. For air defense, we wanted some Stingers, of course, but those are pretty hard to come by. Instead, we were lucky enough to pick up a case of Soviet 9K34 Strela-3 surface to air missiles on sale. The Strela-3 is virtually a copy of the Stinger, and should serve admirably. They're heat-seeking, but it remains to be seen whether they can achieve a lock on weak IR emitters like reindeer.

Barbara pointed out that we were a bit light on anti-armor capabilities. She's right, as usual. We had only a few disposable LAWs. Convenient as those are, we wanted something heavier. As it turned out, both TOWs and Dragons were out of our price range, so we settled for a couple of surplus Soviet RPG-7 launchers and a case of missiles. With only 260 mm of armor penetration, the RPG-7 isn't much good against a main battle tank, but it's perfectly usable against sleighs.

Steve Tucker finally got around to posting pictures of his office. Don't believe him that he didn't clean up the office first, though. I know because I can see the carpet. I never knew what color it was until now.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Chuck Waggoner [waggoner at gis dot net]
Sent: Thursday, December 23, 1999 10:30 AM
To: webmaster@ttgnet.com
Subject: More Cookies

Regards the cookies, I have found that although IE5 displays cookies in a folder by that name under your profile (doesn't everyone use profiles?), deleting them from that folder does not take them out of the circuit. They can still be found in the Temporary Internet Files folder, and apparently they can still be read. I once removed my NYTimes access cookie from the Cookies folder, but was still able to access the site without submitting my name and password. Whereas deleting it from the Temp. Internet folder, while leaving it in the Cookies folder, rendered me unable to access the site without re-submitting name and password.

There's much more to the cagey-ness of cookies than is apparent on the surface.

That's interesting. My experience has been the opposite. When I delete a cookie from the cookie folder (both \winnt\cookies under IE4 and from my profile folder under IE5), it also deletes the cookie from Temporary Internet Files, and I am no longer able to access the site without entering my name and password.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: Chris Ward-Johnson [mailto:chriswj@mostxlnt.co.uk]
Sent: Thursday, December 23, 1999 2:32 PM
To: 'Robert Bruce Thompson'
Subject: Limiting CD installations

Just read this on your site, and have only this week come across a CD which will only install once on one machine - Log Analyzer from WebTrends. Well, sort of. It does it by making you register online with a specific registration number printed on a sticker. Once that number's registered you can't use it again. This is actually a re-install of a program for a client (the same ones going up against Mr Murdoch's lawyers, actually) and is legitimate. I've e-mailed asking what I can do, but had no reply yet.

Regards

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

Yes, it's certainly possible to restrict the number of installations from a CD by using a key diskette or a forced on-line registration process, but I don't think that was the point. What those reports referred to earlier were claiming was that there were CDs that allowed only one installation without using any such mechanisms. That's clearly impossible, given that the CD is a read-only medium. I suppose it might be possible to create a CD that self-destructed a la Mission Impossible, but that's not what's being claimed either. Equally, it would be possible to limit installations via a forced on-line registration process that concealed the details from the user, e.g. forcing the user to enter the number from the label, encrypting a key, sending that key directly to the PC without allowing the user to see it. The real solution, obviously, is to Just Say No to such software.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: J.H. Ricketson [mailto:culam@neteze.com]
Sent: Friday, December 24, 1999 2:54 AM
To: thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: More re Cookies

Dear Bob,

This Cookies business gets curiouser & curiouser the deeper it is delved. For the record - I use Netscape 4.7, one reason being that it supposedly keeps its cookies in one file.

Now then. You said "As far as making them read-only, that usually doesn't accomplish much. Once the site generates a cookie and writes it to your hard disk, it can subsequently read that cookie and use it to identify and track you. Obviously, cookies that are used for stuff like maintaining a shopping basket won't work properly if they're read-only, but that's not what the majority of cookies are used for."

I make the cookie.txt file read only so that it can't be written to (duh!). That implies that any writing by a site will have to be done elsewhere, right? OK. I did a bit more checking. Came up with the following: F:\!NT4WS\Profiles\JHR\Cookies, with the inocuously-named index.dat. file. Its properties indicated it had last been updated 12/23/99 04:35. Klaxon! Alarm! Man Battle Stations! I used PCTOOLS to look at the file. It was all 0s or hearts, except for one brief notation by ZDnet. (They're a pushy lot, that) About what might be expected. SO - I made that file Read Only. There are similar files in W98 & Win 2k, also. We will see what effect this has on my browsing.

As to the shopping basket cookie, my transactions with Amazon.com & Outpost.com work just fine with cookies.txt read only. We shall see what effect the denial of index.dat has, if any.

I still haven't found any tracks of anything like a cookie anywhere else on my HDDs. Just for drill, one day RSN I'll minimize Netscape and do a thorough search for files by date, using todaydate as the criteria. If anything has been writing to my HDDS other than myself, this might turn it up. I still remain unconvinced that all these sites are flushing their tracks in the instant that Netscape is closing down. To begin with, commercial enterprises are not that tidy. They could care less about the state of my HDDs. That is my problem, Jack. Also, if they did flush their writings, it seems to me it would take Netscape much longer to shut down. As it is, click! - it's off.

Any comments or suggestions from you or readers will be greatly appreciated. We may learn something here.

I agree with your desire to put a bit more of a face on who we are. That is why my sig has ... in San Pablo. That way (most) people know I'm in California, and can more closely relate to me. Common experience, etc. I know Bowman lives in CA, for instance. That makes me feel a bit closer. I know you live in NC, and I might sacrifice a chicken when the next hurricane is seriously headed your way. A bit closer, but I feel comfortable with all the world knowing what town I live in. If I were more notorious, perhaps I'd feel differently, but I'm not.

Best regards to you & yours.

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

The effect of using read-only varies between Navigator and IE. With Nav, you can make the cookie file read-only. That simply prevents any more cookies from being written to your hard drive, but existing cookies can be read. With IE, it's a bit different. Attempting to make a given cookie file read-only accomplishes nothing, because the originating site simply writes another cookie with a number appended to it. Making the cookie directory itself read-only does nothing. Cookies continue to be written to that directory. Fortunately, IE supports "zones" for which you can specify cookie settings individually. I allow all cookies in my Trusted zone, but have persistent cookies disabled in my Internet and Restricted zones.

Like you, I'm not concerned about people knowing where I live. If I wrote fiction like Jerry Pournelle, I'd be a bit more careful. Same thing if I wrote for general circulation newspapers or magazines, as Chris Ward-Johnson used to do. The word "fan" is after all short for "fanatic" and some readers are truly that. Chris reports that an author friend of his arrived home one day to find an entire family sitting in his living room, drinking his wine, and demanding that he sign copies of his books for them.

 


 

 

 

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Saturday, 25 December 1999

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We wish you a Merry Saturnalia.
We wish you a Merry Saturnalia.
We wish you a Merry Saturnalia.
And a Happy Y2K.

My brother arrived for a brief visit yesterday. He announced that he'd gotten married the preceding day. About time, too. Bill and Janie have been living together for nearly twenty years now. As he says, he won't have any problem remembering his anniversary.

I actually met Janie first. Bill was working as a TV director at WGHP-TV in High Point, NC then. Late one night, he was working by himself in the control room, and I'd stopped by to visit him at the station. We were sitting at the control panel talking when he decided he needed to use the bathroom. He asked me to watch things while he was gone. He said, "just watch that monitor. If anything bad happens, punch that big square orange button. That kills the feed and puts up a Technical Difficulties screen." Okay. That seemed easy enough.

As I was sitting there at the control panel watching the late show, Janie came wandering in for her first day at work on the midnight shift. We introduced ourselves, and she asked what I did there. "Nothing," I responded. "Well, what's your job title," she asked. "I don't have one," I said. "Well, why do they pay you, then," she asked. "They don't," I replied. "Why are you sitting at the control panel, then," she asked. "I get to punch this big orange button if there's a problem." Bill arrived back about then, and Janie asked him who I really was. "Just some guy that wandered in off the street," he told her.

If Dr. Jim can publish a picture of himself wearing only gold lame shorts, the least I can do is publish one of me wearing my holiday raiment. 

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It's actually quite comfortable, although my nose blinking on and off can be a bit distracting while I'm working at the keyboard. And I don't even want to think about what will happen if I sneeze.

 


 

 

 

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Sunday, 26 December 1999

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.