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Daynotes Journal

Week of 13 March 2000

Friday, 05 July 2002 08:06

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, 13 March 2000

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Cool air has returned to Winston-Salem. We've been having high temperatures near 80F (27C) and lows around 55F (13C). Our electronic thermometer says our low last night was 22F (-5.5C) and our high today is expected to be only around 55F. The dogs sure like it, though. Speaking of which, I get to dog-sit today. Barbara is off on errands--a hair cut this morning, followed by lunch with an acquaintance, followed by a vet visit to have Tess the rescue Border Collie's sutures checked.

Speaking of sutures, we had to trade in Malcolm's dish for a cone. He's a very flexible puppy. Friday evening, we noticed him contorted into a position that allowed him to chew on his sutures even while wearing the dish. We tried everything. We sprayed the wound with three different kinds of stuff guaranteed to taste horrible to dogs. He licked it all off, smacked his lips, and begged for more. We tried everything we could think of to keep him from getting to the wound. We tried rearranging the disk. We tried reversing the dish. We even tried securing the dish around his abdomen instead of his neck. We tried bandaging the wound, covering it heavily with strips of old towels, hoping he wouldn't be able to chew through them. Nothing worked. 

I finally told Barbara we'd just have to hope for the best overnight and see if the vet had a larger dish. She hauled Malcolm to the vet Saturday morning and returned with a replacement for the dish. This one is a cone. It looks like a small lampshade, with the narrow part secured to his collar. It indeed prevents him from chewing the wound, but now he charges around running into things. That's funny, until the thing he runs into is the back of one's leg. That hurts. Barbara did find out at the vet's that Malcolm now weighs about 40 pounds. At only 5.5 months old now, he's likely to be a big male when he grows up. Probably Duncan's size, 65 or 70 pounds, give or take.

The sound card chapter is coming together, but it's not finished yet. I put in full days Saturday and Sunday on it, and got quite a bit done. I hope to finish it today and tomorrow. Once I get it done, we enter the tech review phase. The chapters I finished late in the process are ready to go to TR. I'll ship them off to my editor, Robert Denn, and he'll coordinate the tech reviewers. As they're working on the later chapters, I'll be doing re-write on the earlier chapters. 

So this thing isn't done yet, not by a long shot, but it's getting there. After a short break to do our taxes, I'll be jumping in full-time to work on the book Pournelle and I are doing. Then there are two more books waiting on the horizon. I certainly won't lack for things to do.

 


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Tuesday, 14 March 2000

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Well, I finally reached 100% completion of the first draft of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. It only took about four times longer than I'd originally planned. That doesn't mean I'm done, though. I still have the fun of re-write, tech review, etc. etc. But this is, at least, a significant milestone.

Malcolm has become a little thief. If he sees something he wants, he takes it, unless it is tied down. Sometimes he takes it even then. His latest target is pillows from the sofa and the bed. Not to chew, but to make a nest with. Every time Barbara and I turn around, pillows are missing. Malcolm has carried them off, tossed them in whatever corner he happens to want to curl up in, and made a nest of them. What's amazing is that he can carry them around and arrange them while wearing his new cone.

malcolm-cone-stolen-pillows2.jpg (39871 bytes)

Yesterday morning I came through the den on my way to get a cup of tea, and found that Malcolm had pillaged all four small sofa pillows and one large sofa pillow. He'd carried them over to his favorite location, at the back door to the deck, and arranged them in a neat pile. He was lying asleep on that pile, on his back with his back legs splayed out and his front paws folded over. I should have taken a picture of that one, but I was trying desperately to get the chapter done. All the pillows are so beat up now that I don't even bother to yell at him any more. Barbara will get some new pillows once Malcolm outgrows his pillow thieving, if he ever does.

Now it's time to go look at my to-do list, which is not a pretty sight. A lot of what needs to be done relates to the book, directly or indirectly. There's re-write, tech review, and so on, obviously, but there are also a lot of administrative things to get done. Not least of those is the book's web site. Every chapter points to pages that don't exist on a web site that doesn't exist. I need to get that web site up, but to complicate matters further, the domain name is registered to my agents, StudioB, rather than to me. I need to get that domain transferred and active on pair.

We're also doing a free newsletter. That implies that I need a way to send it. BellSouth limits outgoing messages to 15 addressees, which isn't gonna cut it. I don't want to use one of the third-party mailing list services, but keeping it in-house implies that I need an SMTP server running locally. That implies Linux and HP OpenMail. I have a Dell Dimension XPS M200s Pentium/200 system sitting here not doing much of anything that should be a suitable box. It has a Pentium/200, 64 MB of RAM, a 6.4 GB hard disk, and a 100BaseT Ethernet card in it. Now the only problem is that I don't know enough about Linux to get that box configured and running. Fortunately, I can probably sweet-talk my UNIX-guru friend John Mikol into getting it set up for me.

My dual-CPU main workstation, kiwi, is still sitting shut down because it was overheating. I have stacks of motherboards, drives, and so on that I need to look at, ideally before I do re-write on the relevant chapters. Barbara and I are still working on another web site, completely unrelated to computers, that we hope to turn into a side-line business. There's this place to keep up with, and about 75 other needs-done-now items on my to-do list. I need to start putting serious effort into the book that Pournelle and I are working on, and I have two other books besides that under contract with O'Reilly. It's fortunate that I don't mind working seven days a week. 

I keep thinking of Pournelle's lines--"There's only one of me," "I'm dancing as fast as I can," and "It's a great life if you don't weaken."

 


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Wednesday, 15 March 2000

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Two interesting articles in The Register this morning about Windows 2000, both related to the slow start of Windows 2000. 

The first reports that the total retail and OEM sales of all versions of W2K in the first month since its release have been only about one million units. That's disastrously low, particularly when you consider that this includes "sell-in" (the process of stuffing the channel) and the strong likelihood that (a) the vast bulk of these have been OEM sales, with relatively few upgrade sales and even fewer full retail sales, and (b) the vast bulk of these have been W2KP rather than the server version. I say "strong likelihood" because Microsoft did not break out individual numbers. You can bet that they would have been trumpeting those individual numbers if the situation had been otherwise.

The second reports that MCSEs and MCSE candidates are revolting against Microsoft's attempt to force them to W2K by retiring the NT4 exams and certifications prematurely. The problem, of course, is that most companies will not migrate to W2K in 2000, or even in 2001. That's anathema to Microsoft, which desperately needs W2K revenue. This transparent effort to drive adoption of W2K from the tech side versus the marketing side isn't likely to work, but it is going to make a lot of people very unhappy. Microsoft shows no sign of budging, so the likelihood is that the supply of NT4 MCSEs will dry up by year-end.  Their attempt to force adoption will result in a lot of de-certified NT4 MCSEs. I suspect a lot of people will be putting "Former NT4 MCSE" on their resumes, and a lot of companies will be hiring those people for their non-credentials.

As I predicted long ago, initial W2K sales are slow, few are committing to W2KS, and Microsoft spin doctors are doing their best to put a good face on a bad situation. Just how truly bad sales are will become clearer later this year. It's probably too soon to declare Windows 2000 a failed product, but failure is beginning to look like a very real possibility. The really important issue is W2KS sales, because Microsoft needs to control the servers. Right now, it looks like that's not going to happen. Linux may yet be the death of Microsoft.

 


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Thursday, 16 March 2000

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I spent most of yesterday roughing out the new web site for PC Hardware in a Nutshell. The book points to the web site repeatedly, and it would be embarrassing to have the book hit the bookstores and have nobody home at the URLs printed in the book. Now I have the structure roughed out, at least, although there's no content there yet. For now, the web site resides on my hard disk. 

My agent registered the domain name for me some time ago, but registered it in their name rather than mine, not realizing that transferring a domain name is a pain in the butt. I'm going to ask them to transfer the domain name to joker.com in their own name and subsequently transfer it to my name. It seems that there should be a way to do that in one pass, but it's impossible. NSI wants their registry fee twice, three times counting the original registration, and there's no way to get around it. If the US government had to hand off the domain registry monopoly to a private corporation, it should at least have made sure that that corporation was a non-profit.

Barbara is off this morning to run errands, cut the grass for her parents, and pick up a new driver for her golf bag and test it at the driving range. I tried to convince her to take Malcolm along, saying that he could retrieve the balls for her, allowing her to practice all day with one bucket of balls. I failed to convince her, alas.

* * * * *

-----Original Message-----
From: McDonell @ The Park [mailto:mcdonell35@earthlink.net]
Sent: Wednesday, March 15, 2000 8:53 PM
To: thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: Digital Cameras

During the later part of last century, we shared thoughts about that Sony Mavica design and the potential advantages.

In January 2000, both my laser and inkjet printers failed. Fatal problems. Firing squad disposal.

With a genuine need, I raced madly to the nearby Target store where I knew they stocked the Model 73. I was sure that it would come home with me but the price was a bit more than I had expected for a discount store. So, I hesitated. Then bought an Olympus model that took some of those smaller media cards. Off to Office Depot where I shopped cheap and (I hoped) smart. I brought an HP 3200 and an HP 812 Inkjet Printer. I saved the Camera for last and found it to be good. Then came downloading. It used a DB9 serial cable for that purpose but my cranky Gateway would not recognize it on the two factory installed ports. I could edit on the TV, that was fun but why the devil was the PC transfer such a big problem? I did not care because I have grown used to Gateway problems and they are best solved by ignoring them. Meanwhile, the printer output was too average and the scanner images were more so.

Everything went back to the stores the next day. That beats dealing with a mail order house for sure. I came home with an HP 200 Digital Camera, an HP 5200 Flat Bed Scanner and an HP P-1000 inkjet printer. The latter is the best one I have seen, let alone owned. It is so quiet and fast that it makes me forget the conveniences of laser printing. The color is good but I have not taken the time to test that glossy paper. You see, an image must be very good quality to merit a hard copy. We are not that good at photography. The big news is that little smart media card in the camera. The card, about 1" square, also fits into the P-1000. Sensational utility. No cable fuss. Insert card, print index page. Press "Save", loads into PC.

Both the scanner and the printer load up slowly but I have hopes of installing a couple of USB ports in that cranky PC of mine. Both of those peripherals have USB outputs as well as the needed parallel ports I need right now.

With these weapons, I have been committing crimes and misdemeanors in the field of Web Site design. I am trying to teach myself the use of On-Line editing services such as offered by XOOM.COM and local html editors, starting with FrontPage 98. My experiences are written up [here]

If you have time, please give it a glance. It is a mixture of different ideas that make use of some feature or another from FP 98. I found the latter to be lacking in several areas.

Sincerely, Best Regards to your mother and the rest of your family.

Maurice F. McDonell

Thanks. I think you made a wise choice. I'm not familiar with HP digital cameras, but I wouldn't even think of buying a scanner or printer that wasn't made by HP. Your experience buying initially at the lower end of the range is also instructive. My habit is always to buy the middle model or higher. Inexpensive models make too many compromises, both in terms of features and construction quality. When I went out to buy a scanner last fall, HP offered the 3200, 4200, 5200, and 6200. They cost about $100, $200, $300, and $400, respectively. I figured I'd use the thing for at least five or six years, call it 2,000 days, so that really came down to a choice of 5, 10, 15, or 20 cents a day. Figured that way, the difference was minimal, so I bought the 6200 model.

 


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Friday, 17 March 2000

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I'm totally beat this morning, running on four hours of sleep. One of the dogs threw up at 4:00 a.m., and I couldn't get back to sleep at all. At least I got quite a bit of work done yesterday. My editor sent me back two of my first-draft chapters and the preface with his comments embedded. I got all three of those plus two more chapters he'd sent me earlier fixed up and ready for tech review. I'm getting the "easy" chapters (which is to say the ones I wrote late in the process) fixed up first. Some of the early chapters require some significant updating and re-write, so getting the early ones ready for TR first at least gives the tech reviewers something to chew on while I fix the early ones.

I was reading an absolutely hilarious book last night. Trouble was, it wasn't supposed to be funny. The book is The Runner, by Christopher Reich. It's about a man pursuing an SS war criminal just after WWII, and it's truly awful, despite some good reviews over on Amazon. Here's just one example:

"He glanced at the .45-caliber Colt Commander snuggled in its scarred leather holster. Nine bullets in the cartridge and one in the snout. When expecting action, release the safety and cock the hammer. That way you don't have to put your full weight on the trigger to fire the first shot. It was all coming back now."

This is why fiction authors who know nothing about the subjects they're writing about need to hire my wife or someone like her to catch their absurdities. Mr. Reich obviously knows nothing about guns, which feature prominently in his book. Taking that quote sentence by sentence:

1. He means either "the 45-caliber Colt ..." or "the .45 Colt ..." A caliber is 1/100 of an inch, so a .45-caliber pistol would have a bore that was almost invisible. A .45 pistol, on the other hand, is pretty intimidating, having a bore nearly half an inch in diameter. Also, he didn't mean a "Colt Commander", which hadn't been produced yet when his story is set. He meant a Colt 1911A1 Government Model (or, just possibly, an original 1911 left over from WWI ), which was what the military generally issued during WWII, and in fact continued to issue until they recently adopted a 9mm replacement. (Big mistake, but that's another story.)

2. He means "Nine cartridges [or rounds] in the magazine and one up the spout." Even that's wrong, however. The standard 1911A1 held 7 rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber (or "up the spout"). But he sure does love the word snout. He misuses it repeatedly throughout the book, rather than the correct "muzzle". I can only speculate that he's confused because one may use a muzzle on the snout of an animal.

3. Not possible. The 1911A1 and its variants do not allow the safety to be moved to the Safe position unless the hammer is already cocked. John Moses Browning, who designed the 1911, intended for it to be carried in Condition One (round chambered, hammer back, and safety on, also called "cocked and locked") or in Condition Zero (round chambered, hammer back, and safety off, which sounds dangerous but is not because the gun cannot be discharged until the separate grip safety is automatically depressed when someone strongly grips the pistol). The US military did variously recommend carrying the 1911A1 in other states, however, including round-chambered/hammer-down and no-round-chambered/hammer-down.

4. Mr. Reich has obviously had some little exposure to a double-action autopistol. The 1911A1, however, is single-action, so this entire sentence is absurd. You can put as much weight as you want on the trigger of an uncocked 1911A1, and it ain't gonna fire.

5. It can't come back if it was never there.

My main carry piece for more than 20 years has been a steel-frame Colt Commander, so I'm pretty familiar with it. But it's not just firearms that Mr. Reich has a problem with. The entire book is chock-full of historical inaccuracies and anachronisms. It's pathetic.

 


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Saturday, 18 March 2000

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Barbara is off to a Border Collie field trial this morning, where she'll probably be spending most of the day. She's working the Carolina Border Collie Rescue table, and said she couldn't handle Duncan and/or Malcolm, so I've got the kids for the day. I'm debating between spending the day re-writing chapters, or doing some much-needed hardware maintenance and upgrades, or working on the web site for the new book. Perhaps some of all three.

Big to-do in the paper this morning about the Wake Forest University student newspaper running a paid advertisement from a revisionist group that claims the Nazis didn't murder as many Jews as is usually stated. The Wake Forest paper is one of only three or four student newspapers nationwide that agreed to run the ad. The editor of the student paper says that it's a First Amendment issue, and I have some sympathy with her. 

Not that the First Amendment in any way guarantees these people the right to publish their stuff in her paper, but I was pleased to see her take a stand in favor of freedom rather than cave in to the Politically Correct line. The whole idea of a free press is freedom of thought and expression. If some of those thoughts offend someone, tough. Offending someone is not the same thing as injuring him. Free exchange of ideas and the ability to challenge preconceptions, no matter how dearly held, is much more important than the risk that someone may be offended. Many people are too easily offended anyway.

I'm not sure where the 6,000,000 figure came from to start with. I suspect it's probably someone's guess, and has become graven in stone as an absolute figure. I can't see where the exact number much matters, anyway. Whether the Nazis murdered 6,000,000 Jews, or 600,000, or 60,000, or even 6,000, it was still mass murder as a state policy. We don't consider a serial killer with 10 victims any less evil than one with 100 victims. No more so would we suddenly decide the Nazis were nice guys if it turned out that the 6,000,000 figure was a bit high.

Calling into question things that "everyone knows" is one of the most important functions of a free press. As it happens, I think the Nazis probably did murder 6,000,000 Jews, or something very close to that number. But if someone cares to challenge that number, it's their right to do so. Not that I'll pay any attention to what they have to say, because that's my right.

 


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Sunday, 19 March 2000

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Whew. My workday yesterday was 14 hours, 0730 to 2130, with only a couple of short breaks, including dinner. I managed to get three more chapters polished and ready for tech review and sent them off to my editor. I also got about 90% of a fourth chapter done, which I finished this morning before doing this. The good news is that I now have 9 of 15 chapters submitted for tech review. The bad news is that those were the easy nine. The last six are going to take more work.

Chapter 2, Working on PCs, is fine as far as content--that stuff doesn't go out of date--but needs some severe compression, which is always time-consuming. Chapter 3, Processors, and Chapter 4, Motherboards, need updating, re-write, and reformatting to include some elements that we devised later in the process. Chapter 5, Memory, is generally okay as far as content (although I need to update the Rambus situation), but needs much of the same as Chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 8, Hard Disk Drives, needs substantial cutting, re-write, reformatting, and so on. It also needs material added on SCSI. I'd decided to leave that out when I wrote the first draft, but now I've changed my mind. Finally, Chapter 12, Communications, is the problem child. That's the first chapter I wrote, and it reads like a technical treatise. I don't know what to do about it, but I'll figure something out.

My guess is that there's probably about three weeks worth of work involved in getting those six chapters ready for tech review. I'm going to bust butt to get it done in that time, because then it's tax time and I desperately want the whole book off to tech review before I have to tackle taxes.

So I'd better get to work.

 


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