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Week of 27 November 2000

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Monday, 27 November 2000

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Well, it's now official. Bush won the presidential election. He won the count. He won the re-count, even with the Democrats doing everything possible to steal votes from him and award them to Gore. He won the re-re-count, with even more attempts by the Democrats to reinterpret votes. With the certification of the Florida results, Bush now has 271 electoral votes, one more than needed. Al "Spoiled Brat" Gore isn't giving up, of course. He's determined to steal the election no matter what it takes. Throughout this process, Bush and his team have behaved in a dignified manner, while Gore and his team have behaved abominably. I didn't vote for either of them (I voted Libertarian, as always), and I'd really rather neither one of them won the presidency. But if it has to be one of them, I'm glad it's Bush. He at least appears to be an honest, principled, well-intentioned man. Even Al Gore's mother couldn't say any of those things about him while keeping a straight face.

Barbara's birthday is Saturday December 2nd, and as usual I've put off buying her gift until the last moment. At least there's on-line shopping and FedEx. Now if only I had some idea of what to buy for her. She's very hard to buy for, much harder than most women. She doesn't wear jewelry, and I'd have no idea what clothing she'd like. I mentioned getting her another puppy, but that went over like the proverbial lead balloon. So I'd better start looking for something.

I'm in touch with Intel regarding the 2011 Wireless components. They pointed me to a document on their web site that describes how to configure the Access Point. I've tried all that, but can't get the unit to respond. At this point, I suspect that the problem is with my network setup rather than with the AP. I have a bunch of weird stuff on my network, including dual-homed boxes, proxy servers, WebWasher on my main clients, etc. etc. And, I just noticed, a DHCP server that I always forget I have. Wingate automatically installs a DHCP server. I use static addressing on my systems, and tend to forget that the DHCP server is there. The Intel 2011 AP comes with a default IP address, but if it finds a DHCP server when it's first connected, it obtains an address from that server. The Wingate DHCP log doesn't show that the AP was issued an IP address, but at this point I'm willing to try anything. So, thinking that perhaps the AP now had an address in the 192.168.111 range, I tried this morning to access it by hitting every 192.168.111.* address with my browser. No joy, but then I realized that WebWasher was sitting there active and may be causing problems.

So I think I'm going to take the "easy" approach. I'll disconnect the AP, short pins 2 and 3 on the serial port, reapply power, and then power down and disconnect the jumper. That will reset the AP to default, presumably including the 10.4.177.3 IP address. At that point, I'll build a small network--a hub, one PC on the 10.4.177.* network (255.255.255.0 mask), and the AP. That should allow me to access the AP and configure it properly, including assigning it a static IP address on my main 192.168.111 network. Now I just need to remember to change the IP address last. But all that will have to wait until I find a birthday gift or two for Barbara.

I spent most of yesterday working on the HardwareGuys.com web site. There's some new stuff up there. Not as much as I'd hoped, but some.

There've been numerous comments on the messageboards, and so far most of them have been positive. Several people, however, have commented that they miss the filtering that I did when I was posting messages and responses on this page. That, and the fact that messages are no longer in one place seem to be the major objections so far to the messageboards. The filtering, posting, and responding, of course, were what was taking up too much of my time. I could make the messageboards moderated, but that would require a considerable amount of my time as well. 

So I decided to try something new. I've created a forum for reader responses to my journal page. Each week, I'll create a new topic for posts related to that week. I'll keep a close eye on those topics and respond to posts there if I have anything worth adding. There's now a link at the bottom of each day's entry. Clicking that link takes you directly to the thread for that week. I hope the posts will stay on topic. If not, I won't hesitate to delete them.

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Tuesday, 28 November 2000

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I've gotten half a dozen messages over the last month or so asking me to reconsider offering a link to Amazon.com for people who want to buy PC Hardware in a Nutshell. I've made my reasons for choosing Fatbrain clear in the past. I buy from Fatbrain, and I'm deeply offended by many of Amazon's actions in the last year or so--patenting things that should be unpatentable, claiming ownership of their customers' private information (including Social Security numbers and credit card numbers); using variable pricing to charge loyal customers more than they charge newcomers for the same item, and so on.

I regard the business practices of Amazon.com as unacceptable, and so was loath to offer a link to my book on their site. Implicitly, at least, I thought that would be taken as an endorsement by me of their company and their practices. I wasn't willing to do that, so I didn't provide a link to Amazon.com. But the people who have sent me messages make a good point. For better or worse, they prefer to buy from Amazon.com. It's what they're used to. They've gotten good service from Amazon in the past, and expect that good service to continue in the future. They've never ordered from Fatbrain before, think it's a stupid name, and have no desire to do business with Fatbrain. Several have mentioned that they'd like me to get the commission when they buy the book, but not at the expense of having to order from a company that they've never done business with before. So, they ask, why can't you offer affiliate links to both places?

And that's actually a pretty good question. Jakob Nielsen wrote an interesting Alertbox article, telling the tale of how Doc Searles used to sell a lot of books from his web site when he used Amazon. When he switched to using a different vendor, the book sales stopped. So perhaps I'm doing both my readers and me a disservice by not offering a link to Amazon.com. If you have an opinion on this, please post it on the messageboard.

Work on the book Pournelle and I are doing continues. He just shipped me an edited chapter, so I'd better get to work on that.

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Wednesday, 29 November 2000

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Heads-down work yesterday getting another chapter ready to send to O'Reilly. Pournelle took my original chapter from PC Hardware in a Nutshell, which ran about 15,000 words, re-wrote a lot of it, and took it up to about 22,000 words by adding Chaos Manor War Stories and other text. I spent most of yesterday adding another 3,000 or so words of stuff that I wanted to include in PC/Nutshell but didn't have room for. More of the same today. Not much else to write about here.

Here's a picture Barbara took of me wearing my Winter Solstice antlers. I use them to Gore baby whos. This year for Winter Solstice dinner we're having baked Cindy Lou Who.

rbt-antlers.jpg (37857 bytes)

The machines behind me are, from left to right, a Duron/750, a Pentium III/850, an Athlon/1000, and a Pentium/133. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with that last one. It's too slow to be useful for much, and it's an AT chassis, so none of my current ATX boards will fit it. Perhaps I'll use it as a replacement for my voicemail/automated attendant system, which is currently running in an antique 386SX/16.

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Thursday, 30 November 2000

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I finally got around to setting up a separate network on the kitchen table yesterday to configure the Intel Wireless Access Point. It was a small network. The AP itself, a 16-port Intel InBusiness hub, and my Compaq Armada E500 notebook. As it turns out, the AP was just fine all along. I telneted over to it on the default IP address, 10.4.177.3, pressed Escape, entered the password, and got the menu. Something about my main network was preventing me from getting to it, but it wasn't anything obvious like an incorrect IP address, mask, gateway, or whatever. Probably something to do with my proxy server/firewall or the webwasher software I'm running on my clients.

At the exact moment I got connected to the AP, Barbara walked into the kitchen with a strange look on her face. The snail mail had just arrived, and she handed me a Priority Mail flat-rate envelope. That envelope contained a copy of PC Hardware in a Nutshell that we'd sent to our friend Caroline Champlin. It was stamped "Return to Sender - Deceased." Barbara and I looked at each other for a moment and then she told me I'd better call. 

I called Caroline's number and got a phone company intercept telling me that that number had been changed and giving the new number. I called that number and found that it belonged to her estranged husband, Ted Champlin. I didn't want to leave a message on his answering machine so, hoping that they'd reconciled and that the stamp on the envelope was a hideous mistake, I called the Princeton Public Library, where Caroline volunteered a couple days a week. I got their automated attendant system and was bouncing around it when Barbara shouted from her office that she'd found an article on-line in a Princeton newspaper that told of Caroline's death. I subsequently exchanged email with the director of the Princeton Public Library and learned that Caroline Champlin took her own life on October 15th, aged only 51.

Caroline was a wonderful person and an immensely skilled author. She was smart, well-read, caring, friendly, funny, and pretty. She wrote five superbly crafted mystery novels under the name Caroline Llewellyn. Caroline and I were "Internet friends". We started corresponding by email a couple of years ago, and continued to do so regularly. When Barbara and I went to New England at the end of September, I called Caroline and we arranged to meet. Barbara and I stayed overnight in Princeton to break our trip, met Caroline for breakfast the next morning, and spent that morning with her on a walking tour of Princeton. That's the only face-to-face contact I ever had with Caroline, but for all of that she was a good friend. 

I'll miss Caroline. We had so many things yet to discuss that will now forever go unsaid. She had so many wonderful books yet to write that will now forever go unwritten. For all but her family and friends, her loss passed unnoticed. But with her absence the world is now a poorer place.

 

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Friday, 1 December 2000

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There was a very disturbing article in the paper this morning. A week or so ago, the paper published a tragic story about a house fire in which a three-month old baby died. As she did each morning, the mother, Marible Navarrce, had driven her husband, Jesus, to a nearby apartment complex where he catches his ride to work. In the time she was gone, less than five minutes, a defective electric heater caught fire, and the fire quickly spread to consume the house. Their three older children, aged 11, 9, and 4, escaped unharmed but were unable to save the baby. The baby died and the home was destroyed. A disaster, one would have thought, to which anyone would have reacted with sympathy and pity toward the parents.

Not so our social services department. According to the article this morning, social services have taken the three remaining children away from the parents. Although there are no details in the article, I think it likely that social services justified that abominable decision by claiming that the mother acted irresponsibly by leaving her children alone. It wouldn't be the first time that social services has acted on that basis.

In common law, the standard of behavior has always been how a "reasonable man" would behave in the circumstances. By that standard, leaving children unsupervised at home for five minutes is not only reasonable but commonplace. What parent has not left his children unsupervised for such short periods, if only to walk out to the mailbox or to chat with a neighbor? Usually, nothing bad happens. In this case, something very bad happened. But to punish these parents because of a horrible outcome that might be expected to occur once in a million times is simply inexcusable.

The people have lost a child. They've lost their home and everything they own. And now, by bureaucratic fiat, their other children are being taken from them. What happened to due process of law?

The Intel 2011 Wireless system is now functioning flawlessly. I've carried my Compaq Armada E500 notebook all over the house, and the signal strength never drops below very good. I was going to go outside and start walking down the street with it to see how long I'd remain in range, but Barbara convinced me that the neighbors think I'm strange enough as it is. Throughput is 11 Mb/s between the wireless PC card and the Access Point and 10 Mb/s from the AP to the network. In other words, 10BaseT speed. In use, the notebook "feels" like it's connected to the hard-wired 100BaseT network. Internet access is just as fast as on the hard-wired network, which is reasonable considering that the cable modem operates at only a fraction of 2011 speed. The only time I can tell any difference is when I transfer a very large file, which takes about twice or thrice as long at 10 Mb/s as it does on the 100 Mb/s hard-wired network.

I also solved a nagging problem with the notebook. I'd been using a Microsoft "red light" IntelliMouse Explorer (the oversized one with five buttons). This was a case of "it almost worked." It came so close to working, in fact, that I was convinced that the weirdities were either a driver problem or a settings problem. The mouse cursor worked fine, but the buttons behaved oddly. For example, I'd be in a dialog where I'd change some settings and then click OK. The OK button would remain depressed, but no action would occur. I'd then move the cursor off the OK button, which would return to normal status. I'd move the cursor back over the OK button and double click, which would push the button and complete the action. There were similar other weird things going on. I'd click an item and release the button. When I then moved the cursor, it'd drag the item I clicked, just as though I'd never released the button. I was convinced that I had something set wrong. I checked everything I could think of, including the functions intended to aid disabled users.

Finally, I decided to try another mouse. I swapped in a standard Microsoft wheel mouse, and everything started working normally. So it's pretty obvious that the PS/2 port on the Compaq Armada simply doesn't supply enough current to allow the red-light mouse to work properly. This is the second time I've run into problems with this mouse. The first was when I attempted to use it with the Belkin KVM switch. I'm beginning to wonder if either the mouse itself is defective, or, more likely,  if this particular model (which is quite large) draws more current than the smaller red-light mice.

Having resolved both my connectivity problems and my mouse problems, I decided to spend some time last night turning the Compaq Armada E500 into a serious work machine. Ideally, one that cloned my main desktop as closely as possible. Whenever I do something like this, I always want to track down the people at Microsoft who are responsible for the Byzantine installation process and strangle them. Why can't I clone my IE5 configuration from my main desktop to my new notebook? Because Microsoft puts IE5 configuration settings in the registry instead of in a configuration file in the IE5 directory. Same thing (but worse) with Outlook. I should be able to install Outlook on the notebook, point it to my pst file on the server, and have a fully functioning copy of Outlook. But no. I have to reconfigure everything manually.

That's why I admire software that uses a rational approach. Stuff that doesn't use a setup routine, or if it does, does that simply to make life easier for the user. Software that I can copy/paste from one machine to another, knowing that all program files, custom dll's, configuration files, and so on are in the program directory. If a program needs to modify the registry (for example, to create filename extension associations) fine. Let it do that. But give me an option within the program to perform those setup functions on a new machine simply by clicking a menu item. Also, give me an option to remove those registry changes easily.

There's nothing wrong with .ini files, Microsoft people. They worked fine for years, and Linux works just fine with its own version of ini files. The .ini files are in human-readable ASCII text, and are easy to edit or to copy from one location to another. Putting configuration data for applications programs in the registry was a bad idea to start with. They'll claim that it's necessary to allow programs to be "integrated", but that's a crock. If they want Office components to work together, all they need do is put an office.ini file in the main office directory. All that's necessary for integration is that the programs know about each other--which programs are installed, and where. That's easy enough to accomplish with an .ini file.

Yet another argument for migrating to Linux, I suppose.

 

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Saturday, 2 December 2000

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Happy Birthday to Barbara

Barbara turns twenty-twenty-six today. And she looks the same to me now as when she was twenty-nine. Barbara may have snow for her birthday this year. The Weather Channel says it may start this evening with accumulations of two inches to four inches (50mm to 100mm) overnight, and as much as six more inches tomorrow. She's looking forward to it. So are the dogs, who've been lying on the sofa watching the Weather Channel all morning.

Barbara claims that Pournelle and I engage in good-natured pissing contests, and she may be right. Jerry called me from the beach house last night, and asked me to call him back immediately. They have a community phone there, and he doesn't want to run up long-distance charges. At any rate, when I called him back, we talked about some book issues, and then he casually kicked off the pissing contest. Just as an aside, you understand. The conversation went something like this:

JEP: "By the way, this Pentium 4 white box eval system that Intel sent me is really nice. You didn't get one, did you?"

RBT: "Nah, I told George that I knew they were in short supply, so if they only had one available to go ahead and send it to you because you're on a column deadline and the book isn't as time-critical. Besides, I have too much interesting stuff to work with now. I wouldn't have had time to spend with a Pentium 4."

JEP: "Eh? What kind of interesting stuff?"

RBT: "Oh, mainly an eval 802.11b wireless networking setup. It's really great. I have it all connected and working now. The base station reminds me of Ray Walston in My Favorite Martian. It has a couple of antennae sticking out of its head. The wireless adapter for the notebook is a PC card. I got it all connected and it just works. I can use the Compaq Armada E500 notebook anywhere in the house without being tethered, and the wireless setup lets me access my network just like I was hard-wired to it. It's really nice being able to access my files on the servers, browse web sites, check my mail, and so on, all without being connected to any wires at all. You don't have one of those, do you?"

JEP: "No, I don't. Where did you get yours?"

RBT: "I called Intel and they sent it to me."

JEP: "What! Why, those weasels. Why didn't they send me one?"

Heh, heh, heh. Got him. But I must admit that Jerry wins his share.

 

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Sunday, 3 December 2000

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Hmmm. The forecast yesterday was for 2 to 4 inches of snow overnight and then "snow, heavy at times" today, with additional accumulations of 6 inches or more. When I awoke this morning, there was no snow on the ground, and the sky isn't looking much like snow. The Weather Channel now says we'll get three to six inches sometime later today. Oh well.

As usual on Sunday morning, I have to do the laundry and help Barbara clean house. She also mentioned again that theodore, her main workstation, is behaving oddly. I suppose it's time to build her a new system anyway. This time, it'll be just a workstation rather than being a shared file server. Barbara wants to run Windows 2000 Pro on her new system, which'll give her USB. She'll also need SCSI, if only for her scanner, so I think I'll use a Seagate Barracuda U2W SCSI hard drive. That also means I can migrate the Tecmar Travan NS20 tape drive from theodore to the new system. I have some thinking to do about all this before we start.

I need to do some updates to the HardwareGuys.com web site, add some stuff to the messageboards, work on Barbara's and my independent book project, work on the book Pournelle and I are writing, and so on. A man's work is never done.

 

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