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Week of 4 December 2000

Latest Update: Friday, 05 July 2002 08:15

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Monday, 4 December 2000

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According to all the forecasts we were supposed to get two to four inches of snow from Saturday night through Sunday morning, and then another six inches during the day Sunday. The chance of snow? 100% according to the forecasts. Our actual total snowfall? 0.00 inches. Not a single flake. Yesterday was sunny and nearly free of clouds. So much for weather forecasting. It is cold, though. When I got up this morning it was 18F (-8C).

Regarding a new system for Barbara: I gave her the choice between building her new system on a shiny new case and power supply not built by PC Power & Cooling, or recycling a PP&C case and power supply from an old system. She wisely opted for the latter. So I got old kerby (my previous main system; now a Windows 2000 test-bed) up on the kitchen table yesterday. That's the first step to getting the new system built.

old-kerby-1.jpg (24272 bytes) 

This old system is actually a pretty competent one. It has an Intel SE440BX2 motherboard, Pentium II/300 processor, 128 MB PC100 SDRAM, a 4.3 GB Seagate Medalist IDE hard drive, and a Toshiba CD-ROM drive. I'll recycle those components into another case (eventually) where they'll make a pretty decent basic Linux system. But for Barbara's system, we'll strip the case down to bare metal. After we get all the dust and crud out of it, that is. And probably wash and dry it thoroughly.

old-kerby-2.jpg (63118 bytes)

All that will be Barbara's job. As will be building the new system. We'll take photographs for the book, both of the tear-down and the build up. I already have the Intel D815BN motherboard that we'll be using, and I'm sure I can come up with a decent Socket 370 processor. Beyond that, we'll stick in 128 MB or 256 MB of PC133 memory, an Adaptec 2930U2 SCSI host adapter, a Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM SCSI drive, the Tecmar Travan NS20 tape drive that's currently in Barbara's main system, and probably a Plextor PlexWriter CD writer. The embedded video and sound are more than good enough for what Barbara needs, so it'll be a pretty easy system to build.

And speaking of the book, Pournelle just sent me another chapter with his edits, so I'd better get to work on that so we can get it to O'Reilly.

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Tuesday, 5 December 2000

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Barbara got the old system stripped down and cleaned up yesterday, which took considerably longer than expected. When Barbara cleans a system, she cleans a system. I walked into the kitchen at one point yesterday and found that she had the grill off the power supply fan and was cleaning and polishing the blades with a toothbrush. Not to mention cleaning the power supply cables with Formula 409. But the system is completely clean now. It looks like a new case. I was mistaken about the power supply. It's a PC Power & Cooling Turbo Cool 300 rather than a 350. Still, that should be plenty for this system.

old-kerby-3.jpg (45708 bytes) old-kerby-4.jpg (42223 bytes) old-kerby-5.jpg (41123 bytes)

There's some discussion over on the messageboard about the dangers of using a vacuum cleaner on a PC. Now that it's been pointed out to me, I can't disagree that the high air flow through a vacuum might create a static charge on a non-conductive snout attachment. I've used vacuum cleaners to clean PCs for more than 20 years now, and haven't zapped one yet. But we live in an area where dry air is uncommon, so it's quite possible that using a vacuum cleaner might be a poor practice, especially for those who live in areas where very dry air is common.

Barbara is off this morning to run errands, and this afternoon we're doing a library run and going out for dinner. So she may not get a chance to start building the system today. More later, if time permits.

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Wednesday, 6 December 2000

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Barbara and I ran some errands yesterday afternoon, stopping off at the library just before dinner at the little restaurant we often visit. While at the library, Barbara picked me up Ken Follett's latest, Code to Zero. It's better than his last book, the ridiculous The Hammer of Eden, but that's about the best I can say about it. It certainly isn't up to the standard that Follett has with previous books proven himself capable of meeting. At best, it's mediocre. The plot is unimaginative and transparent, and I got the sense while reading it that Follett was in a hurry to finish writing it. 

There were also some technical/research errors, at least one of which was unintentionally funny. At one point, Follett has one of his characters concealing another character from the police by telling him to climb into the trunk of her 50's model Corvette. After he climbs in, she passes him a large suitcase. Now, I've seen the trunk of a 50's Corvette, and all I can say is that character must have been a contortionist midget and that must have been a very small large suitcase. But the major defect of the book is that it is half the size it needed to be for Follett fully to develop his characters and plot. One reviewer on Amazon, who gave the book three stars, summed it up pretty well when he said that "The british edition clocks in at just 324 pages, at twice that amount "Code to Zero" could have been brilliant.

Has anyone else noticed the increasing number of spams flagged as high priority? I remember the first time I got one of those, which was probably six months or a year ago. At the time, I thought it was funny. I mean, what could be more an oxymoron than "high-priority spam"? But now, it seems, other spammers have adopted the idea. Of the two or three dozen spams I got yesterday, at least half a dozen were marked high priority. I just got another one while I was writing this.  What do these morons think they're accomplishing?

The best solution for me, of course, would be for Outlook to implement usable mail-filtering rules, ones with Boolean operators, the ability to filter on header fields, and the ability to enter exceptions in the same form. Given that, I'd never see another spam. I haven't looked at Pegasus mail lately, but given how strong its rule support was years ago, I suspect I wouldn't have any problems building a bullet-proof spam filter with the current version of Pegasus. I used Pegasus for years, and I periodically think about changing back to it. Perhaps one day I will. The only reason I don't is that I like the integrated calendaring, to-do lists, contact lists, etc. that Outlook provides. But then I have no doubt that I will one day switch to Linux as my primary OS, and at that point there may well be a usable Outlook clone available for Linux.

Chris Ward-Johnson (AKA Dr. Keyboard) has just brought up a new messageboard. It runs UBB, and replaces his former messageboard that ran on the ezboard service. The board has a distinctly British flavor, which is unsurprising considering that Chris for years wrote his Dr. Keyboard column for The Times (of London, not New York). The board's tagline is "Computer Answers You Can Understand" and that's what it's all about. If you've never visited Dr. Keyboard's messageboard, give it a try.

No work done on Barbara's new system yesterday. We had too many other things going on. We'll get to it over the next several days, though.

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Thursday, 7 December 2000

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Today is the 59th anniversary of Pearl Harbor day, when the Empire of Japan took an irreversible step that changed the world. I often wonder what might have happened had cooler heads prevailed in Japan. Lindbergh and the American First folks would probably have continued to hold the hearts and minds of the American people, and it's unlikely that the US would have gotten involved in the European conflict. Our British friends would probably be speaking German now. The Soviet Union would have been destroyed by 1942, and nuclear weapons would probably not exist. The US and the Greater German Reich would be the two superpowers. Things would be very different.

The messageboards are working well. So well, in fact, that the majority of the email I receive is now spam. The substantive email discussions that used to take place on this page are now occurring on the messageboards. So if you haven't registered yet, now is the time to do so.

More writing today. Pournelle is working on his column for the next few days, so that gives me a chance to get some more stuff ready to send him. Barbara is off to the gym and grocery store this morning. This afternoon, we'll work on her new system.

10:35: How embarrassing. I find that I have not a single Socket 370 processor in the house that's not already in a working system. What I thought were a couple of unused Celeron or Pentium III processors turned out to be WinChip processors. And Barbara is eyeing the Pentium III/933 processor that's in the system I intended to build as my own new main system. Oh, well.

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Friday, 8 December 2000

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I've had it with these reindeer. I've tried reindeer traps. I've tried reindeer poison. I've tried spring-loaded reindeer nets. Nothing worked. Year after year they keep coming back. Squirrels on the roof are bad enough. Reindeer on the roof are intolerable.

So this year I decided to do it right. Yesterday I got my war-surplus Zenitnaja Samochodnaja Ustanowka 23-4 (better known as the ZSU-23-4 or Shilka) positioned in the back yard. It's a tracked vehicle, so Barbara was concerned about me ripping up the grass, but I was careful not to leave any tracks. The ZSU-23-4 is now camouflaged to look like a large bush, so Santa will never spot it until it's too late. 

ZSU-23-4.jpg (28252 bytes)

The ZSU-23-4, which dates from the late 1960's, is still one of the most effective low-level antiaircraft artillery platforms available. It's a quad-barreled 23 mm (90 caliber) automatic cannon with a cyclic rate of 800 to 1,000 rounds/minute/barrel. The ZSU-23-4 is the scourge of attack aircraft. Even A-10 Warthog pilots, who fly surrounded by a thick titanium bathtub, are terrified of it. So it should have no problem dealing with an elderly pilot in an antique sleigh and a few stinking reindeer. I'm leaving some milk and cookies out as bait. Heh, heh, heh.

This morning I started cursing out Time-Warner when Roadrunner died. I'd just finished posting a message to the messageboard and did a refresh when Internet connectivity died completely. At first I thought it was the board itself that had hung up. Then I tried to hit a couple of other sites with no result. Then I tried checking my mail, and Outlook timed out. Obviously, my link was down. I decided to ping a couple of sites to see what was going on. I can't ping from a workstation through the proxy server, so I turned to my secondary screen and moved the mouse. Nada. I checked the Belkin OmniView KVM switch. Sure enough, meepmeep (the Roadrunner box) was selected. A moment's testing showed that meepmeep was deader than King Tut. So it wasn't Roadrunner's fault at all.

This is the second time in a couple of months that meepmeep has simply died for no apparent reason. Rebooting has fixed the problem both times, but I suppose I should add yet another item to my to-do list--replacing meepmeep. I suspect the problem is the power supply. Meepmeep is in a cheap Taiwanese case with a cheap Taiwanese power supply. Ordinarily, I wouldn't build any system with such a foundation, let alone an important one. But in this case I had to build the system and all I had available at that moment was that old case and power supply. I suppose the easiest thing to do would be to shut down meepmeep, pop the lid, and replace the power supply with something decent. While I'm at it, I could clean out the case a bit and upgrade the memory from 64 MB to 128 MB.

But before we do that we need to build Barbara's new system.


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Saturday, 9 December 2000

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I got email yesterday from InfoWorld, asking me to renew my subscription. I think I'm going to let it drop. There's not enough there now to make it worth the time to read it. I'll also drop my subscriptions to PC Magazine and PC Computing (whatever they're calling it now) when they run out. Years ago I regularly read probably 15 or 20 computer-related magazines--PC Magazine, PC Computing, BYTE, Personal Computing, InfoWorld, PC Week, PC World, Computer Reseller News, Computer Shopper, and so on. 

Nowadays, there's just no point. Many of the old-line computer magazines are gone now, and most of those that remain are on their last legs. And even in magazines that supposedly focus on PCs, there's actually very little coverage of PCs. Most of their editorial resources nowadays focus on the web. PC Magazine still publishes their tired old apples-and-oranges comparisons, as if anyone cares about articles comparing Dell, Micron, and Gateway systems configured differently. But there's not much useful information in any of them. All of the print publications have been overtaken by the web. It's hurting them now, and will kill them soon.

It'll be interesting to see how the print publications react to the web's increasing impact on their circulation. Some are attempting to prop up their print circulation by limiting the amount of material they post on the web. PC Magazine is a case in point. It seems that they're cutting back on how much they post and increasing the time between the appearance of material in print and when it's posted on the web. Dvorak's web column has become a joke. It used to be posted every week, and was a real column. Nowadays, there's no new column posted many weeks and even when there is a new column it's likely to be something he knocked out in a few minutes. I mean, putting up a few amateurish pictures with one-sentence descriptions does not constitute posting a column.

Ultimately, of course, they're in a losing battle. Their print circulation is going to continue to drop regardless of what they do or don't do on their web sites. There are too many alternatives. People who want to read about PC hardware aren't limited to reading PC Magazine or visiting the PC Magazine web site. They can visit any number of independent web sites that do a better job of covering PC hardware. Of course, with declining readership also comes declining ad revenues, and with declining ad revenues comes declining payrolls and fewer resources for generating new editorial content. I recently compared a current issue of PC Magazine with issues from two and three years ago. The shrinkage is space ads is shocking. It appears that advertisers are increasingly abandoning print magazines for the web as well. This can't be good for the print magazines.

I haven't been following our SETI group stats as closely as I should, but I note that we have 31,379 work units complete as of this morning. I just checked the Top 100 Clubs list, and the one in last place is less than 4,000 units ahead of us. At the rate we're overtaking, we should be on that list in the next couple of months. Pretty amazing, given that we started this whole effort only back in August. Congratulations to everyone, and let's keep it up.

LinuxToday is off on another Pournelle-bashing thread. I don't understand what these morons hope to accomplish. For some reason, they seem to have an irrational hatred of Pournelle. I can't help but wonder what Pournelle has ever done to them to deserve such abuse. He's one of the few mainstream journalists who reports regularly on Linux, and his reporting has been generally favorable. Obviously, these fools are a tiny minority of the people who use and advocate Linux, but it seems they're doing their best to convince the rest of us that using Linux causes brain damage. Perhaps they're all actually Microsoft employees, tasked with making the general population believe that Linux is used only by morons. Or perhaps they're simply not taking their lithium carbonate. Oh, well. Linux is almost certain to become a mainstream platform despite the misguided and counterproductive efforts of these people.

Barbara isn't feeling well, so it'll be a quiet day around here. I'd planned to help her build her new system today, but we still don't have a processor. 

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Sunday, 10 December 2000

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Well, Al Gore's euphoria from the Florida Supreme Court decision was short-lived. The Supreme Court of the United States just stomped all over him on a 5-4 decision, ordering the recount stopped pending arguments tomorrow. I've heard a rumor that if Gore loses again tomorrow, as expected, he plans to appeal that ruling to the United Nations. If that fails, he'll probably appeal to the Intergalactic Council. You have to give Gore one thing. He's certainly redefined the concept of Bad Loser.

I did web access statistics for Pournelle's and my sites yesterday morning, as usual. Usually I don't pay them much attention. Just a quick glance to spot any interesting trends and to make sure that nothing is seriously out of whack. Periodically, though, I look at them more closely. Here's the summary page for this site:

Analysed requests from Sat-02-Dec-2000 00:01 to Sat-09-Dec-2000 00:00 (7.0 days).

Successful requests: 51,866
Average successful requests per day: 7,410
Successful requests for pages: 16,806
Average successful requests for pages per day: 2,400
Failed requests: 936
Redirected requests: 7
Distinct files requested: 1,343
Distinct hosts served: 5,337
Corrupt logfile lines: 3
Data transferred: 696.544 Mbytes
Average data transferred per day: 99.516 Mbytes

The only red-flag item here is Failed requests. A quick look at that, though, shows that most of the failed requests were for standard files like favicon.ico, malformed requests, requests for non-existent files (that aren't supposed to exist) and so on. So the summary looks fine. 

I also periodically check where requests come from. The list below is ranked by number of requests.

com (Commercial)
net (Network)
[unresolved numerical addresses]
edu (USA Educational)
ca (Canada)
dk (Denmark)
uk (United Kingdom)
mil (USA Military)
au (Australia)
nl (Netherlands)
de (Germany)
us (United States)
fr (France)
org (Non-Profit Making Organisations)
ch (Switzerland)
be (Belgium)
nz (New Zealand)
pt (Portugal)
it (Italy)
gov (USA Government)
es (Spain)
jp (Japan)
se (Sweden)
fi (Finland)
il (Israel)
my (Malaysia)
gr (Greece)
br (Brazil)
za (South Africa)
sg (Singapore)
at (Austria)
mx (Mexico)
ar (Argentina)
ie (Ireland)
ru (Russia)
cz (Czech Republic)
tr (Turkey)
hr (Croatia)
ro (Romania)
no (Norway)
tt (Trinidad and Tobago)
si (Slovenia)
in (India)
th (Thailand)
sa (Saudi Arabia)
sk (Slovak Republic)
id (Indonesia)
arpa (Old style Arpanet)
lu (Luxembourg)
bg (Bulgaria)
lv (Latvia)
ee (Estonia)
lb (Lebanon)
ua (Ukraine)
ph (Philippines)
jm (Jamaica)
hu (Hungary)
hk (Hong Kong)
tw (Taiwan)
kr (South Korea)
[unknown domain]
co (Colombia)
eg (Egypt)
ma (Morocco)
pl (Poland)
do (Dominican Republic)
bm (Bermuda)
cl (Chile)
is (Iceland)
sm (San Marino)

Nothing odd here, either. The site was surprisingly popular among Danes this week. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I have some new readers there. The US government doesn't like me much. I wonder why. Countries in the top half, down about through about Mexico (106 hits), have some serious visitors. Below that, it's a mixed bag--50 hits here, 25 hits there. That may represent anything from one or two to perhaps half a dozen real readers. Near the bottom of the list are the accidentals. I suspect most of the countries from Estonia or so on down are represented because someone arrived at my page accidentally. Or perhaps not. Hong Kong, for example, had 10 hits. That may indicate that someone is actually reading my page from a Hong Kong domain.

Well, I'm off to do laundry and other chores. See you next week.


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