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Week of 22 January 2001

Latest Update: Friday, 05 July 2002 09:16
 

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Monday, 22 January 2001

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Barbara is off to get her hair cut this morning. I just finished running web stats and doing the other weekly administrative stuff. The number of page reads continues to grow steadily, and is now averaging about 2,700 per day for this site. Linux hit what I consider to be a significant milestone today. For the first time, on this site at least, Linux accounted for more than 5% of the page reads. That still leaves Windows at more than 90%, of course, and readers of this site are more likely to be running Linux as their desktop OS than are members of the general population, but even so this is a good data point for tracking the acceptance of Linux as a desktop OS.

If I had to guess, extrapolating from the flat part of the curve, I'd say that a year from now Linux might account for 15% to 20% of the page reads, and perhaps as many as 50% two years from now. That's still not the general population, of course, but if Linux continues to gain momentum on the desktops of early adopters, it can't be long before it starts to make significant penetrations among corporations and eventually among home users.

That's going to make things hard for Whistler. Corporations have been ignoring Windows 2000 in droves, and Microsoft is known for shipping new operating systems late and with lots of bugs. If Whistler arrives late and buggy, Microsoft may find that nobody cares.

My to-do list for this week is already starting to look ridiculous, and I haven't even gotten started on it yet. I have some machines to build, half a dozen heatsink/fans to test, a lot of work to do on Barbara's and my e-book, and I really, really must get some work done on the HardwareGuys.com web site. There's always too much to do and not enough time to do all of it. Oh, well.

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Tuesday, 23 January 2001

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What has one back, seven legs, and no kitchen? The Walder household, of course. If you haven't read the continuing adventures of Bob, Lynne, and Benson Walder, check out Bob's page and Lynne's page. Benson does not yet have a page, but then few Labrador Retrievers do.

And, speaking of dogs, Malcolm's thieving has reached new levels. When Barbara returned from getting her hair cut yesterday, the dogs started barking as soon as they heard the garage door going up. I opened the door to the basement, and Duncan and Malcolm went charging down to meet her, barking insanely to greet her. I followed them down, thinking Barbara might need help carrying stuff upstairs. As it turned out, she didn't, but she did need some help with the laundry.

Barbara dropped her purse on the basement floor near the door that separates the unfinished basement/garage area from the finished area where my mother used to live. After Barbara switched laundry loads (we're still not caught up on the backlog) I picked up a giant basket of dry clothes to head upstairs. When I stepped through the door into the finished area, there stood Malcolm with a mouthful of $20 bills, which he'd stolen from Barbara's purse.

My mistake was yelling "drop it!" When I do that, Malcolm knows he's about to lose his prize, so he chews all the faster and attempts to swallow whatever he has before it's taken away from him. What I should have done was reached for my shirt pocket, where I usually keep dog treats. Then, he'd have spit out the money and sat down to await a treat. But as it was, he just chewed faster.

Fortunately, I remembered in time and reached for my shirt pocket. Ptui. Out came the money. Because I didn't actually have a dog treat with me, I kept my hand in my shirt pocket to keep Malcolm's attention while I reached for the shredded bills. Then I took Malcolm and the bills upstairs, where I gave him a treat. (One must not abuse his trust no matter what he's done). As it turned out, more than half of each bill was unconsumed, which means Barbara can turn the shreds in at the bank in exchange for new bills. Well, we think we got all of them, anyway. He may have entirely eaten one or more of them.

Barbara is off to the gym now, and I have the dogs penned up in the den because the lady who visits my mother to bathe her and so on is due. Duncan is lying there howling as I type. Head back, just like some wolf from Call of the Wild or something. Life with Border Collies is never boring.

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Wednesday, 24 January 2001

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Barbara is off to play golf with her father this morning, and the dogs are separated so perhaps things will remain quiet. When we got up this morning, Barbara went out to get the paper and take the dogs first-time-out. I was just leaving the bedroom and coming down the hall when Malcolm and Duncan came sliding out of the foyer in a furball, snapping and snarling. Malcolm, being a Border Collie, is obsessed with herding, and Duncan is the only "sheep" he has available to herd. Duncan, also being a Border Collie, is offended by Malcolm's attempts to herd him, so the fights begin.

I really don't understand Malcolm. Duncan outweighs him by about 15 pounds. That may not sound like much, but when the difference is 55 pounds versus 70 pounds, that's a lot like a quarterback attacking a defensive tackle, but on a one-quarter scale. Then again, I've read that animal's muscles are four times stronger, weight for weight, than human muscles, so perhaps its on full-scale after all. I do know that either of those dogs can pull me off my feet if they're on-leash and go after something. I weigh 240 pounds, so perhaps there's something to that after all.

At any rate, as usual Malcolm came off second best (although there was no blood this time), so Barbara penned Duncan and Kerry in the kitchen and left Malcolm out in the den.

The good news is that O'Reilly made a firm offer yesterday for the second edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. Not that it was ever in any real doubt, but it's nice to have them confirm that they want to do a new edition.

The Register reports that Intel is cutting processor prices Sunday by up to 42% percent, a move long overdue to counter the dramatic price cuts that AMD made some time ago. After the price cuts, the Pentium III/1.0G, currently priced at a rather ridiculous $465, will sell for $268. Intel is cutting Celeron prices, too, to keep their overall system price advantage relative to the Duron (although not, obviously, matching Duron prices clock-for-clock). Pentium 4 prices are scheduled to fall by just over 20%, not that many people care about the Pentium 4 at this point. The current Pentium 4 is a dead-end processor, soon to be replaced by a new model of Pentium 4, which won't even use a socket compatible with the current model.

The lower Pentium III prices will tempt a lot of people to buy the 1000 MHz model, but our advice remains the same. Buy a processor from the low-end to mid-range. The fastest Pentium III and Athlon processors available just aren't all that much faster than the cheapest Celeron or Duron in real terms. If you're building a system on a budget, go for the low-end Celeron or Duron, one in the $90 range. If you have a bit more room to play, step up to a Pentium III or Athlon in the $150 range, not so much for the extra MHz as for the larger L2 cache, which does help performance significantly in some applications. Beyond that, spending another $50 to $100 on the processor buys you so little additional performance you won't be able to see it except on a benchmark. Spend that extra money on more memory, a faster hard disk, or a better video card. You'll be happier with the resulting system. Trust me.

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Thursday, 25 January 2001

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My friend David Silvis tells me that someone asked George W. Bush to explain the significance of Roe versus Wade.  Bush replied that it was the most important decision George Washington had to make before he crossed the Delaware. 

I really hate spammers. The anonymous sleazy spammers are bad enough, but what really raises my blood pressure is getting spam from companies I've done business with after I've opted out of getting spam from them. Encyclopedia Britannica is the latest on that list. I've just gotten two spams from them this morning. Or, more precisely, two copies of the same spam sent to two different ttgnet.com addresses. At the end of each of these spams is the following text:

We sent you this e-mail because you requested to receive promotional e-mails from Britannica. If you prefer not to receive future product and service update mailings from Britannica, simply respond to the e-mail with the word "unsubscribe" in the subject line. (Please note: Unsubscribing is an automatic process. We will not respond to these messages.)

The only problem is, I didn't request spam from them. I most explicitly told them that I did not want to receive mailings from them. Obviously, the check box they provide to opt out of mailings has no effect whatsoever. They simply copy any email address they get into their "to-be-spammed" list. I find this contemptible.

And now my SMTP server at Roadrunner appears to be down. Their POP server was down for hours yesterday, not that that makes much difference to us. We POP from our main accounts at pair Networks, and use the RR accounts only as backup. I really must bring up a local SMTP server. Linux, I guess.

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Friday, 26 January 2001

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One of the readers over on the HardwareGuys.com messageboard recommended I try PostCast Server, a free SMTP server that runs under Windows. So I went over to the home page for the product and took a look at it. It's a spammer's delight, despite the disclaimers posted on the page. But, just as a pistol can be put to good or evil uses, so can a local SMTP server. So I downloaded it and installed it on one of my test-bed systems. I played around with it for quite a while there before I noticed that in one of the help pages it mentioned that it couldn't be used through a proxy server. So much for running it on one of my systems behind the WinGate Server machine.

So I installed it on meepmeep, the Roadrunner gateway machine. No joy there, either. PostCast, reasonably enough, wanted a port, something in the range of 0 through 65,535. It tried to take port 25 (SMTP), but WinGate wouldn't give it up. The PostCast configuration routine told me that the next available port was 0 (!). As it turned out, that was its way of telling me that there were no ports available at all. Apparently WinGate was camped out on every one of them, and refused to share. So I can't run PostCast on the WinGate server, which means I can't use it to get out to the Internet.

As soon as I found out about PostCast, I'd immediately emailed Jerry Pournelle and Chris Ward-Johnson (AKA Dr. Keyboard), both of whom need to run a local SMTP server to handle their mailing lists. Chris mailed me back this morning to say ta very much,  that PostCast works fine through his ISDN router, and that I should probably get a LinkSys router. Maybe so. PostCast apparently works fine with a NAT, just not with a proxy. I haven't heard back from Jerry, but something someone else posted over on the messageboard makes me think PostCast may not work for him either. I hadn't thought about it, but some ISPs block port 25 to prevent spammers from using a local SMTP server, and EarthLink (Jerry's ISP) is apparently one of those. Oh, well. It doesn't hurt to try.

With all the to-do over the nearly day-long collapse of Microsoft's web server, the really important thing isn't getting much coverage. The root cause of the problem was that Microsoft had both their primary and secondary DNS servers on the same subnet! That's simply an incredible blunder. Incredible doesn't begin to cover it. Anyone who's taken TCP/IP 101 knows that you put your DNS servers on separate subnets, ideally on entirely separate networks with wide physical separation between them. Why? Because otherwise DNS is a single point of failure for your entire network. But Microsoft, apparently being complete networking rookies, put all their eggs in one basket. Allegedly, a lowly tech at Microsoft misconfigured a router and broke the link between the Internet and Microsoft's DNS servers. Now, we needn't go into the fact that the problem remained unsolved for 22 hours (any network guy I know would have had it fixed within an hour), but the big question remains. Are these the people you want to bet your business on by signing on to the DOT-NYET initiative? I don't think so.

If you've been having problems with your DSL connection, check out this article over on The Register. To make a long story short, they'd had DSL in their Washington DC office for a year, and it had never worked properly. They finally determined their problem was being caused by WinPoET, which they call a "positively virological piece of coding garbage". They replaced WinPoET with a freeware PPPoE package called RASPPPOE, and all the problems pretty much went away. So if you're having problems with your DSL, and if you're using WinPoET to provide PPP-over-Ethernet functionality, you might want to check out RASPPPOE. I can't try it here, because I can't get DSL.

Incidentally, there's one piece of advice in that article that you should take with a grain of salt. They recommend unilaterally converting your dynamic IP address to a an ad hoc static IP address by the simple process of determining what IP address the ISP DHCP server has assigned you and then entering that IP address as a static IP address in your local configuration. Doing that will kind of work, at least until the network manager at your ISP finds out what you've done. When that happens, the waste material will impact the rotating ventilation device, and you're likely at best to get a very nasty communication from your ISP and at worst to find your service cancelled. 

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Saturday, 27 January 2001

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I tried to order a LinkSys cable/DSL router yesterday, but Outpost.com wouldn't cooperate. It would let me view the page for the item just fine, but when I clicked on the button to order I got a clear screen followed a few seconds later by a server timeout message. I tried several times during the day, always with the same result. You'd think they'd take pains to make sure their ordering function worked. But apparently not, because this isn't the first time I've run into this problem with Outpost. But they do have good prices, free shipping, and once you get an item ordered they do deliver what you ordered quickly. I'm not in any great hurry, so I'll just try again later. But I'd imagine that Outpost loses a lot of orders from people who simply click on to another vendor.

Lynne Walder, referring to her husband, Bob, says "(does he know he's got his Calvins on outside his jeans - I think not, a Kodak moment in the offing).....". Barbara and I have been speculating on what exactly "Calvins" might be. Our first thought was underpants. I suppose Bob might wear those outside his jeans, although that's a bit over-the-top for a man approaching 40, but it doesn't seem reasonable that he could do that without being aware that he'd done so. So, what item not normally worn outside the jeans could be worn outside the jeans accidentally and without the wearer being aware of the anomaly? Churchill called Britain and the US "two nations divided by a common language", and despite Barbara's and my familiarity with Brit usages there are times when we are flummoxed.

Barbara is really excited about the idea of building a telescope. She loves building things and doing projects, and this appeals to her. She's researching the topic on the Internet and via her non-public on-line sources right now. I think we've about decided to undertake a small, fast Dobsonian as our first project. Newport Glass sells a 10" f/4.5 Educational Kit for $320. That includes a generated 10" Pyrex mirror blank, plate glass tool, various grits, pitch, a 1/10 wave diagonal, and aluminizing. All we would need do is the fine grinding, polishing, and figuring (which is to say most of the work). 

A 10" scope is small enough that the amount of work required to get a (nearly) perfect mirror won't be overwhelming, but large enough to provide seriously good views of many deep-sky objects. Although an f/4.5 RFT isn't perfect for planetary work, a high-quality 2X Barlow effectively converts it to an f/9 scope, which will suffice. A 45" focal length means the tube will be small and easily portable, and using the scope won't require a stepladder. 

Although I've never been a fan of altazimuth mountings, everything I read tells me that the Dobsonian mounting is great for visual observing, although unsuited for photography. But then it's quite possible to computerize a Dobsonian by using two stepper motors, one per axis, under computer control to locate and track objects automatically.

The other advantage to doing a relatively small scope is that it's something we could do now instead of waiting for "some day". What I really want want to build, of course, is a large scope, something in the 24" range. But that is a massive undertaking, and one for which I simply don't have time now. So building the 10" scope would at least get us a scope relatively quickly, and it could function as a prototype for the eventual larger scope.

So we'll see. This isn't something we're going to start on tomorrow, but it is something we'd both like to do.

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Sunday, 28 January 2001

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The gutter at the rear of the house is loose, and we wanted to secure it before it came completely away from the house. Since we noticed the problem, the weather has been cold, rainy, and windy. Yesterday was supposed to be calm, so we got out the extension ladder, the ladder stabilizer, and the gutter spikes. I climbed up and stood under the eaves looking up at the problem. Because it's at the back of the house, I was two full stories off the ground. 

After thinking about it for a moment, I decided this wasn't something I wanted to do. I'd have had to lean backward, holding the top rung in one hand, the gutter spike in the second hand, and the hammer in the third hand. So I shouted down to Barbara than I was coming down, and we agreed that we'd better hire someone to repair the gutter. Just after I got down, we were collapsing the ladder when a wind gust occurred that was strong enough to blow me backward by a step. I'm really glad I wasn't at the top of the ladder leaning outward when that gust came along.

I suppose I could have secured myself to the ladder with a safety belt, but then there would have been the small problem of my 240 pounds leaning outward from the top of the ladder, tending to pull it away from the wall. So I'd have had to secure a rope from the top rung of the ladder downwards and tie it off against one of our trucks or something to prevent the ladder from tilting away from the wall. That might have been do-able once, but it would have been a pain to do it the several times necessary to let me drive gutter spikes over the twenty feet or so of gutter that I want to secure.

So we'll get someone in with the proper equipment to do this safely.

And I'd better get to work doing the laundry.

 

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