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Week of 26 March 2001

Latest Update: Friday, 05 July 2002 09:16
 

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Monday, 26 March 2001

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Nobody likes me any more. I just ran my web stats for last week. Three weeks ago, I had about 18,000 page reads for the week, which was pretty much normal. Two weeks ago, 15,000. Last week, 12,000. If this keeps up, I'll be down to zero by late April. Oh, well. Barbara says the declining stats may be a result of my instituting a subscription arrangement, and she may be right. Either that or I've suddenly started writing boring stuff.

Speaking of subscribing, if you haven't yet, please do. Read this page for instructions.

Pournelle called me last night to ask for help. He wasn't able to download his mail, and suspected that Outlook was choking on a very large file. I telnet'd over to his mail server. Sure enough, someone had mailed him a huge attachment, 5.8 MB on disk. That's rude enough if the recipient has a fast Internet connection. It's inexcusable if the recipient has a dial-up connection, as Jerry does. Given Jerry's recent problems with the rabidly pro-Linux fringe subset over on Linux Today and Slashdot, I assumed at first that someone was attacking his mailbox, but it turned out to be just an ordinary person who probably didn't realize the implications of what he was doing.

I reconfigured Pegasus to POP from Jerry's mail server, setting it to leave messages on the server. I then downloaded all his mail, extracted the huge PDF file attached to the problem message, and then telnet'd back in and deleted that message manually. It boggles the mind that anyone would be inconsiderate enough to send an unsolicited 3+ MB file attachment (nearly 6 MB after encoding) to someone who is world-famous for not being able to get a broadband connection for love or money. I mean, that's almost a denial-of-service attack in my opinion.

If you need memory (or even if you don't) now is a good time to grab some. Crucial is advertising 128 MB PC133 DIMMs for $51 and 256 MB PC133 DIMMs for $90. At that price, you can't afford not to be running at least 128 MB in your systems, and 256 MB is not overkill. In my experience two of the major factors that contribute to increased system stability are: (a) run high-quality memory (and Crucial certainly qualifies in that respect); and (b) run lots of memory. A system that crashes frequently with a barely adequate amount of memory often becomes rock-solid if you double the amount of memory. Your goal should be to have enough memory in your system that it never hits the swap file during routine operations.

Without apologizing for Microsoft, I've often said that probably 90% of the system stability problems that are blamed on Windows are in fact caused by insufficient or poor quality memory and marginal power supplies. Now's a good time to do something about the former problem.

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Tuesday, 27 March 2001

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We now have four-count-'em-four Border Collies. Barbara and her friend Nancy Jackson drove up to Danbury yesterday morning to do a home visit on an owner relinquishment. It's a sad story. The owners are an older couple. He's had a serious heart attack, and she simply can't keep up with the demands of caring for an invalid husband and taking care of an active young Border Collie.

When Barbara and Nancy arrived back at the house, they were both going on about how Dan, the rescue BC, was "just like Duncan". No surprise, as it turns out. Duncan and Malcolm are half brothers. Their mother is Trixie. Duncan's father is Roscoe. As it turns out, Trixie is Dan's grandmother and Roscoe is his grandfather, so Dan is closely related to both Duncan and Malcolm. A half-nephew, or something like that.

dan-1.jpg (221577 bytes)

Unfortunately, Carolina Border Collie Rescue has no foster space available at the moment, so it seemed that Dan would be stuck where he was until they could come up with someone willing to foster him. Barbara mentioned that she'd have brought Dan home with her if she wasn't afraid I'd divorce her for doing it. I told her that was ridiculous. I've never made any objection to fostering in an emergency. The only thing I'd mentioned was that I didn't want any rescue dogs here while Malcolm was still a young pup and therefore vulnerable to diseases. So, of course, I said, "Why don't we just go get him?" And that's what we did.

Barbara, Nancy, Phoebe (Nancy's baby) and I drove back up to Danbury and picked up Dan. He was born June 6, 1999, and so is just a few months older than Malcolm. Dan is one large BC. He stands as tall as Duncan, or perhaps just a bit taller, and weighs probably 75 or 80 pounds. Some of that is fat. He needs to lose maybe 10 pounds. He's gentle and well-behaved, which is fortunate with a dog of his size.

Poor Dan. When we arrived back at our home, he found three Border Collies waiting for him. Duncan mounted him, just to show him who was boss. Malcolm snarled at him, just to show him who was boss. And Kerry lunged at him (reminds me of a crocodile exploding onto the river bank to snatch a calf) just to show him who was boss. That went on all evening, with all three of the younger dogs pacing back and forth in the den, with occasional contretemps. 

After Last Time Out, Barbara and I discussed how to handle things for the night. We decided that she'd sleep on the sofa in the den to keep Dan company, and that I'd sleep back in the bedroom with the other three dogs all blocked in with me via a baby gate. That didn't work out too well. Dan is used to living outside, and was whining constantly, not able to figure out why we wouldn't let him go outside to sleep. After an hour or so of that, Barbara and I decided to switch places. I went out to the den and tried to sleep on the sofa, but Dan kept snouting me and whining. Finally, I decided to go down on the floor to sleep. Dan finally curled up on the floor next to me and I was able to get at least a few hours of sleep.

Come this morning, four Border Collies exploded out the front door for First Time Out, and we're off to the races again. As Barbara and I were trying to read the morning paper, Duncan was mounting Dan to show him who's boss, Malcolm was snarling at Dan (and the other BCs) to show them who's boss, and Kerry was lunging at whichever of the other BCs happened to get within reach, just to show them all who's really boss. Poor Dan was just trying to figure out where he fits in. As I write this, Dan is blocked off in the foyer with a baby gate, and everyone is pacing around. It's never boring when you have a bunch of Border Collies. What we really need now is some sheep.

Which reminds me of a sad thing that's gone unremarked in the larger disaster of Foot and Mouth in Britain. Barbara and I remarked that with the Brits having to destroy half a million sheep, there are going to be a lot of unemployed Border Collies. Nancy told us something we didn't know. Apparently, they'll also be destroying thousands of Border Collies from the affected areas, because the dogs can carry Foot and Mouth on their paws. Since Border Collies don't carry F&M in the sense of being infected themselves, that seems a bit extreme. Surely they could simply bathe them in disinfectant rather than killing them.

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Wednesday, 28 March 2001

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From Tom Syroid's page:

Atlanta, Ga. Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control today confirmed that foot-and-mouth disease cannot be spread by Microsoft's Outlook email application; [this is] believed to be the first time the program has ever failed to propagate a major virus.

From John Dominik's page:

I think the only "non-Beta" OS product I've used from Microsoft in the last six years is NT 4.0 with SP6a. 

Dan seems to be fitting right in. He and Malcolm spent a great deal of time yesterday tussling, but it was all friendly and they both had their happy-dog faces on the whole time. I slept out on the sofa last night to keep Dan company. He curled up next to me on the floor and we were all able to sleep all night. Perhaps tonight we'll try all of us sleeping back in the bedroom. Malcolm woke up in a growly/snarly mood this morning, and got into a pretty major set-to with Duncan. No blood spilled, though, and Malcolm appears to have calmed down a bit. I just looked out my office door, and Malcolm and Dan are tussling again.

The one thing I really dislike about fostering dogs is that they quickly become attached to us and our dogs. Then, a few days or a couple of weeks later, they're ripped from their new pack without so much as a by-your-leave and summarily plunked down in a new environment. That's particularly hard on old dogs, but fortunately Dan is not yet two years old, so he should adapt pretty easily when he's adopted into another family. He really is a sweet dog.

I finished the update on Chapter 2, Working on PCs. It's available for download now on the subscribers' page. This file is larger than 3 MB, so you probably don't want to download it unless you really want to look at it.

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Thursday, 29 March 2001

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Dan will be leaving us this weekend. Details over on Barbara's page. This morning I feel like I've been run over by a truck. Dan did not have a good night. He was pacing and whining much of the night, and came over periodically to snout me. He's also a "mouther", which means that he likes to take your hand in his mouth and chew gently on it. It's an affectionate behavior, but it turns off some people, so Barbara and friends will have to be careful to point this out to any prospective adopter. Half a dozen times throughout the night I awoke to find my hand being chewed. I think I got something like three or four hours' sleep amid all the interruptions.

I usually find Dilbert amusing, but the one this morning made me laugh out loud. What a truly excellent idea.

Spam from InfoWorld. As regular readers will recall, I decided some weeks ago to drop my free subscription to InfoWorld. But it seems that InfoWorld is determined not to lose me. I've now ignored multiple "urgent notices" that arrived via snail mail, as well as a flood of emails. And the magazine itself just keeps coming. Why? Because InfoWorld is a "controlled circulation" publication. That means that they give the magazine away and make all their money from advertisers. And those advertisers pay based on circulation numbers. So every "subscriber" literally means more money in InfoWorld's pocket. No wonder InfoWorld tries everything possible to keep from losing a subscriber. Nowhere in any of the emails, snail-mails, or the subscription web site is there an option to check "Yes, I really mean it. Take me off your subscriber list".

I wonder how long this will go on. It's nowhere near the record. One controlled circ publication kept sending me their magazine for more than two years after I'd ignored their "final notice". All of those went into the circular file immediately, which to my way of thinking means that that publication was defrauding advertisers for two years in my case.

I happened across one of the stranger sites on the Internet last night. Psychoexgirlfriend.com is a site run by a guy named Mark. He dumped his girlfriend, but she refused to stay dumped. She's left him more than 50 voicemail messages, including 25 in one day. Instead of doing the decent thing and just ignoring her, or even complaining to the police and phone company about harassing calls, he decided to start a web site, convert the messages to MP3, and post them on the site. The site is getting some humongous number of visits, and apparently the recorded messages are now the basis of a popular new drinking game on college campuses. Just to see what all the to-do was about, I downloaded and listened to a couple of them. If I were he, I'd be worried. This woman is clearly a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Taunting her seems ill-advised, not to mention cruel.

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Friday, 30 March 2001

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I almost took leave of my senses yesterday. I found myself on the BeOS page, considering downloading the free BeOS Personal Edition. Fortunately, I remained sensible enough to look around for applications. Many of the links to application pages on the Be site itself returned 404 errors, but I did eventually find a list of applications by type. Checking into office productivity suites, I found exactly two. One was a trialware commercial product and the other was a beta version of AbiWord. I really must get NT4 Workstation SP6a re-installed on a system that I can use as my main workstation.

Well, it had to happen eventually. The morning newspaper reports with a straight face that minorities are now a majority in California. Non-Hispanic Caucasians now make up only 47% of California's population. Although the paper didn't draw the obvious conclusion, this now means that California is 100% minority, because no one arbitrarily-defined group makes up more than 50% of the population. Unless, of course, you consider women.

How long can it be before the first lawsuit is filed in California by a Caucasian demanding protection under minority quota and set-aside laws? This could get interesting.

I'm working on several chapters right now. One of them is the one about floppy drive replacements. Is there any earthly reason to install a Zip Drive any more? If so, I can't think of one. It seems to me that CD writers are better in every respect. The drives themselves cost little more than a Zip Drive, the media are much cheaper, not to mention larger and much more reliable. Essentially any computer can read a CD-R/RW disc nowadays, so using a CD writer gives you nearly 100% compatibility with other systems. I just can't think of a single reason to buy a Zip Drive. To post or read comments about this issue, click here.

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Saturday, 31 March 2001

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Today is the last day to subscribe to my sites under the "early-bird" plan, which gives you access through 9/30/02 in return for a one-year subscription payment. Starting tomorrow, one-year subscriptions will expire after one year. So if you have subscribed yet, now is the time to do so. For instructions, click here. If you want to pay by check or credit card, not to worry. Just send me the "I paid" email and I'll treat your subscription as effective today, even though I won't have actually received payment yet. Several of you have asked about when I'll have credit-card payments set up. I hope to have that done by this weekend, but I'll notify you when that payment method is available.

Barbara just left for Charlotte, where she'll spend the day. There's a fly-ball tournament there, where she'll meet the folks who will provide long-term fostering to Dan the Border Collie. In this case, "long term" might be as little as a week or two. Dan is a sweet dog, and we expect him to be adopted very soon. I said goodbye to him just before Barbara and he left this morning. He gave my hand one last chew and then headed for the truck. I think he knew he wouldn't be coming back here.

Be careful if you have an HP 71 17" monitor, model number D8903A. Hewlett-Packard reports that some small percentage of these monitors are defective and may electrocute users who touch the top of the monitor. HP says, "In rare circumstances, there is a risk of electric shock if a user comes in contact with a specific and limited area on the top of a defective monitor." HP plans no recall, but intends to inform users and resellers of the problem and how to test for it and have it fixed. No word on how serious a shock users of these defective monitors can expect, but given the voltage levels inside monitors, it's probably a good idea not to take a chance.

"Everything is mine. All mine!" That seems to be Microsoft's attitude, anyway. The Register posted the following excerpts from Microsoft's Passport Terms of Use agreement, which currently apply to Hotmail and MSN Messenger, and should also apply to dot-net once that's rolled out:

"By posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, submitting any feedback or suggestions, or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Passport Web Site ... you are granting Microsoft and its affiliated companies permission to:

1. Use, modify, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, publish, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, or sell any such communication.

2. Sublicense to third parties the unrestricted right to exercise any of the foregoing rights granted with respect to the communication.

3. Publish your name in connection with any such communication."

and

"The foregoing grants shall include the right to exploit any proprietary rights in such communication, including but not limited to rights under copyright, trademark, service mark or patent laws under any relevant jurisdiction. No compensation will be paid with respect to Microsoft's use of the materials contained within such communication."

Yeah, right. If you use their service, you agree by doing so that Microsoft owns all your data. 

Hmm. I wonder if I could get my readers to agree to something similar. If you visit my web site, you thereby agree to send me the entire contents of all your bank accounts, sign over title to your house and cars, make me beneficiary on all your life insurance policies, have your payroll check direct-deposited to my account, make me sole beneficiary in your will, and allow me to sell your entire family into slavery. Nah, that probably wouldn't fly, even though it's no more unreasonable than Microsoft's terms. Microsoft's land-grab shouldn't fly either.

In case it's not obvious to everyone by now, Microsoft is in trouble. Bad trouble. They've built their company on an economic model that is no longer sustainable, and now they're desperate to come up with new sources of revenue. PC sales are tanking, and with those declining sales the "Microsoft tax" is no longer filling Microsoft's coffers fast enough to keep up with their insatiable need for revenue. Windows 2000 is selling poorly, and Microsoft's foothold in server-space is under a deadly threat from Linux. Microsoft is dabbling with stuff like the X-box and has climbed into bed with the movie studios and record companies, but the real long-term answer to their need for ongoing revenue is to force us all to rent their software rather than buying it. That's what dot-net, forced registration, and XP are all about. Anyone who buys into their plans is simply agreeing to have his wallet pillaged on an ongoing basis.

So what's the answer? The short-term answer for many, including me, is to continue to use Microsoft operating systems and applications but never to upgrade. If you have Windows 98/NT/2K, continue to use it, but avoid XP like the plague. When the time arrives that new systems are sold only with XP, many will be faced with a dilemma. In that situation, I'd probably do a "midnight downgrade" to an earlier version. It may not be within the terms of the license agreement, but I doubt any court would hold someone accountable who had paid for a license for one version of a product and chose to replace it with an earlier version.

The longer term answer is Linux. Well, longer term for the desktop, at least. In server-space, Linux is already a credible alternative to Windows, from which it continues to grab market share. On the desktop, Linux doesn't even show up as an asterisk yet, but that will change. There are so many bright people working so hard to bring Linux to maturity that its success is almost a foregone conclusion. Unless, that is, Microsoft succeeds in killing Linux in the legislatures and the courts. Allchin's well-publicized broadside recently was just the first shot in what I expect to be an ongoing battle. Like many companies who've found themselves unable to compete in the marketplace, Microsoft's next venue is likely to be the courts. It'll be interesting to see what happens.

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Sunday, 1 April 2001

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I'm on the run this morning, so this'll be a short post.

Barbara delivered Dan yesterday to his new foster parents, and had a great time at the fly ball tournament. Details on her page.

As usual, Daylight Saving Time has screwed up our schedule around here. It's already almost 11:00, and we've just started doing laundry, etc. Barbara will need some help from me this morning so that she can finish her house cleaning in time to watch her race (or golf match, or whatever it is that's coming on TV at 12:30).

Thanks to everyone who's subscribed. As expected, I got a flood of new subscriptions yesterday. Well, a mini-flood, anyway. A dozen or so. To everyone who expressed concern about making it in under the deadline, don't worry about it. I'm not checking postmarks or anything stupid like that. If you've sent me mail telling me that you're subscribing, that's good enough for me. I should have all the new subscribers set up sometime later today, once I get the cleaning and so on done.

Once I've done that, I hope to build a new system. I'm working on several chapters right now. One of the them is tentatively titled, This Olde Computer. I doubt that O'Reilly will let that title stand, but it's about upgrading an older computer to modern standards. In this case, a Dell Pentium/200 system, which is going to turn into a Celeron/800 system.

The subscription page has been updated. We can now take MasterCard or Visa.

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