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Week of 14 May 2001

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Monday, 14 May 2001

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The start of another week, and once again I didn't get done what I'd hoped to last week. I only got two chapters revised and submitted last week, although I did get most of the work done on a third. I will get three chapters finished and to my editor this week if it kills me. They may be chapters that don't need much revision, but I will get them done and in. I may even try for four.

As I completed my weekly backup yesterday, I noticed that my data seems to be growing at about 300 MB per week. Yesterday, it totaled 10,062,784,726 bytes. Last week, it was 9,699,188,809 bytes. The week before that, 9,465,307,984 bytes. And so on, with a pretty standard jump from week to week of between 250 MB and 350 MB. This is my actual working data, you understand, and doesn't include the stuff I've archived. Part of the reason for the jump is my habit of saving the chapter I'm working on under different names. When I open PCN2-removable-hard-disk-drives-01.doc this morning, for example, I'll immediately save it as  PCN2-removable-hard-disk-drives-01-20010514-01.doc. I'll then close that and begin making edits to PCN2-removable-hard-disk-drives-01.doc. Throughout the day, I may save it several times under a new name. That's not bad for documents without images, but some of my documents run 3 or 4 MB, and one with many images may be 20 MB or larger. So, between that habit and my other habit of saving web sites "complete", I do tend to use up disk space.

I remember a time not all that long ago when I'd have been happy to have a 300 MB hard disk, and now I fill that much disk space every week. Fortunately, I have more than 1,000 GB of disk space available, so I'm unlikely to run out any time soon. Even so, I see that theodore, our main file server, has only about 1.5 GB of disk space free. I think it may be time to build a new file server, and I think now may be the time to bring up a production Linux server with a lot of disk space. I'll configure it initially only as a file server and perhaps as a backup domain controller for our NT4 network. I'm not quite ready to trust my nearly non-existent knowledge of Linux to put a Linux box up as a border router, firewall, etc. So perhaps bringing up a file server behind my existing firewall is a good first baby step. We'll see.

Tom Syroid seems to think highly of e-smith, so I may try that. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please post them to the Linux forum using the link below.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2001

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I finished updating another chapter--this one 08 - Removable Hard Disk Drives--and sent it off to my editor. It's available for download on the Subscribers Page now. It's an 884 KB Word 2000 document. If you care to read and comment on it, I'd love to hear what you have to say. There's a link on the subscribers' page that you can click to provide feedback in the Subscribers Only forum on the HardwareGuys.com messageboard. 

Today I start on updating Chapter 9, Tape Drives. Fortunately, there aren't many changes needed, although I do intend to expand it somewhat, including advice about such things as developing a backup strategy. With the bankruptcy of OnStream, I wasn't looking forward to choosing another product as a low-end recommendation, but it now appears that OnStream will be back, so I think I'll leave what I have about OnStream in for now, with perhaps a note about their bankruptcy.

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Much mail about Linux, SAMBA, and so on. In particular, Roland Dobbins sent me some detailed arguments against using e-smith, and indeed against using Red Hat Linux in general. As I told Roland, what's really strange is that learning CLI Linux doesn't really worry me. I've used many Unices over the years, from Microsoft Xenix 15 years ago, through SCO Unix and BSD. I actually like having configuration files to edit and so on. It makes me feel as though I'm in control of things. Granted, I may use that control to drive over the proverbial cliff, but at least I'm in charge. Learning to use GUI Linux is much more worrisome, at least for me.

In AMD news this morning, AMD has started sampling the 1.5 GHz Athlon 4 (Palomino) and VIA unveiled their new chipset for the Athlon 4 and Duron. It's officially called the ProSavage KN133, and it's new only in terms of the southbridge, which incorporates S3 Savage 4 graphics. The northbridge remains the KT133A. It's pretty much the same chipset, in other words, just with embedded video.

The mailman yesterday delivered some books I'd ordered from a used book dealer in the UK. They're old books about forensic toxicology and poisons, and I couldn't find them anywhere in the US. Interestingly, at least one of the books appears to have come from the Scotland Yard library. I'm hoping they discarded it. If someone stole it, I'd hate to have Inspector Whoever from Scotland Yard show up at my door.

Chris Ward-Johnson sent the following message to our backchannel.

"Those of you who use Symantec's products should not that there's a worm doing the rounds now disguised - badly, thank goodness - as a warning from Symantec.

http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/vbs.hard.a@mm.html for Symantec's warning, http://www.securitywatch.com/newsforward/default.asp?AID=7536 for a bit more."

I just made a pot of coffee, and that got me to thinking. We keep two sorts of coffee here. The Good Stuff from Fresh Market, which I drink and serve to my coffee-drinking friends. And the Cheap Stuff from the grocery store, which we serve to Barbara's parents and others. That sounds terrible, but we keep the Cheap Stuff because Barbara's parents actually prefer it to the Good Stuff.

As I was grinding some of the good stuff this morning, I again noticed that one sure sign of Good Stuff is that it doesn't leave ground coffee stuck to the inside of the grinder. That's because the Cheap Stuff is as moist as they can make it, because they'd rather sell water by the pound than even cheap coffee. So the Cheap Stuff sticks to the grinder, whereas the Good Stuff doesn't.

That's not the only difference, of course. The Good Stuff is 100% good arabica beans, whereas the Cheap Stufff is 100% disgusting robusta beans. Unless, of course, the Cheap Stuff advertises itself as arabica, in which case the probably add one reject arabica bean to every truckload. Interestingly, the Juan Valdez ad campaign appears to have confused my father-in-law. He commented that the grocery store stuff is 100% Columbian Coffee, to which I replied, "Yeah, cheap, crappy robusta Columbian coffee."

This all really started back in the 70s, when inflation started to become obvious. Most people weren't (and still aren't) willing to pay what good coffee costs, currently say $8 to $10 per pound and up, so the commercial coffee producers started substituting robusta beans. Before then, essentially no robusta was imported into the US, and the major commercial brands were actually pretty good coffee. But faced with declining sales they had to do something, and that something was to cost-reduce the coffee. What's interesting is that government inflation statistics consider a pound of coffee in 1965 the same as a pound of coffee in 2001. Trouble is, it's not the same pound of coffee, so the true inflation rate is concealed. Same thing on things like automobiles. Government statistics consider a 2001 passenger car identical to a 1966 passenger car for price comparison purposes. Obviously, they're not. The 1966 car had literally twice the amount of steel in it, and so on. Most other things have been cost-reduced in similar fashion, so you have to take government inflation statistics with a grain of salt. 

I'd better get started on the next chapter now.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2001

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The miracle we'd hoped for didn't come to pass. Kaycee Nicole died Monday, aged only 19. I'd never met Kaycee, nor even talked to her via email, but I'd read her web diary regularly for the last several months. Kaycee was a beautiful young woman in every respect. Our world is a poorer place for her absence. 

But Kaycee isn't really gone. She lives on in the memories of those who loved her, of course, but I think there's more to it than that. I think we exist within an infinite sheaf of multiverses, with only our own universe visible to us. So Kaycee lives on in the multiverse. Somewhere else in space-time, Kaycee can grow up, go to college, get married, have children, and do all the other things she should have had the chance to do in this universe. I hope so, anyway.

Okay, I don't usually edit my page retroactively, but in the rush to do something I posted an obsolete address, so I'm going to delete that stuff and start over:

It amazes me that I can feel Kaycee's loss so deeply. Until this morning, I had never seen a picture of Kaycee or even known her last name. I knew her only from her writings, which is how she wanted to be known. There are uncounted thousands of people all over the world grieving for Kaycee now, nearly all of whom knew her only by what she had written. Such is the power of the Internet. We have friends that we've never met. Now, alas, we never will meet Kaycee. But for all of that, she's affected many of us deeply. None of us will ever forget Kaycee.

If you want to do something in remembrance of Kaycee, see this site. It's maintained by Randy Vanderwoning. Kaycee and Randy mutually "adopted" each other as brother and sister.

Barbara and I have chosen to make a donation in remembrance of Kaycee to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, specifying that it go to the Kansas chapter, because that is Kaycee's home state. It's little enough to do, but it's all we can think to do at the moment.

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Thursday, 17 May 2001

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Yesterday I finished updating another chapter--this one 09 - Tape Drives--and sent it off to my editor. It's available for download on the Subscribers Page now. It's an 485 KB Word 2000 document. If you care to read and comment on it, I'd love to hear what you have to say. There's a link on the subscribers' page that you can click to provide feedback in the Subscribers Only forum on the HardwareGuys.com messageboard. I've already started updating Chapter 10, CD-ROM Drives. Fortunately, I don't think that chapter needs many changes. We'll see.

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This is very disturbing. While I was working on a chapter yesterday, I decided to check some prices. So I went to Outpost.com, which alas appears to be continuing its downward slide. Then I visited Onvia.com, where I entered a product and told it to search. For some reason, I happened to notice that the URL line was displaying a long string that started with http://www.insight.com. Hmm. Does this mean that Onvia is now owned by Insight? So I decided to hit NECx.com, only to find that they've refocused their business and appear no longer to be selling components to individuals. What is going on? I know there's been consolidation in the tech industry, but it appears that good vendors disappearing and merging and dropping like flies. I know that computer book sales have tanked, which makes me unhappy for obvious reasons, but it appears this downturn is more serious than I'd at first thought.

I love Roadrunner. It's true that they can't keep their mail servers up, but I don't much care about that since I POP from my own server at pair Networks. But their connectivity is almost always fine. Last night I downloaded Windows 2000 Service Pack 2. It was 101 MB and took about 8 minutes to download, which is better than T1/DS1 speed. And Pournelle tells me that PacBell is messing with him again. If I were he, I'd start billing them for my time. This has happened several times now. They solicit him to sign up for their DSL service. They tell him he's eligible to get it. They schedule a visit to install it for him, and this last time they even sent him an DSL modem. Then the day arrives and they tell him, "Sorry. You're too far from our Central Office." If PacBell does this to everyone else, I'm surprised their headquarters hasn't already been attacked by hordes of armed people wearing masks.

I got a call from a friend of mine last night. He's trying to troubleshoot a very odd problem. He has a server with an HP-branded MegaRAID card it. That server attaches to an external SCSI3 box-of-drives. The BOD has 12 drive bays, and apparently the SCSI ID for each bay is assigned explicitly, so that the first bay is SCSI ID 0, the second 1, the third 2, the fourth 3, the fifth 8 and then sequentially through the 12th bay as 15. A little strange, but so far so good. The problem is that only the odd-numbered SCSI IDs work. That is, he can put a drive in the second bay (SCSI ID 1), the fourth (ID 3), and so on, and the drives work fine. But if he puts a drive in the first bay (ID 0), the third bay (ID 2), and so on up to the 11th bay (ID 14), the drives aren't recognized. There's nothing binary (like a stuck jumper) that could cause that, nor could any cabling problem I can think of.

I told him that I saw only two possibilities. First, something odd about the host adapter itself, either in terms of how it's configured or that perhaps it's not working right. Second, the BOD if it's like most probably has redundant power supplies, with perhaps three units, one hot spare, the second to power half the chassis and the third to power the other half of the chassis. If there's something wrong with one of those power supplies, it's possible that the wiring harness is set to use one power supply to power alternate drive bays, which I suppose could account for the problem. Drives in the "bad" bays spin up okay, but the host adapter doesn't recognize them as present. Perhaps there's a bad power supply and it's providing 12V for the motors but not 5V for the electronics?

So John is stopping by this morning to borrow an Adapter 29160 host adapter. He'll use that to replace the MegaRAID host adapter temporarily to see if the Adaptec will recognize all the drives. My guess is that it won't, and that the problem is a defective power supply in the BOD, but we'll see.

Reader David Cefai reports that there's another VBS scripting worm making its way through the email systems in Europe. It's called Mawanella, and David says it displays "a message bemoaning an atrocity in Ceylon and then emails itself to all and sundry. No other damage noted. If you run it (VBS necessary) just delete the file MAWANELLA.VBS from c:\windows\system." 

Of course, if you do as I have done and uninstall Windows Scripting Host (or, if necessary, just delete both scripting executables from your Windows directory) you won't have to worry about these things.

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Friday, 18 May 2001

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Yesterday I finished updating another chapter--this one 10 - CD-ROM Drives--and sent it off to my editor. It's available for download on the Subscribers Page now. It's a 157 KB Word 2000 document. If you care to read and comment on it, I'd love to hear what you have to say. There's a link on the subscribers' page that you can click to provide feedback in the Subscribers Only forum on the HardwareGuys.com messageboard. I've already started updating Chapter 11, CD-RW Drives. That one should be up tomorrow or Sunday. The trouble is, instead of updating it from my original chapter manuscript for PC/Nutshell, I'm going to update it from the later and greatly expanded version I wrote for the late, lamented PC Hardware: The Definitive Guide. That chapter had ballooned to something over 100 pages in Word, which means something like 125+ book pages, so I need to trim it down before I send it in. Otherwise, I'll give my editor heart failure.

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Thanks to everyone who pointed out that NECx is still selling computer products at the URL necxdirect.com. What's really strange is that I had that bookmarked. The other day, I just typed in www.necx.com manually and found myself at a web site that is NECx but doesn't have anything to do with retail computer components.

I complained a week or two ago about the spammers who were selling a $1,000 CD with the contact information for 12 million domain owners. The news is worse this morning. They've dropped the price to $100, and it's all the fault of those nasty "internet copyright pirates, and those who have copied and released our products without our permission or consent". I've gotten four copies of that spam so far this morning, with more probably to come. I'm sure I'll get one for each of the domain names I own or am a registered contact for.

Perhaps the time has come for someone to emulate those whacko anti-abortion terrorists who run the Nuremberg Files web site (or whatever it's called). That site lists the names, addresses and other personal information of doctors who perform abortions. Although the site doesn't actually suggest that anyone go out and murder these doctors, there's certainly a wink-wink-nudge-nudge aspect to it. For example, I'm told that when someone does murder one of those on the list, the list is updated using a strike-through font to display the victim's name crossed out. Now, I think the proper response to all Nazis, including these whacko anti-abortion terrorists, is to shoot them, but I must admit their method would have some merit if applied to spammers.

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Saturday, 19 May 2001

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Interesting article in the paper this morning. A 27 year old woman was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle. She was driving down the road when her cell phone rang. She answered it, but dropped it. When she looked down to pick up the phone, she ran off the road, where she struck and killed a 25 year old woman who was a guard in charge of a convict crew cleaning up litter. The judge sentenced the woman to a 45-day jail term, suspended, two years of unsupervised probation, and a $500 fine plus court costs.

It seems to me that this sentence is either much too light or much too severe. Sentencing someone for causing a death should require proving either that the accused intended to kill the victim or that the accused was grossly negligent. If there was intent, the accused should face felony homicide or manslaughter charges. Obviously, there was no intent here, so that rules that out. But for the accused to be convicted of lesser charges, the prosecution should have to prove gross negligence, and I don't see that here either. From the facts given in the article, it seems to me that what we have here is what used to be called an "accident."

Proving gross negligence should mean that the prosecution must establish that the accused behaved in an extraordinary manner in reckless disregard of the victim's life. The "extraordinary" part should mean that the accused did something that no reasonably prudent man would have done, such as driving while severely impaired by alcohol or drugs, knowingly driving a vehicle with non-functioning brakes, etc. An accident that occurred because of a momentary distraction does not, in my opinion, constitute gross negligence. 

As the victim's lawyer pointed out, this opens the door to prosecuting people for negligent homicide in situations where they've done nothing more unusual than tuning their radio or changing CDs. Many years ago, I dumped an entire cup of very hot coffee in my lap when the lid popped off unexpectedly. As it happened, I got the car stopped without running off the road, but I might easily have done so. If I'd been less fortunate and struck someone, should I have been charged with homicide? Who among us has not been momentarily distracted while driving? Most of the time, of course, nothing horrible happens as a result of that distraction. But sometimes something terrible does happen, and I don't think it's reasonable to convict someone of homicide for behaving in a perfectly ordinary manner. 

I'm still working on Chapter 11, CD-RW Drives. I have it down from 100+ Word pages to 64 pages, which is starting to get into the reasonable range. I mentioned to my editor yesterday that CD writers are one of the hottest computer peripherals and that, with the cancellation of PC Hardware: The Definitive Guide, PC Hardware in a Nutshell will now have to stand alone against the 1500 page monsters, so it's reasonable to spend some space on CD writers. He agrees.

Barbara and I are off to another book sale today, this one at the Rural Hall library, where Barbara used to be the branch head. I've found some great books at these library book sales, and Rural Hall charges only $1 for hardbacks, so we'll probably stock up on mysteries and so on. I keep trying to convince the library folks to increase the prices. I mean, even mass-market paperbacks sell for $6 or $7 now, so it seems to me that the library could be charging significantly more for used hardbacks, many of which are in excellent shape. All of it is in a good cause, of course, because the money they make from the sale goes to such things as buying new books for the collection.

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Sunday, 20 May 2001

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Barbara and I picked up a dozen books at the book sale yesterday. They had a special deal. They'd give you one of those grocery store plastic bags and you could fill it up for $5.00. What a deal. We filled up one bag with 11 books for $5.00. There was actually room for several more books in there, but I didn't want to be a pig about it. I took the filled bag out to the truck, and we kept looking. 

Barbara found only one other book worth buying. That one was an astronomy primer written and published in 1868. It was in decent shape for its age. The binding was a bit worn, and there was considerable foxing on the pages, but overall it was a good reading copy. The cover page was inscribed, and someone had written penciled notes throughout the book. I found myself wondering if those notes were circa 1868 or later. But for a buck it was worth grabbing. Old books shouldn't die, and this one would no doubt have ended up at the dump.

Barbara was back working in her office yesterday evening, and I was lying on the sofa reading. She came out into the hall and shouted that she had a virus that was sending email to a bunch of people. That shouldn't have been happening. So I told Barbara to kill Outlook and headed back to see what was going on. I thought I had her system locked up tight against scripting viruses, but that obviously wasn't the case. So I ran InoculateIT, which found and deleted the w32.badtrans.13312 worm/Trojan. She'd apparently been infected at about 9:00 Saturday morning, but when I checked her Sent Items folder there were only a dozen or so outbound messages with the virus attached, most of those sent to mailing lists she belongs to. 

This worm/Trojan looks for unread mail and sends an infected message to the senders of any unread messages it finds. What was ironic was that Barbara had received several spams, which the worm/Trojan happily replied to. Nearly all spams, of course, use an invalid From: and Reply-To: field, so what alerted Barbara to the presence of the worm/Trojan was the bounce responses from those invalid addresses. For once, spam accidentally accomplished something useful.

After cleaning her local system, I scanned her outlook.pst file, which showed no virus infection. Very strange, considering that her outbox still had copies of the sent items with attachments. And that's a story in itself. A couple of stories, actually.

First, I was at a loss to explain how a scripting virus could accomplish anything on Barbara's system, since I'd locked up both Internet Explorer and Outlook, and had also carefully deleted the two scripting executables from both her \WINNT\system32\dllcache folder and her \WINNT\system32 folder. Well, the answer was that the two scripting executables were right back where they'd originally been, and where I'd deleted them when I installed Windows 2000. The only thing I can assume is that at one point over the last few months when I was installing something and was prompted to insert the Windows 2000 CD, Windows 2000 must have "helpfully" reinstalled the executables I'd deleted, without bothering to tell me. I hate Microsoft. Bastards.

Then there was the joy of virus scanning my systems. InoculateIT Personal Edition works fine on thoth, my main workstation and sherlock, Barbara's main workstation, both of which run Windows 2000 Professional (yes, yes, I know). But when it came time to scan theodore, our main file server, InoculateIT choked when I tried to install it. That's because theodore runs Windows NT Server, and InoculateIT Personal Edition refuses to install on anything but client OSs. Okay, fair enough, I suppose. InoculateIT PE is, after all, free for personal use.

So I considered my options. I have Norton Utilities for NT 2.0 installed on theodore, and that product includes a virus scanner. Unfortunately, Norton decided to renege on their promise of free virus sig updates. A year or so ago, I remember attempting to upgrade the virus sig file, only to be told by the wizard that NU/NT was now "unsupported" and I needed to upgrade to a newer product. Unsupported, that is, in the sense that Symantec wants people to pay for a new product rather than simply download the free updates that they were promised when they bought NU/NT.

So I went fishing among the boxes of eval software that Symantec sends me periodically. There were several likely-looking candidates, all of which listed virus scanning features and NT support on the box. So I grabbed one and attempted to install it on theodore. No dice. As a closer look at the boxes would have told me, all of these products support Windows 2000, but only the Professional version, and Windows NT 4, but only the Workstation version. So much for that idea. 

So I went over to the InoculateIT web site, thinking I might be able to download an NT Server version. There wasn't one, of course. So I visited the McAfee site, but it requires that I enable ActiveX or JavaScript or some such. I don't trust them enough to do that, so I decided to do my virus scan on theodore the old-fashioned way. I copied every file that mattered over to a junk directory on my workstation (thank the gods for huge hard drives) and scanned them on my local machine running Windows 2000 Professional. No infection.

So Barbara got to work emailing everyone to let them know that she'd accidentally sent them a virus/worm/trojan. I made a mental note to myself. The next time I install Windows NT Server, I'll create a small volume, perhaps a gigabyte or two, install Windows NT 4 Workstation on that volume, use Workstation to create a large extended partition, and install Server on that. That way, if I run into a problem again, I can simply restart the system under Workstation and use it to scan all of the NTFS volumes on that machine.

I need to get to work on the laundry, and I also want to get Chapter 11 (CD writers) finished and off to my editor today. That way, I can start tomorrow on Chapter 12, Hard Disk Interfaces. Not much to do on that one, except expand the coverage of Ultra160 SCSI and ATA/100, and perhaps add a section on Serial ATA.

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