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Week of 21 May 2001

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Monday, 21 May 2001

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I received a very disturbing email late last night from a reader. That mail included links to some web sites that raised questions about the existence of Kaycee Nicole, claiming that there had never been a Kaycee and that the whole story had been made up for some unknown reason. My first reaction was disgust that anyone would increase the pain of Kaycee's family and friends by doing something like this. After all, I know people whom I trust who had spoken to Kaycee on the phone. I knew Kaycee's real name, Kaycee Nicole Swenson, and even had a "private" photograph of her.

Well, it now appears that the doubters were right to be concerned. I don't know the full story. I suspect only those directly involved do. Perhaps none of us ever will. But the best I can determine is that there really was a 19-year-old girl who died recently. Her real name was not Kaycee, although she used that as a nickname. Nor was her last name Swenson. Kaycee's "mother"--Debbie Swenson of Peabody, Kansas--appears to be real enough, and it seems that Debbie is the one who actually wrote Kaycee's journal entries. Ms. Swenson's apparent goal was to tell Kaycee's story, and that of two other people she had known who died of cancer. So Ms. Swenson spun together the stories of the three victims and published it as Kaycee's journal.

As best I can tell, this was not a fraud in the usual sense. Ms. Swenson was not attempting to profit financially from her tale. And that, of course, is the reason that I and thousands of other people swallowed the tale hook, line, and sinker. It seemed as though the story must be true. Otherwise it was pointless. Had there been some solicitation for money--perhaps for hospital bills or whatever--I would have been suspicious, as would have many others. But there was none of that. Here is what Ms. Swenson herself says:

Her name was not Kaycee and she was not my daughter, but I loved her as if she had been. And I grieve her loss.

The blog was about the lives of three people who suffered, one with breast cancer, one with leukemia, and one with Liver cancer. Each were strong, vibrant, and loving individuals. Each were real. Each died much too soon.

I am to blame for wanting to tell their stories. I am to blame for weaving the lives of all three together. I chose to share their voices as one rather than three separately. I wrote their thoughts, their humorous sides, their struggles, their fears.

If you knew each of them do not for a minute doubt you knew the real person. It is only within these blogs that I tried to convey their silent voices.

I alone bear the shame for what I have done, but it was not done for any reason other than sharing the love for life they gave to those they loved.

I would like to clear up some falsehoods that have been spread around: there was never a paypal account, there was never an amazon wish list, if donations were made they were not made to me or any other person, if anyone asked you to contribute to a trip, or a fund of any kind it did not derive from this blog.

Randy (bwg) only posted what I sent to be posted, so I am the only person who is to blame.

If you sent something it was passed on to the appropriate family.

My intentions were good, but that does not begin to excuse me for what I have done. My only desire was to share their triumphs and tragedies in a way that showed their strength, the strength of their families. Those were not false. What they went through was real, I felt a great need to tell the stories of three courageous people who wanted nothing but to be well and live happily into their prime.

What I did was wrong and I apologise for it. I regret any pain I caused but I do not regret putting their thoughts out to be read.

There were more and deeper parts to their lives, I did them a grave disservice.

I carry the shame for my actions. The last thing I would like to say is I'm sorry.

The real *Kaycee* is the true author to her poetry. It was her nickname and she was the last of the truly beautiful who those of you read grew to love.

I was not her birth mother but I loved her with all my heart.

Many people have said they feel foolish for being gullible. I don't feel foolish, and I don't think anyone else should either. We were all taken in by an extraordinary story. Not that there's anything unusual about 19-year-old girls dying of cancer, unfortunately. Nor are good writers all that uncommon. What was extraordinary was the combination of a dying 19-year-old girl, her attitude and outlook on life, and her ability to remain upbeat and to write compellingly about her life and her feelings while going through hell. The real story, apparently, is that Debbie took it upon herself to tell the story of a very real, very frightened 19-year-old girl. How much of Kaycee's journal is her real words and thoughts and how much is fiction we don't know.

When I finally went back to bed about 11:30 last night, I woke Barbara up and told her what I knew at that point. She commented that at least some good had come of the whole thing. Like many others, we sent a contribution to the Kansas Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, so perhaps others will eventually benefit.

I'm not going to pursue this. If someone takes the trouble to find out what really happened, I'll take the time to listen, but otherwise I'll just write this off as an unfortunate incident. If you want to read more about this, you can read the MetaFilter thread that got everything started, Debbie's journal page, and Randy Vanderwoning's journal page. Randy, incidentally, seems to have been as much a victim as anyone. My own belief is that Debbie Swenson had good intentions, but chose a poor way to express them. So I think the best thing to do is let it rest.

Yesterday I finished updating another chapter--this one 11 - CD-R and CD-RW Drives--and sent it off to my editor. It's available for download on the Subscribers Page now. It's a 368 KB Word 2000 document. If you care to read and comment on it, I'd love to hear what you have to say, particularly since this chapter is hugely expanded from the current edition. 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 12, DVD Drives. That one should be up in the next day or two.

If you're not a subscriber and want to become one, click here.

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Tuesday, 22 May 2001

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I'm getting very tired of the security vulnerabilities in Microsoft software. This morning, yet another problem cropped up, this one because opening an RTF document in Word can execute a macro regardless of how you've configured macro protection. There's a downloadable patch, but I don't think I'll install it. It requires SP1 or higher be applied to Office 2000, and I don't want to apply that because it kills Outlook's ability to handle attachments (or so I recall).

This after I spent quite a bit of time yesterday installing, configuring, and playing with Norton Internet Security 3.0 (NIS). Although I installed it on my system, it's really for Barbara. But before I install something like that on her system, I use my own as a guinea pig to make sure it isn't going to hose things entirely. So far, it appears to be working fine, although its footprint is huge. There appear to be a dozen or more related services running, which cumulatively demand quite a bit of RAM. Oh, well. RAM is free nowadays, or nearly so. At least my CPU utilization is still in the 0% to 1% range when the system is idle, although it does spike when I do anything Internet related.

One of the components of the product is Norton AntiVirus (NAV), which I installed and configured to run full-time. I did a LiveUpdate to get the most recent virus sigs and then had NAV do a scan of my entire system. Six hours and nine minutes and nearly a quarter million files (!) later, it had given my system a clean bill of health, including all mapped network drives. For now, at least, it seems that all our main systems are safe and not infected with anything. I didn't bother with all the subsidiary systems. None of them have drives mapped to them, and they don't matter much anyway. They don't have Outlook installed on them, and we never use the browsers on them, so they're very unlikely to be infected by anything.

NIS has some very nice features, including an ad-blocker that appears to work and a personal firewall which, if not up to ZoneAlarm standards, at least seems a worthwhile addition to a system. It also intercepts scripts, ActiveX controls, etc. and allows you to accept/reject or accept all from the site in question. I'm going to leave NIS running on my system for a few days or a week before I consider it safe to install on Barbara's system. We'll see.

I blame all of these problems on Microsoft, not so much because of the gaping security holes they've left in their implementations of scripting, Internet integration, and so on, but because they made those features a part of their products in the first place. Why can't there be some choices when one installs Office?

"Install scripting support? Y/N"
"Install Internet integration features? Y/N"

And so on. I don't want Word 2000 to run scripts or be integrated with the Internet. Those features buy me nothing, and so needlessly make me vulnerable to security threats. Feature creep used to be relatively harmless. At worst, it meant that the new version required more disk space and memory. But for the last couple of years, Microsoft feature creep has actually become dangerous. Worse yet, Microsoft doesn't make clear what the dangers are and how one can disable unneeded and dangerous features, assuming that they can be disabled at all. Microsoft needs to provide a "Secure Install" option that excludes all the dangerous stuff. That they don't provide such an option is irresponsible of them.

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Wednesday, 23 May 2001

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The Kaycee Nicole fraud is disintegrating further. It now appears that Debbie's "confession" was just another pack of lies. The FBI may get involved and it's possible that mail fraud charges may be filed. It seems that the original fraud was perpetrated by Debbie's daughter and a friend. Debbie found out about it. Instead of doing what any normal adult would have done, exposing the fraud and apologizing, Debbie took what amounted to a teenage prank and turned it into a widespread fraud. If you want more information, here's a good starting point.

Thanks, incidentally, to everyone who's told me what a gullible idiot I am for believing the Kaycee saga. Interestingly, none of you said a word about it before the story broke. But it's reassuring to learn that you knew all along.

This is truly strange. Yesterday evening, Barbara shouted that her Quicken data had been truncated. She typically fires up Quicken every weekend to do bills and balance the checkbook. She didn't get to it last weekend, so the last time she'd used Quicken was the preceding weekend. When she fired it up yesterday, the most recent entry was for 12/20/2000. She's sure that she used it the weekend of 5/13/2001, and had transactions entered up through that date.

Okay, no problem, I thought. I went to the \databack directory on my own system--where I keep an xcopy backup of the data directories on the file server--hoping to find the file version from the preceding weekend, but the most recent data file date I found there was 1/15/2001 (!). So I stuck in the backup tape from this last weekend and did a restore. The file dates were all 1/15/2001. So I stuck in the tape I'd made 5/13/2001. Same thing, all Quicken files were dated 1/15/2001. So I went back to tapes from 5/7/2001 and 4/29/2001. Same deal. All Quicken files were dated 1/15/2001. That makes no sense, because those tapes hadn't been touched since they were made, and Barbara had entered new data in several Quicken sessions since the various tapes were made.

So the only thing I could figure is that Quicken had somehow been using data stored in a local directory on Barbara's system, rather than the usual location on theodore (our file server). I searched Barbara's system, along eventually with every other system, looking for files named q*.q?? (the format Quicken uses for data files) and turned up nothing other than a bunch of copies of the files dated 1/15/2001.

I have no idea what's going on here, or *how* it could be going on. My first thought, of course, was a virus, but upon consideration that makes no sense. A virus couldn't alter data on tapes that had been made prior to infection. I'm beginning to think that Quicken itself (Barbara still uses Quicken99) decided to do this. I've never trusted Intuit--they're even more obnoxious than Microsoft--and this is something I wouldn't put past them.

So right now, Barbara is faced with 4 months of lost Quicken data, and no way to recover it short of returning to the check register and re-entering it. I told her the hell with that. I've never liked Intuit, and if she has to re-enter data manually, it'll be into something other than Quicken. The only real alternative I know of is Microsoft Money, but that seems to be jumping from the fire into the frying pan.

I sent out an appeal to my friends on our backchannel mailing list, and they made some suggestions. Unfortunately, none of those panned out. It can't be a problem with Norton. I didn't install Norton on Barbara's system or on the server where the data files resided. And anyway I only installed it on my own system Monday night, and I have tapes from weeks ago that are all showing the 1/15/2001 date on the Quicken data files. I think Quicken did this itself.

Someone else asked about the data Quicken backed up to floppies. I told Barbara years ago not to bother backing up to floppies. Her data resides on the file server, with duplicates on several other systems' hard drives, on tape, on CD-R, and on DVD-RAM. It's not a matter of having lost the data. It's a matter of having 20+ copies of the data, but all of which are truncated. If it weren't for the file dates, I'd think that it was something in Quicken99 itself that was causing the problem. I suppose that still might be so, possibly by design, but three different copies of Quicken on three different machines all show the same results.

Dr. Keyboard has been talking about honour lately. Apparently, that concept is becoming increasingly meaningless nowadays. My father taught me that doing what one said one would do was simply part of being a man. Nothing special, nothing that deserved acclaim or reward, just part of the job. The old saying is that a man's word is his bond. If he agrees to do something, he must do it to the best of his ability, regardless of his own convenience, changed circumstances, or whatever. If he fails in that duty for lack of trying, he has no honor. 

Which is not to say that honor demands success. It's quite possible to undertake to do something, try one's best, and still fail. The shame is not in failing, but in not trying. Back in the old days, if a man acted dishonorably, the offended party might run him through with a sword. If questioned, he might explain, "He had no honor." That was sufficient explanation then, and it should be now. Acting honorably is easy enough that anyone can do it. One simply does the right thing, regardless of personal cost.

I guess I've been insulated from this new-fangled contempt for honor. All of the people I deal with, or at least all of those I deal with more than once, are honorable people. I run the rest of them through.

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Thursday, 24 May 2001

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This morning at 6:00 a.m. I got up to use the bathroom. When I returned to bed, I found that my place had been usurped by Malcolm. I pushed him over toward Barbara to make room for me, and then pulled the sheet, blanket, and bedspread over both of us, expecting Malcolm to exit the bed quickly. He did, but not in the way I expected. Instead, he quickly burrowed down to the end of the bed, turned left at Albuquerque, and exited on Barbara's side at the foot of the bed.

If you're a high-tech employer in the Sunnyvale, California area, you're in luck. Brian Bilbrey is considering moving to a new employer. Check out his resume.

[For those of you outside the US, a Buffy spoiler follows] We finally got around to watching the fifth season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer last night. Supposedly, the show is moving to another network next year, but it's hard to see how since they killed off Buffy. Well, we don't know that they killed her. She leapt from a high tower into a world-destroying vortex. That'd certainly be enough to kill most people, but Buffy isn't most people. We later watched the season finale of Angel, where (perhaps coincidentally) the whole crew returned from another dimension via a vortex that appeared quite similar to the one that ate Buffy. And at the end of Angel, he returned home to find Willow waiting for him. So perhaps it's back into the vortex for them. Either that, or next season we'll have Faith the Vampire Slayer.

And speaking of Buffy, how some people's opinions have changed. On 30 December, 2000 Bob Walder gave Buffy a lukewarm endorsement:

And with lunch, we watch the first two episodes of Buffy, from the first series. I have decided to give this a go because of all the press Bob Thompson keeps giving it. I realise he is mainly interested in Alyson Hannigan (and you really must take a look at American Pie if you like her), but I figure there must be more to it than that. And there is, I guess. In addition to the cast not being too hard to look at, it's actually not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be - so I will stick it out for the rest of the series.

But Bob appears to have developed more interest in Buffy pretty quickly. On 21 January, 2001, he says:

... we watch an episode of Buffy that we taped the other night. Having recently watched the first series, I am now confusing myself by switching between two more recent series running concurrently on Sky and BBC2.

Then, on 22 May, 2001, Bob heads to the DVD store, saying:

I am after Buffy Series 2 (I can see Bob T going green from here....)

Perhaps after Bob has a chance to see all of the Buffy episodes, he'll reconsider his criticism of my characterization of The Matrix as a plotless Buffy rip-off.

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Friday, 25 May 2001

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For everyone who asked where the chapter I planned to post is, I haven't finished it yet. I got sidetracked, as sometimes happens, adding stuff to a couple of other chapters. So right now I have three chapters in progress: 12, 13, and 14, on DVD Drives, Hard Disk Interfaces, and Hard Disk Drives, respectively. I hope to have at least two, and perhaps all three, posted by early next week.

The Forsyth Astronomical Society is holding a public viewing at Pilot Mountain state park tomorrow evening. We attended the last one, back in February, as visitors, so this will be the first one we'll be attending as members. It officially starts at dark, although there'll be a lot of people there in the afternoon with telescopes set up for solar viewing. When I asked Steve Wilson, the president of the club, when we needed to show up, he recommended that we get there and get set up early to avoid the rush. That actually makes sense, because there were quite a few visitors there for the one in February, when the wind chill was something like 14F (-10C), so I suppose the warm weather will draw a bigger crowd. 

Of course, the flip side is that there isn't a whole lot of good stuff visible right now. The gas giants, Orion, and several other impressive objects were up in February, but aren't now. Mars won't be a good evening object for another month or two. We need to figure out something that'll be worth looking at for the visitors. Enthusiasts love looking at the faint fuzzies, but they're not likely to excite most of the visitors. I suppose Luna will have to do. We'll set up with a 25mm eyepiece, which provides about 50X magnification and a 1 degree true field on our telescope. Luna is about 1/2 degree, so that degree of magnification will make it impressively large while keeping it easy to track.

Duke Johnson, another long-time club member, tells me that we can expect perhaps 150 visitors, so I'm hoping that we can convert at least a couple percent of those from casual interest to active participation. We'll see.

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Saturday, 26 May 2001

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The weather forecast is for clear skies, so Barbara and I are off this afternoon to Pilot Mountain state park for the public viewing sponsored by the Forsyth Astronomical Society. The forecast for this evening is cool, with a low around 50F (10C). But we'll be up on the mountain, perhaps 3,000 feet above sea level, which means it'll be cooler still. If there's a breeze, the wind chill could be near freezing. With it nearly June, it seems stupid to be taking blankets and warm clothes along, but amateur astronomers get used to dressing warmly. After all, we're standing under an open sky whose temperature is nearly absolute zero regardless of the local temperature.

All the usual horrifying burglar warnings apply. Our house will be guarded by three very territorial male dogs, which total 200 pounds between them, and a nervous elderly armed woman. Today, I'm leaving my mother with the Atchison 12 gauge. That's a full-auto shotgun with a 25-round drum magazine and a cyclic rate of about eight rounds a second. The last time I left her with it, she accidentally turned the area into open-plan by shooting out an entire wall (fortunately not a load-bearing one). We're always very careful to announce ourselves when we get home.

Hmmm. The day starts with an ominous sign. I prepare to make a pot of tea. I filled the carafe, walked over to the coffee maker, opened the lid, and poured the water in. Unfortunately, the reservoir was already full of water. I'll leave the reader to imagine the effect of adding 12 cups of water to a 12-cup reservoir that already contains 12 cups of water. That'll teach me to pour slowly.

More work today on the Hard Disk Interfaces chapter.

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Sunday, 27 May 2001

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We had a good time at the public observation last night. The skies were clear, and the temperature never got below about 50F (10C). At a guess, there were probably 200 or 300 visitors over the course of the evening. Barbara and I took turns supervising our scope, keeping it on the moon for most of the evening. We had a constant stream of people stopping by to look at Luna, and occasionally had people waiting in line. Others had their scopes tracking star clusters and galaxies.

Our Orion XT10 is a very popular scope. I expected that some people would want to see one, and I wasn't disappointed. Half a dozen or so people stopped by who mentioned that they were considering buying an Orion XT Dobsonian, and all of them seemed happy with what they saw. I spoke at length with a dozen or more people who were looking for general advice about buying a scope, and invited 20 or more people and families to attend a club meeting. Others were doing the same, so I suspect we might end up with a fair crowd at the next meeting.

I also spent some time wandering around talking to other club members and looking at their scopes. There were a lot of mid-size Schmidt/Maksutov Cassegrains, of course, but my favorite telescope was Duke Johnson's home-made Schiefspiegler (Duke quickly points out that he didn't make it. He bought it from the guy who did.) I'd heard of Schiefspieglers, but I never thought I'd actually meet one personally. 

A Schiefspiegler is an off-axis Cassegrainian telescope, which means it doesn't have the central obstruction common to most reflectors. That means a Schiefspiegler has image quality similar to an apochromatic refractor, with no diffraction spikes to degrade image resolution and contrast. Schiefspieglers are excellent instruments for planetary observation, splitting double stars, and just about any other task that would ordinarily be thought of as the province of expensive apo refractors.

There are actually several kinds of Schiefspiegler, but I don't know enough to tell which kind Duke has. A basic Schiefspiegler has two mirrors, with the secondary about half the size of the primary, but there are variants with three and even four mirrors. Many people have trouble with the name (it's pronounced sheef-speegler), so they're usually called "Shiefs" or "sheep sprinklers". That's a particularly appropriate moniker, given the typically very odd appearance of these scopes. Duke's is contained in a wooden box with many strange angles. I can't believe I took my digital camera along and forgot to take any pictures. Oh, well.

I'd better get to work on the laundry. I also want to get Chapter 12, DVD Drives, finished and off to my editor today. I actually finished Chapter 13, Hard Disk Interfaces, yesterday, so I'll probably have both of those up on the subscriber page tomorrow.

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