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Week of 11 June 2001

Latest Update: Friday, 05 July 2002 09:16
 

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Monday, 11 June 2001

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The government killed Timothy McVeigh at 07:14 CDT this morning. I'm not as happy about that as everyone else seems to be. 

McVeigh bombed the Federal Building in retaliation for the murders of Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge and those who perished at Waco, all of whom were victims of assassins employed by the federal government. It seems to me that if McVeigh deserved to be executed, so too do Lon Horiuchi and all of those federal agents who were present at Waco. None of them, of course, have been held accountable for the murders they committed. In fact, if Horiuchi and the other federal agents had been held accountable for those murders, the bombing in Oklahoma City would not have occurred. But no one ever mentions that.

I ran web access reports this morning, as usual. Barbara is creeping up on me. Her diary page and other personal pages got about 1,500 page reads last week, which translates to 6,500 page reads per month.

Back to work on the updated chapters for PC Hardware in a Nutshell. I haven't posted any new chapters over on the subscriber page for several days because I have several chapters in progress and none complete yet. I hope to finish several this week.

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Tuesday, 12 June 2001

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Thanks to reader Holden Aust who sent me this link to the official Microsoft explanation of product activation for Office XP. No, thanks. I won't be installing Office XP, or Windows XP, or anything XP, and I suggest you don't either. Although Microsoft describes this as an anti-piracy measure, what it really is is a customer-control measure. Microsoft is determined to move away from licensing and towards rental. They have to if they want to survive. And XP product activation is the first step in that campaign.

Like a shark that in order to breathe must continue moving forward at all times, even when asleep, Microsoft has no choice but to continue growing its revenue. If it doesn't, its entire business model falls apart. Microsoft attracts and keeps people with stock options, but those options continue to be an incentive only as long as Microsoft stock maintains and increases its value. That happens only if Microsoft continues to grow and report increased revenues.

The Microsoft shark breathes by generating upgrade revenue. That was sustainable in years past, but upgrades are no longer the automatic thing they used to be. Most people upgraded from Office 4.2 to Office 95. Many people upgraded from Office 95 to Office 97. Some people upgraded from Office 97 to Office 2000. Very few people will upgrade from Office 2000 to Office XP. Same thing with Windows 9X, which they've sold several times over. Windows 95, then Windows 98 (95.1 or SP1), then Windows 98SE (95.11 or SP2), then Windows Me (95.111 or SP3). People are getting tired of paying $90 for point upgrades, and most of them aren't doing it any more. So Microsoft is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Each subsequent upgrade must produce increased revenue, and yet each subsequent upgrade sells less well than its predecessor. What's a poor corporate giant to do?

Well, the obvious answer is that if people won't voluntarily part with their gelt for these upgrades, Microsoft has to somehow force them to pay whether they want to or not. The way to do that is to force a move from those nasty perpetual licenses to software rental. But even that has its pitfalls, because Microsoft must always be concerned with short-term results. Given the choice between getting $90 revenue for a one-time upgrade or $30 per year every year for renting the software, it's obvious that the expected value of the rental scheme is much higher. But the problem with the rental scheme is that Microsoft gets only $30 today rather than $90, and that impacts their bottom line badly. So my guess is that everything Microsoft is doing is carefully crafted to balance increasing software rental revenue against lost software licensing revenue, ensuring that their bottom line remains respectable as they transition to the software rental model.

The Siebert eyepieces I ordered finally showed up yesterday. When I checked out the reviews on the web, several people had commented that they were crude in appearance, but I don't think that's the case. They look almost military to me. Granted, they're not finished in bright chrome plating on brass like expensive eyepieces, but they have their own beauty. 

siebert-eyepieces.jpg (15042 bytes)

They're finished in a soft black non-slip rubber-like material, which is actually better from a functional standpoint. No problem with internal reflections degrading the image, because there's nothing for light to reflect from. Also, the non-slip material will come in handy when the weather turns cold again. Those shiny metal eyepieces are pretty, but when it's 14F (-10C) outside, all that pretty metal has a nasty way of freezing to one's skin. The real test, of course, is what kind of images they provide, and by all accounts they're pretty good in that respect. We have cloudy, rainy weather forecast for the next several days, but I'm looking forward to seeing Mars in that 4.9 mm eyepiece (256X), and perhaps with the 7 mm eyepiece Barlowed (359X). Now if we can just get a clear night with Mars high.

Thanks to Keith Soltys, who forwarded this link to some pretty amazing photographs of the space station taken from earth using a Celestron 9.25 (which is, incidentally, by all reports by far the best optically of any of Celestron's SCTs).

FedEx just showed up with a CARE package from Intel. A D850GB motherboard and a Pentium 4 processor. No heatsink/fan, alas. I'll have to see what I can find that will work.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2001

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I don't usually post stuff like this, but this is important:

=================== 
PRIVACY NEWS UPDATE
Last chance to block the government's raid on your medical records -- including your DNA!
===================

You are receiving this update because you registered at http://www.DefendYourPrivacy.com, the site that was instrumental in killing the FDIC's Know Your Customer regulation in 1999. We are writing to notify you that this is your *LAST CHANCE* to stop the new HHS "medical privacy rule," which would allow the government to seize control over your private medical records and transfer them to other parties. However, if you do not want to receive further updates, please use the unsubscribe directions at the end of this message.

================================================== 
Only three days left to kill Federal anti-privacy regulation

Dear Privacy Advocate:

We have an urgent request: Please pick up the phone and call Congress today, or the fight for medical privacy could be lost. That is because the Health and Human Services regulation that turns your medical data over to the government will go into effect permanently -- unless Congress passes HJR 38 by Friday, June 15.

Please read this short memo, immediately take the action at the bottom, then forward it to others who might be interested.

BACKGROUND:

On April 14, President Bush quietly directed Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to impose the so-called "medical privacy regulations" that were originally developed by the Clinton administration. Bush's maneuver came despite the fact that the HHS had been inundated with nearly 100,000 angry letters and e-mails from Americans around the country.

The most dangerous aspect of this regulation -- and the one most overlooked in news reports -- is that for the first time the government, rather than patients and doctors, would be in complete control of your private medical records. That's because the regulation forces doctors and hospitals to share all electronic medical records with the government for a variety of vague purposes, such as to "streamline medical billing procedures" or for "public health surveillance." Then the government, rather than individual patients, will decide who gets to see them.

No wonder Americans are so worried. This regulation, which was published in the Federal Register on December 28, 2000, would:

  • Give dozens of government agencies and thousands of bureaucrats access to your medical records -- including the private notes of a psychotherapist -- without your consent.
  • Let government agencies share your records with marketing companies. The rules specifically allow pharmacies to share prescription records "for the purpose of marketing health-related products and services" without your consent.
  • Do nothing to prevent the government from accessing your DNA information and transferring it to "third parties."
  • Permit police agencies to access medical records without a search warrant.
  • Allow private insurance companies to compile the medical information into a database.
  • Prevent patients involved in health research projects from accessing their own medical records in some cases.

How would you like a prospective employer to know if you have a "genetic predisposition" to contract a serious -- and expensive -- illness?

What if an acquaintance who worked for an insurance company or government agency could read the private notes of your psychotherapist, or find out if you have ever undergone drug or alcohol treatment?

Would you want others to know whether you've had an abortion or been treated for an embarrassing disease?

All of those things could happen if this Clinton-Bush regulation is allowed to stand.

That's why it's so important to pick up the phone and call your U.S. representative today. If we can't get Congress to vote on HJR 38 by Friday, you can kiss your medical privacy goodbye!

WHAT TO DO:

Call your U.S. House representative immediately at 202-225-3121 or 202-224-3121 to request an immediate vote on House Joint Resolution 38 (HJR 38). This measure, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, declares that the HHS regulation "shall have no force or effect."

WHAT TO SAY:

  1. Identify yourself and let them know you are a voter in their district. Leave your name, address, complete with ZIP code, and phone number. Please be brief, especially if you are leaving a message.
  2. Ask them to tell House Speaker Dennis Hastert to schedule an immediate vote on HJR 38. Let them know that this measure must pass Congress by Friday -- or the HHS rules will remain in effect.
  3. Ask them to vote *YES* on HJR 38. Then ask for a letter confirming their position.

Is there anything else you can do? Yes! Please forward this E-mail to a friend, and ask them to call their representative as well.

Thank you for your help!

Sincerely,

Steve Dasbach 
National Director
Libertarian Party

 

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Thursday, 14 June 2001

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We'd hoped to head up to the observing site last night to look at Mars, but the remnants of the hurricane that nailed Texas had moved in. We got a short hail storm around dinner time, followed by light rain for the rest of the evening. It's cleared up a bit this morning, though, and Barbara is off to play golf with her dad. More rain is supposed to be coming in this afternoon, and it looks as though this weekend will be the next opportunity. We'll see.

I updated the recommended Intel system configuration guides over on HardwareGuys.com. I haven't done anything about the AMD configurations yet. Still much work to be done before I can say anything much about those.

We got a settlement check from State Farm Insurance yesterday for the replacement cost of the phone system, less the $250 deductible. Now I have to figure out what I want to do. When I installed that phone system, we had seven or eight CO lines running to the house, including lines for the multi-line BBS I ran. Over the years, that number declined. By last summer, we were down to only three--one for us, one for my mother, and one for Internet access. When we got Roadrunner, I dropped the third line, so now we're down to only two lines. One of the reasons for the phone system was to share CO lines among extensions, and that need is largely gone now. So I have to consider whether it's worthwhile installing a replacement phone system similar to the one we had, or whether it'd make more sense to install something different.

I do miss the automated attendant, though. Over the years we had the phone system installed, we got an average of one nuisance call every few months. In the week or so since the system died, we've gotten an average of one or two nuisance calls a day. Fortunately, I haven't lost my ability to be rude to such callers. The only bad thing is that I'm mostly using a cordless phone now, and it's hard to slam a cordless phone down to disconnect the caller.

My friend John Mikol had a Panasonic phone system identical to mine. Several months ago, he had a really bad lightning incident. It destroyed his phone system and did other damage, including burning down his alarm clock. When he got his insurance settlement, he decided not to replace the switch. Instead, he installed a Panasonic KX-TG2000B central unit that has built-in voice mail and automated attendant functions and supports up to eight extensions. The system supports two or four CO lines, depending on the model, and two is fine for us. The interesting part is that the extensions are 2.4 GHz spread-spectrum, frequency-agile cordless. That has some obvious downsides, such as what to do when your extension needs recharged. But they use NiMH batteries, so you can just put them on the charger whenever you're not actually using them.

The system is fairly inexpensive, $359 for the base unit (which includes one cordless extension set) and $78 for additional cordless station sets. That's the price from the distributor we buy from. The retail prices are $600 for the base and $120 per handset. I guess we'd need a total of five handsets--Barbara Office, Barbara Den, Bob Office, Bob Den, and Mom--so the whole thing would run about $700 delivered. I'll have to look into this further. I may end up just replacing the switch and system phone and keeping our regular phones.

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Friday, 15 June 2001

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Hmmm. It looks like the Panasonic multi-line multi-station cordless system has been ruled out. Several people have pointed out that 2.4 GHz cordless phones may conflict with my 802.11b wireless network. I'd actually known that, but had forgotten. Thanks for the reminder. Actually, the point was moot, because Barbara doesn't like the all-cordless idea. She wants to keep her existing phones. 

Actually, the rationale for having a phone system at all has kind of disappeared. With only two CO lines now and no modems, there's not much need to share multiple lines among multiple stations. And we already have two or three two-line corded phones from before I installed the Panasonic system, not to mention a couple of unused answering machines. So perhaps we'll just stay with what we already have, although I may get a two-line 900 MHz spread-spectrum cordless phone or two. Doing that will require some minor changes to the cross-connects to put both CO lines on all station jacks, but that's only an hour or two's work.

Incidentally, I've had a couple of private messages asking for the name of the distributor where I get stuff so cheaply. I won't give their name, because they don't sell to individuals (I buy through my corporate account) and they won't sell phone systems to people who aren't certified by the manufacturer to install and maintain them. Technically, I don't qualify on that last point, but I've bought and installed dozens of phone systems from them before Panasonic instituted that requirement, so I ended up "grandfathered in".

Barbara points out that when I first registered the ttgnet.com domain name more than six years ago, the domain was named for my corporation (Triad Technology Group, Inc.) and was primarily for business use. Since then, things have changed. Most of our business-related stuff is now on other domain names, and this domain has become almost purely personal. Actually, it always has been registered to me personally and paid for by personal check, so I suppose it makes sense to start treating it as a personal domain.

Barbara suggested renaming the site to something appropriate for the actual use we put it to, but wanted to keep the same TTG initials. She suggested Thompson's Techno Grotto, so that's what it is now. I've made a quick change to the index page, but I suppose I'll need to do something better soon. You can send any suggestions or comments to Barbara. I'm just the webmaster.

Off to work on the book...

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Saturday, 16 June 2001

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I'm getting weak in my old age. Barbara went to the grocery store yesterday. As usual, she parked out at the curb so we could bring the stuff in upstairs. We carried in the bags, and then I returned for the drinks. The recycling bin was still lying out there, so I decided to load the drink bottles in it and carry them all in at once. Let's see, there were four 3-litre bottles, four 2-litre bottles, a half-gallon of orange juice (call it two more litres) and a six-pack of 500 ml bottled water, for three more litres. That comes to 25 kilograms plus the weight of the bottles and bin and some other stuff I threw in the bin, so call it 30 kilograms all told. 

That's only about 66 pounds, and yet when I picked it up it actually seemed heavy. I did carry it down the walk, in the door, and into the kitchen, but I'm glad I didn't have to carry it much further. And when I was in my early twenties I used to think nothing of hiking all day up and down hills wearing a backpack and equipment harness with 120 pounds or more of stuff. There's a reason why SEALs are all young men.

C. E. Meyers commented about my suggested system configurations over on HardwareGuys.com. I'd recommended the Intel D815EEA2 motherboard and commented that "the one major potential problem with this system is that it's maxed out on memory" at 512 MB. C. E. Meyers said:

Beginning to think that will be an actual problem real soon now. My experience trying to map Dr. Pournelle's web site was a real wake-up call that my systems are not processor bound but memory bound for a very few but vital jobs with no work arounds. Much of the processor power (whether the processor is CPU or video co-processor or other co-processor) is going to the user experience/interface - including realism in fantasy games and making the hourglass go away just a little quicker - I think. Some of the vital jobs as above that amount to batch jobs require headroom in RAM. Sort of like trying to upgrade an application on a hard drive that has room for the upgraded application but no headroom for the install it works until you really need it - I plan to max out memory in gigs on my next serious machine even at the expense of choosing clearly inferior processors if that's the choice.

That's why I mentioned it, although I can't imagine 512 MB of RAM becoming a bottleneck in the next two or three years other than for someone who runs a ton of apps or memory-hungry ones. I think Intel blew it in designing the i815 to support only 512 MB, but it was probably a rational decision at the time. After all, it hasn't been that long since 512 MB of RAM would have cost $2,500 or more, and anyone willing to spend that much on RAM would almost certainly have been going with a high-end workstation-class chipset. Now that memory is at $0.25 per megabyte, things look a bit different.

I was just thinking about the Law of Unforeseen Consequences, and it occurs to me that a lot of people are going to run into something they might never have encountered before memory got so cheap. They're going to assume that they can load up their systems with memory to the capacity of their DIMM slots and chipset. But that won't necessarily work, because there are limits on the number of rows, double-sided versus single-sided DIMMs and so on.

A lot of people are also going to find out that maxing out memory makes a system prone to instability, particularly with a marginal power supply. And a lot of overclockers are going to be surprised to find that their free lunch just disappeared, because you can't necessarily overclock successfully with all DIMM slots populated just because you could with one or two populated.

Interesting times ahead, I think.

In fact, I think I'll post this to my journal page.

With regard to SmartTags, I sent the following message to Jerry Pournelle this morning:

"... As to SmartTags, it occurs to me that if Microsoft or some other third party modifies the display of your or my web site, are they not creating an unauthorized derivative work of a copyrighted text? If so, are they not subject to penalties for copyright violation? ..."

It'd be an interesting court case, and it seems to me that Microsoft must lose on the face of it. My journal page, for example, is copyrighted. If Microsoft takes that material, makes changes to the content, and then displays it, they have created an unauthorized derivative work. They have no right to add links or otherwise modify the intent of what I wrote. I just hope that the eventual suit won't be certified as a class action. I think Microsoft should have to defend themselves on a case-by-case basis. And, come to think of it, class actions pertain only to civil suits. If Microsoft engages in wholesale copyright violations, those are criminal offenses. And there are, of course, statutory damages per incident.

Hmmm. I don't have IE6 and don't ever plan to install it. So if any of you have installed IE6 and care to take a screen shot of my page with Microsoft-generated modifications to my content, I'd appreciate you sending me a copy. (Just so I don't get deluged, please don't send me anything if you read this more than a couple days after it was posted.) It'd be nice to see Microsoft hoist by their own petard.

Yet another local teacher has been convicted of having sex with students. In this case, the male teacher is 30 and the female student 14. He's been sentenced to something like 36 years minimum, which seems a bit extreme to me. Apparently, the sex was consensual, but he was convicted of statutory rape. It seems a bit draconian to me to sentence a man convicted of statutory rape to a term longer than he would have received if he had been convicted of forcible rape. Regardless of what the law says, I think a girl of 14 is old enough to know her own mind. It seems to me that nature itself with menarche provides a pretty clear dividing line, although early onset muddies those waters a bit. But historically 12 has generally been considered the dividing line, and probably for pretty good reason. 

This guy will have to serve 36 years minimum, which realistically is longer than he'd be facing if he'd forcibly raped and murdered an adult woman or committed an armed robbery or done something else really bad. Something is badly out of sync there. Not that I have a great deal of sympathy for the man. I think he should have been fired and should never work again anywhere that puts him into close contact with teenage girls. But 36 years? Come on.

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Sunday, 17 June 2001

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Barbara had a hard day yesterday. I captured the photo below as she was cooking dinner. At least she had on one right shoe and one left shoe.

barbara-two-shoes.jpg (42543 bytes)

The forecast was for clearing skies, so we went up to Bullington last night. The skies were partially clear, but unfortunately Mars spent all its time behind clouds on the southern horizon. It was so bad that Mars didn't appear even vaguely reddish. Just a bright white blob. Still, we had a good time. We met Bonnie Richardson up there, and Priscilla Ivester showed up later. Most of the rest of the club members were up at Stone Mountain, where a public viewing was scheduled. Stone Mountain is a three-hour round-trip commute for us, and it just wasn't worth the trip with uncertain skies. That's Bonnie in the shot below, standing next to her Celestron C8 SCT and looking at an Orion catalog with Barbara looking on. The knob in the background is Pilot Mountain, known to viewers of the Andy Griffith show as Mount Pilot.

bonnie-barbara-C8.jpg (46797 bytes)

Transparency was fine, at least where there weren't clouds, but seeing was pretty poor. I tried repeatedly to split the Double Double, epsilon Lyrae. Splitting the double was no problem--it can be done with binoculars--but no amount of power let me split the double into its component doubles. At one point I was using 500+ plus power, and all I could see was a double blob. Oh, well. At least we enjoyed the company.

Before we headed up, Jerry Pournelle called to talk about some stuff. I mentioned that we were headed up to Bullington to look at Mars and asked him if he'd seen Mars during the current opposition. He said he hadn't seen it in years, but mentioned perhaps he'd take a trip up to Mount Wilson Observatory to have a look at it. It's nice to have friends in high places.

At any rate, we sat there until about midnight waiting for Mars to come into a clear patch, but it never did. So we looked at stars and star clusters. And satellites. It's so unfair. Barbara, Bonnie, and Priscilla all spotted multiple satellites, and I wasn't the first to spot any. In fact, it got worse as the evening progressed. At first, one of them would spot a satellite and then I'd be able to see and follow it. But later on they kept spotting dim satellites, some of which I couldn't see even when they pointed them out to me. My night vision sucks. Of course, part of that is because I keep lighting my pipe periodically. It's more carrots for me, I guess. That and some belladonna eye drops before each observing session. I'll need to wear sunglasses to drive home in the dark.

Actually, I plan to cheat for the next session. There are sites on the Web that list the details for all satellite passes, down to those that are so dim they can't be seen except in a large scope. The lists give the name of the object, where and when (to the second) it appears, its apparent course, maximum angle above the horizon, etc. The next time we head up for an observing session, I'm going to print out the list for that night and memorize it. Then I can be the first to "spot" each satellite. These women may have better eyes than I do, but I have technology on my side. Heh, heh, heh.

Speaking of Bonnie and Mt. Wilson, Bonnie is taking an astronomy tour in August. The highlight of the tour is a chance to look through a 60" reflector. Bonnie lusts after that 60" reflector. She can't haul her Celestron SCT along on a bus tour for obvious reasons, so she decided to buy a small "grab-and-go" scope. She'd mentioned to me earlier in the week that she'd ordered an Orion Short Tube 80, which is due to arrive Tuesday. 

That got me to thinking. Barbara and I really wanted a second scope. A small, inexpensive "grab-and-go" scope that we can leave set up in the library and just haul out to the front yard when we want to look at something. I'd thought about this for a long time, and eventually concluded that what we needed was a small refractor. We didn't want one of the ubiquitous F/5 short tube refractors, because those don't perform very well on the moon and planets. But neither did we want something that was too big to be readily portable. Something in the 30 pound range seemed about right. That meant an F/8 to F/12 refractor with 80 mm to 100 mm of aperture, and 100 mm was pushing it.

Regardless of their name plate, most of the small, inexpensive refractors are actually made by a Red Chinese company called Synta. Although those scopes are of decent optical and mechanical quality, I don't like the Red Chinese government and I don't want to buy products made by what amounts to slave labor. Fortunately, in addition to relabeled Synta scopes, Orion also relabels scopes made by a Taiwanese company called Guan Sheng. Their scopes are a good step up, both optically and mechanically, from Synta products, and they're made by free men. 

So we ordered one of the Guan Sheng scopes from Orion yesterday. It's a Skyview Deluxe 90 mm EQ refractor, pictured below. It sells for $399 nominally, versus $269 for the similar Synta product that Orion also sells, but the superior mount alone accounts for most of the difference. By the time I added a motor drive, a set of filters, and shipping, the total was something over $500, but that's still pretty reasonable for a grab-and-go scope. It should be here in a week or so, and we're looking forward to trying it out on Mars.

Thanks to everyone who's sent screen shots of my pages with SmartTags on them. I have enough now, thanks.

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