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Week of 17 September 2001

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Monday, 17 September 2001

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8:58 - I'd like to nominate a new candidate for the Darwin Awards. An employee at a local company took a contrarian view of the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon last week. To the consternation of his fellow employees, this moron publicly cheered the terrorists' actions. He then left work, returned wearing combat fatigues, and began taunting the other employees. The company, naturally enough, fired him and told him not to return. He did, whereupon the company called the police and had him arrested for trespassing. The cops arrested him and later determined that he was in the country illegally using forged papers. Duh. So, he's lost his job and been ordered deported. He's lucky he wasn't set upon and kicked to death.

I must be shaken. I just noticed that for the first time ever, I forgot to run my weekly full network backup.

It's just as well that I won't be upgrading to Office XP and FrontPage 2002. Ed Foster's column in InfoWorld this week points out that I'd be in violation of the license agreement, which says in part:

"You may not use the Software in connection with any site that disparages Microsoft, MSN, MSNBC, Expedia, or their products or services ..."

So I guess I'll just keep using the old versions of Word, FrontPage, and so on. At least with those I'm allowed to criticize Microsoft without losing my right to use the software.

Last week was pretty much a loss as far as getting much work done. Like most people, I spent a lot of time watching the TV reports and reading the news sites. Even when I tried to work, I didn't get much done. This week will be different for me and, I suspect, for most people. I plan to buckle down and crank some work out. Posts here will be short and sporadic.

I'll keep an eye on the messageboard, which is where a lot of the action will be for the next few weeks. You can read messages freely without registering, but you have to register if you want to post messages yourself. To register, click here.

14:05 - For one artist's conception of what the rebuilt WTC towers should look like, click here. I think I like it.

 

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Tuesday, 18 September 2001

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9:37 - I'm disturbed by something that seems to be increasingly likely. That the US and its allies will put troops on the ground to punish those countries that are our enemies. I don't want to see that happen, because it will inevitably mean US and Allied casualties. The only reason to put troops on the ground is to hold that ground, and that's something we don't need to do. In my opinion, our goal should be to destroy the enemy while minimizing our own casualties. As George S. Patton said, "Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country."

In Patton's time, the only way to do that was to put troops on the ground and go at the bastards with bullet and bayonet. But that's no longer true. The US has the capability to wage war remotely via cruise missiles and ICBMs, and that's what we should do. If that means that 100, 1,000, or 10,000 Iraqis, Iranians, Libyans, Syrians, Afghanis, or Pakistanis must die to avoid spending the life of one US, Brit, or Israeli soldier, well so be it. Those countries are our enemies, and they must be destroyed. But they must be destroyed at minimum cost to ourselves. 

We'll pay a price in blood, certainly, in addition to the price we've already paid. But Mr. Bush's duty is to be miserly with the lives of US servicemen and women while doing as much damage as possible to those countries that are our enemies. He should have no concern--literally zero concern--with enemy casualties, whether military or civilian. If the enemy has built a military facility in a residential area, well that's their problem. We should vaporize that facility. If doing that causes 100,000 civilian casualties, well it should have been obvious to anyone that building a military facility in a residential area was not a good idea.

I hope that Mr. Bush will keep in mind the simple concept that the life of any US or Allied soldier is worth any number of enemy lives, and act accordingly.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2001

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9:34 - Advice for President Bush from Eli Wallach. I remember a movie I saw when I was a teenager. It was called The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and was probably the best Western ever made. Eli Wallach played Tuco (The Ugly). In one scene, Tuco is relaxing in a bubble bath in one of those old-fashioned claw-foot bathtubs. The door opens and in comes one of Tuco's enemies, happy to have found him helpless. The guy tells Tuco in detail about how he's going to blow Tuco away. As he's threatening Tuco, Tuco's gun roars from beneath the bubbles, and his enemy falls. As the guy lies dying on the floor, Tuco gives him some advice that is also apt for Mr. Bush. "When you're going to shoot, shoot. Don't talk."

And it seems to me that Mr. Bush has an excellent opportunity to shoot. The Taliban leadership is meeting in Kabul this week. Hundreds of them all in one place. That seems to me an excellent target for a nuke. Or at least a bunch of FAEs.

It's looking like the US government, AKA the American taxpayers, are going to end up bailing out the airline industry to the extent of $15 billion or so. Perhaps $5 billion of that will be direct corporate welfare, with the remainder in loan guarantees. I would have thought that the Chrysler bailout would have taught everyone the dangers of loan guarantees. One company that didn't deserve to be saved is propped up, while thousands of other companies fail because they can no longer afford credit made expensive by the bailout, because loans to them are not guaranteed by the government. 

In effect, a loan guarantee instantly transforms a company that is not creditworthy into the most creditworthy company in the country. Everyone else pays the price, either by having to pay 20% interest on money they borrow or by not being able to borrow at all. And so jobs are saved at Chrysler or the airlines, but more jobs are lost at other companies than were saved at the company that was bailed out. Of course, no one notices that, because the jobs saved are very visible while those lost are in dribs and drabs elsewhere. Some of the jobs lost are completely invisible, because they're jobs that would otherwise have been created but weren't because solid companies couldn't afford credit.

I say let the airline stockholders take the hit. If the US government is going to devote $15 billion to transportation, I'd rather see them spend it on trains. Even at a million dollars a mile, that $15 billion would subsidize upgrading 15,000 miles of track. Or perhaps they could throw a few billion at getting a MagLev system up and running. Trains running at 300+ MPH would put domestic airlines out of business.

And people ask me why I prefer Intel processors. If you haven't seen the report on Tom's Hardware about catastrophic overheating on AMD systems, go read it now. AMD Athlon/Duron systems are disasters waiting to happen, as Tom discovered. He took the simple step of removing the heatsink/fan while the processor was running. The Pentium 4 system slowed down, but kept running. The Pentium III system crashed, but shut itself down without damaging the processor. The AMD systems, including the Palomino-core (which supposedly has thermal overload protection), burnt themselves to crisps in a fraction of a second. Tom has some pretty impressive video available for download.

But the upshot is this. If you're running an AMD system, make absolutely sure that your heatsink stays attached and that your fan doesn't die. If either of those happens--and heatsinks falling off are common now that the things are Godzilla-sized--your processor is going to destroy itself, and possibly destroy the motherboard as well.

No one could accuse Tom Pabst of being an Intel bigot, so this is a pretty strong statement coming from him. As for me, well I have AMD Athlon and Duron processors around here, but I run everything that matters on Intel processors.

Greg Lincoln, who hosts and runs the messageboards for me (Thanks, Greg!) is in the process of converting them over to a major new version of Ikonboard. The new version provides better performance, security, and features. The Daynotes Journal messageboard is converted already, and the HardwareGuys.com board will be converted once Greg gets a spare moment.

The feedback from users has been overwhelmingly positive, but as expected there have been a few glitches. The main problem has been that some people find the fonts on the new board too small. Unfortunately, the new board uses CSS to specify numerous appearance details, including font size. Although it's possible to specify a larger font size globally, which Greg has already done, the use of CSS means that most people's browsers can no longer change the displayed font sizes on the fly. I didn't even notice this at first, because I usually keep IE set to ignore font sizes specified by web sites. With that setting enabled (in IE's Accessibility Options), you can continue to change the font size from within IE.

Unfortunately, there's no practical way to change Ikonboard's use of CSS to specify font sizes, so the only real alternative for those who find the fonts too small is to enable that setting in Accessibility Options. I like large fonts myself, but I find the default fonts quite readable even on my den system, which runs 1024X768 on a 15" monitor. Progress sometimes has its price, and in this case part of the price is living with the CSS fonts. But against that, the new board software adds many features that users asked for, including a much faster search. 

11:15 - I'm still puzzling out the implications of the nimda ("admin" backwards) worm. When news of it hit yesterday, I immediately visited Symantec Antivirus Research Center. They had a notice up about it, but no updated virus signatures. Later in the day, they did post updated virus sigs, which I downloaded and installed. All of our systems are uninfected, so far, but this is a scary one. Much scarier than the recent CodeRed and SirCam problems. I was going to post an alert yesterday, but by the time I figured out anything useful to say, the alert had already been splashed across so many web sites that I didn't see the point. It even made the TV news last night and the papers this morning.

This little nasty spreads both via email and the web. For full details see the SARC page. As to what to do to prevent infection, I suggest that you (a) install the Microsoft updates for IE, (b) disable JavaScript in IE, and (c) make sure your antivirus sigs are current and then do a full system scan (all files).

As I sit here considering abandoning Outlook for Pegasus Mail and Internet Explorer for Opera or even Navigator, I wonder if that is really the point of all these attacks. Are they simply malicious attacks against all computer users, or is there a deeper purpose here? Could the people who are creating these worms be attempting to damage Microsoft? I don't know, but it's certainly a possibility. These exploits prove that their creators are technically competent. They focus on Microsoft, but is that because Microsoft software is ubiquitous or because the creators dislike Microsoft? What group of people are technically competent and dislike Microsoft? Could it be that we have a small group of Linux fanatics going after Microsoft indirectly? I've never heard that mentioned, but it's certainly a possibility. Of course, it's also possible that these attacks originate from a country that doesn't like the US. Or it may simply be one kid with a misguided sense of humor. We may never know.

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Thursday, 20 September 2001

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10:48 - I told Jerry Pournelle last night that as far as I'm concerned Internet Explorer is a massive security hole with a browser wrapped around it. This nimda worm was the final straw. I simply can't continue to use Internet Explorer. But what are the alternatives? Certainly not Netscape Navigator. It stopped being competitive with IE in features and performance at least two years ago, probably three. Nor are any of the new generation of browsers usable in my opinion. I periodically check out such efforts as Mozilla, but it's far from being done and may never be.

That left Opera. Opera is one of those products that I've always wanted to like but never could. I've downloaded each major new version and played with it for a while, only to conclude that I wasn't satisfied with it. My download folder for Opera still contains at least one version, sometimes several, of Opera V1, 2, 3, and 4. But it didn't have a copy of Opera 5, so I decided to go get that. Opera used to have a 30-day eval version, but that's no longer the case. Now they have only two versions, an unlimited version that you pay for or an unlimited ad-supported version. I didn't want to pay for the product sight-unseen, but neither do I run ad-ware on my systems. So I asked a good friend of mine if I could "borrow" his Opera registration key. He sent it to me by return mail, and I used it to install Opera without ads.

After playing with Opera for several hours, I concluded that they finally got it right with version 5. This is a product that I can use happily and never miss IE. There are many differences, certainly, and there are still a few things that I prefer about IE, but there are also many things I prefer about Opera. I suspect that many of the things that I prefer about IE are simply because I'm used to IE, and that once I get used to Opera's way of doing things I'll be quite happy with everything about it.

After playing with Opera for a while, I decided to order the pay-for version. I hit the "buy me" page from Opera, and got nothing but a blank page. Hmmm. So I hit the "buy me" page from IE and got the same thing. Double hmmm. The one time I actually try to pay for a software product, the web site doesn't want to let me do it. I'm not sure if their site was having problems or if my Norton Internet Security was getting in the way. Oh, well. Back to Plan B. I emailed the press contact at Opera last night and asked her if she'd mind sending me two sets of registration codes for the Windows and Linux versions, one for me and one for Pournelle. Those arrived this morning, and I sent off a set to Jerry. If he likes Opera as much as I do, I suspect you'll be reading about it in his column.

Now to do something about email. I've been using Outlook since 16 January 1997. At the time, I considered it an inferior mail client, but the fact that it included an integrated PIM was enough to convince me to abandon Pegasus Mail and convert to Outlook. In the years since, there have been several times when I was ready to abandon Outlook and move to something more secure, but the "Hotel California" aspect of Outlook always gave me pause. I had thousands of archived email messages in Outlook, and I didn't want to lose the ability to read those. Not that I'd ever really need them, of course, but I'm a pack rat by nature and the thought of losing them was more than I could bear.

Fortunately, the latest version of Eudora (including the free Lite version) can import Outlook mail. And once the mail is converted from Outlook's proprietary format, it's easy enough either to use it directly in Eudora or to export it to other formats, including Pegasus Mail. So I'm no longer stuck in Outlook. I think what I may do is convert Outlook to "No Mail" mode and continue using it just as a PIM. For a mail client, I'll probably convert either to Eudora or to Pegasus Mail. I looked at the Pegasus Mail 4.0 preview last night, and it's as ugly as ever. Powerful, yes, but ugly. Eudora is much less powerful, but it's certainly prettier.

As far as operating systems, I'll continue to use Windows 2000 Professional when I need USB support, on portables, and for other special situations. Other than that, I'm standardized on Windows NT 4 Workstation with SP6a and the Security Rollup Package (AKA SP6.99) until the day I start deploying Linux on our desktops.

And so begins my gradual migration away from Microsoft software.

It's time to build "case study" systems for the new edition of the book. I'm going to start with a Mainstream System, which I'll define as a fast Pentium 4 IDE system (don't forget that it takes quite a while for a book to get into print). Here are the components I plan to use:

  • Antec SX-840 case
  • Intel D845WNL motherboard
  • Intel Pentium 4 processor
  • 512 MB Crucial PC133 SDRAM
  • 80 GB Seagate Barracuda IV ATA hard drive
  • Plextor PlexWriter 16-10-40A CD-RW drive
I'm not sure I'll even bother to install a floppy drive in this one.

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Friday, 21 September 2001

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11:40 - Not good enough, Mr. Bush. Not even close. What I feared and predicted has come to pass. The US government has grossly overreacted domestically and grossly underreacted abroad. Domestically, we get a new cabinet-level agency responsible for "Homeland Defense". Can you spell Gestapo? We are warned that we'll have to put up with inconveniences, which is a nice way of saying that our loss in personal liberty as a result of this attack will be greater than at any one time since the Civil War. Abroad, we get next to nothing. A few punitive bombings, perhaps, and a promise to hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice. But no declaration of war.

What Mr. Bush should have done was ask the joint session of Congress for a declaration of war against all countries and factions that support terrorism against the US. At a minimum, the US should have declared war last night--hell, they should have declared it by lunchtime last Tuesday--against Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and Syria. There are probably a couple I missed. Also against the Taliban and against any other organization that sponsors, supports, or engages in terrorism against the US and its citizens.

What Mr. Bush should have done is tell these countries that they had gone over the line and that there was no going back. The meaningless platitudes and condolences mouthed by such well-known friends of the US as the leaders of Libya and Iran should have been rejected with the contempt they deserve. Instead, Mr. Bush said that from this day forward nations must decide to be our friends or be our enemies. Well, what about yesterday, and last month, and last year? 

Mr. Bush and the rest of the US government has seriously misjudged the feelings of the American people. We're not afraid, as he seems to think. We're pissed. We don't want to hunt down the people responsible and bring them to justice. We want to hunt down all terrorists, whether or not they were directly involved in this attack, and kill them. Kill them, Mr. Bush. Kill them, not reason with them, not bring them to trial. Kill them. Kill all of them. Kill everyone who supports them. Destroy every government that has hosted them, trained them, given them refuge, supplied them, or helped or encouraged them in any other way.

You're missing the point, Mr. Bush. Americans don't want terrorists brought to justice. We want them dead, preferably spectacularly. We're getting sick of seeing images of smoking rubble in New York City and Washington DC. We want to see images of smoking rubble in Tripoli and Baghdad and Teheran and Kabul and Karachi.

And what do we get instead? The US government adds insult to injury. We get our very own Sicherheitsdienst. No, it's worse than that. We get our very own Reichsicherheitshauptamt, with the Governor of Pennsylvania assuming the role of Reinhard Tristan Heydrich. And we will not eradicate the terrorists. Nothing even close. What we'll do is piss them off further. So we'll have more attacks, and yet more justification for our new RSHA being granted broader powers, more staff, and a larger budget.

Mourn freedom. You just watched a lot of what little we had left disappear.

I'm pretty much fully converted over to Opera as my primary web browser. I still have IE and Nav installed, but only for checking how web pages are rendered and, in the case of IE, for displaying sites that absolutely require such garbage as ActiveX and that I absolutely need to be able to access (such as the Microsoft site). Opera works well, although it's going to take some getting used to. I did make one change. Opera automatically installs a Flash plug-in. Flash is useless, unless you like being annoyed by animated ads or you visit web sites created by web masters too stupid to provide an alternative. I didn't see any option for disabling Flash in Opera, but the Plug-ins menu did list the location of the Flash DLL. So I crossed my fingers and deleted that DLL. Sure enough, when I fired up Opera again it worked fine, but with no Flash.

At this point, I'm about ready to commit to Opera permanently. Version 5 is a very good product. It does everything I need to do, and doesn't have the gaping security holes that Internet Explorer does. I'm planning to convert Barbara over to Opera in the next few days. I'd encourage anyone who worries about IE security to make the change to Opera. The full version is only $39, and if you can put up with ads you can download a free version that's completely functional. It'll take a bit of getting used to, mind you, but I'm finding that as I get used to things that Opera does differently, I actually prefer the way Opera does it.

I've also converted my email from Outlook 2000 to the free version of Eudora. My initial plan was to convert all of my messages from Outlook format to Eudora. I periodically use Outlooks archive feature to migrate older messages to an archive PST. When I started the conversion process yesterday, I had my main PST file and three archive files--a 300 MB archive that contained older 2001 messages; a 500 MB archive file that contained messages from 1999 and 2000; and a 400 MB archive file that contained messages from 1997 and 1998. Obviously, the volume of mail I receive has kept going up.

I was hoping that the converter built-in to Eudora would just let me point to each of those PST files in turn and import them. That turned out not to be the case. Eudora doesn't allow you to select a PST. It converts the current Outlook PST only. That meant if I wanted to have my archived mail available I'd have to somehow get the old messages into the current PST. I was hoping that Outlook had an option to import a PST into the current PST, but it doesn't. I could have manually copied/moved the messages from the archive PST to the corresponding folder in the current PST, but that process would have had to be done folder-by-folder, and life is too short for that.

Fortunately, I came up with a cunning plan. Since I migrate messages from the current PST to the archive PST using the archive function, I wondered if I could do the same in reverse. As it turned out, I could. I opened the 2001 archive PST and told Outlook to archive all messages older than 21 September 2001 to the current PST. After warning me that that date was in the future, it started the migration. And, boy, was it slow. After it chunked away for several hours, it popped up a warning dialog that said the operation had failed. When I checked, I found that all of the messages had been moved properly except those in one mailing list folder that had nearly 10,000 messages in it (all from 2001!). With my fingers crossed, I restarted the archive process, but this time with only that folder selected. That ran overnight. When I came in this morning, my old 2001 archive PST had zero messages in it, and all of them had been moved properly to the current PST. I ran a compress on the current PST and then ran SCANPST.EXE just to make sure. The scan found some minor problems, which I told it to fix.

With all of that done and all of the intermediate result files copied safely to other locations, I finally fired up Eudora and told it to import from Outlook. The process completely in only a few minutes, and at first it appeared that everything had come across successfully. I soon found that wasn't the case, however. The Eudora import process had completed mangled hundreds, perhaps thousands of messages, and they were scattered among many folders that also included messages that had transferred properly.

So I went to Plan B. I still have Outlook installed, and plan to keep using it as my PIM. So there's no reason I can't leave it configured as a mail client for the sole purpose of reading the old messages that are in the PST. I've already set Outlook not to check for mail automatically and to leave mail on the server. Rather than disabling the POP functions entirely, I think I'll just leave it that way.

I'm much less pleased with Eudora than I am with Opera. Eudora is a usable mail client, but it's much clumsier to use than is Outlook. For example, some of the mailing lists I belong to generate huge amounts of traffic, and I don't always have time to read them all. With Outlook, I could just right click on the folder and choose Mark All as Read. With Eudora, I either have to go in and read the messages one at a time or go in and select the unread messages as a group and mark them read. There's no global "Mark as Read" by folder, or if there is I can't find it. There are similar minor annoyances throughout Eudora. They could learn a lot about making their product more usable if they'd actually use Outlook for a while. But Eudora has one overwhelmingly important thing going for it. Unlike Outlook, It's not a mail client wrapped around a gaping security hole. So I'll stick with Eudora, warts and all.

Okay, that's two of my important functions that I'm now doing with non-Microsoft software. The others will probably follow eventually, but for now I'll continue to use Word and FrontPage. But the migration has begun.

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Saturday, 22 September 2001

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10:41 - The weather forecast was good, so we went up to Bullington last night with the scopes. We were joined there by John and Lenore Crago, two new members of the astronomy club. They haven't bought a scope yet, and so are looking at different models before they decide what to buy. We spent the evening alternating observing and sitting around waiting for the clouds to clear. It was mostly clear when we arrived, but the clouds soon moved in. They moved right out again, though, and we started observing. Then the clouds moved in again. We sat around talking for a while, and the clouds again dissipated. We started observing again, but the relative humidity was in the mid-80's, and everything became covered in dew. Our eyepieces, our finders, our objectives, our charts, and us for that matter.

Saturn rose about 23:00, and was high enough to see by 23:45 or so. We managed to get it in the 10" Dob, but it was still so far down in the muck that we couldn't make out much detail. Unfortunately, by that time all our other gear was so fogged up that just getting it in the eyepiece of the refractor was next to impossible. Barbara finally got it, where it appeared as a tiny disk with rings. It was pure white rather than its usual yellow, which indicates just how thick the low-lying haze was.

But Barbara did at least get a chance to use the refractor last night. I think she likes it. I've ordered an altazimuth mount to replace the equatorial mount it came with. The original idea was for that scope to be a "grab-and-go". The scope itself is fine for that. It weighs only 6.5 pounds (3 kilos) or so. But the mount and head weigh more than 25 pounds (11.5 kilos), which makes the assembled scope heavier and clumsier than it needs to be. The altazimuth mount I ordered weighs about 9 pounds (4 kilos), most of which is the tripod. Using that will cut the weight of the assembled scope and mount by more than twice, which will convert it to a true grab-and-go.

Speaking of astronomy and haze, I came across an extremely useful site yesterday. A gentleman named Attilla Danko created the Clear Sky Clock page. Mr. Danko uses data provided by Allan Rahill at the Canadian Meteorological Centre to produce forecasts of visibility (clouds) and transparency (water vapor) for specific sites. You can view the current visibility/transparency forecast for Bullington here. Mr. Danko kindly offers to add other sites on request. All he needs is the name, location, and timezone of the site. If you have a regular observing site, I think you'll find it worthwhile to ask Mr. Danko to add it to his rapidly growing collection.

Thanks to Mr. Danko and Mr. Rahill for providing this service to amateur astronomers. As Barbara and I have discovered, the weather forecasts on local TV and the Weather Channel are of very limited use for our purposes. The weather in Winston-Salem often differs dramatically from that at Pilot Mountain, which has resulted in a lot of wasted trips. It'll be clear in Winston-Salem, with a good forecast. We'll head up to Pilot Mountain and find it cloudy or hazy. We drive back to Winston, and it's still clear there. With this resource available, we'll be able to make much better judgments about whether it's worth driving to Pilot Mountain.

I'm continuing to work with Opera and Eudora. Opera is everything I'd hoped it would be. There are a few minor aggravations with it, including minor text rendering problems, but overall it's much more than Good Enough to be my primary browser. It looks like they finally got it right with version 5. Eudora, alas, is a different story. It's a usable mail client, but overall it's nowhere near as good as Outlook. If I had to choose one word to describe Eudora, it would be "clumsy." Things that you can do with a couple mouse clicks in Outlook require half a dozen or more steps in Eudora. Overall, Eudora makes common tasks a lot harder than they need to be.

I mentioned the problem with marking messages read yesterday, but that is a truly aggravating one. With Outlook, I could change into a folder that contained mailing list messages, preview any that looked interesting, and then mark all new messages in that folder read by right clicking the folder and choosing Mark All Read. In Eudora, there's no way to do that. The alternatives are to page through all the messages individually, which marks them read as you display them, or to go into the folder, select all the messages, right click on the selected messages, choose Change Status from the resulting context menu, and then choose Read from the submenu.

The other thing I find very annoying about Eudora is that it dumps its data files in the program directory. If there's a place to specify a different location for data, I haven't found it. I searched Eudora help for "directory", "server", "mailbox", etc. and didn't find anything that told me how to put the data files somewhere that they could be conveniently accessed from other clients. With Outlook, I could just put the PST data file on a shared server volume, install Outlook on any number of clients, and point each of them to the data on the server. I'd like my Eudora data to be on the server, too, where it could be conveniently backed up regularly. Perhaps I could just move my data and the eudora.ini file to the server and then point to eudora.ini. I don't know. I haven't tried it and I'm kind of loath to do so. If anyone knows how to solve this problem, assuming it can be solved, I'd appreciate suggestions.

At any rate, Opera is good enough that I don't miss Internet Explorer at all. Eudora is bad enough that I miss Outlook every time I work with mail. But Eudora isn't vulnerable to Outlook exploits, and that's a strong argument for continuing to use it, at least for now.

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Sunday, 23 September 2001

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10:34 - Thanks to everyone who's offered advice about my problems with Eudora. I did figure out how to relocate the data files to the server, using the instructions posted here. As far as the "Mark All Read" problem, there doesn't appear to be a convenient way to do it. About the best way I've found is to change to the folder in question, select a message, choose Select All from the Edit menu, right click the selected messages, choose Change Status to display the submenu, and then choose Read. That's a lot more convoluted than the Outlook method, which is to right click the folder and choose Mark All Read, but it will do for now.

And there's another strange thing about Eudora. After I got my data migrated over to the server, I installed Eudora on ursa, the Duron/800 system in the den. Eudora kind of works there, but with two disturbing problems. First, about every third or fourth time I open Eudora on ursa, it pops up a dialog box that tells me the TOC is corrupted and prompts me to rebuild it. I tell it to go ahead and rebuild, after which everything is fine. The first time that happened, I thought it was because I'd used Eudora last in my office and then opened it on ursa. That turned out not to be the case, however. Later, I opened Eudora on the den system a few minutes after closing it on that system, and I hadn't moved in the interim. I got the same corrupted TOC warning.

The second problem is that Eudora on the den system is slow, and I mean SLOW. I fired up Eudora on the den system this morning to download overnight mail. There were only 23 messages waiting, and none were large or had attachments, but Eudora took several minutes to download and display those messages. The actual downloading, as indicated by the status bar on the lower right, took only a few seconds. When that completed, Eudora paused for perhaps 30 seconds, and then brought up a progress bar dialog that told me it was preparing the messages to display. I watched that as it decremented from 23 messages to 0 messages, which took fully a couple of minutes. After that completed, another progress bar dialog appeared telling me that Eudora was filtering the messages. Once again, I waited for a couple of minutes while filtering progressed. Finally, close to five minutes after I started, I had my measly 23 messages available to read.

Nor was that a special case. I noticed the same thing yesterday on the den system. I'd bring up Eudora and tell it to check mail, and it would take a couple of minutes to download and display three or four messages. This doesn't happen on the system in my office. I never see the two progress dialogs there, although even on my office system Eudora takes much longer to process mail than Outlook does. The only difference between the systems is that the den system is connected to the network via 10BaseT while the office system uses 100BaseT, but I can't believe that is causing the problem.

What really worries me is that I have very little data in Eudora. I'm afraid that as I accumulate more data, Eudora will become even slower. Outlook is fast, even with a PST file that contains literally thousands of messages. Eudora is slow, even when I have only a few dozen messages stored. And it's slow even on my office system. I suspect its outmoded mailbox format is the problem.

As usual when I'm considering deploying a new application here, I test it myself pretty exhaustively before inflicting it on Barbara. Migrating to Opera seems reasonable. It's better than IE in many respects. There are a few minor problems with it, mostly related to text display and rendering of pages that are not standards-compliant, but overall it's at least as good as IE. Barbara will have some work to do in getting used to it, but I'm satisfied that it's worthwhile to make Opera her main browser. 

Eudora is a different matter. After using it for a few days, I'd grade it C+/B- at best. Outlook would get a B+/A- if not for the security problems. I'm not sure why Eudora has so many fans. I've tried it as each major release came along. It's always been buggy, quirky, and inconvenient to use.

Yesterday, I decided to take another look at Pegasus Mail. I'd already downloaded the PMail 4.0 preview release, which is not self-supporting. You have to install it over an existing Pegasus 3.12c. I did that, and was underwhelmed. As far as I could see, v4.0 looked just like v3.12c, which is to say ugly. Silly me. I'd missed something in the release notes. The 4.0 preview release comes up by default in "classic mode", which is to say looking like 3.12c. You have to click an icon in the Folder pane to switch it over to the new mode. Once you do that, it looks a lot like Outlook, with a three-pane display. A vertical folders pane on the left, with the right side of the screen split in two, with messages in the upper pane and a preview of the selected message in the lower pane. Just what I wanted. Here's an example of the main screen. I haven't messed with fonts or anything, so what you see is what you get by default.

pmail4.png (15518 bytes)

(In case anyone is wondering about the message shown, when Jerry Pournelle goes out of town, I sometimes download his mail for him and delete large messages to keep his mailbox from overflowing. This data is left over from the last such session.)

Ordinarily, I wouldn't even consider using beta software for production work, but I trust David Harris immensely. I've used Pegasus on and off for ten years now, and have been on the beta team in the past. If David says he knows of only one bug in the 4.0 preview that endangers data (an IMAP problem), then I believe him. So I think I'm going to convert to Pegasus 4.0 this afternoon. I don't have enough mail in Eudora to worry about, so I probably won't bother converting. 

 

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