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Week of 24 September 2001

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Monday, 24 September 2001

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9:25 - I spoke too soon about Pegasus mail. I ran into some problems with it yesterday, and sent the following message off to them:

Subject 4.0 Preview repeatable program crash

Hi, David

I used Pegasus Mail for years and was at one point a member of your beta-testers group. Then I was lured away by the PIM functionality in Outlook. I recently decided that Outlook was just a gaping security hole camouflaged by a mail client, so I decided to convert back to Pegasus. While waiting for the 4.0 release version, I decided to give Eudora a try, which is why I'm using it for this message.

At any rate, the details of the problem

1. I had an earlier Pegasus 3.12c installation, which I'd upgraded by copying the 4.0 Preview files over. That installation was in multi-user mode, so I decided just to uninstall and start fresh. When I brought up Windows 2000 Professional's Control Panel - Add/Remove Programs, Pegasus appeared, but when I tried to uninstall it, it couldn't find the uninstall information. So I uninstalled manually, deleting the C\Program Files\PMAIL directory and then going in with RegEdit to remove all references to Pegasus. That done, I re-installed Pegasus 3.12c, this time to the default C\PMAIL directory, and pointing it to the existing F\usr\THOMPSON\PMAIL directory for its data. That directory had about four email messages in it. I then copied all of the zipped 4.0 Preview files into the C\PMAIL directory.

2. I brought up Pegasus and clicked the icon to change it into Preview mode. Everything appeared to work normally. I created a folder named Friends (Pegasus 4 format), a tray named Mailing Lists, and a folder within that tray called "Talking Telescopes" (Pegasus 4 format).

3. I created a rule to filter mailing list traffic with [Telescopes] in the subject to the Talking Telescopes folder within the Mailing Lists tray. While creating that rule, I clicked Set to direct Pegasus to move incoming messages with [Telescopes] in the subject line to the Talking Telescopes folder. When the rule was created, the rule summary page showed that it would move those messages into the Friends folder. I edited the rule, which still had Talking Telescopes showing as the destination folder. I re-Set the destination to Talking Telescopes and saved it. The summary page still showed that the rule would move messages to the Friends folder.

4. I closed Rules and clicked on the Friends folder. Pegasus blew up and exited.

5. I started Pegasus again. It came up in classic mode. I changed it to Preview mode. I clicked on the Friend folder, and it once again blew up and exited. Each time, a Program Error dialog comes up telling me that Pegasus has generated program errors and will exit.

6. I restarted yet again, changed into Preview mode, and looked at the folder list. The Mailing Lists tray has disappeared, and the Talking Telescopes folder is now a top-level folder. Clicking on either the Friends folder or the Talking Telescopes folder causes Pegasus to blow up and exit.

Best regards.


And got the following response this morning:

Ah! I see the problem. You have missed a *very* important announcement message from David Harris that went to the pm-win and master pmail mailing lists just three hours after the announcement of the b40 being available. References to it also appeared on the Usenet group traffic. I've attached a copy.

<snip. forwarded message headers removed. RBT>

It's been brought to my attention that it's possible to select "Pegasus Mail v4.0" as a folder format when creating new folders in the public preview I just released.

This is an oversight on my part: that code is not complete, and the option should have been disabled prior to release.


I am not joking! Don't even play with it: there is a faint possibility that by doing so you may corrupt your folder hierarchy, and most of the options are not currently working. What's more, in its current state, the record manager used by the v4.0 format is vulnerable to corruption under certain conditions. In short, although this option looks like it might do something useful, it currently doesn't. Please DON'T use it.


-- David --

And, of course, I'd downloaded the Pegasus 4.0 beta distribution before the problem was discovered. I suspect there's now a note about that problem in the distribution file. If not, there should be.

After that problem, of course, I reverted to Eudora. So it looks like it'll soon be time to do yet another uninstall and re-install of Pegasus. It's not that I hate Eudora. I just don't like it much. For now, I think I'll go ahead and import my recent mail into Eudora. Then, once Pegasus 4.0 is officially released, I'll use one of the Eudora -> Pegasus converters to get my mail out of Eudora and into Pegasus.

And speaking of reasons to dislike Eudora, several readers reminded me that Eudora was taken to task last Fall for "phoning home". Apparently, all three versions, the Full Pay-for, the ad-supported, and the Lite, included embedded spyware from Aureate/Radiate or one of their competitors (I forget exactly which one). That's apparently not the case with the current version. I did a scan with Ad-Aware, which found no spyware on my system.

You may notice that I no longer have the direct links at the bottom of each day's entry that take you to the messageboard to read or post comments. The old board created a page with a fixed URL for each thread. The new board embeds a session ID or something similar. I've played around with it, but I'm not yet comfortable trying to create an embedded fixed link here to take you directly to the thread in question. You can still get there, of course. Just click on the link for Daynotes Journal Messageboard (at the top of each daily entry). When you get to the messageboard, enter the Daynotes Journal Feedback forum and then click on the week's thread.

Posts will be short to non-existent for the next few weeks. My to-do list runneth over.



Tuesday, 25 September 2001

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9:06 - Yet another mass-mailing worm is in the wild and doing damage. This one is called and presents itself as an opportunity to vote on whether the US should retaliate for the terrorist attack. The subject line is "Fwd:Peace BeTweeN AmeriCa and IsLaM!". You can find full details on the Symantec Antivirus Research Center site.

On a related note, The Register reports that the Gartner Group strongly advises people who are using Microsoft IIS to abandon it in favor of Apache or another secure web server. Of course, we already knew that was a good idea. At this point, I'd have to question the sanity of anyone with at least a room temperature IQ who is running IIS on the public Internet. Now if Gartner would also recommend that everyone abandon IE and Outlook they'd have all bases covered.

And speaking of sanity (or lack thereof), The Register also reports that Microsoft has started running what surely must be the most tasteless ad ever put before the public. The ad is intended to convey that Microsoft Enterprise software is uncrashable, and shows (believe it or not) two skyscrapers toppling over, surrounded by what might be clouds of dust. What are these people thinking?

Now that I've had several days of using Opera, I can finally make a reasonable determination of its strengths and weaknesses versus Internet Explorer 5 and Navigator 4. I didn't attempt to evaluate Navigator 6, because I've used it only briefly. During that brief usage, I concluded that it was somewhat better than Navigator 4, but not enough so to make a difference, and that it was still inferior to IE4, let alone IE5. Here are my (admittedly subjective) ratings of these three browsers.

Attribute Internet Explorer 5 Opera 5 Navigator 4
Speed A B D
Rendering accuracy A B C
Convenience B B D
Flexibility B A C
Feature set B A C
Standards compliance B A C
Security D A C
Privacy D B C
Integration A B C
Overall B- A- C-

Speed - IE5 still holds the crown here. No matter what Opera claims, my experience in browsing scores of different sites was that Opera, while much faster than Navigator (AKA the Laggard Slug), is still no match for IE. Opera did in fact load some pages faster than IE, but for every ten pages I tried, the score was something like one was noticeably faster in Opera, five were noticeably faster in IE, and the remaining four were too close to call. For many pages, IE was much faster than Opera. In the cases where Opera was faster, it wasn't by much. IE definitely deserves a A in the speed category. I'm probably being generous giving Navigator a D.

Rendering Accuracy - Again, there's no contest here. IE is by far the best at rendering diverse web pages. It nearly always does a reasonable job of rendering a page, no matter how badly broken the HTML code for that page is. Netscape is by far the worst of the three at rendering. If it runs into something it doesn't understand, it frequently makes no attempt to render it sanely. Opera is somewhere in the middle. It generally does a good job of rendering, but on pages that are not standards compliant, it sometimes places text oddly and so on. In particular, Opera seems to have fairly frequent difficulties in rendering text properly in the vertical dimension. For example, I frequently found that one line was duplicated or partially duplicated, or that a line was showing the full width of characters but only part of their height. Usually, simply scrolling the problem line(s) out of sight and then scrolling back to them fixes the problem, but not always (and a page isn't always large enough to allow vertical scrolling far enough to take the problem lines out of sight). Opera also has problems in the horizontal dimension, primarily with making tables fit the screen. On my main system, running 1280X1024, it's seldom a problem. But on my secondary system, running 1024X768, there are many tables that require horizontal scrolling in Opera but not in IE. In fact, I considered giving Opera a C and Navigator a D in this category, and I'm not sure they don't deserve it. Incidentally, I'm not counting those few pages that are obnoxious enough to require ActiveX in the score.

Convenience - how easy is it to get things done? IE and Opera are both pretty good at making things easier. Each has some convenience features that are superior to the other, but overall they both do things about equally easily. Netscape is clumsy and brings up the rear once again.

Flexibility - how many different ways can you get the same thing done, and to what extent can you configure the brower to your own preferences? IE does pretty well here, but Opera is better. I gave Navigator a Gentleman's C here, because its paucity of features means there's not all that much to configure. "Have it our way" seems to be Netscape's motto.

Feature set - IE does respectably here, and supports some features (like security zones) that Opera either does not support or handles only clumsily. But overall Opera is the more feature-laden product, and most of those features are actually useful rather than having been added to fulfill someone's checklist. Opera is missing a few features, like complete dual-monitor support, that are present in IE, but most of the features that are missing or clumsily implemented in Opera are those that will be of use to a limited number of people. All the important stuff is there, well thought out, and easily accessible. Netscape shows its age here, as it has a small feature set, and lacks some critical features for a modern browser.

Standards compliance - IE actually does a pretty reasonable job here, although Microsoft can't help themselves. Just as Malcolm and Duncan can't leave a bush unmarked, Microsoft can't resist lifting its leg on any open standard in an attempt to convert it to a proprietary Microsoft standard. Opera does its best to comply with all open standards as written, while ignoring such proprietary standards as ActiveX. Netscape probably tried to write a standards-compliant app, but their implementations are buggy.

Security - well, there's not much to say about IE here. Microsoft is clearly clueless about security. Their attitude seems to be that security is the least important aspect of an application. Microsoft would actually earn a B on security if I graded based on how secure the product can be made. But their default configuration for IE deserves no better than a D, and and F wouldn't be unreasonable. Opera gets an A because I can't see any gaping security holes in it. To some extent, that's security by obscurity, I'm sure, because Opera simply isn't popular enough to draw the attention of the crackers. Netscape is more secure than IE in its default configuration, but that's about the best that can be said about it.

Privacy - Once again, IE earns a D primarily because of its default settings. Configured properly, it would earn a B, but Microsoft shouldn't ship a product that requires user intervention to prevent privacy violations. Opera gets a B, again primarily because of its default settings. Its cookie management is greatly improved over earlier versions, but by default it installs wide open. Opera also allows users to configure such things as referrer, which the other products don't. Netscape gets a C for effort, because it does at least allow users to configure cookie management to refuse third-party cookies. The problem is that that doesn't work very well.

Integration - IE gets an A here for its tight integration with the OS and other Microsoft applications. To some extent, it has an unfair advantage, but I'm judging on results rather than effort. On the basis of effort, Opera would probably deserve an A, but it's not quite as well-integrated as IE so it gets a B. Netscape is kludgy as always. It gets the job done but not much more than that.

Overall - Opera is the winner with an A-. If they could eliminate the rendering problems, Opera would deserve a solid A. Microsoft is second with a B-. If they'd fix their security and privacy problems to a solid A level, IE would score an A- and tie with Opera. Microsoft could do that, but I'm not sure they want to. Navigator squeaks by with a C-. Actually, I considered giving it a D overall, because it is a pathetic excuse for a browser. Based on my short evaluation of Navigator 6, it might have scored a C, but given recent developments it's unlikely that Netscape will ever again be a major player. My conclusion is that Opera is the obvious choice in browsers right now. But I do wish they'd fix the rendering problems.



Wednesday, 26 September 2001

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11:05 - We did go up to Bullington last night and had a chance to try our new AZ-3 altazimuth mount with our refractor and Bonnie's new Apex Mak-Cass scope. The mount supported both adequately. We didn't get a whole lot of actual observing in, other than Luna, because the Moon was so bright it was difficult to bag any faint fuzzies. It was pretty cool last night, with a temperature of about 45F (7C) and enough breeze to drop the wind chill down near freezing. I was wearing my new long undies. Between those and my blankie I managed to stay fairly warm. The weather is to be clear tonight, so we may set up in the front yard.

I continue to be pleased with Opera, other than the occasional rendering problems. Very often, simply minimizing and then maximizing the window solves the problem, but I did run into one yesterday that was very strange. Opera put a black box on the screen that occupied the central 25% or so of the image area. Nothing I did made that go away, including changing to a different page within that site. Once I exited the site, everything was normal. I suspect the site was using ActiveX or something that Opera didn't know how to handle.

Another minor annoyance with Opera is that Refresh and Stop share a single button. I found that out when I went over to this morning, only to find that it was redirected to the corporate parent site. When the redirect screen came up, I wanted to Stop before it transferred to the new site. But because the redirect page code had already finished transferring, Opera immediately changed the Stop button to a Refresh button. Not very nice. There are times when I need the Stop button and Opera doesn't provide it. Still, I like Opera a great deal. I loaded it on Barbara's system yesterday (Opera gave me permission to load it on multiple systems) and she is quite pleased with it.

Other than that, not much going on except work. I dislike Eudora more each time I use it. Several readers have suggested alternatives, including one called The Bat, which look like possible candidates. I'll look at them as I have time. But right now, it's back to work for me.

13:27 - More woes for AMD, which is beginning to look like a company in trouble. An announcement just crossed my desk that AMD is closing two of their fabs in Austin, with the loss of 2,300 jobs. These fabs, 14 and 15, are two of AMD's oldest, and produce primarily flash memory. In the past, flash memory has been AMD's cash cow, and revenues derived from it have allowed them to compete down-and-dirty with Intel in the processor arena. Flash is no longer selling in the volumes formerly seen, and the margins on it are eroding fast, leaving AMD pressed for revenue.

Adding insult to injury, Gateway (another company in trouble) has announced that they'll stop selling AMD-based systems and return to selling only Intel-based PCs. Although Gateway isn't selling many PCs nowadays compared to its glory days, it still accounted for an estimated 5% of AMD processor sales, so that's a heavy hit. Of the top ten US PC makers, the departure of Gateway leaves only Compaq and HP selling AMD-based systems. That's particularly bad, because Compaq and HP both focus on corporate sales, where AMD processors are not popular. Between the depression in the economy in general and technology businesses in particular and the oncoming train of the Pentium 4, AMD looks to be in real trouble. I hope they pull through, because Intel needs the competition.

I think this is just one more symptom of a coming shakeout that's just now beginning. In the short term, this is good for consumers because we're getting incredible bargains on good components. In the longer term, it's bad, because no one is making any profits on PC components right now. By the time the dust settles, we're likely to be down to a couple of memory makers, a couple of hard drive makers, a handful of monitor makers, and so on. Perhaps that's good in a Darwinian sense, but it does make planning difficult.



Thursday, 27 September 2001

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9:03 - I believe in keeping those who accumulate data about consumers off-guard, so I frequently supply variants of my name--a different middle initial, variants of my first name, and so on. One of the variations I use occasionally is providing "Dr." as my title, rather than "Mr.". So, even though I'm not a physician, it's not surprising that I receive some junk email targeted at MDs. I got one yesterday from Fat Brain (one of the dumber corporate names) that I at first assumed fell into that category. That message started by saying:


Over time, certain references have stood out as established resources in the medical field, and now you can enhance your bookshelf with the most updated editions of these classics. Stock up on these noteworthy titles for solid expertise on anatomy, physiology, molecular biology, pharmacology, and more.

So far, so good. It actually looked kind of interesting. Technically, it wasn't spam because I'm a Fat Brain customer, so I read further. The first book listed was The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, 10th Edition, by Goodman & Gilman. That sounded interesting, so I kept reading. But I gave up when I reached the second title on the list, which was described as follows:

* "Anatomy Coloring Book" 

Learn anatomy the fun way with the color-key approach of this light-hearted guide.

Now, I know everything is being dumbed-down these days, but it is truly terrifying news that this counts as one of those references that "have stood out as established resources in the medical field". Thinking about it, though, residents these days do look like teenagers. And the last time I took my mother to the doctor, I do remember seeing a child of about 4 years sitting in the waiting room coloring. But it never occurred to me that he might be a med student.



Friday, 28 September 2001

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9:06 - If I hadn't already decided that Eudora is a poor excuse for a mail client, I'd have been convinced by what it did to me yesterday. I've gotten used to its bloated, buggy code, its slow performance, and its tendency to mangle its own Table of Contents (about every third time I start Eudora, it tells me the TOC is corrupt and has to be regenerated). 

But yesterday, it popped up a message that demanded I register the product or face the consequences. Not asking politely, mind you, but giving me only two choices: (1) register the product, including providing a functional email address, or (2) keep being annoyed by nagware messages. They make a poor attempt at humor to conceal the underlying demand, but that makes it worse instead of better. The only two options they offer (I'm paraphrasing here) are "give us your personal information" and "ask me (over and over again) later". No sign of a "Don't ask me again" option. Well, screw them. There are better mail clients available. Hell, there are better free mail clients available.

Eudora has already proven they can't be trusted (just do a search on "Eudora" and "spyware" or "phone home"). And Eudora has already proven to be a mediocre mail client. What puzzles me is how reviewers like Stroud's and Tucows can keep giving Eudora such high ratings. If Eudora is a 5-cow product, how bad must the products that earn 4 or fewer cows be? More to the point, how could any serious email user regard Eudora as even acceptable, let alone superior?

Eudora can't hold a candle to Microsoft Outlook 2000 as a mail client. Except, of course, for the gaping security holes in Outlook. (So, other than that, how was your evening, Mrs. Lincoln?") I'm going to do what I should have done all along. Wait for the final release of Pegasus Mail 4.0 and convert to it. Actually, I considered converting to Pegasus 4.0 Preview, but according to David Harris's release notes for the 4.0 Preview dated in late August, the release 4.0 version should ship late this month. There's not much time left this month, so it shouldn't be long now, even if the schedule slips slightly. It's easy enough to convert from Eudora's mbx format to Pegasus format or vice versa, so that's what I'll do.

It would be funny if it weren't so frightening. An airline passenger tried to sneak a smoke in an airplane lavatory and the situation escalated to the point where F16s were scrambled to escort the airliner back to the airport. The anti-smoking zealots finally have what they want. Enforcement of anti-smoking laws by the US military. How long can it be before the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs reports to Mr. Bush, "Sorry Mr. President, we had no choice but to shoot down that airliner. Someone on board was smoking." Geez.

Back by popular demand. I've put back a link to the current week's thread on the Daynotes Journal messageboard. I'd removed it because the new board software generates a URL in a different form than the old board, and I wasn't sure of the implications of that long string of numbers in the new URL. I'm about satisfied that the "S=" portion is just a session ID that has no effect, but this is still experimental. The link below works to the extent that it takes you to the page where you can read this week's feedback. I'm assuming that you'll also be able to post without manually logging in (if you're set up that way already), so give it a try. A lot of the action takes place on the messageboards, so if you're not reading them, you're missing out.

Click here to read or post responses to this week's journal entries


Saturday, 29 September 2001

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9:56 - I wrote my journal entry yesterday as usual, but with one thing and another I never did get around to publishing it up to the server. What's interesting is that I just checked my server logs and found that my traffic for yesterday was about 20% higher than for Thursday. Ordinarily, Friday is the weekday with the least traffic, so that translates to about 33% more traffic on Friday than the norm, all presumably from people checking repeatedly for a post that never arrived. We have a lot going on today, too, but I promise that today I'll find time to publish. Barbara has decided to clean house today rather than tomorrow, and we have an astronomy club picnic this afternoon.

Opera is an excellent web browser, better in many respects than Microsoft's Internet Explorer. But after using Opera as my default browser for some time, I've begun to accumulate a list of things Opera doesn't do that IE does do. Some of those are pretty important to me, so I'm putting together an Opera Wish List of additional features I think Opera needs. I'm also soliciting feedback from readers, with the hope that eventually we'll end up with a consolidated document that can serve as a suggested to-do list for Opera programmers as they work on the next major release. This document focuses on feature requests rather than bug reports.

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Sunday, 30 September 2001

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8:46 - We went to the Forsyth Astronomical Society picnic yesterday. Twenty or so people turned up, but a lot of the Old Reliables were missing. There were too many other things going on yesterday, including the County Fair.

The height of the event was Steve Wilson's water-bottle rocket exhibition. Steve, among his other skills, is a pretty good machinist. He's built a machined-metal launching platform that allows mounting a standard plastic soft-drink bottle partially filled with water, mouth downward. After mounting the bottle and clamping it in place, Steve uses a manual tire pump to put about 275 PSI of air pressure inside the bottle. Yanking a lanyard releases the bottle with a loud bang, and it travels 200 to 250 feet straight up. Steve used to be a missile officer on a ballistic missile submarine, and it shows.

We put various objects on top of the bottle, including some raw walnuts (splat) and a little plastic man with a parachute. During one launch, the little plastic man had a chute failure and turned into a yard dart. Last year, they supposedly launched Laika, a frog who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ribbet.

I suggested a couple of minor improvements to the launch process. First, use ether or acetone rather than water. Second, put a live spark-plug or a lit cigarette near the mouth of the bottle before launch. Heh.


Click here to read or post responses to this week's journal entries



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