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Week of 1 October 2001

Latest Update: Friday, 05 July 2002 09:16
 

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Monday, 1 October 2001

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09:03 - The start of another month, and one in which I intend to finish the first draft of the next edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. That means that updates here will be infrequent and short. I will keep an eye on the messageboards, but otherwise you won't be hearing much from me. Keep checking back, though, because I will post occasional updates.

Pournelle commented on his page the other that pair Networks wanted more money from him because his traffic was way up. I didn't realize how far up it was until I started to run web access reports for his site and mine this morning. Jerry's daily web logs are generally in the 6 MB to 10 MB range, with occasional jumps to perhaps 12 MB. The day after the WTC attack, Jerry's raw log was nearly 60 MB. So far this year, his top ten heaviest traffic days and 16 of the top 20 are all in September. Overall, Jerry's traffic was up by 50% over last month. It's no wonder he's exceeding his bandwidth allowance. Interestingly, my own traffic was slightly down compared to last month. Adjusting for 30 days versus 31, it was down about 2%.

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Tuesday, 2 October 2001

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11:36 - We finally took down the three poplars in the back yard yesterday. Two of them were dead, and Barbara decided to take down the third as well, figuring it'd die sooner or later as well. That's Barbara in the image below, with the three poplars visible. They actually extend another 15 feet or so (~3 metres) above the top of the frame. They're tall, but very slender. 

poplars.jpg (80320 bytes)

Our neighbor offered to help us take them down. He put a ladder up against each and tied a rope as far up as he could reach. While he notched the base of the tree, Barbara and I pulled on the rope to make sure it dropped in the general direction we wanted. All told, it took us only two or three hours to drop all three trees and cut them up with the chainsaws. We now have a nice stack of firewood.

I decided to get rid of Eudora and go back to Outlook. Security is all well and good, but I have to have a mail client I can live with. Eudora wasn't it, nor were any of the other mail packages I tried. Say what you wish about Microsoft, but Outlook is by far the best mail client I found. I get perhaps 250 email messages on a average day. That counts real email, listserv mail, spam, etc. On a heavy day, I can get twice that. I need a mail client that makes it easy to deal with high volume. Outlook does. Everything else I've tried doesn't.

I've only been victimized by an email nasty one time. That was on the first day of Melissa. I got an email from Jerry Pournelle that was infected. I wasn't expecting anything from him, and the message did seem a bit strange, but I had no particular reason to suspect anything was wrong. Jerry and I exchange files very frequently. So I opened that attachment. It was immediately obvious that I had a problem, and I killed Outlook before it sent any infected messages to anyone else. Cleaning up took an hour or two. 

Since then, despite all the security problems with Outlook and IE, I haven't been victimized. I got Sircam messages by the score, but Norton AV intercepts those. I never did get even one Nimda message. Even if I had, I have Outlook and IE locked up tight, so between that and running NAV, I probably would have had nothing to worry about. And even if I am victimized by some future virus or worm, I keep very good backups. The amount of damage it could do is limited. It might take me a few hours to clean up and recover, but so what? I'd rather bet that won't happen (and spend the few hours if it does) than live with a crappy email client day-in and day-out.

For example, I get lots of spam. With Outlook, it's annoying, but not much else. It takes me literally half a second per message to delete spam. I click Delete and the message is gone. Eudora is much slower than Outlook. It takes something like five seconds per message to preview and delete a spam, which is a full order of magnitude longer than it takes with Outlook. I can live with spending half a second per spam message. I can't live with spending ten times that. Same thing when retrieving mail when I open the client. Yesterday, I opened Eudora and it immediately went out to fetch new mail. I had 40 new messages. Eudora takes about the same time to POP the messages as does Outlook. But when Outlook finishes POPping, the messages are instantly available. When Eudora finishes POPping, it takes two more passes. First, I see a dialog decrementing down the number of messages that it's preparing to display. That takes about two seconds per message. Once it finishes that, Eudora then displays another dialog decrementing the number of messages to be filtered. Again, that takes about two seconds per message.

So, with Outlook, it takes a few seconds to POP my 40 new messages off the server, after which they're immediately accessible. With Eudora, it takes three or four minutes, with me looking at an hourglass the whole time, before those 40 new messages are available to read. Life is too short to use Eudora. And none of the other mail clients I looked at were suitable either. Some were a lot faster than Eudora, but lacked features I need. Others had the features, but were just as slow. Only Microsoft Outlook combines speed and features. For that, I'll forgive it its security holes.

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Wednesday, 3 October 2001

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10:33 - I was feeling a bit under the weather yesterday, so I didn't get much done. I'm feeling a bit better today, so I'll try to get some work done. Barbara is off to the North Carolina Library Association meeting today and tomorrow. It's being held in Winston-Salem this year, so she'll be back for dinner each evening. The dogs will be bored all day long, though. They'll sit outside my office door, blocked by the baby gate, whining and begging me for some action. From their point of view, Barbara and I are responsible for providing food and water, throwing tennis balls, and taking them out. They, being Border Collies, consider themselves responsible for all decision making. When we don't follow orders, they pester us until we do. But perhaps they'll allow me to get some work done.

Tom Syroid has about decided to discontinue his journal page because the press of work and family leaves him no time to write it. I know how he feels. But I've gotten used to having so many balls on the floor that one more doesn't make much difference.

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Thursday, 4 October 2001

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9:09 - I worked all day on the Processors chapter. Barbara was attending the North Carolina Library Association meeting all day, so we had a quiet day. The dogs were good, although it's obvious they miss Barbara. I don't do interesting stuff like playing ball with them, so they just lie around all day waiting for Barbara to come home so they can get some action. Barbara is away all day today, too, as well as this evening. I'll work on Processors again today and then head for the McDonalds drive-through for dinner.

Incidentally, if you've emailed me in the last week, expected a response, and haven't gotten one, please send your message again. I've been changing email clients around so much that it's possible I've missed some messages. I'm back on track with Outlook 2000 now, though. I think I got all the mail I received during Insanity Week pulled back into OL2K, but I'm not certain. For some reason, Outlook 2000 wouldn't import my messages directly from Eudora 5. Instead, I fired up Outlook Express and used it to import my mail from Eudora, which it seems to have done properly. I then imported from Outlook Express into Outlook 2000, which also seems to have worked properly.

And I just got a press release from Opera saying that they now have more than 5,000,000 users of Opera 5. The more I use Opera, the more I like it. But I do wish that I could throw Opera 5 and IE5 into a blender, run it on puree for a minute or two, and then install the result on my system. Opera is already a superior browser, but I can think of half a dozen IE features that should be present in Opera and aren't. The one I miss most is the Save-As-Archive function, but there are several others, such as off-line browsing, send page to desktop, one-click page editing, and so on.

Not much else going on. Just heads-down writing.

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Friday, 5 October 2001

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9:56 - Duncan has made himself responsible for keeping our yard (and those of our neighbors) rodent-free. Every time we open the door, he roars out and takes off after any squirrels that dare to be in his yard. But Duncan got a surprise yesterday...

I should have copies of the final version of Windows XP Home and Windows XP Professional showing up shortly. As usual, Microsoft and WaggEd (their PR representatives) are completely professional. I could say in my journal that Microsoft was the Antichrist and send a signed copy of that article to Bill Gates. If the next day I called up Microsoft to ask for eval product, it'd be on its way FedEx immediately.

There's nothing small-minded about Microsoft, unlike some other companies I could mention. Like most computer journalists, I've had the experience of companies refusing even to talk to me because I'd previously written something that in their opinion was unfavorable (or not favorable enough) about their companies or their products. Those companies often don't do well in the market, at least in part because of their attitude. Good companies, like Microsoft, take criticism well. Intel is like Microsoft in that respect. I once called their first (cacheless) Celeron "a paralyzed slug" or words to that effect. Not long after, I spoke to one of my contacts at Intel about getting some eval product. "A slug, huh?", he said, and laughed. The product I requested showed up the next day.

And for all the bad things I've said about Windows XP and its activation scheme, I'm looking forward to checking it out. The copies that WaggEd is sending me are good for ten activations each on the same key. That should be plenty for my purposes, which are mostly taking screen shots. If not, WaggEd assures me they'll ship me another CD overnight that will give me another ten activations.

But that does mean I'll have to be thoughtful about "using up" activations. Ordinarily, I install Windows on test-bed systems with great abandon. If I've set up a SCSI system to do some screen shots, later convert that to an IDE system for more screen shots, and subsequently realize I need more SCSI screen shots, well I just switch it back. I'll have to be a bit more organized about that with Windows XP.

 

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Saturday, 6 October 2001

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10:10 - If you're counting on Norton AntiVirus scheduled virus definition updates to protect your system, I suggest you think again. With the recent spate of worms and other nasties, I decided to install Norton AntiVirus and configure it to scan Barbara's and my main systems automatically in the middle of the night. I set up scheduling as a two-part process. For example, at 03:30, Barbara's system schedules an automatic LiveUpdate to update program files and virus definitions. At 03:45 it runs the automatic virus scan. My system is set up similarly, but with the times offset by half an hour.

The problem is that, although the scan itself runs as expected, the LiveUpdate doesn't. Or perhaps I should say that the LiveUpdate runs as scheduled, but it doesn't actually update the virus definitions. I first suspected that something odd was happening during the height of the Sircam problem. Neither of our systems was detecting Sircam infected email, although others had reported that NAV caught Sircam messages. At some point, I ran LiveUpdate manually on one of our systems. That system started alerting when a Sircam message arrived, but the other system didn't. Until, that is, I ran LiveUpdate manually on it, after which it too started alerting when a Sircam message arrived.

This morning, I decided to do some checking. The NAV logs claimed that my main Windows 2000 Pro system had been running the automatic scan every night, which it had, and the  automatic LiveUpdate every night, which it had not. Running NAV told me that it was using the 9/27/01 virus definitions. Running LiveUpdate manually updated those to the 10/3/01 virus definitions. Clearly, LiveUpdate had had at least two opportunities to update the virus definitions since those 10/3 updates were posted, so it's not working. I then examined Barbara's main Windows 2000 Pro system and found that it was using the 9/17/01 virus definitions, which apparently was the last time I'd updated her system's virus definitions manually. Running LiveUpdate manually on her system also updated the definitions to the 10/3/01 versions.

The only other system I have running NAV is the Windows NT 4 Workstation system in the den, which is also configured to autoupdate in the middle of the night. That system doesn't run the scan automatically, because NAV doesn't like Windows NT 4 screensavers. Each morning, when I sit down to read the paper, I move the mouse to unblank the screen. At that point, NAV starts running the virus scan. That's a known problem, documented on the Symantec site. When I checked the den system this morning, it had the 10/3 updates installed. Unfortunately, I was doing so much running around looking at different systems that I can remember for sure whether I'd updated the virus definitions on that system manually or not. So it may be that the automatic LiveUpdate works on NT4, or it may not.

At any rate, if you're counting on a scheduled LiveUpdate to keep your virus definitions current, I suggest you check manually to make sure it's working.

Barbara spent several hours yesterday cleaning up the basement living area, bathroom, and kitchen. That was formerly my mother's living area, until we moved her upstairs. The main living area was full of empty cardboard boxes, which we have been accumulating in the expectation that we'll eventually be moving. Barbara has been meaning to get that area cleaned up, but just hadn't had the time to do so. Then she learned that Natalie, one of her Border Collie Rescue cohorts, was coming over from Raleigh for an agility trial and needed someplace to crash. Barbara offered her our basement living area, which meant she had to get it cleaned up. There are still quite a few boxes in the living area, but it is at least habitable now.

The weather forecast for tonight is decent, if not perfect, so we'll probably head up to Bullington to observe. Tomorrow night is to be better, but we'd already offered to take one of Barbara's friends and her 10-year-old daughter along on an observing session tonight if the weather cooperated. The girl is interested in astronomy, so Barbara and I are trying to get her started right. When Barbara mentioned to Natalie that we'd probably be gone during the evening, Natalie asked if she could come along. So we'll have quite a group headed up there, if the clouds clear off as forecast. And we'll have a house full of dogs. Three of ours upstairs and three of Natalie's downstairs.

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Sunday, 7 October 2001

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9:57 - If you've been having problems getting to the messageboards, you're not alone. Greg Lincoln hosts the boards for me, and I got the following email from him last night: 

As you probably noticed, my ISP has been very unreliable and today the link has been so slow as to mostly render everything unusable.

I have signed up with a new provider, and am in the process of moving everything over. This will not be completely seamless as I didn't really have time to prepare, but I will try to make it as painless as possible.

I anticipate all being normal sometime tomorrow. If you would, please make a note on your daynotes page that the messageboards may not work or be very slow until then. I'll let you know when all is well again.

Thanks for your patience, and I apologize for all of this.

We had an impromptu party last night. Barbara brought her Carolina Border Collie Rescue friend Natalie home after the trial yesterday so that Natalie wouldn't have to drive all the way back to Raleigh and then get up at oh-dark-thirty to get back to the trial this morning. In the interim, I'd talked to Barbara's friend, Socialist Nancy, who wanted to meet Natalie. I invited Nancy over. She, her husband, and their baby showed up shortly after Barbara and Natalie arrived home. We ordered in about 15 pounds of Chinese takeout and had a good time sitting around eating, talking, and dodging the six dogs present.

We'd originally planned to head up to Bullington with the telescopes last night, but the weather didn't clear until very late. We wanted to take Socialist Nancy and Jasmine (her ten-year-old daughter) along on the observing session, because Jasmine is interested in astronomy and they're considering buying her a scope or binocular for Christmas. Tonight looks to be decent, and Socialist Nancy said that even though it's a school night she'll grant a bedtime extension for Jasmine so they can go along. We'll give Bonnie Richardson a call in case she'd like to come along as well. The weather is to be clear and cold, probably about freezing. Time to bring out the long underwear and insulated jeans.

Windows 2000 has screwed me again. I was browsing a web site in Opera yesterday. I closed the site and then minimized Opera. When the desktop re-appeared, all of the icons had been converted to generic icons and re-arranged on the desktop. For a minute or two, I thought Outlook had gone missing entirely, but I finally found its generic icon far from where it should have been. When that happens, it usually means the icon cache has been corrupted. It's easy enough to fix just by going into Display Properties and temporarily making just about any change to the Properties. I resized my desktop from 1280 to 1600, thinking that would solve the problem. It didn't, so I changed back to 1200 and restarted the system. That fixed most of the icons, but not all, and they were still arranged incorrectly.

I tend to keep lots of icons on my desktop--65 at last count--so their position is critical. I know, for example, without thinking about it, that Outlook is at the bottom left-center and that my O'Reilly work-in-progress folder is at the top right-center. So when my icons aren't where they're supposed to be, it makes life difficult. I don't appreciate Windows 2000 doing this to me.

One of my friends who lives outside the US asked me yesterday if I'd mind downloading the Windows 2000 and Windows NT 4 services packs and critical updates and burning a CD for him. I already had some of them in my install directory, but I figured it made sense just to download everything in a batch to make sure I had the latest versions of everything. I was shocked by just how many critical updates and security updates there were. On the one hand, it's comforting that Microsoft stays on top of these problems. On the other, it's frightening just how many problems there are.

My gut reaction is that Windows NT4 with SP6a and the Rollup Security Patches is probably at the moment as secure or more so than Windows 2000. The problem with NT4 is that it is as of 1 October officially a dead product. Microsoft no longer supports it, and you can no longer buy the Workstation version (although the Server version and CALs will continue to be sold). I suspect that if a hideous security hole is exposed, Microsoft may provide a security patch for it. That would be the decent thing to do, particularly because so many people are still using NT4. But, having declared NT4 obsolete, Microsoft is unlikely to devote many resources to patching it.

That gives me the same problem many administrators now face. Do we keep using NT4, watching it gradually age into complete obsoleteness, or do we use a later version? I'm inclined to continue using NT4 on servers, at least for now. They aren't exposed to public view, and they do the same job they always did. For that matter, I could probably run NetWare 3.12 servers without any problem. As far as desktops, I think I'm going to standardize on Windows 2000, which is itself an endangered version of the OS. But using Windows 2000 on our desktops should buy us at least a couple years' grace, by which time Linux should be completely viable as a desktop OS for us.

 

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