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Week of 8 October 2001

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Monday, 8 October 2001

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10:05 - Well, we're bombing Afghanistan. Finally. But we're only bombing half-heartedly, alas. For the first time in history, a bombing campaign is delivering both high explosives and food packages, presumably on the carrot-and-stick theory.

It seems to me a terrible waste of resources, though. We expended at least fifty of our hard-to-replace cruise missiles delivering small conventional warheads when those same fifty cruise missiles could have been equipped with thermonuclear warheads and used to eliminate most of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Libya. Better still, three or four SLBMs could have done the same job.

Half-hearted efforts like this will ultimately backfire on us. If you strike your enemy, you strike him hard and make sure to kill him. You don't slap his face, which simply angers him further. CNN yesterday described Pakistan as an ally of the US. Pakistan is not an ally. Pakistan is an enemy, and a sponsor of terrorism. CNN didn't go so far as to describe Iran and Syria as allies, but said that they'd cooperated with the US against Iraq. Well, big deal. Iran and Syria are sworn enemies of the US, and major sponsors of terrorism. We should destroy them as well.

Hint to President Bush: when you have a problem with hornets, you don't try to destroy the hornets one by one. You burn the nest. You don't worry about killing "good hornets", ones that have never stung anyone. You don't worry about the feelings of other hornets around the world. You recognize that hornets are bad, period. So you burn the nest. And that's exactly what the US needs to do to protect itself against terrorism. Burn the nest. Thermonuclearly. Anything less is counterproductive.

The Register reports that CPRM is back with a vengeance. The RIAA, the MPAA and other content-Nazis are determined to eliminate our fair-use rights under copyright law. They're a bunch of blood-sucking leeches who have grown fat by parasityzing creative people, and they don't want that free ride to end. Their solution to the problem is to bribe Congress to enact even more Draconian laws that will handcuff all of us. As I've said before, the answer is to cut off their revenue stream. Boycott them entirely. Don't buy any CDs or DVDs. Don't buy movie tickets. Stop renting movies. Drop your subscriptions to premium movie services. Cut off their revenue entirely.

If you must watch movies, watch old movies on the free channels. There are thousands of old movies you haven't seen, and most of them are better than what's coming out of Hollywood today. If you have some older CDs or DVDs that you don't really need, donate them to your local library so that others can use them without paying the content-Nazi tax. If you must buy new music, don't buy it from a record store. There are any number of musicians who sell their CDs direct to the public. Buy from them. Do everything you can to put the MPAA and the RIAA out of business.

We did go up to Bullington to observe last night. I was cold, with a low near freezing, and breezy, but we managed to stay warm. Barbara's friend Nancy didn't make it. As it turned out, her daughter had homework due today that she'd concealed from her mother all weekend. By the time Nancy found out about it, it was too late for her daughter both to do the homework and come along on the observing session. So Nancy told her daughter they just couldn't go observing. Serves her right. Maybe she'll learn a lesson. Bonnie Richardson's dog was sick, so she didn't make it either. It turned out to be just Barbara and me, but we had a good time. I was wearing full long underwear, insulated jeans, insulated boots, a sweater, a flannel shirt, my parka, gloves, and a watch cap, so I didn't get cold at all. We managed to bag a bunch of deep-sky objects through the telescopes and binoculars, as well as Mars, Uranus, and Neptune. By 10:30 it had started to cloud over a bit, so we packed up and headed home. After cleaning up, taking the dogs for a walk, and so on, we were able to get to bed by midnight.

More writing this week. We'll be building at least one system (an 845-based P4) and perhaps a second one as well. I need to get a CD burned and out the door, and my to-do list otherwise is as full as usual. So the updates will be short and sporadic here.

 

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Tuesday, 9 October 2001

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9:08 - FedEx just showed up with a CARE package from WaggEd that contains the shipping versions of Windows XP Home and Windows XP Professional. I just did a sanity-check pass on Jerry Pournelle's new column yesterday, and in it he reports several problems installing both the Home and Professional versions of Windows XP. Given that, I think I'll take things slow and easy, installing XP to a new system rather than attempting to upgrade an existing system.

Coincidentally, the kitchen table is now covered in computer components--an Antec SX845 case, Intel D845WNL motherboard, Pentium 4 processor, half a gigabyte of Crucial memory, an 80 GB Seagate Barracuda ATA IV hard drive, a PlexWriter CD burner, ATI All-In-Wonder video card, and so on. I think I'll build out that system as my new main system (it'll also be the mainstream system for the new edition of the book) and convert my existing main system to an XP test-bed system.

Barbara and I plan to build the new system this afternoon, although we may not finish. I could probably build the thing in an hour if that's all I were doing, but I have to document and photograph each step, which takes time.

Things have been in a state of flux around here, much of that caused by my experiments with email clients other than Outlook, combined with much higher than usual email volume lately. I got nearly 80 new email messages overnight, and my overnight mail volume is ordinarily only 10% to 20% of my total daily volume. What makes things worse is that I had to recreate all my rules, and some of them are behaving in unexpected ways. For example, I just found two messages from new subscribers that had been shunted into a folder I seldom check.

So please bear with me. I'm plowing through a backlog right now, and will get to all of the messages as soon as I can. I'd say that I'm dancing as fast as I can, but I don't dance.

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Wednesday, 10 October 2001

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8:23 - I'm taking AMD processors off my recommended list. I think I've given them a fair trial, and I've had too many problems to continue to recommend them in good faith. The final straw occurred last night. I was working on the den Duron system updating the system guides on the HardwareGuys.com website. I had several pages open, with about three hours work invested since my last backup. Not since my last save, you understand, but since the last time I'd used my XCOPY backup batch file to copy all changed files to another disk drive.

At any rate, I was working with half a dozen documents active in FrontPage, when I decided to do a save, which I do every few minutes. When I clicked Save, the hourglass appeared as expected, but instead of disappearing in five or ten seconds, it remained on the screen. After perhaps 20 seconds, the system bluescreened on me. This is on a system running NT4 SP6a, and I've seldom if ever had NT crash to a blue screen for anything other than a hardware problem.

At first, I figured this was just annoying. I had saved all the open documents since the last change I made to them, and the active document had only perhaps five minutes of unsaved work in it. I powered down the Duron system and moved to my main office system. I got the bad news when I tried to call up the documents in FrontPage on that system. All of them were gone, or more precisely were still there but with no contents. Nothing. I attempted to undelete the older (good) versions, but wasn't able to do so. So that's three hours of work down the drain, almost certainly as a result of a hardware problem on the Duron system.

Nor was this the first time this has happened. The Duron system has crashed to a bluescreen a couple of times before, but without losing any of my work. One morning, I arrived in the den to find that the Duron system had bluescreened overnight, running nothing but the OS. Another time I was sitting there reading when I heard the monitor click, as it does when changing from graphics to text mode, and looked up to find a bluescreen. Again, the system was running nothing but the OS.

But this time I was unlucky. The system apparently crashed just at an instant when FrontPage was in the midst of something critical. The Duron system was supplied to me by AMD. I checked the components they used in it. All of them are first-rate, name-brand stuff, although not top-of-the-line. For example, they used a Seagate hard drive, but it was one of their entry-level 5,400 RPM units. So this problem can't be passed off to cheap components.

And the two other AMD systems I've used as test beds (both Athlons) are similarly unreliable, even though I built them with first-rate components. Components similar or identical to the components I use when building Intel-based systems. But the Intel-based systems never crash, whereas all the AMD systems crash uncomfortably often. That's particularly significant, because I use the Intel systems all day long every day, whereas the AMD systems see very light usage. It may be that the problem is the chipsets rather than the processors themselves. All of my AMD systems run VIA chipsets, but then something like 90%+ of the AMD systems out there also run VIA chipsets.

So AMD is off my recommended list, at least for now. I'm sure I'll get a lot of outraged email for taking this position, but the fact is that in my experience Intel systems are much more stable than AMD systems. And stability is what the Romans used to call a sine qua non (without which, nothing).

AstroTruck, my white Trooper, is off to the mechanic today for its annual inspection and an oil change. That means unloading a large pile of stuff before we take it and then reloading it when we get back. Oh, well. The stuff needs sorted and re-arranged anyway. Then it's time to build that new Pentium 4 system for me. I was planning to convert my existing PIII system into a server, but I think I'll relocate it to the den instead. I simply can't afford to be using a system as unstable as the Duron box as a production system.

I plan to put together a text and photo essay that documents the building of the P4 system and send it as an email update to subscribers. That'll probably happen in the next few days.

Incidentally, FrontPage's spell-checker didn't like "AstroTruck". As a suggested replacement, it offered "Gastrotrich". Huh?

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Thursday, 11 October 2001

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8:24 - As I expected, I've gotten quite a bit of email taking me to task for my comments on AMD processors. Many of them made the point that without AMD's presence in the x86 market, Intel would be charging a lot more for their processors. That's no doubt true, and it's also true that the processors we could buy now would be a lot slower because Intel wouldn't have been under any pressure to release faster processors, let alone release faster, cheaper processors. But that's not really the point. Let other people buy AMD processors. There are plenty of people who will do that. 

If you want rock-solid stability, which I consider essential, buy Intel processors and run them in Intel motherboards if at all possible. There's a reason why most big OEMs use Intel processors and motherboards in most of their systems. For big OEMs, system problems equals support calls equals higher costs. Their tech support lines are a cost center rather than a profit center, and they want to do everything possible to minimize those costs. A big part of that is using a stable motherboard and processor combination, and Intel products fit that requirement.

And speaking of running Intel processors in Intel motherboards, I spent much of yesterday working on the new D845/Pentium 4 system. So far, I have the case open and the processor and memory installed in the motherboard. Not much progress for most of a day's work, you might think, but that also includes shooting more than 100 photographs of the process and making copious notes along the way.

This system will ultimately be the "project case study" system that will appear in the "Building a PC" chapter of the new edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. The photographs, notes, benchmarks, and other comments (many of which will not appear in the final text) will also be packaged as a special report to subscribers.

And, speaking of subscribing, if you haven't done so yet, why not? You can subscribe by clicking here.

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Friday, 12 October 2001

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10:01 - Some days I work my begonia off all day long and at the end of the day I'm no forrader than when I started the day, or so it seems. Yesterday was one of those days. Barbara was playing golf until mid-afternoon, then doing some yard work for the rest of the afternoon, and then she had a Friends of the Library meeting followed by dinner with two of her friends. That meant I couldn't work on the new system--I need her hands for taking photographs--so I worked on the processors chapter. Barbara is running errands and volunteering at SciWorks this morning, so we'll get started again on building the new system this afternoon.

In the meantime my email continues to stack up. I really must spend some time getting it cleared out.

The Register reports that Microsoft has granted a stay of execution to the NT4 MCSE credential. Originally, Microsoft had announced that NT4 MCSEs would be decertified as of the end of this year. The deadline for Windows 2000 certification has now been extended through 1 May 2002. Not that all this makes much difference, because Microsoft isn't bringing back the NT4 MCSE exams they retired last February. 

So this is really just a sop to .. who? Companies that aren't ready to abandon NT4? NT4 MSCEs? I'm not sure. A person with an NT4 MCSE remains a person with an NT4 MCSE whether or not Microsoft decertifies the title. It's not like an NT4 MCSE holder suddenly turns stupid just because Microsoft no longer recognizes the certification. So I'm not sure what this is all intended to accomplish.

 

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Saturday, 13 October 2001

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8:54 - I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but each of the dogs has his own PC. They use them mostly for exchanging email with their dog buddies and for surfing the web for photos of naked girl dogs. (On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog.) Yesterday, I told Malcolm I was thinking about upgrading his personal PC to Windows XP. Here was his reaction:

malcolm-snarl.jpg (47534 bytes)

And people wonder why I don't worry about leaving the house to observe at Bullington, or about letting Barbara walk the dogs at night without me. Malcolm is actually the gentlest of our dogs, but even he would rip up an intruder. And if someone tried to hurt Barbara while she was walking our three dogs, well there probably wouldn't be enough left to bury.

We mostly finished up my new system yesterday. All that remains is to install a video card and connect the front panel switches and indicators. I've taken about 200 photographs thus far, with more to come. I'll have to winnow that down to 20 or so for the book. Once the hardware is working, I'll install Windows 2000 on the system and then run some benchmarks, both on the system and on the hard drive. I'm curious as to how the 845 chipset with PC133 SDRAM will perform, and also about how the Seagate Barracuda ATA IV hard drive will compare to other 7,200 RPM ATA units. Favorably, I suspect, but the numbers will tell the tale. 

I'll use readily-available free benchmarks, including PC Magazine's WinBench 99 2.0 and SiSoft Sandra, so you can reproduce the tests on your own systems for comparison. The current version of WinBench unfortunately no longer includes CPU tests, so I'll use it only for hard disk benchmarks. SiSoft Sandra includes both CPU and disk benchmarks, so I'll use it for both. Some might question the quality of these benchmarks, but the truth is they're probably about as useful as any benchmark, which is to say not very.

 

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Sunday, 14 October 2001

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11:20 - Barbara and I started off the morning with a trip to Lowe's to pick up a new mailbox (the old one fell off the wall, and it wasn't my fault even though Barbara says I shouldn't have hooked Malcolm's leash to it while I was hanging the flag) and some other hardware stuff. While I was there, I checked out their face mask/respirator stock. They had about 20 different models, disposable and reusable, all of them rated for different stuff. I read the descriptions carefully. I found ones that were rated for plaster dust, insecticides, and even asbestos, but I didn't find any that were rated to stop anthrax spores. 

Someone is missing a marketing opportunity here. They need to print up a bunch of fluorescent orange labels "Now good for anthrax spores" and slap them on the packages of the respirators that are in fact good for that. Oh, well. I'll just take any suspicious mail out in the yard and spray it down with Lysol before I open it with tongs. If, that is, I don't just burn it first.

I finished the Pentium 4 system yesterday. It works fine. What doesn't work is Windows 2000. I put the new system under my credenza, hooked it up to the network, and started Windows 2000 Setup from CD. The installation apparently went fine until it got to the part about networking. I'd never seen the screens before that it presented then, and in retrospect it's clear why. Windows 2000 couldn't find my network. The reason it couldn't find my network is that it had no driver for the Ethernet adapter embedded in the D845WNL motherboard.

It recognized that there was an Ethernet adapter present, mind you, but because it didn't have drivers it couldn't connect to the network. I don't know why W2K Setup isn't smart enough to ask "Oh, by the way, I need a driver for this network adapter. Do you happen to have one?" But no. Instead, it continued installing and left me with a non-networked system that was a member of its own workgroup.

No problem, I thought. I put the CD that came with the motherboard in the drive and ran setup, which installed the LAN adapters. So far, so good. But when I restarted Windows 2000, it still couldn't see the network. At all. Browsing Network Neighborhood on another PC showed that I now had, in addition to my TTGNET domain, a workgroup called Workgroup. Browsing Network Neighborhood on the new system showed only the workgroup. I tried everything I could think of, but nothing I do lets the new system see the domain.

What's very strange is that IP connectivity is one-way. That is, I can ping any system on the network (by IP number) from the new system. But if I try to ping the new system by IP number from any other PC on the network, all packets are lost. So the new system can see the other systems, IP-wise, but the other systems can't see it. And the new system can't see any other system on the network NetBT-wise, although the other systems on the network can see the new system, or at least the workgroup it created and is advertising.

The new system was getting its IP address from the DHCP server built into WinGate, so I decided to override the dynamic IP address allocation and assign a static IP address to the new system. The same thing happens. There is a document on the Microsoft web site that mentions problems with a Windows 2000 system joining an NT4 domain due to defective DNS implementation in W2K Professional, but that document is from early in the year. There's a hotfix, but I haven't bothered to apply it.

Instead, I'm going to strip the disk down to bare metal (again: this will be the third time I've installed W2KP on this system) and reinstall from scratch. Then I'll apply W2K SP2 (which I'll have to burn a CD of and carry over to the new system), then apply the INF updates, etc. in the order that Intel says they need to be applied. We'll see what happens.

I hate Windows 2000.

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