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Week of 3 December 2001

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Monday, 3 December 2001

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9:11 - The chapter that would not die is finally dead. I worked all day yesterday and finally got it finished late yesterday afternoon. I'm still not happy with it, but then I've never been happy with any chapter I've written. I think it is pretty good, though. I gave it one final read-through and then attempted to email it to my editor about 10:00 last night. Something in the mail system choked, whether Outlook, my local mail server, or the O'Reilly mail server. It wouldn't go through, even though the attachment was only about 6.7 MB. So I posted it on the Subscribers' Page and sent email to my editor to tell him he could download it from there.

If you're a subscriber, you can download it from there as well. If you're not yet a subscriber, visit this page to learn how to subscribe. I posted two versions, with an without images embedded in the Word document. The version with images is a Word document file of about 6.7 MB. The version without embedded images is a Word document compressed to a 200 KB Zip file. The images are mostly stuff like processor photos provided by Intel and AMD, which you don't need to get the sense of the chapter.

If you do decide to download the big version, please pick a random day between today and Friday to download it, depending on how much of a hurry you're in to see the chapter. My web hosting company allows me 200 MB/day in throughput and charges for overages, so if 100 people decide to download that file today I could get hit with substantial overage charges.

I've been thinking about buying Barbara premium eyepiece for Christmas. Basically, telescope eyepieces divide into price categories by quality and features. No-name stuff with moderate features cost $50 or less. Name-brand stuff that is of high quality but moderate features typically sells for $50 to $120. Then there's a big jump to premium eyepieces, which are of high quality and have premium features (very wide fields of view, longer eye relief, a higher level of lens polish, better coatings, etc.) and cost $225 and up.

I belong to several astronomy mailing lists, and the experienced observers on all of them say that premium eyepieces are worth the extra cost. Actually, I'm pretty happy with the Siebert eyepieces I bought. They're inexpensive, sharp, have wide fields of view, and otherwise match the premium eyepieces in most respects. The one place the Sieberts fall short is in eye relief. Typical eyepieces have shorter eye relief at shorter focal lengths (short focal length translates to high power). The Sieberts have 7mm of eye relief, which is about a third of an inch. Many premium eyepieces have longer eye relief, even at very short focal lengths. The Tele Vue Radian series ($240 each), the Pentax XL series ($230 each), and the Vixen Lanthanum SuperWide series ($230 each) all have 20mm of eye relief, even at very short focal lengths. 

Another characteristic of premium eyepieces is that they're sharp across their entire field, whereas less expensive eyepieces tend to be softer out toward the edges. This is a particular problem with fast f/ratio scopes (like our f/5 Dob). Even inexpensive eyepieces perform well across their fields when used in a longer f/ratio scope like our f/11.1 refractor or an f/10 SCT. But at f/6 and faster, inexpensive eyepieces don't do as well whereas premium eyepieces maintain their sharpness across the entire field.

All of the experienced observers say that you won't believe the difference a premium eyepiece makes, so I decided it was time to buy one to see how much of that is true and how much is hype. I dithered as to what to choose for our first premium eyepiece. On the low-power end, a 2" eyepiece (eyepieces come in two barrel sizes, 1.25" and 2". Our Dob accepts either) in the 30mm to 40mm range would be nice for rich-field use. We already have a 30mm Orion Ultrascopic for that, and it is a very nice 1.25" eyepiece. But the 1.25 focuser limits the maximum possible true field of view of our 1255mm focal length Dob to about 1.3 degrees. A 2" eyepiece can have a maximum true field of view of about 2.2 degrees. That doesn't sound like a big difference, but a 2.2 degree field of view shows about three times as much sky as a 1.3 degree field of view. That can be very useful when viewing large extended objects like galaxies. 

The trouble is, 2" premium eyepieces are expensive. The popular 31mm Tele Vue Nagler, for example, costs more than $600. Even the 35mm Tele Vue Panoptic, the next best choice in a 2" wide-field low-power eyepiece, costs $365. That was more than I wanted to spend on our first premium eyepiece, so I decided to look at the alternative. Besides a wide-field, low-power use, which is useful as a "finder eyepiece" and for observing huge objects like M31 (Andromeda Galaxy), I'd like a mid- to high-power eyepiece for observing small objects. I decided that something in the 14mm range might be optimum. That's a useful focal length in itself, and I could Barlow it to provide the equivalent of a 7mm eyepiece, which is also for planetary and lunar observing.

In the 14mm range, the choice seems to be between the $228 14mm Pentax XL and the $240 14mm Tele Vue Radian. The $210 15mm Tele Vue Panoptic is a very well-regarded premium eyepiece, but I can't live with 5mm eye relief (Tele Vue rates it at 10mm eye relief, but not all of that is usable). Frankly, looking at the specs, I can't understand how Tele Vue sells any 14mm Radians. The Pentax is a few bucks cheaper, has a wider field, the same 20mm eye relief, and by all the comparisons I've read from people who've A-B'd the two, the Pentax provides at least as good an image as the Radian, and most people say the Pentax is better. Looking on Excelsis, I see that the Pentax 14mm gets extremely high marks, and the Radian 14mm mediocre ones, including a couple from people who were really disappointed in it. The only factors favoring the Radian I can see are that it's lighter (9 oz. versus 13 oz.) and smaller. Balance isn't a problem on our Dob, although I understand the size and weight might be an issue for someone who wanted to use a binoviewer. But other than that the Pentax looks like the better choice.

So I posted out my questions on one of the astronomy mailing lists I belong to, and it seems that the 14mm Pentax XL is indeed a good choice. I'm hoping that once Barbara takes a look through it, she'll accept that eyepieces cost $200 to $400. Once that happens, buying another premium eyepiece now and then won't be any big deal. So last night Barbara and I were sitting in on the sofa in the den, and I decided I'd better run the idea past her before I ordered it. I called up this picture of the 14mm Pentax XL, and asked Barbara to look at it.

Pentax-14mm XL Long Eye Relief ED, 1.25"

The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Here's something I'm considering buying you for Christmas."
Barbara: "What is it?"
Me: "It's an eyepiece."
Barbara: "It looks like a sump pump."
Me: "I've heard them called hand grenades before, but that's a first."
Barbara: "Well, it does look kind of like a hand grenade, but it looks more like a sump pump."

And I realized she's right. Without anything to judge scale, it *does* look like a sump pump. So I may eventually end up with the only collection of sump pump eyepieces on the planet.

And I'd better get back to work on the new chapters.

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Tuesday, 4 December 2001

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9:03 - I've gotten many emails from subscribers who say their passwords won't let them in to download the Processors chapter. If that happens to you, you're probably trying to use the username/password from your messageboard account to access the web site. They're different accounts. The username/password for the web site is in the Welcome email I sent when you subscribed. If you didn't file that message, let me know and I'll track down your subscription information and resend you the username/password for the web site. But if you did file the email it'll be a lot quicker just to get the username/password from it. Once you use that information to connect to the web site, your browser should offer you the option of saving it so you can log on automatically next time.

I got a call at lunchtime yesterday from a guy Barbara used to work with at the library. I hear from him every few months when he has a computer problem. This time, he got a virus. We're not sure exactly which one, because all he saw was a message on screen that said, "You think you're God, but you're really shit" or words to that effect. The system was locked up tight, so he rebooted it, only to find that it wouldn't boot. He asked me how to reinstall his OS. He has a Win98 distribution disc, but it's upgrade-only. He also has a full Windows 95 set. 

As we were talking about alternatives, I asked him if he had any data he cared about that wasn't backed up. As it turns out, there's a lot of data that's only on that drive. I explained about data recovery services, and their high cost. He said he'd be willing to pay up to $1,000 to get his data back. At that point, I told him not to try installing anything to the drive, because doing so might overwrite data that would otherwise be recoverable. The good news is that the drive is not physically damaged. Trying to recover data from a physically damaged drive is difficult, expensive, and success is uncertain. Trying to recover data from a logically corrupted drive is a lot easier, and I suspect one of the data recovery companies should be able to recover most or all of his data. It'll still cost him, though, and all because he wasn't backed up. What made things worse is that he already has a CD writer. If only he'd used it.

You might wonder why I didn't suggest buying a utility program and attempting to recover the data himself. The short answer is that a lot of people have tried that with valuable data only to find that they can't get it back and that in trying to do so they made things more difficult or impossible for the professionals. The fact that his data was worth paying $1,000 to recover told me that he shouldn't be messing around on his own attempting to recover it.

I hear variations of his story over and over again, many of them from people who should know better. If your data is worth anything at all to you and you don't have it backed up, do something about. Today. Right now. As soon as you finish reading this, close your browser, pick up the phone, and order the hardware you need to back your system up.

If you can't afford a tape drive and tapes, at least buy a CD writer and some discs. You can pick up a Plextor PlexWriter 12-10-32A CD writer any number of places for about $135. Good CD-R blanks can be had for $0.50 each in a spindle of 100, or you can buy a few 10X CD-RW discs for a buck or two each and simply reuse them repeatedly. My data runs into the 10 GB+ range so I need tape, but most people's critical data will fit on one or at most a couple CDs.

That's three people I've talked to in the last couple weeks who've lost all their data. Gone. Irretrievable. Or at least irretrievable without spending a lot of time, money, and effort to retrieve it. Two lost their data because of viruses and one because a hard drive crashed. I have to believe that hundreds if not thousands of people lose critical data every day. And nearly all of those losses could have been avoided if those people had just bought an inexpensive CD writer and taken a couple minutes a day to copy their data to CD. If you're not doing that now (or using some other backup method) you will probably get burned eventually. Do something about it now, while you're thinking about it. Buy yourself a CD writer and some discs and get in the habit of using them. It may be the best Christmas present you've ever gotten.

I'm working on the Serial Communications chapter right now. I decided it made sense to take an hour or two to install Windows XP Professional on a test bed system. That way, I can shoot some XP screenshots, both for these new chapters and to update some of the screenshots in existing chapters. But I couldn't find XP. I'm bad about that. I get stuff in, stick it some place where I'll remember how to find it when I need it, and then forget where I put it. I once had a $1,500 disk drive go missing for a couple weeks like that. (I finally found it installed in an otherwise empty case where I'd put it, planning to build a system around it.)

Part of the problem is that I don't remember what I'm looking for. I know I have XP Pro and XP Home, but I can't remember if they're in boxes or one of those oversize portfolio envelopes that vendors ship stuff out in. If the latter, it may be a long search. ... Hah! Found it. It was indeed a large cardboard portfolio envelope. It on top of the tower system I'd planned to install XP on.

I did install Windows XP Professional last night and spent a little while playing with it. The new machine is named hapy, for an ancient Egyptian god who was one of the four sons of Horus. Hapy was usually represented as a mummy with the head of a baboon, which seemed appropriate (although I'd never say publicly that Ballmer reminds me of a baboon).

As far as I can see, Windows XP is really Windows 2000.1. The core OS appears to be pretty much unchanged from Windows 2000, other than that they've upgraded the asterisks that appear when you type your password. Now, instead of asterisks, you see bullets. They've stuck an ugly, tacky new interface-for-dummies on Explorer, but fortunately it's possible to choose the old-style Windows 2000 interface. They've also added or upgraded a bunch of applets. I haven't had a chance to play with those much yet, but my guess is that they're typical Microsoft applets, pretty much crippled relative to similar programs that people actually use. And, of course, Microsoft has done everything possible with Windows XP to benefit themselves and the music/movie industry at the expense of users. DRM (Digital Rights Management) pervades XP, with more to come. If they do find a chink in their armor, they have the autoupdate feature available so they can "fix" it without your even being aware.

Make no mistake. Windows XP isn't designed to benefit you, the user. Windows XP is a mouse trap designed to further Microsoft's and the music/movie industries' plans for world domination. If you think you've spotted a nice new feature, think again. All it is is cheese, and you're the mouse. This is definitely not an OS that I'll ever run other than to take screen shots for books.

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Wednesday, 5 December 2001

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9:26 - Yet another Outlook worm struck yesterday, this one called Goner. For full details, see this Symantec Antivirus Research Center page. The NAV virus definitions dated yesterday recognize this worm. Presumably the same is true of other AV products. But if you haven't updated your virus sigs lately, it's time to do so now. Incidentally, if you're depending on a scheduled update in NAV 2001, don't. I have NAV 2001 running on several systems under Windows NT and Windows 2000. I've had scheduled automatic updates of virus sigs in place on all of them since I installed the product. NAV has yet to download new sigs as scheduled on any of these systems, and it gives no warning message that it has failed to do so. I leave the schedules in place, just in case a program update fixes the bug, but so far they still don't work. I update all the machines manually every few days, or whenever I learn of a new virus.

What's particularly aggravating is that a search of the NAV site turns up a support document titled, "Automatic LiveUpdate does not update virus definitions, but manual LiveUpdate does", which sounds exactly what I'm looking for, but I've never been able to view the document. Every time I click on the link for it, the site just times out. This has been happening every time I try to view the document for a couple months now. 

Hah! I got it. All this time, I'd just been clicking on the link, which is some big, long URL that starts with http://service1.symantec. I finally decided just to substitute service2 for service1 and sure enough the page was displayed. We'll see if trying any of the suggested solutions works.

Archaeologists have discovered a Bronze Age village that was buried in volcanic ash by Vesuvius in much the same way that the famed Roman city of Pompeii was buried in 79CE or thereabouts. The difference is that this village was buried about 2,000 years before Pompeii. Unlike Pompeii, where bodies were preserved much as though they'd been covered in Plaster of Paris, no bodies have been discovered in the Bronze Age village. But the village is otherwise preserved pretty much as a snapshot of life 4,000 years ago. This may be the most significant archaeological discovery of the last 100 years, even more important than Howard Carter's discovery of the unrobbed tomb of Tutankhamen in the early 1920's.

It seems I'm in trouble now because I forgot to water Barbara's Christmas tree while she was gone over the weekend. I'm not sure why she bought it before she left rather than waiting until Monday, but now she has lights and ornaments on it, and it seems that the only solution will be to take those off, take the tree down, and cut off a piece of the bottom of the trunk so that it can drink again. I really hate Christmas. I really, really hate it.

I refuse to have anything to do with Christmas, although I do help Barbara haul the tree in and set it up. I would have watered it if she'd reminded me to do so, but surely I can't be expected to remember to do something like that in the absence of a reminder. The truth is that I'd prefer not to have a Christmas tree or any other Christian symbol in the house, but I'll tolerate it because it's important to Barbara and because I can rationalize it as a pagan symbol rather than a Christian one. So while everyone else around here celebrates Christmas, I simply regard it as a Saturnalia celebration.

I hope that cutting off the bottom revives the tree. Buying one tree to celebrate a religious holiday is bad enough. Buying a second one would really be intolerable.

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Thursday, 6 December 2001

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8:49 - Someone finally did something about disabling HTML rendering in Outlook. The Register reports that there is now a no-HTML plug-in available for Outlook 2000 and Outlook 2002. I don't often agree with Mr. Greene's opinions, but this time he got it right. As he says, the only obvious reason that Microsoft does not offer the ability to toggle off HTML rendering in Outlook is to keep the spam lobby happy. But now there's a small DLL available for download from NTBugTraq that in effect disables HTML in Outlook by converting HTML messages to Rich Text Format (RTF).

In Outlook 2002, this DLL works exactly as it should. In Outlook 2000, there is one minor issue: some HTML messages will be rendered as blank (and the process is irreversible because the DLL strips the HTML while converting to RTF. I've been using this DLL for an hour or so on my own systems with Outlook 2000, and I don't think this issue is going to cause many problems. On standard HTML messages, which are mostly text, the DLL works fine, converting that text to RTF text. It's only on complex HTML messages, which are typically spam, that you end up with a blank message.

The upside is that installing this DLL means you no longer have to worry about being infected by a HTML messages that incorporate malicious scripts. You do, of course, still have to be careful about opening attachments, which the DLL doesn't touch. Also, if you have the Preview Pane enabled, messages that include web-bugs can still report back to the server that you've viewed the message because the DLL does its thing after the Preview Pane has already rendered the HTML. But the Preview Pane in OL2K and OL2002 doesn't execute scripts, so you should be safe anyway.

So I've disabled the Preview Pane, although I've left AutoPreview enabled. Incidentally, there is a strange thing about AutoPreview and I'm wondering if any of my readers know how to fix it. With AutoPreview enabled in my Inbox, only unread messages are AutoPreviewed (displaying the first three lines). Messages that have been read don't show the AutoPreview lines. But in all my other folders, enabling AutoPreview displays the first three lines for every message in the folder, read or not. I'd like the other folders to work the same as the Inbox. Is there any way to do that?

I'm going to run this DLL for a few days before I install it on Barbara's system, but so far it looks very good. Now if only Microsoft would add that "Don't Render HTML" checkbox I keep asking them for.

Back to work on the book. I have two "new" chapters well in progress--Serial Communications and Parallel Communications--and I hope to have them off to my editor by close-of-business tomorrow.

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Friday, 7 December 2001

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8:31 - Well, so much for the No-HTML DLL I mentioned yesterday. After trying it on three machines, I found that having it installed causes Outlook reproducibly to exit improperly, leaving the OUTLOOK.EXE task active in Task Manager. The downside to that is that when that task is active, even though Outlook is "closed", attempting to backup the Outlook data file causes a sharing violation. I use an XCOPY batch file frequently throughout the day to back up my data on-the-fly, and having OUTLOOK.EXE still active means my Outlook data doesn't get backed up. Worse still, not only does the updated version of the data not get copied, but the sharing violation during the XCOPY process causes the older file on the destination drive to be deleted. That's simply too dangerous to risk, so I decided to disable the No-HTML DLL and go back to what I had been doing.

Before I disabled the DLL, I checked every way I could think of to make sure that the DLL was in fact causing the problem. After many reboots on three systems, and many iterations of loading or not loading the DLL, the problem remains reproducible. When the DLL loads, Outlook 2000 exits improperly. When the DLL isn't loaded, Outlook exits properly most of the time. There are still times when for reasons I don't understand Outlook 2000 leaves the executable running after you close the program, but that's always been the case. It happens frequently enough that I nearly always check with Task Manager to make sure Outlook is truly closed before I start the XCOPY backup. But I don't always remember to check, and I don't want to risk having my backup useless because I had that DLL loaded. It might happen, even with the DLL not loaded, but it will certainly happen with the DLL loaded. So much for that.

Tonight we have a special event scheduled at Bullington, if the weather cooperates (and right now that's looking like a big "if"). Just after dinner, a bunch of Brownies are supposed to show up to see the wonders of the night sky. Right now, the best weather forecast says heavy cloud, 90% humidity, and a 50% chance of rain, so chances are good we'll have to cancel it.

I finished one of the new chapters, Serial Communications, yesterday and sent it off to my editor. It's posted on the Subscribers' Page for download, if you're interested in reading it. This is a small chapter (at least in download size, it's something like 38 manuscript pages in Word). If you're not yet a subscriber, visit this page to learn how to subscribe. 

Today, I hope to finish polishing another chapter, Parallel Communications, and get that off to my editor.

I know I've been saying this periodically for a long time now, but this time I'm really serious. I'm going to learn Linux. As soon as I get the second edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell put to bed, I'm going to start devoting fully 40% of my time--two days a week--to mastering Linux. I'll do that for as long as it takes to get a handle on Linux. By the end of 2002, I will be, if not a Linux guru, at least a competent Linux administrator. I'm going to start at the beginning by building and configuring a Linux server, and operating it in text-mode. Once I'm comfortable with that, that server will become a production server, with the goal of eventually replacing my Windows NT server boxes.

When I undertake something new, I generally start by reading a lot about the subject. I'm going to read two O'Reilly books--Running Linux and Linux in a Nutshell--as preparation. I'll also read Brian's and Tom's Linux Book

But what else do I need to be doing? Should I be using GUI tools rather than command-line tools, at least to get started? Are there other books I should be reading? Are there some particularly good web sites for Linux novices? Please tell me how best to get started.

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Saturday, 8 December 2001

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9:31 - As expected, the weather did not cooperate last night for the observation we'd scheduled for the Brownie troop. I did manage to get Parallel Communications polished up and off to my editor yesterday. I'll post it on the Subscribers' page Monday, and I hope to have another to go with it shortly thereafter, this one on USB Communications. That one may take a bit longer. I have some stuff written for it, but unlike Serial and Parallel, which were basically complete and just needed a quick polish, the USB chapter needs significant work.

Thanks to everyone who's made suggestions about getting started with Linux. Once I get this book finished up, I plan to dive in. Several people have suggested that I'd be better off starting with the GUI rather than the command line, and that makes sense to me. Brian Bilbrey suggested working with the GUI and observing what changes that makes to the text configuration files, which seems a good idea.

Fortunately, I'm not a complete virgin when it comes to UNIX. I built and maintained several UNIX servers, although that was many years ago. I'm reasonably comfortable working at a UNIX command prompt for doing simple stuff like copying/moving files, displaying their contents, editing them, changing permissions and ownership and so on. I know a bit about TCP/IP, having co-authored a book about it for O'Reilly. I've configured routers before, and configured and managed DNS servers, DHCP servers, SMTP servers, and so on. So Linux is perhaps a bit less intimidating to me than it might be to many newbies. This probably won't be as bad as I fear.

Much of the problem, of course, is that Linux is not an operating system. It's a kernel, and there are a lot of ways to build an OS around that kernel. File and directory structures, configuration files, and so on differ dramatically between distributions. I think the best (and oft-repeated) advice I've gotten is to pick a distribution and stick to it. Right now, I'm thinking that Linux Mandrake is the one I'll go with. Once I master that, there'll be plenty of time to learn about the others.

Then, of course, there are the applications. I'll wait for the release version of StarOffice 6. Evolution is by all accounts a worthy replacement for Outlook. I have Opera for Linux already, and if for some reason I don't find it suitable there are alternatives. I suspect the main problem I'll have is with the lack of useful little utilities. As far as I know, for example, there isn't a Linux version of WinZip or Irfanview. I'm sure there are equivalents available, but finding them and learning them will be part of the process.

Looking from the outside in, one of the problems with Linux seems to be too few choices on the one hand and too many on the other. Too few in the sense that there are a lot of things that either aren't available at all for Linux or for which only one or two choices are available. For example, under Windows, there are a dozen or more decent GUI mail clients. If I decide I don't like Outlook, I can use Eudora, Pegasus Mail, or any of literally a dozen other competent mail clients. Under Linux, I may have a choice of only one or two good GUI mail clients, and chances are they aren't completely finished. 

Same thing with something like checkbook management. On Windows, there are Quicken, Microsoft Money, and others, all of which are fully functional. Under Linux, there might be one or two high-quality products and a bunch of also-rans. Even the high-quality products are probably not up to the standard of Windows products, though. They'll be missing features like on-line banking or other stuff that we've all become accustomed to in Windows. 

But at least with major product categories like email clients or checkbook management I do have some choice. There's a lot of stuff where there simply isn't an option to use Linux. For example, I have the Encyclopedia Britannica DVD, which I use frequently. There's no way to use it under Linux. I suspect my transition to Linux will be gradual rather than sudden. I'll start out using Windows most of the time and Linux a bit. I'll gradually transition to where I'm using Linux most of the time, but I'll still need a Windows box available to do things I can't do on Linux. I can live with that. It's kind of like Opera. I like Opera a lot, but I couldn't live with Opera as my only browser. There are too many things I need to get to that require IE. So I keep both browsers on my systems. Opera is the default, but IE is there when I need it. I suspect I'll eventually get to a similar state of affairs with Linux. Linux will be the default, but Windows will be there if I need it.

I already have a machine in mind for Linux. It's the Pentium 4 system under my desk, which is currently running Windows XP Pro and sharing a monitor with my Internet gateway box. I'm using it for screen shots for the book. Once I get PCHIAN put to bed, I'll have no need of the XP box, so I'll strip it down and make it my main Linux box. A Pentium 4/1.6 with 512 MB of RAM and an 80 GB hard drive should be sufficient for anything I want to do under Linux. That machine also has the virtue of simplicity. It's pure IDE and has nothing out of the ordinary installed in it. That'll give me a solid base for running Linux. There'll be plenty of time later for adding SCSI, a tape drive, etc., but in the interim it'll be a nice simple machine to use for my beginning work with Linux.

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Sunday, 9 December 2001

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10:31 - One person took exception via private email to my comments about Linux yesterday. I'll publish his message anonymously and my response.

Another thing you may wish to consider is setting up Win2K Server w/Terminal Services, and getting hold of Citrix MetaFrame. That way, you can run any MS things you wish on your Linux box, replete w/sound, via the Citrix client.

Here are some personal finance packages which run under Linux:

http://www.gnucash.org/
http://www.thekompany.com/products/kapital/
http://kmymoney2.sourceforge.net/
http://moneydance.com/

There are any number of graphical and menu-driven command-shells which take care of compressing and uncompressing files. Gzipped format is most common in the Linux world, btw.

Now, I know you're new to all this, and there's going to be quite a bit of finding the tools to find the tools to get your tasks accomplished, etc. You will get frustrated, etc. Perfectly understandable.

However, I want you to understand something very clearly - I'm not stupid, nor easily pleased. If I couldn't do everything I needed to do under Linux, I wouldn't run it. If I couldn't find quality applications which perform their fuctions well, I wouldn't use them, nor encourage you down this path.

I don't 'settle for less'. Nor do any of the other knowledgable Linux users I know.

The reason I bring this up is that the tone of your last post imputes all the above negative attributes to those of us who live Microsoft-free lives. Of some, that's no doubt true - they're too stupid and undemanding to get the most out of their systems.

They've a Windows mentality, in other words.

So just bear in mind that when you make sweeping generalizations like you did in today's post, you're unjustifiably maligning those of us who are most eager to assist you with your migration to Linux. And you're making those sweeping generalizations based upon a profound ignorance of what's available in the Linux world in terma of applications, utilities, etc.

I don't think you intended to come across this way; still, if we hadn't conversed before, I probably would've decided to stop reading your work there and then, much less consider doing anything to encourage your transition.

You're joining a new community; indiscriminately insulting the intelligence, taste, perspicacity, and general worldliness of the denizens thereof isn't necessarily the best way to assure yourself of assistance when you need it.

I'm sorry you took my post that way. It was certainly not intended as a criticism of you or any other Linux user. But I think you would be the first to admit that application software preferences are a very personal thing.

Then there's the small matter that many Linux users choose Linux because it is not Microsoft. I've had many Linux users tell me that they put up with inferior applications for just that reason--their words, not mine. For example, before Opera and other good browsers were available for Linux, many people used Netscape despite the fact that they'd readily agree it was not even in the same class as IE. Or, even more to the point, they used StarOffice, which is pathetic compared to MS Office.

I don't deny the fact that there are many things one can do under Linux that one cannot do under Windows. But the converse is also true, and as it happens many of the things that are Windows-exclusive are important to me. I happen to have VMware, so running most Windows apps under Linux won't be a problem. Conversely, I also have VMWare for Windows, so I can run many Linux apps under Windows.

I don't think that anyone, including you, could seriously argue that application support under Linux is anywhere near as broad or as deep as that available for Windows, except perhaps in very tightly defined niches. That is changing, certainly, and will continue to do so. I hope that more vendors of Windows applications will decide to follow Opera by porting their products to Linux. I would love to see Linux versions of Irfanview, WinZIP, Nero Burning ROM, and a dozen or more other applications and utilities I use regularly available in Linux versions. I'd love to see a Linux version of FrontPage, or, failing that, a similar product that would import my existing web structures and provide similar functionality to FrontPage. I'd love to see a Linux application that could match Cartes du Ciel, which I use for planning astronomy sessions, or Linux versions of a dozen other vertical-market applications I use. But those products don't (yet) exist.

Ideally, I'd like to have Linux versions of the actual products I use (or close clones), rather than equivalents. If I've mastered, say, PhotoShop under Windows, I want PhotoShop under Linux, not something "just as good as a Xerox". Of course, I recognize that not all of my applications will be ported to Linux, which is why even after I eventually transition to Linux on the desktop I'll continue having a Windows box available. It's like Opera versus IE. I like Opera, but there are some things IE does a lot better, and some things that simply require IE. So I use both. The same will no doubt be true of Linux versus Windows.

As to sweeping generalizations, I've re-read my post and I can't see that I made any. Each of the statements I made was factual. My bank, for example, supports Quicken and MS Money for on-line banking, but does not support any of the products you mentioned. Nor have I been able to locate a Linux mail client that comes close to matching the feature sets of Outlook 2000, Eudora 5, or Pegasus Mail 4. Evolution looks like it comes close, and probably does what I need to do. But are there others I don't know about that match the capabilities of the Windows mail clients? Same thing on stuff like Cartes du Ciel or the Encyclopedia Britannica front end. I just can't run them on Linux. How is that a sweeping generalization?

I pretty much took the day off yesterday. I did spend a couple hours in the morning roughing out the USB Communications chapter, but things were not going well so I decided some down time was in order. I spent the rest of the day reading four or five of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels and a rather interesting book Barbara picked up called The Medical Skills of Ancient Egypt, by J. Worth Estes. I may work some more on the USB chapter today, but I'm pretty well worn down at this point, so I may instead decide just to take it easy today.

A couple of years ago, I proposed a rationalized calendar system with 13 months, each of 4 weeks. Every month would begin on Monday the 1st and end on Sunday the 28th. Between December 28th and January 1st, we'd have a day that did not belong to any week or any month and could be devoted to a worldwide party. On Leap Years, that party would be two days long. Alas, despite my hopes, my plan seems to have made little progress. So, in order to remain in synch with the rest of the world, I've been forced to continue using our irrational calendar.

Like most people, I start my week on Monday (in fact, that's an ISO standard). In the past, I've also started my year on January 1st. But those two are in conflict this year. I had the choices of making my journal page for the last week in December eight days long or of starting my first journal page for the new year on Tuesday. I didn't like either of those choices, so I came up with a third. Barbara's and my journal pages for the last week of the year will be seven days long, as will our journal pages for the first week of the new year. And those first journal pages of the new year will start on Monday. How? It was easy enough. We'll be celebrating the new year a day earlier than most folks, because our first journal pages of the new year will start with Monday, 0 January, 2002.

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.