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Week of 17 December 2001

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Monday, 17 December 2001

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9:11 - I ran into another bug in Opera 6. One of the things I really like about Opera is its ability to save the set of active windows when I exit. I often end up with 20 or more browser windows on my task bar, each containing a web page I'm referring to. With IE, the only way to save those was to send a copy of each to the desktop and then arrange them manually in a folder. With Opera, I simply configured it to save the open windows. The next time I opened Opera, all of those windows would be right there at the bottom of my screen.

That's great, but the problem is that it isn't reliable. As long as I open Opera manually, it works perfectly. But if I invoke Opera by clicking on a link in an email message, it comes up with only that link present. When I exit Opera, it saves the new link, but the old ones are gone forever. The first few times this happened, I assumed that I'd done something to cause Opera to lose the stored pages. But I've just been experimenting, and indeed Opera loses them all by itself. That's easy enough to work around, though. I just changed my default browser to Mozilla, ensuring that Opera won't be invoked automatically. I tested that, and indeed Opera now maintains its stored links.

The only odd thing was that when I changed Mozilla to the default browser, clicking on a link in an email message always fired up Mozilla and displayed the page, but when I closed or minimized Mozilla, there'd be a Windows dialog on my screen. That dialog's name is "Locate Link Browser", which seemed odd, especially given the fact that the link had already been displayed in Mozilla. But I figured what the hell, so I navigated my way to the Mozilla directory under Program Files, and double-clicked on the Mozilla executable. That seems to have solved the problem.

Speaking of Mozilla, I encountered a hideous rendering problem this morning. I was reading Jerry Pournelle's Current View page, and Mozilla butchered it. And I mean seriously butchered it, to the extent that it was literally unreadable. It jumbled the text so that lines appeared partially where they were supposed to and partially overwriting other lines. To make matters worse, there were numerous full-width horizontal black bars running through the text. In order to read the page, I had to scroll down to a new section, whereupon the text became completely garbled, minimize Mozilla, and then maximize it, which cured the problem. At first, I thought the problem occurred because I'd changed the display size from the 100% default to 110%, but some experimentation established that it was doing exactly the same thing at 100%. (I exited and restarted Mozilla before playing with the page at 100%).

As it turns out, the problem isn't Mozilla's fault, or at least not entirely. I was running Mozilla on the Duron system in the den, which has an nVIDIA video card. When I came into my office, I tried viewing the same page in Mozilla on my main system, which has ATI video. No problems at all. So I tried it on another system running Intel video, and yet another system running Matrox video. No problems at all. Back to the den to try it again on the nVIDIA system. Horrible problems. So it's obvious that the rendering problem is either caused by the nVIDIA video card and its drivers, or some conflict between Mozilla and the nVIDIA drivers.

I think I'm going to need to build a system as my Linux workstation. I was planning to use the Pentium 4 system that lives under my desk, but it's running XP Pro right now, and I'm likely to need it for quite a while longer. All the other systems I have sitting here that are reasonable candidates to become a Linux workstation are already doing something else important. So perhaps I'll just build a fast Pentium 3 or Pentium 4 system from the ground up as my Linux box. That'll have to wait until I finish this book, however.

And speaking of that, I'd better get to work on the chapters. I won't be posting a lot here between now and the end of the year. Between getting the book finished and the Winter Solstice stuff, I'll be too busy to devote much time to my journal. There will likely be updates, but they'll be short ones.

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Tuesday, 18 December 2001

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8:37 - Another difference between men and women. Barbara was wrapping the last of her Winter Solstice gifts yesterday. She asked me if I wanted her to wrap the gifts I'd gotten for her. "No," I said, "that wouldn't be right, and besides I haven't ordered them yet." She said it was pretty much too late now. "Nonsense," I replied, "L. L. Bean ships everything FedEx, and there's more than a week left".

The typical woman buys Winter Solstice gifts well in advance, sometimes as early as December 26th of the preceding year. The typical man, on the other hand, is more thoughtful. He doesn't want to give stale, leftover gifts that have been sitting around for weeks or even months, so he heads for mall late on the evening of December 24th, to ensure that the gifts he gives will be fresh. I admit that I'm less thoughtful than most men, because I tend to buy gifts a week or so in advance. The alternative would be showing up at the mall the evening of December 24th, which incidentally I've been told is the only time of year that the shoppers at every mall in the world are predominantly men. I wouldn't be caught dead at a mall at the best of times, let alone Winter Solstice Eve, so my only choice is to think ahead and give slightly stale gifts.

Speaking of stale gifts, I suppose I could give fruitcakes. They last for a very long time, and even when they're many years old they're just as good as they were when they were fresh, which is to say terrible. In fact, I've been told that no one actually ever eats a fruitcake, and that all of those that circulate were actually made prior to 1612 and have been fobbed off from one person to the next ever since. That may even be true. I've certainly never eaten a piece of fruitcake, and I've never actually seen anyone else do so either.

Oh, no. I'm screwed. I just called L. L. Bean, and they're out of everything. I was going to order a pair of lined jeans for Barbara. When the woman asked what my first item was, I told her "lined jeans". She immediately told me they were out of lined jeans. "How can you say you're out," I asked, "I haven't even told you men's or women's or the size or color?" She said, "We're completely out of all them." Oh, well. On to the next item Barbara wanted. That one's back-ordered until late February or early March. At least that one's not my fault for waiting. She said they'd been out of those for weeks.

Okay, I'm not screwed. Fortunately, I was able to find a place that had some things I wanted to get for Barbara. They'll be here well before Winter Solstice, and Barbara won't have any idea what they are. So everything did work out.

This sad story from my friend Paul Robichaux.

-----Original Message-----
From: Paul E. Robichaux [paul at robichaux dot net]
Sent: Monday, December 17, 2001 5:02 PM
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Subject: Back from the dead

Man, what a week. I was fighting that stupid box for literally the entire time. Your readers might get a kick out of the account I posted at http://www.robichaux.net/personal/paul/exchangeiscruel.htm

Cheers,
-Paul

Paul had a common bibular misquote in his article, which I felt obliged to clear up, so I responded as follows:

Bummer. I've posted your message on my journal page for today. Glad you eventually got it running.

> after all, pride goeth before a fall

No, it doesn't. Pride goeth before an injury, and arrogance before a fall. Even we pagans know that.

Now, it's true that if pride goeth before arrogance, then pride also goeth before a fall, but it's not clear from context whether pride indeed goeth before arrogance. It's quite possible that arrogance goeth before pride, in which case a fall may goeth before pride rather than after it. Of course, there's still no absolute indication of order, so in that case it's quite possible that arrogance goeth before pride, which goeth before a fall, which goeth before an injury, in which case pride would indeed goeth before a fall.

The Clear Sky Clock--which has been quite reliable other than that one time the other night--predicts that we'll have clear weather tonight up at Bullington, so we may haul the scopes up there tonight for an observing session. According to the Weather Channel, the low temperature is to be 37F (3C), and there may be a slight breeze, so we'll dress as though the temperature was to be 17F (-8C). Assuming we do go up.

Back to work on the chapter. Barbara is taking Duncan and Malcolm in for surgery tomorrow, so things are likely to be pretty sparse here over the next several days.

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Wednesday, 19 December 2001

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9:00 - Barbara hauled Duncan and Malcolm to the vet this morning. Both will be undergoing surgery. Duncan has an abscess on his back which I guess they'll repair and also has a broken canine tooth, for which they're going to do a root canal. Malcolm is having his orchids removed. I held out against that as long as I could, but the fights have simply gotten too severe. Barbara thinks that having Malcolm neutered will solve that. I hope she's right, but I fear it won't. I told Barbara to make sure to tell the vet that we want them to re-install Malcolm's orchids if there's no improvement.

We're supposed to pick them up between 1600 and 1800, so 1600 it is. I won't leave them there a moment longer than necessary. Barbara said Malcolm peed all over the vet's floor more than once, and Duncan was simply shivering in terror. We'll both ride over to pick them up this afternoon. I'll ride in the far back of Barbara's Trooper with Malcolm. Duncan should be okay by himself sitting in the back seat or even in the front passenger seat next to Barbara.

Human or animal, even minor surgery is cause for concern. Barbara said she wouldn't be able to get any real work done today worrying about the dogs, so she's off to run several errands, pick up last-minute gifts, and so on. I'll probably not be able to concentrate very well today, so instead of working on chapters, I think I'll work on the lecture I'm scheduled to give the astronomy club in January.

Barbara is off tomorrow for a one-day bus tour up to Abingdon, Virginia. Our friend Bonnie Richardson from the astronomy club asked Barbara to take the trip with her after Barbara had already scheduled the surgery. I told Barbara to go ahead. I'll be able to take care of the guys tomorrow while she's gone.

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Thursday, 20 December 2001

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9:00 - Long day yesterday. Barbara took Malcolm and Duncan out to the vet early yesterday morning for surgery. I didn't even try to get any work done. Instead, I worked on the lecture I'm scheduled to give to our astronomy club in January. The vet called about lunchtime to say that Malcolm was out of surgery and doing fine. 

Duncan was still under anesthesia and the vet wanted to ask Barbara how to proceed. He said he could just put a drain in the abscess, which might work, or he could incise it and remove the dead tissue, which was his recommendation. Barbara went with his recommendation, of course. What's the point of substituting one's own judgment for that of someone much more qualified to have an opinion?

He finally called Barbara back around 1500 to say that everything had gone well with Duncan and that he was coming out of anesthesia. He wanted us to wait until at least 1700 before picking them up to make sure Duncan was stable. So Barbara and I took off about 1600 to visit the library and have an early dinner. We got to the vet about 1715 to pick up the dogs, although it was 1745 before we actually got out of there. Malcolm appeared to be pretty much his usual self, but Duncan was pretty much out of it.

Barbara rode home in the back seat, sitting between the guys. They, of course, were very happy to be home. The vet had said not to give them food or much water until later in the evening. We gave them each a cup or so of water when we got home and then around 1930 we gave them each a small serving of dog food that we'd soaked in water for 15 minutes or so to soften it. They both scarfed up the food.

Malcolm spent the evening trying to convince us to throw the ball for him. He can't understand why we won't play with him. Duncan spent the evening lying around resting. At seven, he's an older dog, and his surgery was more invasive than Malcolm's, so we weren't surprised.

The last thing we wanted was for them to get into another fight, so Barbara and I decided that she'd sleep in the bedroom with Duncan, using a baby gate to keep the dogs from entering or leaving the bedroom, and that I'd sleep on the den sofa with Malcolm. Malcolm had other ideas, though. From the time Barbara went back to bed until about midnight, Malcolm periodically yipped, whined, and barked. Border Collies have a very strong sense of order, and Malcolm knows he's supposed to sleep in the bedroom.

Eventually, Barbara got up to see what all the noise was about. We decided just to let Malcolm sleep back in the bedroom. I was already settled in in the den, so I just stayed out there, leaving my part of the bed available for dogs who wanted to snuggle up to Barbara.

One of our friends from the astronomy club, Bonnie Richardson, emailed Barbara last week and asked her if she'd like to go along on a one-day bus tour today up to Abingdon, Virginia. Barbara was going to tell her that she'd need to stay home with the guys, but I told Barbara to go ahead and go. I probably wouldn't be able to get much work done today anyway, and there's no point to both of us being stuck here watching the dogs convalesce. So she's off to Abingdon today, and I'm watching the guys.

I'll probably work some more on my astronomy lecture. I sure won't be able to get any chapter work done today.

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Friday, 21 December 2001

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The Winter Solstice occurs at 1421 EST today. At that moment, Sol is as far south as it gets, and begins its annual pilgrimage north. Winter begins for the Northern Hemisphere and Summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Tonight will be the longest night of the year for us.


8:45 - A lot of stuff today, to make up for the fact that posts between now and the 26th will be sporadic to non-existent.

There's another worm loose in the wild, this one called W32.Maldal.C@mm. This has the potential to be a very nasty worm, and already has high distribution. I haven't received any copies of it yet, but one reader tells me he's already gotten more than a dozen. It was just discovered Wednesday, but most AV companies have updated their virus definitions. I suggest you download updated sigs for your scanner.

For more information, see http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/w32.reeezak.a@mm.html

Speaking of hideous Windows vulnerabilities, this one that I mailed out to subscribers yesterday even made the morning paper:

Here, thanks to Roland Dobbins (as was the previous alert) is notice of yet another problem with Windows. This one is a Windows buffer overrun problem, as described in Microsoft Security Bulletin MS01-059, "Unchecked Buffer in Universal Plug and Play can Lead to System Compromise".

It was just announced today, and affects Windows Me and XP systems, as well as those who have installed the XP Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) client on 98 or 98SE.

Microsoft rates the problem as "Critical" and says that it allows an attacker to run the code of his choice. There's a patch available at the URL above.

This one is no joke. According to Microsoft, if you're running Windows XP and connected to the Internet you're at risk. That's all it takes. An attacker can take over your system and do anything he wants with it. Download the patch, right now.

This vulnerability can also affect Windows 98 and Windows Me in some circumstances, so if you're running any of those versions, read the Security Bulletin.

I learned something the other day when I looked at Duncan's stitches. I'd never really thought about it, but I had always assumed that the dogs' skin was pink. That's certainly the color on their bellies and other areas without much hair. So I was surprised when I looked at the area of Duncan's skin that the vet had shaved to do the surgery. That area spanned the white collar of hair around Duncan's neck and down into the black hair on his back. I was very surprised to see that it wasn't just the hair color that varies. The skin color corresponds to the hair color. Where Duncan's hair is white, the skin is pink. Where Duncan's fur is black, the skin is dark. Here's a picture of it.

duncan-stitches.jpg (41787 bytes)

Barbara has several other post-surgery pictures of the dogs on her page, including some of Malcolm wearing his cone-head Elizabethan collar.

The morning paper this morning reports that the British Association for the Advancement of Science has completed its LaughLab experiment, designed to find the world's funniest jokes. They surveyed 100,000 people to determine which were the funniest jokes. The winner actually appeared on my page several years ago, but I'll post it here again:

Sherlock Holmes and Watson go camping. During the night, Holmes wakens Watson and says, "Watson, look up at the stars and tell me what you deduce.

Watson replies, "I see millions of stars, and if even a small percentage of those have planets, and if even a small percentage of those planets are like Earth, and if even a small percentage of the Earth-like planets have life, we may not be alone in the universe."

"Watson, you idiot," Holmes replies, "somebody has stolen our tent."

And the world's second-funniest jokes.

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing. The other whips out his cell phone and calls 911. He gasps out to the operator, "My friend is dead. What can I do?.

The operator in a calm, soothing voice says, "Just take it easy. First let's make sure he's dead."

The operator hears silence for a moment, followed by a gunshot. Then the guy comes back on the line, and says, "Okay. Now what?"

Someone finally did it. The Inquirer reports that the city of Turku, Finland will by the end of 2003 abandon Microsoft software in favor of Linux, OpenOffice, and other Open Source Software. This decision affects only 5,000 or so PCs in this city of 200,000. 

In one respect, that's a trivial matter. A mere 5,000 systems isn't enough to show up even as an asterisk in Microsoft's sales figures. But in another respect, it's earthshattering, and you can bet Microsoft will sit up and take notice. For the first time, an organization of significant size has decided to show Microsoft the door. This is the first small crack in the dam, and you can bet there will be others. 

Microsoft must be terrified, fearing that many other organizations may do the same. The UK government has already announced that they're considering a similar move, but their decision affects 500,000 desktop systems rather than only 5,000. Most observers believe the UK threat is simply a bargaining tool, an attempt to get Microsoft to reduce their prices. But once the possibility is considered, Microsoft has to worry that the thought will remain in the minds of decision makers.

Obviously, Linux and other Open Source Software aren't free from the point of view of organizations considering implementing them. There are very high costs associated with such a transition, not the least of which is the cost of retraining users and support staff. In the long run, though, the costs associated with deploying OSS are bound to be lower than the ever-increasing costs of using Microsoft products. Just as important, of course, is the security issue. OSS is perceived as being much more secure than Microsoft software. Even organizations who determine that roll-out costs for OSS will equal or even exceed the costs of continuing to use Microsoft software may decide in favor of OSS just on the basis of security.

As I said three year ago, Linux scares Microsoft to death, and rightly so. As I said more than a year ago, if the federal courts really wanted to punish Microsoft for their alleged anti-competitive behavior, all they needed to do was require Microsoft to put the source code for Office and Internet Explorer under the GPL. If that had happened, we'd have OSS versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, FrontPage, and IE available for Linux today, and Microsoft would be facing real competition in the OS and applications market.

Before long, all PCs would be offered with Linux and OSS Office as standard, and Microsoft software would be an extra-cost option, just as it should be. Microsoft would be just another software company. In order to make any money at all, they'd be forced to supply much better software than was available for free. They'd no longer be able to depend on the "Microsoft Tax" that is paid with nearly every new PC. Instead, they'd have to develop products that were worth paying actual cash money for. And that would benefit all of us.

Microsoft doesn't want that to happen, of course. If I were Microsoft, I'd be pulling out all the stops to make sure that Turku, Finland changes its mind. I'd offer them all the Microsoft software they wanted, absolutely for free. I'd throw in training and support services, also for free. Free software costs Microsoft essentially nothing, and it'd be worth spending millions of actual dollars on providing training and support services just to prevent that crack in the dam. Microsoft simply can't afford to let that happen.

If Turku, Finland succeeds, eventually others are going to notice. And as others make the same decision, Microsoft faces a downward spiral. They need a certain level of revenue to support their lifestyle, and if they start losing revenue to Linux-based solutions, their only recourse is to mine their installed base for additional revenue.

We see that happening now, and have seen it happening for years. Trivial upgrades like Windows XP, which is really Windows 2000.1, are sold as an entirely new operating system. The same thing with Windows 98, which was really Windows 95.1, Windows 98SE, which was really Windows 95.11, and Windows Me, which was really Windows 95.111. I know a lot of people that have bought the same operating system four times now. They paid for Windows 95, and then paid another $90 a pop for the upgrades to 98, 98SE, and Me, all of which should have been service packs.

What's worse is that Microsoft does everything possible to make these trivial upgrades necessary. Rather than fix a security hole in an older product, their answer is to ignore the older product and leave people no recourse but to "upgrade" (for a hefty price) to what is essentially the same product, but with the problem fixed.

Imagine that you had a two-year old car and the steering wheel fell off (as once actually happened to a friend of mine). You contact the company, and they tell you that that version is no longer supported and that the solution to your problem is to buy a new car. In effect, that's what Microsoft has been doing.

People are starting to notice, and it's nice to see that at least one organization has decided to jump off the Microsoft hamster-wheel. I'll not be far behind them.

Mozilla 0.9.6 is definitely not ready for prime-time. I confirmed a pretty severe problem with it yesterday. I clicked on the Mozilla icon and nothing happened. I'd noticed before that Mozilla could be pretty slow to open at times, so I just sat and counted one-thousand-one and so on until the browser came up. After thirty seconds, it still hadn't started, so I gave up counting and just watched. Finally, after at least a minute, Mozilla came up, albeit very slowly. 

At the time, I had four other instances of Mozilla on my task bar. Three of those had a single document tab, and one had three document tabs open.  After I sat there looking at a partial Mozilla screen for 15 seconds or so, I decided it might have locked up, so I fired off Task Manager to kill Mozilla. Task Manager itself took quite a while to come up, and when it did it showed me that Mozilla was occupying more than 62 MB of RAM (unlike IE, separate instances of which show up as separate processes in Task Manager, all instances of Mozilla show up as one process). It was also occupying 99% of the processor.

This has happened to me a dozen or so times in the week or so that I've been running Mozilla. It's happened on three different systems, so there's nothing system-specific about the problem. All of those systems are running Windows 2000 SP2, so it may be an interaction with that. But as things stand right now, Mozilla 0.9.6 definitely isn't ready for prime time. I hope they get this problem fixed before the final 1.0 release.

When Mozilla is running normally, it's an adequate browser. It's not as fast as IE, and has many fewer features than either IE or Opera, but it does the job. The rendering problems I mentioned a few days ago are local to my den system, which runs nVIDIA video, so I'm willing to believe that that was caused by a driver conflict. I suspect that Mozilla 1.0 will be a usable browser, but this beta has enough problems that I'm not going to use it any more.

That means I'll go back to using Opera as my main browser. Most of the strange rendering problems I've experienced in Opera are caused by using other than the default 100% zoom. The one severe bug in Opera, which I've mentioned to them, is that if Opera is invoked indirectly (e.g. by clicking on a link in an email or using a desktop shortcut link to an HTML page) it loses all the stored windows.

I found that out by accident one day. I'd been working away and had a dozen or so Opera windows open, using the SDI. When I exited Opera, it automatically stored all of those active windows. When I restarted Opera, there they'd be at the bottom of the screen. Very nice. Until, that is, I made the mistake of clicking on a link in an email message. Up came Opera, with only the page I'd clicked on displayed. All of the stored windows were gone, gone, gone. I'm still waiting to hear what Opera support has to say about that one.

So, let's see. I don't want IE as my default browser for obvious reasons. I don't want Mozilla, both because it tends to go zombie on me and because I get tired of having to close the windows that prompts me to choose a link browser every time I click on an embedded link. I don't want Opera as my default browser, because it loses all my stored windows every time I invoke it indirectly. I think the best compromise is to use Opera as my main browser, but go back to using IE as my default browser.

I sent two mailings to subscribers yesterday about the new worm and the Windows XP vulnerability. If you didn't get that mailing, please let me know by emailing me at the subscriber priority email address (which appears in the welcome message I sent when you subscribed). The only bounces I've gotten so far are from the following addresses:

  • smunro at nonprofitmaine dot org
  • hvector at mail.grapid1.mi.home dot com
  • bbtelford at mail.aurora1.co.home dot com
  • chris-madsen at mail.rchdsn1.tx.home dot com

All but one of those are due to the @home collapse, but not all now-nonexistent @home addresses will necessarily generate a bounce. If you subscribed with an @home address and aren't listed here, please send me your new address.

That's it for a while. I won't be back until next Wednesday, unless something important comes up in the interim.

9:30 - Oh, yeah, one important thing I did forget to mention. Thanks to subscriber Chris Madsen for pointing out the following:

For those who may be interested, the Buffy reruns on FX are starting over at the beginning tomorrow with the series premiere "Welcome to the Hellmouth". You can get the current schedule at the FX Buffy schedule page. Currently, they're showing 2 episodes each weekday at 6 & 7pm Eastern, and repeating them the next weekday morning at 7 & 8am Eastern.

For those who like to tape shows, I'll mention that the morning reruns don't have that annoying half-screen promo squashed over the ending credits.

The "tomorrow" Chris mentions is actually today. I checked that page and noticed that they didn't appear to be running the episodes in sequence, but Chris pointed out that they're just running some special episodes out-of-order for Christmas, and will return to running them in order afterwards. I didn't see the first or second season of Buffy, so I'm looking forward to catching up. Chris also points out that there's an episode guide here.

If you can get FX and have never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I encourage you to give it a try. Jerry Pournelle got me started on it right around the beginning of the third season. As I was watching that first episode, I kept thinking, "I can't believe I'm watching this. It's terrible. But Pournelle says it's the best show on television, and he's obviously serious, so I must be missing something." 

So I kept watching, and I'm glad I did. As many Buffy converts will tell you, the show grows on you. I had a hard time convincing Barbara to watch it, because she doesn't like violent programs. I finally convinced her to try watching it for a couple episodes, and after watching those, she said, "You know, this really is very good." So now she likes Buffy as much as I do. At its best--and it frequently reaches that level--Buffy is as good as the best early episodes of Northern Exposure or Picket Fences, which is to say some of the best television that's ever been done.

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Saturday, 22 December 2001

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9:32 - Okay, so I lied.

I have to publish anyway, because Barbara plans to update her page every day, so I might as well do a short journal entry while I'm waiting for her page to be ready to publish.

We ended up going up to Bullington last night. Our Dob is badly out of collimation. I was going to collimate it yesterday afternoon, but the way we have the truck packed means I'd have to have unloaded everything--chairs, tables, etc. before I could get the telescope out of the truck. I'd never tried collimating a scope in the dark before, but I'd read that it wasn't difficult, so I decided I'd just wait until we got up to Bullington and do it there. As it turned out, I could see enough through the sight-tube to tell that the scope was horribly mis-collimated, but I couldn't see things well enough to do anything about it. So I decided to see just how horrible the images would be in a horribly mis-collimated Dob.

The weather was to be cold. The Weather Channel was forecasting lows of 17F to 24F (-8.3C t -4.4C), and temperatures of around 30F (-1C) during the time we'd be there. When you're just sitting around observing, it "feels" about 20F colder than if you're moving around, so we dressed for 10F (-12.2C) weather. It wasn't too bad, although we did end up popping open a couple of chemical hand-warmers.

The Clear Sky Clock was dead on last night. It forecast clear skies with average transparency, and that's exactly what we had. I managed to log 18 of the 25 Messier Objects that I'll be covering during my "Bagging the Winter Messier Objects" lecture for the astronomy club in January. I wasn't really trying that hard, though. With a bit more effort, I could have gotten 24 of the 25. Only M33, the Triangulum Galaxy, was impossible last night. It's so big and so dim that light pollution and haze overwhelm it. From a true dark sky site, some people can glimpse it naked eye with averted vision, but last night I could get it even with binoculars. I knew exactly where it was, and had my binocular pointed there, but it simply wasn't visible through the haze and light pollution.

Barbara is getting much better at finding stuff on her own. Last night, she managed to find a dozen or more Messier Objects on her own, including M36, M37, M38 in Auriga; M42, M43, and M78 in Orion, M1 in Taurus, and so on. Some of them were moderately difficult objects, so I was impressed by how good Barbara is getting at finding them.

Being a man, I'm always tempted to be "helpful" by finding the object for her, but I manage to suppress that urge and let Barbara find stuff by herself, even when she becomes frustrated attempting to do it. When one is attempting to locate Messier Objects, "helping" is in the long run hurtful. Oh, I do help by showing Barbara on the star charts the geometry I use to find an object with the Telrad and then pointing out how the actual stars correspond in orientation to the chart, but I do limit it to that. If she eventually becomes completely frustrated, I'll get the object in the eyepiece and then show her how the Telrad is oriented against the background stars, but then I make her re-find the object herself.

Bonnie Richardson was up there last night, too. She wanted to shoot a few images of Saturn, Jupiter, and Luna. Her husband, Jerry, came along, and I finally got to meet him. After having observed regularly with Bonnie for the best part of a year and never having met Jerry, I was beginning to think he didn't really exist. But there he was last night, flesh and blood. Bonnie is having a lot of problems with her Celestron CG-5 equatorial mount. Nothing unusual there. Everyone has trouble with the CG-5. The problem is, it's a Red Chinese product, and they assemble it with stuff that's commonly called "glue-grease". It lubricates for a month or two after the mount is built, and then dries to a glue-like consistency. The only real solution is to tear down the mount entirely, which is not trivial, scrub all the parts with gasoline or some other solvent to remove the glue-grease, and then relube it with white lithium grease.

Although Bonnie's CG-5 tracking motors have a lot of torque for their size, they can't deal with a mount that's packed with glue-grease. Either nothing happens when she turns the tracking motors on, or else they track for a short time and then simply stop tracking (although the motors themselves continue to run). I've mentioned to her several times that there's a web page that explains the problem and the solution, but until last night she didn't seem interested. Jerry had done some work on the motors and gears, and she was hoping that would solve the problem. It didn't, so Bonnie finally asked me to resend her the URL for the page.

We finally packed it in at about 21:45. We were getting a bit chilled, and we wanted to get home to check on the dogs, which had, after all, had surgery only a couple days previous. They were doing fine, but very glad to see us.

Oh, yeah. The collimation thing. Our Dob is an f/5 scope, which means correct collimation is critical. So I was very surprised to find that, as badly out of collimation as our scope was, it was still providing very good images. Jerry even commented at one point how sharp and bright the image was. Wait until he sees it in a properly collimated scope.

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Sunday, 23 December 2001

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8:51 - This from subscriber Peter Jessup::

From: Peter Jessup [p_jessup at yahoo dot com]
Sent: Saturday, December 22, 2001 7:52 PM
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Subject: Santaphobe Special

Dear Bob,

Being the well-known Santaphobe that you are, I thought the attached pic might appeal.

Compliments of the Season to you and yours.

From a grateful subscriber,

Peter Jessup

Heh. Thanks.

Oops.jpg (31145 bytes)

What is this thing with HotDeals and SaveBig? According to my logs, nearly 2/3 of the spam I'm getting now is from those two sources, although I'd guess it's really the same source. Cannot someone track these slime down and have a stake-to-heart chat with them?

I see that enhanced airport security did not prevent someone from carrying C4 plastique, a fuze, and a detonator onboard an aircraft. A stewardess and passengers restrained him from igniting his shoe, thereby giving himself the ultimate hotfoot. I suppose that if for some reason they can't convict him of carrying a bomb onboard an airliner they can still get him for smoking.

I hadn't realized things were loose enough to allow carrying C4 onboard an aircraft. C4 has relatively high vapor pressure and is easily detectable by chemical sniffers. If they can't even intercept C4, what hope do they have of intercepting explosives with very low vapor pressures like metal azides?

But this just proves my original point, which is that so-called enhanced airline security does nothing other than inconvenience honest passengers. It certainly doesn't prevent someone planning a hijack from getting the tools he needs onboard. Better we should eliminate security checks entirely and allow regular passengers to go armed. Terrorists may not be geniuses, but even they're smart enough to realize it's hopeless to take over an airliner when even the grandmother sitting in G4 may have a Glock buried in her knitting.

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