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Daynotes Journal

Week of 0 January 2002

Latest Update: Tuesday, 26 November 2002 12:29

 

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Monday, 0 January 2002

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9:32 - Today and part of tomorrow I will spend doing end-of-year/start-of-year stuff. Things like pulling an archive backup, running end-of-year reports, moving older stuff from current working directories to archive directories, and so on. Barbara is deep-cleaning the den today, so I'll have to help her move furniture, hang new blinds, etc.

I have encountered a severe problem which I am almost certain is caused by Mozilla 0.9.7, or more particularly by the fast-start task that remains memory resident. During the several days when I had that program resident, my system crashed to a hard reboot on three or four occasions. The first time, I was typing along in Word 2000 when my screen went black and the boot screen appeared. The second time, I wasn't doing anything at all. I had a web page displayed in Mozilla and as I was reading it the screen again went black and the system rebooted. The third time, I was playing Solitaire. There was also a fourth (and, I think, a fifth) time, but I don't recall what I was doing when those crashes occurred. 

My first thought was that I had some sort of hardware problem, but upon consideration that seems unlikely. This system has been extremely stable. It has a good power supply, good memory, and runs cool. I hadn't changed any hardware or drivers recently, so a hardware problem, although possible, seemed unlikely. So I got to thinking about what had changed on the system. The only significant change recently was that I'd installed Mozilla. But I'd installed Mozilla 0.9.6 some time ago, and hadn't had the reboot problems until recently. What was different, though, was that I'd not enabled the fast-start option with Mozilla 0.9.6, whereas I had done so when I installed 0.9.7. And that was when the problem started.

So I tried disabling the Mozilla fast-start option and ran the system that way for several days. No crashes occurred. Yesterday morning, I re-enabled the fast-start option. Everything was fine for a couple of hours. Then I started my weekly backup. It proceeded normally for about ten minutes, and then crashed to a black screen and rebooted. After the reboot, I disabled the fast-start option and restarted the backup. It ran normally to completion and I haven't had another crash since.

So although I can't swear that the Mozilla fast-start option is crashing my system, there are certainly strong grounds for suspecting that it is the cause.

I read a very interesting article yesterday, which had been recommended by Dave Markowitz on the backchannel mailing list. The author dislikes Microsoft and their software, and has taken them to task point by point. There's not much there that hasn't been said elsewhere, of course, but the author has done a good job of organizing and presenting his objections to Microsoft and their software. It's a long article, and I certainly don't agree with everything he's written, but it's worth reading. 

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Tuesday, 1 January 2002

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14:04 - We did nothing special last night. MoviePlex was running a five-hour movie about Napoleon and Josephine from 1600 to 2100. Barbara watched that, and we had left-over pizza for dinner. About 2200, we brought pillows and blankets to the den for our traditional camp-out. This was the first year we'd done it, but traditions have to start somewhere. Barbara made up a bed on the sofa, and I stole the dog beds to make up a bed for myself in front of the fireplace. By 2300, we'd decided just to turn out the lights and go to sleep.

Any time I try to stretch out on the floor, Malcolm immediately goes into defensive mode. I think he's protecting me against Duncan. When Malcolm sees that I'm about to stretch out, he immediately rushes to where I am and goes into growly mode. That wouldn't be so bad, except that (a) Malcolm always takes the place I wanted, so he ended up on the bed I'd made, and I ended up on the hardwood floor next to him, and (b) defending me consists of sitting on me and growling. So I ended up lying on the floor with a 60 pound dog literally sitting on my head and growling. Not conducive to a restful night.

Our upstairs fireplace has natural gas logs, and Malcolm wasn't happy about them. The heat and flickering light coming from them were enough to make him nervous, but the hissing noise really bothered him. I decided that wasn't going to work, so I moved my bed away from the gas logs and over toward the sofa, hoping that Malcolm would settle down. That didn't work, so I suggested to Barbara that we just go back to the bedroom. She said she was already settled in and comfortable but suggested I go back by myself. I did so, and Malcolm followed me back. He spent the night content curled up on the bed at my feet. Meanwhile, Duncan spent part of the night on the sofa curled up at Barbara's feet. She got up at one point to use the bathroom and returned to find that Duncan had moved up to her end of the sofa and was asleep with his head on her pillow. So Barbara just let Duncan stay where he was. She stretched out in the other direction. Today is, after all, Duncan's birthday. He just turned seven.

So ended yet another exciting New Year's Eve at our house.

This morning, I'm running web access statistics for my own sites and Pournelle's. They'll take quite a while to run, because I do them with lookups enabled so the reports will include domain names rather than just IP addresses. AnalogX QuickDNS makes that workable by multi-threading the DNS requests. I usually run the reports with 100 threads active. I've considered using 1,000 threads, but I'm afraid if I did that the server administrator would hunt me down and kill me.

We did manage cumulatively to exceed the magic million page reads for the year, counting both Barbara's and my sites. Although there are some web sites that do a million page reads or more a day, I'm quite pleased that we have reached that level. Here are the top 100 top-level domains that generated that traffic.

.com (Commercial)
.net (Network)
[unresolved numerical addresses]
.ca (Canada)
.edu (USA Educational)
.uk (United Kingdom)
.au (Australia)
.mil (USA Military)
.org (Non-Profit Making Organisations)
.jp (Japan)
.nl (Netherlands)
.de (Germany)
.us (United States)
.fr (France)
.se (Sweden)
.be (Belgium)
.it (Italy)
.gov (USA Government)
.nz (New Zealand)
.ch (Switzerland)
.dk (Denmark)
.pt (Portugal)
.fi (Finland)
.es (Spain)
.ie (Ireland)
.mx (Mexico)
.za (South Africa)
.at (Austria)
.sg (Singapore)
.br (Brazil)
.gr (Greece)
.my (Malaysia)
.il (Israel)
.in (India)
.pl (Poland)
.no (Norway)
.cz (Czech Republic)
.ar (Argentina)
.ru (Russia)
.sa (Saudi Arabia)
.hr (Croatia)
.ro (Romania)
.hk (Hong Kong)
.hu (Hungary)
.ae (United Arab Emirates)
.ee (Estonia)
.tw (Taiwan)
.sk (Slovak Republic)
.tt (Trinidad and Tobago)
.si (Slovenia)
.pg (Papua New Guinea)
.arpa (Old style Arpanet)
.th (Thailand)
.id (Indonesia)
.is (Iceland)
.tr (Turkey)
.cl (Chile)
.co (Colombia)
.yu (Yugoslavia)
.lv (Latvia)
.lt (Lithuania)
.bg (Bulgaria)
.lu (Luxembourg)
.ph (Philippines)
.pe (Peru)
.int (International)
.uy (Uruguay)
.ve (Venezuela)
.ua (Ukraine)
.ba (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
.bn (Brunei Darussalam)
.cn (China)
.cc (Cocos (Keeling) Islands)
.do (Dominican Republic)
.lb (Lebanon)
.cy (Cyprus)
.zw (Zimbabwe)
.jm (Jamaica)
.nu (Niue)
.cr (Costa Rica)
.mk (Macedonia)
.jo (Jordan)
.ng (Nigeria)
.eg (Egypt)
.kr (South Korea)
.mu (Mauritius)
.om (Oman)
.pk (Pakistan)
.su (Former USSR)
.ge (Georgia)
.gi (Gibraltar)
.ec (Ecuador)
.aw (Aruba)
.ws (Samoa)
.by (Belarus)
.tg (Togo)
.gt (Guatemala)
.zm (Zambia)
.py (Paraguay)
.nc (New Caledonia (French)

If you're interested in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and haven't seen all the episodes, don't forget that FX is supposed to begin running the series from the beginning today. Or not. They keep changing their minds. The latest schedule seems to show that they're not running them in order. Oh, well. Perhaps they'll get their act together. They run two episodes each weekday at 1800 and 1900 and then re-run those same two episodes the following morning at 0700 and 0800. 

 

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Wednesday, 2 January 2002

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12:00 - We took the dogs to the vet this morning to get their stitches out. Malcolm is fully recovered. Duncan still has what they call a seroma, which is a fluid accumulation under the skin. That's leaking slightly, and we're supposed to keep it open until the fluid stops accumulating. But I think Duncan will be fine.

When we got back from the vet, Barbara left for the grocery store on her regularly scheduled run. She wasn't sure when she left if she'd be able to get into the store or, having gotten in, if they'd have anything left to buy. We have snow in the forecast, you see, which means everyone here panics and buys a bunch of bread, milk, and whatever else they can find on the shelves. As it turned out, for some reason the stores aren't mobbed this time. Perhaps people are learning. Barbara did come back with a lot of stuff, though that was because they had some big sale on various stuff. So now we have about four or five boxes of dishwasher detergent, etc.

The built-in Windows 2000 defragging utility doesn't always do a very good job. The screenshot below shows the results of running the defragger on the hard drive of my main system. Note that this was the second attempt. The top bar shows the fragmentation status of my hard drive after I'd already defragged once. The bottom bar shows the minimal changes that resulted from defragging a second time. What I can't figure out is why, with 5,400 MB free on a 20 GB drive, there is so little free space showing up on the drive. Oh, well. I'll try it a few more times and see if it gets any better.

I have since deleted some files totaling about 1 GB and retried the defrag several times, without much improvement. I conclude that the embedded Windows 2000 defragger simply can't deal with volumes that have one or more directories compressed. That's certainly a weakness.

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Thursday, 3 January 2002

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9:47 - We did get snow. It started about 9:00 last night and continued sporadically throughout the night. The National Weather Service forecast 2" to 4" (5 cm to 10 cm) accumulations overnight, with an additional 2" to 4" accumulation today. Judging by the deck railings, we got about 2" overnight.

Schools are closed and the Highway Patrol and various local police and sheriff departments are recommending that people stay off the roads if at all possible. I know a lot of folks from northern climes are snickering right now, thinking we poor pathetic Southerners simply can't deal with snow, but that's not really fair. We're simply not equipped for it. Few people own snow tires or chains, the government doesn't have much snow-removal equipment, and few people who live here have much experience in driving on snow and ice.

I grew up in a snow belt in Northwestern Pennsylvania, just south of Lake Erie. Every city- and county-owned truck had the hydraulics installed for a snow plow. And I mean every truck, from supervisors' pickup trucks to dump trucks to school busses to garbage trucks. When we got a major snowfall, the blades went on and there were hundreds of trucks out there plowing the roads. Not to mention every grader and front-end loader the highway department possessed. They plowed everything from main thoroughfares to residential streets. Most neighborhoods had at least one or two guys who had their own plows, and many of them were nice enough to do a quick pass on each of their neighbors' driveways. And salt. Boy, did we have salt. There were caches all over the place. A thousand tons here, five thousand tons there (a thousand tons makes a surprisingly small pile). 

Down here, we probably have about 5% the number of plows, and they think a thousand tons of salt is a year's supply. Very few people have their own plows, and usually only the main roads are plowed in any kind of timely manner. People who have to get to work park their cars at the street end of their driveways and hope for the best. Simply getting out of their residential areas to a main road is often difficult or impossible.

But at least it's just snow. We can deal with snow. Badly, but we can deal with it. What everyone down here dreads is an ice storm. Ice accumulates on power and telephone lines, causing them to collapse. It also accumulates on trees, a great many of which fall, also taking out power and telephone lines. The last time we had a bad ice storm here, we ended up without power for two days. And at that we were lucky, because some people lost power for a week. We didn't have much firewood when that last ice storm struck, and just before the power came back on we were actually debating whether we should burn furniture or books to keep warm.

Immediately following that one, we had natural gas logs installed in our upstairs fireplace, keeping the downstairs fireplace available for burning wood. Not that we think the natural gas supply is likely to fail, but after going through a couple days without heat we're believers in the belt-and-suspenders school of planning. The natural gas logs actually put out as much heat as our main furnace, and we keep enough firewood to keep the house livable for several days.

If you're running AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), see this article. There's a buffer overrun exploit that allows a malicious intruder to take over your computer and have his way with it.

And speaking of nasties, there's another vicious worm out there, this one called ZaCker or Maldal.D. Read about it here, and update your virus signatures. Several other worms/viruses/Trojans have showed up in the last week or so, but none are as bad as Maldal.D. 

The Register ran an amusing article that quotes a private email from a Microsoft Windows Division VP Brian Valentine exhorting his team to get out there and "win" against Linux. The message begins, 

Microsoft Confidential -- Do not print, copy or forward this email and do not share this email with anyone out side the company. For internal use only!

and goes on (rather ungrammatically) to demonize Linux and list various steps that Microsoft is taking to attack Linux. The message concludes,

Microsoft Confidential -- Do not print, copy or forward this email and do not share this email with anyone out side the company. For internal use only!

PS: I used to run Exchange -- so if you think I am not tracking this message, think again. Don't forward it! And if you have forward rules that have forwarded this message, then perhaps you should think again about forwarding internal email with those rules. I want to give you folks all the information I can in a very open way. If we continue to have bad apples or careless people out there, I will not be able to help you by sending this kind of information!

The most interesting part of the message describes Microsoft's plan to "have an independent analysis commissioned by DH Brown" but goes on to make clear that Microsoft already knows the results of that "independent analysis". In other words, DH Brown is apparently willing to reach any conclusions the customer wants, as long as the customer is paying for them. Poor Mr. Valentine. He must be gritting his teeth right now.

And InfoWorld ran a very interesting article that does not bode well for Microsoft. Corporations are tiring of the Microsoft upgrade merry-go-round, and a significant percentage are considering replacing Windows with Linux or Unix. No wonder Microsoft trembles in fear. They're up against something they can't beat, and they know it. Right now, Linux is eating their lunch in server space, and Linux is still in its infancy. As Linux continues to gain momentum and to mature, it will grow into something that Microsoft simply has no chance against.

Mark my words. Three to four years from now, Microsoft will have become a minor player in server space. Five to six years from now, Microsoft will be struggling to compete on the desktop. Ten years from now, Microsoft, if it still exists, will be just another software company selling applications and utilities. It's not that Microsoft is doing the wrong things. It's simply that there's ultimately nothing they can do to stem the tide.

In all of this, of course, I am assuming that market forces will prevail. That's by no means certain, as recent legislation makes clear. My guess is that Microsoft, realizing they can't compete in a free market, will attempt to use the government to kill Linux. Don't be at all surprised if the government, based on Microsoft's lobbying, makes Linux effectively illegal. I'm not kidding about this. You can expect Microsoft, the music industry, and the movie industry to collaborate in attacking Open Source in general and Linux in particular. Those three are all about controlling users, and Linux is all about freeing users.

The next decade is going to see a battle royal. On one side will be arrayed Microsoft, the RIAA, the MPAA, and the government (AKA, the Forces of Darkness). On the other side will be Open Source and those of use who care about freedom. That's one of the main reasons I'm making the transition to Linux and Open Source. There are a lot more of us than there are of them, and we're a lot smarter than they are. But they have a lot of resources, and it's by no means clear who the victor will be.

If you haven't yet started looking at Linux and Open Source, 2002 would be a very good time to do so.

 

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Friday, 4 January 2002

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11:32 - It continued snowing throughout yesterday, with additional accumulations of an inch or two. We ended up with perhaps 3 or 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) total. Places not far to our east had accumulations of a foot (30 cm) or more. By late evening, it had become quite windy and the clouds had disappeared. We had some melt-off yesterday afternoon, but overnight the temperatures dropped into the mid-teens (-10C), so the rush-hour commute this morning is likely to be nasty. There were hundreds of automobile accidents yesterday, and will probably be hundreds more today. A very good day to stay indoors, for those that can.

City road crews put down 300 tons of salt. That sounds like a lot until you realize that that's only 30 truckloads in a city that probably has something like 1,000 miles of streets and roads. Even 3,000 tons wouldn't have been nearly enough to treat all our roads, and as it was only the main thoroughfares were treated. Of course, the effectiveness of salt is greatly reduced at lower temperatures anyway. It was 19F when I got up this morning. When I checked a little while later, it had actually dropped to 18F. In one sense, that's a blessing, because ice at 18F is a lot less slippery than ice at 31F.

As usual, our moronic county government ignored the weather and expected county employees to show up for work yesterday. The schools were closed, many businesses were closed, and the police were strongly encouraging everyone to stay off the roads if at all possible, but that didn't stop the county from requiring employees to come to work. It's one thing to require essential employees to report for work. Employees of the Sheriff Department, EMS, and so on should be required to come to work. They're needed despite the snow emergency. In fact, they're needed more during a snow emergency, and it's their job to be there. 

But requiring non-essential employees to report for work is simply stupid. I can't remember the number of times that Barbara had to go to work and open her library during inclement weather. Many times, she'd literally sit alone in her library from opening time to closing time without a single visitor. And other county departments did similarly stupid things. The problem is that when the county (infrequently) declares a snow day, employees are paid, so they want to avoid doing that if at all possible. The obvious answer is to allow employees who do not wish to come to work during inclement weather to use a vacation day or sick day. But the county won't allow that. They could allow employees to take an unpaid day off, but they won't do that either. It's simply stupid.

Over the years, many county employees have wrecked their cars trying to get to work during snow and ice storm emergencies. Some have been injured in those accidents. And yet the county still insists on opening libraries and other non-essential departments during winter storm emergencies. One of these days, someone is going to get killed trying to get to work. Maybe that'll make them reconsider.

I've finally gotten my email backlog cleared out, so I'd best get back to work.

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Saturday, 5 January 2002

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10:15 - Here's a sad tale about the dangers of not having backups. In an ironic twist, Storage Review has irretrievably lost their entire database--25,000 registered users, 250,000 messages dating back to 1998 in their discussion forums, 12,000 reader responses to their drive reliability survey (of which several were mine), and all the responses to the polls and surveys they've run over the years. Gone, gone, gone.

They claim that they were backed up, but in fact they weren't. They depended on a copy of their database on a second local server, which ultimately is no backup at all. I have great sympathy for their administrator. He was actually attempting to do a backup when disaster struck. He'd deleted the old backup copy from the second server in order to make room for a new backup copy. After deleting the old backup, he noticed that it was still there, or so it seemed. He deleted it again, only to realize to his horror that his second delete operation in fact wiped out the live database on the primary server.

It's too late now for Storage Review, but for future reference here's one of my primary rules about backups: "If you can delete it with a few mouse clicks, it doesn't count as a backup." Sure, I also use disk-to-disk "backups", but I certainly don't depend on them. They're for convenience only, and serve merely as "snapshot" backups between my real backups, those I make to tape.

In counter to the criticisms voiced against it for losing data, Storage Review basically pleads poverty. They couldn't afford the cost of an adequate configuration at their co-hosting site to ensure that their data was protected. But surely that's no excuse. They lost a lot of data, certainly, but how large a file do those numbers translate to? The bulk of the data was in messages in their discussion forums. If those messages averaged 1KB each, that's only 250 MB of data. Even if they averaged 4KB each, which seems larger than reasonable, that's still only one gigabyte.

I downloaded five full 650 MB ISOs the other day with my cable modem. It didn't take all that long, so it should have been practical for someone with a cable modem to suck down SR's database periodically. I don't know MySQL, but if it makes provision for incremental backups, that would allow daily or even hourly transfers of only new transaction data. And for that matter it shouldn't be that difficult to script periodic ftp transfers of new data (or the entire database) to a remote server.

In short, there are a lot of ways to skin a cat, but it appears that SR didn't bother using any of them. It could have been a lot worse. At least they didn't lose their core data--the tests and comparisons they've made of hundreds of hard drives and other storage components. Presumably that data was saved because it was generated off-line and they had backup copies of it elsewhere. But all of their interactive data is gone, and all because they weren't adequately backed up.

I suppose having said that I should go over and make a backup of my own messageboard data. I don't bother doing that, because I trust Greg Lincoln, who hosts the messageboards for me, to keep them backed up. But it would be ironic if having criticized SR for losing their interactive data I lost my own. Hmmm.

 

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Sunday, 6 January 2002

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10:36 - This ain't good. As I write this, freezing rain is falling outside. The National Weather Service and the Weather Channel warn of "significant accumulations". If that comes to pass, trees will fall and power lines throughout the area will come down. Oh, well. At least we have natural gas logs in one of our fireplaces, and our water heater is also natural gas. We can cook, stay warm, and take hot showers. We even have a couple of kerosene lamps around. The good news is that the freezing rain is supposed to change to snow or sleet later today and then perhaps to rain. So we may dodge the bullet.

The situation with Storage Review is sadder than I thought. That web site will close January 28th when the existing lease on their servers expires. The closing has nothing to do with their recent data loss. Storage Review depended on advertising revenue and, like all ad-funded sites, they have been hit hard by the banner ad bloodbath. The Inquirer suggests that Seagate, Maxtor et alia step in and fund the site, but that's really no answer. The objectivity of ad-supported sites is questionable. The objectivity of a site directly sponsored by the companies whose products it reviews would be even more in doubt. A functioning, ubiquitous micro-money mechanism might have saved Storage Review, but alas we still don't have that.

I guess I'd better get to work on the laundry.

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