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Daynotes Journal

Week of 14 January 2002

Latest Update: Friday, 10 May 2002 12:56


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Monday, 14 January 2002

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9:17 - You may have noticed that I got rid of the "Click here to read or post responses to this week's journal entries" link that used to be at the bottom of each day's entry. What motivated me to do that was the fact that last weekend's Ikonboard upgrade broke all those links by changing forum and/or thread numbers. But that's not the real reason. That's just an example of the real problem, which is that that link method is simply too fragile to survive long term.

Actually, we had a similar problem some months ago when the URLs changed. Greg Lincoln, who provides the messageboard service for all of us, fixed that one by redirecting the old URL to the new URL, so that didn't cause any real problem once he'd implemented that fix. The situation with forum and topic numbers is a bit more of a cause for concern, though. At the moment, I've mailed Greg and asked if the forum/topic numbering problem is readily fixable. If not, we'll not worry about it. Even if it is easy to fix, however, I'm not going to count on forum/topic numbers remaining constant. I can easily envision, for example, a future upgrade that simply provides no way to keep the existing forum/topic numbers.

So I've decided to abandon linking to specific topics here. I'll leave the link to the messageboard itself, of course. That means you'll have to click the mouse a couple more times to get to this week's topic, but that shouldn't be too onerous.

Yesterday I worked. All day. Other than doing laundry in the morning, I was at the keyboard pretty much all day long from 0900 until about 2300. Some of that time I spent writing the lecture I'm to deliver at the astronomy club meeting this week. Some of that time I spent responding to email, working on web sites, answering questions on the messageboards, and so on. The rest of the time I spent putting out snakes and killing fires, concluding from about 2200 to 2300 with doing a "sanity check" pass on Pournelle's column for the special edition paper BYTE magazine.

This email thing is starting to get to me. I try hard to keep the backlog down, but my inbox is back up to about 50 "real" messages, all of which I have to deal with. I can understand why best-selling fiction authors have tiers of people whose only job is to protect the author's time.

Red Hat Linux Disc 1 finished downloading yesterday, and Disc 2 is just about to finish. A two-day file transfer. That's an all-time record for me, or at least a record since I got broadband. I do remember doing a download that lasted a week back when I had a nailed-up dialup connection. When the download finally finishes, I'll verify the files against the MD5 checksums, and hope they check. If not, I'll pick up the phone and ask Red Hat to send me a copy.

Based on advice from Roland Dobbins, Brian Bilbrey, Greg Lincoln, and other Linux gurus, I've decided to abandon Mandrake and go with Red Hat. Red Hat may be, to use Roland's term, "over-engineered" but it is the standard, at least to the extent that any Linux distribution can be so considered. Several people have had nice things to say about Debian, Slackware, and a couple other distributions, and while I'll miss the apt-get functionality of Debian, it seems to me from everything that I've been told that Red Hat is the way to go. We'll see.

Incidentally, I've begun to wonder if the Red Hat and Ximian servers are really as slow as they seem, or if there's some kind of general problem on the Internet. Other stuff hasn't been running as slowly as those ftp servers, but it's definitely slower than usual. Several others have commented that the Internet seems to have been bogged down for the last several days, although it seems better this morning. I suspect it has something to do with all those new PCs and AOL accounts that people got for Christmas. 

I'd better get to work. That lecture for the astronomy club isn't written yet, and I have to give it Wednesday evening. I also need to make a dent in my inbox. And I definitely need to get the final two chapters finished up. Don't expect much around here this week or next.


Tuesday, 15 January 2002

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9:44 - In another huge loss for Microsoft, The Register reports that the government of South Korea has opted to convert 120,000 desktop systems to Open Source software. Despite the huge numbers involved, this really isn't as significant as the decision by Turku, Finland to convert 5,000 desktops to Linux, but only because Korea has never been a Microsoft stronghold. Still, the loss of that business hurts Microsoft, both in terms of the direct loss and in terms of the boost for Open Source on the desktop.

With Mainland China basically ruling Microsoft software out of consideration, and Britain considering migrating 500,000 desktop systems to Open Source, Microsoft must be getting very worried. I wonder how long it will be before someone proposes a law in the US that in the interests of saving taxpayer money, government agencies must use Open Source wherever possible. You can bet Microsoft lobbyists would attack any such proposal in droves.

Microsoft appears to be losing a lot more than they're winning against Open Source these days. And that with desktop Linux in its infancy. As I've said repeatedly, in a couple years Microsoft is going to have a real fight on its hands to retain desktop dominance. In five years, Linux will be competing on at least an equal footing for the desktop. In ten years, Microsoft may well have gone the way of Ashton-Tate.

Despite my moaning about the problems with getting Evolution to run on Mandrake 8.1, the truth is that if I had to I could convert to a Linux desktop today. It might take me some time to work out all the minor issues, but I could get my work done. I suspect that a month of intense effort would get me to the point where I'd never look back. Of course, that month includes the time I'd need to get up to speed as my own system administrator. Organizations deploying desktop Linux would have that overhead for their administrators, but not for their users. Migrating users from Outlook to Evolution, for example, would require essentially zero retraining, and migrating users from Word and Excel to StarOffice 6.0 wouldn't require much. 

There are always transition costs, of course, but I suspect for most organizations they'd total less than the cost of one major Microsoft upgrade. It's becoming increasingly obvious that the costs of transitioning from Microsoft to Open Source are like the old Fram oil-filter commercial--"Pay me now or pay me later." I suspect more and more organizations are going to start opting for "Pay me now".



Wednesday, 16 January 2002

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8:57 - Another IE hole has shown up, although this one's a privacy problem rather than a security problem. At issue this time is the fact that older versions of Windows Media Player generate a unique identifier that can be requested by any web site using a trivial scrap of code, and that can then serve as a "super-cookie" that identifies you regardless of your privacy or cookie settings. The only fix is to install an updated version of WMP and turn off the serial number feature. Note that you don't actually have to use WMP for this problem to exist. As long as it's installed, you're at risk. For more details, see this story on The Register.

I have to deliver a lecture at the astronomy club tonight, and I haven't finished writing it. So I'd best get to work on that. Meanwhile, my inbox floweth over. I hope to be back on track tomorrow.


Thursday, 17 January 2002

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8:45 - The lecture last night went fine, although as it turned out I probably had three hours of material and only an hour to present it. Oh, well. I just talked until I ran out of time, jumped to the closing, and left the other material out. It'll be up on our web site in the next couple of days. Also, I'm coming down with laryngitis, so I had to consciously speak louder than was comfortable.

Being a writer, I wrote the presentation out in full beforehand. In retrospect, what I probably should have done was forget about writing the text and just done a bunch of bullet points from which I could have spoken extemporaneously. Maybe next time.

This morning, I have to follow Barbara out to the auto repair place. She needs to have the oil changed in her truck, and there's a valve ping we want to have looked at. When we get back, I'll try to get out from under the pile of stuff in my inbox, including some new subscribers which I should have set up days ago but haven't due to some internal problems with my server setup. I'll get that worked out, and then get back to work on the book. I also have an Intel 845BG motherboard and other components sitting on the kitchen table awaiting me having time to assemble them. And I have Red Hat 7.2 installed on my secondary desktop system, which I want to get some time to work with as well.

Incidentally, is it just me, or has the Internet really been running like molasses in January for the last couple of weeks? I know the usual explanation is that all these people got PCs and AOL accounts for Christmas and are bogging things down, but it seems worse this year that it's ever been. Downloading the two Red Hat 7.2 ISOs took literally two days on a broadband connection, and I've tried a dozen times to download Ximian's Red Carpet, which is only a few megabytes. I get part way into the download, it stalls, and eventually it blows up. I'm also getting frequent time-outs getting to my own site for stuff like publishing this page or downloading mail. I suppose it may just be my own connection, but things seem generally extremely slow.



Friday, 18 January 2002

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10:26 - As I've written here many times before, the movie and music industries are doing everything they can to eliminate consumers' rights under Fair Use provisions of copyright law. Much though they'd like to eliminate Fair Use provisions entirely, that's a battle they know they can't win, so instead they're concentrating on making Fair Use rights moot. If we can't copy a CD or video tape because it's copy protected, the fact that we have the right to copy it becomes meaningless. Of course, their ally in this war is the DMCA, which makes it illegal to circumvent copy-protection mechanisms, even when such circumvention is done in aid of Fair Use copying.

But this article on The Register says that Philips, the Dutch company that owns the CD-Audio standard, has come down firmly in our camp. The music industry has been trying to sneak copy protection onto audio CDs, which will prevent us from exercising our Fair Use rights to copy those CDs for personal use. Philips says that such copy-protected CDs aren't CDs at all and can't be so designated. As the article says, Philips has taken this action not so much to protect consumers as to protect their own franchise. Still, we'll take allies anywhere we can get them.


Saturday, 19 January 2002

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10:07 - We're approaching the end of an era. For more than 50 years, serious amateur photographers have primarily used 35mm equipment. For more than 30 years, the Big Five in 35mm cameras in terms of sales have been (alphabetically) Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax. But now it seems we're going to have only the Big Four. I got this press release yesterday:

Press Alert
Date: January 18, 2002
Re: Olympus Discontinues OM 35-mm Series of Film Cameras

Olympus will discontinue the OM series of 35-mm cameras. The company will continue to manufacture selected lenses and accessories for the OM System and they will remain on sale with limited availability until the end of March 2003.

Olympus launched the original OM-1 in 1972 and has developed and sold numerous OM System lenses and accessories. After 30 years, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find stable supplies of parts for the camera system. This has made it impossible to continue to keep the system on the market. Olympus is committed to providing excellent levels of after sales service for its products.

Body, Lens, Flash:
Olympus will maintain parts for approximately 10 years after the end of production.

Other Accessories:
Olympus will maintain parts for other accessories, but time periods differ from part to part.

So it seems that digital cameras have claimed their first victim. In a few years, 35mm cameras will be an endangered species, surviving mainly in niches such as professional photography. Even that won't last long, however. Minolta and Pentax will be the next victims because few pros use them (although Pentax used to have a wonderful pro-level camera in their LX). Canon will be the penultimate victim, because they have a large following among pros. Nikon will be the last to go, because they still dominate the pro field.

After pros and serious amateurs have migrated, we'll still have the low-end market for film cameras--point-and-shoots, disposables and so on. But even that won't last long. Kodak is seeing their business disappear. They're struggling valiantly to establish a major presence in digital cameras, but they're smart enough to know that you don't make money selling the razors. You make money selling blades, and their blade market--film and processing--is going to disappear soon. In order to replace that revenue, they have to come up with another blade market, and I expect them to use their existing channels to do just that. I think that in the next couple of years, you're going to see Kodak putting processing machines in drugstores. It'll be a console that you walk up to, plug in your SmartMedia or CompactFlash card, display thumbnails of the images on your card, pick out the ones you want printed, the number of each, and their sizes, and wait while they come out the other end of the machine.

Count on it. Film cameras may not be dead, but they're in Cheyne-Stokes right now. If you're thinking about buying a serious 35mm camera system, think again. If you already have a bunch of lenses and accessories for a particular system, now would probably be a very good time to buy an extra body or two. You'll still be able to get 35mm film and processing for the foreseeable future, but it's definitely going to become a niche market.

If you're interested in seeing the presentation I made earlier this week to the Forsyth Astronomical Society, I've put it up here, complete with text and images. And speaking of the astronomy club, Barbara and I are headed out to SciWorks this afternoon for a public event. Each year, a lot of people get telescopes for Christmas and have no idea how to set them up or use them. FAS holds a workshop/clinic for new telescope owners, and Barbara and I will head out there give them a hand. If, that is, the weather cooperates. We're getting some kind of frozen precipitation right now--sleet, I think--but it's supposed to change over to rain later this morning. We'll see.


Sunday, 20 January 2002

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8:51 - I'm still trying to figure out why AOL-Time-Warner would want to acquire Red Hat. The phrase "why buy a cow when milk is cheap?" keeps coming to mind. At a market capitalization of $1.6 billion, Red Hat is a very expensive cow indeed. Every way I look at this acquisition, it makes no sense. To state the obvious, the only reason AOL-T/W needs to buy Red Hat is if they want control of the distribution. But neither AOL nor T/W is in the operating system business, so why would they want control of a Linux distribution? The only thing that seems to make sense is if they plan to compete head-on with Microsoft in the OS business. But why would they want to? Only if they're planning to mass-market cheap systems. If that's the case, I expect their next acquisition will be a troubled PC maker. Gateway, perhaps?

On to the usual Sunday morning tasks, including laundry. Then I will attack my Inbox with fire and sword and get it cleaned out.



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