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Daynotes Journal

Week of 21 January 2002

Latest Update: Tuesday, 26 November 2002 12:29

 

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Monday, 21 January 2002

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8:35 - If you haven't read this article yet, it's worth your time. The article examines the reaction of corporate executives to Microsoft Licensing 6.0. In one respect, the article really misses the point. What this is really all about is that Microsoft wants to (and has to) get more revenue from existing customers, whereas those existing customers don't want to pay Microsoft more. That's it in a nutshell, and it's purely a zero-sum game.

Microsoft is trying to put a pretty face on Licensing 6.0 by claiming that it's revenue neutral on average. Crap. If it were revenue-neutral, Microsoft wouldn't be pursuing it. As anyone with half a brain must realize, Microsoft is hurting for new sources of revenue growth. Not revenue, mind you. They're still doing very well in that regard. But Microsoft is all about stock prices, and keeping its stock price up requires continuing revenue growth in an economy that is not just flat, but deflating.

The other thing that occurs to me is something I've mentioned before but no one else seems to talk about. Everyone seems to believe that the Microsoft security-hole-of-the-week is an embarrassment to Microsoft, and something they need to fix. Again, crap. Microsoft not only doesn't care about these security holes, but they probably actively create them. Security holes do Microsoft no damage in the short- or even medium-term, so long as customers do not begin to abandon Microsoft operating systems and applications. But those holes do Microsoft a lot of good.

As I've pointed out in the past, Microsoft uses these security holes to drive upgrades. Think about it for a moment. How many people upgrade to newer Microsoft products because they want new features versus because they're concerned about security in older products? Microsoft is trying to accelerate this trend by failing to patch relatively new products like IE 5. From Microsoft's point of view, security holes are a Good Thing, because they encourage people to upgrade to (and pay for) newer products.

It seems to me that we need to hold Microsoft and other software companies to the same standards that we hold any other company. Microsoft should be required to patch each new security hole in any product they have sold or bundled for a reasonable period after they cease selling that product. 

I think ten years would be reasonable. That would take us back to January, 1992, when Microsoft was still actively selling DOS and Windows 3.X. If Microsoft doesn't want to patch those earlier products, fine. As an alternative, they can upgrade any user of those older products with the equivalent current product, but at no cost and under the same licensing terms as the original product. For example, if the original product had no product activation and was licensed to be moved from machine to machine, so would be the replacement product.

And that grandfathering survives multiple upgrades. So, for example, let's say I have a licensed copy of MS-DOS 6.2. Microsoft upgrades that to Windows XP Professional or Home (my choice). Two years from now, a security hole turns up in XP that Microsoft doesn't want to fix. At that point, they owe me a free upgrade to Windows 2004 (or whatever it's called), but again, under the same licensing terms as I had with MS-DOS 6.2. That's fair. If Microsoft doesn't like that, they should patch MS-DOS 6.2 instead. Anything less than this should be completely unacceptable.

For all my moaning about Linux, it came to the rescue yesterday. I've been having problems accessing the messageboards in admin mode. This has nothing to do with the messageboards themselves, but is an interaction between my browsers, their configurations, my firewall and proxy server, and Norton Internet Security. It finally hit me yesterday. Duh. I have Konqueror and several other browsers running on Linux and able to connect to the world. So I used them to catch up on a bunch of maintenance on the messageboards.

Incidentally, I noticed while doing that that "Patron Subscribers" had ended up in the "Subscribers" group. So I created a new group called Patron Subscribers and moved all the Patron Subscribers to it. However, I may have missed some. If you're a Patron Subscriber and your name doesn't show up that way when you post on one of the messageboards, please let me know. Also let me know if I missed anything else, of course.

Speaking of Linux, I got Evolution 1.0 installed and running under Red Hat 7.2 yesterday. I downloaded and installed Ximian's Red Carpet and used that to go get Evolution for me and install it. It worked perfectly. I've spent a bit of time playing around with Evolution. It's very much like Outlook 2000, but with many fewer features. Still, the important stuff is there, and there are some important things there that aren't in Outlook. For example, Evo has an option that allows you not to download HTML images, which makes it easy to avoid web bugs. It's very nicely implemented, too. You can choose never to download HTML images, or to download them only for messages that were sent to you by someone in your address book.

Most of the stuff that's missing in Evo is ease-of-use stuff, and I suspect it'll be added later on. For example, whereas in Outlook you can right-click on a folder and mark all messages read, Evo forces you to mark them read manually. Stuff like that. Stuff I'd like to see fixed eventually but that I can live without for now. On balance, the good things that are in Evo and not Outlook outweigh the good things that are in Outlook and not Evo.

Slashdot reports a "Major Linux/Athlon CPU bug discovered" that also affects Windows 2000. There are workarounds in this article for Linux, and the Windows 2000 workaround is a simple addition to the registry, described here.

Last night and today I'm renewing some of my domain names and transferring others from InterNIC/Network Solutions/VeriSign to PairNIC, which isn't as straightforward as it should be. VeriSign has a nasty habit of holding domain names hostage, insisting that one pay for yet another year before they'll allow the transfer. Given their behavior in that respect, I'm surprised that they haven't been charged under RICO statutes. Well, VeriSign hasn't invoiced me yet for ttgnet.com or hardwareguys.com, both of which expire next month, so they'll be hard pressed to claim that I didn't initiate the transfer early enough. How long should it take to transfer a domain name? A day?

I also need to renew Barbara's three personal domains--fritchman.com, fritchman.org, and fritchman.net--which are with joker.com and expire next month. I'm going to leave those with joker.com, although I'm moving ttgnet.com and hardwareguys.com to pairNIC, where we already have technomayhem.com and researchsolutions.net.

10:35 - I got Barbara's three domains renewed at Joker.com. It was harder than it should have been, but that was my fault. What happened was this. Barbara forwarded me the renewal notices, each of which included an HTML link that I could click to go directly to the renewal page. So far, so good. When I got there, it prompted me to enter my email address and password. I did that, and it displayed a page that listed her three domains with little checkboxes beside them. I marked all three checkboxes and proceeded to the next page, where I entered my credit card number and so on. When I clicked next, it displayed a page thanking me for renewing and telling me to check my email for details. When I did that, the email they sent told me that the domain renewals had failed.

It took me a moment before I realized that all three of Barbara's domains have her, barbara@ttgnet.com, as the exclusive contact person, whereas I was attempting to renew them as thompson@ttgnet.com. So I tried logging in as her, but it refused to accept her password (which I had recorded from when I created the domains.) But they also mentioned that they'd changed to a new system, and that the old passwords might not work. Mine did, hers didn't. So I clicked on the link to send a new password for barbara@ttgnet.com, which it did. I used that password and was able to log in and renew the domains successfully.

I kind of understand why they won't let just anyone renew domains, but that does seem a minor risk. After all, who's going to renew and pay for a domain other than the person who owns it or someone acting on his behalf? It's not like allowing an arbitrary third party to pay for a domain renewal grants that person any interest in or control over the domain. Or perhaps they're concerned that the act of paying for a domain renewal would in fact give the person renewing and paying for the domain some interest in it. At any rate, I did get them renewed, although I wish that when I tried to do it as thompson@ttgnet.com it had just told me that I wasn't eligible to renew the domain. It would have saved a few minutes.

While I was waiting on things to happen, I installed Opera 6.0 TP3 on my Red Hat 7.2 Linux box. It looks almost just like the Windows version. Very nice. I now have Opera and Evolution running on Linux, and both of them appear to be good enough to replace what I'm using on Windows. I guess the next step should be to install StarOffice/OpenOffice to see what I can see.

Actually, that's not true. The next steps are (a) to get my Red Hat 7.2 Linux box configured so that it can see resources on my Microsoft network, and (b) to get my Linux box configured so that the Microsoft network can see it. Presumably I need to install and configure Samba to achieve both those ends, but I'm not sure how to get started doing that. Any suggestions are welcome. Please post them on the messageboard rather than as private email to me, so that others can benefit from your advice in the future.

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Tuesday, 22 January 2002

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8:52 - Heads-down work on chapters the rest of this week, so things will be sparse here.

 

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Wednesday, 23 January 2002

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8:50 - I ended up doing something yesterday morning that probably few people have ever done--replacing a perfectly good Red Hat 7.2 Linux installation with Windows XP Professional.

I didn't want to do it, but it looked like the best of some bad choices. I need an XP system for screenshots for the book, and I didn't have one handy. I wanted a reasonably recent system to install XP on, and the Linux box was the only one I had running that was expendable.

What I'd planned to do was build a new main system for myself and use it temporarily for XP. I even have most of the components queued up and ready to go. An Antec case, Intel D845BG DDR motherboard, 2 GHz Pentium 4 Northwood processor, half a gig of DDR-SDRAM, an Adaptec Ultra160 SCSI host adapter, Seagate 18 GB Cheetah X15 primary hard drive, Seagate 180 GB Barracuda secondary hard drive, Seagate DDS-4 tape drive, etc.

What I didn't have was an ATAPI Plextor PlexWriter or a video card I wanted to use. Plextor is supposed to be sending me a 24X ATAPI PlexWriter and a 24X USB 2.0 PlexWriter, but they're not here yet. I have video cards all over the place, but nothing I wanted to use in the new system, or at least nothing that'd work. The D845BG accepts only AGP 2.0 1.5V video cards, and the only video cards I have on the shelf are legacy 3.3V AGP cards. Well, I do have a couple of ATI cards that would work, but they use older chipsets.

So I emailed my contact at ATI to ask her to send me an AIW RADEON 8500DV, a RADEON 8500, and a couple of low-end RADEON cards. That email bounced, address unknown. That's a continuing problem. I call it "contact rot". It'd have been easier and quicker just to order a recent-model ATI or Matrox or VisionTek video card from one of my regular suppliers, but I need to keep my vendor contacts up to date anyway, so I spent a bit of time trying to track down a new contact. That resulted in a game of voicemail tag, so I emailed Pournelle to ask if he had a good contact at ATI. He sent me one, so that's one more thing I need to do.

I'm sure all that will work out eventually, but in the interim I need a functioning XP system to do screenshots with. So I sacrificed the Red Hat 7.2 Linux box on the altar of expediency. It was that or my current main system, which I'm not quite ready to fdisk, despite how much I like Linux. The Red Hat 7.2 Linux box was already under my desk and already connected to the network and the Belkin KVM switch, so it was the logical candidate.

This is a temporary measure only. Once I get the other components in hand, I'll build myself a new main system and install Windows 2000 on it, at least for the time being. The Pentium 4 that's now my XP screenshot system will return to Linux after I no longer need it running XP. My current main system will be retired to other duties, probably as a Linux server. I hope all that will happen in the not too distant future, but I have to get this book done first.

My editor emailed me yesterday to say he was about ready to start the tech review process on the new edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. That means I'll be working my butt off for the next month or so, so there really won't be much around here. The good news is that that also means we're well on the way to finishing up the book.

Yesterday afternoon I sent out a mailing to subscribers to let them know that the final draft versions of the chapters for the new edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell would soon be posted to the Subscribers' page. If you are a subscriber and did not receive it, please let me know. 

I did not have working email addresses on file for 

  • Bruce Telford
  • Stevenson Munroe

and so was unable to send the mailing to either. The following email addresses bounced:

  • jcowden (at) dellcity (dot) com
  • wooden (at) us (dot) hsanet (dot) net
  • brown_e (at) email (dot) msn (dot) com
  • mscog (at) msn (dot) com

If any of these belong to you, please send me a working email address.

We're off to our friend Bonnie Richardson's house for dinner tonight. Her husband left earlier this month for a six-week business trip to Germany, so we'll probably be having dinner at each other's homes several times while he's gone, just to keep Bonnie company. In addition to astronomy, one of Bonnie's favorite hobbies is squirrel hunting, so we're to have squirrel and pasta for dinner tonight. Payback time for all of Barbara's plants that the squirrels have eaten.

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Thursday, 24 January 2002

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9:30 - We had dinner at Bonnie's house last night. Barbara actually enjoyed the squirrel, which I thought she would. Like many women, Barbara has strong ideas about what is and isn't food. Like many men, I'll eat anything that's stopped moving (or even some things that are moving slowly). I remember the first time we went over to a friend's house when he was making his famous "road-kill chili". At one point, one of the women asked Jim what kind of meat was really in the chili. He told them it was an animal he'd found dead on the road. None of the women believed him. They all thought he was kidding. All of the men believed him, because we knew he wasn't kidding. Jim is a retired Green Beret, and they don't call those guys "snake eaters" for nothing.

I was rather surprised this morning when I found two emails from Network Solutions/VeriSign in my inbox, responding to my request to change my domains from them to TuCows (pair Networks' registrar). I was expecting an "Are you insane?" hard-sell message asking me to stick with them, but instead they were just straight-forward messages telling me to reply after pasting in one or another string to the subject line. I pasted in the one that tells them I really do want to change. I had 96 hours from the time the message was sent to reply, or they'd default to not making the change. The transfers aren't completed yet, but it appears they will be. We'll see.

I've been heads-down updating chapters to the final draft before Tech Review. The first chapter, Fundamentals, is now posted on the Subscribers' page, with more to come on a daily basis. I should have another chapter up tomorrow, and yet another Monday. These first chapters are long, but once I get to the shorter chapters I may be posting two or even three a day. Because of an agreement I have with O'Reilly, each chapter will remain available on the Subscribers' page only for a limited time. If you're not a subscriber and you'd like to subscribe, see this page.

The technical review process starts today, and should be complete by the middle of next month, which means I'm going to have about zero time to update these pages, answer questions on the messageboards, and so on. I'll be working on chapters basically from the time I get up in the morning until I go to bed at night, with only short breaks. Barbara tells me that this time she's going to force me to take an occasional longer break to go out observing or whatever, both for my own sanity and for hers.

And FedEx just showed up with a bunch of ATI RADEON video cards, which I need to get installed and do some testing on. Hard on the heels of those, I'm expecting one of Plextor's new USB 2.0 external 24X PlexWriters. Oh, well. Sleeping is a greatly overrated activity. I'm doomed to never have my to-do list cleared. Doomed, I say.

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Friday, 25 January 2002

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9:38 - Believe it or not, both of my domain transfers went through without any hassles or any problems. I am now officially an InterNIC-free operation, except of course that NS/VeriSign still gets their cut of my annual renewal. But I have our main domains--ttgnet.com, hardwareguys.com, technomayhem.com, and researchsolutions.net--hosted at pairNIC, and Barbara's personal fritchman.* domains at Joker.com. The pair Networks registry charges about twice as much as Joker.com, but it's a lot less hassle to deal with.

The tech review draft of Chapter 2, Working on PCs, is now up on the Subscribers' page, with Chapter 3, Motherboards, and Chapter 4, Processors, soon to follow. Warning: Chapter 2 is a 3,190 KB ZIP file, so if you're using dial-up you might want to schedule the download for lunch time, this evening, or some other time when you won't be killing your connection speed by doing the download.

I've been looking forward for some time to getting these final drafts up for subscribers to look at, as a way of saying "thank you" for subscribing. If you're at all interested in seeing what the stuff I turn in to O'Reilly looks like pre-editing, here's your chance. If you're not a subscriber and want to be, click here.

Speaking of subscribers, I got the following bounces yesterday when I sent a mailing to my subscriber list:

  • 550 jcowden at dellcity dot com... User unknown
  • swarre6 at mstar1 dot net Error connecting to primary server '32.97.166.40'.Error connecting to alternate server '32.97.166.40'.
  • rbmorse at attglobal dot net

If one of those is yours, please send me a functioning email address if you want to get mailings. I've been getting a lot of returns on these mailings. Many of them are caused by the @home fiasco, but I think those are all worked out now. Many others are caused by temporary problems at the receiving mail server--the final two above are probably in that category--but some (like the first one above) are permanent errors.

If you're a subscriber and you didn't get the "Windows 2000 SP2 Warning" message from me yesterday, please let me know. 

First impression: I haven't had time to do any real testing or in-depth benchmarking, but based on a quick look the ATI All-In-Wonder RADEON 8500DV is one incredible video card. It's the fastest 3D card I've ever seen, and that includes the VisionTek Xtasy 6964 GeForce3 Ti500 64MB AGP. nVIDIA has a real fight on its hands this time. The nVIDIA cards are popular among hard-core gamers, but the downside to their high 3D performance has always been less than great 2D quality. For those of us who spend most of our time doing real work, 2D performance and image quality is at least as important as 3D performance. With the RADEON 8500, ATI has succeeded in maintaining very good 2D performance and display quality in a 3D barn-burner. That's no small accomplishment, and ATI should be proud of that. I'll be doing a lot more testing of the RADEON 8500. In fact, I'll be running it in the new primary system I'm building for myself.

14:31 - The tech review draft of Chapter 3, Motherboards, is now up on the Subscribers' page. At 6 MB, this is another huge file, with a lot of embedded images..

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Saturday, 26 January 2002

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9:51 - Some poor guy got on an airplane at the local airport the other day and ended up making the national news. He was carrying what the news media invariably reports as a "5-inch knife with a 3-inch blade concealed in his belt". From that description, I'm almost certain the guy had a Bowen Belt Knife. I have one, although I don't wear it often. I thought some people might be curious about what one looks like, so here are a couple images of mine.

bowen-1.jpg (57943 bytes) bowen-2.jpg (62722 bytes)

The Bowen Belt Knife is intended simply as a handy tool, or perhaps as a last-ditch desperation defensive weapon. You hold the buckle portion in your closed fist, with the blade portion protruding between your index and middle fingers. The fact that the guy was able to pass the security checkpoint without anyone noticing the Bowen speaks volumes about just how poorly-qualified these people are. Nearly any cop would have spotted the Bowen instantly. I know I would have. When we're out and about, I occasionally notice someone wearing one, and don't give it a second thought.

What I think is interesting is that they're charging this man with carrying a concealed weapon. I'm not sure how they'll justify that. If I were his attorney, I'd point out that he was carrying the weapon in plain sight, exactly analogous to someone who had been carrying a standard sheath knife. Consider this. With a standard knife, the sheath is visible, as it is here. With a standard knife, the handle is visible, as it is here. With a standard knife, the blade is covered, as it is here. So how exactly does wearing a Bowen constitute carrying a concealed weapon? The fact that the security people were too stupid to notice shouldn't be a basis for charging this man with concealing a weapon.

I'm not sure what this ridiculous paranoia about weapons is supposed to achieve anyway. I sent Mr. Bush an email the other day suggesting that the obvious next step in airline security is to increase the ambient cabin temperatures for comfort, and require everyone to check their clothes before boarding and fly naked. Of course, I also pointed out that I know several ways to kill someone instantly with my bare hands--from the front, rear, or either side--and I'm by no means the most dangerous person I know.

If the powers-that-be are truly interested in improving airline security, all they need do is adopt the measures I proposed immediately after September 11. Eliminate all security checks, pass a law that specifically allows anyone to carry any weapon he wishes onboard an airliner, and issue frangible ammunition in a selection of popular calibers at the check-in counter. Furthermore, Mr. Bush should announce that he will automatically issue an executive pardon for anyone who shoots someone attempting to hijack an airliner. No terrorist is going to attempt to hijack a plane if he knows that the grandma sitting in B6 might have a Glock full of Glaser Safety Slugs underneath her knitting.

I'm not posting any more chapters this weekend, but the tech review drafts of Chapter 4, Processors, Chapter 5, Memory, Chapter 6, Floppy Disk Drives, and Chapter 7, High Capacity Floppy Disk Drives, will be available Monday for download by subscribers on the Subscribers' page. If you're not a subscriber and want to be, click here.

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Sunday, 27 January 2002

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8:57 - A couple people emailed me to ask what "frangible" ammunition is. Sorry, I should have explained. Rather than a solid bullet, which penetrates even solid objects, frangible rounds use a projectile that is designed to fragment when it hits something. For example, Glaser Safety Slugs use a thin shell that contains small lead shot. If the round hits a wall or other solid object, it fragments rather than penetrating. If the round hits a person, the round still fragments, but the individual shot still penetrates because human bodies are soft. The result is a miniature version of the "rathole wound" created by a shotgun blast. Frangible rounds were originally created for use by Marshals on aircraft, to avoid penetrating cabin walls during shootouts. They are also commonly used by police officers during such things as SWAT operations, where penetration of walls is very undesirable because stray rounds may wound or kill others in the house (or neighbors, for that matter).

Frangible ammunition is freely available to civilians in most US jurisdictions, and many people who keep a pistol for home protection use it. The myth is that it's much more effective as a stopper than traditional ammunition. The truth is that statistically it's much less effective. That myth comes from the light-bullet-high-velocity nuts, because frangible rounds have bullets that weigh half to a third the weight of a standard bullet and have correspondingly high velocities. But the truth is that I'd much rather have my .45ACP Colt Combat Commander loaded with 230 grain hardball that has a muzzle velocity of about 850 feet/second than with Glaser Safety Slugs, which have a muzzle velocity twice that. I also don't trust a self-loading pistol to function reliably with those light, high-velocity bullets. I have some Glasers around here somewhere, but I generally keep my own pistols loaded with standard solid bullets.

I'm going to take a shower and get the laundry done. Then it's back to doing final re-write on chapters. 

Incidentally, it occurred to me yesterday that some might wonder at some of my recommendations. That is, in the draft chapters, in some cases I'll appear to be recommending products that I don't actually have yet or haven't yet had an opportunity to test, for example the Plextor PlexWriter 40X CD burner. The reason for that is that I'm "writing ahead". What you're looking at is in some cases a "tentative recommendation". I'll have another chance before we go to press to correct anything that needs corrected. In most cases, the tentative recommendations will become the final recommendations. But if something I've tentatively recommended turns out for some reason to be a dog, I'll replace that recommendation immediately before we go to press with an alternative.

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