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Daynotes Journal

Week of 4 February 2002

Latest Update: Tuesday, 26 November 2002 12:24


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Monday, 4 February 2002

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9:07 - Reading Brian Bilbrey's page, I see that the superbowl was played yesterday. To more-or-less quote Sherlock Holmes, "Now that I know it, I shall do my best to forget it." It's a pity that the priorities of so many Americans are so skewed that they regard something so trivial as worth watching, let alone as important. There surely must be thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of better ways to spend one's time. In the time it would have taken to watch that game, I could have read a couple of books. In fact, I did.

I pretty much took the weekend off to recharge my batteries. Today, it's back to the grind, this time with Chapter 16, Monitors. I hope to have that chapter available for download on the Subscribers' page later today.


Tuesday, 5 February 2002

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8:50 - I set out yesterday to do a quick update to Chapter 16, Monitors, and ended up starting an entire re-write, which I hope to have finished today. The problem is that the original text doesn't cover flat-panel displays, and I decided I'd better add some coverage of those. Flat-panel displays still aren't for most people. They remain hideously expensive compared to superior CRT displays. I'm writing a section comparing CRTs and LCDs. So far, I have about four items in the plus column for LCDs, and about a dozen in the minus column.

I spoke to one of my industry contacts. She works for one of the monitor companies, but on the understanding that we were speaking "not for attribution" she was completely honest with me. For all the complaining I and other authors do about PR/Marketing folks, there are some really good ones out there, and I've had the advantage of knowing quite a few of those. 

Much of what she told me didn't come as any surprise, but one thing did. I wasn't aware that plat-panel displays now have a greater than 50% market share in the distribution channel. Note that that means with new computers only. In the retail channel, i.e. people actually going out and buying a product directly, flat-panels still lag far behind traditional CRTs. And the really interesting thing is that most of these bundled flat-panel displays are not very good. All the FPD makers, including the top-tier ones, make two lines of FPD. The low-end line, which is what's bundled with new PCs, suffers from a lot of image quality problems. The high-end line, which sells for 50% to 100% more than the low-end line, is a close match for CRTs visually, and better in many respects. But, boy, do they cost. Before I spent $500+ on a 15" FPD, which is what it takes to get a good one, I'd be inclined to buy a very good 19" CRT and put the balance of the money back in my pocket.

The other interesting thing is that FPD prices are actually going up, and will likely continue to do so. The panel manufacturers are actually selling their products below cost to display manufacturers, trying to grab market share. The display manufacturers aren't selling their FPDs below cost, but their margins are truly tiny. They're also trying to grab market share. So the upshot is that you can expect FPD prices to increase gradually over the coming months, rather than dropping as you might expect.

So, at any rate, I'm still churning away on the chapter. If I can finish it today, great. Otherwise, I'll just keep working on it until it's finished.




Wednesday, 6 February 2002

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9:07 - Chapter 16, Monitors, is finished (finally) and is now posted on the Subscribers' page. I'd really intended to finish the chapter and post it last night, but around 23:00 I finally called it a day. I did half an hour or so more work on it this morning to finish it up. That makes Chapters 1 through 16 now available on the Subscribers' page.

13:43 - Chapter 17, Sound Cards, is now posted on the Subscribers' page. That makes Chapters 1 through 17 now available on the Subscribers' page, with Chapter 18, Speakers and Headphones, soon to follow. Several subscribers have sent me email to comment on Chapter 16, Monitors  that I have made a lot of changes in the products and even the companies that we recommend. That's certainly true, but things move on. And, no, we didn't forget to mention NEC as a first-tier maker of flat-panel displays. We just don't think that their FPDs are as good as their CRTs.

15:32 - Chapter 18, Speakers and Headphones, is now posted on the Subscribers' page. That makes Chapters 1 through 18 now available on the Subscribers' page, with Chapter 19, Keyboards, soon to follow. If you're not a subscriber and want to be, click here.



Thursday, 7 February 2002

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9:42 - I got an email yesterday from a reader who has been trying to tweak his old Pentium/200 system to improve the performance. He'd even gone out and bought a book about optimizing Windows, but when all was said and done he couldn't get his system to run noticeably faster. He thought he must be missing something, but he wasn't. I told him the hard truth, which in all honesty should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it.

There isn't much you can do to make an old system run faster. Oh, sure, you can defrag the hard drive and take other steps than nearly any user who has graduated from the complete novice category is aware of, but all the registry tweaking, BIOS configuring, and config.sys hacking in the world isn't going to solve the real problem. Your hardware is too slow. If you want higher performance from an old system, the solution is to replace it with a new system, or at least upgrade some hardware.

All of those books and magazine articles and web sites that talk about tuning a PC for performance are really blowing smoke. If you follow their recommendations and see an improvement in performance, well, you would have seen about the same improvement simply by stripping your hard drive down to bare metal and reinstalling the OS and your applications. If any of these magic tweaks you read about fix your system, it's because it was broken to begin with.

Trust me on this. With very few exceptions, if there were something that could be tweaked in config.sys or the registry or a magic device driver that could be loaded, you can bet that Microsoft and/or the computer maker would have done it. If they didn't do it, there's probably a good reason. For example, I've seen people recommend using more aggressive memory timings. Sure, that may buy you a couple of percent overall improvement in system performance, but the downside is that you've made your system much more unstable. Same thing for overclocking a processor. It just isn't worth the risk.

My rule of thumb, which is borne out by my own experience and that of many others, is that it takes at least a 25% bump in performance to be noticeable to most people other than when comparing system sitting side by side. Assuming your system isn't misconfigured or cluttered with useless stuff to start with, there's nothing you can do short of a hardware upgrade that'll safely buy you even a 20% increase in overall performance. All of these books, articles, and web sites trumpet miraculous performance improvements through tweaking, but I've yet to see one that figured the percentage improvement from the baseline of a fresh install.

Sure, I can clutter up a system to the point that it runs literally half as fast as it should. If I then tell you how to speed up that system in 50 easy steps to the point that it now runs twice as fast as it had been running, exactly what have I done for you? What I should have told you was to fdisk the system and re-install everything. It would then run--surprise--twice as fast as it had been running. And you would have a system with a clean OS installation, which is going to be a heck of lot more stable than the tweaked system.

The other downside to this kind of ill-advised tweaking is that it convinces people they can productively use a PC for much longer than they should, and it may entice them into making incremental upgrades the cost of which would have better been put toward a new system. If you have an old Pentium system, let it go. Anything older than a Slot 1 Pentium II/Celeron system is no longer economically upgradeable. Processors, motherboards, and memory are expensive and/or difficult or impossible to find. Even if you can find what you need, it makes no sense to throw good money after bad.

And here's the real downside that no one talks about. Even if magic tweaking spells did work, even if you could don your wizard's cap and improve the speed of an old system ten-fold, it still wouldn't be worth it, unless you simply enjoy playing with obsolete hardware. Assume that your incantations take 12 hours to turn an old Pentium/200 into a speed demon that now runs as fast as a Celeron/500. That won't happen, of course, but assume it's true for the sake of argument. In a business setting, PC tech time costs at least $50/hour. That twelve hours you put in comes at a cost of $600. For $600, you can buy a new Celeron system that has a new motherboard, a new processor, new memory, a new BIOS, etc.--not to mention a warranty--and which runs even faster than your pseudo-Celeron/500. Which would you rather spend your $600 on?

Clearly, it makes no sense in a business setting to try to revive old hardware. It's literally cheaper to buy new. But what about PCs for personal use? Well, even if your time is worth nothing an hour, even if you're willing to consider tweaking a PC as recreational time--some people do--it still doesn't make sense to spend 12 hours (or, more likely, twice that) to tweak an old PC. At best, you end up with an old, unreliable PC, with a power supply that's probably on its last legs, a hard drive that might fail next Wednesday, a video card that can't cope with much more than basic 2D operations, and a BIOS that doesn't support modern standards. It makes a lot more sense to spend half that amount of time building yourself a new PC. Motherboards, hard drives, memory, processors, video adapters, and the other components you need are inexpensive. With careful shopping, you can put together a minimal system for only a few hundred dollars. If even that's too much money, don't do anything now. Don't buy incremental upgrade hardware for an old system. Save it towards the day that you can afford to buy the components for a new system. And in the mean time, don't bother tweaking. Instead, tear down your system and vacuum it out. Check all the cables and put it back together. Then boot Windows 95 (or whatever) and fdisk your hard drive. Re-install Windows and your apps, and you'll get about 90% to 110% of the performance increase you could expect from following the tweaking guides.

None of this means you have to throw out your old Pentium system, just that it can't function as your primary desktop system with modern software. If you're satisfied with Windows 95 and Office 95, fine. Run the system until it drops, but don't ever expect it to run any faster than it already does. Or treat yourself to a new system, even an entry-level system, which will be ten times faster than your old system, and much more reliable besides. Retire that old system to use as a Linux router or some other undemanding task. Before you do that, though, tear it down and clean it up.

But don't expect to bring it up to modern standards by using spells and incantations. There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. No matter what anyone tells you.

I sent that out to my subscribers last night, asking if I was being too harsh. Here are the replies I received in the order I received them. I don't have time to reply to all of them, but many are interesting:

From Jerry Pournelle

No that is well said.

There is a case for making sure your old hardware is running properly and that's going in my column, but you are correct here

From Bob Sprowl

Yes you may be a little harsh. Some installations were never right and wouldn't ever be right because Windows 95 (and maybe 98 and ME) and the hardware drivers need manual intervention. Not often, but often enough that the books may help in some cases.

In you added a paragraph to that effect then I would agree completely.

From Bruce Edwards

Not really too harsh. Accurate too, as usual. A properly configured P200 can run Office 97 and other very productive apps at a very acceptable pace for most users. So for a user who has not done all the obvious things, I think it is worth it for them to do so if this consideration fits the person:

That $600 is assuming he has $600 laying around rather than 12 hours. Perhaps it is someone who can't afford $600 but can spare a weekend to get it running as good as it can.

Keep up the good work!

From Jackie Clark

This is fine. Not harsh at all, just reality. Somehow it's hard to let go of hardware you have been using, but my rule for investments in old gear is to buy only stuff you can use in a new system if/when the old one gives out.

Far better to build your own new system than upgrade a really old one. (I have done both. Even with a new disk and 64MB ram, the old system was still a 486 dog.) The learning process is much easier with new gear (love integrated motherboards), and you gain more useful skills.

Thanks for all your advice and care.

From Roy Harvey

I agree with the basic theme of not throwing good money after bad for really old hardware, though I do believe that a mid-life kicker can pay off. My 450MHz P-III Dell was three years old last spring, and I spent about $120 adding a second disk and controller, and $60 adding 256MB of memory (about 2 months too early) to bring it up to 384MB. I figure that gave me another 18 months of life anyway, and lets me wait till the P4s are mature. (I won't be spending another cent on this box.)

But a lot of folks can find themselves between a rock and a hard place, where $600 might as well be $6000, but the system they have just can't hack it. For someone who must pinch pennies but needs useable computers there is another approach.

A good friend at work - a fellow IT type - has a several school aged kids. Each one has their own computer, all purchased via Ebay. These are corporate machines coming off lease, perfectly serviceable for homework and web browsing. The last one he bought was a 300MHz system, ready to go but no monitor, for $60, or maybe $85 with shipping. In the past he bought several brand new Compaq 15" monitors for something like $35 apiece.

Now my friend is one sharp operator, and has become an expert in getting the most out of Ebay, but the deals he gets are not unusual. (He also purchased servers, hubs, and other networking gear the same way, and everyone shares their ADSL line through an SMC Barricade router.)

From Gary Berg

I just recently went through this sort of process. My wife was using an AMD K6/200 system with 64Mb of RAM. It was quite adequate to run Office 97 and even tolerable to browse the internet and send/receive email. I'm sure adding another 64Mb of RAM would have made the system quite a bit more sprightly, but I was concerned about many of the same issues you mention.

Then my wife started playing with digital photos. The poor machine practically rolled over and died even with just one 3 megapixel image. It was disk bound, CPU bound, everything was a bottleneck except usually the user at the keyboard <G>. I finally built her a new system, but at least I got to skip a couple of generations of CPUs.

From James Cooley

I think you're being a little harsh on POOR Aunt Minnie.

I get this all the time in my little shop, with the caveat "but I can't afford a new system!"

They can't and that's fine. So I tell them everything you just said and tell them to buy a new system incrementally. I offer them a new 7200 RPM hard drive which they can migrate to a new system, a clean install of Win9x, tweaking, and restoration of their data and assorted programs, plus a GHOST image for disaster recovery. And I tell them "This ain't a new machine, but it will run a helluva lot better, and hold out for another year. And quit installing shit because you can!"

They leave a much happier camper and are only out of pocket 300 bucks or so. Cost/benefit is in the eyes of the user, and the user wants to wring as much utility out of their machines as they can.

From Jim Shoemaker

I agree with what you say from a factual basis. You might also point out that there are plenty of private (probably religious) institutions and even public schools on limited funds that can use a P/200 to increase computer availability or even replace an older 486. They may have free volunteer time, but no upgrade budget. And kids or older folks can productively use a P/200

If you want to tone it down a little, perhaps state more plainly the basic assumptions up front:

1. the hard disk has been recently defragged 

2. the system has a reasonable amount of memory for the OS being used 

3. the system is not cluttered up with unnecessary startup files, etc. 

4. if 1, 2, and 3 did not help, that the system was cleaned out and reinstalled from scratch 

5. if 1 to 4 did not help, then you've got what you are going to get without taking unreasonable risks for stability, etc.

From Leonard Hinson

I concur with your assessment. Spending time with a system that old and slow is a waste of time. Any improvement is minimal. Similar effort could be better directed to areas that would make the user more productive such as more in-depth training on existing software or learning new software.

Even using an older system like this for a Linux server has limitations. Larger hard drives are not useable with systems with older bios and controllers. Best bet -- upgrade and save time and aggravation.

From Clark E. Myers

You are of course perfectly correct that making small changes to run current software on an old machine is a bad joke. Absolutely correct on the silliness for individuals trying to stay current with anything short of a motherboard or a barebones case/power supply/mobo/processor upgrade. And once you go that far what's to transfer?

On the other hand Dave Farquhar's book and possibly others can be quite useful; it is after all an O'Reilly book and you might just take that as an indication that there is something there to say and well said. I have been known to force the Farquhar book on people I don't have time or interest in helping. Sometimes many a mickle makes a muckle. As you say this is a matter of removing accumulated errors but their reading the book is educational, just don't expect too much. Some people have never defragged in their lives while updating in the most eccentric fashion. Dave Farquhar himself says his book is quite obsolete of course.

People can and do end up running far more processes than they are aware of for instance and you don't mention this in your letter, just clearing out a mess of startups (AOL with AIM and Norton Crashguard - by itself -) and explaining that what is in the system tray matters can help people as much or more as doubling or more in processor speed.

Again you are correct that the best that can be guaranteed is to run the original OS and software well. Maybe sometimes one generation up though. A machine that shipped with Windows 3.11 might go to Windows 95; a machine that shipped with W95 might go to W98 but never to Wme.

From Richard G. Samuels

I always thought that the best way to accellerate an old PC was 9.8 meters per second squared.

From Ray Watson

You've got it right on. I just put together a system for my son (P3-667, Matrox G400, 15 gig 7200 rpm Quantum, 256 megs ram). His old computer could not handle the games he got for Christmas. The old box has now been ripped apart, cleaned up and turned into my new linux router / firewall using Smoothwall ( There is not much else to do with an old k6-366.

From Edmund Hack

There's one possible exception to your thesis. See below. [snip]

> But don't expect to bring it up to modern standards by
> using spells and incantations. There Ain't No Such Thing
> As A Free Lunch. No matter what anyone tells you.

I concur that you can't speed up a Pentium I or II to modern standards. As you have pointed out, the hardware just can't do the job - it can't accept AGP video cards, fast hard drives, etc.

There is one area where incantations can help the casual user - cleaning out the startup activities. A naive user that has downloaded some shareware or free utilities, has added a scanner, etc. is likely to have a bunch of programs auto started at boot time. Some of the neato free utilities add spyware that runs in the background. A scanner may have a copy utility, the OCR driver, a fax processor and more running by default (my UMAX scanner did). After an upgrade to my virus scanner, it was running twice during boot up. All of this takes up memory and Windows system resources. Cleaning this out crud will speed up boot times, make things more stable, and make things peppier.

In a corporate setting, these things are less likely to be a problem if they have strong policies against adding your own software to the machines. You probably don't see it since you know what is going on in your machine and you are less casual about adding software.

From Marv Shelton

I don't think you're being too harsh, but I when I'm often asked a similar question I have the following to say:

The average person's perception of speed on a PC is the time delay from the point at which they click the mouse or press RETURN, to the point at which something happens on the screen. Its the Input to Output time function. Depending on the type of application being run, different components of a PC have varying degrees of influence on the input to output time function. As you (Bob) are well aware CPU speed does not the fastest machine make. The CPU, harddrive, and video card are the three components which most drastically impact a user's perception of speed. If the application is data sensitive, the harddrive is usually the determining factor, if it is calculation sensitive, the cpu and finally if it is display sensitive, the video card. With an older system, an upgrade to any or all three components (a new system) could yield a noticeable increase in 'performance'. If an older system's BIOS, and bus architecture is capable of supporting a harddisk with a faster transfer rate or higher RPM, or a faster video card or even an CPU upgrade, a user might be able to see a speed improvement. However, in the end I agree with you. Unless you can first find, and then buy these upgrade components at a surplus store, flea market or other "no warranty usually given" location for next to nothing in cost, you're better off saving your sheckles for a new system.. The cost for new systems are so low these days you'd be foolish not to go that route. So called 'tweaks' may do some small thing to particular PC operations, (like increasing the rcv buffer size in an COM port, provided that you've been seeing buffer overruns in the first place) but overall they are specific tweaks, to specific operations, and not likely to result in an "overall" improvement in speed.

Like you I agree on the tear it down and clean it up idea. During my annual week off from work between the xmas and new years holidays.. I take all of my systems completely apart and clean them thoroughly. Vacuuming, cleaning connectors, straightening pins, backing up and re-low level formatting all my harddisks and re-installing applications. One idea I did pick up from you was putting the keyboard into the dishwasher. It's far easier than removing all the keys, washing em separately and doing the vacuuming thing!

While I'm on the subject you might also at some point in your book, advise people on a good method of setting up/configuring a harddisk.. Explaining about partitioning and how to use that concept to separate programs from data. One of my biggest complaints about applications is that most of them default to installing themselves on drive C: and are not really happy if installed elsewhere. Wouldn't things be great if you could partition a drive such that the operating system, AND ONLY the operating system reside on the boot partition, the applications on another (each with all of their OWN support files [dlls and the like]) with data on yet another partition.. System crashes could then be easily recovered just by re-installing the operating system... OH well.. a fella can dream can't he? LOL

That's enough from me for now.

From Michael Hill

I agree (although, as you note, your economic analysis as it applies to most home tweekers is probably flawed).

I am getting towards the end of my time as a novice (the boxes are stacked up in my dining room to build a new machine, largley based around the recommendations in HWG) and I will be left with a spare PII 400 system with little in the way of economic upgarde potential..... but it will serve my five year old son well for a couple of years. On that subject, is it worth a section in the new book to explain just how to refresh such a machine ie fdisk a hard drive (etc etc etc) - and please can you tell me anyway !

From Jon Barrett

Spot On!

From Ric Frost

Not in the least. The biggest error I see people make is 1) hanging on to old hardware and 2) trying to upgrade to the latest flavor of Windows/IE/Office, etc. If your P166 shipped with Win95, it *might* be ok to install Win98 if you jam it full of RAM. I did this for my mother-in-law who uses it for web browsing only and it works fine. But no matter what you do to it, it will never run Win2K or WinXP (or Office XP or even IE 6 most likely) at an acceptable speed. If you want to use old hardware, get used to using old software. If you want to run new software or the old software no longer meets your needs, buy the hardware is was designed to run on. There are no shortcuts.

I *did* hear a good use for old hardware yesterday from one of the teens in our youth group. She is a budding writer, but like most teens is easily distracted. Her writing system is an P100 with nothing but Win95 and Word loaded on it. Sorta reminded me of an extreme version of Pournelle's Monk's Cell. The system is so crippled she can't load games (or much of anything else) on it if she wanted to.

Thanks to everyone who responded. I don't have time to reply individually if I'm ever to get the new edition finished, but I do appreciate everyone's comments. Once again, my problem is not with upgrading and tweaking sixth-generation stuff. A 300+ MHz Pentium II/Celeron system is still plenty of machine for many tasks, and it can easily be upgraded with a new BIOS, faster hard drive, better video card, etc. It has things like AGP slots and DMA ATA interfaces that make upgrades relatively easy. Of course, rather than attempting to tweak an existing configuration, the best plan is still to strip the system down to bare metal and reinstall the OS and apps. But fifth-generation systems--original Pentiums and K-series processors running in Socket 7 motherboards--are no longer economically upgradeable. With few exceptions, they're missing things like SDRAM support, AGP slots, usable USB ports, and so on. If you do want to get the most from a fifth-generation system, you don't spend hours tweaking the existing software while wearing your wizard's cap. You strip it down to bare metal and re-install everything.

I love dealing with old-fashioned companies. One of those is Willman-Bell, which publishes books of interest to astronomers, as well as selling mirror-grinding supplies and so on. I ordered two books from them Monday: The Dobsonian Telescope: A Practical Manual for Building Large Aperture Telescopes by David Kriege and Richard Berry, and Star Testing Astronomical Telescopes by Harold Richard Suiter. 

Dave Kriege is the founder of Obsession Telescopes, which produces world-class large Dobsonian telescopes, so this book by him is an invaluable resource for anyone who plans to build a large Dob, as I plan to do eventually. Richard Suiter's book explains the concept of star-testing a scope. It's a simple concept--all you need is your telescope and a star that you rack into and out of focus--but interpreting the results is anything but trivial. Although the idea has been around for 250 years, very few astronomers were aware of the concept until Suiter defined and popularized it.

When I ordered the books, I asked how much shipping would be. The answer was $1, which was a pleasant surprise. As I hung up the phone, I was hoping the books would be here by the weekend, so I was quite surprised when they showed up yesterday afternoon. Willman-Bell is in Richmond, Virginia, which isn't far from here, but I was still surprised that books I ordered on Monday and that shipped by UPS Ground arrived only 50-some hours after I ordered them.

I opened the package as soon as it arrived. These are real books. Heavy coated paper, good hardback bindings, and so on. They remind me of what books used to be like before publishers started cost-reducing them. And the content is wonderful. I knew they wouldn't be in the Dobsonians for Dummies class, but I was surprised by just how serious these books are. I feel like I got the plans to a Seawolf nuclear sub for $30. Shop drawings, bills of material, etc. etc. I know a lot of people think it's geeky to get excited by a book, but I love books and these are both quite lovable.

And, speaking of good stuff, the UPS guy delivered a second box, this one with five pounds of tobacco in it. I used to smoke Dunhill's My Mixture 965 tobacco exclusively. I bought it in bulk, several pounds at a time. But several years ago, the price of Dunhill tobacco had started to get too high. When I first started buying it, it was about $15 a pound, which was twice what good bulk tobacco from a pipe store cost back then. By the time it had gotten up to $25/pound I decided to look elsewhere. 

I found Craig Tarler, who owns Cornell & Diehl, the last manufacturing tobacconist in the United States. Craig has scores of blends, many of which duplicate other well-known tobaccos like Dunhill 965. At the time, his blends were only about $10/pound, so I decided to give his tobacco a try. I've been ordering it ever since, five pounds at a time, and all of his tobaccos I've tried have been excellent. But, like everyone else's, Craig's prices have been increasing. They're now in the $25/pound range. So when it came time to re-order tobacco, I decided to check around the Web to see who was selling Dunhill bulk tobacco and how much it cost. The last time I changed suppliers, there was no World Wide Web.

I found Pipes for Less in Knoxville, Tennessee, and was surprised to see that they sell genuine Dunhill bulk tobacco for $25/pound. Well, it's actually $28/pound, because they have a flat $3 per package charge, but when I told them I wanted five pounds they agreed to waive the $3 and just charge me a flat $25/pound. They carry all three of the bulk tobaccos that Dunhill produces: Early Morning Pipe, My Mixture 965, and Nightcap. Fortunately, those are the three best tobaccos that Dunhill produces. The others are excellent also, but are available only in small (and expensive) tins. So I ordered a pound each of Early Morning Pipe and Nightcap and three pounds of My Mixture 965.

That about does it for writing here this week. I'll continue to post notices of updated chapters being available on the Subscriber page, but I probably won't have time to write much else here.

14:09 - Chapter 19, Keyboards, is now posted on the Subscribers' page. That makes Chapters 1 through 19 now available on the Subscribers' page, with Chapter 20, Mice and Trackballs, soon to follow.

19:49 - Chapter 20, Mice and Trackballs, is now posted on the Subscribers' page. That makes Chapters 1 through 20 now available on the Subscribers' page, with Chapter 21, Game Controllers, soon to follow. If you're not a subscriber and want to be, click here.



Friday, 8 February 2002

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9:11 - A few months back, First Union Bank bought out Wachovia Bank (or vice versa, or they merged or something--who the hell knows?). At any rate, we were with First Union, but the bank regulators and anti-trust people came up with a list of branches that had to be sold to a competing bank, in this case Central Carolina Bank, or CCB. Of all the branches in Winston-Salem, we happened to bank at one of only four that were to be sold to CCB. At first, that annoyed me, but as it turns out Barbara says we'll actually be better off with CCB. Nothing will change except the sign on the building and our checks, literally. We'll still bank in the same place. So far, so good.

So yesterday, I heard my mother shouting back to Barbara that she'd gotten a CCB card that expired in 49. We weren't quite sure if that meant 1949, when my mother was 30 years old, or in 2049, when she'll be 130 years old. Here's a picture of that card, with the numbers removed for obvious reasons. I'll give you a hint, though. The number I removed has one or more each of the following characters: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

neverexpire.jpg (94117 bytes)

So much for the transparent changeover we were hoping for. Barbara called CCB and they explained that the card never expired. That seems odd in itself, but it seems particularly odd that they'd have chosen a month and year, apparently at random, and assigned that as the expiration date. I'm kind of hoping that this randomness extends to the balances transferred, and that they add three or four zeros onto the end of our current balance at First Union. If they do, I'll leave the country and you'll never hear from me again. If they'd add five or six zeros, I'd leave the planet.

My main system has started crashing to a hard restart. The first time this happened was a week or so ago while I was doing one of my quick xcopy backups. Those take five minutes or so, as the batch file copies all changed files to another system, then copies those same files from the second system to a third system, and then finally toggles off the archive bit on all files in the source directories to indicate that they've been backed up. When I start that batch file, I usually leave my office to go get a cup of coffee or whatever. 

That time, when I came back, I arrived just in time to see the screen go black and the BIOS boot screen appear. That was certainly odd, but I have so much going on at the moment that I decided just to ignore it for the time being. Since then, I've arrived in my office two mornings to find the monitor displaying the Windows 2000 login prompt. I save often, so I haven't lost any data yet, but this is not a good situation.

My guess is that it's the power supply. This system has an Antec unit, which is 18 months or so old. Antec makes good mid-range power supplies, but they're not PC Cools, and I do have quite a lot of stuff in this box. Ordinarily, I'd tear it down, do some testing, and rebuild it. But in this case I'm about to build myself a new main system anyway, so I think I'll just stick with what I have until I get through the tech review process and have a spare moment.

Speaking of which, I'd better get back to work on chapters.

11:04 - I've exchanged the following series of messages with Gary M. Berg concerning the reports that Windows 2000 SP2 RSP1 applied the Outlook Security Patch:

I've been playing with the security Roll-up stuff under Win2K. I'm a little bit puzzled over the dire warning you sent about the Security Roll-Up and Outlook 2000.

At least the impression I had from your message was that the Security Roll-Up installed the Outlook 2000 SR-1 Extended Email Security Update. Which would completely prevent me from accessing any EXE and similar "executable" attachments.

I'm not finding that to be true.

I've tried:

1) apply the security Roll-Up to Outlook 2000 Corporate/Workgroup running off of an Exchange Server. No problem, I can open EXE files with no warnings.

2) install the security roll-up on Outlook 2000 SR-1a in Internet Mail Only mode. I do get the warning dialog about attachments and am forced to save it to disk. This is caused by the patch in Outlook 2000 SR-1a. It doesn't keep me from getting my attachments, it just makes it a little harder. And has nothing to do with the security roll-up patch. I get the same behavior before I install the security roll-up.

3) install the security roll-up on Outlook 2000 SR-1a Corporate/Workgroup running off an Exchange Server. Works great. No change in behavior - either way I get the prompt to save an EXE file to disk instead of being able to open it.

I applied the Security Roll-Up from the downloaded complete patch instead of via Windows Update - but the Windows Update site did think I had the patch applied.

I did not check if anything might have been installed which would restrict access to the object model in Outlook from outside (to prevent Melissa-style mailers).

Are you seeing different behavior than I am?

As I said in my message, I haven't applied the patch. But I have gotten feedback from several people who've said that it applied the Outlook Security Patch without asking. Do you mind if I post out your message, less your email address (and your name if you so desire)?

Go ahead and post the message with my name but w/o my email address.

I'd forgotten that you said you hadn't actually applied it, just that you'd gotten feedback about it.

So now it appears that there is some question about exactly what SRP1 does. Several people have reported that it applies the Outlook patch, but at least in Mr. Berg's case it did not. I'm not sure what's going on here.

Chapter 21, Game Controllers, is now posted on the Subscribers' page. That makes Chapters 1 through 21 now available on the Subscribers' page. Chapter 22, Cases, should be up later today.

12:56 - Chapter 22, Cases, is now posted on the Subscribers' page. That makes Chapters 1 through 22 now available on the Subscribers' page. Chapter 23, Power Supplies, should be up later today.

14:28 - Chapter 23, Power Supplies, is now posted on the Subscribers' page. That makes Chapters 1 through 23 now available on the Subscribers' page. Chapter 24, Backup Power Supplies, should be up later today or tomorrow. If you're not a subscriber and want to be, click here.



Saturday, 9 February 2002

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9:49 - I came into my office this morning only to find again that my main system was sitting at a login prompt. I suppose it may be a hardware problem, but it occurred to me that I hadn't done a scan for ad-ware lately. Ordinarily, I don't install much software that's like to have those damned ad Trojans, but I usually scan with Ad-Aware every couple of months anyway. In addition to being evil, ad-ware Trojans are often incompetently programmed, and can cause system instability.

I don't know why Norton AntiVirus doesn't scan for them, but it doesn't. So I went over to the Ad-Aware web site and downloaded the latest version. After I installed it, I started the scan. Here's the report:

aaw0209.png (13465 bytes)

Bastards. They're all gone now, but I can see that I'm going to have to start doing regular scans for ad-ware Trojans. Yet one more thing to do. The scum who create this stuff are despicable. At least as bad as spammers. At the very minimum, installing any software that uses it should pop up a large warning window to tell you that you're about to install this garbage. And, in particular, uninstalling software that was responsible for littering one's hard drive with this crap should explicitly uninstall the ad Trojans as well. They'll argue that some other crappy software may be using it, but tough. If they can't keep track of what needs these ad Trojans, that's their problem.

I don't know if removing this crap will eliminate my system crashes, but it certainly can't hurt. Yet another reason to move to Linux. I'm sure there are Linux versions of some of this crap, but they'll probably be less a problem on a good OS.

And I plan to contact Symantec to ask them why their virus scanning software doesn't detect these things and alert people to their presence. I'm sure they'll say that that's because many people install ad-supported software, and so flagging the ad Trojans during a scan would generate false positives. But that's not a reasonable argument. If someone has voluntarily installed ad-supported software, he can choose to except the Trojans for it the first time he scans. But most people aren't even aware that this garbage is on their hard drives, and wouldn't want it there if they did know about it. What else is a virus scanner for if not to detect stuff you didn't know was there and want to eliminate?

11:09 - We just assembled Barbara's new Lawn Lamborghini®. Actually, that exaggerates what we had to do. The whole thing was assembled other than the separate handle, bag, and chute. All we had to do was attach the handle and the bag and then add oil and gasoline. As I was sitting there reading the manual to Barbara, she was horrified to hear me read the procedure for stopping the engine, to wit, (1) move throttle to Stop or Off position, and (2) remove spark plug wire from spark plug and ground it to the engine connecting post. She was relieved to learn that step 2 was required only to prevent unauthorized or accidental starting.

This is what lawyers and a legal system run wild have brought us to. Is there anyone, anyone on the entire planet, who actually routinely disconnects the spark plug wire from a lawn-mower to prevent accidental starting? Accidental starting? Let's see. You push the little red squishy thing several times to prime the engine. You set the choke appropriately. You then pull the starter rope, probably several times, to start the engine. Some accident. Now, if you had a million Lawn Lamborghinis® and a million monkeys messing with them, I suspect a few accidental startings might occur. But ruling that possibility out, I'd guess that not one of the however many Lawn Lamborghinis® are made will ever be started accidentally.

So why the warning and ridiculous advice? Lawyers, pure and simple. Many people remember Dick the Butcher's statement in Shakespeare's Henry VI, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." Revisionists, all of them lawyers no doubt, have spread the myth that because Dick the Butcher was a Bad Guy, Shakespeare was somehow praising lawyers. That only lawyers stood between society and the nefarious plans of Dick and his cohorts. Wrong. When the play was performed, the audience invariably laughed, clapped, and stomped their feet when they heard this line. The irony was that everyone, Bad or Good, agreed that lawyers should be exterminated. As they should be.

11:58 - I failed to point out that Barbara's new Lawn Lamborghini® isn't a lawn mower. She has her Farm Ferrari® for cutting grass. The Lawn Lamborghini® is instead a combination vacuum, blower, and shredder that looks a lot like a lawn mower. Actually, I think I missed one function, because I remember it saying on the box that it did four things. Perhaps flossing one's teeth.

At any rate, I was surprised that Barbara came home with it the other day, because I didn't think she'd need one until the leaf season next fall. But as it turns out, she may need it quite a bit earlier. The State of North Carolina is bankrupt, or near enough for government work. They have something like a billion dollar shortfall. So, instead of cutting waste, of course, they shift the burden elsewhere.

In this case, they've shifted the burden by defaulting on monies they owe the cities and counties throughout the state. Note that they hadn't been giving these monies to the cities and counties from the goodness of their hearts (of which they have none). These are monies that the state owes the cities and counties--monies that the state collected on their behalf. In essence, the state has stolen this money from the cities and counties, all of which will have to make that loss up by increasing local taxes or cutting services.

And, of course, the cities and counties don't want to increase local taxes because that pisses off voters. Instead, they'll piss off voters by cutting services. What they should be cutting, of course, is those services which the taxpayers least care about. Welfare services would be an excellent place to start, particularly since taxpayers aren't on welfare and those who are on welfare tend not to vote. Winston-Salem's share of the state's default is something like $8 million. But instead of cutting that $8 million from services that taxpayers don't benefit from, they'll cut it from those that taxpayers do want.

And one of those services they plan to cut is pickup of yard waste. They plan to cancel that until June, so Barbara will have need of her Lawn Lamborghini® well before the leaf season next fall.

I really don't understand the problem they seem to have in cutting government expenditures to the level of revenue they can expect. I could go in there tomorrow and in one day cut both the budget and the number of employees by 25%, with no loss of service that most taxpayers care about. That's in one day. If I had a week, I could cut budget and employees by 50% overall. That's at both the state and local level. If I could convince the state and local governments to ignore the federal government with regard to unfunded mandates, I could cut the budget and employee count by 75%, again with no loss of services that most taxpayers care about. Welfare and Medicaid would account for a lot of that, of course, but there are a lot of other areas that could and should be eliminated entirely, including funding for public schools. 

Eventually, we could replace the failed public school concept with a private school concept, where parents educate their children to the best of their ability to afford. Children of rich parents would be much better educated than would children of poor parents, of course, but that's only fair. Then we could look at eliminating public fire and police service with private-sector alternatives. Eventually, we could eliminate government entirely, which would be a very good thing.



Sunday, 10 February 2002

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9:11 - I got several emails from attorneys. For some reason, all of them asked that I not publish their names. So I'll post one of them anonymously, which will serve as a representative example.

First - I must admit my lawyer credentials - and this will no doubt be lampooned as a result - but if you are going to quote the kill all lawyers passage, please be nice enough to include the entire quote, which mentions the necessity of killing lawyers if we want a revolution to succeed. The problem we really have is not that the laqwyers are running our world, but that we let and encourage them to do it.

I practice tort defense law in a southern state. There are counties about which are well known for having juries and elected judges that award outrageous amounts to people who have been hurt. It is rather difficult to blame lawyers alone for that fact - the juries make the choices and the citizens keep electing those judges. It is simply one more example of the truth I think attributable to Alexis de Tocqueville(sp?) that American democracy will work until we figure out that we the citizens control the bags of money and can give it to ourselves. Wealth redistribution by government mechanism through tort law, taxes and government largesse of all types, and the accompanying efforts to resist it and encourage redistribution by lawyers, politicians and lobbyists is simply something we have chosen. If you wish to bash, please bash those other folks who deserve it, starting with the people.

Ah, but judges are lawyers, too. And in most places, juries are little more than a rubber stamp for the judge. The judge decides what the jury will hear. The judge instructs the jury, and can in effect tell the jury what decision to come to. If the judge doesn't like what the jury decides, he can simply overrule them. In a rational system, the judge would serve as an advisor to the jury, someone whom the jury could query about points of law and so on, but the jury itself would run the trial. The jury would decide what evidence they wanted to hear, and the jury would determine the verdict and the punishment of those it determined to be guilty. But we don't have that, so it's no good trying to put the onus on the jury. They're basically window dressing.

So, if judges are in all practical terms running things, they need to run things. If I were a judge, I'd penalize barratry and anyone who filed a frivolous suit would suffer the consequences. For example, in the famous McDonalds case, where a woman sued successfully because she'd been burned when she spilled a cup of McDonalds coffee in her lap and burned herself, I'd have dismissed the suit without hearing any evidence. The case was ridiculous on the face of it, and should have been so treated. I'd have awarded significant damages to McDonalds, disbarred the attorneys for the plaintiff, and sentenced both the plaintiff and the plaintiff's attorneys to be horsewhipped, literally, and then imprisoned for 30 days or so.

I think it was Mark Twain who first observed, "It's a shame about lawyers, but 99% of them give the rest a bad name." I'd agree with those percentages. I know a lot of lawyers. I used to work for a company that sold software to them. And of all the hundreds of lawyers that I dealt with over the years, perhaps 1% of them were good people. The rest were parasites at best.

It was no different in Shakespeare's time, or in Twain's. Anyone who thinks that Shakespeare admired lawyers, or indeed had anything but contempt for them, has not read Shakespeare. Lawyers were the enemy then, and they are the enemy now. We now have, in a very real sense, government of the lawyers, by the lawyers, and for the lawyers. We have the biggest conflict of interest that has ever existed, and the results should have been obvious to anyone with half a brain, which excludes most lawyers. Lawyers are frequently compared to sharks, and the comparison is apt when you consider that sharks are brainless predators.

I think the time has come to put some limits on what lawyers can do. As a start, I'd suggest that lawyers be banned from holding elective or appointed office, that lawyers be ineligible to vote, and that lawyers' monopoly on "legal services" be eliminated. Anyone who wishes to offer legal advice, free or for a fee, should be free to do so. Let the market decide which prosper and which fail. No government body at any level should be permitted to employ a lawyer, either directly or indirectly. Contingency fee billing should be eliminated, and anyone who wants to file a lawsuit should have to file a bond sufficient to cover the expected expenses of the party they're bring suit against. And, although it's covered by the ban on lawyers holding office, it's important enough to say explicitly that no lawyer should be permitted to be a judge.

This is not an indictment of you personally. You may well be one of the 1%. But for every one of you, there are about 99 bad ones..

Usually, I run my weekly full backup on Sunday, but I ran it overnight last night. That's because I want to take theodore, my main server, down today and add a hard drive. Theodore has an elderly Maxtor 10 GB 7,200 RPM ATA hard drive. It's been running 24X7 for something like three years now, and I'm debating exactly what to do. I'm going to fish out an 80 GB drive from the stack. If I can find a 7,200 RPM unit, I may use DriveImage to migrate the server over to the new drive. Or I may just install the 80 GB as a second drive and use NT Server's mirroring function to mirror the existing 10 GB drive to the new drive. I'm afraid I may have only a 5,400 RPM unit, though. If that's the case, I don't want to mirror them, because that'd in effect turn my main server drive into a 5,400 RPM unit.

Of course, I haven't had theodore down at all lately, so it probably needs a good cleaning out. We'll see.






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