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Daynotes Journal

Week of 11 February 2002

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Monday, 11 February 2002

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9:16 - I cleaned up my office by accident yesterday. I knew I had an 80 GB Maxtor ATA drive somewhere, but I couldn't locate it. So I cleared piles and piles of boxes looking for it, and before I knew it my office was cleaned up. Well, it isn't really clean, but it's a lot neater than it was. I found many drives, including a couple of 40 GB  5,400 RPM Seagate U-series drives. I almost installed one of those in theodore, but I really wanted 80 GB so I kept looking. I did finally find the 80 GB Maxtor drive, not in a retail box as I'd thought, but sitting in a removable hard drive chassis on one of the shelves.

In the mean time, I'd shutdown all the client systems, disconnected all the cables from theodore, and moved it in to the kitchen table. I popped the lid on the PC Power & Cooling minitower case, and Barbara did her usual thorough job of vacuuming out the chassis. There was surprisingly little dirt in theodore, given that it's been a while since it was cleaned. Before I shut it down, I did a quick check in Task Manager and found that theodore had been running for something like six months since the last reboot, so it's been at least that long since it was cleaned. I think the main reason that theodore wasn't very dirty was that it sits on top of my credenza rather than on the floor. Systems that sit on the floor suck in incredible amounts of dust, dog hair, and other stuff.

One theodore was clean, I installed the 80 GB Maxtor as the Master on the Secondary ATA channel. There was only one other ATA drive in theodore, the 10 GB Maxtor that's been in there for three years or so. There's a Plextor SCSI CD-ROM drive and an old Tecmar Travan NS20 tape drive, both SCSI. I carried theodore back into my office, reconnected all the cables, and fired it up. Everything came up normally. I then fired up Disk Administrator. Since the 80 GB is a 5,400 RPM unit, I'd decided not to mirror the main 7,200 RPM drive to it.

I'd actually allocated the entire 80 GB as an extended partition and started formatting it as NTFS before I reconsidered. That primary drive is something like three years old and has been running 24X7. It's our PDC, and there are things on there that I'd hate to have to reconstruct, even with a recent tape backup. Although theodore is primarily a file server, disk performance really isn't all that critical with only Barbara and I using it.

So I decided to go ahead and mirror the 10 GB drive to the new 80 GB drive. That way, if and when the 10 GB drive fails, I can simply break the mirror set, install a new hard drive, and rebuild the mirror onto that new drive. Using Disk Administrator to create a mirror set takes only a minute. After the required reboot, Windows NT Server started building the mirror set on the new drive. That process took an hour or so, as it duplicated everything on the original drive to a 10 GB partition on the new drive. Once that completed, I created a D: volume on the remaining 70 GB and formatted it NTFS. That took the better part of an hour to complete. Once that was done, I copied my archive folder, which contains 19,000 files and comprises 11 GB, over to the new partition. That took 1:35 across a 100BaseT connection, or about 2 MB/s.

If I hadn't timed 100BaseT versus 10BaseT transfers before, that would have surprised me. 10BaseT generally yields something like 800 KB/s when copying between NT machines. There's quite a bit of inefficiency there. Creating folders takes time, and NT's drivers aren't the speediest ones on the planet. Best case, copying a few very large files, I might get 1 MB/s over 10BaseT. You might think that 100BaseT would be ten times faster, but it isn't, at least not on a machine-to-machine copy. It's more like twice as fast, because there's still a lot of OS overhead on a copy of 19,000 files to 1,600 directories.

But it did get done, and now I have my archived data backed up to yet another machine. I won't be backing that up to the NS20 drive. At $30 or so per tape, that's a very expensive way of archiving, even if I trusted tape for archiving, which I don't.

Oh, yeah. The performance issue. I had expected disk performance to be somewhat lower. When you mirror two drives, overall performance is generally a bit higher than that of a single drive. Writes take a bit longer to complete, because the data must be written to both drives. Reads are generally a bit faster, because the array can supply the requested data from whichever drive happens to have its heads best positioned to read it. But all that goes out the window when you couple a fast drive with a slow drive. In theory, the slower drive should cause a significant performance hit on the array.

In practice, I found that not to be true. I didn't do any before and after benchmarks, but accessing data on theodore feels about the same, or perhaps even a bit faster. I'm judging that by things like how long it takes to open my large PST file in Outlook and how long it takes to open one of my monster chapter documents. It may be illusory, but I'm certainly not disappointed in the performance of the system with the original 7200 RPM ATA drive mirrored to a 5,400 RPM drive. And there's no doubt that our data is now safer.

Incidentally, if you want to mirror and aren't running NT Server, you'll need to do it in hardware. If I hadn't had Windows NT's software mirroring, which I benchmarked years ago and found wasn't much if any slower than hardware mirroring, I'd have used a Promise Technology FastTrak ATA RAID controller. You can pick up a basic model for $50 or so, and with a second $100 ATA hard drive you can mirror your own data. Obviously, mirroring your data doesn't substitute for backing up--a file deleted from one drive is instantaneously deleted from the other as well--but it is relatively cheap insurance against a failed hard drive.

I got the following in response to my comments about futile attempts to tweak obsolete hardware

-----Original Message-----
From: Dave Farquhar
Sent: Monday, February 11, 2002 12:05 AM
To: thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: Windows optimization

I wrote my response to your Thursday post. It's online at http://dfarq.homeip.net/archives/00000271.htm.

There's a lot your reader can do, and no, he doesn't have to buy a new motherboard. I'd recommend a new hard drive, but even that isn't necessary.

I'll respond to Mr. Farquhar's response point-by-point:

He begins by suggesting that installing a high-speed SCSI drive in an obsolete Pentium will make it load Word faster than a stock Pentium 4. True, as I've been saying for years, but it's immaterial. We're talking about whether or not tweaking software is useful. So on to Mr. Farquhar's points:

1. "Clean up that root directory. ... Then defrag the drive...". I'll leave it to the reader to decide whether or not Mr. Farquhar's assertion that removing duplicate copies of autoexec.bat and config.sys result in more performance improvement than replacing the motherboard and processor with modern products is credible, but I will note that that has not been my experience. As to leaving your documents in the root directory, that's not something that anyone but a complete tryo does. Also, of course, my original suggestion to strip the system down and reinstall everything accomplishes everything Mr. Farquhar suggests here. As far as defragging, well I mentioned that as one example of something that any user beyond the novice level already does regularly. Other such examples, such as enabling DMA-mode transfers, are covered in my own books.

2. "Uninstall any ancient programs you're not running. Defrag afterward." Once again, the way to clean up a system is to strip it down and re-install. Uninstalling stuff wholesale is not a good idea. Best case, it accomplishes what a clean install does, but that's often not the case. Uninstall routines seldom do a thorough job of removing everything. They leave your registry cluttered and may leave remnants of themselves on your drive, especially old drivers and DLLs that continue to load after the reinstall. Worst case, bulk uninstalling large numbers of programs can leave your system unstable.

3. "See that Active Desktop crap? Turn it off." Yep. And, again, something that anyone beyond tryo level does automatically, and something that should immediately follow a, you guessed it, fresh install.

4. "Use Windows Classic Folders." See #3.

5. "Turn off the custom mouse pointers you're using." I don't know anyone beyond tyro level who's ever turned them on. Once again, a fresh install does this for you.

6. "Download and run Ad Aware." I've mentioned this frequently, most recently last week, but once again, a fresh install eliminates all the spyware from your system.

7. "Remove Internet Explorer." I don't think so, Dave. For better or worse, Microsoft has made IE an intrinsic part of Windows. Removing it, even if it were really possible, would be like randomly removing parts from your automobile's engine. Don't be surprised if later you find that things don't work right. Not to mention the small issue that without IE on your system you'll prevent yourself from using some or all of the features of many web sites, including Microsoft's.

8. "Reinstall your OS." Well, yes. That's what I suggested, and doing that renders most of Mr. Farquhar's other points moot.

9. "Get a utilities suite." Yes, and that's something that I've recommended in all of my books, and something that any user beyond tryo level already knows about.

10. "Get my book." I did. I bought a copy when it first came out, and I had high hopes for it. I tried what the book suggested on an old Pentium/200 system, one which I'd made no previous attempts to optimize other than doing the things that any experienced user does without having to think about them--regular defragging, enabling DMA-mode transfers, updating drivers, and so on. Bottom line? I wasted a lot of time for no discernable improvement. I benchmarked the system before and after implementing Mr. Farquhar's suggestions, using both formal benchmarks and things like timing how long it took Word to load. There was no measurable improvement. Then I stripped down the system, reinstalled everything, and benchmarked again. There were some minor improvements, but nothing startling.

Here's the reality. If you want your system to run a lot faster, replace your old system with a new system, or at least replace the hardware that's the bottleneck. If you want to get the best possible performance from your current system without adding or replacing hardware, you don't need a book to show you how. Take the following steps:

1. Back up your data and make sure you have all your application CDs at hand.

2. Fdisk your hard drive down to bare metal.

3. Re-install your OS.

4. Download the latest drivers for all your hardware and install them in the order the motherboard maker and peripheral makers recommend.

5. Enable DMA-mode transfers, assuming that your hardware supports DMA.

6. Re-install your applications.

7. Turn off all the garbage--Active Desktop, FastFind, etc.

8. Restore your data.

9. Defrag your hard drive.

Your system will run about as fast as it's capable of running. Sure, you can tweak stuff like video drivers, as I mention in my books, and that may show some minor improvements in some areas. But the truth is that how fast your system runs is determined largely by what hardware it uses. Cluttering up your system slows it down, but the real solution to Windows Rot isn't stirring the mess that your hard drive eventually becomes. The solution is to strip it down to bare metal and start with a fresh installation.

This from Rod Short concerning the Windows 2000 SP2 SRP1 issue:

-----Original Message-----
From: Rod Short
Sent: Friday, February 08, 2002 2:36 PM
To: thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: Outlook and Win2K Security-Rollup

Hi there,

I stumbled into the reported behavior right after I read your article. I have three identical (hardware) Dell systems running Windows 2000 SP2 and some security patches. All three systems have OfficeXP that have NOT been patched to SR1. Outlook is using the Corporate settings to connect to an Exchange 5.5 server.

Two systems had the Security Rollup package installed on Monday, and today we discovered that those two systems can no longer view "dangerous" attachments, namely .exe files. Testing on the third system (that doesn't have the Security Rollup installed) shows that it CAN view the files without any problem. The Security Rollup package is the only difference between the systems.

I wouldn't mind it so much if there were a way to save the attachments to disk, but so far I haven't been able to find a way to do so. Very strange, and very annoying. The question is if this was an intended behavior or a bug. Either is believable.

I'm going to be running a few more tests on some other Win2k/Office2k test systems I have set up , and I'll let you know what I discover.

By the way, I found your site through Jerry Pournelle's page several months ago, and I've since become a dedicated reader. Keep it up. :-)

Thanks for the kind words. As far as SRP1, I'm beginning to think that its behavior with regard to patching Outlook is either random or determined by some configuration factor that isn't yet clear. Most of my readers who have reported say that SRP1 does indeed patch Outlook on their systems, but I have enough response from those who say it hasn't patched Outlook to make me wonder just what is going on. I should probably install it on an expendable system or two to find out for myself, but I simply don't have time at the moment.

And more on the lawyer issue from my original anonymous correspondent:

Oh, I figure I am not one of the 99 - after all each of us is slow to recognize our faults :-)

I agree 100% with some of your points - contigency fee billing stinks & the non-allocation of the winners attorney fees to the loser - a standard rule in England and most other places - should be in place here. However, I think you truly misunderstand the mechanisms of trial - juries can and do make those unreasonable awards and it is not b/c the judge guides them to it but because they dislike the defendant, or his atty, or the hamburger they got from McDonalds last month - our system empowers the powerless by putting them on juries, oftimes puts a large powerful business on one side of the case and a relatively poor person on the other side and we are surprised that juries give large awards? We would almost have to innoculate every juror against symapathy to get any other result. In my state, and from talking to other folks it is true elsewhere, a majority of cases are disposed of on motion practice - a judge decides the case has no merit and dismisses it - the cardinal sin for a defense lawyer is to let his client get near a jury b/c a jury can only hurt his client. England, France, and the entire rest of the civilized world get along fine w/o jury trials in civil litigation - they have lots of lawyers and yet they do not seem to have the problems we have. Maybe we should think about that.

As to most of your thoughts about lawyers and governemnt - I suspect the real problem is much as you think but outlawing lawyers in gov't merely exacerbates the problem - see the current "soft money" debate for a guide. I have no good solutions to the problems of lawyers in gov't - I suspect there are none that we would put in place.

Well, Japan seems to get along fine with fewer lawyers in the entire country than the US has in some large cities, so I think our huge surplus of lawyers has at least something to do with the problem. There are a number of things we could do to address the problem, but I think the simplest and most effective would be to implement the proposal I made a year or two back. Have an open season on lawyers, much like that we have on deer, with the difference being that the season would run for a longer period each year--say February 1st through January 31st--and that it would be a combined buck and doe season.

The reason we have deer season is that if they are not culled periodically their population grows to the point where the environment cannot support it. Depredations such as crop destruction begin to be a problem because the deer are starving and need to eat. The situation with lawyers is exactly analogous. We now have many more lawyers than the environment can reasonably support, and depredations occur because the lawyers are starving. The difference is that whereas starving deer are hungry and so eat farmers' crops, starving lawyers want new Mercedes and so file frivolous lawsuits. 

I took the weekend off from writing, so it's back to work for me.

11:25 - Chapter 24, Backup Power Supplies, is now posted on the Subscribers' page. That makes Chapters 1 through 24 now available on the Subscribers' page. Chapter 25, Designing a PC, should be up later today.

15:14 - Chapter 25, Designing a PC, is now posted on the Subscribers' page. That makes Chapters 1 through 25 now available on the Subscribers' page. Chapter 26, Building a PC, should be up later today.

15:44 - Chapter 26, Building a PC, is now posted on the Subscribers' page. Note that I've posted two versions of this document. The full version, which includes embedded images, is about 15 MB. The smaller version, which has the complete text but the images removed, is 36 KB. That makes Chapters 1 through 26 now available on the Subscribers' page.

16:18 - Two more chapters--I don't know what the numbers will be yet--are up on the Subscribers' page. These chapters are Serial Communications and Parallel Communications. That makes 28 chapters now available on the Subscribers' page. If you're not a subscriber and want to be, click here.

 

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Tuesday, 12 February 2002

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9:10 - All completed chapters are now posted on the Subscribers' page. Now I need to get to work on writing some additional new material, which is a heads-down process. That means I won't be posting much here until I'm finished writing new material. I'll first turn my attention to a chapter about USB Communications

 

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Wednesday, 13 February 2002

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8:25 - Microsoft released the "11 February 2002 Cumulative Patch for Internet Explorer" on Monday. This comprehensive patch covers Internet Explorer versions 5.01 (SP2 running on Windows 2000 only), 5.5 and 6.0. This patch addresses all currently known vulnerabilities, including six recently discovered ones.

You can read more about the patch at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/security/bulletin/MS02-005.asp

You can download the patch from http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/downloads/critical/q316059/default.asp

I have downloaded and installed the version for IE 5.01/SP2. After an exhaustive five minutes of testing, it appears to work properly as far as I can tell. YMMV, of course, but if you're running an affected version of IE, it's probably a good idea to download and install the patch.

I got another one of those Nigerian Scam spams yesterday. You know, the one where they want your bank account number so they can transfer millions of dollars into your account, of which you get to keep a significant percentage. The real transfer is in the other direction, of course. This spam had a Yahoo.com return address. I don't bother spending any time on most spams, but the Nigerian Scam is simply vicious. Not only have many people--albeit stupid and greedy ones--lost their entire life savings, but people have actually been hurt, killed, or kidnapped after getting involved in one of these confidence games. 

So I forwarded this spam, with headers, to abuse@yahoo.com. I hope they'll cut off that account before anyone is stupid enough to respond to the spam. The account name took the form "ab_xsmith51@yahoo.com" (not the real address), and the alpha portion was unusual enough that there's no chance there are 50 other people that also chose that account name. So my guess is that the same guy created 50+ accounts changing only the number. I hope Yahoo kills all of them.

In law, there is the concept of an "attractive nuisance." The classic example is an unfenced swimming pool. A reasonable man should foresee that if he has an unfenced pool, it may attract children who will use it unsupervised with potentially serious consequences. So the law says that if you're going to have a swimming pool in your yard, you have to take reasonable steps to secure it. Such laws aren't really necessary, because any reasonably prudent man is going to fence his pool whether the law says he has to or not. If enough people are foolish enough to have unfenced pools, a tragedy will eventually result, and at that point even stupid pool owners will realize that they need a fence if they are to avoid being ruined financially by a lawsuit. But that's moot, because such laws exist in most areas where outdoor pools are found.

It seems to me that free anonymous web-based email accounts fall into the same "attractive nuisance" category as unfenced pools. And it seems to me that Yahoo or any other provider of such accounts should be fully liable for all financial losses and other consequences suffered by anyone who replies to one of their addresses in response to something like a Nigerian Scam spam, in the same way that I'm liable if a kid drowns in my unfenced pool.

I understand the attractiveness of throw-away email accounts to ordinary people who are simply trying to avoid getting spam. I've used them for that purpose myself. But I think the time has come to recognize that these accounts are in fact a Bad Thing, and ban them, either directly or by making providers of such accounts explicitly liable for them on the attractive nuisance theory. 

In this case, building a fence would be easy. Credit cards and similar mechanisms are hard to spoof. They have to be, and you can be sure that banks do everything in their power to make sure that anyone they issue a credit card to is a real person who is locatable. Similarly, I allow my subscribers to use throw-away accounts, because I know who they are, either because they sent me a check or because they paid with PayPal. In any case, by requiring such verification, one can be sure that there is a real person on the other end of that anonymous address. The time has come to eliminate such anonymous free accounts. Providers like yahoo.com and hotmail.com need to start charging via credit card or a similarly secure mechanism.

In other words, they have to take responsibility for knowing who is using the accounts they provide. As things stand, I can go over to yahoo.com or hotmail.com and create 50 new accounts for myself today. It costs me nothing, and all of those accounts are untraceable for all intents and purposes. Sure, if a law enforcement agency really needs to trace one, they can do it by using subpoenas to gain access to logs at the email account provider and the ISP that the bad guy uses to access the service. 

But in practical terms, that simply doesn't happen short of a high-profile kidnapping or something similar. Otherwise, there are simply too many jurisdictions involved and too much geographic separation to make such tracking feasible. Also, if I really needed to, I'm quite capable of accessing the Internet literally without leaving any trace at all, and I'm not unique in that respect. And yes, it's possible to use a stolen credit card to set up an account. In fact, I know people who can spoof credit cards, although that's much more complicated than it might seem. So requiring a credit card would not be an absolutely certain method of preventing abuse, but it would eliminate about 99.99% of the abuse that currently occurs.

And there's nothing to prevent providers of such accounts from allowing their users to set up disposable aliases for one-time use when they want a working email account and are concerned about it becoming a spam magnet.

Here's an interesting article from The Inquirer, titled WinXP "data invalid" feature driving people nuts. And another from Ed Foster's current The Gripe Line column in InfoWorld, titled Check the fine print. Yet more reasons why I'll never convert to Windows XP. I still haven't activated Windows XP Pro on my test-bed system. I can use the OS for 60 days before activation is required, and it's easy enough just to blow away the contents of the hard drive and re-install if that time expires.

I can't understand why anyone puts up with this kind of garbage. If I bought a system with Windows XP pre-installed, I'd do a "midnight downgrade" to Windows 2000. I suspect a lot of people have done just that. I'm sure that doing so is forbidden by the license agreement, but in practical terms no judge or jury in the world is going to penalize someone who licenses the current version of an OS and replaces it with an earlier version. Heck, I'd still be using NT4 Workstation if it hadn't started to "age out" as far as driver support and so on.

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Thursday, 14 February 2002

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8:53 - Something very strange is going on. At the beginning of this month, I enabled DNS lookups for the web access statistics that pair Networks keeps for Pournelle's and my sites. In the past, I'd just been downloading the raw web logs and doing the DNS lookups myself locally before I ran the reports. Then, playing around with the pair Networks web-based account management tools, I noticed that I now had the option to have them do that for me.

So I enabled that function, and this morning I decided to download the 13 days of logs for this site that were available since I enabled the DNS lookups. I unzipped them and ran Analog, the web report generation tool I use. Everything worked as expected, but when I examined the request report I found something very odd. Among the top ten most popular files downloaded, with 10,113 downloads, was /images/grass-growing.jpg. That file is about 110 KB, and that number of downloads accounted for more than a gigabyte of bandwidth, or about 35% of the bandwidth I've used so far this month.

The page in which that image is embedded, www.ttgnet.com/daynotes/2001/20010312.html, was downloaded only 92 times during this period, which would account for only 92 downloads of the image. That leaves 10,021 unexplained downloads. Obviously, there's no particular reason why that file should have been downloaded so often, unless someone is doing so in an attempt to consume my bandwidth. I've deleted the file from my server, and contacted pair Networks security to ask them to look into this problem. I could examine my raw logs myself, of course, and determine just where all these download requests are coming from. If they're from one IP address (or several in the same dial-up block), then it's pretty obvious that I have a malicious person attacking me. But if that's the case, I'm sure pair Networks can pursue it better with the service provider from which the download requests originated than I would be able to.

There are one or two people whom I suspect may be responsible for this. If it does turn out to be a malicious effort against me, and if pair Networks can't resolve the problem, I'll contact the FBI. They have no sense of humor about such things nowadays.

My editor told me yesterday that he needs me to re-write the Preface because they need it quickly. So I'll stop work on USB and get that done as soon as possible. There won't be much here until I get all this stuff knocked out.

12:48 - I've been farked. As it turns out, it wasn't one malicious attacker, but someone who posted a deep link to that image file. pair Networks support mailed me back to say: 

This picture was downloaded 9230 times on 2/11. The hits are not from a single IP or host.

We've put a file in your account at usr/home/ttgnet/grass-growing.txt which contains a sorted list of just the hostnames/IP addresses that downloaded that file. It's really up to you to investigate; this isn't really something we can complain to anyone about (because it is many hosts that requested the file).

You'll be happy to note though that we drop the highest bandwidth date in any month. :)

Actually, I would have realized that if I hadn't gone off half-cocked. All I had to do was look at the referrer section of the report I'd run. It showed me the following referrers in the top ten:

4461: http://cgi.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl
  4330: http://cgi.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=114252
    91: http://cgi.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=114252&ok=true
    15: http://cgi.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?114252
4380: http://www.fark.com/

which among them total 8,841 requests. I'm sure the remaining 1,200 or so requests are from a page that copied the link from fark.com and posted it for its own readers. I don't know who fark.com is, and I don't really care, but I wish they'd think twice before they do something like this. I don't have any philosophical objection to such deep linking. I've had it done to me once before, when I posted a silly, hacked version of a Word dialog, and slashdot or someone similar picked it up. I ended up getting something like 50,000 requests for that file in a matter of a day or so. Fortunately, it was small, but even so, these places need to be careful of other people's bandwidth.

One of my readers pointed out that I had said earlier that I had no problem with Barbara deeplinking to a Dilbert cartoon or something similar, and that's true. A page that embeds a foreign image via a direct link to another server does not violate copyright in any manner. Although it may appear that the page is being served from one location, in fact, that page is being assembled by the local browser used by the person viewing the page.

But people who use deep links like this need to keep in mind the size of the image being linked to, the number of people who are likely to click on that link, and the likelihood that the server where the image resides may have throughput limitations or heavy charges for throughput above normal levels. In Barbara's case, she deeplinked to a small image file on a server that is designed to support huge traffic volumes. Her page is read by a few hundred or a perhaps a thousand people, and only a fraction of those would actually click on the link.

But when the situation is reversed--a high volume server sending pages that have deep links to a small volume server, totally unintended consequences can result. This phenomenon of being "slashdotted" has caused heartache to many people. In my case, it's no big deal. I have many gigabytes per month of allotted throughput, and, as pair Networks support points out, they discard the heaviest day from their calculations.

But a lot of folks who run personal web pages have allocations of only 5 or 10 MB per day, and have to pay through the nose for overages. On some cheap or free "bundled" web accounts, like those supplied by some ISPs, I have seen overage charges as high as $1 per megabyte/day measured at peak. At that rate, an extra gigabyte of throughput in one day could cost someone $1,000. And all for a casual bit of fun that no one ever thought would harm anyone.

I see from an article on The Register that Windows Product Activation has now been thoroughly cracked. No one is posting a download location for these two files, and I don't have time to track them down myself. If anyone does download them, would you mind emailing me copies at thompson@ttgnet.com?

 

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Friday, 15 February 2002

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9:07 - Thanks to everyone who located and downloaded the Windows Product Activation keygen tool and sent me a copy. My apologies for not calling off the hunt earlier. I got the first copy less than an hour after I posted my request yesterday, and other copies kept coming in through this morning. I now have copies sent by two dozen or so people, none of whose names I'll post for obvious reasons. I tried publishing to my web site to let people know that I already had the file, but I kept getting 550 errors and was unable to connect. This morning, if I again have trouble publishing, I'll ftp this page up to the server if necessary.

A couple of notes. First, there are two programs mentioned in the article, one a 700 KB executable and the other a 20 KB zipfile. The one you want is the latter, which generates valid XP keys. The larger executable patches your current XP installation to activate it without contacting Microsoft. The problem with that one is that the next time Microsoft issues a service pack or patch, it may invalidate what you've done. The smaller zipfile, on the other hand, simply generates valid XP keys, which you can then enter during Setup and later activate in the normal fashion with Microsoft. Second, be very careful if you do find and download the key generator. There are already reports of versions infected with a virus. 

I let the keygen program run overnight on my den system, which is a slow Duron running Windows 2000. It generated 31 keys in just over eight hours. From what I'm reading on various sites, anything between 10% and 25% of those keys will be valid, so I should have between three and eight usable keys. The only way to test them is to do an install and enter the key to see if XP accepts it, which I haven't done. Obviously, generating XP keys is an intellectual exercise for me, because Microsoft is happy to send me as many as I want--they've already sent me three copies of XP, each of which is good for activation on ten separate machines--and I have no plans to run XP on production systems anyway.

But it appears that this program kills WPA, or at least this generation of it. By now, the keygen is as widely spread as the DeCSS, and will prove impossible to suppress. The only possible fly in the ointment is if Microsoft actually kept track of all those millions of random valid keys it generated for retail XP packages. I doubt that's the case, and if they didn't keep track of their own keys then even Microsoft has no way to determine whether a key that someone submits for activation is one of the keys Microsoft generated or one that was generated by this program.

I got email from my editor the other day saying that they needed the Preface sooner rather than later. Ordinarily, I write the Preface last, but apparently O'Reilly has decided that they need the Preface earlier in the process because it defines and sets the tone of the book. So I dropped work on the USB chapter to get the Preface knocked out. It's now posted on the Subscribers' page. If you're not a subscriber and want to be, click here.

Back to work on USB. It's to be cloudy tonight and tomorrow night, alas.

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Saturday, 16 February 2002

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9:48 - I offered the Windows XP keygen utility to my subscribers, and it has proven to be extremely popular. Shockingly, all of my log files seem somehow to have disappeared, so there is no longer any record of who received this utility. Not that I'd worry much about any law enforcement agency gaining access to my systems. I am a working journalist, and computers belonging to and/or used by journalists enjoy a special level of protection against search and seizure. Even a standard search warrant isn't good enough. Journalists are legally entitled to protect their sources, and the assumption is that any computer used by a journalist may contain such confidential information.

Speaking of Windows XP, thanks to Jonathan Hassell and Richard G. Samuels, both of whom pointed out to me that the "midnight downgrade" I suggested from Windows XP to Windows 2000 is actually permitted under the Windows XP Pro license (although not for some reason under the Windows XP Home license). So, if you're running Windows XP Pro, it appears that you are entitled to substitute Windows 2000 or Windows NT 4 instead. I can't think of any situation in which I'd rather have Windows XP Pro running on one of my systems if I could have Windows 2000 instead.

Although they were forecasting clouds for tonight, it appears now that we may have a clear evening. If so, we'll probably head up to Bullington to do a bit of observing. It's supposed to be mostly clear with a temperature in the mid-40's. I hope they're right.

I'm going to pull the mirror cell from our 10" Dob today and clean the mirror. It's now a year or so old and has never been cleaned. I'm not so much concerned with the dust and so forth as I am with accumulated residue from air pollution. A lot of experienced observers go literally years between mirror cleanings, but I'll be very careful.

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Sunday, 17 February 2002

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9:58 - Jeff Poplin had his new 20" Obsession telescope up at Bullington last night. I referred to it last week as a "big gun", so I figured I'd post a couple of pictures of it to show you what I mean. That's club member David Morgan standing next to it on a standard stepladder. The eyepiece height at zenith (when the scope is pointed straight up) is 8 feet (2.44 metres). The 20" mirror by itself weighs 60 pounds (27.3 kilograms). 

obsession-1.jpg (65078 bytes) obsession-2.jpg (59442 bytes)

Most of the mass is in the base. The focuser cage (at the top), despite its solid appearance and feel, weighs only a few pounds. It connects to the base with eight light aluminum truss tubes, some of which are visible underneath the thin fabric light shroud. The scope disassembles into a compact package that comprises the base and rocker box (at bottom), the mirror box (immediately above it), a set of eight tubes, and the focuser cage, which is stored in what looks like a gigantic hat box. Obsession provides a set of wheelbarrow handles, which you can use to roll the base portion into place and then detach. Setting up and tearing down takes only a few minutes--longer than it takes us to set up or tear down our smaller 10" Dob, but much less time than it takes to setup or tear down a standard SCT or equatorially-mounted reflector.

Despite its size and mass, the whole scope is perfectly balanced. You move the scope in altitude (up and down) and azimuth (left and right) to point it at the object you want to view. You can move the scope literally with gentle pressure from one finger, and when you stop pushing the scope stops moving and stays pointed where you aimed it. What a beautiful object it is, too. Although you can't tell from the pictures, the woodwork is finished like fine furniture. And, much as was done with automobiles back when they were hand-built, each Obsession scope comes with a plaque that has the serial number of the scope (they're in the 700 range now) and the name of the owner. Telescopes just don't get any better than this.

Jeff opted to upgrade the standard primary mirror to a unit from Torus Optics, and boy did he get a gorgeous mirror. At 20", his mirror gathers four times more light than our 10", and that makes a huge difference on dim objects. Stuff that we can see only as dim smudges with averted vision in the 10" are bright, direct-vision objects in the 20". Objects that are invisible in the 10" are easy in the 20". The other advantage of the greater light gather capacity of the 20" is that it allows you to use specialty line filters like the Oxygen-III and Hydrogen-beta, which are useful for enhancing contrast and detail in objects like the Horsehead Nebula. The problem with those filters in a smaller scope is that they block so much light that the image simply becomes too dim to see. In the 20", there's plenty of light to use these line filters.

When we got up to Bullington just after sundown, Jeff and David were already there with the Obsession already set up. Despite the forecast, there was fairly heavy low cloud, and we wondered if we'd made a wasted trip. As it started to get a bit darker, about the only things we could see were the moon and Jupiter, both through heavy haze. I told Barbara jokingly that the 20" Obsession could punch through clouds. At least, I thought I was joking. Then Jeff turned the Obsession to Jupiter, and we all went over to have a look. Despite the clouds, Jupiter was clearly visible, with all the Galilean moons and (what I couldn't believe) surface detail showing. With the 8mm Radian eyepiece in place (just over 300X), I was able to make out five bands on Jupiter, despite the fact that I could see the clouds swirling through the eyepiece.

As we were marveling at the Obsession, our own 10" Dob was cooling down. I'd cleaned the mirror that afternoon, and while I had the mirror out for cleaning I decided to remove the flat steel plate that sits between the mirror support and the back of the mirror cell. By all reports, all this plate does is provide a lot of thermal mass that slows cool down and also prevents air from circulating around the mirror. So I got rid of it.

Until now, our 10" Dob balanced perfectly. The motions were extremely smooth in both altitude and azimuth, and there was no backlash. In other words, I could move it with a finger tip, and when I stopped pushing it stopped moving and stayed where I pointed it. This was true despite the weight on the front end--a Telrad finder, the standard 8X50 finder, and a heavy eyepiece like the Pentax XL. And all of that without connecting the side springs, which run from the center of the altitude hubs to the base and put additional tension on the altitude bearings.

As soon as we set up the scope, it was obvious that it wasn't going to balance without the springs. As soon as I let go of the tube, it took a nosedive for the ground. Okay, time to connect the springs. I did that, and the scope then balanced, kind of. As long as it was elevated by at least 45 degrees or so, it'd hold its position. But as soon as we moved it below 45 degrees, it'd take a nose dive, even with the springs on. And, boy, did attaching those springs screw up the altitude movement. It went from buttery smooth to jerky and binding, with a lot of backlash. It was completely unusable at high power. I'd get an object centered in the eyepiece, let go of scope, and it'd immediately shift, throwing the object out of the eyepiece. Barbara is very cross with me. I am very cross with myself.

So, this afternoon, after we finish house cleaning and laundry, I'm going to pull the mirror cell again and reinstall the metal plate. Better to have slower cool down times than a scope that won't track.

 

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.