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Daynotes Journal

Week of 25 February 2002

Latest Update: Tuesday, 26 November 2002 12:24


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Monday, 25 February 2002

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9:02 - I'm taking this week off to write, so there will be nothing posted here. I'm struggling with the USB chapter. Oddly enough, the problem is making things break. USB breaks often enough, certainly, but unfortunately for my writing purposes, USB is not break-on-command.

If there's important news, I'll do a mailing to subscribers. I'll try to keep an eye on the messageboards, particularly the subscriber areas, but I won't have time to do much posting. 

See you next week. In the interim, I'm sure Barbara will be keeping her page updated.

The newspaper this morning reported a horrible case of miscommunication. Two Special Forces soldiers from Fort Bragg who were taking part in an undercover exercise were shot by a sheriff's deputy. One of them died and one is in critical condition. The soldiers were in plain clothes in a civilian vehicle that the deputy stopped. He didn't know about the exercise. The soldiers thought the deputy was part of the exercise and attempted to disarm him, with fatal consequences. The deputy was just doing his job, and was attacked. Reasonably enough, he defended himself. But this is something he'll live with for the rest of his life. So the lives of three men changed forever, at least one of them ended prematurely, and all because the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing.

In a shocking development, a circuit court judge has ruled that fingerprint evidence has no scientific basis, which calls into question the convictions of many prisoners currently serving time. In one sense, the judge is right. It is not possible to prove a negative, and that fingerprints from no two people are identical is indeed such an assumption. In the early days of forensic science, that was truly an effectively unproven assumption because there were insufficient data to make it. And in fact many courts in the early days of dactylography refused to accept that assumption. But we now have billions of data points from hundreds of millions of people from a span of more than one hundred years, and so far no case has been found, including identical twins, in which two people have identical fingerprints. That is sufficient evidence to allow the reasonable assumption that a fingerprint does in fact uniquely identify an individual. The standard of proof in criminal cases is reasonable doubt, and no reasonable person could doubt that fingerprints are unique.

Of course, the same was thought about the identification system that preceded fingerprints. It was called the Bertillion System, and depended on detailed measurements of numerous physical characteristics of a person. That system was inherently fallible both because it depended upon the completely unproven assumption that identical Bertillion measurements uniquely identified an individual, and because the process of taking those measurements was subject to variation depending on who took them. 

The case of Will West destroyed confidence in the Bertillion System literally overnight. West was arrested in 1903 and taken to Leavenworth Penitentiary. His Bertillion measurements were taken and it was found that he'd served a previous term there. West denied that, despite the fact that his measurements "proved" that he'd done so. He was also identified visually by people who recognized him from his earlier term. The prison officials pulled the earlier record and compared West to the photograph that had been taken earlier. They had no doubt that he was the same man. Even the name was the same. He'd served his earlier sentence under the name William West and was now using the name Will West.

Everyone was completely convinced that Will West was indeed the same man as William West. Until, that is, the guard turned over William West's record card and and noticed that William West was still a prisoner at Leavenworth. Duh. William West was quickly produced, and everyone marveled at the similarities. Standing side by side, the two men appeared to be identical twins, although it was later established that they were unrelated. The prison staff carefully repeated the Bertillion measurements on both men, and they were found to be identical within the error regarded as acceptable for the system. Although many police departments and prisons continued to use Bertillion measurements, exclusively or supplementally, for some years, the Will West case effectively doomed the Bertillion System.

Superficially, then, it appears that fingerprinting might be subject to the same debunking. But in fact there are substantial differences. First, of course, is the size of the database. Bertillion collapsed entirely on the basis of a duplication occurring within only a few thousand records, and Bertillion records were not compared globally. Fingerprinting has billions of data points, and a great deal of global comparison has occurred without so far a duplication being found. Second, Bertillion was subject to the "personal equation" much more so than fingerprinting. Two Bertillion experts could measure the same subject and arrive at slightly different results. The same is not true for fingerprinting. A properly-taken fingerprint sample does not differ except in extent from one operator to the next. Third, fingerprints are immutable. Bertillion attempted to choose only metrics that did not change significantly in adults, but even so minor variation could occur in some subjects over time.

I'm actually in sympathy with what this judge is attempting to do. So-called expert evidence is in many cases a sham. If that were not the case, we wouldn't have different expert witnesses testifying for the prosecution and defense. In many cases, expert witnesses say what they're paid to say, wiggling by using the uncertainties of their field. In some cases, such as psychological/psychiatric testimony, there are in fact no experts, because these "experts" are simply giving opinions that have no basis in fact. If this judge wants to rule out such witchdoctor testimony, I think that's a good thing. But he should not rule out testimony based on generally accepted scientific principles. The real solution here is to get rid of the concept of expert witnesses siding with the prosecution or the defense. An expert witness should be impartial, paid by neither the prosecution or the defense. If an expert witness is needed, that witness should be selected by the judge and jury and paid for by the court, with the cost later charged to the losing party regardless of the testimony. 

And only fact should be admitted, not opinion. That is, a chemist should be permitted to testify on matters of chemistry, an engineer on matters of engineering, and so forth. But psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, and others whose "disciplines" have no basis in fact should not be permitted to present their opinions as evidence. Fingerprint experts fall in the former category, and should be permitted to testify.

I don't usually post press releases, but this one that came across my desk yesterday confirms the prediction I made a couple of years ago about the death of traditional film as a consumer technology. I'm only surprised that Kodak didn't get there first. I think these units and ones like them will proliferate rapidly. That and the rapidly declining prices of decent digital cameras means that consumer film cameras are not long for this world. Five years from now, I expect the vast majority of casual photography will be digital. In ten years, I suspect it'll be hard to find anyone to process standard film.

A Simple Way for Customers to Get Photo Quality Prints from Their Digital Images
Insert Media Card, Order, and Go
Melville, NY, February 24, 2002 — Olympus America announced today at PMA the Olympus CAMEDIA® TruePrint™ digital printing kiosk.  Designed for photo specialty and consumer electronics stores, mass merchants and high photo output locations such as hotels, resorts, and cruise ships, etc., the TruePrint kiosk is a cost-effective way for businesses to enhance existing photo finishing services, or generate a new business customer base. 
TruePrint requires little space and minimal attention.  Customers can make prints from SmartMedia, CompactFlash (I, II, and Micro Drive), Memory Sticks, floppy disks, as well as photo CDs.  With the optional flatbed scanner, prints can also be made from hard copy.  Archiving images to a CD is also possible with the built in CD-RW.   Orders are easily placed with only a few simple steps using the intuitive touch screen display. And because the printers can be located behind a counter, customers can continue to shop and stop by later to pick up the finished prints.
“In addition to our current consumer level digital printing solutions for the home, Olympus wants to push the digital market by making it easier to get prints from a digital camera by making photo quality printing more accessible to consumers,” stated Olympus New Business Development Manager George Tun.  “ The Olympus TruePrint kiosk offers retailers an easy, reliable, cost-effective way to take advantage of the digital revolution.”
Intuitive User Interface
The easy-to-use touchscreen interface provides customers with automatic and manual image editing options that even the least technical person can complete in no time at all:  red-eye reduction, brightness adjustment, cropping, and more.  TruePrint allows customers to quickly select a wide range of output sizes and photo packages from wallet size up to 8”x10” enlargements.  TruePrint also offers the ability to create photo calendars and greeting cards.
Modular System
TruePrint is a completely modular system, which provides unique advantages over other kiosks currently on the market.  The printers are placed behind the counter saving valuable floor space.  The smaller and slimmer upright floor-standing kiosk station is all that’s visible.  Because the images are printed out behind the counter, customer traffic jams around the kiosk station don’t occur.  The customer is instead free to continue to shop while waiting for his or her prints.  If no floor space is available for the kiosk, the retailer can choose the TruePrint countertop model.  Training and installation is provided for the upright floor-standing unit, along with customer support and onsite service. 
Unique Features:
·        On Site Administration – TruePrint Kiosk software can be set up to keep track of how many prints and which sizes are ordered for easy tracking.  Price changes can also be made at the kiosk by store personal.
·        Slim Compact Design - Existing kiosks are large and bulky and take up a great deal of valuable floor space.  The kiosk’s slim design means more valuable retail floor space for other merchandise like picture frames and pre-cut framing mats.  The countertop version eliminates the need to sacrifice any floor space.
·        Modular Design - With different print size options, the retailer is no longer limited to offering one output size. For the retailer, various print sizes and price ranges can translate into higher print volumes.  With the printers located behind the counter, customers spend less time hanging around the kiosk waiting for prints and more time shopping. Both the floor – standing and counter TruePrint come with a CD-RW and an option to include a print scanner.
·        Rugged Design  - All TruePrint components are made durable, for years of trouble free operation.
TruePrint kiosks are available in four models:  floor standing models TP-200 and TP-200S (with flatbed scanner); and countertop models TP-100 and TP-100S (with flatbed scanner).  All units come with both the 8” x 10” and 4” x 6” dye-sublimation printers. All units include an enclosed computer; touch screen interface & easy user-prompting software; CD-RW drive; slots for CompactFlash, SmartMedia and PCMCIA cards.  The countertop model also provides a floppy disk drive.  All TruePrint kiosks components are rugged, durable, and designed for years of trouble-free operation in the retail environment.  TruePrint kiosks will be available in early April 2002. Dealer price ranges form $11,499 up to $16,999 depending on the module and options selected.

17:12 - I got email from my editor late this afternoon. He said a production slot had opened up and did I want it. The only downside was that if I wanted that slot they'd need a complete manuscript with all tech review comments incorporated no later than Friday. Being an experienced author, I immediately called my editor and told him I wanted the production slot. If I didn't grab this one, it might delay publication.

I told him that I had the USB chapter in progress, and planned to have it complete by Friday but wouldn't be able to do that if I was working on incorporating tech review comments in the other chapters. He said that was fine and that we could just tell them there'd be another chapter coming. I then mentioned that there would actually be two chapters coming, including the chapter on modems, which wasn't anywhere near ready. So in the interests of getting the book put to bed, we decided to chop the modems chapter from this edition. If there's still any demand for it, I'll add it to the third edition.

So that means I'll be busting butt between now and Friday to get the tech review comments incorporated, at which point I'll immediately change gears to get the USB chapter finished and polished. It'll all be downhill from there.

I'm taking down the chapters from the subscriber page. Eventually, I'll have PDFs of the final versions of the chapters, which I'll put up for subscribers to download and comment on. But you won't be hearing much from me until this death march is over.


Tuesday, 26 February 2002

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8:34 - By working until 11:00 p.m., I managed to get the Preface and Chapters 1 through 4 knocked out yesterday afternoon and evening. I incorporated comments from tech reviewers and did a final quick pass through each chapter. In order to complete the process by Friday, I'm going to attempt to get through eight chapters a day, which isn't going to be easy. As soon as I finish the final pass through each existing chapter, it's back to working on the USB chapter, which will be the final new chapter I complete for the book. Then it's on to production.

Barbara is taking care of all the other stuff while I concentrate on the book. Even the dogs are helping. Malcolm just brought me a ball.



Wednesday, 27 February 2002

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9:11 - My goal for yesterday was to complete 10 more chapters. I ended up completing 11 and starting on a 12th, although I had to work from 8:00 a.m. pretty much straight through until 10:00 p.m. to do that. This morning I have to take my truck out to the mechanic to have the oil changed, fluids and belts checked, and so on. I also want them to look at the transmission, because the "Check Trans" light came on the other night when we were up at Pilot Mountain. Barbara also points out that the tires need replaced, so I suppose we'll have them do that while the truck is out there.

Once I get back, I'll start on Chapter 16. My goal for today is 10 more chapters, which would get me very near the end. If things go well, I may even finish up all of the existing chapters today, although that would be really pushing it. If I do get all the current chapters finished today, though, I'll get to work on finishing the USB chapter tomorrow.

Here's something important from subscriber Clark E. Myers:

-----Original Message-----
From: Clark E. Myers
Sent: Wednesday, February 27, 2002 12:27 AM
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Cc: Jerry Pournelle
Subject: important if true and I rather think it is - Jack Weigand on Dell Computers' Anti-gun

Well, it certainly seems credible.



Thursday, 28 February 2002

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9:11 - My goal for yesterday was to complete 10 more chapters. I ended up completing 12 and starting on a 13th, although again I had to work from early morning through late evening to do it. 

I did take a short break in the morning to take my truck out to the mechanic and another in the afternoon to go pick it up. AstroTruck now has four new tires and all fluids, belts, hoses, etc. checked and changed as needed. The transmission problem turned out not to be a problem. Basically, it just hiccoughed when we left the public observation at Pilot Mountain Saturday night. Barbara put it in neutral and we just rolled down the mountain until we got to the ranger station. She then turned the truck off and back on, at which point the Check Trans light went out. According to the mechanic, who put it on the computer to read the result codes, all that happened was a momentary confusion of the computer, and when Barbara cold-booted the truck it cleared up the problem.

Tonight we're holding the organizing meeting for the Winston-Salem Astronomical League at our house. I got a call last night from Steve Wilson, who is president of the Forsyth Astronomical Society. He was very concerned about the 501-C3 status of FAS. Steve said he talked to his attorney and CPA yesterday, and they told him that the WSAL has to be very careful not to do anything that would damage the non-profit status of FAS. 

Frankly, it sounds to me as though Steve needs a new attorney and CPA. WSAL is a completely separate entity--a voluntary informal association of people who are interested in completing structured observing programs--and nothing we do can affect the non-profit status of FAS. Doing that would obviously require the connivance of FAS itself. If that weren't the case, anyone could simply pick a non-profit he didn't like for some reason and take some unilateral action that would cause the non-profit to lose its non-profit status. Obviously, that's an untenable situation, so it's pretty clear to me that either Steve was given bad information or he misunderstood what he was told. 

At any rate, Steve asked me to make it clear to everyone at the meeting that WSAL is completely independent of FAS. That is indeed the case, so as a courtesy to Steve and FAS I will be sure to bring that up at the organizing meeting. Barbara is an officer of the FAS, so just to prevent any possibility of misunderstanding she is resigning her FAS office before we get WSAL rolling. Barbara and I will, of course, maintain our membership in FAS and continue to participate in FAS activities.




Friday, 1 March 2002

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10:34 - The WSAL organizing meeting went well last night. There were seven people there, counting Barbara and me. There were several people who expressed an interest but were unable to make the meeting, so I'd guess we'll have a dozen or so members to start with. I was elected president, despite my valiant effort to nominate someone else and vote for him. Robert Graham was elected vice president, and Barbara secretary/treasurer. Barbara actually got one extra vote. Malcolm had been lying there quietly while we voted, but when I called for votes for secretary/treasurer, Malcolm sat up and barked for Barbara.

I finished the last of the existing chapters yesterday and sent them off to my editor. I still have to write the USB chapter, which I told them I'd have to them next week. I hope early next week, but it'll probably end up being late next week. At any rate, we're officially in production now. Before I got started on the USB chapter this morning, I had to run monthly web access statistics for my own sites and Pournelle's. I don't really pay all that much attention to numbers, but I did find interesting the report on which operating systems people use to access our sites. For some reason, the percentages don't add up exactly, but these still give some interesting information. My stats are on the left, Pournelle's on the right. 

1: Windows 86.59%
   : Windows 98 31.76%
   : Windows 2000 28.98%
   : Windows NT 17.52%
   : Unknown Windows 4.15%
   : Windows 95 4.02%
   : Windows 16-bit 0.09%
   : Windows 3.1 0.06%
   : Windows CE 0.00%
   : Windows 32-bit 0.00%
2: OS unknown 5.74%
3: Unix 5.58%
   : Linux 4.86%
   : SunOS 0.36%
   : Other Unix 0.18%
   : AIX 0.14%
   : BSD 0.02%
   : OSF1 0.01%
   : IRIX 0.00%
   : HP-UX 0.00%
4: Macintosh 1.90%
   : Macintosh PowerPC 1.84%
   : Macintosh 68k 0.05%
   : Unknown Macintosh 0.01%
5: OS/2 0.14%
6: WebTV 0.06%
7: BeOS 0.02%
8: RISC OS 0.01%
9: Amiga 0.00%
10: OpenVMS 0.00%


1: Windows 86.57%
   : Windows 98 34.33%
   : Windows 2000 31.66%
   : Windows NT 10.51%
   : Unknown Windows 5.02%
   : Windows 95 4.98%
   : Windows 16-bit 0.03%
   : Windows 32-bit 0.01%
   : Windows CE 0.01%
   : Windows 3.1 0.01%
2: Unix 5.50%
   : Linux 4.60%
   : SunOS 0.53%
   : Other Unix 0.16%
   : BSD 0.11%
   : AIX 0.03%
   : IRIX 0.03%
   : HP-UX 0.02%
   : OSF1 0.01%
3: OS unknown 4.37%
4: Macintosh 3.18%
   : Macintosh PowerPC 3.09%
   : Macintosh 68k 0.08%
   : Unknown Macintosh 0.01%
5: OS/2 0.33%
6: WebTV 0.02%
7: RISC OS 0.02%
8: Amiga 0.02%
9: BeOS 0.00%
10: OpenVMS 0.00%




Saturday, 2 March 2002

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9:51 - I took some time off yesterday just to recover from working all week long from early morning to late evening. We're to have cool, rainy weather this weekend, so it'll be a good time to get some work done on the USB chapter.

Regular readers know that I frequently link to articles from The Register, a British IT industry on-line rumor rag. They're not always right, but they do print some interesting stuff. The Register and Tom's Hardware have now formed a joint venture to publish a US edition of The Reg, which will focus more on issues of interest to US readers and eliminate articles about what BT is up to and similar stuff that's of interest only to British readers.

One article that's up on both sites, and rightly so, describes the latest outrageous remarks by Senator Fritz Hollings (D - SC), the lead copyright-Nazi whore of the MPAA and RIAA. Mr. Hollings says by implication that I am a thief, that all of us are thieves. Screw him. I think it's time for the FBI to investigate the relationship between Mr. Hollings' legislative activities and the sources of his campaign contributions. It's pretty clear to anyone who cares to look that Mr. Hollings has been bought and paid for by the music and movie industries. When Mr. Hollings leaves congress, would it surprise anyone if the MPAA or RIAA or one of their member companies offer him a highly-paid executive position?

My congratulations to Intel Executive VP Leslie Vadasz, who stood up to this son of a bitch.

And, in case you didn't notice it at the top of this page:



Sunday, 3 March 2002

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9:33 - Screwed by FrontPage 2000 again...

I got several messages from readers, telling me that the EFF blue ribbon logo at the top of the page was appearing properly, but the one at the end of yesterday's entry was missing because it's pointing to my local hard drive rather than to the image file on the actual web server. All I did yesterday with FrontPage was go up to the top of the page, select and copy the logo image, move back down to the end of yesterday's journal entry, and click Paste. The two images should have been identical. And, as it turns out, they were, at least until FrontPage got its mitts on them. Here's what the HTML source looks like in my local copy of this page for the two images at the top of the page and at the end of yesterday's entry:

  • <img border="0" src="../../../images/brbug.gif" width="88" height="32">
  • <img border="0" src="../../../images/brbug.gif" width="88" height="32">

And here's what the HTML source looks like in the copy of this page on my remote server, again for the two images at the top of the page and at the end of yesterday's entry:

  • <img border="0" src="../../../images/brbug.gif" width="88" height="32">
  • <img border="0" src="file:///F:/usr/THOMPSON/pair_copy_of_www_ttgnet_com/images/brbug.gif" width="88" height="32">

I can't see problems like this, because all of my systems have drive F: mapped to the same directory on the server. That means that when I retrieve the page from the remote server, my browser happily puts in the image by retrieving it from drive F:.

As an experiment, I just saved this page without making any change to either of those images, and published using my FTP client rather than FrontPage. Here's what the HTML code on the remote server now looks like for both:

  • <img border="0" src="../../../images/brbug.gif" width="88" height="32">
  • <img border="0" src="../../../images/brbug.gif" width="88" height="32">

So, obviously, it's the FrontPage ftp client stub that's caused the problem. (My apologies to anyone who happens to see a partial post for today because of this experiment). It's going to be interesting to see what happens when I finish writing today's journal entry and publish it using FrontPage. My guess is that it will screw up the link for the second image again.

FrontPage is a very useful product. It makes the routine tasks required to write and publish a web page and to maintain a web site quick and easy. But it sure does have its little oddities.

I didn't work on the USB chapter yesterday. Instead, I took a bit more down time, working on Winston-Salem Astronomical League stuff, reading a couple mysteries, and watching Victoria and Albert that we'd taped earlier from A&E. That program was very well written and acted, with reasonable historical accuracy. Of course, it had the standard hands-off treatment of Victoria and her clan. 

In fact, Victoria, her husband, and her children were British only by courtesy. In reality, they were German. They were of nearly pure German ancestry, spoke German at home, and their spoken English was so strongly German-accented that many real Brits couldn't understand it. The only evidence of that in the program was one scene in which the family gathered around the Christmas tree and sang a Christmas carol in German.

The program also presented Victoria and her clan as being of normal intelligence, which they weren't. Severe inbreeding had seen to that. For example, William IV, played by Peter Ustinov, was portrayed as a pretty sharp guy. In reality, he was known at the time as "Silly Billy" and was probably at best a high-grade moron, comparable to Moe of the Three Stooges. Victoria herself was a stupid woman, and her children weren't any better. Vickie, who was considered the "smart" child, may perhaps have had an average IQ, but the other children were "slow". A realistic portrayal of Victoria and her family should have been entitled Dumb and Dumber. I guess that title was already taken, though. 

It's time to do the regular Sunday stuff. I'll get the laundry done and then work on the USB chapter while Barbara watches her race.

10:03 - The first load of laundry is running, so I decided to check the page up on the server. This time, FrontPage didn't screw it up. Of course, when I publish this, it may well screw it up again. Very strange. I'm not sure which is worse, a bug that's repeatable or one that's not. 




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