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Daynotes Journal

Week of 11 March 2002

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Monday, 11 March 2002

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8:55 - I'm taking a couple of weeks off to try something I've never tried before. Writing fiction. It's something I've always wanted to do, but never seriously considered. Then, a couple months ago, Jerry Pournelle called to talk about one thing or another. As usual, our conversation got off on a tangent, and at one point we started talking about some of his fiction projects. I asked him if he planned to do another in the Falkenberg's Legion series. He said he did but wasn't sure when he'd be able to get to it. I told him in jest that if he didn't hurry up and write it, I'd write it myself. Jerry said, "Well, why don't we co-author it?"

At that point, my bluff having been called, I hemmed and hawed my way out of it, saying I was too busy to even consider it. But I kept thinking about it. After finishing the manuscript Friday for the new edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell, I started thinking about it some more. I emailed Jerry to ask him if he'd been serious, or at least semi-serious about collaborating. He replied that semi-serious was the right term, and that he was willing but didn't know if I could write fiction. I told him that was fair enough, because I didn't know if I could write fiction.

When I talk to fiction authors, many of them tell me that they could never attempt what I do, because I have to deal with myriad technical detail and get it all right. That's true enough, but I am dealing with known facts. Fiction authors decide what happens in their books. That may seem easier than working within a framework defined by externalities, but a novelist has to define an entire imaginary world and keep everything consistent. If it is to be done right, that is a very difficult task, and one I'm not sure I'm up to.

Then there's the small matter of having to sit down and write words. Lots of words that paint scenes, put words in the mouths of people who don't really exist, and so on. I wasn't sure I could do that, either. I was afraid I'd sit down at the keyboard and no words would come. So I decided that before I did anything else I'd better sit down and see what happened when I tried to write fictional prose. I decided not to worry about context or anything else, just to sit down and start writing a scene. Surprisingly enough, at least to me, the words flowed. So, if I can get a framework to work within, I think filling in that framework is something I can do. Not easily, certainly. It'll be hard work. But it is something I can do.

When Jerry called Saturday, I asked him if a new Falkenberg was the next book he wanted, or if it'd be better for me to concentrate on something else. He said that he'd like to get the next in the Janissaries series finished, but that it would be even harder to work in that milieu than in the Falkenberg world. I've always believed in facing challenges head-on, so I suggested to Jerry that I take a few days to do a detailed read-through of the first three books in that series and then see what I could come up with. He agreed, so that's what I'll be doing.

All of this may come to nothing. I may not have what it takes to write good fiction. Writing well enough to meet the standards of a novelist of the stature of Jerry Pournelle is an intimidating prospect, or would be for most people. I'm arrogant enough to think I can do it. I could be wrong. My best efforts might not be good enough. If that happens, I can accept it, and have assured Jerry that my feelings won't be hurt nor our friendship affected. But if I don't try, I'll never know.

So I'm going to devote a couple of weeks to finding out. Jerry may conclude that my fiction writing sucks, although if that's the case I'm sure he'd use more diplomatic words to break the news to me. But I may not suck. One way or another, I'm going to find out.



Tuesday, 12 March 2002

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9:23 - My secondary system warned me yesterday that XP expires in two weeks. Which is fine with me. It's only running on that system for screenshots for the book anyway. Once I'm sure that O'Reilly has everything they need in the way of XP screenshots, that system becomes my new primary Linux desktop system. And a nice desktop system it is, too. An Intel D845WNL motherboard, Pentium 4/1.7G processor, 512 MB of Crucial PC133 SDRAM, an 80 GB Seagate Barracuda ATA 4 hard drive, Plextor PlexWriter CD burner, and ATI video, all wrapped in an Antec SX-840 mid-tower case. I may add a Seagate Travan NS-20 tape drive before I install Red Hat 7.2 Linux.

I was actually going to blow away XP yesterday and install Linux, but then I decided to wait a while. There's always a chance that O'Reilly will tell me I need to reshoot one or another screen shot, so I might just as well wait for a couple weeks or so and let XP die a natural death. I'm curious as to what it will do when it expires.

I've started to update the "Our Picks" section on The Motherboards page and Processors page are updated, and other pages will follow as I have time to get to them, probably one every day or two.

10:27 - Arrghhh. Screwed by FrontPage again. After publishing the updates to the site, I went over to look at them on the remote server. Everything appeared fine, but something made me check the properties for the logo at the upper left of each page. Sure enough, FrontPage had converted the relative path to an absolute path that pointed to my local hard drive. I hate FrontPage.

I called up one of the pages in question and examined properties for the image. Sure enough, it had an absolute path to file:///F:/usr/THOMPSON/pair_copy_of_www_ttgnet_com/hardwareguys/images/hglogo.jpg. So I changed the link by browsing to the image file. At that point, the picture properties said that image would be retrieved from ../images/hglogo.jpg. So far, so good. So I click OK to store that change. I then open Picture Properties again, and find that it now points to the absolute path on my hard drive. This is just hateful.

I don't need FrontPage. I need something that will let me create and edit HTML pages visually, rather than by hand-coding the HTML. It would be nice if that something would also do some of the nice little things that FrontPage does, such as autothumbnailing. But stuff like that is not essential. What I really need is a basic WSIWYG HTML page editor. If it helps organize a site by converting the internal links into a map, so much the better, but I think I can keep things organized myself if necessary.

I don't want a heavy-duty product like DreamWeaver. I want something simple to learn and simple to use, basically an HTML-enabled Notepad or something similar. I also need an FTP client that will recurse subdirectories and upload any changed files to the server. Any suggestions would be appreciated. If you have any suggestions, please post them to the messageboard. Thanks.



Wednesday, 13 March 2002

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9:39 - Thanks for everyone's suggestions about a new HTML editor. Literally a dozen or more packages were recommended. While all that was going on, I had a thought myself. I remembered that when I installed Mozilla 0.9.7 it had had an editor called Composer. I decided to see if that might be an acceptable alternative to FrontPage. I'd removed Mozilla from my systems, though, so rather than just re-installing 0.9.7, I decided to visit the Mozilla site to see if a later version was available. I found that 0.9.9 had been released, so I attempted to download it. That was an exercise in futility until I found the list of mirrors and grabbed it from a mirror site.

After installing Mozilla 0.9.9, I played with the browser for a while. It's obviously a usable browser, although still slower than Opera and much slower than IE. Probably the most aggravating problem is the slow load time, even with the memory-resident portion loaded. When I click the Mozilla icon, sometimes the browser comes up in a few seconds, but quite often it takes nearly 30 seconds for it to load. I thought I could address that problem just by leaving Mozilla up and minimized on the task bar, but that turns out not to be the case. Sometimes, clicking on the minimized Mozilla on the task bar brings it up right away, but often there's a long delay before the Mozilla window maximizes and displays its contents. So I probably won't be using Mozilla as anything but a supplemental browser.

Mozilla Composer looks like a decent product. It's missing some of the bells and whistles of FrontPage, for example support for autodate (which I have at the top of this page, and which automatically updates the date and time each time the page is edited). But Mozilla Composer does seem to have all the basic tools, and it is cross-platform, which means I could use it on Linux as well.

I haven't figured out its Publish feature, and the help for it is missing. I'm not entirely clear as to whether Publish publishes only the page being edited or all changed pages on the site. Just for the heck of it, I tried editing a page on the site and then clicking Publish. That brought up a dialog that I filled in as best I could. When I clicked OK, the dialog went away, but nothing happened as far as I could tell. No error message, and it certainly didn't publish the page up to the server. Oh, well. I'm sure I'll figure it out.

Thanks to everyone who has sent messages of encouragement concerning my foray into writing fiction. Once again, this is just an experiment. It may not work out. I'm going to spend a couple of weeks getting up to speed on the series and knocking out some text. Pournelle may well decide that I won't be able to hold up my end. Even if that happens, I won't regret the experiment. One way or another, I'll find out whether I can write fiction, which is something I don't know now.


Thursday, 14 March 2002

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8:56 - It feels strange to be reading Pournelle's Janissaries series of novels and consider it "work". But that's what I've been doing. I finished the first three books in the series yesterday and started reading Jerry's partial draft of the fourth book and his notes. Once I get through that, I'm going to go back and start from the beginning with another read-through. Before I start writing, this world has to become as real to me as it is to Jerry. I want to be living there when I start writing about it.

I may borrow Jerry's monk-cell idea and set up a system downstairs. No LAN connection. No Internet connection. No nothing. Just a system with a CD burner that I can use to write on.

Even at two and a half years old, Malcolm is still a puppy. One of the puppy things he does is steal stuff. Last night, I saw him trotting down the hall with a roll of packing tape in his mouth. He's always so proud when he captures something. He prances along with his head held high and the captured object in his mouth.

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We can usually tell when Malcolm has stolen something, because he leaves something in exchange for what he's stolen. We find dog toys in strange places. In this case, he'd stolen the packing tape from Barbara's office and left her his green caterpillar squeaky toy in exchange. But instead of leaving the toy in the same place he got the tape, he dropped the toy into the laundry basket.




Friday, 15 March 2002

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8:38 - This morning, in what's getting to be the usual thing, I arrived in my office to find my main workstation sitting at a login prompt. When I logged in this morning, however, I got something new:

Which makes me wonder if it's NAV that's crashing my system every night. Perhaps I'll disable LiveUpdate and see what happens.

Roland Dobbins sends me this article from ZDNet, which says that Microsoft uses the Open Source zlib compression library in at least nine of its major products, including Office, and is therefore vulnerable. I think it's interesting that Microsoft bad-mouths Open Source constantly, but turns around and incorporates Open Source software in its own products. Alas, zlib is not GPL'd. If it had been, Microsoft Office and the other products that use it would have been revealed to be Open Source software immediately when this was uncovered.

Microsoft must go nuts trying to make sure that none of their programmers incorporates any GPL'd software in their products, accidentally or intentionally. Were that to happen, Microsoft would legally be compelled to release the source code for that product under the GPL. And wouldn't that be ironic? I'm actually kind of surprised that the Open Source folks haven't infiltrated programmers into the Beast of Redmond. 

Or perhaps they have. Perhaps Windows XP has GPL code in it and one day Redmond will be surprised to find that the source code for XP has been published on the Internet under the GPL, with the GPL'd source embedded within it clearly flagged. Wouldn't that be interesting? Microsoft managers must lose sleep worrying about just that. There could be a ticking bomb within Microsoft's primary products even as I write this. It's no wonder that Microsoft hates the GPL.



Saturday, 16 March 2002

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9:30 - HP strikes again. In the past, I've complained frequently about their habit of promising future support for something and later reneging on that promise. Many people who bought various HP products on the basis of promised support for Windows 2000 found that that support arrived late or never. Now it seems that HP is up to their old tricks. 

This article on C|NET describes the plight of those who bought HP dvd100i DVD+RW writers, which HP had promised would be able to write DVD-R discs after a free firmware upgrade. As it turns out, there is no firmware upgrade to add DVD-R write support to those drives, and apparently never will be. HP's solution for those who want to write DVD-R discs? Buy a new HP dvd200i drive. These new drives, due to ship next month, do what the dvd100i was supposed to do. It seems to me that HP owes anyone who bought a dvd100i drive a free replacement dvd200i drive. Somehow, I doubt that's going to happen short of a class-action suit against HP.

In fairness, those who bought the competing Sony model are in the same boat, although at least Sony is trying to find a way to upgrade their first-generation DVD+RW drives to support writing DVD-R discs. Failing that, they may offer some sort of trade-in program. Of course, chances are few of our readers bought DVD+RW drives. We've been recommending DVD-RAM drives from the beginning.

Brian Bilbrey commented on the web access statistics I ran for my own and Jerry Pournelle's sites a couple weeks ago, and wondered how they compared with those from a year ago. I don't have Pournelle's old reports handy, but here are my own. Those for the first two months of 2001 are on the left and the first two months of 2002 on the right.

1: Windows 84.78%
   : Windows 98 39.94%
   : Windows 2000 17.83%
   : Windows NT 16.06%
   : Windows 95 9.89%
   : Unknown Windows 0.87%
   : Windows 16-bit 0.08%
   : Windows 3.1 0.07%
   : Windows 32-bit 0.05%
   : Windows CE 0.01%
  2: OS unknown 8.60%
  3: Unix 4.81%
   : Linux 3.55%
   : Other Unix 0.55%
   : SunOS 0.32%
   : IRIX 0.17%
   : AIX 0.12%
   : BSD 0.04%
   : HP-UX 0.03%
   : OSF1 0.02%
  4: Macintosh 1.61%
   : Macintosh PowerPC 1.38%
   : Macintosh 68k 0.24%
   : Unknown Macintosh 0.00%
  5: OS/2 0.13%
  6: WebTV 0.05%
  7: BeOS 0.01%
  8: Amiga 0.00%
  9: RISC OS 0.00%
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: Amiga 0.00%
  9: OpenVMS 0.00%

Windows 9X is fading fast, with Windows 2000 showing a big gain. What surprised me is that Windows NT 4 not only maintained its 1/6th share, but actually increased it slightly. I'm not sure where XP shows up. It may be buried in the Windows 2000 numbers, or it may account for that big jump in "Unknown Windows".

Linux is coming on fast. The bump from 3.55% to 4.86% isn't large in terms of percentage points, but is a 37% gain. If that growth rate continues, Linux will have about 10% of the desktops accessing my site two years from now. However, it may be significant that Linux had a 5.17% share in February alone (versus 4.86% for January and February combined). The use of Linux on the desktop may in fact be accelerating faster than it appears. Of course, these numbers are based on only a few hundred thousand hits, so they may not be all that significant. Time will tell.


Sunday, 17 March 2002

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9:23 - There was supposed to be an astronomy club observation last night, but it ended up hazy and cloudy enough that we didn't bother driving up to the site. It's been a tough winter for observing. Either too cold, too cloudy, or poor seeing. But at least it's starting to warm up, so perhaps we'll get a chance to get out more over the coming weeks.

Someone may finally be doing something about the DMCA/SSSCA rights grab. appears to be a rallying point for consumers who are sick of having their fair-use rights trampled by the music and movie industries and their congressional lackeys. Interestingly, it doesn't appear this new group is asking for money, just for your support. I haven't investigated the group. For all I know, it could have been set up by the music and movie industries to deflect real opposition. But it does appear to be saying and doing the right things. The web page even provides a means for you to enter a message that will be faxed to your congressman.

Time to do the laundry and other Sunday tasks.



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