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Week of 29 April 2002

Latest Update : Friday, 10 May 2002 12:57 -0400

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Monday, 29 April 2002

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8:27 - My den system, ursa, is fully revived and working. After vacuuming out all the crud, I took a look at what's in it. This is a system that AMD sent me, and they made a point at the time of saying that it was designed as a low-end system--slow video card, slow hard drive, and so on. Also, I'd forgotten that it had only 128 MB of PC133 SDRAM.

So, with the system all stripped down and cleaned out, I decided it was time for a small mid-life upgrade. I popped a second 128 MB DIMM in and pulled the nVIDIA Vanta video card, replacing it with an ATI RADEON 32MB AGP. I won't say it's like a whole new system, but Windows 2000 is happier in 256 MB and the video is much improved. I was considering swapping out the 5,400 RPM hard drive for a modern 7,200 RPM unit, but that would have been too much work. I also left the existing 10BaseT card installed, because network throughput really isn't a big issue for this system. I knew I had a 1.0 or 1.2 GHz Athlon sitting unused around here somewhere, but installing that also seemed too much work for too little gain. This system runs Word, Outlook, FrontPage, and web browsers, and for that it's fast enough.

This week, I go into heads-down writing mode, so there won't be much here. I may surface periodically with a new post, but don't count on it.


Tuesday, 30 April 2002

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9:01 - If you have any interest in Linux, go see, a new site devoted to Linux. My friends Greg Lincoln and Brian Bilbrey are the guys behind this new site, and I have no doubt that it is destined to become a premier source of Linux information and help. Greg and Brian are both Linux gurus extraordinaire, and I see that other big names from the Linux world like Moshe Bar are also hanging out there.

The site just went live yesterday, so there's not a lot there as yet, but the fundamentals are all in place. Brian and Greg plan to support the site by voluntary subscriptions. I'd intended to be their first subscriber but I got distracted last night, and forgot to come back to subscribe. This morning, when I visited the site again, I found I'd lost my chance because at least one other person had already subscribed. So I wasn't their first subscriber, but at least I'm an early one.

I've already bookmarked, and if you have any interest in Linux I suggest you do too. Visit the site and help Greg and Brian get things rolling.



Wednesday, 1 May 2002

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9:27 - It's the first of the month, so I sat down in my office this morning and started to run the web access reports for my own sites and Pournelle's. I was surprised to find that the 4/30 log files were missing for some of the sites. In the past, pair Networks had occasionally "forgotten" to generate raw log files for one day or another, so I was getting ready to email them to ask them to regenerate the missing log files when I noticed the date/time stamps on some of the other daily files for April.

In the past, pair generated the daily raw log files very quickly. Tuesday's log file would show up in the log files directory at something like 12:02 a.m. on Wednesday. I just went back and looked at last year's raw log files for several sites, and nearly all of them were timestamped from 12:01 a.m. through 12:08 a.m. on the following day. That's no longer the case. Both Pournelle's and my sites have log files stamped as late as 13:30 the following afternoon. I'm not sure what happened, but I guess I'll have to start running reports on the second of each month instead of the first. Volume can't have anything to do with it. I'm still running my usual 2,000 or 3,000 page reads per day, and Pournelle is still running his usual 8,000 to 10,000.

Oh, well. Back to work.

10:25 - The "missing" raw log files for 30 April finally showed up a few minutes ago, so I ran the reports. In case anyone is interested, here's the summary for this web site for last month:

(Figures in parentheses refer to the 7 days to 01-May-2002 10:04).
Successful requests: 264,311 (65,373)
Average successful requests per day: 8,810 (9,338)
Successful requests for pages: 77,981 (20,151)
Average successful requests for pages per day: 2,599 (2,878)
Failed requests: 4,865 (1,360)
Redirected requests: 300 (72)
Distinct files requested: 2,350 (1,839)
Distinct hosts served: 13,208 (4,114)
Corrupt logfile lines: 6
Data transferred: 1.634 Gbytes (449.662 Mbytes)
Average data transferred per day: 55.791 Mbytes (64.237 Mbytes)

So I'm ambling along at my usual pace of about 2,500 page reads a day and 4,000 visitors a week, which really isn't bad for a personal web site. Of course, Pournelle's figures are something like three or four times mine.



Thursday, 2 May 2002

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10:47 - I was considering bringing up our new web site on a database-driven host, but doing that requires that I create the pages in XHTML. That may be a showstopper. I spent quite a bit of time yesterday researching XHTML, and I don't think it's something I can use. As far as I can see, there's no way to make FrontPage 2000 generate XHTML-compliant code. Nor does Mozilla Composer produce XHTML, unless I'm missing something obvious. Nor, according to the articles I read, does DreamWeaver or any of the other visual editors. Every one of the articles I could find talked about having to go in and manually edit the generated HTML code to make it XHTML-compliant. The W3C site suggested using HTML-Tidy to clean up the code, but again it said that I'd have to go in and manually edit the HTML to make it XHTML-compliant. That's simply not on. I need a WYSIWYG editor that generates XHTML-compliant code, but apparently there isn't such a thing.

There are numerous real advantages to going with the database-driven site, not least of which is that it would allow an integrated access-control system based on the messageboard accounts of users to control access to subscriber-only areas of the associated web site. It would also allow native searching and other nice features. But it's all dependent on the source documents being XHTML-compliant, and I don't know how to do that. Oh, I could make any given document XHTML-compliant by editing it manually, but that's simply not practical for the volume of documents I'd need to generate.

The problem here is that I don't want to spend time learning anything or manually editing pages to make them compliant. I want my software to do that for me, which I don't think is unreasonable. I want to spend my time writing content, not figuring out how to do the necessary low-level formatting on that content.



Friday, 3 May 2002

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10:14 - I should have been clearer yesterday. I wasn't saying that a database-driven web site per se requires XHTML, just that the one I was considering does. Upon reflection, I think I'm going to stick with a static site. That gives up things like native searching and user-management, but it has the advantage of simplicity and allowing me to use tools I'm already familiar with. That in turn allows me to concentrate on writing content rather than worry about the mechanics, and also makes it much easier for me to modify structure as I go along. The other advantage to a simple hierarchical structured HTML site is that I can easily put that on CD if we later decide to do so. So, for now at least, I'm going to stick with FrontPage 2000. Using that, I can structure the site and write content without worrying about the plumbing.

12:10 - I use three browsers on my main system: Opera 6, Mozilla 1.0RC, and IE 5.5 (I did have IE 5.01, but TurboTax upgrade it without asking). I have all three because I need all three. IE is hideously plagued with security problems, but there are some sites that simply don't render using other browsers. Opera would be my preference, but its insistence on strict compliance with HTML and other standards means that it often butchers pages that other browsers render usably. Also, NIS doesn't block ads in Opera. Mozilla is as fast as IE, but has some severe rendering problems of its own, not to mention the fact that it frequently decides to stop accepting keyboard input. So, for the time being, I use all three. I was over on Fred Langa's page this morning using Opera when I noticed a strange rendering problem. So I fired up the other two browsers and used all three to take screen shots of the same portion of Fred's page. Here they are, Opera first:

The first thing I notice about Opera is that Norton Internet Security isn't blocking the banner ad at the top. The second strange thing is that the date has been rendered as "102/05/03" rather than the proper "2002/05/03", which apparently means that Opera is choking on the javascript applet that displays the current date. The page is readable, but has some very strange features. So I fired up Mozilla 1.0RC and saw the following display:

Stranger still. Mozilla has severe problems rendering graphics and non-standard HTML, and this is a good example of it. Not only is the banner ad at the top of the page missing, but so is the Langa.Com logo graphic. The menu bar on the left doesn't show any menu choices, which is fairly common with Mozilla (see the PC Magazine main page for another example). One good thing is that Mozilla managed to display the date correctly. So I moved on to Internet Explorer 5.5, which displayed this:

The date is missing entirely here, but otherwise the page renders much better than with either of the other two browsers. IE has an advantage, of course, because Fred uses FrontPage to create and maintain his site. Even so, IE generally renders broken code much better than either Opera or Mozilla does. If it weren't for all the privacy issues, security holes, and so on, I'd use IE. I also like Opera a lot, although it'd be nice if NIS would block ads. I hate ads enough that I seldom use Opera, although I suppose I could install Webwasher as another layer of ad blocking and disable ad blocking in NIS. Mozilla is by far the least functional of the three browsers, and also the poorest at rendering non-standard pages, not to mention bog-standard graphics, which it sometimes chokes on for no apparent reason. Despite all that, I'm currently using Mozilla as my default brower, and have been since 0.9.9 was released. I hope that they fix some of the more annoying bugs before Mozilla 1.0 goes gold, but I have my doubts.

Opera would be my favorite browser if only they'd fix a couple minor problems with it. The most annoying is that it sometimes doesn't properly render pages that require vertical scrolling. The scroll bar is there, but the movable portion fills nearly the entire available space, and the scroll bar doesn't scroll. It would also be nice if Opera had built-in ad blocking, and turned it on by default. No browser company seems willing to do this, which to my way of thinking shows that none of them place the interests of users first. I doubt we'll ever see usable ad-blocking in IE, simply because Microsoft is in bed with other commercial interests, and places the interests of users last. Mozilla, which should be leading by implementing good ad-blocking as a default instead has published a self-righteous document that says they won't implement ad-blocking because it harms advertisers. So what? I want my browser to put my interests first, not those of advertisers. I suppose given how much AOL/Time-Warner depends on ad revenue, this decision isn't surprising. But I do wonder why Opera, as an independent, hasn't implemented built-in ad-blocking in their pay-for version.

As I've been saying for years, on-line advertising is not a sustainable revenue mechanism for web sites. As the use of ad-blocking software continues to grow, on-line advertising will continue to decline, and most sites that depend on it are doomed. Perhaps not next month, nor even next year, but they are doomed nonetheless. The real alternative is micro-money, but as long as on-line ads are perceived as viable, there is no motivation for the industry to push micro-money standards and incorporate the infrastructure required. That can't come soon enough for me. The death of the so-called "free web" is long overdue, but few people realize yet what a Good Thing that will be.

And now I'm going to take the weekend off and work on



Saturday, 4 May 2002

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Please give a moment's thought today to Alison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder. Thirty-two years ago today at Kent State University, the Ohio National Guard murdered those four students and wounded nine others. Two of those dead were merely spectators at the anti-war protest that occurred that day. The other two were minding their own business on their way to classes. No students were armed. No Guardsmen had been injured, nor were they in any danger. The Guardsmen fired randomly for 13 seconds--13 seconds--into a group of unarmed civilians, killing students as much as 700 feet away. No one has ever been brought to justice for this massacre, nor even suffered administrative discipline.

And it was on that day that what little trust I had in government disappeared forever. As Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young said, "soldiers are gunning us down." Indeed.

9:50 - I figured out what the problem is with Opera and vertical scrolling. It's a bug, but it occurs only when the Default Zoom is set to something other than 100%. I verified that yesterday when I encountered yet another page where the vertical scroll bar didn't work. I had had Default Zoom set to 110%. When I changed Zoom to 100%, the page redrew and vertical scroll bar again functioned. Even when I changed back to 110%, the scroll bar still worked. Until, that is, I reloaded the page, at which point the vertical scroll bar again became useless. Setting Default Zoom to 100% and then reloading the page allowed the scroll bar to work normally.

Pournelle is back, but covered up in email and with a column deadline looming. He called yesterday to talk about a new Intel motherboard he'd gotten (which we're not allowed to talk about yet publicly), and it sounds impressive. I have some new-generation Intel stuff on the way in as well. Jerry and I honor embargo dates, but there are many who don't. You can read about some of the new products here and here.


Sunday, 5 May 2002

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8:43 - This morning we'll do the usual house cleaning, laundry, etc. This evening, we're headed up to Bullington to observe. The National Weather Service and The Weather Channel say that tonight is to be "crystal clear", and the Clear Sky Clock says there will be no clouds and moderate transparency and seeing. The Weather Channel says the low tonight will be 57F, which means we won't need the long johns and heat packs. So it seems that tonight may be ideal for observing. Sunset is at 8:13 p.m. this evening. By 8:45 p.m. or so, it'll be dark enough to observe the planetary show on the western horizon. Mercury, Venus, and Saturn will be in a tight equilateral triangle about 2.5 degrees on a side, and Mercury will still be at 13 degrees or so above the horizon. If we wanted to stay out late enough--0300 or so--we could observe Sagittarius, which has the richest collection of spectacular Messier Objects of any constellation.

This is the best time of year for observing. It's warm enough that we won't freeze our little nuggers off, but the mosquitoes haven't had a chance to breed yet. The atmosphere is reasonably stable, which means good seeing, and it's dark enough by 2145 or so to observe faint fuzzies. As we get into summer, the mosquitoes will show up in force, and astronomical twilight gets later and later. In late June, it'll be nearly 2300 before it gets dark enough to observe DSOs, which makes for late evenings. On the other hand, Sagittarius will be up well before midnight by late June.


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