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Week of 6 May 2002

Latest Update : Tuesday, 26 November 2002 12:29 -0500

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Monday, 6 May 2002

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10:52 - Barbara and I are working hard on TechnoMayhem, which will eventually be an on-line technical reference resource for those who write (and read) mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels. There will be a web site, newsletter, and messageboard. The web site and newsletter are in progress, but the messageboard is now up and live, albeit not yet populated with users or messages. Eventually, we expect that many famous and not-so-famous but up-and-coming authors will use the board. Once the messageboard gets rolling, it should offer a good behind-the-scenes glimpse at the mechanics involved in writing these books. In addition to working authors, we expect that a lot of wannabe authors (the polite term is "pre-published authors") will hang out on TechnoMayhem, as well as a lot of people who have no desire to write a mystery, thriller, or suspense novel, but simply enjoy reading them.

TechnoMayhem is really Barbara's project, intended to drive demand for her research services, but I'm heavily involved in the project as well. Initially, everything will be free, although we'll eventually introduce premium subscription memberships that will grant access to premium content. But there will always be a lot of free stuff available, and a lot of it will probably be of interest to many of my readers.

For various reasons, not least of which is the horrible bounce rate we get on mailings to "throw-away" email accounts, we're asking people to register using their real names and a real email address. That is, if your real name is Patricia Cornwell and your real email account is, we ask that you register using that information, even though you may have a disposable account at Yahoo or Hotmail. You can choose to keep your email address private from other users of the messageboard. We have access to it, of course, but we won't sell it to spammers. If you want to make your disposable email account public, you can create a signature that includes it. Of course, you can also put your real email address in your sig or for that matter specify in your profile that your real email address is public, but we don't recommend that. If you choose to keep your email private, the only way people will be able to contact you is by posting a private message to you on the messageboard itself.

We expect that once the messageboard gets rolling there will be a lot there that's useful to working authors, and a lot there that's simply interesting for authors and readers alike. If you'd like to help us get things rolling, you can register for the TechnoMayhem messageboard by visiting and clicking on the Register link at the top. We hope you'll join the board and visit it often. Eventually, there'll even be some messages there.

We did go up to Bullington last night with the telescopes to observe. Although the National Weather Service and the Weather Channel forecast "crystal clear" weather, the Clear Sky Clock said it would be cloudless but with only moderate transparency. The Clear Sky Clock was right. There were only a few low clouds on the horizon, but there was enough water vapor in the air to make conditions less than ideal. Still, we did get some observing in. There were a couple other club members present, and we enjoyed just sitting out under the stars and talking. Barbara did bag quite a few objects, including one of her favorites. She found M104, the Sombrero Galaxy, for the first time on her own. We got back about midnight, and were glad to have had the chance to get a session in. It's been very cloudy lately, and after reasonably clear skies last night, it seems we'll be back to cloudy skies for the next several days.

Francisco Garcia Maceda posted the following on the Daynotes messageboard:

I would like to read your thoughts (and your reader's) on a letter pointed out to Jerry regarding the use of open source by the government (specifically Peru) and the proposed law to enforce it.

Some background is in order to understand the matter. A Peruvian congressman, Dr. Edgard David Villanueva Núñez, is proposing a law that will force all government offices and employees to use open source software (you can find the proposed law and some background, in Spanish, here:

The document is in response to a letter from Microsoft's General Manager in Peru rebuking the proposed law. You can find the English translation here:

and the original in Spanish here:

It seems to be a very good translation of the original, but I'm still checking it out. I haven't as yet found the full original and unedited letter from Microsoft's General Manager but I'm still looking since I would rather read it in full. In the meantime I would like to read everyone's thoughts on the subject.

I should note that Francisco was one of the tech reviewers for the new edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. I've been corresponding with him for years, and his American English is so fluent and so idiomatic that for a long time I assumed that he spoke American English as his first language. As it turns out, I was wrong. Francisco speaks Spanish as his first language, but has learned English so well that a native American English speaker assumes that he is also a native American English speaker. The point is that if Francisco says the translation is very good, you can take that to the bank.

Accuracy of translation was one of my concerns when I first read this document on The Register, and Francisco's assurance puts that concern to rest. This is a very long document, but well worth your time to read. In my opinion, this letter simply destroys all of Microsoft's arguments against Open Source Software. The man who wrote it is obviously extremely intelligent, well-informed, and able to write incisively in rebuttal of Microsoft's typical FUD campaigns. I don't know the status of the bill that's being discussed, but I hope it passes the Peruvian legislature and becomes law.

In fact, I think the US Congress should take note of what Peru is doing and implement a similar law, not that there's much chance of that happening. Microsoft has, I suspect, bought and paid for enough US congresscritters to make sure that won't happen here. Their mistake, obviously, was forgetting to buy enough Peruvian legislators to make sure it didn't happen there.

I actually feel kind of sorry for Microsoft. What's a poor multi-national corporation to do? I suppose they can afford to buy enough legislators worldwide to ensure this won't happen elsewhere, but can you imagine the administrative nightmares involved in bribing thousands of legislators in scores of countries, and making sure they stay bribed? I mean, just keeping up with the cultural requirements will be a problem. In the US, for example, one must refer to bribes as "campaign contributions" whereas in other countries they may be referred to as "baksheesh" or by some other term. And it's not just the terminology. One has to be very careful about how one offers a bribe, because people who take bribes are very sensitive about their (non-existent) honor and their (non-existent) self-respect.

Microsoft is famous for reorganizing the entire company frequently, and my advice to them is that the next time they do a re-org they consider establishing a separate division to be in charge of bribing government officials. This is simply too important to the continued success of Microsoft for them to leave it chance. They need a formal, official program in place to make sure that no other rogue countries take the course that Peru is apparently taking. Otherwise, things are likely to get embarrassing for Microsoft.

If you have any comments on this issue, you can post them here (although if you're not a member of the messageboard you'll have to join before you can post).


Tuesday, 7 May 2002

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9:33 - Red Hat released 7.3 yesterday, but I still haven't been able to get to an FTP server that will let me download it. Oh, well. I have no urgent need of it, so I'll just wait a few days for the download frenzy to die down. I have a lot on my to-do list, so it's short shrift today. First, a warning that ironically somehow ended up in my junk mail folder, where I just noticed it. P. M. Baxter sends a link to a warning about Flash vulnerabilities:

-----Original Message-----
From: P.M. Baxter
Sent: Friday, May 03, 2002 2:06 PM
Subject: Flash ActiveX Vulnerability

Dear Mr. Thompson:

I thought that you and your readers would find this of interest.


Best regards,


Thanks. I don't install Flash on my working systems, mainly because I find it very annoying but also because I was concerned about security exploits like this. I think it's ironic that when I posted comments about this a year or two ago, I got numerous messages telling me I was a moron to worry about Flash from a security standpoint. Perhaps I should go back and find the email addresses of those folks and send them a nyah-nyah reply.

-----Original Message-----
From: Eduardo Sanchez
Sent: Saturday, May 04, 2002 10:01 PM
Subject: Mozilla rendering of

Hash: SHA1

Dear Mr. Thompson,

I read with interest your observation about the rendering quality of different browsers ( I use Konqueror and Mozilla in Linux and Mozilla only in Windows. My computer time is almost exclusively Linux. I took this time to answer because I was hesitant to use your busy time with my mail, hoping that someone had pointed out what I am going to say here. However, it seems like it didn't happen so I wrote this.

When I read your observations about the rendering, I decided to test them in my browser that same day. Konqueror (I use Konqueror 3.0.5 from KDE CVS, which in theory should be more advanced more compliant that the regular Konqueror 3.0.0) rendered the page fine but the date had the same error you spotted in Opera. Mozilla, however, rendered the page fine, table, date and graphics included.

In Windows I use a large HOSTS file to block most ad servers. There, Mozilla rendered the with the same accuracy, with the website logo, and with no ad. By the way, the initial rendering looked exactly like your Mozilla screenshot, so I guess you might perhaps have pressed the stop button (or the Escape key) inadvertently. I use Mozilla 1.0-RC1 in both platforms.

Should you like to see screenshots, I can gladly prepare them for you.


Eduardo Sánchez

Version: GnuPG v1.0.6 (GNU/Linux)
Comment: For info see
iD8DBQE81JJ4yQeD5MravuwRAtpKAJ44AsGEVgd+zPVd7CO2DKsmzY4pdACfXUPP IZNX41sztOugP1But9VheGM= =Xe2J

Thanks. It's nothing I'm doing here. We've concluded that the only possible cause is the WinGate proxy server I'm running. That seems odd, because every other browser I've tried (Opera and IE on Windows and Konqueror on Linux) render things just fine. Apparently Mozilla and WinGate don't play nice.

-----Original Message-----
From: dave browning
Sent: Sunday, May 05, 2002 6:04 PM
To: [private subscriber address]
Subject: My thoughts on Learning to use Linux


Here is my free advice on learning to use Linux. I would set aside a regular time to do something with Linux, whether it is one day a month, or one afternoon a week doesn't matter. An excellent first task to work on would to be to set up a Samba server.

And regularly tackle a small project. Redhat is about to release a new version of their distribution, which includes several worthwhile updates including KDE 3.0. Open Office version 1.0 was just released. Gnome 2.0 is supposed to be released soon. Each of these things just might be worth a day of your time to take a look at.

If you spend one day a month learning more about Linux, you won't have to start over from scratch the next time you decide to learn Linux. And you may realize Linux is ready for you to try it again in six months instead of a year. Or you may realize that it still isn't ready for you a year from now without having to spend a week or ten days of unproductive time.


Good suggestion, and in effect that's what I'm doing now. I still have a Red Hat 7.2 box up and running, and when I can finally get to a responding FTP server I'll download the Red Hat 7.3 ISOs. I haven't given up on Linux by any means.



Wednesday, 8 May 2002

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10:00 - Late start this morning. When I checked my mail this morning, I found a copy of Pournelle's new column awaiting a sanity check. So I did that first, which puts me behind on everything else.

FedEx showed up yesterday with an Intel D850EMV2 motherboard, some RDRAM memory, and a Pentium 4/2.53G processor. I told Barbara I thought I could hear a muffled "meep-meep" sound coming from the box.

I finally did manage to download the Red Hat 7.3 ISOs for Disc 1 and Disc 2 yesterday. I got them from the mirror. It took forever to get connected to it, but once I did the files came down quickly enough. After a minute or so of downloading the ISO for Disc 1, it was only showing about 60 KB/s transfer rate, so I went ahead and fired up another session to get Disc 2 simultaneously. Sure enough, it also did about 60 KB/s. At the best of times, my cable modem yields 150 KB/s to 200 KB/s, so I probably could have fired up yet another session to get Disc 3. But I didn't think I needed Disc 3, so I didn't see any point to sucking down the server's bandwidth any more. I haven't burned the RH 7.3 CDs yet, but I'm looking forward to taking a look at it. I may install it over top my Red Hat 7.2 installation.

I've talked before about the mail filtering rules I use in Outlook. My first rule is "delete everything". Following rules move messages that meet specific criteria to designated folders. I'd say maybe 3% to 5% of the spam messages I get end up in my inbox. The remainder are filtered automatically to Deleted Items, which I don't look at very often. I have that folder sorted by subject, because that makes it very easy to permanently delete spams without having to look at them. I have so many email addresses that I often get the same spam to four or five addresses. The supposed sender may vary, but the subject lines are the same. So when I see a block of three to five messages with identical subjects, I can delete a bunch of messages by machine-gun clicking the delete key.

But I do sometimes see interesting subject lines. One that showed up this morning has to be one of my favorites:


Eh? And here I thought nekkid women looked pretty much the same all over the world and throughout history. Obviously, there must have been some changes made. I wonder what I'm missing. Have women evolved and I didn't notice?

And it turns out that Malcolm is a porker. Barbara took him to the vet yesterday because she was concerned that he might have impacted or infected anal glands (the symptoms were described classically in the All Creatures Great and Small series, where Ms. Pumphrey describes Tricki Wu's case of "flop-bot"). As it turns out, Malcolm's anal glands are fine, but when they routinely weighed him he tipped the scales at 67.5 pounds. His proper weight for his size should be perhaps 50 to 55 pounds, so he's definitely a bit chubby. They did blood work to rule out a thyroid problem, diabetes, and so on. Barbara is going to wait for the results before we decide what to do, but I suspect that Malcolm will be going on a diet.

And now it's back to work for me.



Thursday, 9 May 2002

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10:41 - Holy Cow, did I ever butcher my web sites. I can't blame it on FrontPage, because it did exactly what I told it to do. Global Search and Replace is a wonderful thing to have when you need it, but boy is it dangerous. I managed to do a global search and replace on a graphic file and replace it with another file. Unfortunately, the replacement file I specified was the wrong one, and there's no Undo for such an action. So the entire site was trashed. Unfortunately, I'd just spent a couple of hours making changes to the site, and hadn't backed those up before I did the global search and replace. So if you find a bunch of missing links, etc. don't bother telling me. I'm trying to get everything straightened out, but it'll be a while (if ever) before I get everything fixed.



Friday, 10 May 2002

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9:08 - We're in the process of migrating our web sites over to a new server, so things are likely to be a little confused over the next couple of weeks. There will be broken links and other problems. In addition to moving to the new server, we're also restructuring everything. Until now, has been the primary domain, with my journal page and other stuff in and Barbara's journal and other stuff in That's going to change. In future, I'll be using as my personal domain, and Barbara's personal stuff will be migrating over to her domain. We'll also be maintaining for book-related stuff, for our new project, and for the Winston-Salem Astronomical League.

We'll try to make all of this as transparent as possible, for example by leaving a redirector page at the address formerly used by Barbara as the entry point to her current journal page. The DNS changes have already been made for all domains, so over the next couple of days you should find yourself hitting the new server. If you find broken stuff, please don't email me about it yet. I know there are all kinds of things broken, and I'm working on them as best I can. Within the next week or two, most of the problems should be fixed, although I expect to continue seeing glitches for the next few months.

If you're thinking about buying an Intel motherboard right now, don't. Intel is in the process of transitioning to a new series of products. The current 850 chipset is being replaced by the 850E, and the 845 chipset by the 845E. Those are really just updated versions of the current chipsets, with support for 533 MHz FSB processors added. The upshot is that the D850MV motherboard is being replaced by the D850EMV2, the D845BG by the D845EBG2, and so on.

Don't confuse the "E" models with the "G" models, which are to ship next month. The "G" models really are new. They will have embedded video, which by all accounts should be more than Good Enough for most users, and include native USB 2.0 support. In other words, they're probably the motherboard you really want. If you have to buy a motherboard right this minute, get an "E" model. If you can wait a month or six weeks, the "G" is probably the better bet. I haven't seen a "G" model motherboard yet, so this is speculative, but I expect they'll be as solid as all of Intel's other recent motherboards.


Saturday, 11 May 2002

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9:55 - I spent much of yesterday reorganizing websites. Everything is now sliced and diced and up on Rocket, the co-located server that Greg Lincoln runs (Thanks Greg!). The DNS changes have been made, but have not yet propagated, at least not everywhere. Barbara's personal site is now, with and redirected to This site, is now exclusively my personal site, or will be once the DNS changes take effect. I have (I think) redirector pages working for everything, so people who try to access the sites using the old URLs will be sent automatically to the new sites/pages. Once the DNS changes propagate and I do a little debugging, I'll close my account at pair Networks.

When Barbara was checking her new site yesterday, she commented that it was noticeably faster than her site on pair Networks, and that seems to be true generally. I'm sure there'll be a few bobbles along the way, but we appear to be progressing rapidly over to the new server.

Speaking of Rocket, that's also the server that runs LinuxMuse, the new Linux site that Greg Lincoln and Brian Bilbrey have created. If you have any interest at all in Linux, do yourself a favor and visit LinuxMuse. It's only been up a week or so, but I can see that it's going to become a valuable resource for Linux users. You can read the web site and messageboard posts without registering. If you want to post to the messageboard, you need to register, but that's free (and you can still get a two-digit member number, which may be coveted in years to come...) If you want to support the site financially, they have a very slick subscription mechanism in place. At any rate, if you're interested in Linux, I'd encourage you to visit their site.




Sunday, 12 May 2002

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9:25 - I got two, count 'em two, email messages this morning. Both of them were spam, and both were in my mailbox at pair Networks. That has to be an all-time record for least mail of a morning. On an ordinary morning, I'd have at least 25 spams, plus real mail, listserve traffic, and so on. Usually something between 50 and 100 messages overnight. The DNS changes have mostly propagated by now. I just checked my pair Networks stats for yesterday, and I had something like 20% of the normal number of hits on my pair web server. Presumably, the mail will start to catch up soon.

I got Red Hat Linux 7.3 installed on the Linux test-bed system the other day. It looks very nice. Things are moving right along with Linux and Linux applications, and it may well be less than a full year before I'm ready to give Linux another try as a desktop OS. I also downloaded OpenOffice 1.0 for Linux and Windows. I've installed it on Windows, although not yet on Linux. OO1.0 looks very good. There are still many reported incompatibilities between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice documents, although I didn't encounter any of them in my limited experiments with OO. From what little I've seen, though, it does seem that OO is well on its way to becoming a credible alternative to MS Office.

Posts will be very sparse and sporadic around here for the rest of this month. I'm heading into crazy time with the final stages of finishing up the new edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. Sometime this week, O'Reilly will be sending me PDFs of the final chapter layouts. I'll have a week or so to proofread them word-by-word and make any final small changes necessary, respond to queries, and so on. I also have a ton of other stuff on the "must be finished" list, and some heads-down writing to get done. In short, too much work, and too little time to finish it. So things will be sparse around here.

And now I'd better get to work on the laundry and stuff.



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