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Week of 3 June 2002

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Monday, 3 June 2002

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9:00 - I keep seeing newspaper and on-line articles about intelligence failures prior to 9/11. Some go as far as to imply that the federal authorities knew what was going to happen and did nothing, which is an outrageous accusation. All of these articles are based on 20-20 hindsight. As with many things, everything is obvious after the fact when one can pick and choose which bits of data one wants to use. The reality, of course, is that each bit of data that is now being trumpeted as a smoking gun was at the time just one more bit of data, buried amongst millions of other bits of data. As Watson once observed, what seemed an impenetrable puzzle is obvious once Holmes has explained it.

So I have no patience with those who decry the lack of action before 9/11. What disturbs me is the lack of action since 9/11. The day it happened, I predicted that the US would do nothing substantial to punish those responsible for the act itself and for supporting terrorism in general. That has come to pass. I also predicted that US citizens would see their rights sharply eroded, which has also come to pass.

If this continues, the terrorists have won. The US is now in an economic depression, at least partially attributable to the events of 9/11. In Homeland Security, we now have our very own RSHA, and the FBI is arrogating powers to itself and being delegated new powers that make it the new Gestapo. Our enemies are laughing at us because we've done almost nothing to punish those responsible. The cities, ports, dams, and other infrastructure of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya should be smoking ruins that glow in the dark by now. Instead, we haven't touched them. We should have expelled all Arabs and other followers of Islam who are not US citizens from the US the day after the attack, but they remain here. We should have withdrawn from the UN and expelled it from US territory, but it remains here. We should be supporting Israel, diplomatically and with materiel, but instead we've done everything possible to restrain them from taking actions necessary to their own protection. The US government has done nothing that it should have done abroad, and everything that it shouldn't have done at home. I am disgusted. 

10:27 - Here's another bit of nastiness. The Register reports that UMAX is now charging for scanner drivers, and they're not cheap either. I bought a UMAX Astra 3400 scanner last year, so I went over to the UMAX web site this morning to see what drivers were available. I checked for Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows 98SE. In each case, the web site informed me that the drivers were not available for download and that I would have to buy them on CD, at $32 each plus shipping and handling. That's simply outrageous. It costs about $0.50 to manufacture and package a CD. Charging $32 plus S&H makes it very clear that UMAX is treating drivers as a profit center, which is simply unacceptable. UMAX goes on my "never buy" list.

12:11 - If your western sky is clear this evening, don't miss the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. Other than Sol and Luna, these are the two brightest objects in the sky, and their visual separation this evening will be only a bit more than one degree, or less than the width of a finger held at arm's length. You can view the pair on the western horizon an hour or so after sunset. Venus, to the upper right of Jupiter, is much the brighter of the two at magnitude -3.8. As summer draws near, Jupiter is fading to its current magnitude -1.9, and before long will be lost in the glare of the setting sun.

Just above the planetary pair are the two brightest stars in the constellation Gemini. Although stars in a constellation are normally assigned Greek letters from brightest to dimmest, that's not invariably true, and isn't the case with Gemini. Castor (Alpha Gem) is barely brighter than 2nd magnitude, whereas Pollux (Beta Gem) is barely dimmer than 1st magnitude. To the lower left of the planetary pair is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major. It's called Procyon, and is a bright white star of magnitude 0.38.

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Tuesday, 4 June 2002

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9:58 - Is it just me, or is Linux on a roll? Just yesterday, I saw numerous articles describing two of the latest losses for Microsoft. First, the German government signed a deal with IBM that in effect made it clear that it was standardizing on Linux for servers (although the German government still regards Linux on the desktop as not ready for prime time). Second, the government of Taiwan announced a major new initiative that seems focused on replacing Microsoft operating systems and applications with OSS beginning next year, not just in government but throughout the country. Both of these are major losses for Microsoft.

What should concern Microsoft is that Linux seems to be gaining serious momentum. A year ago, reports about Linux "wins" were generally seen only on Linux-oriented sites, with occasional exceptions like Amazon's conversion to Linux. Six months or so ago, they started becoming common on general on-line computer news sites like The Register and CNET. Now I read about them in the morning newspaper. This can't be good for Microsoft.

I'm sure it must happen, but I almost never read a story about the converse. I mean, how often do you hear someone say, "Well, we were using Linux and Apache, but decided to replace it with Windows Server and IIS."? Among my own acquaintances, I've never heard anyone say that. Just the reverse, in fact. Linux is replacing Windows (as well as NetWare and Unices) on servers every day. If Windows Server has a remaining stronghold, it must be in small businesses and SOHO operations, and even there it's beginning to give way to Linux. Windows Server is losing ground fast in mid-size and large corporations, and Licensing 6.0 isn't helping matters. If the adoption of Linux continues to accelerate, Windows Server is going to be a minor player in two or three years, and in five years it's likely to become an asterisk.

And then there's Linux on the desktop, which right now is an asterisk (or perhaps a bit more), but which is poised to start making serious inroads on the desktops of governments and corporations. Products like OpenOffice.org, Mozilla, and Evolution are serious threats to Microsoft's domination of the desktop. Right now, Microsoft has the advantage, both because the OSS desktop applications are less polished than Microsoft's versions and because things like inertia and proprietary file formats encourage people to stay with what they're using. But that's changing, both because OSS applications are getting better and more compatible with Microsoft products and because Licensing 6.0 and other changes to Microsoft license agreements are giving people good reason to consider alternatives.

Microsoft must be very, very scared.

I had to take a short break from writing this to go off in search of Malcolm. Barbara is doing yard work today, and had the dogs out with her. She allows them to be out off-leash while she's working in the yard. Kerry wanders away, but not far, and he's slow enough that one doesn't usually lose sight of him. Duncan is more prone to wander off, but he usually goes no further than a few houses down the block. Malcolm is actually the best at sticking close to Barbara. She's often had him out with her for hours at a time, and he seldom even leaves our yard.

But Malcolm has a thing about people walking. As soon as he sees someone walking, he's off to follow him. Doesn't matter who it is, or if Malcolm has ever met the person before. When Malcolm sees someone walking, he goes for a walk with him. Barbara came in shouting that Malcolm had run away. She's always worried that he'll be run over by a passing car or something. I was still in my jammies, but I put on some slippers, grabbed my car keys and wallet, and drove off in search of Malcolm. In the interim, Barbara was gathering up Duncan and Kerry and getting them into the house. I made one quick sweep of our block and the one behind us, and then came back to pick up Barbara. We drove around the neighborhood, and Barbara spotted Malcolm quickly. He was a couple of blocks from home, following a lady who was out for a walk.

One good thing about Malcolm versus Duncan when he was Malcolm's age. Duncan used to be very aggravating when he got loose. He wouldn't come when we called him. He'd allow us to approach him with a leash in hand, but just as we got near enough to grab him, he'd scamper away until he was again out of reach. That could go on for quite some time. We'd approach Duncan slowly, trying to lure him with a treat. Just as we got close, he'd scamper away. You could almost hear him saying, "Nyah, nyah." There were times when I serious considered buying a tranquilizer dart gun.

Malcolm doesn't do that. When he sees us coming, he waits patiently. He allows us to walk right over to him and connect the leash. If we're driving rather than afoot, he waits for us to stop the truck and then comes over to the side to wait for us to open the back door. Then he just jumps in. He always has a happy look on his face and his tongue hanging out a mile, so it's pretty hard to yell at him just for being a dog.

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Wednesday, 5 June 2002

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8:43 - Today is my last day to be 24*3 years old. Tomorrow I turn 72 years old, although I'll tell people I'm 0x31. Funny, I don't feel much different than I did when I was 32*2.

Work on the websites today, all day. More later, maybe.

14:29 - From the fascinating-if-true department: http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/6/5/7320/94554

 

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Thursday, 6 June 2002

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9:16 - Thanks to everyone who sent birthday greeting messages and e-cards. Here's one example, from our friend Bonnie Richardson.

Like many men, I don't like people to make a big deal about my birthday, or holidays for that matter. Barbara picked up a cake at the grocery store yesterday, and we'll probably get take-out Chinese for dinner tonight. I told her I really didn't want any presents.

Mozilla 1.0 is officially released. You can download it here, although the site may be slow. I couldn't get to it yesterday at all after it was slashdotted, but I tried again this morning at about 7:15 and the whole 9 MB file downloaded in about 2 minutes flat over my cable modem. I don't know if they've fixed the bug(s) wherein Mozilla stops accepting keyboard input, but that's the only major bug that's affected me.

I find myself really liking Mozilla. It's not as feature-laden as IE or Opera, and it's not as fast as either of them. It has more rendering problems than does IE, although fewer than Opera. But overall I like Mozilla a lot. I have it set as my default browser, and will probably leave it that way.

What surprises me is Mozilla's continuing insistence that their browser is a technology rather than a product. Even with the official 1.0 release, anyone who downloads Mozilla is in theory testing it as opposed to just using it. I suppose that Mozilla is concerned that if their browser is considered a product people will expect them to support it, which they're clearly not in a position to do.

At any rate, if you're tired of the IE gaping-security-hole-of-the-day, give Mozilla a try. It's free, and it's more than good enough.

Brian Bilbrey sends this link to a journal entry by ESR who, as another gun-toting libertarian, is a man after my own heart. It's interesting how many of the Open Source folks are known by their initials or nicknames. Perhaps as I migrate to and start writing about OSS I should start calling myself RBT. I've been trying to convince Pournelle to load up Red Hat 7.3 and give Linux another try as a desktop OS (I'll let Jerry get the arrows in his back). If Jerry eventually migrates to OSS, he could be known as JEP.

But then as Microsoft crashes and burns and we all end up using OSS, there might be some confusion. Since no one would be using his actual name any more, we'd have to have RBT2, JEP371, and so on. Hmmm. Kind of like InterNIC handles. Right now, my InterNIC handle is RT121, which I've had since 1990 or thereabouts. I did have two better ones back in the 80's, RBT and RBT1, but I somehow lost those. Oh, well.

I may take a couple hours off today, but otherwise it'll be a normal day, writing and working on web sites.

12:51 - I spoke too soon. One horrible, hideous bug remains in Mozilla. There is no way I can find to disable Flash. I have tried everything I can think of, including inserting a dummy Flash entry in the Helper Applications section. I've looked at the DLLs, and even searched my drive for files named *swf*.* Surely there must be some way to disable this obnoxious function. Besides the fact that Flash is just one more potential security hole, I have no desire to see these damned animated presentations. Surely it must be possible to get rid of Flash. Does anyone know how to do it? If there's no way to do it with the binary, this is bad enough that I'd expect someone would already have downloaded the source and be working on eliminating this pestilence from Mozilla.

13:33 - The terrorists have won. It wasn't a question of what they could do to us, but what they could convince us to do to ourselves. So now we have our very own RSHA, which Mr. Bush will announce tonight. Here is the text of the press release:

President to Propose Department of Homeland Security

Fact sheet
Press Secretary's Morning Conversation with Reporters

The President's most important job is to protect and defend the American people. Since September 11, all levels of government have cooperated like never before to strengthen aviation and border security, stockpile more medicines to defend against bioterrorism, improve information sharing among our intelligence agencies, and deploy more resources and personnel to protect our critical infrastructure.

The changing nature of the threats facing America requires a new government structure to protect against invisible enemies that can strike with a wide variety of weapons. Today no one single government agency has homeland security as its primary mission. In fact, responsibilities for homeland security are dispersed among more than 100 different government organizations. America needs a single, unified homeland security structure that will improve protection against today's threats and be flexible enough to help meet the unknown threats of the future.

The President proposes to create a new Department of Homeland Security, the most significant transformation of the U.S. government in over a half-century by largely transforming and realigning the current confusing patchwork of government activities into a single department whose primary mission is to protect our homeland. The creation of a Department of Homeland Security is one more key step in the President's national strategy for homeland security.

Immediately after last fall's attack, the President took decisive steps to protect America -- from hardening cockpits and stockpiling vaccines to tightening our borders. The President used his maximum legal authority to establish the White House Office of Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Council to ensure that our federal response and protection efforts were coordinated and effective. The President also directed Homeland Security Advisor Tom Ridge to study the federal government as a whole to determine if the current structure allows us to meet the threats of today while anticipating the unknown threats of tomorrow. After careful study of the current structure -- coupled with the experience gained since September 11 and new information we have learned about our enemies while fighting a war -- the President concluded that our nation needs a more unified homeland security structure. In designing the new Department, the Administration considered a number of homeland security organizational proposals that have emerged from outside studies, commissions, and Members of Congress.

The Department of Homeland Security would make Americans safer because our nation would have:

* One department whose primary mission is to protect the American homeland;
* One department to secure our borders, transportation sector, ports, and critical infrastructure;
* One department to synthesize and analyze homeland security intelligence from multiple sources;
* One department to coordinate communications with state and local governments, private industry, and the American people about threats and preparedness;
* One department to coordinate our efforts to protect the American people against bioterrorism and other weapons of mass destruction;
* One department to help train and equip for first responders;
* One department to manage federal emergency response activities; and
* More security officers in the field working to stop terrorists and fewer resources in Washington managing duplicative and redundant activities that drain critical homeland security resources.

The Organization of the Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security would have a clear and efficient organizational structure with four divisions:

* Border and Transportation Security
* Emergency Preparedness and Response
* Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Countermeasures
* Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection

###

No mention of a theme song, but Die Fahne hoch (das Horstwessellied) seems appropriate. This is probably the most frightening thing I've ever experienced, and I recall the Cuban Missile Crisis.

14:15 - It occurs to me that in the interests of avoiding "duplicative and redundant" effort, Mr. Bush should skip all the work involved in organizing a detailed structure for his new organization. It's already been done, and for this type of organization he could do a lot worse than to imitate the original RSHA. Of course, he'd need to rename an Amt or two and several Abteilungen, but the basic structure should work just fine.

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Friday, 7 June 2002

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9:46 - I have been unfair to Mozilla. It doesn't have a Flash plug-in after all. I foolishly thought that checking Helper Applications in Preferences should show me any third-party plug-ins that Mozilla was using. Apparently not. Here's what that dialog looks like on my system, which does have Flash enabled.

plug-in.jpg (40980 bytes)

Thanks to everyone who pointed out the About Plug-ins option on the Help menu. When I ran that, I found the following:

Shockwave Flash

File name: C:\Program Files\Opera\Program\Plugins\NPSWF32.dll
Shockwave Flash 5.0 r41

Mime Type Description Suffixes Enabled
application/x-shockwave-flash Flash (*.swf) swf Yes
application/futuresplash FutureSplash Player (*.spl) spl Yes

So Mozilla had found that instance of the Flash plug-in in the Opera directory and just used it without telling me. I'm not sure how it got there in the first place, and I'm really not sure why that dll didn't show up when I searched my drive for *swf*.* but there it is. Or, I should say, there it was. I deleted that file, so neither Mozilla nor Opera will display Flash stuff any more. I despise Flash stuff cluttering up my screen, and I wish web designers that use Flash would get a clue. At the very least, they need to offer a non-Flash version of the site as an option. Better still, they should simply not use Flash at all.

Tonight is to be the first clear night in a long time, so we're going to head up to Bullington and get some observing in. The Clear Sky Clock says there'll be no clouds, although it forecasts the transparency and seeing conditions to be mediocre. Still, that's better than any night recently. The Weather Channel says "mostly clear" from 10:00 p.m. on, with temperatures in the mid- to upper-60's, although the humidity is hideously high for observing at 70% or so. Sunset is at 8:40 p.m., with nautical twilight at 9:44 p.m. and astronomical twilight at 10:26 p.m. What little Luna there is sets at 5:28 p.m. so we should have a fairly dark evening.

Here's an example (100KB) of what we'll be looking at tonight. Note the "Teapot" of Sagittarius at the lower left and the scads of Messier and Caldwell objects near it. When you look in that direction, you're looking toward the heart of the Milky Way, our own galaxy.

bull-0607.jpg (102298 bytes)

I'm really looking forward to getting out tonight. Tomorrow night is also to be good, so we may end up driving up tomorrow night as well.

 

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Saturday, 8 June 2002

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11:08 - We had a pretty good night at Bullington. We left home about 20:45, just at sunset, and arrived there about 21:15. It was still quite bright, so we got set up, took a quick look at Venus and Jupiter, and then sat around waiting for darkness. On the good side of the ledger, it was quite warm, with temperatures around 68F (20C) when we arrived, and there were no clouds. On the bad side, there was a stiff breeze and quite a bit of haze on the horizon. There's a school a couple miles southeast of the site that leaves its parking lot lights on all night. Combined with the horizon haze, that meant the southeast horizon, just where Sagittarius rises, was a gigantic light dome. Oh, well.

We spent the evening bagging objects in Scorpius, Ophiuchus, and (eventually) Sagittarius. Life is much easier now that I'm taking the notebook computer along. I have it loaded with Cartes du Ciel sky charting software, and I've taped some red cellophane over the display to preserve our night vision. Having the computer along makes it easy to display charts at any level of zoom and detail necessary and to display Telrad circles on-screen, which really helps in tracking down objects.

We ended up staying up at Bullington until about 0100. We got home by 0130, walked the dogs, and got to bed by 0200. Tonight is forecast to be even better than last night, so we'll probably be up there late again tonight. Barbara and I will both take a nap this afternoon so that we don't wear out early.

 

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Sunday, 9 June 2002

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11:56 - We had a great night last night at Bullington. There were nine of us there, and at least that many scopes. The night was clear, warm, and there wasn't much breeze. It was just about perfect. We arrived at sunset and stayed until 0200. I bagged a half-dozen Messier and Caldwell objects in the 10" Dob, but mostly I just did binocular observing and left the Dob to Barbara.

Barbara is getting very, very good at finding objects. For example, last night, she found M27, the Dumbbell Nebula. That's by no means an easy object for a beginner to find. This image shows the location of the Dumbell (with the red Telrad bullseye) in relation to the sky. The image covers 50 of sky, about the same expanse you'd see naked eye.

bft-m27.gif (29864 bytes)

There are three very bright stars in this image, which together form the Summer Triangle. Vega is at the top, Deneb at the lower left, and Altair at the lower right. There aren't any bright "guidepost" stars in the immediate vicinity of M27, which meant that Barbara had to star-hop down from 3rd-magnitude Albireo (itself a famous double star). In addition to M27, Barbara logged a dozen or more other Messier objects, including most of those in Sagittarius. Bonnie Richardson also bagged M27. When she found it, she shouted, "I FOUND IT" so loud that three scopes fell over. (Only kidding, Bonnie. But it did knock my Telrad out of alignment).

We finally packed it in at 0200, got home by 0230, walked the dogs, and got to bed by 0300. I'm getting too old for this. At least the dogs let us sleep in until 0900.

 

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