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Week of 1 July 2002

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Monday, 1 July 2002

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10:00 - It being the first of the month, I'd ordinarily be running web site access reports for my own sites and Pournelle's. The June report for this site is available here. Pournelle's June report is available here. That's one of the very nice things about the move to the new server. I don't have to do the reports manually any more. The daily reports run automatically each night, and a monthly report is generated automatically. One less thing to do.

Here's a profile of a spammer that's worth reading. This guy sends tens of millions of spams a day, and spam has been his economic salvation. The money he makes by spamming has allowed him to move out of the trailer park and into a nice home. He has an 8th-grade education, and describes himself as an engineer. Although spammers are by definition stupid, this guy is definitely on the left side of the bell curve even for a spammer. Rather than keeping a low profile, this moron allows a newspaper to interview him. The world now knows where he lives, where he works, and what kind of car he drives (a yellow Corvette). If someone decides to kill this guy, the chances of being caught are vanishingly small, as any cop will tell you. Where do they start looking? The guy annoyed millions of people today, millions yesterday, millions the day before that...


Tuesday, 2 July 2002

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8:49 - Tom's Hardware has posted an article on water cooling a PC. Maybe it's just me, but this whole idea sounds bizarre. Do you call a plumber when your system starts overheating? This is a closed system with a small reservoir. It uses a radiator with a fan to exhaust waste heat, so in effect the only thing that's changed is that you're using air flow to cool the radiator rather than using air flow to cool the processor and other components directly. You need to move the same number of cubic feet of air per minute to cool the radiator as you'd need to move to cool the components directly. So where is the advantage?

According to Tom, this system uses a large-diameter fan operating at low speed to move the necessary cooling air. A large fan spinning slowly generates less noise than a smaller, faster-spinning fan that moves the same amount of air. Installing the radiator and fan apparently requires cutting a large hole in the back of your case. But I wonder what would have happened had Tom simply cut that hole and installed only a large, slow-spinning fan, without all the water-cooling equipment. My guess is that he'd have seen the same cooling efficiency at the same noise level. Ultimately, in either case it's air flow that's doing the cooling, and I suspect that the pump, tubing, and other water-cooling components are just a gimmick. A pretty expensive gimmick, too, as this unit costs from $200 to $350.

11:58 - Jerry Pournelle once told me about one of Niven's rules: "Don't throw shit at an armed man. Don't stand next to someone who's throwing shit at an armed man." And here is an example of what happens when someone violates that rule. How stupid did the people in this wedding party have to be to to fire a bunch of Kalashnikovs randomly into the air when there were warplanes patrolling in the vicinity? Pretty stupid. And how credulous do you have to be to accept the statements of the apologists for the behavior of these Afghan civilians? Pretty credulous. And yet it appears that there will be an investigation of the incident, with the results no doubt being a decision against the pilots involved. Why is there not one senior military commander or politician who has the balls to stand up and say, "We make no apology. These stupid sons of bitches got exactly what they deserved." Jesus wept.



Wednesday, 3 July 2002

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9:06 - Russell Pavlicek reviews the Wal*Mart Lindows box on NewsForge, and pretty much trashes it. He says the hardware itself is fine, but takes issue with what Lindows bundles (or doesn't bundle) with the distribution. Apparently, so little software is included with the Lindows distribution that users will almost have to sign up for the "optional" $99 Click-N-Run Warehouse deal.

Mr. Pavlicek describes the Lindows menus as "unpopulated". Rather than including the plethora of software that we've all come to expect with a Linux distribution, Lindows supplies a stripped-down installation and expects users to pay $99 for the privilege of downloading software that is bundled with standard distributions. Nor does Click-N-Run work very well. Mr. Pavlicek uses one of his three "free" Click-N-Run downloads to get an AIM client, which downloads successfully. But his attempts to download Evolution and Xine fail miserably. Two out of three ain't good.

As I feared, Wal*Mart and Lindows may do a lot of harm to the reputation of Linux and OSS. In effect, Lindows seems to be giving away the OS in the expectation that nearly everyone who buys the Wal*Mart Lindows PC will have to sign up for their $99 "optional" service. That sucks. Word is that Wal*Mart plans to introduce yet another line of Microtel PCs, which will have Mandrake pre-installed. That's what they should have done in the first place.

I see that President Bush has unequivocally rejected the International Criminal Court. Good for him. As I've said repeatedly, the US should withdraw from the United Nations and eject the UN from our territory. We don't need them. We don't care what anyone else thinks, really, so why should we pretend we do? If decisions need to be made, the US can make them unilaterally and simply tell everyone else what to do. As the saying goes,

Whatever happens, we have got
Aircraft carriers, and they have not

Meet the new boss...

10:28 - Roland Dobbins sent me a warning about a severe DNS vulnerability yesterday afternoon. I thought I'd posted it, but somehow I managed not to. What's worse is that I'd actually been following that story long before I got Roland's message. I'm not sure why I never posted anything about it, but I didn't. At any rate, you need to know about this.

ZDNet, which is no friend of Linux, posted an interesting article that trashes Internet Security Systems, which appears to have done its best to give OSS a black eye by making security vulnerabilities public with little or no notice to the developers.

Speaking of Linux, Mandrake posted another interesting article that explains why they'll have nothing to do with the UnitedLinux effort. Although Mandrake is polite about it, what they say simply confirms what I'd thought all along, which is that UnitedLinux is just a bunch of dwarfs (dwarves?) consolidating in the hopes they'll have a chance at taking some enterprise business away from Red Hat, which they won't. As far as I'm concerned, UnitedLinux is a dead issue. Neither Red Hat, which dominates server-space, nor Mandrake, which dominates desktop Linux, will have anything to do with them. Why would they? Either Red Hat or Mandrake taken separately has more market share than all four of the UnitedLinux companies put together. It's pretty hard to set a standard when few people use your products.

Also, there's the small matter of proprietary Linux versus free Linux. Three of the four founders of UnitedLinux, Caldera, SuSE, and TurboLinux, take the proprietary route, and the UnitedLinux product itself, if it ever sees the light of day, will also be proprietary. No thanks. Red Hat and Mandrake are both free Linux, which I think is an important issue. To the extent I can avoid it, I don't want proprietary software on my systems. My original inclination was to go with Red Hat for my servers and Mandrake for my desktops, but given the increasing emphasis that Red Hat is placing on desktops, I'll probably stick with Red Hat for both.



Thursday, 4 July 2002

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Happy Birthday, USA

Two hundred and twenty six years old today. If they were alive today, would Tom Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington, Patrick Henry and the rest recognize the country they founded? Probably not. Tom Jefferson said that to remain free we needed a revolution every twenty years, which means we're about 117 years overdue. At least some freedoms remain for us to celebrate today. But it's hard not to think of the freedoms those men fought for that have since been taken from us. How did we let this happen? When will we demand it stop?


Friday, 5 July 2002

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9:00 - Today is the big day. Barbara is packing for her trip. She's going with her parents on a bus tour up through the central US and into central Canada. They'll be gone for about three weeks. I'm going to drive her over to her parents' house tonight, so she can leave directly from there in the morning. She had planned to sleep here and get up at about 0500 to drive down there and pick them up in time to drive all of them over to Level Cross, NC for their 0700 departure, but that seemed a bit ridiculous.

My mother, the dogs, and I will be left to our own devices for three weeks. I told Barbara about my plans for wild women and parties, but I don't think she believes me. I did email Alison Hannigan to invite her to visit me while Barbara was gone, but so far I haven't heard from her. Oh, well.

I probably won't have much time to post journal entries while Barbara is gone, although she's done everything possible to make it easier for me to cope while she's not around. I have half a dozen frozen pizzas and a bunch of TV dinners in the big freezer downstairs, so we won't starve. The dogs have promised to be good, but I'll believe that when I see it. We should be all set, but I suspect things will have devolved into chaos by the time Barbara returns.

Barbara did mention that she's going to count the dogs before she leaves, and said that there had better be the same number present when she returns.



Saturday, 6 July 2002

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10:37 - I drove Barbara down to her parents' house after dinner last night. I took Duncan and Malcolm along, on the theory that they'd worry less if they saw me leave Barbara at her parents' house than if she just disappeared. Duncan knows from long experience what a suitcase means. When he sees Barbara go up to the attic and bring down her suitcases, he knows what's going to happen. She had a long talk with him before she left, explaining that she'll be gone for a while, but will come back. I know that people think we attribute intelligence to our Border Collies far and above their actual intelligence, but I think Duncan understood the essence of what Barbara was telling him.

On the trip back, I tested Barbara's theory that using the turn signals set off Malcolm's barker. Sure enough, every time I turned on the turn signal, including once when I was just changing lanes on Silas Creek Parkway, Malcolm started to bark berserkly. When I made a turn without signalling, Malcolm remained silent. I'm not sure what it is about a turn signal, but using one does make him bark.

When we got home, the guys just curled up on the sofa and loveseat and napped most of the evening. We did play hall ball later for a while, but I could tell that Malcolm's heart wasn't really in it. After less than fifty rounds (which is to say, toss it down the hall, watch Malcolm scramble down the hall to retrieve it, run back with it, and drop it on my Ottoman) Malcolm just gave up. That was only about 15 minutes' worth, whereas usually he insists on at least 200 or 250 rounds during an evening.

This morning, the guys let me sleep in until about 0800. We did the first-time-out, did the morning pill routine (each dog gets about five pills each morning) and then played a bit more hall ball while I checked my mail from overnight and visited a couple of my regular stops on the web. I then read the morning paper as we continued to play hall ball. By the time I was finished, it was time to give the guys their second time out, so as to avoid any nasty surprises on the foyer rug. Malcolm has taken up doing that much too often lately, so we now take them out preemptively for a second time. I think Malcolm planned it that way.

So we went out, and spent fifteen minutes sniffing around the yard. Well, the dogs sniffed. I mostly just wished they'd hurry up so that I could get back inside. All three of them eventually did what they needed to do, and I went back inside to finish reading the last couple sections of the paper. By that time, I heard the TV on in my mother's room, so I fixed her breakfast and put in a load of her laundry.

Barbara thinks I don't appreciate what she does around here, but I do. Only 17 more days left until her return. We'll survive, but it may be a near thing.

I'm starting to have some PC problems again. My den system locked up again last night, right in the middle of downloading email. It took a power-down to get it started again. I'm not sure why I continue using that system. It's an AMD Duron/800 (I think) with a VIA chipset. The last time I stripped it down, I took that opportunity to upgrade the RAM from 128 MB to 256 MB and replace the low-end nVIDIA video card with an ATI RADEON. It's been much more stable since I did that, but I suppose when using a VIA chipset an occasional crash is to be expected. I'm seriously thinking about upgrading that system from Windows 2000 to Red Hat 7.3.

Well, I'd best get to work. I need to put my mother's laundry in the dryer and take a shower. I promised Barbara I'd take a shower at least every second day while she's gone. Actually, it's fortunate that I have my mother and the dogs to care for while Barbara is gone. Otherwise, I'd probably turn into a little gnome who never left his office and subsisted on Coca-Cola and Doritos.

I have an article for O'Reilly that's due Monday, and I still have to write quite a bit of the TechnoMayhem Newsletter, so I'd best get to it.



Sunday, 7 July 2002

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10:19 - One of the guys who observes at Bullington emailed me yesterday, just as I was looking at the Clear Sky Clock and thinking about heading up for the evening. So I sent out a message to the regular group of people who observe there, and said I'd probably be up around 2130.  Things continued to look promising, so I left about 2045 and arrived up at Bullington around 2115. There were so many people there already that there was nowhere left to park at the front or side of the pad where we usually park the truck. I ended up pulling up off the road into the field and around the pad to park on the front (south) edge of the pad. I got set up next to Paul and Mary, and then we sat around talking for a while, waiting for it to get dark enough to observe.

The night was deceptively mediocre. By that I mean that it appeared clear, but there was apparently enough haze to make seeing some objects difficult, even though the Milky Way was clearly visible once it got dark enough. For example, even once Sagittarius was reasonably high, there was so much muck and scattered light pollution on the south horizon that it was difficult to get the objects I had penciled in as my goal for the night. Those were the globular clusters M54, M55, M69, M70, and M75, among others. I did eventually get them, but they were pretty underwhelming in the haze.

So I shifted gears and picked off all the Messier Objects in Ursa Major and Canes Venatici, along with a dozen or more others. The fact that I was easily able to get many low surface brightness objects like M51, M101, etc. makes me think there may just have been severe haze on the southern horizon. Even once the bowl of the Big Dipper got pretty low on the northern horizon, I was still easily able to bag objects like M109, the Owl, M81 & M82, etc., so transparency wasn't all that horrible.

Poor Paul. He loves our Pentax 14mm XL eyepiece. Getting one is high on his wish list. At one point late in the evening, there was Paul with his Celestron C8, and only three other people still there. All three of us were using Orion XT10 scopes and Pentax 14mm XL eyepieces. I shouted over, "Hey, Paul. We all have Pentax 14mm XLs, and you don't."

Around 0130, things were actually improving, as the Clear Sky Clock had said they would. I wasn't tired, but I thought it was time to pack up and head home. The dogs are upset because Barbara is gone, so with me gone as well they were probably feeling really abandoned. By that time, there were only three of us left, so we all decided to make an early evening of it and got packed up. I headed out around 0145, got home at 0215, walked the dogs one final time, and hit the sack. The guys let me sleep in until 0800 this morning.

Today, I have to finish up an article for O'Reilly that's due tomorrow, and I also have a lot of work left to do on the TechnoMayhem newsletter. Fortunately, my mother and the dogs are being good. At least so far. I can't wait for Barbara to get home. It feels like she's been gone a week already.



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