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Week of 19 August 2002

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Monday, 19 August 2002

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9:02 - The Microsoft Optical Mouse in the den finally died yesterday. I left Barbara cleaning house to head over to the nursing home to visit my mother. When I returned, I sat down in the den and moved the mouse to unblank the screen. Nothing happened. I thought I heard a quiet rattle, so I shook the mouse. Something was indeed rattling around inside. Not good.

So I turned to Barbara and asked, "While you were cleaning, did you by any chance drop the mouse?" She said, "Well, you've dropped it plenty of times." I took that to mean "Yes." And in fact I have dropped it plenty of times, probably at least three times a week on average since its been installed. It's a testimony to the ruggedness of the MS Optical Mouse that it took so much abuse for so long before finally failing.

I looked around for a spare MS optical mouse, but couldn't find one. My next choice was an MS wireless mouse. I installed that, but Windows 2000 didn't recognize it for one reason or another, perhaps dead batteries. I didn't want to waste time figuring out the problem, so I shut down the system again and installed a standard USB MS IntelliMouse, which works fine.

nVIDIA finds themselves in trouble, at least in the US market. Kyle's HardOCP reports that VisionTek is liquidating.  VisionTek is the largest nVIDIA OEM, and produces most of the nVIDIA-based video cards sold in the North American market, both under the VisionTek name and others. Without VisionTek, nVIDIA is going to be hard-pressed to sell their graphics chips in North America.

My guess is that VisionTek was doomed by a double-whammy. Not only are PC component makers struggling to survive due to the economic collapse of the high-tech industry, but stand-alone video cards themselves are becoming an endangered species. Tom and Anand go on at length about the latest and greatest video cards, but the truth is that, outside the gaming and professional 3D niches, very few people buy stand-alone video cards these days. They use what came in their systems, which is increasingly likely to be embedded video. Embedded video (and audio) has gone from being a low-end-only solution to one that's Good Enough for nearly all users. Of course, that may change with the release of Microsoft's next-generation OS, which is supposed to be 3D-intensive, but by the time that happens it's quite possible that no independent 3D GPU producers will remain standing.

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Tuesday, 20 August 2002

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11:14 - A Los Angeles carjacker made a really bad decision yesterday. It seems the vehicle he tried to carjack was occupied by a Judo team. Too bad it wasn't a Karate team. Better yet, a Combat Pistol team.

I must have fighter-pilot genes or something. Years ago, when I played Chuck Yeager's Air Combat regularly, I was driving over to Greensboro on Interstate 40. As I neared Piedmont Triad International airport, a 747 crossed the Interstate a mile or so in front of me at a couple thousand feet altitude. Without thinking about it, I started to pull back on the steering wheel to climb and get on the airliner's tail. The other morning, I was coming home from visiting my mother, thinking about nothing in particular. A light plane at fairly low altitude crossed my path, and once again I started to pull back on the steering wheel, trying to make my 4X4 climb to get on the guy's tail. I wonder if real fighter pilots are particularly bad about tailgating when they're driving a car instead of a fighter.

11:56 - I find myself in a strange position. Ordinarily, in a debate between Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly and Associates and Thomas Greene of The Register, I'd expect to side with Tim. In this case, however, I think Tim missed the boat. Read the original article, and then read Tim's and Thomas's comments on it and see what you think.

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Wednesday, 21 August 2002

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12:18 - Here's an interesting letter to the editor on The Register. Apparently, Microsoft may have been forced to withdraw those fonts because at least some of them were licensed to Microsoft only for use with Microsoft operating systems.

If that's true, we have an interesting situation. Microsoft apparently posted the fonts as "free" (as in beer) without any restrictions on the OS with which they could be used. If those fonts were originally licensed to Microsoft only for use with MS OS's, that means that Microsoft has violated the copyrights and license terms of the font foundry(s) that created the fonts, because the EULA included with the fonts makes no mention of them being limited to use with Windows. Presumably, that makes Microsoft subject to some pretty hefty financial penalties, possibly even per-incident. I wonder how they could ever establish how many people who downloaded the fonts used them with non-MS operating systems.

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Thursday, 22 August 2002

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11:09 - Barbara is off to play golf with her dad this morning. I went over to visit my mother, who appears to be doing much better. I always take a book along to read while mom is reading the paper, working on the crossword, or watching one of her art shows on PBS. I realized this morning that I'd better hope mom doesn't show any unexplained symptoms. The day before yesterday, I was reading Ngaio Marsh's mystery, The Nursing Home Murders, which goes into great detail about a murder committed with the poison hyoscine. Yesterday, I was reading Deadly Doses: a writer's guide to poisons. This morning, I was reading Trestrail's Criminal Poisoning. I think the nursing home staff noticed all three titles. Hmmm.

 

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Friday, 23 August 2002

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8:30 - Two more warnings from Roland Dobbins about important security holes in Microsoft software:

-----Original Message-----
From: Roland Dobbins
Sent: Thursday, August 22, 2002 8:46 PM
To: jerryp@jerrypournelle.com; thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: Major MS SMB remote exploit.

Much more than DoS, description highly misleading; can possibly be exploited to run code of attacker's choice in a privileged context.

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/security/bulletin/MS02-045.asp

and

-----Original Message-----
From: Roland Dobbins
Sent: Friday, August 23, 2002 12:01 AM
To: jerryp@jerrypournelle.com;  thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: Multiple IE security holes, patches

On and on it goes . . .

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/security/bulletin/MS02-047.asp

I wonder what happened to -046, but I'm not interested enough to go look. Actually, in the interests of not boring people, I think I'm going to stop posting warnings about Microsoft security holes. They're not news anyway. From now on, I think I'll start posting an alert when someone doesn't find a security hole in Microsoft software.

I'm off to visit my mom this morning and play telephone guy. Her phone line has been misbehaving since it was installed. Outbound calls work fine, but inbound calls are very strange. From mom's end, she often hears just a chirp rather than a full ring. From my point of view, calling her from our house, I'll frequently get a half-ring, followed by a disconnect or static. At first, we thought it was the phone set, so I replaced that. The problem remained. Obviously, it's a problem either in the CO line itself or in the premise wiring.

Since I elected not to sign up for the $6/month wiring maintenance, BellSouth will charge some outrageous amount to fix the problem if it turns out to be on the premise side. So I'm going to haul my tools over to the nursing home this morning and start playing in their wiring closets. I'll probably do a quick-and-dirty to start with, and just move her line to a different pair. If that works, great. Otherwise, I'll have to do some in-depth troubleshooting. Unfortunately, the problem isn't reproducible, so I can't just hook the butt set to the CO demarc and test there.

12:03 - Okay, I lied. Here are two more articles about Microsoft security holes. First, another from Roland Dobbins:

-----Original Message-----
From: Roland Dobbins
Sent: Friday, August 23, 2002 9:58 AM
To: jerryp@jerrypournelle.com; thompson@ttgnet.com
Subject: Microsoft vulns make it to cnn.com

http://www.cnn.com/2002/TECH/internet/08/23/microsoft.security.reut/index.html

Microsoft can't be happy about making CNN. Then there's this one from The Register. Like most people, I long ago decided that the phrase "Microsoft Trustworthy Computing" is an oxymoron. Stuff like this just reinforces that opinion.

And I saw an interesting phrase the other day in an article, I forget which, about Linux and OSS software. It referred to "legacy Microsoft software", which I think is an interesting concept.

 

 

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Saturday, 24 August 2002

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8:49 - Yet more evidence that armed robbers are stupid, as if we needed it. A would-be robber walked into a local convenience store, filled a drink cup, and walked up to the counter to pay for it. He handed the clerk two one dollar bills, and as the clerk began to make change, the would-be robber drew a folding knife and demanded the contents of the till. The clerk, tired of being robbed, took exception to this and pulled out a tire iron, whereupon the would-be robber fled without waiting for his change. Someone needs to tell this guy that the goal of a robbery is to leave with more money than you arrived with, not less.

Reminds me of the moron who robbed a bar, not realizing that it was a watering hole for off-duty cops. As the robber turned to run, he found himself faced with about forty drawn pistols, held by no-doubt bemused cops. Alas, none of the cops shot, leaving open the possibility that the moron would later be able to pollute the gene pool.

I did check out my mother's phone yesterday. I was hoping that it was a telco problem, but as I suspected it's a premise-wiring problem. Even though the building is only 12 years old, I was expecting to encounter the typical rats' nest of wiring in the telephone equipment room. I was pleasantly surprised, though. Whoever is doing their station adds and changes, presumably the phone company, is doing a pretty good job of keeping things organized and labeled.

There was even a threat written in Magic Marker on one of the cans, just like the threats I used to leave in equipment rooms. "All room wiring must connect to the blue block and be cross-connected to the demarc. No exceptions. This means you." And the 66 blocks were actually labeled with room numbers, and bridged rather than punched-down directly.

Alas, it seems that whoever did the station wiring didn't do a great job. I put tone on mom's jack and was able to find her pair easily on the station block. Unfortunately, there was also noticeable tone on a couple of other pairs. That means either that they have some broken insulation and high-resistance shorts to other pairs or (more likely) they used quad (shudder) rather than UTP for at least some parts of the station runs.

Oh, well. It could be worse. Back in the early 80's when I was installing some phones In my parent's home, I found that it had been wired with 12-pair cable, which was very odd. Old homes are almost universally wired with quad (four individual wires, not pairs, in green, red, black, and yellow) in a loop. Newer homes, say after the late 60's or early 70's, are usually wired with four-pair UTP, using blue, orange, green, and brown pairs, in either a loop or home-runs back to the demarc. I'd never seen a home wired with 12-pair cable, and probably never will again. I think they must have used some telco stuff salvaged from an equipment room.

What was worse was that the moron who ran the cable had spliced it inside the walls, paying no attention to the insulation colors or even to keeping pairs as pairs. For example, the conductor that went in one side as white with a blue stripe came out the other as red with a brown stripe. The other half of the pair, blue with a white stripe, came out the other side as brown with a white stripe (or something like that). Arrrghh.

At any rate, the nursing home wiring is reasonable, so the problem is likely in a bad pair. I did polish the contacts on the 66 block before I reinstalled the bridging clips, and I repunched the conductors to make sure they made good contact. We'll see if that solves the problem. If not, I'm going to have to move mom's line to a different pair. Before I do that, I wanted to get permission from the facility director. She trusts that I know what I'm doing, but it's always good to ask.

I'll probably end up doing station moves for them routinely. When the phone company installs a phone line for a resident, they cross-connect it to the room in question. If the resident is then moved to a different room, as happens fairly often, they have to call the phone company to relocate the line, for which the phone company charges something like $75. I don't deny that it costs the phone company money to send out a guy to make the change, but it seems outrageous to charge an elderly person, many of whom have only $30 per month in pocket money left them by Medicaid, $75 for such a simple task. I told the facility director that I'd be happy to do those station moves for them. It'll take me only a few minutes to do, save the residents $75 a pop, and I'm over there frequently anyway.

 

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Sunday, 25 August 2002

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10:04 - PC Magazine has posted an article about the new Zip 750 drive. Iomega, in their usual too-little-too-late fashion, has released a $180 drive that writes 750 MB at 13X to $13 Zip 750 cartridges. The new drive also reads Zip 100 disks and reads/writes Zip 250 disks, but of course only a Zip 750 drive can read or write Zip 750 disks. According to PC Magazine, the Zip disks have "an edge over CD media because they are housed in a durable plastic casing and are scratch-resistant." Maybe so, but my experience suggests that Zip media of any sort are fragile and shouldn't be depended on for storing data. CD-R and CD-RW discs, on the other hand, are quite reliable. PC Magazine rates this drive 3 of 5 bullets, but that seems high to me. Even if the Zip 750 functions exactly as designed, you're better off with a Plextor PlexWriter CD burner, not least because you can read the discs it produces in nearly any PC.

I hate Windows 9X. I hate it. Yesterday, I needed to scan a couple of things so I fired up the Windows 98SE system that has the UMAX Astra 3400 scanner attached. It locked up, again, in the middle of a scan. I rebooted, and managed to do a scan or two before it locked up again. Finally, after completing the scans I really need to do, I decided to risk moving the scanner. I relocated it to my desk and connected it to my primary Windows 2000 box, where it appears happy. I'm not sure why I ever connected it to a Windows 98SE box, except perhaps because of the horrible problems I had with the HP 6200C scanner on Windows 2000.

One thing is sure. I don't plan to run anything that matters on Windows 9X. If I had to rate Microsoft desktop operating systems in terms of desirability, I'd order them as ...

  1. Windows 2000 Professional

  2. Windows NT 4 Workstation

  3. Windows 98SE

  4. Windows 98

  5. Windows Me

  6. Windows XP Professional

  7. Windows XP Home

... with anything below #2 graded as unacceptable. Windows 2000 gets the top spot mainly because it supports USB. If Windows NT 4 Workstation had full USB support, I'd probably still be using it in preference to Windows 2000. And Windows 2000 Professional gets the top spot only with SP2 installed. Even disregarding the obnoxious modifications to the EULA, SP3 is apparently a complete abomination, at least from various things I've been reading around the web. One guy installed SP3 on five Windows 2000 systems and ended up having to restore all of them from backup.

 

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