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Week of 26 August 2002

Latest Update : Thursday, 29 August 2002 08:04 -0400


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Monday, 26 August 2002

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9:01 - We awoke to a gorgeously dark, wet morning. The rain gauge said we'd had 0.3" (~1 cm) of rain overnight, which isn't much but is a lot more than the nothing that we've had lately. Barbara just stuck her head in my office door to tell me that it's pouring rain at the moment. More rain is in the forecast, with scattered showers showing for every day this week. Perhaps that means we'll get more. We certainly need it. The ground is so dry that it's cracking. We're down about 40" (1 metre) of rain over the last four years and are officially in the worst drought category, worse than "extreme drought" whatever that may be. The designation momentarily escapes me.

They've found two bodies in Oregon, and identified one of them as one of the two missing 13-year-old school girls. No doubt the second will be identified as the other. They were found on the property of the self-proclaimed chief suspect in the case, who is currently jailed on the unrelated charge of raping his son's 19-year-old girlfriend. The morning paper tells me something I hadn't known. This same man was convicted in 1982 of murdering of a man and of raping and murdering that man's girlfriend. This bastard was also a truck driver, and his routes apparently correspond with the locations of 26 other murders and disappearances. Argue however you will against the death penalty, but if this son of a bitch had been put down as he should have been in 1982, it's likely that a lot of people who are now dead would still be alive today.

We really must do something to get rid of people like this expeditiously. I think they should try him today, have the State and US Supreme Courts standing ready to reject his appeal tomorrow, and publicly execute him Wednesday. Delay serves no purpose here, although if it were do-able I'd still like to see him tortured for a year or two before his execution. Like other child killers, this guy needs to be made dead as soon and as painfully as possible.

I've been playing around with the HTTrack Website Copier, an Open Source off-line browser utility. It allows you to download a complete copy of a website from the remote server to your local hard drive, altering link references as necessary to make the local copy a fully-functional copy of the remote site. Now if only Mozilla would add the save-as-compressed-archive function that IE supports.

13:10 - Thanks to several readers who pointed out that the guy who killed the couple in 1982 was the father of the man currently suspected of killing the two girls in Oregon, not the man himself. In my defense, our newspaper got the story wrong, or at least wrote it very confusingly. That article made references to fathers and sons without making it clear that they were talking about three generations rather than two. I was going to look at it again, but in the interim I'd visited my mother and left it with her.

It kind of makes you wonder about the son of the man currently suspected, doesn't it? His grandfather murdered at least two people, and is suspected of being a serial killer. His father murdered at least two people, and is suspected of being a serial killer. If I was the girlfriend of the son, who has already been raped by the current suspect, I'd stay clear of the son. Nature or nurture, it's pretty clear that it's a bad idea to turn one's back on members of this family.

The rain continued coming down after my first post. We had about 0.3" (~1 cm) when we awoke this morning. By the time I left around 9:45 to visit my mother, we had about 2.5" (~ 6 cm) total. And more expected over the next several days. This won't eliminate the drought by any means, but if it was widespread it'll certainly help river and lake levels. I hope Greensboro got a good soaking. They depend on a reservoir, which is reaching dangerously low levels. Winston-Salem is lucky enough to have the Yadkin river, which apparently means we'll never run short of water. After four years of severe drought, a government guy they were interviewing on TV a couple of weeks ago said that the Yadkin river was lower than it had ever been since records started being kept in the 18th century, and it was still adequate to supply four times more water than Winston-Salem has ever used at its peak. The recent rainfalls should help the Yadkin as well.

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Tuesday, 27 August 2002

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8:20 - Yesterday started out normally enough. I rode over yesterday morning to visit my mother, who wasn't in the best of moods. As I left the house, it was pouring down rain, and I noticed that one of our front gutters had become loose. It was dipped down in the middle, with water running over it. That water was soaking down through the earth in front of the house and ending up in the basement.

When I got home, Barbara and I got out a stepladder and a supply of gutter spikes. I climbed the ladder and stood there in the rain re-securing the gutter and using my gloved hand to clean out the mess of accumulated leaves and sticks. Oh, well. It works well enough now, and there's much more rain in the forecast. We got about 2.5" (6.3 cm) total rainfall yesterday, with more on the way.

Then Barbara started to leave the house to run errands and couldn't find her car keys. She ransacked the place, later with my help, and still couldn't find them. So I gave her my keys and she left on her errands. When she returned, she again started to tear the place apart, looking for her keys. No joy. Finally, I suggested she just take my keys to the auto parts place and get some copies made. As it turns out, they couldn't copy the keys for our Isuzu Troopers, and told her the only place that could copy them was Elliott Brothers Locksmiths, which is all the way across town. That seemed stupid, so I suggested she just visit the Isuzu place. As it turns out, the Isuzu dealership is no longer where it was when we bought our trucks. It's now located across town as well. So Barbara headed over there and got some duplicate keys made. When she got back, she again started to ransack the place, looking for her original keys. She's mad because she wasted an entire day losing her keys and looking for them.

Then, about dinner time, things had calmed down. I sat down in the den and decided to check my mail. I moved the mouse on my den system, but nothing happened. I figured it had just locked up again, so I rebooted it. Windows 2000 displayed its splash screen and began the startup routine. After a 30 second pause with the status bar about halfway out, it blue screened, telling me the boot device was inaccessible. It said that if this was the first time this had happened, to try rebooting, which I did. Again it blue screened. What really pissed me off was the gratuitous advice to run a virus scanner and chkdsk. Well, if I could run a virus scanner or chkdsk, that'd mean I was able to boot the system, now wouldn't it? It's pretty hard to run anything on a drive that Windows considers "inaccessible" on a system that will not boot. Duh.

So I decided now was the time to make my den system a Linux box. I hauled out the Red Hat 7.3 Professional box and fired up CD #1. An hour or so later, I had a functioning Red Hat 7.3 installation. Well, almost functioning. Red Hat had detected the AMD network adapter, but it simply refused to use it. A system with no functioning network adapter isn't much use to me, so I shut down that box and moved another Linux box from my office to the den.

As soon as that system came up, I ran Ximian's Red Carpet, which told me there were 78 critical updates. It proceeded to download and install all of those, and I was ready for business. I set up Evolution 1.0.8.99 as my mail client, which works fine. I have Konqueror working as my web browser, but I'd really prefer to use Mozilla. That's installed, but it won't run. When I do a Start -> Run -> Mozilla, I get a little Mozilla startup icon for a few seconds, and it then just disappears. Same thing if I try an Open With Mozilla. It appears to be starting, but then just goes away. Oh, well.

I want Mozilla for several reasons, not least of which is its ability to block banner ads. I've gotten very used to browsing without ads. I normally see maybe one banner ad a week or so. When I fired up Konqueror and visited some of my usual sites, I was flooded with banner ads. I won't put up with that. So I visited webwasher.com and downloaded the Linux version of WebWasher, although I haven't installed it yet. I really do want Mozilla to work. I wish Mozilla appeared on the list of choices on Red Carpet, but it doesn't.

I also need to get a few things set up on the Linux box, primarily access to and from Windows boxes. I thought I remembered how to set up access to my NT 4 server box from the Linux system, but that didn't work. I called up a console window, became superuser, changed to the /etc directory and edited fstab to add the following line:

//theodore/theodore_c    /home/thompson/share    smbfs    username=smbusername,password=smbpassword,uid=thompson,gid=thompson

After saving the changes, I restarted the system (yes, I know, I probably didn't need to, but I did it anyway)

During the restart, Linux told me that there was a mangled line in fstab, and it didn't work. That is, the rest of the system worked as expected, but I didn't have a share set up. I need to get that working, and I also need to get the converse working--having my Windows boxes able to access the hard drive on the Linux box. Oh, well. Nothing is ever easy.

Here's an interesting article that proposes a solution to the generally low quality of commercial software. The author suggests that all software should be open source, in the sense that the source code should be available for anyone to examine (but not necessarily Open Source in the sense of using GPL or a similar license). His arguments make a lot of sense. Why shouldn't the source code for commercial applications be available? As the author says, just because it's freely available to look at doesn't mean it can be stolen, any more than one can steal the latest Tom Clancy novel. The arguments in favor of open source software (as opposed to Open Source Software) are compelling enough that I find myself completely in favor of the various legislative initiatives to require open source (or Open Source) for governmental purposes. If nothing else, it would help drive out bad software in favor of good, not to mention the benefits such as open file formats and so on.

10:46 - Thanks to Roland Dobbins for this link to an interesting ZDnet article. It appears that that MoM SSL attack that Microsoft downplayed the importance of is in fact critical, as this article makes clear. I think it's fair to say that if you're running a Microsoft web server, you have no security.

12:08 - Mozilla 1.1 is available for download. I downloaded the Win32 and Linux versions this morning. I've installed the former, but not the latter. After playing around with Mozilla 1.1 for a while, it appears to me to be worth the download, although not a major change over 1.0. A lot of bugs have been fixed, certainly, and I'm sure that features have been added. But if you're used to using Mozilla 1.0, you won't notice all that many differences. I haven't had a chance to play with Composer yet, but I'm hoping that they've upgraded it substantially.

If you're going to get it, grab it now. As of a few minutes ago, the Mozilla servers were still delivering data quickly. That'll likely change as the day goes on and more people become aware that Mozilla 1.1 has been released.

 

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Wednesday, 28 August 2002

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9:04 - Arrrghhh. Here's an example of why Linux doesn't work for me as a desktop OS, much as I want it to. One of things I use my den system for is writing. As far as the basics, Linux is well equipped. I have OpenOffice, a decent web browser, and so on. What I don't have is Encyclopedia Britannica, or any means of getting it onto my Linux desktop. I have come to depend on the DVD version of EB for quick fact-checking and so on. Not having it means that I have to either go into my office to look something up on a Windows desktop system, or into the library to pull the appropriate printed volume of EB. I actually wondered for a moment about getting the EB client stuff working under WINE, but that's a non-starter. There's simply too much there, including multimedia stuff that's Windows-specific and not likely to run well if at all under an emulator.

Then as I was working on something else, I wanted to check something on Cartes du Ciel. I'd forgotten that it wasn't on my den system, but hoping it was available for OS's other than Windows, I went over to the web site and looked. Nope. It's not available for Linux. Rats. I suppose I could install VMWare or dual-boot my den system, but that seems a bit much. So I decided just to bite the bullet and install Windows 2000 with SP2. I wasn't going to install Office 2000--OOo is plenty good enough for what I do--but then I realized that I really do need Outlook on that system. I profoundly wish that Ximian would release a Win32 version of Evolution.

So I'm back to being stuck with Windows 2000. I hate it, but in order to get my work done I don't have any realistic alternative. But Windows 2000 will at least now run on an Intel box rather than the AMD box it was running on. That one's had enough stability problems that I'd about decided to stop being a guinea pig even before the crash the other day. The Intel box that's in there is an old SE440BX2-V with a Pentium III/700 in it. That's plenty of horsepower for what I need, although on second thought I decided to keep it running Linux and simply move yet another box to the den.

I'm not giving up on Linux, and in fact still plan to convert my servers to Linux as I build new ones, but when I try to use Linux on my desktop systems, I just keep running into too many showstoppers. I wish it weren't that way, but for me it is. It's as though Linux were a metric socket set, Windows an SAE socket set, and the whole world uses SAE connectors. Or, if not the whole world, at least a lot of the nuts I need to turn are SAE. I have no doubt that Linux is an excellent OS, and I'm certain I could use it exclusively if I were willing to define what I need to do in terms of what Linux is capable of doing. Alas, if the decision comes down to suffering Windows but having all my nice little tools versus enjoying Linux but missing lots of the tools I depend on, the choice for me is obvious.

I wish I could club EB over the head to convince them to supply a Linux client. The same is true for other software I use. Where there's an analog available, fine. I'm willing to learn OOo as a replacement for MS Office. I'm even willing to put up with the feature deficiencies in OOo versus MS Office, and the sporadic problems with translating files between them. What I'm not willing to do is give up tools I've come to depend on that aren't available to run under Linux. I guess that some would say that makes me a part of the problem instead of a part of the solution. But I can't help that.

So I moved the Pentium III/700 box out of the den and moved yet another box from my office in there. I started to install Windows 2000 on it last night and ran into a problem. Windows 2000 Setup told me there was no hard drive installed in the box. Duh. As I was looking at it before I moved it, I knew there was something different about that box. I just couldn't remember what. So I popped the lid, only to discover that it did in fact have a hard drive. Two of them, in fact. An 18 GB 15K Cheetah and a 180 GB Barracuda.

The problem was that Windows 2000 Setup didn't recognize the Adaptec 19160 SCSI host adapter. Oh, well. As it turns out, this little mini-tower box is a pocket battleship: a fast Pentium 4, 512 MB of RAM, 200 GB of SCSI hard drive, a Plextor 24X burner, a Seagate SCSI tape drive (DDS-4, no less), and an ATI RADEON 8500DV video card. Unfortunately, it doesn't meet the minimum hardware requirements of Windows 2000, which requires (get this) a floppy disk drive.

Yes, it's true. The absence of a floppy disk drive, which Microsoft and Intel both call "legacy hardware", is preventing me from loading Windows 2000. Why? Because I need to insert a driver disk during Setup. Early in the Setup process, Windows 2000 prompts me to press F6 if I need to provide a SCSI driver. I do, so I press F6, with the SCSI driver CD in my hand. What does Windows 2000 Setup do? It prompts me to insert the driver disk in drive A:, which I don't have. Windows 2000 Setup should know I don't have a floppy drive. All it needs to do is ask CMOS, which shows no FDD present. You'd think Setup would then check the CD drive, but no.

So once I get a spare moment, I'll install an FDD in this system, so that I can load Windows 2000.

As we did a couple of years back with the GIF format, It may be time to declare another file type formatta non grata. This time, it's MP3. The owners of the MP3 format, Fraunhofer and Thomson Multimedia, have begun demanding royalties on MP3 encoders and players. The royalties themselves aren't new. What's new is that Fraunhofer and Thomson Multimedia formerly exempted players for personal use. Now they're demanding royalties for everything, including free and OSS players. That effectively destroys OSS MP3 player software, and Red Hat has already withdrawn the MP3 players from their new distribution.

We're all fortunate that Ogg Vorbis has come along just in time to provide an alternative to MP3. I'll be getting rid of my MP3s and re-encoding everything in an open format.

I've been using Mozilla 1.1 for a day now, and I really like it. It may be my imagination, but it "feels" noticeably faster than Mozilla 1.0. Overall, this is a very worthwhile upgrade. I've been using Mozilla as my default browser since the 1.0 release, and the 1.1 release makes me less likely to reconsider that decision.

 

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Thursday, 29 August 2002

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8:04 - This will probably be my last post for a while. Barbara and I have decided to take an extended holiday weekend off, and stay away from our computers. Barring something urgent, I won't be posting again until next Tuesday or Wednesday.

 

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Friday, 30 August 2002

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Saturday, 31 August 2002

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Sunday, 1 September 2002

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