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Week of 2 September 2002

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

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Monday, 2 September 2002

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On vacation.



Tuesday, 3 September 2002

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On vacation.



Wednesday, 4 September 2002

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9:06 - We arrived home late yesterday afternoon from our Labor Day Weekend visit with Brian and Marcia Bilbrey in Bowie, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. Brian and Marcia were the best hosts imaginable. We all spent a nice relaxing weekend, sitting around talking, eating, and watching movies, with Marcia and Barbara heading out to the malls periodically to do some shopping. I spent literally only five minutes in front of a PC the whole time we were there. Duncan and Malcolm went with us, and Sally was a gracious hostess to them as well. She even let Malcolm make off with some of her toys.

Barbara is putting together a trip report page, so I'll let her tell the story.

I arrived home to find 1,183 new messages in my ttgnet.com mailbox, with my other mailboxes boosting that total to something like 1,500 new messages. Most of those were mailing list traffic and spam, of course, but I did have something like 200 "real" messages in my inbox. I dealt with many of those yesterday, and will try to get through the rest of them today and tomorrow.

Several of those messages announced a pleasant homecoming surprise. Associated Press favorably reviewed the second edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell.

I had other pleasant news just before we left Friday. I got email from my agent telling me that O'Reilly wants to go ahead and get a contract signed for the 3rd edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. My editor wants me to come up with an overview of what changes I want to make, both adds and (particularly) deletes. My first impression is that I should remove the NT4 specific material. NT4 is fading now, and by the time the third edition hits the stores it will have faded further. I'm debating about Windows 9X. It's also fading, but there are likely to be many people still running it a year from now. I do want to add Linux coverage, but with the plethora of distributions and windows managers that may be difficult.

One current chapter is an obvious candidate for deletion. CD-ROM drives are rapidly disappearing from the market. Only the least expensive systems include them now, with most shipping systems including either a DVD-ROM drive or a CD writer, or both. I think I'll consolidate the useful information from the CD-ROM chapter into the writable CD chapter. As far as adds, my editor would like to see something on networking, if only Ethernet. I'll probably add a chapter on NICs and another on modems. Getting all the new stuff to fit will be problematic, though.

What do you think? I've created a new forum on the messageboard for suggestions for the third edition. Tell me what we can do to make the third edition better and more useful than the second.



Thursday, 5 September 2002

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9:29 - Hmmm. Turning the systems off while we were gone may not have been such a good idea. When we got home late yesterday afternoon, I fired our main systems back up, including meepmeep, the Internet gateway box. When it came up, it had lost its mind. Fortunately, default settings were fine, except of course that the time and date had defaulted back to 1 January 1998. I'd meant to fix that, but in the rush of stuff I forgot to do so.

This morning, I was getting ready to publish when Barbara asked me to get the images from our visit to the Bilbreys off the ftp server. I fired up FTP Voyager, which came up telling me that it was an unregistered eval copy (which it isn't) and that I'd been using it for something like -852 days (yes, that's a negative 852 days). Unfortunately, FTP Voyager locked the system up solid. I couldn't kill the process. I couldn't even shutdown the system. So I finally powered it down and then back up. It came up normally, and I uninstalled FTP Voyager, forgetting momentarily that my CMOS time/date was still set to 1998, which I'm sure was the cause of the problem.

After the uninstall completed, apparently normally, it told me that there were some program elements that couldn't be removed. I then made my first mistake. I rebooted, intending to delete the remaining elements, which were basically just the FTP Voyager directory and presumably a couple of config files. When I fired up Windows NT Explorer, I got an hourglass and couldn't kill the process. Eventually, I power reset the system, and it appeared to start normally. I got the Windows NT 4 Workstation splash screen and the "Press Ctrl-Alt-Del" login prompt. When I did that, I got the login screen, which appeared perfectly normal. I entered my password and told it to log me in. At that point I got an hourglass. After waiting a few minutes I decided to reset yet again. Same problem. So I shut everything down and popped the cover.

Everything appeared to still be connected, and there wasn't much dirt inside, but I vacuumed out the system anyway. When I fired it up, I was able to log in normally. At this point, I don't know if I had a software problem or a hardware problem, but I'm beginning to get concerned about meepmeep. That box runs not just my Internet gateway, but my SMTP server as well. In the past, I've thought about replacing it with a Linux box, but hesitated to do that. I think I may reconsider and install a Linux box. I can just shutdown meepmeep and leave it as is. That way, worst case, I can always bring meepmeep back up and it will (probably) boot and run normally.

After our visit with Brian and Marcia Bilbrey, I'd decided to go ahead and run Linux on my den system. Rather than install it on the SCSI behemoth that was in there, I decided just to move the existing Red Hat 7.3 box that had been in the den for a day or two back to the den. I did that late yesterday afternoon. After I got everything connected, I fired up Ximian Red Carpet and told it to update everything. There were a couple of RH 7.3 updates, and several for Evolution.

With the system up-to-date, it was time to install Mozilla 1.1. I downloaded the dozen or so 1.1 RPMs, opened a console, became superuser, changed to the /home/thompson/download/mozilla directory and entered rpm -Uvh *.rpm. The utility informed me that it couldn't install Mozilla 1.1 because Galeon depended on Mozilla 0.9.9. That was easy enough. I told rpm to remove Galeon, which it did. I then entered rpm -Uvh *.rpm again, and rpm installed Mozilla 1.1.

I was joyful, but I knew I wasn't finished yet. The release notes mention that if you want to run Mozilla under "Unix" in shared mode, you have to create and run the following script as root:

dist_bin=`dirname $0`
touch $dist_bin/chrome/user-skins.rdf $dist_bin/chrome/user-locales.rdf

So I did that, first saving those lines as script.txt in the Mozilla directory and then running chmod u+x script.txt. After the script ran, I exited the console window and attempted to run Mozilla. My cursor changed for a few seconds to a tiny Mozilla icon and then returned to normal. No Mozilla. So I logged off as thompson and logged back on as root and ran Mozilla. As I expected, it ran fine. So I logged off as root and logged back on as thompson and ran Mozilla again. As I expected, my cursor changed to the tiny Mozilla icon and nothing else happened.

I'm not stupid. I even have a bit of experience with Unix and Linux. I got past some things that might have been showstoppers for a real newbie:

  • "Where is the Mozilla directory, anyway?" (whereis mozilla)
  • "How do I create a text file and paste the script to it?" (pico script.txt)

And so on. But at this point I have no idea why Mozilla won't run when I'm logged on as thompson. Do I need to specifically authorize user thompson to access Mozilla? If so, how?

Oh, yeah. After reading the articles about Red Hat and KDE, I decided to give Gnome another try. I'd tried it in the past, but it was so pathetically slow that I've been using KDE ever since. I played with Gnone for an hour or so last night. It's still slow, at least on RH 7.3, but it does seem faster than before. On a 750 MHz PIII with 256 MB, it's slow enough that I wouldn't want to use it regularly. Programs that fire up immediately under KDE take anything from 5 seconds to literally 15 seconds to come up under Gnome. At times I ended up starting two or three instances of one program because I thought my mouse clicks hadn't taken. I understand that the new release of Gnome is much faster, but I can't remember if RH 7.3 uses the new release or the old one. If this is the new release, it's too slow for me, at least on a PIII/750.

The morons strike again. A Wilmington, NC teacher has been disciplined for using an offensive word. The word? Niggardly, which of course means stingy and has no relation whatsoever to the word nigger, which itself is simply a corruption of the proper word Negro. The teacher, who is white, got into trouble because the mother of one of her students, who is black, complained that she was offended by a word that sounds similar to a racial slur. The proper response from the school board to this mother would have been something like, "Get over it, you stupid bitch." Instead, they disciplined the teacher and required her to send letters of apology to the parents of her students. Apology for what? Teaching the English language, apparently. The proper response to people who are too easily offended is to ignore them and continue what you were doing.



Friday, 6 September 2002

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8:57 - The problem with Mozilla is fixed, thanks to Greg Lincoln. The exchange started with Greg asking me where I'd gotten the Mozilla RPMs. I told him that I'd gotten them directly from Mozilla, because the latest ones on redhat.com were 0.9.9. The conversation continued thus:

> From Mozilla.
I looked at redhat.com, but the latest they had was 0.9.9.

Ahh. I assume you mean the ones here:


If so, those should work fine. They are built by Chris Blizzard of Redhat, and they "just work" from what I've heard.

Try this. Open a terminal window and type mozilla. Does it start? Do you get any errors or other messages?

A great thing about Linux is that you don't have to worry about where an application is installed at all. As long as the package puts things where they belong, and if it is designed for your distro or LSB it will, the binary will be in your path.

Also, reinstalling is almost never needed to fix a problem. I know you aren't experienced with Linux, and that seems like the easiest route, but if you do that you'll never learn how to fix things the easy way.


> Yep, those are the ones I got and installed.
> When I open a terminal window and type mozilla and press Enter,
> the hard drive clatters for a moment while the cursor blinks, and
> then I just get a $ prompt. No error messages of any sort. Just a
> new line with a $ prompt on it.
> OTOH, if I open a terminal window, su, and then type mozilla and
> press Enter, Mozilla comes up normally.

Hmm. I wonder if it made a .mozilla in your home directory as root, and can't write to it now as a normal user. Do this in your home dir:

greg@perlith greg $ ls -la . | grep mozilla
drwxr-xr-x 5 greg greg 176 Aug 24 10:55 .mozilla

If you get a .mozilla dir like I did, please tell me what user it is owned by. If it is root/root, su to root and do this:

rm -rf .mozilla

Then go back to thompson and try mozilla again.

Which was exactly the problem. I rm'd the .mozilla that was root/root and fired up Mozilla again. It created a new .mozilla that was thompson/thompson, as it should be, and Mozilla worked just fine thereafter. Now all I need to do is fix the ugly, hideous fonts. I downloaded the free Microsoft fonts the other day, so it shouldn't be too hard to get them installed and working.

I finally bagged Outlook 2000 yesterday. It's not that I don't like it. In fact, I think it's a fine program. I've not had the crashes that others report, and although OL2K does have some peculiarities, it is by far my favorite mail package. If only it used standards-compliant data structures I'd be using it still. But, alas, like many other Microsoft products, Outlook uses its file formats as a competitive weapon. I call it the Hotel California plan. You can get in, but you can never leave. Unless, that is, you use Mozilla mail to import your Outlook 2000 data. It works fine for messages. I imported all of the messages in my current .pst file, which was something like 20,000 or 25,000 messages. Mozilla imported them without a glitch. Probably because Mozilla actually uses an Outlook messaging stub to retrieve the Outlook data, or so Brian Bilbrey told me last weekend.

So now I'm using Mozilla Mail as my main mail client. It's a competent mail client, not as good as Outlook, but very nice all the same. It's clumsier to use than Outlook, and I don't say that merely because I'm used to Outlook and not to Mozilla Mail. Mozilla Mail offers many fewer options than Outlook, and it needs some work on convenience features. That said, there are some things it does better than Outlook. Not least of those, particularly from my point of view, is that it automatically uses the correct sig file for the address to which mail was sent. That is, if I get mail to one of my ttgnet.com accounts and reply to it, Mozilla Mail attaches my ttgnet sig. If it's mail to one of my hardwareguys.com accounts, MM automagically uses the hardwareguys sig. And so on. That's quite nice.

So now my mail files are in a standard format, from which I can easily export them to another program if necessary. It's true that they're about six directories deep in the Documents and Settings folder of my C: drive, but I really haven't tried too hard to figure out how to change that. Ideally, I'd like to get something setup whereby the mail files reside in my directory on the file server and I can point my Mozilla Mail client to them from whatever machine and OS I happen to be using. We'll see. That may not even be possible.

Interesting thread on the messageboard. Here's an excerpt:

News reports from CA:

Police in Oakland, California spent two hours attempting to subdue a gunman who had barricaded himself inside his home. After firing ten teargas canisters, officers discovered that the man was standing beside them, shouting out to give himself up.

Police in Los Angeles had good luck with a robbery suspect who just couldn't control himself during a line-up. When detectives asked each man in the line-up to repeat the words, "Give me all your money or I'll shoot", the man shouted, "That's not what I said!"

In Modesto, CA, Steven Richard King was arrested for trying to hold up a bank of America branch without a weapon. King used a thumb and a finger to simulate a gun but unfortunately he failed to keep his hand in his pocket.

I can give you an even worse example. I think it was in North Carolina, but I can't remember for sure.

A guy decided to rob a bank. He showed up at the bank and waited in line for an available teller. When his turn came, he handed her a note saying that he had a gun and wanted all her money.

The teller told him that she needed to see some identification before she could give him any money. The guy took out his wallet and handed her his driver's license.

Then there was the almost-successful bank robber who actually got his bags full of money from the teller, but dropped one of them. He apparently didn't want to risk the teller taking back the bag he had, because before bending over to pick up the dropped bag, he placed his pistol on the counter. Duh.

I am not making this up.

Today I have to finish up my proposed change list for the third edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell and get it to my editor. This is really a pro forma effort rather than an attempt to specify exactly what the next edition will be, but my editor has to have some sort of document to base the contract for the book on. Speaking of PCHiaN, that AP review apparently helped. When I checked Amazon last night and this morning, PCHiaN had a ranking in the mid three figures, which is excellent for any computer book.

Tonight is to be clear and there's new moon, so we'll almost certainly head up to Bullington to get some observing in.



Saturday, 7 September 2002

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9:11 - I got the pro forma TOC for the third edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell off to my editor yesterday afternoon, so we'll see what happens. Of course, I'm already working on it, but I'm sure the contract will catch up with me eventually.

We did make it up to Bullington last night, and it was a pretty good night. Almost no clouds, although the transparency seemed to change for better or worse throughout the evening. There were half a dozen of us up there. I was surprised there weren't more, given that it was a clear Friday night with a new Moon. Barbara added several Messier Objects to her tally for both binocular and telescope. Things started to dew up around 11:00 or 11:30. By midnight, I noticed that my hair was dewing up, so we decided to pack it in. Tonight is to be pretty decent, so we'll probably head up again.

Barbara's Palm Pilot finally packed it in. It was one of the original Palm 5000 units, which I bought for her for Saturnalia in 1996, as I recall. She wants a replacement, and I'm dithering about what to get her. I don't know much about the market. While we were visiting the Bilbreys, Barbara looked at Marcia's Palm m105, which looked like a nice entry-level unit. However, I've read enough reports of problems with USB synching on the Palm m100-series PDAs that I'm a bit leery of getting Barbara a Palm.

All she wants is basic functionality--a mono screen with backlight and no email support or other gew-gaws--so I'm considering other entry-level units. One that immediately comes to mind is the Sony Clie PEG-SL10, which just shipped in late July. I haven't found much on the web in the way of reviews of that unit, but what I have found is generally favorable. If you have a strong opinion, for or against, concerning the PEG-SL10 (or indeed about any other suitable entry-level unit), please let me know on the messageboard.


Sunday, 8 September 2002

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