Monday, 16 September 2002
8:30 - Seagate and Western Digital have apparently followed Maxtor's lead in reducing the warranty on mass-market IDE hard drives from three years to one year. There's a lot of speculation on the Web about what this might mean, with many observers saying that it probably indicates manufacturing cost reductions leading to less reliable drives. I doubt that's true. My guess is that these are the same old drives, with the same old quality level, which is to say generally pretty high.
The problem, I suspect, is that the decreasing prices of hard drives has made warranty-fulfillment costs a much more significant percentage of total costs. When drives sold on average for twice what they're selling for now, warranty costs were a smaller percentage of overall costs. With average drive prices dropping below $100, the cost of warranty fulfillment has become much more important. When one of the drive makers, Maxtor, cut the standard warranty from three years to one, they gave themselves a major cost advantage. Seagate and Western Digital had to follow suit, or they'd have been at a competitive disadvantage in selling their drives.
In effect, Maxtor poisoned the well, because other drive makers were forced to match their shorter warranty to reduce their own costs. The result is that now all mainstream hard drives will have only a one-year warranty, and will sell for a couple bucks less than they used to. Maxtor gained no real advantage by their action. A consumer will now save a couple bucks when he buys a hard drive, and most drive failures will now not be covered under warranty. As to whether that's a good thing or not, it depends on whether it's your drive that fails. I suspect that IDE drives will continue to be quite reliable, and I'll continue to recommend Seagate and Maxtor hard drives.
The major effect will be on OEM system makers, particularly white-box makers, who will no longer be able to warrant their systems for three years, at least without themselves assuming the risk of replacing failed drives during the second and third years.
Tuesday, 17 September 2002
9:25 - I've been using Mozilla Mail for a couple of weeks now, and I'm generally satisfied with it. It's not as good a mail client as Evolution, and not nearly as good as Outlook, but it does get the job done. Frankly, I'd have chosen Evolution rather than Mozilla Mail if Ximian produced a Win32 client, but they don't.
The main drawback to Mozilla Mail is its clumsiness. For example, I subscribe to many mailing lists, which I filter into individual folders. With Outlook, I can quickly scan the subject lines in those folders. If there's nothing I want to read, I can right-click the folder and click Mark All Read. With Mozilla Mail, there's no such convenient two-click method of marking all messages in a folder read. Instead, I have to: (a) select one of the messages in the folder; (b) choose Edit -> Select -> All (or press Ctrl-A), and finally; (c) choose Message -> Mark -> All Read (or press Ctrl-Shft-C). Mozilla is full of other clumsy equivalents to convenient Outlook procedures.
Similarly, although Mozilla Mail does have some features and options not present in Outlook 2000, there are several options missing in Mozilla that I really wish were there. For example, Mozilla Mail has no option I can find to leave messages unread once they have appeared in the preview pane whereas Outlook allows you to choose whether to mark previewed messages read. As it happens, I much prefer to leave previewed messages unread, because that's one of the ways I manage my Inbox. Mozilla does allow me to mark a particular message unread by clicking on the "read" icon, but that again is clumsy and requires extra effort.
The biggest failing of Mozilla Mail, of course, is that it is just a mail client. It lacks the integrated calendar, scheduling, and task lists of Outlook and Evolution, which for me is a major drawback. I'd gotten used to such integrated functions as dragging an email message over to Calendar and dropping it to schedule a follow-up. That lack in Mozilla Mail means that I now use Outlook simply for its calendaring, scheduling, and task lists, but without the integration with email.
Still, I'm happy overall with Mozilla Mail. It stores my data in standard formats rather than the monolithic, proprietary PST format that Outlook uses, and I no longer have to be concerned about email viruses. Mozilla Mail is an interim solution for me, pending my transition to a Linux desktop and Evolution. But it serves that purpose adequately, so I will continue using it.
Wednesday, 18 September 2002
8:59 - I sent the following warning to subscribers:
Not much to say this morning. I'm off to visit my mother, and then back to my desk to continue work on the 3rd edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. We have an astronomy club meeting tonight, which'll be a nice break.
12:06 - Intel just announced the 2.0 GHz Celeron, their first P4-based Celeron that uses the 0.13µ process. It sells for $103. Now, granted, the new Celeron uses the 400 MHz FSB rather than 533 MHz and has only 128 KB of L2 cache. It's not going to run as fast as a 2 GHz Pentium 4 or an Athlon 2000+, but who cares? The simple fact is that this processor is enough--more than enough--for something like 99.9% of all computer users. Heck, I just fired up Computer Properties on Windows 2000 and found that the system I'm writing this on has a 1700 MHz Pentium 4. That's almost certainly no faster than the new Celeron, and probably slower. And yet this system would admirably serve the needs of almost anyone.
The bad news for AMD and Intel is that people are finally starting to notice what we've been saying for years. A low-end processor is just fine for nearly anyone, so there's little point to spending more money on a top-of-the-line processor. CNN Tech posted an interesting article a couple days ago, Chip makers get pinched by cheap CPUs. It points out that consumers are increasingly opting for systems based on $100 Celerons or Durons rather than the flagship Pentium 4 and Athlon processors. Of course, considering Athlon pricing, many who prefer AMD processors now consider the Duron passé and opt for an entry-level Athlon processor instead. Although the article says that whether this new-found interest in entry-level processors is a trend or simply a blip due to the bad economy is still strongly debated, I'll give them a clue. It's no blip.
People have realized that the megahertz wars are ridiculous and that there's no point to paying large price premiums for relatively small increments in CPU speed, which translate to even smaller increases in overall system performance. AMD and Intel have both attempted to artificially differentiate entry-level from mainstream and performance processors, but people have increasingly started noticing that the emperor has no clothes.
Thursday, 19 September 2002
9:28 - The weather-liars got it wrong again. Yesterday, the forecast was for "isolated showers". Our isolated shower dumped 4.8 inches (12 cm) of rain on us in four hours, beginning at 2:30 p.m. In other words, we got more than a normal month's worth of rain in four hours. Others in the surrounding area reported rainfall ranging from 3" to 6". Isolated showers, indeed.
At the astronomy club meeting last night, one guy who's a pilot pretty much summed it up: "They're actually pretty good at predicting what'll happen over the next six hours or so. Anything more than that, it's crystal ball time."
Our drought isn't over by any means, but the reservoirs, many of which were down 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 metres) should be in a lot better shape this morning than they've been for a long time. Someone mentioned last night that the forecast is for us to get a week of similar rainfall starting in a week or so when that tropical storm comes up through this area. Another foot or two of rain would obviously cause localized problems, but on balance it'd be worth it.
It's true. Someone told me to type the search string "go to hell" into Google and see what turned up. Here it is:
Friday, 20 September 2002
9:06 - Back when the original Tylenol poisonings hit the news, I was discussing the case with a pharmacologist friend of mine. When I told him that some unknown person had substituted potassium cyanide for the acetaminophen in the Tylenol capsules, he quipped, "Wow! That's almost as poisonous as acetaminophen itself." He was only half joking. Many physicians and pharmacists consider acetaminophen the most dangerous compound present in most households.
In pharmacology, there's a concept called Therapeutic Index (TI), which is basically the ratio between the toxic dose and the therapeutic dose. For example, if the toxic dose is 300 mg and the therapeutic dose is 100 mg, the compound in question has a TI of 3.0. The TI of acetaminophen is still debated, but some sources report it to be as low as 1.7, which is extraordinarily low.
One aspect of improvements in drugs over the years has been the increase in TI for common drugs. At the end of the 19th century, many commonly used drugs, primarily vegetable alkaloids, had TIs near unity or even below. That is, the dose required to treat a complaint effectively was about the same (or even more) than the dose at which toxicity manifested. Most modern drugs, especially over-the-counter drugs, have high TIs.
Acetaminophen is the glaring exception. Taking as little as twice the recommended dose, which is frequently done accidentally or intentionally (if one is good, two must be better...) can cause hepatotoxicity and potentially irreversible liver damage. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that acetaminophen is a "hidden" component of many OTC drugs, so it's possible to take an overdose without realizing that you're doing so.
The paper this morning reports that the federal government is finally doing something about this problem. According to the report, there are something like 50,000 cases of accidental acetaminophen poisoning in the US each year, and perhaps 100 deaths. If anything, these figures are low, because many hospitals do not report cases of accidental poisoning.
In fact, acetaminophen is in some respects an ideal homicidal poison. Getting tired of waiting for grandpa to die so you can inherit his fortune? Just give grandpa plenty of acetaminophen, both directly as painkiller and indirectly in other OTC medications. When grandpa dies of liver failure, the cops will be hard-pressed to prove a thing. Even if they establish that acetaminophen poisoning occurred, which would be very difficult to do, they'd then have to prove intent, which would be impossible.
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm not a physician, a pharmacologist, a pharmacist, or a toxicologist. I was, once upon a time, an organic chemist, for whatever that may be worth. So my opinion in this matter is a lay opinion. Still, I consider acetaminophen to be one of the worst and most dangerous OTC drugs ever foisted on the public. Aspirin is relatively benign, provides the same analgesic benefits, and is also an antipyretic. Enteric-coated aspirin is available, which eliminates stomach upset, the most common aspirin side effect that people find objectionable. As to Reyes' Syndrome, although conventional wisdom says that anyone under 20 should take acetaminophen rather than aspirin, the sources I read say that Reyes' Syndrome also occurs with acetaminophen. That condition is rare enough that attempting to avoid it by using something as dangerous as acetaminophen strikes me as a bad decision. I'm not sure why any rational person would take acetaminophen rather than aspirin.
It will be interesting to see the results of this conference. If rationality prevails, they'll recommend banning acetaminophen. There's simply nothing it does that other drugs don't do at least as well, and with much lower risk.
Saturday, 21 September 2002
No post. Took the weekend off.
Sunday, 22 September 2002
No post. Took the weekend off.
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